Welcome to my home on the internet

I live in New York City and I play, write, arrange, and produce music for myself and lots of other people. I spend quite a bit of time in Austin, Texas, and travel around the country with various groups. I've contributed performances, compositions, and arrangements to recordings by bands like Snarky Puppy, Okkervil River, Bill Laurance, Nelo, and many more. My band is Progger.
Drop me a line at briandonohoemusic@gmail.com

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Technology, the '70s, and convincing people to care about art

Technology is fun. I've been a fan for a long time. I got hooked when my dad put "Beyond Dark Castle" on our Macintosh in, I’d guess, 1987. Tonight I'm on a much newer Macintosh that runs on batteries and connects to the sum of human knowledge through a radio signal at Brooklyn Bowl while I eat really good fried chicken and drink really good beer. (The beer was made next door at the Brooklyn Brewery.) Overall, I think I'm pro-technology for a lot of reasons that would be easy to support in a public debate. 

But for every set of problems that technology solves, a new set of unexpected problems will arise, and this is pretty normal. An example that strongly hits home at the moment: I have, via this newish portable Macintosh and miraculous internet connection, access to most of the great music ever recorded by humans, and there’s more of this amazing music being created constantly. Every Friday a bunch of great new work gets unleashed upon the world via releases on Spotify, Bandcamp, iTunes, and all the increasingly-obsolete traditional methods. My own group partook in such a ritual not even two weeks ago, and I think what we unleashed was pretty good. This is undoubtedly a great situation to be in and a great time to be alive as a music fan. 

(Trivia note: for years, Tuesday was the official release day for music in the United States, as Friday is for films. The rest of the world, however, was releasing music on Fridays, and had been for many years, and on July 10 of 2015 the United States finally joined that trend.)

The corresponding problem isn’t even really a new one, it’s just newly augmented by the unprecedented wealth of great music out there and its equally unprecedented accessibility. With all of the strong options available, it’s more difficult than ever, as an artist, to get people to care about YOUR work, specifically, even if they’re the type of people who will indeed be very receptive to and appreciative of it.

I don’t have hard data to back this up at the moment (although I easily could— keep in mind, most of the sum of human knowledge is a web browser and a few search keywords away from my screen right now), but I would wager that the music industry has always been a pretty brutally competitive place. Many of my favorite bands happened to start in the 1970s: the Police, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, and Parliament/Funkadelic, among many others. All of those groups contained seasoned, skilled, world-class musicians who had spent a lot of time refining their craft before they ever tasted success. But I would also wager that it would be nearly impossible for any one of those groups to achieve the indisputably legendary status they enjoy today if they had started in, say, 2006, regardless of their ability, experience, and irreproducible genius. 

Technology isn’t going anywhere, and we have no choice but to acknowledge and even embrace the changes that it’s brought about. And because of the state of technology today, I’m able to enjoy amazing-sounding recordings by some of my favorite independent and/or up-and-coming bands, many of whom are friends of mine, and NONE of whom would be able to make recordings of this quality in the 1970s without the support of major labels. (I’m referring to the likes of the Funky Knuckles, Hildegard, Knower, and Breastfist in this paragraph, but the above could apply to multitudes of others.) It might be harder for these bands to receive the worldwide acclaim they deserve today as opposed to if they had reached their current quality level in 1979, but they’re doing a damn good job nonetheless.

And, of course, I have no choice but to spend a good deal of time dwelling on how this affects my own project, Progger, that I’ve devoted a huge chunk of my life to developing over the last five years, and that I will continue to devote my life to for the foreseeable future. We’ve had some amazing opportunities recently: we released our first album with a record label, Ropeadope Records, who are amazing; we have inquiries coming in about gigs in Europe and Asia, and we’ve sold albums in many countries on several continents— a modest number of albums, but still really exciting; we’ve gotten radio play in London, Cape Town, and who knows where else. Still, it’s still hard to fill rooms and break even on tours. That’s going to be the nature of things for a while, and I know it’s simply because people have more options than they’ve ever had, plus easy access to those options. 

Convincing people to care is tough. I’m often one of the people who needs convincing. There’s plenty of amazing art (music, film, fiction, nonfiction, television, paint, sculpture, who knows what else) that I SHOULD care about that I don’t. But I really hope that I’m convinced, eventually, just as much as I hope to do some solid convincing. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Creative music as an end in itself, and the challenge of making it sustainable

Sipping a pre-packaged “Starbucks Iced Coffee” bottle from a Love’s station in eastern Arkansas while sitting in the middle bench of a twelve-passenger van being driven down Interstate Forty by a world-class drummer seems like a great time and place to write my first blog post in nine months. The world-class drummer is Daniel Watson, and sleeping in the passenger seat to his right is Matthew Muehling, one of the most remarkably resilient and hard-working humans I know. And I know some remarkably resilient and hard-working humans. These are two of the best people with whom I could possibly be sharing a twelve-plus-hour van trip from Nashville to Austin. 

The end of a tour, even a short one, is usually when I do a lot of reflection on the state of my own life, career, creative goals, friends, and family. This past week was an overwhelmingly positive one, although not without some significant challenges that were made much more manageable by the presence and help of some really fantastic people. More on that later. 

