December 29, 2011

Week 51: To Play Free or Not to Play Free

That's this Weeks Question.

The first week of music in January in Austin, Texas has been known as “Free Week” for almost a decade. It started when Graham Williams (Transmission Entertainment/Fun Fun Fun Fest) was booking at Emo’s and was an attempt to get folks out to a bar during the cold weather in between college semesters.

From a marketing / bar standpoint, it’s a really good idea. And you know what? I’ll probably take a show or two in. There are a couple bands in town I’d like to see, but not enough to pay for them. Did I just write that? Ahem… I mean… well… I mean I’m a very, very cheap person. It’s true. I’ve often said that my family motto is “It’s All About The Free Stuff.” 

Of course, I’m a 38 year-old father of two that lives in Kyle, Texas who happens to have been an entertainment writer for the last 15 years. I’m really not your average music fan.

So, I’ve put my thoughts to paper on a few questions you may have (and should have if you’re trying to advance your musical career). It’s too late to be booked for Free Week 2012… but if you’re playing it… or hoping to play it next year, this may be for you. 
See the bands playing Free Week 2012 on

1. Does Free Week bring average music fans out?
There is definitely a buzz between the Red River/ 6th Street area during the first week in January. So, yes, there is a lot more people on the street this week because of the event, but they are all craving something free.

The question is, how do you get that average music fan* to see you during free week? Remember it’s not up to the club to promote you. YOU are in charge of getting butts into that club. There are going to be more than 15 clubs in Austin within a mile of each other with bands playing for free.
How are you doing getting people to your show? Did you use the social media? Did you poster up the area? Did you hand out hand-bills? Are you creating a buzz about your show? Did you e-mail media? Try to get on a radio show? Get some press on a local blog? Post your show on places like  and Showlist Austin? In short… have you done ANYTHING to tell people about your show?

If not, you’re just playing to play… and that's OK... it shows you’re not serious about the progress of your band, and when you’re done playing your show you can go back to the garage and tinker like you enjoy doing. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But, I write this article for musicians who may want a little more out of their musical career.

2. Do you really gain any fans?
You get out what you put in. I’ve seen bands play Free Week that have their entire merch booth set up, I’ve seen others that didn’t have a thing for sale and still others who gave away their album. Remember, there’s a BUNCH of bands playing at the same time. Last year I jumped between 4 different bars. The only bands I remembered were the ones I had something in my pocket from at the end of the night.

3. Who WAS that band?
As mentioned above, I checked out a few bands last year for Free Week. I probably heard 10-15 bands in one evening. I was taking photos AND video. There were a few bands I shot that nobody knew who they were. If you don’t have a sign up letting people know who you are… or at least mention it a few times (or hand something out), how are they going to find you again?
Eagle Eye Williamson playing Free Week 2011 @ Club Deville

4. Is playing “FREE WEEK” any different than the other free shows you do in town?
The ONLY difference is, there will be 15+ other free choices around you. Everyone is offering their talent for no charge. The question is….well.. #5.

5. How is your band going to stand out?
That’s more of a question for YOU. And you should think outside the box on this one. Here’s a few ideas:
a. Commission an artist to paint a piece of art during your set… and tell people that if they sign up to your mailing list, they have a chance to win a drawing to get to keep the artwork.
b. Give away your CD to everyone who wants it, and go by after the show and offer to autograph it, as an added bonus… or at least say hello and thanks.
c. Costumes. Funny hats. Something outlandish. WARNING, this only works if you have good music… or else you’ll be remembered as that crappy band in English soldier uniforms.
d. Be dynamic from stage. Treat the show like you’re trying to win something. You may be… winning a fan, or maybe a slot opening up for a larger band at that venue.
Art vs. Industry play Stubbs during Free Week 2011

My FREE advice
(worth much more than it cost you)
So, if you are asking me, playing for no pay is acceptable, as long as you and your band mates have a plan for Return-On-Investment (ROI). Make sure that the time you put into the night… lugging equipment, paying for parking, time away from loved ones, practice time, drinks, etc… is either understood to be a loss, or you have figured out a way to come in even or ahead. 

