More than just the ‘Best of Open Mic’

I recently asked Brent Murphy from Rascal Music to write a blog piece about our recent recording of the ‘Best of Open Mic’. His story was even more than I expected, a very heartfelt and thought provoking piece… here’s what he sent me…

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Lou, the manager at the Rhythm Hut, asked me to write a few words for their blog about the recent Best of Open Mic recordings I produced in early July at the Hut .. why I wanted to be involved and what drove me to produce them .. it got me thinking. I know why I did them, but how do you put that into words?

I cried the day Amy died.

Why?? .. I asked myself the same question. I’d seen all the videos and heard all the scuttlebutt about the Belgrade concert and knew in my heart that she shouldn’t have been there. It was just the epitome of unabated greed with no care or consideration for the dignity and integrity of the tortured soul that was there for the world to see on stage .. and it was also an unpleasant taste of things to come with the onslaught of ‘mob justice’ on the internet. The days that followed, my tears turned to real anger and frustration when all the media and facebook chatter was about how she was rich, famous and successful and what a hopeless alcoholic druggie she was bla bla bla… People tell themselves a story about how great fame and wealth would be and are so quick to judge when a famous entertainer or sports star doesn’t live up to the images in that story.
I had a brief, but exhilarating, taste of fame in my teen years. I was a ‘pop star’ launched from a TV talent show and run up the flagpole for 18 months with EMI and TVNZ and then left to the wind wondering why no one would take my calls and WTF had just happened .. It did, however, expose me to the machinations of all the industries circling and ready to capitalise on the next talent to walk through the door and run it up the flagpole. I especially found the recording industry a rather fascinating beast. I also learnt that FAME WITHOUT RESPECT has no redeeming qualities at all and is an empty and lonely place to be. I was lucky, I had a great family and I didn’t self-medicate too much with a bottle or weed, or find a needle .. but believe me, it seriously fucks with a young person’s mind!!

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Luke Mahler

Now, I don’t have a problem with capitalism, but I DO have a problem when profits are put before the health and welfare of all living creatures, including singers, songwriters and musicians. I know that my own experience in those teen years, combined with the subsequent discovery and later first hand experience of the ruthless greed that engulfed the recording and touring business through the 80’s, made me hyper sensitive to the issues and Amy’s death hit me real hard. I remember thinking that if I was managing her she’d still be alive .. pretentiously grandiose or hyper-ego?? maybe, but that’s how I felt .. I had similar feelings when Whitney died but I loved Amy, she was an enormous talent, I just couldn’t get enough of ‘Frank’ and her voice was just sublime.
Shortly after Amy died I got asked to be a judge in a talent comp at Kincumber Hotel. At the same time, Australian Idol had been and gone, X-Factor was back, and The Voice was just around the corner. I felt a determination and a responsibility to base my judging criteria on the music alone and NOT commercial potential and visual appeal. I was also aware of other local talent comps around the Central Coast that WERE treating ‘commercial potential and visual appeal’ as important components of the judging criteria and also the rise of ‘singing schools’ priming young talent for the chance at TV stardom .. and you can imagine how I felt about those.

I heard plenty of great young talent at ‘Kincumber Idol’ and came up with the idea of selecting my favourite performers, that had original material, and record them .. just for the hell of it, to give them an opportunity to get a decent recording that wouldn’t cost them a cent, hopefully provide an opportunity of exposure for them that they might not have on their own and, maybe, enable them to see that their art is valued and that there are other possible paths to ‘success’ other than TV and major record labels .. and, of course, because it had a huge ‘feel good’ factor to it. I relished the opportunity to record and produce a CD of different performers. I knew that I would learn so much from the experience and I also knew that recording is the best way to grow as a musician and songwriter .. to hear yourself back, unadulterated, through the speakers is the raw truth in your face.

After all, life is really just a story we tell ourselves and if I had the chance to write a little inspiration and joy in someone’s story then I was in.

Now, of course, if you want to have a career making music money HAS to come into the picture .. I’m a fan of capitalism, bring it on!! (Corporatism and Reaganomics not so much) but if the MUSIC doesn’t drive your career and it’s driven instead on looks, television fame or major label promo machines, then you’re going to be run off the road as soon as the powers that be decide you’re getting a bit old, or think your ‘career’ has jumped the shark .. and best of luck trying to make a buck after that!

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Benjamin Fraser

To eliminate any economic complications I chose to donate all proceeds from the CD ‘Nextdoor Raw 1′ to a charity and then booked all the performers over two nights at Jack’s Bar in Erina to record .. it was a real blast!!

I was determined to do it again.
I’d already forged a great relationship with the Rhythm Hut through playing guitar with the 5-lands band once a month there. This was a bunch of quality musicians getting together just for the joy of playing improvised music with no commercial imperative … The Rhythm Hut had also been running open mics and I’d had my eye out for another venue to record Nextdoor Raw Vol 2 free of any commercial interests … you can guess the rest.

Nextdoor Raw Vol 2 was recorded in August ’14.

Here we are in August 2015 and another series of recordings has just been uploaded to youtube. I chose not to do a CD this year, as we decided to allow covers to be performed and releasing a CD of covers is a logistical pain in the A.

I can clearly remember the first few times I was recorded myself and facing the reality of what I was ok at .. and what I was not so good at. The desire to provide young, and not so young, performers with the same opportunity is a big driver for these projects, along with the fact that I learn so much every time .. after all, we are all students.

The singer and songwriter are at the core of this whole business and everyone else is feeding on them. Some, like most musicians, a few producers and maybe a few managers, feed respectfully with integrity and compassion .. most others just gorge like pigs at the trough and manipulate, deceive and chase quarterly bonuses with no regard whatsoever for the human sacrifice on the table.

For you I was a flame Love is a losing game
Five story fire as you came Love is a losing game

One I wish I never played Oh what a mess we made And now the final frame Love is a losing game

Amy Winehouse

Check out all the videos of our 2015 edition of The Rhythm Hut ‘Best of Open Mic’ below. Special thanks to Brent and Rascal Music for your time, resources and dedication to Central Coast music.

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