Want to buy a piece of a Drake song? Track’s rights sold via pioneering digital currency scheme

Vezt lets investors and fans purchase a share of future revenues from ‘Jodeci (Freestyle)’ and many more to come.

Only this time, it’s a different kind of money, one that could have far-reaching implications as the music industry pushes further into the realms of cryptocurrency, the speculative digital money that is secured through cryptography and recorded by blockchain technology.

In a pilot project of sorts, and in the hope of creating a direct and transparent marketplace for creators and rights holders, Los Angeles-based blockchain outfit Vezt just completed its “ISO” — initial song offering — in late November: a chance for 100 non-U.S. residents to purchase up to 10 per cent of the copyright of a Drake song.

Steve Stewart, Vezt’s co-founding CEO and former manager of the Stone Temple Pilots, says it’s a win-win situation for both parties: the creator gets to dictate the terms of the transaction and generate immediate money, and the buyer winds up owning a piece of an artistic creation, which could have deep sentimental value to that person.

“We think that everybody who participates in the creation of music should be compensated and this is a direct way to monetize intellectual property for the creators,” says Stewart, who created Vezt just over a year ago with Robert Menendez.

To prove the viability of its business model, Vezt recently concluded its first “token generating event,” by offering “Jodeci (Freestyle),” a 2013 track recorded by Drake and J. Cole, as the musical guinea pig.

The event, which concluded Dec. 1, resulted in the purchase of over 2.8 million VZT tokens for a total of $1.38 million (U.S.). Combined with a previous private investor offering that raised another $3.2 million (U.S.), the result left Stewart ecstatic.

“If we had raised $100 and given up no equity, I’d be amazed,” says Stewart. “To do more than $4.5 million in a short period of time is almost inconceivable.

“The important thing is we now have enough runway to build and scale our platform in the most efficient and expeditious way.”

To be clear, the writer’s share of the song doesn’t solely belong to — and wasn’t offered by — the Toronto rap god himself, although Drizzy’s superstar name was definitely a selling point.

But one of its co-writers whom Stewart refused to identify — Dewayne Brandley, Simon Rufus William III and Roosevelt Harrell III, the producer known as Bink, are among those listed — cashed in, selling his 10 per cent share to Vezt.

Stewart says Vezt owns a fraction of the copyright shares of 27 additional songs recorded by the likes of Kanye West, John Legend, Rick Ross, Dr. Dre and others to help jump-start its platform, which it’s planning to open to artists and rights holders by summer 2018.

“Anybody who owns rights should be able to transact them,” Stewart explains. “That’s the basis for our platform.”

Vezt co-founders Robert Melendez (l) and Steve Stewart (R) with producer Andre “Dre” Lyon.
Photo By: Ken Alkazar

The premise is simple: creators and rights holders of intellectual property offer some share of their song rights to potential buyers on the Vezt platform.

These song shares are purchased via Vezt’s VZT utility tokens valued at approximately $0.35 (U.S.) each. In exchange, the creator forgoes those portions of the rights for a predetermined term — usually one, three or five years — during which the purchaser receives whatever pro-rated royalties and revenues are generated.

Song-rights details are automatically encoded on the Vezt blockchain and tracked by royalty-collecting performance rights organizations in 137 countries around the world, gathering income from various sources (see sidebar). The rights revert to the creator at the conclusion of the term.

While public interest in cryptocurrency has spiked lately on the heels of Bitcoin’s rocketing value — from 8 cents in 2009 to more than $11,000 (U.S.) today — a few recording artists took notice earlier. British singer and songwriter Imogen Heap was the first, independently releasing a song in 2015 called “Tiny Human” that could be purchased with ETH, perhaps the second most popular cryptocurrency after Bitcoin.

The latest projects include Icelandic singer Björk, who has offered consumers the chance to purchase her just-released Utopia album via several digital monies. Slovenian electro-producer Gramatik, who is booked into the Danforth Music Hall in April, has gone one better: establishing his own GRMTK cryptocurrency, which he launched in Zurich in November.

Artist manager Steve Stewart says one of the reasons he launched Vezt is to resurrect the value of music, which he says disappeared with the arrival of file-sharing company Napster. By relying on a song’s music royalties, Stewart is convinced he can help turn around music’s — and music makers’ — recent misfortunes.

“After a song is pumped up and released, there’s a spike if it’s put out on the radio or toured behind for a period of time,” he says. “After that spike comes down and levels out, you pretty much have a level income stream going forward.

“That’s why people like (David) Pullman could do the Bowie Bonds 25 years ago: they securitize music royalties. We’re seeing firms like Goldman Sachs today look at music securitization options again because it almost acts like a bond . . . it’s fairly consistent as far as income goes.”

Pullman, creator of the “Bowie Bonds” that saw David Bowie receive $55 million (U.S.) tax free in exchange for the majority of his album and publishing catalogue being securitized for 20 years, says this type of transaction probably wouldn’t interest songwriters with extensive catalogues “because they’re too conservative,” but are more for creators who want “liquidity now.”

Stewart believes that once the Vezt platform is fully running, the majority of song-share purchasers won’t be from Wall Street.

“Honestly, we think that 80 per cent of our buyers are going to come from an emotional place: they’re going to buy it because it’s their favourite song,” Stewart says. “Every time they hear that song streamed, every time they hear it in a club, every time they hear it on the radio, they know that they’re making something along with the artist.

“We see a lot of our buyers coming at a relatively modest dollar value, anywhere from $1 to $100. So for the price of a T-shirt — $25 or $30 — they can buy a piece of a song that moves them emotionally.”

With many musicians struggling to fully devote time to their craft and others lamenting the terms of onerous recording contracts that wrest intellectual property control away, Stewart says Vezt has great potential to be a music industry game changer.

“Artist/creators get a publishing deal and it might cost them 25 per cent of their copyright,” says Stewart. “They get an admin deal, that might cost 5 per cent to 10 per cent. They get a label deal and a label might take 85 per cent. There’s a lot of people with their hands in pockets, as is with the music business traditionally.”

And his company won’t stop at music.

“We’re looking at anything that has an IP component to it,” says Stewart. “We’re looking at books, shows, film, TV, video content. . . . We’re looking to be the marketplace for IP all around the world.”

How it works

Once a song is written, 100 per cent of its copyright (which entitles the owner to money generated by streams, radio airplay, TV broadcasting or even a commercial spot) belongs to the writer or writers. Typically, the writer signs a publishing deal giving half of that to the publisher; if there is more than one writer, they each get a chunk of the writer half.

Under the Vezt plan, creators could sell the right to the cash generated over a given period in exchange for the buyer’s cash now. Once the transaction is complete, the funds are immediately credited in the creator’s account and the deal is recorded in the blockchain for posterity. Song-rights details are automatically encoded on the Vezt blockchain, too, guaranteeing the buyer proof of possession and opening the door to cheques from royalty-collecting performance rights organizations in 137 countries around the world.

 

The purchase of the rights is made using VZT tokens, which can themselves be bought with the more established cryptocurrency ETH or, for a service fee, with recognized currencies such as U.S. or Canadian dollars.

The rights revert to the creator at the conclusion of the term.

