Art, Politics, and You!

Bandcamp is doing a fundraiser today, Friday, August 4th, and is donating the proceeds to the Transgender Law Center. As part of that effort they are also highlighting trans and gender-nonconforming artists. A musician I follow on Twitter tweeted about this a few days ago:


 

This isn’t the first time a brand has jumped into a “controversial” social issue; in fact, I’d say given the sway of things these days it’s happening more often. My initial thought was that I had no problem with a brand taking a side, or weighing in on a social issue. I had to ask myself if I would feel the same way if Bandcamp had taken a different stance though. If they announced that they agreed with the idea that transgender people should not be allowed to serve in the military, would I have been as understanding? I definitely would have pulled my meager catalogue from their service, but a part of me would have been glad to know at least, so that I could stop giving my money to them.

I honestly think that’s part of the issue some people have with brands having an “opinion”. It’s not necessarily hating companies taking sides; it’s hating when they take a side with which you disagree. It puts you in a position of having to make a decision about what matters most: your ideals or your stuff. I order food delivery A TON. If I found out that Grubhub or Doordash were giving money to gay conversion camps I’d have to stop using their services, and that would suck. If they never voice an opinion, I don’t know have to know whether I’m in bed with the devil or not.

For some people it’s simply a matter of separatism, especially when it comes to artists and creatives. They look to these folks to provide diversion, to help them escape real life, so it can be jarring and unwelcoming when an artist actively brings the outside in. People can get very tight when this happens. We’ve all seen the people who tweets that So-and-So Celebrity should shut up and just sing/dance/act/write—except when they agree with them of course. I’m sure the folks who think J.K. Rowling should shut it are thrilled when Scott Baio weighs in.

The thing is, creatives have been weighing in on issues since…well, since the beginning of creating. A good deal of the time the outside world is what drives the creative process. Not just giant world issues either; the little things in a creative’s life are often a catalyst for our work. Am I depressed? Did someone I love break up with me? Did I lose my job? Am I struggling with my sexuality? Addiction? Hell, did it rain today? I can’t think of any artist who feels like their personal stuff “isn’t relevant” to what they’re creating. The idea that bringing your identity into your art is in some way undesirable is just crazy to me.

So, in case it wasn’t clear, I’m all for companies rallying around the causes they care about. As a consumer I feel in a position to make smarter choices about what business I give my patronage to, which is a plus. The minus is of course that sometimes that means you have to give up a brand (looking at you, New Balance) but you know the song: “You take the good, you take the bad…”. I also think artists channeling their personal lives and experiences into their art is not only acceptable, it’s natural. I would question the quality of any art that seeks to completely distance itself from the real experiences of the creator.

Your turn. What’re your thoughts on brands having “opinions” and taking sides? How do you feel when artists bring their personal lives into their creations?

Communication: A Gig Reflection

I’m going to tell you about a gig I just did. I’m going to refer to the organizer and the venue by pseudonym because my point here is not to shame anyone or try and ruin anyone’s reputation, but a) to illustrate how important communication is in putting on a show and b) to frankly just process this and get it off my chest. I still find myself shaking my head in disbelief at how…weird the whole thing was.

I met this dude on Twitter who was something of a promoter and all-around indie music supporter. He was really great about retweeting links to my music. Whenever someone asked for new music to check out, he would reply with a list of local, unknown musicians like myself. He was probably the most engaged with my music of anyone else I messed with on Twitter. That’s why when he DM’d me in February asking if I wanted to take part in an anti-bullying benefit show at The Middle East, I was all over it. It was a joint effort with Filthybroke Recordings, who’d put out an anti-bullying compilation.

The first hiccup happened about a month after the initial announcement of the show. The Booker contacted me via DM again to let me know that the date and venue had changed. I wasn’t too thrown by that, since the new date wasn’t until July (and it was March at the time). My bandmates confirmed that they could do the new date, and we were on again.

For months nothing much else happened in regards to this event. Then it was 1 week until the show and I decided to start promoting. (I typically wait until at least 1-2 weeks before a show to promote because it’s my personal belief that any earlier and people will get promotion-fatigue, and are more likely to forget.) I went to The Booker’s Facebook page to get the details about the show for my own promo, and was surprised to find that all the anti-bullying language had been removed, and it now said that it was a benefit for The Venue.

