Entries in Music Tech Center (3)


Change: ready or not, here it comes

Last week I wrote an article about Nightwish, describing how much my family enjoyed our road trip to see the band in Salt Lake City. I mentioned that their lead singer, Anette Olzon, had been in the hospital for their previous show in Denver and they had performed with a makeshift lineup. I had applauded the band and Anette for making the show in Denver work and for coming back out the following night to put on a show we all enjoyed. Little did I know that at roughly the same time I published that article, Nightwish was onstage in Seattle, performing with Floor Jansen on vocals, because Anette had been asked to leave the band.

Just like that, my most-often played band on KGLT had gone through a major upheaval and there's really no way to know whether the next chapter will be as enjoyable for me. The music world has these shifts all the time. David Lee Roth split with Van Halen, and regardless of which version you like the best, the band was never the same after that (with Sammy HagarGary Cherone, and the return of David Lee Roth ). There are these magic periods in a band's creative lifetime and sometimes they are painfully short. And then things change...

I had been excited about my activities on the radio and had anticipated the onset of construction for the Music Tech Center. With the former, I felt like I'd really found a home, a place with like-minded music lovers sharing the common thread of highly eclectic taste. With the latter, I could taste the next step and see what the building would look like after completion. And then things change...

So, I now move on because that's the only thing any of us can do. Sometimes the changes come along and you can't stop them. We've got an election coming up. Even if political sentiment was the same as four years ago, things would still change. Under current circumstances there will have to be changes, some of which I will be unhappy about, and maybe, if I'm lucky, there will be a few things I'm happy about.

More importantly, though, I have to accept the ongoing progression of life and the many aspects I have no control over. Time is a big one for me. It passes no matter what I do to increase my efficiency or shortchange myself on sleep. I'm once again looking at how I spend my time and wondering which activities are really worth the effort. I'm also facing the challenge that the same creative juices are needed for blog writing as for songwriting. I'm taking 3 songwriting and music classes this quarter and barely having time to breathe. I love what I'm learning but to get the most out of the experience I'm skimping on a lot of other activities.

Honestly, it may be time to cut my losses with respect to the radio show. It hasn't been much fun since losing my regular slot and I'm not seeing a way back to that enjoyment level. The Music Tech Center is still very much up in the air, but I need are more conversations and more pondering, things I do better when I have some breathing room. Finally, there's the question of this blog...

I spend a few hours every week writing the articles for this blog. Over the last 2 or 3 months, I've had a harder time coming up with ideas for those articles. Now, the blog writing is butting heads with all my songwriting homework and without the radio activities I have less music-related thoughts to share with everyone. I think that my blog is going through one of those "And then things change..." moments. It was inevitable but it's still destabilizing. To keep the blog going and keep the content lively, I need some new pool of ideas. I need to be talking about something that I care deeply about and that I'm actively immersed in. Hence, the blog needs to change, much like replacing its lead vocalist or changing its record label, something to freshen things up.

At the moment, I see a songwriting and my efforts to release my next project(s) as the prime candidate. Yes, I've talked about those here previously, however, those were interspersed with many articles drawn from my radio experiences and suddenly there's a lot less of those. I'm thinking that the blog will become a way to keep all of you updated on my creative efforts. As such, I don't honestly know how often I'll update it through the end of 2012 with my course load and the holidays. Somewhere along the line, however, I anticipate things picking up again. As I start generating musical content, then the blog can serve it's primary purpose as an extension of my own experiences and a way to share those things that mean the most to me.



It's been a rough few weeks following our return from Scandinavia. Although there's the obvious struggle to find a post-vacation groove, that hasn't been the real issue. My mood in September has been dominated by a couple of unexpected shifts that began almost immediately upon our return to the States.

This summer we spent a lot of our time and energy interviewing potential business consultants for the Music Tech Center ("MTC") business plan. Once we selected an individual, then our time was spent scoping our request and describing our vision of the project to the consultant. The analysis we requested had two very concise constraints, 1) leverage the commercial building that we already own in Bozeman and 2) make sure that I can personally be involved in day-to-day musical activities once the facility is up and running. The first requirement stems from having invested years of architectural effort into our building and having negotiated a very carefully structured agreement with the City of Bozeman. It also reflects the unusual circumstances that allow us to own the building for a monthly outlay comparable to renting a space 1/5 the size. The second requirement, in many ways, is even more fundamental. If the MTC doesn't develop into an outlet for my musical interests and a rallying point for my own collaboration, then it fundamentally makes no sense. In that case, it fails to satisfy my own needs, and we cannot justify moving forwards.

