September 6th, 2011

Earlier today, my friend Elle posted this rant on her facebook page.  I liked it so much, I asked if we could use it as a guest post.  She said yes.  Why should you read it?  Well, Elle works at Reggies in Chicago booking all the bands and entertainment that comes through their two stages.   She has had this job longer than many bands (that want to play there) have been together.  She has had this job longer than some of these bands have been playing their instruments.  She knows what she is doing, and she is fair.  So, maybe it’s worth listening to why clubs insist on certain rules?  I think so.  Thanks for the post Elle!

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A live music venue is a BUSINESS. Reggies counts on the bands that play to bring people. We aren’t like Legends where 150 people come in every night just to hear the Blues. We are a place where people come to watch their fave bands. I CAN NOT book 4 bands that are all out of town or have no draw. I have to ask about draw because it makes sense to mix it up. Maybe put an up and coming band on the bill with some bands that draw so that more people get a chance to see them. Definitely book bands with a draw with an out of towner. NEVER stick an out of towner on first or last when they have no fans. For once in your life musicians, think about how that would make you feel. You’ve all been stuck with lousy slots when playing out of town. Don’t try to make me do that to the out of town band.

When it comes to payout at Reggies Music Joint. We’re more than fair. We give 100% of the door to the bands, plus free drinks plus half off food for locals and free food for out of towners. Most venues take the first couple hundred out for production fees (which is understandable in a larger venue). We don’t. If people don’t come to see you, you’re not gonna get money. If we like you and you’re not local, the owner will often throw them some gas money out of pocket because he’s a great guy. It’s all a numbers game. We make our money off the bar. You make your money off the door. If it’s a free show, we give you a cut of the bar. Quit asking for a cut of the bar on top of the door. If we only make 2k at the bar and our basic overhead for the night is $800, that really isn’t much to keep an entire business like Reggies open! You would not believe what monthly operating costs are to keep a giant business open. You bitch about your $100+ utility bills. Imagine being responsible for 100 employees livelihood and an entire building/utilities and bands.

Now, some of you people are professional musicians and want to get paid to play 7 nights a week. If you’ve got a draw, that’s great. I CAN NOT pay you to come play Reggies for 4 hours for $1000 if no one is gonna come to see you to play to the 30 people that are already sitting there. They’ll be there no matter what. They’re our regulars. We want you to bring NEW blood to the bar. Help us build new regulars and a great new relationship with us.

Another thing that sucks is when we’ll have a big headliner that wants $2000. We believe in them and book them with local support to help promote. We don’t make enough money at the door to pay the headliner and we end up giving support like $ for playing. It isn’t a lot, but, it’s a support slot on a national show-which we lost money on. What do you expect? Sometimes you take the bad for a chance to play with a really cool band. A lot of times, the headliner is the one who decides how much we can give support. They may say we can only budget $200 in for support and then the money after that goes to them. Did you know that? We NEVER keep any money from the door. EVER. It all goes to the bands. So if you feel shorted, I’m sorry. It’s because we had to pay the headliner and we do our best to make sure you got something too.

How is it possible for a local band with 5 members to not bring ANYONE? Did you promote? I find it hard to believe that not one friend or family member or fan would make the trek out to see you. It isn’t like were in the middle of no where. We’re right off the red line. This happens every, single, night. So it can’t always be blamed on the weather. It is your responsibility to reach out to the people you know and your fans to promote each and every show. Reggies shells out thousands and thousands of dollars for the promo we do in the Reader and Illinois Entertainer and things like that. We need you to do your end too. Doing a status update about the show the day of, is hardly fucking promoting.

What else can I bitch about or talk about?

If there is something happening at a club that you don’t seem to understand, feel free to ask the club why things are going down like that. Once you understand the reason behind it, maybe you’ll be more understanding. Or maybe the club sucks and doesn’t treat bands fairly. I can’t speak for all clubs. Only myself.
You guys have no idea the shit I have to go thru on a daily basis to make sure these shows are put together. I do my best and I have always fought to keep things fair for the bands. At Big Horse, where bands were not respected in the least and where I did NOT get paid at all for booking, (I was allowed to bartend and keep my tips, not even getting an hourly wage!) I would often give the touring bands some of my tips so that they wouldn’t leave empty handed.

I hope this helps you understand that we’re not trying to be cheap bastards. We’re not trying to cheat you. We’re just trying to stay afloat and not lose money.

