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Julia Austin goes to Boston with her band Zola Turn for a showcase performance during the NEMO music conference and lives to tell the tale.
Zola Turn is just starting that character-building process of playing shows out of town, leaving the safety of the hard-earned hometown crowd and venturing into new worlds. Anyone who's done it knows both the rewards and challenges (this is, of course, a euphemism for suckiness - is that a word? It should be...) and our experiences thus far can be summarized in a list of Things We've Learned:
1. The phrase "Hey, you guys sound like Cheap Trick" can be said two different ways. (Note: No one said this to us!)
2. Cumberland Farms doesn't have Tofu Pups.
3. When in Boston, anyone you stop on the street to ask for directions will a) speak no English, b) be a tourist; c) be drunk, d) think you're drunk or e) have never heard of Newbury Street or other major landmarks.
4. Streets in Boston magically become other streets if you drive on them for more than a couple miles (Washington Street *poof* turns into Somerville Avenue after the Holiday Inn!)
5. Dunkin' Donuts has the best road coffee, and Mobil stations have the cleanest bathrooms.
6. Most people are nice and try to be helpful.
Friday, January 16: Zola Turn goes to the NEMO music conference in Boston, Mass.:
The conference was held in the Copley Plaza Hotel. It was amusing walking in and being able to immediately distinguish musicians from normal people hanging around the hotel. We walked around the exhibit hall and tried to avoid taking too much stuff that would later be a burden to carry. We looked in the conference guide and lamented the lame blurb they wrote about our band - some run-on sentence about Vermont and maple syrup that didn't do much to describe our music. I guess people that don't live here think it's pretty damn quaint and can't help themselves: "So what do you DOOOO up there?!?"... (Right: Julia & Alice Austin)
We headed out early for sound check since I knew I would get lost trying to find Kirkland Cafe. Alice (ZT guitarist and singer) and Rachel (ZT drummer) rode in a separate vehicle and naturally found the place with no trouble. Jenn (ZT singer and guitarist) and I drove aimlessly for almost an hour but finally found the place before causing an accident.
The Kirkland Cafe is an interesting place. It seems like it attracts two distinct crowds: early in the evening, it's a neighborhood bar, and once the music starts, most of the neighborhood drinkers leave and a younger crowd moves in. It's definitely pretty bare-bones in terms of decor. Someone told me that the floors had just been refinished, and the guys in The Sterlings and Pistola seemed pretty impressed with the improvement.
While we were sitting around waiting for everyone to finish loading in their equipment, Colin Clary did me the favor of blocking my view from the well-exposed upper posterior of one particularly large patron sitting at the bar.
We definitely had a great time at our showcase and were grateful to see some familiar faces in the audience. The most memorable (not necessarily in a good way) showcase performance was an hour-long set (well...it SEEMED like an hour) by a band whose lead singer looked like he was going for a Steven Tyler look but with nipple rings, a mesh t-shirt and slightly smaller hair. The fact that his fly was down made it really hard to take the band seriously, especially during a lighters-raised-heavenward ballad. We got a chance to see our fellow Burlingtonians, My Own Sweet, rock Somerville - they played a great set and hopefully taught some of the other bands about the benefits of using dynamics to add intensity and texture to both music and performance.
Micky Bliss' combo played some great stuff in between showcasing bands. My friend Sean and I danced the tango, and miraculously no one got hurt.
January 17: More NEMO Conference:
The next day were panel discussions with titles like "Publishing Deals & Income Streams," "Radio Promotion & Charts," "A&R: What They're Looking For," "Indie Labels" and "Rap: In The Aftermath of Tupac." Although none of us attended the panel on rap, the other presentations were overall well presented, very organized and very well-attended. The A&R panel was especially well-attended, and at the end people literally RAN toward the panelists at the front of the room in a frenzy like piranhas on bovine flesh. I guess this shouldn't have surprised me, but I admit it did. On one hand, I wondered if I should be jumping into the fray, but on the other hand, it seemed kind of pointless and humiliating. After all, during the entire panel discussion, not one A&R person said "I discover bands by having them run up and shove their CD in my face." Maybe I'm making it sound worse than it was, but there was a sense of disrespect for the panelists that made me a bit uncomfortable. For a brief moment, their status as human beings was suspended as they suddenly represented hopes, dreams and, inevitably, a meal ticket.
One really interesting panel was a listening session. People threw their demo tapes and CDs in a big pile, and the panelists chose a few to play and critique in front of everyone. The day before, there had been a similar listening session that I was unable to attend. According to several people I talked to, the criticism got pretty vicious. Unfortunately, the session I attended was not quite vicious enough. To the panelists' credit, if they didn't like the music, they tended to focus on what could have been mixed better, etc. rather than attacking the very core of someone's being and saying that they didn't like their music.
Two things that really struck me about the conference: many musicians aren't the most organized people, and it was good for all of us to hear from the panelists that the music business is just that - a business.
Just like any other business, there are protocols for relating to other people, and there is much emphasis on follow-up and networking. Since most musicians want to play music and not be business people, being as organized as possible allows musicians to spend more time on the creative work and less time on the business stuff.
It was pretty obvious that most of the bands we met put an incredible amount of time and energy into their music AND the business of promoting it. It was very inspiring and gave me a lot of ideas for future projects and ways to save money. I was also really impressed with the dedication of several indie labels and 'zine publishers we met. Their genuine enthusiasm was really contagious. I have about 10 free CD's to listen to. I'm about halfway through... ~GC~
Julia Austin is bass player for Zola Turn. Their new CD is called Cousin Battie and you should check it out. She won't shove it in your face, even if you are an A&R person.
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