The Beach Music Journal Archives
God Speed to the B.S.er !!!
For decades, Labor Day marked the end of summer and the Beach season along the Grand Strand. Labor Day, 2009 marks the end of an era in Beach Music history with the passing of Billy "The B.S.er" Smith. Billy's career spanned over five decades beginning in 1958 in his hometown of Marion, SC to Tabor City, NC, Charleston, Wilmington, NC, and a few other stops along the way--shining from the top of his career were his stellar years at Tiger Radio, WNMB-FM, and most recently an eight-year run on 94.9 The Surf.
Before Shaggin' In the Carolinas was published four years ago, I told Billy I absolutely had to have a picture of the Billy Smith Beach Party before the book would be complete. Tens of thousands of summertime visitors sought out the B.S.ers' Beach Party with every sojourn to the Beach.
Billy was awarded DJ of the Year at the very first Beach Music Awards at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center in 1982 and has won several more since, including Comedy Personality of the Year which acknowledged his infinite capacity for humor.
I was honored to remaster Billy's comedy cassette of the 80s--skits from his morning shows on WNMB--as a CD in the 2000s, simply because it was a classic and I was proud to see him re-release it.
As a revered DJ and entertainer, Billy was featured in countless High School yearbooks throughout the 60s and 70s, an honor that goes to a rare few.
Deane Morris, owner of the Surf in the late 90s up to 2002, and Rossi's and Myrtle Beach Golf Carts, was responsible for pulling Billy off a Hip Hop station and putting him back in the morning Captain's Chair with 94.9 The Surf. Deane and Billy were compadres in Beach Music for decades, from the days when Billy's headquarters were Deane's Dutch Deli, to the days when they put together one of the first Beach Music compilation albums.
From hereon, Labor Day is the day every self-respecting Beach jock should doff his and her hat to the B.S.er, who not only carried the Torch of Beach Music nearly five decades, he set the bar for every dedicated Beach music DJ entertainer. May we carry on the tradition in his forever unfillable shoes. --Fessa' John Hook
The Endless Summer Network has gone - International.
I will continue to offer the Beach Music Top 40 Countdown and the Yearly Beach Music Top 40 Countdowns to affiliate radio stations (those are listed under the 'Charts' button above). The charts will continue to appear weekly at www.beachshag.com (more timely, however).
Both shows are available for listening and downloading at www.cashboxmagazine.com/countdowns/beachmusicweekly.html on time, every week. As of this month, Cashbox has re-launched the hard copy Cashbox after a long hiatus. Books-A-Million ordered 100,000 copies of the first issue. In it you’ll find the Beach Music Top 40 and the Roadhouse Blues and Boogie Top 40 as well as one or more columns that I’ll write for each issue.
In addition, numerous stations in Europe and Asia are picking up both Top 40s -- we've yet to ascertain how many U.S. stations are picking it up.
I’m working on Dancing On the Edge. Our Beach/Shag/Bop inheritance is a rich, multi-layered legacy which I aim to bring to the world within the next 24 months. And who knows, their may yet be a renaissance of the Endless Summer Network webcast.
Meanwhile, we're also developing online access to the complete database of the Beach Music Guide Vols 1 & 2, as well as an extended encyclopedia of Beach Music history.
It hasn't been an easy decision to close the Endless Summer Network webcast. Occasionally I feel as if I’ve betrayed myself as well as thousands of friends I’ve made over the years. A close friend with whom I shared my decision recently remarked, “I understand what you’re aiming for and you’ve got to follow your heart. And I know the difficulty you’re in, it’s easy to get into things, and sometimes it’s hard to get out of them.” (Sort of a spin-off of William Bell’s great beach hit, “Easy Getting’ In, But Hard Getting Out.”)
I’m concerned that you realize that I don’t take this change for granted. In that light, I offer you the best explanation I can offer. I could toss it off with an ambiguous statement such as, “Hey, I’m just following my passions,” but that doesn’t really explain anything. If that does explain my decision to your satisfaction, there’s no need to read further. If you’d like to know the foundation for why I’m doing this, and what I’m planning next (which is still deeply embedded in Beach and Shag culture), then read on.