Don’t go bitching about how I wrote such a long rant. You’re the one who chose to read it. I’ll continue to do my best. To try to put together cohesive line ups. To make sure people are treated fairly. I admit, I’m not perfect. Sometimes there are miscommunications and bands cancel at the last minute or maybe I forgot that you told me that you can only play after 11 pm. I’m only human and humans fuck up.

You – please do your best to promote, make sure people come to the show and show up in a timely manner for sound check/load in.

That’s all.

May 4th, 2010
As the playwright said, luck is where preparation meets opportunity.  Let us assume for the moment that luck is to be desired.  If this is the case, we have to then optimize our preparation and put ourselves in the right spots for opportunities.  Sounds easy, right?

I’ll save preparation for another post.  Let’s talk about finding opportunity.  My business partner is a fan of sports analogies, I’m going to be inclusive of a variety of sports, so bear with me.  Let’s look at three different scenarios.  First, the world’s best corner back can’t intercept a pass if he isn’t on the field.  Second, Yogi Berra might very well have been able to catch pitches blindfolded, but he never would have done  it during a game.  Finally,  Zdeno Chára can’t use his 105 mph slapshot if he is in the penalty box.

  1. Get in the game – The first challenge is to find out where the opportunities are, and put yourself in a position where things happen.  Is your business linked to social networks? If so, you better be on twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or whatever is appropriate.  Is Mix the key event for your industry? If so, you better be there.  Not only do you have to be on the field, but the best cornerbacks analyze where passing lanes might be and always put themselves in a position to observe the lane and jump on the chance if or when it happens.  Having a twitter account doesn’t do much unless you build a following.  Going to the conference makes you a nameless face in the crowd unless you stop and talk to people, ask questions at the sessions, or crash all the right impromptu events.  Get in the game and put yourself in a position where good things can happen.
  2. Keep your eyes open – The second challenge is to recognize an opportunity when it is happening. This requires that you can identify an opportunity, and, more importantly, observe the clues that let you create the opportunity in the first place.  Do you know the names (faces, network Ids, musical styles, etc.) of the major players in your industry? Would you recognize Mariel Zargunis waiting in line behind you for Starbucks? If you do, then you might start off an interesting conversation about fencing, gold medals, China, Athens, Lithuania, The University of Notre Dame, or Anthropology.  Notice the logos on the laptop bags of the people in your row of the airplane. Listen to the water cooler conversations.  Observe what books people are reading. Stay current on the names of people and companies in your field.  Take off the blindfold and look for the chance to tell your pitcher to throw to first.
  3. Stay out of the penalty box – The third challenge is to avoid tripping over your own feet. We do more damage to our own careers through bone headed moves and mistakes than any outside force can possibly do to us.  Set the alarm, get there on time (or early), have the materials you need prepared, take a shower, brush your teeth, don’t leave your ticket behind.  It may be gratifying to throw that extra elbow, but you don’t do your team any good sitting in the sin bin instead of breaking some glass with that 105 mph slapshot. You’ve got everything you need, you are in a place where things happen, you’ve practiced observing details and making connections.  Don’t wreck it all with a boneheaded move.
-Rob McGovern (Consultant)
@rmcgovern18

November 9th, 2009

At Misery Loves Co, they break the rules, but that doesn’t mean they don’t understand them. Take, for example, one of the classic analysis of how learning happens. In 1956, a group of psychologists got together to figure out some way to describe how people learn. The guy who edited the papers and pushed the concept was Benjamin Bloom. He classified thinking into six layers: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Basically, each layer defines a level of understanding about a knowledge area. For example, the first think you need to know is key terms and concepts (knowledge). How many parts are there on a snare drum? How do you hold a stick? The next thing you need to know is understanding… why do you hold the stick a certain way? What happens when you hit different parts of the head? After that, you get into application. Can you actually play a drum? The next step is analysis… why does it matter how you hold a stick? What’s the math involved in deciding how tight to tune the drum?After you can break the knowledge area down into component parts, the next trick is to do something new with that knowledge (synthesis). What happens if you use a spoon instead of a drumstick? What happens if you switch the wood shell for a metal shell? What happens if you take the math for tuning a drum head and apply it to synthetic polymers, suddenly creating energy returning percussive footwear? Finally, you learn how to properly evaluate the knowledge area… Does playing the drum with a handful of Twizzlers laced with copper wire cores actually sound good, or does it just make you a fucking wanker? You may never know… but we will.

