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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.

Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby ko-Kayne » Wed Sep 28, 2011 10:33 am

i bet Austin doesn't have a Rich Albertoni.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby talagaster » Wed Sep 28, 2011 11:00 am

fisticuffs wrote: 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.


That is so huge. State St bars don't need pull on Thursday-Saturday. People go out to just drink. Maybe they'll watching some sporting event on TVs as they drink or awkwardly hit on someone that catches their eye but that's about it. For a downtown bar owner, a band is background music, one that can potentially draw people away.

My question is: What is the Comedy Club on State doing right that non-Frequency downtown music venues are doing wrong? On any given Wednesday-Saturday, they can draw in 1200 people over the course of the week. Usually, people come to see comedians they've never heard of before and, trust me, the people in the audience are generally not comedy nerds. They attract a lot of college kids on Thursday nights and late shows and bring older people downtown (who often spend money at downtown restaurants first) for the early Friday & Saturday shows. Why can stand-up comedy pull this off when bands can't?
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby fisticuffs » Wed Sep 28, 2011 11:05 am

That is so huge. State St bars don't need pull on Thursday-Saturday. People go out to just drink.


I think it is the big one. In those smaller towns the band is the reason to go to that bar.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby jjoyce » Wed Sep 28, 2011 11:46 am

Another personal anecdote, because what happens to me is what happens to the world, right?

Some of my college pals had a decent band that quickly got bored with playing frat parties and driving to Iowa City for gigs, so they started doing what you needed to do to get on stage at Club de Wash (new band contests, playing for beer as the first band up on a four-act Tuesday night lineup, etc.). They were bad, but had some promising songs and really just needed time to get better. The problem was they could never get anybody to come see them at their club gigs. The crowds, ladies in particular, were great at the SAE house, but those shows did them no good. And the shows they needed to be playing were discouraging.

There needed to be a hybrid; a place closer to campus (both geographically and psychologically) than CdW and O'Cayz where they could develop a following and get better. We'd sit at the bar at Mondays and try to get the guy there to let them play in the corner, but he rightfully pointed out that it would do him no good and only take away standing/drinking space.

And the cover band thing needs to get resolved. Granted, there's a difference between the huge venue cover shows and the startups, but a lot of great bands learned to play and made some money by doing a lot of covers, slipping originals in here and there. My guess is that a Tuesday night in Austin means putting up with a lot of bands trying to figure it out on stage doing ironic covers. Is there even room for that in Madison these days outside of house parties?
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby dave esmond » Wed Sep 28, 2011 12:10 pm

jjoyce wrote:Granted, there's a difference between the huge venue cover shows and the startups, but a lot of great bands learned to play and made some money by doing a lot of covers, slipping originals in here and there.



That may be the course for a lot of original bands. But not bands looking to play covers for money.

Cover bands are often GREAT musicians. It's not a place for people looking to learn in my experience.


My guess is that a Tuesday night in Austin means putting up with a lot of bands trying to figure it out on stage doing ironic covers. Is there even room for that in Madison these days outside of house parties?


Never been to a happy hour at the High Noon or a weekday at Mickey's Jason?

Plenty of exactly what you're looking for.

The couple of people who I know that play Tuesday's in Austin have record contracts and/or play with folks like Merle Haggard when they're not in Austin. And yeah it's goofy covers. It's also Haggard's kickass guitar player, and maybe someone like Dave Alvin sitting in.



We're never going to be Austin and we really need to stop looking to them for how to build our own music scene. I know people who've come off the road and decided to settle down in Austin. Yeah it's sorta like Madison, except one big thing. WINTER. Once again we want to ignore one of the major differences between Madison and other places. You can walk across town in January in Austin to see a show. Here we have snow emergencies.

Plus now we've got the crazy governor making Wisconsin look like a place artists and musicians don't want to live.

We're just never going to be as attractive to the kinds of people Austin gets. If I'd spent the past 30 years on the road and wanted a nice little town to settle down in I'd pick Austin. You never have to get off the bus in snow.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby fisticuffs » Wed Sep 28, 2011 12:12 pm

And the cover band thing needs to get resolved.


