- The Radio Hero Mixtape is now on Pandora!
- Solo shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco at the end of
October. Tour down south with The Heard right after!
- "Hollywood Girl" was just chosen as a Finalist in the
American Songwriting Awards! Thanks America!
- New website is up and running. Big thanks to Sara Lim Designs!
- New EP The Radio Hero Mixtape now available online! East
Coast/Midwest tour in the works for the end of summer. Stay
The Chicago Creative Musicians’ Collective
1. As we find ourselves in the dawn of the 21st Century, most of us can recall the beginning of the end to the traditional corporate music industry. Say what you will about Napster stealing money from musicians in the late 90’s, no one can deny its role in striking the first blow at the bloated music industry. No other part of corporate America has seen steady loss in profit like the music industry has, and its demise continues to this day. So because the 4 major record labels (note them: EMI, Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, and Warner Brothers Music Group) began cowardly putting less money into developing artists and more money into over-produced “easy-sell” pop music, we now find ourselves amidst the growing specter of counter-corporate independent music and Indie record labels.
So for many artists, the times we live in are seen with a combination of anxiety, ingenuity, and excitement. The pathway to a successful career as a professional musician has become increasingly less clear and the gap between the independent artist and the celebrity pop star has grown exponentially wider. But at the same time, many see this period with optimism and excitement. As in the wake of any toppled governing body we find ourselves in the process of deciding for ourselves what kind of system would best suit the future of OUR industry. Indeed, this grassroots indie music world has made its presence known: Indie music festivals like Pitchfork and SXSW have grown substantially in the past few years. This year’s Grammys nominated more Indie label artists than ever before. And it seems like every week we find more outlets for the independent musician to expose and distribute his music via the Internet.
But why, then, is so often the artist who is capable of writing, producing, recording, and distributing his own music still only vaguely heard? In this increasingly saturated pool of songsmiths and their songs, what does it really take to be recognized? The truth is, most independent artists have not rid themselves of their 20th Century dreams of riches and fame. Most independent artists secretly, or blatantly, still have hopes of being signed to a major record label and “making it.” Just like in most aspects of our American society, the corporate world and what it has historically promised to offer us, is still engrained in our psyche. And it’s going to take a lot more than file-sharing to get it out.
So what does this mean? It means that the independent musicians who can afford to are spending gobs of money on managers, booking agents, publicists, promo pics, the hippest websites, and the best studios and biggest name producers money can buy. Those who can afford to have replaced the traditional record industry with their own pocketbooks. And much like the rest of the capital-driven American marketplace, personally coming from a place of wealth or finding wealthy sponsorship almost guarantees placing you ahead of your peers in the rat race to fame.
2. So where does that leave the rest of our community? Where does that leave the full-time professional musician who takes whatever gig he can get in order to pay the bills? How does he afford to record his solo project? Where does that leave the singer-songwriter who works all day at Starbucks so she can pay off her student loans, while also booking her band’s first tour? How do they compete with someone who has had it all taken care of for them?
What we have to do is acknowledge, on a rudimentary level, what OUR industry is actually composed of, independent from what we as musicians imagine we’d like it to be. (I’m going to use Chicago as an example because we have to first think on a local level, and that’s the musical community I am currently proud to say I’m a part of.) First, we become inspired by some mystical force to create a musical sound, then actualize that sound into music at home, hire musicians or put a band together to play it, record the music in our basements or if we can afford to, record it in a pro studio, then book shows at local venues to perform/promote it. These venues will then hopefully pay the band if the owner/promoter is feeling generous. (We will hopefully have cds or merchandise to sell at these venues in order to make a couple extra bucks.) Then we will go home and continue to promote ourselves so that the next show will be even better. Maybe along the line we will open for somebody “established” and get some good press, and then with enough buzz we will book a small regional tour for ourselves, but probably end up losing money in the process. We’ll continue to do this until we either “make it,” join another band that’s doing the same thing, or get burned out.
Living and working in a major American city like Chicago, where there are thousands of bands, hundreds of venues, and dozens of genres, we’ve come to accept this as our lifestyle. We’re willing to take inane day jobs, play uninspired jobbing gigs for money, and bow to disrespectfully ungrateful club owners, all for the chance to continue to do what we love and to feed our fervent drive to allow the world to hear it. Nowhere in the industry just described is there a feeling of being protected. We all are aware of musicians’ unions but are also aware that they hold no water in 90% of the venues we perform in, especially in regards to original music.
What I propose is our own musician collective here in Chicago. I acknowledge that there have been, and still are, working musician collectives in the city but I believe they can be more than what they are. I propose a collective of bands, or solo musicians, that not only supports and promotes each other, but can also be used as a form of protection for the artists involved. For all of the diverse talent and creativity this city has to offer we should be promoting fraternity over competition, collaboration over self-glorification. We should be looking past traditional North/South/West boundaries to become one self-sufficient scene. Chicago has the kind of progressive history and diligence to foster these ideas. (Look up anything on the South Side’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, AACM, for proof.)
