Is There Such A Thing As “Too Personal”?

Unless you are amazingly disconnected from all pop culture (and no judgment here because I almost missed this!) you know that Beyoncé released a visual album called “Lemonade” over the weekend. Hell, even if you don’t follow pop culture it’d be hard to miss. CNN has an article about it for Pete’s sakes! Like, really?!

Ahem. But I digress.

If you read the headlines from a quick Google search it seems this album is solely about Jay-Z and his alleged infidelity. People are losing their minds specifically over the lyrics “He only want me when I’m not there / He better call Becky with the good hair.” So far it seems like people fall into one of three camps:

"Who is Becky...?"

“Who is Becky…?”

The Detectives

Loads of folks seem to have gotten their Detective badges recently. They’re decoding lyrics, looking for clues, pulling up records from the dusty file cabinet of the internet, and going on woman-hunts when they think they’ve found the culprit.  The Beyhive seems to be flocking from one Twitter/Instagram account to the next trying to lay some digital retribution on whomever had the audacity to cause trouble in Queen Bey’s marriage.

The Over This Tribe

Why are we talking about Beyoncé? Don’t you know Flint’s water is poisonous, Trump’s on the loose, and Brady has to serve a 4-game suspension after all? Who cares about Beyoncé?

The Marriage Counselors

These are the ones that prompted this post. I’ve seen a lot of comments from people narrowing their eyes at Beyoncé, wondering why she would air her “dirty laundry” in this way. Marriage is private, they say. Whatever problems you have are between you and your husband and putting it out there like this is shameful.

I find this to be an interesting line of thinking. If a musician writes a song about, say, their past physical abuse, or addiction, or mental illness, people applaud them for being brave and speaking out, but she writes what may be an entire album about the difficulty of marriage and she should have kept it private? For me, and I would wager for many other musicians, making music and writing lyrics can be a form of catharsis. We write about the things that hurt us, anger us, make us happy, sadden us. It’s therapy, and sometimes that stuff is pretty personal. Should we not write it? Is there a line to be drawn? What is it about (allegedly) discussing real life marital problems in her music, expressing her emotional ups and downs in relating to her husband, is taboo? I doubt these people have the same problems with her celebrating her marriage in her music.

I draw my own line about what I am and am not comfortable sharing in my songs, but I don’t believe there are topics that just shouldn’t be out there. If her album is indeed an emotional trip through the ins and outs of marriage, I don’t fault or judge her for it. Let her cope the way she wants/needs to cope.

Are there subjects you consider to be too private to be shared through music? Does it make you uncomfortable as a fan (or not as as fan) to be presented with certain aspects of a celebrity’s life? If you’re a musician, where do you draw the line in how much you share in your music, if at all?

 

-Stevie

Energy, Passion, and Audience Connection

I recently volunteered to work a show at Club Zuzu. This was a result of one of my 2016 goals, which is to get involved in the local music community, so I signed up as a volunteer with Boston Hassle. They put on this show in conjunction with another group called Rad Castle. I didn’t know any of the bands on the bill but I figured this was the fun of just getting out there to explore. I showed up with an open mind and my old digital SLR (I was on photo duty) and waited for the night to unfold.

Cove Sauce

Cove Sauce

I can honestly say that this was unlike any show I’ve ever attended before, even in my boldest of college days. Three bands played: Cove Sauce, Joe Passed, and The Taxidermists. Cove Sauce and The Taxidermists consisted of two people each: a guitarist and a drummer. The second band had five people in it I think, so they were odd guy out, but the genre/style of music was similar to the other two, which I guess I would classify as noise rock if I had to (in general I suck at classifying music though). It reminded me of old-school garage punk, especially the first and last bands, Cove Sauce and Taxidermists. I mean, Club Zuzu is small, you guys. The room was filled with noise rock. I think that’s the genre you’d classify this as; I’m honestly not sure.

