- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003


  Pat DiNizio hardly looks like the face of pop music’s future. The grizzled, bespectacled 47-year-old singer for the Smithereens has wearied of contract woes, empty promises from corporate label lackeys and shamelessly coercing mindless radio execs to play his songs.
  So he wants to come to your house and play in the living room.
  The rock ‘n’ roll house calls are the centerpiece of what he hopes will evolve into an alternative business model for the music industry. He calls it Patrons and Artists Together. It works like this: Each of 100 fans plunks down $1,200 annually — or $100 a month — and gets Mr. DiNizio in the flesh with his guitar for a private show.
  The shows can be intimate, or the patron can invite as many people as he or she wants for the up-close-and-personal experience.
  If it all works, it means that Mr. DiNizio will be a busy guy, playing 100 shows in a year to meet his obligation as the “artist.”
  But Mr. DiNizio promises to accommodate. After all, he says, these are highly deserving die-hard fans.
  “This is removing that cool reserve that exists between the fan and the artist,” says Mr. DiNizio, who will perform the shows without his fellow Smithereens. “It’s really just going into a partnership with the fans.”
  The concept is a retooling of the traditional arrangement under which fans buy records, the record label promotes a tour, and the band gets very little money.
  Mr. DiNizio has played in people’s homes before, much like the early days of independent punk rock when bands would play in basements because big-buck bars and halls would only accommodate high-stakes moneymaking acts.
  Patrons and Artists Together, though, is a much more organized, albeit nascent, movement that gives up more than just a show.
  Mr. DiNizio will arrive at a patron’s home in his late-model Winnebago with a couple of crew members and set up wherever you ask him to. He will even allow the devoted fan to sit in with him.
  CD and DVD copies of the living room dates are given to attendees, and a fund-raising event for the charity of the fan’s choice is held, one day before or after the living room show.
  The package also includes a new DiNizio CD every three months, tickets to a Smithereens show of choice, and before you know it, the true fan has recouped his or her cash outlay — at least some of it.
  If it sounds a little dreamy, a little pie-in-the-sky, well, 27 fans from California to Virginia have already shelled out the dough.
  “Once I get 73 more people, we will have successfully formed a business model for other bands to go around the music industry,” Mr. DiNizio says. “This eliminates the need for distribution, for publicity, radio play. There is no need for anything other than the audience and the artist.”
  For any music fan, having a personal favorite come to the crib to play is a dream come true, the stuff of beery conversations.
  Mark Verheiden, a Smithereens fan since the ‘80s, says it would be akin to a visit from royalty, even though he and Mr. DiNizio are already pals.
  “I wrote a movie called ‘Time Cop,’ and the Smithereens did the music for the closing scene,” says Mr. Verheiden, who lives in Los Angeles and is also a producer of the television show “Smallville.”
  “But I am doing this as a fan,” he says, “and it just seems like a great idea, a great concept.”
  His friends in the music business are confused by the concept, he adds. “It’s such a new idea that I’m not sure they have comprehended what it means,” Mr. Verheiden says — which is probably a good thing.
  The living room concert is generally the domain of the well-heeled, by the well-heeled. Paul McCartney, for example, played a benefit for his wife’s favorite charity in February at a private home in California for 150 persons at a price tag of $1 million. Don’t ask what he charges for a bar mitzvah.
  With four corporate labels dictating what youthful mainstream America hears, Mr. DiNizio joins a host of aging but still vital musicians trying to find a way to play their music without corporate backing.
  When he started the revolutionary Detroit band the MC5 in the late ‘60s, Wayne Kramer became part of an incipient movement toward full-throttle, no-frills rock ‘n’ roll that became an immediate precursor to punk rock.
  “The record companies were more open-minded at that time,” Mr. Kramer, 54, says. “More and more people were discovering music, and more and more records were being sold every year. And through the years, the record business grew until it maxed out.”
  In response, more and more seasoned acts now rely almost solely on Web sites to keep their faithful apprised, from on-in-years hipsters like Mr. Kramer (www.waynekramer.com) and Marshall Crenshaw (www.marshallcrenshaw.com) to obscure indie bands like Michigan’s Suave 25 (www.bulbrecords.com) or major label dropouts such as one-time alternative rock heroes the Supersuckers (www.supersuckers.com).
  Mr. DiNizio’s concept is “an imaginative attempt to put the music in the hands of fans,” adds Mr. Kramer, who says he sells about 7,500 copies of a given release and thanks God for back-catalog royalty checks. “I can’t see people paying $1,200 a year for this service, but I have been wrong before, and I hope I’m wrong again. Because we desperately need new ways to market music.”
  The appeal may well be to the once-starving artist who now has some spare change and a desire to prop up somebody else’s dream.
  “Maybe my wife and I won’t go out to a nice meal once a month,” says Chris Cooper, a Los Angeles-based artist who signed up for Patrons and Artists. “More than anything, the fact that somebody came up with such a good idea made me feel a sense of obligation.”
  Mr. Cooper, who has designed album jackets for punk icons the Ramones and techno-dance kings Lords of Acid, had no personal connection with the Smithereens, other than being a fan.
  “More important than Pat’s success with this is that it will inspire other musicians,” he says. “It is a very American idea of doing something that sounds screwball and making it work.”
  

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