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Town Hall on Madison Music Budget Recommendations is Tonight

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: Town Hall on Madison Music Budget Recommendations is Ton

Postby Stebben84 » Thu Nov 08, 2012 11:26 am

Spending 50 grand on a video about Madison is asinine. The mayor has been calling for fiscal responsibility and this just makes no sense.

Also, there is no way we could hold a SxSW like festival here. Every bar in Austin has a stage and that's why it works there. I just don't think the places on State Street can handle this. I'm not a musician so maybe I'm wrong. I'd be curious to here what other foron rock stars think.
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Re: Town Hall on Madison Music Budget Recommendations is Ton

Postby Kyle Motor » Thu Nov 08, 2012 1:48 pm

Stebben84 wrote:Spending 50 grand on a video about Madison is asinine. The mayor has been calling for fiscal responsibility and this just makes no sense.

Also, there is no way we could hold a SxSW like festival here. Every bar in Austin has a stage and that's why it works there. I just don't think the places on State Street can handle this. I'm not a musician so maybe I'm wrong. I'd be curious to here what other foron rock stars think.

I think you pretty much nailed it.

Whatever happened to the Forward Music Festival?
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Re: Town Hall on Madison Music Budget Recommendations is Ton

Postby jjoyce » Thu Nov 08, 2012 2:01 pm

Why do all these people want Madison to be like somewhere else? Austin is at least an interesting place, but Grand Rapids?

Why not assemble a task force of, y'know, actual music people from Madison and get some ideas there instead of constantly looking elsewhere.

We can't build something like SXSW here. Can't. Shouldn't.

What we can do is to make it easier, even more desirable and lucrative, to have more live music on State Street. That might actually help solve a lot of problems, including the ridiculous drunken behavior that takes place there each weekend.
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Re: Town Hall on Madison Music Budget Recommendations is Ton

Postby Stebben84 » Thu Nov 08, 2012 2:09 pm

jjoyce wrote:What we can do is to make it easier, even more desirable and lucrative, to have more live music on State Street.


I fully agree. Bring more people on to State Street who aren't just drunken students. Granted, I was one of them once, but I really have no desire to hang out there anymore in the evenings.
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Re: Town Hall on Madison Music Budget Recommendations is Ton

Postby other i » Thu Nov 08, 2012 4:38 pm

Can anyone point to a successful locale that has built up a music scene by focusing on a five block area?

Wouldn't you need a music culture in the surrounding geography or something to do that?
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Re: Town Hall on Madison Music Budget Recommendations is Ton

Postby rick » Thu Nov 08, 2012 6:00 pm

Other i:

Not sure how many blocks they are but Beale St and yes, 6th St in Austin are probably good examples.

What is a music culture?
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Re: Town Hall on Madison Music Budget Recommendations is Ton

Postby other i » Thu Nov 08, 2012 9:25 pm

Not sure about Austin. I don't know about the roadhouse network extending out into nearby areas.

But I'm thinking about the relationship, for example, of Beale Street to the Delta when I use the word "culture".

What do we have like that? People don't go see bands in the near burbs but there IS a tourist scene in some of the lake areas just beyond (And there was a time that that scene was much bigger).
Are we looking for tourist audiences? Are they already coming up the road to hang out at Lake Wisco or Kegonsa? Could Madison be the center of something about that?

I'm just thinking out loud here and don't pretend to have solid studied ideas but it seems that we're wanting to base the development of a music scene on stuff that's already happening on the Isthmus but that might have limited potential.
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Re: Town Hall on Madison Music Budget Recommendations is Ton

Postby RockOfTheArts » Fri Nov 09, 2012 1:47 am

Why not emulate Austin? You need to look at the big picture.

I run music blog Rock of the Arts as a hobby. My day job is working in IT for a Fortune 500 company. Most business people preach about the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship. Austin has 487 startups and the region is one of the top venture capital investment spots in the country.

SXSW is the calling card for the Austin economic engine that attracts the brightest and most creative people in the country. What started as a regional music festival has turned into something so much bigger.

Interestingly enough, a co-worker of mine who grew up in Texas and went to college there says that Madison reminds him a lot of the way Austin was twenty years ago. Before the growing pains that came with the huge spike in population. I say we learn from Austin’s mistakes and carve out our own Midwest innovation niche. Everything is in place for such a thing to happen; educated work force, emerging music scene, great restaurants and a spurt in technology startups. My god, Epic Systems is on track to hire 1,000 people this year! The mayor can see it too and I applaud him for taking the initiative to make things happen.
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Re: Town Hall on Madison Music Budget Recommendations is Ton

Postby Adam Powell » Fri Nov 09, 2012 10:11 am

I've spent a lot of time in Austin as both a private contractor and a speaker at a series of SXSW panels (these dual roles are important to the following analysis).

