Get Outa Town!

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine March 2017

When you get nice and comfortable with your musical act and have a substantial fan base filling up the bar stools at your gigs, you mistakenly believe that these fans will be your fans forever. Here’s how it works when you’re a “bar” musician. Single people go out to meet people and maybe by chance your band is playing where people go to meet people. But once single people meet another single person they’d rather hang out with doing other things, they eventually stop going to bars. Two empty bar stools. Couples you manage to get and keep as fans eventually get married, have kids, and can’t get babysitters, so they don’t come anymore either.   Two more empty bar stools. Even if Bruce Springsteen was playing in my town every weekend I still wouldn’t want to go see him every weekend. I could be out of money, or sick, or taking care of someone who’s sick, or sick of his songs. So, your fan base is always changing, in other words, is always diminishing. I believe the solution to this unavoidable calamity is to get yourself outa town in order to reach out to new people who a) have never seen you before so you’re kind of like a novelty, b) they haven’t hooked up with anybody yet so they actually still go to bars and c) to keep your sanity and belief in what you are doing. Playing in new towns is like getting a new Barbie camper – with so many new landscapes to explore. I can re-use my outfits and meet so many new Barbies and Kens.

One of my favorite regions to play is down South in Georgia and South Carolina. I take an earned vacation from my day job and use it as an excuse to play gigs down there. What’s cool about down South is, they think because I’m from the North, that I must be some cool New Yorker with a cool accent, when in actuality, I’m just a bored New Englander who really just needed to get outa town because the bar stools are empty at my gigs.

I played this bar in Lexington, South Carolina which is the only bar for 50 miles. You would think on a Tuesday night that the crowds would be rather light. Not so! The owner asked me to start early, and play later. Ya’ll dig? The owner said, “Ya’ll let me know when you’re gonna be ‘round these parts agin, ya hear?” Easy money right there.

I played a bar in Georgia where it was all about the tip jar. Because I was from the North, people thought I drove all the way down there just to play that bar, so they were quite generous. We called it the “Love Bucket,” and man oh man, did they fill it. Two nights in a row I made enough money in that jar to pay for the whole trip. One elderly gentleman in a worn-out cowboy hat said, “I’ll done give ya one hundred dollers if you play me some Johnny Cash.” I happily obliged.

I went on vacation one year to Madeira, Portugal and met some nice musical people who even invited me up on stage to jam. It was disconcerting that they could sing in English and I couldn’t sing in Portuguese or do any of that Fado stuff, but they seemed to be OK with it. Through Facebook, we arranged an actual gig together for the following year when I would return to Madeira.

The night arrived, I was in town, and I was drinking heavily with my friends. The island of Madeira is an ancient, secluded place where kings and diplomats and sheiks hang out to let loose. Nestled in the North Atlantic near the Canary Islands, it rises up like one big mountain like something out of Jurassic Park. There’s a Pizza Hut on the island that gives out free samples of Madeira wine, which is more like a port, and potent as heck. Actually, this magical port is served everywhere, and if you don’t watch yourself, you can really get trashed, in about 20 minutes. There’s also this crazy drink called a poncha, which is more than a drink. It’s an event. People get together down back alleys and side roads and have a poncha. They eat peanuts and drink and drink and drink this concoction of fire water (really potent alcohol), honey, sugar, lemon rind and fruit juice. It’s like a scorpion bowl on crack. Yes I had one, or two.

On the island, there are also Irish bars, English pubs and Italian restaurants, all competing for the tourist dollar. We were happy to oblige. We tipped outrageously, which they thought was just hilarious. “Americanos – wasting their Euros again!” There was one local bar where all the cops hung out. They smoked weed right at their table, and passed the stuff around like it was completely legal or something. (I think it is.)

The gig time arrived, I walked up the steep cobblestoned incline to the venue (every road is uphill in this place!) and huffed and puffed right on past. I was plastered! I’m sure they did just fine without me. We’re still friends on Facebook.

