The Origin of This Crazy Musician

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Whenever I write a bio for press releases or sending out to radio stations…or adding into the “bio” section of websites like this one…I never tell my beginnings in music. Why? I think it’s boring. I don’t think it’s that interesting, really. But I’ve been reading a lot of other musicians’ bio pages lately, and have found that most of them do talk about their early beginnings in music, and how they got to wherever it is that they ‘are’. I find their stories interesting. I can relate to some, marvel at others for their unique qualities, and secretly scoff at a few, feeling quite sure that some of the content is fabricated for interesting-ness. I won’t create any wild, imaginative stories for the pleasure of your entertainment, but I will go ahead and share my story.

I was born September 4th, 1981, which I should note is the same day Beyonce Knowles was born – but that’s neither here nor there, and will be saved for a different post. My earliest experiences with music were of my father playing violin for me. I’ve seen photographs of him playing for me when I was just a baby. I didn’t begin learning the violin until I was in the 4th grade, and even then I was a very reluctant learner and had trouble following direction from my dad. His early expectations were perhaps a little too high for my level, and I was discouraged soon off. In 5th grade, I joined the orchestra in my elementary school, made friends with a girl named Amanda, and we would visit each other’s houses to practice the orchestra music. Before I ever began playing the violin, I was singing in church on Sundays, and occasionally sang solos for the “special music” part of our Sunday service. My first solo was for the Christmas program at my school when I was in 1st grade, “The Song Of The Littlest Angel”. It was quite a moment for me, as I got to dress up as an angel in a long white robe with cardboard wings that had silver garland stapled to the edges. I had shoulder-length curly blonde hair (perms were in style in the 80’s), and large rimmed pink glasses.

When I went to middle school, I really wanted to be in both the choir AND the orchestra, but students were only allowed ONE music elective. My dad went to the school to speak with the principal, and with a bit of convincing that my grades would not suffer, I was allowed to be in both the choir and the orchestra.

The summer before my first year in high school, a friend of mine invited me to volunteer in the school marching band’s parade. I got to be one of the girls who carried the banner in the front that said “West Vigo Marching Band” and lead the parade down the street. It was fantastic, but I really wanted to play an instrument. At the guidance of Mr. Eggloff, I took up the clarinet and joined the band my freshman year in high school. The band performed at all of the holiday concerts, sporting events, and state and local contests. It was because of my love for all of this activity and involvement that I chose clarinet as my instrument in my first years of college.

During high school I participated in the school choir, and also auditioned for the school musicals. I was immensely excited about the main roles of “My Fair Lady”, and auditioned for the part of Eliza Doolittle. I watched the movie version several times before the auditions and prepared some of the music, but at the auditions we were asked to sing something generic rather than songs from the musical, and part of the audition involved our abilities to be creative and act – – which I was not one of my strengths at all. I was sadly disappointed when I was assigned to the role of “Maid #3″, “Backup Street Boy”, and “Party Attendant”. Surprisingly, this musical was one of the most fun, despite my not being in the spotlight. I also auditioned for “Mame”, but was once again given a nameless role. Being a headstrong teenager, I opted out of being involved with that musical. I also did the school plays, and was assigned something like “Woman 3″ in “Alice In Wonderland”, and was the goddess Venus in “Get Bill Shakespeare Off The Stage”. After becoming less interested in choir and feeling more accepted in the band, I focused more and more of my attention toward instruments – and the piano.

Ah, piano. When I was about 8 years old, I got one of those small Casio keyboards for Christmas, and begged my parents for piano lessons. After doing quite a bit of tinkering on my own at the piano, I was signed up for piano lessons at the Conservatory of Music in Terre Haute, IN. I’m pretty sure the lessons were overpriced, and completely sure that the woman I took lessons with should not have been teaching. I was regularly humiliated in lessons and treated as if there was no hope for my development as a pianist. After several years, many tears and much pleading, my parents found Stephanie Bartlett, who taught me to play piano.

