Category Archives: arizona

New Miniature Tigers: Swimming Pool Blues

Miniature Tigers

It’s hard to believe, but Miniature Tigers – based in Brooklyn by way of Phoenix – are just a few months away from releasing their fourth full-length album. The band’s come a long way – I mean, those guys played a show I put on nearly six years ago, so it’s been fun to follow their career arc, almost from the beginning.

Further proof of the band’s progression will reveal itself with the release of Cruel Runnings, an album recorded in Jamaica, due out May 27 on YEBO Music.

The first leak, “Swimming Pool Blues,” suggests Miniature Tigers still have a deep well of impeccable pop from which to draw. The way frontman Charlie Brand describes it, the song – aggressively upbeat and charming with its “yeah, yeah, yeahs” in the chorus – sounds like a welcome-back hug to his fellow bandmates and fans after a bit of time off:

“The stillness of home was a stark contrast to the craziness of tours that had left us in debt and doubting everything we had worked so hard for. This set the tone for a confusing summer where I stopped writing and stopped believing in what I was doing. Even though I had found some peace at home, I had built so much of my identity around the band, that adjusting to life outside of it was also proving difficult. I missed the weeks spent crammed together in a van with Rick, Algernon and Brandon.

“After a long summer we went on a tour that changed everything. Meeting so many amazing people every night reminded me how lucky I was to be able to play music and that I would happily live penniless for a lifetime if I could continue doing it. I came home rejuvenated and instantly wrote Swimming Pool Blues.”

Can’t wait to hear more of it. The band is setting off on a tour that starts Feb. 26 and includes a Phoenix homecoming on March 27 at Rhythm Room. Buy tickets here.

Q&A: Jon Rauhouse on playing with Neko Case, growing up in Phoenix’s music scene and the legacy of the pedal-steel guitar

rauhouse
Jon Rauhouse is a master of all things stringed – from the pedal-steel guitar to the banjo to everything in between. Besides being a card-carrying member of Neko Case’s band, Rauhouse has offered his extensive talents to tours/recordings with Calexico, Billy Bob Thornton, Jakob Dylan and so many more.

What’s more, we’re proud to call him an Arizonan – a true native and an influential figure in the local scene.

Jon was kind enough to spend a good chunk of time on the phone with me ahead of Thursday’s Neko Case show in Phoenix – a homecoming for Rauhouse that will include his own opening set.

So how has the tour been?
We’re having a blast. Total great crowds – Chicago was awesome and we got to see a bunch of people we know. And Mavis (Staples) was on and I’d never seen her before and it just blew me away.

How long have you played with Neko?
It’s been 13 years, I think. Well, the first thing I did with her – I think it was ’99 and it came out in 2000, but I’m not good with dates. I met her before that and sat in with her a couple times when I was with the Grievous Angels, and we did that recording of “Favorite” that was on the five-year Bloodshot compilation. I think that came out in 2000, but we recorded it in ’99. And then early in 2000 she asked me to tour with her, and I’ve been touring with her ever since.

That leads into what I was going to ask about how you two met.
We were on the same label and I was touring with Sally Timms – her and Sally were friends and we would hang out. I was playing with Calexico in Austin for a bunch of shows. And I was in a hotel in Austin, and it was crazy, I think that year I sat in and did 14 shows during South by Southwest. Neko was in the hotel room and she’d come by and hang out with me and (wife) Jennifer and she just offered me the gig.

She said, “Would you go out on tour with me?” I said yeah. And she said, “I can only pay you 15 bucks a day.” And I said, “Let’s do it.”

15 bucks a day – you probably had to get a little creative.
Well, it was 10 more bucks than what Grievous was paying me (laughs).

Well, now look at ya.
Exactly. I’m glad I hung in there.

Looking at Neko’s career arc – and I think I saw her the first time years ago at the old Nita’s Hideaway – are you at all surprised by her success?
Not as much because it’s been 14 years. We did years of driving the van ourselves and playing in sports bars to people watching ballgames. A lot of people remember that, but a lot of people don’t because they hear about her and when you get bigger more people hear about you and they weren’t there for that. They can hear me tell this story and all that, but they just can’t picture it. We literally slept in the van. When you tour like that, it’s like, OK, you draw straws to see who guards the gear and sleep in the van.

It’s been gradual, but it’s been really nice for me because it’s just gone slowly upper and upper and better and better.

