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It's Done... Almost!
May 21, 2018

My upcoming CD's final recording session took place yesterday afternoon. The last part to be recorded was the male vocal on the duet with Mollie Busta, and that part was expertly filled by the very talented Betillo Arellano from La Salle, IL. (Thank you for a job well done, Betillo!)

The song he sang is the one that I've arranged for full orchestra — strings, brass, wooodwinds and percussion. Over the next few days I'll be sweetening and embellishing a few spots in the arrangement, and then the album will move into the mixing and mastering phase. Production is still right on schedule, so I am expecting a mid-June release.

Some highlights of the new project:
  • There are 17 tracks total; twelve instrumental and five vocal.
  • Most of the songs are performed in the Cleveland/Slovenian style, including three songs with the button box and two songs in a Yankovic flavor. There's also one Dutchmen-style polka, a Czech-style waltz, an Oberkrainer-style polka, a Polish-Slovenian style polka, a waltz backed with a 40-piece string ensemble, and a fully-orchestrated waltz arranged in a Disney-like fashion.
  • All of the music and words were written by yours truly with the exception of the very last song on the CD. The last song is a bonus track which will be available only to people who purchase the CD or download the full album online.
  • Abby Broeniman and Mollie Busta return as guest vocalists on this CD. The songs they are singing were written and arranged specifically for their voices.
  • If you love virtuoso fill accordion work, then David Austin's performance on this CD is going to leave you speechless. There are some solovox passages in particular where David had free rein to do his thing, and he shredded out some amazing fill accordion runs.
The quality and attention to detail in the production of this CD is right on par with my last couple of CDs, and in some ways, sets the bar even higher. About 325 hours have been invested to date, and there are a few more hours to go yet. When the album comes out, you'll be able to order a compact disc from either Polka Connection or Mollie B. The music will also be available on this website and on all the major MP3 download websites and music subscription services.

On a side note, I'd like to offer a few words of thought for those of us who are third and fourth generation fans of Polka music.

It's generally been accepted that we were all born a few decades too late since we missed the heyday of Polka music.
When we talk about the "Polka greats" we typically name musicians who thrived in the 50's, 60's and 70's. The best musicians of that era became household names because Polka music was so popular at the time. Although the popularity of Polka music is just a fraction of what it once was, there's something that absolutely cannot be overlooked about the time we're living in now:

Being a music producer means I get to work one-on-one in the recording studio with some of the best singers and musicians around. After working once again with Abby Broeniman, Mollie Busta, and David Austin on the production of my latest CD, and being privy to their level of proficiency behind a studio microphone, I am convinced that while the heyday of Polka and it's biggest names have long passed, some of the higest-caliber talent in the history of the genre is living and working in our generation.

We will always remember and cherish the bands and musicians of the past, and we may long for the by-gone days of overcrowded Polka clubs on every street corner, but when we go out to hear some of the bands performing today, such as Barefoot Becky, Gary Bruggen, Klancnik and Friends, and Steve Meisner to name a few, we're not just hearing the best polka music available today; we're hearing polka music as good as it's ever been.

Whenever we wish we could step back into the 1960's to catch Johnny Pecon or Eddie Blazonczyk in concert, let's not take for granted that we need only look to our current generations of musicians and vocalists to find equivalent greatness. Popularity adheres to a time clock. Talent does not.

Booking Agency Blunder
March 25, 2018 (Updated May 4th)

From my experience, just about every bandleader seems to have their own view of talent/booking agencies. In my personal opinion, I think they provide a beneficial service. I've never felt them to be a necessity to me personally, because I book 95% of my band's jobs myself, but I feel the extra 5% is a win-win proposition for everyone — my band gets a few extra gigs that I may not have had otherwise, and the booking agency gets a well deserved commission.

Booking agencies typically have a clause in their contract that states, in one way or another, that if they bring you into a new venue, and that venue decides to hire you at a later date without going through the booking agency, you will continue to owe the agency a commission. Not everyone likes this clause, but it makes sense to me that if a booking agency is responsible for introducing your band to a new venue, it would be unethical for the band to bypass the agency by booking future jobs directly.

There are three booking agencies that I've been doing business with for the past several years, and I haven't run into a single hitch working with any of them... up until now.

When I first started playing at one particular venue several years ago, the venue hired me directly. A year or so later, the venue hired me through a booking agency. I don't know why they did that, because it meant they'd have to pay out 20% more for the same band, but ultimately their reasons were not my concern. This spring, however, the venue decided to go back to hiring me directly.

When the booking agency found out about this, they claimed that I owed them a 20% commission. I explained to the booking agency that I am grateful for the jobs for which they hired me at that venue, but they are not responsible for introducing me to that venue. I had already established a direct business relationship with that venue before the booking agency ever became involved, therefore, no commission was owed.

An employee of the agency made some rather accusatory statements which I did not appreciate. I supplied him with specific dates clearly showing how my business relationship with the venue preceded their intercession, and therefore superseded their claim to a commission. I also said that I was willing to chalk the entire matter up to a misunderstanding and continue working with the agency.

They never replied.

Just last week, my band was hired to return to a festival that we used to play years ago. The above booking agency introduced my band to that festival back in 2005, so I emailed the agency to tell them we were re-hired, and that I would be sending them a 20% commission check. I also said I hoped it would allay their misunderstandings about my character and business practices.

Again, no reply.

Despite the fact they screwed up and are apparently too narcissistic to admit it, they'll still get their commission check from me, because I play by the rules. It's just a shame that a "professional" booking agency would stoop to such childish behavior.

Since this section of my website is a blog and does not provide a means for others to post rebuttals, I don't think it would be ethical of me to publicly state the name of the above booking agency. I can say that it was neither Talent Associates nor ACA Entertainment, both of whom I've been pleased to work with over the years. If you're interested in learning the name of the booking agency that gave me problems, please email me.

My point for writing this article is to remind all of my fellow bandleaders out there to be wary of the contracts you sign. Understanding when you owe a commission is no less important as understanding when you don't.

Phasing Out Compact Discs
March 12, 2018

If you go to my music page, you'll notice that all of my music is offered via download, and my latest album is available on all of the major music subscription services. In 2016, music streaming services finally surpassed CDs to become the most popular way in which people buy music, but CD sales have been declining dramatically since the early 2000's.

The main reason for the decline, as it pertains to polka music sales, is an aging target market. Whereas polka music fans used to buy CDs to listen to at home and while traveling in the car, many of them have now moved into senior residences and no longer travel. They're not going out and following bands like they used to, and therefore no longer buying recorded music.

Cookie-cutter, beer-drinking polka CDs still sell to the general public at Oktoberfests, but the discerning polka music market that once thrived has dwindled to the point where it's no longer economically viable for most local polka bands to manufacture CDs.
Polka music distribution has always lagged behind the rest of the music industry by about fifteen years, so compact discs will reign unchallenged in the polka market for a number of years yet. But the bands that will be making most of the CD sales are the traveling bands who can spread their points of sale out across multiple festivals around the country. Local bands, who once relied on a thriving local fan base, are now facing up to a 75% reduction in compact disc sales compared to just fifteen years ago.

My next recording, which I estimate will be released around the beginning of June, will likely be my last compact disc release. From then on, my music will be released via digital distribution only, which means it will be available through online music streaming services and nowhere else. There's always a possibility of an unknown factor causing enough of a local sales bump to have me rethink my position on manufacturing CDs, but I'm not counting on it. My latest album is being enjoyed by music service subscribers all over the world, and that suits me just fine.

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