Hello, this is Todd at A Different Drum. There are three great, new releases that arrived into the store this week, so let’s take a quick look at them before diving into another piece of A Different Drum’s history:
Zynic “Blindsided” $20 — This is the 2nd album from the top-notch, European synthpop act that made a big splash with their debut album, “Fire Walk With Me”. You can listen to an album sampler and order the new CD here :
Tenek “Another Day” (CDEP) $12 — As previously announced, this is a taste of the new music being produced by TENEK, a well-produced and talented synthpop act from England. You can order this new 4-track CDEP here :
Neutral Lies “Cryptex” $18 — This new import from France is the second album by Neutral Lies, a rising synthpop act that has a sound very similar to some of the popular bands in the 90’s. Watch their video to get a taste and order their new CD here :
Now, as I head into another installment of A Different Drum’s history, I want to point out that all of the updates and the history segments can be found on A Different Drum’s blog page here :
Though I have made a regular practice of posting all updates on that blog, and mention it via Twitter and Facebook every time, it was pointed out to me by a friend that many people only see my updates through email and may not know about the blog if they want to look back at previous posts. Feel free to check it out.
HISTORY OF A DIFFERENT DRUM - PART 4 - BRINGING A SHOW TO TOWN
Provo, Utah was my home for several years. It is where I went to college, it is where I fell in love, where I got married, and where my wife and I started our family. It is also where A Different Drum was started as a business, and it is a beautiful place to live. It has grown a lot from year to year, along with the surrounding cities in Utah County. I’ve always loved Provo, where despite the growing population, it always felt like your neighbors were your friends, everybody shared similar values, and your kids were safe to play in the streets without worry. Plus, it was beautiful, where you lived under the shadow of a great range of mountains. But with all of Provo’s great attributes, it was true that not much happened there in terms of entertainment, other than a huge, Independence Day celebration and some great college sports. There had never been more than two dance clubs ever since I can remember. The long-time club was The Palace. Another called The Edge was around for a while, later changing its name to The Omni. While I was a college student, I had never danced at The Palace, but instead drove to Salt Lake City where there were many dance clubs to explore, and one in particular where I eventually became the head DJ. The Palace in Provo had a reputation of being…well…kind of a boring place, though I never went to find out why. After I’d started my business, I ended up getting hired as a DJ in the pop/rock room on Latin Night, and I found that it was a respectable business run by a respectable man.
My store was established and I had rediscovered synthpop, thus diving head-first into the new underground scene of the 90’s. I started to wish that the fun would come to my town instead of always happening in faraway places. I’d met my friend, Gary of New Wave Records, and we often talked about putting together a show in Provo. After all, Provo and Utah in general was home to a great fan base for 80’s music and synthpop. Many of the local fans were completely unaware of the underground scene, but you would regularly hear the classic synthpop stuff on the local, alternative radio stations. Finally, Gary and I got serious. I had been calling these bands regularly to order CD’s, so why not line something up with them and bring a show to town? We had no experience as promoters, but how hard could it be? We had credit cards, so we could cover the costs and simply pay ourselves back after the ticket sales, right?
We chose our first targets. Anything Box was well known on the local radio station for their hit song, “Living in Oblivion”, which still played regularly, so we decided to make them the headliner for our first show. We grabbed the local synthpop band, Agnes Poetry, as an opening act, and we even got another underground synthpop act from California called Turning Keys to come play a set. It looked easy. I called Orangewerks, which was the independent label for Anything Box and a man named Tim answered the phone, as usual. I’d always dealt with Tim for CD orders and he knew me well. He referred me to a lady who was the band’s booking agent and explained that I’d have to propose the show to her, and then she’d arrange the payments and let us know the equipment list, etc. Basically, the rules to promoting a show with a band that is popular enough to get paid is that you cannot advertise that anything is happening until you have signed the contract and have paid the required advance (usually half of the total booking price). Gary and I split the costs and booked Anything Box. The opening bands were simple arrangements consisting of something like, “hey, you want to play?” “Sure, we’d love to!”
As soon as the wheels were in motion, we excitedly began making preparations. For advertising, we paid for a few radio ads, but they were expensive, so we didn’t buy many. I mentioned in my previous installment how the radio station’s DJ was even heard to make fun of the show after running one of the ads, saying something like, “That will be a great show…with one song!” But despite the minimal budget invested in advertising, a few tickets started to sell. In fact, a few fans were worried that they wouldn’t be able to get in. “Did it sell out already?” Of course they could still get in! Tickets weren’t selling that quickly…we had plenty. We booked The Palace as our venue. They gave us a good deal, since I knew the manager and had been working there once per week as a Latin Night DJ. Gary and I thought that we might sell a lot more tickets to college students who may not know the band, but who simply wanted something to do, so we made flyers and spent many hours posting them in every dorm complex in town. Maybe we sold a half dozen tickets through our flyer efforts, but we learned quickly that the media was far more effective than flyers, and that was why it was so much more expensive.