I think if the goal is to get some of the college kids interested in, if not simply not turned off by live music the cover band thing is the way to start. I wouldn't ever even think about booking us for the Frequency or High Noon but I'd book it for next to nothing to get in a window on State St. or University. They are different crowds for sure but the cover band crowd can quickly move on to the Frequency/High Noon. A cover band, a decent one, would be less likely to turn away patrons at those places than even some of our better original acts.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby swoon_queen » Wed Sep 28, 2011 12:26 pm

Jason- your last two posts make the exact same points I would make (you made them far more eloquently). Unfortunately, the problems inherent with getting an entertainment license in Madison- ESPECIALLY if proprietors intend to make their venues all ages- are hugely prohibitive to would-be startup venues. So are the inevitable zoning issues, alcohol licensing issues, and so on. I was actually quite surprised when Brink's recently rumored downtown ventures (3 story live music/restaurant/bar idea next to Tornado AND that other similar idea they were going to put in near campus) ended up not happening. I'm not an expert but it seems to me the Brinks have exactly what it takes to pull off such ambitious projects- money, good business reputation, allies in city government, etc.- and if they couldn't make it happen, or decided for whatever reason (i.e. not wanting to deal with numerous noise complaints from nearby condo owners) not to attempt to make it happen, then what does that say to a young, ambitious wannabe downtown club owner? Even the Majestic owners, who started their venue as optimistic newcomers to Madison, have had to bend over backwards to prove themselves, despite having completely reasonable and admirable plans for improving Madison's cultural diversity.

The arts incubator idea- yes. I often let bands rehearse or record for free/super low fee at Project Lodge. The Madison Music Foundry is fantastic, but can be a bit of a drive,and slightly expensive especially for bands just starting out.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby jjoyce » Wed Sep 28, 2011 12:41 pm

Dave: I hate the Austin comparison. But it frames the debate over and over and over, so it becomes at least a convenient reference point. In my opinion, the better debate is over why Milwaukee isn't nearly as successful as Minneapolis in terms of building a music scene. But that's another discussion.

Yes, the Mickey's happy hour scene is what I'm talking about. But college bands don't show up there and if they did, college kids wouldn't make their way over there to see it.

Why can't the Plaza or the Vintage host something like that? My point is the musicians would benefit, maybe an audience would develop and the scene would be better off for it. But it's not worth it for the bars.

Could something come out of the city making it worth their while? In so doing, could some sort of tax credit for the Darwins and Cathys of the world help them add to the scene?
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby donges » Wed Sep 28, 2011 12:48 pm

And yet I was talking to an artist who owns a small shop in Mineral Point over this past weekend. He moved up here from Texas a year and a half ago.
And loves Madison. He raved about the food, the culture and, yes, the music. He said that Madison now is just like Austin was 30 years ago.
Maybe he was just trying to get me to buy a painting!
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby dave esmond » Wed Sep 28, 2011 12:55 pm

jjoyce wrote:Dave: I hate the Austin comparison. But it frames the debate over and over and over, so it becomes at least a convenient reference point.


I agree. But when really looks at what is different between the two it just gets dumb.

Places like Nashiville and Austin have a ton of performers that live there because other people live there that they know from the music business. I've got a friend who's next door neighbor in Nashville was Waylon's drummer. Two blocks down Buddy and Julie Miller live. Nathan East is just a few blocks over. And that's just the one's I know of. Part of why they live there is they got friends who live there.

Plus Madison isn't any cheaper to live in. And the winter thing. Why not pick a place with lot's a pro musicians, good music stores and people in the music business that might hire you to play pedal steel for Big & Rich because they saw you play with their bass players side project?

Maybe a tax credit for musicians who want to get off the road?


Why can't the Plaza or the Vintage host something like that? My point is the musicians would benefit, maybe an audience would develop and the scene would be better off for it. But it's not worth it for the bars.


Asked and answered in one paragraph. It's not worth it for the bars. They're not charities. No debate that it would be good for musicians, but that's not who a bar owner needs to worry about.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby Walter » Wed Sep 28, 2011 2:00 pm

I think bars on State putting bands on could work but you would have to have an owner willing to stick with it for the long haul. It would take awhile to build up a reputation and draw people and bands in. And the owner can't be a cheating, lying scumbag ripping off the bands as a general rule. So there's that, too.

People seem to be cheap around here when it comes to paying covers. On a many band bill at the Frequency, I've paid ten dollars. I think there were like 5 bands on that one. Usually covers are five bucks yet I've heard people say they won't pay THAT MUCH to see a band. THAT MUCH? Jesus, the same cheapskates spend more than that on coffee every day. When I lived in Minneapolis in mid-80s, I paid $3 to $5 to see local bands, some before they got big and others that never did but should have (God, the Funseekers were amazing). Even the "big" acts at 1st Avenue cost only about $7 or $8. I choked paying $10 to see the Ramones in '86, but then again I was making $5/hour at the time. People don't want to take a chance on live music if they think it's a bad investment...but that Starbucks coffee is the same and predictable all day long.

I think the Comedy Club on State works because people want to see comedy and are more receptive to it. They go into the comedy setting with a more open mind and a desire to be entertained. They go to see a comedian. How many times have you been at a show and noticed people are talking, on their phones, standing with their backs to the band, basically not participating in the live act/audience experience? It seems like some people go out and just happen to be at a place where there is a band playing. You got to be willing to take a chance to see a band and be active in the experience. Standing there demanding to be entertained on your own terms won't work for live music or any art, really.

