Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 142

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 44
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 19
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 15


As our son, Adam, was finishing his first year of college at The Boston Conservatory, he received an offer from Phil Doreau, his best friend from high school. Phil’s family had acquired a nice home behind one of the famous mansions in Newport, Rhode Island and Phil arranged it so that he and Adam could live there, rent-free, for the summer! The home was a few hundred yards from the beach and there were plenty of seasonal jobs available in the area so it seemed like an almost perfect setting for Adam. Adam would work full-time and save a substantial amount of money to help with his college expenses for his second year. We were all pleased with this arrangement and knew Adam and Phil would have a lot of fun together.

In the meantime, Mal, Cassy, and I were still living in New Hampshire. One day as I was at Cassy’s school, my nephew Jesse DeMund caught up with me and asked if I’d be interested in hearing the “demo” CD that he had just finished making with the other members of the band he was in. We sat in my car and I was pleasantly surprised to hear this high-quality music. The vocals were clear and not drowned out by the music (as is the case in most unprofessional bands) and the songs were very well written. This was an entertaining CD.

The band was called, “Oxygen.” Jesse played the drums, Paul Howard played guitar, Chris Friedrich played the bass, Bryan Parys played guitar, an older guy named Mark played guitar, Brendon Waldron was a singer, keyboard player and handled the soundboard, Brian Waldron was the lead vocalist and occasional keyboardist, and Brian’s wife Sherri sang backup vocals. All of these young people were talented and together they sounded quite professional. Most of their songs were co-written by Bryan Parys and Brian Waldron. All of the band members were Christians and they chose to create and play Christian rock music.

The first time I heard the band perform was at a large Catholic church in Concord, New Hampshire. A group of us went to support the band members that we knew and we all enjoyed their performance. It was a bizarre experience to sit through a regular Catholic Mass that periodically had fun, rock music throughout the service. Shortly after this performance, the band members decided that Mark, the guitarist, was just not “fitting in” with the rest of the band. The band members felt he was too much older and he was interested in a different style of music so they asked him to quit the band.

“Oxygen” played several concerts at local places but the band wasn’t earning much money for all of their effort. Occasionally they’d get fifty dollars or so, but they didn’t seem to mind. They just loved playing their music. But now that they had a “demo” recorded, they had a shot at bigger and better things. They could use this demo CD to let potential “clients” hear their music. It could have led to some new possibilities for the band.

The band members had some things in common but they were different in many other ways. Paul, Chris, Bryan and Jesse were good friends and they were all attended the same high school. Brendon and Brian Waldron were brothers. Brian was married with a child and he had a full-time job that he needed to have to support his family. Although Brian enjoyed being the lead singer in the band and he had hopes of being discovered by a major record company, he didn’t seem to be very interested in the business side of the music industry. Some of the other band members were already “dreaming” of stardom; even fantasizing of performing in concerts all around the country and traveling in a deluxe tour bus. These dreams seemed premature to me because the band appeared to be neglecting some basic business principles. For example, the band resisted copyrighting all of their original songs. Several of the band member’s parents urged them to put a little bit of effort into protecting their valuable songs but for some reason the band members just didn’t bother. It just wasn’t a priority for them.

Mal, Cassy and I (and many of the other parents) traveled to most of the “Oxygen” concerts, including several concerts that were quite a long distance away from where we lived in New Hampshire. At one such concert, the band members were excited because they were promised that there would be a very large crowd waiting to hear them perform. It was an all-day neighborhood festival in Nashua, New Hampshire. The band members met down there but they hadn’t gotten clear directions from the festival organizers. Mal and I ended up driving around the city just hoping to find some sort of advertising poster or notice about the festival but we didn’t find any. Eventually we ran into someone who thought that they had heard about this event and they gave us some vague directions into the neighborhood they thought the event was in. As it turned out, the festival was in a tough section of the city and we were just about the only people who were not Hispanic. By the time we arrived, the band members had been talked into using their own sound equipment for the festival organizers. Brendon was the “resident techie” and he was always good at it but it seemed like the poorly organized festival organizers were really taking advantage of his good nature. The band was supposed to perform their concert set but now they were “tricked” into working the whole day. In the middle of the day, the “guest of honor,” Tito Puente Junior, arrived in a limousine. The “Oxygen” members laughed at Tito’s arrogant attitude. He thought he was “hot stuff.”