There are other things to take care of before the show can go on. Aside from paying the advance, we also had to book a hotel for the band, buy their airline tickets, and acquire all of the necessary gear on their technical rider. I took care of the airline tickets right away. We’d been informed that there were three people in Anything Box, plus one extra person who would come to sell merchandise. That was four tickets total. Thinking myself rather clever, I figured that Tim, the man who always answered the phone at Orangewerks, would be the merchandise guy, so I bought one of the tickets in his name. There was Claude, Dania, Gary S, and Tim. When I called Tim and told him what I’d done, I got something of an odd response. “Um….um….well…I don’t think I’ll actually be coming…” Apparently I’d jumped the gun by assuming that Tim needed a ticket. After a little confusion, Tim assured me that everything would be OK, and that they’d transfer the ticket to whoever was going to come. In the end, three people walked off that plane. It was with some amusement that I came to realize later that Tim could not have come as a separate person. After all, these guys were on their own label, right? Who else would run a label that released music that was written and recorded by one person? I didn’t care that the airplane ticket was a waste, and I understood that “Tim” had to answer the phone to avoid many endless conversations with strangers wanting a little time with the star of Anything Box. It made perfect sense, and in the end was simply amusing. Even more amusing was the fact that I now had my first CD release, “Rise! America’s Synthpop Underground” printed with a permanent “thank you” to Tim.
The technical rider for a show includes all of the necessary equipment for the band to perform, because most bands who are popular enough to use a booking agent and charge for their gigs don’t actually bring their own gear. Nobody wants to haul expensive keyboards and equipment around on airplanes. Plus, there is also a list provided of hospitality needs. Aside from a hotel room, the band may request things like “a dozen, ice-cold water bottles and three clean towels in a secluded backstage area.” They may have special meal requests or other things that they want to make sure are not forgotten. Gary and I looked over the list of equipment that we needed to secure and found that there were a couple of items that were not available locally for rent. We had to call several store in Salt Lake City to rent the specific keyboard that had been required. It was an expensive rental, and we had to drive an hour each way to pick it up, all while we were also picking up the band and taking care of other last-minute arrangements. But in the end, we got everything, including the large mixing board and the professional audio engineer to run it. We set the equipment up on the stage and then, during sound check with the band, got another amusing surprise. The microphones (which were already at the club, and thus the cheapest piece of equipment on the stage) was really all they needed for the sound check.
I pointed at the top-notch keyboard with great pride. “Look what we got for you!”
“Oh, nice. Thanks.”
I plugged the cables into the keyboard and asked which channel they wanted it plugged into for the mixing board.
“Um, just toss the leads off the side of the stage. You don’t need to plug them in.”
“We’re not going to play anything on the keyboard. That’s just where Gary stands. We only need to plug in the DAT machine.”
They had brought a DAT machine (digital tape) which was set on top of the keyboard where Gary S. could push play, pause, or whatever while dancing his fingers around on the keys.
“So, you don’t need this particular keyboard?”
“It was on the technical rider.”
“Oh, we just put a quality keyboard on there, but it can be any good keyboard. We’ve just had shows where we show up and there is a cheap Casio on stage, and we look like idiots, so as long as it has Roland, or Korg, or some legit brand name on it, we’re good.”
I thought to myself, “Well, I have a cool Roland sitting in my home. I could have brought that for free, but we just spent hundreds of dollars to bring this thing from Salt Lake City for a night. Oh well.” I shrugged it off. After all, this was Anything Box, and they were awesome. I loved these guys! I still do. Anything Box will forever be one of the premier, American synthpop acts.
I think back to when Gary and I were at the airport to pick up the band. Back in those days you could actually meet your party at the terminal as they walked off the plane. All I knew about the appearance of the band was what I’d seen in album covers and promo flyers. There was the unforgettable hair that defined 80’s new wave, and the cool fashions. Gary wasn’t as fooled as I was when the band came out of the tunnel. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I was looking for black leather, hair that defied gravity, and somebody…well…a bit taller. When you think of your heroes and the people you “look up to” your mind sort of makes them larger than life. You expect them to be tall. So, when three regular people came out of the tunnel and my friend Gary moved to them to shake their hands and welcome them, I took a split second to realize that this was who we’d been waiting for. They were just regular people, in regular clothes, with regular hair, and a bit shorter than myself. Again, I was laughing at myself for being somewhat naive in the entire process. We got to talk quite a bit with Claude, Gary S, and Dania, and found them to be very kind, down-to-earth individuals.