What’s interesting about Bloom’s taxonomy is that, although the higher layers depend on the lower layers, you can make intuitive leaps up the pyramid. However, you have to backfill down the pyramid, or you won’t ever be able to reproduce your success. Any fumble fingered idiot can roll out an occasional awesome drum solo in their garage one magic night by random chance. But unless they understand what they are doing and why, that epic drum solo will never be heard again. Banging out a 4/4 beat will only get you so far. If you know how to play 3/4 or 5/8 (or even 2/4 or 3/8 or something really funky like 7/8), then you can really fuck with your guitar player and maybe even land a gig with a real band. Better yet, you can DECIDE when you want to sound like every other rock band, or maybe throw in a Latin beat, or suddenly sound Irish even without bagpipes.

At MLC, they do the research… not so they can give you the magic 3 step path to success, but so that they never ever show up at a gig with twizzlers laced with copper wire… unless it sounds fucking cool on a custom drum kit.

-Rob McGovern, Director Private IT Firm (November 2009)

October 25th, 2009

The problem with No Child Left Behind isn’t which president signed the law, or who controlled congress. The problem isn’t about local vs national control of standards. The problem isn’t about funding or lack of funding. The problem isn’t about teaching to the test. The problem is that the education machine forgot to ask the question “where are we going?” EVERY child gets left behind because the education industry has no direction. What’s worse is that education isn’t about a direction at all. It’s about making the most of every opportunity to learn something new.

Learning isn’t a “from here to there” process. Learning isn’t a checklist. Learning is about the give, get interaction of thoughts, ideas, feelings, personalities, knowledge, skills, problem solving and simply being alive at the right place at the right time. A class or interaction that runs like a well oiled machine is a wasted oportunity to learn about friction.

In war, the saying is that no plan survives contact with the enemy. What makes education any different? When did we forget that humans learn more from failure and adversity than from protective bubble wrap and blandness? At Misery Loves Co, it’s all about learning from the moment. What are you learning? Who fucking cares! The lesson plan is just the way to open the door. The point is simply to be in a room with a lot of smart people with a wide range of backgrounds. The rest will happen as long as you are there.

-Rob McGovern, Director Private IT Firm (October 2009)

October 21st, 2009

Notes from Dr Sandy Shugart, Valencia County Community College President

Dr Shugart spoke recently at our professional development day at St Louis Community College. Valencia county community college is in Florida and is one of the largest in the country. They have multiple campuses all of which report to President Shugart. What I have here is a reconstruction of the ideas from notes I took during his presentation. I found the presentation to be very enlightening. I hope you do as well.

The college system has been influenced by 5 models at different times in history.

The monastic model was done to preserve culture and students were apprentice scholars. This model dates back to the 1200’s and the first college or university in Italy. The model was to have students come and do nothing but learn. Time was totally controlled, a professor talked to the class and the class took notes. Classes were small, like less than 20 students normally. The eventual goal for the students was to become scholars themselves and then to teach somewhere. The Ivy League schools are still patterned on this model for the most part.

In the mid 1800’s there was a real need for agricultural understanding in the United States of America. The Agricultural model came into being. The students were there to learn the practical skills for farming and the colleges and universities often had out reach or remote branches. These were mostly rural type campuses. There was no intent for the students to become professors themselves. Schools such as KSU, Missou, Texas A&M and others were based off these models.

In the late 1800’s in Europe a different model appeared. Places like Germany, Austria, and Denmark developed the Polytechnic model. The students were there to do science and lead the world in technological research. The students were cheap labor for the research projects of the professors. These are the institutions that hatched Einstein and others. Some of the schools which followed this model were Stanford, Carnige Mellon, University of Chicago and MIT.

Following WW II one of the provisions in a bill for the returning troops included the GI bill. In the USA thousands of men returned home to no jobs. The admission took what they knew best at the time and the “factory” model was developed. Students were raw material to be manufactured and assembled or became scrap. The faculty were essentially line workers each adding their part to the final product or culling scrap. The goal was productivity and large lectures were born. The number of colleges and universities expanded significantly.

In the 1980’s, commercialism and advertising combined to sell higher education to people that did not know they even wanted it. The idea of enrollment management or targeted recruiting began to develop. When these new tools combined with commercialism we got the “retail” model of a college. Students are the customer and the goal of the institution is profit. The faculty in this model become customer service reps.

