It was an eclectic mix of flannel, puffy jackets and leather that attended the Music Con 2019 at the SLO Brew Rock venue in San Luis Obispo, CA on March 24th. There was a multitude of different booths present, where local businesses geared toward music or art were showcased. It was kind of like going to a rock ‘n’ roll farmer’s market. Two stages offered live music and presentations, with presenters’ topics alternating from stage performance to house parties, and music ranging from drum jams to smooth blues, as well as singer/songwriters. It was an all-day rocking event, and I stayed all day and rocked out.

Created by both Paul Irving of BigBigSLO and Producer/Engineer/Musician Vince Cimo, this event is not one to miss if you are in the industry or at all interested in music. Started in 2016, Music Con has now celebrated four successful years, and when asked about its origin, Cimo stated, “The Central Coast has this amazing musical culture, but in a lot of ways, it’s kind of hidden from the general public. I think I just got to a place where I felt like…man…all these people I’m surrounded by are so awesome, and there’s all these small but important players in the music industry locally that are individually awesome, but don’t ever really communicate…there should be some event connecting all the dots so this scene can really keep growing.”

Cimo further thought that with our collective mindset, we could accomplish much more than without. “I also felt like there were a lot of unanswered questions that I had as a musician trying to ‘make it’ in my own way. I figured if I could get some of the people who are doing things I respect to share how they do what they do, it would be helpful for everyone.” Helpful it was indeed, as there was so much to see and hear at this latest Con, that even though I was there for almost its entirety, I know I still missed out on things. Here’s the juice on what I did see:

Eric Cotton, of bands The Cheeseballs and Upside Ska, gave an interesting presentation for musicians called “How to Create a Face-Melting Live Performance.” An aptly named talk, he spoke of letting go of things like stage fright by creating an entirely new onstage persona through costumes and personality. “You have the ability when you get onstage to be anybody you want to be,” he said. He also recommended to try to stand out from other bands onstage, going beyond just playing an instrument: “It’s a performance…so have some flair and flash.” Cotton stressed how important preparation is for a concert, both self-practice as well as group rehearsal. He advises that musicians show up to rehearsal already knowing the song being played, therefore the collaborative work that occurs is more so on the intricacies of the overall performance, rather than just the basics of the song. He prepares his set list for as long as a week sometimes, taking the listener through different highs and lows. He urged musicians to stay sober onstage as well, so the focus level is on point, rather than slurring through a performance and looking ridiculous.

One of the highlights to me was Damon Castillo’s “Making a Musical Income on the Central Coast,” because of his almost crucial concept that to be successful with music in the SLO area, one must diversify. Castillo himself is a great example of this, as he not only writes and performs music with his band, but records his and others’ music in his studio, creates music for movies and TV, and teaches it as well. He spoke a bit on licensing, where an artist’s product is used in a TV commercial or other such use. He has created all sorts of different and creative pieces of music for licensing purposes. Both his talk as well as Cotton’s felt just like they should: A face-to-face from musician to musician.

The Sauce Pot Studio guys gave a helpful presentation geared toward bands titled, “Recording Roadmap: A to Z.” Wesley Price, bassist for funk fusion band Wordsauce and the unofficial “Sauce Boss” of the rehearsal room branch of the studio, started things off by telling the story of how his band created the Sauce Pot Studios by just needing a place to jam. After setting up an industrial commercial space and building to suit, they began by offering other bands in the area rehearsal studios to rent. The business began to grow organically from there into the recording/video production site it is today.

Eric Mattson, Chief Mastering Engineer at the studio as well as Wordsauce’s DJ, suggested that before you think about recording, spend some quality time on the material. Both he and Cotton suggested that if your band isn’t recording rehearsals and live shows, it can help to see it secondhand–even after performing it firsthand, in order to better address what’s working and what isn’t. Mattson also advised that bands collaborate with each other to further polish their sound, and it makes sense. If you’re recording some punk rock, and the area’s respected punk singer isn’t fully stoked on your vocal rasp, maybe consider listening to him or her, because a seasoned musician like that probably knows what they’re talking about, and they’re probably not the only one of the music fans who feel that way. While it’s important to stand strong for what your song means to you, being flexible enough to listen to others with experience, whom you trust of course, will allow for improvement.

His advice on recording prep was worthwhile, such as making sure the entire band agrees on what speed to play at, as that can shift over time in the studio if you’re not careful. Similarly, tempo changes should also be mapped out and understood as well. Mattson stated, “After you’ve recorded a rough version of a song, go online, download an app where you can tap out the tempo, find the best tempos of your songs, and find tempos that you’re happy with.” Gear preparation is also important. Change those strings or drum heads before getting in the studio, as much as a week in advance, if possible, as that will save valuable time (and money). Know what guitar tones are needed beforehand also. “That way when you come into the studio you don’t have to spend an hour picking microphones, picking amps; you can come in with a strategy, and really lock down that tone that you’re going for,” said Mattson. Then there’s rehearsal. Don’t forget: going in tight means less takes.

Vince Cimo spoke with Mattson on stage, and stressed that thinking about the post production process is important as well, from the intricate types of effects desired, to what sort of mapped plan of mixing is possible while still being creative within that, to the file management of the tracks. Clutter can exist within computer files just as much as a jam room, and the less there is to wade through the better. Much of the things mentioned by both these guys can get overlooked and therefore cause longer recording sessions, as well as a higher price.

