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Alternative Venues: Part One – Senior Living

For those trying to make their living as live musicians in these days of streaming music, there may seem to be a dwindling number of opportunities. However, there are opportunities in places that few think to look. Touring musicians, in particular, may be able to fill in dates on their tours with some of them, since as we all know, on a tour, if you are not playing, you are paying. In may of these places, you can offer workshops and/or lessons as well as performances. This series of installments on this blog are about those hidden and semi-hidden opportunities.

We’ll begin with:

NURSING HOMES

Facilities for seniors can mean Residential or Day facilities.  We’ll begin with Day facilities, sometimes called “Senior Centers”, which offer drop-in activities, such as gym and swimming, counseling and health support, art, crafts, and music, life-long learning classes, and sometimes meal service. There is also what is called “Adult Day Care” for adults with physical or mental issues. There is usually an activity director, and since the Senior Centers are often run by the city they have a budget to spend on performances of various sorts, though not a large one. This also means that the city probably can tell you whom to contact at each Senior Center.

Screen shot 2016-01-04 at 1.57.10 PMThe first tier of residential facilities is often called  “Independent Living”. These are often, but not always  resort-like, sometimes having condos,or cottages with common dining and activities areas. The residents are usually self-sufficient, and may do some of the planning, though there is usually an activities director.  A performer may find themselves in the dining area, or on a regular stage. Of all the possibilities, these are the ones that will feel the most like a regular performance anywhere. Sun City, for example, has a full auditorium, with people acting as stage hands and sound personnel.

Second tier would be  “Assisted Living” for people who require some kind of support, but are still fairly independent. There will be an Activities Director here who will arrange performance and other events several times a week. These could also include classes and workshops, but you’ll want even performances to be pretty interactive.Screen shot 2016-01-04 at 1.57.45 PM

“Nursing Homes”, the third tier, are people who require a great deal of support, and have not got a lot of mobility. The Activities Director will probably arrange to have performance events in a central gathering place like a dining room or lounge, and the residents who often be in wheelchairs, so there will be attendants in your audience as well.  There is also “Memory Care” or “Memory Unit” in many Nursing Home settings for those with Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and other mental health issues. They will  have strict supervision and their ability to interact will be very limited.  Your performance will be much more basic, and many in your audience will not respond, and may even fall asleep.

Finally, there are the “End of Life” care facilities, and hospice. Music is still very important to these residents, and your concerts will often be beside a bed. These can be among the most rewarding of playing situations, but they are not to everyone’s taste or ability. But … A study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found that listening to music can reduce chronic pain up to 21%, and reduce depression by up to 25%. Other studies have linked music to lowering blood pressure and anxiety in hospital patients. If you can do this, you will be performing a great service to those for whom you play.

What to play:

Your performance may include one or more of these:

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  • Singing
  • Talking about past memories, including memory games
  • Physical interaction by playing simple percussion instruments
  • Simple Dancing
  • Performers engaging seniors in conversation after the performance

Activity Directors often prefer that your performance be tied to holidays or special occasions. For example, Christmas, Halloween, Fourth of July, May Day, Valentine’s Day, etc. Every day is some kind of holiday. Google it before you plan your performance.  You’ll want to give your listeners a sense of continuity from their formerly private lives.  Entertainment makes the transition to living in a retirement community more pleasant for all residents.  For some residents who seek greater social interaction and mental stimulation, the ready availability of quality entertainment can be a deciding factor when selecting a retirement community.

A lot of people who are currently residents in facilities like those described above, are people who grew up singing in folk clubs and coffee houses, parties, in the hallways at school, even with the television (Remember “Follow the bouncing ball!”?) If you play songs from about the 30s to 60s, you’re pretty sure to have audience members singing with you. Smile a lot, talk to your audience, let them sing (In fact, invite them to do so.) Interaction is the most important thing in these performances.

 

 

 

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Singing through Allergy Season

You’ve waited for months for this night!

It’s your CD release party, Master’s recital, debut performance, big-deal conference showcase, month-long tour or something equally important. You definitely want to be at your best, and your vocal performance to be as flawless as you can make it. And on the morning of the “day of”, you wake up, and — uh oh……

You sound like this:

What do you do?

