[Dixielandjazz] The possibility of the impossible.
barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sat Dec 24 08:42:57 PST 2005
"I can think of six impossible things before breakfast" said the Queen in
"Through The Looking Glass. Apparently so can some folks in the music
business. And the impossible becomes possible.
Below is how some band leaders do the impossible. Just like others did
before them, including Dave Brubeck over a half century ago, when he and his
wife took an unknown band and self promoted it to Colleges. Only after they
proved it could be done, did the national booking agents come a calling.
Who among us, besides Barbone Street, and The Boilermakers, is actively
playing, or even pursuing the College Campus circuit?
There are other ways besides the one in this article to reach the Colleges.
Like Swing Dances. We're doing 4, so far, at LOCAL colleges in 2006.
OKOM and College kids? A natural bond just like 55 years ago. Note that a
key to success in this arena is crowd interaction.
Trying to Become a Big Act on Campus
By DAN MORRELL - December 24, 2005 - NY Times
MARLBOROUGH, Mass. - Like many musicians, Bella Vox is also a salesman, and
a good one. Onstage in front of about 1,100 college students on a recent
Friday night at the Best Western Royal Plaza Trade Center here, Mr. Vox -
the lead guitarist and vocalist for the Los Angeles-based band Thornbird -
pilots the trio through its pitch: straightforward rock 'n' roll perfect for
an attention-deficient 18-to-22-year-old crowd.
Thornbird opens the set with a metal version of Britney Spears's "Baby One
More Time" and closes with Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama,"
sandwiching accessible pop rock originals in between. Mr. Vox skips through
the audience during songs, throws the guitar behind his head for a solo, and
eventually invites the crowd gathered at the foot of the stage to join in
the spotlight. These customers, many dressed in matching shirts proclaiming
allegiance to their respective colleges, dance wildly about the stage,
unconcerned with rock clichés.
By the end of the night, Thornbird has about a dozen potential college
bookings lined up across the Northeast, a number that will swell to well
more than 30 in just two days. For a band without the backing of major label
money or any record sales to speak of, these shows represent a livelihood
and, maybe, the path to the next level.
The captive and lucrative audiences for their wares are attendees of a
National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) regional conference,
former proving grounds for the likes of Jimmy Buffett, Simon and Garfunkel
and Jon Stewart.
"I remember going to one of these conventions in the 1970's, and Earth, Wind
& Fire and Tony Orlando and Dawn were there, and Billy Joel was doing a
small showcase," said Dennis Haskins, the actor best known for playing the
character of Mr. Belding in the 1980's sitcom "Saved by the Bell," on his
way into the Trade Center in Marlborough.
Mr. Haskins, who has offered his mixture of "Saved by the Bell" trivia and
motivational leadership talks to campus buyers at association conferences
for the last three years, was a student buyer himself as a student at the
University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. He said the explosion of media since
then explained why more national music acts are not taking the stage at
association conventions. "Now those big-name acts don't have to use this
medium to get exposure anymore," he said.
The association is still the king of the campus market, though. The group
claims among its members about 1,000 of the more than 4,000 two- and
four-year institutions of higher education across the country. The largest
collegiate booking organization in the country, the association has a
virtual monopoly on the college activities scene.
Entertainers pay the association several hundred dollars in membership and
application fees for the chance to perform for a crew of excitable college
students who have thousands of dollars of campus activities funds to spend.
In turn, colleges and universities pay several hundred dollars to gain this
firsthand access to a wide range of entertainment options, available at a
reduced cost. The price break is a result of the cooperative buying method
that the nonprofit association has employed since its inception in the early
1960's: Thornbird usually charges $2,000 a gig, but if three schools in
close proximity can match up their schedules and put together a string of
three shows during a five-day period, the price drops to $1,300. Another
hundred drops off if five schools can plan a seven-day swing.
Not every act gets to take the stage. A 10-member committee of student
volunteers and professional staff members at association headquarters in
Columbia, S.C., decides which entertainers are worthy of a 20-minute
full-stage set in addition to the convention booth granted to every accepted
magician, musician or lecturer. This collection of more than 130 booths is
set up in a room next to the stage.
In its booth, Thornbird attempts to lure the hungry by baking chocolate chip
cookies in an oversize toaster oven, the smell of which competes with the
scent of doughnuts cooking at a nearby booth. The band contends for campus
activities funds against entertainment ranging from Thomas Bresadola, billed
as "The Master of Hypnosis," to an interactive video game called "Dance
Dance Revolution Extreme." Nearby, the comedian Jim Breuer, a former
association headliner, plugs his new Sirius satellite radio show by handing
out T-shirts and lanyards as a goateed man in a purple zoot suit zips up the
aisle on a motorized toilet. *
The association is an investment for these independent artists. "It cost us
about $4,000 to attend three NACA conferences," said Fitz Harris of Pie Boys
Flat, a Queens-based, reggae-tinged band, but it has booked 12 shows as a
result of the conferences the band has attended this year. "And so far we've
doubled our money in bookings."
The money may be there, but not every association show will guarantee a new
flock of fans, said Shawn Radley, manager for the singer Howie Day. Mr. Day
played the association circuit from 1998 to 2001 and did not always end up
performing for rapt audiences on campus. "Half of the time, you're playing
in a cafeteria - where the kid cares more about the slice of pizza in front
of him than who's playing," Mr. Radley said from his office in Boston."
What will help you break through, said Lance Hughes, president of the
OnCampus Booking talent agency, is using the income from association shows
to supplement the necessary $50-a-night opening gigs for larger artists in
areas where a performer does not have a fan base. "In order to build
markets, you need to play clubs," he said. "With college shows, you get the
students for two years and then they're gone."
Mr. Day used the association as a meal ticket while he pursued club tours.
Mr. Radley said money from the association's bookings also helped Mr. Day
record his debut album, "Australia," in 2000, which was later picked up by
Epic Records when he signed with them a year later.
For all of the college students that these bands attract at association
conferences, none of the artists seem to be interested in charting on
college radio. "NACA and college radio are completely separate entities,"
Mr. Radley said. Pat Simmons, drummer for Thornbird, attributed this
disconnect to the two very different markets on campuses. "The student
activities kids are not the ones with their finger on the pulse," he said,
noting that the college radio crowd generally consists of the
band-of-the-week, hipster aesthete types. "The campus activities kids are
looking for something that is visually stimulating and can move a crowd."
Nikki Salzman, Jill Edinburg and Olga Shapiro, student buyers from Brandeis
University, were searching among the booths for just such a band for their
spring concert. "I really liked the way they interacted with the crowd," Ms.
Salzman said of Thornbird. The band's offstage charm also went a long way
with the women. "They're really nice guys, too," Ms. Edinburg said after a
brief encounter with the trio at their booth.
With college shows scheduled well into the spring, Thornbird is content with
its position. As Mr. Vox accepted handshakes and compliments outside the
Royal Trade Plaza after Thornbird's showcase performance, two college-age
women passed by, enthusiastically informing him that his band rocked. He
smiled with his tongue out, flashing devil horns with both of his hands. "We
just keep on rowing, man."
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