Sunday, October 18, 2015

Like a rash that tickles it when you scratch it ....

when you can't stop scratching ....

That up there is a copy of the album cover I cooked up for my EP, These Roots.  My second release,  on the heels of another 5-song EP that went out into the digisphere late last year.  The trouble with song-writing, and singing? When you are really FEELING it, is that as impossible to stop as satisfying that itch with the glorious scratch.

My 10-year old son, has really dry skin ... actually, he may have some allergies, but that's for us to discover still (not the point of the analogy).  He has these chronic episodes where he'll literally dig his nails into his skin with a scratch you can hear across the room.  Asking him to moisturize is as futile as begging him to just not scratch.  The itch is so seductive, and the relief of the scratch is sublime ... until he stops.  Then, the intensity of the itch is heightened, only increasing the amount of relief/pleasure he gets from scratching yet more ... the scratching feeds the itch, and the itch feeds the scratch.

Songwriting is like that for me.  While I don't have the physical leftovers of raw skin from the aggressive scratch my son lives with on several parts of his body, my songwriting "muscles" and identity are forever itching to move onto the next project, and discover a new corner of potential/growth.

While my sensibilities, songwriting, and vocals, mature measurably with time and each project, it's eerie to have these huge efforts become finished and (while I listen them with great pride often) I'm more focussed on the next incredible thing than I am in resting on the success of my accomplishments.  Truth is, I'll do this for free for as long as I'm able to fund it.  The songwriting ideas flow from me super easily, the craft of taking those sensibilities and making them "pop" and then delivering them with a compelling vocal is my itch.  The scratch I have is the process of taking my ideas and committing them to a commercially viable product, and selling it.  The bravery it takes to publish music (for me, at least) is monumentally energizing.

My growth (in addition to exploring a more engaged mix and head-voice) lies squarely in the selection of the right team of musicians/producers who can hear something in me I'm trying to express, then get tracks and vocal production that pulls it out of me, so my songs meet the vision I had when I wrote them.  Two EP's, two producers, and a good number of awesome musician's later, I'm still searching for that partner or team that recognizes my strengths and the seed of "special" in me that's worth growing.  

There's definitely something here nobody's heard before, and I'm going to keep 
drilling into my songwriting, my vocal abilities, and my relationships so that I can develop the working model that elicits the best of me and the team in an Alchemy that's authentically it's own.  It's here for grabbing.

The only difference between my itch and my son's, is that I feel a profound sense of accomplishment just exercising my music muscles and working with other people.  This scratching (never-ending work in music) gets me deeper into my "sound" and clarifies what I have to say as an artist.  Every year, it's more settled and grounded, and all I can hope for is that each effort shows the growth that happened, and which is felt, from the development between my first and second records.

I don't even wish I could stop wanting to scratch.  I'm pulled to my studio when I am dead-tired and have nothing left.  I'm amazed at what comes out of me sometimes ... not all gold, but all golden and holding the path to growth, which is the only reason I'm in this game.

Scratch, scratch!!!

Friday, September 12, 2014

What naked feels like ...

That there?  That is me on the iTunes store - FOR SALE! (honest to buddha)

I'm up, I'm out, and my man-parts are exposed for anyone/everyone to criticize ... mock ... belittle (the worst for a dude) ... even hate.  I'm realizing that the saying "be careful what you ask for ..." is a profound reminder that it's possible to find oneself wondering if goals were really thought all the way through ... ALL the way.

Take my music debut to the world stage.  Yesterday (yes, 9/11 ... don't know how I timed that one) my music was sent out to over 110 global music stores, streaming, and download sites.  I'm not under any illusion that the paparazzi are going to be swarming my car on Monday morning as I try to commute to my day job ... so know that before reading further.

But, people hate shit ... they also love shit ... they also ignore shit.  By going live to the world, I'm opening up to all three, which is harrowing.  More, a DIY (Do It Yourself) musician and music publisher like myself, is (by definition) a loser if slowly chipping away, reducing the number of those who CAN ignore me, isn't actively pursued.  Said another way, without the attitude and supporting tactics for "I won't be ignored" ... my music and my "voice" in music won't be heard, and so won't get better.  Music's value for me is about getting better ... getting cooler people interested in working with me because when I write, or open my mouth to sing, I've pulled something effortless and brilliant out of thin air, at least that's what it needs to seem like.  That's what people call "gifted".