The musical of choice during my junior year was “Give My Regards To Broadway”, which was chosen partly because it was one of the less expensive scores to purchase, and we were a poor choir. The past director had retired, and much of the choir’s funding had left with her and the parents of students who had graduated. I was cast in the lead role as “Mary” in Give My Regards, which came as a pleasant surprise after always being given nameless roles.  It’s no wonder that “Give My Regards”  was cheap, though. It wasn’t a score at all! We were given booklets of music, but there was only ONE vocal line. There was no harmony written into the score at all. This was my first experience with part writing. With permission from the new choir teacher, I wrote harmony parts for the alto section in all of the choruses of the songs, and a group of us worked to learn the parts on the backstage piano during part of rehearsals. It was interesting since many of us that elected to sing “alto” were actually in the choir’s soprano section, including myself. It was a wonderful experience in part-writing, playing piano for an ensemble of singers, and testing our success during group rehearsals.

The following year, I was cast as the lead female (Christina/Chrissy) in “The Phantom Of The Country Opera”. Yes, it was just as ridiculous as it sounds. It was a mixture of opera and country music, comedy, romance, and confusion. A lot of that last part.

It was during high school that I started rehearsing and performing with the Terre Haute Youth Symphony Orchestra, (THYSO) which I auditioned for when I was in middle school when it was under the direction of Sherry Spicknall, but had become too busy and had to leave for a few years. (It’s possible that Mrs. Spicknall was an assistant…though it has been so long, I really can’t remember.) When I came back to THYSO it was under a new director, rehearsals were held in the new band rehearsal room on ISU campus, and the music was much more challenging. But I had also gotten better. I was placed in the first violin section, siting 2nd chair to the concert master, Andrew Chan. He was an amazing violinist. And his sister Annie, who sat just behind me as 3rd chair in the first violin section was also quite good. I was sure that if she ever asked the director to have us compete for our placements, she would have had my seat easily.

In college, I chose clarinet as my major – because it seemed that I was better on that instrument than any of my others, at least in my own perception. I studied Music Education at ISU for 4 years, studying clarinet, piano, violin, and “choir”. My third year I changed my major to voice, because I thought it would be easier than the high demands on the instrumental study. And it was.

The music we sang in my voice lessons was like nothing that I had heard in school or church or on the radio. We studied classical music. I did not love it at first, and I had trouble adapting my voice to have the depth and power of what I would consider “operatic singers”. In the choir, we would sing a wide range of songs, from culturally significant compositions to more “fun” ones. Many were in foreign languages, and each semester there was always something in latin. In my last year at ISU, we toured to New York City and sang John Rutter’s “Mass Of the Children” under his direction in Carnegie Hall. We also sang a mixture of other songs, one of which I remember was a traditional African song that we were to sing with a very nasaly tone in parts. This was a wonderful experience. I should also add here that studying music at Indiana State University (ISU) between 2000 and 2004 was very difficult. The department was under the first sweep of financial cut backs, there was a mixture of new teachers and teachers on the verge of retirement, and it seemed that the enrollment in music was unwavering. SO much so that there were group meetings in which they openly stated that most of us would not graduate with a degree in music. I had heard from several teachers that their job was to “weed out” the “ones” who were not fit to have a degree in music, and there was a lot of belittling of students in classes and ensembles. I had my share of embarrassments and since I was working a full-time job caring for people with special needs and dealing with my parents’ divorce and my difficulty in finding a place to live I was often caught in a situation where I had not prepared enough and was the one who was ‘called out’ on in class for being a loser and a failure. Even though I had immediately fallen in love with classical music, opera singing and technical piano pieces, I was just as quickly driven away from it and into the practice rooms in the basement to hide and write my own compositions. (Much like the Phantom in the French catacombs, only with less costuming and broken mirrors.)

The year before I graduated, the Community Music part of ISU was desparate for teachers and my accompanist got me hired to teach voice lessons to a few students. This meant I got a key to one of the classrooms, which I enjoyed, and I got to be there after school hours when the older music building was quiet and relatively empty. I taught my three students for a semester, but never got paid because there was a mix-up with paperwork. This was a very good teaching experience though, and I don’t regret it.

