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.

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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.

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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!

Festivus

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine July 2017

Summer is here finally. Time for outdoor music festivals, beach concerts, rockfests and mega jams. I run into people and they ask, “Excited for summer? You going to have lots of gigs? It’s your busy time right?” Well, not so much. You see if you’re in a band, you have to think about the “busy season” way before temps reach 70 degrees. Like way back during the “Christmas season.” If you don’t start hounding summer festival organizers, chambers of commerce, parks and rec people, vineyards and beach bar owners by Jan. 1, you are out of luck by the summer solstice.

It’s embarrassing. I’m bored to death so I go to every event there is and get the same question, or the polite ones: “Got the night off for a change huh?” Um, yeah. The whole freakin’ summer thank you.

Even if you are a good little doobie and manage to contact these purveyors of all things musically fun in the sun in the frigid winter, if you don’t check on your application or package or whatever at least 1.5 billion times, you’re not getting the gig. Most of the time, it’s impossible to find out who these leaders of the Federal Reserve-like institutions are so you can even get your stuff to the right person. It’s like when Richard Dreyfuss in that movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is thrown into a van and then into a tent with the French speaking dude and the nerd and he yells, “WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE?!?!?”

WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE dictating the summer music schedules anyway? It’s this big fat Area 51 mystery to me. And asking other bands how they “got in” doesn’t help either. They say, “Oh, a guy in the band is married to a a girl who’s mother’s ex-boyfriend has a niece who interns for the chamber during the summer so that’s how we got in.” Or, “You have to send a package to the organizing committee,” or, “You have to contact the owner at his place down in Florida in the winter.”

WHATEVER!

I am not a bugger. I am not a beggar. It’s too……. Complicated!

And what’s worse is, if I do manage to have a gig in the summer at a regular bar, nobody’s there because they’re all outside at some festival! That I’m not playing at! It’s exasperating!

The one festival gig I do have this summer is because somebody canceled at the last minute! OK Fine!

One year I was asked to help book the bands for a summer festival and was guaranteed a slot. Word spread magically like wild fire that I was a member of this prestigious committee and so therefore I was ceremoniously deemed “the contact.” Well let me tell you, some people are really good at inquiries, following up, or I as I like to refer to it as: “Bugging the crap out of you.” I give the musicians the utmost respect for their persistence and tenacity, however, OMG – did I ever want THAT THING over with!

So I get it. I understand why it’s all a big secret. It’s a never ending exercise in responding to emails and chats and voicemails – or as I mastered – the art of ignoring the whole world.

You may think of this month’s column as one big pity party for me. Au contraire! It’s a call to arms! We must unite! We must demand that all festival organizers and beach concert and outdoor music people publish their names, addresses, what kind of wine they like, what their favorite sports team is, details on their family lineage, and where they spend their winters. That kind of thing. To make it fair, ya know?

But alas, I know, you’re all too busy playing your fifth night in a row under warm moonlit skies with a lovely ocean breeze blowing through your hair. That’s OK. I’ll be there cheering you on.

Noise

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine June 2017

From out on my back deck in the woods of Stonington, CT I hear all kinds of noise.  Tractor trailer truck tires hitting the highway’s shoulder rivets, dirt bikes whirling the grounds of a backyard, Ninja motorcycles racing for a thrill, various yelps and squeals from the woods which could be a deer giving birth or a human working an electric saw for a tree house.   An 8-year old kid learning the saxophone, coyotes fighting, the boom of a fireworks finale, my dog whimpering in the closet, weed whackers and water cannonballs from a nearby pool.  A camera drone, a piper twin, a generator during a power outage.

I can deal with all these noises.  But one I cannot fathom, or accept, is the thunder of a suicide bomb inside a concert venue.  Or, the sound of my 22-year old daughter who has already attended over 50 concerts, telling me she’s afraid to go to concerts now.

STOP THIS NOISE.

My first concert was The Beach Boys at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, CT.  Everybody remembers their first concert.  I plan to go see Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds tour at Foxwoods Resort Casino in September to make it all come full circle.  Concerts are sacred things.  When I saw Bruce Springsteen in concert for the first time, it changed my life.  (This happens to a lot of people.)  The hope – the joy – the energy – the feeling you get that life is worth living, worth celebrating, worth screaming at the top of your lungs for.  That’s what concerts are for.

BUT NOT THIS.

We simply cannot let them win.

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