I live in Austin, Texas, the Allergy Capital of the Universe! (No, really!) Here, it’s always allergy season. Allergies are a way of life. But I sing and talk for a living.  I’ve had friends who were forced to cancel their CD release parties because of allergies, and could thereafter never get that all-important momentum going again. I myself have been known to skip shows in the middle of a tour, because I had no voice. In fact, part of that tour was a competition of performing songwriters, and I watched the judges write me off as soon as I opened my mouth. Sucks.

So in December 2014, I became part of a Christmas caroling group which has been in operation in Austin for 20 years. They now had more work than they could handle, and were starting a second group, which included me, to take the overflow. Before too long, we had a dozen shows all through December. We learned 30 or so of the nearly 50 songs that the original group had in their repertoire. We rehearsed once a month starting in May, and then once, or even twice a week in October and November to get ready. And during that last push, I suddenly remembered CEDAR SEASON!!!! (Put a lot of fear in your voice when you read those words).

It’s not real cedar. It’s called mountain cedar. No actual mountains, but it doesn’t really matter, because it’s actually a form of juniper — or at least that’s what I’ve been told. Whatever it is, in December the trees “get busy”, resulting in yellow pollen in the air, on your clothes, on your car, everywhere. If you want oxygen at all, you’re going to breathe it. And lots of immune systems don’t like it.

Cedar season is accompanied by mold season, and other unidentified allergens, so if you escape one, another is bound to get you.

Well ….

I’m pleased to report that, after my initial panic, I did make it through December, never canceling for even one of the gigs. And did a few others besides the caroling ones. I was not entirely unscathed, so I’ll be looking in the comments for other ideas, but after all that work, both on my part and on the part of the woman who heads up this endeavor, I was damned if I was going to waste it.

Here’s what I did:

Far and away, the most effective thing I did was this:  I started warming up the minute I was out of bed, and I kept it up all day. I used to be afraid to do that, because I thought I would blow out my voice before the show, but I tried it this time and it totally worked! By the time I had warmed up a little at a time, I was able to sing. It wasn’t my very best voice, but it was the best I could do at that moment, and it worked.

I got a steroid shot that did help clear it up faster, when I was being assaulted by allergens. But you can only do that once a year. It didn’t keep it from happening at all. Good theory, but, no.

I cancelled all unnecessary talking on the day of a performance if my voice was fragile. For me, it feels like talking is harder on my voice than singing, so I tried really hard not to do any talking all day. (For me, that’s REALLY hard. I deserve an award!)

 

Siren-ing (Put your tongue over your throat. Start from your midrange and go up like a siren until you hit your top note, and then go down until you hit bottom, then back to midrange. On one breath, usually.), I started with a variation on that I tried early on the first morning. I put my tongue over my throat, and starting from the lowest note I could reach, I went up by half-steps, stopping each time I couldn’t get a strong note and starting again from the bottom a few minutes later. I kept that up all morning until I could consistently reach the highest note I would need. Then I just continued doing the sirens the rest of the day.

 

Tried to remember to breathe from my diaphragm all day long.

 

Entertainers Secret & Throat Coat Tea.  (Whole Foods sold me Olba’s pastilles, and I had a bottle of Singers Saving Grace. They might even have been effective, but they tasted so bad, I never did either one again after the first time.) You can get Entertainers Secret online, and Throat Coat Tea is available at most supermarkets, and definitely at Whole Foods and other stores like them.

 

Tylenol and/or Ibuprofen.  They’re both anti-inflammatory, and can be taken together, since they work two different ways. Helped to calm my poor vocal cords down.
Like I said, it wasn’t my very best voice, but it worked.

See? Much better. (Oh wait. That isn’t me….)

These ideas came from Mady Kaye, Art Kidd, Clare McLeod, Brenda Freed, and my mother (the “stop talking” one).

 

 

Please feel free to let me know your favorite remedy in the comments.

 

 

 

 

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Streaming music, Spotify and a bit of Taylor Swift

Screen shot 2014-11-21 at 6.56.00 PMIt was the announcement from CNN that first got my attention really. I was listening to them talk about it on the CDBaby DIY Musicians Podcast (and if you are an Indie musician, you should be listening to this too! Find it on iTunes or go subscribe at http://cdbabypodcast.com/) while I was running one morning Here’s a quote from the actual story:

“Interviews with college-age music fans suggest that more and more are choosing to stream music instead of downloading it. After all, why pay for music when you can summon almost any song you want, at any time, for free?”