 

https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/music/2017/12/10/want-to-buy-a-piece-of-a-drake-song-tracks-rights-sold-via-pioneering-digital-currency-scheme.html

 

Country-music stalwart Brett Kissel says he’s done looking for U.S. breakthrough

Canadian hitmaker says his new album is utterly true to himself — but he’s sure it will put him on ‘big stages, big festivals and arenas’ somewhere.

Nick Krewen, Music

 

There aren’t too many artists who can boast of an appearance by heavy metal guitarist Dave Mustaine and country music legend Charley Pride on the same album.

In fact, Flat Lake, Alta.’s country music sensation Brett Kissel is probably the only one: his new album We Were That Song features both guests on separate tracks.

Margaret Malandruccolo photographer

The 83-year-young Pride contribution to the album-ending reflective ballad “Burgers and Fries” probably isn’t so surprising, considering that Kissel grew up on a steady diet of Charley, Waylon Jennings and his all-time favourite Johnny Cash on the cattle ranch that has been in his family for over 100 years.

The rock-edged “Damn!,” however is a left-field choice that the married father of two reveals stemmed from an unlikely friendship with the Megadeth founder.

“I couldn’t believe that Dave offered to play guitar,” Kissel said recently at a downtown Starbucks. He returns to the city for two performances, including a matinee, at the Danforth Music Hall on Feb. 17.

“We were in Scotland together at a songwriting retreat with his daughter Electra (an aspiring country music singer). We’d become friends a year earlier, but it was here he asked, ‘So, when are you going to ask me to play guitar on one of your records?’”

Mustaine had only one condition.

“It’s got to be the most rockin’ track you’ve ever written,’” the 27-year-old Kissel says with a chuckle as he relates the story.

 While the distorted crunch of Mustaine’s guitar certainly energizes “Damn!” — a complimentary, upbeat song about a desired woman — it’s not out of place on the 13-track We Were That Song, an album where action-packed tempos outnumber the ballads.

Whether it’s the song name-dropping title track, the slightly Celtic Mumford-feel of the joyous “Anthem” or more rock-flavoured edge of “Guitars and Gasoline,” this album has a kick that Kissel said was premeditated.

“It’s definitely a very lively record,” says the nine-time Canadian Country Music Award winner, named Male Artist of the Year for the last three years running.

“When it came to song selection, it had to tell a story and it had to have a place in the set list. It’s meant to be cranked up loud and it’s meant to be played live.”

Kissel, who earned his first CCMA Rising Star nomination at the age of 16 following more than 70,000 in sales of his first three independent albums, makes no bones about the payoff he anticipates for We Were That Song, his fourth on a major label.

Brett Kissel ©MMFOTO

“This is the album that’s going to do it for us,” he says with a confident humility. “We want to take this not just one level up, but two, three, four levels up!

“We believe this music is ready for some big stages, big festivals and arenas. It’s a lot of everything.”

Now 27, Kissel has spent nearly half his life chasing the brass ring, and the homegrown success of such gold Canadian country music radio staples as “Started With a Song,” “3-2-1,” “Something You Just Don’t Forget” and “Airwaves” among others, as well as exciting shows and cheering crowds, has laid the initial groundwork.

South of the border, though, Kissel has been trying — like so many before him — to second guess what Music City wants out of its suitors. Despite having respected industry veteran Bob Doyle, Garth Brooks’ manager, as his co-manager, it’s been frustrating.

“I’ve been able to have great success here in Canada and it’s been awesome,” says Kissel, who is managed here by Invictus Entertainment Group’s Louis O’ Reilly.

“It definitely wasn’t easy, but I know the steps to take. Whereas in the United States, you think you’ll do these five things and it will lead to this result — I’ll do those five things, whatever’s asked of me — and meet a dead end.”

So rather than attempting to hit a mysterious moving target, Kissel has decided to bet on himself.

We Were That Song embraces the true Brett Kissel. He’s finally being himself without kowtowing to imagined U.S. expectations.

“My last albums (Started With a Song, Pick Me Up) were very special, but I was definitely trying hard,” Kissel admits. “There were elements of honesty there, but not full honesty.

“This album is completely honest, a result of Bob and a lot of other influential people in my life telling me, ‘You’re not going to be happy if you’re not doing what you gotta do. It might be the long way, but you’ve got to forge your own path, be who you are.’”

Kissel says fun-embracing, attitudinal songs like “Shootin’ It” and “Drink, Cuss, or Fish” are representative of the new “looseness” he’s incorporating into his songwriting.

“It’s walking the line of taking different risks on the record and caring more while caring less,” he explains. “I’m caring more about myself and what the fans want to hear, and caring less about being placed in a box.”

Also helping him find his way are the music business tête-à-têtes Kissel has enjoyed with both Brooks and Brad Paisley; he’s toured as an opener for both and Brooks, of course, is country music’s biggest-selling artist.

“Garth was just himself,” Kissel says. “Now that I know the story firsthand from Garth himself; it took a long time to get that traction: for someone to see him as a stock and invest in it, then watch him go to the very top. For the last couple of years, I chased and chased what I thought Nashville, American labels and the American industry wanted me to be. ‘Shootin’ It’ and this entire record is a perfect example of me saying, ‘I don’t care anymore. This is who I am and at least I’m going to be happy putting out this record.’”

Kissel is also taking a page out of the Garth Brooks concert playbook. With his return, Brooks has been performing multiple shows in one tour location, usually over a weekend, sometimes two or three full concerts a day.

In Canada, Kissel is ambitiously attempting the biggest domestic tour ever by a country artist — 100 dates — including 10 to 15 where, like his upcoming Danforth Music Hall shows, he’s staging two full concerts in a day.

Can he handle it?

“I’ve never done it before,” Kissel says. “But if Garth can do it, I’m sure as hell going to try.”

Country-music stalwart Brett Kissel says he’s done looking for U.S. breakthrough | Toronto Star

 

Introduction and immediate confession…

I have a confession to make.

In finally succumbing to the world of “blogdom,” I am doing so with extremely conflicted emotions. Truthfully, if I were in any other profession aside from media, or had I ventured into something not so entertainment-specific that it would require the constant monitoring of the Internet and other forms of social media, you wouldn’t be reading this right now because I wouldn’t be on here.

Maybe I’d be weaving hemp spittoons for certain breeds of alpacas or translating the Dead Sea Scrolls into Mandarin (not that I know how to weave, speak Mandarin or can discern whether alpacas would use said spittoons in the first place) but the point here is I’m not thrilled about adding to the narcissistic cacophony that is presently defined by the “Me” generation, especially through the various avenues of social media that is eroding our privacy quicker than the procreation of mice.

That’s because for me, it’s always been about the work. I like writing. I like writing well. I like writing on all sorts of topics and making my clients happy, although through the years my specialty has been about writing about music and the music industry. The “me” portion of the equation has been secondary, at least in my mind.

If I truly felt that someone would benefit from the knowledge of how often I vent my nostrils or the fact that I had the latest variation tiramisu for desert (#1457 and counting), I’d be the first to offer up that type of info, with the thought I’d be contributing in some small, humble way, to humanity’s overall desire for self-improvement.

But I know better, so you will find none of that bloated insignificance here.

