TOM BRUSKY

News & Editorial Archives, 2021


 
Gigs are Coming Back
July 11, 2021
 



Although my online schedule looks ominous by the way it says, "We have no public dates for the month of July," gigs have returned for many area bands, and many will be returning for mine. Just by the luck of the draw, almost all of the public dances and festivals my band would have played this summer happened to be the ones that decided earlier in the year to cancel or postpone. So, while many bands' schedules have been mostly or completely restored, my band's schedule is unfortunately looking like it will remain sparse for most of the remaining summer.

When the Oktoberfest season kicks into full swing around mid September, we'll be busy – perhaps not quite as busy as 2019, but we'll be grateful for the volume of work nonetheless. Most of the Oktoberfest events that annually hire my band will be taking place, plus we'll have some new venues to let you know about. I wouldn't rule out the possibility that this Oktoberfest season could turn out to be our busiest on record as post-COVID attendances at dances have been excellent. Anything could happen.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will continue helping me out through July and August, until it is discontinued on September 6th. Fortunately, the timing is perfect, because September 6 is around the time Oktoberfest kicks in. I'll once again be able to rely entirely on my self-employment income as a musician, and believe me, I'm looking forward to that!

My main concern, however, is what will happen after Oktoberfest. The Oktoberfest season ends around mid-October, and that's when things really slow down. Before COVID, public dances, performances at retirement communities, and a holiday party or two paid the bills during the off-season, but there's no way of knowing how or if those venues will rebound from the COVID shut-downs and current labor deficit. Come November, will those jobs even be there?

Let's all hope for a safe and speedy return to normalcy.





Major Surgery for Snickers?
July 9, 2021
 



Tonight, Snickers is in the hospital. Trips to the ER have unfortunately become a regular stint for him. He was diagnosed last year with a digestive disease, and every few weeks he gets blocked up and is unable to pass digested food. He becomes sick and has to be taken to the ER for treatment. These treatments can be expensive. His vet bill on Monday was $265. His vet bill tomorrow will be $965. To date, his lifetime healthcare bills total over $18,500.

I am planning to take him to a specialty clinic to see if surgery would be an option for him. If he is a good candidate for surgery, then I'm probably looking at a bill upwards of $6,000.

To many people, especially those who are not that close to animals, the obvious option would be euthanasia. After all, what cat – especially one that's 12 years old – is worth $25,000?

Snickers is not just any cat to me. When he first started encountering health problems a few years ago, that's when we started to bond, and to my surprise, he eventually became as close to me as my dear Kittling was many years ago. The photo above captures his adoration for his papa. That's how he looks at me when he's on my lap or in my arms. I can feel the depth of his dependence on me to take care of him. And I believe his guardian angel, Kittling, led him to me because she knew from experience that I was the one person who would make sure he got the care he deserved.

If Snickers is approved for surgery, I will most definitely hold a fundraiser dance. I did this once before to benefit a couple of local cat shelters. People will be able to freely attend the dance and donate whatever amount they'd want.

Snickers surgical consultation is set for October 19.





If You're Booking an Oktoberfest...
June 25, 2021
 

I apologize for sounding like a broken record, but this bears repeating every year.

If you are a private party or public venue looking to hire a polka band on a Saturday from mid-September to early October, your odds of finding an available band, especially a good band, are slim. Experienced venues have learned to hold onto the same band every year for their Oktoberfest, but other venues often run out of luck as there are literally not enough polka musicians in the circuit to meet the demand.

I created this chart to show how the demand for polka bands exceeds the supply on three Saturdays every year. This chart is based on my 25 years experience as a bandleader. The green area represents the total number of polka bands available. The purple bars represent the number of venues seeking live polka music. Every weekend of the Oktoberfest season is shown.

Please consider booking your Oktoberfest event on any other day but those peak Saturdays. If you book your event on a peak Saturday and happen to find a band that's available, hang onto them for next year.














 


New Polka Album in the Works
June 18, 2021
 

I'm well into the production of a new Cleveland-style polka-variety album. To date, I have over a dozen new songs written and will be writing a few more yet. For this album, I'm doing something I've never done before — I am teaming up with another musician and splitting the billing with her. She will be taking center stage on the album cover. She's a vocalist who hails from the pop/rock side of the music business. This will be her first polka venture.

