Thursday, September 8, 2011

"The Black Flag touring model is long, long dead"

Tuesday night i unpacked my CDs and began to arrange them in the apartment i now share with Liz (as opposed to my original idea of stashing them in the basement since most of them are on my computer anyway). I'm glad i didn't hide them away, because the process of going through my CDs always stirs years of half-remembered memories of bands that otherwise would be long forgotten. There's a disc on the top row called Juvenile Anthems by a band called Anger; i remember them as a run-of-the-mill punk band that i found entertaining at the time but i might not be as into today, 14 years later. Thanks to their show at the Concert Cafe in Green Bay, i've got the Black Halos' The Violent Years, which i'm positive i only listened to once. Digging around in my car i located a CD i picked up at the Borg Ward by a rad weirdo-punk band called Beings; did they open for Torche? I can't remember, but i remember liking them and hating that my aging disc drive refused to rip the songs onto my Mac Mini. Red Planet's Let's Degenerate? Another more power-pop reminder of my Concert Cafe years.

It's a good thing i have these CDs; otherwise, there's a very good chance that i'd have forgotten about every last one of these bands, good and bad. It reminded me of something i wrote on our tour blog, something that i thought about a lot during our road trip:

As i stood around at the Caledonia Lounge on Tuesday night watching everyone drink, chat, and completely ignore our merch table (save the bartender and Chris Dragon's friend Sarah, who accounted for our first CDs sold in four days), i thought about the hundreds--thousands?--of touring bands i've seen over the years from the Concert Cafe in Green Bay to the Cactus Club in Milwaukee, and i'm sure that many of the ones i've forgotten were damn fine. Do any of the attendees at the Longbranch in Knoxville even remember the name "IfIHadAHiFi?" Or are they more likely to say "oh, man, that band...I Wish I Had A HiFi? They were great," their memories of the bands they saw on a random Monday night in August 2011 already fading into a jumbled mash of beer and feedback? As in love with our self-constructed image of the band too crazy to ignore as i am, i realistically get the feeling that by tomorrow it'll be "those bands with the crazy drummer" and "yeah, that night our pals played with some touring bands" by September, if not Friday.

I count twenty-one CD copies of our new EP remaining out of 50 we started tour with. That's twenty-nine copies out there along the East Coast. Assuming they don't get dumped at a CDMax in a few months, that's hopefully twenty-nine people who will, at the very least, have that same "oh YEAH!" moment i just had while eying my Anger CD for the first time in years. As i said elsewhere in that paragraph, this tour was a pretty inefficient way to encourage memorization of our band name, but for us, the biggest reason to play shows is to visit our friends and play music for them.

Unfortunately, that's not the most fair attitude to have when we have an awesome dude at Latest Flame Records mortgaging his future to promote bands he loves. If we want to move product (if we don't, it sort of makes us assholes, really), conventional wisdom would normally dictate that we have to tour more often than the middling two weeks per year we generally embark on. However, it's 2011, and certain truths have taken hold in our post-Napster age: people are buying less and less physical music, and the number of touring bands competing for that ever-shrinking fan dollar is higher than ever. Also dwindling rapidly is the number of people who value music, period, as evidenced by the basement show we played in Bloomington, Indiana that earned us a cool $13 in donations from about three of the twenty-some kids in attendance. "Hey, man, cool show! Your band is really good!" "Hey, thanks! Did you donate anything for the show at all?" "Aw, dude, i have like no money. *drinks BYO beer #5* So when ya coming back to Bloomington?"

It's obvious that young people don't put a price on music the same way that those of us who grew up with vinyl, cassettes and CDs did, and hell, many of them don't seem to value live performance over the beer they're drinking that night (though i doubt that's a recent development). Yes, money isn't the main reason that anyone should play in a band, but without it, producing recorded music--even the digital kind--becomes less and less appealing of an idea. Look, we can all talk until we're blue in the face about how we make music for ourselves, and how none of us are looking to do this for a living, and that may even be true, but let's be honest--validation is pretty damn sweet too.

So, assuming that there are still people who care about physical music products, and people who still care about seeing new or more underground live bands, what's the best way to reach through the sea of apathetic bodies and connect with those more "active" (for lack of a less douchey, less marketing-sounding term) listeners? I have some thoughts on this, but would love to read some in the comments too:

1) Quality over Quantity. Being able to tour three months out of the year would be awesome, but it's also unrealistic for dudes in their 30s with day jobs, and a lot of those shows would be of the Bloomington basement show sort anyway. But there are ways to tour smarter instead of tour harder. Coordinating with the label to see where the record's getting played; more aggressive regional touring (we could probably stand to hit Minneapolis more than once every two years, honestly); and working those bigger shows wherever possible. That one Archers show was probably more effective than a week of touring as far as getting the name out and about.