What you will find here are samples of my work, which you’ll hopefully find equal parts informative, entertaining and hopefully amusing. As this blog evolves, I’m going to be reconfiguring my web site and adding in new archives, maybe occasional sound bytes, and possibly overflow from numerous interviews that didn’t make the cut of the final piece (I always have more stuff than I can use in an article) and links to relevant sites.

And — here’s the shameless self-promotion plug — I’m hoping that you’ll find my samples of writing and voiceover attractive enough to hire me for something.

Except singing. ESPECIALLY if you value your windows and glassware…

So, as we begin this journey together, me — because I’m forced by the realities of social media to expose a bit more of myself to the world (not the fleshy parts, I promise) — and you, hopefully because you simply WANT to — the only thing I ask for is your patience as this thing morphs and burps through several configurations while I get my sea legs.

Thanks 🙂

P.S. I make great impressions. Just make sure the object you’re flinging me into is either high enough, or far enough, away…

 

 

Kelly Clarkson pleased that new album shows off her soul

Meaning of Life is a departure for the American Idol winner — one she’s been waiting for.

Nick Krewen

Music Mon., Oct 30, 2017

“Character, sass and attitude.”

Powerhouse singer, American Idol alum and current The Voice judge Kelly Clarkson nails a description of her new Meaning of Life album, just released, in just four words as she sits across her from her interviewer, resplendent in a black dress.

 

While she might be succinct with her summary of her eighth album, the 35-year-old Texas native has been long in patience, telling the Star during a recent Toronto visit that this 13-song effort is the one she always wanted to make.

But shouldn’t a superstar who has topped the charts with such hits as “Since U Been Gone,” “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” “My Life Would Suck Without You” and “A Moment Like This” — selling more than 24 million albums and 36 million singles in the wake of three Grammy Awards — be enough of a proven commodity that she’d be able to dictate the terms of her output?

“Well, I just got out of my Idol contract,” Clarkson admits, citing a 15-year relationship with RCA Records due to winning the reality TV music show’s very first season.

“It was an arranged marriage — and a very successful one — but I fulfilled a particular lane for that label. Luckily, it wasn’t that I hated my life. I like pop/rock and I like a lot of genres, but I sang soulful pop on Idol the entire time, so I don’t think (Meaning) is going to be a shock for my fans.”

That particular RCA lane didn’t include what Atlantic Records saw in her when she started the search for a new label home.

“Whenever I went to meetings with Atlantic and asked them what they wanted to do with me, they were like, ‘Man, we’d love to make an album like if Aretha (Franklin) were coming out now in 2017, what would that sound like?’

“And I asked, ‘Where do I sign?’ ”

Clarkson then played them the song “Meaning of Life,” a gospel-tinged, rafter-booming soul anthem co-written by Jesse Shatkin (Sia’s “Chandelier”) and U.K. artist James Morrison that she had been holding for consideration since her final RCA album, 2015’s Piece by Piece — and was buoyed by Atlantic’s response.

‘They flipped out on it and said, ‘This is perfect, because it’s hard to switch gears with people that have heard you for 15 years singing ‘Because of You,’ ‘Already Gone’ and ‘Stronger,’ etc.’ It was a nice song to be able to set the bar for the album.”

In terms of Kelly Clarkson albums, Meaning of Life is a bit more brazen, with barn-burning soulful blasts like “Love So Soft,” “Whole Lotta Woman,” “Didn’t I” and “I Don’t Think About You” providing plenty of grit and sweat.

Which brings us to the overall reason Clarkson — who performs at the Air Canada Centre on Dec. 9 as part of the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball — was eager to produce an album like Meaning of Life.

“Really, my goal was to showcase my vocals so people will stop telling me, ‘My God! I didn’t know you could sing!’” she laughs.

“That’s the entire reason I made this album. Because a lot of times I’d get mildly offended because I’d perform and people would be like, ‘Oh my God, you can sing!’ And I’d be like,’ What?!’

“It was perplexing me, but then I get it, because when you sing a lot of pop/rock stuff it comes off almost like jingles. A lot of artists can do that. So with this album, I focused on making an album that maybe not everyone could sing, just the strength of my performance. Because that’s my part in my art: I don’t really fly or dance in concert . . . I love writing, I love singing and I really wanted this album to sound solid.”

Either way, the mother of four (two by husband/manager Brandon Blackstock and two from his previous marriage) views this new work as a fresh start.

“I know it’s funny but, 15 years later, I feel like a first-time artist,” she admits. “It’s my first time to pick my label; the first time to pick my entire team and like really go for it. And it’s awesome to be at that point in your career, where if it does well awesome and if it doesn’t, still awesome. I’ve been dying to make this for so long that I don’t care either way. I’m just very happy.”

On the horizon for Clarkson, beside a world tour to support the new album, is a spring 2018 appearance as a coach on The Voice, one of the myriad reality TV music competition shows that seem to be in vogue at the moment.

Clarkson, of course, is the original winner of American Idol, which ended its Fox Network run in 2016 only to be resurrected by ABC for 2018. The Nashville resident says she was approached to be a judge for the new show but had already committed to The Voice.

“I’m like, well, if I have to choose between my husband, who manages Blake Shelton and has to leave us, and our family can all be in the same place, I’m obviously going to choose that,” Clarkson explains. “Honestly, I’ve given 15 years of my life to Idol; I’ve gone back every season pretty much and I’m so proud of my start, but I’m also pretty excited about sitting in a chair and not seeing or worrying about the esthetic appeal of someone, and just listening.

“Because I love music. I grew up without MTV. I loved artists because I listened to them, which is what I feel like music should be.”

With the reality TV music scene seemingly heating up again — besides Voice and Idol, Canada is preparing its own program The Launch and NBC has green-lighted another one called The Stream — is there a chance all these programs may suffer from audience fatigue?

“Well, when are y’all going to stop watching them? “she retorts. “And the other question is, why aren’t people more famous from them? And that’s because there’s a frickin’ plethora of them now.”

Clarkson agrees that music is often the last concern with viewers.

“I’m going to be honest with you right now: I am 99 per cent of the time told that it wasn’t even my singing that drew them to me. People are like, ‘Oh, I loved your personality.’ It wasn’t always about the singing, it’s about the selling. But if you think about it, that’s also what happens in the industry. That’s why some people make it and some people don’t, because people gravitate toward them as a person as well. Like country music, for instance, the whole genre is based on lifestyle.

“I will say you’re lucky when you get to do it the way I did, because you have all this leverage. You have all these millions of people that already like you, though it’s like, what are you going to put out? They’re excited, they want something. A new artist doesn’t have that. They don’t even know you. You have to work for everything.

“There’s always going to be a different door and it’s whichever door comes in front of you.”

Kelly Clarkson pleased that new album shows off her soul | Toronto Star

What does $50,000 buy? The ultimate Gene Simmons fan experience

Or, if you don’t have that kind of cash, the KISS rocker will hand deliver his box set for just $2,000.

Nick Krewen

Music

Thu., Sept. 21, 2017

Gene Simmons is at it again.

The co-founder and bassist of legendary rock band KISS, who has gained almost equivalent public stature as an audacious and shrewd marketing tycoon, has set aside most of 2018 to deliver his latest project: The Vault Experience, a 17-kilogram, 10-CD collection of 150 previously unreleased demos and recordings that he boasts is the “largest and most expensive boxed set of all time.”