By the time the show rolled around, we were surprised by a long line outside of the club. Based on pre-show ticket sales, we really did not know what to expect. We were looking at financial losses, for sure. But the line went out the door, across the parking lot, and down the street. When we brought the band to The Palace and they saw the line, they too seemed a bit surprised. This was Provo, Utah and nobody had known what to expect. There were between two and three hundred people at the show, which was a great crowd for the size of the club. It wasn’t too many, and it wasn’t too few. I stood with my wife and my sister in the back, next to the mixing engineer who was finding the entire thing somewhat amusing since he wasn’t mixing much at all, except three microphones and a DAT player. But you know what? Once Anything Box started singing those songs, the crowd went wild and the show was more fun that I had imagined. Claude sang wonderfully, and Dania was like a cheerleader up there, working the crowd into a frenzy. Every song got the crowd bouncing and singing along. A funny thing about Dania was that she had not planned to do her hair, but Gary had begged her, saying, “Dania, everybody expects you to have the hair!” So, she did it. The wife of Ronn from Turning Keys gave Dania a trim in the hotel, then helped her apply the necessary, gravity defying gels and sprays to make it stand on end. So when Dania hit the stage, she was exactly what the crowd expected, and I think they loved her most of all for the energy she brought to the show. Gary and I were in heaven. We’d brought a show to Provo, Utah, and everybody was having a great time. Nobody knew or cared how much of the instrumentation was live, but they knew that Claude was singing the songs they loved. There was one brief snafu when the DAT player came unplugged and the music suddenly stopped, leaving only the mics on. But Clause and Dania kept singing while Gary S got the DAT hooked up again, and people seemed to love the brief acapella performance as much as the rest of the show.
When the band had finished and the show was over, they came out from backstage and hung out with the fans who had stuck around, hoping for an autograph. They didn’t just sign autographs, but talked with people and sat around, sharing themselves until the club finally insisted that we pack up and leave so that their employees could finally go home. Everybody seemed very uptempo and happy to have been there. In every way it looked like a huge success. Gary and I counted up the cash from the door ticket sales, which were better than we’d hoped. We already knew what we’d spent, and we already know what we’d sold in advance, so when we tallied everything together, we’d lost about $750. I remember we both agreed that we’d never had so much fun losing $750 before and that we should do it again. Next time we would know better what worked and what didn’t, and we now had one show’s experience under our belts.
We immediately put the wheels in motion to do it again, booking The Palace for another show with Red Flag, Seven Red Seven, and Cosmicity. We indeed moved through things more smoothly, spending less time plastering the city with flyers and putting more money into strategic radio ad placements. Guess what…my keyboard ended up on stage this time, though I had to make sure that the extra man who came for Seven Red Seven’s stage show, Robert Semrow of The Memory Garden, knew that it was actually my keyboard and I didn’t want it damaged from the performance (Robert loved to pound on keyboards for stage effect). Once again we had a lot of fun hanging out with musical friends, particularly the Seven Red Seven and Cosmicity guys who joined Gary and I for Chinese food before the show. Once again we had a good crowd between 200 and 300 people, and once again everybody seemed to have fun. We didn’t get as much of a chance to talk to Mark and Chris from Red Flag, as they tended to stay in the hotel until the last minute, and weren’t quite as sociable as Anything Box had been. But at the end of the day, Gary and I counted the money and gave each other high-fives for having once again lost about $750 on a synthpop show in Provo, Utah.
In the end, money was lost, but memories were made, and some of A Different Drum’s long-time customers and friends were found in those first audiences. In fact, I think that those two shows did more to boost A Different Drum on a local level than anything I’d done up to that point. Suddenly people were walking into my store to buy synthpop CD’s that they couldn’t find anywhere else. Suddenly, the business felt a little bit more legitimate. It felt less like a home for all things international, and more like a home for nostalgic synthpop fans who wanted to look at my one little rack of CD’s and discover something new. Gary and I had started a life-long friendship through those collaborations, and I had also made my first face-to-face contact with bands who I’d work with for years. I have further stories which include these people, which I hope to touch upon later.
PART 5 — MAKING A RECORD LABEL
Thanks for reading!