When I was a teenager, I started hanging out at a hole-in-the-wall dive bar on campus called Bernie’s to see punk rock shows. About 12 years later, an old friend convinced me to go to a local show at the old watering hole where I randomly met Matt Jensen, drummer of local punk band The Scratches. Jensen performed that night first with his side project (going by band name Earthworm Tim at the time), and later with The Scratches, who put on a punk rock show truly fitting for the atmosphere. It wasn’t until later that I realized I also knew the band’s bass player, Darby Antle; having met him at ComFest many years earlier. Since seeing The Scratches for the first time, my girlfriend and I have seen them around town several times, playing venues all over the city and truly paying their dues.

I sat down with Mr. Jensen recently to discuss some of the best venues in Columbus to see local bands, and it was only fitting that we started with Bernie’s.


Matt Jensen Press Photo
Matt Jensen on the throne


Venue
: Bernie’s

Location: 1896 N. High St. (North Campus)

Crowd Type: Punk. Says Jensen: “If you want to feel like you’re going to a true punk rock show, you should probably go to Bernie’s. You’ll probably get your teeth kicked in and a broken nose.”

Music Scene: Mostly locals. Some touring bands, but not as many as there used to be. Punk rock is the mainstay, but on any given night you can find anything from alternative to hip-hop.

Bar: Bernie’s bar is tiny, crowded, and usually only staffed by one person at a time, but it’s probably the cheapest domestic beer you’ll find in the area.

Average Admission Price: $8, and the occasional free show.

Food: Though colloquially known as just Bernie’s, its full name is actually Bernie’s Bagels & Deli/The Distillery. During the day, Bernie’s is just like any other campus deli serving affordable sandwiches, soups, and sides to Ohio State University students.

Parking: Not the best. If you’re lucky enough to find a meter on or near High St., you had better take it. Otherwise, you’re relegated to driving through neighborhoods filled with frat houses trying to find a spot to wedge into. If you have money, (what punk rocker does?), you can park at the OSU Union parking garage across the street for a few bucks.

Stage and Sound Quality: Much like the bar, Bernie’s stage, if you can call it that, is small and backed into a corner. Rising only a few inches off of the ground, it puts enough distance between the fans and bands for nominal comfort and boasts two large PA speakers. Though the sound quality is not the greatest, the performing bands sound very authentic and live- which only adds to the experience.

Takeaway: Bernie’s is the place to be if you want to see an authentic punk rock show. Find a decent place to park and bring a few bucks for beers, and you’re likely to have a hell of a night.


Venue: Scarlet & Grey

Location: 2203 N. High St. (another North Campus favorite)

Crowd Type: College crowd. Shows are ages 18+, with a big presence of students from Ohio State University.

Music Scene: Anything goes. You might have touring bands, locals, electronica and dubstep, and acoustic music all in the same weekend. S&G’s slogan is “we treat bands like rockstars,” offering a green room backstage with private bathrooms for performing artists as well as couches and a TV, which helps bring a lot of bands (and their fans) coming back.

Bar: You can expect a fully stocked bar with average “campus” prices. There are generally a few staff on hand who offer good service and treatment.

Average Admission Price: $7, with several free shows each month.

Food: Just like Bernie’s, most people leave the “café” out of the Scarlet & Grey Café’s name. Though the menu is small, patrons can choose from pizza, burgers, fries, and wings, adding to your typical college campus bar experience.

Parking: Parking is available on many of the side streets off of High St., and will usually require driving around 3 or 4 blocks on a busy night to find a good spot.

Stage and Sound Quality: The stage at Scarlet & Grey is noticeably big, with drum risers and enough room for a full-sized band to perform with all of their instruments and have room to move around. Jensen says that S&G has some of the “best lighting and sound” of the many venues The Scratches have performed in Columbus.

Takeaway: Scarlet & Grey is a good venue for an all ages (18+) show, has a great atmosphere for the performing bands, and you can see touring artists there without having to go through the hassle of TicketMaster.


The Scratches at Victorys
The Scratches performing at Victory’s Live

Venue: Victory’s

Location: 543 S. High St. (Brewery District)

Crowd Type: Post-college adults there to hear local music. Located between downtown Columbus and the Brewery District, Jensen usually finds the crowd to be around 25 – 30 years old.

Music Scene: Mostly local rock, alternative, and punk bands. Just like Bernie’s, you’re likely to hear a lot of unique music from Columbus’ underground scene.

