Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Numero Uno

Well, sort of. Yesterday we reached number 1 on the ReverbNation charts for rock in Bristol. You will note that is rather specific! ReverbNation is a global site, but they publish charts based on a combination of music genre and geographical coverage. Geographically, the choice is local, national (UK, in our case), and global. So though we've achieved number one position for Bristol rock, on the national rock chart our position is number 124, and on the global it's 1798. So a long way to go yet! Similarly, if you look at the all genres chart today, our position in Bristol drops to number 28. Worldwide, it's 9593. Still, there are something like 800 000 artists on the Reverb; we're above most of them!

Obviously, we'd like to do better - if we could achieve top 5 across all genres for Bristol, I think it should help in getting gigs. Likewise a good national position in rock.

The Reverb charts are constructed using a number called band equity, calculated nightly for the previous two weeks - anything older than that doesn't count. This number is constructed from a number of items - song plays and video plays, facebook likes, number of fans, widget hits etc. Reverb won't publish how these are calculated for fear of people gaming the system, though I've noticed some things seem to work better than others.

If you want to help us maintain our position, or better still improve it, just follow one of the links on this page and listen to some of the songs. You could press the Facebook like button on our Reverb page, or share the link with your Facebook friends. Or you could join our mailing list, either directly or by opening a fan page on ReverbNation. Or you could join either our Facebook Group or our Facebook page - they are both easily found. If you have a website of your own, you could grab the widget from the right of this page and install it there. Or you could add this "tunepak" to your email signature: http://www.reverbnation.com/tunepak/2812902

It's a hard life, getting heard - any help will be appreciated!


Saturday, 21 August 2010

"What's in a Name?"

"....that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet." (Romeo and Juliet).

Perhaps so, but the naming of bands can be quite a serious affair. Would Led Zeppelin have been half as successful under the name Lead Balloon? (Keith Moon's suggestion, according to music industry legend). Or even the New Yardbirds, which name they used for their first few gigs?

Often a name comes to signify a particular style of music: Can you imagine the Sex Pistols playing any other music than punk? Of course they helped invent the genre, so will be forever identified with it. But they also helped set the pattern for many punk bands to have confrontational names.

Then there's prog rock: Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes, Rush, Genesis (early), Van der Graaf Generator; Marillion, Twelth Night, Pendragon, Haze; Mostly Autumn, Dream Theater, Spock's Beard, Porcupine Tree, The Mars Volta. All bands that seem to have been labelled as prog rock at one time or another. Can we spot any patterns there? I dunno, but there's a useful guide to choosing your prog rock band name about three quarters of the way down this page: http://www.cracked.com/funny-2359-progressive-rock/ If forced to change our band name, I might use this guide myself. Electric Mushroom Monolith, perhaps?

When we formed Dark Energy, I had in mind that the band would play old school progressive rock (yes I know that's sounds like a contradiction in terms!), so wanted a name to reflect that. Though I would add that most of the songs we have so far are fairly straightforward rock songs; I think only three or four could reasonably be characterised as "prog", though we intend to be doing more in future.

Why Dark Energy? I've always liked the idea of band names relating to scientific concepts, particularly physics. Many have been used, of course: For instance, a quick google search turns up several different bands called Schrodinger's Cat. No doubt there are more. Quantum Leap? There was a band called that in the '70s. Relativity? Yep - a covers band in Utah. The Michelson-Morley Experiment? Just found their Facebook page.

I was hoping to be ahead of the curve with Dark Energy, as a it's a relatively new concept. Not new enough, it seems; the term was coined a decade ago. So far I've found another band in the UK, one in LA, and several dance artists. Still, none of them have made it big yet, so we can still use the name.

What is Dark Energy? The short answer is, no one really knows. Hence the name!

Longer answer (the faint hearted and physics-challenged may wish to stop here):

It's now generally accepted by cosmologists that the Universe has been expanding since its origin in the Big Bang, around 13.7 billion years ago. As to whether there was anything before the Big Bang (yes, according to some theories), whether the Universe is infinite (Probably. But it may depend on what you mean by universe), and whether there are other universes (again, probably) - these are all questions for another time. What was also known was that the expansion was slowing down. What wasn't known was whether the expansion would continue slowing down but never quite stop, come to a halt completely, or reverse itself so that the universe would collapse in on itself (the Big Crunch). All these scenarios are allowed by relativity, the determining factor being the amount of mass in the universe. Many cosmologists liked the idea that the expansion would come to a halt, but there wasn't enough visible mass to cause this. Hence the suggestion of "Dark Matter": matter that has little interaction with ordinary matter, except for gravity. You can think of this of stuff that floats around in space somewhere, not making planets and stars, but still bound to them by gravity. This sounds like it was just made up, but there is some evidence for it. I don't think I have the space to go into that here though!

The big shock came in 1998: Observations of Type 1A supernovae showed that the expansion of the universe was actually accelerating! This type of supernova is a "standard candle": Because of the mechanism that causes them, they all have the same absolute luminosity. If you compare their observed brightness with their absolute brightness, you can work out how far away they are. But you can also calculate how far away they are by their red shift. The higher the red shift, the farther away. It turns out that Type 1A supernovae at billions of light years distance are fainter than they should be according to their redshift; thus implying that the universe's expansion is accelerating, and has been for the last 5 billion years.

No one knew why though, so initially, cosmologists dubbed the unknown force that was causing this expansion "Dark Energy", by analogy with Dark Matter. Another thing invisible, except for its effects.

