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.

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.

Christmastime Blues live!

I recently played the Ripton Community Coffeehouse open mic and debuted this song I just “officially” released on my website for streaming, and thanks to the local community television station, have video of the performance to share. Full version with intro here. See my YouTube channel while you are there for a version without the talking, and other performance videos!

 

Musical communities and social music

 

After the Burlington Songwriter’s Open Mic Meetup last week, there were two other musical meetups I went to:

Feedback, but the good kind to listen to…

First is a monthly “songwriter’s workshop” held as part of the Burlington Writer’s Workshop and taking place in their offices on the second Thursday of the month.

This is a place for sharing works in progress for feedback and constructive critique. It was fun this time to share the results of a collaboration from the month before with a lyricist named Karen Edwards:

This song may or may not be in it’s final form… Karen may use some of the feedback to make changes…or not! What do you think of this song as it is? Tell in the comments!

Uke-ing It Up at the Library…

Once one person ukes at the library, then there’s a chain reaction and more and more people start to uke it up too!

The invitation did say “uke it up at the library”, so that’s where that comes from.

This group meets the second and fourth Sundays of the month at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington.

A group regular was very handy with printouts of popular songs, many with ukulele chords on the page. The group this Sunday was a bit bashful to lead songs, so I led songs that I knew and the group really sounded nice!

 

 

 

A Locally Specific Blues

One of the first songs I came up with last year seems to be, sadly, still topical:

A Locally Specific Blues

 

The time has come for the truth to be told

I’ve often heard it said that fortune favors the bold

Say it out loud, say what everyone knows

 

Evil corporations and mobsters rule the world

Ruining the lives of every boy and every girl

Except of course their own kids, you know how it goes

 

The System isn’t working, it’s time for you to choose

Turn that table over, what have you got to lose?

All of us got a locally specific blues

 

The president is stupid and his minions are the worst

Congress will not help until they line their pockets first

It’s gone from bad to getting worse every day

 

We’ll hit rock bottom before it gets better

They killed the rule of law, they didn’t save a letter

Like the chalk on a slate board you just wipe it away

 

The System isn’t working, it’s time for you to choose

Turn that table over, what have you got to lose?

All of us got a locally specific blues

 

Everyone is angry – no one is any fun

They’re all cocked and ready to go off like a gun

Say what you like but don’t bring up anything new

 

‘Cause no one here can take it, can’t hear another thing

Until we kick it over, cash remains the king

Maybe our next president ought to be you

 

The System isn’t working, it’s time for you to choose

Turn that table over, what have you got to lose?

All of us got a locally specific blues

 

If you like to eat, gonna have to raise your game

Better start a garden help your neighbors do the same

Tomatoes and beans, cucumber on the vine

 

If we stick together, if everybody’s in

Override the system, and that’s how we can win

That’s what it takes – lay it all on the line

 

The System isn’t working, it’s a common refrain

Like trying to read a book been left out in the rain

Gonna have to go back and write it all down again

 

The System isn’t working, it’s time for you to choose

Turn that table over, what have you got to lose?

All of us got a locally specific blues

 

All of us got a locally specific blues

 

Wednesday Worktape #4: Jazz Ruined My Life

This was inspired by the blog http://jazzruinedmylife.com/ please visit there too!

Jazz ruined my life

It can’t be overstated that it shouldn’t be underrated when it comes to complications and familial strife

No way to deny it Jazz ruined my life

Jazz ruined my life

That’s the explanation for the trial separation and this little room I am in or so says the wife

The way she tells it Jazz ruined her life

Damn you Jazz you’re a beautiful devil

But I am poor and alone and living below street level

Jazz ruined my life

Must be the syncopation that provides the inspiration for that Sharp key Melody that Cuts Like a Knife

Just cuz I love it Jazz ruined my life

Thanks!

Authenticity and popularity

When studying the origins of anthropology in college I learned that the origins were not necessarily lofty and academic.

Early ethnographic writings arose out of what were called at the time “travel writings”: personal accounts by Victorian-era travelers of their encounters with different cultures around the world.

