Tuning into Hi-Fi House (in the column); Tears of Silver tonight…

Category: Blog,Interviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:42 pm October 2, 2017

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Tonight Hi-Fi House hosts Tears of Silver, an indie super group that includes members of Posies and Mercury Rev. I’m told by HFH owner Kate Dussault that seating is limited, so if you want to go, you need to RSVP at this site ASAP.

Speaking of Hi-Fi House, Dussault granted me an interview late last month for The Reader to explain what HFH is trying to do, how it works and where it’s headed. You can read it in the October issue of The Reader, online at The Reader website, right here, or… you can read it below.

There was tons of additional info that didn’t make it into the story, which I’ll share with you over the next couple days. Until then…

One of the Hi-Fi House sound systems.

Over the Edge: Tuning into Hi-Fi House
The hush-hush private music club finally goes public.

On the surface, it seems difficult to explain the concept behind Hi-Fi House, a private club that charges members anywhere from $75 to $1,000 a year for the privilege of playing its record collection on its stereo systems.

You might naturally say to yourself, “I could buy a whole bunch of records for $1,000 that I could play whenever I want to in the privacy of my own home,” but you’d be missing the point.

The club, located at 3724 Farnam St. in the Blackstone District, has been operating privately for more than a year. I first stepped foot in Hi-Fi House last year during a Record Store Day event where the public was allowed a sneak peek.  The facility is first class all the way — a huge open, carpeted space with comfortable furniture arranged in circles throughout, centered around stereo equipment set-ups, including one I was told cost $80,000.

Behind the big room is a couple smaller rooms. Inside the first is Hi-Fi House’s massive album collection — more than 10,000 vinyl records. A glance at the titles indicates the music touches all genres, with issue dates ranging from the 1940s to present. Some of albums look unplayed and are still sealed. On display are a number of interesting music-related items, like a Patti Smith edition of a Pono Music Player — something I’d never seen in real life.

On the afternoon of that sneak peek, local bands performed in the space, including an early incarnation of the progressive jazz combo Chemicals. A small crowd watched the performance while enjoying beer and wine served at a bar near the club’s front door.

For reasons I never understood, Hi-Fi House was hush-hush back then. At the time, owner/operator Kate Dussault wouldn’t give me an interview on the record, though the club had been operating for months, including offering special music programming for children.

Well, the cloak of secrecy finally was lifted from Hi-Fi House last month when the organization launched a website — www.hifi.house — and began actively soliciting memberships. Dussault, now on the record, explained why the club operated in secrecy for so long.

“One reason was that we really wanted to experiment with all the programming,” she said, seated at one of the club’s large tables alongside Hi-Fi House General Manager (a title made up on the spot) Jon Ochsner while that $80,000 stereo system quietly played some funky jazz sides.

“The other reason was to really let the music community have the space pretty much to themselves for a period of time. We were able to have a lot of conversations with local artists and people who work in the industry to find out how we could best live in this community and serve it.”

In a nutshell, Dussault said, Hi-Fi House was built “so musicians could have their own private club. We’re offering a place where they can communicate with each other.”

She said musicians often don’t have time to chat when they’re at venues performing, “but when they come over here, they can really sit down, share music and listen to music together, and a lot of them really love that experience.”

Think of it like The Omaha Press Club, but instead of focusing on journalism and public relations, Hi-Fi House focuses on music. Fees start at $75 a year for a “lab membership” that allows access to Hi-Fi House during daytime hours. In the evenings, Hi-Fi House turns into a private club whose membership fees (which cover one person and a significant other) range from $300 a year for musicians to $600 a year for members of “the industry” — a broad category that includes any career that touches music, from journalists to studio employees to club owners to people involved with music-related nonprofits.

Finally, there’s the general public membership at a cost of $1,000 per year. Dussault doesn’t sound like she expects to sell many of those, but with the venue’s capacity rated at only 125, she doesn’t want to oversell memberships, anyway. She said she’s already sold a few hundred memberships, with all the money received channeled back into covering facility costs, which include constantly buying new records for the club’s ever-growing collection.

In addition to access to that collection, members are invited to attend special night-time programming that includes exclusive album listening parties, chats with artists and industry professionals, and intimate performances, such as a private concert last year by The Replacements’ Tommy Stinson.

With its heavy music education focus, you’d assume Hi-Fi House would consider becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity, but Dussault wants to steer clear from that for now. “The truth is most nonprofits have to scrap and re-raise their operating money every year,” she said. “It’s difficult, and they are at the whims of, in some cases, the same very few people who are supporting everything else. It doesn’t give you a chance to break out and invite new people to the party.”

So sure is she of the Hi-Fi House concept, she’s already planning to expand to other cities. After spending the next three months working alongside Ochsner, Dussault will move to New York City where she’ll spend three months with lawyers and other associates to review expansion plans.

“We’ll be solidifying New York, and then I’ll be traveling to Boston and other nearby cities,” she said, adding that there’s already “movement” for clubs in Denver, Des Moines and Chicago. “We’re talking to people in San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Portland and Seattle, as well as five different Los Angeles locations.”

Surely Dussault must be a wealthy woman to make all of this happen. She just laughs at the suggestion.

“This is a labor of love,” she said. “I work two full-time jobs while I do this. I have a medical house-call company in New York that I spend a good six hours on a day on and I do some work for a music supervision firm in New York. If I weren’t doing those things, we wouldn’t be alive.

“Everything doesn’t have to be a nonprofit,” she added. “Some people have to take their own money and get out there and gamble it on making changes. I’m willing to live or die based on what I can deliver these people, and whether they’re happy with the experience.”

First published in the October 2017 issue of The Reader. Copyright © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved. Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts.