My Beach Music experiences have been the central and major thrust of my life. The last 35 years have been dramatically different from my Midwestern upbringing. When I took off my socks and stepped fully into the Weejuns-track of my life, I made more friends in the first 3 months of my first major Beach show on WBT, Charlotte than I had made altogether in my first 30 years. I was invited to fish fries, low country boils, catfish stews, afternoons and evenings around privately owned jukeboxes on decks and in homes where I learned from men and women who had Beach Music in their DNA. And they were total strangers.
My good fortune began with my association with Sandy Beach at Big WAYS in Charlotte, followed soonafter by 26 years in partnership with Chris and Carolyn Beachley of the Wax Museum there.
I hitched my star to Chris’s entrepreneurial trajectory in 1976. We formed YesterYear Records as an adjunct to the Wax Museum, buying our first inventory of 100,000+ records out of Eden, NC. Through the Wax Museum, Chris was already auctioning Rhythm and Blues and Beach records all over the United States and around the world. Through YesterYear, we added auctions of Rockabilly, Country, Pop, Swing, Jazz, Soundtracks, Rock and Roll, Big Band, Countrybilly, Popcorn (a Belgium specialty), Northern Soul, and everything else we found on wax and shellac including Picture records, 78s, Edison records, cylinder records and other related music products. Later that year we bought out one of the biggest distributors in the South and our inventory catapulted to three quarters of a million records.
(I left for Virginia two years later where I bought several massive record collections which grew until I had to rent two houses to keep all the records. I sold my first private collection of nearly a million records in 1984—too much rent and too many records!)
Chris started It Will Stand magazine in 1979 and I was fortunate to rejoin him in 1980 as a staff researcher, writer, and sales partner. That same year, I became ‘possessed’ by the need to learn the histories of Beach Music and the Shag. I thought I could finish the research and write a history of both in six months (ha ha ha!)
After I joined WBT to produce the Saturday Night Beach Show, Chris and I, along with Randy Rowland, co-owner of Groucho’s Beach Club at the time, began syndicating the Beach Music News in 1982 on over 70 radio stations.
In 1983 I joined AMRECORP out of Dallas, Texas to develop a new broadcast division. One of my jobs was to launch and manage WGSP radio out of Charlotte. It was a little 1,000 watt, daytime AM. WGSP was a great experimental lab for me. I had some ideas about how to mix Beach Music with Oldies, and strategies for ‘music flow’ I wanted to experiment with. A year later Billboard magazine voted me national Program Director of the Year for Medium Markets.
Regretfully, I barely noticed the honor of that award at the time, I had discovered another love that has been co-joined with my Beach and Shag passion ever since. My good fortune was to participate in a blossoming new tradition in the fields of communication, language, and personal and organizational coaching. I was in the first small group in the nation certified as ‘ontological’ coaches in 1984.
I won’t bore you with a long explanation of ‘ontological’ except to say that it entails a rigorously different understanding of what makes human beings human in the way we communicate and relate to one another through languaging and emotioning.
Two other important things happened in 1984. After letting Frank Herbert’s book Dune sit in my library for 17 years, I finally read it and fell in love with him, seeking out every book he’d ever written. It was the only fiction I read at the time because all the rest of my discretionary time was taken up with Beach and Shag research.
I also took my first five Shag lessons that year, at the end of which, watching myself in the mirror, my deepest fear seemed to have come true—I couldn’t dance like the smooth steppers I admired, and apparently I never would.
Then I read Herbert’s third book in the Dune series. At the head of one of the chapters was a passage that shook me all the way down to my roots,
“Odd as it may seem, great struggles such as the one you can see emerging from my journals are not always visible to the participants. Much depends on what people dream in the secrecy of their hearts. I have always been as concerned with the shaping of dreams as with the shaping of actions. Between the lines of my journals is the struggle with humankind’s view of itself—a sweaty contest on a field where motives from our darkest past can well up out of an unconscious reservoir and become events with which we not only must live but contend. It is the hydra-headed monster which always attacks from your blind side. I pray, therefore, that when you have traversed my portion of the Golden Path you no longer will be innocent children dancing to music you cannot hear.”
