Tag Archives: knoxville market square
(by Levon who was listening to Christabel and the Jons in Knoxville’s Market Square on the WDVX Blueplate Special)
Upon the arrival of 1000 of each of my CDs, I implemented a rather peculiar marketing strategy: I got on a bus to Mexico. Yes, I smuggled a few across the border, and who could say if I’m bigger over there than here, but back in Tennessee I’m trying to think about music and its market. I’ve got a lot of CDs after all, and it’s hard to find shelves. But this is not a commercial, it’s just what always has me thinking.
Musicians record albums and then tour to support them. It takes a huge financial backing, traditionally by a label, and even then it is only the beginning of fighting the odds. Today, the old industry infrastructure has nearly collapsed. Labels are left to squeeze the dear life from sure-bet acts, and newer artists are so risky that they can usually self raise as much support as a label would venture on them. Everyone has stolen music, it couldn’t really be stopped. Now we have an industry with no barriers to entry, so bombarded by self marketing musicians that what is happening can be anybody’s guess.
Let me be clear that I’m glad every musician has a shot. No one needs a golden ticket to build a facebook page, buy some software, and even pay the CD manufacturers (who are the true beneficiaries of the current music industry). However, this fair shot is still dependent on the limited ears and patience of a market that only lifts an eyebrow to new music as much as it ever did when the industry sought to give them a mere handful of selections. Undoubtedly, great music has always been made and never discovered since people have sold records and made livings as musicians. Now perhaps it’s out there, somewhere on iTunes, and in the event you find it by chance or by add request, it can end up a mix playlist for $.99. The band takes $.70 as their profit to buy food, put gas in the van, a little in the band fund, and split the rest 5 ways.
My point? Something is happening to our music and the music of our decade will likely be coined as “overwhelming obscurity.” Public opinion of art matters, pragmatically, because it determines who eats and keeps making it. Maybe the best thing for music can occur now; it will be locally acclaimed. Someone must put themselves in the public face to get recognized, for there is no need to go peering for it in the saturation elsewhere. That would be a good solution on a few fronts: namely it gets musicians playing. Busking, anything. Let the marketing be done face to face with the community. It will be on the streets in a good music town. And so, the town knows it’s artists, it’s sound, and it’s traditions are given back to them.
Now, the obvious problem. Nobody says anything bad about the Boss in Jersey, but Jersey isn’t Knoxville. Doesn’t a musician have to spread his market like any other merchant? Of course. When good music is readily accessible, it is also accessible next week. However, the number one rule that any aspiring band reads when trying to go on the road is this: “Own your hometown.” To do that, they need their hometown to listen and buy in. Think of it as sending off ambassadors of the Knoxville (or insert town here) feel. And when the national scene comes by your door, it will be better with what it brings you; because you’ve made yourself a music town.
(by Levon who is listening to Spirit Family Reunion)
I decided to take my guitar downtown to market square today and do some busking. Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time on the standards, and what better way to practice than the potential for a dollar or two? The progressions are pure and melodies need only be whistled. If I am to play them daily, better to slip them in an atmosphere where they may trickle over cafe tables and hug the corners of old buildings that might remember. There is an industry of music that is over saturated, yet so many places could use it. It was with this level of optimism that I pedaled heartily to the scene of my bidding audience.
There were some things already going on. For one, the large stage at the head of the square was having a sound check for the upcoming Shakespeare in the Square. At the other end by the fountains was a birthday party with nearly twenty youngsters screaming in the cold water. Crutch Park beyond the square was closed off for what looked like some sort of civic engagement, and a bluegrass duet had flanked the alley headed to Gay Street. It looked like the square was getting along fine.
I’m usually one to make easy excuses when it comes to not taking spotlights. However, that’s a luxury I cannot afford myself in these moments when a dollar or two is a dollar or two. I chose the most optimal position I could, given the obstacles just described: at a table beside a mother from the birthday party. With my guitar case out and my stack of CDs in the chair between us, I started very softly, “All of Me…why not take all of me…?” We said hello and then pretended it wasn’t awkward until I remembered I was supposed to be entertaining. Desperately, I wished I had better gimmicks up my sleeve besides Happy Birthday. The Pink Panther. The Flintstones. Any street busker worth their beer money would have known the drill.
Not that I brought a set list, but I wanted to bring a controlled contribution. My unfamiliar bantering, it began to feel like. When no one is really asking or counting on you to play, it’s easy to come in and out. Be strong when you should, be atmosphere when you’re fiddling.
After an hour I packed up and headed to Morelock Music around the corner. Really I needed to be louder, so I spent all my takings on new strings. I left some CDs and talked shop for a bit. Everywhere I go, I recruit for my band. Bands form, reform, and talk about forming in a gaseous state. We get our own craigslist tab. Organizing musicians to arrive together in an efficient manner and create livelihood for themselves is probably harder than government. I’m going to start asking for resumes.