What’s it like recording and arranging records with her? Is it kind of a democratic process or is she arranging everything and you guys are following her lead?
She writes all the stuff, definitely all the lyrics. The stuff I’ve done with her I’ve gotten credit for was because she just couldn’t figure where to take a section – you know, she knew what she wanted to do vocally but couldn’t figure out what would match underneath it. I would go, “How about this or how about this?” and you find something that works.

But she definitely has an idea of what she wants in her head about how the song is going to go. She’ll hear something in the studio that somebody does and be like, “Oh, we’re using that.” For me, anyway, she never tells me what to play or whatever. I just go in and do my stuff and if she doesn’t like it, she’ll say, “No, that doesn’t fit,” but usually she just sits and if she doesn’t say anything, then it’s all fine.

Plus, I’d rather have direction when I’m doing work on other people’s records because it’s their record and I want ‘em to be happy.

So what about your record? What’s the plan for your next release?
Well, I’m almost done and I’m trying not to jinx it. I’m hoping I can get it out sometime next year – early next year maybe. It’s really close. I gotta get a couple more days in Wavelab.

So the last one (Steel Guitar Heart Attack on Bloodshot Records) came out in ’07 …
Yeeeah, goddamn it (laughs).

You’e obviously an in-demand guy, is it hard for you to concentrate on getting your own stuff out?
It is for two reasons. One is that I’m bound and determined to use really good people, like Kevin O’Donnell on drums and Will (Lovell) on bass and Tommy Connell as the main bunch of people.

But everybody is crazy busy, so like right now I’m trying to maneuver a day because we got two weeks off in between the end of major touring and the beginning of going to Europe for three weeks.

And another thing is the cost. It’s flying Kevin someplace or trying to get somebody and I’m trying to get Robin Vining now to do some piano stuff and now he’s out with Jimmy Eat World. It’s good for everybody that everybody’s working.

And you’re OK being patient with that and waiting it out?
I am, yeah, because I want the guys to play. … I want to use good musicians and guys I love. I like how it’s turning out and the stuff we’re doing. It’s hard for me – there’s so many things I wanna do, like TV themes (“Perry Mason” interpretation) and I’ve written a bunch of my own stuff and I’ve written a bunch of stuff with Rachel Flotard.

But it’s hard. In this day and age it’s hard to put out an 18-song record when you’re only gonna get paid for 11.

Are you less inclined to push yourself to get an album done when that’s the case?
I think so because if I end up spending a ton of money, you never recoup it. I put ‘em out anyway, and I’m gonna just because it’s what I do and it’s the kind of stuff I like and nobody else does it and I just hope somebody else will hear that kind of stuff and choose that path.

Are pedal-steel players considered a rare breed these days?
Yeah, they are. I’ve been talking to a lot of people about that recently, and right now I can think of me, Greg Leisz and Eric Heywood are guys that actually go out and tour and play with people and do other people’s records. There are guys in bands that double up, like I do, too, with Neko.

It’s a complicated, hard thing to play and it takes time to learn it. And I’m not slagging everybody, but the attention span of a lot of people is to not spend that much time with something. So you’ll see a guy that dabbles with it and he’ll play it on a record, but they’re not known as that kind of a guy.

And I go to the steel guitar conventions just to see the old guys, and most of them are gone. I’m usually one of the youngest guys there, which is really frightening – I’m 55.

For the non-guitar players among us, what makes that instrument so unique and so complicated?
Well, with the pedals and the knee levers, you can change the pitch of strings. You can do that while you’re playing it. It gives you more of a vocal sound – like how you can move a voice without it segmenting up. You can find some of that on a guitar, but you can’t do it like you can on a pedal steel.

It always struck me as an emotional instrument. Like you said, you can really pull some things out of it.
Yeah, and that’s the reason I ended up playing it. I was in Phoenix 35 years ago when I got my first one. But I’d been listening to a guy, his name is Mike Hardwick – he lives in Austin and he still plays, he’s awesome – but I was just blown away by what was coming out of that thing. You know, I’d heard it in recordings, but actually then seeing someone do it and how it was going on – that’s what I was going to end up doing.

“I feel an obligation to pass it on and hope somebody picks up on it because the pedal-steel guitar has treated me very well in my life and I hope other people pick it up because it is a dying thing.”

Can you remember practicing and how much you were practicing when you first started?
I was young, so I was 19. And I drank a lot (laughs). I practiced a lot. And the dumb thing I did was practice barefoot. And so when I started bringing it into clubs and playing it out, I had to relearn how to play it with shoes on.