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The doors open at Hi-Fi House at 7 p.m. for tonight’s Tears of Silver show. Showtime is 7:45 p.m. Admission is free with RSVP. And if you haven’t already, check out the Ten Questions Q&A with Tears of Silver’s Ken Stringfellow and Grasshopper right here.

Also tonight, singer/songwriter Todd Grant will be playing tonight at Barley Street Tavern with Michael Treinhail. Showtime is 10:30 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

 

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Hi-Fi House goes public; Thick Paint, Sean Pratt/Sweats tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 12:56 pm September 14, 2017

Chemicals performing at Hi-Fi House, April 16, 2016. HFH “went public” yesterday.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Yesterday Hi-Fi House launched its official website, or as Kate Dussault who runs the place said on Facebook: “We’re public now.”

Hi-Fi House has been operating on the down-low for over a year. I first wrote about it in April 2016 (right here), when HFH had a sort of open house for Record Store Day. Four months later, the Omaha World-Herald‘s Mike Kelly did a formal column about HFH (discussed here), which was sort of a coming out party, but still, details about the operations were tightly held.

Now HFH has stepped out of the shadows and began actively soliciting memberships via its website at http://www.hifi.house. On the website, HFH defines itself as “a social listening library where people gather to share their love of music” and lists details about its listening room, library, musicology, events and lab projects. I know it as a place people can go to listen to selections from its enormous vinyl collection on HFH’s multi-thousand-dollar sound system. It’s also a venue for live performances (recently, with a heavy jazz bent).

Memberships are listed as running between $300 and $1,000 annually. For actual costs and benefits, you have to contact them or drop by the space, which is located at 3724 Farnam St.

Is there more to say? Yes, but I’ll wait until I get a chance to interview Dussault on the record. In the meantime, check out the place during one of its upcoming events.

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Speaking of events, there’s one just up the street from Hi-Fi House tonight at the Brothers Lounge. Thick Paint (back from the road) headlines a show that also features Sean Pratt and the Sweats and Jim Schroeder. No price listed (probably $5), starts at 10 p.m.

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True story: Last night I had a dream that I was singing Husker Du songs to a high school concert band. This morning I woke to find Grant Hart had died. As one of his bandmate’s once sang, makes no sense at all…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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OWH tries to uncover mystery of the Hi-Fi House (but some questions still go unanswered…)…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 12:37 pm August 29, 2016
One of the Hi-Fi House sound systems. The house was the subject of a Mike Kelly column in the Sunday World-Herald.

One of the Hi-Fi House sound systems. The private club was the subject of a Mike Kelly column in the Sunday World-Herald.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Yesterday the Omaha World-Herald got the exclusive interview with Kate Dussault about the mysterious Hi-Fi House on Farnam St. Columnist Mike Kelly wrote a lengthy piece that gave a broad overview of Hi-Fi and its services, though Kelly never really explained how it works — i.e., what exactly do members get for their membership fee, which runs from $300 per year for musicians to $1,000 per year for others —there was no breakdown of the different cost levels in the article. Many of the details — like how the house actually works — will likely come when their website gets updated (It’s live at www.hifi.house). and I’d love to get the answers via interview Kate as well.

The ultimate question that continues to bubble up after reading the column: Would you pay to be a member? What exactly do members receive? Time will tell, though I get the feeling that if Dussault pursues creating the country’s only vinyl archive (from the article: “There is no state-of-the-art, playable vinyl-record library anywhere,” she said, “and we have a chance to make Omaha home of the first.”), that 501(c)(3) status could be an eventuality, and that income would also come from sponsorships, grants and large donations. When asked how she’d fund the library in the article, “Kate Dussault smiles and says she has financial sources.” Mysterious!

Or maybe Hi-Fi won’t be a non-profit. What little is known about the model is similar to the Omaha Press Club (OPC), where working press paid one price for membership, “civilians” paid another, and so on. I remember when I was fresh out of UNO’s journalism school the OPC was considered a very exclusive thing. That’s where all the local reporters supposedly hung out. It felt elite. Of course I was never able to afford the membership fee, so I never felt comfortable going to events there, even when I was invited.

When I began freelance writing for downtown businesses — Union Pacific, ConAgra, Creighton, etc. — I learned that corporate memberships were what helped float OPC’s boat. Something changed with tax laws and membership fees no longer were considered business expenses (and tax deductible) and businesses quit paying their employees’ membership dues, and that impacted OPC.

Anyway…. OPC offered an exclusive place to meet for journalists (and corporate communicators); Hi-Fi House appears to offer a similar refuge for musicians? Though I wonder how many will be able to afford $300 a year when they no longer are making money from selling their recordings (Thanks, Internet) and are finding that rising costs are making touring difficult or impossible. Whenever I talk to bands they’re just trying to scratch together enough money for their next recording. I assume Hi-Fi will provide a lot of benefits for musicians that weren’t outlined in Kelly’s story.

To me, the concept of a national vinyl archive is interesting. While the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has extensive audio archives (check out the listing here), I’m not sure if it has a straight-forward vinyl collection. Hi-Fi could corner the market here, though they’d need more than a house, more like a massive Raiders of the Lost Ark-style warehouse to contain even a fraction of all the records that have been produced over the years, especially if their collection will be inclusive of all genres and not just rock. Very exciting.

To me, the performance and interview aspects of Hi Fi are the most enticing parts. I’ve heard nothing but accolades about the recent Tommy Stinson interview and performance.  No doubt Hi-Fi could have easily sold high-dollar tickets to that Stinson program. But instead, well, membership has its privileges.

Anyway, read Kelly’s write up here and also read my initial take on Hi-Fi house from this past April.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2016 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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