5 writers, 5 questions, 1
band man-in-music, hand-picked by MWA. Welcome to FIVE x FIVE. This week: the man behind Phantom Note Productions and An Aesthetic Anaesthetic, Chicago’s own Sam Edgin.
Sam Edgin has quickly become an important figure in the Chicago music scene. His production company, Phantom Note Productions, has grown exponentially over the last few years; From booking one venue in the city to multiple, as well as organizing lineups for popular summer festivals like Do Division & this weekend’s Wicker Park Fest. He also keeps busy in two bands including the instrumental math-rock group, An Aesthetic Anaesthetic, and the newly formed experimental duo, Space Blood. We’re extremely happy to have him on this week’s FIVE x FIVE.
Has being a booker changed the way you approach anything with the band?
Yes, absolutely. I am only 27, but have been working in the industry now for 10 years and have been playing in bands for 14, so I have had a lot of experience on both ends of the spectrum. Being a musician as well as a booking agent has given me the ability to really see both points of view.
So many bands have no idea how to get booked on a show, let alone how to get on the good side of a promoter, and I can’t blame musicians because it’s not something that is ever taught or explained to them. The only way most bands learn what promoters/venues expect from you is to consistently play shows and tour.
I have been lucky enough to work closely with some of the promoters and clubs that are responsible for developing the thriving Chicago music scene, and I have been fortunate enough to watch them work and learn from them.
I used to be that clueless band member who had no idea how to book a show or send a proper email (I still can’t get my band booked at Empty Bottle, so you’re not alone bands), but now that I have a better idea, I always encourage bands to ask me questions and pick my brain. I hope that I can help bridge that gap and encourage all bands to know as much as they can about the industry they are a part of.
You’ve got a really unique perspective on the music scene, being involved in both booking and performance. What piece of advice would you give someone looking to get into music, on either side?
To all of you musicians, the best piece of advice I can give you is to be self-sufficient and learn all you can about the business. The industry is full of people who want to make money off of you or take credit for what you created. Just because your singer is too lazy and hung over to set an alarm on tour doesn’t mean you need a tour manager to make sure you get to your next show on time. It’s called being an adult, and it will save you a lot of money.
In addition, you should know, and should want to know, how expenses break down at every venue. Too many promoters keep their expenses a secret so they can pinch their pennies or take a few extra bucks if the show does well. It’s your job to stay on top of them and make sure they advance all of the information and settle with you at the end of the night. Don’t get grifted just because you don’t think you need to know that stuff. Oh, and if you’re a local band, don’t pay a manager to do this for you. They’re probably grifting you, too. It’s just basic accounting. Hell, I got a C- four times in accounting and I do this every night.
Also, buy a tuning pedal and don’t break your drums down on stage.
If you are looking to start booking, the first thing I would tell you is that it is a very taxing and thankless job, and there is almost no money involved for a very long time. For the first year of Phantom Note I had to work four jobs in order to pay rent. So, unless you are in this game for the long haul and you are ready to work your ass off day in and day out for very little monetary or positive reinforcement, then you should probably keep your job at Starbucks. You’ll get way better health insurance, that’s for sure. Either that… or get yourself a sweet sugar momma like I did.
How did the idea for Phantom Note Productions come about? Were you sick of dealing with bookers in the city that could care less about local bands unless they’re a good draw?
Well to be quite honest, Phantom Note started out like most great ideas… in a drunken stupor while I was between jobs. But I will say that wanting to change the way promoters act and to take better care of bands were big reasons we started the company.
One of the core values we built Phantom Note around is community. I do think it is extremely important for musicians to connect with promoters as well as the bands they play with. For a long time, promoters put themselves on a pedestal and bands were supposed to fear them and be thankful if they got a three-word response. To me, I don’t really want to do business with anyone who can’t take the time to talk to me as an equal, or explain something that I was confused about.
It is important to me that bands can play Phantom Note shows and not feel terrified that if they don’t bring thirty people on a Wednesday they will be blacklisted from my clubs. The bands I work with know that I am a musician as well, and I understand that there are tons of variables for how good or bad a show can do on a given night. I also understand that touring bands shouldn’t have to find their own locals to play with in a town they have never been to before, and that they should not leave the venue empty handed, no matter how bad the show did. It’s these little nuances that really make me happy to have started Phantom Note.
Does any of An Aesthetic Anaesthetic’s Math-Rock influence come from fellow Chicago acts like Joan of Arc & Ghosts & Vodka? The Kinsella family and all of the past and current members of JoA seem to be “the first family of Chicago Math-Rock”, but you guys make music with a more progressive metal sound to it.
I was definitely influenced by the whole Kinsella movement in Chicago in the early 2000’s, but I think a lot of those projects struck a chord with me during my introduction to Emo. Bands like Ghosts and Vodka, American Football, and Cursive were some of my favorite bands to listen to when I didn’t want to feel feelings anymore. Some of the more math rock oriented bands I was first introduced to were Don Caballero, Make Believe, and The Fall of Troy who all shaped my love for the genre.
Since everyone in A!A!A comes from different backgrounds (ranging from Jimmy Hendrix, to Smashing Pumpkins, Modest Mouse, and King Krimson), I think the final product is a mix of all of our favorite aspects of the music we grew up listening to. However, my new instrumental/theatrical 2 piece project called Space Blood has a much more of a math-rock vibe that is reminiscent of Battles and Don Caballero. Plus, Space Blood wears masks and perform skits on stage in between our songs. We like to refer to ourselves as Comedian Math Rock.
As a man of many different musical paths, how do you feel about genre specific venues? Are they hurting or helping themselves by booking only one type of music?
I personally think it is a flaw to be genre specific, but I understand why venues do it; it is really easy to book the music they are passionate about. And, if that genre happens to be what’s popular, that’s even better. At some point, however, that genre will not be popular anymore, and you will be marketing your shows to a very specific niche.
I do, however, think it is important for every venue/promoter to find the genres that cater best to their atmosphere. Patrons really like knowing that if they pop in your venue on any given night they will at least have a vague idea of what they are getting themselves into.
I am personally a fan of working with every genre. I want to avoid pigeonholing myself so I can stay aware of what is happening within every scene. I will say that I always try to work with good bands. Even though you might not know what genre will be playing when you come to a Phantom Note show, you can at least be assured the band will be good at what they do.