I was astounded by the reaction. Audience members who knew every word, who whooped upon hearing the introductions. Who had to run down front and dance… HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
I didn’t expect much of a crowd. There were continuing advertisements in the “Vail Daily,” which had me thinking business would be soft. But that was not the case. The place was about 85% full. And it was a much younger demo than Frampton. Although not that young. A lot of thirtysomethings. As well as people older and younger, and they were there to have a good time.
I guess I’ve been to too many arena shows. I just read the review of Gaga’s opening night in Tacoma in the NYT. She had a dozen dancers.
There were no dancers at the Vilar. Almost nothing distracted from the music. And that’s a revelatory experience.
We’ve been selling music as background ever since the advent of the internet. That’s what Pandora is, background music. There’s music in video games, commercials, syncs in TV programs, the tracks are never foreground, and when you go to the show they razzle dazzle you with elements that have nothing to do with the tunes, which are often enhanced by hard drives, it’s more akin to a circus than a concert, a worshiping of stars as opposed to an experience where the music washes over you and sets your mind free, makes you feel good.
Clarence Greenwood, aka “Citizen Cope,” is 49. You’re supposed to be done at that age.
But he didn’t get any traction until his thirties. And this audience, detached from the hit parade, doesn’t care about age, just music.
He led a peripatetic life. Becoming an artist by accident. A year of college got him interested in poetry. He moved to Austin and thought he’d be behind the scenes, as a producer, and then he went back to D.C. and went out as a DJ, even though he had no experience previously, but his friends in Basehead wanted him to do it.
Then he made demos. And sent them to people and got no response. Because labels are afraid of lawsuits, so they don’t listen at all.
But he got lucky, a scout at Capitol found his cassette at the bottom of a pile and called him up and he was offered a demo deal, 5k, and then an album, which he recorded and it didn’t come out, which confounded Clarence, after all, Capitol had PAID FOR IT!
So it was back to square one. He wrote and recorded new tracks. Cold-called Lenny Waronker, since he was such a fan of Randy Newman. And Lenny’s assistant said he did not take unsolicited calls. But Clarence explained his situation, with Capitol, and he was so nice and so convincing that the assistant told Lenny he had to take the call. Wherein ensued an hour-long conversation about music, not FAME, but music.
But still no deal. Lenny wanted to hear more. And then after hearing more he said he didn’t know what to do with it.
But then the action heated up. Jimmy was interested, over at Interscope, and suddenly Lyor over at IDJ. But Clarence felt best about DreamWorks, even though Jimmy told him he was making a bit mistake.
Turns out he was, or did. There was a DreamWorks album that landed with a thud, but Arista was very interested so DreamWorks let him go for a hundred grand and then Clarence made an album for Arista which was promptly folded into RCA where he was not a priority.
Now I would have given up long before. There was no radio action, nothing other than Cope’s belief.
So he told RCA to give him 5,000 CDs. He believed in the record, didn’t want to tell interested parties to buy it to hear it. He just gave them away, at gigs, to those who were interested, even bodega owners, he got RCA to give him more…
And then word started to spread.
RCA did a good job with licenses, there were a bunch of synchs.
And Santana covered one of his songs.
But there were none of the usual indicators. A few non-comms played the record, but he’d visit stations, like XRT and KFOG, and they wouldn’t add it, he was on his own.
And he’s been on his own ever since.
I asked Clarence if he got this reaction every night.
He said this was tame. He wasn’t sure if it was Vail or because it was a seated venue, but usually the audience is hysterical.
I couldn’t imagine attendees being much more hysterical.
Now I’ve been around. You judge success by the reaction. Anybody would sit there and say there’s something happening here.
And it’s all a result of word of mouth. And Clarence can sell tickets anywhere.
Household names barely break a million on Spotify. Clarence has got one track over 20 million, another at over 15, another over 14, one almost at 7, another almost at 6, and this guy gets no press, you’re not reading stories about him in the media, he’s just plugging along in an alternative universe, where the fans know.
Now he put out his last two projects himself. He was tired of working with the machine, beholden to their schedules. But this time he’s wading back in, he’s got a deal, he wants some of the help.
And he’s been checking out managers, after managing himself.
He’s come full circle.
But the amazing thing is he’s not running on fumes. His music and his career are alive and vital. He’s still creating. He’s an artist.
That’s what the business used to be based upon.