THE MUSIC BUSINESS RUNS ON SUSHI – BUT ARE YOU DOING IT RIGHT?

Back in the early ‘80s, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, after signing Irish-rockers U2, decided to stay ahead of some imaginary country-of-origin curve and signed Japanese art/punk rock band Plastics (or The Plastics). As Island was at the time distributed by Warners, I was assigned to accompany the band on their maiden tour of America to facilitate promotional activities.

The best thing about the tour was that we would entertain radio and press at very nice Japanese restaurants in America where the band would order dishes not on the menu that defied description and pronunciation. Outside of the major markets, however, we would have to sublimate on just the sushi and sashimi on the menu. But as a result, I learned a lot from the band about the etiquette and procedure for properly ordering and eating sushi.

Fast forward to a sushi restaurant the other night (before a show, naturally) where I realized that, for all of the sushi consumption that keeps the music biz running on a daily basis, most of my colleagues are not aware of the correct ways in which one orders and consumes sushi. In fact, most of the others at the dinner admitted that they were only copying something they saw someone else do years ago, which wasn’t necessarily correct. Therefore, as an apparent altruistic public service, allow me to pass on a few major points about sushi given to me in the nicest possible manner by the members of The Plastics.

CAVEAT: A full comprehension of Japanese dining etiquette and the extensive nomenclature surrounding the art of sushi are way beyond the scope of this blog. But it’s kind of like publishing – if you know anything at all, you know more than 90% of anyone else in the music business.

First of all, some DEFINITIONS are in order: the word sushi refers to the sticky, vinegary rice that serves as the basis of the cuisine and which, by the way, is considered to be more important than the fish. Here are some things we call sushi which aren’t: a sushi roll is maki; a hand roll is temaki; a strip of sushi rice with a piece of fish stuck on top is nigiri; and strips of fish without the sushi rice is sashimi – OK, you probably knew the last one.

NOTE: The sushi bar is for ordering sushi only. If you or someone in your party would prefer teriyaki, tempura, edamame, or the like, sit at a table.

 As you’ll be eating with your hands, begin by wiping your fingers with the provided warm, wet towel. (If a wet towel is not offered, the place might be a little suspect. Move to a table and order the teriyaki.) After the hand cleaning, put the towel aside. Never apply it to your face (or anywhere else you might think to use a wet towel).

Greet the chef and, if he speaks English, ask what he recommends. Do not talk to the chef during preparation or dining. Never offer or attempt to hand money to the chef as a tip. Afterwards you may offer to buy two shots of sake – one for each of you. And if you have the occasion, compliment the chef on the rice. Again, it’s all about the rice.

Pour only a small amount of soy sauce in the small cup and add to it as needed. Never leave soy sauce in the cup at the end of the meal – bad manners.

Do not mix wasabi in with the soy sauce, unless you’re eating sashimi. BTW, real wasabi is an expensive vegetable found only in Japan. What you’re getting is horseradish dyed green to look like wasabi. The chef has already put the correct amount of real wasabi in the sushi. Do not add anymore unless you really HAVE to. It insults the chef when you do. If you MUST add more wasabi, use your chopsticks to pick up the smallest dab and brush it on top of the fish – never the rice. Same thing with the soy sauce – only a brush on the fish at the very most. Do not dip or soak. Bad, bad, bad.

EATING SUSHI

Lift the sushi (actually nigiri) between your thumb and middle finger. In a deft manner that requires some practice beforehand, turn the nigiri upside down in a counterclockwise motion (sorry – it may seem as if I’m making this stuff up – I’m not!). Lightly brush only the fish in the soy sauce – never the rice. Never shake any soy sauce off of the fish; in fact, never shake sushi for any reason. Any item with sauce or other ingredients already on the top, i.e., eel (unagi), should not be turned over and brushed with any soy sauce at all.

Place the sushi upside down in your mouth so the fish is directly on the tongue. Savor it on the tongue for a moment before chewing or gulping or whatever it is that you do with your sushi once it’s in your mouth.

Do not bite or cut off half of the serving; eat the whole thing. If sushi sizes are generally too big for you, ask your chef to prepare smaller versions for you. The exception is the hand roll, of course, that you have to eat in several bites. Hand rolls are generally more of a fast food, take out item in Japan.