In each model there is a critical central concept missing. The universities function is never centered on STUDENT LEARNING. The current models are all based on a 30-50% failure rate for incoming students so a paradigm shift is needed. If an institution really wants to be centered on student learning than anything which gets in the way needs to be changed. This change is deep and invasive to almost everything our current system does.

Valencia started with retention rates from fall to spring of like 66% and fall to fall of 40%. These numbers may not be exact as I did not write them down at the time. This rate measures how many students return in each period. These numbers are also typical of national averages. Following a decision to become an institution of student learning Valencia imposed a single big idea on everything the college did. The idea was “Anyone can learn anything under the right conditions.” In the 10 years the college has been reshaping, they have changed almost everything. The term retention was one of the starting points. Why do you retain students like you retain water? The term persistence rate implies an act of will from the student to return. The college’s current persistence rate from fall to spring is 87% and fall to fall is about 70%. These are clear signs the changes have worked particularly when you consider the pure number of students coming to the college the first time is also growing.

So based on what research has shown, what makes for good conditions for learning? There are 5 key elements to adult learning.

1. Time. Numerous studies have shown that the more time you spend doing something the better you get at it. People get tired of doing something and failing over and over, however, when that moment of success comes its all the sweeter for having struggled for it. Time is not always controllable by an institution since students are not living on campus in cloistered cells. There are things which can be done to control the time spent in learning in the classroom however.

One example of things that can be done is to not allow adds to a class after it has started. If you really believe time is a critical element to student learning then by allowing students to come in late you violate your first principle. The first day of class in many classes is known as syllabus day. Faculty handout the syllabus, go over it, and send people home. The current educational model’s make this use of time logical. The college gets extra money for every student who is in class up to the first 10 days. Regularly colleges will allow adds until that point. The students are not sure they are going to stay in class, the teacher is not sure which students are still going to be there the next class or how many new people will be added to the class. Furthermore, students will not buy books until they have been to class once to see if they like it. Valencia decided to try and make better use of this first day and one of the things they did was to offer a 25% discount on textbooks during the 1st week of registration only. Over 80% of the students now come to class with their textbook that 1st day compared to 40% or so 15 years ago. It cost the school 800,000 dollars the 1st year but the results of the student learning have been significant.

2. Engagement Most students will set their impression of a teacher in the first 15 minutes of class. There are three questions which need answers quickly in that time. What qualifies you to teach me? Do you care about what you are teaching? Do you care about me as a student? Without good answers to these questions, students turn off and decide not to be involved in class. The better engaged or involved in the topic, the more likely the student is to learn. There is ample evidence of the difference between classes students want to take and ones they feel they have to take.

3. Assessment. Assessment is something I have not understood well. It always seemed to me that a test was assessment. Through time I have learned that assessment is really about understanding if the student understands what you have taught them. For true student learning however assessment has to go one step further. The student has to understand that the student has learned the concept. Most assessment currently is done for statistical reasons to evaluate the college, not truly student learning. A faculty member has to make the expectations clear. The student has to have a complete understanding of what ideas the student needs to learn to be successful in the course. (successful is defined as an A, B, or C) The student also has to know how they will know they have learned those critical ideas. Subjective assessments are bad. There needs to be hard definable results much like a motorcycle running or not running when you have been rebuilding it.

4. Challenge. Students will rise to the level of your expectations. Students will do what is required of them, not what is asked of them. If you have a high expectation which is clearly transmitted to the students they will respond to it. Hard deadlines and consistent standards make for a better learning environment. If everyone understands the rules and what is needed to achieve then the students can focus on succeeding and not on why so and so got to turn in a paper late, or got extra credit.

5. Heart. Students come to us damaged and believing they will fail. Students need someone to believe in them, to encourage them and to show they can succeed.

Some of these conditions are more controllable than others within the college. An interesting example that was mentioned was about the grounds crew having heard this speech at Valencia. The guy who mows all day came up to the president. The mower realized that he should cut the grass away from the classrooms during class time and near it when classes were not running. This is a simple thing which most of us run into at most schools. What can everyone do to improve the conditions of the classroom?

Dr Shugart went on with a series of big ideas which have reshaped Valencia’s culture and operations.

“The college is what the students’ experience”

It is critical to make things as easy and transparent for students to getting to the classes. Registration, admission, financial aid, student services need to be standardized so they are the same on every campus and every time. Students should be able to use their time for studying not paperwork. It is important to see the processes, campus, and classes from the student point of view.