So why am I bringing a new vocalist into the fold? There are a couple of reasons:

I've worked with this singer before, so I am familiar with the breadth of her talent and impressive work ethic. Singing polka music professionally is not as easy as one might think. You can't take just any pop, rock, or country vocalist and expect them to deliver a polka, but she is unique. She has the chops. And I wouldn't disregard the notion that her ability to cross over to polka may be inconspicuously rooted somewhere in her Slovenian ancestry.

The other reason I'm bringing her in for this album is that new, young artists are always welcome in polka music. Polka people are notably kindhearted and welcoming toward new musicians. We love our current stars, but there's always room in the polka industry for fresh talent.

Speaking of current stars, this album will feature several A-list guest vocalists, including Mollie B and Steve Meisner. The instrumentation will feature some of the industry's top musicians as well.

Polka fans are going to be given a unique opportunity to contribute to the production of this album. I'll be posting more information about that later in the year.

My goal is to have the album finished by the end of the year and distributed in time for the Illinois Polka Fest in February, as that would be the perfect opportunity for everyone to come out and meet the new singer. I don't foresee anything delaying the project, but just to be safe, I'm not making any promises, either!

The album will be released on compact disc. Now I know what you're thinking... "Tom, you vowed that you were done with CDs and would only release music digitally from here on out!" Yes, I did say that, and if this were going to be a typical polka album created mainly to sell at gigs, that would most definitely be the case as CDs just don't sell locally like they used to. But this particular album with the new vocalist is going to be exceptionally marketable, and I'll be doing more advertising and distribution, taking the album well outside my local area and reaching as many people as possible through multiple retailers.






Recreating Vintage Music
June 2, 2021
 

Since the release of my Country Christmas Collection EP, I've frequently been asked how I go about recording vintage-sounding music. I've just released a new 1950s rock and roll single, so I thought this would be the perfect time to write and post an article explaining my process.
 
To replicate the sound of a particular era, you have to educate yourself on the instruments and gear that were available at the time as well as the instrumental/vocal stylings and recording techniques that were popular. Let's use "Cruisin' in My Crown Vic" as an example, because I created it to sound like it came from the 1950s. What instruments, amplifiers, and recording techniques were rock & roll musicians using back then? I listened to a lot of recorded music and followed up with some research about music, bands, and the recording industry in the 1950s.

For the instrumentation on my song, I chose to go with guitar, bass, piano, drums, sax, and vocals. Not just any instruments, however, would work, because musicians in the 1950s were not playing acrylic drum kits, digital pianos, Schecter guitars, or using solid state amplification. Those tools were either not yet invented or not yet popular.

I had to make sure the instruments and gear I used existed more than 60 years ago, so the guitar on "Cruisin in My Crown Vic" is a Les Paul with dual humbucker pickups run through a vintage tube amp. The drums are an early 1950's Gretsch Cadillac drum kit. The bass and piano are acoustic.

I also had to take into account the recording techniques and gear of the 1950s. Recording studios back then didn't have digital technology, so I had to restrict my choices of gear to what they had available at the time. My track only uses effects like plate and spring reverbs, tape echo, tube compression, and tape saturation.

Stereophonic sound did not become popular until the late 1950s. I chose to mix the song in mono to give it an earlier '50s sound.
 
So where on earth did I acquire these old instruments, amplifiers, and vintage recording gear? I didn't borrow or rent any of the gear I mentioned above, but I do own software-based versions of them. Over the years, I've invested thousands of dollars in virtual instrument libraries and plugins. I have such an extensive collection that I can create pretty much any style of music, from Renaissance music of the 1500s to contemporary pop music.

When creating a song to sound like it's coming from a past era, hiring the right musicians and vocalists can't be overlooked. An authentic-sounding song from the 1950s can't have a guitarist fingertapping like Eddie Van Halen or an Indie-girl vocalist butchering the pronunciation of words like Jessie Reyez.

Some of the software-based instruments and gear I used are shown below:












My "Country Christmas Collection" EP was especially fun to produce because after studying several eras of country music, I ended up using every kind of software-based tool I own — acoustic and electric guitars, vintage and modern amps, tape echos and digital delays, plate and digital algorithmic reverbs, electric pianos and modern synths, tube clipping and side-chain compression, and the list goes on.