JJoyce is right about clubs with live bands in my experience. Almost zero problems. Any place that serves alcohol will have police calls sooner or later but calls for fights at the High Noon, Mickey's, The Frequency, or the Crystal Corner? I can't remember any and those places are all in my beat, which I picked partial based on music venues being in it. The only time I arrested someone at a show was at the Orpheum when Motorhead was there and it wasn't for a fight. A guy got tossed for jumping up on the stage, snuck back in, and did it again because Motorhead was his favorite band. He got a trespassing ticket...be active in the live music experience, just not TOO active, I guess.

I'm with Dave and agree that there are many scenes here. He and I know a lot of the same music people and when I read the article there were a lot of names I didn't know. That article Albertoni wrote a while back had me scratching my head, too, in that I hadn't heard of any of these local bands that were going to rock my world and apparently play shows here. I get out a fair amount for a mid-40s guy like Dave and there's a lot I don't see either.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby fisticuffs » Wed Sep 28, 2011 2:08 pm

People seem to be cheap around here when it comes to paying covers. On a many band bill at the Frequency, I've paid ten dollars. I think there were like 5 bands on that one. Usually covers are five bucks yet I've heard people say they won't pay THAT MUCH to see a band. THAT MUCH? Jesus, the same cheapskates spend more than that on coffee every day. When I lived in Minneapolis in mid-80s, I paid $3 to $5 to see local bands, some before they got big and others that never did but should have (God, the Funseekers were amazing). Even the "big" acts at 1st Avenue cost only about $7 or $8. I choked paying $10 to see the Ramones in '86, but then again I was making $5/hour at the time. People don't want to take a chance on live music if they think it's a bad investment...but that Starbucks coffee is the same and predictable all day long.


The bars outside of Madison where we play never charge a cover. They give us a guarantee because they know we will draw in more people who will buy more booze. Cover charges turn away customers.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby jman111 » Wed Sep 28, 2011 2:27 pm

re: covers
It's definitely some sort of psychological thing. The same people who refuse to pay 5 bucks at the door (we all know them) will readily drop at least that much in a juke box (to listen to songs they can hear for free at home)while ordering 6 dollar watered-down highballs or 9 dollar martinis and obsessing over their $300 iEnslavers (or phones, if you can still call them that).

I somewhat regularly pay covers for coworkers or other friends (yep, the ones that refuse) to get them to go to shows I want to see, only to hear them rave about the bands after-the-fact. I just don't get it.
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby rrnate » Wed Sep 28, 2011 2:41 pm

I recognized pretty much all the names in the article but it still felt a little incomplete to me - just about everyone moving is moving for more than just "I need to be in a more awesome music scene" reason. Madison's music scene isn't really that bad for our town's size and comparing it to somewhere like Austin really doesn't do us any favors. We're a smallish city with a comparable music scene.

Don't get me wrong, it'd be great for me (and for lots of folks) if it was better - I make a portion of my income from being in a band, but that band makes most of our money not in Madison. (Actually, like someone mentioned earlier, we make money pretty much everywhere except Madison.)

Milwaukee has a few places that are fairly open to bands, don't charge covers and still pay decent guarantees, but they're all bars and like everywhere in MKE, you gotta have a lot of background there to get in. Conversely, Madison doesn't really have anything like that. That being said, I think there are some cool things that happen here...

* Project Lodge - like Swoonie mentioned, cheap rehearsal space and lots of cool shows that wouldn't do well in larger/more "professional" spaces. It's a cool space and I'm really happy it's been able to keep the doors open.

* High Noon Happy Hours - Cathy is doing something awesome there, by A) offering an easier way for newer bands to get a foot in at one of our town's best venues and B) offering a way for townie bands to play for smaller audiences who maybe don't get out to as many late-night shows as they used to. She can do these things while using space that otherwise sits empty (but still costs money) - it's win-win. More venues doing multiple shows per day seems like a great idea to me provided you can get some people in the door and that's a way we compete with somewhere like Austin.

* 18+ shows - more could be done with this, but the Frequency has definitely had some awesome 18+ shows that have actually drawn 18-20 year olds.

These are all some pretty great steps in the right direction. It'd be great if the city could help do something to make the scene better, but at the same time, the really good stuff isn't going to come from them (unless it's in the form of some better tax support to venues that last a while and prove they know what they're doing).
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Re: Madison needs to get serious about supporting local musi

Postby Kenneth Burns » Wed Sep 28, 2011 3:17 pm

Once I played a show with a $6 cover. A listing somewhere apparently said the cover was $5. I watched as a group of people argued with the door guy about the $1. He didn't give in. They left.
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