Well, a couple of days after we returned from Scandinavia, we received the final, 87-page business report. Given its length, and my own scrambling for time, I started by reading the summary section. I was immediately struck by how far the vision had drifted away from our constraints. We had received a "Yes, proceed" recommendation but the proposed project was based on looking elsewhere in Bozeman for a small rental property. The document also neglected to consider the construction costs necessary in a rented space to tame the acoustics enough for any form of musical activity. In essence, the business plan chose to veer off course from the get go and then justified its alternative path. In doing so, the consultant invested most of his time (and our money) in the wrong project. Worse yet, much of the data the consultant collected (reflecting feedback from local music promoters, musicians and recording engineers) was incredibly negative, delivering the clear message that Bozeman really doesn't need anything like what we've proposed.

A sense of gloom and disappointment settled over me and it really hasn't lifted yet. Mind you, I'm glad to have this information before proceeding with an expensive remodel but somehow I can't shake the feeling that the picture painted by the report is on the wrong canvas. We've been scrambling to gather more information and to make better sense of the situation. In light of construction scheduling and fairness to all the parties that have helped us prepare for the remodel, the only option we've been able to settle on is postponing the project for 6 months. Of course, there's a very significant chance that during the 6-month delay we will conclude that we cannot (or at least should not) proceed with the project. We'll leave the door open, just in case things align over that 6-month period and in that case we will proceed with the project.

Although I had every reason to anticipate some amount of disappointment related to the MTC planning, the more recent disappointment hit me out of the blue. On Friday, September 14th, the day before my last radio show of the Summer schedule, I received a voicemail from the music director at KGLT. At the time I was sitting with my daughter in her piano lesson and felt it would be too disruptive to take the call. Kiley had a good lesson and only once we'd said goodbye to her teacher did I feel it made sense to screen my voicemail.

There was only one message and it only took a few words before I knew it was not a good one. I quickly realized it was a message from KGLT's music director; usually that means the new schedule is out and he's letting us know about our time slot for the semester. The tone of his voice, however, suggested this wasn't routine; there were issues related to musical style and scheduling that meant I was being pushed out of my Saturday 9-midnight radio show. Worse yet, instead of being given another time slot, it was suggested that I squeeze into an already full Friday 9-midnight slot, meaning that I'd end up doing a show once a month. Being a father, a musician and a software engineer keeps me pretty busy, but more importantly it takes a great deal of my focus. The few times I've only done my show once a month have been very difficult because I lose my rhythm and spend half the show trying to get back in gear. I was also unhappy about cutting into my good friend, Adam Kish's biweekly radio time. On top of that, I was frustrated that I'd been putting so much time and effort into Loud Rock Director responsibilities, only now I wouldn't actually be able to play any of the new material while it's still fresh.

The KGLT change also hit particularly hard because of my musical struggles here in Bozeman. I've had a terrible time finding anyone to play with or collaborate with. At this point, all it'd take is someone interested in heavy music (metal, alternative, punk,…) but my attempts to post ads and respond to them have failed miserably. Similarly, to see a reasonable variety of heavy concerts, we've had to accept the fact that travel is a requirement. The 2-hour drive to Billings is the shortest path, and has led to shows by Halestorm and Korpiklaani. You also know about the trips to Canada for Iron Maiden and Sweden for Amaranthe. This coming weekend we'll take a road trip to Salt Lake City so that we can catch the Nightwish and Kamelot tour. Given the struggle to make Bozeman my musical home, the radio show at KGLT had been the one bright, shining star of hope here in town. It put me in contact with people that love music, including at least a few that enjoy the heavier varieties. It also kept me wrapped up in new music and the excitement that goes with it.

Over the course of roughly 2 weeks, two key components of my musical hope for Bozeman collapsed. I've picked up a few pieces (I've got two substitute DJ spots lined up, October 12th and November 9th). But that won't take care of the whole problem. I've gotten a great deal of support and positive feedback from friends around the world. Their support has included a common theme, that when one (or more) paths become eroded or blocked, find a new path. I am doing my best to live up to that advice. This quarter I'm taking two songwriting-related classes at Berklee online ("Melody" and "Harmony"), and I'm excited about the effect those classes will have on my creative efforts. I've also set a rough target of next Spring for the first round of demos for my next album. No clue whether it'll be recorded in Berkeley, Los Angeles, Sweden or Finland, but at least I've got a path I can head down. Onwards, bit by bit...


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.