Hello and welcome.
About a year ago, I started a journey of personal expression. I have been a life-long musician, but while I composed music for bands I was in when I was young, the few attempts at writing complete songs with lyrics were pretty awful. So awful, I avoided any further attempts for a very long time.
A couple of years ago, I made some attempts to write songs, but did not put much time in, and after two years had four songs. So about a year ago I decided to make a more concerted effort at focusing on songwriting as a practical skill. There were a number of things influencing this, and those will be the subject of some future posts.
So last January, I reviewed the songs I had, decided to revise two and put two “away”, and moved forward with songwriting exercises. What had been a nearly impossible and seemingly daunting task became more and more “doable”. In the coming week, I will be doing some “organizing” and will have a count of songs written this year.
One aspect of songwriting that has become clear over the course of the year: songwriters are a special kind of person and it’s beneficial to connect with other songwriters because of this.
So, I spent a year “woodshedding”, but now it’s time to step out and share what I learned, what I have accomplished, and what I am doing, and hopefully songwriters out there will find it interesting and useful, and feel inspired to write songs (and comment, and share the blog, etc..).
If you want to check out some of my music see these sites:
My ReverbNation Profile:
Or check out some of my work recordings along with officially released songs on SoundClound:
Now that it’s actually over…
Let’s hit the “highlights”:
- Recorded four songs for Common Man Blues live at Robot Dog Studio as part of Tim Lewis’ radio show on WBKM.
- Heart attack due to an unknown congenital condition.
- Finished the album Common Man Blues in September at Leilani Sound and
- Released it in October on digital platforms (YouTube, Spotify, Amazon, Deezer, etc.)
My measures of success have changed
Previous year-in-review focused on songwriting productivity: how many songs did I complete in the calendar year? I find it hard to count up the songs this year, as so many are works in progress still. I have surely completed at least 20 songs, some of which are included in the latest album.
However, the realities of being a recording and performing artist sank in this year: I have spent as much time promoting existing works as I have creating new works, and spent time developing skills quite tangential to songwriting itself. That’s not bad, but does take time away from songwriting and developing those skills.
It was fun to go on radio shows like Tim’s, and also WRUV Exposure and WOMM-LP The Radiator’s Rocket Shop to talk about the album and play the songs live. I also did a TV show called Vermont Treasures with host Rachel Hamilton on LCATV, a regional local access channel.
Better songs, more people
I made some conscious decisions to be more careful about the selection of songs for Common Man Blues than I was for America Dreams.
I took songs for feedback to two different groups of songwriters, AND to two different mentors when any deeper question came up. Being open to the suggestions given really helped several songs improve, and the feedback of the groups was instrumental in choosing which songs made the cut.
I also invited guest musicians Rik Palieri and Janice Russsoti to play and sing on my album, and that was an enlightening experience itself, and improved the arrangements for those two songs immensely. Working with different studio engineers (instead of doing it all myself) was delightful, and while I am also glad to note my “home studio” recordings stand up to the pro studio stuff, it was way better to have someone else handle all the microphones and mixing.
This year I tried to do more “jamming” and collaboration in general, and it’s been generally beneficial. People seem to really like my slide guitar playing. I will be incorporating more of that into my songwriting. The Burlington Songwriters Holiday Celebration allowed for a small group of us to form a little impromptu harmony group. I expect to incorporate that in future songs as well.
What are my specific plans for the new calendar year? Subscribe to this blog to find out next time!
Now tell us your plans for songwriting in 2020 in the comments section! Always love to hear ideas for everyone to try…
Common Man Blues is completed!
Stream all tracks free, buy downloads, and share with your friends!
Or stream/buy/share from my website:
Coming soon to your favorite streaming service!
Look for announcements as each of these streaming services or stores go live with Common Man Blues!
Want a CD? There will be CDs!
Lifoti is music related magazine mostly focus on Music Entertainment, lifestyle and sport news.
Lifoti Magazine has published, in September 2019 Issue 09, an article talking about my musical roots and my new album, Common Man Blues!
Note: the article says “due out in September”…
…but the title track is still being mixed! Most of the album is available online for streaming from my website now, and the whole thing will be sent for digital distribution and CD pressing when the title track is ready! Look for an update here over the weekend. In the meantime have a listen!
This album is almost ready!
Had a second recording session at Leilani Sound Studios. Overdubbed backing vocals and additional instruments for three of the tunes.
Fabulous Guest Musicians!
Two of these songs were blessed with the talents of a couple of friends of mine who happen to be fantastic musicians: folk troubadour Rik Palieri and Burlington songwriter Janice Russotti.
