October 9, 2013

A Different Drum Update - October 9th, 2013 - History Part 8

Filed under: Uncategorized — Todd @ 5:52 pm

Hello, this is Todd at A Different Drum, sending out an update with a few new items in the store this week!  First and foremost, the website is fixed!  Yippee!  You can once again order with ease at www.adifferentdrum.com

As usual, you’ll be forwarded to Paypal for secure checkout and all things should work smoothly for you.

Here are three new CD titles that you can now order:

Interface “The Perfect World” $15 — This is an electronic band that has sold consistently through A Different Drum’s store through the years, playing a nice blend of dark synthpop and electronic dance music with an edge.  This is their new album, just released and available for order here:


Daniel Hall “Deep Down” $16 — An import from Australia, this one-man synthpop act has essentially put together a double-album of 19 tracks which will introduce you to his music in a thorough and fun way.  He has a knack for catchy songs and classic synthpop sounds and is a great addition to A Different Drum’s store, bringing some fun synthpop discoveries from around the world.  You can order the CD here:

Sir Joe “Universal Laws” $15 — Speaking of fun synthpop imports from around the world, here is a new offering from Russia’s ScentAir Records.  Sir Joe creates a solid synthpop sound with clever lyrics on this debut album.  Check out the sample and order the CD here:

Just as a reminder, if you’re ever trying to remember the latest arrivals in A Different Drum’s store, you can always go to the new arrivals page, which can be found here:

Now, for the next little installment in A Different Drum’s history…


I’ve written previously about a few small shows and a festival that were organized within an hour’s drive from where I lived in Provo, Utah during A Different Drum’s earlier years.  After those shows, I had to back away a bit from directly sponsoring and funding events, but I couldn’t stay away for long.  I often used online forums to discuss hopes and dreams for synthpop events with other fans, some of whom later began sponsoring shows of their own.  One of the next big events that I directly organized, at my own financial risk, was a traveling, 2-day festival.  I thought that it would be a new and exciting approach to take the festival mentality, with multiple bands, but send it on the road to the fans instead of asking fans to travel to a single event.

Touring has always been a challenge in the USA for small bands like are found in the synthpop scene. Bands in Europe seemed to have an advantage because they could travel around in relatively short distances to hit their receptive audiences in established clubs.  But in the USA, the geographical distances between major cities with receptive clubs are much larger.  For example, if you were to tour in Germany, you could hit a dozen major cities and play those shows in a geographical area about as large as the state of New Mexico.  But in the USA, you would be lucky to find one show in the state of New Mexico, and the next closest would probably be in Texas, many hundreds of miles away (just an example for geographical perspective).  So, to hit a dozen shows in the USA, you are probably looking at thousands of miles of travel to get from places like Miami, to Dallas, to Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, etc.  See the challenge?  Once you’re talking about those distances, then you’re looking at either a lot of time spent driving around vast stretches of ground, or you’re looking at the much higher expense of flying from show to show.  That doesn’t mean it is impossible, but it means that if you are a band that might make a couple hundred dollars selling CD’s and t-shirts, then you’re going to spend a lot more than you’re going to earn, merely in travel expenses.  That is why many smaller synthpop bands never (or rarely) toured the USA.

I mention this because it factored into my planning for A Different Drum’s “Summer Synthpop Festival 2000″ tour. I contacted the label bands, many of whom had never been to the USA for a show before, and told them, “if you can get yourselves here, then let’s work together to make sure you get a few shows packed into a couple of weeks.”  I chose to stage those shows on the eastern side of the USA because the cities are closer together, but figured that we could pool together those bands and save on expenses as well.  Perhaps the larger number of bands would draw larger audiences and result in better ticket sales so that the bands could take such a trip without losing too much money.  Several bands from the USA were interested, including B! Machine, Faith Assembly, The Echoing Green, Count to Infinity, and Cosmicity.  Plus a couple overseas bands joined the effort, including Neuropa and Neuroactive.  The band Iris also opted to play only the first two shows.  Everybody was excited about the prospects and I began contacting promoters in a few major cities to see what I could pull together.

I tried to use a flexible business approach when booking the shows, keeping it affordable, but also trying to make sure we weren’t going to make all the effort for nothing. Working with promoters is known to be a bit shady.  Sure, there are some very dedicated promoters working in great clubs that always come through with their side of the bargain, but bad deals have been known to go down in this business.  I asked for a simple fee– half paid in advance, and half paid at the event.  I asked for two nights so that they could have 4 acts play one night, and then 3 or 4 the next night, giving each location the feeling of a multi-band, multi-day festival.  In the end, I was able to book only five stops, keeping the bands on the road for about two weeks with the performance days and the driving days. However, two of the three promoters had waffled on the advance payment, still promising that they’d come through…they just needed the ticket sales first so that they could hand over the cash.  You want to know how much?  Of course you do!  We were asking for $2,000 for seven bands.  We thought that was a great deal, considering two of them were from overseas and the promoters didn’t have to worry about anything else, like hotels, airfares, van rentals, etc.  They just pay the fee and we would take care of the rest.  Five shows would ideally bring in $10,000 which would cover all the travel and expenses for the road trip, all the hotel rooms for two weeks, plus possibly pitch in some for the airline tickets if anything was left.  It seemed a solid plan.