Bar: Micro-brews, local-brews, and popular domestics are staple finds at Victory’s bar. Prices are a little higher than your typical dive bar, but remain standard for any local music venue in town. Fully stocked and spacious enough for comfortable seating.

Average Admission Price: Free

Food: Adjacent to the music room, Victory’s offers an in-house pizza place with subs, sides, and all your favorite pie varieties. Prices are average and service is tableside.

Parking: This may just be one of the most convenient venues for parking. Because most of the businesses in the area close down at night, Jensen finds the area to be “safe, with great parking at the meters on High St.”

Stage and Sound Quality: The stage is a little small, and forget about seeing the drummer once the fog machine comes on, but Jensen describes the sound system and lighting as an “awesome experience for both fans and audience.”

Takeaway: If you want your audience to have a good time, be well fed, and have a great selection of drinks, Victory’s is the place to be.


Venue: The Basement

Location: 391 Neil Ave. (Arena District)

Crowd Type: A marketer’s dream. Being a part of the PromoWest family, the Basement attracts fans of all ages who attend to see national and international touring bands. Jensen feels “you’re more likely to find a commercial target audience there than locals just there to drink and see their friends’ bands.”

Music Scene: DJs, indie, electronic, pop-punk, rap, etc. Mostly touring bands, but PromoWest is very good about getting locals to open, such as when The Scratches opened for Anti-Flag last month.

Bar: Long and shallow, the bar offers a lot of seating and several TVs to watch the stage or something else on television. Jensen describes prices and selection as “typical for any music venue, with big brand drinks and quick service.”

Average Admission Price: $13 plus TicketMaster fees.

Food: Though the venue itself doesn’t provide food, it is connected to the A&R bar upstairs which serves Mikey’s Late Night Slice; arguably one of the most popular food truck enterprises in town.

Parking: Jensen describes parking in this area as another safe bet, with parking garages across the street on Neil Avenue as well as a large lot behind the venue.

Stage and Sound Quality: Being a part of the PromoWest family, The Basement offers “a nice stage with great lighting and a professional sound engineer.” The stage is sunken, unlike almost any other venue in Columbus, but still provides an interesting experience.

Takeaway: The Basement is not your local mom-and-pop venue. It is professional, commercial, and you’re far more likely to walk into a show from a touring band than a local.

The Scratches at The Basement
The Scratches’ setup for a performance at The Basement

Venue: Ace of Cups

Location: 2619 N. High St. (Just north of North Campus)

Crowd type: Without sounding cheeky, the crowd type at Ace of Cups is your typical college hipster.

Music Scene: Popular local groups, some touring bands, mostly indie and alternative. The Scratches played there once, so sometimes pop-punk.

Bar: Ace of Cups is certainly unique in this article as it probably provides the most imports, micro-brews, and other rare finds for beer connoisseurs. Prices are what you would expect to pay for an imported lager from The Netherlands, but having a wide selection is a distinctive factor.

Average Admission Price: $7, and the occasional free comedy show.

Food: Though AoC has eclectic food finds such as sweet coconut rice porridge, easter pie with kale salad, and vegan empanadas, Jensen was quick to remind me of the cornerstone campus establishments in the area such as Hounddog’s Pizza and Mikey’s Late Night Slice. Ray Ray’s Hog Pit & BBQ also delivers to AoC’s parking lot each weekend.

Parking: There is a small parking lot available, but once it fills up, you’re back to circling the neighborhood to find a side street to park on.

Stage and Sound Quality: Jensen described the sound quality as good, with a big, wide stage which gives the audience a better chance at visually seeing the bands.

Takeaway: This is a bar for the in-crowd. Micro-brews, indie bands, and food you’ve never heard of will leave an inimitable taste in your mouth.


Venue: Spacebar

Location: 2590 N. High St. (North Campus, across the street from Ace of Cups)

Crowd Type: A “noticeably younger crowd, with hardcore, pop-punk, and other alternative bands.” When discussing the crowd, Jensen and I both felt that the crowd was very inclusive and friendly.

Music Scene: The Spacebar definitely caters to local bands, as the one time that I was there, members of local bands who were not performing that night made up a large population of the audience and even staff. Jensen describes the music as having “a lot of locals, some touring bands, and other popular bands from the Midwest. Lots of acoustic, alternative, and pop-punk.”