“We Don’t Know Any Better”
On this song Rik played his banjo ukulele, kazoo and joined the backing vocals as well. Rik said “This is the first time I have ever made a recording with the banjo uke!” He really gave it his all, and the kazoo work was equally memorable.
Janice added a clever, subtle harmony to the chorus and it really completes the song. We had a lot of fun recording this.
“Let’s Fight The Sun”
This song was inspired by a passing Facebook comment about plans by MIT, Bill Gates, and others to work together to solve the problem of climate change by figuring out a way to block the sun.
Janice played Rik’s old tambourine on this track, and it broke apart! You can hear this instruments’ last performance on this track.
I was going to add a ukulele to the track, but Rik offered to play banjo! The results sound great to me, way better than the uke would have.
Janice, Rik and I formed a chorus for the backing vocals, and it all worked out even better than I had imagined.
Waiting on the mix…
So the final mixdown was delayed due to the engineer becoming ill, but I have word the mix is imminent, so I am hoping in just a few days I can announce the official release of Common Man Blues.
Speaking of the title track…
“Common Man Blues” also got another overdub (in addition to the vocals and harmonica). Rik lent me a resonator guitar, and I have been practicing my Open G tuning. Didn’t get to show off much here, just added for some atmosphere really, but it works well for the song.
This song exists because of another great musician and his contribution to the early development of this work. Legendary Jazz pianist and composer David Amram was gracious enough to work on this song with me, as part of his interest in re-thinking and re-visiting the 12-bar blues form.
Look for my album announcement shortly!
Metaphorically of course…
It’s just an expression, since most recording is done digitally onto hard drive space in or connected to a computer. Yes, I got some studio time this weekend and recorded!
Nice studio: Leilani Sound Studios
Calvin, the sound engineer I worked with, has done sound with me before, so that helped. The studio itself is small but neat and comfortable. After a quick setup, we were off recording live takes to start.
Four songs, four approaches:
- Strictly a live take, no overdubs, pretty much done.
- Done in parts and cut together, with vocals and harmonica overdubbed, still needs a slide part overdubbed.
- A live take, harmonica overdubbed, will need various overdubs for rythym instruments and lots of backing vocals.
- Several live takes cut together, will either get overdubbed by a special guest or we may try a live take.
Crunch time next weekend
All those final overdubs need to be done next weekend. That’s a bit of pressure, but sometimes that can be good for getting things done.
Your thoughts welcomed in comments!
Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday this week.
Of interest to songwriters (but open to all):
Burlington Songwriters meeting is Tuesday, August 27th at 7 PM at 20 Allen Street, Burlington, VT in the Community Room on the 2nd Floor. Open to all, this meeting is primarily for the purpose of sharing works for feedback.
Of general interest:
Denny Bean and Bob Devins on Wednesday August 28th at 6:30 PM at The Double E Performance Center 21 Essex Way in Essex Junction, VT
Jason Baker on Friday, August 30th at 5 PM at Gusto’s Bar, 28 Prospect Street in Barre, VT. I will play a two hour set. Come on by after work!
Are all gigs “good” gigs?
(TL/DR: SEND ME GIG IDEAS PLEASE!)
So, obviously, no… some gigs are in places that are hard to get to, difficult to load in, cramped to set up and/or lacking in walk-by traffic. Some places the staff isn’t nice or it’s just not a great experience for the performer for one reason or another.
Many times it’s the fact that it doesn’t pay. Other times, it might pay, but no one is listening, or worse, people are talking loudly over your playing and singing. These are the most common “problems” for a performing artist who is doing their own original material. So…
Is it better to be heard or paid?
Instead of saying this is an intractible debate, I will come down firmly on the side of being heard. Playing 2 or 3 songs at an open mic where there is an attentive audience seems far more personally rewarding than playing 2 hours and getting paid for it, but having no one listen or care at all.
That said, it sucks to play for no money, and tips are NOT typically enough to make it worth it (there are some venues that do more than others to help solicit tips for musicians, through on-table tip containers and reminders for example).
Since I feel that “people hearing the songs” is an important measure of success to me, I guess it makes sense that I feel getting heard matters most.
How does gigging meet your goals?
So, when you talk to a musician who earns their living on the road gigging, they will tell you they are playing well over 200 shows a year. They make a living that way, but they CAN’T reduce that schedule without doing something else to take it’s place: teaching music, etc.
I figure I am not likely to ever make enough money to make a living at this, even if I could get booked for 230 nights in the next year, as my costs are more than just supporting me: wife and two kids, mortgage and credit card debt. Not likely to make enough money as a touring musician at my age.
