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May 10, 2008

Year's best rock band cash-generating idea

Read all about it in John Jurgensen's story in today's Wall Street Journal.

Or just watch the video above, in which members of the group Cloud Cult paint a picture while the music plays, then auction it off right then and there to fans in the audience.

Here's the article.

    Taking Art-Rock Literally

    The Minneapolis Band Cloud Cult Combines Music With Live Painting Onstage

    A Cloud Cult concert doesn't end with the encore; it ends with a bidding war. After every performance by this rising Minneapolis rock band, fans vie in a silent auction for one-of-a-kind souvenirs from the show: pictures painted to the music by the group's two on-stage artists.

    When the drums kicked in at a recent concert in New York City, painter Connie Minowa swiped a streak of blue across a blank canvas. By the close of the group's stormy one-hour set, she'd completed a poster-sized painting marked by rippling shapes and dripping pigment. It sold minutes later for $1,000 — about as much as the group typically gets paid to perform.

    Though Ms. Minowa sings on some numbers, Cloud Cult's painters, who are considered members of the band, don't play instruments on stage. Their paintings have appreciated in value along with the popularity of the group's orchestral indie pop, which is often compared to that of Arcade Fire and the Flaming Lips. On the band's current tour, prices for the still-damp pieces have hit a high, fetching up to $2,500 each. And on the strength of the band's sixth album, released last month, Rolling Stone featured Cloud Cult as a "breaking artist."

    In the crowded genre of indie rock, in which bands typically earn more by touring than selling albums, the painters have helped Cloud Cult's stage show stand out. While the paintings offer a glimpse into the economics of a working-class rock band, they're also intimately tied to Cloud Cult's music, much of which stems from a tragedy that struck Ms. Minowa and her husband, band leader Craig Minowa.

    Mr. Minowa didn't originally conceive of Cloud Cult as a live band. A onetime music major at the University of Minnesota (he graduated with a bachelors degree in environmental science), he had written enough songs to release a debut album in 2000, but he was reticent about taking the stage. Then, in 2002, the Minowas' 2-year-old son, Kaidin, died in his sleep. The young couple foundered and separated for about a year.

    As their marriage rebounded, Mr. Minowa and his wife used their art to reckon with their loss. Mr. Minowa dove into songwriting, producing three Cloud Cult albums in as many years. He also warmed to performing as a way to let his son "speak." "When I'm writing at home I'm always calling on him and trying to feel his presence as much as possible, and it's the same thing on stage," says Mr. Minowa, 35 years old.

    Scott West, a high-school friend of Mr. Minowa, was the band's first resident artist. With his easel erected at stage left, Mr. West bobs his body and brushes aggressively to the beat, crafting bold colors into often eerie scenes or grotesque figures. On the opposite side of the stage, Ms. Minowa creates sunnier pieces, favoring vivid faces, flowers and swirls. The painters say the images flow directly from Mr. Minowa's lyrics, the tone of the live music and the audience's mood. "I describe it as visual songwriting," Mr. West says. Both artists have had fans commission studio work.

    At first the painters were pocketing the money from the auctions. But with the bids escalating and Cloud Cult strapped for cash, things came to a head. Two years ago the group voted to make Ms. Minowa and Mr. West full-time members — and to absorb their auction revenue.

    "I definitely make less money, but I'm looking at it as an investment in the entire business," says Mr. West, who also functions as the band's art director, designing CDs and T-shirts with input from Ms. Minowa.

    Cloud Cult isn't the first music act to put painters on stage. For instance, the MuzikMafia, a popular country music collective, includes a painter named Rachel Kice. But it is rare for bands to incorporate painters and their earnings into their core.

    Like most groups on tour, Cloud Cult is usually paid a percentage of the amount the venue collects through ticket sales. While that percentage varies widely, the group's take has been averaging about $1,000, according to manager Adrian Young. That barely covers the band's daily touring expenses, which usually include two or three hotel rooms and at least $100 to gas up the two vans carrying the seven-person band and up to six other crew and family members.

    With rising gas and food prices straining the budget on the band's ongoing 27-stop tour, other revenue streams are crucial. At the merchandise table total sales of $12 CDs and $20 T-shirts have been averaging $500 a night. Paintings have fetched at least $250 each. Last month at the High Noon Saloon in Madison, Wis., a fan who'd been thwarted previously paid $2,500 for a work by Ms. Minowa. All this is pushing the band into the black. On its first tours Cloud Cult lost money or broke even. But Mr. Young estimates the band will complete its tour this month with about $25,000 profit after everyone receives their cut.

    That money will be plowed into a DVD release and the next Cloud Cult album. Being independent, the band doesn't have a record label fronting the expenses for recording, producing and marketing albums. The group had to put up about $15,000 to have its most recent CD pressed and packaged, which cost the band 93 cents per CD. That's more than double the typical rate because Cloud Cult insists on using non-toxic inks and recycled packaging instead of standard plastic jewel cases.

    Band members work other jobs to make ends meet. Mr. Minowa is a consultant and writer for the Organic Consumers Association and telecommutes while on tour. Ms. Minowa is a grant writer. After accepting a full-time job as a design director for an apparel company, Mr. West can only perform at select stops, including a June TV appearance on NBC's "Last Call With Carson Daly," in which he'll have to dash off a painting in the span of one song.

    Mr. West was absent at Manhattan's Bowery Ballroom last month when Cloud Cult performed for about 500 people. With jars of acrylic paint arrayed on the blue tarp spread under her feet, Ms. Minowa rocked on her heels to eye her canvas in the glow of a spotlight clipped to her easel. She embellished a heart or a tulip at the painting's center as the band wound through its set list, which ranged from rock sing-alongs, to pulsing electronica, to ballads featuring soaring cello and violin. On songs like "Take Your Medicine," Mr. Minowa sang his pained and ebullient lyrics ("It's a good day, it's a good day to face the hard things") in a reedy voice, and Ms. Minowa daubed in bruise-like shadows and divided the painting with a ropey shape.

