Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Interview with The Queen of the Scene

Years ago, when I was actively seeking out fellow band members to see if I can finally fulfill my life-long dream of becoming a musician, I stumbled on across this website called The Queen of the Scene, right around the time (or era, if you will...) when it was simply operating as an online message board; you know---just your simple online bulletin system in which people (musicians, fans, and music retailers alike) could easily sign up and post a message relating to anything from used musical equipment for sale to meeting up and forming bands and whatnot. What immediately turned me on about this site's prospect was that it was locally based here in Florida; just in my neck of the woods...so to speak. All I needed to do was reply to some postings asking for band mates, lyricists, guitarists, drummers, bassists, etc. and hopefully I could get a chance to collaborate with some fellow musicians on whatever musical project I was enthusiastic about at the time. Sadly though, that venture in social experimentation only yielded in my winding up coming across people that I'd probably never want to run into ever again!  And so my whole music project has been in a perpetual state of development hell ever since. But at any rate; I was surprised to learn that The Queen of the Scene; was in fact, an actual person and not just a catchy website title.

With that being said, it had occurred to me that it would have been in my best interests (as well as the general public's) to do an interview with the Queen of the Scene to possibly get an insight into her work as a promoter, her legacy as an internet social site pioneer, and her associations with the underground music community down here in Florida and whatnot. The following interview was conducted via email, since the great sense of urgency demanded that I not spend so much time transcribing tape recorded conversations ever again... though I'm not frowning upon that practice, mind you. It just takes up a great deal of time, that's all.  And this is why I've taken to employing the use of this method from this point onward, sometimes saving the digital recorder for more specific and unique instances. So without any further ado... what follows here is the final product of several online email conversations going back and forth, edited into a logical sentence structure for your reading pleasure(s)... Enjoy!

PS: First off, I just want to say thanks for agreeing to do this interview for us here at the Gnoyze Guitar Mods & More Web Blog. How long ago was the Queen of the Scene website established, and how exactly did it come to be what it is today?

QOTS: Well, it all started sometime around 1996 or 1997. This all came about as a result of my going out to a lot of local shows back in the day...and by that I mean A LOT of local shows! I have had a great deal of interest in music for all my life...I took some lessons, but I couldn't really fool myself, you know? I just wasn't that good as a musician. So I just felt that being around music and being involved in some way or another would be enough to suffice. So that's when I came up with the idea of starting a website to support the local bands I was getting a chance to see and experience live and firsthand; each and every week.

It just became my hobby, I went to as many shows as possible, listened to every local show on the radio, read every newspaper that catered to the live music scene, and so I wound up creating this website way before Myspace, Facebook, or any of these other social networking sites had ever even existed... that is, before people had as much access to the internet as much as they do nowadays.

Personally, I think that my website was a little more useful back then, to be honest, for I compiled an extensive list of links to bands' websites and to other resources for both bands (and fans alike) to take advantage of. I posted pictures of groups that I would see, provided a calendar for the site's visitors to the latest upcoming shows, and even had a few "characters" who would submit articles/reviews, as well as a message board---which was THE place to be in the local music scene, if you weren't at a show. This is where you could go to either sell stuff, hook up with other musicians, rant and rave, or simply to just find out who was sleeping with who; you name it...there was just so much drama on that message board!

Eventually, there came a point that I left the website as just an online bulletin board for a couple of years. I had some changes in my life and wasn't able to keep up with all the work on my own. It was still always something that I wanted to keep doing, but it was just too much for me to handle while having a real job and a personal life all at the same time.

So then MySpace came along and I kept thinking about it... procrastinating, waiting... being lazy. And then something just finally kick started me into doing the whole Queen of the Scene thing on Myspace and then BAM! Things just kinda took off for me again. It was now easier for me to discover and get connected with bands and reach a wider audience. These days, everything is at the tip of your fingers. It doesn't really take too much effort, you know? If you saw a band at a bar last week that you just loved, it really isn't that hard for you to find out who they were and where to see them again, or where to get their music, or any other thing like that.

