Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Thriving Local Music Scene, Just Not Yours

"Friday night, let's go.  Let's all have fun tonight.  All right, here we go.  Here we go tonight."

Slick Shoes had it right with those words.  You are looking for something to do after a long week of stress, frustration, aggravation and nights of boredom.  Work has lead you to near homicide, all those math problems and history lessons aren't making sense (not to mention learning onomatopoeia, oxymorons and past participles), and your siblings have been driving you nuts.  Other than all of this, you have had a great week of...well...nothing.  But, you made it to Friday!  So what are you going to do?

Friday night lights?  If you live in a big city your sure to find a football or basketball game.  If you live in a smaller town and the high school sports team is across the state (or county), you probably don't want to drive all that way to watch just a half, so you decide to go bowling.  Maybe the local hang out spot is the ice or skating rink.  Or even better, you want to catch that new movie with Kevin Hart in it.  No matter the option you choose, you and your closest friends have something to do.

Notice though, of all the options, there is no mention of a concert?  Think about this, you're a huge music fan.  You have all these options, but none of them is a concert.  Certainly there is a club you can go to.  Isn't there a church bringing someone in this week?  I mean, you got friends in a band, and they're always up for a show.  Or how about the youth worship band, don't they write original stuff too?  Of course, the bowling alley might have a band playing in their bar, so that would count as attending a concert, even if you're not really watching their performance.

Well, for most of us music lovers, especially Christian music lovers, the local club has shut down, or only does a show once a quarter.  Our favorite band doesn't fit into the "mold" of what our towns churches like.  Sure, there are some pretty cool bands that your friends are in, but they only get gigs at bars and maybe you're just not old enough to get into the bar.  That youth worship band does indeed write original stuff, but they are the worship band at the Nazarene church and the Baptist church a block up the road won't bring them in because, "we don't want to steal another churches youth."  Raise your hand if this paragraph sounds familiar.  And if you're a pastor reading this thinking you would never exclude a band because of genre or church they attend, I'm calling your bluff.

Today's local music scene, especially for the Christian music scene, is hit and miss.  Sadly, the hit ratio is smaller than the miss.  If you're like me, you check the tour schedule of your favorite band and don't see a local stop.  You might not even see them stopping in your state.  Why is this?  Why do your favorite bands never stop in your town or even your state?  Why can't anybody keep the club open for longer than six months, or sometimes a year?  Why doesn't your church bring in your favorite band, especially when your entire youth group loves them too?  Heck, that band is playing an hour to two hours away, can't they just make that drive up the road and play your church?  Of course, there are cities that seem to always have concerts.  Denver, Jacksonville, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Sacramento, Seattle and more seem to always get the cool concerts with your favorites.  But, you don't live close to attend those events.  So, why can't this happen for your town/city?

These questions have no easy answer.  The answers vary from routing to finances and from location to radio success.  How did you hear about your favorite band?  Did you hear them on the radio?  If you didn't hear them on the radio, there is a strong probability they may never play your town.  Can you find their music at your local Christian bookstore?  Oh, if their music isn't carried at the bookstore, or if your town doesn't have a bookstore, you might have to continue to travel in order to catch them in concert.  But what about that youth worship band that does write original tunes?  Can't they play every once in a while?  Sure, but maybe they are tired of playing for free.  See all the reasons a band can't or won't are just as varied as the styles of music you listen to daily.  All of these reason combine to present our local music scenes with problems.