So, why am I bothering to perform at all? I guess it’s just about trying to communicate with people around me and make some kind of connection to a larger community. I am always hoping people will listen to the lyrics of the song and “get it”. When people do, and they like it, that is very important to me emotionally
Is gigging a worthy goal on it’s own?
Well, in the sense that playing music is good for you and fun, one could suppose that any gig, at least any gig that doesn’t have serious problems or red flags, is better than no gig. Getting practice on stage, even in front of a disinterested room, is still experience and helps make you a better musician.
If the hassle factor of the gig is causing more stress than is relieved by playing music (or getting paid), then it’s probably not worth doing again. If there is no pay and no audience, you may legitimately wonder what is up with the venue. They may just not be “happening” as a business, or it may be they are just developing their local scene, and you can help. Use some common sense: not much will fix a lousy location or no positive proximity to other businesses, institutions and amenities.
Reach that one ear
Many gigs will seem questionable or tiresome, but if you love playing music then you can focus on doing that and maybe, just maybe, if you do a good job and are well-prepared, you will reach one person with one song, even just catching their ear for a few seconds. It probably won’t change the world, or even their life, but then again, when it comes to how songs work, the truth is you never know.
Pay to play sucks
There are some legitimate times when sharing the cost of production makes sense, but for the most part, there are now a lot of “Pay-to-Play” scenarios out there that seem strictly predatory: pay for gauranteed review placement or getting included on a playlist is standard. Paying to play at anything other than an industry showcase is probably a rip-off.
I want gigs
I am open to all kinds of gigs, so send me what you got! Looking for New England, New York, Mid-Atlantic, and possibly Eastern Canada. Ideal: a listening room. Good: a bar or restaurant that pays. OK: a place that pays tips only. Also: I do originals and many songs have political content.
Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments! THANKS!
You know what’s not easy to do? Record an album with no money!
I want to finish recording an album but I really don’t have any money. Being a contractor I only get paid while at work and having a heart attack precluded that last week.
On the bright side, I am more than halfway done.
All songs are written.
7 of them have been recorded in some fashion:
Three to go, well, four…
So I am considering re-recording one song, as the arrangement has already changed slightly.
Otherwise I have three songs ready, but dread putting a home recording up against the Robot Dog stuff (the two I have are done with just enough reverb and overdubs to slide by, I think. May have to ask for an impartial opinion).
I have selected which song to use as the title track: “Common Man Blues”, a song loosely inspired by Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”. I even have cover art ready.
Ok, but how to get there?
So I am considering how to fund recording the rest of the album, and possibly funding a run of CDs.
Should I even bother with CDs?
Should I try a Kickstarter campaign? Or some other way of crowd funding?
In truth, any suggestions are welcome folks.
Comment on this post to let me know your ideas.
Literally. I had a heart attack last week.
I don’t normally talk about the details of my personal life much on here, but as you can see if you look, I have been absent from here a while. I felt too busy to take time to write, with a variety of things happening that were already pretty challenging.
So, now, I am feeling that if I don’t make time to do the things I know I want to, like communicate to the world about my journey as a songwriter here, well I might just run out of time.
Before we get too dramatic, here are the details:
- I awoke early Monday morning with severe aching pain in both my arms, shoulders and back, and felt dizzy. I suspected heart trouble and took aspirin, but when the symptoms did not subside after an hour and a half, I ended up in the emergency room.
- I did not have a blockage, as would be likely in these situations. Instead, I have a dissection, a tear in an artery, and that it not something you can quite repair. It will take genetic testing to try to figure out the cause.
- The treatment is to keep my blood pressure low, and so far that is it, just taking the medications and getting used to them (they can make you dizzy). I will be living a “heart-healthy” lifestyle from now on.
So, what does this mean for my music schedule?
- No gigs were impacted by this, although I missed Songsters night at Lamp Club Light Shop that night.
- I am still scheduled for two hour gigs at Gusto’s Bar in Barre on August 30th, September 27th and October 26th. Radio Bean is October 3rd.
- I was invited back to The Open Door in Hillsborough, New Hampshire for a 15 minute spot. I ended up signing up for April 2020, as I saw my friends Dan & Faith will be headlining.
- I am more determined than ever to complete the recording of the final songs selected for my next release, Common Man Blues. More on this in my next posts.
- I will be doing as many open mics as possible.
Keep trying, before we are dying…
I am also trying, once again, to re-commit to this blog and try to make it relevant to what’s happening for me musically. I hope you feel free to comment on any post new or old, write me with feedback or suggestions, link and repost anything here.
Note: I did write a song since facing death, and it’s about the fear of death of course! Not sure it’s all that great a song… 😉
Talk to you again soon,