Thursday, January 27, 2011

Preparing for Success

I have some good friends in a band in Iowa that recently got some radio airplay on their local market alternative radio station. It came out of nowhere and they really didn't expect it. Maybe they should have. When I found out about it from a facebook post, after I congratulated them, my first question was "Did you shoot a video?" Their answer unfortunately was "No." What makes this frustrating is that there may be opportunity for this band to possibly take a step up the ladder and they have nothing to compliment what is going on. They are scrambling now to catch up with their new found momentum. How could this have been done differently? How often do you think things like this happen where the band has no plan and therefore cannot possibly have any execution? Do you think new businesses pop up without having an actual contingency plan for success? You all spend hours playing your instruments. You spend hours rehearsing. You spend hours writing, arranging, recording, producing, get the fucking idea. Where is THE PLAN? Let me rephrase. GET A FUCKING PLAN! I asked about a video because I have countless friends that go straight to youtube when I turn them on to a new band. How can you achieve your vision of success if you never fucking plan for it? What happens if a door opens and you lack the preparation and the plan to walk through it? I want each and every one of you to look at the way you approach what you do from the standpoint of preparation and strategy. Pretend for one fucking minute that what you envision for your band might just actually happen. Look, I know that a couple of you guys from the band read this. I say all this with the utmost respect and hope nothing but success for you guys but...If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.


The Sphinx

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Is It Soup Yet?

When recording and producing music in the studio, quite possibly the hardest decision to make is when to let go of a track and call it done. We, meaning Gravity Kills, were possibly the worst at this. Mr. Blood Studio was filled with all of the bells and whistles that you can possibly imagine when it came to producing the type of music that we were doing. I would spend countless hours playing with keyboards and listening to drum sounds or loops. You always felt like there was one more spice, bit of magic, crazy element or smidgen of rock and roll dust you could sprinkle on a mix to take it to the next place. We also had no clock ticking in our studio so we basically had all the time in the world to endlessly tweak the mix. When I talk to you guys, I know that I am not the only one in that seemingly lonely boat. I even saw a recent post on facebook by a very well known artist that talked of not knowing if something was done or not until the mix was pried from his hands and ended up on the retail store shelf. When I commented on his post I put "Art is never finished, only abandoned." A quote by Leonardo da Vinci that Doug started using very early on with Gravity Kills. You and I both know that this is beyond true, especially if you have your own home studio. I have sat for countless hours recently on tracks that for some reason I will not commit a direction to. I find myself working on a drum track and when I look at the clock, I have spent 2 hours dealing with a fucking snare drum. In 2004, Barry Schwartz released a book called "The Paradox of Choice. Why More Is Less." You can get the jest of his book by reading the Wikipedia article. In a nutshell, we become paralyzed by choice at times and since we have so many choices, we are quick to de-commit to a direction when that direction becomes slightly challenging. Maybe this is a fact of modern living. Choice envelopes us seemingly at every turn. Maybe the answer is to limit your choices in the studio? Pick 3 synths, 3 drum kits, 2 bass sounds and 2 guitars sounds. Clear your palette. Create the track from the basic and save your sonic experimentation when you have perspective and a clear direction for the track. It's hard to see the forest when you have too many fucking trees. Maybe I need to read my own fucking blog. I know what my soup is supposed to taste like. Let's make some fucking soup.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I Don't Want To Hear It!

So, you tell me that you are serious. You tell me that you are committed. You tell me that being a musician is part of who you are and you would do it for free. You tell me that you are willing to make the personal and financial sacrifices necessary to make something happen for you. I really want to believe you. I really want to buy in to what you are telling me. I really want to think that you are different than everyone else. I really want to have confidence that you will be the one to push for what you want. Here is an example of why it makes it harder and harder for me to believe.