But I’d get up in the morning and start playing it – I’m sure I was driving my neighbors crazy.

So you didn’t start playing it until you were 19?
Yeah, I started playing banjo and steel guitar – I think banjo first and then I got a steel guitar and was playing them at the same time.

That’s interesting that you picked it up – I don’t want to say 19 is old – but at a later age.
It’s older than most people pick up musical instruments. There was a banjo at my house and I ran into a guy who was a killer player. I didn’t play, but my brother bought the banjo and he passed away. So it was just at the house. And I asked this guy if I could get banjo lessons and come to find out he lives like six houses away from me.

That was the banjo and I taught myself how to play steel guitar. There was no real teaching material. I had a guy show me how to tune it. You just had to figure out what people were doing on records. And that was the hard part. Because if you go with famous guys like Ralph Mooney, who did all the early, early Merle Haggard stuff – most of those guys were like mad scientists. Nobody was really making them; they were making them themselves. Bud Isaacs also had a weird pedal setup. There’s still some things I can’t copy because the pedal setup and knee lever setup is different on a lot of different steel guitars.

So I did end up teaching myself. There was nobody to go to.

There were no YouTube instructional videos when you were learning.
Nope. No, there weren’t. There was one book that was good that had the floppy record in it and that had like four songs you could play to and it had the musical tablature and you’d have to figure that out. So I learned those four songs and just had to go from there.

That’s incredible. And it’s great because I guess you learn your own style, right?
Yeah, a lot of people tell me when they hear me play on stuff they know it’s me. And that’s a huge compliment. But I think it’s because I wasn’t around anybody to learn from directly.

You said there’s a pedal-steel convention. Is that a yearly thing?
There’s several around the country. The big one is in St. Louis every year. There’s one in Phoenix in January. It’s awfully awesome. They bring out all these crazy steel players that come in and just rip it up. It’s something to see at least once in your life.

You said you go and there are some guys who just aren’t there anymore. Do you feel some sort of obligation to soak up what the older guys know and can teach you?
Oh, definitely. I wrote an article for Fretboard Journal about Bud Isaacs. He’s the first guy to ever use pedals in motion during a song, in 1953 or 1954. … He’s been doing it for decades and he’s in his mid-80s. He’s awesome and just talking to him … I think that’s the thing that a lot of younger people don’t understand is all the older musicians who have all this knowledge. The older musicians, there was a brotherhood to it. They shared a lot of stuff. I don’t know if that’s going on anymore.

But I do feel an obligation. And I feel an obligation to pass it on and hope somebody picks up on it because the pedal-steel guitar has treated me very well in my life and I hope other people pick it up because it is a dying thing.

Do you see many younger players or people asking you about it?
I get a lot of requests to do stuff that I can’t do; I can’t just teach because I’m always on the fly. … There are younger people, but I think a lot of people are so intimidated by the thing that they are afraid to play it out. …

The hard thing is it’s such a lug. I gotta lug so much crap around. A lot of people just don’t wanna do that. They will for a while, and then they’re like, “This isn’t getting me anywhere, I’m not making any money,” and they don’t do it. To a lot of people’s credit, too, when I was doing it, I could check eight things at the airport and not get charged for it, back in the ’90s. I literally would check an amp in a seat. Now I have to check five things when I travel now and it’s over $400 in overages. You can’t do that if you’re in a band that’s not making money.

What would you do if you were not a musician?
I have no idea, and I didn’t know I was going to do this. I graduated high school in ’76, and in Phoenix at that time there were not very many jobs and not much going on. I almost joined the Army just to get paid. I’m glad I didn’t. I just started playing music. I got real lucky. We just started doing it and people liked it. We did work a lot. Back then you could work more and you’d actually get paid – not a lot, but you would get paid. I swear to God, you get paid less now than you did back then. All the people I love in Phoenix right now that are doing gigs, they’re making less money on those gigs than I made on those gigs back in, you know, 1980.

Tell me about the Phoenix scene. Where were you playing? What was it like then?
Well, back when I was playing the drinking age was 19. … There were all these clubs that had what people now call Americana music. It was bluegrass stuff, country stuff and rock stuff. It was very fun, but you had to play four sets a night and you had to bring your own PA.

