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:
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,
Burlington Songwriters Open Mic 4/9/2019
Burlington Songwriters held the first open mic in our new home at 20 Allen Street in Burlington’s Old North End, also now called the Old North End Community Center. I set up the tiny house P.A. and started us off with “Old Time Breakdown” and then tried a new song I haven’t recorded yet called “Highway 9”. Other members also shared original songs and we also had ice cream sodas!
Radio Bean 4/11/2019
Radio Bean shows are interesting, as the audience rotates in and out quite a bit during the 7 PM hour. The staff now do recognize me and remember my name (although I wasn’t listed on the inside chalkboard!) and are very gracious. All in all, people are appreciative and I made $18 in tips.
Moretown Open Mic 4/12/2019
I happened to see a “call for performers” in the classified ad section on the Vermont Arts Council page for an open mic in Moretown at the old Town Hall. This event would be the closing event of their 3rd season of Moretown Open Mic. I called the number to see if they still had space for performers, and got a return call later that day from Jay Saffran, who is one of the organizers. He asked me if I would play an extended set! I was kind of surprised, but certainly flattered, and said I would.
When I got there, I was immediately charmed by the building itself, which has a lovely wood-floored main space with a raised “stage” framed with arches. I was equally charmed by the lovely people of Moretown, who displayed their own considerable talents, including storytelling, songwriting, singing and playing guitar, ballet dancing, poetry and more. Jay graciously introduced me as a “featured guest” and I played about a half hour or so in the middle of things. I decided to forgo the amplification and stand as close as possible to the audience of about 20 people, in a really nice “listening room” kind of setting. The old Town Hall has wonderful natural reverb and it really was nice to hear the folks singing along in there! They take summer off, but the Moretown Open Mic will be back in September.
El Toro 4/13/2019
El Toro was even busier than the last time I played there, which I wasn’t sure was possible!
They had a steady crowd for dinner and drinks, and I had to work to be heard with no amplification, which was requested by El Toro so the waitstaff can hear customers and be heard. They do sell food after all… really, really good food. MMMMMM….
Lucky for me they fed me dinner, and it was awesome! After that I set up in the front corner and played most of “America Dreams” and then a good helping of new songs and other material I have never recorded. Tips for the night: $22.
I am pleased to announce a review of my album America Dreams has been published in Issues Magazine #26.
Here is the text of the review:
This is a traditional folk album with a slightly jaunty twist in the music.
The lyrics are political and generally left wing. They lend to be long-form slow-motion tirades against greed, apathy and injustice.
Jason sings well. He hits the pitch correctly and on time.
The approach is ironically quite conservative, but then again, folk music is all about tradition so that makes sense.
The songs have a bouncy rhythm. They’re made up exclusively of voice and acoustic guitar.
If you like folk check it out.
Thanks to Issues Magazine for the review!
FAI Discovery #1: Māmā Mihirangi & the Māreikura
I first spotted Mihirangi Fleming coming down an escalator in the lobby of the hotel where the Folk Alliance International 2019 Conference was being held. I stopped and probably stood there like a fool with my mouth open. She was wearing her full stage costume, with feathers and everything, and looked for all the world like a goddess descending from the heavens (ok the mezzanine…) as it was so different from the plain, corporate nature of the hotel decoration. This woman makes an entrance where ever she goes I imagine!
Now I had met her manager the night before, as several Canadians and I tried to guide her to an Uber ride to where she was staying after what was apparently a terrible trip in, due partly at least to the weather. I correctly identified her Kiwi accent when the Canadians mistook her for an Australian, so I think she took a liking to me. She invited me to their showcases.
I was fascinated by a group traveling all the way from New Zealand, so I managed to catch a private showcase and then their Official showcase. The music is lush and beautiful stuff, the dancers are amazing, and Mihirangi’s voice is exquisite. The whole effect is engaging and thrilling.
Songs in English and Maori both had a dreamy quality, but with beats, it’s earthy and vibrant, not quiet. Using loops like a modern folk-tronica singer-songwriter, but in a more daring way than many perhaps, she has a wide range and uses it. Some songs evoke R & B or Electronica as much as traditional Maori melodies, and that’s a great thing, as whatever the song needs Mihirangi gives it.
