I’m a musician, but do I deserve it?

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Lately I find that when people ask me what I do, I’ve been telling them that I teach piano lessons. This is true, but I almost never share that I am a recording artist who sells CDs and writes original music. Today, I was thinking about my reasons for this kind of answer.  I guess I’m afraid that people will judge me. And more importantly, they will decide in their minds whether I am appropriate for being a recording artist or not. Some people may think that what I do is very immature, or something that teenagers do, like joining a Rock band with friends who don’t actually have instruments. 
More prominent in my mind though is the realization that I don’t look like the recording artists on the CD covers at Walmart. I’m over 25. I’m fat. I have a child. Sometimes I sweat.  Most of my clothes don’t have studs or sequins on them…. But mostly, it’s because I’m heavy.  While I am completely confident in my music and my abilities as a singer and pianist, I find that I have been hiding my performance abilities from some people because I’m afraid of their judgment.
I used to teach voice lessons at a conservatory, and I remember many of my students sharing similar feelings. These young girls felt that in order to be singers, they really needed to be thin and beautiful. And not just beautiful on the inside, but beautiful by today’s Hollywood standards. I remember teaching lessons to women in their 20s as well, and hearing constantly that they would love to perform, but they need to lose weight first. 
The girls themselves even judge other artists by their appearance before the music. I remember in one voice lesson, I played a YouTube video of Adele’s Version of “To Make You Feel My Love”, and after the video was through the student paused for an uncomfortable moment before she said, “she’s kind of… Fat.” my reply was to tell her that I didn’t care how fat Adele was, that her singing was what was important. I remember asking, “but don’t you think her voice is amazing?” 
I think it’s sad that the factors of physical beauty have become part of the art of music. I think it’s sad that when I give my CD to someone, or share my music with them, I do so in an apologetic way. I feel like I hand the CD over while saying,”here’s my CD, I’m sorry I’m so fat.” 
I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions anymore, but this year I would like to try to own my talents and little better. I deserve to be a recording artist. I deserve to create music and art, just as any other being on this planet deserves to follow what they enjoy. Life is a finite thing. It doesn’t last forever and we should spend it doing what we enjoy most.
So, do I deserve the life that I have and the talents that I’ve been given? Damn straight I do.

Categories: Music Blogs

Is Pandora Killing the Independent Artist?

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This post is going to be a short and choppy one, but I couldn’t help but write a new post. Right now I am on Christmas vacation at my lovely mothers home. The best part about this is the mashed potatoes and noodles. I digress… This post is about the new music service Pandora. I suppose it is also about the service called Spotify, as it’s basically does the same thing. basically, this is about all businesses that offer streaming for a flat rate.
If you’ve never heard of this sort of thing, Pandora (or Spotify) offers an unlimited number of streamed songs for one flat rate. I think you can get a month for $9.99. They also offer a lower level as a free trial. It’s a pretty cool app for people that like to listen to a lot of music. You can listen to any song that you want from their database, and they have managed to acquire almost every song that a person could possibly want. There is also an option to show you songs that sounds like your favorite songs, so that you can discover new music that sounds similar to things you already like. It sounds like a great thing.
But is it a great thing for musicians?
Did manage for musicians is that people may find your music based upon other music that they like, and new fans can be acquired. It’s also nice to get paid just for being streamed once by a listener. YouTube doesn’t pay me her place of my video, but Pandora and Spotify do.
The flipside of that is the low payment per play. I often get paid one penny, half a penny, or two pennies for a play. This may sound like a good thing, but someone has to play my song 100 times before I get a dollar. It seems incredibly democratic to pay each person based upon how many times they are played, but I have heard stories of songs being played hundreds of millions of times, and the payoff being less than $100. This may seem fair, but this is hardly enough money to record a single in a professional studio. Taylor Swift chose not to put her new album on Spotify, and has the stirred up a lots of controversy about whether Spotify is a good or bad company.
There are pros and cons involved with this payment scenario for musicians. As of right now, I’m really not sure how I feel about it. I’m also not sure if I will opt in for page streaming sites when I release my next album.

Categories: Music Blogs

Recording with Pier Giacalone at Hopetown Sound

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Last month I made a one-day appointment to record a single at Hopetown Sound with the engineer and producer Pier Giacalone. He has a nice studio in New Hope, PA and has some really great sounds coming out, so after a few phone calls, the date was set.

The studio is in this quaint location out in the boonies and the house numbers skip a few, which had me turning around a couple of times, but luckily my GPS saved my butt and helped me find the place. Others would probably not have any problems. I’m special.

Sprint service is sketchy in that area, so people coming to play (like Scott Grande, who played drums on my track) need to have the studio phone number or be willing to communicate in text messages only. Scott had no trouble finding the studio….