You’re an Arizona native, and more impressive is that you’ve stayed here. You’re a guy that could have easily moved to Nashville.
The hard thing about that is if you’re a musician – I’m what you would call a successful musician but I do not make a ton of money. I do fine, but I work a lot. If you go to Austin and you go to Nashville – like I saw Ian McLagan playing happy hour in Austin for, like, beer money. There’s so many people there and so many good people in those places that to get in and to get in that level, somebody has to die. Yeah, you can come and you can be really good, unless you wanna do it for nothing, then you’re screwed.

I stayed in Phoenix, and every time I wanted to leave – and I almost left a couple times – my situation changed and I started playing music because I was here. So I stayed because that’s what I wanted to do. It has worked out for me and actually there is a scene in Phoenix, where you can play and people can get gigs in Phoenix. There’s a lot of towns you can’t. And seven or eight years ago in Phoenix, not so much. Not so much as there is now.

It’s amazing to see the growth of musicians and fans here. Shows are selling out all the time now. Like you said, seven or eight years ago you could be sure to just walk up to a show and get a ticket, no problem.
And you could see somebody really good and there’d be 20 people in there – somebody that just played Los Angeles to 2,000 people. I have no idea what was going on in Phoenix at that time.

It was really weird because I was traveling so much, I would leave and come back and every time I’d come back I’d noticed there’d be like, “Oh, what’s going on down here on Roosevelt?” And then there’d be a couple places to go see somebody and somebody I know would be coming through town and play. It just kind of built from there. And you gotta thank Charlie Levy (of Stateside Presents) on a lot of that.

But there is a scene here now. And there’s even a country scene. That just couldn’t happen. When I was in Grievous Angels, there was just Nita’s Hideaway (in Tempe). That was it. And any other place we’d go play would be closed in a week.

As a guy who has been here and seen it grow, is it gratifying to see?
Yeah, because at one point it was great and then it kinda tailed off. Raising the drinking age to 21 killed everything. Because that’s where bars were making a fortune. Bars didn’t have to do anything. You just throw up a couple of barrels and a board and start selling beer and you’d have students in there like crazy. Then when they figured out, “Oh, wait a minute. That whole group is gone and now we have to do promotion and all this other stuff.” Then it just became a ghost town.

A few bands did come out of that – the Gin Blossoms, the Refreshments and all that kind of stuff – but not very many. Then it slowly built up and got better again.

I guess the key is getting people from other cities to realize that.
Yeah, and it’s one of those things where if you’re on tour and coming up on a weekend, you want to play Los Angeles or you want to play Tucson or you want to play Texas. Phoenix was out. And where would you play? If you were small, you’d play the Mason Jar. … And now Charlie’s put up the Crescent. There are places now more conducive to actually listening to music. And I think that’s why more people stop now because you can play a Thursday night in Phoenix and do Friday in L.A. But before it was like, “Man, Thursday night in Phoenix, there’s gonna be like four people there.”

And there’s a myriad of people coming through – it’s all different styles and kinds. And Cibo has got the carriage house out back and you can go see somebody really awesome in a setting that you’d never get to. It’s awesome that people are doing things. And there’s the Lost Leaf, too.

Speaking of local music, did you have local influences while you were coming up?
There was a band called Yesterday’s Wine that played and they wrote their own music, they were great. They still would be great. I found their CD the other day and put it on – it’s better than half the stuff you hear now. The guy that was playing steel in that was why I went and saw them.

There’s another band, a bluegrass band, called the Normal Brothers that were amazing. Steve Thomas was the banjo player in that band. And the steel guitar player in Yesterday’s Wine was Mike Hardwick, who plays with Jon Dee Graham and he played for years with Jimmie Dale Gilmore and he played with Jerry Jeff Walker when Walker was big. See, that’s the thing: There’s all these working-class musicians and guys who come out of Phoenix and really do stuff and still do stuff, but nobody knows who they are.

As you’re touring now, are you able to step back and really take it all in?
Yeah, you know, we just did Fallon. And then we played this killer show in New York for Pandora, and it was great. It was with a bunch of people who won a contest to get into the show, but it was all Neko fans, so it was like 400 people jammed into this place that just all loved her. It was awesome.

The thing for me is I never take it for granted and I also think it could all go away at any second. … Enjoy it while it’s happening because it can all just stop. Right now, the band’s just burning and everyone’s having fun and everybody’s glad to be here. It’s really, really fun and everyone’s enjoying it and I’m really glad.

Calexico covers Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone”

calexico

Just as my blogging ennui threatened to extend into its third week – my god, have I really not posted since Aug. 27? – it was going to take something pretty special, something different to snap me out of this. Thank you, Calexico.