So honestly, I've had to step up my game. I've had to think of new things to add. Which is why I now offer printing services at a great rate that is hard to beat, and made two volumes worth of compilation CD's. I even have a feature called "YOUR SCENE" which allows you to get your opinions heard (or read others' opinions) on topics which i think matter to both musicians and fans.

I also have a feature called THE QUEENS COUNCIL, which lets bands get dissected by a panel of judges, so they can get real honest criticism in areas such as songwriting, recording, appearance, etc. This helps them make minor adjustments before presenting their press kits to record labels. Of course, this is only for bands who ask for it... and only professional, useful criticisms are given. I also provide booking opportunities that I hear about through other venues, bands, companies, promoters, and in case anyone didn't know, I also book my own events now.

Before, nobody really knew who I was. I was, and still am, super shy. So "Queen Of The Scene" was just the name of the website. I never really had any intention of giving it a face. That all changed when I met DJ Oski from The Oski Foundation/Tobacco Road. We had a little discussion on MySpace, met up, and the next day he called me up...asked me to come up with an incredible show, and he'd make it happen for me.

So I came up with the idea of FemmeFest, to shine a spotlight on local female musicians. I don't think Oski meant for me to come up with a show of such calibre, but he made it work for me; with four stages, over twelve hours, and about twenty-eight bands! We turned the whole parking lot into a village for vendors and artists. We had t-shirts, compilation CD's, posters... the works! We held a raffle with some great prizes donated from local businesses and the profits of the raffle were donated to RAINN (an organization for helping rape victims). The organization in which the raffle profits were to go to was voted on by the public as well.

I guess Oski and Tobacco Road liked my idea so much that we kept working together and have had about twenty other shows (festivals) since then...all with different themes within a years time. Plus Oski offered me a monthly Thursday night at Tobacco Road to book my own shows and I'm also the door-person every Thursday night on the premises and all. Aside from working with Oski, I have done a couple of other things, such as the Metal Night of Notorious Nasties Infamous 420 fest, an open mic at a cafe in North Miami, and a live music series that would have been incredible with Audio Mystic Productions called The Sensory Cult, but unfortunately there was a problem with the venue, and it didn't have a chance of taking place as of yet...but hopefully will someday.

Oski and I still do a monthly festival at Tobacco Road, and we've also taken on a Cuban-Italian Cafeteria in Doral for all-ages live music, as well as a super hot spot in Ft. Lauderdale called PULP LIVE (which used to be Rose Buds and The Metal Factory (on Oakland Park Blvd., just down the street from The Culture Room).

So, that's pretty much the history of THE QUEEN OF THE SCENE and how it came to be what it is now.

PS: Would you say that the vision that you initially had for the website changed course dramatically over the years or is it still the same more or less? If the answer is yes, then how so?

QOTS: Yeah, definitely. Like I said before, I never had any intention of ever being KNOWN. Now that my persona isn't such a secret anymore, it has really changed the way I go about doing things. "I" am now "Queen Of The Scene," which is really weird for me, being as shy as I am and all. To have the title of "promoter" under your belt is kind of an oxymoron, you know? I mean, people probably think of me as rude or stuck up when I don't talk to them, but that's not the case. It's just that I'm so shy and soft spoken at times that I just don't know what to say. I think that the major change in what I do now is book shows, so...yeah.

PS: How have you managed to maintain the site’s maintenance... is it from general promotion, or do you have other means of income, like say another job, for example?

QOTS: Yeah, I have a "REAL" job. I'm a security guard. Nobody believes me when I tell them that I am a promoter and a security guard! But I'm a tough bitch when I have to be!

PS: As a follow up to that question, are you devoted to this project full time, or is it like a secondary career for you?

QOTS: Well, I definitely put more time, effort and care into the whole QUEEN OF THE SCENE project than I would with my other job. I mean... if I'm not at work or sleeping, I'm either online, or on the phone texting, or maybe even flyer'ing the whole town. And when I'm not busy doing that, I'm simply just doing my thing at a show. I guess you could say that I'm full time royalty!