If you’ve read a few of my posts in this series, it should be no surprise when I say that you need to run your band like a business. It’s called the “MUSIC BUSINESS.” The clubs are your stores and your band is your product. You will not get very far if you keep giving away your product, but it’s a good idea to give folks a free sample now and again as long as you’re monitoring the ROI. 

Personally, if I were in a band that played the bar scene, I would probably rail against Free Week, unless there was some kind of deal going on behind the scenes with a promoter that promised a bigger (and paying) gig for a positive performance. I’d actually want to play a gig with a cover charge that week… and out-promote and out-rock the freebie clubs.

I asked a few Facebook friends what they thought of playing for Free. My friend Jose Santacruz made a good point, which pretty much encompasses my thoughts as a whole.
“I think as musicians, we sell ourselves short and we let others do it as well. A freebie for charity, for a good cause, for a friend... sure,” he said. “But to go to a club and not get paid while you are keeping the bar full? I don't think so. Owners will make it seem like people will stay no matter what, but what a coincidence that they are staying while you are there too? You did not run them off and you should be paid.”
Another friend chimed in with this sad, but true nugget. 
“Let's not forget most weeks in Austin are free weeks,” David Love said.
So, think about this bands playing Free Week: If there’s no ROI, you’re just feeding the bar some money and walking away with less money than you began with.

In a live music scene that is losing more clubs by the day, (the latest casualty is Momo’s Club on 12/27/11), is trying to pack clubs by offering the musicians up for free what will save it? Is that winning? I think not.

To paraphrase and misquote Trey Parker (all apologies to Team America)
“Free Week isn't free! No there's a hefty f’n fee.
And if you don't throw in your buck o'five who will?”
So, next time you go to a live music venue, pay the cover or if there isn’t, throw the band their buck o’five. They deserve it.
Happy New Year everyone. Hope your 2012 is amazing.

The most entertaining people at Free Week 2011 were in the crowd.

* I’m defining “average music fan” as one who hits up at least 1 show a month and pays the cover to see a show.. yes... they are a dying breed

December 20, 2011

Merry Christmas (CD)

The Claes4 Christmas CD Liner Notes

Those who know my wife Jodie and I... you know we have put together a Christmas CD every year for the last 11 years. What we try to do is introduce people to some of our favorite songs that motivated us in the previous year. Many of these songs are from bands/artists from the Austin, TX area.Of course, it's a Christmas CD, so we find a cool/different Christmas track to include (this year there's 3).

We burn 50-100 CDs and make a cover with liner notes. Within the liner notes we drop the link to the band so if you like what you hear.. you can pick up their work... and we sincerely hope you do.

