Tuesday, November 11, 2003

The Fix Is In

Yesterday, Adam Melzer, the producer of last Motzei Shabbos' Menucha/Chaim Dovid/Fried "Live by Request" concert posted this message to the Yahoo Jewish Music group.

I'll address his post shortly, but first, a little about the Jewish music board. I've been reading the posts to this board on and off since its inception. It has been a good way to find out what the fans were thinking of the artists and recordings coming out of the "Brooklyn" Jewish music scene. The quality of the posts fluctuates wildly –- the board could benefit from some self-editing by some of the regulars as well as better moderation – but it is often a useful barometer for what is/will be popular.

Over time, many others in the industry began monitoring the group's posts. Some of these people openly joined the group. These include vocalists Nochum Stark and Ari Goldwag, members of Lev Tahor, Beat'achon, Shabbatones, Az Yashir, Diaspora, Gideon's Sword/Hamsa Boys, Emes, and producers including Sruly Nachfolger (Baruch Aboud) and Abe Kopolovitch (Shabbas Comes Alive), and more.

Some others joined anonymously and tried to push their own albums by pretending to be fans of their own group. I'm not going to "out" them here, but I find the behavior dishonest, to say the least.

Others in the business, I believe, simply read the posts online without participating in the discussion.

In any event many people in the industry are now regularly reading this board and I'm not surprised that some of them would have forwarded posts to Adam.

Now on to Adam's post…
"Hi there. A number of people have been e-mailing me messages posted to this site so with a couple of minutes that I have, I figured I would let you all in on this show and other shows as well."
He's apparently referring to posts on this new Yahoo group that were critical of the concert. Many appear to have the perception that the "Live by Request" segment of the show was fixed.
"The reception to Sat night's show has been overwhelmingly positive. As the producer, or whatever I was called, I am harder on the show and myself more than anyone. First, the live by request segment was a nice segment and I knew maybe one person other than myself who were up there (and no, it wasn't Yossi Scharf-that guy can move!). Fried and Steve Bill had a general idea of what could be requested (this means that for the most part, they knew what the possibilities were)."
"I'd say there were about 40 requests and about 15-20 of those were doubles (mostly Chazak-predictable). Of those-I figured we would have time for 10 (we actually did 8). My 2 requests- 1 was off the cuff- the other I think he had a lead sheet to it because it was his 1st hit."
Let me see if I understand… there were forty requests submitted in total? That number seems awfully low for an event whose draw is a "request" segment -- especially when you factor in "ballot box stuffing" as Adam acknowledges happened. Either this number is incorrect, or else the method of requesting – in advance via website – wasn't made clear to the ticket buyers.

At any event, lets concede that there were only twenty unique requests (excluding the duplicates) and that only eight of them were performed. Something doesn't seem right here. The fact that those eight included two by the producer and at least another two by music industry people, vocalist Dovid Nachman of The Chevra and Yossi Sharf who does the Chevra's choreography and is also involved in an as yet unreleased new Gerstner project(both part of one of Eli Gerstner's Productions – whose group, Menucha, performed that night) seems to indicate that the selection process was fixed.

It's not clear if Fried, or for that matter Melzer, were aware of it, but somewhere along the line, the deck appears to have been stacked. I've received email from people involved with the show who seemed to feel that the choice of "requesters" was anything but random.
"I wish that more requests came in with older or remote stuff. That wasn't the case so I tested him myself."
Two out of eight requests being made by the producer appears to be a tad excessive for an event sold to the public as one where the audience gets to make requests. And, if the audience doesn't want to hear older stuff… well, those that pay the piper call the tune. (Sorry, I couldn't resist).
"I also saw that there was a Carlebach selection- V'hayu Limshiso which I knew he didn't have the music for and would have probably have done it with Steve and that's it."
You're saying that you removed a request because you knew Fried didn't have music for the band? Why not let him sing it with Steve? [He's referring to Steve Bill, the guitarist/conductor.] Incidentally, Fried did record a V'hayu Limshiso himself. It's a fast freilach that has been popular at weddings in Israel for years.
"The people called up were random. I didn't know the guy dancing in the aisles or the YIKGH person who entered numerous requests (yes, people stuffed the ballot box)As a whole, I thought it was a fun segment that needs some refining."
I believe that you didn't know everyone that was called up, but at the very least you'd have to grant that the perception that things were fixed is reasonable.
"I thought for a 1st show, Menucha did a great job. When they sang together and were in front of the monitors, they had it. I think that as soloists, they wander a bit away from the monitors but that will improve."
I'll translate this…"They frequently didn't "have it" and sang off key."
"Chaim Dovid is a flavor that if you like him, you love him. If not, you have what else to see."
I'll translate this too… "I don't like Chaim Dovid.
"The hall didn't open the doors until much later than what was required which caused the show to run late. Overtime = $ = organization losing $ (every 15 min costs more). Therefore, Chaim Dovid closes with Yamamami."
I'll translate this too. "Since we had to cut someone's set short and I don't like Chaim Dovid's music, we cut his set short." The fact that the show started late doesn't mean that the organization has the right to cut a performer's act short. The concert was widely perceived (and promoted) as having two headliners. (There was even a separate promotional effort aimed at bringing in the Chaim Dovid fans.) It's simply unethical to give the audience less than they were reasonably entitled to expect.

Adam then lists some upcoming shows:
"Upcoming- YU- Dec. 18- Fried, Shwekey, Diaspora is the way it looks now.
Feb. 29 in jersey- Fried and Blue Fringe"
I'm surprised that Fried would participate in a double bill with Blue Fringe. As I've posted before here and here, I don't think that what they are doing is positive for the "heimish" community, and I do think that Fried is a responsible performer who is, generally speaking, a positive role model.
"I'm thinking of putting a refined live by request segment into each show."
That's great, only this time make sure that the people who pay for tickets are the ones who get to have their requests performed. Alternatively, let the people in the Jewish music industry make the requests, just don't sell it as "Live by Request."
"For the record, I think Jewish music is great although it is a tough industry to crack."

In summation, at the very least, there is a strong perception that last Motzei Shabos' concert was not up to par. Many people feel that the "Live by Request" segment was stage-managed, Chaim Dovid was cut short, and Menucha was disappointing. All who were in involved in this production ought to reflect upon the mistakes that were made and make sure they don't happen again.

Update: The moderator of the Yahoo Jewish music group emails to say: "the criticism on the fixing of the live by request went on my Yahoo group, not his, but I deleted the messages bcz they were very insulting to Yossi." I knew that I hadn't seen any such criticisms posted on that board. I think that they were on the other board too, though, and I received email to that effect as I note above.