The Quest For Real Country Music

Archive for November, 2015

Mr. Misunderstood, Understood

November 9th 2015 9:48 am

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In yet another act of distinctly setting himself apart from the rest of the wheel, Eric Church got his Drake on and dropped a fully-produced, 10 song album into his Church Choir’s inboxes – an “old school” subscription paid fan club – giving thousands of $49.99/yr fans a WTF morning on November 4, later revealing it to the world on an international broadcast. This album is more than a surprise Eric Church album – it is an effort to lead the charge and assist with the turning of the Nashville tide. A ceremonious passing of the torch opened up the 49th annual CMA’s between Hank Jr and Church, aviators and all, and if we are keeping to the theme of Surprises – yes – Hank Jr on the CMAs. Hank last appeared in 2011 just following his reference to Obama playing golf with Speaker of the House, John Boehner, as “That’d be like Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu.” The comment which ended his 20 year relationship with Monday Night Football. Something had to be up. Oh right, and they covered Waylon (well, Neil.) Then the lucky duck gets to sing again – two points for Church.

I downloaded Chief and The Outsiders the first day of each respective release and dove in. One went over much better than the other but still never satisfied my appreciation for his writing as a whole since the Sinners Like Me album. With last week’s streaming of Mr. Misunderstood, Church reminded us that the movement will not happen if the guy in charge isn’t writing Grade A shit, himself. He accepted the role.

Before we get to the songwriting let’s lay down a few of the facts. It was claimed, in hand-written letters by Church himself, to select media movers and shakers that with a new guitar that his son named “Butter Bean” he wrote 20 songs in 18 days and had 10 recorded 20 days to follow. The recording wrapped up mid-October putting the beginning of the project’s stamp around late August 2015. But Eric, what about in July when you debuted your new song (and Mr. Misunderstood’s closing track), “Three Year Old” at Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheater? Fishy. Because Math. Doesn’t matter. Part of any orchestration is a sellable story, works for me.

An album in 40 days. Kinda like that Jesus figure that he claimed was needed on Chief – resisting temptation from the devil that he sold himself to in Tracks 9 and 10 of The Outsiders?

If there’s one thing that Church does well (aside from his writing on this album…there, cat’s out of the bag) is narrate the story of Eric Church. He reminds us of his motives and solidifies his character. He’s a marketing genius walking in the backdoor of a megascene. I’d love to state altruism and become a fan again solely for his writing chops but I will buy a ticket to his next regional arena show because of his smarts.

So the writing is fucking great. The title track gives us what we love about Church – him and a guitar. Thank you sir. It crashes into a melody so familiar that I spent the next 20 minutes playing a G and C chord back and forth mumble-singing words to try and place it. ‘Mr. Misunderstood’ once again puts “Old Eric” as the compassionate refuge for today’s “They Just Don’t Get Me” Generation as he did throughout The Outsiders. Church also knows his early fans. The ones that let him go. He name drops Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jeff Tweedy clean out of the box; he raised our eyebrows, turned the corners of our mouth down, and had us nod. The song is Mellencamp-esque (which the CMA broadcast eluded to us is Keith Urban’s coming direction).

It’s ends with a pleasing drone dragging us into Track 2, just incase he didn’t have us back.

‘Mistress Named Music’ is stylistically peppered with the coming trend – soul. Authenticity will be the new manufactured selling point – whether it be natural or not. Soul music is the most accessible entrance in that development – uh, remember how good you felt the first time you heard Garth’s ‘We Shall Be Free’? Church mixes in a little Richie Sambora style solo, tone and all, and moves the album’s progression into Track 3, ‘Chattanooga Lucy’ – complete with Memphis born singer-songwriter, Joanna Cotten on back-ups. Memphis eh, kinda like that Timberlake character – with that said, at 1:06 Church beats Timberlake to his own coming sound. I swear I just saw Timberlake performing at a funeral…anyways.

The women of this album deserve they’re own blogging effort – his collaborations are strategic and legit. ‘Mixed Drinks About Feelings’ has long-time producer Jay Joyce calling up his old buddy Susan Tedeschi of Tedeschi Trucks Band (formerly known as Soul Stew Revival) and wife to Derek Trucks (of the Allman Brothers) lending her insanely soulful voice (soul, soul, soul) to the powerhouse track. Church clearly reminds you at this point in the album that he can write. And sing.

The only way to confront a decision or turmoil over a decision is to own it. That’s the outlaw way. Track 5, ‘Knives of New Orleans’ does just that. Screaming “I did what I did, I have no regrets, when you cross the line you get what you get” – admitting to us (his old fans) and vying for our forgiveness. Keep going Eric, I’m coming around. Boom. ‘Round Here Buzz’ – classic Church. This will be the transition song in his career…I’m guessing the next single judging by the percussion.  The “new country” will not be able to deem success without the intelligent lyric – no more cookie-cutter shit. It’s still that tailgate-getmydrinkon-missyou cliché but it’s backed up with a solid narrative and lyrical payoff. The Bridge Song.