2) Teamwork, online and in the meat world. Videos. Twitterz. Podcasts. Facesbooks. Blogs. ENTERTAINING CONTENT. Yeah, establishing a solid base of followers on the internet is a long commitment, but at least you can do it from your living room. During a conversation with James from Police Teeth, he said he was pretty sure PT has sold more records online than via shows. "The Black Flag touring model is long, long dead," he said, and i think he's right.

So how do we coordinate that stuff? Like i said, it's got to be entertaining, and then shared like crazy amongst like-minded folk. The Latest Flame bands have been walking around saying "less of a label, more of a street gang" ever since NAP JUSTICE; maybe we should start acting like an online street gang? Heck, i wear the shirts of other Latest Flame bands at nearly every show i attend these days, and i wore Waxeater's shirt on stage at the Archers show. I dunno how much love that gets the other guys, but there's a mentality involved that puts me in the frame of mind to hype my pals every chance i can get. I was wearing the Waxeater shirt when we arrived in Philly on tour, too; when some of the other bands showed up, they reacted. "Oh hey! Waxeater! All right!" Familiarity compounds on itself and breeds more familiarity.

Any other thoughts? I'd love to hear 'em.


  1. i feel you, especially on the internet presence front. that shit is the ONLY reason 90% of bands that come through bloomington are popular: they get love online. i take a lot of time to craft an interactive internet persona for waxeater that i think people find interesting and fun and it allows me to connect with people.

    also, it avoids those "remember that band"? moments because we aren't just that band they saw last september, we are also those clowns posting funny shit all the time. we stay in heads that way and build tour by tour.

    it must be working, because we have played philly once ever in 5.5 years but there were kids that remember almost 2 years ago!

    it doesn't hurt to put the name in archer's head by wearing the shirt either! now chris wearing a waxeater shirt opening for jesus lizard was slight more embarrassing....

  2. I think the extended weekend jaunt model is really a great option for touring at this point. Focus on areas where you have some sort of draw or connections with other bands, and book a three-four show run around getting to that area. If you know enough bands, play a few shows there (all ages and 21+) with different friends' bands. This is what we've done with the Bay Area, and it's been great for Police Teeth. We get to spend time in an area we like, we get to see and play with all of our friends, and we're not wasting our time trying to book a shitty show in LA on a Tuesday. I think this has also worked to Victory and Associates advantage in the PNW, making a couple of weekend trips and playing 3-4 shows in Portland/Seattle/Bellingham.

  3. Y'know, that's actually how it was back in the 60's and 70's. Plenty of bands had regional hits, were well known in certain cities but never really left the area. (Some examples can be found on the original Nuggets compilation.) Of course, the internet changes things.

    We've kind of stumbled into what I think is a pretty smart way of doing things, on a small level. Networking like crazy, doing all the social networking things, and the videos! A lot of bands on our level could get at least as much exposure as a week-long tour by giving a couple hundred bucks to the talented film people in their town and making a kick-ass video.

  4. I think we need to be doing more of it, though. Working harder. All of us.

    I still wanna get us rolling on our podcast idea, but to get Dan involved and make it more of a Latest Flame podcast than a HiFi one, for example.

  5. That is absolutely something we can do. Just need to get a couple more mics...

  6. DJ - totally agree on what you're saying about the big shows equaling or bettering potentially a week or 10days of touring.

    I like the regional ideas, especially considering we've got bands in close proximity (relatively) to each other that can help each other out.

    3 bands on the west coast that can help each other in their hometowns and other cities surrounding Portland, Seattle, Oakland/S.F.

    5 midwest bands that help each other in chicago/milwaukee/minneapolis/bloomington/indianapolis/Iowa City/Des Moines and maybe by extension visit St. Louis/K.C./Champaign/Dubuque and build from there for local weekend-type stuff?

    Wearing the Waxeater shirt on-stage @ AOL (and generally out and about for any of the bands) is great, gets the band names out there

    if you look back in some old mags or on vids you see Dan K from Die Kreuzen wearing Killdozer t's, Steve Albini wearing Die Kreuzen shirts, etc., also like-minded band t's such as minutemen et al. basically helping to build a community which I think we're starting but can really step up (throw more ideas back and forth).

    quick .02 before "THE GAME!"

  7. I don't think the touring model is dead. I just don't think band are putting enough time into clear, very specific goal writing and accomplishment.

    Most bands' touring goals ends with booking the shows. There is little time spent on visualizing exactly how the shows will go or even how many people they wish to show up at each show. They don't set goals about how much money to make at each show on merc/door/donation.

    Failure to plan is a plan for failure.

    Even if you used raw mathematics for the goal process, I don't think many bands would know how much gas money or expense money they need exactly on the day to day on a tour.

