Resparking an old flame (Feud #2)
Yesterday, in an effort to garner more views for our new music video for our song Dirtnap, I posted this link on Reddit. In order to get some attention, I entitled the post: “I starred in a music video to get back at my high school drama teacher for banning me from ‘Oliver!’.”
Well, the link actually did pretty well, and we got over 1,000 views overnight. Someone from my hometown tipped me off that the drama teacher in question had gotten wind of this post, and made the following statement:
“This SOB Quit Oliver and tried to take the cast with him and now Syas i Banned Him. I hope against all odds he makes it So I can sue this loser’s ass. Of all the humans I have met in this world and there are many losers among them he is the most full of crap!!@!!”
So, I would like to use our website as a platform to make my official announcement for the press, in response to his statement. Without further ado, I would just like to say:
“You dion’t know a star when you see one, you stupid POS!!@! Now that it’s too late, you want to ride my coattails all the way to the top just because you didn’t see my greatness in high school? You never wanted to me to succeed, because you’re afraid of real star power!! I’m gonna be a big star, whether you like it or not! I’m not full of crap, I am full of talent and charisma, you hack! I am star, godammit. I AM OLIVER!!!1! askhsafekljsafgk.sag.ksaksafslgsaslfgsd”
That is all. Thank you.
Talkin’ Shop, or How I Learned to Stop Giving Crummy Tours on Double Decker Buses and Start Sleeping on People’s Couches and Collecting Food Stamps
When I moved from Rhode Island to Chicago as a spritely, wide-eyed singer-songwriter of 18, I was under the impression that I would play a couple shows and then get discovered and sign the big deal with a major label. I didn’t know exactly what the big deal entailed, but I figured that it would probably involve making a lot of money and being heard and seen by the entire world. In other words, all of my wildest dreams would come true.
I mean, could you really blame my naivety? There certainly was a time not too long ago when a man in a suit would hear your band playing at the school dance and the next thing you know, Liv Tyler is running into your father’s electronics store to tell you that your song is being played on the radio. So, I was just waiting around for my big break.
After playing around Chicago for about five years, I eventually put together a band that a lot of people thought was pretty good. At every show, we were getting better and better, a lot more people were coming to see us play, and local publications were writing about us. However, I was unsatisfied. We weren’t making much money, so we all had day jobs, and we didn’t have the time to make music at the best of our abilities. At every show, I would eagerly search the crowd for a man in a suit who would give us loads of money to record and book us big tours across the country, but he would never show up.
Well, a year passed, and I was getting fed up. At this point, we were really good. Everybody said so. Even our drummer’s mom said so, and she doesn’t like anything. So, I decided that our problem was that there were simply no men in suits in Chicago. I realized that all of the men in the suits were probably in New York City, so I booked a couple shows, rented a van, and we drove down to the land of dreams to finally get our well deserved big break.
We got to the Big Apple, and it was terribly exciting to be in a different city. There were tall buildings everywhere, all filled with men in suits. However, after a couple days, my excitement was wearing off and I was beginning to get terribly anxious. Our first two shows were so poorly attended that we didn’t get paid and we were losing a lot of money on gas. It just didn’t feel right that we could be so popular in one city and total nobodies somewhere else.
However, on the third night, my spirits were quickly lifted, as a member of one of my favorite bands came to see us perform (most likely because I sent him an e-mail which accidentally made him think that I was his cousin, therefore making him feel required by blood to see us play.) The band he is in is a big deal. They’ve been written about on all the big blogs, played all the big festivals, and headlined big tours. When I talked to him after the show, he let slip that he was broke and was moving in with his mother (who, for the record, I have no blood relation to). This was a big shock to me, considering that this was the height of their popularity and my ultimate goal was to be in his band’s shoes.
I ended up locking myself in the venue’s bathroom to weep in a fetal position on the toilet seat as people angrily pounded on the door for about twenty minutes. This is what is known as a mental breakdown. It commonly happens at least once a tour.
My thoughts took me to that desolate scene in The Muppets Take Manhattan where Kermit realizes that he screwed over a bunch of Muppets by bringing them to New York City to be in a Broadway play that he was probably never going to sell. Suddenly, everything seemed so bleak and hopeless. I saw my bandmates as a bunch of sorry Muppets who I dragged away from their girlfriends, jobs, school and lives to play to not that many people all over the country for no money with the hopes that one day we will make ourselves popular enough to move in with our mothers.
Well, believe it or not, a man in a suit from a big major label was at that third show, and he asked me to come visit the office building the next day to shake hands with other men in suits. As I stood at the entrance way, my sweaty palm clenching the doorknob, I realized that I was perhaps steps away from the big deal I had been waiting for all this time.
