Story by Tony BonyataThere was a time not too long ago where buying new music seemed like an event. You'd hear that your favorite artist had just released his or her latest album and you'd sprint down to your local record store, stare at the cover art with googly eyes, plunk down your hard-earned cash and rush back home. After excitedly ripping the cellophane off the package you'd slip the black platter (or shiny silver disc, depending on whether you grew up on The Beatles or Britney) on the player. As the sounds spilled from your speakers, you'd pour over the album art, lyrics and liner notes (yes, even in its diminutive CD size) as if was the news of the day. And for some, like Chris Buttleman, it really was.
Photos by Karen Bondowski, Phil Bonyata
and Tony Bonyata
Buttleman is a musician, producer and engineer that has just formed Machine Records, an independent record label based in Chicago. Machine specializes in a unique blend of rock music that infuses eccentric pop sensibilities with passionate and thought-provoking acoustic-driven material. All four of his Machine recording artists - Todd Bowie, Dick Prall, Randy Diderrich and Thomas Kovacs - will be performing throughout Lake Geneva this week as part of the 3rd Annual Black Point Film Festival.
But in an age where obtaining music is something that's often taken for granted - with burning, ripping. downloading and illegal file-sharing becoming the preferred methods of distribution - does producing music on a tangible, yet costly, medium like the compact disc make sense today?
"Absolutely," the Lake Geneva resident replied. "For one thing, the sound quality of an MP3 is not equal to that of a CD, although that will improve soon I'm sure. I'm also a really big fan of things like album art and the journey that a great track order can take you when listening to an album from start to finish. I'd really hate to see that stuff go away."
Although Buttleman feels that CDs will always be around in some degree, he also feels that they'll only remain at the top of the preferred music format list for another few years. Which is why he's also planning on distributing his artist's material through legal online music services, such as Apple's iTunes, Napster and other various digital avenues.
Taking the 'one step back, two steps forward' approach, Buttleman is also planning on cutting some limited 'old school' vinyl records in the near future as well. He realizes that vinyl is actually making a comeback with indie labels and hip music fans alike, and is keen to stay abreast of the trends. "I've been listening to a lot of old vinyl LPs lately and really enjoying them," he stated..
While Buttleman clearly sees the future of music distribution to be dominated by an online force, he's adamant about his views on illegal file sharing. "Every songwriter (if they're the owner of the copyright) has the right to give away their music to as many people as they like. But nobody has the right to take someone else's copyrighted material and make it available to digitally copy through file sharing or copy in any other unauthorized way. Illegal file sharing is the same as shoplifting and looting in my opinion."
He continued, "We were really having a generation coming up that thought music should be free and only a fool pays for it and I was seeing music become more and more disposable. Illegal online file-sharing has hurt the music industry significantlyŠat every level of it. But I think it was time for things to be shaken up too because there was a considerable amount of greed and lack of quality being distributed by major labels. Unfortunately though, because of this, many cool record shops, good people and talented artists have had to close their doors in one way or another. Illegal downloading is declining thanks to the efforts of the RIAA."
Buttleman grew up just outside of Lowden, Iowa on his family's farm, where his older brothers encouraged him to play the harmonica, ukulele and piano at a young age. "I wasn't able to really get into those instruments though," he admitted. "It wasn't until I started banging on my mom's Tupperware that I discovered I wanted to be a drummer. My father bought me a drum set and I started playing along with some of my brothers' Rolling Stones records. I was definitely bitten by the bug."
After turning 17 things got rough for the Buttleman family. Chris' father died of a heart attack and the family farm, like so many others during that period, fell on hard times. After watching nearly everything he grew up with auctioned off at a large farm sale, the young musician felt the time was right to move to Los Angeles where he could be closer to like-minded musicians. "At that time, everything seemed to be happening in L.A. and I wanted to be part of that scene," he recalled. "When I arrived I literally had less than a dollar in my pocket. For a few years I played in bands that would perform at clubs on the Sunset Strip. I'd take the occasional odd job to pay the rent and eat. Those were some very lean and tough years."
Becoming disheartened with his band, Buttleman decided to apply for a steady job. He landed it with a company called Valley Arts Guitar, where he would build and repair guitars, quite often for famous players such as Eddie Van Halen.