    The New Loud stopped trying the old model of touring in about 2008 when gas was at $4.6x in Milwaukee. Since then I've shifted and have adapted different ideas. We've made music videos/video blogs/etc. We spent a huge amount of money releasing our EP/LP.

    Some of that worked out, some of it did not.

    What I've been seeing most in the touring/live performing area is the general apathy of the crowds. It doesn't seem like people are at shows because they are fun anymore. They are there out of obligation to their friends. I want to change all that - ESP in Milwaukee. I want people to go to shows, because they WANT to go to shows. But to do this definitely takes more effort than just setting up a 3 band show and standing on stage playing your songs.

    The new science I'm on now is trying to set up bigger, localized event style shows. Trying to pull 200+ people to a local event. The first one I'm working on is a 2 band/2 DJ show in October called Last Dance MKE. Which will be a Zombie themed Homecoming Dance for adults. We have group of people that are meeting weekly to organize this event. Some are band people, others just want to help. I would like to get more Milwaukee bands in on these kind of meetups to help organize their own event style shows and help reinvigorate the Milwaukee live music scene.

    If anybody is interested in seeing what we do or how we are going about organizing this style of event, stop down any Wednesday 9pm to Club Garibaldi. That's where we are having the weekly meetups. You can just watch. If you'd like to pitch in and help organize even better :)

    I think this is a way to save live music at a local/underground level. The Zombie show is the first show of its kind - so we'll have to wait until after its over to see how its success can be measured, but I'm excited :)

    The New Loud

  8. I'm in a pretty similar headspace to Shane. I don't like the way things are here in the bay area at all. So i'm trying my dangdest to change it, but it's an uphill battle in a place where there is so much to do and so much... for lack of a better term "freedom". heh. On any given night there are 3 amazing touring bands playing, 4 great locals and a party with free beer and women of loose morals. (or men if that's your thing)

    I mean even here a great band coming on tour is not enough, playing with a popular local isn't enough.

    It's gotten almost impossible to actually reach people, why? Because they are inundated with SHIT all the time. It's the same with me, I have more bandwidth than most and I am overwhelemed too. It's not to say that stuff I don't like is shit, just that there is a hell of a lot of stuff out there of all kinds.

    I play Police Teeth, Waxeater, Ifihadahifi and other Latest Flame bands on all the time. I know for a fact that it's resulted in a few sales and some show attendance. Not because i've played it, but because I got it in front of the ears of people that are interested in music. Heck we sold a copy of These Things are Facts yesterday after having a discussion on the merits of colored collector's vinyl!

    It would have been pretty rad if somebody from Hurry Up Shotgun was wearing a Victory and Associates shirt at the Archers show here. But Waxeater being represented in Chicago is legit as all get out. That stuff needs to be second nature.

    When I'm going out in the world, I always go for a Blind Shake or Poison Control t-shirt over those of bigger bands. Same thing with Police Teeth and Ifihadahifi. I know you dudes do it too, I think there's been a Replicator shirt in every Hifi promo photo in the last 5 years. That's fucking rad.

    It's all the small ways that gets people attention though.

    I was never a "tour 6 months" out of the year kind of guy. But I've toured more than most of my band friends and it is different now. It's just plain harder to reach people and make an impact by just having a kick ass show or great songs. It's not really a meritocracy anymore.

    For Hifi, stuff like the video for Black Holes and Imperial Walker are absolute strokes of genius. As was Nada Surf (albeit about a year too late.). Doing that kind of stuff is WAY smarter than trying to tour like Black Flag. Poison Control Center are one of the only bands I know of that do that... and you know what? They're fucking great, and STILL not a very well known band.

    It also depends on what you are trying to do, I adore the PRF on almost every level. Even when it's retarded it's *MY* kind of retard, but pushing the window and closing ranks aren't always exclusive, and they aren't always inclusive either. It's signal to noise these days baby, and there is a *LOT* of noise.

  9. I think people's relationship to music has just changed so drastically in the past 10 years. From the late 60s-90s, rock music enjoyed a social ubiquity that it may never have again. Bands will probably never sell music in those quantities again, and record labels will never see those kind of profits, no matter how they try to restructure and adjust.

    The concept of success is drastically different these days. Now it's considered a great success to sell 500 records. In many cases, it's a moderate success to get 20 people to pay to come to a show. Neither of these instances would've been a success 15 years ago.

    So, what to do? Be realistic, honest and work hard to get our stuff out there. We're probably the oldest band on the label, with a median age just below 40. I have a permanent job for the first time in 10 years and am married now. Being able to take care of my health and be good to my wife are now just as important to me as making good rock music. Unfortunately/fortunately my days of going out on the road for 5 weeks, coming home broke and having no idea where my next paycheck will come from are behind me.

