What’s a “listening room”?

Back in February I got to play my second show at the Downtowne Listening Room in Cincinnati. A community space located inside an old department-store-turned-apartment-complex, the DTLR is an ideal venue where local + nationally-touring artists come to play and the audience comes prepared to listen. “Prepared to listen” means that there is no talking permitted inside the venue once the show starts. It’s a rule well-followed by now: if you talk [or even whisper] during the performance, you’ll kindly be asked to step outside. It’s a true listening room.

Scott & Diana SkeabeckThe hosts are an extremely kind and generous husband-and-wife duo prone, as lovebirds often are, to finishing each others sentences. Scott and Diana have created a truly unique listening room environment in the heart of downtown Cincy. After my over-sold-out show back in February, I sat down to ask them a few questions about their mission. Here’s part of our conversation:

ME: What inspired this?

SCOTT: The Downtowne Listening Room was created because we lived in the northeast corridor, the Philadelphia area, and these kind of places were all over the place. And when we moved to Cincinnati — and no disrespect to Cincinnati — there really wasn’t a place you could go to listen to music and hear a pin drop. And it drives us crazy when we are listening to music we love and people are talking and not listening, not paying attention. You wouldn’t go to the movies and ignore the screen. You don’t go to the art museum and ignore the paintings on the wall. But people go out to bars and restaurants and places and they ignore the music, and it drives us crazy. And we’re not even the performers! So that’s why we created it.

ME: When did you start it? And how has it grown?

DIANA: We started it in June of 2015. We’ll be celebrating our 3rd-year anniversary this June. When we first started, it was hard to get people in the door. But Scott did a lot of promotion — sending out newsletters and flyers, contacting radio stations and what not — and over time we’ve gotten a following from people that have come here, told their friends about it, you know, brought new people in with them…

SCOTT: …so bugging the heck out of people works. That’s what we find. (laughs) And I think the hardest thing is they don’t understand what a listening room is. They say, “Well, why would I pay $10-$15 to see Matt or Kevin or whoever play music when I can go to the bar and get music for free?” It’s like, well, you’re getting music but you’re not listening to music. This is where you listen and you get the stories and you get the background. We had a CD from pretty much all of you guys, and we listen to the CD, but then when we hear you tell the stories behind it, we listen to the CD again and we get almost a different experience out of it. It’s like, “Oh, that’s why that line’s in there!” You don’t get that by just passively listening. It’s active listening which is so important. We’re pretty passionate about it. (laughs)

ME: And you don’t a make a dime?


SCOTT: No. All the money goes to the artists.

DIANA: This is our hobby. We don’t golf. We don’t collect art. We don’t collect wine.

SCOTT: And it’s cheaper than a what?

DIANA: Corvette.

SCOTT: It’s cheaper than a Corvette. But only by a little bit. (laughs)

DIANA: Plus, we get to listen to great shows.

SCOTT: Right, and we listen to them in the environment we want to listen to them in. And we listen to the people we like. So…we like you. We really, really like you, as Sally Field would say. (laughs)

ME: Well, I like you guys. So, thank you very much. Anything else you want to say?

SCOTT: Everybody come out to Cincinnati! Downtown! Come to the DownTowne Listening Room! Boom! (laughs)

ME: The lady doth concur?

DIANA: I concur, yes. Come see us!

Art Affects: The New World

Every artist wants their work to mean something, wants their painting, sculpture, book, song, etc. to spark some thought (any thought) in the mind of the beholder. Art is about ideas, ideas that hopefully lead to positive change(s) within ourselves and within the world around us. And every once in a while, art affects us in such a way that we feel compelled to share our thoughts on the art with the artist, who is, in turn, incredibly humbled by the reception and sincerely grateful for the opportunity to be heard, for the chance to make a difference. Every once in a while, a message like this gets sent:

“…keep doing what you’re doing. I can already tell you that a couple of my friends who are blinded by the mainstream media, etc, have started to question things simply by conversations sparked by your songs.”

The song to which this sender (named Samantha) was referring is The New World, track no. 8 on The Spark. Check out the brand new [and super cool] lyric video for The New World below. And as always, if you like it, share it.

Small Things With Great Love

It probably gets annoying, the extent to which we artists are constantly imploring you to buy our music. The old it-only-costs-the-equivalent-of-a-few-cups-of-coffee-but-you-can-listen-to-it-whenever-you-want! bit is a classic plea. But it’s true! For about the equivalent of purchasing three or four cups of coffee, or of going to see a movie (just one movie, just one time) in the theater anytime after 4:00 p.m., you can purchase an entire album of music that someone spent countless hours composing and thousands (minimum) of dollars to record, produce, and package. But this post isn’t a plea for you to buy my music; it’s a plea for you to buy James Rosenbloom‘s music.