The collective would work as a single unit to book shows, placing lesser known acts with better known acts but not favoring one over the other. It would be the responsibility of all the members of the collective to help promote the shows, whether or not they are on the bill. The collective would actively search out the venues that are most artist-friendly and shy away from/boycott ones that are known for exploiting musicians. These are very basic artist demands:
•Venues should provide a guaranteed pay for the show, in correspondence with the amount of time and the number of performers involved.
•Venue owners and promoters should be held accountable for PROMOTING the shows that they book, whether via Internet, traditional media sources, or street promotion.
•Artists should expect to be treated with dignity and respect by all members of the establishment, as well as other members of the collective.
•In return the collective would uphold a level of respect and professionalism in regard to the venue in which they are performing. A venue should never get anything less than what they pay for. Performers involved should always be expected to perform to their best ability. There will be a reputation to uphold.
If the collective cannot find venues that will uphold to these standards, it will create its own alternative ones: loft spaces, community centers, public parks, schools. Wherever there is a space to put on a great show and allow people to have a good time, the people will come. (a la Kool Herc and the origins of hip hop in the streets of the Bronx; a la the origins of dancehall culture in the countryside of Jamaica). We should never separate ourselves from the community we are a part of. Bars and clubs will sell their beer no matter if we are there to play or not. Our public is not coming to shows to buy liquor. They are coming to be uplifted. WE ARE DOING CLUBS A FAVOR buy playing for free, not the other way around. For an entire band of 5 trained musicians to be paid less than what 1 bartender makes in tips is shameful. For a large-scale downtown venue (not to be named) to pay the opening local band $200 while the headliner makes $30,000 is theft (this is a true story).
Ideally, these venues will become a part of the collective themselves. As with its public, the relationship with performance venues should be symbiotic, never exploitive. This will be difficult at first. Certain bridges will have to be burned. Artists will have to be willing to say no to gigs. But at the same time, the collective would not be in a position to promote any negativity toward any venue, band, or individual. Its goal will be to promote its members and the Chicago independent music scene in general. Venues which support artists will be praised and promoted along with the collective’s own doings. Venues that do not would simply not be mentioned.
The collective will require patience and diligence from its members. It will require dedication to the cause and to the belief that what the collective is doing is for the betterment of its members and for the betterment of its community and society as a whole. And in maybe the hardest task, the collective will indirectly require each member to sacrifice a part of his/her predetermined ambition towards material success. Leave the celebrity to New York and LA. This is Chicago.
Bottom line, we owe this to ourselves. This life that we’ve chosen, or this life that has chosen us, does not have to be as arduous or as lonely as we’ve been brought up to believe. We are not disposable commodities. We musicians, along with all other fine and performing artists, are the architects and ambassadors of our American culture. The US government may not acknowledge this yet (YET), but the city of Chicago sure can. With the support of each other, and of the community itself, we will demonstrate to the world what strength can be mustered by a collection of creative minds.
Somewhere between a soul pop concert, South Side jazz club, slam poetry reading, and punk rock dive bar, lives the music of Cole DeGenova...As pianist, vocalist, and songwriter Cole DeGenova has spent most of his life crafting his eclectic artistic voice. Born in Chicago and growing up in a family of musicians and artists, DeGenova began playing piano at age four and spent his childhood studying classical piano, the jazz and blues of his hometown, and the pop music of The Beatles and Stevie Wonder. By age 15 he was playing professionally in jazz and blues clubs on Chicago’s South Side. His prodigious talents led him to study at Berklee College of Music in 2005 where he trained further with jazz piano great Danilo Perez.
After forming his funky alternative soul group Cole DeGenova & The Peoples Republic with fellow Berklee students, they released their first album JUST PEOPLE AGAIN in 2009. Three years later, and after thousands of miles of road covered, he released his second album, ANOTHER COUNTRY, summer of 2012; an inspired culmination of lessons learned on the road, soulful melodies, and the infectious grooves of his band.
A troubadour in the truest sense, Cole has performed across the US, Europe, and South America. He has worked with the likes of Lupe Fiasco, Gallant, Brett Dennen, Chance the Rapper, Latin Grammy winner Lucky Diaz, James Carter, Meshell N'Degeocello, Paula Cole, producer Eddie Kramer, Hey Champ, Matthew Santos, The Revivalists, as well as Chicago funk group The Heard and experimental jazz trio Hanging Hearts. Now based in Chicago and Los Angeles, he is also an in-demand studio keyboard player. His new collection of music THE RADIO HERO MIXTAPE was released spring 2015.
Along with performing, Cole is also a co-founder and
organizer for the Chicago based artist collective The Gala.
His song "Hollywood Girl" was also chosen as a Finalist in
the 2015 American Songwriting Awards.