I was led around the building and introduced to a bunch of different people. I was nervous, and fumbled around people’s offices like a less racist Kramer. At one point, I accidentally knocked over a big stack of magazines off someone’s desk. As a joke, I said, “Sorry, I just did a whole bunch of cocaine.” But then I realized that most of the people in the building had just done a whole bunch of cocaine, and my joke went unappreciated.
Some of the important people with money listened to my record, and some of them had opinions. The general consensus was that there were good songs and an interesting vibe, but they didn’t understand why there had to be so many swear words.
I was very disappointed that we didn’t get the big deal. I had friends who were in a band who got the big deal with the same major label and I was very jealous of them. A couple weeks later, they were in town taking a break from their arena tour supporting a legendary, iconic band to do an in store performance and record signing at Best Buy that the major label had set up for them. I was very jealous. When I got there, there was a big display case with hundreds of copies of their record, and a large banner welcoming them to the store. However, when I saw them playing an acoustic song at the back of the building, it was clear by seeing all of the indifferent shoppers scurrying past them that nobody came to see them, not even their own drummer who was standing at the other side of the store playing Tetris.
This greatly perplexed me because they had the big deal from the major label. My friend explained to me that sometimes major labels will sign a bunch of bands that kind of sound the same. They will give them enough money to put out a record. The fact that they are now a major label band should now make radio stations want to play them and have people want to write about them without the label really having to do anything. They will throw a couple gestures, like setting up cool video interviews, a neat photoshoot, and a big record signing, even if they don’t have any fans yet, to remind the band that they are on a major label. If the band doesn’t blow up, it’s not a big deal. At least they can’t go with anyone else. And if for some reason they do blow up on their own, the major label has really hit the jackpot.
My friends’ band continued to tour the country and play to thousands of people who were patiently waiting to see the band that they actually like. Because the band did not want to sign the even bigger deal which would have given the major label a high percentage of all of their income, the label gave them enough money to merely exist. The band was caught in limbo, with the label doing nothing for them to generate their own following. After a year, they broke up the band and all got jobs at Arby’s.
Now, you may be wondering, why am I reading a story about the music industry by a total nobody who I’ve never even heard of? Well, I’ll tell you what. After I stopped waiting around for an ambiguous big deal that I assumed would make all of my wildest dreams come true, I was able to look at everything a lot more realistically. After a while, my band got popular enough in our home base and in other nearby towns that we were making enough money every month for just me to pay my rent and buy some food, and feel like a somewhat normal human being. Because of this, I was able to quit my day job as a double decker bus tour guide who told crummy jokes to tourists who don’t speak any English, while the rest of the band members kept theirs. This gave me time to do all of our booking and general management in addition to creating and developing our music when the other members weren’t repairing a violin, or writing a long essay, or raising a family.
We continued to play around town, and drive out of town to play in nearby cities every now and then. However, without a day job, I was then able to go on longer tours by myself, still billed as the band name, to raise awareness of our music and meet people in other towns that the whole band didn’t have time to go to. I almost became like a traveling salesman for the real thing. That meant that when the band was then able to go on longer tours, every town we went to at least had some people who already knew about us and liked our music, because I had the time to lay down the groundwork by myself.
The truth is, with the drastic decline of record sales over the years, there are far less people in suits who can fork over dough to artists so that they can make music and have that music be heard. Now there are far less big deals and a lot of those deals will screw you anyways. The way things are now, it really is up to the artist to do everything themselves if they really want to get anywhere, with just being good as the least of their concerns. If an artist promotes themselves online, books all of their own shows, and raises money on their own to make records (using websites like Kickstarter), they can grow sizable fan bases without any deal at all. When they can prove that they can sell a lot of records at sold out shows all by themselves, suddenly they have proven their own self worth. That means that they suddenly have leverage over the guys in suits, and don’t have to feel pressured to sign any old deal that comes their way, and can keep doing things on their own until they find the right deal that will give them what they need to really pick up steam.
As record labels get less and less powerful, there will be a lot more really good bands in limbo, stuck somewhere between being amateurs and people making substantial money. Now, more than ever, being in a band is a lot like starting a business from the ground up, with most of the tasks being taken on by one guy who ends up having a lot mental breakdowns and a worried mother, and probably collects food stamps. It may seem pretty bleak, but it means that with this new system, only people who are actually pretty good and more importantly really want to do it will end up succeeding. Unless, of course, they find a loophole somewhere like making a viral Youtube video or getting in a fake fight with another local band.
