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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Music Success in Nine Weeks - Week Three

This week's challenge is about optimizing your website, which is something I did when I was working with Ariel before.  Not a lot of changes I need to make to the existing status quo from the last time I worked this chapter, but I may change my pitch and add it to the My Space, Twitter, and Facebook pages.

My biggest problem?  Lack of consistent follow-through.  I have great ideas but don't execute.  I write great songs but don't record them or finish them.  I get email addresses at my gigs but don't add them to the list until 4 months later and/or never send a newsletter.

I signed up for this blog contest to hopefully stimulate some more consistency from myself.  Because I feel like the consistency will pay off.  

It's not like I just sit on my duff, though.  I am still recovering from a pulmonary embolism and blood clots in my leg from March.  I have an almost 5 year old who I am the primary caregiver for 4 days a week (wife works those days).   I played 9 gigs a week all summer long.  So I am still catching up, but I am hoping this contest stimulates my "follow-through" muscle.

For example, I look at all the awesome-looking websites that the other participants have and see how I have not updated mine in eons.  I even got Dreamweaver as a Christmas present last year, but here it is Christmas again and I still have just cracked the first page of the manual.   Can't afford to hire a web designer.

One tool that Ariel provides which really helps to list FIVE SUCCESSES every day.  Because otherwise So I am going to start with that (making 2 of them music related):

1)  Had 2 musically successful gigs the last two days - played some originals at both of them (mostly I play covers).

2)  Sold 10 CDs Friday night, Sold 7 CDs last night.  Average price paid - $6.   The CDs are original music.

3)  Writing this blog is a big step toward consistent action!

4)  Took my daughter trick-or-treating.  We went to just enough houses and had a really great time.  She gives up most of her candy so the "Halloween Fairy" can give her a present.

5)  Got home from the gig last night at 4 AM (it's 2 hrs away).  Got to bed at 6 and slept a full 8 hours until 2 without waking up.  With all my sleep issues of the last couple of years, this is a major thing!  

6)  Did not get angry at the little things today.  Contained the impulse to lash out.  :-)

Anyways...on to week 4.  I may re-examine this chapter to make sure I've really worked it to my satisfaction, but my time is short and I am volunteering to make phone calls for my congressman tomorrow to get out the vote.   Vote Patrick Murphy for Pennsylvania's 8th District!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Music Success in Nine Weeks - Week Two Part 2

"The Pete Seeger of goth-reggae"  or "The Woody Guthrie of goth-reggae"

"Sings like Steve Winwood, writes lyrics like Beck, plays guitar like Jerry Garcia, and dances like Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles."

I honestly can't decide.

I'm going to post some thoughts in the Mastermind forum and see what people say.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Music Success in Nine Weeks - End of Week One/Week Two

Ok, I set my goals!   I am also working with this coach named Gary Ryan Blair and his "100 Day Challenge" which has you set intense goals from the very beginning.  I wrote all the goals out and am printing them out to post on the wall of my studio.  Some highlights:

- enhancing my YouTube presence by recording a series of video and videosongs
- finishing my next Chris Huff record
- finishing my long-stalled children's record
- relaunching my online guitar lessons website
- creating a soundtrack reel for TV/film backgrounds work
- making more money :-D

Now on to Week #2, which in the book involved creating your perfect pitch.  The pitch I came up with last time through the book was:

Sounds like Bob Dylan and David Bowie jamming in Jamaica

which worked for me, for awhile.  Ariel liked it.  Carla Lynne Hall liked it a lot.  I remember using it at CMJ and this guy from a radio station in Seattle said, "Who are Bob Dylan and David Bowie?"  Most people raised their eyebrows and said, "Hmm, interesting."  But it didn't knock them out.

I want to knock them out!   Need a better pitch and something that is a little more generalized - when you list specific artists, you run the chance of them not knowing

So, following the exercise in the book, here are my lists:

1)  Genres of music played:  Rock, roots rock, reggae, folk, folk rock, country, alt-country, punk, jazz, funk, soul, R&B, classic rock, British Invasion, psychedelic rock, 80s rock, jam band.