I’m not sure how a band manages to inject so much earnestness into such ’80s pop cheese, but Calexico has done it here with a cover of Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” as part of the Onion A.V. Club’s excellent Undercover series. A song that possesses such a cartoonish quality has been transformed into something with a touch of sincerity, and the finishing flourish feels inspiring. It would have been too easy for any band to cover this ironically. Calexico is too damn good for that.

Says frontman Joey Burns when asked if he knew “any of the other lyrics” before tackling this cover: “I didn’t know the lyrics, no. But I had fun learning the lyrics and looking at what I could do to shape ‘em. So I just kind of edited out a bunch of lyrics. Then I wound up having fun figuring out a melody I could sing them with. So we kind of went the O Brother, Where Art Thou route.”

Calexico, a band all Arizonans should be proud to call their own, released its new album, Algiers, on Tuesday. The band will be at Crescent Ballroom for a two-night stay Oct. 27-28.

Random: Buggin’ (The Metamorphosis)

megaran_buggin

Leave it to a former teacher to base a song/video on a literary classic. Phoenix rapper Random (aka MegaRan) left the classroom behind to make the full-time jump into music, but he can’t quite seem to shake the teaching, uh, bug.

Of course, this is the man who earlier this year released an album called Language Arts: Volume One, part of a conceptual multimedia project that was funded by a ridiculously successful Kickstarter campaign.

And that’s the album that brought us “Buggin’ (The Metamorphosis),” inspired by the Franz Kafka novella. The new video (directed by Max Isaacson) finds Ran playing the role of Gregor, waking up to find himself transformed into a vermin. High school English class was never this fun.

And while you’re catching up with Language Arts: Volume One, Random went ahead and dropped Volume Two today. A harder-working rapper would be impossible to find. That said, our TeacherRapperHero is returning home from tour and throwing a show on Saturday at Hidden House.

Below is “Super Move,” an iTunes bonus track off LA: Volume Two featuring some of my favorite emcees (Has-Lo, Open Mike Eagle and Zilla Rocca).

New Reubens Accomplice (!): Field Science, plus track listing for the album Sons of Men

Reubens Accomplice

I think I speak for Reubens Accomplice fans everywhere when I say this: Finally.

A new album by the beloved Phoenix band, which would be its first since 2004′s The Bull, the Balloon, and the Family, has become a bit like our very own sasquatch – often discussed but never seen. We’ve been teased, agonizingly so at times. I had my own sighting (false, as it turns out), in 2006, of a possible album that even had a title, Mammal Music. Let me put 2006 in perspective for you: I gleaned this information from the band’s Live Journal, which is just a rung below MySpace in the social media wasteland.

Reubens AccompliceSpeaking of MySpace, that might be where I first saw news, in 2009, that the band had released an EP and was taking pre-orders for the new album, titled Sons of Men. Three years later, there was something to it: Sons of Men actually is the name of the album, and it will be available this August. No, really. A mural was painted in downtown Phoenix to promote the album with the words: “Available August 2012.” I saw it with my own two eyes. That’s about as close to etched in stone as there is. No turning back now, dudes.

But seriously: I tease because I love. Life tends to get in the way of these things. I don’t have the faintest idea of what Chris Corak and Jeff Bufano – the band’s two principal members – had to go through to get to this point. But I hope to find out more in the coming weeks. I can tell you that Grammy-winning producer/engineer/mixer Chris Testa, who has worked with several locals in the past (Jimmy Eat World, Source Victoria, Kinch, Courtney Marie Andrews), is adding this one to his extensive credits.

Corak also kindly (and quickly) responded to an email to give me some other tidbits, including the track listing (below) and that guest musicians on the record include pedal-steel king Jon Rauhouse (a member of Neko Case’s band), Matt Maher and Promise Ring/Maritime singer Davey von Bohlen, who sings the choruses on “I Love You, But I’m Tired.”

What we also know is this: Sons of Men (that’s the cover art above; click to expand) will be available in August, with a show at Crescent Ballroom on Aug. 10 serving as the album release party. (They are playing shows on Aug. 11 and 12 in California with the Promise Ring.) “Field Science” is the leadoff track on the album, and it’s featured here in the time-lapse video that shows the creation of the aforementioned mural.

Getting the feeling this is going to be worth the wait.