Somehow, that seemed to be a clue as to how I could conduct my research into Beach and Shag history. One of the axioms I learned in my ontological training was that *everything human beings invent is invented in languaging and emotioning.* Furthermore, language is more than description, it also creates what exists for human beings.
(In that context, the invention of Shag and Beach Music is not trivial. It's MORE than a recreational or leisure activity).
My Shag training had failed miserably. There had to be something I wasn’t seeing or understanding.
I boxed up all the research I’d completed so far and started over by interviewing as many of the pioneers as possible. My aim was to see how Shag showed up in their ‘languaging’ back in the 40s and how Beach Music showed up in the ‘languaging’ in the 60s.
This is not the place to lay out the subsequent years of research except to say that Shag and Beach Music did not show up *overtly* in the language of Shag and Beach culture. Both existed for many years before they were ever *named.* Therefore, they showed up in the *emotioning* first and in the languaging later. The question I was left with was, “What was happening in the emotioning that was later named?”
It has been a long, exceedingly rich, road of discovery since. I’ve collected thousands of documents and pictures from all over the South and points North, East, and West that paint a panoramic picture of unknown American history. For years, every time I thought I had a sense of the entire scope of Beach and Shag history, I was surprised again and again. Our legacy of improvisational dance and unique Beach Music subculture is not only extraordinary in and of itself, it reveals a way in which culture, art, and creativity moves through society under the radar. Even more fascinating is Why it does so.
My ontological studies continued for nine years. Right at the end, I happened to hear a friend with a radio talk show interviewing a physicist from Vienna who claimed he could describe the natural laws of growth. He went on to make some extraordinary claims that boggled my mind. I bought his book that afternoon. By early 1993 my dearest colleague and friend helped write a ‘gopher’ (early slang for Search Engine) to explore the Internet and find the formulae and software I needed to start researching the physicists’ fascinating claims.
In the summer of 1996, I presented a paper on my work to the Society of Continuing Adult Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In late 1997, I presented the evolution of that work as a keynote speaker to 200 scientists from the world over at an international symposium at the Federal University in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
I’ve been researching with these unique tools of observation in languaging, emotioning, and growth ever since. They provide a perspective on cultural history that helped me get “outside the box” every time I’ve been stuck (i.e. using ‘growth’ projections I am able to figure out Where to look, and When, for clues to Beach and Shag history).
That brings us to today. I’m 60.
Shag is well beyond 60. Beach Music, in the interpretation I present in both Shaggin’ In the Carolinas and the Beach Music Guide, is also over 60. I have an eight-book series entitled Dancing On the Edge that is laid out with many sections already completed. At this point I need capitalization for additional research to complete and publish the series (and I'm running out of 'extra' time).
The good news is that my 25 years of studies in the ontologies of communication and creativity, growth science, and Shag and Beach music have revealed keys to my First Love, one I haven’t mentioned as yet.
My first love is Ambition. That’s not what I always called it. As a youngster, I was driven by the notion that human beings can do whatever they put their minds to. But in the 60s there wasn’t any science that supported that notion. At the time, society and science believed that one had to have a high IQ, innate talents, and formal education in order to achieve high performance and excellence in our pursuits. Those beliefs persisted despite the fact that there are a wealth of exceptional individuals throughout history who realized extraordinary ambitions even though they didn’t have notable IQs, talents, or formal education.
The question I wrestled with over the years is HOW to put our minds toward our Ambitions so that we are successful. (This eventually begged the questions, “What is Ambition? How do we observe it? How can we effectively follow our Ambition?”)
I’ve been researching and experimenting to answer these questions for a long time. In recent months, we’ve experienced success after success. I’ve provided a small set of “processes of reflection” to a few select people to see if they gain some clarity about their Ambitions. The surprise has been that we are not ordinarily “aware” of our ambitions. But that’s another, longer story.