So, imagine: small room, but easily about twenty to thirty people there. For comparison, my last show had about seven people in attendance. Loud, distorted, angry guitar strumming, banging the drums like there were ants crawling on it and drumsticks were the only thing that could kill them, and vocals that were essentially yelling, the words completely indiscernible. It was raw and energetic and loud and crowd loved it!

Taxidermists

Taxidermists

The energy in the room was like whoa. Have you ever been to a show (or performed at one) where some people were hanging out at the bar talking, and the floor in front of the stage was empty? Here there was a nice solid wall of bodies close to the stage, and the audience was bobbing and banging their heads and dancing and just feeling it. And what’s really interesting is that it wasn’t like the bands were doing anything crazy energetic. They weren’t jumping around or dancing or coaxing the crowd. Hell, they barely addressed the audience at all. In fact I can’t for the life of me put my finger on what it was about them that compelled that kind of attention and energy other than the music itself, which was definitely high-intensity music.

I was watching a YouTube video recently for some tips on stage presence, on how not to just stand there like a dummy with a guitar. The video included suggestions like: move your guitar around so you’re not holding it stationary all the time; make eye contact with the audience, and different places in the audience; move away from the mic sometimes, like when you’re soloing; and move the guitar from in front of your body when you’re singing and not playing. Good stuff, I found it very useful, but do you see the body positioning of the two guitarists in the pictures above? That’s pretty much how they stayed the entire set. Other than stepping back from the mic when they weren’t actually “singing”, they didn’t move, and they never made eye contact with the audience. I don’t think they ever even looked at the audience, and it didn’t seem to affect the connection between performer and audience at all.

I have found myself thinking back on that show over a week later, wondering what lessons I can take from that night to make my own live shows better, to give them that kind of energy. I think some part of it may be the genre of music, right? It’s hard to sit idly by while hard, thrashy music is playing. To be honest I wasn’t into the music but I still found myself moving with it. It’s like trying not to bop when a bass and drum kick in with the most basic of R&B grooves—something in your body just responds. There has to be more though—Tori Amos doesn’t exactly make you wanna get up and dance (most of the time) but she’s captivating live— and I think it’s passion and feeling. Those guys didn’t look at the audience, but there was feeling in their playing and performance.

Someone said of my last gig that it was one of the best shows so far, because all three of us seemed really into it. I actually thought it was a kind’ve crappy performance because we messed up a few times (like, playing the wrong parts in places kind’ve messed up). What a difference in perception. For me because it wasn’t technically good it was not a good show. For the audience, they weren’t concerned or bothered about the mishaps—they were interested in the feeling and the vibe. I remember feeling a little emotional during that show because it was unexpectedly the last show with Aram, so we said fuck it and threw everything we had into it. I know Aram was playing like the devil (he broke a drum stick). We were playing with feeling and despite our execution problems people were drawn in by the emotion.

When I heard that I was kind’ve like, “Huh, well, that’s interesting.” and filed it away for later thought. Seeing it in action with this Boston Hassle show, seeing how into it the band was (and how that affected the audience) has brought it back to forefront. I’m wondering how I can channel that same energy all the time. It’s not like I don’t feel my songs, but maybe I’m concentrating too hard on not messing up. It’s the same thing I experience when recording vocals, where I’m concentrating so hard on trying to be on-key that I’m not emoting well. I’m concentrating on execution and not allowing myself to relax and enjoy it—and to be honest, there’s a fair bit of nervousness/stage fright in there as well.

I’m going to record my next live performance and make myself watch it (which, ugh, I hate watching myself) and see if I can take my live show to the next level. Here’s to growth!

If you’re a musician who performs out, how do you connect with your audience?

Switching Gears, Thinking Local

stick

Jason Statham in The Transporter is Everything.

I’ve decided that it’s time to start switching gears in some aspects of my musical life. I’ve found myself dissatisfied with some of the directions I’ve been going in and what I feel is a lack of forward progress. One of the main switches in focus will be from global to local.

