Sunday, November 22, 2009

Troy 100 critic finds publisher in agreement

The following was first published in The Record.

Troy 100 Forum – a twice-annual gathering of business, political, community, educational, religious, and cultural leaders – met this week at Sage College to discuss “How Do Our Arts & Cultural Organizations Contribute To Our Community? “

New to Troy, this was my first chance to attend and I found the environment stimulating; it was reminiscent of other programs I have attended elsewhere such as F.O.C.U.S. Greater Syracuse, a community-wide visioning process.

One of the audience members used an opportunity during the session to criticize The Record; a couple other people defended us, to a point. The conversation centered on whether The Record does enough to publicize and promote the arts. The person complaining said we didn’t run a press release she had dropped off and it gravely hurt attendance of an event.

I mulled over the conversation, discussed it with our editor, and decided to write a public response. Here it is:

First of all, I took the speaker’s comments as a backhanded compliment. It is always good to hear that whether or not we publicize an event has an impact on audience attendance. That signals that our efforts – and our readers – are relevant.

Next, it important to say up front that we do some arts coverage well: Bob Goepfert in particular does a great job for our paper with theater, and Bob and others do a good job with big cultural events and some of the music scene. And we publish a modest cultural calendar on Thursdays.

But it must be said that I wholeheartedly agree with the criticism. There is more we could, should and ultimately, will do.

I am in the camp of folks – many of whom attended the forum at Sage - who feel that a strong arts community greatly improves my quality of life. Beyond just the entertainment value, the arts cultivate cultural understanding and encourage critical thinking and creativity among each of us. And I also buy into the research that shows the arts are vital to a local economy – whether it is in generating sales of art which help keep retail revenue local and artists employed, or it is attracting tourists who seek out the arts and spend money on other things, or it is presenting the picture of a very livable community to people and companies considering relocating here.

So, having established that the arts are indispensible and agreeing the complaint is valid … Where do we go from here?

I would like to say first that the door is open to any arts organization or individual artist to contact me and get me acquainted with your work. I have hit some of the highlights such as Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and Revolution Hall, but there are many more places and people I have not been exposed to in my short time in Troy. Send me a link to your Web site or a brochure, invite me for a tour, or tell me about an upcoming exhibit I should see.

I would also like to meet with groups and start to understand the linkages between organizations and artists. Covering an individual performance is one thing but writing more deeply about trends and issues that highlight and impact larger numbers of musicians, painters, actors, etc. – similar to the discussion held this week - may be more captivating for readers and helpful to the arts community.

And if there is someone who is both an experienced writer and deeply connected to the cultural scene – we have a particular need for the visual arts – who is inclined to moonlight as freelancer, contact our editor Lisa Lewis. The more voices in our paper, the better.

The newsroom and I will work this winter on how we can more effectively use our resources to cover the community and I can truthfully say that the arts are in my top three areas of interest for improving coverage. Hopefully, we can make some minor changes soon but look for bigger shifts as we head into spring.

And now I have a concern and a request of cultural organizations. I have heard from several spokespeople of these groups that they do not set aside monies to market their events locally because they depend on our editorial efforts among other things to get the word out. Our interdependence is mutual; please consider setting aside a small portion of your budget to grow your local audience through us. I would be more than willing to set down and brainstorm ways to do this that are cost-effective and draw new people to your venue or work.

The actress Glenn Close reportedly said, “All great art comes from a sense of outrage.” Here’s hoping that from the outrage of the speaker at Troy 100 this week comes a greater understanding and better journalism.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Former media sales rep offers advice to would-be musicians

The following was first published in The Record.

Some of us spend our entire career in the media.

Some pass through this profession on their way to something else professionally.

And a few juggle between two jobs; one in the media and a second in teaching or the arts, for instance. The media gig might be the one that pays the bills and the second may be aspirational, or vice-a-versa. Usually the candle burning at both ends flickers out on one career and grows brighter with the other.

Stephen Kellogg fell into the latter category for a brief time. A salesman by day for a periodical, he labored in his free time to record his first album. He sold ads for about six months for a publication called "Notes" that focused on promoting concerts in western Massachusetts.

As is the case with most media salesmen, singer-songwriter Kellogg could never have anticipated being in the job until it found him, or he found it. “I think one (as an artist) is always looking for work that allows you some time to keep your own hours, do gigs, etcetera.”

The sales “gig” didn’t come naturally to him – “I'd get so nervous for phone calls it would make me sick to my stomach” – but he says he did learn some life lessons from it. “It was a great lesson in the impossibility of doing something well that you aren't into.”

What he has “been doing well” at, has been nurturing a career that includes three solo albums, four studio albums as Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers, and roughly 1,000 live shows, including an April 2008 appearance at Northern Lights in Clifton Park, opening for Hanson, and an Oct. 30 show headlining at The Egg in Albany. Described frequently as a “roots rock” act, the band is building an audience that appreciates the sound of artists such as the BoDeans, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, and John Mellencamp.

I suspect Kellogg isn’t the first musician to work his way up to the big time who also worked in media sales; I remember meeting lots of musicians throughout my career who were selling ads by day and strumming, drumming or singing by night. But I don’t think as much is made of it as the many journalists who have crossed-over to success in the artistic or literary world, such as novelist Samuel Clemens and Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, to name two.

The Record in fact, has its own working musician. Jason Constantine, a sales rep of three years, is the singer in the modern rock cover band called Off the Hook.

What advice does Kellogg have for Constantines of the world who are still burning the candle at both ends?

“Take care of the music that it might take care of you,” he advises. “It is important to build your business savvy, etcetera, but way more important to get good at the art.”

“I would also say that if it’s his love, make sure that’s how he always represents it,” he adds. “I meet a lot of musicians who tell the world that they want to do it for a living because it seems like a ‘tough living’ or whatever. You have to really need to play to play, and if that’s the case don’t get derailed by self-doubt. Just take the love you feel and make it happen.”

Kellogg’s band may be one of the best you have never heard. But that could change as they keep relentlessly touring and recording. Their last album, “Glassjaw Boxer”, deservedly made USA Today critic’s Brian Mansfield’s list of top 5 albums of the year in 2007, with company as prestigious as Bruce Springsteen and Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. “Heart’s In Pain” from “Boxer” and “Born in the Spring” from this year’s “The Bear” album earned the band some significant exposure with spins on episode of TV’s “One Tree Hill” over the last two seasons. And I suspect a live album that will be recorded later this month at The Bowery in New York City on Kellogg’s 34th birthday may be the effort that puts the band over the top in terms of visibility; this band is amassing a impressive catalogue of songs to showcase together, and the group’s energy is something that is more easily captured on stage than in a studio.

But don’t take my word for it: Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers can be heard locally on WEXT-FM (97.7), as well as on Internet and satellite radio. Also, check out Constantine’s band Off the Hook in local clubs or at