PS: Aside from general promotion, what other services do you offer for Floridian musicians?

QOTS: I'd say that booking and promotion is pretty much the main thing I'm offering right now. But, I also offer printing services and The Queens Council, which offers bands sort of a pep-talk; you know...constructive criticism, just some free advice. I am actually planning to take THE QUEENS COUNCIL live as a networking party. I am going to invite a lot of industry heads and local services for a night of mingling, just to see what happens. I want to have some speakers, such as authors of books or product demonstrators. I also want to feature like two really good bands and have a panel discuss things with the band after seeing them perform. This is going to be a great networking event because everyone will be asked to submit business cards or some type of promotional material. These items will all go into gift bags for people to take home, so they will have the contact info. for everything they need, from graphic designers, printers, lawyers, rehearsal and recording studios, photographers, models, filmmakers who need music, bands looking for management, clubs looking for promoters, etc. Basically put, it's all the aspects of the entertainment industry at your service, so to say. I'm really excited about this. I'm hoping to do it quarterly, or maybe twice a year. I also want to make a compilation CD so that bands can get their music in the right hands. I know it'll be hard for bands to hand over 200 CD's to give out at this event, so that's why it would be easier to make 200 or so CD's with 15-20 bands on one disc, in my opinion.

PS: Would you say there is a vibrant music scene down here in South Florida, or is the Mecca for musicians at this point really located more far up north?

QOTS: There are soooo many bands/musicians in South Florida. Seriously, next time you're in traffic, look around...in one of those cars, SOMEONE is a musician. Back in the day, I knew a good number of bands, went to all their shows, and all the other bands would be there to support and hang out. And I think that's the problem these days. The problem isn't about there being NO BANDS, it's just the lack of support for the bands i think.

Back in the late 90's/early 00's, there was a tight scene. It was just different than it is now. And as far as comparing it to other scenes up north, well, if you're really involved or have your ear to the street, it doesn't really matter where you live. There will always be something. Whether or not you want to call it a "scene" is another story.

Bu, like i said, I knew a good number of bands back in the day; the main bands that played out a lot at that time, that is. It wasn't until i started browsing through MySpace that I realized just how many bands there were in South Florida. I guess anyone can make a profile page nowadays and call themselves a band, though. A scene is more than just a couple of bands playing out a lot. It's about the support from the general public and local media.

I'd say we have a good thing going, but there's always room to be better. But with newspapers like Rag, We Merge, New Times, City Link, Sun Sentinel and internet sites and blogs like Crossfade, Revmiami; all featuring local music, plus stores like Sweat, Uncle Sams, college radio, and the long-time venues who strive to keep local music alive and whatnot, even those who try and fail- the effort is what counts! I know people who sit at home and bitch about there being no scene. Well, of course not! No one is gonna come play for you in your bed room! Get off your ass and go out! Spend one week going to Churchill's every night, or one week going to a different bar/club every night... and then tell me there's no scene! There's been nights that I have wished I had superpowers just so I could be in multiple places at the same time. On the other hand, there have been nights that it's me and the bartender watching the band. It doesn't mean that the bands not good, it just comes down to either A) lack of support or B) Lack of promotion from the band/venue.

Another problem, I think, is simply just the geographical location. South Florida sucks when it comes to traveling to and from it. It's not like other states where it's just a hop, skip and a jump to another state, another scene, you know? We're kind of limited to just what we have right here unless you're willing to drive hours and hours just to go to someplace else. So it's kind of hard for bands to get seen and heard elsewhere because of this.

PS: What would you say is the problem with the scene down here as far as places to play are concerned?

QOTS: Aside from clubs that just want DJ's, there are still plenty of places that provide live music (that is...besides live flamenco and salsa bands---not to discredit them as working musicians, either. A big problem is that a lot of places just want cover bands. Cover bands get paid the big bucks because the drunk patrons of the bars love to hear music they know. I think that problem has more to do with our brain dead society though. I think the percentage of the public who appreciates original music is much smaller than those who prefer top 40, and that affects live local bands.