When the time came for “Oxygen” to perform, there were only a handful of people waiting to hear them. The large crowd they had been promised just never showed up. While this didn’t negatively affect their performance, I know they were disappointed. To make matters worse, Brian hadn’t bothered to ask if they were going to be paid for their performance. Apparently the festival organizers didn’t plan on paying the band for any of their work or for the use of all of the band’s sound equipment. Reluctantly, the festival organizers compensated the band by giving them fifty pounds of beef ribs. To their credit, the band members accepted the beef and learned to laugh about the experience.

I had some spare time at this point in my life and I offered to help the band in any way I could. I believed in their talent and their devotion to the message of the music and I knew I could do a better job for them on the business end. The band members all agreed to let me help them, especially because I didn’t want to get paid for any of this work. I was doing it, primarily, just to help my nephew, Jesse. I suggested to my brother-in-law, Greg, (Jesse’s father) that we should put up the money for the band to produce a CD so they’d have a product to sell at their concerts. Greg was certainly willing to get involved in this way. The band seemed very excited about this project. They rented recording studio time late in the evenings because the rent was cheaper and within a short time they had a master recording of their music. I found a CD pressing company in Worcester, Massachusetts who offered us a decent price for the manufacturing and packaging of the CD.

Brian had arranged for the band to perform at a huge, multi-day music festival in New Hampshire called “The Inside Out Soul Festival.” The festival featured many of the country’s top Christian performers on the “Main Stage” and over ten thousand people were expected to attend. “Oxygen” would only get to perform on one of the smaller stages on the outskirts of the property but this was still an exciting opportunity to be heard by many people. The only problem was that it was looking doubtful that the CD would be ready in time for this big event. After much begging and pleading, the manufacturing company promised that the CD’s would be ready on the day of the big concert. One of the band members would have to drive the two and a half hours down to Worcester to pick them up so that they’d be available to sell at the concert. Brian was at the festival with his family and he didn’t want to leave to pick up the CD’s because he was having fun. Besides, no one seemed sure that the CD’s would absolutely be ready. He didn’t want to waste a trip. Greg and I were frustrated that the band didn’t seem to understand how important it could be to have the CD available for sale while the band was performing. They could potentially sell a hundred CD’s! Eventually they realized how important it would be to have the CD’s so Brian and Bryan drove down to the factory. When they arrived, they were told that it could be another few hours before the product was ready so they decided not to wait. They wanted to have fun at the festival. So the concert went on with no product to sell to the crowd of enthusiastic and interested fans.

After their “set” was over, I convinced my nephew, Jesse, to go for a ride to Worcester to pick up the CD’s. They were ready for us when we arrived and we loaded over one thousand CD’s into my car. We had a fun ride back to the festival, listening to the finished product. The boys had done a great job on the music and the packaging was pretty good.

When we arrived back at the festival I learned that the band would have another opportunity to perform on one of the smaller stages so they’d have a chance to push their debut CD. We encouraged Brian, as the lead-singer, to promote the CD throughout their performance but he was uncomfortable hyping his own product. He mentioned it a couple of times but not very enthusiastically. Despite his reluctance, the band still sold a dozen or so CD’s to the small crowd that had gathered to hear them perform.

A few days after the festival the band had a meeting and we handed out a bunch of CD’s to each band member and asked each of them to do their best to sell them to their friends and relatives so that Greg and I could recoup our investment. Over the next month, Bryan Parys sold several and his mother, Barbara, sold quite a lot. Paul Howard and Chris Friedrich sold a decent amount but Jesse DeMund sold the most. Brendon Waldron sold a few but Brian Waldron only sold one or two.