One of the difficult aspects of recreating vintage music is that you have to train your mind to willingly wreck the audio. Unlike normal recording where you aim to get a pristine, full-bodied sound, you have to use techniques and tools to intentionally thin out, squash, and distort the sound. It's not very intuitive to, for example, roll bass frequencies off a bass instrument, make an acoustic guitar sound like it's playing over a phone, or add noise over the top of a mix, but in the quest for vintage sound, all of these ideas must be explored.

I enjoy recreating the sounds of bygone eras, because every song presents an opportunity to learn about the past and meet new sonic challenges.







Union Discovers Mysterious Discrepancy Between Inflation and Musician Pay
April 1, 2021
 

The Milwaukee chapter of the American Polka Music Federation released a statement on Tuesday saying they've discovered an alarming discrepancy between what some musicians are currently being paid and the national rate of inflation.

"I am horrified beyond belief," said APMF President Stan Greschman, "but our research has conclusively determined that some polka musicians in the Milwaukee area have been playing for the same rate for the past thirty years! How did this come to happen? And how long has this been going on?"

"Oh, duh..." he quietly added. "Can you edit that last part out?"

The APMF shared the following data on their website:

 
 
Year
$100 Private Job
Adjusted for Inflation
Actual Musician Pay
for Private Jobs
$60 Public Job
Adjusted for Inflation
Actual Musician Pay
for Public Jobs
1990
1995
2000
2005
2010
2015
2020
$100
$125
$135
$150
$170
$185
$205
$100
$100
$100
$100
$100
$100
$100
$60
$70
$85
$100
$105
$110
$125
$60
$60
$60
$60
$60
$60
$60

Hank Heinzinger, longtime polka bandleader from Milwaukee, seemed shocked to discover what the APMF research revealed. "I've been playing music all over town since the 1970s. I guess I just lost track of time. Heck, before you know it, the new millennium will be here!"

We attempted to inform Heinzinger that the new millennium had arrived more than two decades ago, but he was too preoccupied with trying to wrestle a dime back from a parking meter.





Polka Organization Members "Take It Outside"

April 1, 2021
 


A police vehicle dash camera recorded these images of the scuffle in progress.

 
Police were called to the Zwarzyńska Recreation Hall in South Milwaukee on Monday after receiving a report of a fight in progress. An officer arrived to find Gary Loughmiller (83), Fred Palowski (74), and Donald Weiss (79) involved in a physical altercation outside the main entrance.

According to police records, the men were attending a meeting hosted by a local polka music organization when a disagreement erupted over whether or not to postpone a spring dance over health and safety concerns. Witnesses say as the argument heated up, Palowski grabbed a microphone from Weiss and threatened to strike Weiss in the face with it. That's when Loughmiller suggested they "take it outside."

Although none of the thrown punches hit its mark, all three men were helped off the ground by first responders and transported by ambulance to area hospitals for treatment of broken bones, pelvic fractures, displaced joints, contusions, abrasions, hypertension, and arthritis. The cause of their injuries was officially listed as COVID-19.

One witness, Corrine Richter, stated that Palowski has a history of threatening violence. "He's been kicked out of dances before. I think he's a few lights short of a Christmas tree. He walks around at festivals wearing a Milwaukee Fire Department shirt and cap. I don't get it. The guy works at a hardware store."

The police officer dispatched to the call, Martin LaVigne, said he was perplexed by what he saw when he arrived. "I pulled up to the entrance and at first I couldn't tell what was happening. I wasn't sure if they were fighting or performing Tai Chi," LaVigne explained. "They had fire in their eyes and they were yelling, but it was like their shirts had been starched with molasses. I just sat there for a minute and watched it all unfold in slow motion."

Ed Bowen, the polka organization's president who was not present at the meeting, commented via Twitter:
 


 
Violence is NOT how we solve problems. We've always done things a certain way, and when someone proposes changes, we don't get physical. We just ask them to leave. #wistatedance #getvaccinated
 
— Ed Bowen (@embowen53) March 28, 2021
 

 

Before being released from the hospital, Palowski was charged with three counts of battery to a health care worker, criminal damage to a vending machine, impersonation of a medical professional, obstruction, disorderly conduct, littering, lewd and lascivious behavior, trespassing, and public urination.

