The Hippo


Apr 18, 2019








Star spotlight

Billy Kottage
Every day it seems like Billy Kottage is in a new place. As the trombonist for Reel Big Fish, he could be playing in Boston one day and the next he’ll be on a flight to Phoenix; a week later, he’ll post pictures of himself on stage in Australia on Facebook.
Four years ago, Kottage said, he was lucky to get a response back from club owners on the Seacoast.
Kottage started off his career as a member of the Dover-based group the All Good Feel Good Collective (who have since shortened their name to The Feel Goods). All the band members were students at the University of New Hampshire, playing short sets in the school’s Paul Creative Arts Center for their friends.
Kottage, who handled booking for the band, said The Feel Goods essentially took the Web by storm, contacting club owners and bands all over the area for a chance to play a gig.
“I was on the Internet all day, every day,” he said. “When nobody knows who you are, it’s really important to be on your email game. I’ve just sent so many emails explaining to [promoters and managers] why we should play, why we should open for so-and-so’s band, just to see what we could get on.”
The Feel Goods eventually landed a few opening gigs for nationally touring ska and reggae acts that came through the area, including the Toasters and the Slackers — the latter of which, Kottage said, liked the band so much that they invited them to share the bill on a booze cruise out in Boston.
Kottage said that while the promotional aspect of the band is crucial, putting on a fantastic show is the proof club owners really need to show that you deserve to be performing.
“When we play with some bigger bands, we always have to try to be the band that sounds better,” he said. “If you’re an opener that doesn’t sell tickets, the promoter gets all pissed off, but if they watch you play and you destroy it, the anger is only going to go so far. Maybe you didn’t sell that many tickets, but you put on a sick show.”
Playing well has other advantages. After the first show with another local reggae band, Roots of Creation, drummer Mike Chadinha asked Kottage to do some out-of-state shows with them. While on tour, Kottage met and networked with a variety of musicians, and after a few months, he bounced around as a touring musician for a number of popular ska and reggae bands, like Spiritual Rez and the Pilfers. In 2013, Kottage generated so much buzz that he was asked to fill in on tour with legendary third-wave ska bands like Big D and the Kids Table, Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish.
“Most bands realize that you’re more valuable as a person on the road than as a musician,” said Kottage. “If you’re great to live with, if you can spend seven weeks in a row on a tour bus with these other people … people would prefer you to be a good guy.”
Kottage, who studied music at UNH, said you don’t have to be a virtuoso to be a successful musician. You’ve also got to be the guy who’s cool to share a hotel room with.
“When I was in college, in my major, I wasn’t the one everybody talked about,” said Kottage. “But I’ve gotten further than everybody I went to school with. Being good at your instrument helps, but [when you’re on tour] it’s also important to be there to make everyone’s lives easier.”
Star spotlight
Red Sky Mary
Before they were signed to Carved Records, sponsored by Orange Amplification and playing opening spots for legendary bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bad Company and Buckcherry, Red Sky Mary started out as two rock and roll fans playing any acoustic open-mike night they could.
“There was one point where I was doing three or four open mikes a week,” said Tom Boisse, the band’s guitar player. “You need to do anything you can to get your foot in the door.”
Boisse and lead singer Sam Vlasich started the band in 2010 at the University of New Hampshire and started playing open mikes around the Seacoast. While those gigs were easy to get, Boisse said, the band ran into some challenges trying to play its own shows along the Seacoast club circuit.
“[We] just emailed all of the clubs, went in and told them who we were and that we were interested in playing,” said Boisse. “If you have a list of 15 places you want to email, it’s likely that only like three will get back to you.”
This, however, should not be a deterrent, Boisse said.
“Even though we only got three gigs at the time, the most important thing we did was we tried to be really good to the club owners,” he said. “You have to be that band that can roll with the punches, who can show up and do a good job. Other places like to see you’re gigging, so if you’re good to the owners that book you, others will follow.”
Boisse’s philosophy of refusing to turn down any gig was the reason Red Sky Mary got its record deal with Carved.
The band, he said, was asked to play the Chop Shop Pub in Seabrook. The gig started at 7:30 p.m. on a rainy Thursday evening with a scarce crowd (about seven people, Boisse estimates), but the band played a carefully planned out, original set just as tightly as if the room was packed from wall to wall.
“Big Dad Ritch from the Texas Hippie Coalition just happened to be at the bar watching us play,” said Boisse. “And he remembered us after the gig. He made a call out to the record company, and we ended up getting signed soon after. We played a gig that a lot of people would have probably said no to. We played it and ended up getting a record deal out of it.”
“So basically, don’t ever say ‘no’ to a gig,” he added. “Do whatever you can to play.”