The bands started in New York City, and it was a very strong start to the tour, leaving all the bands in great spirits and excited to move onward.  I remember showing up early at the venue for sound checks to find that there was already a line outside the doors with hours before opening. I talked to some of the fans who were waiting in line, and they seemed genuinely excited to be there.  I had a great time hanging out with my friends from the bands, meeting some for the first time.  I also met David Lin of Synthphony Records who invited me to lunch while I was in town, among other people I’d only known online until that event.  I went with the band members to pick up two full-sized rental vans which would be used to haul the bodies, the equipment, and the merchandise during the entire trip, though I wasn’t planning to make the road trip myself.  I was only there to help kick things off in New York City.

Speaking of merchandise, I made sure the bands had plenty.  I brought boxes of their individual CD’s, letting them know that any CD’s they sold on the road would contribute to their own expenses.  Plus, I had made a special, limited edition compilation with a track from each band (catalog number ADDCD1058).  We had t-shirts made as well, hoping that the merchandise could bring in whatever funds were lacking.

The two-night show in New York City was great– fun music and fun fans!  I remember working at the merchandise table in the back of the club and having somebody come to me and ask for an autograph for the first time (and I think the only time).  It took me by surprise that somebody actually wanted a boring, business guy to autograph the festival compilation CD.

“You don’t really want me to write on your CD cover, right?”

“Yes, I’m serious.  Please autograph it.”

“Well…OK.”  I scribbled my autograph and proudly told my band buddies that I’d just been asked for an autograph.  They congratulated me with smiles.  Of course, the band members were autographing CD’s the entire night.  The promoter paid the fees and I’m pretty sure made a little profit on the show, and everybody was ready for the next one.

Next up on the tour was Washington DC.  I said goodbye to the guys, leaving Joey Belville of The Echoing Green in charge as the road manager.  Joey is one of the super-stars of America’s synthpop scene.  I can’t say enough about the guy.  He had spent many, many weeks on the road with his band in the past and by far had the most experience gigging.  I felt I could trust him 100% and I always have.  He’s one of the friendliest, most courteous, and most professional guys I’ve worked with, and he is always quick to show gratitude and help other people along.  Not to get too side-tracked here, but when you’re working in a tight scene, like I have, you find that many of the bands are friendly with one another and work together, but at the same time those individuals may harbor a competitive spirit, unable to completely avoid comparing their own successes (or lack or success) to others.  It’s hard to avoid that when you have people pursuing the same dreams and wondering if they’ll ever be “as popular as so-and-so” or if they’re selling as much as “the other guy”.  This wasn’t something that came out in the open very often, but you can sense it sometimes when you get down to the business side of things and certain band members start wondering why things don’t seem as good as what they’ve perceived elsewhere.  One thing I can say about Joey is that I never, ever got that feeling with him.  He was always quick to thank me for any effort that I made, always first to volunteer for any venture, and always lifted the spirits and hopes of those around him.  He’s a quality guy.  Anyway, I sent Joey and the other bands on the road with my fingers crossed, then flew back home where I could man the phone and try to work out the kinks with a couple of the other shows and promoters.

I was happy to get word that the DC show went off without a hitch.  The club set up the two nights perfectly and the band members all seemed to have the time of their lives, saying that it was even more energetic and successful than New York City had been.  They reported that the fans in DC were even more enthusiastic and the merchandise sales had done very well.  They left the 2nd city on the tour, once again in very high spirits and with very high hopes, heading next to Philadelphia.

If I remember right, it was only a couple days before the scheduled event in Philadelphia that I got word from the promoter that the gig had been cut down to one night. For some reason, they were not able or willing to get the club venue for two full nights. Iris had finished playing their first two nights, so it was down to seven bands at this point, but those seven bands were not happy to discover that they had to figure out who to cut from the show, because all seven could not possibly play in one night.  The promoter had some of the say in who would take the stage, and who would not.  I don’t remember much about the financial side of that particular stop, but remember that not everybody was happy with the unexpected change.  Needless to say, there were still fans there, and the bands who played put on a good show, and though they lost a night which they had to spend in a hotel without having anything to do, they moved onward, again with high hopes.

