Back in the day, new bands worked for months to book a midweek show at a local club, put up a few posters on State Street, and hoped that all the friends they'd pestered would actually show up for the gig.
But young acts like Red Romero are changing all that.
Last Saturday, the earnest pop-rock quintet sold out the Orpheum's Stage Door Theatre for its debut club performance. But an armload of posters run off at Kinko's didn't bring the mostly college-age audience through the doors.
"The Orpheum said, 'How many people can you bring into the 300-person venue?'" says Red Romero front man Jimmie Linville. "And I said, 'Three hundred and fifty!' Then we just took it to the streets and played some free promo shows. We played a couple outside on the Library Mall and also at some sororities and dorms. It was really just getting the word out to every possible person that we knew."
The members of Red Romero, who sound like a jam-friendly version of Coldplay, didn't stop there. Instead of relying on walk-up ticket sales, they sold tickets directly to friends and would-be fans. As an added enticement, they burned hundreds of free copies of their new EP, Pass It On, to give away at the show.
Linville, an irrepressible UW dropout from Baraboo, also made a point of encouraging everyone at the show to copy the CD and pass it on to someone else. The comment was met with cheers from the enthusiastic crowd.
Talk about being proactive. Red Romero clearly aren't waiting around in the basement hoping that some powerful pop Svengali will discover them. Instead, they're creating their own success and leaving the old music-industry paradigm behind.
"My theory is that people do want to come out to shows in Madison, and they do care about music," says Linville, who gained experience in creative audience-building while working as a solo singer-songwriter. "They just have to hear about it. Some mainstream bands like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails are embracing file-sharing and moving away from the music industry, and we thought we could do it, too."
Linville is convinced that, with enough self-promotion (including de rigueur song postings on MySpace, Facebook and Purevolume), Red Romero can grow its local audience to a point where the Stage Door will be far too small to hold all those new fans.
"One of the goals is to play the main stage at the Orpheum," Linville says. "I think we can do that."
As for a shot at a major label, Linville's not convinced that's the road to success anymore for a band like Red Romero.
"We have no desire to be on a major record label," he says firmly. " I think we could be on the verge of something with the major labels going under and music changing so much. I just think a lot more bands will be doing things for themselves."
On the house
Red Romero isn't the only Madison act that's embraced the concept of free music. Local rapper OX reports that all three of his albums, as well as two mixtapes, are now available for download. Calling the freebies "my gift to the public," he says they're part of a plan to form his own label and music company.
OX's music is available at the following locations:
Animal Grind Vol.1: http://mediafire.com/?xggz2gzxw2m
The Day Before Tomorrow: www.megaupload.com/?d=W5UREM3R
The Syllabus: www.megaupload.com/?d=776A1X19
The Lost Mixtape: www.megaupload.com/?d=3DV7Q5BL
New club on the block
The closing of the King Club this winter was a big blow to small bands looking to play a downtown venue. Fortunately, the hole it left in Madison music should be plugged sometime in late May or early June by the Frequency, a new live venue that Darwin Sampson is opening at 121 W. Main St., site of the recently shuttered Adair's Lounge. Last week, the city's Alcohol License Review Committee okayed the new club's license for the 99-person capacity venue, and after a few changes to the interior, Sampson says he'll begin booking local, regional and national acts.
At first, live shows will run Thursday through Saturday. In the fall, Sampson (who's served as house booker at the Annex for the past nine months) plans to present music throughout the entire week.
Over the years, Sampson has played in a number of local rock acts, including the Skintones, Ladybeard and Helliphant. As a booker at both the Annex and the old Anchor Inn, he's also concentrated on rock. However, he emphasizes that the Frequency won't be restricted to one type of music.
"I'm going to take the best live music that I can get," he says. "I'm a fan of all kinds of music, and I've just seen some incredible bands that I feel need to be playing [in Madison] more regularly. It's not going to be one genre."
Sampson plans on tying up loose ends with the Annex over the next couple weeks. He says no concerts booked by outside promoters at the Regent Street club will be affected by his departure.
Sampson bears no ill will toward the Annex. Indeed, he says the business contacts he made working at the club are part of the reason he decided to go into business for himself at the Frequency.
"The [Annex] staff are my friends," he says. "I just don't think it was a good fit for me anymore. I like smaller rooms. A 99-capacity room, with the smaller overhead - I think that's more my niche."
Local acts will definitely benefit from Sampson's move to a club with a smaller footprint. "I'll be in a better position to develop them," he says. "Bands can get a little more experience before they move on to bigger stages like the High Noon or the Annex."