My First Concert Promotion – Anything Box
It has been a while since I posted a new blog, but it is not entirely my fault. I did write a new blog a few days ago. I wrote a fun discussion of how to live cheap, sharing some of my personal insights from my own family’s ventures into penny pinching. But once it was written, I clicked “publish” on WordPress, and it suddenly asked me to login. Crap! I knew I was in trouble then. Once I logged in, my post was gone. All that was left was my two paragraph intro which had auto-saved. I guess I should be more careful and save a draft every couple of minutes. But alas, I had already logged into the dashboard, had written my post, and have never been asked to login just to publish my blog before. Grrr.
Anyway, I didn’t have the heart to start typing it again. Instead, I picked up the softest thing I could find on my desk (a roll of toilet paper for those runny nose moments, or for when there are spiders in the room) and chucked it at the wall. I felt better in a minute or two, but I still haven’t been in the mood to write it again.
So, today you are stuck with another memory. I need to write down a couple of things about the first show I ever promoted back in the mid 90’s because I’m already forgetting a lot of things from that part of my life. I might as well write what I do remember. I partnered up with a good friend of mine named Gary who had his own music shop called New Wave Records. We were both very much into the 80’s and any remnant of the new wave scene that was struggling to stay alive in the 90’s. We both ran small record shops and wanted to bring a couple of concerts back into Utah. We were both in Provo at the time and thought it would be nice to hold our shows there instead of in Salt Lake City where most shows happened.
Since I had been selling Anything Box’s self-released CD’s in my store, I already had contact with the man in charge of what they called Orangewerks Records. Actually, that’s kind of a funny part of the story too. I would call from my store every couple of weeks to order more CD’s and would talk to a man who I will just call Bob, since the name he used is not too important. Anyway, Bob was very helpful in resupplying me with CD’s and was also helpful in putting me in touch with the band’s booking agent so we could arrange the details of an Anything Box show in Provo. The booking agent gave us the dollar amounts required, told us to buy four airline tickets (three for the band, and one for a manager) and faxed a list of the equipment that we’d need to have at the venue, etc. I was new at this whole business, but it seemed pretty straight forward. We paid the advance so we could announce the show and begin advertising, and then I purchased the airline tickets. Thinking myself rather clever, I booked the tickets for the three band members: Claude, Dania, and Gary. Then, since I was supposed to book a forth for the manager, I also bought one for Bob. It was during a later phone call to Bob that he stuttered, stammered, and said, “oops, I’m not going to be coming…well…most likely…um…anyway, just give me the airline information and I’ll change the ticket.” Needless to say, there was not really a Bob. That was just a business name for handling phone calls so people wouldn’t hound the phone lines thinking they were talking to the band. Oops.
Promoting the show was tough. Anything Box was a good one-hit-wonder in Utah, and it was frustrating that no matter how much you tried to convince the alternative radio stations that they had new stuff that was worth playing, the stations wouldn’t touch it. Still, we had to get the word out to the people who had heard “Living In Oblivion” or nobody would show up at the concert. So, we coughed up a couple thousand dollars for advertising on the radio. I would listen to the radio during the scheduled times to make sure they played the ads. One time the DJ played the ad spot announcing the show, and then followed up by saying sarcastically, “Wow, that should be a fun show, with one song.”
I called Gary who said that he had heard the ad too, and we called the radio station to say, “We’re not paying for that ad. You can’t jokingly criticize the people that pay you money for advertising.” The ad rep apologized and said they’d run a couple extra ads for us. Oh, and then there was our other advertising approach– to spread fliers all over the apartment complexes where the tens of thousands of college students lived. That took hours and hours of walking around, and in the end I think we got 1 or 2 people who showed up because of that. Though the turn out was nearly good enough to break even on expenses (breaking even is a great thing in the small concert business), most of them came because of the radio ads.
Here is another little memory from that show. On the list of equipment needed for the show, there was a very specific, high-end keyboard that I couldn’t rent anywhere near Provo. I finally found a music rental shop in Salt Lake City that had this specific keyboard available for rental, so I drove there, payed hundreds of dollars to use it for the weekend, and took it back to our club venue. Later, as the band was setting up, I proudly told Claude how hard it had been to get that keyboard, but here it was for their performance! He smiled and simply told me that I didn’t need to go all the way to Salt Lake City to pick up that particular keyboard. I could have brought anything legit. What? It had been on the equipment list. Claude explained that the model on the list was just an example of a “professional keyboard” to make sure we had something nice instead of a Casio from K-mart or something. Shoot. I owned a very cool Roland synthesizer from the 80’s that I happily would have brought to the show and it wouldn’t have cost me a dime. I didn’t know it was just going to be a prop.
Now, here is another interesting part of that whole experience. When we went to the airport to pick up the band, I was a nervous wreck. I had never really walked and talked personally with a band that had a relatively large following. I’d mingled with new artists that were just trying to get going, but not with anybody who’d been on the radio– especially a band who’s music I really loved. For some strange reason, when you have created a sort of idol in your mind, and you’re waiting to see them in person, you get very nervous. But it’s not just the nerves– you also forget that they are normal people. In your mind they are so large that you almost expect them to be seven feet tall when they walk off the airplane. So there I was waiting for the band, with images in my mind of superhero synthpoppers with spiky hair and leather jackets, certainly towering over everybody else. They pretty much walked right past me, then stood around looking lost, since they would need us for a ride. My friend, Gary, thankfully recognized them within seconds, but I felt kind of stupid. We shook hands and made introductions, meeting these perfectly normal, and perfectly short synthpop heroes for the first time.
If you have looked at the band photos of Anything Box from those early days when they release their big “Peace” album, you instantly remember Dania, the girl in the band with the long hair that defies gravity. It was so darn new wave! But here she was, looking like an attractive, but rather mellow long-haired woman. Her hair just hung down like everybody else. During dinner with the band, my friend finally said to Dania, “I just have to warn you that a lot of the fans tonight are going to be really disappointed if your hair isn’t standing straight up. That’s just what they’ll be expecting.” Dania was such a great sport that she went back to the hotel and actually fixed her hair. She had enough goop in it to make is as hard as wood and she looked like the old photos when she came out on stage. The crowd did love it! And I’ll say it right now, with the Anything Box shows that I’ve seen, I think that Dania was always the bright spot. She knew how to work the crowd! She was like the band’s official cheerleader and even when things got a bit dicey (like when the power to the sound system cut out in the middle of a song), she could shout things to the audience and work them into a frenzy of excited cheers.
Yeah, we almost broke even financially. I think in the end we lost two or three hundred dollars. But Gary and I both felt like it was a few hundred dollars well spent on the experience of a lifetime. The band was very kind and felt very welcomed by a good audience. From then on, whenever I’d call for more CD’s, “Bob” was a bit more casual and friendly, because after all, we’d had dinner together. We’d had a fun night and now shared some memories.