Bar: Fitting to their name, this venue has an excellent bar tucked away at the back of the room. “There are a lot of craft beers on tap as well as popular domestic beers.” Prices are average or even a little higher than average, but you definitely get what you pay for.

Average Admission Price: $7, and the occasional free show.

Food: Though the venue doesn’t have food available, the building is right next door to Mikey’s Late Night Slice (which I’ve plugged three times now in this article).

Parking: There is a small lot, but typical to campus, you’re more likely to find a spot on one of the residential side streets.

Stage and Sound Quality: Jensen describes the stage as “big and open, with good sound quality.” He also mentioned that the owners of the venue were still in the process of acoustical soundproofing, as the Spacebar was recently renovated from now-closed venue Kobo.

Takeaway: “It’s a nice little place to play or see a show, with a good atmosphere and newly-renovated improvements upon the old venue.”


You can catch The Scratches at their next performance at Vans Warped Tour in Cincinnati on July 16th on the Ernie Ball Stage or tune in to 99.7 The Blitz Local Stuff to hear their latest studio single, “Left Sunk In.”

ZF.

http://www.thescratches.com/

https://www.facebook.com/thescratches614

https://twitter.com/ScratchesBand

Purchase at iTunes

The Scratches Cartoon Press Photo

One of my earliest musical memories is watching Michael Jackson videos on TV and begging my dad to tape them and painstakingly write down all of the lyrics so I could sing along. He didn’t hesitate to buy me a guitar, and didn’t scold me when I never touched it and asked for a drumset a year later. I ended up playing drums in various bands for about ten years before I picked up guitar and vocals around the year 2008. I remember telling all of my friends that I was going to release a solo album, and I honestly really tried. I’ve probably written 20 – 30 songs a year since then, but have never really been satisfied or had the time to pursue releasing a proper album.

All that changed a couple of years ago when I woke up in the middle of the night in a tent in the mountains of West Virginia with a tune running through my head. I had fallen asleep the night before listening to Rufus Wainwright’s latest album and thought maybe for a second that whatever was stuck in my head was simply a reincarnation of one of his songs. Conveniently I had brought my ukulele and iPhone camping with me, as I never leave home without them, and started demoing this song, much to the chagrin of my neighbors (which is a whole other unbelievable story).

That song turned out to be “Wrecking Ball,” which is my first proper solo release and single which is now officially on iTunes, Spotify, and the like. It’s the first song I wrote where I didn’t poorly rip off Neutral Milk Hotel or attempt to sing high-pitched whiny pop-punk songs just to fit into a mold which didn’t fit me. I also recorded, mixed, and mastered all of it myself, except for the help of audio engineer Ryan Liptak (of Happy Tooth & Dug fame) who recorded the drums and lead guitar.

This is the guy that I probably ripped off.
This is the guy that I probably ripped off.

In the year 2015, I set one and only one goal for myself: to finally release my solo album. I even came up with a fancy name, “Some Things Never Change,” which is spot on considering this has been my great white buffalo for the past six years. I’ve written and demoed the majority of the songs, buying fancy recording equipment and trying to push myself to the outer limits of my comfort zone. It has been rewarding and stressful all at the same time, and when you actually think about everything that goes in to making an album, it can certainly seem daunting.

The first step in creating an album is being a competent musician. In all my years of private lessons, practice, ripping off my favorite bands, and trying to create a niche for myself, I finally feel competent enough as a musician to be able to write a decent song. I usually start with a lyric, or a “hook,” craft a melody based off of that, then pick up an instrument. My go to instrument is usually guitar, ukulele, or piano as of late, and helps me craft the chords with which the song will take shape.

Then I do a free-write to help me fill in the lyrical holes, and basically just journal like a sixth-grade girl until I pull something from deep enough within to be taken seriously as an artist. Being a marketing graduate, I crafted a press kit with the quote “lyrical topics include accepting your past, fatherly advice, marriage and income inequality, suicide, and of course a self-deprecating song about hipsters.” Pretty serious stuff, right? It’s not all bad, I did attempt to write a self-deprecating song about hipsters, but honestly it seems so gimmicky and vapid that I’m not sure it will even make the cut.