©Mark Weiss

And by “deliver,” Simmons means exactly that: For $2,000 (U.S.), the rock-and-reality-TV superstar will personally hand it to you at a location of your choice.

Actually, he’ll wheel it to you: The boxed set, which comes with an envious number of bells and whistles, resembles a small safe and is cumbersome enough that it rolls around on castors.

“Anyone that buys one — first come, first served because there are only a few thousand around the world — I will fly to you,” declared Simmons, who was in Toronto earlier this week to promote the venture.

“Whether you’re in Moncton or New Zealand, I will hand-deliver this to you in a convenient area — because if you live in the North Pole, I’m not going to the North Pole — I want to be upfront.

“But if you’re in Moncton, I’ll go there.”

For those willing to shell out the coin for Gene Simmons: The Vault Experience, the dates for Toronto delivery have already been designated: May 5-6 and Sept. 19, 2018, with the tongue-wagging rock star promising to buy his own “plane tickets, hotel rooms, security, insurance, legal stuff — at my expense.”

Why is he doing it? Simmons, whose cartoonish, on-stage “Demon” persona has helped sell 75 million KISS albums worldwide and filled arenas countless times over, says it’s his way of personally thanking his followers for 50 years of an unimaginably wonderful musical career.

“Well, the fans made my life possible,” reasons Simmons, born Chaim Witz, 68 years ago in Haifa, Israel, and who is married to St. John’s, N.L. actor Shannon Tweed. “I mean, I have a great life. My family is taken care of. I can spend money on anything I want, although I don’t need a lot of stuff. I don’t care about stuff, mostly.

“But how do you say thank you after becoming America’s No. 1 award-winning group of all-time? That also includes Canada — yeah, we have more gold records than A Foot in Coldwater.”

His reference to a classic Toronto rock band notwithstanding, the six-foot, two-inch Simmons, reclining on a couch in an RV next to The Launch studios in Scarborough, says he’s willing to do what other superstars won’t.

“I never had Elvis (Presley) knock on my door and say, ‘Hey man, here’s my new record and thanks for being a fan,’ ” Simmons notes. “But why not? If you can afford it and you’ve got the time and you want to do it . . .”

“I’m not going to make everyone happy. If one million fans buy these, I’m not going to go and spend 10 years visiting one million fans. But a few thousand? Sure. So, I’m taking a year off, starting January, and I’m going around the world. I don’t know what kind of tour you want to call it — but I’ll be going and visiting the fans.

“There will be people crying — especially if I step on their feet — and I’m going to well up as well . . . because once upon a time, I was a kid with a dream and I saw this dream come true on a scale that I never envisioned. By many estimates in the marketing world, those four KISS faces (Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss) are the most recognized faces on planet Earth.

“I don’t see (Bruce) Springsteen or (Bob) Dylan or anybody on that level who are going to go and meet and greet every single fan that buys their boxed set.”

Manufactured in partnership with Rhino Entertainment, the California-based specialty label that has previously released elaborately designed boxed sets for Ray Charles (a turntable suitcase) and Z.Z. Top (a barbecue shack), Gene Simmons: The Vault Experience includes a 50,000-word coffee table book, an action figure (which is kind of ironic, because it’s a likeness of Simmons standing with his arms crossed), a gold medallion and secret compartments, where fans will discover a unique piece of hand-picked memorabilia — “it could be a pair of leather gloves or a scarf” — from the Van Nuys, Calif.-based KISS warehouse.

A Vault “pre-pack,” including a signed golden ticket, an exclusive T-shirt, a laminate and a USB of the track “Are You Ready,” will arrive separately by email once an order is placed at GeneSimmonsVault.com or by calling 1-833-GSVault, the only way it can be ordered.

Musically, the set chronicles some of Simmons’ pre-KISS output dating back to 1966 — and there are some intriguing curiosities.

“Three of the tracks are Bob Dylan and Gene Simmons-written songs, including the Bob/Gene writing session in which he was kind enough to get into an unmarked van and come up to my house,” Simmons explains. “The Van Halen brothers — after I discovered their band and signed them to my company — were kind enough to play on three tracks. We have a power trio: Eddie and Alex and Gene Simmons. They played on ‘Christine Sixteen,’ the original version. Joe Perry from Aerosmith in 1978 plays on ‘Mongoloid Man.’ Also, it includes all the KISS guys — Ace, Paul and Peter.

“This set includes the very first song that I recorded — one of the songs that I wrote when I was about 14, called ‘My Uncle is A Raft, But He Always Keeps Me Floating.’ Oh yeah, that’s deep, Gene — but melodically, it’s not a bad song.”

Simmons is adamant that he wanted something tactile for this set and, with the exception of the single-song USB, has no intention of releasing it digitally.

“There’s no downloading, no social media — nothing,” he declares. “There’s no ‘cloud’ nonsense — get the f— out of here with that cloud s—. I wanted something real, a lifetime thing, not a ghost or a mirage.”

True to Simmons’ entrepreneurial nature, those who have a little extra cash on hand can enhance their Vault encounter. For $25,000 — and only until November — fans will get the Producer Experience, which will include a Skype call with Simmons and an invitation to the studio, where they can make notes, suggestions and get their name etched on the inside of the safe’s door as executive producers.

And if you happen to have $50,000 lying around, Simmons will deliver the set and spend the day with you and up to 25 friends.

“If you’re nuts and you want Gene Simmons for a day to come to your town — invite 20 to 25 of your friends — do karaoke, pet the dog or, if you have a rock band and you want me to join the band, boom, $50K,” he says.

“Few people are going to do that and that’s cool. But again, it’s about changing the relationship: doing something that’s lifetime stuff, away from retail, which is a failing model, as you know.”

This isn’t the first time Simmons has gotten up close with his fans. In the mid-1990s, KISS staged a day-long convention tour and visited 23 cities, including Toronto. The day, held at the Sheraton Centre, included exhibits and memorabilia, several KISS cover bands and, in the early evening, an acoustic concert and Q&A session with the original quartet.

“It wasn’t personal enough,” Simmons recalls. “You came to the convention and it was like a mini-concert. You were onstage, you answered questions. Yes, we were the first ones to do that and I will take full responsibility for that.

“In those days, it was $100 per ticket but we paid for travel and everything else. But again, fans couldn’t come up and talk, touch or spend individual time, if you see what I mean. You’re still part of 1,000 people. This (The Vault Experience) is to try and change the relationship and get closer to our bosses.

“There’s this thing about celebrity — it’s far away and don’t touch me and don’t take my photo. I’m not that guy,” he adds. “I wanna do something that’s a tug of a heart. That’s why I’m doing it.”

Simmons has an estimated fortune of $300 million, has been “comfortable for decades” and has merchandised everything from urinal cakes with pictures of his face on them to KISS condoms, caskets and customized Axe guitars. But the one-time manager of Liza Minnelli remains busy, with ventures ranging from the Rock & Brews chain of 19 restaurants he shares with KISS co-founder Paul Stanley to books, films and his own line of cola.

Does money remain his main motivation?

“Well, look, (Warren) Buffett gets up every day and goes to work,” he says. “You can’t use the ‘Look Warren, you’ve got enough money, why do you get up every day?’ excuse.”

