By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Johnny Kai Lorance has made it his mission to work with local bands
and clubs to improve the quality of their musical presentation.
Here he advises Red Hot Mama and the Cowpaddy Daddies
at Pecos River Cafe in Aiea.

Another kind of
music awards

Sunday’s program hopes to
raise professionalism among isle musicians

By Burl Burlingame

GETTING an organization off the ground isn't easy, particularly when it's pretty much a one-man band playing the tune. That

hasn't deterred Johnny Kai Lorance from trying.

Lorance's Hawaii Music Awards program received a stamp of approval from Gov. Ben Cayetano last month, when the third week of November was proclaimed "Hawaii Music Week." The awards themselves are Sunday at the Hawaii Theatre Center, to be emceed by Michael W. Perry and Larry Price.

Listen to the roster of featured performers: Kunia, Summer, Soul'd Out, Nueva Vida, Sudden Rush, Dita Holifield, Rolando Sanchez, Sly Dog, Kainoa Ohana, Sean Kennard and Z and the Free Radicals with Ginai.

You're right - it doesn't sound anything like the Hoku Awards presentation given by the Hawaiian Academy of Recording Arts.

"That's one of the most asked questions of us, right behind, 'Who the -- are YOU?'" said Lorance. The answer is that HMA and HARA are parallel organizations with similar memberships, but different goals. HARA is primarily concerned with raising the standards of Hawaiian music through peer activities, while HMA seeks to promote all music in Hawaii by increasing the level of professionalism in the industry.

Lorance, who worked as a music promoter on the East Coast for more than a decade, came home to Hawaii last year and was appalled at the state of the industry here.

"Musicians are unemployed, or underemployed, or have to moonlight at other jobs. Hotels and clubs are cutting back on live music. Music education teaches how to play music, but it doesn't prepare the musician for the real world. In the meantime, tourists visit Hawaii and leave with no idea that Hawaii has - had - a creative music scene. Many of our musicians are world-class, that is, if the world had a chance to hear them," said Lorance.

The Hawaii Music Awards, as created by Lorance, are more than trophies and pats on the back. They are part of an ongoing process to promote, promote, promote.

Early this year, Lorance organized a statewide "15 Minutes of Fame," a battle of the bands competition, with the winners earning a slot at a concert in New York's famous Carnegie Hall. Z and the Free Radicals won, and played alongside piano whiz Sean Kennard, East Coast Hawaiian musician Bill Wynne, and well-known Hawaii artists such as The Makaha Sons, Loyal Garner, Dennis Pavao, Robi Kahakalau, Cyril Pahinui and Chinky Mahoe's Halau Hula 'O Kawaili'ula.

Despite brisk sales among New York's Hawaiian population, the event barely broke even, and the Hall had many empty seats. The concert was also roundly ignored by the New York press.

Lorance shrugs. "It's NEW YORK, where they have the best of the best of the best. It's very hard to impress ANYONE in New York. Even when the Cazimeros played there a few years ago, it was hard to impress the critics.

"But this is what we're facing in Hawaii's music. Hawaii has very diverse musical styles that appeal to all tastes, which we know well in Hawaii, but everyone outside Hawaii thinks all we play is Don Ho. Music is a product that needs to be exported to sell, but first you have to create product awareness."

Although backyard jams are fun, they don't pay the bills. Hawaii's musicians have to hit the road and tour, Lorance believes. "There simply aren't enough clubs and situations in Hawaii to keep food in the refrigerator," said Lorance. "To make a living, you go where the audiences are."

Catch-22 time. Hawaiian musicians need to play for audiences who want to hear them, but audiences need to be aware of Hawaiian musicians in the first place.

"We're working on that. For example, why isn't there a Hawaiian music category in the Grammys, like there is for gospel? That's because you need a chapter membership in Hawaii, which we're putting together.

"What about TV? There are more shows and channels than ever, all of which are hungry for something different. The '15 Minutes of Fame' competition was covered by Canada's 'Much Music!' show, which aired in more than 20 countries - Japan, Mexico, South America, Thailand, Korea, United Kingdom, New Zealand, others. That's one way of getting the word out."

The HMA is also planning a "Walk of Fame" for Hawaiian artists, not just in Waikiki, but on every island. "Tourists walk, right? While they're walking, they can be learning about Hawaiian music," said Lorance.

Much of the work of Lorance's organization is on a notes-and-bolts level. Scholarships to music teachers. Seminars for improving music business skills. Lobbying unity. Idea exchanges.

Here's an example. An ongoing sore spot for many local bands and club owners is the sound system. Does the club have one? Is it adequate? Is it antique? Will the band have to bring their own? Will they have to hire a system?

"Club owners don't understand professional-quality sound, and they don't know what it takes to install and operate such a system. That's an education process," said Lorance. "Good-quality sound turns audiences on; that's a promotion process. Bands often have to hire a separate sound system, which can cut deep into their paycheck; that's a business process. Clubs and musicians need to figure out what to do about it, and what their individual responsibilities are; that's a mediation process."

One solution suggested by Lorance and HMA is to figure what sound system works best in a given club, price it out, have the club install it and then deduct the cost from a band's paycheck until the system is paid for. "They'd be paying the same amount for hiring a temporary system, and when it's paid for, the band can make more money and the club will own a state-of-the-art sound system," said Lorance.

At a glance

What: Hawaii Music Awards
When: 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Hawaii Theatre Center
Cost: $18.50
Call: 735-3134

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Community] [Info] [Stylebook] [Feedback]