But my very favorite place to play in the whole world is on my brother’s veranda in a cute little town in Georgia, which is also the hometown of Gregg Allman. Everybody in town knows Gregg Allman, and has guitars or pictures signed by Gregg Allman. When you play guitar on a veranda in Georgia, everybody comes over and it’s a p-ar-ar-tay. The pay isn’t good, but it’s good for the soul. Time to pack the camper!

 

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Alternative Facts: Music Edition

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine February 2017

Here are a few fun alternative facts about the music industry for you:

The Grammy Awards celebrate the best in music and is not a politically-charged, campaign-style feverish quest for votes wherein the spoils of war go to those with the most influence and power.

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There is no such thing as a big machine behind the music industry and anybody can make it to the top without a major record label, a manager, an agent, a public relations firm, a lawyer and about five hundred thousand dollars.

Licensing even ten seconds of one of your recorded songs for TV or film does not require membership somewhere inside the big machine.

Only really good music is played on mainstream radio.

Club owners only care about the quality of the music, not how many people you bring.

Booking agents only have your best interests at heart.

Horn players always show up two hours before the gig to help set up and carry all the big speakers to the car when the show is over.

Keyboard players never have an opinion on chord progressions and arrangements and don’t secretly want to be maestros.

Guitar players always end their solos after the agreed-upon measure allotment.

Bass players on point are not the most important element to a live show.

Lead singers are not narcissists.

Studio engineers would never dream of winning Producer of the Year.

CD and album sales are through the roof no matter who you are.

Obtaining a slot at music festivals is super easy.

If people accept your band’s Facebook Event invite that means you will see them at the show.

Anybody can write a memorable and listenable song.

If you can see it, you can be it.

Anybody can record a song and get airplay on Pandora in rotation next to Springsteen, Dylan and Raitt.

Standing in line for six hours to audition for The Voice is a really good use of your time because the producers of the show have not already sought out and privately auditioned every single singer who will appear on the show.

The sound system never dies right before the first four-count.

Dancing around and singing into a microphone at the same time is not really a workout and is not potentially deadly.

Getting bloggers and magazines to review your music is always free with no strings attached.

Bands get free drinks and food and always get paid what was agreed upon.

Local music circles and cliques do not exist.

Open Mic Nights are not killing the live music scene.

Karaoke Nights are not killing the live music scene.

Bands that pay to play are not killing the live music scene.

DUI laws are not killing the live music scene.

Home decor mounted big screen TVs and endless television series options are not killing the live music scene.

Digital downloads of music do not effect artist’s sales because no one ever shares their MP3s with all their friends instead of each person paying for the song.

Bars do not smell weird.

It’s perfectly acceptable to play a show in a bar with ten TVs going especially with one over your head.

Playing solo acoustic shows does not hurt your fingers and is not a lonely, dreadful thing at all.

Band members love each other and never fight.

Playing outdoor summer gigs does not cause hyperventilation, chest pains and shortness of breath.

The musicians who scream the loudest at the booking contacts do not get all the gigs.

Female pop stars never have to worry what they look like.

And lastly, regardless of it all, music will not free your soul.

 

A Musician’s Carol

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine December 2016

 Ghost of Music Past

“Suzy darling, do you remember when you were 8-years old?” said the cheery-eyed apparition who appeared out of nowhere.

“Heck no! I’m lucky I can remember what I had for dinner last night!” Suzy said.

“Try harder.”

“OK. Give me a second. Oh yes, yes, I see it now. Are you doing something to my brain? I can see it clear as day. I’m saying, ‘Mommy, Mommy pleeeease can you tell Santa or whoever buys the presents around here that I really really want a guitar for Christmas? You were right. Barbies are boring and rather sexist.”

“Well I’m glad you’ve come to your senses about the barbies dear, but absolutely not. You may NOT have a guitar dear. Girls don’t play guitars. We’ve paid in advance lots of accordion lessons for you.”

Suzy’s little brother Paul, who had been idly playing with some Legos, chimed in.

“If I don’t get a Superman from Santa this year I’m putting my hand on a hot pile of spaghetti and leaving it there forever!” he yelled. Suzy rolled her eyes.

“Mother please, honestly, for someone of such intelligence, where do you think I’m going to get in life playing an accordion?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” she said.