Here is my perspective, the numerous reasons we are seeing a huge decline in local music scenes.
1. Are local bands/artists making themselves available to perform?  Are they working/hustling the streets/schools/churches/clubs/bars to get the gigs?  Are they opening for those bigger national bands when they roll through town?  Better yet, is their music actually good?  Do they believe in their music as much as they want others to believe in it?  Many of today's bands and artists want the instant gratification.  They figure if they put together a YouTube video, they'll garner enough likes that someone should notice and be signed to a label immediately.  Sure, they may do a talent show or two and win one of them.  But, with that talent show victory they again think there should be an automatic record deal waiting for them.  What is forgotten in this whole belief system is how much work it takes to get what they feel they might be entitled to.  They forget that they are still local and no one outside their town knows who they are (except maybe a few hundred YouTube followers).
2. The cost of bringing your favorite band to town is becoming a very expensive thing to do.  Promoters burden the cost of the bands meals, their hotel stay, the cost of renting (depending on concert location) the venue, staging (if needed), sound (if not provided by tour), printing tickets and sometimes even more, and that is on top of how much the band is getting paid to play.  Yes, that is the cost of doing business and rarely do you hear a promoter complain about those costs.  But, when you have the local band playing and asking for money on top of the national band getting paid, that's a whole lot of cash being spent for 3-4 bands.  Does the local band deserve to get paid, yes in certain circumstances, but most of the time just getting to play with the big boys, keeping merch sales and hanging out in the green room with free food should be enough pay.  Do the national guys deserve to be paid?  Heck yeah!  This is their job!  A man is worthy of his pay isn't just something the working guy made up one day.  The Word says it (Luke 10:7 and 1 Timothy 5:18)!  However, it is these expenses that are putting clubs out of business in smaller towns.  Many of your national artists and bands ask for a lot of money.  Yes, they have business expenses too, but sometimes even I wonder how much the cost of business really is for a band of 4 guys/gals, the bus driver, sound guy, light guy and road manager.  Even some of the local/regional bands that ask for and deserved to get paid are now asking for upwards of a thousand dollars or more.  Yes, they too have business expenses, but to drive maybe two hours to play, spend a hundred bucks on gas and getting free food certainly can't add up to a thousand dollars.  No wonder these smaller towns can't get a good local scene going.
3. Lastly, if you hear your favorite band on the radio, and only on the radio, are you really a fan?  If you had the chance to see your favorite band live, would you spend $20-$25 for the ticket?  What if there was something better that came up the night they were playing?  Or maybe you read on one of your friends Twitter page that the band was awful live and it isn't worth going to their concert.  Yes, from experience I can tell you I have seen all of the above happen.  People don't want to pay $20 or more for a ticket, especially when they hear they aren't good live.  Yes, I've had people tell me they didn't go to a concert because they would have missed out on going to the gym or their favorite TV show was on that night.  Yet the one that just kills me is when a youth pastor/pastor/worship leader says they won't take their kids to the church across town to see a band everybody likes simply because it is at a different church or, "They can learn more from my lesson than what any band might share with them."  SERIOUSLY!!!  Are any of these good reasons not to support a band, not to mention a club that might be closing their doors in three months if they can't bring out 100+ kids to their next concert?  No, they are not.

Sure some of this might sound a little scathing.  I will admit to it being that, and maybe just a little cynical.  Rest assured though, I care about the state of local music scenes.  I would love to see a Murray Hill Theater (Jacksonville, FL) type venue in every state (more if possible).  I'd love to see more bands like Seventh Day Slumber do Small Town America tours.  I'd would really love to see churches pull together and send youth to another church to see Children 18:3, Tedashii or Francesca Battistelli.  I would really love to see the Lutheran church invite the youth worship band from the Assemblies of God church to open for a TFK or Skillet.  Even better, I would love to see the day when churches would come together and pay for a concert more than just once a year.  And when they do that, include the youth in the planning and working of the event.  The Christian music industry, and the local scene that supports it, would be amazed at what each town could do.

So, who's ready to go to the next local concert?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Musical Influences of a Lifetime Part 2

Today I share with you my musical influences.  Yes, I have shared some previously.  Yet, of those, I have never shared the albums that molded my upbringing and my tastes.  Part 1 Michael shared his journey.  As I read through those albums I remembered many albums that I hadn't thought of for many years.  Some of those albums were from artists that Michael selected, and others from the few artists he only mentioned.  For me, there are to many albums to select from (Michael had the same problem when asked to guest write), but I will indeed present the top 5 most influential albums of my lifetime (up to recent).  Without further ado, here they are.  Enjoy.

WARNING: This list, and any artist/band in list does not mean anything other than that of an influence.  I can not confirm the quality of artistry of said album(s) or artist(s).  One or two selections might have been great selections during their days on the charts but does not mean...or might not mean the inclusion in list speaks of any longevity.  NO MOCKING!  You have been warned!