Sons of Men track listing:
1. Field Science
2. This Desert
3. I Love You, but I’m Tired
4. I’m Leaving
5. The Losing Curse
6. Sons of Men
7. Memory Works
8. No Motion
9. Women
10. Less Pain Forever

Phoenix’s Knesset cover Bon Iver’s Holocene

knesset_holocene

Let’s be honest: Recording any cover song takes some level of ballsiness. You have to be respectful of the original but confident in your own spin on the song. And tackling a Grammy-nominated song within about a year of its release … well … that’s pretty bold.

But Knesset obviously knew what it was doing. The Phoenix-based band took on “Holocene” by Bon Iver, a track that was up for Record and Song of the Year at the 2012 Grammys. Also, this is a song that white butlers are way into. Be respectful.

Seriously, though, Knesset shows the proper reverence here and infuses an already-great song with the sort of energy guaranteed not to put Blue Ivy Carter to sleep. Stream it below or download it at RCRD LBL.

Mega Ran’s guide on How to Win at Kickstarter

As someone who recently raised a staggering sum of more than $15,000 for his most recent project through Kickstarter, Phoenix rapper Mega Ran is certainly qualified to offer his tips and tricks for success with the crowd-funding site, which has become an increasingly popular way for musicians to raise capital to record.

True to his roots as a former teacher, Mega Ran has written up a lesson plan to educate the masses on How to Win at Kickstarter, and he’s kindly allowed me to share it here to help spread the word. Enjoy and absorb the insight from a musician who seemingly never slows down.

Mega Ran

At 11:24 AM on May 4, 2012, while preparing for a show in Wisconsin, I got a text message.

“WOW!! WAY TO GO!! YOU DID IT!!”

As of Saturday, May 4, I had just finished up my third Kickstarter campaign, and the third time was truly the charm for me, after raising $5,300 out of $2,500 the first time, and then $5,400 out of $2,500 the second time. This time I was asking for $3,000 to create a 3-part album, a comic and video game. I thought it could work out, but never imagined what would happen. So how did it go?

$15,480?

When the smoke cleared, the final total was at a whopping 516% of the desired goal. I beat my last two Kickstarters by an average of $10,000. It’s the third biggest comic book total raised on Kickstarter. I get at least three emails a day asking this question, so I figured I’d help you out by answering it publicly:

How did you raise all that money??

I’m going to tell you something. Although I think I’m a good rapper, OK producer and pretty cool performer, I’m not the best at any of these things. There’s a lot I can do better. Heck, I even hate my voice. But I’ll tell you something else. NO ONE will outwork me, at any level. A year ago this week (May 2012), I stepped away from my teaching job, not knowing if I’d ever have to come back or not. I was determined to make the most of my God-given talents, the biggest of which might be my heart. It was the scariest thing I’d ever done … and I think it was the fear that makes me work harder than ever, because I know that if I don’t hustle, I’ll starve, or have to return to a 9-to-5 job.

If there’s one thing I learned from all my years of teaching, it’s something that my first mentor teacher told me. The best teachers are the best thieves. That didn’t mean to steal pencils and paper from my fellow cohorts, but she meant that in order to stay on top in the classroom, you have to know what works and what doesn’t, and adjust quickly sometimes.

If another teacher does something that works, by all means, use it in your classroom … but do it your way, of course. I’ve watched a lot of teachers in my day, whether in the classroom or on stage, so I definitely picked up plenty of cool ideas to share.

So without further ado, here is Mega Ran’s version of How to Win at Kickstarter.

1. Be Realistic.

Let’s be honest – it doesn’t take $5000 to make an album these days. I have made countless albums for FAR less than that. Anyone asking for that much for a single album is being a little greedy. On the other hand, a Kickstarter project for a high-quality music video for less than that is selling itself (and its backers) short. Be honest and up front with people in the description. Be realistic about promises of delivery dates. Take shipping into account … remember that while it’s tempting to offer them the world for their help, you’ll have to pay for that stuff later.

Being realistic means asking yourself some hard questions.

a) Would I donate to this?: Time to step outside of yourself … is it interesting enough that if you weren’t involved, you would want to be?

b) Is my goal too much? Too little?: ALWAYS consider the fees and the fact that even IF you hit your goal, you don’t get the amount you see on screen.

c) Do I have supporters who would spend money on my vision?

d) The only way to know if people will spend money on you is past success. Musicians: do you travel? Is your music shared socially? Photogs/artists/game developers – what have you done that people know about?

e) Ask yourself, is 30 days going to be enough to get the project funded? It should be. Skip the 60-day option. That brings me to #2…

2. Timing is Everything

As with anything on the Internet, timing is super important. If I hadn’t made a song about Jeremy Lin right after Lin’s second great game and put it online, I would’ve never made an impact. By his fourth good game, there were at least 20 different Lin raps on the Internet. But since I was first, many press outlets, including ESPN, showed love to mine and refused to even acknowledge those.

