One thing that York definitely has is a great open mic circuit. There are two in particular that we tend to hit up weekly - Tuesday nights at Kerry’s Green, and Thursday nights at Victor’s Italian Restaurant. Joe and Rod from Groove Jones do an amazing job hosting the one in Red Lion (Kerry’s) each week. Mike runs the one at Victor’s in York each week, in addition to being the founder of MyRuralRadio. Both are incredibly cool venues and I’ve never been disappointed in going to any of them as in the past few months. Quick aside - Kerry’s is $5 cover, and you get all the ‘refreshments’ you want - and their bar menu is both inexpensive and tasty. Victors in York has easily the best beer selection I’ve seen for a restaurant of its size - and their food is out of this world.
So we started checking these open mic clubs out as a way to get our fingers on the pulse of what musicians are doing now to find new audiences. What we realized in the process is that there are literally hundreds of musicians in York, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Lebanon… that all drive out to York each week for an opportunity to perform at one of Mike’s or Joe/Rod’s events. And the people who turn up at these events to play are really great to talk to in between sets - they’re definitely there for the camaraderie and the benefits that this kind of community provides.
It’s a really organic, authentic experience - and it’s just as good entertainment as you’d find at any other bar, and better. Since the venues are so intimate, there’s a lot of crowd interaction with the people performing. At one point, an acoustic singer-songwriter asked the crowd for suggestions on how to finish his set. Someone yelled out, “Play a TV Theme Song!” and he laughed and asked, “Which one?” My favorite TV theme song of all time is the Cheers Theme… so I found myself suggesting that one, to scattered claps and agreement from the rest of the crowd. I really didn’t think that this guy would know it off the top of his head, and he was smiling in that way that musicians smile when they’re put on the spot. He laughed and said, “I dunno, I haven’t played that one in a while…” and then opens right into the beginning of the song, but fingerstyle guitar instead of the piano. My jaw was on the floor. He got through the first verse, and before you knew it, I started hearing Joe from the soundboard providing harmonized vocals over his mic… and the sound of the guitar and the harmonies brought back so many fond memories that I found myself singing along at full volume. The crowd was definitely into it - anyone who was of age to remember Cheers was singing along during the chorus, and the whole thing resolved in this wonderful nostalgic applause. It made my month to experience that with those people. It was so… intimately perfect.
That moment that I experienced is really the reason for this post. It’s not like the guy had planned on playing that song, but he was such a solid musician that he kept it in his bag of tricks. He was confident enough to solicit people for requests, and could actually pull it off. The more I go to these open mics, the more I’m confronted with natural talent, ability, and musicianship. I’m just going to post some pictures from my cell phone… shots I snapped over the past few weeks of going on Tuesdays and Thursdays to show my support and interest in this community of like-minded musicians. Maybe I’ll see you there? I’ll be the one nursing a drink, dark-curly hair, clapping the loudest.
Jonnie Chimpo and Chickasaw County are two bands from the Central Pennsylvania Area. Jonnie Chimpo’s live act is what I’d call ‘hybridized cover rock’; while they are a cover band, often they cover popular songs in a rock-feel, which can prove to be an unexpected twist for a bar crowd… it’s gotten them a fair amount of attention in the local scene, which they deserve. I was one of the original members of this band, but ended up dropping out of it for time-related reasons. Also, after I left they started sounding a lot better. Probably nothing to do with my departure I’m sure. Chickasaw County is a relatively local Southern-Rock/Alt.Country act. Bob Pattterson’s the lead singer of Jonnie Chimpo and we reached out to him to see exactly what his band could/would need from this little initiative of ours.
Like most bands, collateral such as photography, and video were high on his list, and I ‘get that’. All the ‘bands’ that I’ve been in since high school used photography and video as the foundation of our marketing endeavors – we used photos for flyers, ads, etc. Good photography is a force multiplier for marketing; a good photo will often compensate for or distract from lackluster design. Bad photography, on the other hand, is difficult to fix, even with stellar design skills. Video’s become more of the same, in that everyone has a camera phone that shoots video, but the standout videos take advantage of YouTube’s hi-def abilities.
