Arts & Entertainment

Understanding the Art of Marketing Popular Music

A few months ago I was fortunate enough to make a business trip to Austin, Texas, compliments of the Internet music company, I work for. If there’s anything that I learned in college, it’s not to pass up a free meal — or a free trip, for that matter. I had no idea when I got the job that promoting music and handing out flyers would end up taking me to one of the most interesting and tiring events of my college career, let alone supply me for one week with a killer hotel room, free food, open bar and nonstop amazing shows every night until 3 a.m. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Why in the hell would anyone want to go to Austin? Contrary to popular belief, Austin has no cowboys, no rolling plains and not a single head of big hair. Austin hosts the biggest music conference in the nation. Put 7, 000 musicians and record moguls together and you have the music industry’s nonstop party, better known as South by South West. For one week Austin hosts over 1,000 acts, showcasing the cream of the crop — new up-and-coming bands from all over the world, and the best barbecue this side of the Mississippi. So as I’m on my way to Texas, sitting between the CEO for Spin magazine and some indie musician sporting yellow leather pants, I’m wondering how I got here. I’m not a musician (well, other than singing in the shower) and I’m not up there on the industry’s corporate ladder, but I do know my music. I was overwhelmed by “”the industry’s”” presence upon my arrival at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. There were bands performing at Gate 26 and in the airport’s food court, right smack in front of Arby’s. I wasn’t even in the center of all the action and people were already throwing themselves onto anyone that looked capable of signing a record deal for them. This was definitely going to be a tiring trip: work hard, play hard. This proved to be true the moment I entered my hotel lobby. A stack of 3,000 company flyers promoting a talent show were shoved into my arms and needed to be stuffed under hotel doors and placed in every club by midnight. The competition was so stiff and the rivalry so obnoxious that it threatened my enjoyment, my reason for being there in the first place — the music. I was being stickered by 20 different Internet start-ups while watching a belligerent representative for College Broadcast streak across the stage screaming unidentifiable marketing slurs. Since when did a music conference become a popularity contest? The countdown to my self-destruction started day one. Dot-com vs. dot-com, the battle of the industry had begun. By day, South By South West took over the Austin Convention Center with a trade show exhibiting countless newborn Internet music sites. These were pretty much identical to one another, varying only in each one’s choice of gimmicky give-aways. By the end of the fifth day I had so much free schwag, it was a miracle that American Airlines let me back onto the plane. I have to admit, free loot was the only way for companies to single themselves out in the sea of ‘Net start-ups. I scavenged everything from wind-up, fire-spitting Godzillas, guitar picks, shot glasses (on a string, no less), vintage band posters and, if I got up early enough, fresh waffles at the rockrgirl.com booth. With over 500 different companies under one roof, it was surprising that so many were of no interest to me — dare I say, wasted Internet space? Look, just because the Internet is the preferred marketing tool these days doesn’t mean that everyone should put up a site. I mean, guitarpickcleaning.com? I just throw mine away and get a new one. Aside from that, nothing happened during the day other than schmoozing one’s way onto a guest list. Here’s where the truth of Austin come out, where I divulge the misfortunes of South by South West’s politics. By night, South by South West doubled in population. It was like Disneyland — shoulder to shoulder but without baby strollers. There were even more bars than those in Pacific Beach and the Gaslamp put together. In order even to be acknowledged as a person in Austin, you had to be sporting an $80 (limited access) wrist band or the VIP badge, at $300 a pop. To be quite honest, the wrist bands weren’t even a solid guarantee. I saw a lot of angry wrist-band-wearers watching shows out on the street through the windows. I began to discover that things were not as cut-throat as I thought. If you have the money, you are automatically given first priority. I’m not just talking about the passes — even for the musicians trying to get signed, money and image was everything in Austin. Even if you were sporting the same VIP badge as the guy next to you, one of you will have priority over the other — either it’s because you look better in snakeskin pants or you’re standing in line with Janeane Garofalo. South by South West began to take its toll on me by day four. It might have been the fact that I was force-fed eight margaritas by the boys of Tenacious D the night before, or simply that I was disappointed in the principles of the music industry. Not only do boy bands and Britney Spears make me bitter, but the people who create these “”stars”” were everywhere, and they’re 10 times worse, promoting money-hungry, gimmicky