 

But wait a minute, Stevie! I didn’t know you were big in Germany! Germans-Love-Move-and-the-Hoff

What I mean when I say global is The Internet (the thing, not the band). When I started And Then There Was One it was a bedroom project. I created music, recorded it, and that was it. I had no band to play out with, and my songs are not written for acoustic performances. So, I turned to the online community. I made my music at home, and then went online to try and sell it, share it, promote it, and get fans. I joined a Twitter community, GGChat, that both helped me grow my network and provided a lot of insight and tips on doing the whole indie music thing, and I thought that this was what being an indie musician meant these days. Technology gives us the ability to reach almost anyone, so the name of the game is Followers, Likes, Retweets, Shares, Spotify, YouTube, etc. Online, online, online. I followed guides on growing my fanbase—online. Reaching people—online.

Initially my growth was pretty quick and impressive—to me at least. I quickly got close to 300 page likes on Facebook and my Twitter followers grew at an even quicker rate. And then the growth kind’ve stopped. I plateaued. I gain and lose followers pretty evenly—I think I’ve been stuck at 950-something forever—and I gain new FB fans at a rate of about 1 per month.imagined-and-actual-learning-curve It reminds me of this TED talk I watched about learning a new skill and diminishing returns. When you first start out at something you see immediate, big, measurable results. The better you get at something though, the harder it is to get better.

The real disappointment came in the realization that no matter how “impressive” my numbers were getting online, they weren’t translating to feet on the ground. I wasn’t bringing people in to shows, and I wasn’t selling music.

I was throwing back some margaritas with Neil one night, talking about music and the future of the band and such and he shared some info about how much time his girlfriend (half of Boston-based indie rock band American Echoes) and her sister (the other half of the band) spend out at shows and doing the meet and greet thing. Spoiler alert: a lot.

I’ve known that I have to get involved locally, which is why it’s on my 2016 goals list, but I underestimated how important it is. I put 90% of my effort into networking online and 10% on networking in real life. It’s time to shift that into something more equitable. If it’s at all slanted, it should be slanted towards my city, my scene. The online world has been good to me, and has definitely helped my confidence and provided a lot of guidance and information that I lacked, but I’m switching gears now from trying to grab new Twitter followers and Facebook likes to trying to have people around here know my face and name. I’ll still be active on social media—it’s not an either or situation—but I’ll be more active locally.

I got a good start last night volunteering for a show at ZuZu for Boston Hassle. That’s a story for another blog post though…hopefully the first of many.

My Music Week 3/28/16

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, but consistency has never been a strong suit of mine. 😉 However, there has been a lot going on this past week, so I wanted to vent share it with you guys. So, here goes.

The Drummer

We had a great gig at The Midway Cafe Thursday night. Not a huge turnout, but it’s always a lot of fun performing before Queeraoke, and I really dig the folks who work there. Unfortunately, right before the gig Aram told me that he’d need to take an indefinite leave of absence. I don’t blame him—he’s got some tough stuff to deal with at home—but it was definitely not what I wanted to hear, especially since we had at least one gig in May that we’d already committed to, and I was trying to work on booking another one in April. So, it was sad in that it turned out to be Aram’s last gig with me for the foreseeable future.

Anxiety Level: 30

The Booker

Right before the Midway gig I got an email from a booker for a club that I had last emailed in October. She was looking for someone to fill out a last-minute spot. I was psyched because this is a well-known venue and I’d really wanted to get a gig there. Unfortunately it was one of those rare occasions where Aram couldn’t make the date, so I had to regretfully decline. I figured that might be the last I heard from her because I don’t imagine bookers are all that psyched about getting turned down, but she emailed me back quickly and asked about another date. I was eager to accommodate this one, like “Yes, another shot!”. That was the same night Aram told me he could no longer play with me.

Womp womp.

I had to email the booker back and let her know that the universe sucked and that I had just lost my drummer, so I couldn’t do this gig either. Her response, verbatim, was, “Ugh. Could you do a stripped down set w/o a drummer? Make it something a bit different for your fans?”