The CNN article points out that music streaming sites such as Pandora and Spotify are becoming increasingly popular  — mainly because of the price-tag, but each service offers its own particular advantage over outright ownership of music. In fact, the whole idea of what “ownership” means is changing.

My reaction to all that was, basically, “uh-oh”. Because not that long ago, I was listening to these same people discussing the fact that David Lowry, of the band Cracker, had posted his statement of royalties from Pandora, and it was pretty shockingly small, given the number of plays. He also posted his statements from satellite (Sirius) and terrestrial radio stations.

The Pandora payout lost the comparison by a huge margin. Here’s a look at the statements he posted:

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So , if these streaming services are becoming popular to the point where they are displacing buying the CDs, or even the single songs, the average independent songwriter is about to experience a significant drop in income (I say it that way, because one of the things I learned while researching this post was that independent songwriters are paid at a different rate than corporate entities by the streaming services.)

Up until recently, while it wasn’t easy to make one’s living from music, it was possible, for some more than others, I’ll admit. The best way to monetize your music, as it ever was, and maybe ever will be, is by live appearances. And selling ones own music at those live appearances. Despite the fact that there are hundreds, if not thousands of marketing strategies out there that claim to have “the answer” to how to market music, the truth is, few have been able to do it without at least playing live locally.

To put it in the words of a recent post on the streaming situation by one of the more successful songwriters in Austin, TX, Raina Rose:

“The 20th century was the only time in the history of music where some musicians got very well paid for their work.”

 She follows that with: “Those days are over”

Ms. Rose’s post was prompted by the commotion caused by Taylor Swift’s announcement a week or so ago about how she was pulling all her music, including her newly-released album, “1989”from Spotify, one of the lowest paying of the bunch. Taylor Swift had this to say about her decision:

“All I can say is that music is changing so quickly, and the landscape of the music industry itself is changing so quickly, that everything new, like Spotify, all feels to me a bit like a grand experiment,” Swift told Yahoo.“I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music.”

And she added, “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.”

I couldn’t agree more.

In this decision, she was joined by Nigel Godrich, of Cracker (and some others). Said Mr. Godrich:

“We’re off of Spotify. Can’t do that no more, man. Small, meaningless rebellion. The reason is that new artists get paid f**k-all with this model. It’s an equation that just doesn’t work. Plus, people are scared to speak up or not take part, as they are told they will lose invaluable exposure if they don’t play ball. Meanwhile, millions of streams gets them a few thousand dollars. Not like radio at all. If you have a massive catalogue—a major label, for example—then you’re quids in. It’s money for old rope. But making new recorded music needs funding. Some records can be made in a laptop, but some need musicians and skilled technicians. These things cost money. Pink Floyd’s catalogue has already generated billions of dollars for someone (not necessarily the band), so putting it on a streaming site makes total sense. But if people had been listening to Spotify instead of buying records in 1973, I doubt very much if “Dark Side” would have been made. It would just be too expensive.

“However, Spotify needs the new artists to be on the system to guarantee new subscribers and lock down the “new landscape.” This is how they figure they’ll make money in the future. But the model pays pittance to the new artist right now, an inconvenient fact which will keep surfacing.”

British pop singer, Ed Sheeran, has said that he sees the services more as a discovery mechanism, which would certainly be true of Pandora, which doesn’t let the user choose which music they will listen to.

Russ Mitchell of the LA Times agrees, saying:

“His argument falls in line with recent data from audience measurement service Nielsen that showed that those who pay for streaming services are about twice as likely to buy a CD or download an album than those who freeload on advertising-supported outlets.”

However, on Spotify, the user can create their own playlists, excluding any music that user is not familiar with. Discovery falls by the wayside. And also, on Spotify, there are two tiers, a premium tier with certain advantages having to do with quantity and, I believe, quality of streaming, and a free tier. Which is what the CNN article was talking about when they asked “Why pay, if you can get it for free?”

I try not to be cynical. I’ve been trying all my life. But I couldn’t help but notice how many “column inches” were being devoted to Taylor Swift and her decision. Part of me wanted to agree with her. But part of me was also thinking “Wow! She certainly generated a LOT of public attention!” (I know. Shame on me.)

But then I saw this yesterday from Billy Bragg:

What a shame that Taylor Swift’s principled stand against those who would give her music away for free has turned out to be nothing more than a corporate power play. On pulling her music from Spotify recently, she made a big issue of the fact that the majority of the streaming service’s users listen to her tracks for nothing rather than signing up to the subscription service.

