Songs for Social Change 2019 CD is out!

I was pretty excited to find out that my song “something that’s never been done before” was a finalist and “runner-up” in the Renaissance Artists’ and Writers’ Association (RAWA) Songs for Social Change Songwriting Competition for the year 2019!

Now there is a CD compilation of songs contributed by the winner and the runners-up and you can purchase it online for $10:

https://rawa.net/product/songs-for-social-change-volume-4

If you are a fan of social justice music, consider purchasing this CD!

Stream “something that’s never been done before” online free:

 

2019 Year in Review

Now that it’s actually over…

Let’s hit the “highlights”:

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…

 

A Song for the Holidays

Now that it really is the Holiday Season, it’s time to announce my Holiday single, “Christmastime Blues” is available for free streaming (and can be purchased as a download)!

This song received “Honorable Mention” in the Nov/Dec American Songwriter Magazine Lyric Contest.

November/December 2019 Lyric Contest Winners

And was also featured in the December issue of “Write Away” Magazine on pages 34 and 35:

http://writeawaymagazine.co.uk/write-away-magazine-december.html

WARNING: this song is not a traditional Christmas song, and may be considered irreverent by some, to say the least.

This song is also available on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music/iTunes, iHeart Radio, Deezer, and more!

Common Man Blues

Common Man Blues is completed!

Stream all tracks free, buy downloads, and share with your friends!

Common Man Blues

Or stream/buy/share from my website: 

http://jbakervt.com/#music

Coming soon to your favorite streaming service!

How do you get your music? Let us know in the comments!

Look for announcements as each of these streaming services or stores go live with Common Man Blues!

Want a CD? There will be CDs!

Very excited to be working with Discmakers from my old home state of New Jersey to produce CDs for this album. Look for an announcement here, on Facebook or Instagram, or sign up for my mailing list.

Interview in Lifoti Magazine!

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!

Jason Baker combines folk, punk, rap, and blues to talk about America.

http://www.lifoti.com/2019/10/jason-baker-combines-folk-punk-rap-and.html

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!

https://www.reverbnation.com/jbakervt/album/234178-common-man-blues

 

To Gig, or Not To Gig…

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!

A Common Blues, man

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:

2 in my home studio, 5 at Robot Dog Studios, due to the generosity of DJ/Blogger Tim Lewis and the studio.

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.

Digital distribution is already paid for, sending my stuff to YouTube, Apple Music, Spotify and more. See those links to hear what I already have online.

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.

Review of America Dreams in Issues Magazine #26

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.

Download Issues Magazine #26

Thanks to Issues Magazine for the review!

Folk Alliance International Conference 2019 – Report

Background on FAI

First, for those who are not familiar with Folk Alliance International, some basics from their website:

“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.

Registering

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!

Showcases

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.

Si Kahn

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!

Vance Gilbert

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

January 2019 Gig wrap-up

I had three gigs in January.

Radio Bean

This show made it a full year of shows once a month at Radio Bean. A fun gig with the folks at the bar showing their appreciation. Made a few dollars in tips only. (I am going to start sharing the reality of gigging in an open and frank way. Radio Bean gives 2 drinks and a discount on food, but does not pay most performers. They do provide a place to play and have music every day and night.)

See the story of how this year of shows started here.

Gusto’s

I have one more gig at Gusto’s in Barre, Vermont before they apparently are pulling the plug on the Acoustic Sets. It’s kind of a shame, as it is a paid gig ($130 for a 2 hour set, bring your own PA, no food provided), and I felt people did appreciate the music.

The Double E 

This gig was a double-bill with Kaomi Kingsley and it was cool to trade mini-sets with her for a couple of hours. I also debuted performing some songs on the ukulele! This performance was part of the Burlington Songwriters showcases at The Double E that are every other Wednesday. Nice 48 seat movie-theater style venue! If you are in the Essex, Vermont area on a Wednesday night, check in and see if it’s Songwriter night at The Double E, and have some food from The Mad Taco, who provide food for the venue. This is also a place that treats performing artists with some dignity: food and pay ($100 for the night, split by the acts).

Goodbye to Thayer’s Olde English Pub

I had gigs scheduled at Thayer’s Olde English Pub in Littleton, NH in the first three months here, but was contacted by the booking agent, who informed me the Pub was simply closing and all gigs were cancelled. Like Gusto’s, this was a decent-paying gig, AND came with dinner (food was very good), so another gig that payed $130 for a two-hour set is gone.

Anyone who knows where live, acoustic music is booked (especially original music), please contact me!