At this point I realized that for whatever reason she was in dire straits about this gig. She must have been low on options, otherwise why would she reach out to me in the first place, almost 6 months later? And this, dear peeps, is where I blame myself. Here is the emotional combination that went into what happened next: sympathy for her imagined plight; worry and anxiety that saying no again would get me blacklisted from the venue, and given the way venues have been closing around here I didn’t think I could afford that; and pure and simple guilt about saying no.

So I said yes.

She emailed back, asked a few questions about how I wanted to be billed, and told me that music was from 9:30 to 11:30pm.

 

I emailed back immediately like, “Hey, just wanted to confirm that you wanted me to perform for some portion of that slot and not the entire 1 1/2 hours.” I mean, every gig I’ve booked so far has been 45 minutes. It just never even occurred to me that someone would want to book me, an unknown, for more than that, on a bill of my own.

Radio silence. She had been super responsive up to this point, responding within hours of my emailing her. Suddenly she was nowhere to be found. I thought maybe she’d just decided she’d had enough of me and had moved on to another act, but I checked the venue’s website and sure enough, there I was.

I had a choice here. I could either push the point and let her know that that wasn’t going to work for me, putting together a 1 1/2 hour set in addition to doing it acoustically, or suck it up and do it. Because I’m afraid of confrontation and have zero backbone, I am now on the hook for this.

anxiety level: 80

The Bassist

Email from Neil this morning: Bad news, my friend’s wedding is the same day as our 5/28 gig. I know we booked it a while ago, but I’m glad I caught it now!

I have nothing else to even add to that.

anxiety level: 100

My current situation:

20160329_193630

Because when life gives you lemons, take them back and demand grapes!

But seriously, I’ve been searching high and low for a drummer and now a fill-in bassist for this May gig. Hopefully something comes together, and soon so that there’s time to rehearse. I’ll keep you posted.

Until then,

There Truly Is One Right Now

 

The Winning Shirt Is…

Drum roll please.

drumroll

 

You’re So Vain!

The ultimate Selfie shirt

The ultimate Selfie shirt

 

I have to admit you guys—this is not the shirt I wanted to come in first. It has a big freaking picture of me on the back. As someone who does not think particularly highly of my appearance (and also is a bit shy), it’s kind’ve much. Also, I can’t really rock this. How much of a tool would I seem wearing a shirt with my face on it? But you spoke, and you voted, and Tim did a good job on this, so this shirt will be mass produced and 5 of you will be getting an email from me soon asking for your shirt size.

It was close too. So close that I’m probably gonna make a smaller order of at least 1 of the remaining 3.

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 8.21.52 PM

Thanks a lot for voting! This was fun.

-Stevie

T-Shirt Poll and Contest

Friends, fans, and random wanderers stumbling across this blog post! I have les news! I mean, not les news, but…whatever. T-shirts!

Here’s the deal: as you may (or may not know) I have some t-shirts for sale via Bandcamp. I created them using ToneThreads, a great website for helping musicians sell merch. Two designs are available so far: a waveform from the song “Wasted” which I created directly on the ToneThreads website, and what I call my tribal logo, designed by my buddy and awesome graphic artist Tim Walsh.

I’m greedy though, and I want to make more t-shirts because I love t-shirts (seriously, you should see my dresser drawers.)

more

I got Tim to come up with a bunch of additional designs, narrowed them down to the 4 I like the most, and that’s where you come in! I’m having a contest to decide which of the 4 final designs become my next band t-shirt. Here are the designs:

You’re So Vain

The ultimate Selfie shirt

 

Are Those Reeds?

arethosereeds

 

The One

TheOne

 

Whoa, Dude

whoadude

 

I will select 5 lucky winners from the design that gets the most votes and send you a free t-shirt! That’s right—you could get to be a walking advert for me if you win! Lucky you! You’ll have to put your email address in at the bottom of the poll though—otherwise how would I contact you? This will also sign you up for my very infrequent newsletter, but you can opt out of that at any time.

