Man, what am I going to do NEXT???
Ah yes, friends and neighbors, the Blue Collar Guide To Music Biz Survival – no mystics, no potions, no shaman, just straight talk with a side of bacon (fruit, in my case – it’s called ‘watching-out-for-the-rock-geezer-body’….)!
Every get to a point in life where you wonder what the hell yer doin’ and why yer doin’ it? Well, of course not, good friends – who asks THOSE philosophical questions anyhoo, huh? What’s the point, right – we just need to keep on plowin’ right thru, eyes focused on the road, one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the coffee cup…..
(Enter Charlie Brown cry after getting the football pulled from him): “AGGGGGUUHHHHHH!!!!!!”
I know I’ve ruminated on this in previous columns, but this installment will focus on a current project – my new EP/CD! (a smattering of applause, followed by crickets chirping, then a door slamming shut, two drunks at the bar laughing uncontrollably, broken glass, then, one minute of silence……THEN… more crickets chirping)
With luck and God’s good grace, I get to turn 50 years old in September of this year, 2008. At one point, 50 was the ‘new 40 ‘, but know I think it could even be the ‘new 30’ given our proclivity for advanced aging. And I know I have no reason to bat an eye, because people like my mother-in-law and my Aunt Boots would roll their eyes, and just say,” Oh, honey, come on, kid….” (My favorite expression on age, next to the Satchel Paige quote, comes from my Aunt Adel, in her 90’s now: “Well, do you want the ALTERNATIVE?”).
So, to wit, my point is: what happens to me with my music gig at this point in life, Mr. Peabody? Like, RIGHT NOW???
Well, a lot of good things are emerging – one, this column, which has been a lifeline for my secret journalistic fantasies, two, I still get to gig – church gigs, coffeehouse and the rare bar gig. I work on guitar and bass amps still, but after 28 years of doing contract work, I’m picking and choosing what I can work on successfully (as much for me as my customer base). But one of the coolest things has been my ‘homebrew’ recordings, which I’ve done as long as I’ve had access to a studio or recording equipment. I’ve have sold ‘em off the bandstand, given a lot away for promo, and made an attempt at having a ‘record label ‘ – I’m pretty sure that myself, along with several thousand others with access to low budget studios or 4 –16 track gear in the early 1980’s, were doing ‘indie’ before there was a term coined. I’ve had a publishing name with B.M.I. Music since the mid-1980’s – Loadz Music (well, it’s a long story, and you had to live through it, but a handful of select folks from the great state o’ Iowa know about that little company name….). But back in 2000, a year after my son was born, I started (in name, and with a handful of releases) A.M.P. Records – basically my kid’s initials (still much to the comments of, “Dad! Come on, that’s so DUMB!” Dumb maybe, but dear to my heart, yessiree….).
From 2000 to 2005, I did a lot of what’s termed ‘progressive/space rock/ avant garde’ type music –got some great reviews in some on-line magazines, as well as getting CD’s to London, Paris, and South America. While it sounds very exotic, it’s very EXPENSIVE –apparently, carrier pigeons can’t fly that far, which irks me, the little s.o.b.’s – I don’t think they have a labor union, and man, when you’re looking for good, cheap labor, sheesh….), but to have somebody dig your stuff across the pond is a cool thing, indeedy.
But before my life in prog-rock, I wrote ‘pop’ oriented material – some o.k., most always augmented by the fine musicianship of my buddies from Iowa and Ohio. Once we moved to Atlanta, I just felt the need for noise, guitar feedback, dissonance, and 12-tone rows o’ notes. Once we moved to the great state of Texas, I just kinda felt compelled to go thru the back catalog, dredge up some old lyrics and music, and write some new stuff inspired by listening to Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Lucinda Williams, Mary Gauthier, and Steve Earle. I’ve always dug and respected the craftsmanship of singer-songwriters – the best ones told a good story and left a truckload of emotions in their wake after you hear the song. The worst ones could be whiney, self-indulgent poopheads that wanted to be nothing more than whiney, self-indulgent poopheads! But I always put the singer-songwriter stuff on the back burner because of a lack of self- confidence and material.
