Monday, June 27, 2011

Daily Dose #31 (06/27/11)


(Alan and Jamie Notarthomas)

One the most valuable series of lessons that still serve me today came from the tutelage of Alan Rowoth.

I had just joined a band called The Works, and they were pretty hot at the time.

The band had burned through two incredibly talented piannaplunkers, Tommy Canfield and Andy Rudy. Two sets of shoes that would be big to fill.

I didn't know Tommy all that well but I did know Andy. We both attended Onondaga Community College at approximately the same time, and I had a great admiration for his musical and pianistic abilities. I still do.

The Works were unique in the fact that they were a bar band that played 99% original material written by bandleader and front man Ed Hamell.

Hamell is probably the most charming and charismatic human I have ever met, but when he approached me on assuming the soon to be vacant chair, he didn't have to sell me hard. I had had my eye on that chair since moving to Syracuse and seeing them for the first time. I missed my chance when Tommy left, and that wasn't going to happen again as Andy went on down a road of his own design.

It was a great band, a great concept, and I willingly hopped on board. Hopefully, the third time was going to be the charm for both Ed and myself. From my perspective, it turned out to pretty good alchemy for the next seven years anyway.

Alan was the band's manager at that time, and this was the first time that I got close up exposure to the arts of running a band, specifically in the arena of mass communication.

We would go over to Alan's apartment on the North Side for band meetings. It seemed he was constantly engaged with a piece of gear called a "computer". At least that's what he called it.

It was an ATARI with a dot matrix printer, and this was the tool he used to communicate with the rapidly expanding fan base that The Works had been developing, via database management and direct mail marketing.

His efforts were met with derision by the band, and being low man on the totem pole, I had to play along. I was a knuckle headed kid back then but that didn't mean that I wasn't paying attention.

There were many responsibilities that Alan was juggling at the time, I'm sure. This particular one compelled me more than booking, logistics, accounting and personnel management. That would come later through personal experience.

This was my first taste of tribe development as it happened off the stage.

The Works, as a band, were very good at tribe development from the stage, but they also knew how to work the Syracuse media machine behind the scenes.

As mentioned, if Ed Hamell knew he had one thing going for him, it was that he was dripping with an equal if not more amount of charisma as he was dripping with gallons of sweat after every Works show. He knew how to work the conduits, and there was none better at making the case and gaining true believers once there were bodies in the room.

Direct mail initiatives were different however. Alan took the time to explain to me that anyone could send out a postcard with a listing of upcoming dates on the calendar. Most of the local bands that had a direct mail component did just that.

Alan knew that direct mail was a direct conduit to the band's fan base first and foremost, and when designing a mail piece, it had to not only deliver calendar information. It had to deliver a mirrored representation of the band's philosophy and zeitgeist, and connect with the recipient in a meaningful way. They had to inspire as they delivered factual information.

It had to open the flow of energy between band and base like alternating current, and encourage participation in that dynamic.

This on the surface, may be a simple lesson to us all as we take part in the digital age of social networking, but back in 1983, that lesson changed my life.

Alan was so ahead of the curve it wasn't even funny. His forward thinking and structural planning insured The Works a shelf-life long after he stopped being their manager.

I have stated that part of my personal agenda in starting The Daily Dose was to publicly testify in open gratitude, to critical people who made a fundamental change in my life. My teachers that paved and pointed my way not always got the respect and gratitude they deserved at the point of contact. As mentioned previously, I was a knucklehead!

I couldn't have gone on and achieved the successes I have in life without Alan's input and the knowledge he so freely gave me. I didn't know that then, but I surely know it now.

Like my friend Gary Frenay, if cornered, Alan probably would never take credit for the amount of influence he had on my life. He's too classy for that.

But me? I am proudly of the potato chip class (which means I don't possess quite as much as Alan), and I will proudly wear my heart on my sleeve in gratitude.

Thank You, my friend. I hope in some way this will show how much I appreciate you, in the here and now, but also in the past and future. I will always carry those lessons with me, and I still will use them as responsibly as I can.

These blogs have that DNA in them. I'm still trying to commincate with y'all in a meaningful way, thanks to the lessons learned from Alan.

Communication means nothing if it doesn't serve a higher purpose.

"You may shoot for the stars and end up in a back alley behind Pluto, beaten and bloodied, but at least I dare to dream, and that’s better than being Earthbound, mired in the muck of mediocrity.

I judge my forward progress and success by the crushingly epic nature of my failures.

The more epic the crash, the more I’m convinced I must be doing something right"





SailBoatFuel said...

Ah, The Works. Still my favorite band of all time. You guys always played when I needed a lift, and man, I could use a Works night out these days! I think I still have tapes Grover made of some shows at the Reef...wonder if they're in good condition, and how I can get them onto a CD? More importantly, I wonder if I still know the lyrics??

~ Cath

Anonymous said...

Loved the Works. You must have some great stories from those days. Hey, is Pete still around Syracuse?

Alan Rowoth said...

Thanks George! I loved The Works and was also a true believer. I did my level best to help spread the word. As with all live music. Seeing was believing and if you could get the people into the room, Hamell, you, Mike, Joey, and Dave would do the rest.

Audience outreach has always been challenging, but the internet certainly reduced the costs. I recognized the value of email and internet discussions early on when I started the folkmusic listserv in 1990. But it didn't happen overnight. When I did a presentation on email promotion at the International Folk Alliance conference in Boston in 1994, they put me on a computer applications panel with a couple of accountants. They told me to keep my presentation to 20 minutes. I was up last and actually had about 6 minutes to squeeze my presentation into. There was no computer, no projector. I had an overhead projector and some black and white transparencies to illustrate.

From the moment, I started, people looked at me like I was from MARS. Of the 60 or so people in the room, I am not sure that anyone really got the takeaway of what an important resource this was to become. I was like Howard Beale, mad prophet of the airwaves. (except I wasn't mad as hell) and I spent the rest of the conference trying to sell people on the internet one on one.

To be fair, I think the one person who really enabled me to ultimately become "The Godfather of the Folk Internet" was Christine Lavin. She heard what I was saying and understood. She validated me and introduced me to a hundred or two of her folk legend friends and then the folkmusic, folkbiz, folkvenu, and FolkDJ lists all began to take off.

Now, of course, all of these have been eclipsed by Facebook, Twitter, SonicBids, CDbaby, and a variety of far richer and more sophisticated internet resources, but the work we did back in the 1990's was the proof of concept that blazed the way.

Underneath all the selling and promotion and audience outreach though, the foundation is still the songs and the performers. Without "Three Chords and the Truth", it is all for naught. Quality music is job one. True, they call it the Music BUSINESS for a reason, but read carefully, the MUSIC always has to come first.

Love you Georgie. Thanks for the nod...