“Very good Suzy,” said the phantom. “Now, do you remember when you were 16-years old?”

Suzy thought a moment. “Oh yes yes I see,” she recalled. I was on stage and the lights were in my eyes and I was kind of like a star and I thought it was the grandest place on earth and that this is what I will do the rest of my life. I will work hard at it just like my schoolwork and attack it like a beast.”

“Excellent Suzy. You always knew that if you had a gift, it was your job to give it away.”

And the ghost was gone.

 Ghost of Music Present

“Ug! Lugging this equipment around is absolutely destroying my back! Man I hope they cancel because of the snowflakes,” Suzy thought to herself. “Nobody’s going to show up anyway. Everybody just wants to drink at home and watch Netflix or plug in their Amazon Fire Sticks or stream YouTube videos of cats. Or they all have to get up early and run a marathon for charity. Or they’re snap-chatting. What’s the point! This time of year is the worst. Between work parties and pie baking and chestnuts roasting and waiting for ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ to come on TV, it’s just downright useless. My music has officially become irrelevant. I simply cannot bear the thought of performing one more time in one more empty bar.”

“Jeez, what a whiner,” the ghost said. “Things are worse than I thought. Let’s see what I can do.”

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 Ghost of Music Future

“We could belabor this point for hours,” the grumpy old men said. “Whether it was the musicians who refused to play out anymore or the club owners who canceled all live music, is not the point. The point is, there simply is no more music to be heard anywhere. It’s all gone. Digital samplings squashed together from the music of the past is all we got. Ain’t what it used to be I tell ya.”

A wrinkly old woman with a sparkle in her eye and a smirk on her face stood up in front of the men and said, “My dear boys. Everybody knows the whole world went haywire when that girl started writing those articles in some magazine complaining about the music business all the time and everybody started to believe it was a waste of time and money. Then one day, she stopped playing gigs altogether and stashed her guitar in the attic. Everybody else just sorta followed suit. Before you knew it, all school music programs were canceled and every music store shut down. You couldn’t even find a church choir on Christmas Eve. Oh if not for that wretched girl! What a Scrooge!”

“HA HA HA. No! It was all because of Kanye West!” and they all laughed and laughed and smoked their pot.

“Let me see if there is something I can do about this sad state of affairs,” said the ghost.

 The End – Thanks to the Ghosts

At band practice, present day. Some musicians are determined to write a song together.

“Oh Don! You remind me of Brian Wilson in that movie ‘Love and Mercy’ when he’s telling the cello players to play that super low note over and and over again in ‘Good Vibrations,” Suzy said lightheartedly.

“Yeah right. My bass doesn’t go any lower,” said Dave.

“I can tune down,” said Don the guitar player.

“Who cares about the notes! Let’s move on people! Let’s finish this thing,” said Kevin the drummer, while rolling on the toms.

Suzy was irresistibly intrigued. “This is awesome. You know what? I think we should write a song about Brian Wilson and make it so everybody can sing along to it. Then we can record it and give it away for free, just because! We can sing it all summer long!”

The band hoots and hollers in unison.

“Let’s do it! Merry Christmas to all! God bless us, every one!”

The ghosts hover high above the chilly but cheerful basement stuffed with an assortment of musical instruments, scribbly noted loose leaf papers, guitar picks and drum sticks.

The band mates hear a whisper somewhere in the back of their minds.

“Very good boys and girls. You’ve come to know that while some 8-year olds dream of being Superman, playing music together is actually the thing that feels like flying, and it’s all worth it,” said the ghosts. “We’re depending on you.”

Give The People What They Want

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine November 2016

In the entertainment industry it is standard practice to give the people what they want. This is actually a contradiction in terms. If I gave the people what they wanted, I would be playing “Brick House” for four hours at every gig; or, for an older crowd, that horrendous instrumental “Sleepwalk” for just as long. If I comply with this, I become somewhat of a miserable beeitch and I actually want to kill myself rather than shake it down or calmly strum the A minors. This in turn makes the entertainment value of my performance not so stellar and therefore the audience is actually not entertained at all. And people of all ages are reaching for the defibrillator. “Brick House” consists of one chord. ONE CHORD! Over and over and over. This is worse than, for those in the know, blues songs, which only have three.

