Feature

Is industry killing enthusiasm?

Enthusiasm. It’s the magic ingredient in our daily lives that adds gas to the car of life.

I love music and always have. In fact, I’m driven by new music that I’ve heard and believe in to the point of wanting more people to know about it. I want to connect the dots between somebody who’s doing something wonderful and the people who look forward to having something wonderful added to their lives.
So I write. And I take photos. And I take advantage of venues like Roots Music Canada that have created an audience that responds to a broad category of musical interests. It’s all a good thing, assuming the audience cares enough to respond, as the audience to this site clearly does.

So I’ll tell you this rather pathetic tale about how my hearing something great translated to the aforementioned enthusiasm –  and a desire to help promote this great little Canadian band, on the edge of gaining proper attention for what they do….

The band in question is Ladies of the Canyon – a fresh-faced group of too-beautiful women from Montreal who ply their trade somewhere between The Eagles and Dixie Chicks. As a matter of fact, they’re so good-looking, it looks and feels like a gimmick – one that will do well but…well, we’ve all seen – and heard – it before. Talent takes a serious back seat. Not so, these Ladies. They’ve got strong songs and boast a broad range of strong voices, sweet harmonies and each band member is an accomplished player.

The lion’s share of the vocals are by Senja Sargeant who also plays guitar and mandolin. Maia Davies also sings, plays keyboards and guitar. Jasmine Bleile is also a singer and guitar-player while Anna Ruddick sings and plays electric and upright bass.

On the strength of hearing a couple tracks on their website, I went out and bought the new record – and was surprised to see it was produced by Colin Cripps while Kathleen Edwards and Luke Doucet lend a hand. The debut, “Haunted Ladies” was – and is – a lovely surprise. Hence, the enthusiasm. After securing space for a live review in these pages (our editor can read enthusiasm from 20 paces), I went after contacting the band, who I knew had a show on the 25th at Toronto’s Dakota Tavern. A great, low-key place to see and up-and coming act, I thought.

From the band’s contact page, I was directed to Steve Blair at Warner Music Canada, on the Monday before the Thursday night show. Plenty of time to respond, I thought. I was looking to be added to the media list, to let them know they were getting some coverage and to secure permission to take some flash photos (I always get permission to use flash as some artists – and fans – really don’t appreciate the interruption). At the Dakota, flash is essential as the venue is so dark, illuminated only be the miniature Christmas lights behind the stage.

I have yet to hear from Steve Blair. By Wednesday night, I contacted another Warner contact for the same reasons and was told that I would be added to the guest list but that management would want 2-3 shots for the website. Then came word that flash wouldn’t be allowed – so I asked the rep to double-check for permission as, with the Dakota being as dark as it is, there would be no useable photography. I do believe I made some crack about “what exactly I owed management?” which was followed with: “First three songs. No flash, or forget it.”

I decided to do just that… “forget it.”

I felt so badly about the treatment I didn’t even go to the show – but not before trying to contact one of the actual band members to tell them I had, at least, tried. I Googled and Linkedin’ed, etc. but could not turn up the actual players.

Needless to say, you didn’t read a review of Ladies of the Canyon’s Dakota show on Roots Music Canada. But not because we didn’t try.

What makes me sick is the band needs the press – who doesn’t? And, through no fault of their own – or without their knowledge – Warner’s was happy to dismiss the free mileage they could’ve gotten with an appropriate and music-friendly audience. So don’t take it out on them.

Me? The fact that I’d be willing to take a night (I live in the east) to go to the west end on my gas and with my camera gear, without even my parking paid, to promote a  promising young band didn’t seem to matter to Warner’s.

So much for my enthusiasm, or anybody else’s who may have read my review, apparently.

Too bad.

Editor’s note: Eric Thom is Roots Music Canada’s senior writer, a superb reviewer and photographer who has turned us on to The Little Stevies, Danny Schmidt, Shelby Lynne, Melody GardotThe Avetts with Jessica Lea Mayfield, Alison Brown, Diane Birch, Geoffrey “Gurrumul” Yunipingu, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Oysterband, and Thom Swift.