‘Kill a Word’ brings in another heavy hitting, legit, female vocalist Rhiannon Giddens. Fellow Tar Heel and lead vocalist of Americana mainstay band, The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Yet again a surprising turn also features a virtually unknown singer/songwriter, Andrea Davidson. Google her name and a Toronto Real Estate agent pops up. ‘Kill a Word’, once again, brings in the Outsider theme and attacks bullying head on. These songs are never done right and the movement more often than not comes off as insincere. Church knocks it out of the park.

He then steals Chesney’s fanbase from under the megastar’s nose channelling his inner Buffett admitting he is ‘Holdin’ My Own’ and literally telling us “I mix blues and soul“. I got a JJ Cale kinda groove to this. (Speaking of Cale, kinda, Church has achieved another online milestone by having his name appear about Clapton’s when typing “Eric” into a search engine.) Church on Church.

Yes! Finally – the double entendre song. ‘Record Year’ is great. Remember Martina’s ‘Crying on the Shoulder of the Road’? Nashville writing at it’s modern best has the double entendre as a staple approach. This song does not fall short. Church’s love affair with vinyl is apparent in his writing – he shows The Outsiders on vinyl in the ‘Mr. Misunderstood’ music video and walked the walk with this magical little album release by sending out Vinyl of the album to select fans prior to the surprise inboxing. Vinyl takes months to create, the manufacturing is an art in itself…nevermind – I’m going back to the timeline of the release. Because Math.

Finally, ‘Three Year Old’ – dammit man, you got me.

Mr. Misunderstood is an incredibly well-written release chalked (see what I did there) full of Church’s best. Did he stalk-pile his material while inking his deal with the devil and release it with a great marketing story – let’s say he didn’t. In that case, Church wrote a unified album in 18 days that WILL bring his old fanbase back into his world; his ticket sales will sore and EMI will make damn sure that he is the number one priority. I might do Eric a solid and order this one in from Dave down at X-ray; I’ve listened to it in it’s entirety five or six times and will continue to do so. It has set a standard and in an attempt to fulfill the prophecy of Christ’s return was set in place with a whopper of a marketing plan and execution – but while Church was filling his contract with Satan on arena stages, Stapleton did so in private…

Church created Chief and The Outsider personnas, and Stapleton focused on himself. The roll-over orchestration had Hank Jr giving Church a christening only to have his evening robbed. Frequently hopping up and sharing stages, Church and Stapleton will lead this front – and everybody knows “friendly” competition is great for Capitalism. But my money is on the fact that Church is pissed.

Are you ready for the country?

Tracker Troubles and The Story of Two Bulls

November 6th 2015 9:18 am

In an enlightening move, a prominent Canadian country radio Music Director took to his personal blog last night in effort of calling a spade a spade. With all facets of the machine so closely interdependent, it was quite admirable for Mike McGuire of Big Dog 92.7 (Regina, SK) to educate his followers, specifically, independent artists on the realities and risks attached to hiring a tracker. Excuse me. The wrong tracker.

Upon releasing my second solo album in 2010, a handful of songs loosely lent themselves to country production (or my version of) and in an attempt to broaden the masses, I believed I had a fighting chance of getting on the radio. But how? It was an elitist group and I hadn’t the first clue of the process. I was soon directed to the concept of the tracker, a middleman/woman, one to be paid for not only what they know but who they know. My well crafted introductory email and submission was responded to modestly, not promising anything, directing payment, and game-plan put in place.

But be damned, it wasn’t weeks in and upon arriving at stations for a little PR and arranged interviews, I had MD’s (music directors) saying that they spoke to someone who I had no idea was representing my song. An outsourced minion. A hustling henchman. I paid for not only “what they know but who they know.” What they knew was one can’t be making all the calls when representing multiple artists at once and who they knew was in the spreadsheet tossed to a neighbouring desk.

The campaign ended with a disheartened Blake giving up on Canadian Country Radio dreams and ready for experiment number 2. Community, College and Campus radio.

At this point I was performing around 100 dates a year and thought it would be in my best interest…and I regret using the cliché in hindsight, but “go for broke.” Making contact with an industry advisor on the west coast I was directed to an independent company out of Toronto specializing in rock radio and led by one silver tongued son of a bitch. Quickly talking me out of my song decision, radio format and my $2000.00 max budget, we released to rock radio. Starting the campaign before the contract was signed I was on the hook for the initial payment of 2G and was continued to be fed the “successes” on his end such as having the most influential names in the industry considering my release for adds. “We’re almost there bud, it’s gonna break but we have the amp up the campaign…send more money.”