Eat a piece of the ginger between mouthfuls – it cleans the palate. It can be picked up with chopsticks or your fingers. Never mix the ginger with anything or put it in your mouth with other food.

Do not order more than you can eat. Eat everything – never waste food that you have put on your plate.

Miso soup is meant to be consumed after the meal as a way to help settle the food. Ask for it after the sushi, but before the check. If no spoon is provided, pick up the bowl with both hands and bring it to your mouth. Slurping your soup is encouraged – it shows you’re enjoying it. Honest.

More recent etiquette says leave your cellphone shut off in your purse or pocket. No posting food photos or checking email. Rude!

With the exception of sashimi, all sushi is to be eaten with the fingers. For everything else, there are CHOPSTICKS. There’s way too much information about the care and handling of chopsticks to even begin to list here. Safe to say there are a few basic rules that, if followed correctly, you’ll never get called out at any location where they only speak English and take dollars.

  • Do not rub chopsticks together to remove splinters. Do not play your favorite drumbeat with them. Do not wave them around or point them at anyone or anything including the food. Do not pass food to anyone using chopsticks. Do not suck sauce off the ends. Do not nibble on them or use them for any other activity. Do not cross your chopsticks – unless it’s your objective to show everyone the symbol of death.
  • The “secret” of using chopsticks is to only move the top one. Do not hold them in your hand using all five fingers. That’s all I can tell you – you’re on your own from there. Like any skill, it takes practice, which would be best done in the comfort and privacy of your own home before you try it out in public. I’m still working on it.
  • You are allowed to use your chopsticks to tear apart larger pieces of food, although you should never stab your food with a chopstick. It’s not a knife or a fork.
  • When not in use, place your chopsticks to the right of your serving area, preferably with the tips on the provided rest and NEVER point them in anyone’s direction.
  • Putting the chopsticks on top of your bowl or plate indicates that you’re done and the server will remove everything immediately. You’ll want to avoid that.
  • When the meal is completed and if you were provided with disposable chopsticks, place them back inside the paper wrapper as best you can and leave them to the right of your plate.

Now you’re ready for your big coming out sushi dinner. Enjoy!

PLASTICS TOUR FUN FACT: When the band arrived and the tour began, one minor problem surfaced – the band spoke little to no English and my Japanese was, of course, non-existent. I bought Berlitz Japanese/English dictionaries for everyone, but that didn’t work. Somehow in the back and forth though, we discovered that both the lead singer and I had studied and remembered enough high school French to carry on a decent conversation. So we spent the rest of the tour communicating in bad French. For press and radio interviews, I would translate the question into some basic French and the singer would discuss it with the band in Japanese, of course, and come back to me in French; whereupon I would try and interpret it as best I could back to the writer or DJ. Most of the time I just made it up.

STINGER: Halfway into the tour, the lead singer approached me, acting very nervous, and in broken French pointed out that the band members eat Japanese food back home all the time and, while in America, they would rather experience some American cuisine. Well, duh. I apologized profusely and from there on out, it was my turn to do the ordering.

TEN MUSIC BIZ PREDICTIONS, HOPES & DREAMS FOR 2017

Here’s to all of these things coming true in 2017 so that there might be a happy and fruitful 2018!

1. Return of Real Songs

Millennials will come out of their collective fog and realize that what passes for pop music these days – well-produced, pleasant, beat-driven, formula, lyrically repetitive, singsongy, non-melodic music – are not really songs. Real songs – narrative stories with beginnings, middles and ends (as well as the clever bridges) – will stage a comeback, and real songwriters and performers will breathe a collective sigh of relief.

2. Mic Technique Revolution

A superstar singer will set an example on proper microphone technique for the rest of the pop and rock entertainment world by taking the mic out of and away from his or her mouth, allowing us to not only finally see the singers’ facial expressions but to also prevent them from popping their p’s. This epiphany will not spill over into the rap world.

3. Live Performance is Everything

Concert promoters, club bookers and agents will refuse to sign or book any act that isn’t any good at entertaining an audience in a live performance situation. The result? Only artists who have developed an entertaining live show will be allowed to perform. That will bring ticket-buying audiences back into venues and no more pay for play. It will also require artists to learn how to entertain instead of just singing and playing at the same time.