When you visit SXSW, you can walk into any bar -- and some streets are lined with bar after bar after bar -- and hear some really good music. It might be bluegrass, swing, punk, cow-punk, acoustic country, noise-rock, garage, or bebop. The amazing thing is that due to competition, almost everything you hear will be stellar.

But here's the thing most people don't get: Austin is like that *all the time.* After everyone leaves SXSW you can STILL walk into a random bar, pay no cover, and listen to some excellent music by a band you've never heard.

That's just not going to happen anytime soon here. Longtime residents will remember that we had something really special in the '80s musically, but even that incredible energy had no real commercial outlets -- all the best shows were at Turner Hall and the Wil-Mar center.

From top to bottom, we are missing every part of what Austin has.

1. The physical infrastructure (bars with stages)
2. The commercial infrastructure (no one can live solely on musicians' wages here)
3. The cultural commitment and real-world follow-through to attract talent to venues (which must first improve)
4. The PR machine to perpetuate and sustain the momentum (if it can ever be summoned)
5. Some reason everyone shouldn't just move to Chicago or the Twin Cities (every musician in a 1,000 mile radius moves to Austin; in Madison talent leaves for higher ground)

So try something else. The '80s scene was created by a very small group of dedicated people and it bled out due to 1-5 above, but it was pretty incredible nonetheless.

Liz Granby has single-handedly done more for music in Madison than any silly city-directed video could ever do. Start looking in that direction and there's all kinds of interesting stuff happening here, and opportunities to do more.

But trying to emulate SXSW here is like trying to make brisket cooked with an all wood fire and no foiling before you know how to cook an egg.

Start organically and try to build something from the bottom up so that the Paul Soglins of Madison have something to latch onto.

There's no way they can do this from the top down. It's laughable.
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Re: Town Hall on Madison Music Budget Recommendations is Ton

Postby swoon_queen » Fri Nov 09, 2012 10:19 am

I respectfully disagree that Madison can't, or shouldn't, build something like SXSW.

I completely agree with RockofTheArts. However, I was expecting last night's meeting to focus on infrastructure- which is sorely needed if Madison is ever going to sustain the type of consistent cultural presence required to "build a scene" or become attractive to tourists based on its music scene. Instead of dumping money into free and/or fleeting (one day, weekend) events, the sort which are prevalent in Madison already and actually divert customers who'd otherwise be paying for shows at venues which need paying customers to survive/thrive, the city should examine the foundation of the music scene here. Affordable 24-7 rehearsal space for musicians. Venues open to all ages and all genres. Available space for performance. Incentives for promoters, record labels, etc. who put their own money on the line to enhance Madison's cultural landscape. Incentives for bands who make Madison their home base while touring the country.

I'm no expert, but in my opinion....
Musicians migrate, and tourists flock, to cities like Austin, Brooklyn, Portland, and Nashville, not because they were enticed by a viral video or a one-day fest. More because there is an authentic, palpable sense that the music scene is alive and well. Over the past few years, with the boost from the Majestic's excellent programming, I've seen Madison evolve from a place where a good national act is playing once a week or so to double or triple that. I expect that the merger between Frank/True Endeavors will bring even more. That's great- but the city could augment by putting resources in place to encourage/support small venues, and support local musicians. Much like both startups and Fortune 500 companies contribute to a diverse business landscape, local bands getting paid for gigs and small venues being able to present music any/every night of the week= keys to achieving a cohesive scene.
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Re: Town Hall on Madison Music Budget Recommendations is Ton

Postby Mandoliniment » Fri Nov 09, 2012 10:47 am

Austin doesn't have a thriving music scene because of SXSW. Austin has SXSW because of a thriving music scene.

Listening to the mayor lament about how SXSW has trademarked all the things like "North by Northwest or North by Midwest" just went to demonstrate how clueless and out-of-touch he is about how a music scene gets moving.

I play regularly around town; I have good relationships with the High Noon and the Frequency, but one can only play there so often (and now that the Frequency has farmed out its booking, who knows how that'll go). The next tier of venues available are mostly restaurants, who have to cater to their dinner crowds. I've got a show coming up at the Alchemy; can't start playing 'til 10 on a weeknight, because they have to finish their dinner rush. Same problems exist for the Harmony and the Weary (though the "stage" at the Weary takes it out of contention for me right off the bat).

We need to make it easier on the venues that exist to thrive, and easier for new venues to start. Simple things like allowing sandwich boards - there's a huge after-work crowd downtown, but places like the frequency, which have little street presence, have a hard time attracting people from the street.