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20 comments

  1. avatar
    Leah 3 December, 2010 at 20:54

    I did a show with the “ladies” a few years back. I actually like their live show better than the video and it is too bad that your enthusiasm was quashed by their management. I found them to be talented individuals as well as having wonderful and strong harmonies. I hope that you get a chance next time they play nearby.

  2. avatar
    Nereida Fernandes 3 December, 2010 at 23:57

    Wonderful music…and a fantastic article Eric. Despite your frustration you still managed to put the spotlight on these girls. Your dedication is obvious and inspiring.

  3. avatar
    John Morrow 4 December, 2010 at 05:47

    Guys, I’m a fan of your work and Lord knows I’m always up for a good music industry lynching, but in this case I have to say, “Seriously?”

    So the rant is that Warner didn’t get back to you fast enough, and when you contacted them again they didn’t want you to take flash pics? And THIS pissed you off so much that you didn’t bother to go to the show at all? Really?

    And then a little “woe is me” about paying for your own gas and parking to go to the show?

    C’mon guys, you are better than this.

    With a title like “Is Industry Killing Enthusiasm?”, I expected some tale of musicians stifled by their evil record executives, not complaints about how your writer didn’t get the response he wanted about flash photography.

  4. avatar
    Eric 4 December, 2010 at 09:53

    Thanks, John – for the fanship of our work. The rant is, quite simply, that the label prevented me from doing what I wanted to do to help promote a worthy Canadian band. Get back to me fast enough. They didn’t get back to me at all!
    When I tracked someone down to do it the hard way, I was not allowed to use flash in a without a picture in my world. As for the ‘gas and parking’, fair enough – but I am basically ‘a volunteer promoter’ (for lack of a better description). Having my hands and my feet tied, certainly dampens the spirit of the whole thing as I hope you’d appreciate.

    ’twas but a mini-rant and yes, the title implied a larger issue. But it got your attention, at least. We’ll go for something with a little more oomph next time. The issue seemed appropriate, given the efforts the site is trying to make to promote music in an upbeat fashion

  5. avatar
    Bob LeDrew 4 December, 2010 at 09:57

    Couple of points here. I don’t know the ins and outs of Roots Music Canada. But I suspect that nobody’s making money off this site. I do some contributing to a similar site here in Ottawa (http://ottawatonite.com), and I KNOW that nobody’s making money off that site.

    People do things like RMC and Ottawa Tonite because they love the arts, music, culture and want to foster it. But in terms of professionalism, we fall in a nether region, not the mythical guy in his basement writing for his one friend, but not Rolling Stone (thank God) or the Globe and Mail, or the CBC.

    What Eric / RMC offering: an expert review provided in words and images to a motivated music-loving audience. What Eric asked for: the opportunity to use his flash to get the best images he could. What did Warner bring to this?

    Sometimes I think the “industry” just doesn’t know how to handle the idea of people working for love.

    Similar thing with house concerts. I’m a house concert presenter. Every time I have to deal with a manager, my heart sinks a little. Why? Because it means contracts and an attitude that treats what my partner and I are doing as a purely commercial transaction. Yes, it’s business in that the artist is walking away with money in his or her pocket. But it’s also an act of generosity, in that somebody is giving up their time to invite their friends, ensure they’re coming, clean the house, set up the PA, cook supper, provide a bed, make breakfast, offer up the wi-fi, etc., for no financial compensation and just for the love of watching people discover a great musician.

    We live in interesting times.

  6. avatar
    Eric 4 December, 2010 at 10:20

    Thank you, Bob. “What did Warner’s bring?” sums things up nicely for me. Also agree about the spirit of house concerts. You’re not doing it because you aspire to be Bill Graham. You’re doing it because you believe in the music and want to encourage an intimate experience with a good artist.

