the showcase.

Melting Hopefuls had done everything they were supposed to in order to land a good record deal.  They put out some great self-released and micro-indie records, built a great following, played out and marketed themselves relentlessly.  They played the New York/New Jersey area almost too often, but never seemed to have a problem filling a club.  They mailed postcards to their mailing list regularly, plastered handbills all over Hoboken and Manhattan, did radio and fanzine interviews.  Up until that point, I had never encountered a band that worked so hard at being a band; so many other bands felt that being a band began and ended with writing songs and playing shows.  For an indie band, there’s so much more to it, and Melting Hopefuls had all their bases covered.

But still, no deal.

Somewhere around this time, Ray told me that he had changed his approach to shopping his music from sending out pleading letters with demo tapes, to sending out more direct, “Here’s our new music – we’d like to talk to you about putting it out” types of letters.  He had completed a demo tape entitled “Heal Back Harder” that contained most of the music he had given me on the cassette at the release party for Elizabeth, and was sending it out to the labels the band liked the best – labels like Matador, Alias, Merge, and the like.

And yet still, no luck.

It seemed, though, that the band was constantly on the verge of something special.  And we felt that their showcase at the CMJ Music Marathon with Catherine and Big Hat would be a great opportunity to play in front of lots of industry-types.  March Records was beginning to get a real buzz, and their owner was doing a fantastic job of working the buzz so that it continued to build and build. He ran a really cool little label, and he really knew what he was doing.

So when the whole thing fell apart, it was a real source of disappointment.  Crushing, even.

Ray called me to tell me about it.  Melting Hopefuls were supposed to be playing with two other March Records bands: Big Hat, and Catherine.  Big Hat were promoting their new album Selena At My Window.  But it was Catherine that was generating the most buzz; with a new album and close ties with (and a similar sound to) Smashing Pumpkins, Catherine were sure to bring a lot bodies into the club.

The way I recall the story, Big Hat was somehow detained, and could not make the show.  With their friends in Big Hat unable to attend, Catherine was also somehow unable to make the long trip to New York.  This left Melting Hopefuls as the only band affiliated with March that was able to play the show.  While the March owner tried to hold things together, CMJ got pissed and pulled the whole night from him.

Which, of course, left Melting Hopefuls without a showcase at the Music Marathon.

This was really nobody’s fault; it seemed more like a string of legitimate excuses that were all tied together, with the unfortunate outcome of not being able to put together a showcase.  I felt bad for everyone involved, and I was upset because, once again, our bands were shut out.

I had already been disappointed that Melting Hopefuls decided to link up with March for this show in the first place – we were trying to secure a showcase for Footstone, cuppa joe, and Melting Hopefuls, and once Melting Hopefuls agreed to do the show with March, we knew there was no chance we were going to get a showcase of our own.  Now, the band was in a position where they had no show.

At this point, I had gotten to be furious with CMJ.  Here’s a publication that’s supposed to be devoted to new music, and to helping college radio stations expose their listeners to new music.  And yet their reviews, their ads, their charts, and everything else about them was chock full of major label records.  Their regular “Certain Damage” CDs were filled with major label artists (although I had heard that they did offer one slot on each CD to an indie band for free), and they had recently launched a newsstand publication that was a slick, glossy, “commercial alternative” publication.

I felt like CMJ had a resposibility to true independent music, and that they had strayed far from their goal.  An entire industry had popped up around major label alternative departments, as they looked to spoonfeed the next Jane’s Addiction, Nirvana, or Breeders to “Generation X.”  Instead of looking beyond that, CMJ had become just another tool for major labels to use in their quest to get their bands on MTV.

We were a micro-indie that was practically located in CMJ’s backyard, and we couldn’t get our records reviewed in their publication.  In hindsight I could understand why they might not review Elizabeth or the re-release of “Suck My Heart,” but “Allnighter” and busy work were, in my opinion, outstanding records with great songs, and they came and went without so much as a second glance from CMJ.

I decided to call them, and I got the person on the phone who was responsible for coordinating the bookings for the Music Marathon.  I introduced myself, and explained my situation.

“One of my bands, Melting Hopefuls, was supposed to play the March Records showcase.  Now that there is no March Records showcase, my band doesn’t have a place to play.  I was wondering if you might be able to help me out,” I said.

“We have no interest in doing any favors for that label at this point.”

“I’m not asking you to do a favor for them,” I said. “I’m asking you to do a favor for the band.”

“We had them on a showcase,” he said. “It’s not our fault that the bands bailed out.  We filled the night with other bands that are actually willing to show up and play.”

“Look,” I explained.  “Melting Hopefuls didn’t have anything to do with this. They still want to play.”

“Our showcases are all booked,” he said.

I sighed.  “You know,” I said. “My label hasn’t done anything in this debacle.  I took all the steps that you asked me to take in order to be considered for a showcase.  I sent in the application, and I didn’t hear a word from you.  You didn’t even have the courtesy to tell me ‘no.’  And one of my bands managed to latch onto another showcase, and because a band that’s completely unrelated to me can’t make it, you’re going to fuck me.”

“I’m going to fuck you?!” he said, incredulously.  And he was right, but I wasn’t going to let it go.

“Sure.  What else would you call it, if you were me?  I have a brand new record out with this band.  Your magazine has completely ignored it, just like you’ve completely ignored my label.  And because you thought the band was on a bigger label, you were willing to give them a showcase.  And when the bigger label had to break some bad news to you, you yanked my band off the bill.  Just remember that my band is the only one of the three who can still play the show, and my band is the one you’re punishing.”

He was quiet for a minute.

“I can squeeze them onto a bill at Nightingale’s,” he said.

“What about my other two bands?” I asked.

“Can’t help you there.  The night is already booked.  I can squeeze in one more band.”

I thanked him and hung up.  I wasn’t going to push it.

~ by Al on March 6, 2009.

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