So, now the science of marketing has to kick in.  Posts like this one by me will hopefully be read, and I'll manage the inventory of these messages and the language contained in them.  Too quirky?  Some site audiences need/want that when they land on their favorite blogs.  Some want first person, some want third person, some want it to read like a press-release from a bio-tech's PR firm.  No single combination works for everything, but there is a clear way to optimize for each.  I just have to start thinking like that, and striving for mastery at it.  I have to build my database and I have to draw from the feedback that this information gives me as a marketer of my brand and goods.

Each entry will make me smarter at how to be loved and how to avoid being hated.  As I get better at it, I'll move further away from the crowd of those being ignored ...  that's my first objective.  To not be ignored.

Being a creative artist is exposing.  Being a recording artist requires an increasing awareness around what perfection is, and how close to it's center my art should be.  Letting my music go, even though this is just a first single of many to come, is an exercise of ambition, bravery, and foolishness.  If asked "now what?", my answer is undoubtedly going to be:  "now the real work starts".

Oh shit.

Friday, July 25, 2014

What does "Be Here Now" even mean?

Yes, cliche, I know ...
Be here now, live in the moment, Live each blah blah blah like it's your last blah blah blah.  Ugh, so now I'm Buddha cuz I regurgitate this drivel as a script?
One of my honored, sweet (and gorgeous/hot, btw) fans asked me a question about the lyrics from one of the songs in my upcoming release and made me realize that the impetus of the lyrics, and by extension the big message of the song, while super meaningful for them was not the gestalt that gave me the idea ... but it showed me that the goal of that song exercise was reached.

So, I'm going to work at trying to get a post done about lyrics.  But it's more a post on connections ... connections that are both about the way people connect to something meaningful, as much as it's about the ways meaningful things connect around us in adjacent ways that are distinct, even though the stimulus was the same.  This, in turn, allows for much more interpretation and abstract association.  

I should say I'll remain a student of songwriting for the rest of my soul's days ... living and dead.  I should also admit that I've never had a hit that resonated with the critical masses, so all this wisdom is malarky if the lens of commercial success was my qualifier for validity.  Two fans interpreting differently is not statistically relevant data-set to make a broad assertion like "I nailed this one ...".  But that's just the humble me making caveats ... let's get to the blog post's reason now:

I try to use visuals in my songs that are intentionally vague.  In "Like it's Now", if the lyrics were read and the music wasn't playing, you would say it was about a strained relationship, deeply rooted in love, devotion, and commitment.  But is that relationship an intimate one, a collegial one, a generational one ... or is it a relationship to an ideal, a dream, a goal that eludes ... or is it about a reflective relationship that will neither be refined nor limited by the demand that the protagonist's look in the mirror, seeing what's there.

I try to use a lever in every song I write or at least I try to think about the lever as a tool of inertia in the story even if the lever isn't called out by name.  This "lever" thing is my own term ... but essentially for me it's the part that gives the story of the lyric it's juice, or "verb-y-ness".  It's almost always the part of the lyric that provides the inspiration for an emotional vocal performance that is authentic for me.  In this case, the lever for the song is time.  As you can imagine, using a lever like time can create a more interpret-able lyric than ... say ... a lever like a cheating girlfriend, for example.  Especially when the "time" lever is used as a noun and an adjective ... figuratively and objectively describing a state of being as well as a comparison to past or future states.  It begins to transform, it's powerful and broad and it gets more people finding a connection to why they love it ... and it's all for very different reasons. The only reason to write a lyric is this:  So that publishing the song incites listeners to connect and spread the experience of its value.

The drawback to using levers that are interpretive is that you are put in the position of not writing an esoteric thing that connections can't be reasonably drawn without a couple tabs of LSD.  It's super easy to leave the tangible real-world, and just free-associate lyrically with way too many levers, or even ALL levers and nothing else ... but the 60's are over, and so is the "meaningful" song that's incomprehensible.