  7. avatar
    Fred Fedora 4 December, 2010 at 11:07

    You and your bruised ego should realize that some artists do not appreciate a flash going off in their face while they are performing. Sorry, not agreeing with you on this one, you do not get your way so you take it out on the record company.
    You want to promote music on your terms.

  8. avatar
    frankcasting 4 December, 2010 at 11:25

    I think I get Warner’s perspective. There are a lot of fly-by-night-basement-blogs passing themselves off as media these days, and record labels increasingly have to justify their commissions by providing excellent service to their artists – in this case, protecting them from perceived nuisances like flash bulbs from questionable media outlets like ours.

    I have heard many an artist complain about annoying, irrelevant media and about flash photos in the past. What if, for example, the gals insisted on limitations? The label may have just been following orders. (However, in all of my stage work, with spotlights in my eyes, I never even notice flash, it does seem a moot point)

    Another (smaller) label dismissed my recent request to cover another CDN artist in Toronto recently, even though there were no flashbulbs/video/photos at all in the request. It’s a real piss-off, especially because we are not a fly-by-night-basement-blog, and as Eric pointed out, great acts often pass through this busy town completely unnoticed by any media. Meanwhile, the same labels, managers, publicists, etc. will shamelessly come crawling to us looking for coverage of lower-level acts days later, and it is only then that we can apply some leverage. But at what cost? The lower-level acts? How unfair. So is industry killing enthusiasm? Perhaps. Eric makes a valid point too.

    Our job as Roots Music Canada is to continue to build our brand to the extent that the Warners of this world will *know* it is foolish to ignore us.

    Andy Frank, Roots Music Canada.

  9. avatar
    Eric 4 December, 2010 at 11:32

    Yes, it’s bruised, Fred. Guilty as charged. Nor do you have to agree with me at all. If you knew me at all, you’d know that, because I DO appreciate the artist first, I always ask if I can use flash before I do. I also went out on a financial limb to buy a second camera body and much ‘faster’ lens to cover off those scenarios where flash is just not allowed (usually reserved for older-school artists and/or establishments where the patrons are likely to get irritated. A combination of both (lenses) usually works best. But the Dakota is simply too ill-lit – even for the faster non-flash scenario.
    For what it’s worth, they appreciate being asked and rarely do I run into someone who doesn’t balance the possibility for publicity versus ‘a flash going off in their face’. Add to this the fact that I keep low out of anyone’s way and I never machine-gun flash, like some of the Star/Sun guys who butt their way to the front, stand up and block others, take 40 flash shots and leave. I’m there for the music, mostly.
    Am I taking it out on the record company? Why shouldn’t I? They prevented me from doing what I like to do to help the artist.
    And you’re right – I do want to promote music on my terms. I can control nothing else in this world but my time, if I’m lucky. And if that control is taken away by someone wanting me to conform to their rules – silly rules at that – than I have better things to do with my time. I would hope you’d be the same.

  10. avatar
    Eric 4 December, 2010 at 11:39

    Thanks, Andy. A few comments on Warner’s perspective. I have reviewed Warner music product for various publications in both the U.S. and Canada so the ‘second’ person I contacted ‘knew’ me. Didn’t matter. But I also sent along a sample of the RMC product in the form of the Shelby Lynne review I did a few months back. This was to qualify the fact that the review included a decent amount of prose and a collection of relevant shots to reinforce the piece – which looked good because of how you and David ‘present’ it. So they had access to the site, to a sample of my work – and it didn’t matter. Perhaps they never looked.
    RMC may not have the same numbers as some sites but it is a qualified audience of ‘thinking person’s music fans’ (or, so I believe). But, as someone famous person once said, “some publicity is better than no publicity”.
    Apparently not in some circles. The band did nothing to deserve that.

  11. avatar
    Fred Fedora 4 December, 2010 at 11:42

    “And if that control is taken away by someone wanting me to conform to their rules – silly rules at that – than I have better things to do with my time.”

