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KEEN MUSICAL INSIGHT: Robert Earl Keen isn't a music industry insider. When the country music conglomerate gathers to pat itself on the back, Keen, a country singer who is as authentic as backwoods moonshine, probably couldn't get a seat at the party. Even if he promised to wear a suit.
"We almost have a caste system in the music business like India does," said Keen who will perform at the Newberry Opera House Saturday. "When I say country music, I mean Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette. I couldn't tell you what in country sounds anything like country music."
If nothing else, Keen understands one thing about the music industry: It's a business.
"Even at the basic level, people don't treat this like a business," he said. "Calling it the recording industry is an oxymoron: It's the music business."
There might not be a first rule to mastering the music business, but there's one thing Keen has always done: take care of his band. It's one reason why he's been able to sustain longevity without being one of those country music stars invited to country music's big nights.
"I guess I'm a good listener as far as the band needs and wants," Keen said. "One thing I did when I started is to treat this like any other business. I have from the get-go.
"Everyone is on salary plus they get bonuses."
Keen's band members also have retirement and health insurance. Now that's a music business oxymoron.
"I treat this as a real business," Keen said. "I don't think that just because you're in the music business; you shouldn't be responsible for your band members.
"They hold me up."
Actually, Keen took some time away from the band for a recent tour with Todd Snider and Bruce Robison, called the Barstool Tour. Keen said he played the shows to get a new performing perspective and to brush up his skills as a solo performer. It was also like a songwriting workshop.
"It was a good opportunity to catch up and talk about what we do," Keen said. "Talk about the craft. I'm enjoying the whole process of making music. The process of show business is elusive to me."
If country music does have a caste system, Keen likes his position. From where he's sitting, he gets to make and hear music that is dependent on the songwriting and not computer-generated frills. And don't get Keen talking about ticket prices. He called the Eagles, which followed the trail of pop and rock musicians into country, the "most capitalistic bunch of sold-out whatevers."
Life down where Keen is lets you speak your mind.
"I'm really averse to these really ridiculous ticket prices because it hurts everybody in the end," said Keen, who referred to himself as the Milton Bradley of entertainment because he's got something for folks from 8 to 80. "What are (the Eagles) doing for anybody expect ripping you off. Four hundred (dollars) a ticket?
"Anybody comes to see us gets their pennies' worth."
And there's never the same set list. He doesn't have to just play the hits.
The show starts at 8 p.m. The opera house is at 1201 McKibben St., Newberry. $40; (803) 276-6264
GETTING CLOSER: David Reed has chosen the long road. Literally. After the dissolution of Closer, the modern rock band he fronted, Reed chose to take his new act, The Private Life of David Reed, on the road.
He's traveled from coast to coast.
For the better part of the year.
Reed, who will open for Joe Firstman at The White Mule Saturday, has been back in town working a temporary job before he goes back on the road next month. Touring isn't enough to live off of these days.
"You don't make any money out there with music," Reed said.
At the very least, he's gotten better at budgeting.
"It's easy to enjoy the $1 menu out on the road," he said "It's worth it because of the experiences I get out it. I've traveled the entire country."
But making money isn't the goal - at least not right now. It's about making contacts, from fans to booking agents.
"I'm doing this solo just to get my name out there," Reed said. "I've used the whole couch-surfing Web site. I stay with people who take in strangers. Or people I meet at the venue."
Reed, who will tour with a band next year, said he's paid for five hotels in the past year. Although he's signed to Chamberlain Records, which released "Missteps and Misscommunications" last year, Reed has been doing a lot of his own marketing, and he's his own booking agent.
Sites such as indieonthemove.com have given Reed access to talent buyers, and it allows him to plot his own tours.
"I'm constantly making new contacts," he said.
There are some things Reed will do differently, starting with the types of shows he books.
"I'm booking only music venues, mostly all-ages show to make sure it's the type of atmosphere where people want to hear new music, not just the cover songs or stuff they've already heard," he said. "I'm concentrating on furthering my career."
Another goal is to get on a tour with a bigger band to push Reed's next album, which will be recorded in February. He said Big Picture Media will be doing front page MySpace advertising when it's released next year.
"A lot of (the songs) are already recorded because we're still going off the old Closer songs," Reed said of the new record.
Speaking of Closer, a band that featured Reed's brother, Nathan, on drums and bassist David Baker, where would that band be if it had taken the long road?
"If Closer would have done this we would've been in a better spot," Reed said. "I wanted to build a fan base. Bands who do that get a lot more respect.
"When you're out there on the road, it's really about connecting with fans and people you meet. I respond to every comment or message I get on MySpace.
"It's a lot more fun whenever you have interaction with people."
The show starts at 9 p.m. The White Mule is at 1530 Main St.
Miley Cyrus is the good girl It girl right now. No doubt about it. To kick off our coverage of Cyrus before her Nov. 28 show at the Colonial Center, we asked Summer Brooks, an On the Scene friend and contributor, to style updated looks of former good girl It girls.
See the looks in Sunday Life&Style.