Well, my EP/CD makes a return of sorts, and another new start. I have many recordings planned on paper –running from good ol’ Stones/ Faces influenced rock and roll, to electronica flirtings. But for now, it’s my new little EP- four songs, no waiting, raw, lo-fi, home studio stuff (I’ve got more ideas than money, so Central Control keeps me in budget…). Before I divulge my little odyssey into truly scary territory, I want to start off with a couple of verbal reviews that I’ve had already:
Mary Beth (wife, soulmate): “By the way, I’ve listened to your CD. Why do you play the same songs twice? “
Mick (unsuspecting musician): “Well, I decided to have both electric and acoustic versions.” (In The Back Of Mick’s Mind:” And the reason for THAT is because I felt that people needed to hear and understand the lyrics better from the electric versions!” Yeah, maybe a bit o’ b.s., but we’ll take that, Alex, and “Sensitive Musicians” for $20,000!!)
Mary Beth:(wife again): ‘I like it – it’s good!”
Mick: “You do? Thank you, honey!”
Now, fast-forward to the Barnes and Noble store, Southlake, Texas, a day later:
Sales Clerk: “Hey, I’ve started listening to your CD, and, ah… (uh oh, there’s the ‘ah’), well, you can’t really hear your vocals.”
MP: “I did the acoustic versions for that – It’s a much cleaner mix.”
Mick’s Brain: “ Don’t forget to tell him it’s a lo-fi recording, that you’re not the greatest singer, but the lyrics are pretty good, you’re playing all the instruments yourself, and it’s your first time playing drums on your CD’s, and – “
Mick To Mick’s Brain: “Good Lord, SHUT UP!! The guy wants to go back to the counter, and he’s looking for a way out to avoid saying anything MORE!!”
Mick’s Brain: “O.k. pal, it’s your funeral – don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Sales Clerk: “Well, ah, I’m going to listen to the second half of it in my car –you know, that’s the best place to listen to stuff anyway…”
Mick: “ Oh yeah, I hear ya – that’s why I only put four songs on there – it would probably take a trip to the grocery store to listen to the first four songs.”
Sales Clerk: “Hey! I gotta help this guy at the counter!”
Mick: “Cool. I’m going to look around –thanks!”
Mick’s Brain: “ Oh, deary, dear, Mr. Schmuck – you gotta explain the details or people won’t get it the project! You didn’t tell him about the countless takes of songs, limiting yourself to four tracks to record, trying to EQ, compress, and mix just those four tunes on a self-imposed schedule!! YOU HAVE TO EXPLAIN THIS TO PEOPLE OR THEY JUST WON’T GET IT! This is tiring –go find some REAL recording artists and buy THEIR stuff, will ya? I’m going back to watch “General Hospital”!”
Mick To Mick’s Brain: I oughta trade you in for a model from Microsoft, Mr. Fartypants! Thanks for all the back-up, Junior!!”
Well, o.k., I used ALOT of literary effect in that paragraph, but swear to ya, that’s what was goin’ on at that moment!!!
I think my b.s. meter for what I do is pretty balanced, and the hard part I feel for anyone writing, recording, and putting it out to the public is that eternal question: “Will they GET IT?” And the follow-up: “If they don’t get it, what does that do to ME?” Sometimes what’s laughable to some people is a very serious matter to others involving music and art. A case in point: a few years ago, one of my music students brought in a CD by a band called Under Oath. Under Oath is a Christian metal band, complete with emo/grindcore guitars, blastbeat drums, and “Cookie Monster” vocals. Now, I dug ‘em, but I chuckled a bit upon hearing one song, and asked my student,” Man, I guess it wouldn’t matter since the vocals are so indiscernible if they’re a Christian or a black metal band!” I mean, if you can’t make out what they growling about with the Cookie Monster voice, then, WHAT DOES IT MATTER??? (which I thought, wouldn’t it be a REAL hoot to have a Sesame Street music download of Cookie Monster actually singing a song about, say, cookies, with a metal/grindcore band backing him up? Oooooh, man, and a YouTube video? BEAUTIFUL!!!). Needless to say, I received a ‘deer-in-the-headlight’, practically blank stare from that student. But, humor aside, there is an example and I thought about this after the fact) of a snap judgement someone could have had about a band or it’s recordings.