“Every competitor is a potential partner.”

As community colleges, a large percentage of our students transfer to 4 year schools. A whole host of articulation agreements exist to cover the rules of transfer. Not one of these agreements is written to improve student learning. Articulation agreements protect each college’s turf, or revenue streams. Valencia worked with the University of Central Florida, where 80% of their students transfer, to establish a seamless process. Students who declare their majors and intent to transfer in the first semester at Valencia are treated as UCF students. UCF provides academic advisors on campus and there are no surprises 2 years later when the associate’s degree is done.

“Students who have a plan to graduate are more likely to graduate.”

Obviously the transfer students we just discussed are in better shape than most when they get their degree. A large percentage of students have no idea what they want to do when they graduate. Its not until the 4th semester that the idea of transfer becomes important to them. These students find they do not have the right courses for the programs they want and end up not going or taking a bunch of other classes. In the areas like nursing, the entire student pool knows the plan, has a goal, and regularly achieves over 90% graduation and transfer. These students have a focus.

“Stop doing projects.”

Any project which is not scalable to the whole university is just for some faculty member’s ego. If the project is not done to improve student learning than the resources can be better used elsewhere. This includes long standing committees, paperwork shuffles and other administrative revisions.

“Get rid of advocacy”

If you come to a meeting as an advocate you have a set position you are defending rather than coming in to support something new. You should focus on inquiry not advocacy. Good important questions need to be asked for things to move forward without entrenched positions. Advocates have said the same things over and over and there is no reason to have meetings with them, nothing new will come of it. Committees are a dead form of communication and new forms need to be found and exercised.

Finally he talked about where to focus for the greatest improvement. The greatest correlation to graduation is success in the first five classes, generally 15 hours. So if you look at the 20 courses with the highest enrollment, then you have 45% of the income for the college. Here is where you make your first changes. It is easier to focus on improving these 20 than all of the courses in the college. Why does it matter exactly what word is in a syllabus for a 4th semester course when the students won’t get there anyway? It is far better to focus at the front door than worry about the back to start with.

You can further refine this by looking at the 10 “hardest”, the ones with the lowest success rate. At Valencia, and most colleges, math courses are 7 of them. Generally all 10 of these gave a strong analytical element. If this is the largest stumbling block in those 15 hours for students, then fix it. Do whatever it takes to get these solved and every other class on campus benefits. Valencia started with 10 Supplemental Instruction (SI) classes in math. It is no longer possible to take a class in math at Valencia that is not an SI section. The college invested every single discretionary dollar in fixing these 10 classes for 5 years. They are no longer the “hardest” and the overall GPA, persistence, and satisfaction at the college has gone up significantly.

It is hard to get across all the information this guy had. I was impressed with him and the way his college was attacking the situation. I stayed for the question and answer session and watched as he refuted or changed the perspective of many people. The changes that Valencia have made would be a benefit throughout our educational system I think.

If nothing else, I hope you all finding something interesting in the reading. I apologize for typos and other grammatical issues.

-Tom McGovern, Assistant Professor of Engineering at St Louis Community College (October 2009)

October 20th, 2009

Why do I deserve a blog on Misery Loves Co?  I’ll give you three simple reasons:

1. Joanna is my sister and nepotism rocks! Besides, until she had to ride in the car with me as a teenager, the closest she got to punk was Paginini.  I’m the one who warped her brain with Front 242, Skinny Puppy, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Joy Division, The Cure, and Radio Aftermath (an awesome late night Thursday radio show that I wish was still on).

2. My day job is as a director in an IT consulting firm. I get paid to see the world through other people’s eyes… and then solve their problems with technology solutions. That means I earn money by learning about all kinds of businesses, all kinds of people, and all kinds of problems.  Then I get paid more to help solve the problems, get the people to talk to each other, and make the businesses successful.

3. I know how to say “Here’s how I can help” rather than to ask “How can I help”?  One way gets you a blog and a free t-shirt. The other gets you a nice thank you note, or maybe a mop to clean up the spilled cans of Red Bull.

4. I’m punk on the inside. Rather than fight the world with my appearance, I use the warmth of my inner rebellion against society as a geothermal power source by constantly pitting it against my business focused exterior.

Are you upset that I wrote four reasons instead of three?  Too fucking bad…

-Rob McGovern, Director Private IT Firm (October 2009)