So if we can agree that using a multi-dimensional lever is a strong approach, and we can agree that LSD is too much to ask of your audience, how do we describe the lever's good/bad/ugly without calling it by name?  I'll show you by showing you a lyric and what the (un-named) lever provides the rest of the lyric as input:

verse 1 and 2, incuding ramp

[excerpt from "Like it's Now", written by moss ©2014]

Something ahead, something behind
inside, we tread, a trepadacious line
one we'll walk, but we won't talk
there's nothing like hiding, to make you lose a piece of your smile ...

Darkness is death, but it's also life
it's blackness only, when I compare it without light
run from the void, we'll get swallowed
sadness we can't feel, if we're hoarding the borrowed

that's not you, that's not me, be with me ...

 My lever here is time.  But is the protagonist a lover, son, best friend?  I know "trepadacious" isn't a word ... and I think it should be (because it's brilliant of course, mostly because I made it up) ... but it's a play on the words "intrepid" and "audacious", each a variant of bold, uncompromising, un-apologetic.  In order to have these qualities, vision of a better future and pain from a troubled past are required.  But in relationships, we don't have those special orgasms talking about the next vacation ... we have them when we're rocking out the awesome sex, or letting the ever-strong guard down in some other way that expresses vulnerability and enlightenment.  In a relationship, the best goodies are tickling your happy place because they are satisfying something right now, and it's because those things have our full attention. 


[excerpt from "Like it's Now", written by moss ©2014]

Lose track of the mad, forget about the sad
hold that look in your eyes ... like it's now
Breathe in the sun, I'll breathe out what's done
and I'll show you, a part of me, like it's now

The fan that asked the question about the lyric essentially asked if this lyric was about a lover or someone else.  They explained that the song triggered for them a deep sorrow about a failed relationship with their recently deceased grandfather ... unsaid and unfinished business.  Expectation and a failed satisfaction around it.  A non-connection.

For me, the song was about my relationship to music ... one with a past that died at my own hands for over 25 years.  One that could've stayed dead if I chose to keep it that way ... for me, this song is about the care-and-feeding of a relationship to something (anything) where the continued connection is all that matters ... so being in the relationship is itself the payoff.  Be here now, don't run from the emptiness of the past or cower from the chasm of the un-knowable future in the relationship ... be there, in the relationship, work it ... then wake the fuck back up tomorrow and be in it, work it again.  Have a goal, but don't ask or allow that goal to be your relationship's lever or validation.  My relationship is to music, and time is the lever.  This means that my relationship will only expand me, if I invest and expand it.  This is why the lyric uses time as it's lever.

The fan that inspired this blog said the song moved them through some grief ... and for a good week it was just downright depressing.  They also said that when that time was over, that the song transformed to inspirational and instructional ... describing the value present in the still-very-alive relationship with their grandfather.  They TOTALLY got my song, even though the idea, lever, protagonist, etc. were all very different as the sourced concept that wrote it.

So, be here now.  Give your protagonist (music for me) the lever (time in this song).  If the relationship is going to fulfill you, it needs it's food (lever).  Time with me ... that's my music's food.  

Music is the only thing I want to give my time to after my kids ... so even though there is little of it left at the end of the day, I give it all I have left.

I (heart) u music!  Be here now with me.

Monday, July 14, 2014

What I learned from Kickstarter and IndieGoGo

Musicians, more and more, are bankrolling their own production and publishing efforts to get their music heard.  As a new entrant in this fancy modern club, it's ever clearer that by launching a project campaign on a crowdfunding site, artists aren't so much begging as they are asking for the people who appreciate them to BECOME the financial arm of the record company itself.  This is a tall order!

I have a few take-aways from my experience on both Kickstarter and IndieGoGo that I thought I'd share ... if for no other reason than to provide some real examples of what everyone might want to consider.  Some of this input is published (even on the crowdfunding sites), but I learned for me at least that thinking about things in the right combinations provided more insights:

  • Who:  For me, I was not starting with a fan-base that had proven support for my work.  This was my first work, so how could I?  This meant that my campaigns were more "trust me, I really am good ... and I'm REALLY doing this!"  Being as I knew that I should count on 100% of my raised money coming from my personal network, my insights here are that I didn't set up either of my campaign's to "win":
    1. Segmentation:  I know from my career in Direct Mail that understanding and speaking to groups more specifically gets better results.  I should have grouped my contact list into shared experiences ... so for instance everyone on my list who worked at [insert company name here] would have gotten an email request that contained something from our time together that would invest them more in responding.  I can think of about 9 or 10 such groupings that could have worked much harder for my goals.
    2. Street Team:  Calling on the insights of the people who DID donate, there may be information or insights that could have helped hone messaging.  I think I was feeling too shy about reaching out ... but when I asked one of my contacts after the fact, they offered up some really helpful tips.  They also at the end said "Oh, I would have TOTALLY reached out to our common friends and told them to get on there and give!"  It never occurred to me that people would enlist themselves to recruit new backers on my behalf.
  • How much:  The goal was to go from 100% self-funding to 100% crowd-funding.  In hindsight, this was ambitious to attempt without an established base of die-hard fans of my (music) work.  My goal in both campaigns was $11k;  I didn't get to that with Kickstarter (only got to ~$5,600), so re-launched on IndieGoGo ... of the backers to my Kickstarter campaign, the majority still gave, but many gave less.  In the end, with a large personal network, I raised > $3,600 ... a HUGE dent in my production expenses.  I think I'd research the metrics behind active mail-list members and backer/pledge rates as a strong data point for setting my campaign goal in the future.  If I don't have a significant enough mail list (outside of my personal network), I'll plan to raise no more than 5k from the campaign ... that seems like a clear barrier beyond which my network just can't/won't go.
  • When and How Long:  The road is paved with decisions and outcomes ... and it's also laced with advice and blogs like this ... assertions based on personal experience.  My research suggested that both short and long campaigns were the way to go.  One common input was to launch the campaign and send out the first email Monday morning.  My Kickstarter campaign was 45 days long, IndieGoGo was 20 days.  If I graph the backing info, the bell curve looks almost identical ... just more compressed on IndieGoGo.  I still don't know what the right answer is here.
Lastly, and more importantly ... the people pledged are heroes.  It will prove super important for me to use this opportunity to REALLY reconnect with them.  Not only have they earned the right to some intimate person-to-person contact, they will likely hold the keys to valuable insights that will help as I do my releases and need to find influencers to help get the word out.

I'm humbled by what these people have done for me, for my art.  With only my word, they trusted their money to me and my project ... they will be blown away, and they won't be sorry ... and I will always have a special place in my creative heart for knowing without any product to show that these people believed in me enough to show me with their hard-won greenbacks.

I even thought of getting a tattoo with all thier names ... and then sending them a photo of their name on my body ... but then some of the people were co-workers ... and let's face it ... that's just creepy.

Happy crowdfunding!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Aim for perfection, but don't fail to act now ...

I'll focus on perfection and the "stick" of my landing  (long-term) ... but I will not fail to ACT now. 

There is a balance, in my experience at least, where the value of perfection and the opposing force of action make you face the existential ... and I'm learning a ton about it on my music projects right now.  It's a lesson in leadership, and we all know leadership is defined by having a follower who will go with you ... wherever.  Being your own leader is my elevator pitch on what it means to be an artist.  If you're not doing something new and brave, you're not creating.  Leading yourself through that is your job and yours alone.

I have this thing that happens with me, surely as it does for most/all artists, as they think about how to express what about them is extraordinary ... what will "it" be that I do that "is" undeniably extraordinary?  If done, will it be enough to merit attention, accolade?  When you think about people like Lance Armstrong, or Anita Baker or Duke Ellington ... do you pine for something equal within you?  Do you ask "how am I extraordinary?" ... an elusive and dodgy query at it's most naked, for sure.  So, what is extraordinary, how does that compare to authenticity?  

I want to be extraordinary with my musical instrument ... that's the long-term landing I'll stick, all in good time.  Today, I am authentic ... today I can do something about that, no question.

For me (in music), authenticity is a moment that happens, a feeling that tickled a tear-duct as I was singing through a lick of notes, a set of words ... I'm not going all drama when I say that ... I'm not necessarily emotionally sad ... just tons of water coming from my eyes ... it's simply that when combined (my emotional swell, the music, the words) they do something physical in me that moved nerves/fluids/tissue.  Together they sparked me cellularly.