As many of you know, I book bands. I talk to them everyday. I hear all the stories of why and what makes them different from everyone else. So, I walk into my office this morning and another agent had a cancellation. Let me preface this by saying that cancellations are fairly common occurrences for mostly legitimate reasons. Let me also tell you that if you are going to cancel a gig, you better come up with a better reason than the nondescript "food poisoning" or "I have a stomach thing."  Things are tough out there right now as many of you know. The economy, in recent history, has not been kind to touring or live music in general. I will go on to make the statement, I NEVER CANCELED A GRAVITY KILLS SHOW DUE TO ANY OF THIS BULLSHIT! We did cancel a few shows when a band member had some legal issues that had to be taken care of and there were also some cancellations when Matt broke some ribs and Doug broke his hand. There were nights I literally rolled out of my bunk or out of the hotel room as sick as I could ever remember and played the show. It wasn't about the money for me. I realized that there were more people than I that had a stake in the show i.e. the fans, my band mates, my crew, the promoter, my manager, my agent, my accountant and so on. I certainly knew of "those bands" that had a reputation for canceling the gig. IF YOU DON'T WANT TO COMMIT TO THE GIG AND ACTUALLY DO IT THEN DON'T COMMIT. If you want the type of job that has sick days then don't join a band. If you want to talk a good game and not back it up then don't join a band. Now you are going to make the excuse and say something like "But Jeff, there was far more at stake for you and Gravity Kills." Maybe there was and maybe not. In each respective fishbowl, is there not as much at stake for you? I hate breaking it down this way but are you thinking about your brand? Do you think your band is so good that the club or venue will let it slide? Do you think that a small club that has advertised and has most of the risk on the gig has less to lose? I call bullshit. The sad thing is that when you fuck a club over, it makes it even harder for the rest of us. Are you part of the problem or part of the solution? Are you part of the reason a venue want's to book live music or part of the reason why they have hesitations about it? Do you only want to play the gig and keep your commitment if the stars align for you? Do you actually give a shit about the bigger picture in play regarding you, your band, your brand and live music as a profit center for clubs and venues as a whole? Do you give a shit that those around you may question your real motivation, or lack thereof, behind your membership in a band? The next time you think about canceling, think about the bigger picture and what is at stake. If you still want to cancel for some bullshit reason, then maybe you should rethink your aspirations. Oh, and by the way, Get well soon.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Traction and Momentum

1a. The act of drawing or pulling, especially the drawing of a vehicle or load over a surface by motor power.
b. The condition of being drawn or pulled.
2. Pulling power, as of a draft animal or engine.
3. Adhesive friction, as of a wheel on a track or a tire on a road.
4. Medicine A sustained pull applied mechanically especially to the arm, leg, or neck so as to correct fractured or dislocated bones, overcome muscle spasms, or relieve pressure.
1. capacity for progressive development: the power to increase or develop at an ever-growing pace
"The project was in danger of losing momentum."
2. forward movement: the speed or force of forward movement of an object
"the momentum gained on the downhill stretches of the course"
3. physics measure of movement: a quantity that expresses the motion of a body and its resistance to slowing down. It is equal to the product of the body's mass and velocity. Symbol  p
4. philosophy basic element: an essential part of a whole
I have been talking about these concepts for months. I even use the term "traction" in my description of this blog. Within the scope of attaining your goals as an artist, musician, band, applying these two terms may be the best way to understand if you are truly getting anywhere. 
Gaining traction is the precursor to momentum. Without traction you are in essence simply spinning your wheels and will go nowhere. I recently drove about 200 miles to have a meeting with a band regarding some consulting and then went to one of their gigs. They gave me a CD to listen to about a week before the meeting and I listened to it all the way through about 5 or 6 times so I would at least have an opinion to give them. What struck me about the CD is that the music seemed to be 2 completely different bands. Some of the songs had a 90's guitar alternative feel to it and some of the songs had a rock/blues vibe. When we sat down for dinner, my first question to the song writer in the band was, "If you could pick a style on the record, which one would it be?" It seemed that this guy had actually been waiting for someone to ask him that. You can't gain any traction if you don't have a creative direction. I understand that we all have various influences from multiple musical genres that inspire our creativity but if you don't have a small understanding as who you are as an artist and songwriter, you will never find a direction that will give you the ability to gain traction in your writing, recording and performing. You must also create a foundation for traction within the scope of the internet and social media. Do you have a website? Have you set up camp in every conceivable social media and band internet platform. Do you have your youtube channel? Have you set up twitter? Do you still update your myspace? (people are still there you know.) Are you getting my drift? You limit your amount of possible traction and thus gaining any momentum in the cloud if you aren't in every possible place that your music can live on the internet. 
Momentum. Traction's tricky pal. Before I leap into momentum I must preface it with a statement. If have said this before and if it offends you, too fucking bad. MUSICIANS ARE INHERENTLY LAZY. I mention this to set you up for my next statement. CREATING MOMENTUM FOR YOUR BAND MEANS YOU HAVE TO ACTUALLY WORK AT IT. How often are you actually writing new music. This needs to be constant. I remember Gravity Kills battling this because it was difficult for us to wear the writing hat while we were touring. In the old paradigm, you could get away with long album cycles. Gravity Kills shortest cycle was 2 years and three months. Back then, labels controlled what you heard and when you heard it. In the modern business paradigm this wouldn't fly. You will be forgotten. Now I can listen to just about anything I want at anytime that I want to. Your fans are bombarded by new information, including music every second of everyday.  How much new content are you uploading to your website, facebook, myspace, twitter, etc. Are you blogging? Are you constantly searching for new and creative ways to engage your fans on a constant basis. There is a band out of LA that I met at a music conference about two and a half years ago that just hit me with some new music for me to check out and help them pick a single. Just this second I went to their website. IT IS EXACTLY THE SAME AS THE FIRST TIME I SAW THE SITE AND HASN'T BEEN FUCKING UPDATED SINCE 2008! If they had any momentum to speak of, it is certainly gone now. Again, do you get my drift? Your fans can feel momentum just as the members of your band can. This band from LA will be starting all over again.If your fans can't see, read or hear something new, they will stop going to your website all together and move on to something new while leaving your band for dead.  It is up to you not only to gain traction but to create and maintain momentum. Here is another example. When thinking about touring and playing shows, apply traction and momentum to your approach. I talk to bands constantly that want to tour. Something about the open road that lures musicians like sirens to the rock. Only play markets that you know that you can make it back to at least 3 or 4 times a year. Why would you play in Portland Oregon if you know that you won't get back there for a very long time if possibly ever? Are you still getting my drift? Momentum is far easier to create than sustain. Believe me, I know this first hand. 
Traction and Momentum. Say it with me, "Traction and Momentum." I think you might be getting my drift.