I had been writing songs since I was 15 years old, but had never performed or shared very many of them. A few songs I had played for friends that stood around the piano, but it was never a formal thing, and my song-shares were few and far between. After meeting my husband, moving to the east coast, and enrolling in a new college to complete my degree, I began to write a lot more original music. OK, That’s not entirely true. First, we got established in the Philadelphia area and I was a “housewife” for several months. This was very boring, but it allowed me a lot of time to practice music at the piano, which was nice. I got a part-time job at Dress Barn, but the environment turned catty and hostile, and since it was a “just for fun” job, I left just before I went back to college.

When I auditioned for the music department at West Chester, I sang The Jewel Song from Faust, by Charles Gounod, and along with my test scores for theory and my interview, they were happy to take me as a student, but when I learned that there were no equivalencies in place between WCU and ISU and found out that it would probably take me 3 years to complete my degree in music, I was crestfallen. How could I have suffered all of that struggle at ISU only to have to basically start over? It was a terrible thought. I love music, but in that moment of my career, I hated music. I hated that it had led me down a never ending path of rejection and failure. I hated that music had consumed my entire life for so many years. And I hated that I had kindly let my past professors and instructors emotionally ‘kick’ me while I tucked my tail between my legs and bowed to their positions of power. So, for my first year at WCU, I quit music. I majored in Health Sciences (Nutrition), and took the lowest-level, non-major choir that I could find…Women’s Choir. From that unassuming metal chair amongst the 100+ other folding chairs in the room, I thought I would be able to analyse the music department of WCU without actually being part of it. At some point during the semester, I ended up helping music students who were in the Women’s Choir with their music theory homework. For a year, they urged me to get back into music. I resisted. But they were right.

I randomly did a search for music-related jobs on “monster jobs”, or some such website, and found a listing that Music Training Center was looking for a new vocal teacher. The teacher needed to be able to play piano well enough to accompany, teach students, and give recitals. Sounded easy enough, so I applied. The interview was more like an audition, with me at the piano and my supervisor-to-be posing as the student. I was hired, and started to really enjoy teaching as my roster of students increased. Until this point, I had mostly been a performer and a composer despite my 4 years of music ed classes at ISU. I taught at MTC for almost 4 years. It was at MTC that I met the other voice teacher Terrance Gaines, who became my friend and got me involved with playing a few gigs in the Philly area with him playing on drums. He was involved in the band Sara & Tara with me, and went on to record my album “Red” at ECR Studios, and the drums in the single “Apple Tree” recorded in Columbus, OH.

After talking with all of my advisors and people from the liberal arts department and teachers and students I tutored in music theory and friends, I came upon the decision to accept my sentence and take the 3 years in music to complete my degree. I should add that the year I spent as a Health Sciences major was my easiest college year, and I got straight A’s, but my heart wasn’t in it. It was also in that year that myself and my friend Tara White formed the band “Sara & Tara”. It began as just a fun thing – – let’s record some songs together. Then I happened upon a student who also had his own recording studio and was passionate enough about music to record us in exchange for lessons. Soon, we had stars in our eyes as we were uploading our recordings to MySpace and planning our little tips-only live shows at small venues in the area. Like many bands, we had some disagreements, became emotionally charged, and eventually split up the band.

The practice rooms at West Chester University were very nice, with a large window in each one that overlooked the campus and let in a lot of natural light, and new Steinway pianos that were regularly tuned. The rooms were clean, simple, small, plain, and very good for letting the imagination paint this blank canvas with sound. It was there that about 120 songs came to me, drifting quietly into my mind and out through the pencil in my hand. I loved this space, and miss the practice rooms even today.