2)  Artists people say you sound like:  John Mayer, Dave Matthews, David Bowie, James Taylor, Steve Winwood, Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead, The Beatles, Sting, U2, Tom Petty

3)  Artists and things that have influenced you:  Bob Dylan, Robyn Hitchcock, Lou Reed, abstract art, surrealism, Beatles, Stones, Who, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, film noir, Morrissey, Robert Smith, and the list is really too long to finish...

4)  Write down all of the feelings and vibes that you want to create or convey with your music.    I want people to experience what I experience when I hear great singers or players:  some sort of transcendent, almost out-of-body experience.  I want people to relax and have a good time, I like a mellow psychedelic (but not out of control) vibe.  The way you feel after meditation or a great yoga class.  Or a couple of drinks sitting in the sun.   And with all that, some cerebral stimulation in a thought-provoking lyric.  Funny, sometimes heavy, sometimes confusing, sometimes strange, sometimes political.   I want to shake people's minds, bodies, and spirits.   Booty-shakin symbolist surrealist spiritual poetry.

Not so sure about the booty-shakin' part lol it's funny, but my new music won't really be like that...

Now I am supposed come up with words and sentences from the 4 above notes that sum me up.   Here's a few I can think of:

I don't like mellow.  My music isn't mellow.  Tuneful and seasoned are 2 synonyms.   People have called me like John Mayer but more soulful.

One thought:  "Like John Mayer if his mom was Grace Slick and he grew up in Andy Warhol's Factory raised by Bowie who forcefed him Dylan records."

It's 2 AM, so I have to continue this later...but I'm going to post this one on the Facebook page and see what happens.  Tschuss!





Monday, October 11, 2010

Music Success In Nine Weeks - Week One

So I am going to take the challenge from the Music Success In Nine Weeks crew, and start blogging my way through the new revised version of the book.   The prizes are sweet and I could use the focus, even though I feel like "I don't have time" for it.  I love Ariel's ideas and there are very few people/websites/organizations providing structure in this unstructured time in the music business.  I believe right now ANY structure is good.

I worked with Ariel Publicity from Oct 2008 to Jan 2010 promoting my Death and Texas LP last year.  While I have to say that I was quite happy with the results (it did broaden my fan base considerably) and I heartily agree with their methods, I was very disappointed in their customer service.  For example, I was told that I received 10 gig promotions with my package and while the 1st promotion did get me an article in the local paper, the 2nd gig promotion didn't happen.  When questioned, the answer I got is "oh we forgot, sorry".  Then when I was discussing with an employee about doing further gig promotions, they basically said, "well it's really hard to get anyone to write something so we don't really try that hard."  Nice.  I did believe her that it is very hard to get a print publication to write about them, but after $2500 and numerous extensions at $250 a month, that was a pretty lame response.  I felt like the woman handling my account could have given a crap;  often it took days to get responses to emails.   I asked a couple of times to receive direct responses from Ariel via email and/or phone (there was one problem with my promo photo at the beginning that was totally on their end and it was excruciating dealing with my account rep who was rude and uncaring).   Ariel never responded, so just to let you know - you'll never hear from her if you ask to speak with her.  You'll maybe get a tweet about something random in the middle of the night, but it also took her 2 months for her to add me to her Twitter page.   Kinda shabby for $2500 + $250 a month for 9 more months.  Also, some months they'd have you mail out 3 packages and then some months you'd have to send like 20 in one week.  Hard to plan for.  That might be standard, but I didn't and don't have a lot of confidence in their "go-getter"ness - I felt like more could have been done in the off months.

So if I didn't like them, why am I back, you might say?  lol  Why trash them in the first paragraph and blow my chances of actually winning the contest?  LOL

Well, the publicity campaign worked.  I made several contacts in the blog/podcast/internet radio area, and in fact got about 50-100 new fans who I still keep in touch with from one internet radio station alone.  I got a whole bunch of reviews of my disc, some of which were great.  Any publicity is good publicity, they say.  Above all, it's the fan relationships I made with people around the world that bode well for the future.   I started moving in the direction of "1000 true fans" (I'd say I probably have about 200).

And honestly, there's no other game in town for what they are doing.  Should I win the package, at least this time going into it I will have my eyes open and know what to expect.   I'm also hoping that my venting gets noticed and maybe their customer service will improve!  