The Mentors
Pros can help with the business side of things


 So you’ve played some open mikes, got your on-stage chops and maybe received some applause, or even a drink, from a fan. The next question is: Where do you go from here?

Nate Hastings, the coordinator of student organizations and leadership at the University of New Hampshire, came up with one answer when he started the Music Mentors program.
Hastings said he and Andrew May, a Seacoast-based live sound engineer, saw that students were trying to break into the Seacoast music scene, and he thought of the school’s leadership programs. Hastings, a musician himself, wanted to create a program that would bring leaders in the music industry and students together in a supportive networking environment.
“A lot of students who are involved with music aren’t traditionally going to a leadership program, and a majority of people in the music world weren’t coming to these programs,” said Hastings. “Leading a band, or coming up with a band, is like applying for a job. You’re applying for a gig.”
The program debuted in the 2012-2013 school year. Music Mentors features leaders from the local music industry on a panel, where they describe a little bit about what they do and open the floor to answer questions that any attendees have about pursuing a career in that field. In the past, Hastings said, he’s had musicians, club owners, guitar techs, sound engineers and music journalists, amongst others.
The purpose of the program, Hastings said, is for people who are experienced in the local music community to inform aspiring musicians about mistakes they made when they were first starting to play out so that they avoid some of those same setbacks.
Hastings said that of all meetings the program has hosted, the first piece of advice he heard is also the most important.
“Jon Nolan [a local musician and songwriter] said, ‘Be awesome and don’t be a dick,’” said Hastings. “It’s a joke, but it really is true.”
Risky business
The biggest problem bands seem to experience is not understanding the latter half of the term “music business.”
“Everybody involved has slightly different goals,” said Hastings. “The band isn’t necessarily brought in to be heard, so if [the band] wants to get paid, the bar has to sell drinks. If the band’s not bringing in people to come see them, then why should a bar book you on their busiest night?”
Marketing, Hastings said, is crucial to getting your name out there in the club scene.
“[Musicians] need to also have a good Web landing,” he said. “People need to be able to follow you up later; what you sound like, what you look like. Once you’ve rehearsed for a while, it’s very reasonable to start putting together a demo, some kind of good-looking image, something that’s going to represent your brand.”
One of the most common ways for a band to promote itself is with a press kit. Mike McAdams, former guitarist of the Hudson-based band Tristan Park and the director of North Main Music School in Nashua, said press kits are essential to getting the quickest, easiest bite for promoters nowadays rather than simply passing around CDs.
“A lot of times electronic press kits have the band’s website, pictures of the band, reviews of the band, any press write-ups. Some sort of music samples, preferably a video,” said McAdams. “The playing field has changed a lot in the last 10 years. If you have something that represents your band well, you’ll have a much better chance at standing out.”
Networking is key too. McAdams said that, while playing out is important, playing with as many musicians as possible and going to shows to watch other bands in the scene is important for showing support and striking the right chord with the right people.
“So much of music is networking,” he said. “That’s the way life works. I’ve heard so many stories of people who were just in the right place because somebody knew them.”
Though they were around before Music Mentors was created, the Portsmouth-based rock and roll band Red Sky Mary relentlessly networked with people who are now recurring panelists in the program. Guitarist Tom Boisse said when the band first started out at UNH, they confided in everybody from members of other bands to local guitar techs in order to take their band through the right steps.
“When we did our first independent record, Jon Nolan [from Say ZuZu and The Bluebirds] and Geoff Taylor from One Hand Free, the band that Nate [Hastings] manages, showed us how to make a record,” said Boisse. “They brought to light all kinds of things we never thought before because they had been through [the recording process] themselves. … A lot of the people in Music Mentors, before it was even an official thing, have been very influential [to] us.”
As seen in the November 13, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

®2019 Hippo Press. site by wedu