#Musicianship Goals

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine February 2018

The beginning of a new year is always such a joyous and hopeful time for bands. Just like normal people, bands set goals, make resolutions and promise themselves all kinds of things. They vow to “get better,” “practice more,” “get better gigs,” “write Grammy-worthy songs,” and “really grow the audience.” Stuff like that.

So when I get the email from BandsinTown.com containing a rundown of other bands’ new show announcements, and I see that some of them are booked through the spring already, through the summer, through the fall, and all the way until the end of 2018, I sort of, kind of, WANT TO SCREAM MY HEAD OFF.

Are you freakin’ kidding me? Booked through the end of the year, already? Don’t you think you’re being just a tad greedy? Maybe a little selfish? Maybe a little over-zealous? Have you no conscious? Don’t you want to leave some time to watch music documentaries as a team-building exercise with your band? Don’t you want to ride roller coasters or race bumper cars or go on a hike or go skiing or sit on a beach? How about reading a book. Do you people even READ?!?!?

No fair I say. The “other” bands taking “all” the gigs needs to STOP. Give somebody else a chance!   Why can’t we all just swimmingly get along? Why do you have to be such sharks? What on earth is compelling you to take EVERY SINGLE REMAINING GIG ON THE PLANET?

Here’s how it goes down for me to get just ONE gig, never mind every single remaining gig on the planet:

I tried to get a jump on things and thought in February I could work on getting a gig for St. Patrick’s Day for the next month in March. Irish bars are just THE PLACE to be around St. Patrick’s Day so I wanted in. I had heard “Whiskey in the Jar” a couple times, so I assumed I was all set.

I picked out an Irish pub in town because it was classy, the drinks were expensive, and I thought the chances of people buying my CDs were higher.   I went into the place, drank four black-n-tans at the bar and headed over to the bar owner who’d already had ten.

The white-haired, red-cheeked flabby-faced elf-like Irishman barely looked up from his race book as I slithered over with my promo package and sat next to him. I said, “Hey. I have a great band that would fit in really well here. How about giving us a gig?” He ignored my pretty green folder, turned to me, looked me up and down, and said, “OK. Let’s see what ya got. Let’s go to the back room. You can give me a little live audition.” We headed back to the secret room full of broken-down leather chairs, a green and orange couch, and tons of bric-a-brac hanging from the walls. From behind a two-seater bar, he whipped out a guitar, handed it to me and said, “Go.”

I proceeded to play and sing an original song, with all my heart. Then, like that scene in the movie “The Da Vinci Code” when all the descendants of Mary Magdalene miraculously appear at the Rosslyn Chapel, burly guys of questionable character began to fill the small spooky room. The nice bar owner guy rudely interrupted my audition with a “Ho Ho Ho” (of some sort) and him and the other “musicians” broke into a series of Irish folk songs complete with Gaelic accents and songs about the Moors. I don’t know if they were in a trance, drunk, or flat out insane.

I put the guitar down and found a way to sneak out of the room. He didn’t want to get to know my music. He just wanted to have a bit of a Craic. I never got the gig.

Because every other band on the planet is mean.

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blah blah blah

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine January 2018

Music died the day dawned on the digital age, people say. Nobody buys music anymore, as we all know. There are so many ingenious ways of stealing newly created music I could write a book about it (hmmm….) But when we musicians actually do make new music for people, we sort of want people to buy it so we can recoup the cost of making it, even though we know in our hearts of hearts, that we’re living in a pipedream. We try to make it as cheaply as possible, in our basements and such, and put it out into the universe on an air of hope that it will “click” with millions of people. We dream that one day we can move out of the basement and record on a ranch or something or at Abbey Road. We want better gear. Some of us even want the big stage that comes with chart-topping hits. Or a golden trophy.

Before we release new music, we beg bloggers and media people to review our stuff to up the chances of people clicking or buying when we do release it. We try to create a buzz. We wish we could afford fancy PR people who do this kind of thing for a living, but most of us can’t. So we do what we can.

So with a recent album release, we did everything we were supposed to. We got lots of nice words from some really nice people exalting our musical art, gathered up our mailing lists and social media accounts, and let the thing fly.

I hit send on an email blast advertising our new album, chock full of text from wonderful and insightful reviews of the album, announcing our joyful glee of finally releasing something, and held my breath.