    It’s your way or the highway? That sounds like an action you previously condemned.
    “First three songs. No flash, or forget it.”

    Very hypocritical.

  12. avatar
    John Morrow 4 December, 2010 at 11:43

    I certainly understand that the flash thing is a pain – I live in Wakefield and I do a little amateur writing about music and shoot a lot at shows at the Blacksheep Inn and it’s hard, but possible without a flash there (unlike the Dakota). The “First three songs, no flash” thing isn’t an uncommon restriction – I’ve heard it before in different venues. Basically they don’t want people crawling all over the front of the stage shooting and distracting from the music. I figure that’s their call.

    And as for Bob’s comments about house concerts and dealing with “managers”, I would just say that most musicians I know love doing house concerts, but please – let’s not forget that even if to the home owner it’s an act of love, to the musician it’s paying the rent. I’m pretty sure the rest of us don’t rely on the “love” of strangers to make sure we get paid what we’re owed – it’s a bit unreasonable to complain that musicians or their managers might want a legal contract.

    Also remember that if an artist is still doing house concerts, you aren’t dealing with a “manager” who works for a big label. Chances are you’re dealing with someone with another day job who loves music just as much as you do, makes way less than you do, and is just as in it “for the love” as you are.

  13. avatar
    Eric 4 December, 2010 at 11:54

    Fred…you do seem determined to make me out the ass. So be it.
    Another way to put it is, I write reviews and supplement them with good quality photography. I can control the quality of the writing (hopefully) but if I can’t control the quality of the photography, I may end up with no usable photos. Without a photo, I don’t have a proper review (and yes….I feel one needs to see ‘the artist in the place’ to make it work).

    If you seriously believe that I’m a giant ego walking around looking to do things ‘my way or the highway’ then you miss my point entirely. I believe in the music and want to help spread it to others. If you can’t see the bad guy in this scenario, then I haven’t done much of a job communicating it.

  14. avatar
    John Morrow 4 December, 2010 at 11:57

    To back up one thing Eric said though, RMC is indeed a great site for info on roots music. I read it all the time and I respect what you guys are doing. The CFMA thing was golden. I just thought on this one though, it was a little too much about you and not enough about the music.

    I’ll keep sending folks to RMC though!

  15. avatar
    Eric 4 December, 2010 at 12:06

    I respectfully agree with you both – this has been way too much me and not enough about the artists we want to know about. David has me delivering a new review early next week on a brilliant show by Darrell Scott. Text and photos.
    And thanks to anyone who reads it.

  16. avatar
    Bob LeDrew 4 December, 2010 at 13:22

    @John — totally agree with your point that for the musician, this is business. That’s why we try our damndest to fill the house, have spent hundreds of dollars on chairs, food, drink, etc. — to support them. The musicians know what house concert presenters do, and they appreciate the hell out of us.

    The sticky point is that when managers get involved, you can start to feel alternately like a bug to be crushed under their feet or like you are a business on the same level as the Black Sheep, Centrepointe Theatre, etc. I remember one manager on the phone with me giving me a long questionnaire:

    * “When’s load-in?” Well, whenever he gets here.
    * “What about the meal buyout?” Um, he can eat here, or he can go somewhere else. What’s he like to eat?
    * “When’s loadout?” Whenever he wants to leave.
    * “What’s the percentage on the door?” Um, 100.
    * “What’s the percentage on the merch?” Um, 100.

    etc. etc.
    I kept trying to explain — this is my HOUSE. We don’t make ANY money from this. It’s ALL FOR THE ARTIST. ALL OF IT — it just didn’t get through.

    Sometimes it feels like there’s an inability within the “industry” to accept that some people just do things for the good of the community. I also wonder if there’s a difficult division to be made between the “professional” and the “amafessional” — people who are doing things in a professional style but aren’t doing it as a profession. Hm.

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