4. Who’s your agent?

As live performance revenue becomes the gold standard for music artists, booking agencies will become the most influential aspect of artists’ careers, surpassing record companies and managers in that respect. Again, an artist’s live show will be the centerpiece of their careers.

5. Local Radio Plays Local Music

Terrestrial local radio stations will regain control over the music they play from their national conglomerate home offices. Music fans will have some sway in what gets played on local radio though real-time mobile apps linked directly to the local radio station studios. The rising tide of listenership will raise all advertising rates boats. Win/win.

6. Performance Royalties from Radio

Congress will expand current performance payments made by radio stations to writers and composers to include master rights holders and, hence, the performers (as it is in the rest of the world except mainly North Korea, Iran and China – great company we keep, huh?). When this long-overdue slight is righted, American master rights holders and performers can then additionally start collecting those performance royalties that are currently being collected (but not paid out) to US-based artists from 75 other nations around the world. All in all, it will mean millions of dollars in windfall to the American music creative community from both here and abroad.

7. Better Streaming Rates

The Constitutional right to a regulated and fair compensation for writers, composers and performers will be enforced on digital streaming companies and extended to all future but currently unknown methods of an audience enjoying an artist’s creative endeavors.

8. Music As Merch

CDs and downloads will be officially relegated to the merch table, websites and indie stores, as artists and record companies finally concede that streaming is the preferable (and more profitable) way of buying music for instant and daily consumption.

9. Record Companies Evolve

Record companies (still the best source of funding, marketing and promotion of an artist’s music career ambitions) will rightfully continue with their 360 deals, but will divert attention away from music sales and focus more on the revenue that can be generated (and commissioned) from live performances, publishing and merchandising (which now includes CDs and downloads). The strength of an artist’s live show will weigh in larger than before in evaluating label signings.

10. New Artists Breakthough on Indie Labels

Indie labels will continue to be the grass roots discovery and nurturing ground for new and developing artists. Many will offer all the services of a major by utilizing third-party independent marketing and promotion companies such as The Artist Cooperative.

We can all dream, can’t we?

WHAT NEW ARTISTS CAN LEARN FROM THE EVERLY BROTHERS

Recently a friend who has the advantage of being an astute student of the music business from the outside – the advantage being that he doesn’t have to rely on the music business to make a living – threw out the trial balloon statement that what we should be looking for is the next Everly Brothers. (Phil (l) and Don (r) are pictured above in a backstage photo at the Ryman with publisher Roy Acuff and “Bye Bye Love” co-writer Boudleaux Bryant circa 1957.)

My friend had recently purchased (!?) a box set retrospective of their career and, in reading through the liner notes, came to realize what a touchstone their sound was to not only nascent rock ‘n’ roll but also to the generation that followed. Lennon and McCartney referred to themselves as the English Everly Brothers early on in their careersSimon and Garfunkel invited them share the stage for their 2003-04 “Old Friends” reunion tour. Neil Young, in his induction speech for the brothers at the very first Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, said that all of the bands he had ever been in had attempted (and failed) at trying to duplicate the Everlys’ harmonious sound.

Of course, not only would any attempt to duplicate the Everly Brothers sound be difficult, for reasons I’ll explain, but when you know their story, you realize just how much perseverance and timing played in their success. And since you can’t predict timing in the music business, let’s call it by its real name – luck.

What I’m getting at is that there’s no sense in trying to emulate the Everly’s path (or that of any successful musical artist) as all those same stars are not going to align for you in the same way as they did for them. But there are some overlying lessons we can take away from their story that were signposts on their journey for us to look out for in the careers of budding new artists.

In fact, I can come up with ten things to shoot for if you want to be the next Everly Brothers. Just hit the Continue Reading button below, if you would.

Continue reading…

SO WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE SHOW?

THE UNCOMFORTABLE BACKSTAGE AFTERSHOW MEET & GREET

There comes a time in the life of everyone in the music business when one must suffer through the dreaded aftershow meet and greet with the artist. To Fred and Marge from Iowa, it probably sounds like a dream come true – meeting the artist they’ve always loved and admired where they can gush over about how wonderful the show was and how the artist is their favorite all-time performer and how much they enjoyed hearing the song that was played at their wedding, ad nauseum. But we know it’s not like that, is it?