If bands could do more, as far as promotion goes, and create a bigger, tighter fan base, clubs might be more willing to book them (because in the eyes of the club owner, it's all about how much money they make vs. how much they have to shell out). Soooo many places have tried to offer original bands a place to play, but when the band is playing to an empty room, or to a group of friends who just go out to their cars to drink, the club makes no money and starts to hire cover bands or DJ's instead.

PS: If you had a chance to change that problem, what would you do, or what would you propose that the city or anyone that's in charge of calling the shots when it comes to providing venues for live music for that matter... do in order to remedy this?

QOTS: I think the best thing to do would be for a bunch of bands and their friends to start frequenting certain bars that have a decent stage area and are in decent locations. They should talk to the management. When they see 30-40 musicians ready and willing to play and all their friends who will come to support (and drink!) they won't hesitate to give it a shot! If it's a successful night, they'll likely do it again and again.

And if that's too extreme, the least they could do is start supporting other bands. Not only will other bands support you in return at your future shows, but if the club owners see more heads, it really helps. You never know when a club is just going to call it quits, so make the most of it while you can. It will help it stay around longer.

And on the same note... I understand it's cheaper to go out to the car and down a few beers. But we should start practicing a two drink minimum. I'm not saying that the bars should make this mandatory, but WE, that is... the bands and the patrons should buy at least a drink or two. 'Cause it really sucks to pay like $8 for a beer, I know, but it helps business. Even if you don't drink liquor, buy a soda or some food if it's available.

Also...bands shouldn't play out so often. It's great to get your music heard and it's fun to play live, but when you play every weekend and you play the same place over and over, your friends and fans are only gonna go see you so often before they say "Well, I'll see them again some other time, 'cause they'll always play somewhere". Part of playing live is to gain new fans, I know, but your music loses its value and the fans become bored if it's shoved down their throat. It really irks me when bands play two shows in one night! Do you honestly think your friends/family/fans are gonna follow you across town to watch you play the same songs again in one night or do you not even expect people to go to both and bring nothing to the table for either one of the shows? No club owner will ever book you again if you walk in the door with just your other band mates. I know someone who has a "5 bitches rule". And I really hate that term, but I know exactly what he means. Each band member should be able to get his girlfriend, a friend, a family member, a co-worker, a fan and/or a complete stranger to come check out his band. If not, then they have no business being in the music business. How dare you even waste a club's time! Sorry, but it's true...

And (for the musicians) when you do play out, try to play with different bands each time. This helps broaden the range of exposure. Friends and fans of one band will see your band, and hopefully like it and start supporting your band, buying your merchandise, etc.

It would also be great if live music could go beyond dingy bars and illegal warehouse parties though. A real coffee house scene would be great! And like Black Sheep Bar on South Beach used to be The Laundry Bar, where you could do your laundry and get drunk while waiting, and occasionally see a band, I always thought it'd be cool to have a chain of those all around South Florida, and some mellow acoustic stuff or electronic stuff in hair salons and art galleries. I like things that are different. I liked this place in South Miami called The Cereal Bowl, it was like Starbucks but with cereal. They tried the live music thing. Unfortunately the place couldn't last... The Dugout sounds like a cool place for the kids. A few years ago there was a community center called The Optimist Club in Aventura that allowed shows for a while. As long as there aren't drugs, underage drinking, vandalism... there can be shows at so many different types of places.

I also LOVE open mic events. I love what Stone Groove, Theatre De Underground, Vibe, Renda Writer, 11 Leprechauns, Shenanigans and what used to be Night of the Weirds and Can you Rock a Little Softer are all doing. Sometimes you get a few bum acts (and who are we to judge?!?), but sometimes you just get this jolt of electrifying inspiration and you feel the raw passion of someone giving birth to their soul. It would be cool to kind of incorporate an open mic into more shows. Like, the first hour can be an open mic, and then the rest can be some scheduled acts. I think if that were practiced more often, it would broaden the audience.