The next scheduled stop turned out to be a total bust.  This was a promoter that had said the advance wasn’t going to make it in time because tickets could only be sold at the door…or something like that.  The two vans made a long drive to Rochester, in upstate New York, and the guys piled out at the club address, ready to set up.  What they found was a promoter who looked embarrassed, apologizing because apparently he hadn’t worked out the gig with the club…at all.  So, here were a dozen guys, tired from the trip, ready to play, only to find out that there was no show.  The promoter took a couple hundred bucks from his pocket, handed it to Joey and basically said, “Sorry guys, it didn’t work out, but hopefully this can buy you dinner.”  It was thoughtful to give up his own money to help, but was definitely a huge disappointment and financial crunch to our tour. After all, this group still had to eat, still had to pay for the hotel rooms, even without the gig.  The gang went to the hotel and checked in, then took the night off, getting some much needed rest.  I think it was somewhere here that Mark of Faith Assembly managed to get his hair colored and the band members were able to become closer friends, just killing a little a time, watching movies in the hotel, etc.  They left a day early to go to the final city on the tour, Chicago.

Luckily, when the bands arrived in Chicago, things were set up as they were supposed to be, with a good venue, good fans, and the payment as promised.  The bands were happily able to sell some merchandise (which obviously hadn’t happened at the previous stop).  After two nights in Chicago, everybody piled back in the vans and made the drive back to New York.  Nate Nicolle of B! Machine and Joey stayed behind the wheels for most of the travel hours, which were many, leaving them completely exhausted by the time everybody was back in New York and catching their planes back home.

To this day, some of those guys who went on the Summer Synthpop Festival 2000 tour still say that it was the most fun they’ve had as bands, despite the kinks.  Financially, it worked out about like everything else I’d done to that point– losing money on the expenses, but building great memories and a foundation for the future.  It gave some guys a chance to meet the fans and the fans a chance to meet the bands.  I remember asking bands to assemble for future events, and I’d almost always hear something like this:  “If this is going to be another crazy road show, then yes, count us in!”

However, the traveling festival days were over and I never tried to set up such a thing again.  Sure, I set up festivals in other cities, but they were single stops, rather than multiple-city tours.  Don’t get me wrong– if I had the money and the time, I’d send out the call again, asking bands from around the world to come together for a tour across the entire USA.  That would be a dream come true, and this time, I’d stay with them for the entire trip.  But even the short, two weeks, with hundreds of miles behind the wheel, proved that the obstacles to such endeavors were very real.  It was expensive, time-consuming, and logistically hard to put together such a thing in our small scene.  No regrets though.  I still have my festival CD sampler on my shelf, and I know that everybody who went could tell many stories about the trip– many of which I know I haven’t heard.  Those were good times.

There was another trip I took a few years later that was multi-city, hitting a few east coast cities like Washington DC, Baltimore, Richmond VA, etc. But I was traveling with only one band (Cosmicity) and my old buddy, Gary (the one who had co-sponsored my first two shows).  So, it was not large scale, and there was no big expense for the clubs.  We simply volunteered to bring one live band for a quick show, and set up a merchandise table from A Different Drum in the club, and basically meet people.  In a way, we were bringing A Different Drum off the web and out to the streets.  Gary and I had some good times driving to those small gigs and it was fun to visit the different clubs that were playing synthpop music at the time. It gave a personal face to the scene.

Gary and I also made a very memorable trip to New York City where we set up a merchandise table at The Bat Cave, one of the most well-known clubs in the city for synthpop, industrial, gothic, etc.  There were no bands involved, but we wanted to get out and sell some stuff and meet some people once again.  The night was fun, and the club was something to be experienced, for sure. I’ll never forget Gary’s visit to the small restroom on the upper floor of the club, not knowing that it was unisex, and feeling trapped in the stall in horror, thinking he must have accidently gone into the ladies’ room.

This was a trip that happened only a month after the infamous 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Though weeks had gone by, a plume of smoke was still slithering into the air from the scar on Manhattan’s business district, and travel was down to a bare minimum.  When we were in JFK airport for our flight home, it was like a ghost town.  Most of the restaurants and vendors in the airport were closed, and what had been an extremely busy international travel hub had only a few people silently wandering the vast terminals.  We were lucky to make that trip.  I felt like, despite the horrible events that had hit New York City, it was important to move forward, to meet people, and to show that we could still enjoy music and dancing. Plus, I simply wanted to be there– I wanted to go support a city that was hurting, even if my support was miniscule and only meaningful to myself.  It was wonderful to return on future trips to find the city full of crowds and tourists once again.

Thanks to all of you who have visited me on these trips, and who have supported the bands by going to the shows, even if those appearances were rare.  It has meant a lot to me, and I know it has meant a lot to those bands.