It’s A Benefit, Don’t Worry About It

I was not excited to find out that the whole purpose of this show had changed. A change like this warrants reaching out to the bands and letting us know about it. We should have had an opportunity to decide whether or not we wanted to still participate. The Venue is a not-for-profit performance and art space that is apparently in dire need of money, but bands should have been given a say in whether or not they wanted to freely give their time and money for it. I considered pulling out but with 1 week to go I figured it’d be a shitty move so I stayed on the bill.

The Devil’s in the Details

When I book a show with WEMF I know that as soon as the lineup is confirmed I will get an email. The email will have the lineup, set times, set lengths, load-in time, and details about compensation. There was no such communication from The Booker about this show. Lacking that info I finally reached out to The Booker to get this info. He told me there were no set times, but that one band had requested to play at 9pm. A lineup of 6 (it started off as 10) bands, and no lineup? Never have I played a show with multiple bands that did not have the lineup figured out. I just asked to go on at 9:30 since the set length was 30 minutes.

These 2 things started to make me feel a little nervous about the show. I figured what the hell though. Do it anyway, keep an open mind, it’ll be interesting at least. I was a little miffed about the beneficiary being changed without notice, but I was willing to put that aside. Honestly, it’s not like we draw a huge audience and were missing out on hundreds of dollars. It was just the principle. Again, I wasn’t about to pull out 1 week before the show though. That’s just rude.

6pm Saturday night, me and the guys are loading in our stuff as instructed. The Booker isn’t there yet, but one of the other performers (someone else I knew via Twitter; we’ll call him Act 1) was there. Here’s where things get a little messy. My drummer had been mulling all of this over and getting increasingly annoyed by it. I think there are 2 parts to it: 1 is that he had offered to waive his normal performance fee for me because he thought it was a benefit for something that he cared about, and now it wasn’t, and 2) he really objected to how the whole thing was handled.

Side note:

A few weeks back my company held a big meeting of all the engineers and one of the break-out sessions was about communication, specifically about identifying your style of communication and using that knowledge to more effectively communicate with others. The communication styles were categorized into colors, and mine was blue. One of the traits of “blues” is that we “Avoid issues that might end up in conflict or debate” and are very concerned about how others perceive us.

In the context of this show it meant that I wasn’t willing to make a stink about things because I didn’t want to come across as a bitch, or worse (because I’m Black) have people write me off as An Angry Black Woman. My drummer, however, wanted some answers and asked my permission to get them. I don’t know if I did the right thing here or not. I gave him the go-ahead, because I felt he had the right to inquire about it because it affected his money, and I could tell it was eating at him. I’d offered to pay him after all but he felt like he’d already told me he wouldn’t charge me so he didn’t want to go back on that.

Back to the Devil…

He proceeded to ask Act 1 about the situation. It turned out that Act 1 knew quite a bit about it because he’d been involved to some extent in organizing it. Long story short, there was a personal falling out of some kind between The Label, The Booker, and some 3rd party Promoter. The Booker decided to put on his own show, but felt he couldn’t keep it as an anti-bullying benefit. At that point my drummer is asking questions like, “Why didn’t you guys let people know that?”, “Why didn’t you just change it to a regular show that charges people money?”, “Why didn’t you pick a different charity to donate to?”

He asked the same questions when he finally met The Booker. The answers were about the same with a little more detail, and just getting my drummer more pissed. He told The Booker that he was being disingenuous in not being forthcoming about the changes. He was also upset on behalf of the other performers, especially this band from Nashville that was on tour. They asked for donations for gas, and he ultimately convinced The Venue to give them some money at least.

The feedback that I shared with The Booker was that I thought the communication was poorly handled. He seemed genuinely remorseful about it, like things hadn’t gone the way he’d planned. At the end of talking with him I essentially said, “You know what? It happened, we’re here, it’s about the music, so let’s play and have a good time.” I was ready to move on from it.

 

It’s a Free-For-All

9pm came and instead of the band we’d been expecting to go on, someone else performed. This made me suspicious, so I found The Booker and said, “We’re still good for 9:30, right?” Glad I checked. He’d told Band A that they could go on next. Luckily, Band A was cool and said sure, you can go on at 9:30. Then Band B showed up, pretty persistent about going on at 9:30 because one of their members was sick. I wanted The Booker to handle this scheduling situation, but he just looked uncomfortable. I didn’t want to look like an asshole, so I gave in and let Band B go on at 9:30. Then they were done, and Band A stepped in and went next. We’d gotten pushed back two times.

