Entries in Bozeman (2)


Music Tech Center business model - call for assistance

Today's article is related to the "Help Wanted" page I just added to this site. The Music Tech Center is looking for a qualified contractor to a help solidify our business plan, so that we can proceed with renovation. The motivation behind our search is outlined in the following text.

The vision for the Music Tech Center (MTC) has been evolving over the last three years. Most of my time has been focused on the mechanics of acquiring an appropriate building here in Bozeman and how to renovate the space accordingly. My background is not in business and, hence, the part of this project that is still a challenge is the cash flow model and overall business structure. That also is complicated by the unusual nature of the vision, sitting philosophically smack dab in the middle of "not for profit" but not necessarily warranting the complexity of a board of directors and the complicated bureaucracy that goes along with 501(c)(3).

We are very, very close to being able to submit for a building permit and ask the subcontractors to start the renovation in earnest. But I sit here still wondering if we have a model that can keep the facility going while still achieving the vision. We want to make sure we satisfy some key goals:

  • make sure that local bands will always be able to play at the venue
  • make sure that local musicians, especially kids will be drawn to the facility, collaborating with each other and gaining experience
  • make sure that all local fans have access, not just drinking age patrons
  • make sure that the acoustics, audio, video and networking are cutting edge
  • make sure the MTC is an asset for the local music scene and source of enjoyment for southwest Montana
I've observed many years of local music business and recognize that it is rare for bands to get paid sufficiently for their live efforts. I know that the typical bar venue generates most of its income from alcohol sales, and sometimes bands get a (small) cut of that. The thing is, I want to see the MTC operate as part of a healthy eco-system. Obviously we need some income to pay for loans, property tax, insurance and utilities but there's a point where there's enough to cover the basic expenses. I'd like to see us establish a model that honors that spirit and makes sure that performers take the same responsibility and reap the same benefits that we do. Perhaps we can establish a monthly threshold and work to satisfy that throughout the sum total of all events for the month, then share all profits beyond that with the performers. Perhaps we take a similar approach but handle it on an event by event basis. Once we hit the (low) threshold for a given night, we simply share the rest between the bands.
For zoning reasons, the MTC cannot be a bar or a restaurant. We can partner with caterers to provide food and drink for shows, but cannot run those services ourselves. I understand that typically such catering agreements allow the caterer to keep the money they make on food and beverage sales. That makes sense and simplifies the model because the catering monies aren't part of our equation. Unfortunately that also means we don't have what's generally considered the best source of income for a venue.
We also struggle to make heads or tails of the for-profit vs. not-for-profit question. Our spirit is very much "not for profit" but the administrative and bureaucratic responsibilities of running this as a true not-for-profit appear to be a poor match for the project. How then do we run this in a more typical "for profit" model without maximizing profits and the never-ending quest for business growth?
So, the renovation plans are nearly complete and we could start demolition within weeks, immediately followed by construction. However, we could use some mentoring, support and guidance on the business model and projecting a target for the next three years. Do you have the unique set of skills, experience and interest necessary to help us get over the hump? We welcome your input and are flexible on terms. Mostly we just want to settle this issue and move forwards. Please contact me or reply below if you can help.



Shaken, Stirred & Almost Settled: My New Life In Bozeman, MT

I love Bozeman. My wife, Nancy, and I decide 3 years ago to pick up our lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and move our family to Bozeman. We had tired of 13 mile commutes that took 45 minutes. We'd run out of patience with planning kids play dates months in advance. We wanted to be closer to the mountains, for the sake of skiing, hiking, backpacking and Nancy's photography. We were convinced even before we made the move that Bozeman would be an overall improvement for the family and that the kids and Nancy would make the most of our new home. I knew that one side of my life would be better, but...

By leaving the Bay Area, I was walking away from a songwriting partnership (with Steve Rosenthal) that had spanned decades. I was leaving all of the musicians I'd grown up with, the clubs, the music stores, my recording studio...everything musical I'd built up over the years in the Bay Area. To be totally transparent, I'd done some interesting recording projects in the last decade, but my songwriting partnership hadn't generate new material since the 1990s, and didn't show signs of picking up pace anytime soon. Those factors combined to make me hope that Bozeman would somehow be the change that I needed and would lead to a new chapter in my musical explorations.

Very soon after our arrival in Bozeman, I got some indications that my hopes would play out. While planning the relocation of my Redwood City studio to Bozeman, I met Billy Costigan of Poindexter's. Billy had attended P.I.T. (The Percussion Institute of Technology) in Hollywood only a couple years after I had gone to G.I.T. (Guitar...). My conversations with Billy over the first year or so in Bozeman led to the vision for The Music Tech Center, so in essence, Bozeman had spawned a new musical chapter.

And yet, the thing I want the most, to be writing, arranging and performing original music, well, it just hasn't happened yet. I live for heavy, melodic music and there really isn't much of that in Bozeman. Lots of country, bluegrass, Americana, even blues and jazz. But, thus far I'm aware of 3 or 4 heavy bands. My high school (Berkeley High, population roughly 3000) had more actively gigging metal bands than Bozeman does (city population around 30,000, county population around 100,000). Suffice it to say, heavy music isn't particularly big here.

So, I'm now left to wonder what really comes next. Do I somehow transform myself into an avid bluegrass guitarist? Do I admit the obvious, that I was somehow meant to be born in Finland and relocate to a country whose language I have no clue how to speak? Do I finally decide that the music "hobby" is over, sell all the gear and learn to play golf?

Some of those ideas are crazier than others but I don't think any of them really nail the solution. I am what I am. Heavy, melodic music is in my blood and has been ever since my first concert (KISS, the Oakland Coliseum, age 13). But I've also learned recently (while attending the only all-metal concert I've been to in Bozeman) that I can't turn back the clock. I'm not in my mid-twenties anymore and I can't pretend that I am. Whatever comes next for me musically has to begin where I am today. It has to reflect some unique combination of my years of classical guitar lessons, followed by jazz lessons, followed by the great realization that what I really loved was heavy, melodic rock. It has to reflect the fact that I'm now a happy and proud father of two great kids and that my wife and I have known each other for 24 years and been married for 19. The next chapter has to benefit from my ability to focus, and to complete projects that I start. In a perfect world, though, what comes next will involve other musicians, not just me.

Maybe the Bozeman band I'm looking for, the one that's ready to crank out a masterpiece if only they could find the right guitarist, maybe they're just around the next bend. Maybe the MTC gets the last infusion of funding it needs and takes off, surrounding me with inspired, creative people, day in/day out. Or maybe, it's all on my shoulders. Maybe I just need to start writing songs again and, when the time comes, put a budget together and pay to have the right players on the session. Maybe I just need to learn how to channel my musical drive directly and much more efficiently, and then use my inherent stubbornness and determination to create a finished work, or two, or three.

How have you found success where it appeared there was only failure?