The Music Department at WCU was not the creativity-stifling experience that I had at ISU. There were still professors there who were haughty jerks, don’t get me wrong – but there were more good teachers who were there to teach than I had ever seen before. Even now, I’m not sure if ISU was just a horrible school in the years that I attended or if WCU is simply a really, really good one. It could be some of both. I found many of the classes to be easy, but of course I had taken these courses before under different course numbers at a different university. WCU was an hour away from where we lived, so commuting each day with a shared vehicle was not fun at all, and construction and traffic meant that I would sometimes have to leave for my 8am class at 5am.

At WCU, I participated in multiple choirs and orchestral ensembles, conducting classes, etc. All the things that music majors typically take. (And sometimes twice, if I couldn’t resurrect an old syllabus or prove an equivalent course.) It was during this time that we were recording the album “Red”, and playing a few small shows here and there. I also started streaming live music from my home computer using my online radio stream (around 2010) into the virtual online game of “Second Life”.

I mentioned before that I sang “The Jewel Song” from Faust in my admittance to the program audition. There’s a funny story about this. Every year, WCU has a Senior Concerto Contest, in which seniors who sign up to compete get to sing a concerto solo for the voice faculty and they choose their favorite to perform it at the Concerto Concert with a full orchestra. The Jewel Song is composed for an orchestra, so 4 years after my admission to the vocal program using that song, I unearthed it as my competition solo. I should mention that this particular song is technically demanding, difficult to sing, and impressive if sung well. After the competition, the question arose about this song being the only song I could sing, since the faculty had remembered me singing it for the entrance exam. I still find this question hilarious. I won the competition, and got to sing on the Senior Concerto Concert in a stunning red gown that had gorgeous gathers along the side and hip.

I graduated with my degree in music education, and then promptly became pregnant with our baby, Zoey. Stricken with all-day morning sickness and constant discomfort including every pregnancy complaint one could imagine, I once again returned to being a housewife. In my 8th month of pregnancy we finished recording the album, and released it 6 months after Zoey was born.

Now I stream live music about 3 days a week, write music when I can, and am involved in PASA (Pennsylvania Area Songwriters Association). I still teach piano but have taken a rest from allowing new voice students into my home studio for the time being. I’m still playing, practicing, and improving….and I’m also a mom.

 

Categories: Music Blogs

51 Ways To Save Money (So you can do the things you want!)

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With a slumping economy that has little hope of recovering within the next few years, it’s becoming more important to find ways of living with less money. As a musician, I am constantly trying to pinch and save where possible so that I have the funds to keep doing what I love best – creating and sharing music. Believe it or not, being an indie musician isn’t a great way to make tons of money in today’s over-saturated music market. Actually, it can be an incredible money pit of expenditure if one isn’t careful. Below are some methods for saving money, reducing spending, and living with less so that you can enjoy life more. Some of these suggestions may be really easy to implement, while others might not be appropriate for your specific situation. I’m not a financial advisor, so all of the tips given here are from observation and personal experience.

1. Cook your own food.  Eating out is expensive AND unhealthy in most instances. Live healthier and happier by fixing your own food. Some things are especially cheaper to eat at home. Salads, hamburgers, spaghetti (and ANY pasta), and pizza, to name a few. The markup on pasta when it’s served in a restaurant is huge. You can cook a spaghetti dinner for 5 people for anywhere from $2 – $10, depending on whether you add veggies or meat to the basic pasta and sauce.

2. Order water. When you do go out to a restaurant, order water instead of soda. Water is free, and restaurants usually charge $2.50 for a glass of soda. Besides, you didn’t come to the restaurant for the soda, most likely. But if you can, refer to tip #1 and stay out of restaurants. They are magnets for money.

3. Drive Slower. Try to keep your RPM’s as low as possible, especially while traveling. You’ll take a little more time, but you’ll save money on gas AND you’ll reduce your risk of having an expensive accident. I’m not saying you should go so slow that others on the road are burdened by your slow driving. I watch our RPM’s while we are travelling from Philadelphia to my hometown of Indiana each time we drive the 800+ miles there, and it really helps on gas.