 “These worthy sentiments have been somewhat undermined by Swift making her new album and back catalogue available on Google’s new Music Key streaming service…..which also offers listeners a free service alongside a premium subscription tier.

 “If Ms Swift was truly concerned about perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free, she should be removing her material from You Tube, not cozying up to it. The de facto biggest streaming service in the world, with all the content available free, You Tube is the greatest threat to any commercially based streaming service.

Google is going after Spotify and Taylor Swift has just chosen sides. That’s her prerogative as a savvy businesswoman – but please don’t try to sell this corporate power play to us as some sort of altruistic gesture in solidarity with struggling music makers.”

 And I thought that was being cynical! In fairness, I must mention the following, from a different article:

“However, a statement released by Swift’s spokesperson to NME reveals that Swift has not joined forces with the new initiative. It reads: “Taylor Swift has had absolutely no discussion or agreement of any kind with Google’s new music streaming service.”

Tune in tomorrow for the next episode of our continuing saga …..

All of which brings me back to that disturbing conversation on the CDBaby podcast about how more people were streaming than buying music. To my (sort of) relief the CNN article ended with this:

“The music fan never ceases to surprise me. If you told me five years ago there would be a boom in the sale of vinyl records I would have laughed. But people are buying them, and I think there are some people that will continue to buy music [and not just stream it].”

And thank goodness, people have still been buying my own CDs – though, for the most part, I have to be there to sell them … at live shows.

 

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The three Rs: Re-writing , Re-mixing, Re-recording

Every songwriter, every storyteller, every painter, every choreographer, indeed every creator, knows the rush of well-being that comes from bringing their creation out into the world. Something from nothing. Often that creation has kept its parent up all night, tweaking the details until everything is just “so”. Only it doesn’t feel like it’s keeping its parent up all night, as the creator doesn’t feel sleepy or hungry or in need of anything but bringing that creation as close to perfection as is possible for humans.

Screen shot 2014-09-19 at 9.52.42 PMNothing compares with that feeling, the one Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to as “Flow” and describes it as “the secret to happiness”. (If you’d like to hear him talk about it, go here.)

Speaking, of course, from my role as songwriter, I know that there is another side to this. I go to bed, the song “completed”, and when I wake up in the morning, I’m excited. It’s time to learn to play and sing my new song, so that I can show it off to its best advantage. I begin to sing, and… Uh-oh…. There’s a part here that doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t sing smoothly. Perhaps a few too many syllables, perhaps the word here is too harsh, not concrete enough. The song needs more “furniture” to make it a more sensory experience for the listener. Whatever.

 

Screen shot 2014-09-19 at 9.54.55 PMAt that point, I have a choice.

I can shrug my shoulders and say “Wow! I put in so much work on this already. No one is going to know about this little flaw I think I’ve found. Maybe it’s my imagination. No one is going to be a picky as that. If they’re focused that hard on the details, they’ve got the problem, not me. Well, maybe so. But every time I sing the song, I know it’s not quite right. And so, probably it’s time to knuckle down and re-write. (Ugh. Drudgery. I’d rather do housework.)

Not long ago, I discovered that seeking out just the right word, changing the phrase so that it fits snugly in the format, exploring metaphors until the exact right one is found, is also a flow experience. Plus, the added attraction of saying exactly what you meant, and OMG, it rhymes! I invite you to try it. You can get so involved in the investigation, and the hunt, and the performance of the necessary surgery (please pardon the mixed metaphor), that it begins to feel just like writing the song in the first place. Flow. Surprise!

Screen shot 2014-09-19 at 10.02.07 PMNow it’s time to record. And again, it feels great. The arranging, the inviting of other instrumentalists to contribute, their contribution (I try not to control that beyond a few suggestions to imply boundaries.), et voilà! The recording. Let’s put it on and listen. Oh dear. The flute’s a little too loud, isn’t it. And there’s a bad note in the bass. Not the end of the world, though. Because we can re-mix. (Ugh. Drudgery. I’d rather clean toilets).

And again, it turns out that the process of re-mixing is so absorbing that hours later, you had no idea that much time has passed, until someone calls to find out where you are, because you’re supposed to be somewhere else.

And, even if the recording needs to be done over, which it sometimes does (*sigh*), I’ll bet you’ll find that it’s not quite the chore you were expecting. You may even find some new, better way of treating the song that makes it a better song.