I arranged for the local newspaper to do a big story about the band and a friend of mine with a local talk-radio show invited the band to do an on-air interview. I had convinced the local record store to carry the “Oxygen” CD and made sure that the record store was mentioned in the newspaper and on the radio. I contacted the youth pastor (an old friend) of the church in Bolton, Massachusetts and offered to bring the band down to perform a concert in the church for just a few hundred dollars because I had already arranged for them to perform the next day at the huge “Bolton Fair” that draws about fifty-thousand people each year. The Bolton Fair committee agreed to pay the band $650 and allow them to sell their CD’s to the crowd.

The church concert was amazing! About one hundred kids packed the front of the church and rocked to the music. The band was hot and the crowd responded and we even had some “crowd-surfing” happening! Sales of their CD’s were great and the band ended up making over one thousand dollars for that night. The next day, the concert at the Bolton Fair wasn’t very crowded. The fair attendees seemed more interested in the amusement rides and animal exhibits but we still had a small, enthusiastic crowd and sold some more CD’s. Overall, this was a well-received and profitable two days for the band. We were all happy to be done with the days of being paid in beef ribs.

A few months later I contacted another friend who was responsible for organizing a large church’s New Years Eve gathering. I suggested that they hire “Oxygen” to perform as part of the youth gathering. She agreed to pay them one thousand dollars for a one hour concert. I called Brian Waldron to tell him about the offer and he told me that he had already made plans to attend a local “First-Night” celebration with his family. I explained that the concert was planned to be in the very early evening and that he would most likely be home by 9:00 PM so he could still celebrate the New Year’s Eve holiday with his family. He refused to change his plans and he wouldn’t even mention it to the other band members. Later, when the other band members found out, they were pretty upset. This could have been their biggest “gig” to date and now the opportunity was gone.

The band got together for a business meeting to deal with some important issues and it became clear that Brian thought he was the band’s leader. The other guys thought that every member should have an equal say in the direction the band was going, including what concerts they’d like to book. Brian was very firmly convinced that this was his band and the other members were just employees. This was the beginning of the end of “Oxygen.” It wasn’t long after that meeting that the other band members moved on to other things and most of them have been quite successful. Bryan Parys is a gifted guitarist in a Massachusetts band. Chris Friedrich has been touring the United States with an innovative “jazz-rock-fusion” band that was recently signed with a major record company. Jesse DeMund is the worship leader at his church. Brendon Waldron is married. Brian Waldron is currently working in a hair salon of his own.

Copies of the “Oxygen” debut CD are still available. If you’re interested, email me and I’ll sell you one for $5.00 plus $1.59 for postage. All of the proceeds will be donated to a charity that is near-and-dear to me. It is really a fun CD!

Next chapter: I try to buy a nice birthday gift for Mal.


  1. it's funny, but this part of your story really connected most with me. While I had been a comic collector in the 70's & 80's and had actually been part owner in a store back in 1981, I actually haven't "collected" since 1989 when I sold everything to help out a friend.

    In the late 80's and early 90's, though, I started getting involved in the Christian Music scene. From concert set up and security (Harvest Rock Syndicate, Cornerstone Music Festival) to Radio DJ (WCRM, WGSL), to written publications (Harvest Rock Mag, Ex Nihilo, White Throne), and other ventures (True Tunes, Etc., Shuman's Odd Socks Records), I worked behind the scenes. I actually made a name for myself on Ebay as "JulieMillerFan" (Now Bethel*Abba) where I was the top seller of christian Music for 9 straight years (1999-2008). I left that to become a missionary in Taiwan.

    Reading this part of the story really made me smile. I've been there, nearly every step along that path. I recognize the effort and work that goes into this sort of adventure --- and that is something far to few people do understand. "Making it" in Christian Music isn't as easy at it would seem and far to many bands end up left behind as daily bills overtake the desire to minister --- at the expense of eating.

    Thanks for including this --- it really brought back some great memories for me of all the hard work these bands go through for so little in return.

    1. Julie:
      Wow! You're actually reading the whole blog! The story changes tone soon...I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on it as you get to the upcoming chapters...Thanks for reading this!...Paul Howley