Maybe you don’t like the vocals, subject content, style of music, MAYBE YOU DON’T LIKE THE SINGER’S STILLETTO PUMPS!!! It happens, and it’s gonna continue to happen….
Keeping that little philosophy in mind, I can take criticism a lot easier nowadays when it comes to what I do: after 33 years of playing instruments and nearly that long writing songs, I learn more about what I can and can’t do everyday.
Can Do List: pretty fair old-school guitar work, kinda funky bass work, and a steady drumbeat (read: RUDIMENTARY), passable vocals, and fairly introspective, sometimes funny lyrics……
Can’t Do List: ”American Idol “looks or vocals, seamless, shining, recording production (“Hey buddy! Do you have $2.5 mil that you can spare for a cup of coffee, recording studio time, video shoots, and market promo for a fella down on his luck?” “HIT THE ROAD!” Old Bugs Bunny cartoon!), product/movie tie-in, friendly with Bono, Mick Jagger, and Joan Rivers…
So, I’m comfortable with that – how does that translate, though, to the sonic marketplace?
Do I have a place at the table, so to speak (note tie-in to title of my new EP/CD, “A Place At The Table”….)?
Well, cowpokes and wee lassies, some things do NOT change, and the marketing of music, especially those who have to put their stuff out there without the budget of Sony/Universal.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, YouTube, your own website, My Space – STILL, it remains as a fact to separate you from the rest of the pack to get some sales and exposure. Sex and violence, unfortunately, still sells, but the idea of me shirtless covered in blood holding an Uzi even revolts ME, so it ain’t happenin’, LeRoy (which wasn’t my first marketing idea, but the first one semi-funny enough to write down for satire……).
My friend, composer David Burke from Atlanta, said when he was working for Warner Brothers Records back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, an ol’ ‘record man’ told him some useful advice regarding getting your act heard in the music biz: it takes luck, luck, and luck, and exposure, exposure, exposure. Wise words, especially in today’s market.
The music business paradigm is changing, and there are many ways for that ‘luck, luck, luck/exposure, ex – yeah, you know’ thing. I mean, for me, I’m just shooting at this point to get my music and associated products out there for exposure, yeah, which could translate into sales – hopefully –and a….HIT SONG??? Well, it’s True Confession Time, kidlets – that little dream is always present, has been for awhile, but it translates to if somebody wanted to record one of my songs, that would be a very cool thing. BUT, you know, I’m not modeling my life or family’s life around it, so I like the concept of ‘small-local-cottage-industry’ bid’ness better.
Again, all this harkens back to, ”Where do I fit into the marketplace at this point with what I’m creating for the marketplace?” And we’re talkin’ local because, hooo boy, there is some awesome talent here in the Lone Star State – North Texas U. keeps cranking them little musical geniuses out every year from Denton, 30 miles north of me, plus the home grown talent pool is full (and it’s adult swim EVERY SECOND OF POOL TIME!!!).
Well, yeah, I know what yer thinking: “Why does that whiney-ass waste our time blubberin’ about his business/artistic problems??? He’s here to dispense with the advice, not wrangle on about his sorry poop!!!” It is MY column, little ju-juheads, but I do take to heart that maybe I can lay one of my trips on ya with a dollop of humor and a dose o’ wisdom. Somewhere, there are thousands going thru the same thing – trying to figure out where they fit with their art and music, and how to do what they do, even if it’s in their current hometown.