James RosenbloomWe all prioritize what we want to spend our money on. Even though it’s only getting more expensive to do so, I love the experience of seeing a film in the theater (I saw Interstellar three times). But I only [maybe] purchase one article of clothing for myself in any given year, as I’m sure anyone who has ever seen me perform live more than once has already assumed (“Is that the same pair of jeans and plaid shirt he wore at his last show? He’s washed them since then, right?” Maybe.) I have enough clothes. I very rarely feel like I need any more of them. But film, music, books, art – that’s what I want to spend my money on! Thought-provoking substance presented to me in an interesting, creative, haunting, honest, beautiful way – that’s what I need more of, what I think we always need a little more of in our lives. As John Keating put it:

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love – these are what we stay alive for.”

I felt compelled to post this post because, as I look at the play count in my iTunes library, I see that I have listened to James Rosenbloom’s brand new album Small Things With Great Love in its entirety 31 times in the last week. (I’m actually listening to it as I type this.) It’s classical. It’s choral. It’s instrumental. It’s old. It’s new. It’s peaceful. It’s adventurous. It’s sacred. And it’s beautiful. James considers his record a small thing done with great love. I disagree. I think it’s a great thing done with great love, an important thing done with a hopeful, dedicated love.

If you’ve ever appreciated beauty, I implore you: consider supporting James’ art. At $7.99 on iTunes, it only costs the equivalent of a few cups of coffee…but you can listen to it whenever you want! (How’s that for a pitch?) I paid $25 for my digital copy when I backed his Kickstarter campaign, and I don’t regret a cent of it. I’d gladly pay four times the iTunes-value again in a heartbeat for the sense of peace and calm this album [on repeat] provided me while working on my taxes (insert GIF of wife rolling her eyes).

In her recent op-ed piece, Taylor Swift called for a return to the idea that “music is art, and art should be paid for.” She wrote:

“My hope for the future, not just in the music industry, but in every young girl I meet…is that they all realize their worth and ask for it.”

James Rosenbloom may not be a young girl (he definitely isn’t), but I hope he realizes his worth. And I hope he can always maintain the courage to ask for it. That’s hard to do in this business. Thank you for your art, James.

Your friend,

Define: Positivity

If you search “define: positivity” on Google, you might get the following definition: the character of the positive electric pole. Before every one of Kevin’s shows at which he is in attendance, either as a courteous stagehand or a fellow performer, Michael Beach always asks Kevin the same question:

“Are you ready to play the best show of your life?”

He always expects to hear a resounding “yes!” And so, solely on the merits of this young man’s upbeat attitude, the ambiguous “we” controlling this website would like to propose to you, the reader, a new definition of “positivity”: Michael Beach

With Nothing But Gratitude….

This is not a eulogy, though it kind of feels like one….

Ever since I started traveling full-time with my music in the Fall of 2010, I’ve had someone by my side onstage [at many shows] to encourage me, to assist me, to create with me, to strum [and occasionally sing] along with me. Paid on but two occasions [and on both in bottles of wine], this person never asked for money. And the one time I emphatically, absolutely insisted he take it, he gave it back the next day when all hell broke loose on my car. It was $100, a mere 15% of the [unusually high] take from the night’s show. When he handed the cash back to me the following day, he said, “I want to put the money towards the band. Without your car, there is no band.”

This was the generous heart with which Ross Henley lived and loved [and continues to do so (don’t worry, he’s not dead!)]. He never wanted money. He just wanted to play music. He just wanted to help his friend achieve success in his pursuit of the proverbial [and actual] dream. He just wanted to help his friend pay the bills so he could keep writing, recording, and sharing his songs with the world.

I have found in these past few weeks that my heart is filled with nothing but gratitude for Ross’ friendship and generosity over the last several years. I believe that God exists and that He is Love. Because I believe this, it comes as no surprise to me that [such a loving] God had bigger plans for Ross than me and my music. On July 26th – after driving over 3,500 miles in three weeks with Joe Zambon and I on The Happy Canada Day Tour – Ross began his postulancy with the Capuchins, an order of Franciscan Friars who dedicate their lives to prayer, community living, and service to the poor. I can think of no more noble a calling to lose such a talented bandmate to, though, as this is not a eulogy, I suppose my bandmate isn’t lost. He is, on the contrary, quite found. And we will play together again. Perhaps not quite as often. But that’s okay.

Kevin Heider (Ross Henley’s best friend, whether he would acknowledge so or not)

*Note: In the photograph atop this post, Ross is the boyishly handsome young man on the far right. You can view more photos of Ross, Kevin, and Joe on The Happy Canada Day Tour by visiting Kevin’s Facebook Music Page. Also, you NEED to watch this….

Practice Makes Perfect

At the 4th of July rooftop video shoot in Baltimore that officially kicked off The “Happy Canada Day!” Tour, Kevin’s friend and collaborateur, Chris Madden, spoke frankly about his experience with Kevin’s annoying [music] habits over the years.

You can [and should] also watch Chris and [his wife] Claire [attempt to] play Kevin’s song Book Mountain live in their living room!