AND....(here's the crux of the matter)...I think like many musicians I have been sitting at the counter of Schwab's Pharmacy all my life waiting to be discovered, "ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille".  For those who don't know, this was a famous drugstore in Hollywood where actors and actresses would go to be "noticed" by producers and directors.   It was rumored that Lana Turner was discovered there, but that is actually false.  To anyone's knowledge, nobody was discovered there.

But I have been waiting most of my life for someone else to come along and do the heavy lifting.  Be discovered by a producer, be discovered by a label, for someone to say "hey, he's really talented.  I'm going to give him a million dollars and put him on TV/Radio/Movies".  Colonel Parkers don't exist anymore, and even if they did, look what he did to Elvis.  

I admit that I gave up at the end of my publicity campaign because I thought "well, I don't have any more sales, I can't support myself on my record sales so I am a failure".   My expectations were unrealistic.

I am willing to start again, to learn anew, to correct my mistakes, and above all TRY not to be so damn SELF-CRITICAL.  I am my own worst enemy.   But I am also my own best friend.  The tools in this book really helped before and I think I can use them to launch myself a little further down the path because now I have an idea of what is reasonable to expect.  

And, like Derek Sivers says, nobody is coming.  Nobody.   That thought comforts him and terrifies me.  But I know I can do it.  I have watched so many of my friends become successful in music and other businesses and I am sick and tired of standing on the sidelines.  I am going to try to discover myself and try to present that to the world in a fashion I can be proud of.   I have a lot of exciting strategies and I am eager to try them out.

So while I think I have "no time" to blog and go through this book, I think I need to give up some TV shows and stop mindlessly surfing the web to commit to some forward progress.  Because I'm worth it LOL.  Cheesiest blog ending line ever!   See, there's the critic.  Work in progress over here.  Time for some goal-setting!  

Thursday, July 1, 2010

my favorite movie

So I am taking this challenge from NaBloPoMo to blog everyday during July and revitalize my declining web presence.   Some of you know that I had a blood clot situation in March - there will be more details about that shortly, but for today...I am using their "writing stimulator" - 

my favorite movie is The Last Temptation of Christ.   or at least it used to be.   It's been so many years since I've seen it that I have really no idea anymore lol.  I used to call Star Wars my favorite movie, and then when I saw it again with my daughter last year I realized that it seemed kind of dated and was a little bit boring.  Brazil is a great one, but also I haven't watched that in years.  

To catch up those who haven't seen it:  Last Temptation is a fictional riffing on the Gospel of Matthew. Satan tempts Jesus to accept a normal life as a man while he is on the cross.  He comes down off the cross, has kids, lives to be an old man...

What I like about Last Temptation: 

a)  It was a pet project of Martin Scorsese's for years, and has great personal meaning for him...I am always attracted to great artists' pet projects...
b)  Willem Dafoe's performance and subsequent commentary on the Criterion Collection DVD - Willem is an acknowledged agnostic who describes feeling "a presence" during the filming that went away after shooting stopped...and he plays an extremely human, confused, frightened Jesus...
c)  Peter Gabriel's score - an extremely sensual series of music pieces - I have great memories about this music from a period of time when I was 20 and with a particular significant other...hahaha nothing like being young and lusty...with a great soundtrack to accompany...
d)  It's not particularly reverent and yet not irreverent - it preserves the actors' New York accents yet also gives a distinct visceral feeling of the sacred - the way an Essene must have felt having hallucinations after fasting in the desert for 40 days....
e)  The crucifixion sequence and the events of the Last Temptation are some of the most powerful filmmaking I can think of - I am thinking especially about the silence when Satan in the form of a little girl is taking the nails out of Jesus's feet and taking him off the cross...whatever one believes about Christianity and God in general, you've gotta admit that symbolically this is about as strong as you can get in Western Civilization.  
f)  Overall, it is a very visceral, gut-level, experiential telling of the Christ story which is one of the organizing myths in our society and resonates with me on a cellular level.  The camera movements ("God wants to PUSH me over" Jesus shouts as the camera takes us off the cliff), the music, the costumes, the stark desert scenery....every small physical action takes on HUGE meaning - when Jesus eats an apple, it bleeds...
g)  Religion is explained in one scene with Harry Dean Stanton as the Apostle Paul who encounters the Jesus who chose a normal life - "It doesn't matter what really happened to you.  It matters what people believe happened.  The resurrected Christ will save the world!  Not you.  I'm glad I met you, so I can forget all about you."  
h)  David Bowie as Pontius Pilate!  