Yeah, seems I’m always watching some documentary, then I tell you guys about it, so, AGAIN, I purchased “Let’s Rock Again!”, the DVD doc on ex-Clash frontman / Mescalaros Joe Strummer. Definitely worth the $20 spot for sure – I walked away knowing that I need to watch the thing again – not only does it serve as a good bookmark on the final phase of Strummer’s career, but it reminds us that no matter what age, or level of recognition or fame, we always have to hustle for that next gig, recording, interview, to keep not only the wheels of our music-making/promo machine greased, but the creative mind wheels as well. See Joe trying to get into talk to a DJ at a small radio station. See Joe passing hand bills in a busy tourist area for his show that night in town. Oh Dorothy and Toto – shades of close-to-the-bone “Spinal Tap” humor (“I told them to put “Spinal Tap” first on the marquee, THEN the puppet show!”).
Woody Allen once stated 90% of success is merely showing up – the other 10%, the ‘work’ part, is something that goes on and on, and most people just don’t get to. ‘Success’ could mean getting that gig in the gazebo at a local festival in the town square, or having your song recorded by a regional recording artist. ‘Success’ could mean giving a speech about your trials and tribs as a songwriter, music industry vet, or performer, thus passing on some well-learned and hard fought advice. Ain’t nobody gonna give you a silver plate o’ goods, especially as get older in an industry that demands YOOTS (probably the only terminology that I’ll borrow from Rush Limbaugh at this point in life….). ‘Success’ could mean playing your originals at a local coffeehouse or bar, and having someone you don’t know buy your CD. Yes, ‘artists’, it called SALES and SALEMANSHIP!
Believe you me, kid, I tell myself all these axioms and philosophies every week – some days, it gets harder to practice what you preach. It can be much, much easier to give it and give it up – “But I don’t wanna be a musician/artist/songwriter any more, Mr. Wizard!!!! I’m too old for this SH^&^! Could be, but then, you don’t REALLY know that until you keep pushin’, little and big bros and sistas! Again, I get the same feelings – why? I’m the ol’ vet, the cat who has a few skills and some knowledge to drop. Why move around the country and start doing what I do all over each time? Why don’t I get the breaks? Hell, why doesn’t my own family and friends listen to my new STUFF???? That’s the key, that’s the challenge – how can you get past that, brush it off, and keep a goin’? Is my stuff too weird for the marketplace, or even TOO WEIRD FOR MYSELF??? Dunno – that’s a matter of opinion, and like they say, opinions are like poopers - everybody has one!!!! Consider Vincent Van Gogh’s quote from one of his many letters to his brother Theo: “I feel like a failure.” Oh man, Vinny, if only we could bring you back today to see what you have brought forth to the art world!!!
Things happen, you’ve got to roll with it. Yesterday, I went into a tizzy because my CD burner broke after thousands of dups and 10 years of service (for which it gets the Medal of Honor). I’m not exactly flush with cash, and still gearing up my new businesses, but the duplicator is a critical part, even with my new work station (which can master, but not mass produce). After looking at all the avenues, I’m honing in on a solution –things could be a lot worse. And I always need to remind myself of that –opportunities abound daily: you gotta cool your jets, take stock, and look at another way to get yourself thru. Even at damn near 50 years old, I still tell myself these little mantras!
I wish I could say I knew where my business, career, and art were going at this point, but I don’t . I have plans and dreams, and the good thing, no, the GREAT thing is my wife has a gig that keeps us comfortable and scrapping along – you need that. Everyone is relatively healthy and sane – again, needed and thankful. If I had to survive totally on the music business like the Good Old Days, it wouldn’t be good for my family or myself. So I work, plot, plan, throw myself into an internal tizzy figuring out how to make art and money, and make it all work. People say, well, you could drop all this, and do another gig like all the other stay-at-home parents. Thing is, as long as we can afford my little search-and-destroy for the art-into-business quest, I will figure out how to do it – I would be bored spitless otherwise…..
Pray, meditate, and have a beer to collect your thoughts to move forward with your music and careers – every little step, every little gain has meaning and clarity once the dust clears. Keep tossing out good karma to the world, too – Lord knows at this point, we’ve got enough of the bad karma that’s haunting our little mudball! You keep the faith, and I will do the same here – if you need to chat and yap, shoot me an e-mail, because I always seem to come back to this ol’ website to write down and send forth whatever I‘ve learned and whatever I THINK I’m gonna learn out to the unsuspecting masses!