THERE WASN'T TOO MUCH leather at Saturday's seminar, nor much pink hair. The Metro-Spit complex hold some mean-looking types, but there were also quite a few three-piece suits sprinkled among the 400 or to participants in the Boston Rock Music Seminar. They came to discuss their business, rock, and speak with representatives from independent and major record labels, producers of bands such as November Group and The Cars, disc Jockeys and a hearty helping of press and management people.
The monthly music magazine sponsored this series of panels to promote several aspects of Boston's flourishing rock industry. Useful information was dispersed, and--more important--people met and talked. "Much of the value of an event like this is the immediate contacts you make," Mike Dreese, Boston Rock's publisher stressed. And, of course, there was the rallying of hometown pride.
"You have to play New York because of the labels. Everything's there," said David Surrette, manager of local heroes Boys Life, "but it's much better to be bused here. In Boston there's every level. You can move from Maverick's [Somerville] to the Rat, the Channel and the Paradise Form a hand this month, and next month you'll get a show."
Cindy Bailen, WCOZ D. J. and local artist coordinator, concurred "I'm sad when I hear of Boston bands going to New York to make their fortune." She stressed that while the industry is undeniably bigger in New York, music is a big enough industry here to support many musicians. "With about 1,600 working bands it's hard enough to get heard here. And Boston has a tradition of being a more progressive, open minded town" All cited the thousands of students, a ready made rock audience, as another advantage available for Boston bands.
For blossoming Beantown bands the seminar offered a chance to meet A & R directors from major labels such as Elektra, MCA, and Epic among others. Some bands, like the Naekidz, sat through the eight hour day, others, the Sex Execs for one, sent their managers to push their tapes and privately pressed records. Advice for beginning bands was abundant, but often contradictory. The major record labels emphasized management. Unmanaged bands rarely get a hearing from the big companies, although Steve Leeds of MCA insisted that every tape that comes in gets listened to by somebody. The independent labels, with JEM and Rounder records, warned against jumping into a relationship with a manager before a band knows its needs and style A friend or fellow musician will get lost in the business of bookings and contracts.
Alternative discussion centered on paths toward cultivating an audience. Playing in clubs develops a local following, but a tape at a small, receptive radio station insures wider exposure. A privately pressed record promises more airplay, and perhaps a few sales, but a price of $880 for a low budget single, and $9630 for a no budget 10song album is an expensive proposition. Several major label representatives said the sales of an independent release, or a popular local reputation demonstrated by prestigious bookings or significant radio airplay tend to catch their eyes. Several managers at the conference were trying to load the dice by delivering tapes, or announcements of New York club dates, to the four big-time representatives on the major label panel.
SEVERAL COMPLAINTS the major label panel faced centered on the New York establishment's ready acceptance of English bands to the disadvantage of home-grown talent. "New York clubs almost exclusively book the English bands," complained Surrette, although Boys Life will be playing the Peppermint Lounge and the Ritz soon. Dick Wingate, Epic Records, explained: "English bands generally record their record in England. We have a finished record to listen to. That's different from listening to an American band at 2 o'clock in the morning at CBGB's."
The rise of video, and cable's MTV, spurred some angry words. WBCN's program director, Oedipus, argued that video "defines a song in a visual context," and Wendy Heide, WMBR, added "it creates a passive audience. Viewers don't have to use their imagination," WZBC's program Jim McKay bluntly accused MTV of "playing music over and over--beating it into your brain." Obviously video is not a loved media among the audio jacks.
Talk of video led-into abused aimed at MTV. While Oedipus claims that it has not affected sales in this area, it has affected the requests WBCN gets from its younger audience of a station's program director to choose music and still remain commercially viable. The limited repertoire of MTV will influence what audiences want to hear on FM radio. Long an outpost of innovative rock, WZBC's McKay summarized the D. J. panel's attitude: "I don't think MTV is doing anything for innovative music. It's not taking a lot of chances."
The record labels view video from a different standpoint economics. Video presents a less expensive alternative to touring as a method of promoting a new band. "Spend $20,000 on a video, aired once on MTV, and seven million people will see it. On a tour, that pays for ten gigs, with maybe 100 people at each one" calculates A & M Records' Hernando Cartwright Epic's Wingate added "since a video is far more effective, almost every artist would rather have a video."
Closing a mini-panel on the art and utility of video, video producers, RockAmerica, offered a sampling of their wares. After segments by Red Rocker and Brian Brain they unfortunately aired a piece by the Surf Punks, title "Shark Attack" Boston Rock's Music Seminar issue had reviewed this particular piece and the audience supported their verdict "It looks like it was made by the same people who make porno flicks," the hosting publication read. "And to top it off, the song is awful."
An encouraging note was provided by the diverse make up of the panels. While the major label representatives were all white males, many women and several Blacks figured as producers, D. J's, publicity and managements. When WBOS's new program director, Maxanne Sartori, announced her plan to program more Black music by the end of the summer, the audience cheered. Rock and roll has for so long been a bastion of sexism and racism, its music divided into "white" and "Black" categories, but from the look of this crowd the industry is progressing. The dress code for the day tended toward autre but underneath the mylar and the metal were some sensitive professionals, united by the business of art.