Written by James Killen
SWRFA has been a great source of information and inspiration for sharing all things folk and musical. Singer/ songwriter, Rain Perry directed a movie called “The Shopkeeper” about Mark Hallman and the Congress House studio. It traced Mark’s career as a musician and a music producer through the years, putting a perspective to the way that current media and technology is affecting the music business.
Mark began his music career as a young teen in the mid nineteen-sixties, playing drums in a series of rock and roll and psychedelic bands until he joined forces with Mark Andes, former bass player from JoJo Gunne and Spirit to form a band called Navaro. Navaro toured with Carole King as her back up band. Hallman later toured with Dan Fogelberg as his guitarist. Hallman learned to play a myriad of instruments and was tapped by Carole King to produce her “Time Gone By” album.
Hallman turned his experience and expert ear for music into a career as a producer based in a studio that he built in a house on South Congress Street in Austin, and quite aptly named it “The Congress House Studio”. In addition to producing records for the film’s director, Rain Perry, Mark produced music with Eliza Gilkyson, Sara Hickman, Tom Russell, Ani DiFranco, Will Sexton, Andrew Hardin, Charlie Faye, Iain Matthews, Michael Fricasso, Johnnie Gourdie and Omar & the Howlers. He became sought after as an engineer and producer that helped artists achieve the sound on tape that they had envisioned for their songs. In addition to adding a few riffs of his own to a production, Mark had gathered a small army of session musicians that could be called upon to round out a song.
Lately, however, The Congress House has not been the hive of activity that it once was. Hallman has had to sell off instruments and equipment in order to meet mortgage payments. Rain Perry suggests that the availability of low cost production software and the file sharing music market have combined to move the money in the music business from recordings to live performances and movie and TV soundtracks. Rain states that between January 2010 and January 2015 her music was streamed 309,170 times on Pandora, Spotify and other services resulting in a total of $36.28 worth of revenue for her. It’s been said that file sharing is effectively killing off the middle class of musicians.
With the profitability of making recordings in decline, young musicians are turning to the inexpensive recording and production equipment and software, producing their songs on their own. It is difficult for me to imagine someone honing their skill at their instrument, developing their voice, writing thoughtful music AND learning the technology to record and mix music. Producers have historically been seasoned musicians that were able to offer the lessons of years of recording and engineering songs to budding musicians, taking on a mentoring role. I would suggest that, with a few exceptions, the quality of the product offered to the public (songs) would decline.
“The Shopkeeper” is worth the time and effort to view. It has always seemed to me that file sharing could not be good for the music business as a whole and this film does a great job of putting all of the facts and figures in one place to allow one to come to a conclusion. Jon Dee Graham has several cameos narrating the discussion of graphs showing the changing trends in the sales of recordings, adding color to mundane figures as only Jon Dee can. The interviews and anecdotes of various musical personalities are fascinating for fans.
The take away for me was that if we allow starving artists to starve, we will deserve the gray world that will be left. So, get out to see the artists perform, feed the tip jars, buy the CD from the artist either in person or from their website, oh, and buy or rent this movie from the website (www.shopkeepermovie.com) in keeping with the spirit.