Thursday, January 20, 2011


I had an hour long discussion with a guy while driving out of town on Friday night. His band has a couple of markets where the band really means something. When I say they mean something, the band is worth over 700 tickets in 2 markets. The largest market with a population of less than 700,000 and the other, their home market, has a metro population of about 400,000. This band is extremely smart about the way they handle each town by only playing about 4 shows a year in each because they want to create events and not simply be the band you can see next weekend if you miss this show. During the conversation, I tell this guy, "You know that you have not completely climbed to the top of the mountain yet in these markets." I know the band is doing well, but how could they up the ante and create even more anticipation for their shows? If they are selling a venue out one night, what could the band do to sell the venue out 2 nights in a row? In my humble opinion, they band should think of clever ways to create a demand for not just seeing the band perform, but giving a number of fans access to the band at sound check, dinner, lunch, etc. Could the band have a contest where the winners get to eat a free lunch with them at McDonald's? I found out that one of the venues they play sells bar food. Could the band have a contest where the winners get to go to sound check and have dinner at the venue with the band? Maybe this sounds stupid, or does it? When Gravity Kills played the Thanksgiving shows for a couple of years, we did a VIP ticket that included Turkey dinner with the band. These were the first tickets sold for both shows. Our fans want access. Ask some Gravity Kills fans how difficult it is to come to a sound check. Let's see, the last show we did in June, there were about 10 fans that just walked in the venue and hung out. Most of these people were from out of town but that is part of the reason they come. Yeah, they like seeing the band perform but, they would not spend $1000.00 for flights, hotels, meals, cabs, rental cars, etc. if their was no access. Give your fans time so they can invest their time in you. I hear the phrase "Attention Economy" thrown around constantly. If someone will invest their time in you, more than likely they will invest their money in you as well. Unless you can release a new track and or a new video every week or so, how do you expect to keep someone's attention without taking the next step through becoming accessible? Your fans want it. Let them eat cake. Let them eat cake with you.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Rest of The Story

We left off as Tom Sarig was sitting in his car at 1am listening to Guilty on the radio and telling the band that he was going to send us a contract the following week. A few days pass and TVT sends a first draft contract to the guys in St. Louis. Kurt, being clever and industrious, goes to the local library to get on this thing called "The Internet" and searches for an entertainment attorney. His search leads him to call an office in Los Angeles. I won't name him but the lawyer had a roster of some very marquee names. Kurt makes the phone call and leaves a message for the guy telling the receptionist that we had been sent a contract. The lawyer calls back the same day and Kurt fills him in on what is taking place. So now it is mid-February of 1995 and we now have a lawyer. As some of you know, lawyers and managers were and still are instrumental in getting bands record deals. This particular lawyer has connections at a few other labels and now the real fun begins.

In the meantime, our new friends at KPNT suggest that we release Guilty as a single while the single is riding the top of their playlist. Kurt, Matt and Doug decide that is a great idea so Kurt creates some artwork and they proceed to get 500 copies made. "Inside" was the B-Side of the cassette for you trivia freaks out there. Doug takes them around town to the local St. Louis record stores (remember those?) to sell the cassette singles on consignment. The first 500 sells out in 3 days so we get another 500 copies that sell out in one more week. The punch line is that we never got paid from the record stores. I suppose piracy existed then as well.   

Cut to...As Tom Sarig was getting ready to come visit the band in St. Louis for the aforementioned meeting, a manager by the name of Gloria Butler was in the TVT office in New York doing some business there for another band that she was managing that was signed to the label. She and Tom were finishing up some business and moved their conversation into the usual "what are you doing this weekend?" thing. Tom mentions that he is going to St. Louis to talk to a band called Gravity Kills. As Gloria tells it, she would not have given it a second thought if Tom would of said he was going to Cleveland, Chicago, Atlanta or anywhere else for that matter but at the time she had a home in St. Louis so now she was curious about what was going on with the band. Ah, Mrs. Butler...