No charges were filed against Loughmiller or Weiss.

After viewing police dash cam footage of the melee, we visited the residences of all three men to ask why none was wearing a protective face mask. Weiss was not at home and could not be reached for comment. Palowski threatened to call the police if we didn't get off his lawn. Loughmiller responded by saying they would have been wearing masks, but Tom Brusky didn't have enough time to Photoshop them in.



 
 
Polka Band Finally Earns One Dollar from Digital Streaming

April 1, 2021
 


Mike Trepcza of the Delaware Dynaphonics
 

"It feels like a weight's been lifted off my shoulders," exclaimed an elated Mike Trepcza as he hoisted a celebratory beer.

Trepcza, 38, is a trumpet and concertina player from Delaware who leads his own polka band, Mike Trepcza and the Delaware Dynaphonics. Two years ago, he uploaded his band's five albums to all the major music streaming services, such as iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

"Every month I would check the stats to see how our albums were doing. Most months we'd make a few cents, but there were some months we'd only make a half of a cent. Those were the lean months," said Trepcza.

In their first year of streaming, Trepcza says his band's albums earned 43 cents, but their second year ended with a boost in South American streams that pushed their total two-year earnings to $1.02.

When asked what he was going to do with his very first dollar earned from streaming services, Trepcza said, "The responsible thing — I'm going to put it toward the $395.00 I paid to get my band's albums on those services."

Streaming payouts by most services can be as low as one tenth of a cent per stream. Such small payouts have brought the music streaming model under scrutiny by musicians and music organizations around the world who are pushing for a fairer royalty system.

One such service under scrutiny is Spotify, so we reached out by phone to Spotify CEO Daniel Ek for his explanation of why it took two years for the Delaware Dynaphonics to crack the one dollar mark.

"We looked into Mr. Trepcza's account. We didn't find anything unusual," Ek said. "He, I mean his band, I'm afraid they, uh, well, they just don't have any fans. I'm sorry, I don't know what else to say."

Trepcza admitted that his band never developed an online following. "But that's slowly changing," he said. "In fact, just yesterday we gained a new listener who never would have found us if it weren't for Spotify. His name is Arturo Gregores. He's a chicken farmer from Villa Puertas, Argentina."

"Thank you, Arturo," added a smiling Trepcza, "For your one third of a cent."

  


DJ Goes Two Consecutive Weeks Without Airing His Own Band's Music
April 1, 2021
 


Bandleader and radio host Skip Olson, courtesy of WCTO

 
Skip Olson, leader of the Skip Olson Orchestra and host of the Sunday Polka Party on WCTO in Oconto Falls, has not played his own band's music on his radio show for two consecutive weeks.

This achievement broke the record previously held by Stan Gorecki, leader of the Stan Gorecki Band, who hosted a polka show on WRHF in Akron, Ohio. On January 26, 2004, Gorecki broadcast an entire one-hour show without playing a single cut from any one of his band's albums.

According to syndicated polka radio host Anderson Kevins, most bandleaders who have their own polka show will promote their own band within the first fifteen minutes of the show. "To go even thirty minutes without self promotion is almost unheard of," Kevins added. "What Olson accomplished is unprecedented. I doubt I'll see that happen again in my lifetime."

When asked to comment on his legendary achievement, Olson, 81, humbly replied, "I guess it really hadn't occurred to me. Honestly, I don't know what all the fuss is about."

[Note from the Editor: As this article was going to press, it was announced that Olson's accomplishment earned him a nomination for the American Polka Association's Lifetime Achievement award. If Olson wins, it will be his third Lifetime Achievement award from the APA.]





