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Please follow me on Spotify

If you listen to music on Spotify, there’s a small thing you can do that’d be a big help to me: FOLLOW me there!

Once I get to 250 followers, Spotify will “verify” my account, which opens up some cool possibilities for my music on that streaming service, and I’ll also be able to keep you updated whenever I release new songs on Spotify.

If you have a second, please click “follow” above. It really will be a huge help and I’ll send an immediate psychic hug in return. Thanks!

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ISRAEL!!!

Finally!!!

Having wanted to make this trip since I was 14 years old, I finally went to Israel. What follows is partly travelogue, but it is also a very emotional journey through obstacles and wake-up calls.

The history: I did not love high school. I was a reasonably good student, though “not up to my potential”, as I was told repeatedly by my counselor. Trouble at home and a certain lack of maturity were probably to blame. In any case, when I was about 13, I went searching for a new set of friends, because I decided I didn’t really care for the elementary/middle grades friends I had, and high school had only aggravated the problem.

Screen shot 2016-06-29 at 8.34.50 PMWhat  I found was Hashomer Hatzair, a Zionist youth group. We mostly did folk dances, learned Hebrew “folk” songs (I found out later that they were mostly written in the 20s when the Zionist movement first began to bear fruit.) and talked about being pioneers in Israel. They offered me a free scholarship to summer camp that year, and after a lot of back-and-forth between them and my parents, I was able to take them up on it. And it totally opened my eyes in so many ways.

I had never before been out of the city for more than a day, except to go with my family to a Screen shot 2016-06-29 at 8.35.05 PMdifferent city. This was up at the top of the mitten of  the lower peninsula of Michigan in a place called Wilderness State Park. There was the combined waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior a 15-minute walk away. There were kids from many different parts of Michigan and the U.S., and more than a few from Israel. There were opportunities to learn skills that I’d only encountered before in my dis-banded Girl Scout troop (Our leader quit.). There were beautiful songs, intricate dances, stories, the outdoors. And underlying all of it was “Go. Be a pioneer in Israel.”

Three things I remember vividly about that summer:

Screen shot 2016-06-29 at 8.37.06 PMThere was a water fountain in the middle of the campground that served up the purist, coldest, sweetest water I’d ever tasted. I would get up in the middle of the night to cross the camp and get myself a drink from that well. Yum! (I don’t think I ever fell in love with water before that.)

There was a trip to Mackinac Island, where there were NO cars! Screen shot 2016-06-29 at 8.38.52 PMJust 19th century buildings, and horses and carriages. All the people who lived (?) and worked there dressed the part. And the Mackinac Bridge was gorgeous! Doesn’t get better than that!

Screen shot 2016-06-29 at 8.39.42 PMI developed a huge crush, as 13-year-olds will, on our counselor. Her name was Shoshanna, and she was willing to teach me some Hebrew, as was the Camp Director’s 5-year-old daughter, who I was also in love with. Shoshanna went on to marry another counselor and they moved to a Kibbutz. I’m not sure what I was most jealous of, but I was pretty jealous.Screen shot 2016-06-29 at 8.40.45 PM

So anyway ….

Now I’m an adult. I’ve lived in several locations, but have put down my roots in Austin, TX. Most of my childhood and adolescent dreams have morphed into different dreams, or disappeared. Except for one. I still long to go to Israel one day. Only now it’s a little bit different because now I’m a trained musician and a seasoned songwriter. I want to go to Israel and play. That’s what I want.

Time goes by. I am a very hard-working single mom, and then I’m not single anymore. He wants to travel too, but he has different aspirations than mine. Nevertheless, I start to save my money. Then my daughter has a very difficult adolescence of her own, and I start thinking I can’t let her spend the summer in Austin. The youth group at the temple where she became bat mitzvah is going to Israel. Fine. Here’s the money. Take her to Israel. (She’s fine now.)

More time goes by. We travel some. Not to Israel, but to some good places. You can find some pictures on my website in the gallery. I have tried to get a few other musicians and songwriters interested in going with me, so that we can book performances together, but no one really bites.

So last year, I decided if I was going to go, now was the time. It took some talking, and some spending of money, but …. Finally!!!

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At the Wall

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At the Tel Aviv Folk Club

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The remains of a Roman Aquaduct and the Mediterranean

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Our home in Jerusalem (The Jerusalem Garden Hotel)

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Dome of the Rock from a nearby rooftopScreen shot 2016-06-29 at 9.11.37 PM

The Arab market in the Old City (So much kitsch, so little time.)

More pictures at

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10154229923969519.1073741840.722004518&type=3

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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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On Being the Opening Act

Because I’m going to be the opening act in April for someone I have long admired, I decided to do a thorough investigation of what it means to be the opening act. I have opened for friends, in the past, and occasionally for people whose name and music I didn’t know, but it was small venues, or other lesser-known  acts, and so there was not much pressure. But this time it will be a veteran, whose name is very well known, and I want to get it right. (I’ll give you more details at the end of this.)