Since then, of course, many ideas have been suggested for what Dark Energy is: For instance, it may be an antigravitational force that is stronger at large scales, which is why it was not apparent when the universe was younger and smaller. Or it may be a negative pressure arising from vacuum energy (Yes, the vacuum has energy! We'll deal with that another time, perhaps). This is sometimes known as the Cosmological Constant (see "Einstein's biggest mistake". Allegedly.). Or it may be a hypothetical energy field known as Quintessence. The jury is still out.

What we do know is this: Subsequent observations have confirmed the acceleration. Eventually the universe will stretch so much that no meaningful existence will be possible. The time is many billions, perhaps trillions, of years away, but ultimately this universe is doomed. But then it was doomed anyway (see Heat Death and Big Crunch). I guess we'll have to find another one.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

More gigs might be nice

I have a friend who plays in a popular local rock covers band that has been going for three or four years. Right from the start, they found getting gigs to be relatively easy, and now they get offered so many they have to turn a lot down. He often tells me that if I want to play loads of gigs, then playing covers is the way to go. Personally, I think he's forgotten why he picked up the guitar.

He's not wrong though. Most local pubs and bars are considerably more receptive to covers acts than than to those playing their own material. With good reason - much of the audience seems only to be interested in hearing songs they know. Often it will be passing trade: Play something they know, they might stick around. And frankly, most pubs will not put your band on because they think you're great, or because they want to support struggling musicians. They do it because they want to sell beer, and they'll probably sell more if there's a decent band on than if there isn't. So for us, as a relatively new band playing original music, getting gigs in places like this is pretty hard, even when they think we're good. For instance, a booker who normally plans the whole year in advance recently told me that she couldn't book me a gig for 2011 because she didn't know if we had a following. I could call back in the autumn next year and book a gig for 2012 though. But how will she know then if we have a following? Is she depending on my honesty in telling her? As for us, if things go well, I hope by that time to be booking considerably better gigs than her dive of a pub. If we haven't got a decent following by then, then I'm probably wasting my time bothering to try and get a gig there.

There are places that cater for original music, of course, with trade that comes in specifically to hear it. Here we are subject to the vagaries of fashion, though. In Bristol at least, a lot of these places seem to feature either indie type music or very heavy metal. We are neither. And the work of booking bands has mostly been farmed out to promoters. Some are good, but some appear to be clueless teenagers working from their bedrooms: A few months ago I dealt via email with a promoter on MySpace who seemed unable to string a sensible sentence together. I gave him a number of dates we could play, but he told me he'd "filled the bill". A few weeks later he asked me to confirm that we were still playing. Well, I thought, did he mean we were on the bill when he said he'd filled it? If so he wasn't clear! I said OK anyway. He didn't reply. I decided he was a joker, assumed there was no point turning up for the gig. At 7pm on the night, he emailed to tell me the gig was cancelled "until further notice". What?! Are you going to change your mind in the next hour, I thought? Good thing I never bothered to load my stuff in the car.

We have had gigs, of course, mostly through personal connections. We've even played one place three times, with a fourth due in October. I'm very grateful for this, but really, we want to be playing original music venues. To larger audiences. And we're happy to travel, within reason. So Scotland or the States are a bit unlikely in the near future, but we're game for anywhere within a hundred or so miles of Bristol. Maybe a bit further for a really cool gig. Preferably on a weekend. Let me know if you can help. Leave a comment, or follow one of the links on the right hand side, to MySpace or ReverbNation, and write to us from there.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

....Previously on Dark Energy....

Where do I start? Our first gig? Our first practice? The previous band, or the band before that, or the day I first acquired a guitar, back when I was 16?

Dark Energy came about because there was talk in 2008 of a reunion of Ockham's Razor. Jon and I had been the two guitarists in this band, back in the early 1990s. The reunion was not to be, but I had many new songs, so I suggested to Jon that we start a new project, to get some of these played live. In the years since Ockham's Razor, Jon had swapped over to playing bass, so it seemed a good idea to try out the power trio format. We had our first get together in Jon's home studio in January 2009, with Joe joining us on drums in February.

Our first gig came in August that year, supporting two other bands at Bristol's Reckless Engineer pub. We only played 5 songs, but it was a start. It was particularly scary for me, because this was the first band in which I'd been lead singer. I'd barely done backing vocals in previous bands, though a few years ago I did start singing at open mic nights. We followed this up with a small charity gig in September (the "secret" gig - we only got offered it a day or two before, so I had no time for publicity). In October we played a joint gig with our friends from Mephisto's Island at one of my local bars, the Blue Lagoon on Bristol's "famous" Gloucester Road.

This year, we went on to have a run of gigs around Bristol through the spring and early summer, playing a support at the Fleece in March, and main act at the Hotwells Spring Gardens, the Bunch of Grapes, and the Blue Lagoon again (twice!). We also did a couple of semi acoustic turns at the Prom on Gloucester Road, on the open mic and showcase nights. Currently we are on our summer gig break: Our next shows will be in October.

We're looking now to play new and more prestigious venues, and would be happy to play out of town as well. Getting these gigs is the tricky bit though! It's not easy for any new band, particularly a bunch of old lags like us.

What I have in mind for this blog is that it is, yes, partly about publicising the band online, but I shall likely also have a bit of a moan about our progress, or lack thereof. And maybe talk about songwriting issues, playing, bands I've been in before, stuff that happens at gigs, or whatever takes my fancy. Hope you enjoy the ride!