Oh …. and the housework? That can turn out to be a “flow” experience too. A lot depends on your

attitude.

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New Discovery: Yiddish Tango

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 10.47.21 PMThose who know me are aware that I have a show of Yiddish songs I learned growing up, which of course, I love and perform when and wherever I can. I stumbled across the Yiddish tango quite by accident, and wanted to share my delight.

Ultimately, you could argue that this is either Yiddish music being played with a tango beat, or else tangos being played by klezmer instruments. And you’d be more-or-less right. But it’s actually much more than that, and has a long and intricate history, some of it ugly, some shining.

We can start with the tango developing out of other dance forms in Buenos Aires in the early 1900s. Most of this was occurring at the brothels and such on the waterfront, attended by the less savory portion of the population. Originally, the dance was designed to portray a prostitute and her pimp, and so was not danced in polite company. But as time went on, the music became less raucous, and though the dance remained more or less the same, it became more acceptable as a result. This video was apparently made at a tango contest in the 1900, and the tango had already gained enough popularity to be competitive.

Just so you know, I make no claims upon the videos that follow, or the music in them.

TANGO (Old film from 1900)

I mostly included this next video because, even though it’s a computer simulation, it shows the setting most of the participants would be in for an evening of tango.

TANGO – Computer simulation of dance with 1920s tango

Over the years, the tango music began to acquire lyrics, resulting in singers achieving stardom and increasing the popularity of the music.

At the same time as this was developing, there was a heavy influx of immigrants from mid and eastern-Europe. A large proportion of the newcomers were Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Slavic Jews, who were seeking escape from the pogroms and other persecutions in the area.  Part of that population ended up in the United States, but many went to South America, and particularly to Argentina, which was calling for laborers at the time (large areas of land to be developed now that the native population had been slaughtered). The immigrants gravitated to the dancing and good times as a way of easing their distress at being uprooted and displaced into a new and foreign setting.

So, into this musical environment came the influx of Jews from Eastern Europe, invited by the Argentinian government to work the land.  Between 1910 and 1940, 250,000 Jews entered Argentina, making Buenos Aires the largest Jewish community after New York. In much the same way as the Jewish cultural heritage made its way into the general culture in New York, so it also did in Buenos Aires. Jewish musicians began to become prominent in the world of tango as performers, composers and lyricists.

And as the Yiddish Theater, which thrived in New York and Buenos Aires, continued on into the 30s and 40s, songwriters from the theater began to write tangos, both for theater pieces and as stand-alone songs, suitable for dancing. One of the most popular players from Yiddish theater was Molly Picon, who was Yenta in the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof. She  wrote the lyrics for a lovely song called Oygn, set to a tango beat (also known as “milonga” with accents as follows 1-2-3-4-56-78)

Yiddish Tango – Friling

JACOB SANDLER Git mir ob main hartz tzurik

The tango became more and more popular, and it made its way back to Europe, in the tracks of American blues and Jazz (and later, rock and roll.) Soon you could find Yiddish-speaking musicians writing tangos for their own performances, especially in Eastern Europe, where there was still a strong Yiddish culture.

Old Polish tango in Polish and Hebrew: Graj skrzypku, graj!

By the time of World War II, Tango was the rage in Europe, in city and ghetto. But as the Nazis came to power, and began absorbing their neighbors, life became untenable for the Jewish population in general. Those musicians who did not escape, and ended up in the concentration camps, found themselves enlisted in Lagernkapellen orchestras by the Nazis.  They were required to play tango, in preference to jazz. This was because the Nazis saw jazz as more likely, and tango as less likely to inspire rebellion. And they were required to play tangos,  in particular the Tango of Death, as accompaniment to mass executions.

Jewish Music from Holocaust – Yiddish Tango

An example of El Tango de la Muerte:

El Tango de la Muerte

In the U.S., the Yiddish Theater continued to thrive, and tango was often the vehicle for the songs.  The Barry Sisters recorded this one:

Ikh hob dikh tsi fil lib

And today, in Buenos Aires, Yiddish tango is alive and well, in the form of the Yiddish Tango Club, founded by Gustavo Bulgach. Have a listen. You won’t be sorry:

Librescu Tango – Gustavo Bulgach KLEZMER JUICE

And if you’d like to hear a sampling of my Yiddish show, go here: