Friday, January 05, 2007

Street Teams are made of this....

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of the ‘Street Team’, it’s a promotional tool. Record companies realized some time ago that employing guys in satin tour bomber jackets (cf. Smashie and Nicey) to go around and give free singles to record shops and free drugs to Radio DJ’s wasn’t a really cost-effective way of bumping their records into the charts and, what with that interweb thingie taking over, could frankly be seen as a downright waste of money. A bit of a shame that, as when I worked in record shops I managed to snaffle a good few freebies, including being able to see Richard Thompson and Crowded House play live at The Borderline while I took advantage of the free bar, and also getting to see del Amitri on the second date of their tour to promote ‘Waking Hours’, which is one of my favourite albums ever. Anyhoo, the wheels came off the gravy train around the time that someone up in the eyries of the music biz (probably Simon Cowell or Louis Walsh) realized that it was going to be a lot cheaper and more effective to plant a few sleepers in amongst ver kids and let them get on with it themselves than to keep signing all those reps’ expense accounts. Hence a few net-savvy children got hauled aboard the promo express with the promise of exclusive access to the band, special signed posters, badges and a card on their birthday as long as they kept pimping the merch to their friends and peers on behalf of the industry. Not bad, eh, and let’s face it, who doesn’t like to be first on their block with the skinny? Some folk to this day are such unofficial founts of knowledge that their mates in bands know they don’t have to update their website as with a word to the wise their latest news’ll get round anyway – it’s the equivalent of that bit in Crocodile Dundee where they explain that if anyone’s got a problem they simply tell Wally and before too long everybody knows, hence it’s no longer a problem. It’s a win-win all round, ain’t it? Certainly back in the old days I had to send off a postal order and wait six weeks before the Status Quo Fan Club sent me anything like a badge, and then most of the time after that they just used to write to me and nag me to buy stuff anyway, so clearly this was a step forward for everyone. These days everyone’s got a Street Team. You know that nice Seth Lakeman - you’ve probably heard him on radio two or in the background on a trailer for something on the BBC – well he’s got a bunch of people casually dropping his name into conversations and (ahem) casually bigging him up on internet forums, and good luck to ‘im. I don’t generally really agree with this sort of malarkey – I’d prefer my recommendations to come from people who are genuinely interested in music of all forms and are delighted to highlight a gem they’ve found (that’s why we have critics) rather than someone pursuing their calling with almost religious zeal, shoehorning their subject in at every opportunity and wherever (in)appropriate (imagine the web forum equivalent of Jehovah’s Witnesses at your door or, as we refer to them, Marillion fans). But there we go – it's win/win, like I said earlier. One should be subtle though - no-one should suspect the neuro-linguistic programming what’s going on in their heads, and BUY THE SONGS FROM THE BLUE HOUSE CD ‘TOO’ ONLINE FROM OUR WEBSITE AT WWW.SONGSFROMTHEBLUEHOUSE.COM. Remember now, when it comes to Street Teams – easy does it…..

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Here We Go, Here We Go, Here We Go….

Ah, 2007, welcome! A hint of fresh hope in the air, a farewell to withered ambition, a bright-eyed greeting through frost-cracked lips to a whole new gamut of possibilities. I love the smell of lip balm in the morning. It smells like victory. At any one time in the United Kingdom, there are approximately 2,042,677 so-called ‘unsigned’ bands either writing, recording, mixing, designing or promoting their new demo, or talking about really-seriously-getting-some-stuff-together-this-year; chances are you haven’t heard of any of them, and nor will you. Hello, I’m in one of those bands.

This year should see the release of our magnum opus, which is to be entitled ‘Tree’ (the first one was untitled, the second one was called ‘Too’, the next one will be called ‘Fore’ – do you see what we’ve done there?) and which has been in gestation for some months now, mainly due to the fractured nature of its recording. For a start, most of the members of the group have respectable day jobs, some have children, and a couple of others simply aren’t inclined to invest their allocated holiday days in fulfilling the grand vision of a couple of gentlemen of advanced years (in pop terms) who are just rude about them onstage when they turn up to gigs anyway. It gets especially tricky coaxing the guys into the studio about the time those Centre Parcs adverts start coming on the telly, for example. 