We also need to get people to attend local shows and support local music. What about a "Listen Local" movement, modeled after the local foods movement? Make supporting local artists an ethical statement. Again, looking at Austin - musicians can get paid there, because the venues do well, because people show up. Ultimately we have to push a culture that values and supports live music.

Unfortunately the ideas I heard from the Mayor were classic top-down, event-based concepts that would have little or no impact on scene building.
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Re: Town Hall on Madison Music Budget Recommendations is Ton

Postby Stebben84 » Fri Nov 09, 2012 11:08 am

swoon_queen wrote:Affordable 24-7 rehearsal space for musicians.


Paid for by the city? Shouldn't they then do the same with studio spaces for dance and visual arts?

swoon_queen wrote:Venues open to all ages and all genres.


Don't we already have that? How can the city make these venues more accessible. Do they force bars to do this?

swoon_queen wrote:Available space for performance.


Again, where and how? Do they build them? Force businesses to show what they may not want to?

swoon_queen wrote:Incentives for promoters


First thing we need to do is get rid of the promoter monopoly in this town.

swoon_queen wrote:Incentives for bands who make Madison their home base


Such as what, subsidies? Give them a tax break? Why them and not a visual artist, or a poet, or a dancer?

swoon_queen wrote:I expect that the merger between Frank/True Endeavors will bring even more.


So now we have an even bigger monopoly. Not a good idea.
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Re: Town Hall on Madison Music Budget Recommendations is Ton

Postby ilikebeans » Fri Nov 09, 2012 12:42 pm

Mandoliniment wrote:We also need to get people to attend local shows and support local music. What about a "Listen Local" movement, modeled after the local foods movement? Make supporting local artists an ethical statement. Again, looking at Austin - musicians can get paid there, because the venues do well, because people show up. Ultimately we have to push a culture that values and supports live music.

This is, I think, THE issue. It drives everything else.

We've got a respectable number of music venues in this town of our size. The fact that they don't want to charge more than $5 a head (unless the band has name recognition) shows the level of interest of the public. You can't even come close to making a living on that kind of pay, especially if the bar takes a share. Then consider that often that $5 is to pay two or three bands that night. As has been bitched about many times before, anything over the price of a drink and people just won't pay it if they don't recognize who's playing.

What amazes me is a university of 40,000 has so few live music venues within easy walking distance, outside of the Rathskeller/Terrace and Union South. On State, the only places I know have regular music are Whiskey River/Jack's and The Fountain. (Am I missing a few? I hope so.) The Fountain is catering to jazz, which will only interest a very small percentage of students. How is Whiskey Jack's doing at this point? Their web site calendar is broken, so that's not exactly encouraging. I don't think I've ever seen them in the Isthmus Guide.

I also want to question the assertion that musicians in the major cities-- Austin, New Orleans, NYC, LA-- are doing just fine. Sure they've got more outlets and larger audiences, but you've also got a lot of really good musicians moving to those cities, so the competition is fierce. The best/most versatile musician in this town would likely be #12 on the call list in Austin. That said, if you're willing to work hard, network all the time, and play in a dozen bands, you could probably eek out your rent payment regularly. Can't do that here.
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Re: Town Hall on Madison Music Budget Recommendations is Ton

Postby Mandoliniment » Fri Nov 09, 2012 1:09 pm

ilikebeans wrote:I also want to question the assertion that musicians in the major cities-- Austin, New Orleans, NYC, LA-- are doing just fine. Sure they've got more outlets and larger audiences, but you've also got a lot of really good musicians moving to those cities, so the competition is fierce. The best/most versatile musician in this town would likely be #12 on the call list in Austin. That said, if you're willing to work hard, network all the time, and play in a dozen bands, you could probably eek out your rent payment regularly. Can't do that here.


I've often quipped that I'd love to move to Austin where I could see great music every day, but that I'd never be able to get a gig again.

You're right, of course; but I know people in both Austin and here who make their primary living off music, and in both places gigging/CD sales is a small part of the overall mix; you have to supplement with lessons, session work, etc, etc. Almost no one can make a living exclusively from gigging locally, wherever you are. In Madison a 5-piece band turning out, say, 100 people at $5 a head would make $100 a piece for that night, which is not awful until you figure that those 100 people aren't going to come back for at least 2 weeks. So that's not really a sustainable business model.

Regardless, I think a strong push by the city to support local musicians could have an impact. One simple cheap suggestion I made was to make "Listen Local Madison" bumperstickers that local musicians could distribute for free. Start pulling together a community of people who support local music so they see themselves as a cohesive group with shared goals, much like the foodies do. Speaking as a local foodie, I feel a camaraderie with others who share that particular quirk. When I see a "support local farms" bumpersticker, or something similar, I think - there goes one of my people. We can do the same for local music.
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