Gloria Butler is bold to say the least. We met her for the first time in March of 1995 having lunch with her at a trendy Mexican place in Clayton, Missouri. We knew that she was the wife of Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler but other than that I knew nothing. I must say that she and I did not really hit it off at our first meeting. I will admit that I was more than hesitant to get involved with her and in hindsight it stems from what at that time was a general mistrust of record business types. Maybe it was because I felt that we had gotten to where we had gotten in a very short time and I thought she was being opportunistic. Gloria had won Doug over very quickly and he was really campaigning for us to take her on as our manager. I remember the band having very heated debates over this and for the first time, there was division amongst the members of the band. Matt actually took a meeting with a very big LA management company while on a business trip associated with his day job at the time. When he came back with his report, he did not get a warm and fuzzy feeling so we felt they were not an option. After that, the entire band took a meeting in St. Louis with another guy from LA. We liked him alright and he said all the right things. His brother was managing a national band that we really liked as well and this guy wanted to use us to get his own imprint through Capitol Records but...At the meeting with him, we excused ourselves and walked into a hallway in a building that was in front of Doug's house where the meeting was being held. This is when and where that we decided to hire Gloria Butler as Gravity Kills' manager. I think what finally swayed us to hire her was that she lived in St. Louis and also, SHE WAS TO THE POINT AND WAS DIRECT. At our first meeting, mind you that she is courting the band, she actually told me that I would look much younger if I would fucking shave my face. You gotta love the honesty.

Meanwhile....The lawyer in Los Angeles, now armed with a radio and retail story as well as music, starts hitting his buddies at the labels he has relationships with. He had never worked with TVT before so the lawyer was infinitely more keen on hooking us up with any major label where he had existing allies. At this point I am flying up to St. Louis about every other week to work on music with the guys. Now, instead of me just flying up to write and record, our lawyer starts scheduling meetings with record company guys in St. Louis to coincide with the recording sessions. We have visits from 3 other labels. The usual dinner and talking stuff out thing. There was one guy that the band went to see The Bottlerockets with. He was heading up a new imprint through Atlantic Records. Interestingly he ended up signing them and not us. It was getting into April by now and 2 labels had dropped out of the race for Gravity Kills and it had come down to TVT and one other label under the Warner umbrella. We are still with the LA lawyer but are getting a bit jumpy about the situation because with every offer TVT makes, we are getting a counter offer from the other label and we know that our lawyer wants us with the "Warner" label. To muddy the water even more for us, our lawyer tells us that Gloria Butler has gotten herself involved in negotiations without the consent of the band which of course freaks us out. With all of this going on, we finally meet Mrs. Butler. I know the timeline of this article is all fucked up but there was so much happening at the same time. Please excuse the chronological mess and try to keep up.

We are getting into April now. Tom and TVT decide to fly the band to New York City in order to get us in their offices and make us love the label. This is my first time ever to New York City. We flew in on a Sunday and I remember being overwhelmed by the size and intensity of it all. Their office was at the Corner of Lafayette and 4th street and they put us up in a Holiday Inn that was reasonably close to them. I remember walking into their office for the first time. TVT's offices were everything that I had hoped it was. The decor was very urban industrial and there was no corporate vibe about it at all. Tom takes us around and introduces us to the various departments and then we go to have a meeting with Steve Gottlieb. I remember sitting there basically shitting my pants. Kurt seemed to be the only one of us that was remotely capable of having a conversation and answering his questions. That part of the trip was extremely blurry for me. I do remember Gloria and Tom telling me later that Steve questioned my charisma and potential to be a front man for the band. I think I proved otherwise but that's beside the point. That evening, the band meets Tom for drinks at a bar in Alphabet City. The place had that neighborhood bar feel to it and we all sat around the table on picnic benches. I drank Bass and drank a lot of it. We had a great time and Tom was getting exactly what he wanted out of our trip. We were bonding. At the end of the evening, Tom hales a cab for us. As we jump in, we all turn to say our final goodbyes and Tom has completely vanished into the night. All four of us looked frantically in every direction but he was not to be seen. We swore he was a vampire and the episode fed our excitement about Tom and TVT.  We were fucking hooked and even though none of us articulated this at the time, all of us new that TVT would be our label. After we all got back home, Tom individually sent us all a pre-release of the KMFDM CD "Nihil" with a personal note attached that simply said, "Jeff, Do the right thing. Tommy." Tom, you had me at hello. Meanwhile, while we are in the city, Gloria sets up a meeting with a New York based entertainment attorney by the name of Michael Guido. Gloria knows we have have lost faith in the lawyer that we had been working with in LA and probably realizes an opportunity to have us set up camp with someone she has worked with before. He had negotiated with TVT in the past and when we have lunch with him, talks to us as a music guy and not a lawyer. Our most interesting conversation at the meeting was debating the virtues of smoking pot over the 3 martini power lunch. We empower him a week later to start negotiating on the band's behalf.