In 2010, I’ll be launching a Pop-Up toolkit with which individuals and organizations can not only uncover their ambitions but locate where they are in their growth in relation to those ambitions. (Learn more at www.discoveryourhiddenambition.com).
Currently, I’m still inviting people to participate in these processes to put the final touches on the software which will be a set of Pop-Up screens on personal computers which people can use again and again to Uncover, Implement, and Expand their ambitions, along with a tool with which they can track their progress in learning and growing toward their ambitions.
What about Beach Music and Shag history?
My ambition from the 70s forward was to provide ALL of Beach Music on BIG radio stations regionally, with an aim toward national exposure and attraction.
There are now about 400 members in the Association of Beach and Shag Club DJs providing every flavor and style of Beach Music available. There are numerous radio shows, Internet shows, and webstreams which supply Beach Music. They've got all the musical bases covered which frees me to pursue my further ambitions to present Beach Music in new ways so that it garners the respect it deserves as an inheritance with deep roots in the Southern way of life, as well as roots in other fundamental human interests.
For now, my love and best wishes to you, I gotta get to work,
Fessa’ John Hook
P.S. If you have comments or questions, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Changing World of Beach Music
Our relationship to Beach Music has evolved along with technology's impact on music. Since early man, the use of song, sometimes acapella sometimes with an added instrument such as the lyre or flute, has changed in seen and unseen ways.
Although singing doesn't require musical accompaniment, over the last couple of thousand years our expectation to find musicians as an integral part of every song became deeply embedded in our psyches. Yet the last one hundred years have slowly remolded our standards for music consumption.
At the turn of the 20th century a concert or a song was always supported by a band, an orchestra, or at the very least a guitar or piano. The advent of tinfoil recordings in the 1890s, although an interesting novelty, still didn't change our preferences.
Three new technologies in the 1920s changed all that as they slowly gained dominance in the world of musical entertainment. Cylinder records, soon to inspire cylinder jukeboxes, and early forms of records (short for 'recordings') floated about in the homes of the wealthy as novelties, but few seriously thought they'd change the world.
As the Roaring 20s grew so did the proliferation of records and jukeboxes. Coming from behind was a new kid on the block that would profoundly impact the future--Radio.
The flat, usually one-sided record was the first of the three to impact society. In the early days records were played on phonographs of various types and various speeds. The invention of the jukebox extended the diversity of the phonograph with a large library to draw from (nowadays we'd call that a 'database').
From Duplication to Replication
As a new form of permanently stored music, records offered new possibilities. One of the great stories out of New Orleans that clearly demonstrates one of those is the story of musicians there who dearly wanted to duplicate Louis Armstrong's solos in several of his most popular tunes. The problem was that no one's ears could keep up with the intricate and rapid trills that Louis played so masterfully. It was Bunk Johnson on a trip North who found a record of an Armstrong masterpiece and slowed the turntable with his finger until he was able to identify each individual note. Upon his return to New Orleans, Bunk received a heroic reception from his peers when he played an Armstrong solo note for note.
Records opened a door for musicians to replicate the songs and styles of musicians who lived 100 or 2,000 miles away.
At the same time, records created a new taste-preference in fans. The permanence of a record's groove inscribed or stamped in wax and hardened into a medium that faithfully reproduced the song embedded in its surface generated a similar phenomenon in the psyches of its listeners. From then on they *expected* to hear the song duplicated in exactly the same way they'd heard it.
The Regional Return of Improvisation
Except for a minority, popular music diverged from jazz's improvisational foundations. Fans wanted the popularly familiar, not reinvented versions of the songs they loved. One minority stream was a Southeastern culture which crystallized in 1945 when early Shaggers and Boppers began to 'improvise' on the dance floors and 'improvised' to find songs which matched their new-born appetites for songs with tempos and moods that paralleled their preferences.
Young Shag enthusiasts turned over every record on the 78 rpm jukeboxes in the early days to find good 'fas' dance' songs. 'Fas' dance' was a misnomer. Their criteria wasn't "fast," they searched for a good 4/4 beat to which they could adapt their evolving form of improvisational dance.