plots to change the way the world sees music. They walk about scouting out possible candidates that they can mold to their “”standard.”” It’s like a mass-cloning mission. Just thinking about them makes me bitter! Upon my return home, I was cranky from being awake 48 hours straight, having boarded the plane at 5 a.m. after leaving a rave at 4 a.m. I was also cranky from dealing with one-too-many mainstream producers. Again I ask: What is becoming of music? It’s like they’ve forgotten that talent is an issue. A lot of the best bands at the conference were being considered only if they were willing to modify a few things. Modify what? Their image? It’s a good thing I was there for the music, and I gladly reminded myself of that each night, so I could enjoy myself. With all frustration aside, Austin provided a great showcase of talent. My enjoyment of music has been rekindled. With that in mind, let’s talk about the bands and leave aside my disappointment for the industry and its standards. The scene is punishing me, but at least musicians are fighting back and creating original music. Here are my picks for the best up-and-coming musicians featured at South By South West: At the Drive-In (El Paso, Texas): Energy. That’s what comes to mind when I think of this band. Energy and passion. The lead singer not only falls to the floor with epileptic-like spasms, he bounces back and forth on the stage, frequently planting handstands on the drum set. The band is successful in getting the crowd involved with the show, sporting self-grown afros and tight T-shirts. They are the epitome of the emo scene and played an amazing 70-minute set. The club was tiny, but even from the back of the room you could get into the performance. Every song sounds different and is equally good. These guys are definitely one of my favorite bands of the moment, and I highly recommend buying one of their albums: “”In/Casino/Out,”” on Fearless Records; or “”Relationship of Command,”” on Grand Royal. The Causey Way (Gainesville, Fla.): The stage was humorously set up as an altar to the lead singer, sporting candles, cheesy Sears portraits, flower bouquets and a keyboardist wearing a bicycle helmet. The five-piece band wore lab coats and nurse outfits, an almost a blinding sight under the blacklights. The singer has a very unique voice, half-speaking and half-singing. The words “”he’s so purrrr-fect, he’s so puuurrrrfect like a pussy cat”” are still stuck in my head. I was flashing back to all those ’80s classic cult bands and how they had the unbelievable ability to make me an instant groupie. Check these guys out on the Riffage Web site, http://www.riffage.com. Back Yard Babies (Stockholm, Sweden): Good old-fashioned punk is back, even if we have to import it from Sweden. I think I fell in love with them the moment I caught a glance of their 10-inch mohawks and spiked leather jackets. It was the same rush of excitement as when I bought my first Operation Ivy cassette in the ’80s. Granted, I couldn’t understand a word they were saying — their music broke the language barrier and they were hilarious performers. Besides, it seems that swearing is the universal way to get a crowd cheering for you. I even recommend these guys after the experience of having the lead singer hock a loogie on me. Maybe that’s the one thing that didn’t translate well. DeathRay (Sacramento): This band features two members from the well-known band Cake. I had no idea that ’70s-style industrial britpop could come out of Sacramento. Nevertheless, the on-stage dancing won me over, along with the cheesy love-song lyrics and easy sing-along factor. I never thought dancing could be so sexy. Well, I know that Beck can do it, but the organ player? Amazing. They’re a very entertaining bunch and sold out two shows during my stay in Austin. The Mr. T Experience (Berkeley): These guys have been around for a while, but they’re starting to make public appearances again. To put it simply, they play “”songs about chicks,”” and say so before each set. One of their best albums, “”Love is Dead,”” is a tribute to sucky failed attempts at love and relationships. This is the music we can all relate to. They are very poppy, ska-like, with lots of ’60s rock ‘n’ roll back-up vocals, but differ with the blunt bitterness of rejection. Their comedy act and synchronized guitar swaying, similar to ZZ Top, is a show in itself and worth seeing. They use to play live all the time at Soma in San Diego, but since the 13-year-old hangout closed last year, I haven’t seen much of them around. Modest Mouse (Issaquah, Wash.): I’ve actually been following this band for the past three years, but this was the first time that I was able to see them live. It was one of the most unbelievable concert experiences of my lifetime. Modest Mouse are 10 times more amazing in person than they are on any of their five albums. I had no idea that so many different noises could come out of the same three instruments. Midway through the show, the lead singer lifted his guitar up to his mouth, where he used the pickup as a mic to distort his voice. I was a little concerned when he pulled out a bag of live crawdads and handed them out to the people in the front row. I think Modest Mouse could quite possibly be one of the more ingenious groups out there now. ...

