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Austin, TX – 05/06/17

Who
Jan Seides in Concert
When
Saturday, May 6, 2017
6:00pm - All Ages
Where
Mueller Cafe at HEB (map)
1801 East 512st Street
Austin, TX, United States 78723
Other Info
I'll be here from 6 - 8 pm, spinning tales and enticing listeners with song. Come join me. The food here is scrumptious, by the way ....

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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:

Screen shot 2014-11-13 at 12.15.12 AM

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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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International Sing Like a Pirate Day

Arrgh!!!!

There are so many aspects to what we here in the United States call “folk music”, it is difficult to keep track of them all. But, as it happens, I had a friend, no longer among us, who was a student of sea chanteys, and as a result, I have a special affection for them.

So imagine my delight to find out that the Folk Music Society of New York was going to host an evening of sea chantey singing they are billing as “Sing Like a Pirate Friday” on International Talk Like A Pirate Day, the 19th of September, 2014.

According to Evy Mayer, sea chanteys are easy to sing, as they were once used to keep the men at the same tempo as they hauled in lines, or rowed, or any other jobs on a sea-going ship that required a steady rhythm. Of necessity, they were simple songs, with call-and-response and easy-to-remember choruses.

Like this one, that you can’t swing a dead cat without hearing as you grow up:

Or this:

(Listen closely for the “Arrrrgh!” near the end, tucked under the music!)

Story songs abound, full of derring-do, and swashes buckled and unbuckled. One of the more famous ones involves Captain Kidd, out of New York City, who became a pirate in 1699, but ended up hanged not long after.

And finally, as a tribute to my friend, Caryl P. Weiss, here’s one of my favorites of her performances:

If you’re in New York City and you’d like to partake of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, by singing like a pirate, here are all the details:

The Talk-Like-a-Pirate Extravaganza and chantey sing will take place Friday, Sept. 19th at 7:30 P.M. at OSA Hall, 220 East 23rd St, suite 707, Manhattan (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues). Snacks will be served. Contribution is any pieces of silver one might wish to spare. For more information, call (718) 549-1344 (after 11 AM) or see http://www.folkmusicny.org/.”