Coincidently, other business at the time happened to have me fly out to his home turf and in a personal gesture, I suggested we meet for lunch. At his request we met at a thirty-dollar-fucking-salad-bar not without making me feel that by meeting him in person I was taking away from his tracking time.  These kinds of bastards are good – I was once again sold on continuing the campaign as it would be an absolute shame to have wasted the initial time put in to set the success up. Another $2000 deposit.

With weeks to follow and $4000.00 in, we had one add. One. I abruptly ended the campaign and was informed that I had a remaining balance of over $3000.00 – which included his thirty-dollar-fucking-salad-bar and parking that given afternoon. Seeking legal advice I quickly learned that regardless of a signed contract an email giving the go-ahead was as good as gold and that I best pay the remaining balance and wash my hands. One add. One. As a side note, I ran into the scum at Canadian Music Week the following year and he had no idea who I was.

I wish my tracker troubles ended here. You really would think a guy would learn.

Let’s get back into the Canadian country music radio market.

Because I’ve re-infuriated myself tonight digging up bones, we’ll make the story quick. The industry is small and it’s very easy to make good friends with people quickly – as I did with the then MD in the Swift Current, SK market. Upon receiving my “tracking report” for yet another single in 2013, I simply did not believe that this certain MD said what was reported; a phone call not only proved me correct but there was never contact in the first place. In questioning where the information came from my tracker responded with honesty – he never bothered contacting the station because he “already knew what he was going to say” and hence forwarded that assumption.

These were my experiences on three separate accounts and it’s too bad that missteps, assumptions, and a downright con can colour one of the most important roles in the radio world. With all this said I have heard nothing but accolades for the professionalism and approaches of groups such as With a Bullet , Dale Speaking, & Frontside Group – but as an indie artist one must understand the realities and truly what the goals are when releasing to radio. A great song and a great team will shoot you up the charts but if you are rockin’ and rollin’ as a lone wolf in the radio world here are a few tips and benefits of taking the bull by the horns.

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1. BUILD AND REBUILD A SOLID DATABASE – It’s as difficult to track radio employees as it is a single. Changes and transfers are made on a regular basis so stay on-top of it. I generally like put in a couple hours a week into my database whether I’m pushing a single or not. I use google drive spreadsheets so I can team up with other artists and we all have access to the same info and each other’s updates.

2. LEARN YOUR DATABASE – You did it for Grade 9 Biology, do it for your radio career investment. Flashcards – know who is running what stations at the drop of a hat.

3. KNOW THE RECEPTIONIST’S NAME – They are your first line of contact. Any missing info in your database is accessible with a phone call. Greet the receptionist by name and you drastically better your chances at getting the info you need.

4. LISTEN LIVE – Almost every station has a listen live option on their website. Make it a habit to boot up their player and keep it on while you are going about your workday. Save the link in your database for easy accessibility.

5. DON’T ASK FOR AN ADD, ASK FOR A FEATURE – One spin goes a long long ways. You are representing yourself independently, you don’t have time to chart – you can only market. Features add up and if by the grace of God momentum starts rolling, that’s when you revisit the contact and inquire about light rotation.

6. PLAY THE MARKETS – Duh. Radio tours are great ways to personally connect but why wouldn’t you take advantage of being able to reach such a massive audience as an invite to the live performance. Whether it’s that night, the following week or plans to return in a year – if you wanna release to all of Canada, plan to tour all of Canada.

7. DROP IN – Your mom and dad did it to the neighbours all the time. Chances are they brought beer. Why would this be any different?

8. BUY SOME AIRTIME – If Jim Johnson Chev Olds can snag a 30 second slot to sell something, so can you. Remember when I spent over $10,000 on trackers? Think about the results if that was spent in advertisement.

9. LATE NIGHT AND WEEKEND DJs ARE THE SECRET WEAPON – Just like the morning show and afternoon drive hosts, they have a microphone in front of them and the ability to push play. Give some love to the one’s putting in the late shift…wouldn’t you rather be sleeping or hanging out with your family on the weekend?

10. ONE BY ONE – It’s only a matter of time until you build a personal relationship with everybody. You aren’t in this to chart, you are in this to market yourself – charting will be the bi-product. Write what you write and slowly garner relationships. Representing yourself for as long as need be gives you a huge advantage when the tipping point comes, all relationships will be personal and successes swift.

With swagger, patience, and drive you will get spins, lots, but approach with the long-term in mind. It’s about relationships not charting. The classic scene from Dennis Hopper’s 1988 film Colors, might just describe the approach best with Robert Duvall telling Sean Penn the story of two bulls. Take your time and walk down.

 

UPDATE 

I seem to have forgotten a very important piece of info for those that have never released before. The means of distribution for a single and industry standard is via an online hub called DMDS. One can independently load their single and choose the market in which to deliver but I strongly suggest going through RDR Music Group. Joe or Trudy will pick up the phone when you call and walk you through the process. Good luck out there team.