(For those who hold to the erroneous notion that Shag evolved from the jitterbug, sorry, it didn't happen. There may have been a few jitterbug-dancers who adapted to the new tempos of the Southeast. There are some dramatic hints about this, if you read between the lines in Shaggin' in the Carolinas. The 8-book Dancing on the Edge series coming out over the next two years will make this clear, once and for all, with a plentitude of historical documentation).
What started as a dancer-driven Shag culture metamorphed into the Beach Music culture in the 60s. Along the way a few enterprising "Beach-Shag Music" fans bought 45 rpm players that fit under the dashes of their cars. It was one of the only ways to hear Beach music at will; it didn't play on most radio stations or inland jukeboxes. The permanence of records made it possible to hear Beach Music outside its usual habitats.
As Technology Changes, We Change
As the permanence of recording media have changed, our attitudes and relationships to music have changed from static to flexible to digital--from written-in-stone, to wider acceptance, to the capacity to play and adapt all music at will.
The advent of Radio increased the range of choices beyond the self-contained libraries of jukeboxes. Radio's early musical offerings were usually live performances from urban centers such as Chicago or New York over the growing national radio networks. For the first time, people in small and rural communities could hear top shelf entertainment they couldn't access nearby or afford if it did come to town.
DJ culture emerged from the very late 40s impacting radio and radio listening for years to come. Before the invention of Top 40, many stations permitted their DJs to each bring their 'favorite' songs and play them at will. Diversity and personality ruled the airwaves while producing a massive selection of music to choose from.
Cassettes and 8-tracks were agents of new possibilities -- more music on a material far more pliable than wax, polyvinylchloride -- that could be stored in a much smaller container. A 90 minute cassette could hold 30+ songs from the 50s and early 60s, or 20+ from the 70s and 80s.
The ability to stick 30 songs into a 3" wide by 1/2" tall slot in the dashboard console or entertainment center was far less cumbersome and labor intensive than a record changer and a box of 30 45s.
CDs opened yet another relationship to music. We no longer use a needle or stamping machine to engrave wax cylinders or platters. Nor do we have to impregnate tape with silver oxide and use magnets to realign the oxide's polarities to reproduce music.
A CD uses light to change molecular polarities on a small flat disc with a sound clarity previously unavailable on tape or record.
The digital CD was a half-step to wave files. With the help of a few engineers working on the soundtrack of the first Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator film, we progressed to a compressed digital form of audio called the MP3. Standard practice in film making often calls for the re-recording of dialogue which previously demanded actors return to a studio to record their lines again. After Terminator was filmed, Arnold had other projects which called him to the other side of the world. The Terminator director didn't want to ramp up expenses by flying Arnold back and forth so he asked his engineers to come up with a way for Arnold to make high quality recordings on the movie set where he was working and send them over the telephone lines. The engineers developed the algorithms for MP3s.
Cyberspace -- Technological Freedom to Act Freely
Today music exists in cyberspace as a series of "1's" and "O's"--the digital world's fundamental alphabet--played back by 'software', a euphemism for the digital representation of a machine that doesn't really exist, but is also represented by a sophisticated series of 1's and 0's.
Computers, i.e. the hardware, don't actually play the music. On closer examination, a computer is run by an operating system (more 1's and 0's) which coordinates the software held in the computer's RAM (random access memory).
In other words, a box containing a machine-that-doesn't-exist (the operating system) co-ordinates other machines-that-aren't-really-there (software) which reproduces singers and instruments producing music that really isn't-inside-the-computer, software, or operating system.
Additionally, digital memory capacity has grown to the point that a Blackberry can hold several thousand songs and a terabyte hard drive (one trillion bytes) can hold 100s of thousands.
DJs and collectors today can pack 500,000 songs onto one or two hard drives, no matter that it would take 4.3 years to listen to a half million 3 1/2 minute songs.
Or, if it were our job to listen for 8 hours per day, it would take 13 years to listen to them all one time.
