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Madison needs to get serious about supporting local music

Who's making noise in and around Madison? What's new in the business of making music around town? Review shows and CDs here. Please keep all hype in Hype Exchange.

Madison needs to get serious about supporting local music

Postby jjoyce » Tue Sep 27, 2011 5:14 pm

I'm a little surprised there hasn't been more chatter about last week's cover story about the local scene:

http://www.thedailypage.com/isthmus/art ... icle=34736

I have my own thoughts about why Madison ain't Austin (subsidies and incentives aside, there's just not the tradition here), but what do the musicians in the crowd think?
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby Walter » Tue Sep 27, 2011 6:07 pm

I'm no musician, as anyone who has heard me play can attest, but here's my 2 cents.

There's no connection between the massive audience at UW and local shows. Thousands of potential patrons and unless it's a big name attraction at the Orpheum, Overture, or Majestic, they don't show up.

The best venues to see good local shows are East of the Square but UW students seem to be unable to cross Webster Street. Is it because those places are not primarily catering to a get super trashed demographic or because live music doesn't matter to a majority of students I can't say. Granted, a big portion of UW is underage but even the over 21 pool is in the thousands and the High Noon does have all ages shows.

Why the disconnect? I don't know. The kiosks are plastered with show flyers, the venues advertise. Maybe I'm too old to understand...I mean these kids today get excited about a bar with a DJ. A damn DJ.

I'm just going to tie an onion to my belt and walk over to Shelbyville...it's uphill both ways and I have holes in my shoes and I'm grateful. Some of us aren't lucky enough even have feet to put in shoes!
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby ArturoBandini » Tue Sep 27, 2011 6:32 pm

In addition to DJ's, I think that iTunes and those Bose internet jukeboxes at every bar have an impact on the number of people willing to tolerate local music. Why yell over a band that you only kinda like when you can get exactly what you want to hear instantaneously?
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby swoon_queen » Tue Sep 27, 2011 9:04 pm

Full disclosure: I was interviewed for the story. Most of what I talked about didn't make it to the paper, but Marc and I had a great chat. I think he makes many valid points. One thing I didn't talk to him about, but realized after the fact- I'd argue that if there were more all-ages friendly shows in Madison, there'd be a much healthier local music scene. Local music is cheaper, the promotion can get more direct/personal, there's a great opportunity to build a fan base at the UW. The obstacles involved in presenting under-21 shows were a thorn in our side planning FWD (granted, some venues have evolved into doing 18+ shows since- Frequency comes to mind) and continues to strike me as a glaring disconnect between Madison and other college towns.

One thing I'm surprised he didn't mention is that Jeremiah Nelson, someone I regard as a cornerstone in Madison's music scene, recently moved away. I'm not privy to the details of Jeremiah's reasoning, but I'm pretty sure it was not, as Marc pointed out was Patrick Breiner's case, for "reasons of love." I also told Marc that Shane O'Neill, a longtime darling of the scene and a driving force behind some of Madison's best shows, will soon depart, for NYC. Austin Hays, the talented young troubadour behind up and coming band Corcovado, moves away on Monday. Peaking Lights, a band that is huge in experimental music both within Madison and across the country, have called Madison home for the past few years but are now packing it in for the West Coast. Local bands that used to sell out good-sized venues- Blueheels, Pale Young Gentlemen, Sleeping in the Aviary, a few others I can't conjure up in my head at the moment- have either already departed or are on hiatus from performing. Perhaps a rundown of this startling list would have painted a more accurate picture of just how seriously Madison's music scene is struggling.

I have a few other thoughts as well, but don't want to turn the forum into my personal manifesto ;)
Last edited by swoon_queen on Tue Sep 27, 2011 9:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby swoon_queen » Tue Sep 27, 2011 9:09 pm

Walter wrote:The best venues to see good local shows are East of the Square but UW students seem to be unable to cross Webster Street. Is it because those places are not primarily catering to a get super trashed demographic or because live music doesn't matter to a majority of students I can't say. Granted, a big portion of UW is underage but even the over 21 pool is in the thousands and the High Noon does have all ages shows.


This is true- UW students rarely cross Webster Street for live music- but they didn't really visit the Annex much either, which I found surprising.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby fennel » Tue Sep 27, 2011 10:10 pm

Well, you might consider that the headline was a bit off-putting. It's only a first impression, true, but one that isn't likely to draw interest from those whose primary preoccupation, these days, is defending against threats to their livelihood.

Let's just say it doesn't really jibe with the zeitgeist.