Check out their website here:
Here’s a song that appeared on the FAI Official Showcase Artists Spotify Playlist from Māmā Mihirangi & the Māreikura:
An End to Acoustic Thursdays
Apparently this was the last time for this Thursday evening time slot for an acoustic act. Not sure why, but the good news is I just booked four more shows this year at Gusto’s Bar for mostly Friday evenings (one Saturday evening). It is a paid gig ($130 for a 2 hour set, bring your own PA, no food provided) so I am glad to continue the relationship.
A popular place!
Gusto’s Bar is a popular place, and finding parking was a bit tricky. I did the load in, and got lucky: one person pulled out of the perfect spot. I zoomed into it, and went in to set up the PA!
It’s a bar
So, yeah, people are busy drinking and talking, BUT… I started to see some body movement by song #2, which is a good sign. One fellow was clearly dancing. Eventually these folks started to clap between numbers.
Now whenever I am there, there is always one person, not the same person, but always at least one person, who I connect with in some way. One time it was the guy in the hat who did a little dance throughout the tunes, another time it was the guy who was with his wife and wanted to sing her a song, which he did, impromptu, and so on. Good times!
This time, about 20 minutes before the end of my set, a fellow who had been sitting at the bar and occasionally glancing over his shoulder to watch for a few seconds, got up and walked right up to the stage and started a conversation with “That’s a nice guitar!”. It is a nice looking guitar it’s true, and I love it, so it’s a good way to start a conversation with me. He went on to say he was impressed by the range of songs I was doing, and that I remembered them all (I didn’t set up a music stand so I sang strictly from memory). I was very happy he took notice and offered him a card with my website and other info. I did have to let him know I had a set to finish, and made sure to say goodbye and thank you on the way out.
It’s just nice to know you are connecting with somebody!
Background on FAI
“Folk Alliance International’s mission is to serve, strengthen, and engage the global folk music community through preservation, presentation, and promotion.”
“The FAI folk umbrella represents the broadest international iteration of the genre, encompassing a diverse array of music including Appalachian, Americana, Blues, Bluegrass, Celtic, Cajun, Francophone, Global Roots, Indigenous, Latin, Old-Time, Traditional, Singer-Songwriter, Spoken Word and every imaginable fusion.”
“The organization began in Malibu, California in 1989 when Clark and Elaine Weissman and the California Traditional Music Society gathered a hundred people involved in the presentation and performance of folk music and dance.
Many people have contributed to the growth of the organization. Volunteers have chaired numerous committees both to produce the annual conference and to further goals throughout the year. The work of FAI takes place under the leadership of a Board of Directors, but every member of the organization contributes to the success of our endeavors.”
Every year, as part of this mission, vision and history, they produce a big conference. Usually in recent years it has been in Kansas City, Missouri, where the FAI headquarters is located. This year, 2019, was in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, so was physically as close as it ever will get to my home. So it became clear I had to go.
Now, FAI also has regional organizations that put on regional conferences and events. Where I live, my regional affiliate is Northeast Regional Folk Alliance, or NERFA. You can read about my experience attending NERFA 2018 here.
To register for either conference, apply for official showcases, etc., one has to join FAI as a member.
Registration is a modern, online experience. Since prices will change, I won’t list them here, but the conference itself is not very expensive if you get a member/early bird/showcase submission rate. One key difference between FAI and NERFA conferences: no food is included in FAI registration. It’s important to budget for on-site food expenses.
Once registered, if you are an artist looking for showcases, you are then able to apply for Official Showcases. Unlike NERFA, there are not two levels of official showcases (Formal and Semi-formal), just Official Showcases and Private Showcases (NERFA uses the term “guerilla showcases”). Note: there is GLOBAL competition for these spots, so don’t be disappointed if you aren’t selected.
If you are planning on doing Private Showcases, get your act together early or you will similarly be shut out. At the same time, don’t over book yourself or you will not perform well. better to do fewer showcases well than it is to do every one you can. There is so much more to do, so many people to meet, that you need to budget your time, as well as your money. Meeting people is actually the biggest opportunity at this conference, not performing.
Unless you are travelling from a long way, the largest expense is likely to be the hotel. Many people share rooms by posting to the Facebook group FAI Conference Notice Board. It’s a good idea to join that group as all kinds of useful information appears there, from info on guerilla showcases to the hotel/conference wifi password.
First Timer Opportunities
As a first time attendee, there are some special opportunities offered, and I encourage any first time attendee to look into these and apply early, etc:
- First timer scholarship: I applied for, and received, a scholarship which reduced the cost of the conference registration itself to $100. If you are applying for an Official showcase, you can apply for this!