Dear Diary: Why Aren't I a Rockstar yet? :(
Dear Diary: Why Aren’t I a Rockstar yet? 😦

So I’ve got the bare bones of the song done; chords, melodies, and lyrics, and the next thing to do is to record a scratch track or demo track. These two are not technically the same thing, but I’ll often demo a song and use it as a scratch track later when I’m recording the master. Many engineers and musicians will tell you to always record drums first, and I’ll have to agree with them. Trying to record drums over anything is a serious pain in the ass, even if you’ve followed your metronome like a robot. But music isn’t robotic. Music ebbs and flows and is rarely static.

I always record drums first, and always close enough to a click that it sounds like I know what I’m doing. I guess I forgot to mention the step where I also have to write the drum part. One summer when I was on Vans Warped Tour I spent the whole two months without access to recording gear, so I would listen to my acoustic demos and tap out drum parts with my hands or think of them in my head. I remember my bass player asking me with a genuinely confused look why I always listen to myself. He must have thought I was extremely self-centered. Well, he wouldn’t be wrong in assuming that.

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Photo Credit: twitter.com/THAOphoto

I write and record the drums, and then it’s off to the races with the rest of the rhythm tracks. I lay down a rhythm guitar, bass guitar, scratch vocal, then I start crafting my leads. I never truly appreciated leads until I joined the band Someone Like You and we recorded our debut EP as professionally as we could afford to. I watched our three guitarists come up with lead after lead and heard them seemlessly melt into the verses and choruses, adding texture, melody, and harmony to an otherwise bland rhythm guitar.

Once I have all the leads written, I record the main vocal, add some harmony, back-ups, and listen to the song on repeat enough that if it were on Spotify I’d be rich by now. The next phase is mixing and mastering, which is honestly so much of a science that I wouldn’t do it justice by discussing it here. I add some compression, equalization, reverb and delay, adjust the levels, and once all that is sorted out I start the mastering phase. When mastering, I always refer to the phrase “Radio Ready” to compare my final mix with what one might hear on the radio. Is it loud enough? Have I panned appropriately? Is it clipping anywhere? What about unwanted noise, or even sounds getting lost in the mix?

Mixing and mastering is probably the hardest part of the whole album process, as you can never truly be done mixing. I learned early on to realize when something is the best it’s going to get and just roll with it. Once I’ve got the masters, I can start uploading them to bandcamp, SoundCloud, YouTube, and get my wavs sent off to iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and other digital retailers. At this point in the game, I’ve spent practically no money on recording as I already own or borrow the instruments, have cheap home recording gear, and most websites and retailers are free. I’ll spend about $20 getting CD Baby or TuneCore to put my music on iTunes, but it’s not a bad return on investment.

This s**t takes forever.
This s**t takes forever.

Artwork and photography are a very important visual representation of your music. I’ve got a decent camera and some free editing software, and can easily come up with some promo pics and album artwork. In the day and age of digital purchases, artwork is less important, but it’s not difficult to create something professional on your own in one evening. Next I’ll take my camera and make some YouTube videos, lyric videos, or promotional videos, throw them up for free online and publish them to my social media accounts.


I went to school for marketing and public relations, so it’s easy for me to come up with branding, distribution, press releases and media kits. I work in business administration so I’m able to stay organized and within budget. I’m just a kid from a small town in Ohio, so trust me when I say that if I can do this, anyone can. Getting out and playing shows is the next step, and honestly networking is key. Music is all about community and one of the most valuable lessons I learned playing in punk rock bands is that we all look out for each other. Trading shows with bands or getting added at the last second is common, and concerts are one of the most important means of keeping the momentum of your music going.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. You’ll likely have to invest some money before you even get started, and be prepared to make a lot of personal sacrifices (sorry babe). I can only imagine that I won’t earn much income with my music, and having a day job and a personal life can hinder that even more. The important thing is having fun, not putting too much stress on yourself, and sharing one of the most basic human rituals with others. That’s why I’ve decided that in 2015, I’m finally going to release a new album for a new year.

In keeping with the spirit of an album release, today we’ll talk about how to price your album. There are many different factors to consider when establishing a price, such as how much money you put into the making of the album (studio time, artwork, photography, advertising); how much money you hope to earn from sales of the album (after dividing money between band members, paying income tax, manufacturing overhead), and ultimately, what you think the album is worth.

Manufacturing Overhead: Overhead is the cost of doing business. So you rent a studio space for $500 a month, it costs you $750 to press new merchandise each month, and your entire band needs a cost of living wage; so when it’s all said and done, your overhead is likely several thousands of dollars per month.