Now that all of the fan/winner/VIP hoopla has been relegated to the before show meet and greet, the aftershow is strictly the domain of the industry (agent/label/promo person), being coerced by management and tradition to meet with the artist on the artist’s turf and try and have a painless conversation, not unlike the photo above of the late Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records with Crosby, Stills & Nash circa 1974. How uncomfortable do they look? Actually, Ahmet seems fine.

Regardless, here’s how it works: Initially, you gather near a backstage entrance, like cattle being led to slaughter, if only to listen to a diatribe from a security or road person about having your stick-on pass visible. Then, like sheep, you’re led down a dimly-lit hallway or two (should you drop breadcrumbs?) to a large room, which is conversely lit up well enough for open-heart surgery. There you will congregate with the bass player’s distant cousins from Peoria and end up in a conversation with them over warm beer and vegetable/cheese trays left over from the before show function. After some interminable amount of time, the artist’s personal assistant will gather you and the other unfortunate industry dweebs for yet another journey down a few more hallways until you are shown into the inner sanctum – the artist’s dressing room.

First, there will be some embarrassing re-introductions because no matter how many times management has told the artist who’s coming backstage, it’s all forgotten. Then you’ll try and help the artist put together who you are, when you last met them, and what you mean to his or her career, oftentimes inflating it more than it really is just to get some kind of positive reaction. Then you’ll talk about what efforts you’ve been making on the artist’s behalf recently and what the results are so far. You can only hope that the artist isn’t more well informed than you are on the subject, otherwise a cross examination could begin that will turn ugly.

But in the end, since there’s really nothing else to talk about, the artist is going to ask you what you thought of the show. Now you have to make a choice. If it were a good show, you’re safe. You can go ahead and say complimentary things and the artist will bask in your intelligent opinions. But what if it were a bad show? What would you say then? If you want to get out with your pride and your pants still intact, read on for some tips. Continue reading…

A SUCCESSFUL MUSIC INDUSTRY PANEL DISCUSSION – SERIOUSLY!

Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the music industry has been subjected to (or participated in) an inordinate number of pointless panel discussions. A lot of my jaundiced view stems from the experience that the people who populate panels are doing so more for the prestige and notoriety of proselytizing to the converted than actually saying anything meaningful. Let’s get real: anyone who knows anything about how to get ahead in this business is not about to reveal it to a room full of competitors. Actually, while the panels are going on, the real business is being carried out in the adjacent hallways, or at lunch, or in the hotel lobby bar. Enough said about that.

But after all these years of spending time on both sides of the dais, I recently witnessed a panel situation that actually worked! In reality, I was more than a witness; I was one of the panelists, although that certainly wasn’t the reason it worked. Never in my experience have I been involved in anything so well planned, so well produced, so well done. It was put together by the organizers of the House of Blues Music Forward Foundation’s Bringing Down The House program. It was held earlier last month, not just here in LA at the Live Nation studios in Hollywood, but also Skyped to House of Blues clubs in seven other US cities where similar events were being held. Bringing Down The House is a national program sponsored by the HOB Foundation where local high school-aged artists and bands compete for the chance to perform on stage at their local House of Blues in a special evening performance. This year, they decided to take it one giant step further and incorporate a series of Saturday morning educational panel discussions covering virtually every aspect of pursuing music as a career.

My panel’s subject matter covered everything from songwriting to home studios to label A&R to performing rights organizations, for which real experts had been invited. Then there were the “kitchen sink” topics, which had apparently been left for me to address. The questions came fast and furious from a panel moderator, but the best stuff came from the high schoolers themselves, not only in the LA studio but also from kids in each of the participating cities in a kind of Face Time, real-time, large-screen situation. How refreshing to find a crowd of young, talented musicians and performers who seemed to be soaking up everything we had to say. A rare audience indeed. Read on!