The thing is, we seemed to be the only ones annoyed by this. The band with the sick dude was like “Things run behind schedule, it happens.” That made me feel like I was being unreasonable in expecting that they would have gone on at their allotted slot of 9pm. Frankly, I don’t even think this was a case of “things running behind schedule.” I think it was a direct result of there not being a schedule. It also seemed that most of the other acts had worked with The Booker before and were accustomed to things being run this way. One of the performers told us of how he actually didn’t get to go on at all one time because they ran out of time. They were all very “chill” about it.

By the time we went on, all of the other bands had left, save for one guy from the group that played before us. He stayed for our first 3 songs and then also left. Luckily there was this nice couple who stayed through the entire thing and seemed to dig it. If not for them, we’d have been playing to an entirely empty room. We tried to make the best of it and played our hearts out like we were in a packed venue. I still felt disappointed in how things had turned out.

We packed up our stuff and started heading out. I told the doorman (who also happens to run The Venue) that we were the last people inside. He seemed surprised and asked, “Isn’t there another band going on after you?” Nope. Yeah, the flyer says it goes until 1am, but here it was 10:30 or so and everything was over. The Booker? He’d left at least an hour and a half ago. We saw him walking away with the Act 1 while the band with the sick dude was setting up. We thought he was just helping the guy load out, but we never saw him again. Ghost.

Lessons

I can’t control how someone runs their shows. I can be more involved and ask questions early. I don’t know when the benefit was changed but if I had been periodically checking the event maybe I’d have caught it sooner. If I had asked about the lineup and scheduling sooner I’d have gotten a sense of the way he runs his shows; I could have made a decision about if that was cool or not for me.

I don’t shoulder all of the blame for this though. Having a scheduled lineup, communicating with the performers about changes, any number of small things like that could have made this better. And leaving before the show was over? I played one other show where the promoter ghosted before everything was done. I haven’t tried to book with her since. I’m sure she’s heart-broken. 🙂

I’m trying very hard not to slag The Booker (or The Venue). His heart is in the right place and he truly cares about his music community. Everyone you talk to tells you what a nice guy he is, and my own interactions with him have been nothing but positive. I’m thinking though that he should get someone else to organize his shows. Or maybe not. This was clearly not our scene. We were the odd ducks here. Maybe that’s why no one else stayed.

Either way, it was a learning experience.

 

-SC

The Year of Living Sort’vely

I made up a word.

Way back in February of this year I made a post about all the things I wanted to accomplish this year. It is now December, and time to take stock.

penguifall

My list went something like:

  • improve guitar-playing
  • attend more local shows
  • get played on Vanyaland
  • get written up locally
  • lose weight
  • record an EP
  • create YouTube content

I’ll go ahead and get the obvious out of the way: the whole breast cancer thing derailed my plans a bit (in fact, I think I’m a little superstitious now about making goal lists). I pretty much couldn’t/didn’t want to leave my house after the various surgeries, and I was afraid of where my songwriting would take me if I tried to do it while I was recovering. My head was not in a good place. Even now, writing about it here, I’m fighting against pretending it didn’t happen. I’m a very head-in-the-sand kind’ve person.

headinsand

Did I accomplish anything on my list? Well, yes and no. I lost weight (~30lbs). That was a direct result of trying to take some control back after my diagnosis in April. I stopped drinking as much, started eating more healthily, and exercising. I started the guitar improvement initiative. I bought Rocksmith—don’t laugh! It’s actually a very good tool for re-learning some of the basics that tend to get sloppy over time, and helping me to identify areas in which I need improvement. Also, it’s a lot of fun to play along with songs I like. The arcade games section of the game is also very fun and very useful for improving fundamentals.

Lastly, while I didn’t actually finish recording an EP, I got a good start on it and released a single recently. It took a while for me to get back into actually doing music and feeling normal enough (mentally) to put time and energy into it. I’ve even played a couple of shows this fall!

Now I turn my eyes to 2017, and what I hope to be a better year for me personally. My only goal for 2017: Live. And I don’t mean just the obvious. Of course I want to be alive, but I mean also living. Spending more time with my wife and daughter, holding them close, and being more present. Musically I suppose it means just making music that I like and sharing it as I see fit and not worrying so much about what kind of reviews it gets (if it even gets reviews) or if I make money from it. It means being honest with myself about what I want out of making music and why.

So, goodbye 2016. Don’t let the door hit you on the ass. 2017…let’s be good to each other, mm’kay?

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

 

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!