News & Editorial Archives, 2018

I Thought Toyotas Were Supposed to Be Reliable!
September 12, 2018

A couple years ago, I bought a Toyota (used, low miles) to use as a band vehicle thinking it wouldn't require as many major repairs as a domestic car. Boy, was I wrong:

   June 2016 - A/C: $685.00
   June 2016 - Wheel bearing: $410.00
   September 2017 - Wheel bearing: $450.00
   November 2017 - Exhaust: $150.00 (Two service centers quoted the exhaust work needed at over $3,000)
   February 2018 - Front struts: $1,470.00
   March 2018 - Exhaust: $100.00
   April 2018 - Ignition coil: $525.00
   July 2018 - Front brakes: $470.00
   August 2018 - Transmission: $3,900


Golden Rule for Booking Oktoberfest Entertainment
August 10, 2018

Every year I write about how venues should book their Oktoberfest entertainment six to twelve months or more in advance. What I haven't written about, however, is how important it is to maintain those bookings. When you book a polka band for your Oktoberfest event, that band is 100% comitted to your event. That means they are turning down all other offers they're receiving for the same date. If you decide to un-hire the band, especially on short notice, you put every member of that band at risk of losing income.

The Saturdays from mid-September through mid-October are the "New Year's Eves" for polka bands. Booking a band for one of these dates is like hiring a band for New Year's Eve. Likewise, cancelling a band on short notice for one of these Saturdays is the equivalent of cancelling a New Year's Eve booking on short notice. It's a major no-no. You just don't do something like that, because the band is not only losing the income from your event, but every event they've turned down while they were committed to yours.

If you need to cancel a booking, INFORM THE BAND RIGHT AWAY so that they have as much time as possible to book another job for that same date.


Universal Music Group Withdraws Ownership Claim to My Song
July 14, 2018

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I was unable to collect RO (rights owner) royalties for one of my songs, because ownership to the song was being claimed by Universal Music Group, Inc. UMG's claim of ownership to my song was reported to me by SoundExchange, a company that collects and distributes royalties to musicians when their songs are played over internet and terrestrial radio. All of my songs are registered with SoundExchange.

Since I wrote and recorded the song claimed by UMG and never sold the rights to anyone, I immediately disputed the claim. SoundExchange attempted to negotiate the dispute, however, UMG did not relent. As a result, all radio royalties earned by the song would be held indefinitely by SoundExchange until the ownership dispute was settled between UMG and me.

I immediately emailed UMG with background information about the song, explained that I never sold the copyright to anyone, and asked them to settle the dispute by rescinding their claim of ownership. I waited several days, but UMG did not respond.

I then wrote a cease and desist letter and mailed it to UMG. Within a half hour of receiving the letter, UMG responded to the dispute by rescinding their claim of ownership to my song.

How UMG came to claim ownership of my song is a mystery to me. My guess is that a radio station somewhere along the way made a clerical error by reporting my song to SoundExchange as cover of another artist's song by the same name which is owned by UMG.

SoundExchange accepted the dispute agreement and everything is now fine.

My View on Awards Considerations for Positively Polka
June 20, 2018

Since distributing my new album to DJs, fellow musicians, and other professionals in the polka music industry last week, I've been overwhelmingly requested to submit my album to various polka organizations for music awards nominations. I am both humbled and flattered by these sentiments, because I hold the opinion of my fellow musicians in high esteem.

My personal feeling, however, is that I create music to bring enjoyment to people – not to garner trophies. The only accolades that mean anything to me are the personal compliments and words of encouragement I receive from those who listen to my albums. Twenty years ago, I would not have hesitated submitting my music for awards consideration, but now that I've grown a little older, trying to win awards is just not my style. A plaque telling me my music is a winner may look good on a résumé, but it's not going to make my music sound any better.

One friend, however, brought up a valid point in favor of submitting Positively Polka for awards: I'm not the only musician on it. I have to admit, I never looked at it from that angle before. I am extremely proud of the talent that Abby, Mollie, and all the other vocalists and musicians contributed to my album, and I would never do anything to prevent them from receiving the recognition they so rightly deserve. So here is my official stance on the subject:

I will not personally submit Positively Polka for any music awards, however, anyone else who appeared on the album has my permission to do so, and I will support their decision 100%.

Do You Copy CDs?
June 4, 2018

I am often asked whether or not there are ways for bands to prevent their CDs from being copied and illegally distributed. Unfortunately, there is no way prevent it. Despite copyright laws and protections, audio CDs can be copied as easily as documents these days. Most of the copying is being done by people who either don't fully understand that what they're doing is illegal, or they do understand it's illegal but they're out of touch with the impact of their actions.

Below is some information regarding the copying of compact discs. Some of it is based on laws, and some of it is based on practical, acceptable scenarios regarding intellectual property rights and accountability.

When you come into possession of a band's CD, whether you purchased it or received it as a gift, what you're actually receiving is a single-user license to enjoy the music on that CD. You can listen to it at home, in your car, on your computer, or on your portable music devices. You can rip the songs from the CD to put on your MP3 player, and you can even keep the CD at home and burn a copy of it for your car or boat.

What you absolutely cannot do, however, is make copies of the music on that CD for anyone other than yourself. You cannot copy the CD for a friend or make digital copies of the music and distribute them in any way. Even though you paid for the compact disc, you do not own the music on it, and therefore have no authority to distribute the music to any other person.

Technically, you're not even allowed to play the CD in the company of other people (I'll bet you didn't know that!) but just like driving a few MPH over the speedlimit is 100% acceptable by real world standards, so is playing your CDs in the company of friends.

If you decide later on that you'd like to sell the compact disc at a rummage sale or on eBay, you must delete all of your copies of the music from that CD from your computers and MP3 players, and you must destroy any CD copies you've made for yourself. When the CD transfers to a new owner, so does the license to enjoy the music on that CD.

When someone makes an unauthorized copy of a recording, it's called pirating. Piracy affects all aspects of the audio and video recording business, but grass-roots bands, such as polka bands, are affected the hardest; their market is typically very small to begin with, which means every CD sale is an important one. When you buy a CD from a polka band, that $15 you spend will help them pay off their enormous recording expenses as they aim to break even.

Recording an album is expensive. Studio time, talent fees, licensing, and manufacturing costs typically add up to several thousand dollars.

If you think making a few copies of a band's CD can't hurt, here's some food for thought. Shortly after I released my Polka Pontoon CD in 2014, practically every musician I ran into had a copy of it, and yet, very few of them were registered sales. Most of those musicians openly admitted they received burned CD copies from other musicians. I estimate that there are literally more illegal copies of that CD in existence than legal copies. There are a handful musicians who purchased legal copies in bulk to give away to their friends and fellow musicians, and if it weren't for their integrity, I would have ended up taking a bath on the project. Nonetheless, the losses to piracy were so damaging that I would never risk making a second volume.

Since the pirating of CDs can't be prevented, my purpose for writing this article is to help deter it. Now that you understand the impact you have when you make an illegal copy of a band's album, I'm hoping that you'll think twice and choose not to do it. The polka bands who are still recording and releasing albums are selling to a market that's much smaller than it was just fifteen years ago. They need every dollar from every sale just to reach their goal of breaking even. Please don't take a single sale away from them. Support your local bands by purchasing only legal copies of their CDs.

A Few Words for Third and Fourth Generation Fans of Polka Music
May 21, 2018

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 4, 2018)

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... 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.

 Copyright 2018, Tom Brusky LLC