Some people responded – “Yay! Finally!” Or, “Congratulations!” that sort of thing. But my favorite response was from an email subscriber who simply wrote, “blah blah blah.”

That’s it. blah blah blah. Not even in CAPS.

blah

Not one to be intimated by derogatory email list subscribers, I quickly replied, “I know, right!”

He responded that he was glad I had a sense of humor (duh!) and proceeded to ask me where he could go to listen to our stuff for free so he could decide for himself how awesome we were. He said he doesn’t give his credit card number out to anyone even if you’re Van Halen or Toto. He also chastised me for self-promoting, blowing our own horn, that sort of thing. By the time he was done with me, geez, I didn’t want the damn album either!

He proceeded to tell me that he was a musician himself with a record label and that he knew a thing or two. So I, the awesome investigative journalist that I am, looked him up. Upon review, yes he had put some music out. He didn’t have any trophies or hits though. His music was artistic and fine. blah blah blah. I showed him how to listen to one of our tracks for free, because I’m a sucker.

What to do? Accept the inevitable is what to do. NOBODY BUYS MUSIC ANYMORE.

So we, the peddlers of melody and lyric and dreams, must decide: Keep writing, recording and releasing music for the love of it with absolutely no hope for financial return, or, die the slow burning death of giving up on a dream? Keep going about my errands with loads of free burned CDs in my purse to be doled out to passersby as I see fit? Hope beyond hope to be included on some famous person’s Spotify playlist so that each stream nets us $.000001 cents?

We in this millennium kind of get a kick out of getting stuff for free because we’re in the 99 percent. I get that. Gimme gimme gimme, that sort of thing. But we still hope that if we get millions of clicks, we could get into the one percent, and make even more awesome music, and live happily ever after.

But I shan’t forget – to the four people who have purchased the album – WE LOVE YOU!

That guy from the email? Haven’t heard back.

BLAH BLAH BLAH.

Holiday Muffin Pondering

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine December 2017

I woke this morning to an overwhelming sense of optimism.  My pre-programmed cynicism toward the impending gluttony of the holiday season and all things doom and gloom had vanished without a trace.   Sounds crazy I know with everything that’s going on in our world, but if you look back through history, has anything ever been completely right in this world?  Individually, it’s all how you look at it. Today, all of a sudden it’s clear to me, that I think we all do what we can to make the world a better place.  If we stay generally positive, get pissed off when we have to, work for change when we see something awfully wrong and do our best with whatever talents we have been given, our little worlds can be personally rewarding which as a whole, makes the world a better place.

So this morning I decided that no matter what, I was going to make chocolate banana toffee muffins even though I have a hundred other things to do:  columns to submit; set lists to prepare; promo packages to drop off; gigs to get; melodies and lyrics to get out of my head; strings to change; equipment to unload; trying to find last year’s winter coat; changing some men’s old-fashioned attitudes toward women; that sort of thing.  But by golly, something had to be done about the brown bananas!  I simply will not waste a brown banana!

I prepared the mixture, got flour all over the place and popped the little beauties into the oven.  While they baked I pondered further about my little world.  How long should I wait to put up the Christmas decorations?  How many parties should I attend?  Who should I splurge on?  What do I do for my Jewish friends?  What do I do for my Atheist friends?  If I give something to the garbage collector, will he just be insulted?  How broke should I go?

Although my back was already aching from all the hams and turkeys and cookies and dishes I had slaved over through Thanksgiving, I was determined to bake these muffins even if it killed me!  I loaded up a second batch.

That’s the power of the human spirit you see.  Sometimes you gotta just say screw it and forge ahead.

While the muffin aroma filled my yet to be decorated home, my mind wondered again.  Should I perform Joni Mitchell’s “The River” at holiday gigs or is it too depressing?  Is “Run Run Rudolph” simply ridiculous or do people like it?  Should we just incorporate the sound track from the movie “Elf” and call it a day?  When John Lennon’s “This is Christmas (War is Over)” is playing do you really just want the SONG to be over?  Should I wear a Santa hat or elf ears on stage?  Should I literally arrive with bells on so I jingle with every strum?  Do people really WANT to rock around a Christmas tree?

In a musician’s world, these are very important issues to resolve.  Yes, yes there are many other things to contend with and we often wonder:  can music change the world and does it have to; are we making a difference in the lives of others in any way; or in my case, can baking chocolate banana toffee muffins make my world a little more grand?