“What the f— is he supposed to do? Wait to die? Once you reach a billion or whatever that number is, what do you do? Play golf all day? I’d hang myself.

“You can amass large fortunes, and that’s great and chicks are great and fame is great. All of it is great. But unless you’ve got some passion that makes you get up in the morning, you’re just going to lay there and wait to die. So don’t minimize money or fame or sexy stuff.

“But the most important thing is that I can’t wait to get up out of this self-induced coma, sleep — which is a f—ing worthless piece of time. Let me use my brain 24 hours a day. I’d rather a shorter life and be fully awake the whole time than a long life and be comatose for a third of it. Wouldn’t you? So that’s my spiel and I’m sticking to it.”

What does $50,000 buy? The ultimate Gene Simmons fan experience | Toronto Star

30 Years of Farm Aid: Why Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp are still at it

Willie Nelson at Farm Aid 30 ©Ebet Roberts

By Nick Krewen | www.samaritanmag.com

Posted on September 23, 2015

CHICAGO — To say that Farm Aid, the annual music festival fundraiser for family farms and farmers, “celebrated” its 30th anniversary this month at Northerly Island would be a bit of a misnomer.

Certainly, there were some festivities, as an impressive lineup of top musicians including Farm Aid founders Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp, Farm Aid board member Dave Matthews, rock band Imagine Dragons, R&B legend Mavis Staples and singer-songwriter Jack Johnson, provided nearly 12 hours of music, entertaining an estimated 27,000 in attendance at the FirstMerit Bank Pavilion on Sept. 19. But the truth of the matter is that 30 years after Nelson organized the first Farm Aid in Champaign, Illinois — raising more than $48 million towards the cause over the last three decades, excluding the most recent event — the plight of the U.S. farmer remains in crisis.

Neil Young at Farm Aid
©Paul Natkin/Photo Reserve, Inc.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) lists the current number of U.S. farms at 2.2 million; it also admits that less than 1 percent of the country’s 313 million citizens “claim farming as a profession;” that farm production expenses average $109,359 per year per farm and that “fewer than 1 in 4 of the farms in this country produce gross revenues in excess of $50,000.” Foreclosures, deep debt, industrial agriculture muscling in and manipulating prices to the point where non- corporate agriculturalists are lowballed for less-than-market crop prices, and high-level stress that often leads to depression and suicide.

The situation is still dire, warned the non-profit charity’s co-founder Neil Young at the Farm Aid 30 press conference. “The American farm is disappearing. This is a reality,” Young stated. “We keep saying, ‘We’re fighting…we’re fighting,’ but it is disappearing.”

Young says a dearth of younger generation farmers isn’t helping the cause, especially when aging farmers hand over their livelihoods to their kin, only to watch it be sold to corporate interests. “We’ve only got a few young people involved. The farms are going to change hands. We know when the farms change hands; that’s when the corporations come in and grab another slice.”

Still, war wages on, fighting commercial behemoths like agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology giant, and genetic seed modifier Monsanto and Tyson Foods Inc., the world’s leading processors of poultry, pork and beef, two companies whose multi-billion-dollar deep pockets and alleged government collusion have transformed them into formidable foes, said Young, whose latest album The Monsanto Years particularly takes one company to task.

“We’re up against a gigantic force that keeps coming at us from everywhere,” Young stated. “It’s centered in our government, and it’s backed up by multinational corporations who have taken over the farmland of the United States, who produce 90 percent of the corn.”

Young says the latest crisis farmers are facing is “seed control.”

“Seeds are owned by these companies, so farmers can’t trade the seeds,” he explained. “Currently, there’s a bill in the Senate that, if it passes, will make it illegal to trade seeds farther than 3 to 5 miles.

“Because of our government and the money that they’re taking from the multinational corporations, we are being forced to give up the right for our farmers to trade seeds,” he added. “We need seed justice in this land.”

John Mellencamp at Farm Aid
©Paul Natkin/Photo Reserve

This public advocacy is one of the crucial differences Farm Aid has made in the lives of farmers: standing up for the little guy.

“The fact that Farm Aid even exists has given every farmer out there a stand against companies like Monsanto where they didn’t have one before,” country artist Jamey Johnson, who was performing at his eighth Farm Aid Festival, told Samaritanmag in an exclusive interview.

“If you don’t have a voice or a vote, there’s no way you can make anybody change. Farm Aid gives every farmer out there a platform to stand on while they make their case. Farm Aid helps farmers that get pushed out by ever growing corporate business and helps them make a new start on their own, helps them stand up against the Goliath.”

Besides offering hope, Farm Aid also supports farmers through third party administration with programs like The Family Farm Disaster Fund — which helps families survive weather-related disasters by providing emergency funds to buy food and cover living expenses, an emergency hotline and provides legal and financial counseling when foreclosure is threatened — and The Farmer Resource Network, a grid of 700 organizations recommended by Farm Aid that provides “resources, tools and opportunities to help (farmers) thrive.”

Every annual Farm Aid concert funds a year of activity, as artists and crews donate their time and talent, with all proceeds going to the cause save for a small amount of production expenses.

Here’s how it breaks down according to Farm Aid website: 41 percent of proceeds go toward promoting “fair farm policies and grassroots organizing campaigns to develop and bolster family farm-centered agriculture;” 39 percent goes toward “helping farmers thrive; providing farmers with the services and resources they need to access new markets and transition to more sustainable and profitable farming practices;” 14 percent to natural disaster and emergency response and 6 percent towards “growing the Good Food movement,” a crusade that espouses finding and shopping for organic, naturally grown farm food rather than the genetically altered stuff.

Dave Matthews at Farm Aid
©Paul Natkin/Photo Reserve

“When we started Farm Aid, crisis was gripping farm country,” said Willie Nelson, who launched the idea following a remark he heard from Bob Dylan at Live Aid regarding a similar charity for farmers, at the press conference. “Farm Aid called on America to stand up for family farmers. They showed up then and they’re still showing up. All different types of people are coming together for family farmers, and we’re making a difference.”

Farm Aid has also influenced other musicians to lead by example and make a difference.

Jack Johnson, and his wife Kim, for example, have implemented a healthy snack program via their Oahu-based Kõkua Hawai’i Foundation called AINA in 16 local schools, a farm-to-school initiative that promotes childhood health by pushing healthy eating habits, contributes to a healthier local food system by supporting Hawaii’s farming community and their produce, and connects children to the land and water that sustains them.

For this school year, AINA is in 16 schools across the state, where students will experience garden-based learning, compost and nutrition lessons.

“Basically, during the school hours you can come into the classroom with locally grown food,” Johnson explained. “We have parents come down in the morning, they cut it all up, it comes from the farmers, it gets put into the classrooms and kids get to taste it.

Jack Johnson at Farm Aid 2015
©Sabine Carey

“Any kids who don’t want to finish it we get them to put it in a little bin, and we take that off to worm composting. They’re learning about how it goes back into the soil, and what healthy soil is, and we’re happy to be part of it.”

Jack Johnson told Samaritanmag that because his foundation is self-financed, there is a lot more flexibility and direct action in what they’re able to do.

“We’re pretty lucky with our Foundation, it’s all self-funded,” he admitted. “We’ve gotten some grants, but we’ve done music festivals that kind of support it and a lot of the touring I do, I pour money into it from there. So it’s been different than a lot of non-profits that have to rely off the grants, year after year. In that sense, the finances haven’t been a huge challenge but I know it’s been a challenge for other non-profit groups.”

Jamey Johnson at Farm Aid 30, 2015

For the Imagine Dragons, Farm Aid is an inspiration to change their eating habits. Guitarist Wayne Sermon, whose grandfather and father were farmers, said the band is doing its part to promote better eating by setting an example and actively searching out farm-to-table restaurants whenever they’re on tour.

“When I first started this band and we actually got successful, was when I first realized that I can’t eat the way I used to eat,” Sermon told Samaritanmag exclusively. “I have to eat fresh meat and vegetables, making sure knowing where my meat comes from, the non-GMO stuff. It became apparent and actually made a difference in my life. We also definitely encourage people to go out to grocery stores that support local farms as well.”

Even Micah Nelson, son of Willie and brother of Lukas, who fronted his own Insects Vs. Robots and joined Lukas’ Promise of the Real to perform with Neil Young at Farm Aid, said he’s going to Kauai this winter to help his cousin start a food forest. “I’m going to go help him out and learn as much as I can and apply it to my own life, instead of just going out there and preaching about it,” he said.

The fact that a trio of second generation artists, Micah and Lukas Nelson, and Ian Mellencamp, all performed at an event that initially took place either before they were born or just after, suggests that the Farm Aid will take the fight for the farmer well into the future.

* Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.

30 Years of Farm Aid: Why Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp Still at It | Samaritanmag.com – The Anti-Tabloid

Golden Globe or Golden Throat?

Actor Musicians

Nick Krewen

Grammy.com

October 2003

Golden Globe or Golden Throat?

There may be a sizeable increase in the number of actors pursuing their muse as recording artists these days, but trying to earn respect from the masses, the music industry and critics is still an uphill battle.

Some, such as Hilary Duff or Jennifer Lopez, are talented television and movie multi-taskers who seem to have no trouble climbing the Billboard charts and finding millions of fans to buy their albums.

But others, such as the Oscar-winning Russell Crowe and ex-Party Of Five ingenue Jennifer Love Hewitt, are still struggling to find an audience for their music.

While public choices concerning such matters as talent and material may be subject to individual tastes, at least one fledgling actor musician feels there’s a bigger obstacle to overcome.

“People just don’t take actors seriously,” says Crazy/Beautiful star Taryn Manning, who is simultaneously pursuing a career as singer of Dreamworks recording act Boomkat.

“It’s been one of my biggest hurdles. The whole deal is the perception that anybody can act, but not everybody can play instruments or write songs.”

Manning, whose Boomkatalog.One was released to critical acclaim earlier this year, says the notion that acting is an easier profession to conquer doesn’t help.

“If you have a pretty face and a nice body, you have a chance to make it as an actor unfortunately. You really do.”

Academy Award winner Billy Bob Thornton, who recently released his sophomore album The Edge Of The World on the Sanctuary label, also feels actors are at a disadvantage when it comes to establishing their musical legitimacy.

“We’re definitely under a microscope,” says Thornton, revered for his starring roles in such films as Monster’s Ball, The Man Who Wasn’t There and his self-written Sling Blade. “I don’t think you have as fair a shake.”

He says the perceived glamour of Hollywood lifestyle often creates suspicion both within public and music industry circles.

“I think that people think that the only reason actors have the opportunity to record music is because they’re rich guys who can get what they want, or that maybe they have an ‘in’,” Thornton explains. “And maybe that’s true to a degree. But there’s a downside – there are people within the music business who have a prejudice against actors doing it.  They watch you with one eye kind of squinted – ‘Wait a minute, what are you doing in my yard?’”

He also feels that much of the bias is media-driven.

“The media creates it and perpetuates it,” says Thornton, who has toured with Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello. “A critic may be slamming your thing for many reasons. You may have slept with his girlfriend, or whatever he thinks you did. If you get a critic who’s got a bee in his ass about you and they want to talk about you in that way, that’s the only way a guy in Wichita, Kansas hears about that. There are people out there always looking for this angle that’s easy for them, a soundbyte.”

And then there’s the residue from the “Golden Throats syndrome,” the ‘60s and ‘70s era of big-name movie and TV idols that regularly savaged pop classics through ill-advised recordings. Remember Leonard Nimoy’s “I Walk The Line?”

However Rhino Entertainment A&R manager and staff producer Gary Peterson, co-creator of the four-volume Golden Throats series for Rhino Records, says a return to such an ear-cringing movement would be unlikely.

“When an artist from the movies or television or another type of entertainment field wants to do a recording now, there’s a safety net of recording technology at hand to fix up the mistakes because the production values are higher,” says Peterson.

“Of course with these artists now, and the high profiles that they maintain, they’re much more guarded about what comes out.”

“The fact of the matter is that you’ve got to look at people for what they’re doing and not who they are,” says Billy Bob Thornton, who received critical acclaim for his Marty Stuart-produced first album Private Radio.  He says he considers music and acting equal priorities.

“I consider it all the same thing,” he says. “ It’s all about telling stories and moving people in some way or another. But there are different feelings you get from it. What movies do that music doesn’t do for you is put you into a different world for a long time, whereas a song might tell a story and put you in another world, but you’re not able to develop it that far.

“What music does for you is more immediate. You can write a song and go cut it that night. If you’re writing a movie, it’s going to take you awhile, and then you have to go get it financed or set up in a studio.  Then they’ve got to cast it, so it’s a long process.”

Boomkat’s Manning says she shouldn’t be pigeonholed.

“I like to dabble in and hone all my talents, which range from singing, acting, and dancing to making clothes, doing hair and makeup.”

Manning, who has begun working on Boomkat’s second album, says she’ll honor her musical commitment through action.

“You’ll have to start believing in me when I’m five records in, because I never plan to stop making music. People should open their minds and not be so judgmental.”

Postscript:  This was published by Grammy.com in either October or November 2003. The site has since been upgraded and some of the archival files are no longer available.

I also remember Billy Bob Thornton telling me during this interview that he wrote the script for his Academy Award winning Sling Blade while Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention’s Burnt Weeny Sandwich served as the soundtrack.

Customized Instruments

CUSTOM DESIGNED

 Nick Krewen

GRAMMY.COM

January 2005

Wish you could play the electric guitar like Angus Young or pound the drums like Mike Bordin?

While they may not be able to guarantee you a spot in the AC/DC or Ozzy Osbourne camps, major music instrument manufacturers like Gibson and Yamaha are striving to bring you one step closer to realizing your dreams with their exclusive lines of signature, custom-made instruments.

“It is our finest stuff,” proclaims Henry Juszkiewicz, chairman and CEO of the Nashville-based Gibson Guitar Corp., whose product line also includes the familiar Epiphone, Kramer, Baldwin and Slingerland brands of musical instruments.

“Virtually every model that comes out of that business is hand-built because they’re constructed in very tiny quantities. They are the vanguard of our production line.”

And they appeal to the diehard fan, whether you’re an aspiring musician or an avid collector. With the right amount of cash, you can wail along to “You Shook Me All Night Long” on your Gibson Angus Young Signature SG electric guitar ($1900) or use your Yamaha Mike Bordin SD-6455 MB snare drum  ($1079) to ride the rhythm of “Crazy Train.”

