Penick drives 'Bavanarama' to SXSW success
Loading up a yellow GMC Rally with luggage, goldfish crackers and a few bags of clementines for a 19-hour road trip to Austin, Texas, to spend five days at South By Southwest may not sound like a typical work week. But for Brian Penick, founder of the Counter Rhythm Group
, it was the perfect example of how his work and play can go hand in hand.
From the moment Bavanarama, the name bestowed on the big yellow van, rolled into Austin, Texas, and parked on Navasota Street, Penick worked the vehicle like an office with wheels. He sat in the back seat of the van, legs extended, sending emails and fielding phone calls. Between stops at Chili's in Marshall, Texas, for a Long Island Iced Tea, at an Economy Inn in Crockett, Texas, for a night in a hotel reminiscent of horror movies, Penick navigated drivers with his iPhone as he helped bands manuever their way through bookings and concerts.
This year marked the first time Penick hasn't attended SXSW as a performer. The former drummer of the Seedy Seeds has weathered the storms of SXSW several times, but he decided to turn his experience with bands and on the road to help others as an artist management company.
The Counter Rhythm Group has only been around about a year, but that year includes an impressive track record. His present and past clients include Walk the Moon, Wussy and the Pinstripes, all bands who represented Cincinnati at SXSW. Theses bands span genres, recognition and needs, but Penick works to help them all.
Walk the Moon was one of Penick's first clients. They have since moved on to sign with a major label, so now he serves as more of a mentor. Wussy has been putting out critically acclaimed albums since 2005, but as Penick puts it, "They needed someone to light a fire under their ass." The Pinstripes have been a band for almost a decade, but have yet to be signed to a label. At SXSW, Penick answered their questions about where to pick up shows and handed out download cards while they were performing in front of a food truck on 6th street. Penick understands the needs of bands at different stages of existence, because he has experienced them all.
Penick has played in bands that have gone on national and international tours. He played with Bottom Line for four years, then Lightweight Holiday for two years and most recently The Seedy Seeds for almost four years. At 28, Penick has thousands of performances under his belt. He has learned that success in the music industry is all about the hustle.
When on tour, Penick would carry a backpack full of samplers to pass out, something he still does for his bands. While the Pinstripes
were performing an impromptu set in Austin, Penick ran through traffic, knocked on windows and passed out digital download cards to everyone within earshot of the band. Soon after, he hoofed it 30 blocks to Wussy's KEXP session
to meet with the well-known indie radio station's staff.
Once back from handing out download cards and trading business cards, Penick worked with the bands to follow up on new connections.
"Things as simple as knowing when to follow up can make a big difference," Penick says. "If you follow up and send an email two days after an event like SXSW, your email may get buried. But I've figured out if you wait around 10 days, you have a much better chance."
After leaving Austin at 8 am a week ago Sunday, Bavanarama rolled back into Cincinnati at 8 am on Monday. After a few days recuperating, Penick and his clients got back to work. The Pinstripes are now in a conversation to sign with a major booking agency. After years of critical acclaim for Wussy, Penick believes a deal with a label will be coming soon. In the past months, Wussy has received a four-star review for their most recent album, Strawberry,
and a full-page write-up in Magnet Magazine. Some staff at KEXP
said Wussy's was one of the best sets they recorded at SXSW, and rock critic Robert Christgau dubbed Wussy, "The best band in America."
While in today's world of music, some bands find fame through the internet via YouTube and blogs, Penick thinks the industry still has the same backbone it has always had. That backbone is what he has shaped his business around -- radio promotion, record marketing, publicity, tour management and artist development. After a band's time with The Counter Rhythm Group, the goal is to have its members hooked up with a full-time publicist, manager, booking agent, radio servicing agent and record label.
"To project long-term success for your band, the booking agent is the most important," Penick says. "Bands make their money when they're out on tour. Without a booking agent, bands don't usually maximize their potential."
With the Pinstripes about to nail down a booking agent, and the buzz surrounding Wussy, two of Penick's clients are on the edge of ending up with all five focus areas filled.
"It's a really exciting time for both the Pinstripes and Wussy," Penick says. "The funny thing is, they've both been around about the same time. The bands have been on two separate paths, but have ended up in similar places. I think that speaks to the backbone of the industry."
Penick says that he doesn't want to take credit for the success of any of the bands he works with. Some work with teams of other people, and bands like the Pinstripes and Wussy have been making their music for almost 10 years. Still, sometimes an extra push or piece of advice can make a big difference.
"Hard work and good networking pays off," Penick says. "That's what I preach to all of my bands."
Follow Evan Wallis on Twitter