Think about when your project will start and when it’ll end … is there a big holiday in there? Forget it. Go for the end of tax season if possible, haha.

When do you want to release your project? Consider that it takes two weeks after the campaign ends to receive funding. Give yourself time to fund the project and then to make the project even better.

If you have a friend who’s also an artist doing a Kickstarter at the same time, try to WAIT. Show a little common courtesy … Plus no need to spread your resources thin. You should even use your resources to promote his or her project for some karma points.

3. Seek help…The Right Way!

This past spring on The VS Tour with Willie Evans Jr, RoQy TyRaiD and DJ DN3, we ran into one of my favorite emcees, MURS, in a most unlikely location, Tucson, Ariz. – and at our show. When I asked what he was up to, he handed me a flyer. The flyer was for his Kickstarter campaign. In all the Kickstarter campaigns I had been a part of, we never utilized print media … I don’t know why, just never did. Learned something.

a) Social media promo is best, but also can be the worst – don’t overdo it. One plug a day was my max. Also remember to utilize all social sites – your Facebook friends don’t necessarily use Twitter, or vice versa. Don’t forget about YouTube! Post your Kickstarter video on YouTube as well.

b) NEVER post it on friends’ walls or @ message people direct asking for support. You’ll isolate people you like and eventually turn them against you.

c) Email blasts to your list are golden (if you don’t have a strong list, ABORT MISSION).

d) If you know others who can assist on your project, and are talented, get them involved. More heads working means more people promoting … hopefully.

e) Print flyers and circulate during performances or exposure opportunities (Thanks MURS!): This one helped me big time because I happened to launch the campaign shortly before a big performance and panel at PAX East in Boston. I had 1000 flyers ready to go, and littered the BCEC with them before the weekend was over. HUGE help.

4. Call Up The Homies

I’ll be honest – family and close friends will probably NOT support financially. If you do hit up close friends and fam, just ask them to post/blog it, or like it on Facebook … then be happy if they do put some change down.

Email or CALL people who have supported in the past (no text or Twitter/FB) – but make sure these people like you – or even better, have something to do with your project! See #3.

I hate to use the term “fans,” but if you have people that are very supportive of your art, then they’ll keep supporting if the project is authentic and can benefit them.

My second campaign was one that I somewhat regret – it was to get a ticket to play a show in the UK. I had a blast going, but that was a reward that would not benefit all of my supporters, only the ones there. I should have worked something in that would benefit everyone involved.

Any journalists, semi-famous artists or bloggers that you know should be notified of the campaign immediately … don’t ask them to post it, but if they’re down, they will.

5. Rewards and Research

When I started this campaign, I didn’t think about how far it would go, or how anyone would categorize it. I’d like to consider myself a pretty hard-to-categorize dude, considering that I make two very different styles of Hip-Hop at different times. While creating your campaign on the Kickstarter website, they ask you for your project’s category.

Considering that my “Language Arts” album idea was a music album, a comic book and a video game, I would have to choose one area and stick with it. I went with video games, because that was the aspect that hadn’t been started yet, and that I thought would be the part that would take the most effort to complete. I lucked out, because it turns out that Video Game projects earn the highest dollar amount on average on Kickstarter.

Talk to people who have been successful in each category. Ask them what worked and what didn’t. Look at the top funded projects in your category; today and of all time.

Give great rewards! Personalized stuff works. My best-selling reward in any category in the past two campaigns has been giving the backer a chance to choose the source material or video game we sample, and me writing an original song, about whatever I like, and then mentioning their name in there somewhere.

My friend MC Lars offers the opportunity for him to come to your home to hang out … and he’s a super nice guy, so that’s probably a blast. Offer things that don’t cost much but mean a lot to people. Sign your rhyme book and give it away. It’s no hassle to give someone a Twitter shoutout but it can make someone’s day!

Borrow reward ideas from as many sources as possible (again with the stealing). But you gotta remember to personalize it! People give shoutouts, I go to the next level and do a freestyle rap shoutout.