Simultaneous with our geometrically greater access to music, compared to the last 120 years, sampling is now a practice ingrained not only in the practices of recording artists we have new social practices called personal playlists, peer-to-peer sharing, digital samples on ITunes, Amazon and an unthinkably large number of other web portals to all musical genres and artists.
In the Beach Music world, DJ practice of slowing or speeding up songs in the 80s (with the help of new turntable technology), has been infinitely enhanced by Cool Edit Pro, Pro Tools, and other sophisticated software. Many recording artists complain about this, but it's really not a new practice.
(Although not the subject of this essay, recording artists' complaints about fans 'altering' their music is worthy of a closer look another time. For the time being, consider this scenario: Imagine a movie set where an actor has just completed a scene. The director says, "we're going to have to redo that scene, I want you to slow down your delivery, give me more empathy, sympatico." To which the actor responds, "You'll have to accept what I've just given you--that was my art." The director retorts, "No, actually your craft demands that you work with me. A movie is a collaborative art, not a totalitarian state." The same is true of a recording. Once it's released, the fan becomes the Director and can do whatever he/she wants with it. This is a Free country, not totalitarian or a dictatorship. Those who invoke 'laws' can do so, it's a Free country. But some laws, like buggy whips and steamships, become obsolete.)
Late 50s and 60s ballroom studios often slowed or speeded up records (there are tricks where one can wrap scotch tape around a turntable or tape player's pinch roller or capstan) to match the tempo capabilities of their students. And of course Bunk Johnson was slowing down records in the late 20s for his own purposes.
With unlimited access to a near-infinite world of music, and the 'improvisational' capabilities of software, music fans live in a world of multi-layered diversity in tastes nearly impossible to keep track of.
Don't You Have any "Beach Music?"
It's no longer possible to predict or even guess at another's musical preferences using past criteria like one's upbringing in a particular environment, economic status (how many records or CDs one could buy), or the probable radio stations one listened to. Nor can we calculate a person's preferences by the friends she keeps or the social groups he belongs to -- we live in a world of hyper-diversity.
Today we can only estimate preferences from a mythological rather than local-historical vantage point, i.e. we can only speculate about the kinds of moods and messages a person may prefer, and the possible mix they respond to. But even that takes a bit of on-the-spot research rather than predetermined assumptions.
Beach Music has also become unpredicatable. It hasn't been a single category of music in nearly 30 years. One could easily make a case that Beach Music split into two basic categories around 1962, 1) hard Rhythm and Blues, 2) the advent of Motown and sweet 60s Soul.
From the 80s to today, it has blossomed and embraced several other genres--Country, early Pop, Jump Blues, Rock and Roll, Reggae, Hip Hop, and variations in between. Loud detractors haven't changed the facts. They may embarrass some into not admitting what they like, but Beach Music is now wide and deep.
Some Beach DJs have proclaimed their preferences as being the only "true" Beach or Shag music. Those who share their preferences show up at the parties they emcee. The same holds true for those who prefer the stylings of their favorite bands. None of them represent "true" Beach Music, but collectively they constitute the Truth about Beach Music consumption. It has many faces, sounds, moods, tempos, styles, appetites, and fans.
To appreciate Beach Music in its entirety requires openness and tolerance. Odd isn't it? That's what was required of Caucasians in the beginning -- openness, tolerance, and respect, for a very different culture that embodied new possibilities of expression and enjoyment which EuroAmerican culture didn't offer.
-- Fessa' John Hook (c) September 2009
Does ‘Supporting’ Beach Music Really Work ?
In case you hadn’t noticed, Beach Music is not only in transition, it’s undergoing a major upheaval which may or may not lead to its reinvention.
How do we know we’re in transition? There’s lots of activity, much of it driven by desperation, a tiny bit is grasping at new opportunities.
Changes in Beach Music culture have also been reflected in the loss of nightclubs, performance venues, and the loss of nearly all our retail outlets. With those have come outcries that we must “support” the clubs, venues and retail outlets if we want Beach Music to continue. The problem is, that’s not the way, or the why, in which human beings participate in social organizations.