Well.. here is our Christmas 2011 CD liner notes. Hope you enjoy. And if you're a member of one of the bands who are included and you'd like a copy, please shoot me a message.
  1. Magdalena - Ian Moore Band (The First Third)
    This is from a 1995 album that was shelved by the record company and was FINALLY released in 2011. ( 
  2. Racing the Angels - Matraca Berg (The Dreaming Fields)Matraca Berg has been one of my favorite singer/songwriters for almost 20 years. You hear her work on the radio, you just don’t know it. From “Strawberry Wine” to “You and Tequila” she writes a powerful song (and not all are about alcohol). ( 
  3. I’m Not Who I Was - Brandon Heath (Don’t Get Comfortable)
    It’s almost biographical about me. The good news is, I was able to reconnect with a lost friend this year and we realized that we’ve both grown up and neither of us are “who we were.” (
  4. Wiregrass - Stoney LaRue (Velvet)
    Stoney LaRue is one of those singers that has the Americana vibe streaming through his veins. A rock-and-roll storyteller with a country twang. (
  5. Lookin’ For A Job - Todd Snider (The Devil You Know)
    I began this year working for a company that had no respect for me at all. This could have been my theme song for that place (
  6. Back To The Country - John David Kent (John David Kent)
    Saw him at a recording of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Roots and Branches of Americana” a few months ago. Got his CD & an autograph. (
  7. Let The Good Times Roll - Brandon Rhyder (Live At Billy Bob’s Texas)
    If you’re used to getting our Christmas CDs, you’re used to hearing Brandon Rhyder. This is a studio-track bonus from his 2011 live CD. (
  8. In The Afternoon - Shawn Nelson (San Juan Street)Shawn Nelson was gracious enough to volunteer his time for a Movember concert in Austin I helped book. (
  9. Another Day - D.C. Bloom (New Man)
    A former INsite writer. He’s got a fun-quirky style that I dig. You should too. (
  10. Christmas in Austin – Shelley King (Holiday HAAM JAM V1)This is part of a charity CD that is benefitting the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM). I downloaded this at If you like it, do me a favor and download another song from there. It’s charity. (
  11. Dinosaur For My Birthday - Will Dupuy (Dinosaur For My Birthday)“Mr. Will” was in a band Jodie and I liked…then in 2011 he was the music teacher at Harper’s daycare. If you have kiddos, pick this CD up -
  12. Deck the Halls - Steve Wariner (Guitar Christmas)
    A classic Christmas song done instrumental-style with Steve Wariner’s amazing acoustic guitar work. (
  13. Let It Fade - Jeremy Camp (Beyond Measure)
    Our pastor gave me this CD, which was released in 2006, to listen to about a year or so ago. This song jumped out to me. (
  14. Man Or Muppet - Jason Segel (The Muppets)You know that moment when your childhood meets your children’s childhood and they get along swimmingly? (
  15. Uki-Buki-Kuki-Duki-Fuki-Guki-Huki-Juki Island - The Biscuit Brothers (Get Up & Go)
    This song makes Jodie smile. It’s sung by “Tiny Scarecrow,” one of the supporting characters in The Biscuit Brothers’ kids show. (
  16. Realizando - Grupo Fantasma (El Existential)Our family was one of the few folks that ventured into the Kyle Music Festival this year from the fair grounds and we were privileged to see Grupo Fantasma perform their set. The kids danced. A lot. (
  17. Silly Things - Wild Child (Pillow Talk)
    Usually bands that are getting attention in Austin don’t do it for me, but these guys have that creeping music coupled with some interesting and tongue-in-cheek comical lyrics. (
  18. Postcard From Somewhere Cold -Dead Black Hearts (The Southern Front)
    One of the coolest things about working in Austin is the fact that I get to “discover” co-workers who are in bands. My co-worker Brian is the singer for the Dead Black Hearts. Neat song. (
  19. Beautiful Things – Gungor (Beautiful Things)
    This song has righted me many times this year as I struggled with being unsure of my purpose and potential. (
  20. Shake It Out - Florence + The Machine (Ceremonials)After Gungor sets me straight, this song really helps me get over the things that bother me. (
  21. We Three Kings - Full Service
    Full Service are one of those bands that I’ve come to know rather well over the years. This is a clip they recorded, not really meant to be released but they decided to share online. I thought it’d make a nice end cap to this CD. (

December 1, 2011

Week 50 - Are You In A Fan's Life?

Are You in Their Life?

One of my favorite bands of all time is KISS. I got my first KISS album, Dynasty, in 1978. I’m not quite sure what would compel my parents to buy a 5 year-old a KISS album, but I’m glad they did. I spent the next 10-15 years trying to play air-bass like Gene Simmons. I’ve bought more records, then tapes, then CDs from KISS than any other band. Of course, they have a bigger discography than just about any band I know of as well. I never had a chance to see them live until the first reunion tour in 1996. All original members. I’ve since seen them three more times and got to photograph them once.
I am a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. I own hats, shirts, jerseys, a clock, figurines, stickers, a terrible Towel… and probably a bunch of other Steelers items. The last time they won a Superbowl, it was on my birthday. I’ve been following them my entire adult career. I’ve even got a jersey that says “CLAES” on the back. It all started with a winter hat with a pom-pom on the top that I was given when I was about 6.