Finally, keynote speaker Bruce Flohr of Red Light Management (signer of Foo Fighters and Dave Matthews Band) took the stage with a very enlightening presentation aimed at helping the entire music scene on the Central Coast. Making his presentation more of a pleasant discourse rather than a speech, he had helpful suggestions and answers for musicians, such as compiling multiple tracks from different bands onto a “Slocal” CD or playlist (which reminded me of the multiple local albums 107.3 The Rock released previous to their demise…yet perhaps a new crack at it wouldn’t require censorship for radio play…food for thought). Getting merchandise such as T-shirts is a regular errand for bands, so why not get them for a cheaper price by placing larger orders with other bands simultaneously? His overall thesis seemed to be one that helps us (as local musicians) find ways to create the right amount of leverage to further build a fun yet viable music scene in our area of SLO County. It was pretty heartening to have a successful Los Angeles record label head like him show up and give our area’s music scene not just legitimacy, but useful concepts.

A number of local businesses were there to show their support for the scene, and hey maybe we should support them back. Bartolini Pickups and Electronics, based out of San Luis Obispo, were present to show off their multitude of different pickups. The backdrop to their booth was maybe 10 feet wide, and listed something like 9,000 different options. You play jazz guitar? Acoustic? Rock/fusion bass? They got you covered.

Demeter Amplification also had a booth describing their products, which is everything from guitar and bass amps, to cabinets and pedals. Located in Templeton, these guys are right in our backyard.

Graham Yates, formerly the drummer in nine-piece funk ensemble Captain Nasty, was there to promote his new business Club Burgundy, and got the dance floor kicking with a silent disco. Being my first, it was neat watching a number of Con-goers all dancing together to seemingly…nothing. It made me double-take; I wasn’t sure if I couldn’t hear the music or had too much cider until I noticed the headphones all the dancers wore. The tunes were being mixed live by a DJ, too. In the future, Yates plans to include wine tours in his refurbished Dodge van, and will unveil the website once everything solidifies.

Yates also thumped some skins in the Samba Loca drum circle, a Brazilian-inspired community drum group – turned school, which he helped create back in 2014 where they played their first show at Avila Beach Blues Festival. Loud and proud, these folks caught my primal instincts within a bitchin’ rhythm and rocked it for a good while.

Isaac Horton was present there as well, and is someone worth knowing if you want to expand on the visuals that go with a live music performance. He runs both Light Eyes and Color Projection, which are businesses associated with the imagistic side of music. Light Eyes is a performance moniker in which he uses a software called Resolume for backing up music acts with LED screens. His other business, Color Projection, is where he creates custom animations and video clips for bands and the worldwide video jockey community. I got to see his work firsthand when Wordsauce played at the Con’s afterparty, and it was excellent. Psychedelic and colorful, his visuals really added to the show, and it’s customizable for each performance!

SLOgrrrls also had a booth at the Con to join in the festivities and give a bit more exposure to their cause. In their own words, SLOgrrrls are a collective of musicians, DJs, and artists who provide musical entertainment services on the Central Coast. “We share our resources, give referrals, book bands and create opportunities for ourselves and others to get out there and perform,” says Stephanie West, creator of the group. Offering a wide variety of music, they are involved with things like throwing punk rock/DJ/Karaoke parties and more. Showcasing female talent, I say hell yeah. The more women in music the better, so let’s see some badass ladies bust out their version of cool.

Forrest Williams of the Tipsy Gypsies was there showing off his app called Gigslinger, wherein band leaders can manage the band’s show dates and more without being that seemingly overbearing persistent texter due to the need for constant communication, because the Gigslinger app does it automatically. Heck yeah, Forrest. What a beautiful mix of web development and music. Again, by musicians, for musicians.

Abe Hiro Toke of Cayucos Collective had a booth as well, selling artwork and spreading the word about his business, which provides printing services for t-shirts and more, as well as custom graphics right on the beach in Cayucos, and online. If you attended the Con, you might have seen Toke’s friend in art: muralist David Ramirez out there painting live. I really enjoyed seeing that, and it was interesting to watch it progress from when it began to what it became hours later, because it had evolved and changed entirely.

Abe Hiro Toke’s wild art

BigBigSLO is an absolute mountain of the local music scene, as they not only produce and distribute pamphlets packed with just about every dang band in the area, including music styles and contact info, but their website is undeniably bananas. Every day of their music calendar has something like 5-10, sometimes 20 events each! Live comedy, folk tunes, whatever the heck you could want is in there. I had no idea we had such diversity, and I’m involved with the scene! Created by Paul Irving, a SLO musician for over 30 years, he felt the need for a centralized place for all local music: “I came up with the idea that if all the venues [and musicians] could promote on the same platform, all the proverbial boats would rise with the collective tide,” he stated. Irving is also an account rep for the local ticketing platform: my805tix.com, the music editor for Estero Bay News, and on air at KPIG every weekend with Paul’s Picks on the local radio show Sauce on the Pig (kpig.com, 94.9 FM). Much to see and learn at bigbigslo.com. Irving’s Music Con co-creator Vince Cimo plays in Mannequins by Day.

Wordsauce live at the after party

Overall, the vibe was right, the information was immense, and the facility was fantastic. SLO Brew Rock is located at 855 Aerovista Place in San Luis Obispo, and the way it is set up is pretty slick for such an event. There is a delicious restaurant separate from the main stage, and the patio area connecting them is open-air and welcoming.

I wish I didn’t have to wait another year for the Music Con to come around again, but alas, good things come to those who wait. Planning doesn’t hurt, either. See you at the next one in 2020.