May of 1995 rolls in. I am starting to get very nervous because we are still bouncing between label offers and I start feeling as if everyone will start getting cold feet and pull the deals away from us. We were finishing material but it seemed that we had lost momentum. Gloria put's me at ease telling me, "It's not a matter of if but a matter of when." About the third week of May, I am at home and the phone rings.I hear "Jeff, this is Gloria. We have come to terms with TVT on a deal! We are happening!" I remember throwing my fist up in the air and scraping it on a door jam. There is still a scar on my middle finger of my left hand from where my hand hit the wood frame. Gravity Kills will officially be on TVT Records.

The band continues to work on new material and in June of 1995, TVT approaches John Fryer to engineer the record as we are being scheduled to finish everything up at The Battery Studios in New York starting in August. The crazy thing is that at the time, John is living in Dallas as well so I meet him for dinner at Cafe` Brazil in Deep Ellum. John had a very dry wit about him and in my mind was extremely British. The situation was intimidating for me since he had worked on records like Depeche Mode "Speak and Spell and of course, Nine Inch Nails "Pretty Hate Machine." He wore the smile of contempt on his face the entire meeting. In my mind he must have been thinking, "What a bloody wanker" or something to that effect because he seemed to be laughing at me the entire meeting. I had the BLT. Funny sometimes the things you remember. The meeting went horribly. I didn't really like John and I am sure that he didn't like me. I didn't really give a flying fuck about liking him so we get the label to commit to his services.

Meanwhile, I still have my day job. At that job one day I get a call from Steve at TVT. It's not everyday that the head of a record label and the media proclaimed arch nemesis of Trent Reznor calls you at the office. He tells me about this soundtrack project that the label had picked up from Columbia Records for the movie Mortal Kombat. He and the label were scrambling for songs to put on the soundtrack album and he thought it would be a great idea for us to be on it. My immediate thought that I verbalized to Steve was, "Won't that be a fucking Kiddie movie?" Steve replied with, "No, not really and it will really give your publishing a boost." Steve Gottlieb was a very likable person. There was always something about him that made you sympathetic to him. Maybe it was the pony tail or the fact that he never seemed to wear socks (about a year later he brings some wraps for us to eat to a photo shoot and we all intentionally drove him mad with comments like "Wow Steve, these burritos are awesome.") Moving on, he persuades us to approve a track being on the Mortal Kombat soundtrack album. In hindsight I am certainly happy about that. Who knew at the time that it would sell over a million copies, be the number one movie upon it's release and the way many of you heard Gravity Kills for the first time. Good call Steve.

I want you all to remember at this point that the band has yet to play a live show. We have not officially signed with either TVT Records or Gloria Butler in a management deal. But with that said, we are still chugging along.

Now we get into early August of 1995. TVT thinks it would be a great idea for John Fryer to fly into St. Louis for us to finish as much up with the record as we can before we take everything to New York to re-cut some things and mix the record. John gets in and Doug and he hit it off pretty well. On the Thursday of that week, TVT makes another phone call to us regarding a movie. This time, New Line Cinema is putting the finishing touches on a David Fincher film called Seven. They were using a remix of "Closer" by NIN in the opening credit sequence but were afraid Trent would not give permission to use it since TVT was going to be releasing the soundtrack CD. They told us they would overnight the opening credit sequence for us to score another piece of music to go on top of it. We receive a video version of it on Thursday and they need us to send something back to them on Monday. Doug and John start working on the score but then get the idea that we should build a song from the elements that they are using. We literally work around the clock on Friday and Saturday so we can have both the score and the full track done for mixing on Sunday. The track we end up with was called "Hold" which is the last song on the first Gravity Kills CD and the score over the opening credit sequence became "Forward" on the first CD that many of you that have heard on the record and have heard as the intro to our live show. Kurt or Doug, maybe both, have a VHS copy of the opening credit sequence to the film using our score. If we can ever dig a copy up, I will post it on youtube. Well, after all of this we get the material back to New Line and basically they come back with a "Thanks, but Trent has ok'd us using the "Closer" remix." You can imagine our disappointment but they did go on to ask us if we had another track for them to use in the film. We submit "Guilty" and it is excepted by New Line to be used in the movie as well as it being placed on the soundtrack album. The actual mix of "Guilty" on the Seven soundtrack is actually different from the original KPNT Pointessential version and the version that most of you know from our debut. I love the fact that our band will forever be associated with such a great film (Matt and Kurt actually go to the movie premier in New York by drawing the short straws- another story entirely.)