Income Tax: Taxes paid on all incoming revenue. If you are a solo artist or sole proprietor, or your band is a co-owned LLC, you would generally pay the IRS your income tax quarterly as an independent contractor.

Many artists calculate what they’ll sell their album for by starting with the product cost. What I’ve heard a lot of bands say is “the CDs each cost $2 to press, so we need to earn at least $2.” This is called break-even pricing. What this strategy vies for is earning enough revenue to cover the cost of manufacturing. What it doesn’t take into account is how much money it cost to record the album in a professional studio, how much the photographer was paid, and how much time each band member spent practicing, recording, and promoting. Unless you’re opting for the freemium model (which we’ll discuss later on), this is the best worst-case scenario.

If you want to earn a profit on the sale of your records, what you’ll likely want to do is markup your sale price. Cost-plus pricing is when you consider the initial cost of manufacturing and add (plus) your desired profit. So it takes $2 to press each CD, and you want to earn a minimum of $5 profit per sale, so you sell each album for $7. In today’s economic environment, is this the most realistic price? If every other musician on the planet is selling their album for only $5, and you are selling yours for $7, who do you think the audience is more likely to support? Unless you have added value (bonus tracks, free downloads online, music videos, etc.), your competition is likely to prevail. Competition-based pricing is just that- pricing your products at the same price or lower than your competitors. I’m sure you’ve seen gas stations across the street from one another lowering their prices by mere pennies just to gain market share; well it’s not much different in today’s music industry where supply greatly outweighs demand.

Gross Profit: This is the amount of money you make before paying off your band members, income tax, and using the band fund to cover costs such as hotels and meals.

Net Profit: This is the amount of money that you earn after all expenses are paid. So you sold $1,000 worth of albums, but after living expenses, taxes, and per diems, you’ve got about $40 bucks.

With the increase in streaming programs such as Spotify, Pandora, and Rdio, many consumers, especially die hard music fans aren’t even buying much music anymore. Sure, they might pick up a vinyl record or download an album on bandcamp to support an artist they love, but in 2014, several artists surpassed over one billion plays each on Spotify. With this technological shift in the way we consume music, many bands, especially indie ones, are opting for pay-what-you-want or freemium pricing strategies.

Pay-what-you-want is so simple that it makes you wonder why no one thought of it years ago. Radiohead was one of the first bands to successfully execute this model with the release of In Rainbows in 2008, which saw millions of downloads worldwide. Many indie artists are using the PWYW method as a gamble. Realistically, most people will probably download your album for $0, but every once in a while you might get a very generous benefactor. I remember one time I was hawking my old band’s EP for $5 at a Warped Tour stop in New Jersey, and after hearing us, a young woman offered $20 for the 5-song EP that we recorded in our singer’s basement. She was heavily intoxicated and clearly incapable of making financial decisions, so I declined her offer as many times as possible before she simply shoved the $20 in my face. I gave her $20 worth of merchandise and sang her a few tunes on my ukulele, making damn sure she got her money’s worth, as that was the first (and last) time anybody paid me $20 for my music.

Finally we’ve arrived at the current trend in indie music, the freemium model. When I was going to university for marketing, I had always heard a term called “loss leader” which is a strategy that works well for major corporations. A loss leader is a product that the company sells for a low price or gives away in order to drive consumers to their establishments in the hopes that they will buy other items on which the company will profit. McDonald’s sells $1 large drinks in the summer in hopes that the customers will buy Big Macs and whatever other expensive crap they sell. It usually works. In the music industry, time and time again artists are realizing that the best money they’ll make is on the road. And how can you guarantee that people will come out to see your concert? Well, you can’t really, but giving them free music is definitely a start.

Recently, U2, one of the biggest bands of time immemorial, released their latest album for free on iTunes to all of its users. In all of my years avoiding pop radio and television, I suddenly found myself with a copy of an album which I had previously gone out of my way to avoid. I’d be lying if I didn’t enjoy the U2 tracks that came up on my shuffle, but will I ever go see them live? Probably not, but if it were a local band whose concert I could afford attending, I would definitely be more inclined to go than if they were charging me $10 to listen to their album.

We’ll touch on pricing again as we get into the 4th P, Promotion, covering topics such as discounts and incentives, but for now this is most of what you need to know in order to start pricing your album. Tune in next week to read about place; also known as distribution.