Bob decided that an ideal setting for these services to be rendered would be in a live environment – as a performing band, their central product (and profit center, by extension) is that of performing, so having pictures of them doing what they do best would serve the band most and be most compelling to would-be fans or booking agents. Jonnie Chimpo had a show coming up on December 3rd in York, PA. Little venue called Fat Daddy’s on the main drag. I’ve personally performed there a handful of times, and it’s been a staple venue of Bob’s band since it’s nearby. So this would be perfect – a venue that the band is comfortable with, performing to a crowd they’re comfortable with, using a set that they can slay. So far so good.
Photography wasn’t a problem. John, our co-founder is a professional photographer by trade. His wife and he run KMPHOTOGRAPHY in York, PA. I originally met him at Guitar Center when I was working as an Audio-Slave (not the band). I’d whore out gear to him when he was in a band, and then he and his wife shot my wedding. Top shelf stuff. So John offered his photography services, and we all saw that it was good. Next we wanted to try to find them a videographer who was worth their salt. Good video typically isn’t easy to find, but we found them a guy that we knew through various connections. His name’s Brian Shoff – he’s solid, and uses good gear. Knows what the company wants to do and was willing to help the band out. So we shot Bob an e-mail with the pricing for his band, and he agreed and indicated high levels of personal excitement.
But that’s where our little experiment actually begins. You see, anyone can find people take pictures or video for a band – that’s nothing really all that new. There are outlets that help facilitate that. But we asked Bob:
“If we could offer you a discount on each item you’re interested in by getting the other band you’re playing with that night to go in on the transaction with you, would you do it?”
Bob seemed amenable to saving money, so we shot him adjusted pricing from John and Brian that would reflect the ‘group-buy’ scenario – discounted, of course. So Bob reached out to Chickasaw County and got the greenlight from their lead singer, Marshall Kramer. They were equally stoked to be part of the group-buy, especially since they didn’t really exert any effort except whipping out their wallet. It just kinda ‘happened’ for them. Out of respect to the photographer and videographer, I’m not going to disclose the total cost to both bands for these services, but suffice it to say that it was cheaper then attaining the services on their own. For both vendors. For both bands. Four individual things happening. Cheaply, thanks to the group-power that the two bands have. Rejoice!
Fast forward to that night – the founders of The Usic are there – John’s shooting the band, I’m cheering like an idiot for the band that I dropped out of, Brian’s doing his video thing… Amazing things are happening for everyone involved. It’s a cool story on its own, I suppose. To accomplish it required foresight, planning, and communication channels between the artists and the providers of the services that they seek. These ‘artists’ and ‘services’ are bucket terms for countless needs and solutions – this was just a specific example. Our company seeks to be the liaison that connects the wanters with the havers, if you will. It’d be more like this, but happening everywhere, with all sorts of artists, with all sorts of needs, without John taking the pictures, without me cheering in the background for the band in question.
So these were the photos taken of the two bands. I was musing with the other co-founder about the power of photography. It’s amazing what a difference good shots can make – I mentally recall the night being no different than any other night that I personally played at Fat’s… but looking at these pictures, you’d never know it was the same place. I hardly recognized the band members from knowing them in person – it’s a transformative thing.
The members of the band posted the photography to their Facebook walls, set their favorite shots as their Facebook profile images, and tagged the providers of the said services in the photos. So let’s look at Jonnie Chimpo as an example – they have five band members. The Usic is looking forward to observing what happens when the photographer and videographer who took the pictures and video are suddenly connected (by virtue of socially sharing and promoting the collateral) with the 2628 friends or likes that the individuals and the band possess. Will this result in more business for the photographer and videographer? Would they use this system again to get a better bang for their buck? Will the bands look even more awesomer than ever?
Our hypothesis is ‘yes’, but I also thought that I knew how LOST was going to end. So only time will tell.