4. Only buy clothes you really, really love. There have been times in my life when half of my closet was filled with clothes that I didn’t really want to wear. Know when to pass up a sale. If you wouldn’t wear it right then, you probably don’t need it. These past few years, I’ve bought very few new clothing items (even when I was pregnant) and I’m pretty happy with what I have.

5. Keep records of clothing donations to itemize on tax deductions. I’m not sure if every tax preparer has this option, but TurboTax does. You would be surprised how much money your gently used clothing is worth. You can still drop it off at an anonymous donations bin, but be sure to keep a list of the items donated, being as descriptive as possible about the item. (example: Mens size 32×32 beige corduroy pants) Also record the date of the donation and the location of the donation bin or thrift store. All of this information will be asked for at tax time, and can lead to a bigger reduction and money savings for you. Since I have a camera built into my phone, I take a picture of each group of clothes before folding and bagging, to keep track of exactly what was donated when and I can use the pics should I ever be audited.

6. Pay your bills every 2 weeks instead of once a month. Bills that accrue interest add interest on each day that you carry a balance. Therefore, the sooner you make the payment, the better, and the lower your interest will be. I read this tip on another website and have been using it where applicable. If you have a car loan, college loan or credit card bills to pay, this tip may really save you some money.

7. Cool your home without the A/C when possible. My mother opens her windows around 4-5 am, when it is the coolest, then closes the windows at 6:30 am to trap the cool air inside. Her home has very good insulation, so this works well to keep her house cool until the afternoon.  I’m not sure if this would work in our house. I am sometimes just getting to bed at 4am! And our house is older and not insulated that well. We use box fans for as long as we can into the summer, and only use the air conditioner when the heat is squelching.

8. Plant your own vegetables. You may have success at growing vegetables, and you may not, but the potential savings are substantial if you are willing to do some work. We grow peppers and tomatoes in pots inside the house, moving them outside when it gets warm enough. Last year, I grew a few green peppers in our dining room window from seeds I took from a grocery store pepper.  It was a very rewarding feeling knowing that I grew something edible from seeds I would have otherwise thrown away.

9. Use your dollar store. Some items at the Dollar Tree, Dollar General and similar stores are not worth a dollar. But some of the items are a savings! I’ve found that Zip-lock baggies from the dollar store are just as good as the more expensive ones from typical retail stores. I tend to not buy any food products from dollar stores because it’s difficult to know how long the products have been stored before purchase, but I’ve found several domestic items that were a good savings. I needed a small broom for my kitchen and front porch…Dollar Tree had a decent broom for $1. The plastic “vanity cover” was junk, but the important parts are strong and have held up well these past few years. I also found some excellent twine for tying branches for the city to pick up. (They require branches to be either in paper bags or tied together with twine.) Twine at Wal Mart was roughly $3, but I got 100 feet from Dollar Tree for $1. Not bad for something that we basically “throw away”. I’ve also found birthday party decorations, cleaning products, seasonal cards, shipping paper, tape, and more. Just try to steer clear of all the things that are about the same cost of the name brand in the stores and the items that you don’t really need.

10. Make your own snack packs. If you are one of those people who likes “snack packs” for their ease of dropping into lunch bags or because they are in 100 calorie portions, use your zip-lock baggies from the dollar store and make your own snack packs. Store the baggies in the original box if possible so that you can easily see what you have before grocery shopping. The savings are substantial.

11. Keep your home organized. You can find what you need rather than buying duplicate items, and be emotionally happier with the possessions that you have if they are organized.

12. Use vinegar instead of Glass cleaner. It doesn’t smell as good, but it works better. Half vinegar and half water in a spray bottle or in a bowl or old can (if you want to be really cheap, like me) It can be found with the condiments at most grocery stores, and a bottle should be $1 or less. The vinegar smell will dissipate when it dries.

