I was parusing the latest copy of the Houston Press and reading through the Racket section when I came across an interesting discussion of why rock bands can’t seem to get their acts together in Houston.
John Lomax who writes the column seems to often nail the music scene in Houston square on the forehead. This particular column was mostly about the success of rap artists in Houston getting shocased at Austin’s well-known music conference South by Southwest.
He wrote that what he formerly referred to as “White by Whitebread” for its incredible lack of rap and hip hop now saw those genres eclipsing rock music in terms of Houston’s musical representation at the fest, due in large part to KPFT radio host Matt Sonzala who used his connections at SXSW to hook up rap artists over the past two years.
He pined that Houston needs a Sonzala to help rock acts to do the same thing and offered his own personal advice and smack down of Houston musicians with help from Sonzala…
So here’s my proposal — Houston’s rock scene needs a Sonzala. This year, someone who believes in our scene should go in to the conference as a worker bee, toil away in obscurity, make some friends and start laying the groundwork for SXSW 2006. It really can be as simple as Sonzala says it is, but only if you work as hard and as long and as well as he has.
But beware: Sonzala believes that a local rock fixer/facilitator/broker would have a tough row to hoe in dealing with the amateurism and lax work habits of far too many of our local bands. “Here’s my fuckin’ question to Houston rock bands,” he snarls. “Austin’s two and a half hours away. Why don’t you ever play there? Those people at SXSW have to pick 1,200 bands out of 10,000 submissions, and I don’t want to say they play favorites, but sometimes it’s hard to distinguish one good band from another, and I don’t think Houston bands hustle as hard as they should. Houston rappers — from the first days at Rap-A-Lot — laid the blueprint for how to take an independent record and make a life out of it.
“I haven’t seen too many rockers here do that. These cats can play these local clubs every day, but that doesn’t mean that anybody even two hours down the road even knows who they are. Most of these guys never go to Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, and the few that do are probably on the bill. I just don’t see too many of these cats making that trek to where our music business crap supposedly is. I don’t think Austin’s a music-business Mecca, but they got 10,000 fuckin’ clubs. You can get a show.”
Sonzala even has a theory about how this local lassitude has come about. “I think drugs are too easily available here,” he says. “Weed is everywhere. You’re never gonna not be able to get some weed. You’re not gonna have a dry moment in this town, and that’s fuckin’ people up.”
Agreed. I can just see some band sitting around their rehearsal space passing the bong around. The singer’s saying, “You know, they say weed’s all bad for you and shit. They say it’ll lead to other drugs. What a bunch of bullshit. I’m the same guy I was when we started this band six years ago.” The phone rings. It’s their “manager,” some dilettante who works at Kinko’s and has poured all his spare money into this band for five years. “Have y’all finished that demo yet?” he wants to know. “Cardi’s says they won’t book you on a Saturday without a demo.” “Naw, man,” the singer drawls. “We’ll get around to it.” (He hangs up and says to his band mates: “Dudes, let’s get out of here. Aqua Teen Hunger Force is coming on!”)
You can read the full article here:
As I read this over my grilled cheese sandwich at french fries at One’s a Meal on West Gray, I smiled, laughed and feverishly nodded my head in agreement.
The problem, I later explained to my bandmates, was that rap and hip hop artists don’t seem to take the opportunity to play music for people for granted. They treat music like a business and you succeed in business by working your ass off.
There is no magic formula for making it big in the music business or creating a business that is successful. The real successes aren’t the smartest or the most talented. The people who succeed do so by outworking everyone else. Period.
Recently, I was talking to someone who spent a lot of time over the past 10 years in Los Angeles working with bands. She said that the problem with bands in most of the rest of the country is that they don’t work hard enough. They just don’t have the same level of competition, so they practice less and take gigs for granted.
In Houston, most bands, if you are halfway decent, can work your way up to headlining decent venues on the weekend on a semi-regular basis in a fairly short period of time. In LA, it might take months just to get an opener on a WEEDAY doing a 45 minute set and having to pay the club if you don’t bring enough people.
I played in Austin a few months back and an acoustic singer/songwriter played before my band, Slapshifter. He did an hour and a half and was better than 90 percent of the acoustic singer songwriters in Houston. That was on a TUESDAY NIGHT essentially playing to no one. Competition means you have to work harder and be better than the average if you want o get gigs.
I think too many musicians take what they have for granted. They get lazy playing decent weekend gigs in places like Houston where the competition isn’t as fierce. They get the big-fish-in-a-small-pond syndrome and don’t really want to face the challenge of being great.
But, if you want real success in anything, you have to work harder than everyone else. I’m at the point in my life where I want to be great or walk away. I’m not going to waste my time if what I’m doing isn’t the best it can be. Why should I? I’m better than that and that isn’t me being condescending. It’s just the truth.
It would be one thing if I were a 19-year-old with only a few years experience rehersing in my garage with buddies. But, I’m not 19 and I have more than 20 years worth of experience playing in a wide range of settings and with some fantastic musicians. I don’t have the patience to suck.
So, to all you musicians who take what you have for granted, don’t do it. Only a small percentage of people ever learn a musical instrument. An even smaller percentage becomes good at that instrument. Even fewer actually perform their own music in front of people for money. We have a rare gift and it shouldn’t be wated on laziness.