- First timer Showcase: I snoozed and didn’t apply in time to this Private showcase. If you do apply promptly, you will likely get a spot. Do it!
- Connecting Folks Mentors: I signed up for this and was connected with Joe Crookston, who is an experienced performing singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. We played email tag for a while, then finally got a long call in while he was returning from a Canadian tour. He was very encouraging, and it was cool to meet up with him in person at the Connecting Folk breakfast at the conference. Get yourself a mentor!
- First-Timer Downloadable Guide: They have a whole guide for first time attendees on the website. A lot of this matches what my mentor Joe said. Check it out here.
- First Timer Orientation: Attended this on Wednesday afternoon. Here’s a tip: plan to get to the conference as early as possible and stay as late as possible. Opportunities abound when it’s less crowded.
- First Timers and Connecting Folk Breakfast: Sit with an experienced FAI attendee and volunteer mentor and have any questions answered about the conference.
Workshops, Artist Mentoring, Speed Meetings, Classes
There are so many things happening at this conference, I can’t list it all here, but I will share some of what I did:
- Attended workshops like “Songs that Ignite Change” and “Catching Attention when Releasing your Art”
- Took classes like “Creative Guitar Tricks for Songwriters” with Joe Crookston and “Stage Critiques” with Vance Gilbert
- Signed up for an Artist Mentorship session with Si Kahn (!)
- Met industry folks in a series of Speed Meetings. Very interesting, but not for the sensitive.
This barely scratches the surface of what I did or what is available during the conference. The biggest problem is that you can’t do everything you will want to.
Some of these require extra sign up and some require extra payments. Check out the conference website and app and plan ahead!
So if you just want to see music, this is really a great opportunity to see a LOT of music.
There are Official showcases, which are well-produced and do really showcase an incredible array of the hottest talent. Take notes.
Then there is the spectacle that is Private showcases: four hotel floors of small room after room of mini-folk-clubs, with all kinds of decorations, setups, and music. The hallways are covered in posters, and when it gets crowded (the Private showcases run from ~10:30 to 3 AM and in a few cases, later!) it is hard to navigate the hallways, with instruments everywhere you turn.
If you are scheduled to play a showcase, get there as early as you can. The elevators are likely to be a jam up, so learn where the stairs are and use them.
It’s also polite to the other performers to check out what they are doing and show them support. You will also want to see old friends play, new friends play, your favorite talented artists play, etc… this will be a balance you will need to figure out for your situation. Again, you literally can’t do everything.
It was really a great experience meeting songwriter and activist Si Kahn. I contacted him in advance of the Conference and sent some links. He wrote back and asked for ALL the lyrics to the songs on my album! We sat and talked for a while, and I got to see him perform up close in a private showcase. He was very kind and supportive of what I am doing, and talked about “entertaining the troops” versus “winning over converts”. Just a really nice guy all around!
I may have annoyed Vance Gilbert: after I took his performance class I tried to check out as many of his showcases as possible. The man did a LOT of showcases. So, since I don’t get to see him up our way much at all, I figured I would check out what he was doing and see how he applied what he was teaching in the Stage Critiques class. He noticed, and said something about me following him around. I tried to make a joke. It was awkward. Ugh.
So, Vance Gilbert is a fucking genius. He will tell you so himself, but I will tell you it’s true. I was lucky enough to be picked first to be worked on in the class, and it was a revelation. So was everything he said to everyone else. He just has the knack for knowing what to do with a performance, how to tweak the arrangement, how to deliver a line. All of that and more. I am going to beg him to come up to Burlington and do a workshop for Burlington Songwriters group.
Meeting people, new artists
Above meeting slightly famous dudes, I met all sorts of people, and discovered all sorts of artists. These are not just industry contacts, these are friends, fellow musicians, and inspiring artists. This was the real investment: spending time with these folks, jamming, talking, and helping when needed: I was able to help find a melody for a song that needed to be performed just a few minutes later, give up the 9-volt in my ukulele to save a private showcase, and support a world-class musician in her last-minute showcase. It felt good to be part of a community.
I will be featuring some of these artists in the blog here over the next few weeks. Look for “FAI Discovery” in the blog title!
Folk Alliance International 2020 Conference will be held in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA January 22-26, 2020