The big questions I’ve been asking myself— and my trusted collaborators— this week have all had to do with the sustainability of an ambitious creative project. Throughout the existence of Progger I have always been at peace with the fact that I will probably always spend, rather than make, money on it. I would love for it to become a sustainable, full-time, and maybe even profitable venture, but the most important thing about it is that it realizes long-time creative dreams of mine on a level that exceeds any satisfaction I ever could have asked for. I’ve found a dream team of musicians to play my weird music and we’ve found some people around the country who seem to want to hear it. That in itself is worth spending money on, forever, if I can do it. 

My top musical and logistical collaborator for this and our previous two tours, Melissa McMillan, feels the same way, as far as I can tell, and I think that’s why we work well together. Our mutual love of animal GIFs doesn’t hurt. But ultimately Melissa’s creative ambitions are laudable and her output is insanely high-quality, some of the best music I’ve ever heard or played. A tiny fraction of the people in the world who SHOULD know who she is do know who she is, and that, too, is worth spending money to change.

As my friend Brad Williams recently put it, we exist in a music industry environment where— at least as far as up-and-coming creative artists go— the tours serve as loss-leaders for the records and the records serve as loss-leaders for the tours. Any freshman business major at UT will tell you that this is an utterly unsustainable system. Musicians and other artists have the burden of creating the demand for their own supply, and while it is certainly possible to accomplish, it is extraordinarily challenging. 

On top of the already expensive, exhausting, and logistically challenging nature of touring, there are also the unfortunate eventualities that a band simply has to deal with sometimes. Yesterday, on the way from Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Nashville, Tennessee, our van blew a radiator hose. Fortunately, it did so very close to a mechanic, so we were able to get it repaired safely, but it took a long time and we were an hour late to our first set in Nashville. Our hosts at the venue, the Basement, as well as the band with whom we shared the tour, Dynamo, were gracious and easygoing, and we made it work, but it added stress to the day. It ended up being a great night of music anyway. 

In Dallas, our venue with whom we had been booked for months emailed me four-and-a-half hours before our load-in time to let me know they wanted to cancel the gig for reasons I won’t go into here (I do not believe these reasons to be legitimate). It was, again, extremely stressful. Fortunately, a friend of Melissa’s, Frances Jaye, found us a great alternative venue, Cafe Salsera, who were gracious and supportive, and our friends in Dynamo were able to provide the sound system that the venue didn’t have. Mark Lettieri’s trio joined the bill and again, after the dust settled, it was a great night of music. 

If it hadn’t been for the strength, resourcefulness, and generosity of many people— Dynamo, Frances, Melissa, Mark, Wes Stephenson, all my other Progger brothers and sister (Julia)— things could have been depressing and bleak. In the end, I think we ended up playing better and more inspired music as a result of it all. Mark Lettieri’s set in Dallas, for example, blew my brain to pieces in the most enjoyable way that a brain can be blown to pieces.

After four years of doing everything ourselves, Progger is finally getting some much-needed help from Ropeadope Records, which is a fantastic label owned and staffed by genuinely good people. I still don’t plan on making any money on Progger for a long time, and I will continue to do all the other freelance music work I always have to keep things going, but at this stage in my life there’s nothing I would rather spend money on. This quick tour of the South that Melissa and Dynamo helped make happen ended up giving us all some much-needed encouragement and has made me all the more excited to finish and release this album of new music, our first ever on a proper record label, and has also gotten me excited to start booking some new performances around the country for the year. I think this is going to be a very big year for Progger and for the music industry as a whole, at least in our genre, whatever that may be.

To my dear friends and musical compatriots— Melissa McMillan, Matt Muehling, Carter Arrington, Daniel Watson, Julia Adamy Pederson, Mark Lettieri, Wes Stephenson, TaRon Lockett, Sean Giddings, Paul Deemer, Ryan Connors and all million of you Dynamo dudes, all our friends and family and supporters— thanks for doing what you do and fighting the good fight by creating good music that stands as its own worthy end in a confused, confusing, and utterly challenging industry.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

New Progger video, "Transit," is live on the YouTubes

The first in a series of new Progger tunes and videos is now alive in the magical land of YouTube! Check it out:

On December 30, 2014, the original Austin, Texas edition of Progger, with the new addition of Sean Giddings on keys, went into beautiful Orb Studios in southwest Austin. We spent the day recording three new tunes and had our dear friend, cinema genius Andy LaViolette, shoot a bunch of video. Our friend Ben Bohorquez (from the Funky Knuckles) was slinging a mean camera that day, too, and the results are pretty cool! We're excited with how the music came out, and we're grateful to Andy and Ben for making the whole process look cool.

I hope you enjoy it! If you do, kindly give it a "share" of some kind, you have no idea how much that helps. Or maybe you do. It helps a lot.

"Transit" features Daniel Watson on drums, Nick Clark on synth bass (Moog Little Phatty all day long), Carter Arrington and Matt Muehling on soaring epic guitars, Paul Deemer on trombone and percussion (rock that tambo Pablo), Sean Giddings on keys, and lil' old me on tenor saxophone and keys/synths.

The New York City edition of Progger (plus some of the Texas crew) will be going into Bunker Studio in Brooklyn this August to record the second half of this new recording. I've never done anything like this before-- two versions of the same band on one record-- but I love both the North and South incarnations of Progger dearly right now and I'm excited to release something that features everyone. The NYC crew is playing at Fontana's Bar as a part of CEG's summer FunkFest on May 29, and we'll be bringing lots of new material from this project. Can't farkin wait!