Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year (and some reflections on 2007)

While I've had this site for a few years, I've only been really dedicated to it for the last eight months and that time has certainly been interesting. Prior to May of this year, I would write periodically about a record I bought or a show I saw, but it was never consistent and I never even considered the idea of getting on promo lists for bands, labels and publicists. With the encouragement of a couple friends, I decided to get a little more serious about this site and my writing. Don't get me wrong though, this is still a hobby. I have no illusions about it being a professional endeavor nor do I want it to be. However, the road of promos down which I began to walk was a road paved with more obligations than music had ever held for me and that has been a mixed blessing.

It has certainly been a lot of fun. There were a lot of packages at my door this year (so many that my wife suggested I do something really nice for a mail carrier) and each one was like getting gift that I had to open with my ears as much as my hands. When a new album arrived, who knew if it was good, bad, mediocre, crazy, safe. It was always an adventure and there were so many surprises, both good and bad, that it has been anything but dull. One friend suggested that I was opening Pandora's Box and that I would find myself getting more junk than I'd know what to do with. With that in mind, I learned early to be a little bit selective when offered something for review and the result has defied my friend's prediction. I really did get the opportunity to hear a lot of good music this year that I would have missed otherwise. It's simply amazing how much good music out there goes unnoticed by most of us.

While writing about live music was nothing new, I had opportunities to photograph shows for the first time. I've been dabbling in photography since I was a little kid. Still, taking pictures at shows was a greater challenge than I expected. I got some good shots, but it's certainly something for me to improve on in the coming year.

Another new experience has been interviews. I've done a few this year and they've turned out pretty good. Coming up with a set of questions is a lot harder than throwing a few questions to a friend to ask in an interview he's doing. Email interviews are obviously easier to turn around, but I've tried a few over the phone also and that's been fun. I have to thank Ray for sharing some pointers from his experience. I think my questions benefited quite a bit from his insight.

Having dealt with labels and publicists for the first time, I got a little bit of insight into the business end of things and that hasn't always been so great. But for every person who seemed all about the business end of things, there was at least one who still really cared about the music. There were a few people, most notably at Smithsonian Folkways, Beartrap PR and XO Publicity, that I've met that are really into the music of the bands they work with. It was always refreshing to get a package from them, because I knew it would be good stuff and I also knew they were excited to get the word out for these artists. That always made me feel like I was participating in something that works the way I think music should.

I tried to keep bands posted when I ran a review of their material and I've gotten a variety of response ranging from sincere appreciation to silence. The thank yous were nice, but there were a few times where someone wrote back and I felt like they really got what I was saying. I'm sure that feels the same way for a band when they read a review that seems to really understand what they tried to accomplish.

Interestingly enough, the two best responses I got all year though were from bands that got less than glowing reviews. I did a myspace review of a New Jersey band called Bong Hits for Jesus at the request of one of their friends. I emailed her when it was complete and she passed it on to the band members. One of them in turn posted a link to the review on a local forum before even reading it. Now that's honesty. He was willing to take whatever came, no hard feelings, no excuses. After he read it, he quoted me in his signature line on that forum, saying, "They're not a bad band." That spontaneous, devil-may-care approach is both strength of character as well as a strength of the band.