Why am I telling you this? It’s not because I really want you to know me better (although Christmas IS coming up). It’s because I want you to be aware that fans are real people who somehow associate something you do with a memory or feeling or way of life. Don’t get me wrong… your music is important. It’s got to be good. BUT touching someone’s life in a profound way is how you gain solid life-long fans.

Sometimes you have some control over gaining fans by your actions.

This last month was Movember. It’s where men make a commitment to donate their face to men’s health issues by growing an ironic mustache. I’ve been taking part in Movember’s Team Austin for the last 2 years. This year, there was an event called ScandeMOnium, a high-tech scavenger hunt that culminated in a concert. All 4 of the bands who played donated their time. I personally asked Shawn Nelson ( and john Arthur martinez ( to play, and they did. I have been a fan of both of them before this, but by donating their time to support a cause I believe in, thy have solidified a fan for life.

THAT, my friends, is how you do it. Volunteer to play for charity events. Support your fellow musicians and their families by caring about them. Support YOUR music scene by going to shows. Be prepared to play anywhere and anytime. Take over a parking lot of a major show (Full Service did this and it net them a spot opening for 311).

Sometimes you are just an unwitting piece of someone’s life, like the Steelers and KISS is for me. Nobody within either one of the organizations made me a fan… but they have both kept me as a fan by continually representing themselves as I hoped. Sure… KISS is 40 years old as a band and they have changed out a few players, but they give the fans just what they want. Every night they go out there are they are the best KISS they can be. They are a rock show. Comic book characters come to life. KISS is songs that define young-adulthood and an image that defined a 1970s childhood. It doesn’t matter how old they get… the make-up means we never have to see the wrinkle. They are icons.

But, you know what? It was the music that got me into KISS. Everything else made me a fan, but their music was solid. I still think that 1992’s KISS Revenge was a great album. I think it suffered from aging musician perception. Then they put their make-up on again and forgot the previous 15 years of music. It’s probably best they donned the make-up again, but I’d love to hear Demon Gene do “Domino” is full make-up.

See what happens when I start talking KISS? Anyhow, Back to the point. Bands come and go, but if you can somehow become important in a person’s memory and life, you will be immortal.

So think about it. Are you on someone’s CD player/iPod, or are you in their life?

Five musicians / bands that have been important in my life through music and experiences.
Jodie and I w/ the Derailers 10/6/2001
The Derailers – They played my wedding reception. Well.. they played where my wife and I went after our wedding reception. We were married in San Marcos, Texas, had a reception in Seguin, and honeymooned in Gruene. We happened upon Gruene Hall on our wedding night and The Derailers were playing the Gruene Wine and Music Festival. We danced.. and had an amazing time. They played “There Goes The Bride” and we took off.

Monte Montgomery – His “Girl Like You” is my wife and I’s wedding song. He was the concert we went to on our first “date.” I’ve had the honor to chat him up a few times and the even bigger honor of seeing him in concert quite a few times. To this day, my favorite concert photo I’ve ever taken is him at Gruene Hall in 1998.

John Prine – A roommate I had and I were channel surfing one day and came across his “Ain’t Hurtin’ Nobody” and thought it was great. To this day, when I hear that song, I’m taken back to that dingy apartment and those days. When I went to college, and a buddy there handed me Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings and I was hooked.

KISS – I was born in 1973. I grew up on KISS. They merchandised their way into my heart. The music remained awesome, their live show is still spectacular… and I think I gushed enough above to just leave it at that. I’m still hoping someday Gene will give me a battle-axe bass. I guess my “key track” from KISS would be “I Was Made For Loving You,” which is a HORRIBLE song, but it’s the one I used to act out while playing it on our record player when I was a kiddo.

Los Lobos – Every time I listen to Los Lobos I think of Laredo. I think of growing up, all of the interesting turns that took. Probably my key track to reminisce is “One Time, One Night”