Polka Organization Seeks Sideman Nominations
April 1, 2021
 

The Midwest Polka Booster Club just released the nomination form for their 2020 Sideman of the Year award. Bandleaders interested in nominating a sideman from their band are encouraged to visit the MPBC website and fill out the nomination form. For convenience, I have published a copy of the form below:

 

MIDWEST POLKA BOOSTER CLUB
2020 Nomination Form

 
—  SIDEMAN OF THE YEAR   —



Name of Your Band: ___________________________________________

 
Name of Sideman: ____________________________________________
 

1. How many of your band's jobs does this sideman play?
_____ All of them
_____ More than half
_____ Less than half
_____ He only takes the local gigs; he's driving on a suspended license


2. Does this sideman show up for gigs on time?
_____ Always
_____ Most of the time
_____ Not usually
_____ He always shows up 20 minutes before the gig. Unfortunately it takes him 30 to set up


3. Is this sideman willing to learn and practice new material?
_____ Yes, he's always eager to learn new songs
_____ Yes, but only if it's for an important occasion
_____ He doesn't have time to practice, but he's a quick learner
_____ Are you kidding? He hasn't bothered to learn anything new since 1981


4. How well does this sideman maintain his gear?
_____ He regularly buys the latest, newest gear.
_____ He takes good care of his vintage equipment.
_____ He only changes his guitar strings when they break
_____ Have you seen his drum heads? They're 50% duct tape


5. Is this sideman friendly with the crowd?
_____ Yes, he goes from table to table to chat with everyone
_____ He's quite sociable and everyone likes his sense of humor
_____ He is a nice guy, but mostly he keeps to himself
_____ When he makes his beeline for the bar, he knocks dancers over like bowling pins


6. Does this sideman smile on stage?
_____ Yes, everyone loves his infectious smile
_____ Most of the time, especially if he's in a good mood
_____ Not too often, because he's usually concentrating on the music
_____ Yes, if by "smile" you mean he looks like Robert De Niro after a Botox malfunction


7. Does this sideman drink on the job?
_____ No, he abstains from drinking until the job is over
_____ Yes, but only sociably while on break
_____ If we're having an especially fun gig, he might get a little buzzed
_____ That's not a windscreen on his microphone; it's a vomit guard


8. Is this sideman able and willing to take musical direction?
_____ Yes, he's serious about playing songs correctly
_____ He's doesn't need much direction; he's very intuitive that way
_____ Once in a while, but mostly I let him do his own thing
_____ Have you ever gotten a glare so cold that it may have shaved a month off your life span?


9. How fun is it to travel with this sideman?
_____ Very. He's a riot to travel with
_____ He's fun to travel with because he has a lot of interesting stories
_____ He's pretty quiet, so he's easy to get along with on road trips
_____ The first time he farted in the van, it was funny. The 20th time, not so much


10. What would you say is this sideman's best quality?
_____ His personality. He makes every job fun
_____ His talent. There's no one better in the business
_____ His dependability. He's never missed a job in his life
_____ His ability to remain standing and playing when he's totally smashed


SUBMIT NOMINATION

 



More Polka News Headlines from Around the World
April 1, 2021
 

KOCZEK, Poland (AP) Six Polish polka musicians drowned Monday afternoon while swimming in Lake Zdróżno. Witnesses said immediately after entering the water, the musicians started flailing and gasping for air. The region's chief medical examiner listed the musicians' cause of death as accidental drowning due to their protective face masks having become waterlogged.
 

MUNICH, Germany (AP) Munich's annual Oktoberfest celebration, which was canceled last year due to the coronavirus, is scheduled to re-open at "ten-cerpent percacity" for the 2021 season. "Thatsss r-right, ten-cerpent percaci-city," slurred Oktoberfest Biermeister Otto Schultz, "Fer every [burp] a hunderd people that comes to Og... Oger... Ogberrrrfest... we let ten [burp] more people in. Or something like... yeah. I think." We attempted to verify this information by reaching out to Horst Müller, German Minister of Health, but his office staff said he had not yet stumbled in to work.
 

ARADO JUÁREZ, Mexico (Reuters) Sergio Santoza, the legendary conjunto button box player credited with having invented the button box jam session, was shot and killed Wednesday. Santoza, 82, was the first button box player to form a button box ensemble — a concept that somehow propagated throughout the North-American polka music circuit. The shooter was positively identified as Jerry S. Lobuvic of Hermitage, Pennsylvania. Police efforts to locate Mr. Lobuvic were called off after an exhaustive five-minute search. The case remains closed pending no further investigation.
 