We’ll see how long this strange but lovely optimism lasts and if I ever come to any conclusions worth telling you about.  I’ll keep you posted, and see you at the shows!  By the way, most people didn’t even like the muffins.  But I did.  Happy Holidays everybody.

holidaymuffins

Album Listening Party

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine November 2017

Before the invention of the .MP3, those handy little files that allow people to listen to music on their computers, sitting around and listening to music with your friends used to be an activity, like riding bikes or playing dodgeball.  You would gather around a record player, carefully pull out a big black vinyl disc from its artfully designed packaging, place it onto the device, and lower a needle down.  Magically, the music would start.  Dissecting every note, harmony, guitar solo, vocal line and lyric was actually a thing.

Not so much no more.

vinyl

Listening to music is more of a personal headphone-laden thing now as you can walk about your daily life and listen to anything you want.  Whenever you want.  Wherever you want.

But if you’re in a band that writes and records original music, sitting around and listening to music is more like a necessity.  When you go into the studio and lay some tracks down, you’ll get a CD burned of the day’s work and then everybody in the band sits down and listens, dissects, makes suggestions for improvement, etc.  When you go back into the studio to add some more tracks, the process is repeated.  This could go on for days, weeks, months or even years.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, with the leaves falling literally onto our faces by the fire pit, it was time for an honest to goodness sure-fire old-fashioned “Album Listening Party.”   Our album was actually finished.  There was no going back. This particular album had been years in the making.  Not because we picked it apart and agonized over every note, but life got in the way as it is want to do.  There were some health issues, somebody quit and came back, that sort of thing.  With the moment upon us, for a few short minutes we basked in the glory of an enormous sense of accomplishment until we inevitably had to ask the million dollar questions:  “Will anybody listen to it?  Will anybody buy it?  How the heck are we going to duplicate these songs live?”

Before you get the answer to those questions though, there is lots of work to do, even after all the work you’ve done to get to this point.  For example, much ado is made about which song should be first on the album, which should go last, and where the title track goes.  Promo pictures of the band are meticulously inspected for the potential album cover, as well as pictures of just about anything representing the theme including drawings from scratch.  Somewhere amidst the discussions a list of potential music reviewers is added to a spreadsheet to track who the album will be sent out for review with notes on if and when they responded so you don’t keep bugging the same bloggers and writers.  A list of potential music licensers will also be added to the spreadsheet for potential use on TV shows or movies.  A list of radio stations and DJs is added for possible airplay.  More questions like “Do we even make hard copies or keep it all digital?  Do we press the songs onto CDs, vinyl, cassettes (making a comeback) or even 8-tracks (you never know?)  Do we make a video, which requires hiring actors, videographers, video designers and editors?”  It goes on and on after our little listening party.

But there’s even more to do.  The more work includes copywriting the songs with the Copyright.gov site, assigning International Standard Recording Codes (ISRCs) for each song, registering the songs with Sound Exchange and BMI/ASCAP/SESAC for royalty tracking, designing the album artwork, thinking up creative words to describe the music, obtaining UPC barcodes for tracking sales so your songs can get onto music charts, and uploading the songs to iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, and other digital outlets so people can buy the things.  And none of this work is free.

In the coming weeks we’ll do all the stuff we’re supposed to do as we dream of #1 hits and huge royalty checks. When all is said and done, all we can really do is just put our stuff out there and see what happens.  Then we move on to the next batch of songs we’ll create in the basement and listen to multiple renditions of out by the fire pit and do it all over again.

The finished album is at its core something we created and nobody can take it away from us.  (Unless somebody sues us for copyright infringement or plagiarism or something.  There’s only so many ways to rearrange do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do.)  It’s like when you get that high school diploma or college degree.  You worked for it, it’s yours.

So the next time your favorite local band posts a song for sale for 99 cents, do the world a favor and just buy it.  If bands like us stop creating music in the first place, “oldies” and “classic rock” radio stations and record store sections are all you’re gonna get.   Better yet, if a band invites you to their CD Release Party, for old times’ sake, just go.  They’re good clean fun!

We Not Be Jammin’ Mon

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine October 2017

One of the true pleasures in life is growing old.  You get awesome experiences and wisdom and you get to go to lots of places and do lots of things.  It’s a privilege lots of people don’t get.  Conversely, I could go on and on about how truly horrible it is to grow old, how it’s a drag and all that, but I’ll just focus on one teeny weeny thing.  The tiny insignificant thing is:  my memory.  It just ain’t what it used to be.  Truth be told, I can’t remember sh**.