The artists I revere the most do this to me with the same songs on the 10,000th spin ... it never stops, that tickle.  I have the ability to do this myself, and I know others feel it from me.  I do.  But it's not the perfection I'm hearing and feeling ... it's the authenticity.  That, is extraordinary

Making these moments happen in exactly the right place in every song/performance ... that place shifts based on the time, room, the people, the energy.  That is called "mastery".  I'm just not there yet  

So, I ask myself the prophetic questions: 
  Q:  What if I'm imperfect?  
  A:  I will be.
  Q:  What if when I do it, I feel it, for realz?
  A:  That's the only way I'd release it.

  Q:  What if some critiques suggest it could have been better in the end?
  A:  That's inevitable.

  Q:  I could tinker and tweak with modern tools: will I be "there" in my song?
  A:  It would not sound like me.  I want to sound like me, warts if they're there until they're gone.

  Q:  In a year, if I say I'm "almost ready" with this record, will I have failed?
  A:  Would I fail over the course of a year hoping for perfection?

It's true that the current lead vocals need to be re-done, and it's also true that I've grown since they were finished in their current state.  The awesome thing about the hunger I have for music is that as long as I do this, I will ALWAYS do better than before.  

These songs are "now".  If I don't act, they will fizzle like the part of me that frustratingly got stopped in music 25 years ago.  Fizzling in the name of perfection means a death. Maybe not a final death, but a futile one nonetheless.  A material set-back for sure.

Someday I'll be perfect.  Now, I'll be authentic, expressive, unique.  I'll put it on the table and act with today's skills and all my emotional swell.  

With that, no regrets, and ...

"Carpe diem" (Horace, 23 B.C.)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Nards, and attachment ...

Nards, and attachment ....

Okay ... I know it's a guy thing, the "nards" reference, anatomically.

But I'm talking here about bravery, guts, however you spell that yiddish word "hootzpa".  Doesn't matter if you have nards or a vagina, if you're a musician who takes risks ... well, you're a person who puts your nards on the block to find your place, or your voice ... in my case.

Tonight, I took a big risk:  I went and tried out for an old-school soul band.  I was told yesterday that I was going to be slotted tonight, and was given 5 songs to learn.  I had to finish parenting my kids, pay bills, sleep, and then work 11 hours before the try-out.  All in just about 27 hours.

I sucked.  I REALLY sucked.  But it was awesome for me.  First, the band was tight, the other singer was epic ... they're going to be in a sweet spot with this band, and it was fun to do stuff with them while they are in their infancy.  The second and more important reason it was so great was that I drove away super-duper clear about the kind of voice I have, and what it's better at.  This band is high energy, old-school soul ... screams and all.  I could learn how to do it and preserve my voice, but it would take a time investment these people don't have.  They want to be gigging in the next month or two.

But all that aside,  I also know music is so personal.  I could have left feeling like I KILLED it, but they might have only felt "meh!" from my performance.   I really wanted them to LOVE me, and I wanted to be chosen to join them.  The one thing I didn't do was expect it or attach it to my identity, and this is what allows me to truly feel a gift from the experience.

If they called me now saying they loved me, I'd happily take next steps ... but they won't.  Would changing my style and starting to learn how to endure a night of screaming without hurting my chords work for me and my Original music?  I wouldn't be able to say yes unless they were willing to take a couple of months with me ... knowing me and what I'm capable of the investment would pay off, but that's not on the table.

I am where I am, I sing how I sing.  It's awesome, but it's not for everyone and it's not for every genre, especially overnight.  If I'm going to go old-school soul for realz, I need to invest more than 24 hours into learning the material, and I need to have the chops to do it justice without hurting my instrument.

But my nards are glistening right now from the pride of having been brave enough to have been laid on that block and await self or group judgement ... and like all nard-block instances, they remain attached ... the only thing that could have been hurt is my hope.  But that springs eternal, so now I look for the next place to lay my manhood out ...  Every time, I get better.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

glorious online complexity ...

I realize it's all well and good until you poke your eyes out from the frustration of it all, but let's face it: these online tools are not easy to figure out how to put all together.

The "young-ins" these days know how to use blogger, but they have difficulty understanding how or even if you can embed a blogger blog onto an existing website that's not run by google.  I've just spent the last hour setting one up to find that answer for myself.