I'd say it was a very good article, knee-capped by a headline.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby ScottL » Tue Sep 27, 2011 10:35 pm

From a venue / music biz person in Madison...

I'll tell you all a true story.

This past spring I went to Austin for SXSW for the first time. We checked into our hotel and walked down the street to grab a burger at this place Casino El Camino. These two guys who were both in their late 40's, maybe early 50's sit down next to us. Great dudes. We start chatting and it turns out they live about 40 miles away but EVERY YEAR come down to SXSW because of how much they love live music.

Now you might think a couple of middle aged guys in cowboy hats who lived in rural Austin wouldn't be into any of the bands at SXSW.

Who were they most excited to see? "What's that guys name from Omaha. Conor something? Bright, Bright Eyes, That's it."

That is the difference between Madison and Austin.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby talagaster » Tue Sep 27, 2011 10:51 pm

swoon_queen wrote:This is true- UW students rarely cross Webster Street for live music- but they didn't really visit the Annex much either, which I found surprising.


Part of the problem is that the Annex didn't really book for college crowds, particularly over the last few years. Plus, the layout was horrible to lure walk-in traffic. Walk past the Rathskellar (or Project Lodge) and you can get an idea what is going on inside, it makes you want to come in and check it out. Same thing with the Frequency where they let you listen to the music before you cross the curtain. Set-ups like that are inclusionary, inviting for a couple freshman looking for something to do than drink their brains out.

Meanwhile, the Annex (& in the way-old-days Luther's Blues) were exclusionary. You had no idea what the show was like, just a poster & the word of the doorguy. If you didn't know the act, you wouldn't check it out.

The Annex was poorly set-up to be a college music venue, I don't think that means a non-Memorial Union/Union South campus music venue is doomed to fail.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby ilikebeans » Wed Sep 28, 2011 12:36 am

Perhaps it's not quite fair to compare modern-day Austin to Madison, considering their current population is about three times our size. They were the "the third-fastest-growing large city in the nation from 2000 to 2006," according to Wikipedia.

Then again, no one talks about the culture in Houston, do they?

I'm glad Marc Eisen addressed what was going on in Austin a quarter century ago to bring it to the music mecca of the country that it is today.

I heard something in Austin that I never heard in Madison. City leaders and the go-getters in the chamber of commerce loved their music scene (outlaw country was still in full flower) and saw it in utterly pragmatic terms: It was a moneymaker and a draw for the creative class. The Austin chamber had a staff member dedicated to furthering the Austin music scene, doing everything from advocating for the city's entertainment district, to pulling together the legal, marketing, financial services and recording infrastructure for musicians.
...
I tracked down Madison jazzman Ben Sidran, who was touring in Australia at the time, for a comment.

"Madison has always been a tough place to be a musician," he told me. "There's a lackadaisical attitude in Madison about this sort of thing."

His inclination, he admitted, was to be a booster for the Madison scene. "But things aren't going to change until there's a willingness to develop those resources."

Madison leaders have never viewed the music scene (or really, the arts in general) as an economic development opportunity. Ok, an attempt was made with the Overture Center, but we all know how that's turning out.

I mean, check out the numbers:
A 2006 study by TXP Inc. detailed almost 44,000 arts-related jobs in Austin and more than $1 billion in arts economic activity, including $419 million in the music industry. Arts-related tourism pushed the grand total to $2.3 billion.

Notice that it took 25 years and a unified vision by the city for Austin to get where it is today. They've gone over a tipping point to where they are a destination city for the country's artists and fans.

Now, with the recession, constrained budgets, and regressive, business-only government, good luck at seeing any kind of movement in that direction around here.

In addition, with the myriad of entertainment options and a 21-yo drinking law, it's more difficult than ever to get college kids interested in live music. Witness not a single live music club (outside of the UW unions) in easy walking distance of most university housing.

We missed the (magic) bus big time.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby bdog » Wed Sep 28, 2011 5:20 am

Madison needs to get serious about supporting...

- Denis Denure's MuseumMile plan

- Pickleball

Both make as much sense as trying to create an Austin-like music scene that obviously won't survive here.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby dave esmond » Wed Sep 28, 2011 9:33 am

swoon_queen wrote:One thing I'm surprised he didn't mention is that Jeremiah Nelson, someone I regard as a cornerstone in Madison's music scene, recently moved away. I'm not privy to the details of Jeremiah's reasoning, but I'm pretty sure it was not, as Marc pointed out was Patrick Breiner's case, for "reasons of love." I also told Marc that Shane O'Neill, a longtime darling of the scene and a driving force behind some of Madison's best shows, will soon depart, for NYC. Austin Hays, the talented young troubadour behind up and coming band Corcovado, moves away on Monday. Peaking Lights, a band that is huge in experimental music both within Madison and across the country, have called Madison home for the past few years but are now packing it in for the West Coast.