HONORABLE MENTION: Because some of these are to good to not mention but had to be cut.
To Hell With the Devil - Stryper - Video for "Honestly"
Atomic Arena - Barren Cross - Video for "Imaginary Music"
Sigh No More - Mumford and Sons - Video for "Roll Away Your Stone"
Upbeats and Beatdowns - Five Iron Frenzy - Video to "The Flowery Song"

And now the Countdown:

5. Can't Slow Down - Lionel Richie
Released in 1983, Lionel was topping the charts of the Top 40 world well into 1984 with several singles on this album.  With the few stations my parents listened to, he seemed to be on most of them.  Sometime during early 1984 I received a gift certificate to a music store in my hometown.  I was excited!  I was given an opportunity to get my own music.  When my parents took me to go purchase the music of my choice, the only words of wisdom my father provided me were, "I don't care what you get, just make sure the lyrics are clean and it is something you want."  Not wanting to be to rebellious (yet), Lionel found his place in my musical collection.  "Hello" was the hit of the album.  The song hit #1 on Billboard for a few weeks, had a video and one unforgettable line, "Hello! Is it me you're looking for?"  Sure, I had heard the other hit song called, "All Night Long (All Night)," but it was the piano and the guitar solo of "Hello" that hooked me.  I played that album (tape if not mistaken) frequently.  Being this was my first ever album I bought, I didn't really know the impact it would have on my musical adventures.  It was also the album that I learned I would never have problems with my parents telling me I couldn't listen to something as long as the lyrics weren't horribly perverse or vulgar.

4. Beat The System - Petra
This album was another first for me.   Released in 1985, if featured the radio single "Hollow Eyes" which somehow received airplay on the Christian radio station in Seattle.  A station that regularly played Amy Grant, Philip Bailey, 2nd Chapter of Acts and Sandi Patty, this single sounded nothing like the piano driven music of the above mentioned artists.  I sounded more like rock music!  Late that year, my parents took me to the Christian music bookstore to buy some music.  Not only did I find this album and buy it, but I scored it in CD version.  Yes, aging myself just a bit, this was during the huge transformation from vinyl to CD.  Sure, tapes were still big, but this was a CD and I had to keep up with technology, especially since we had just gotten a CD player for me to have in my room.  Once I began playing the CD I discovered the greatness of Petra.  Imagine going from the adult contemporary sounds I usually heard to the synth heavy rock of songs like "Computer Brains,"  "Witch Hunt," and "God Gave Rock and Roll to You."  My musical tastes were not only opened, but suddenly changing to a harder and slightly more rock sound.  And, the change didn't end here.

3. Sons of Thunder - Sleeping Giant
My tastes in music have always been vast.  I have always listened to harder music and loved it.  From 80's hair bands to 90's grunge, Seattle had some of the best music available in the late 80's and early 90's.  Bloodgood, MXPX, Pearl Jam and Nirvana all called Seattle and the area home.  But it wasn't until this 2009 album that I really found the one hardcore album that influenced my love of hard music.  Actually, it was seeing these guys live for the first time that led me to purchasing this album.  Not only were they a hardcore band, they were a worship band.  Sure, the title track was good. Yes, the songs are really deep lyrically.  "No One Leave This Room Sick" killed it and spoke of healing available for anybody.  Yet the one that got me, and when seen them playing it live with White Collar Sideshow, was "He Will Reign."  This song alone took 200 plus hardcore kids from a very large mash pit into instantly worshiping God in reverence.  Yeah, a sight to see.  Even better, this album (CD) still receives heavy rotation in my truck, as does the follow up album "Kingdom Days in an Evil Age."

2. Jesus Freak - DC Talk
So many lists will feature this album.  If you are in the Christian music industry, you know this album.  Many of today's artists were influenced by this album.  This album very well could be the most talked about album ever for those who love Christian music.  And, the title track is the one song that might have changed the face of not just the band, but also Contemporary Christian Music and the CCM radio format.  My love for these guys began in 1989 with the song, "He Loves Me" and the soulful sounds of Michael Tait.  Their sound continued to grow on me with 1990' Nu Thang and 1992's Free At Last.  But, their sound changed forever in 1995 with this album.  Instead of mostly rap with some rock, they were now mostly rock with some rap sprinkled into some of the songs.  The change was awesome!  "Colored People" addressed the beautiful difference, and yet the similarity of the human race, how messed up we as a society are, and learn to accept the differences in each race, forgiving where needed, and loving no matter the difference.  "What if I Stumble" shared their fear of what others thought if there were a time one of them were found out to not be perfect (and how it would affect everyone involved in their lives and/or fans).  Finally, after all the hits, it was their cover of Charlie Peacock's  "In The Light" that became my favorite on this album.  This was a song of admission of failure and a need to have a Savior, and a plea to live as Christ wants us to live.  Yes, this album gets rotation in my truck as the CD has found a home there.