One important element of this was the notion that authenticity was derived from the ability to say that you were there: authorship and authority are one. Early travel writings were fairly straightforward, chronological accounts, but later ethnographic writings tended to push the subjective portion of the narrative to prologues and afterwords, or even entirely separate books detailing the personal experience of encountering and living in another culture. This is because ethnographic writings were supposed to be science and therefore objective, and subjectivity needed to be pushed to the margins.

In that context, more modern ethnographic writing takes into account the power dynamics involved in the negotiation between cultures that is part of ethnographic and anthropological study, and makes space for it.

Street credibility

In songwriting there is a similar principle at work that says that in order to have authenticity or credibility one needs to have been there, seen it, done it… lived a real authentic life.

However there is an alternate force in action: accessibility of the product or artifact. This is true in ethnographic writings as well: there are “hits”, books that even become popular outside of the field of anthropology.

Yet these books also receive criticism from within the field of anthropology for being unscientific and/or targeting a popular audience, not unlike music artists who are viewed as being overly commercial, or worse, selling out after having street credibility.

So it seems that there is a general tension in the whole business of writing between Artistic Integrity and Commercial Appeal.

Truth

On the one hand, one wants to be true to oneself, and true to the song and true to the truth itself.

On the other hand, what good is a truth if nobody hears it? Could this be the real meaning of “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound”?

Like everyone else I want to change the world with my songs, but I have to gain their ears first.

Artistic Integrity and Commercial Appeal

So can one balance being true to the message of the song and the idea that you’re trying to convey yet putting it in a fashion that can be easily digested by the masses?

Should one even try to do that? I think the answer for me is: sometimes.

This first week of my blog I posted a link to a somewhat irreverent yet truthful and I feel empathetic Christmas song, written in response to a prompt to write a holiday song. I resisted the standard approach to Christmas music, which is to say a commercial approach, yet in my opinion the song could be enjoyed by a lot of people.

Our first musical quotation for this Monday was a lengthy one from Woody Guthrie regarding his feelings on commercial music. He felt that it was the content rather than the genre or style that determined if a song was worthy or not, in his view.

My taste in music are not particularly unusual or extremely eclectic, although it is very broad. I have a great love for pop music and I think it’s important for anyone composing music to understand a variety of genres.

So in that context if the truth of the song is best expressed with an easy to digest pop melody or simple three chord structure, so be it: I’ll follow that where it leads.

I think I have to draw the line at writing a song that has no real meaning in the lyrics and just a catchy hook with nonsense words or something like that.

I also agree with Woody that too many pop songs express unhealthy ideas, and I don’t want to participate in that either.

However if you are a pop songwriter or someone who needs to write commercial songs all the time I do believe it can be done with Artistic Integrity. If you have something real to say….just make sure your lyrics ring true. 

A big part of that is making space for subjectivity: trying to tell a story “objectively” will leave your audience cold, but showing what it really looked and smelled and felt like is what people respond to, in my opinion. People can feel the truth… that’s authenticity.

 

Christmastime Blues

While I am engaged in the end of year work of recording songs written since September and organizing, uploading etc… I decided to record one of the more recent songs first and share it online.

That’s because it’s a Christmas song! So here’s my Christmas gift to all!

Merry Christmas to all!

This song was written in response to a fairly standard prompt for a songwriter’s monthly workshop:

“December Prompt: Winter Season/Holiday song.”

I had no intention of writing a Christmas song, but hearing a number of artists do rootsy covers, this riff suddenly suggested the first lines… a rare instance of the music coming first for me, although this is really different in that the music idea and lyrics developed together in real time. This is probably because as a blues, a structure for the song and direction for the melody is already there. Other songs I have written with music first have usually come with melody, harmonic structure, tempo, etc.. all worked out. This is also the case with a number of co-written songs.

So this just occurred to me on the spot, which is atypical of my process. The subject matter does express something I have always wondered about Christmas: if everyone knew at birth this baby was so special, did they also know how it would end for him? How would he feel about that? I figure you can’t talk about Christmas, the beginning of the life of Jesus, without the context of the end, so why not open that up? The song is intended to be empathetic.

Enjoy!