I like that a lot of places are bringing in local artists and vendors as well. Music is art, so it's cool to be able to embrace other aspects of inspiration coming to life. Even card games, board games, tattooing, video games.... I've also included comedians on my Thursday nights. Having a variety of things to do rather than just stand there and look straight at a band is a lot more entertaining. Of course, by all means, watch the bands that perform there, but during the set changes and whatnot, there ought to be things like this going on that can keep the crowd occupied.

PS: Do you feel that the practice of pay to play is fair, or is it just a way for promoters to profit off of the struggles of the local talent?

QOTS: Well, it depends. For small local shows, it's just stupid. There are only a few situations where that would be considered a fair practice. Take Locofest for example. Bands that performed there had the opportunity to play a huge event with major headliners, meaning a huge crowd and massive promotion in magazines and radio. The local bands that play these big festivals usually have to PAY TO PLAY. In that case, it's fair, depending on the cost. But it has to be worthwhile enough to the band, taking into consideration the amount of promotion you get for your money and all; you know--- what time you'll be playing, what stage, between what bands, the location of the event, the expected attendance, the demographic, etc.

Another situation is when a band HIRES a promoter TO PROMOTE them. Some "promoters" just slap their name on a flyer and could really care less about promoting the actual band. It's usually just the promoters that are there that night at a club that you happen to be playing at, that may or may not do anything to help your band gain any popularity. And that's why Oski and I started STATUS QuO PROMOTIONS, just so we can ensure any band that the promotional incentive we're offering to them is, in fact beneficial to their group. And when a band hires us, believe me, you'll know it! We become pimps for that band. Even if they don't hire us and we really like the band and believe in them, we'll pimp them out either way. I think we do as much as humanly possible to get their names seen and heard. We've done radio ads and interviews, while I have my website; and I don't even know how many MySpace accounts I run--- like ten, maybe? Plus we're on Facebook, Twitter, and countless other internet sources for promotion. We have a massive email and text list, and we print the flyers and posters ourselves, not the bands. We give all the bands the tools necessary to promote themselves too. I also take photos of all the bands that play for us and post them online. They may not be PROFESSIONAL, but I do what I can. We also do have professional photographers, cinematographers and other promotional companies getting involved now. We make T-shirts, CD's---I mean... I could go on and on here. I even hit the streets with a fistful of flyers. Shit, we even pay people to go out and flyer for us! So I hope that clears the air about what a PROMOTER is supposed to do..

In a perfect world, everyone would get paid. But it's not a perfect world. I think the idea of becoming a big rock star overnight and expecting to be handed over a fat wad of cash just for showing up and banging a guitar around to make some noise and screaming like you're Godzilla, just ain't gonna happen. Especially if you don't have a following. There's a phrase that says "one hand washes the other" or "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours," you know? Bands need to understand the venues/promoters and vice versa. It's a two way street. Both sides have a certain responsibility to live up to.

And it's never a total loss when a band plays for free, either. It seems that "exposure" is a taboo word to bands, but that should really be their goal... they get seen and heard, make new friends and fans, and who knows, the right person might be in that crowd. Simple networking can be priceless! There are always scouts from record companies wandering around in South Florida--- plus you should have merchandise available to sell. If you think you can make it in Miami by being a musician alone, you're only fooling yourself. Don't quit your day job. Playing here and there every other weekend is not going to pay your rent and/or bills. I know I may sound like your parents here (believe me, i heard enough from mine already!) but don't rely on money from your shows alone. Instead, you should try to see it as a bonus to the experience. And that experience should always be what's most important.

PS: Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and your time for the sake of this interview.

So there you have it, folks. The Queen of the Scene; a true behind-the-scenes legend. In the era of all these young and vibrant misfit Jesuses of Suburbia out there, she is like Saint John the Baptist, heralding the culture; that is... the underground music movement here in Florida of the sound that has yet to come, and will hopefully someday get here. She's a visionary and a revolutionary in the making!

This has been P.S. Elliott (AKA: Dr. Gonzo XXVII) reporting for the disassociated press, that is... The Gnoyze Guitar Mods & More Web Blog

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