Cut to late September of 1995. It is about one year after we originally wrote and recorded "Guilty." We have a lawyer, a manager that we have not officially signed with and a record label that has paid for us to finish a record, and have songs going on 2 major motion picture soundtracks but still have not played our first live show. We are still in New York and we have 9 songs plus the forward to the CD done. Time is running out at the studio and we only have 4 days left before we are scheduled to have the CD mastered. Tom, our A&R guy at TVT, tells us that we need one more song because "TVT is not going to release a CD with 9 songs and an intro." We are challenged to yet another episode of round the clock writing and recording. Doug is working with John on mixing so Kurt comes up with a progression for the final song. Matt and Kurt play it for me on bass and guitar and send me into another room to come up with a melody and lyrics. In the next three days, we write, record, produce and mix the final track for the CD which is "Here." "Here I am for all to see, everything torn out of me. Too late to drown in all my doubt. Much too late to sort things out." I hit the nail on the head for exactly what I and all the guys were going through at the time. We made the mastering deadline. I can remember sitting in Dean and DeLuca at The Paramount Hotel on 46th Street after Doug and John got back from the mastering session. We all just kinda stared at the copy of the mastered version they brought to Matt, Kurt and I. In one year from starting out as a band together we had done all of this shit and managed to complete a full length CD that was to be released on TVT records (who we had yet to officially ink a deal with.)

The band goes on to play it's first live show to a sold out room at The Other World in St. Louis on November 2, 1995 and I sign our record deal unceremoniously sitting at Doug's kitchen table the Thursday before Thanksgiving in 1995 while basically sitting in my underwear (seems that was foreshadowing since I ended up performing in my underwear or less many times over the course of my career.)

I know you must be thinking, "Jeff is fucking crazy and made all of this shit up." I couldn't make this shit up. It's too crazy not to be real. I look back at it and become exhausted simply thinking about the series of circumstances and happenstances that created this unbelievable story. After posting the first part on January 12, many or you reached out to me and told me your story of connection to the band. Those are the real stories. Those are the stories that really matter in the grand scheme of the universe. My story, Gravity Kills story, really started when your connection and your story about the band began. Hopefully, there will be another "behind the music" tale to tell in the next chapter of the Gravity Kills.

Friday, January 14, 2011


You see the term DIY ("Do It Yourself" for those of you that have not been playing along) being thrown around in music blogs and websites all the time. At this point you are saying to yourself, "I certainly don't need to waste my time reading yet another pundit bestowing the virtues of DIY." Well read on because I might surprise you.

I have had my brain on this for a couple days, thinking about how I wanted to present this topic. We can all make the argument that it is essential for artists, musicians and bands to take as much control of their careers as possible. I have written here before that within the context of the new music business paradigm, you must be DIY and that of course includes an endless amount of hats to wear. Technology has made it possible to record music on your own. The internet has eliminated barriers to distribution. So Jeff, what could you possibly say that is different? I BELIEVE THERE IS NO SUCH THING IN THIS BUSINESS THAT IS TRULY DIY.

Seems like a fairly bold statement to make, especially since I have been telling you to be as self sufficient as possible for months. If you are making music and or playing shows, you can't do it all yourself. I am not talking making music, getting it on the internet, getting a website, facebook, myspace, twitter, flickr, youtube channel, getting merchandise manufactured to sell at shows, rehearsing your ass off to have a great live show and on and on and on. I recently had a fan from my home town reach out to me on facebook. Just so happens that he designs websites. As all of you know, there has not been a for quite some time so this infinitely cool person asked me if he could create a new site for the band. Yes, I could create a wordpress website for Gravity Kills and if needed I would certainly move forward with that but it would not represent the band in a way that Kurt, Doug, Matt or myself would be happy with. The point is that if you take the time to create real relationships with fans, they might actually help you. Fans want to help. They want to be part of the process. They want to take ownership in what you are doing. They want to get on the carnival ride with you. Martin Atkins preaches of this all the time. If you are touring, you might actually find fans that will let you crash at their house. I am not saying to take advantage of people. The second you do is the second that you have lost a fan and lost the other possible fans that they might evangelize to. We don't live in test tubes and don't exist in vacuums. Continue to be as DIY as you can possibly be while knowing that it takes fan relationships to start building the tribe and to really take your business model to the next place. Outsource to your fans. Make them part of your daily band business and you won't feel so fucking crippled by the amount of work that you have to accomplish in the new 2.0 world.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Story

What the old paradigm was hungry for was a band with a story. It was something that record labels felt they needed to get the press (radio, TV, MTV, magazines, fanzines, etc.) interested in helping them push the band to the next level. Indulge me for a minute and I will tell the tale of Gravity Kills.

