Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Applause - a documentary on San Franicsco's Musicians and the Music Industry

They are the stomping, strumming, gyrating icons of music: Elvis, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Rod Stewart, Elton John, The Eagles, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson...... known for glamour lifestyles, mansions and limos, millions and billions as much as for their music.

And in a subtle sense, they are also history.

Cue in Phil Lang...who? An iconic San Franciscan musician of today's modern music scene. Phil personifies the demise of 'The Rockstar' in the age of digitization. Thronged by his friends, he rides public transport and rents.

The singer and songwriter of his rock band, Bloomsday Rising, is one of a new generation of musicians. Young, talented and struggling to be heard in the maelstrom of digital downloads and

proliferation of performers.

But Phil's voice is rising above the streets of San Francisco. He is the star of a documentary, 'The Applause', a serious analysis of today's music industry, a coalescence of San Franciscan musicians in a fightback against the odds.

The film, soon to be released, is the work of San Franciscan media company, Bricks and Mortar Media - BAMM. Director Chris Hansen is the creative energy behind it all. Says Chris, the film 'surveys the digital landscape from the perspective of the unknown songwriter who stands precariously on the lowest and most crowded rung of the music industry’s ladder.'

It illuminates the aspirations of young musicians in what he describes as the 'digitization quagmire', a morass of free downloading that is affecting all, musicians known and unknown, and industry giants.

The film, made also from Chris' perspective as fellow band member of Bloomsday Rising, focuses on the positive as well as negative aspects of the music world.

In it, Phil is filmed as he 'tries to engage all aspects of the music industry in a conversation about what’s right with music, what’s wrong with music, and how to proceed amid the uncertainty of the times'.

Rod Stewart and his ilk are a fading image as the goal now is to achieve a 'musician’s middle class', that elusive state of being able to work full-time on one's craft and pay the bills. Or, as Chris summarizes, 'How about paying rent, updating MySpace, and getting 50 people to show up to your next gig?'

Background to the film is the Hotel Utah, scene on Monday nights of 'open mic' recording sessions, where for some artists it is the only place possible to have a recording made. Down on 4th Street, in the SoMa - South of Market - part of the city, the Victorian hotel is the domain of JJ Shultz who records and produces the music online under theutah.org.

Musicians from the Hotel Utah were filmed for the documentary on an open-topped red London bus touring and performing around the streets of Mission Bay and 4th Street - see previous blog

The film is unique in that Phil's conversations draw together a wide-ranging, experienced group of people from different aspects of the music industry. He moves, says Chris, from 'grassroots open mic musicians to Grammy-winning major label acts; from traditional media executives to new media trailblazers; from industry lobbyists to file sharing P2P pirates.'

Among those featured are JJ Schultz, songwriter and founder of the work at the Hotel Utah; Tim Westergren, founder and President of the online radio service, Pandora, with one million users per month; Jocelyn Kane, Director of San Francisco Entertainment Commission; Eric McFadden of the band, Stockholm Syndrome, described as a 'legend and guitar virtuoso...whose career has endured through the dot-com boom and bust that shaped the city’s identity'; Jim Donio, President of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers; and Jon Healey, editorial writer at the Los Angeles Times who specializes in intellectual property, technology, and business, and who created the Bit Player blog on entertainment and technology.

And then, of course, there is Phil...who?

Aside from his conversations, 'we follow Phil,' says Chris, 'through the trenches as he records a demo, books gigs, hauls gear, updates five webpages, and launches a publicity campaign. Such are the minimum requirements for an emerging band, and none of it guarantees a pass into the fabled "musician’s middle class.”

'Because underneath it all lurks the lingering question: What if we’re just not that good?'

Unhampered in their determination by that thought, Chris and Phil are equipping San Francisco's young musicians with insight into and opportunity within the industry, and galvanizing them to action.

After all, they are still the stomping, strumming, gyrating icons of the future.

An in-depth feature on Chris' analysis of the music industry will follow.

For more info on The Applause, and to view exclusive videos online: www.bricksandmortarmedia.com. And visit the Hotel Utah open mic Mondays at 8pm.

pics show: Rod Stewart; Phil Lang; a cartoon from Chris' press release; JJ Shultz of Hotel Utah

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