The second really good response came from the Frantic. I gave their Audio and Murder album a mere 5/10 and basically called it derivative. When they read the review, the response wasn't anger, outrage or petty attacks. Instead, they invited me to catch their live show so they can prove me wrong. You can bet I'll do my best to be there when they come to town. I'd love to eat my words, because I really respect this reaction. They're a young band and they have the right attitude, a mix of confidence and humility, that may just help them grow into an outstanding band.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, I got the following from a band I covered live:
"thanks for coming out... i feel the review was a weak one, but its easier to knock down a band than support one...but im sure people would rather read a negative review for entertainment purposes. Other than that, we always have too good of a time, especially being on tour with the [band they opened for]. The pictures are good, but the writing of the review is less than mediocre, if not poor. I guess anyone can 'write' nowadays."
Now, I gave the local opening act a good review and the headliner a good review, so why would I pick on this band if I was just out to write a negative review? Always interested in a growth opportunity, I responded asking what he found so poor about my writing other than the fact that he disagreed about the show. Guess what he said? Nothing. No response. Nada. So it turns out that I must have struck a nerve and rather than ask himself what might have gone wrong with the show, he tries to dismiss my writing as poor. Now, I might be a poor writer, but that clearly wasn't his point. His feelings were hurt. Too bad for him. If he didn't want a bad review, he should have put on a better show.

Of course, I also had that goofy experience with the White Noise Supremacists a few months ago. It was funny, but in retrospect, I probably shouldn't have published the response. I didn't really amuse anyone as much as I'd hoped and clearly just exacerbated the ugliness. Oh well, live and learn.

So, at this point, I'm now facing a new challenge: burnout. Every time I finish a review and go back to my pile of CDs awaiting a listen, I realize that there's a lot of work involved in this. Have I bit off more than I can chew? Am I giving everything a fair shot? Am I being too easy or too hard on things? I've largely taken the last week or so off to try to figure out where things stand. That has me a little bit further behind, but I think my head is a little bit clearer, so hopefully I'll be a little bit better prepared for the rigors of playing rock journalist in 2008. I really do want to stick with this, but only as long as it remains fun overall and only as long as I feel like I'm doing some real good for the music I love.

Thanks to everyone who's read my meandering nonsense throughout the year. Whether you just stopped by, left a comment or contacted me, I appreciate it. Also, thanks to all the bands for making music. Whether it was amazing or mediocre, it's important and I appreciate what you've shared. Thanks as well to all the writers who've turned me on to new music. It's been a great way to find bands I may have missed otherwise. I can only hope that I've done the same for someone else.

I also want to thank Chuck for submitting a few reviews to Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense. He's a really good writer and it was great to get his point of view (as well as his definition of a Queensr├┐che). I hope that he'll contribute some other reviews and articles in 2008 despite being busy with his own writing. I would also welcome anyone else who might be interested in having something published on Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense to let me know and we'll see if we can work together. I don't see this site as necessarily being mine, so I really do welcome input.

Another thing I tried out this year was Whole Lotta Album Covers with Chuck, Metal Mark and Ray of the Metal Minute. The site focused on the artwork rather than the music. It was fun to work together on this, but I think we all lost focus as our own sites picked up and we realized we had been outclassed.

Thanks again for stopping by. I hope you've found something cool here during your visit(s). Have a great new year full of good music. Pray for peace.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Metal Mark said...

I am glad you told me it was posisble for a lowly blogger to get promos. Here I thought I was just writing a dumb blog and I am, but it could serve to promote or warn people of bands.

3:05 PM  
Blogger Barbara (aka Layla) said...

Hey Bob, Happy New Year to you, Linda and the kids! I've enjoyed your blog but mostly the all the comments you left on mine! You keep it interesting.

See ya in 08!

10:44 PM  
Blogger rock_of_ages said...

Hi Bob - your move down the promo route has meant that our paths cross less often. I remember back to finding another rock fan who like Beatles, McCartney etc and who knew of Ian Hunter!! Less of that now and rarely a band I've heard of being reviewed but still an essential daily read. All the best for 08

8:32 AM  
Blogger bob_vinyl said...

Mark - It was a pretty big surprise to me as well, but it was a pretty good ride in 2007 and I think we both found out a lot.

Barbara - Thanks for reading. I'm glad I haven't worn out my welcome on your blog.

Bill - I know that I probably stray a bit far off the beaten path, but that is really where my heart lies. I do love older stuff and the Beatles will probably always be my favorite, but I really enjoy checking out new stuff most of all.

9:15 PM  

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