So first, a definition. This is straight from Wikipedia:

“The opening act’s performance serves to “warm up” the audience, making it appropriately excited and enthusiastic for the headliner. An opening act, warm-up act, or supporting act is an entertainment act (musical, comedic, or otherwise), that performs at a concert before the featured act, or “headliner”. Rarely, an opening act may perform again at the end of the event, or perform with the featured act after both have had a set to themselves.”

OK. Well, there’s no one in the audience whose enthusiasm for the headliner could be greater than my own, so that will be easy. I will probably mention a few times how grateful I am for the opportunity, for a wide variety of reasons. Not the least of these is that I get to play for his audience, and potentially, add them to my audience. Not only fans, but press, and booking contacts could be amongst the people for whom I will have the opportunity to play.

However, I’m aware there are some risks here, and I know there are some rules for avoiding them. I checked online (Because that’s what one does these days), and here’s what I found.

  1. Co-Promote

There may not be a formal arrangement for you to roll up your sleeves and help promote the show, but get on board and do what you can. Announce the show on your website, social networking sites and via your mailing list. Be sure to include info about the headliners in the promotion you do to your existing fans.

Contacting the local press and radio may also be helpful, but consider checking with the show promoter before you do that. They may have plans for reaching out to the local media, and you don’t want to step on their toes and confuse the message. Generally speaking, the larger the show, the larger promotion machine behind it, so do check before making the media calls.

  1. Watch The Clock

When the headlining musicians, their management, agent or the show promoter asks you to be somewhere at a certain time, be there. Yes, even if you know if absolutely everyone else involved in the show is going to be late and you’re going to be spending a lot of time standing around waiting. If something happens that is going to delay you – getting lost on the way to venue, flat tire, forgotten instrument, etc, etc, etc. – call someone and let them know. Even if they treat you like you’re giving them T.M.I., better to err on the side of being thorough and showing that you respect your scheduled set, than to bank on the fact that everyone will be cool with you rolling in when you can.

  1. Accept The Sound-check

In most cases, sound-check starts with the headliners and finishes with the first opening act. The reason for that is partially a practical one – the first opener will take the stage first, of course, so when they sound-check last, the stage is set up with their gear so the show is ready to start.

However, the reason is also partially hierarchy. Allowing the headliners to get the first crack at sound-check means they can kind of take their time and sound-check until they feel good about their set. Sometimes, this means the headliners end up taking up ALL the sound-check time – or most of it – and that of course means the opening act gets little or no time to check their own sound and get comfortable with the stage/acoustics.

For an opener, that can cause some serious stress, but your best bet is to grin and bear it rather than kicking up a fuss. Sure, it would be great if the headliners made sure everyone got a pop at a sound-check, but it IS their show and their prerogative to take the time.

  1. Discuss Merch

Before you assume that you’ll be setting up a merch table the night of the show, discuss it with whoever booked you for the gig. Sometimes, headliners (or their reps) frown on support bands selling their merch because any money thrown your way is money not spent on the headliners’ merch. That may rub the wrong way – especially if the headliners are making big bucks for the show while you’re getting a pittance – but you’re kind of bound to the rules set by the people who invited you to play the show. Have a discussion about this before the night of the show.

  1. Respect The Set Length

Even if it feels like the audience is eating it up and you’re having a great time on stage, wrap up your set when you’re supposed to. When you run over, you take time away from the headliners. It’s important that they get their full set – or if they don’t, that it is not your fault. Remember, the headliners are who the audience is REALLY there to see, so just be glad you made some new fans and promise them a longer set in the future.

  1. Stay for The Show

Unless there is a valid reason why you have to play and dash – you’ve got a plane to catch, a 14 hour drive home, an illness or something along those lines – don’t skip out before the headliners play their set. Yes, even if they are not your favorite band, stick around and watch them play.

  1. Say Thank You

Say a quick “thank you” to everyone who helped you land this opportunity and everyone who helped the show run smoothly. From the headliners and their reps to the venue manager and sound engineer, a quick “thank you” goes a long way.

 

So here’s the scoop: In April. I will open for Michael Martin Murphey at a concert at the LBJ Ranch. The concert is a fundraiser for the LBJ Museum of San Marcos Permanent Endowment Fund and includes a barbecue. I was honored to be asked to do this, in no small part because, back when you used to need a written copy of your song in order to register a copyright with the Library of Congress, I used to transcribe Mr. Murphey’s songs. I did the transcriptions for his first album, and several times had to start songs over because I forgot what I was supposed to be doing and just sat there listening and enjoying. So I’m excited to be part of one of his shows, and I may even get to sing harmony on a few of those songs. Keeping my fingers crossed about that. Details will show up on my website and social media outlets in the near future.

And for your entertainment, here is Mary Chapin Carpenter’s take on all this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.