HOB post panel shot

Continue reading…

HOW TO GET ALL THE CRED OF SXSW WITHOUT THE TIME AND EXPENSE

“Music is spiritual. The music business is not. – Van Morrison

It’s almost that time again – that time of year when every band and singer worth their salt makes that annual pilgrimage to Mecca (Austin) for the week-long SXSW festival. A week of no sleep, watered-down drinks, bad food, unrewarding performances and the heartbreak of the ultimate realization that it wasn’t really worth it. Never have so many spent so much time and money for so little notoriety and reward. 

So, here you are, another year goes by and, once again, you still can’t afford to go and you can’t afford to not go. What the hell are you going to do? Simple: Don’t go….and just say you did.

“WHAT?” you’re probably asking yourself right now. “What kind of fool would give out this sort of advice and what kind of fool would take it?” Hear me out.

Now I’m sure that you think that you might be missing out on something and that you were at least hoping to network and snare some sort of deal. After all, this could be the year! This could be your big break! This could be your time! Or not.

But you CAN still get the promised SXSW payoff even if you don’t actually go! It’s really quite simple. Just follow these six steps:
Step 1)   Two weeks before SXSW: Announce to all your friends and post to all your fans that you’ll be playing multiple cool, hip private parties every night at SXSW. Let them know that most of the parties haven’t been announced yet and you can only get in by special invitation but that you’re going to work on getting a guest list for your friends and fans. Whenever anyone calls or texts or emails, don’t respond right away. Then later apologize, but remind them how busy you are setting up your shows at SXSW.

Step 2)   One week before SXSW: Remind everyone of your trip but that you don’t know where you’ll be staying yet because everything is booked up, but that you’ll try to keep in touch with them on FB or Twitter but to not expect you to be able to answer calls, emails or texts, because everybody knows that since all 20,000 people (maybe it’s 200,000, I don’t know) will be sucking up all the bandwidth in town, it’s going to be hard to get messages back and forth. So tell them to just keep checking the SXSW website, or some such silliness.

Step 3)   Three days before SXSW: Announce that you’re leaving for Austin and that you’re hoping to take advantage of some pickup gigs along the way, hard to say where or when.

Step 4)   Then: You pack up your gear and head out of town to some place where no one knows you. Check into a cheap motel and shut off your phone and your laptop/tablet. Relax. Read. Write a new song or two. Catch up on your sleep. Occasionally you should send out a tweet or FB post about what a wonderful time you’re having and how great you sound, blah, blah, blah. Tip: shut off your GPS location tracking, just in case.

Step 5)   The day after SXSW is over: Turn on your phone again and let everyone know you’re heading home after a very successful trip to Austin. You played to full houses, got drunk with all your idols and made a lot of contacts with some very important people. You even wrote some songs in someone’s van.

Step 6)   Once you get home: Send emails or texts or call every important person that you know was at SXSW and tell them it was so cool to meet them and how much you appreciated the nice things they said about your music and you’re following up on their offer to get together for some lunch to discuss how you guys might work together in the future and that this time, you’ll buy!

Whoever gets your message will have little to no memory of SXSW anyway, since it’s really just an excuse for the industry dweebs to get away from their miserable existences and drink and get high for a week. And since there are over 2,000 performances (I really don’t know how many; maybe it’s 20,000), there’s no way in hell that they can say that they never met you there. They may be a little embarrassed and apologize but you assure them that you meant everything you said and that you’re a person of your word and your word is your bond, etc. – whatever it is you need to say to make sure that they meet with you anyway.

Unless they, too, have read this post and never went at all. But then, they couldn’t admit that, could they?

BTW: This same routine works well for CMJ but not so much for the more limited single-venue events such as Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza – too easy to get caught and, besides, those are way more fun. You should actually go. Have fun.

(Editors note: You may be thinking that this plan is not foolproof (and I agree) and that only a fool would try this stunt. Foolish? Or just foolhardy?  The former implies not noticing risk; the latter, continuing despite it.  Admittedly, it would take someone with a lot of swagger and confidence, plus the ability and desire to pull one over on unsuspecting industry-types. Not only pushing the envelope, but breaking out of it altogether. Do it.)

BTW – I’ve seen it done and it can work.

“I think that the rock ‘n’ roll myth of living on the edge is just a pile of crap.” – Robert Smith