    The postshow auction lasted 15 minutes. Fans huddled around the merchandise table and bids written on a clipboard ticked up from $150 to $475. "This is my rent," said one man as he scribbled in a bid for $700. Then, with half a minute left, a man sidled up to the table with a bid of $1,000. A moment later he was signing a credit-card slip.

    The winner, Michael Fowlin, had come to his first Cloud Cult concert with the intention of winning a painting — but not spending so much. "I got caught up in it," says the 37-year-old psychologist and motivational speaker from Morristown, N.J. But he knew to hang back and make a last-second move, he explains: "I bid on eBay a lot."


Listen to two songs by Cloud Cult here and here.

May 10, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Anti-Fly Device


A 2006 design of plastic, rubber and water by José de la O, who wrote:


"A plastic bag full of water seen hanging from the ceilings of taco kiosks on the streets is a traditional way to scare flies away in Mexico. The refraction of the water amplifies the colors and movements reflected by this sphere in the sensitive eyes of the fly, scaring it away."

[via mintfingers]

May 10, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

bookofjoe MoneyMaker™ — Three ways to instantly improve the Wall Street Journal

Talk about the Bizarro World, me offering Mr. Rupert Moneybags counsel on how to make more, but let's cut to the chase, shall we?

I read today's paper and baby, as Gertrude Stein said of her hometown, Oakland, California: there's no there there.

Mighty thin gruel, that.

Without further ado, then, here's what needs to happen yesterday to perk up the moribund rag, specifically the Weekend Journal feature section.

1) Bag the entire second page. Who cares about what five films Kim Cattrall considers her favorite romantic comedies? If Murdoch wants to lower the average age of his readers from the geriatric park set, stuff like this has got to disappear. It certainly doesn't warrant nearly half a page.

The Art report about jitters in the art market, rehashing the week's auction news, is tired.

And Picks Online, offering links to the paper's own art blog, is irrelevant to the reader holding the dead tree version.

2) Power Tables, which occupies a full quarter page — above the fold, no less — is from the days of Hedda Hopper and Walter Winchell.

Does anyone but those namechecked in the feature really give a hoot about which tables in restaurants masters of the universe prefer?

Give us a break, already.

3) Masterpiece: Anatomy of Classic, in which someone deconstructs a fairy tale or some such foolishness, is so out of place on the back page of the section, where it takes up nearly half the page — once again above the fold — that I can't even begin to imagine what the section editor was thinking.


That was easy.

Didn't hurt a bit.

You know your newspaper's in trouble when even a brain-dead anesthesiologist (top) who's breathed way too much waste gas in improperly scavenged ORs over the years can improve things.

May 10, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Chalkboard Vase


From the website:

    Chalkboard Flower Vase

    Here’s a better place to leave a note.

    Use this chalkboard flower vase in the kitchen with a reminder to start the dishwasher — the flowers put a happy face on it.

    Or, use it to cheer up to a friend — no need for a card.

    Just add flowers and use the included chalk to write a note on this freestanding chalkboard.

    A recycled glass vase hides behind and there’s a cut-out for the flower buds.

    Vase holds a few stems and 6 oz. of water.

    Sturdy metal chalkboard is 11½ x 6”.


May 10, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

typeracer.com — Speedracer for your keyboard


A simple online typing speed racing game that pits you against four other people to see who leaves Thunderdome — as it were.

I can't speak for you but me, I'd like to see Chicken (the current record holder by a country mile)


undergo blood testing before those numbers are set in stone.

Gimme a break!

May 10, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Cupholder Dog Bowl — Because you're not the only one who gets thirsty


Sure, cupholders are great when you can sip your coffee or whatever as you move on down the road.

But what about Bowser, riding shotgun with his head out the window loving the wind?

Don't you think he'd like to wet his whistle whenever he liked?

Equal time, I say.

From the website:

    Pet-To-Go Bowl

    The only dog water bowl that fits in your car’s cup holder

    Keep your pet well hydrated on the drive, then use this Pet-To-Go water bowl flat on the floor (without the base) in a hotel room or at the park.

    This bowl makes it easy to keep fresh water for your dog and holds up to 20 ounces in when placed in cupholder.

    The base [below] that holds it firmly in your car’s cupholder stores treats.

    Base also twists off so the bowl can be used on the floor or ground.

    Can be filled with up to 32 ounces when used as a regular bowl.

    A splash guard and lid prevent spills.

    Dishwasher safe.



Cream or Gray.


May 10, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Welcome campers! Over 20,000 visitors here yesterday


You could look it up — and down.


Heck, that's half the population of my Podunk town.

What occasioned the crush?


Thursday's 1:01 p.m post, "Telephonic Sheep," which rocketed to the top of StumbleUpon's "Arts" links


while I was sleeping and then just exploded around the planet all day yesterday.


May 10, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

flip & tumble 24/7 bag — anywhere, anytime


From the website:

    flip & tumble 24/7 bag

    Size: The bag measures 12" x 14"x 5" and has a 26.5"-long strap. Big enough for 3 large soda bottles. Compresses to a ball 3" in diameter — about the size of a peach.

    Strength: 25 lb. capacity, so load it up with a bowling ball or two. A shoulder pad keeps heavy loads feeling light.

    Material: The bag is constructed of lightweight ripstop nylon.



Bag/Handle: Lime/Sky, Evergreen/Sage, Raspberry/Pink, Aqua/Sky, Black/Slate.


May 10, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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