THE QUACK OFF
Driving through all of the mountainous hills, looking back at all of the patches of houses and neighborhoods bunched together on golden wheat farm land, Omaha seems like a midwest farm version of Los Angeles. I’m on tour without the rest of Dastardly, traveling and sharing shows with a great band from Chicago and good friends of mine, The Bears of Blue River. We drove past the outskirts of Omaha to go to Avoca, Nebraska. Population 275. Our host, Djengo, was taking us to his hometown to let us experience a midwest phenomena that most people in the world are oblivious to. We were going to experience the 31st Annual Avoca Quack-Off.
When we drove into Avoca, it seemed like a ghost town. Just another part of the rural midwest, quiet and hard working. We parked and walked a couple blocks, past the abandoned public school, and suddenly, the air was filled with racket. We turned a corner, and there were over three thousand redfaced midwesterners, drunk off their asses at one in the afternoon. Most of them were holding ducks.
See, it’s a duck race. People register their duck, usually a duck style pun (Duck Norris, Duck Everlasting, Cluck You Like An Animal, Quack Cocaine, etc.), and chase it down a line with other people’s duck, tournament style, until a winner is announced. The event usually goes on for five or six hours. Most people were wearing duck bill hats, and pants with duck feet.
We walked up a hill, past the throng of duck competitors, to get a view of it from a distance. “Alright,” boomed the announcer, which pierced through the entire town. “Duck Rogers, Duckin’ Donuts, Quack Johnson are up. Also on deck is Donald Duck. Come on guys. You’ve got to be more creative with these names. Donald Duck? Give me a break!”
We met up with Djengo’s brother over on the hill by a parked fire truck, who eagerly passed us all cans of beer, adjusting his bright yellow, full faced duck hat.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” boomed the announcer. “Please give a round of applause for James Sterling. He’s 84 years old and started this competition 31 years ago today. Everyone, give him a round of applause!” The crowd burst into furious bouts of applause and screams. In the distance, I saw an 84 year old farmer start climbing a pole to wave to the crowd.
“Yeah, this used to be a lot crazier at the Quack Off,” Djengo explained. “There used to be another competition where you would pass a duck around in a circle and bet whose hand the duck was going to shit on, but PETA heard about it and shut it down.”
Djengo’s brother proposed to his wife at a Quack Off a couple years ago. Djengo showed me the video. The announcer’s voice boomed that his duck’s name was registered as “Lisa, Will You Marry Me?” She ran on the field, and graciously accepted. As they embraced, the crowd roared with applause. After 30 seconds, the announcer said, “Alright guys. Let’s get a room or race a duck. Next up we have…”
“Everybody, make way,” we heard the announcer say. “We’ve called an ambulance from the next town over. Get ready to make way for an ambulance?”
“What’s going on?” I asked one of the town people.
“James Sterling, the founder of the Quack Off, took a dive off that pole,” he replied.
“Jeez, I wonder if he’s okay,” I muttered.
Another town person overheard me. “Hopefully it’s not cardiquack arrest,” he said, sipping on a 40 of malt liquor.
At this point, a slightly heavy set, delirious red faced man was frantically chasing his duck, who was hiding underneath the fire truck. “God dammit!” He yelled. “Get out from under that firetruck, you need to win me that damn prize, Aeroduck!” Finally, he gathered the duck, and stumbled over to me and Brian, the drummer of Bears of Blue River. Suddenly he became very startled.
“Whoa!” he yelled. “Where did you come from?”
“Chicago,” Brian said politely.
“No! Where did you come from!!!” he screamed. “Me? I come from the stars out there.” He pointed to the sky. It was 1pm. No stars.
I looked back at the crowd. James Sterling, the 84 year old founder of the Quack Off, was being wheeled into an ambulance. Through the throngs of people, I saw him raise his arms triumphantly. The crowd cheered uncontrollably.
It was cold, and we started walking toward the car.
“Alright,” boomed the announcer. “On deck is Quackeel O’Niel. Quacker Oats. Necrophiliquack. My God. You people are sick. There’s children here.”
We heard a big commotion burst out as we made our way toward the parking lot. “YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!” yelled a recognizable voice. “AERODUCK IS A FUCKING CHAMPION!!! GOD DAMN ALL OF YOU!!!” I looked back and saw the man/martian we had been talking to taking a swing at a security guard. He was then seized by four large, burly men and escorted off the premises.
By the time we got to the car, there was hardly a trace of the madness in the air. We drove back on the highway back to Omaha, and enjoyed the quiet, expansive farm landscapes that one would expect while driving through rural Nebraska.