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Knit Pickers
By Danny McBride - 06/06/2007 - 09:28 AM EDT

Once again I've taken myself out for an afternoon of songwriter conviviality- -a gathering of folks who all have one thing in common: They all have a CD of their own music that they are trying to sell. And one of the places they are promoting themselves is on a website called CD Baby.

Unlike Amazon or other online music stores, the message from the founder/owner of CD Baby is one of community. Independent music-makers should bond together and form a strong community to help each other and nurture each other's projects, or at least share ideas about how to market and promote one's music. Whether you're a folk singer, a jazz fusionist, or a cowpunk-metal band, marketing the music is the one thing you all have in common. And even though you may not care much for each others' music, what you do have in common is the necessity to cut through the static and be heard. Sometimes what one person did, even though they specialize in yodeling-sea-shanties, might be workable for your polka-disco combo in terms of getting the music to its respective audience.

To that end, on a recent Sunday afternoon, I found myself at "The Knitting Factory" on Hollywood Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood listening to a pep talk from the CD Baby himself, Derek Sivers, and meeting and chatting with umpteen dozen songwriters from the Southern California area all with one thing on their minds: "Me, Me- -My CD!!"

The Knitting Factory is a very "New York" kind of club. In fact, of course, there is one in Manhattan. I guess what I mean is that it has the exposed-brick-wall-and-hanging-plant-kind-of-look, with all the air ducts and track lighting exposed along the ceiling as well. Rather different than a lot of other Hollywood haunts, many of which have a much more "divey" look, as they are mainly made over (or just run down) from their nightclub heydays in the forties and fifties, like The Mocambo and The Trocadero (see I Love Lucy for Ricky Ricardo's itinerary) and are now known as The Coconut Teaser or whatever. Also many of L A's music venues are sit-down restaurants with music as an afterthought. But the room and the mood were right to bring together a "close-knit" (oh! I get it!) group of aspiring writers and performers.

Much of the afternoon was given over to shameless self-promotion, as each took turns at the mic being passed around to introduce themselves and say a little something about their music. The idea was, as Sivers pointed out, "to let the jazzers find each other , and the folkies" and whatever, so they could network and get together with their own special interest groups. They were also supposed to hold their intros to twenty seconds. Yeah, right. Many wanted to tell complete life stories, or describe their music in such original terms that it was hard to decide at times if these people were songwriters or wannabe standup comics. "My name is Blah-Blah-Blah and I'm a singer and I write my own songs- -kind of a cross between Bjork, David Lee Roth, John Coltrane, and The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem." I guess the common thread was that they all used a bass player. Who knows?

Some songwriters are really good at promoting themselves and their music. Others are quite shy and prefer that the music speak for them. What this gathering showed was that many writers who are also performers will elbow their way to the front in a room like this.

But as a writer, you cannot be intimidated by these people. Some of the best writers cannot perform their own material. I was about to give you a list, but I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. Oh, so what. Songwriter Jack Tempchin plays every Monday in a club in L A. It's very entertaining because Jack is such a likeable guy and because he has such an incredible repertoire. However, several of his songs were cut by the Eagles, and I'm sure Jack would have no problem in acknowledging that the Glenn Frey or Don Henley vocal performances surpass his own. J J Cale has said he has always been pleased when Eric Clapton cuts one of his tunes (there's another one on the new Reptile CD). JJ has a unique vocal style, but EC sells CDs. In other words, if you're a writer, WRITE!!

CD Baby is one of the more unusual sites to feature new music. They put up clips of a few of your songs, they send out supportive emails to help you focus on selling yourself and your CD, and they have a vibrant spirit and I would say a good attitude. And again, like the Just Plain Folks organization, or this very site and its wonderful proprietress, CD Baby is driven by the personality, energy and vision of a REAL LIVE HUMAN. I like that about web-based enterprises. Not some faceless corporate entity- -but the sweat and passion of someone who believes full throttle in what they're about and the potential for good work, and the knowledge that they can get it done. It's as if they were on a mission. They want you to come with them.

I say check 'em out. Go ahead. I'll wait. I'll be over at the bar bonding with my new knit-picker friends. "Hey!! Check out MY CD!!"

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