In my mind, a person of faith would not find this film blasphemous...a person of faith would find this film inspiring, gut-wrenching, and ultimately reinforcing a strong connection to the Divine.  But, hey that's just me.  :-) 




Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Thoughts on music, life, and The Grammys - A Cranky Old Man Rant

I didn't watch the Grammys last night.  The clip I checked out on YouTube of Taylor Swift (who I really don't mind) - she was really flat.  While I respect the decision not to use autotune, she and Stevie Nicks together kinda sounded like a train wreck.  Stevie's always had pitch issues.

That being said, of all the cover songs I play You Belong To Me is one of the better-written and catchier melodies.  Someday I will share my Cheap Trick-style version with you.

Two very cool things about the Grammys though:

1)  Ramblin' Jack Elliott won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album.  I doubt Jack has ever won an award in his life.  A HUGE influence on Bob Dylan, Jack was the king of the scene in Greenwich Village in the early 60s.  78 years old.  I LOVE that shit.  Show em how it's done, old man.

2)  Neil Young won his first Grammy, even though it was for Art Direction on one of his Archive box sets.   Think about that, though.  Love him or hate him, Neil Young has a HUGE influence.  The whole Pearl Jam/Nirvana Seattle scene worshipped him and was extremely influenced by his fusion of folk, punk, and hard rock styles.  Also his scraggly hair.   His first Grammy?  How insane is that?  It's great but it sucks too...he has released over 30 albums in a career spanning decades.   Maybe he hasn't been relevant to the culture at large for a period of years, but does music ALWAYS have to be culturally relevant?  Can it ever be judged on its own terms?   Or is all that matters that people buy it?

We are giving Taylor Swift at age 20 armloads of awards as if she is the "best" because she happened to sell the most last year...

so without sounding too curmudgeonly, I need to express how much I really despise these kinds of events where today's artists are celebrated as if they are Artists with a capital A.  The music of the 60s was a youth movement, perhaps the greatest youth movement of all time.  I also understand that ages 15 - 25 are the #1 sales demographic because they are not spending their money on power bills and mortgages, they buy CDs and downloads.   I love young people btw.  I know a lot of them who think the current pop music is crap, too.

BUT I want to scream how the emperor (or empress, in Lady Gaga's case) has no clothes.  At least Gaga is visually interesting.  In my lifetime, though, I have seen pop music rise and fall.  There were the quirky early to mid 80s where for a brief, shining moment being weird and interesting was celebrated.  Then the dance music and hair bands leapt in, to be smashed by Nirvana.  All of a sudden it was again cool to be interesting.  Since Nirvana, though, it seems like we've been slowly sliding downhill with all of the interesting artists marginalized and the most mainstream stuff getting more and more watered down...there have been some bright moments - "Are You Gonna Be My Girl", "Drops of Jupiter" - there will always be great pop songs even in the darkness....but it seems to be getting worse.

What it boils down to is I have a deep and abiding love for music created on guitars and pianos.  A drum machine beat and a fuzzy synth can be fun once in a while...but nobody in the mainstream really uses the tech that creatively these days.  I am thinking here of one-man band synth pioneer Howard Jones whose singles had real texture.  I suppose I am old-fashioned, but I believed these things in the late 80s too when I was only 17...

What is my point?  Maybe the best stuff has always been outside the spotlight.  There will always be good music being made.   For example, this new disc by a group called Seeland is amazing.  Check them out:   http://www.myspace.com/seelanduk - there is no reason that they shouldn't be huge.

Our musical culture is so fractured right now that unless you go out to bars all the time or listen to whatever top 40 radio station is left in your town, you probably haven't even heard Lady Gaga.  That is somewhat comforting, even though Gaga is the best of what's out there on the charts right now.

Lester Bangs wrote an essay on Elvis in 77 when the King died which ended with "I'm not going to say goodbye to Elvis.  I'm going to say goodbye to you.  Because we will never agree on anything so much ever again."   Foreshadowing!

I ramble.  I roll.  But (since I don't post regularly) maybe nobody will read this!   I promise to get better at this whole blogeration.  Cheers.