Pier has a very warm and casual demeanor, and made me feel comfortable from the moment we met. He reassured me that he liked the music we were recording, and that he was ready to work – – which is important to me. **note: If a producer shows no interest at all in your music/voice/songs, you may want to keep looking.  I sent Pier some sound samples to make sure that he was interested in working with me beforehand. I also get a little nervous if producers want to spend too much time chatting before getting to the recording process. Why? Because at the end of the day when they are tallying your bill, nobody ever says, “You arrived at 1pm, but I talked for 3 hours, so I’ll just charge you from 4pm….” Occasionally some chatting time is shaved off, but unless you have a stopwatch going, it gets added to your bill. So, Pier’s focus on getting equipment set up while we discuss the music and the process was a relief. Plus, the more I chit chat with new people, the more nervous I get and the greater the opportunity for me to say something that will embarrass myself. Ridiculous, but true.

The studio has an AWESOME Voice/Acoustic booth! It’s a room with a window so that you can see the engineer.  (Shouldn’t they all be set up this way? Some aren’t.) There are also mixer controls so that you can control the volume of the backup and yourself while recording. This is the FIRST time I’ve encountered this. Even if other studios had it rigged up, they never told me how to use it, so I would avoid touching any knobs out of fear that I’d ruin something. Recording at Hopetown Sound, I didn’ t have to say, “I can’t hear myself”, “can you turn up the mix?”, “I’m too loud”, etc etc etc. The in-house drum kit had the same controls so that Scott could adjust the headphone volumes to his liking as well. It’s like peach pie. Good.

The bathroom….had toilet paper! And AND AND AND…this is exciting….soap! It wasn’t fancy-shmancy or anything like that, but I’ve come across so many *disgusting* bathrooms in studios that it was a pleasant surprise. Of the 5 studios I’ve recorded in, only 2 of them have had toilet paper. Seriously. As someone who likes to not smell like pee, I’m glad Pier stocked toilet paper. And to the rest of you who apparently like to pee all over the walls and then shamelessly tell me where the bathroom is with a mocking, “I’m not quite SURE if there’s any toilet paper in there..”…you know who you are. And your mother would not be proud. Anyway….Pier’s bathroom had toilet paper! It’s headline-making news.

Pier was nice to my drummer friend, which was seriously helpful in recording a great song. 3 People usually = 3 Opinions, and a greater chance of conflict…..but nobody argued, nobody had fights about the sound, nobody cried at all! There was no grimacing or calls to friends afterwards to gossip about so-and-so’s bad musicianship. (As far as I know!) lol  It’s almost like we were on some other planet…where people are nice and birds clean the house and all talking is actually sung instead of spoken. Then, I have a reprise section while peeing in the bathroom that has TOILET PAPER!! It was surreal. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. or maybe not.

**For the ladies: The studio is located at the bottom of a steep paved hill. It’s best not to wear your tall high-heeled boots. From, one who parked at the top of the hill and very slowly took tiny steps all the way down like a Geisha with a toe splinter.

I digress…

The song got recorded in the one day. It took longer than I planned because I scribbled down a string part before I left home while my kid was whining and banging on the other end of my keyboard. Shame on me for not preparing better! I also lost my mind and forgot how to play the violin in the studio for a while. But it all came together, and there was even one pizza place still open by the time we were finished.  I.was.so.hungry. (Usually I don’t eat or drink anything….since there is no toilet paper in case I have to use the loo at these studios.)

There was also a long table chocked full with every kind of drink a singer could want. Tea packets, clean mugs, a microwave, raw sugar, honey, coffee, (Scott had some coffee, which I’m sure made the beats cleaner! Maybe?) and…..chocolate. OK, so that’s not really conductive to singing…but I did enjoy a piece on the drive home.

Pier had the song back to me in a very short amount of time, and I LOVED the edits and production. What I noticed about the mix? He actually produces. He adds to and shapes the song and PRODUCES it. I’m totally happy, and will definitely be back to record at Hopetown Sound again. So glad I found this great studio and producer!!!

You can find the studio’s demos, links, pictures and other info here:

www.hopetownsound.com

 

Categories: Music Blogs

How to Prepare for a Hurricane

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Tonight a hurricane is supposed to blow through the Philadelphia area.  While I’ve read several stupid helpful lists on how to prepare for this, I’ve noticed some things are missing. I won’t re-write all of the tips about emergency kits and such in this list. Also, this is written for those of us that aren’t near the shore, don’t live in a valley, and don’t expect to need to evacuate our homes. I expect to possibly lose electricity, our basement will take on some water (as it does during heavy rains), and our huge old trees might fall down crushing our home and killing us all.