13. Use old pickle juice to clean your sink. As a lover of pickles, I’m constantly looking for ways to use up all of the extra pickle “juice”, which is mostly just vinegar, spices, and sometimes sugar. When I’m ready to throw it out, I put the stopper in the sink, pour the vinegar all around inside, let it sit for 5 minutes or so while I do other kitchen work, come back and scrub the inside of the sink with a dishrag, then rinse it off. (It has to be rinsed well because of the acidic vinegar and possible sugars.) It works. And I’m an advocate for making sure things I buy get used to their fullest.

14. Use old pickle juice to make new “pickles”. I get locally grown cucumbers, cut them up and put them in the old pickle juice sometimes, making really “fresh” pickle slices for sandwiches and salads. And they cost less than a jar of “real” pickles.

15. Visit your local library. One way of spending less on entertainment (dinners, movies, shopping trips) is by finding free or inexpensive alternatives that are enjoyable – like visiting the library!

16. Clean out your refrigerator often. Less items in the refrigerator and freezer means less energy to keep it cold. And if you regularly clean the spoiled and expired foods out, you may avoid getting sick, which can be costly and inconvenient.

17. Cook your own rice. I can’t say that I’ve never bought one of those packets of the microwavable type of rice because I was short on cooking time, but cooking your own is a huge price margin. It usually tastes better too.

18. Turn off the lights when you aren’t in the room.  The savings may be meager on your electricity bill, with a savings of only a few cents a day, but you’ll also save the life of your light bulb and reduce A/C costs just a little bit. Besides, it’s a good practice to not be wasteful and to use our technology with an appreciative heart.

19. Use the things you pay for. If you pay for a gym membership, use it. If you pay for cable TV, explore the channels you will get the most enjoyment from and watch them. If you pay for phone minutes, use them to stay in touch with your friends. Etc. Etc…

20. Discontinue things you aren’t using. Not really using your gym membership? Cancel it. Aren’t using your bike? Sell it. Have boxes of clothes you’ve outgrown? Donate them for tax refunds or sell them on ebay. (But be prepared to dedicate some time to mailing things out.) Have an extra car you aren’t driving? Sell it. Signed up for a membership like Netflix and aren’t watching the movies? Discontinue or freeze your account.Subscribed to a magazine you don’t read? Don’t renew.

21. Freeze your gym membership during the summer. I tried to freeze my membership during my pregnancy because of the whole ‘bedrest’ thing, and discovered that I could freeze my membership for 3 months! I ended up cancelling and using exercise videos I already own to work out, but if you plan on walking/jogging or doing other outdoors things for the summer, you could save your monthly gym fee and not have to pay to open a new membership plan when you return. Brilliant.

22. Have breakfast for dinner. Pancakes, Eggs, toast and most breakfast foods tend to be a lot cheaper than dinner foods. Just be conscious that proteins and vegetables are included where possible.

23. Do the math on bulk items at the grocery store. Sometimes items packaged in bulk are a savings, sometimes they are not. Green peppers are a good example. I used to buy a big pack of 6 for $3.50, but decided I would weigh a single green pepper on one shopping visit. I found out that it was $0.50 per green pepper on that particular day at the single-pepper price. So basically, I would pay MORE per green pepper for the 6-pack AND I might not be able to use them all before they started to go bad anyway. A little bit of math can save you a lot of money. When I went to “Sam’s Club” with my family, I kept the “WalMart” website pulled up on my phone and compared the prices per-ounce for the regular size foods and in most cases for protein items – chicken wings, Jack Daniel’s Salmon Steaks, and more items, the per-ounce price was the same. In some cases (flavored chicken wings) you actually pay more by purchasing in bulk.

24. Ask for a lower interest rate. If you are making payments on time and are getting offers from other credit cards, it’s reasonable to think you might be eligible for a lower interest rate for any outstanding credit balances you have.

25. Be happy with the clothes you have. If you can make your current closet of clothes work for you and are happy with what you have, there’s no need to buy more unless you need something.