Soooo…

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
Start date 18-03-2016 00:55:18
End date 18-04-2016 23:59:59
Poll Results:
Which t-shirt design would you most want to wear?
Thanks a lot and good luck!

5 Things I Learned From RPM2016

failThe RPM Challenge is a yearly affair that kicks off in February. It’s a challenge to write and record an album’s worth of tunes in 1 month: 10 songs or 30 minutes of material.

It’s now March and in case you were wondering no, I did not complete this year’s challenge. I tried —oh how I tried —but ultimately I only managed to get about 6 songs “done”. I got further than I did during last year’s attempt, but close only counts in horseshoes and all that.

Even though I didn’t complete the objective, I did take away some valuable lessons and, most importantly: I now have an EP’s worth of new material that I’m excited to record and share with you all! This stuff has a different feel and vibe to what I’ve previously released, and I fell in love with a couple of songs in particular.

Aside from some new music, here are 5 things that I learned from RPM2016 that I believe can apply to recording and creating music in general.

1. You gotta know when to hold ’em

kennyrogersI got bogged down early on by two things. First was my decision to try something new. I had always used plugins for effects (I use Guitar Rig 2 although I guess they’re up to version 5 now) but when an acquaintance mentioned that he used his pedalboard I thought, “Why not? Makes it easier to recreate live.” The problem was that it sounded awful. To this day I still don’t know why, but I spent a week trying to get my pedals to sound good in the recording. Another roadblock is that it makes going back and redoing parts or overdubbing difficult if you don’t meticulously document the settings you used on your pedals. I’d come back the next day and decide I needed to punch in and redo a part and find that the guitar sounded completely different and I’d have to redo the whole thing. I spent way too much time futzing around with this and should have gone back to what I know sooner. There’s no shame in sticking with the familiar if you like the results more.

2. Don’t overreach (aka Focus!)

too far the office memeI’m sad to say that I should have already learned this lesson from last year, but here I am again. Before I even started recording I was worrying about what I didn’t know in regards to recording, mixing, and mastering. I can get a basic track down and make it sound…not awful. Since the goal of RPM was to have an album ready that you’d share with everyone, I was attempting to get it seriously radio-ready, so I decided that February would be a good time to start some tutoring. Guess what? It wasn’t. I think this can happen a lot when recording and creating in general. You get sidetracked by long-term goals and aspirations and it creates artificial roadblocks. I’d convinced myself that the album needed to be polished, “finished”, and that that meant I had to binge-learn everything I was missing as part of this challenge. Spoiler alert: I didn’t. I could have laid down rough tracks and met the deadline and gone back and worked on making them professional. The point here was the creative process, not technical perfection.

Related to this is the realization I had—too late in the game—that I didn’t actually have to create an album of fully orchestrated material either. I could have recorded a couple of purely acoustic songs just to get the ideas out there and to let the creative process continue without stopping to dive into the details of what the bass line should be, or whether or not I needed to layer the guitars in the bridge, etc.

3. Find ways to challenge yourself

challengeacceptedMost of my songwriting starts off the same way: I get a melody in my head, and I put chords to it to flesh it out. I found it difficult to come up with enough variety when I was writing steadily, day after day. I realized that I tend to have a standard tempo and feel. I decided to change up my writing process and instead of starting with the guitar, I started some songs with the bass and others with drum loops. I invested in a couple of loop packs from The Loop Loft and they made very good inspiration points. I think it helped to move my songs in a direction that I don’t normally go in, and I’m excited to see what you guys think!

4. Don’t wait for inspiration

minionI’ve always created music by waiting for some idea to hit me. Most of the time when I’ve sat down and forced myself to create, the result has sounded forced and contrived. It still happens. Over the course of February I definitely deleted some projects that sounded…eh, okay, at 10pm, but kind’ve horrified me in the light of day. The fear of creating something that doesn’t “work” can be strong and eat away at creativity. It’s okay if not everything you create turns out to be a winner. Either ditch it or scavenge it for useful parts or concepts to use in another song. As they say though: nothing ventured, nothing gained. I’ve been sitting on old tunes for months now because I haven’t had the inspiration to write. After forcing myself to do this challenge I now have at least 6 new songs!