At shows I like to say, “We’re happy to take requests. We’ll TAKE them, it doesn’t mean we’ll actually DO them.”

I just can’t stomach sacrificing my art (yes it’s mine, all mine) for the greater good, and the better gigs and the freer bar tabs. And if you’re not careful, giving people what they want can seep into your soul creating chasms of horror and defeat. It can happen at gigs, in the recording studio, in the practice space, or over dinner with your husband, your parents, or your friends. “You should do this song, it’s perfect for your voice. You need some oohs and aahs during the verse. You should have put more upbeat songs on the album. You should only sing slow songs. You should only do blues. You should only do rock. You should write a song about me. You should try to get a gig in New Zealand. You should try out for The Voice.”

I think suggestions from music fans come from the heart and they’re just trying to help, and I believe in the sanity of most people. They can tell when you are being fake however, and that you don’t particularly care one iota for their suggestion. They can sense when you’re lying. Except if you’re a serial killer. Most people can’t tell about those people, but that’s another subject entirely. Being true to yourself is the greatest gift you can give to yourself and the clearest path to success and peace. Even if you have to Bruce Jenner it.

One year my daughter sensed I wanted to give up on all this crap so for Christmas she made me one of those Shutterfly photo calendars with all our greatest band moments caught on camera.   The photos were mostly of me, doing my thing, and not sacrificing a darn thing for nobody. It got me back on track. Sometimes your children can be motivating, exasperating, and at times downright inspirational. Have some! It’s all true!

When I was 13 our teacher assigned us the fun task of making a collage of everything that we felt was important to us. We could use photographs, magazine or newspaper clippings, whatever. I was in love with magazines at the time – Teen Beat, Tiger Beat, Seventeen – so I glued together about 25 sheets of tan construction paper and started cutting my life out. Images of healthy foods on picnic-filled blankets, gorgeous girls and gorgeous guys completely in love running through the fields, cute guys roller skating with cute girls, Cathy Rigby jogging, a big tub of Noxzema and somebody washing their face, music notes, guitars, and lobster. I guess I’ve always had a thing about gorgeous guys, and being clean and healthy. And lobster. The point is, when I was 13, I knew exactly what I wanted, who I was, and where I was going. I could picture it in a collage if you will. I still have the wrinkled patchwork stuffed at the bottom of my high school yearbooks and I pull it out once in a while to remind myself that a) WOW – I used to be able to jog? And b) it’s never going to be OK for someone else to tell me what I like and what I don’t like and what I should do or not do. I have the collage! This comes in handy on my day job as well. If you let them boss you around, they will. If you declare that “No one is the boss of me,” then no one ever will be. It hasn’t led to very many promotions but at least I’ve kept my sanity, my self-respect, and stress intact.

Even if your best friend in the whole world requests “Brown Eyed Girl” because she has brown eyes, and it’s her song, and it means everything to her, it still doesn’t mean you have to play it. Actually people, please don’t EVER play it, ever again. The Rolling Stones knew what they were talking about in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

I’ve never pretended or claimed to be particular well-read, artsy-fartsy, a smarty-pants, a name-dropper or a poet. I’m not going to tell you my lyrics were inspired by some post-modern feminist leftist anti-politico 500-page snoozer I’d been reading on Saturday nights. They’re just words that rhyme, occasionally. Sometimes just phonetically. I enjoy my intellectual musical friends and get what they’re trying to do – music as art and all that stuff – but the point is, they’re doing their thing, and I’m doing mine. It hasn’t gotten me very far (or them either), but who cares? This ridiculousness has chosen us.

I think I’m ready to go shake it down now. Maybe to the car radio.

And one final note, last night I had a dream that the head of the statue of liberty was laying on the ground like in that 1968 movie Planet of the Apes. Translation: Get out and vote on Nov. 8. We’re our only hope.

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I also had a dream about Bruce Springsteen, but that’s for another time, and perhaps another magazine…