If I have a yellow stickie telling me to pick up some milk, I’ll pick up some milk.  If I don’t have a yellow stickie, it’s dry cereal and no mash potatoes for you!

This itsy bitsy little problem is why I can’t leave the house for a gig without my Ipad.  I used to have this huge black notebook chock full of lyrics, chord sheets, arrangements, and notes but having dropped the thing resulting in a tangled mess of an un-alphabetized disaster one too many times, and the papers having blown away out to sea at outside gigs one too many times, I finally made the move to this modern electronic memory aid.  It works.

I used to be able to remember things, you know, all kinds of things.  Not no more.

This is my excuse, and I’m sticking with it, why I steer clear of the musical comaraderie-laden team sport known as “OPEN JAMS.”

open_mic_jam

Here’s how it goes down:

It’s a lovely Sunday afternoon (or Monday night, or Tuesday night, or Wednesday night, or Thursday night, or Friday night, or Saturday night.)

Wait a minute – why the heck are there so many open jams anyway?

It couldn’t possibly be because the club owners know they can get free music all night, every night, by hosting “open jams” is it?

Hmmm, duh!

Anywho, you get up there “ready to jam” with a bunch of other people.  Somebody yells out a song.  Everybody starts playing.  Except me that is.  Even if I’ve played the song one thousand times, my puny memory defies me, and there I stand.  Befuddled.  Outcast.  Shamed.  Somebody starts throwing tomatos.  It’s a lonely and isolating catastrophe.  Because as I’ve stated, I can’t remember sh**.

It would defeat the purpose to “jam” with an “open jam” if you have to read what you’re playing.  Or to quickly download the chords, hoping the open jam venue has free wifi, then cheat your way through the songs. I think there’s a law about it.  No good mon.

There is a particular art to “jamming” I suppose.  The ability to make stuff up on the fly is cool I guess.  Having the wherewithal to respond to what the other musicians are laying down and contribute your own awesomeness is… awesome… I think.  It’s a fabulous and free way for audiences to enjoy music, I figure.  Jammers have millions of chord progressions and lyrics in their heads, I presume.

But alas, I steer clear of all things jammin’ mon.  No offense to my fellow musical jammers.  And no offense to you club owners – YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

No Listen No Try

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine September 2017

Solo acoustic artists are a courageous bunch.  They’re alone in a corner, like they did something wrong, playing to an audience that is most likely there for the food or the conversation with their friends.  Venue owners hire musicians to stand in corners so they can get more people to come out to their establishment.   “Live Entertainment Tonight” on the sign outside is better than “Tonight – the Franks and Beans Special.”

These guys playing in corners (and I say guys because most of the time it is a guy and not a girl, but I’ll save that discussion for another column – or maybe a book –  Yes –  a WHOLE book about it – stay tuned,) anyhoo, I’m here to tell you that those guys or rare girl in the corner are not having an easy time.  There’s this time-honored belief that as a performer you’re supposed to “draw the audience in,” “make” them listen, “connect” with them, then you’ll “have them.”  But it’s actually pretty darn hard to get their attention, at all.

And don’t even get me started on the TVs blaring when a performer is trying to perform.  This will be covered in the upcoming book, at length.  TRUST ME.

Some venues are built for entertainment, and they’re different.  Playing in “listening rooms” that have actual written or un-written rules like “Don’t Talk,”  “Be Quiet” or  “Listen” are rare gigs to get.  And they usually don’t pay.  Your “pay” is “exposure.”  Sell your merch.  Get people on your mailing list.  Dream of your big break.

So for most of us who are actually trying to make a living playing music, we get the stand in the corner bar gigs, and hope for the best.

sologuitar

We start the show by scanning the crowd trying to read their minds so we can play something they might like; something that will garner some sort of reaction – a smile, a clap, a hoot or a holler.  Then what that doesn’t work we try to pick just one person out who is glancing our way once in a while and try to figure out what she would like.  We try and we try and we try.

A lucky break is when the audience applauds after every song (because the room goes quiet and they figure it’s the right thing to do.)  But most of the time, we have this strange feeling that they don’t know what we just played.  Or what wonderful high notes we just hit.  Or they can’t appreciate that we spent weeks learning a super difficult chord structure that kills our fingers.  They are too busy talking!  Or eating or whatever.