"After a couple of years of learning the skills, I decided to start my own business doing guitar repair. I had an opportunity to rent a small space in a very large rehearsal facility. It was called Third Encore Studios and was started by a couple of retired Eagles roadies."
It was here that the 23-year old would be exposed to some of the biggest names in music (from Paul McCartney and Tom Petty to Ozzy and The Pixies) while they were in town to rehearse for their albums and tours.
One day, while working in his studio, Buttleman received a call that would change his life. "It was Elton John's tour manager offering me the guitar tech position on his next tour. He said the gig was mine if I wanted it and rehearsals would start in Paris in four weeks. The money was about five times what I was currently earning. So I packed up everything I had, got a passport and went for it. Over the next year-and-a-half I traveled by planes, trains and buses through thirty countries over five continents with his forty-plus person entourage."
After Elton's tour finished Buttleman was offered a position as touring guitar tech for The Eagles' Hell Freezes Over tour. "After two years and a couple more trips around the world with The Eagles the next Elton John tour started again," he recalled. " So that's the way it went for quite awhile. I picked up work with the Beach Boys and Ozzy Osbourne too during that period."
"I had a reached a point when I was getting really bored with everything, but still wanted to travel. One of my older brothers had always been (and still is) in the music business as an artist manager. He had just starting working with the new RCA band from Michigan called the Verve Pipe and asked me if I wanted to try tour management. I took the gig and hopped in a van with the band and beat a path back and forth across the country several times hitting every rock club, radio station and music store, it seemed, numerous times. It was quite a change from the four star hotel business class travel I had become accustom to, but still a great life experience."
Buttleman wrapped up his tour managing days with the bands Semisonic, Remy Zero and Five For Fighting.
His decision to start his own record company wasn't as much planned as it was just a natural progression of the events that unfolded around him. "Todd Bowie - one of my best friends that I originally met back at Third Encore in L.A. - and I were at a Flaming Lips show together on New Year's Eve 2002. It was that night that we decided to record some of Todd's own music. We had dabbled with it in the past but never really took it too seriously. We started writing together and re-working some of his old songs that he had recorded in between the various tours that he was doing over the years."
"The problem was that, at the time, Todd was on the road with Beck and The Flaming Lips as their keyboard tech, so when he'd have to leave to do another leg of their tour, I wouldn't have enough to do. So I started to find other artists to work the same deals I had structured with Todd."
Another decision that helped make it easier for him to start his own company was the affordability of the actual recording process. "Technology has really leveled the playing field for low budget independent artists to make some excellent quality recordings that rival big money, big studio projects. Provided that they posses the right skills and ears to record along with a small amount of money."
Probably the most important factor in Buttleman's business plan is that he seems sincerely dedicated and committed to his artists and their music. "We're trying to re-think the music business, with the emphasis on making 'music that matters'. We want to have fun creating music that we believe in without the pressures and compromises that exist within the industry."
Now with the release of Todd Bowie's debut album Lucky Space People, as well as full-length releases from fellow Machine artists Dick Prall, Randy Diderrich and Thomas Kovacs all due before summer's end, it seems that the gears to Buttleman's company are well-lubed and in full motion. The owner frequently travels between his Chicago office, where he tends to most of his business responsibilities, and Victorian home/studio in Lake Geneva, where he records all of his artists.
As a Lake Geneva resident, one of Buttleman's goals is to incorporate more music back into the community. "I would love to bring more live, original music to the Lake Geneva area and it's something I intend to try.
Chris Buttleman's Machine recording artists will be performing as the featured live acts for the 3rd annual Black Point Film Festival in Lake Geneva, WI at the following venues:
Wed., April 21, 7:00 p.m. Todd Bowie, Dick Prall and Thomas Kovacs at Hogs & Kisses, 149 Broad St., Lake Geneva (262) 248-PIGS
Thu., April 22, 8:00 p.m. Todd Bowie, Dick Prall and Thomas Kovacs at Hogs & Kisses, 149 Broad St., Lake Geneva (262) 248-PIGS
Fri., April 23, 9:00 p.m. Randy Diderrich, Dick Prall and Thomas Kovacs at Thumbs Up, 260 Broad St., Lake Geneva (262) 248-6111
Sun., April 25, 4:00 p.m. Dick Prall at Champs, 747 W. Main St., Lake Geneva (262) 248-6008
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