Coupled with the fact that we are only recording at all due to the good grace and munificence of a recording studio and venue owner who has rather taken to us for some reason and is hence not demanding that we mortgage the farm to pay for the whole thing, we are in no real position to demand that the studio be block booked for the summer and Jerry Douglas be summoned from whichever enormodome he is currently sound checking at in order to do that tricky solo in “Song V” for us, and hang the expense, let alone compensate most of the regulars for time in lieu, and so we are very much subsisting on the goodwill and wholehearted participation of all our musicians, engineers and friends who have been summoned down (or up tiddley up up) to darkest Essex on a blustery night because (say) the studio’s free and we need to get in and get someone to hit a wooden frog with a three inch length of dowel for three minutes to get a rhythm track going. 

Fortunately, the above roles have proved to be largely interchangeable and so it has been a happy process, if distributed rather over an unnecessarily ample breadth of time. By now, even I’m getting a bit antsy about how long it’s taking, even though in real terms we’re only just coming up to the second fortnight of actual recording work. This is a shame, as we were supposed to get it finished in three weeks. Still, you can’t rush genius (or hurry love apparently) and since this is a labour of certainly one or the other, depending on who you talk to, we have studiously been touching up bits here, dabbling in things there, and slowly crossing things off our big ‘To Do’ list one at a time until we have reached the point where these days you don’t have to squint so hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Of course once it’s finished, mastered, pressed, shrinkwrapped, signed, sealed and delivered, I’m yours. 

Seriously – we have to go out and play the bloody thing live, otherwise we’re going to end up with an awful lot less space under the bed, on top of the wardrobe or in the shed than we all had beforehand. Some of these people have kids, you know – they don’t actually have a spare room to store unsold copies in any more. Up until now we have polished our performing chops on the grazing afforded by a few “Acoustic Showcase” nights (typically twenty minutes if you’re lucky, tucked in between the set by the angstified young lady whose parents could afford piano lessons and the grizzled bloke from down the pub who took up guitar to fill in time when the ex finally got his access to the kids reduced to every third weekend), Beer Festivals (“Could you do three hour long sets, keep it down because people are talking and play something we know to finish off with?”) and the odd outdoor gig in the summer (“ I’m afraid there won’t be time for a soundcheck – tell you what, we’ll sort it out in the first number, oh, and we’re over running a bit so could you possibly drop a couple of numbers. The monitors aren’t working, by the way…”) all of which, naturally, we have begged to be able to play and most of which we have thoroughly enjoyed.

At them we’ve made friends, at a few we’ve been offered other gigs as a result, and at some we’ve even picked up band members. At one point we even won an award. It’s on the wall in my office. We’ve also done a few radio sessions, a couple of interviews and a photo shoot here and there, and so we’re not total strangers to reaping the promotional whirlwind. The days of spending a few weeks driving a few hundred miles or so in a Transit van to sleep on someone’s floor on the off chance of selling a couple of copies of our single or possibly picking up a contact here or there are pretty much beyond most of us these days though, physically if not financially. 

With great freedom comes great responsibility, but with a mortgage and Nursery fees to pay comes the need to be back in the office on Monday morning. Hence we have spent many, many hours already over the past couple of months trying to persuade promoters across the country that a non-too-pigeonholeable band that they’ve never heard of and who are determined to play their own songs are exactly what they need to open their weekend festival - on one occasion this involved the offer of half a dozen free tickets to a showcase gig, a DVD, three CDs and physically tracking down of the guy who picked the bands at another gig who quite reasonably responded that getting him to see us play was “our problem”. 

We have also been assuring enthusiastic volunteers (many of whom are players in exactly the same position as us vis-à-vis pursuing the grail of being able to give up the day job in order to spend their days accepting free instruments as part of their sponsorship deal with one hand while turning down offers to duet with Ronan Keating with the other) that miking up a six piece band with four vocalists is exactly what the sort of complication they need at their ‘acoustic’ night. In the final analysis and at heart though, we simply want to make the best music we can, anywhere we can, get it heard by as many people as possible, and if retiring to a Sussex farmhouse with state of the art recording studio in the converted stables on the proceeds is a result of same, then so be it. 

Luckily, and supportively, Mrs. Skirky enjoys the band’s music, recognizes that it’s good for a chap to have a hobby as it keeps his mind off the price of hair-thickening shampoo, and is also very keen herself on the idea of retiring to Sussex, notwithstanding that if there were a recording studio in the grounds she’d probably prefer to convert it back to being a stable. At times of artistic ennui, sighs of stress and contemplation on the machinations of intra-band politics, she is always there with a soothing word, a calming observation, and the phrase “When are you going to get your finger out and get round to writing that bloody Christmas novelty hit?”. 

This time next year, we’ll be millionaires.