Playing with a band is different.  You have each other.  You play off one another, you have people to joke with and it’s more like a team sport.  It’s fun.  If nobody’s paying attention, it’s not a big deal.  We’re rockin’ it for our own enjoyment.

When I play solo acoustic, for me, it comes down to this:  If you ain’t listening, I ain’t trying.  I know this perpetuates the problem of trying to get the audience’s attention because you’re actually sucking, but it is what it is.  I can only try so much.

Here’s how a recent scenario went down.

I was sitting in the corner of a bar with my guitar.  Nobody was listening so I closed my eyes and tapped open the chords to a random song on my IPad 2.  The song loaded and off I went.

“It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day

I was out choppin’ cotton, and my brother was balin’ hay” blah blah blah.

I fuddled through two verses and just…stopped.

Some people at the bar erupted with applause.

“Um thanks,” I said.

“That was great!” somebody said.

“But I wasn’t even trying!” I implored.

“But it was great!” they all hollered back.

“What song was it?” I daringly asked.

“Who cares!  It was great!”

See what I’m saying?

So feel our pain people!  Pay attention!  (even if it’s just a little).  Ya never know what you’re missing.

Moosting Salad

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine August 2017

Sometimes at gigs we get requests.  This is a given.  We are there to entertain, and it’s kind of our job to give the people what they want.  However, there are some songs that churn my stomach for reasons I can’t explain.  It’s difficult to pry my mouth open to sing them.  My responses to these types of requests include:

“Oh sorry, we don’t know it.” – THAT’S A LIE.  WE CAN LOOK UP THE CHORDS ON OUR PHONES.

“Oh sorry, I can’t sing that high.”  – THAT’S A LIE.  WE CAN CHANGE THE KEY.

“Oh sorry, I couldn’t do it justice” – THAT’S A LIE.  IT CHURNS MY STOMACH.

But sometimes, due to circumstances beyond my control (ALL CIRCUMSTANCES ON THE PLANET), songs I despise do indeed vomit from my mouth.

Here’s how a recent scenario went down:

We were doing a gig at a lovely outside venue by the beach, and everything was hunky-dory.  A couple hours in, a tipsy jolly older gentleman with a huge wad of black curly hair approached me.

“Young lady, if yous please, play moosting salad for moi.”

“What the heck are you saying?” I asked as politely as I could.

“Please play moosting salad!”

A woman who was desperately trying to keep him from falling by holding onto his arms said, “He wants to hear Mustang Sally!”

O…..M…..G

“Oh, not possible, sorry.  We don’t know it.”

“I vill give you one hundred dollars to play moosting salad!” the inebriated man said.

“Sir,” I laughed, “There’s not enough money in the world for us to play that.”

“Then I vill give you shots!  Lots of shots!  I vill be right back.”

Filled with dread and with a sinkhole in my stomach I turned around and yelled to the guys, “There’s no way I’m singing Mustang Sally!  I will die first!”

Mustang

The guitar player, amused by the proposition, started playing the opening lick.  Such a show-off!  The bass player yelled, “What key?!” and started hammering away.  The drummer got a beat going.  The sax player added some lovely tasteful fills.

I had been had.

I let the intro go on and on for what seemed an eternity because I was determined not to sing the most wretched over-played song of all time.  I looked out at the ocean.  I dreamed of brighter days.  I wished with all my might that I could get the heck out of there.

Then the tray of shots arrived.  Tequila I think.  I drank four.  I think I WAS actually determined to kill myself.  Since I had been paid, I assumed it was now time to deliver.

Now that I think about it – couldn’t I have just encouraged the crowd to sing the song karaoke style?  You know, everybody sing it but me?  But no.  Hindsight is 20/20.  Could have, would have, should have, blah blah blah.

I sang the first line.  The crowd went ballistic.  The song went on excruciatingly for ten minutes.  I am not proud of these ten minutes.  I was singing (well…barking) the same thing over and over and over.  Was I dead yet?

But alas, this is why we do it right?  For the roar of the crowd?  The happy faces?  The drunken stupors?

We all survived the night somehow and the next morning when I opened my phone, there were the lyrics:  “Ride Sally Ride…”  UGH!  KILL ME!