I think this shows a couple of things about Madison.

1 - It doesn't have one "music scene". It has many. I know a lot of people in one scene. But for example other then Shane I've never even heard of anyone you mention. I'm sure they make good music, and are cornerstones of a scene. As a late 40's aged guy who still goes to see a lot of live music you'd think I'd know close to everyone in a town the size of Madison. But obviously I don't even know some of the major players.

Add the rap, hip-hop, metal, industrial, jazz, folk scenes and whatever else and we've got a lot of scenes that don't have much crossover.

2 - It's the college thing again. I'm guessing most of the folks leaving town came here for college. Maybe stayed for a few more years. And then, like a lot of folks want to move somewhere else. That's normal and not something special to musicians.

What can be done? I stopped wondering years ago. We've got lot's of great music here. I go see as much as I can. I already miss a lot of things so I'm not sure how much bigger the scene needs to be, or really can be.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby jjoyce » Wed Sep 28, 2011 9:55 am

I've never been to Austin, but I have been to other college towns with scenes that are much more vibrant than Madison's. What those towns have in common is a) less of a dependency on over-the-top drinking and b) bands in most of the bars where college kids hang out.

In State College, PA, we walked in and out of about six bars and paid a $2-$5 cover at each. Bands were uniformly horrible (with one exception) and mostly played covers, but going out in that town means being around live music. If even four State Street bars offered live music on four nights a week, that would open up opportunities for local musicians to play more, make a little more money and get better. More playing live means better musicians which means a better scene. Am I wrong, musicians?

But in our city's recent history, it's been significantly harder to present live music at one's bar than not. In my humble opinion, the result of closely observing the music scene around here since seeing my first show at O'Cayz in the fall of 1988, bars with bands generate far fewer problems than bars without. Walter can correct me on this, but the cops aren't getting called to the High Noon or Frequency. They're going to Brothers, Wando's, Kollege Klub. But there have actually been special licenses built in if you wanted to put in a PA and a stage (remember the cabaret license?). It should be the opposite. You should get a tax credit if you present live music.

The other thing that cities do is build arts incubators. Here we talk about doing that, but it doesn't actually get done. I talked to somebody the other day about what the loss of the Union Transfer building meant to the local music scene. Many bands had studios in that dump and some musicians I knew actually crashed there (illegally) when they were between leases. I'm not aware of any similar space that's as close to campus/downtown today.

You don't have to make a similar joint very fancy at all. Just rooms with lighting and electricity. Musicians might back me up on this, but if you make it too nice, you'd probably just repel the element that's most likely to form a kick-ass band.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby ilikebeans » Wed Sep 28, 2011 9:56 am

bdog wrote:Both make as much sense as trying to create an Austin-like music scene that obviously won't survive here.

That's the can-do spirit!
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby dave esmond » Wed Sep 28, 2011 10:10 am

jjoyce wrote: Bands were uniformly horrible (with one exception) and mostly played covers, but going out in that town means being around live music. If even four State Street bars offered live music on four nights a week, that would open up opportunities for local musicians to play more, make a little more money and get better. More playing live means better musicians which means a better scene. Am I wrong, musicians?


Sorta wrong.

I don't think we need 4-5 more places for in your words "horrible" music.

I know plenty of folks who pay in cover bands. Some better then the originals. They're the only musicians I know who have regular gigs that pay actual money.

Would it hurt for them to play more? Of course not. Is it gonna help the 100's of local bands who play originals? Not at all.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby fisticuffs » Wed Sep 28, 2011 10:17 am

I know plenty of folks who pay in cover bands. Some better then the originals. They're the only musicians I know who have regular gigs that pay actual money.


That's getting a lot harder too. We make more money in Janesville, Wausau, Sun Prairie, and fucking Edgerton than we do in Madison. The few downtown venues don't have any interest in cover bands and the non-downtown venues have mostly closed. I think the U provides the town with a lot of good musicians but zero concert-goers. If there was a place on State (looking at you Western-themed used-to-be-the-Pub) that would have bands I think they'd be successful with the student crowd. but they don't need the music to be successful The Pub did just fine with dirty floors and plastic cups.
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