A couple of weeks ago, I took my 15-year-old son to San Francisco for a few days over his Winter Break. We had a great time, and among other sites, visited the Fillmore where we spent lots of time perusing their walls of vintage concert posters.
As luck would have it, his favorite artist - Ben Kweller - was in town, playing at a small venue called the Great American Music Hall. Thanks to Dave Benson at KFOG, I was able to get a couple of tickets for the show. Once in the GAMH, Mickey bought a T-shirt and came back to tell me that he was eligible to meet Ben after the show. I thought to myself, "Yeah, right," but told him that we'd hang around afterwards.
The concert was great (more on that later), and after it was over, a line formed, perhaps 75 people long, waiting to meet Ben Kweller. I wasn't expecting much.
To my pleasant surprise, he spent several minutes with each fan, signing anything they wanted, taking pictures, hugging them, and just chatting with them about music and whatever they wanted to talk about.
Yes, Kweller is fighting for airplay, and as you'd expect, ought to be cooperative and open with fans. But how often does that really happen in the world of Rock? Even among fledgling artists, most make very little effort to make nice, and thus build their fan base.
Segue over to the Country Radio Seminar that wrapped up earlier this month. Aside from the fact that nearly 3,000 showed up for this annual convention, think about how Country differs from Rock. My friend, Steve Goldstein, spoke at the CRS this year, and walked out of the convention with a new, refreshed feeling about radio. It was reinforced by the openness and friendliness of Country music stars - big and up-and-coming - making every effort to create relationships with radio people and fans alike.
In Country, they get it. They always have. It's like there's a charm school for Country stars where attendance is mandatory. For most Country performers, being fan-friendly is in their DNA. In the meantime, Rock stars have typically been too big to waste time with their audience, and of course, radio professionals - until the credits start rolling on their careers. Yes, I'm more than a little jealous.
This is a pivotal time for Rock Radio. The paradigm of music exposure and introduction is changing. Yet, despite iTunes, satellite radio, MySpace, and word-of-mouth, FM radio still plays an integral role in the hit-making process. But there's clearly a disconnect, and it's hurting both Rock Radio and the music industry.
Most of the radio programmers that we work with would bend over backwards for more face time with Rock performers, whether it's in-studio interviews, live performances, and general access. It would help make new careers and revitalize old ones.
If there are any label folks reading this, we would love to hear from you. And if you agree with these sentiments, and know people in the music community who should see this blog entry, please forward it to them.
In the meantime, Ben Kweller is special - and not just because I saw him live or that he autographed my kid's shirt. In all likelihood, he's an artist that you haven't heard of, but you should. It's interesting that the "Long Tail" phenomenon often works for unknown artists that may not need the support of major labels to expose and sell their music. Kweller may actually be a victim of this effect. He isn't visually dynamic like Matisyahu. And he isn't (yet) a hit machine like Nickelback. He's a 25-year-old guy from Texas who would remind you of Tom Petty, a little Bob Dylan, and other mainstream pop icons. Yes, the type of music that people turn up when they hear it on the radio. He's a great example of new music and fresh Rock that radio continues to miss or overlook. And he knows how to work the room.
More on him in another blog, but for now check out his latest video for "Penny On The Train Track."