According to Joe Testa, artist relations of Yamaha Drums, the sound of a signature instrument is just as important as its appearance.

“When you’re talking about a signature snare drum, it’s supposed to capture the sound of that particular artist,” explains Testa, whose division imprints include customized products by renown drummers Manu Katché, Dave Weckl and Steve Gadd. “If you’re a fan of that artist, one would think that would help sell that drum. That’s the thinking behind it.”

Jimmy Chamberlin, the Smashing Pumpkins alumnus who recently launched a Yamaha signature snare drum of his own – the SD-2455JC ($699) – says reputation carries influence.

“One of my favorite drums to this day is an old Gene Krupa Radio King,” states Chamberlin.

“As soon as you hit it, you know it’s his drum.  That’s what you do as a young drummer — you emulate your heroes. And anytime you can get your hands on some of their gear, it just gets you that much closer to the mark.”

Gibson’s Juszkiewicz estimates that custom and signature lines represent only a tiny fraction of his company’s annual sales of $300 million – “less than 5%” – but the product associations with such icons as Jimmy Page, Paul McCartney, Emmylou Harris and Earl Scruggs offer instant credibility.

“To have an artist like Paul McCartney or Jimmy Page associated with Gibson just reminds people of the quality,” says Juszkiewicz, “We acquire the professionalism and the musicianship of people like Les Paul — who at the age of 90 is still out playing every week — and B.B. King and Joe Pass, guys who are exquisite instrumentalists.

“Equally, the brand stands for excellence, and artists acquire some of that prestige through our relationship.”

But are they paid for that relationship?

“We don’t pay anybody to play Yamaha drums,” admits Joe Testa. “Never have. Once you do that, you dilute the whole meaning of an endorsement. It’s embarrassing to say, ‘We had to pay this guy to play our drums.’ Al Foster and Steve Gadd have been with Yamaha for 30 years because they really believe in the product.”

That’s not to say some financial consideration isn’t a factor. When Paul McCartney agreed to partner with Gibson to issue his Epiphone Signature Texan, the former Beatle only warmed to the idea as a charity fundraiser.

“When we presented it to Paul in the right way, which incorporated benefiting Adopt-A-Minefield, it really made sense to him,” says Pat Foley of Gibson Custom, Art And Historic, who liaised with the living legend on behalf of Epiphone.

“A signature guitar to him is an honor, but it’s not something he needs to add to his legend.”

When Serial No. 001 rolled off the production line 18 months and three prototypes later, Sir Paul auctioned the guitar and raised $50,000 for Adopt-A-Minefield.

An additional consumer incentive is the hands-on involvement of artists throughout the process. Jimmy Page personally selected and tested the first run of 25 Les Paul Honey Burst guitars – but not before spending years helping Gibson perfect the instrument.

“We did a Jimmy Page reissue that had a very unusual electrical set up involving a lot of switching,” Henry Juszkiewicz recalls. “Getting it right took the better part of four years to satisfy him.

“But we’re highly committed to ensuring that the instrument you buy is exactly the instrument the artist is playing. It takes a lot of work to do that.”

Juszkiewicz says a Gibson custom-made signature guitar is also a good value for investor: just recently, Christie’s auctioned a Gibson SG electric played by George Harrison for $567,500.

“On average our Gibson guitars have appreciated 12-17% annually,” says Juszkiewicz.

As far as signature artists are concerned, Jimmy Chamberlin says the advantages of his Yamaha association range from access to a community of musicians to a natural outgrowth of his current career.

“As time goes on and I’m touring less, I’d like to wrap my head around more developmental drums and get more into the Yamaha R&D department,” says Chamberlin, who premieres his signature snare on the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex’s upcoming album Life Begins Again.

“But the snare drum is just the tip of the iceberg. We’ll do more snare drums. Then ideally, I’d like to see a Jimmy Chamberlin kit down the road.”

The Russians have landed!

 

Nick Krewen

GRAMMY.COM

March 2003

Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchiakovsky the news: The Russians have landed!

While recent breakthroughs of controversial Moscow pop duo t.A.T.u. and Grammy nominated country sextet Bering Strait may not be as prevalent as the British invasion that first introduced The Beatles, the message that North America is finally open for business is resonating throughout the former U.S.S.R..

And that gives new hope for Russian artists hoping to tap into a potentially lucrative new market, says Bering Strait’s Ilya Toshinsky.

“Maybe t.A.T.u and Bering Strait will be part of the movement that’s going to change the face of Russian show business,” says Toshinsky, the multi-faceted guitarist and banjo player who grew up with his fellow band members in the scientific community of Obininsk, 60 miles west of Moscow.

“There are a lot of talented artists and writers in Russia who don’t get the chance for exposure. I’d like to help them out eventually. There are a lot of artists there who need to be heard.”

Whether any of those artists — ranging from ‘NSYNC-like popsa hitmakers Na-Na and gender-bending singer Shura to Enrique Iglesias duet partner Alsou and Parliamentarian Josif Kobozo – will be able to navigate the waters of American consumerism is debatable, but the commercial headway made by t.A.T.u. offers plenty of incentive.

Fueled by high-pitched vocals, pounding electric beats and a racy schoolgirl video supporting the classically trained Lena Katina and Julia Volkova’s hit single “All The Things She Said,” t.A.T.u. has taken the world by storm. Its debut album, 200 km/h In The Wrong Lane, is a heartbeat away from gold in the U.S., and has already sold two-and-a-half million copies around the world – including an unprecedented one million in its native Russia.

The brainchild of Ivan Shapovalov, a former child psychiatrist and advertising executive with a gift for exploiting Lolita lesbianism, t.A.T.u. is only the tip of the iceberg in a country whose population numbers 146 million people.

“I think it could be the beginning of a discovery by the West of Russian talent,” admits Interscope’s Martin Kierzenbaum, the A&R executive responsible for tattooing t.A.T.u. to a North American record deal.

“The impressive aspect of t.A.T.u. is that a band is coming out of Russia and traveling across the world is actually appealing to people on a global scale, something that has never, ever happened in rock music.”

Kierzenbaum credits a post-communist era of liberal expression that has allowed the artistic community to “have one foot in the tradition of Russia and the other foot in MTV culture.”

“Julia and Lena are part of the first generation to have grown up after communism, reach out to the West and beckon us to pay attention. They’re able to communicate some of exoticism and the excitement of Russian talent to us in the West because they speak both languages culturally.

“There are a lot of super-talented people in Russia that we may have been closed off to until now.”

Not that there haven’t been previous attempts to crack the West. While such revered composers as Petr Ilich Tchiakovsky, Modest Mussorgsky and Igor Stravinsky had no problems establishing Russian classical music supremacy, pop acts have largely met Iron Curtain resistance from American audiences.  Despite eight albums and three movies, the stylistically outlandish Leningrad Cowboys largely remain cult favorites, while Boris Grebenshikov, the “Russian Bob Dylan” whose album Radio Silence was given a serious push by Sony in the late ‘80s, failed to gain any lasting foothold.

Even Kiev-born supermodel and actress Milla Jovovich has been ineffective in convincing the market to support her music, although her 1994 effort The Divine Comedy received critical acclaim.

