The Band Meeting

My guitarist Stefan picked me up at my house in Madison WI around 6:50 PM and we drove over to the Village Bar to meet our drummer Jon. We had a residual $50 left over from the youth hockey fun(d)raiser show we played on February 7 at the Capitol Ice Arena in Middleton, so we decided to use it to underwrite a band meeting to discuss band objectives and goals.

Stefan and I found “rockstar parking” on the street right next to the Village Bar, which saved us having to walk very far in the brutal cold of Wisconsin in mid-February. We looked around the parking lot of the bar to see if Jon’s car was there. We didn’t see it, and we went in.

The Village Bar is a neighborhood tavern with a lot of regulars. When you enter from the parking lot there is a bar on the right that runs the length of the establishment, and there is a small grill and fryer at one end where they cook the greasy bar food. The rest of the cozy wood paneled room has a few tables and Stefan and I took seat at one of these while we waited for Jon to arrive.

Jon walked in a couple minutes later. Apparently, he had had to park a block away, which I guess means the Cosmos didn’t think he was as rock star as us. I kid, I kid.

The Village Bar is cash only, something I should have considered ahead of time. I didn’t bring much cash. They had an ATM so I was able to get the needed band funds, but the $2 ATM fee cut into our meeting stipend a bit (4% to be exact). Still, we managed to stay under budget on the three brick burgers (cheeseburgers with brick cheese) and two pitchers of Capital Brewery’s Winter Skaal seasonal beer that we ordered and consumed over the course of our meeting.

At the last band meeting, GUPPY EFFECT decided collectively as a band to go to an all (or mostly) original music model and get away from the cover band image that is often a drain on morale. We decided to keep a small batch of cover tunes to pull out now and then – ones we really like and perform well, like “Black Betty” by RAM JAM. We also decided to develop a semi-acoustic incarnation of the band and play more venues demanding this style of music. In fact, we played a gig in this incarnation already. The last Sunday in January, we pulled off the acoustic set brilliantly at the Art Nest event at Cardinal Bar in Madison. It’s basically an art show at the Cardinal the last Sunday of every month and they bring in lighter musical acts to augment the artistic experience. Original music goes over well at events like this for a couple of reasons. One is that your role is kind of to provide background music, so the actual genre of music is not as important as the presentation of it. The second is that art shows tend to emphasize originality, so original music compliments that. We got a lot of positive feedback on our music and the organizer of Art Nest bought us a round of drinks.

At yesterday’s band meeting, we discussed, among other things, how to improve our live performances (both electric and acoustic), what new original songs to add, whether Jon should invest in a cocktail drum kit for the semi-acoustic shows, what kinds of gigs to play, how to find such gigs, and possibly changing our band name (we even struck on a decent idea for one, though it’s confidential because we are still debating it and we have to trademark it before we launch it officially).

On the Facebook recently, I was tipped off to a web site called Indie on the Move that assists performing musicians and bands in finding opportunities to perform. I checked it out and it is a great resource for finding appropriate venues for GUPPY EFFECT (or whatever we may start calling ourselves) to play. I have already enquired with a few venues. The site kind of does what I proposed doing with my web savvy friend Branden a couple years ago, creating a site that is like an Angie’s List for bands to rate venues. Indie on the Move has a simpler rating scale than I envisioned, but it is probably more streamlined that way. My idea never got off the ground and now that I have found this site, why re-invent the wheel?

Jon had on the agenda to talk about what works and what doesn’t for us as a band. On the gig front, we came to a unanimous decision to never play bowling alley gigs again. This is probably already a necessary consequence of our plan to play 95% all originals going forward, since these bowling alleys that have live music typically want 95% cover songs. But we needed to validate ourselves after the disastrous bowling alley gig we played in Beaver Dam last fall (no offense to the five people who showed up…we appreciated you and rocked you as hard as we could). As a Lebowski fan, I like the concept of bowling alley gigs, but apparently almost no one else does. We agreed that some of our best shows have been ones where we played for 45 to 60 minutes, pounding out the songs fast and furious. The reception has always been great at these shows. Maybe it’s because a short set doesn’t fatigue the ears of the fans and leaves them wanting more. A three hour cover band show can be grueling for fans and musicians alike, especially if the energy isn’t there or the fans are disinterested. Everyone wins with the short sets. If we or the fans just aren’t feeling it, we know it will be over soon enough. But like I said, for the most part, these short sets are fantastic for everyone. My only wish is that we would play at the weekly Funks Open Jam more often, but I still don’t think that is likely to happen, even in the simpler semi-acoustic incarnation. But I will keep working on it…

On the performance front, we talked about how to tighten up our grooves as a band and bring out the subtle nuances of the music. There are a lot of rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic complexities to GUPPY EFFECT’s seemingly simple rock-n-roll songs – syncopations, hemiolas, and anticipations in the rhythms, two and three part vocal harmonies, and lead guitar and vocal lines that require a solid foundation of rhythm and harmony – so we want to make sure we hone these things to give the music that little extra push over the cliff. Even though our friends and fans may not consciously notice the nuances we add to the music, it makes all the difference between a good musical experience and a great one in the subconscious minds of people.

On the venue front, we talked about looking for shows where we can jump on the bill with a couple other bands to showcase ourselves to the venues and also garner a few fans from similar sounding original bands. I said I planned to try to get us into some local music fests, like MAYBASH. These are all things to get our name and reputation out there. You can have the best musical “product” in the world, but if no one knows about it, they cannot consume it. Marketing is not the strong suit of anyone in this band, but one thing we can do and enjoy is giving away free samples of our rocking via showcases and playing alternative venues. We also want to try to play venues that have sound and lights provided, at least for the electric incarnation of the band, or make enough money to hire it out.

It was a productive meeting. I hope this new direction pleases our fans. I was pleasantly surprised that all three of us were on the same page as far as playing mostly original music and shorter shows. Jon and I both come from musical backgrounds playing in cover bands. We both have a “been there, done that” feeling about the cover band gigs. The return on investment for most cover gigs is low. You put in a lot of time and practice learning 45 cover songs for a 3 hour show. The venues do very little to help you promote the shows. Marketing and promotion of the shows doesn’t generate a lot of buzz, because there are already a lot of cover bands and people think if they have seen one they have seen them all. Cover band gigs are behind us now.

For our original music shows, we can spend more time honing the quality of fewer songs and thus put on a much better performance with the most positive energy level. We can also benefit from power in numbers by playing shows with other bands who have fans with similar taste in music. The acoustic shows will require less hauling of heavy music equipment…we can basically just show up and rock.

Everyone wins.

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