Research! Be a good student and browse the KS site for cool projects, either like yours or just very interesting. If there are projects like yours that haven’t worked, it might be time to rethink your strategy.

And there you have it. Not gonna promise that this will get you $15,000 or more in a month, but I can say that if you follow these, and have a great strategy, fanbase and campaign, you’ll do great. See you on the interwebs. Peace!

Raheem “Random” Jarbo

Megaran.com

Mouse Powell: Holding Home (video)

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These days, it’s easy to criticize Arizona, but it takes balls to stand up for it.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not gonna sit here and say I’m not embarrassed by the ever-growing list of controversial headlines my home state seems to be making. But when every Tom, Dick and Harry with a Twitter account or website – who have probably never set foot in Arizona – start taking potshots, I start to feel a little defensive.

This is my home, and has been for 25 years. There’s too many people doing amazing work to push Arizona in a new direction – from politics to art to music and everything in between – to let anyone make us feel inferior.

That’s why this new video from local emcee Mouse Powell, for the song “Holding Home,” has struck a chord with me. Arizona needed an anthem for our sweaty summer nights, and this is it. Like the way People Under the Stairs rep L.A. in their own laid-back way, Mouse Powell gives Arizonans something to celebrate.

Anchored to a sample of Simply Red’s “Holding Back the Years,” the song takes the listener on a tour of our Arizona – Four Peaks, Roosevelt, Revolver Records, Blunt Club. (Did we mention the sunshine and pretty girls?) When I’m riding around town this summer with my windows down and A/C blasting (because that’s how we do it), I know what I’ll be listening to. Stand up, Arizona.

New Mega Ran: Up Up Down Down

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Never mind that he’s just a nice, down-to-earth guy. I was reminded once again on Friday night during his performance at the Hidden House what a talent Mega Ran is — and he’s right here under our noses, lest any music fan in Phoenix take it for granted.

One need only to look at the ridiculous success of Mega Ran’s latest Kickstarter campaign to get a grasp of his popularity. For his multimedia Language Arts project — three EPs, a comic book and his own freakin’ video game (how cool is that?) — Mega Ran was aiming for a target total of $3,000. He’s reached $12,000. That includes eight people who have contributed $300 or more and one who has forked over $500 or more.

It’s an incredibly ambitious project — he was also hinting at a possible accompanying soundtrack for the video game — but if anyone can pull it off, Mega Ran is the guy. He describes Language Arts as “a story-driven album loosely based on my own life, showing the many struggles of a teacher who also juggles a music career as well as a personal life, while battling an evil much worse than he could ever imagine.”

While we await the fully formed product(s), our teacher/rapper/hero is celebrating the $12K success with a new track called “Up Up Down Down,” a play on the secret code that anyone who played Contra on Nintendo would know.

The track, which features fellow Phoenix emcee and Writers Guild cohort Pennywise, is available as a free download.

Cursive and Cymbals Eat Guitars cover Gin Blossoms’ “Hey Jealousy”

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It’s hard to believe, but this year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the Gin Blossoms’ hugely successful album New Miserable Experience.

I am and forever will be curious about how time treats this album and its well of pop hits, especially because the band is from my home state. The whole thing gave me pause when my wife and I were in Henderson, Nev., a few months ago and randomly flipped around the local FM stations in the car — and what should pop up on the radio but a Gin Blossoms song. It really offered a bit of perspective and got me thinking about how the Gin Blossoms are viewed outside of my sometimes insular take on the Phoenix/Tempe music scene. How many times a day in countless other cities, big and small, will you hear Gin Blossoms on the radio?

It’s interesting to consider, and this cover of “Hey Jealousy” for the Onion’s A.V. Undercover series by a “one-off supergroup” made up of members of Cursive and Cymbals Eat Guitars sort of speaks to the general sentiment of the Gin Blossoms. As Jason Woodbury pointed out at New Times, you’ve got Cursive frontman Tim Kasher offering the elitist indie vibe: “I love that you guys put these types of songs on this list … I’m the kind of person who pounces on that brand of humor.” Then there’s Cymbals Eat Guitars’ Joseph D’Agostino, who says: “If Teenage Fanclub played it, it would be like ‘Oh, it’s a classic.’”

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure?

Friend of the site Scott Hessel left his gig as drummer for Source Victoria to tour with Gin Blossoms, so I’ll have to check with him to see if the band has any thoughts on this deconstructed cover.


Cursive and Cymbals Eat Guitars cover Gin Blossoms