Being the music editor for Seven Days is an awesome gig. Not to brag, but getting paid to listen to music and tell you what I think about it is pretty much a dream come true, and I’m thankful. But like any job, it has its occasional annoyances. And lately I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among bands and their representatives: Namely, the misperception that here at Vermont’s Independent Voice we “promote” music. It’s a request that I and other music writers for this paper receive several times a day, often from people who should know better. And it’s depressing.
If I could, I’d like to chat privately with local bands for a second. Dudes and dudettes, let me make something clear: We. Do. Not. Promote. Bands. Neither I nor any other writer we employ has any interest in “giving you press.” That’s not why we do this. This may come as a shock, but we write for our readers, not to fill your press kits with snappy clippings. If that’s what comes about, good for you. But it’s not our goal, and you should never ask for it. We want to turn our readers on to great music, steer them away from shitty music, and tell them interesting and entertaining stories. That’s it. And music journalists generally take their roles seriously.
So when you approach a member of the media — here or elsewhere — and ask them to “promote” your band, you’re actually insulting the integrity of both the writer and the publication. Think about it: If you knew a publication only gave ink to an artist to help them further their careers, would you trust that rag to give you an honest opinion? I wouldn’t. Sure, plenty of outlets do exactly that, but Seven Days is not one of them.
Look, I’ve been on all sides of the music biz over the years. And I realize that getting publicity can be a shot in the arm, especially for up-and-coming acts. So it makes sense that artists or their managers will do what they can to get media attention. But you should know that there are more effective means of doing so than saying, “Hey, would you promote my band? We could really use the press.” It’s sort of like approaching an attractive man or woman at a bar and blurting out, “Will you go home with me? I could really use the sex.” (Bet you weren’t expecting romance tips here, were you? Me, neither, but it was the best parallel I could think of.)
Now I’m not suggesting you be shy about approaching the media — quite the opposite. Building and maintaining healthy working relationships with artists and their representatives is essential to what we do. We want to know when your band is doing something cool or might be on the verge of a big break. We want to know the story behind your new record, or the crazy thing that happened to you on tour. We’re not mindreaders, and being kept in the loop is important. And it’s partly why my job is fun. We can’t always write about you when you pitch us, but it definitely increases the odds, especially if you have something actually newsworthy to pass along. And no, simply being in a band, or having a show in town, ain’t necessarily news. Be a little more creative. You’re artists, right?
I don’t mean to stand on the bully pulpit, or to come off as whiny. But I do worry that the expectation of promo might indicate a growing disconnect between artists and music journalists, particularly given the changing state of media. And, by the way, in talking with music-crit colleagues from outlets around the country, I know the phenomenon is not unique to Vermont. On the contrary, it appears to be epidemic.
I think it’s critically important that we understand each other and the ground rules. We want to write about you, and what we write might turn out to be high praise. But it is not our job to promote you.
Or, the words of the late, great Lester Bangs, “My responsibility as I see it as a critic is not to help a lot of new bands sell their records. It’s to help people who are buying the records to keep from making a purchase that they’re going to get home and hate my guts and the band’s too because it’s a piece of shit.”
Thanks for listening.
Back in the day — we’re talking the early to mid-1990s — the Channel 2 Dub Band were one of the most popular reggae acts in town. They were regulars on the club circuit and featured some of the era’s best and brightest local musicians, including vocalist Don “Quennie” Queenville, drummer Troy Pudvah and guitarist Greg Matses. A long list of folks once claimed membership in or jammed with the band — including some guy named Trey Anastasio on at least one occasion. But Channel 2 eventually ran their course and broke up. I’m happy to report that this Saturday, July 7, the band is reuniting at Nectar’s for its first show in more than 10 years. I’m told at least 10 original members will be onstage, in addition to some newer cats helping to flesh out the band’s irie island sound.
Meanwhile, at the Monkey House, the Jenke Records catalog grows a little more voluminous with the debut release from local MC Crooks — aka Rajnii Eddins — also on Saturday, July 7. The record, Dapper With a Dagger — is a heady blend of hip-hop and R&B that, while a bit preachy at times, should prove a welcome addition to the local hip-hop scene. The show, which also features Jenke founder Tommy Alexander with Set up City and Eddins’ other project, Bless the Child, doubles as a benefit for the Root Center.
Speaking of hip-hop, noted MC and producer Lyrics Born plays a two-night stand at the Rusty Nail in Stowe on Thursday, July 5, and Friday, July 6. While the highly respected cofounder of seminal Bay Area duo Latryx returning to VT is itself noteworthy, equally important is the local talent backing him up: among others, the Lynguistic Civilians, Learic from the Aztext, the Move It Move It, Face-One and Memaranda. Oh, there’s also a party bus to get Burlingtonians to and from Stowe safe and sound. Bonus.
In other news, last week, Higher Ground Presents announced that the legendary pop parody auteur Weird Al Yankovic would be playing the Flynn MainStage on October 20, to the delight of geeks throughout Vermont. I may forever destroy whatever precious music-hack cred I have by admitting this, but I saw Yankovic several years ago at the State Theatre in Portland, Maine, and it was one of the most entertaining live concerts I’ve ever witnessed. Really. Tickets for the Burlington show went on sale Friday, June 29, at flynntix.org.
Finally, the local music scene took a tragic hit over the weekend when Greyspoke bassist Rudy Kiburis drowned while swimming at Huntington Gorge on Saturday, June 30. Kiburis, 24, was one of more than 25 people to drown in the Richmond swimming hole in the last 40 years. Sincere condolences go out to his family and friends.
Once again, this week’s totally self-indulgent column segment, in which I share a random sampling of what was on my iPod, turntable, CD player, eight-track player, etc., this week.
Gojira, L’Enfant Sauvage
Guided By Voices, Class Clown Spots a UFO
Joey Bada$$, 1999
Echo Lake, Wild Peace