1. I Predict 1990 - Steve Taylor
Had you asked me in 1985 who Mr. Taylor was, I would have given you a blank stare.  One Sunday night in 1987, a visiting youth pastor asked if I wanted to go to a video screening of some song by some guy named Steve Taylor.  Thankfully, my parents agreed to let me take the trip to North Seattle for the screening.  Little did I know that, "Jim Morrison's Grave" would change my world.  That night I learned not only about the song, but I learned about a man and the brilliance of his art.  So, after the screening and a few days later, I made my way to the Christian bookstore and bought the tape of I Predict 1990.  Little did I know, but my local bookstore was one of the few stores that actually carried the album due to the controversy of the album art.  Controversy aside, the music was phenomenal!  From the first song, "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good" to the final song, "Harder To Believe Than Not To," every song I heard had meaning.  Sure, many of the songs (along with the album cover) were satirical in nature, but they were speaking truth in how unconventional the Christian thinking was of the day (and at times, still is in my opinion).  "What Is The Measure of Your Success" addresses the perception of success and leads into "Since I Gave Up Hope I Feel A Lot Better."  From perceived success, to the pursuit of said success, boiled down to just giving up hope, no matter how successful you are.  From satire to the serious tones of "Principled Man" this album gained a place on my permanent rotation.  Yes, to this day I still pull up Spotify and give this album a spin.

There you have it.  The albums that have shaped my musical tastes.  Yes, they are vast and heavily 80's influenced (yup, aging myself again).  Amazingly, the longevity of these artists is amazing and somewhat remarkable.  From movies (Steve Taylor and Lionel Richie) to solo careers (all of DCTalk).  From college speaking gigs (Tommy Green of Sleeping Giant) to college professor (Steve Taylor).  Be it a band being rumored to be reuniting (DCTalk), having reunited (Petra), to a band still in its prime (Sleeping Giant) or an artist still going strong (Lionel Richie) or someone who sings that put a band together for a return to touring (Steve Taylor), nothing can change how these albums have influenced me, nor can anything replace them on this list.  If you heeded my warning at the beginning, you are not mocking these selections (well, maybe a little as I am a little on a couple of them), but you made it through the list.  Hopefully, you have discovered some new (or older) music which I can only wish you will like.  Enjoy the links.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Musical Influences of a Lifetime Part 1

As many of you have read here over many a post, I'm a music junkie.  It is my passion.  I pass time listening to music, working in music and discovering music (sports and family also consume my time, but that is another post all together).

Today, I introduce a friend of mine with a very similar passion for music and the industry.  Meet Michael Reed, husband, father of three and one that I call friend and brother.  Our paths crossed a few years ago when he was in the music industry.  He was the manager of a band, and I was the booking agent.  Not only did we work well together, but we instantly hit if off like long lost relatives.  We understood each other, respected each other, and thought like each other.  Shortly after that work relationship began, it ended.  No matter though, we had formed a friendship that would grow into something neither of us ever imagined.  No matter the circumstance (cancer, loss of job, new careers, mental illness, child illnesses) our friendship has become a rock for both of us.

Now, it is my pleasure to share with you part one of a two part blog about music, the never changing constant in the friendship Michael and I have.  This two part blog highlights the music that has made us who we are.  The albums that inspired us to live, to love, to breath, encouraged to carry on and more importantly, are part of what we are today as people, as husbands, as fathers.  Enjoy Michael's journey through his top albums that have influenced him and his life.

Preface: I grew up in a traditional non-traditional home. On the outside we were a very happy family. On the inside was a whole lot of dysfunction. We were always the first ones at church. But as quickly as the church clothes came flying off on Sunday mornings, I found myself growing up with chaos all around me. I found myself lost. Dazed. Confused. I was constantly picked on due to my height (I have a growth disorder and have not grown since the 6th grade). I suffered from constant depression. I had very few friends. And I engulfed myself into one thing: music. I was a trumpet player. But my dream? I wanted to SING. So I blared my cassette tapes (yes, I am admitting my age) as loud as I could to drown out the chaos that was outside my bedroom walls.