WEST WICKHAM, London (AP) Niles Crumley, 58, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder ever since he saw the cover of Frankie Yankovic's "Dance Little Bird" record, has finally been cured. When Crumley was a young boy, his parents took him shopping at Bristol Fox Records in London. That's when he stumbled across Yankovic's album and began screaming at the top of his lungs. The image of the bird, according to Crumley, caused him to suffer night terrors for the next 50 years. Crumley says he is also not too fond of clowns, puppets, or robots.
 

VENLO, Netherlands (UPI) — Vistaprint, the Dutch-based business that provides direct-to-consumer printing services through its website portal, has lowered it's minimum business card order for polka bands from 100 to 10. "Polka bands are still welcome to order a hundred cards," chuckled Vistaprint's marketing director Gerlof Van der Berg, "But seriously."
 

KRANJ, Slovenia (AP) — On Saturday, Slovenia's most popular televised music show accidentally featured a live performance. A sound technician for Zvezde Televizija, a show that broadcasts polka ensembles performing to studio-recorded music in front of a live audience, accidentally switched the audio feed from the band's CD to the overhead stage microphones. Angry members of the studio audience voiced their complaints on social media later that night. "I drove fifty kilometers to hear the band lip-sync to their CD," said a livid Marjana Vrabel via Facebook. "Why on earth would anyone drive that far to hear music live?"
 

HAMMERSVÂL, Sweden (Reuters) — For the very first time, a polka musician won Artist of the Year from the Swedish Academy of Folk Music, but the academy made an error when announcing the winner. Stas Buczynski was originally announced as the winner, but an hour later, the academy apologized for having made mistake and declared Stas Buczkewski as the winner. "I take full responsibility, but for crying out loud, how is anyone expected to get those crazy Polish names right?" inquired the academy's president, Farthæghn Ljungqvistjäder.







Joey Miskulin: Back to Slovenia
March 5, 2021
 


Joey Miskulin's new album, Back to Slovenia
 

I will confess I rarely buy polka albums these days. I'm pretty focused on my own music projects, most of which are outside the polka genre, plus many of the polka CDs that end up in my collection are promos or complimentary copies given to me by the recording artists.

One recent day I was listening to the radio and heard Joey Miskulin's hit song I Wanna Call You Sweetheart being played by an Oberkrainer band. "Well that's pretty cool," I thought to myself. "I wonder what European group recorded that?" Then it was announced that this recording was a new one by Joey himself. Without hesitating, I went to Polka Connection [if anyone would have it, they would] found the CD, and bought it.

Back to Slovenia is an album of Joey's most popular, original songs arranged in the authentic Oberkrainer style of Slavko Avsenik. All of the lyrics were translated to Slovenian, and the music was performed by Joey and a group of talented musicians and vocalists from Slovenia.

In my opinion, what makes this album so unique is that Joey is kind of like America's Slavko Avsenik. Slavko is arguably the most renown polka writer and composer the world has ever known. Likewise, Joey is widely regarded as one of the best writers and composers in the genre today. Both Slavko's and Joey's songs are on the playlists of virtually every polka band in the country.

Polka bands in the United States have been performing and recording Americanized versions of Slavko Avsenik's hit songs for decades, but now we get to hear Slovenianized versions of American polka hits! That in itself is pretty neat, but what prompted me to buy this album was knowing that Joey was at the helm of it all, so the quality was guaranteed to be as good as it gets.

And it is.

Over the last few years, I've arranged and recorded a couple of songs with a heavy Oberkrainer influence [One Day and Going Back to Switzerland] so I know firsthand how challenging it can be. If anyone could do it extremely well, however, it would be Joey Miskulin — a musician of such high caliber, he could throw a fistful of silverware down a flight of stairs and finish Schubert's symphony. The production quality of this album is superb. Swiss Glarner Waltz in particular is so fittingly arranged that it's hard to imagine it having been recorded any other way.

I encourage you to add Back to Slovenia to your polka collection. It's available on all the major streaming and download services, but I recommend that you treat yourself to the compact disc, because this is one album you'll want to own as a keepsake.







The Mystery of YouTube Video Thumbnails
January 24, 2021
 

Apparently there's a strategy YouTube's most popular content creators use for designing their videos' thumbnails, but I can't quite put my finger on it. I can't seem to crack the code. If only it were something obvious.

 




 
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