 

5. Time Management is Everything

timeThis kind’ve relates to #4, but it’s a little different. In addition to not waiting for the Magic of Inspiration to strike, this challenge reinforced the fact that I can’t count on time being available to actually create music. My initial plan was to start off easy and record 2 songs a week for the first two weeks and then hit the home stretch with 3 songs in the last two weeks. A combination of some of the issues I noted above and, well, life, prevented that from happening. I didn’t set aside explicit time and say “On these nights I will be recording”. Instead I somehow forgot what my life was like and left it to chance that I would have the bandwidth/energy to record on any given night. I’d get home from work around 6:30, do dinner with the fam, put my daughter to bed and suddenly it was 9:30pm, I was exhausted, and hadn’t even folded the clean laundry. Nights like that I was lucky if I could spend 30 minutes recording before I had to call it. It’s important to carve out time and not assume that it will simply be there when you need it—because it won’t.

I’ll be joining the fray again next year, and hopefully I’ll remember this blog post and put this to good use. I’m pretty happy about the tunes I wasable to to create though, so be on the lookout for those!

 

2016 Music Goals

I was participating in a GGChat and one of the question was “How do you set your goals?”. It was one of those moments where I can practically hear the needle skip as it’s lifted abruptly off the record. Goals? What goals? I mean, I have a goal to make music and release it and perform. Isn’t that enough? A week or so later I was catching up on the CDBaby DIY Musician podcast and came across an episode titled “Musical goals and predictions for the biz in 2016“. Here it was twice in a short span of time that I’d been nudged about making some goals and not floating along blissfully like a music-making balloon. So, in no particular order and after much deliberation, here are my 2016 goals.

Improve My Guitar-playing

shredI started playing guitar when I was 16. I learned chords using a Beatles songbook and learned to play along with songs I liked at the time (I loved cranking Suicidal Tendencies Controlled By Hatred/Feel Like Shit…Deja Vu and pretending like I was in the band). I had a shitty guitar with the highest action known to man, no knowledge about the hardware or care of a guitar (I don’t think I changed the strings once), and didn’t know what knowledge I was missing. Not much has changed. I know more about guitar in general and I’m no longer limited to basic bar chords and open chords, but I have zero skill in soloing or improvising. I’m going back to the basics and boning up on technique and theory/fretboard knowledge so that my playing can become a little more versatile and sophisticated.

Release an EP

This is pretty self-explanatory. It might not be the magnum opus I’ve been envisioning, mainly due to financial constraints, but given my ability to at least lay down decent-sounding tracks on my Macbook there’s no reason I can’t put out a self-recorded EP.

Attend More Local Shows

supportlocalmusicI need to get involved in my scene more. I’ve already attempted this by signing up to volunteer with Boston Hassle (although they’ve yet to respond) but I also have to get out to see and support more local bands. It’s not easy with a fulltime job, a wife, and a kid. My schedule isn’t always my own, but if I can get out every now and then to have a drink with a pal, I can certainly make time to support my scene.

Get Written Up in Some Local Blogs

I don’t know how to make this happen honestly but I’d love to get on the radar of noted music blogs like Vanyaland, Allston Pudding, and Bradley’s Almanac. I think my best chance will be a press release related to the EP, unless I happen to get on the bill of some acts that are favorites.

Get Played on Vanyaland 617

Because duh.

coolest

Drop Some Pounds

I know, I know, I see your eyes rolling. But honestly, losing some weight will help with my comfort and confidence on stage. It’d also be pretty cool for my health.

And last but not least…

Create YouTube Content

I’ve neglected my YouTube channel for lack of content. A lot of folks do covers but it’s just not my thing. I’m going to invest in a videographer to film a couple of live shows, and I’m also going to make a music video.

Are you a musician? How are you creating and tracking your goals?