 

The only exception has been Ukrainian émigré Dimitry BrillSuper DJ Dimitry – whose tenure in now-defunct New York disco troika Deee-Lite in 1990 landed him a gold Top 10 hit in “Groove Is In The Heart” and a platinum album in World Clique.

Although he applauds the success of artistic comrades t.A.T.u., Ilya Toshinsky says Bering Strait is taking a decidedly more organic approach to global domination.

With “Bearing Straight” receiving a Grammy nomination last month for Best Country Instrumental Performance and the recent release of a new self-titled CD on Universal South, Toshinsky finally feels some vindication for the decision to relocate from Obininsk to Nashville five years ago.

“If we stayed in Russia to play country music — which was considered exotic — we’d be bound to Moscow bars and restaurants for the rest of our lives,” notes Toshinsky, who co-founded Bering Strait as an instrumental bluegrass band in 1988 before going the country route.

Speaking on behalf of singer Natasha Borzilova, keyboardist Lydia Salnikova, steel guitarist Sasha Ostrovsky, drummer Alexander Arzamastsev and bass player Sergei “Spooky” Olkhovsky, Toshinsky admits Bering Strait’s street of dreams was almost the road to ruin.

After signing with Arista Nashville, Bering Strait decided to follow label president Tim DuBois to his next venture after a downsizing prompted the executive’s departure. It took DuBois five years to land at Universal South, and through the transitional phase Bering Strait signed four contracts.

“For awhile, I didn’t believe the record was ever going to come out,” said Toshinsky, who became infatuated with the banjo at the age of 10 after hearing an Earl Scruggs recording of “Cumberland Gap.”

“ Some of our families started losing faith. And now with the Grammy nomination, and a huge push in Russian media, now they can see what it can be. I think they believe again.”

He’s also happy that band members have a chance to earn a living again.

“The worst time for us was a few months before the MCA deal,” Toshinsky explains. “The money was extremely tight, and with the visa situation  we could only work in the music business. We couldn’t work at K-Mart or Burger King and make any extra money. It got really tough. It was discouraging.”

But with recent appearances on the Grand Ole Opry and a favorable slot on 60 Minutes, Toshinsky is much more optimistic.

“We’re still not making too much money because people in Russia think that with the Grammy nomination, we’re now millionaires,” he says. “Hopefully it will lead to wonderful things.”

Even though t.A.T.u. and Bering Strait are exploring new commercial frontiers, not everyone from the homeland is convinced U.S. success is a good thing.

“The Russian music scene is generally horrendous, just second-rate derivative American pop,” says Mark Ames, editor of eXile, a Moscow-based alternative weekly.

“The only lesson learned is that if you use under-aged lesbian sluts to Trojan Horse your shitty pop music, then you might make it in America.”

 

 

Casino Royale

Casino Royale

Nick Krewen

GRAMMY.COM

March 2003

As the concert business continues its uneven ebb and flow, the casino circuit is continuing to establish itself as an increasingly safe anchor for the touring performer.

Not only is the $25.7 billion casino gaming industry on an upswing — with over 430 commercial establishments operating in the U.S. alone — but many locations outside the seasoned hubs of Las Vegas and Atlantic City are now booking high profile acts as an incentive to increase consumer traffic.

And it seems to be working.

“There’s a marked increase on the revenue we make off our gaming floor on the nights we have concerts,” reports Leslie Herslip, Events Manager for the New Town, North Dakota-based 4 Bears Casino And Lodge.

“I don’t have a percentage figure, but it’s substantial.”

Concert headliners have also proven to be a very effective calling card for casinos located in remote, rural areas.

“You’d be amazed at the number of people willing to travel 75 or 100 miles for quality entertainment,” says Herslip, who has filled her venue’s future calendar with country legend George Jones, classic rock icons Grand Funk and veteran Motown favorites The Commodores.

“It’s a great avenue for us to bring in new people who may not come out here to gamble and expose them to the experience.”

4 Bears isn’t alone in its findings. Casinos across North America are bolstering their bottom line by booking renowned singers, groups and comedians. In turn these renowned singers, groups and comedians are discovering a substantial increase in the demand for their services from on-land, riverside and racetrack gaming houses.

“This market has actually grown pretty rapidly in the last few years, largely because of the growing number of Indian-based casinos,” observes Pollstar Magazine Editor-In-Chief Gary Bongiovanni. “We’ve never done an analysis on it, but I know there are more and more places for artists to play than ever in terms of gaming situations.”

The growth has been phenomenal. Considering the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which legalized gaming operations on reservations in a number of states, wasn’t passed until 1988, the movement has catapulted from an upstart $100 million industry to an $8 billion powerhouse in less than two decades.

Now there are 300-plus Native casinos booking a stylistic gazpacho of established acts, from dancehall reggae veteran Eek-A-Mouse and former Partridge Family heartthrob David Cassidy to rock ‘n roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis and electrifying blues combo Little Charlie And The Nightcats.

The venue is satisfied whether an act sells 2000 tickets or 20 tickets.

“We’re not so concerned that we make a profit off the act itself,” says 4 Bears’ Herslip. “We’re more concerned about making a profit off the gaming floor, making good money on the nights we actually have shows.”

An unexpected benefit, however, is casino circuit compensation for other music business downturns.

“Country acts used to rely heavily on the fair circuit, ” notes Al Schiltz, partner in Nashville-based management firm The Consortium and personal manager of country singers Billy Ray Cyrus and Tammy Cochran.

“But with country music sales suffering, we’ve lost about 20% in the number of venues as a hard ticket sales revenue source. Today fairs are bringing in the Christina Aguileras and older acts like the Three Dog Nights or the demolition derbies instead of country stars.”

Schiltz believes that the casino circuit has filled the void with a winning situation for performers regardless of genre.

“It’s exposure to a market the artist may not normally play to,” says Schiltz, “Usually it isn’t a hard ticket date and the casinos pay well, especially since they use free entertainment as an incentive to expose people to the casino.”

And the long-term benefits?

“The hope is that the people who wouldn’t have initially seen the artist are turned on enough to buy an album and buy a hard ticket to go see them in concert the next time they’re in the area,” Schiltz explains. “It helps build a fan base and there’s not a lot of risk involved.”

Then there’s the pampering. Although his band hasn’t had a blockbuster pop hit since 1978’s “Kiss You All Over” — and hasn’t topped the country charts since 1987’s “I Can’t Get Close Enough” — Exile co-founder J.P. Pennington recently sat in an opulent lounge at Rama, Ontario’s Casino Rama with a big smile on his face.

“The staff here are falling over themselves trying to please you,” said Pennington a few hours prior to the first of two Exile performances.

“Believe me, the accommodations for most gigs aren’t this nice. They actually gave me a suite, and I’m so ridiculously low maintenance.”

Pollstar’s Bongiovanni says the casino circuit provides the perfect forum for nostalgic memory lane bands like Exile.

“All of the acts that are out there touring – whether it’s a Paul Revere And The Raiders, acts like that that pretty well have established names, but no contemporary caché or heat about them, those are environments where they can be successful.”

“The casino circuit has opened up additional opportunities for those acts who are still viable to the consumer, still have a fan base that can draw 1000-1500 people to a venue, and may not have a record deal,” adds Al Schiltz. “It will continue to grow.”