    But we're planning on doing lots of road work to support our upcoming release. Our first trip will be a long-ass drive to do 4-5 shows in the NY/NJ area. Then we'll probably do another 5 date Midwest jaunt. Same thing with the SE and SW. And of course we can play Austin, Houston, Denton, OK, AR any time.

    We're also trying to make videos for every song on the record. One is pro and slick (done by the guy who did the last one for us) and the rest are just total diy that we're doing with handheld cameras and editing ourselves. It's giving me something to do in this 5 month period of waiting for our record to come out. Will it sell records or get people to our shows? Who knows? But we're artists, right? We make things. It's what we do. I could sit around and bemoan that people don't give a shit about music anymore because they'd rather play video games and watch youtube videos, or we can just keep doing what we do. And like everyone else said, we just gotta do it harder and smarter.

  10. Yeah - and the signal to noise ratio isn't other bands. It is other forms of entertainment we're all basically competing with Netflix or Netflix-like stuff - Cheap/Free Entertainment you don't have to leave the house for.

    When that is the competition bands definitely have to up their game. I want to use these weekly meetups to not only organize for The New Loud but also help other bands organize events that will be in line with their brand. Like a Zombie Homecoming isn;t going to work for a singer songwriter band - but there is something that will. I want to have a group that crowd sources the idea to the bands.

    BUT the bands have to want to work on it too.

  11. PS I always get compliments on my Mount Vicious shirt. Sadly my HiFi shirt doesn't fit me. Maybe after a couple more months of working out...

  12. This is all rad stuff. Wondering if we can come up with some coordinated ways to get all the LFR bands working together.

    I am absolutely smitten with the idea of as a vehicle to promote things. I haven't been on the site as much as i'd like (and that's not going to change for the time being--home internet doesn't get installed until late Sept. so my internet access is limited to Liz's laptop on our downstairs neighbor's wireless), but i'd love to see us organizing some coordinated DJ nights in the LFR room. One DJ each from TWives, Police Teeth, Wax, V&A and HiFi for example, just spinning stuff that we dig and occasionally slipping in an LFR release. The V&A listening party on was a genius idea, i thought - we should do more of those, provided we can work around the site's limitations (didn't the room stop letting you play a certain number of V&A songs in a row, Conan?).

    I feel like a LFR podcast or webcast is a MUST. Geography prevents a rotating cast, but i have faith that we can be entertaining enough here in Milwaukee with our crew.

    Shane--i am intrigued by your ideas and wish to subscribe to your newsletter. The idea of getting involved with "event" type stuff is a great one; the next big HiFi project (other than working through our current issues with Nada Surf's release) is working on Cedar Block's big Alverno Presents show at Turner Hall; if we could have recordings ready to sell immediately after that on Bandcamp it'd be huge.

    Keep the brainstorms coming, dudes. Street gang!

  13. Goddammit, I just lost my post. Anyway, short version is that my Karaoke Undergound experience definitely bears out the comments on using the internet and creating short, high-focus event shows as much as possible. Also, we've been getting a great draw on our short tours and I want to start using that to highlight real active bands that make the kind of music we built our songlist out of by having local acts of like-minded individuals/friends open up for us, so let's talk about doing that in the October/November shows.

  14. Nervous Curtains, I will have to get you a Victory and Associates shirt for sure. Those MV shirts do look quite nice.

    I seriously cannot say enough great things about It is the only web 2.0/web 3.0 "advance" in music that's actually turned people more into active listening rather than passive listening. Which I think is key.

    Interestingly, is retweeting and posting when people do listening parties now. Something that I asked about in July when we did ours and got a big ol' "we're too busy to deal with that now" a little bit too ahead of our time there I guess. I should be used to it.

    There's a DMCA rule that you can't play a certain amount of songs by an artist in an hour... I think 4? Or the same song more than 3 tiems. So we had to get creative with the tags "Vic Tory and his Associates" etc. It was a lot of work, but it came off alright.

    What's interesting to me is that I don't even have to think about "promoting" LFR or SW bands, because it's just the stuff I would play naturally because it is GOOD. Somebody else playing your bands stuff counts for much more than playing your own though, most definitely. I have found some good bands in House of Neutron from people playing their own stuff though.

    I would listen to/guest host whatever a LFR podcast for sure. It's easy to do a revolving cast for something like that as long as you can hit record and send files.

    I don't know man, I still like to tour and will continue to do so as long as it's fun. I just don't want it to be a financial millstone. Or at least have it be one that is tolerable.

  15. I don't have anything to add really and I'm not in a LFR band. I agree with most everything here (videos, innerwebz, weekend touring). Excellent post DJ and insightful and thoughtful comments all around. Much love and respect.

    Russell USoT

  16. OK so, Black Flag model out, OK Go/Pamplemoose Model in. Gotcha.