In the summer of 1994, KPNT 105.7 The Point in St. Louis was advertising to all the bands in the area to submit a song for what they were calling Pointessential Volume One. This was to be a collection of local St. Louis bands that employees of the KPNT would select and release on a CD compilation with any profits going to charity. Kurt, Doug and Matt were all living in St. Louis at the time and had decided they would submit something even though at the time, were not currently working together in a band. As musicians do from time to time, procrastination set in and they were down to the Monday before the Friday at 5pm deadline to submit. By Wednesday of that week, they had built a track of music but at this point had no melody, lyrics or a singer for that matter to complete the song. They spent the better part of Wednesday trying to hunt someone down to sing on the track but everyone they called was busy or simply did not want to make time to come to the studio. They even attempted to find a singer they had previously worked with but none of them had the guy's phone number and his last name was Smith so even looking through the St. Louis phone book seemed futile. At some point Matt turns to Kurt and says "We should have just called your cousin Jeff." Cut to...

I am sitting at home in Dallas, Tx and at about 9pm the phone rings. I answer the phone and it is Kurt on the line. He tells me the backstory that lead him to call me. The guys are obviously excited about the track and Kurt holds up the phone so I can hear some of it. Of course I really can't make out what I am listening to so Kurt goes on and tells me he would like to fly me up on Thursday to sing on the track. I tell him that I need to call my boss from my day job and see if it's possible. After sorting out my work situation I call back Kurt to tell him it is on and the guys in St. Louis make the flight arrangements. The next day comes...

I have to work in the morning and my boss actually takes me to DFW for a flight out on a puddle jumper (it was the cheapest flight the guys in St. Louis could find) that takes off at about 1pm on Thursday afternoon. Normally a flight from Dallas/Ft. Worth  to St. Louis takes about an hour and a half but this flight had 3 stops to get to my final destination. To give you an idea of what I was dealing with, one of the stops was in Mountain Home Arkansas. I don't get into St. Louis until about 7pm. Kurt picks me up at the airport and had agreed to make dinner part of the deal so we go to downtown St. Louis and eat at a Spaghetti Warehouse kind of place. You know, one of those touristy places that has the 3 course meal (including ice cream) for $9.99. After dinner we head to the studio. By now it is after 9pm. When we get to the studio, Doug and Matt are waiting and actually playing some basketball in a video soundstage attached to the facility. When I walk through the door, someone passes me the ball and I throw up a shot from about 20 feet out. NOTHING BUT NET! At the same time, all four of us yell THAT'S ENOUGH! We knew the clock was ticking and we saw it as a positive omen to carry us through the night.  

We get into the control room and I hear the track for the first time at around 9:30 pm. Remember, we only have tonight because I have a return flight to Dallas in the morning and the track is due at KPNT by 5pm the next day. In the meantime, as we are talking amongst ourselves the guys tell me that the name of this project is called Gravity Kills (the story behind that is another blog entirely.) I thought Gravity Kills was a great band name and in fact, probably the best name for a band that I had ever been part of. So, continuing on, I get set up in front of a mic and start scatting some melodies and generic vowel sounds over the track. At about 10:30pm I start locking into some things that start sounding like words. Matt pipes up and says, "It sounds like you are saying filthy. What about Guilty?"

Now armed with a melody and one word to build the lyrics around, I spend the next 90 minutes locking the melody in and writing actual words to this song. At 12:30am we start cutting vocals for the track and at about 3am we finally wrap it up. Gravity Kills has finished tracking it's first song. The name of the track is called "Guilty." At one point during the evening, Doug spins around from his chair at the mixing console and says, "If we can't get a record deal from this, we'll never get a deal." Mind you, by this time I had been in bands for years and been sniffed on a couple of times by major labels. I simply dismissed what Doug had just said and chalked it up to sleep deprivation. Kurt and I then leave to get some sleep while Matt and Doug stay at the studio to start mixing.

Now it is Friday. With the song due at 5pm, I fly home to Texas and the guys stay at the studio all day to finish the mix. With little or no time to spare, Doug delivers a DAT copy of the track to the radio station just minutes before the deadline. I can remember people in Texas asking me about what I had just flown to St. Louis to record and I did tell someone that the it was a good track but I thought I had done better work. I suspect I was dead wrong.

I don't hear anything for a couple of weeks by now. We were all waiting for the radio station to have it's meeting to determine which tracks would make the compilation. From insiders at the station that I am still friends with, they tell the story of great dissension amongst those in the meeting at KPNT because some absolutely loved the track and others absolutely hated it. I finally get the call. Kurt tells me that we had made it. At this point I started feeling like the 4 of us had the real start of something special. Now remember that we are a completely unknown band going on a 19 song CD with St. Louis staples such as The Finns, The Urge, MU330 and Wilco. Doug suggest that since we made a slot on the CD, we should continue writing and recording more material because it would be stupid for us not to at least make the best effort we could at becoming more than a studio project with one song. We all agree and schedule my next flight up for the weekend that KPNT will have the CD release party which is the first weekend in December.