I went through the typical teenage phases of rap and hip-hop and grunge. But nothing really satisfied me. That is, until the 7th grade. I went to a "Christian" summer camp for a week. And it was life changing. People accepted me for who I was, not for what I wasn't. It was at this camp that I was introduced to the world of Christian music. And it was at this camp that I heard album #1 for the first time.

#1 Michael W. Smith i 2 eye

This may be an "old" album on many aspects, but i 2 eye  introduced the world to Smitty. The modulations, key changes, and the ability to make it all flow so simply attracted me to his style. Then, I actually listened to the words. One of the greatest songs ever written is "Secret Ambition". I played this song so much I actually ruined the cassette! The melody and the catchiness of the chorus all spoke to me in ways I could never imagine as a young man.

As I grew up my tastes changed. Smitty and Amy Grant used to be the only option for mainstream Christian music, but as times changed other amazing artists came forward. And using Smitty, Amy Grant, Carmen and Stephen Curtis Chapman as their foundation, Christian music EXPLODED into a more mainstream style. All of a sudden there were actually DIFFERENT TYPES of Christian music to listen to. Enter Casting Crowns.

#2. Casting Crowns Lifesong

Wow. You mean I can listen to music and praise and worship at the same time!!?? Yes, please!!! Casting Crowns came to the scene in the early 2000's and swept the world with their incredible blend of worship and pop. Mark Hall, lead singer, made it a point to only tour through the week so that his family could be together on Sundays for church. He, to this day, is still a youth pastor at his Georgia home church.  With songs like "Who Am I", "Lifesong", and "Praise You In This Storm" this album is a constant reminder that God is with us no matter how impossible the obstacle seems.

With the "Praise and Worship" era in full swing, Christian music transformed again. Someone realized even though we are Christian we can still have our "boy bands." Hello Tenth Avenue North. We have been waiting for you.

#3. Tenth Avenue North Over and Underneath

Tenth Avenue North erupted with their first hit "Love Is Here" but as you listen to the album you realize that these guys have really experienced issues in their lives. "Times" discusses the struggles with depression. "Beloved" shows the immense love of a marriage. The hits go on and on with this amazing blend of pop and rock and no matter what stage you are at in your life, there is a song on this album for you.

There is an open argument about whether old school Christian music is better than today's Christian music. My opinion has always been this: It doesn't matter HOW someone gets to know God, as long as that person finds God. But, for the sake of argument, what if you could blend the old with the new? Thank you, Newsboys.

#4. Newsboys Restart

The Newsboys have been around for a LONG time. They have transformed many times over the years, and with each change their style has become something different. With the addition of Michael Tait as the lead man, the Newsboys engulf the old with the new, and a whole new generation has become Jesus Freaks. Their award winning song "We Believe" is an anthem to all Christians, young and old. "That Home" is a tribute to Michael's mother who passed away last year and shows the passion of a mother and her son. "That's How You Change The World" is a decree for all of us to stand and make a difference. It is a great album full of life, heart, and love.

So now what does the future hold? Christian music today is much different than it was 20 years ago. With bands like Red, for King and Country, and countless others the future looks bright for mainstream Christian music. But one artist, to me, sticks out. Not necessarily because of her abilities...but because of her life.

#5. Plumb Need You Now

Plumb has been around for a few years, but it was when she poured her life into her songs that people really began to take notice. The title track "Need You Now (How Many Times)" was written in a very dark place in her life where she almost lost her husband. "Lord I'm Ready Now" talks about letting go and letting God take over. Her music comes from deep within her soul and you can feel her passion in every note she sings.

So there you have it. My top 5 albums. I encourage an open mind and open heart when listening to this music. God DOES change lives through music. After all, he changed mine. God bless.

Thank you, Michael, for your contribution to the blog.  For more of Michael's story, head over to his blog,  It is a great blog, and a story of healing, entitled, "Being Mentally Ill Without Being Mentally Ill."  Part 2 of this blog coming later this week.