Review: Bedazzled

In this new Hollywood flick, Brendan Fraser (“”Blast from the Past””) plays a lonely, degenerate technical support advisor, Elliot Richards. He has absolutely no friends — even his co-workers despise him. Though he has a good heart, the harder he tries, the more they push him away and make a mockery of him. All he wants is a girlfriend who will love him, but he has had a crush on a girl in the office for four years, and she does not even know he is alive. BEDAZZLED One night Richards runs into the devil (Elizabeth Hurley, “”Austin Powers””), who is a sexy seductress, to his surprise. They make a typical deal — his soul for seven wishes. Sure, Richards can make any little wish his heart desires, but the devil always knows how to undermine his wishes to make his life a living hell. Can being rich, powerful and in love be all that he has dreamed of, or is he forgetting to fill in some of the details? Fraser does a great job interpreting the role of a socially inept fool, so guileless and considerate that he is a doormat. He displays hilarious reactions to the catastrophes that arise from each wish he makes. Hurley also gives a surprisingly acceptable performance as a fierce, naughty and downright nasty Lucifer. The storyline and the situations are not surprisingly novel, but “”Bedazzled”” does have its moments. One thing is for sure: The costumes and use of color in this film are fantastic, and you will not leave the theater without having had at least one laugh. ...

spirits, memories & movements

To many people, the thought of attending a modern theater and dance performance is synonymous with watching paint dry, minus the intoxicating fumes. It is precisely those people that should attend this weekend’s world-premier of “”Phantom Bodies/Phantom Limbs.”” Photo by Kim Balckford The show is the work of dancers/choreographers Jean Isaacs and Patricia Rincon, who are both on the faculty of the Department of Theater and Dance at UCSD. “”Phantom Bodies/Phantom Limbs”” will show this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Mandeville Auditorium. “”This is going to be a great show,”” Rincon said. “”It is very rich and very strong with the different arts blended together. It is not to be missed.”” “”Phantom Bodies/Phantom Limbs”” combines the work of dancers, actors, musicians, directors, visual artists and designers to bring the audience on a thrilling journey through the concepts of dreams and death. Photo by Kim Balckford The show is divided into two sections. The first, “”Phantom Bodies,”” is the work of Rincon. “”I got a lot of my inspiration from dreams and death,”” Rincon said. “”I researched death in many cultures and how it was dealt with. The Day of the Dead in Mexico was one thing that caught my eye, along with the treatment of death in the Irish culture. I was fascinated with the ceremonies and the rites of passage.”” Using multiple art forms, she takes the audience on a journey through life, death and dreams, and hints at just how thin the line is between each. “”There is that feeling that people get where they are confused if they are in a dream or if it is real,”” Rincon said. “”There is a question of whether that line can be crossed.”” For those who are looking for something more than purely philosophical interpretation, Rincon’s piece is not without its comedic moments. “”We also use some comedy in the piece,”” Rincon said. “”Life does have its funny moments. We do get more serious as the piece goes on, but it is poetic and not very heavy.”” Rincon’s portion of the show will feature dancers from the Patricia Rincon Dance Collective, including Carol Abney, Jessica Curiel, Deborah Lohse, Rommel Salveron, Shannon Snyder and Terry Wilson. Isaacs’ portion of the show, “”Phantom Limbs,”” explores a different aspect of the phantom theme. “”Phantom Limbs”” is based on the premise that when a person loses a limb, he can still feel it there. As with “”Phantom Bodies,”” Isaacs’ piece deals with issues of death. “”Phantom Limbs”” also uses a combination of actors and dancers to convey its message. The dance used in this piece is very experimental, according to Cameron Thrash, a UCSD graduate and dancer with Isaacs’ San Diego Dance Theater dancers. “”This is not at all a stereotypical dance performance,”” Thrash said. “”All of the movements were created by the choreographer and the dancer, working around the dancer’s experiences. Instead of the choreographer just telling us what to do, we are using our own experiences. It makes it very personal.”” With the evening taking on personal meaning for the performers, it has some of them filled with butterflies. “”I’m anxious and apprehensive about this show because it’s definitely a piece of something that nobody really knows about,”” Thrash said. “”It’s going to be a huge show.”” Isaacs’ portion of the show will feature her San Diego Dance Theater dancers, including Thrash, Elizabeth Lee, Alison Dietterle, Veronica Martin, Faith Jensen-Ismay, Todd Bennett and James Ellzy. The dancers interact with the actors and use a mix of dance, movement, music and the spoken word to communicate the evening’s thought-provoking theme. Jim Winker, an actor in the performance as well as an instructor at the Department of Theater and Dance, is very fond of the idea of dancers working with the actors. “”There are a lot of troupes out there that do nothing but dance,”” Winker said. “”This is a whole different way of working. It is really fascinating to explore the different kinds of communication. I would like to do more of this in the future. It is very interesting.”” Rincon is also supportive of the mix of theater and dance. “”Dance is so wonderful in its nonverbal communication, but that only goes so far,”” Rincon said. “”The mix of speech goes further in communicating the overall theme. I have been working with actors and dancers for a while now and I absolutely want to continue working in this medium.”” In addition to the dancers, Winker and Charlie Oates are featured actors in the show. Steven Schick, a percussionist from UCSD, will also perform during the show. Les Waters appears in the show and is the director. The sets for the show feature glass sculptures from Encinitas artist Joel Bloomberg and is designed by Dan Wiener of the La Jolla Playhouse. David Kesner works on the sound and mix production for the performance and Kathryn Gould is in charge of costume design. As a supplement to “”Phantom Bodies/Phantom Limbs,”” there will be an art exhibit in Mandeville Auditorium featuring the work of Nathaniel Clark, a San Diego visual artist. Clark’s images, which portray dreams in other-worldly ways, provided additional inspiration to both Rincon and Isaacs. The art will be available to view throughout the show. The performance is made possible by funding from the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, The California Arts Council and the John and Beverly Stauffer Foundation. Tickets are $18 for general admission, $15 for UCSD faculty, staff and senior citizens, and $12 for students. Tickets can be purchased at the UCSD Box Office, at all Ticketmaster outlets and on the Web at http://www.ueo.ucsd.edu. For further information on the show, call the University Events Office at (858) 534-4090. ...