I fly up for the CD release party and am fairly excited. The guys had worked on a couple more tracks for me to write vocals and lyrics for so the weekend will be extremely busy. By weekend's end, we had attended the party and had worked on 2 more tracks. The first called "Goodbye" (this demo is the track on the Mortal Kombat motion picture soundtrack) and a track called "Inside." All four of us can feel that this is getting really good. That we have found a way to work together that is really really working. Again, After the weekend is over, I fly back home to Texas.

By now we get into January of 1995. The radio station had already featured 2 tracks off of the CD and had sold all 2500 copies that they had pressed of it. The story could be over at this point but then a miracle happened. Jim McGuinn and Alex Luke, the programmers at the radio station decided to add "Guilty" to their active playlist. They really had no reason to add it since all the copies of the compilation had been sold but for some reason decided to add the track anyway. I get yet another phone call from Kurt telling me of the add. Of course I am very excited but it all seems so far away since I am living 600 miles from the epicenter of what is about to explode. Each week Kurt calls me with news. "This week the track is at #22!" "This week the track is at #14!" "This week the track is at #8!" "This week the track is at #2!" Again, since I am 600 miles away, I have a tough time believing what is happening let alone wrap my head around it. Meanwhile cut to...

In an office in at TVT Records in New York City, an A&R guy by the name of Tom Sarig is looking at a now extinct magazine called R&R (Radio and Records) and happens upon the playlist that KPNT has published for the week. At the top of the playlist he sees GUILTY, GRAVITY KILLS, UNSIGNED.  Tom proceeds to get on the phone with Jim at KPNT and asks what the story is behind the band and gets our digits to give us a call. Yes, seems the domino's are all falling in the right direction.... We are now in February and I receive a call from Kurt. "This guy from TVT records wants to fly in and meet with the band!" he screams. We set up the meeting and I fly up to St. Louis (flying first class for the first time in my life on TVT Records) to meet with Tom. We do what I perceive as the usual with an A&R guy. He takes the band to dinner and then we go back to the studio to listen down some more tracks. At this time we only have 3 songs finished and the guys had been working on a couple more songs. As we all leave the studio, we are saying our goodbyes to Tom as he gets into his rental car. After he starts the car we hear something very familiar playing on his car radio. You guessed it. "GUILTY" IS FUCKING PLAYING ON HIS RADIO! He looks forward and pauses, then turns to the four of us and says "I'll send you paper on Tuesday."

I could go on and will finish the story if any of you want me to but here is my point. This story, as crazy and almost unbelievable as it sounds, HAS NOTHING TO FUCKING DO WITH WHY ANY OF YOU CONNECTED TO GRAVITY KILLS. First it was about the music. Maybe some of you met a band member at a show. Maybe some of you connect the music to a good or bad time in your life. My point is that the story of your band is different with every person that connects to you. Maybe you will think twice about phoning in and tanking a show on a lightly attended night. Maybe you will think twice about not taking the time to talk to someone at a show that wants a bit of your time and attention. Maybe you will think twice about how you talk to a club owner, promoter, radio person etc. THEY ALL WILL MAKE UP THEIR OWN STORY ABOUT YOUR BAND and that will be how you are perceived to them. At the end of the day, your story only matters if others have their story to tell about you.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Hype

We are constantly bombarded by the new, the improved, the better and the unbelievable. Traditional media and social media are places that throw more at us on a daily basis than we can possibly process. Like many of you, I have grown to be desensitized from the constant hype that is pushed in my face like the close talker at a party that you can't seem to shake. With that said, I am still a believer in the fact that I will find new things that excite me, push my buttons, turn me on or challenge me. I still fall prey to the internal hype that I create in my head of higher expectations of the things that are close to me. What the fuck does this have to do with your band you ask? Well, as I see it, if you shut yourself down to believing there is something better for you to create, a better song for you write or a better performance you can pull off at a gig or in the studio, then why create anything in the first place? Why push yourself to become more proficient at your instrument if you don't believe that you will actually get better at communicating with it? Maybe there is something out there that is actually as good if not better than all the hype that surrounds it. Maybe you can actually build up something in your own head and not be disappointed when you get to the point of execution. Do you get the connection? I am not saying that we should believe everything we hear and see to the point of naivete` but what I am saying is that I see a connection between shutting yourself down to the exterior world and that possibly having the same effect in the way you see your own experiences and creativity. Is there a way that we can re-sensitize ourselves to our surroundings that will make us better artists? Maybe you can actually build something up in your head and it exceeds your expectations. I know this can happen. I just lived it.