Without further ado…

1. Take a shower. You want to look fabulous when the CNN helicopter rescues you from the rooftop. Seriously though, (as proven by Mythbusters) you shouldn’t shower during a storm…so might as well shower before.

2. Turn off your computer. If you’re like me, you leave your computer on 24/7. I know this is bad for my computer, but I’m in a perpetual state of “I’ll get back to that”.  Sudden power supply loss can really mess up some computers…so might as well shut down, just this once.

3. Park your car where nothing can fall on it. Under an old dying tree is probably not the best place.

4. Pay your cellphone bill if you haven’t. Verizon will not care if it’s a national disaster. They will turn off your phone.

5. Charge up your laptop. You’ll need this when the power goes out so that you can continue surfing YouTube, Google, and my website, of course.

6. Charge up your cellphone. If you have a smartphone addiction, you may actually die if you’re without it for any length of time. In the case of a power outage, your smartphone will replace about 10 of the other items in most emergency kits. (list of emergency numbers, flashlight, camera, weather radio, survival recipes, and food. Ok, not food.)

7. Move the cat’s litter box. If your cat won’t walk through a few inches of water to get to the litter box (like mine) it could be a bad situation upstairs. Also, if you take on enough water to spill out the litter box contents downstairs….it’s going to be a horrible.

8. Wash your favorite clothes. If you have to go through an extended time without power or those rescue helicopters really do show up, you’ll be happy to at least be wearing your favorite pair of underwear. Make sure no clothes are left in the washer by the time the power goes out. Otherwise they will forever smell like mildew.

9. Find out if your place of employment will be expecting you. Prepare your stories of why you couldn’t make it to work during the hurricane. Remember to call in if you really aren’t able to make it.

10. Go shopping. It’s possible that your local stores will close – even if there isn’t flooding and mayhem. So get your Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s fix taken care of now. But seriously, go get plenty of diapers, wipes, milk, and those little Elmo juice boxes if you have a little one.

11. When you bring potted plants and things in from the front porch, shake them off a much as possible. (bugs)

Hunker down and enjoy your day off from work! Yay!

 

Categories: Music Blogs

Modernizing Your Music

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I struggled with whether I should title this post as “Modernizing YOUR Music” or “Modernizing MY Music”, because really it is about both, and possibly the former more so than the latter. I listened to an alt-pop-rock duo’s website today, “The Lyra Project” because we are on the same program bill to perform at PASA’s upcoming house concert as featured songwriters, and I like to hear who else will be playing before I show up. I’ve met this couple before, and Rick and Debra are very nice people. They are part of the NSAI, and have a home recording studio that does quite well from what I remember. At our last meeting, I had complained of my keyboard stand’s legs being slightly too long to store it in the travel bag making it a burden to tote around. Rick had kindly offered to cut the legs shorter for me. Luckily (or not so luckily), someone accidentally turned the screw-held spring adjustment in the middle of the keyboard stand which was NOT supposed to be unscrewed, dropping the spring into the leg tube and rendering the stand forever useless. So….I have a new keyboard stand now, with legs that fit into the gig bag.

Anyway, after listening to the alt-pop-rock duo’s samples on their website, I had several thoughts come to me. The most prominent of which being that I can hear this duo’s influences quite readily. I don’t mean exact artists, but rather the musical trends of particular decades. I would say the husband and wife team are children of the 70’s, and a lot of their music references music of the 80’s and early 90’s. It’s good music, well performed and all of that. The vocal style of Rick reminds me a bit of the rock artists from the 70’s and 80’s while Debra’s vocal style seems more similar to the 90’s Cheryl Crow, Tori Amos, and the duo Heart. The songwriting is a similar story. The intervallic structure reminds me of songs I have heard from the 80’s, while I can’t point to any particular song and say it sounds “just” like another more famous song, which is good.

Introspectively, however – When I listen to my own music, I hear a lot of influence from the early 2000’s music. Some influence from the pop artists of the late 90’s is there too. And less noticeable but still present is the influence from older music like the Andrews Sisters, Doris Day and the 50’s mix tape that I played over and over until my cassette player ate the tape one day. There’s nothing wrong with my songwriting or musical performance style occasionally tipping the hat to earlier influences, but the problem is when my own personal style becomes enshrouded with this mask of my interpretation of what pop music “is”.

I’ve noticed that each time I set myself out on a mission to find new music and artists and listen to music that is outside of my comfort level, I soon after write a plethora of songs that are some of my best work. So, I think I know what I need to do next. Find modern influences to open the channels of creativity. I’ll never copy anyone else’s song, and work hard to review my compositions for “likeness” issues that arise accidentally, but there is certainly something to be learned from listening rather than always making noise.

Categories: Music Blogs