Brainstorming a better music scene
By: Elise Hugus, September 29, 2011
- Musicians and industry reps turned out for a town hall style forum at Cape Cod Community College on September 27, brainstorming ways to improve the local music scene.
The Tilden Arts Center at Cape Cod Community College was filled with musicians on Tuesday, but they weren't there to perform on stage.
Instead, they sat in the audience for a town hall-style forum on how to improve the local music scene.
Facilitated by Cat Wilson, host of The Cheap Seats
on Cool 102/WCIB, this was the third annual meeting of the minds between musicians, venue managers, studio owners, and the media.
Wilson, who has hosted The Cheap Seats for eight years (it aired from 1997 to 2003 on ROCK 104.7 FM before moving to Cool 102 in 2009), said she sponsors the meeting in order to show the music community its own strengths and weaknesses.
“One of the things I heard when I got the show back on the air was that the music community sucks on Cape Cod,” she said. “It doesn't. We just all have day jobs.”
Wilson should know. Having been a disc jockey in cities across America, she said the Cape is a treasure trove of talent.
The roughly two dozen people who attended the meeting may be considered a sample set of the Cape's music community: from middle-aged solo artists "looking to get back into the scene" to bands that play across the Cape five nights a week, all had a perspective on what the area needs to be a better place to play—and enjoy—live music.
A provincial attitude
One of the major problems identified by the group was the difficulty bands have playing outside their hometown—whether due to venues unwilling to book an unknown band, or residents who are reluctant to go out to hear something new.
Denny Sullivan Jr., manager of the band Boombasnap
, said Cape Codders have a “provincial” attitude when it comes to traveling out of town to see a show— maybe because they don't want to drive home shitfaced.
The onus is therefore on bands and promoters, he said, to be proactive.
“Let's face it, it's a snooze fest peninsula on a lot of levels,” he said. “Which means you got to play all the towns, and you got to drive to them on the nights you’re not playing and put up posters. You’ve really got to beat the bushes to make it happen.”
Music for the masses
Wilson expressed regret that a representative of the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod could not attend the meeting, noting that the foundation’s free summer concert series exposed residents to new bands in each town.
Martin Vasquez, owner of MV Drums in Hyannis, suggested holding a “local music expo” in locations across Cape Cod in the spring in order to accomplish the same goal, as well as giving each band a professional-quality recording of their performance to help with self-promotion.
Holding an outdoor public concert would also help address the lack of all-ages music venues on the Cape, a concern raised by members of the Mashpee-based band Phone Calls From Home
At the ripe age of 21, band members Danny Stockman and Jason Vieira said they have toured the United States and internationally, but they rarely play on their home turf.
“It’s tough. We don’t have a bar scene crowd. All our shows are all-ages,” said guitarist Vieira, who added that the band usually rents a Knights of Columbus hall once a year to stay in touch with their hometown fan base.
Who pays for live music?
Venue owners, for their part, face a Catch-22 in that regard because Cape Codders generally avoid cover charges, so the money to pay the bands comes from alcohol sales.
“The music’s great, but not everyone’s there to see the band,” said Pat Bonzagni, owner of The Beach House Restaurant in North Falmouth, a venue that hosts music four to five nights a week. “I'll make the money back with an extra quarter per beer.”
On top of operations and insurance costs, venues face per-capita charges from three different singer-songwriter copyright groups, Wilson pointed out.
Any nightclub that offers live entertainment—or even recorded music—must pay thousands of dollars a year, making owners think twice about bringing in bands.
“BMI [one of the copyright groups] is just a mafia; it’s the worst racket the world. And there’s three of them,” Bonzagni said.
But Lizzie Pitch (neé Elizabeth Picciallo), an electropop artist who hails from Falmouth, begged to differ. As a member of BMI, the independent label owner said she receives a $500 quarterly check for royalties.
“BMI is great for independent artists. I don’t want to get another job to support myself; I need the time to write and make music,” she said.
A quick survey of the room indicated that half the musicians were registered with BMI or ASCAP. Some said they had never heard of the organization; others doubted it would benefit them.
Wilson said musicians can make money on licensing and royalties if, for example, a film production wants to use a clip for the soundtrack. But in general, she said, “a lot of musicians aren't going to make enough money to get the pizza tip money they would make on a Friday night.”
Noting that live music can be one of the first casualties of a depressed economy, Wilson underscored the importance of sticking together as a community.
“We’re all struggling. There’s a set amount of money going around and we have to figure out how we're going to make it,” she said. “Go out and support each other. See a band you’ve never heard of. Talk up a band you like to your friends. It will come back to you.”