We don’t participate in order to “support.” Involvement is always prefaced by something we find attractive. Beach Music is apparently becoming less and less attractive. No one wants to support something simply to keep it from dying. We support what we’re attracted to, what makes us feel Alive!
Drilling deeper, what Beach Music offers matches our taste preferences and values less and less. That’s been obvious in the disputes which abound as to what Beach Music *is,* where its attraction is centered. Just as clear is the fact that Beach Music means different things to different people, anchored in their original experiences of Beach Music.
No matter what our experiences have been, things are changing.
On the artistic side, songwriters are rising to an elevated position. People like Doug Manning, Ron Moody, the Jeffords Brothers, Cagle and Nash, and Tommy Black are becoming more prominent forces. Right behind them, Joe Chambers with the Royal Scotsmen, David Spiegel, and Danny Brooks with the Rockin’ Revelators stepped out from behind the curtains.
At the same time, singers too long in the shadows have re-emerged. Earl Dawkins is on a steady roll with the Entertainers. Jerry West fronted the Band of Oz on an extraordinary song. J.D. Cash is rising phoenix-like to a new trajectory. Reverend Bubba D. Liverance uncloaked his formidable soulfulness with his debut CD. Jerry Wilson, one of the front men for the Soulmasters in the 60s has popped back into the mainstream.
Meanwhile, other avenues of Beach Music expression may be shrinking or disappearing.
One way to observe the changes is in the three primary realms of every industry, including Beach Music--Production, Distribution, and Marketing.
Distribution Has Changed the Most
In Distribution, the main players have dwindled to a handful. KHP leads with several projects on the shelves and on the drawing board. We have to put an additional star next to their name for courageous experimentations. Their efforts to promote ‘Southern Soul’ as an alternative name for Beach Music seems to have evaporated. Their alliance with the National Rhythm and Blues DJ Association produced two CDs bundled with hope and a roll of the dice. One of their latest alliances has generated the first Tobacco Road project, the Carolina Soul Collection.
Coming behind KHP is Forevermore, Ripete, and SisBro. Of the three Forevermore puts out at least one strong CD per year with several projects on the drawing board. Ripete may have launched its last salvo with Keep On Shaggin’ Vol 2 and J.D.’s latest. SisBro has one new CD out, perhaps a couple more to follow.
How many CDs are they selling collectively? You can be sure that compared with 25 years ago, sales are dismal at best. CDs are disappearing from traditional retail outlets. In the future, bands will be better off selling them from the stage while their fans are fired with emotion and filled with admiration.
Meanwhile, there’s a proliferation of tiny independent, home-owned record labels. Calabash Blues and Boogie Band, Reverend Bubba, Cagle and Nash, Chairmen of the Board, Chocolate Thunder, Frankie McNeill and the Counts, and a few others have their own labels.
The future of distribution is MP3s and downloads, with a caveat. Artists are going to have to re-evaluate their goals in recording and distribution. The good news is that MP3 distribution is far less costly than pressing CDs. On the other hand, recording studio rates are still costly. The most common counter-strategy is to use home recording units and software. Unfortunately, that means that ‘home-made’ recordings are limited by the production experience and ideas of the artists—which are minimal. This is a promising area for innovation.
Production Practices are Stagnant
Can an artist employ the unique talents of someone like Johnny Barker for production ideas, multi-layering practices, and his unique approach to replicating ‘real’ instruments with keyboards and computer? What else can be done to move original lyrics and melodies from Good to Great?
Perhaps the bigger question is whether artists can reinvent their orientation to production. One can ‘hope’ that one’s muse will lead to success, or one can learn new ways with which to observe what has the most impact.
The challenge is this – although the handwriting is on the wall, it’s written in invisible ink. Either that, or artistic ambition has narrowed to a tiny spectrum of “doing the best I can” while ignoring the larger issues facing Beach Music.
One of two things can change the future of Beach Music—Learning or Luck.
Marketing – The Ever Evolving Dimension of Industry
Marketing has undergone equally vast change. Twenty five years ago there were 75-100 radio stations running Beach Music shows. Mobile DJs who tied their entertainment to Beach Music were few. The Association of Beach and Shag Club DJs didn’t exist, although the seeds of their institution were sprouting.
Shag clubs were on the verge of exploding in 1984. Regional groups were recording and releasing new product prodigiously. Dancers had as much or more authority in launching new “Beach Music” hits than radio DJs.
As S.O.S. membership grew, the club jocks had a greater influence as well. There were also several Beach Music record labels at the time, as well as three or four powerful booking agencies doing their part in promoting Beach Music on college and high school campuses, country clubs, and numerous other venues.
They were all institutions at the center of *marketing* Beach Music. Of course, the meaning of Beach Music was also transforming from the values of the 60s Golden Era with the renaissance of the pioneers of Shag from the 40s and 50s and the values they revitalized.
Since 1995 the CAMMYs, now the Carolina Beach Music Awards, were highly influential in *marketing / promoting* Beach Music.
The disheartening fact to many is that all these marketing practices are losing steam.
Fragmentation has returned to the Beach Music world. In the past this was marked by unique regional styles of dance and music preferences. A hit in Raleigh was unheard of in Augusta. A top group in Greensboro may never have played at Myrtle Beach and so forth.
Today, bands sponsor cruises which embrace their fans. Band collectives brings together somewhat larger groups, but with many overlapping fans.
Inside DJ ranks, fragmentation is abundant. Some DJs rally almost exclusively around regional bands. Others still haven’t broken out of the 80s, playing “Coolin’ Out,” “Ms Grace,” and other hits of the period, weekly and incessantly. Still others have closed ranks in what are called Vinyl Parties. Some DJs stay within their notion that early R&B is the only kind of Beach Music that matters.
Oddly, alongside the fragmentation is an artificial representation of Beach culture in many of the DJs’ personal Top 20 and Top 40 charts which are compiled by ‘agents’ of Beach Music who are careful not to challenge their authenticity. The fact is, most of the charts do not reflect what the DJs play during their engagements.
Where does all this leave the fans? Confused? Dissatisfied?
How often are fans told by DJs and bands that “I don’t have what you want with me,” or “we just don’t do that song” ?
These are some of the signs of transition which is pervasive throughout Beach Music culture.
Prepare yourself for even bigger changes in the very near future.
--John Hook © 2009
Bootlegger Declares Bankruptcy !
Sad news for the Beach Music world.
“Mr. X,” the leading bootlegger of the past 20 years, has closed down his business. It was both a surprise to him and a great disappointment to his fans.
“I did everything right,” ‘X’ explained recently. “I picked out and bought the top 10 CDs released by KHP, Ripete, Sisbro and others; an initial investment of $120 plus tax, $128.40. I copied them using CD blanks I buy for 20 cents apiece and burned a 1,000 of them, 100 of each title. It was a perfect investment. I put about 33 cents into each CD, then let all my customers know they were available.”
After three months of intense e-mail and pre-paid, untraceable, cell-phone marketing ‘X’ realized the market had changed.
“I was only charging $9.00 for each CD! I got three orders. $27. I lost my ass!”
‘X’ cut his prices to $5.99 per CD, still no orders.
Following his bankruptcy, ‘X’ sold his duplicating equipment to a salvage yard for $14. “I still lost my ass, $41 for the entire project if you count the money I got for the equipment.”
The future may still be bright for ‘X.’
“I’ve been thinking,” he shared a little mysteriously, “I’ve been looking at what the other bootleggers have been doing – not bootlegging, I know all about that – I mean their ‘day jobs.’ Some of them are accountants, salesmen, retail owners, doctors, lawyers….it runs the whole gamut. If I can just figure out a way to bootleg what *they* do, and sell the products at a cut-rate I could not only make money, I could train-wreck their careers!”
We were stunned.
“Aw, come on. Bootlegging might seem to be disrespectful for the time and learning people put into their craft, but it’s Capitalism. It’s American, you dumb ass!”
As usual, we were left speechless.
11/13/09 -- John Hook