26. If you need new clothes, try to buy used. Oddly, you may find better quality used products than the new products at discount stores. If you often shop at lower-quality clothiers, you might as well shop for clothes that are crafted with higher quality at Goodwill or the Salvation Army. A friend of mine once got a Chanel skirt from a secondhand store in Philadelphia for $10. You never know what you’ll find.

27. Cook from scratch. It sounds difficult and laborious when I write “from scratch”, but it really isn’t. Cooking from scratch means buying a bag of potatoes instead of a small prepackaged box of scalloped potatoes. Buy a box of pasta instead of a box of Hamburger Helper and other such “dinner helpers”. You can help your own hamburger with some pasta, tomatoes and your favorite spices. And for a fraction of the cost. Pizza dough is surprisingly easy to make from scratch, as is fruit pie, california-style sushi, hummus, egg noodles and lasagna. The trick is knowing what is “worth” the savings to make from scratch. Sometimes the savings is so small and the time spent to make the food makes buying the prepared product make more sense to me, other times I prefer to make the foods from scratch. Bread is an example of this for me. I can usually find bread at a discounted price, buy it in mass, freeze some of it, and not have to bake my own bread. Potatoes, rice and pasta on the other hand are always worth the work to make yourself.

28. Try vertical gardening. If you don’t have the space to grow your own vegetables outdoors or in dirt-filled pots inside, you can find many vertical garden options. Check out hydroponics.

29. Cut up your credit cards, or at least stop carrying them with you in your wallet. Unless you really truly are only carrying a credit card for emergency purposes, it doesn’t need a place in your wallet. With the development of debit cards and check cards that can be used as credit cards, there isn’t a reason to have a credit card. If you DO have an emergency, if you can think of ANY other solution than to use a credit card, it’s always going to be better financially in the long run. Car broke down? Look into public transportation, or work out an agreement with a friend who has a working vehicle. Maybe you can exchange services for car rides. Even paying money for the car rides is going to be better in the long run than putting it on the credit card.

30. Be conscious of how much toilet paper you are using. Enough said.

31. Use cloth napkins or kitchen towels instead of paper towels.

32. Hang things to dry when possible. The savings here are small, though they add up over time. Luckily, my basement is very dry, so I can wash my clothes down there and hang them to dry in the basement and they are dry by morning. This tip has as much to do with conservation and not being wasteful as it does with monetary gain.

33. Look for the lowest gas price when travelling. If you have a smart phone, utilize it’s ability to find the cheapest gas on your route. The “maps” app usually comes standard with most phones, and if you search for gas stations, it will often display their  prices as well.

34. Pre-plan travel expenses. I’ve found that when I plan our trips far in advance, I can anticipate added costs and eliminate some of them. Last-minute trips with little planning tend to be the most expensive and least enjoyed. We tend to research what restaurants will be around and will choose a Fazoli’s over an Olive Garden. (Because it’s about half the price for our family, and less wait time!) The food…still remarkably tasty. I research hotels and find rooms with refrigerators so that we can take some food with us, and prefer that they have free breakfast. If you’re flying, rates are usually cheapest in advance.

35. Know what to buy in bulk. Know what is ok to buy in bulk and what will spoil. This is especially important in the summer when the house is hotter and produce will spoil more quickly. Pasta, rice and canned goods are great to buy in bulk when a good sale is available.

36. Take advantage of after-holiday sales. Don’t buy anything you aren’t going to need (like masses of Halloween candy) but shop the clearance items for things that you would normally purchase at full price. After Thanksgiving, you may be able to get a discounted turkey or bags of Amish noodles…or whatever the stores have too much left over of.  Seek out discounts after Christmas, New Years, Valentines Day, Easter, July 4th,  and Halloween. I once got several boxes of Pillsbury cake mixes that had been marked down significantly because they had snowflakes on the box, and were clearly marketed for Christmas. Still perfectly tasty, and had a long time before their expiration dates.

37. Take advantage of SEASONAL sales. Potential savings on items aren’t just possible after major holidays. You can also get some incredible savings on things you would ordinarily purchase by shopping out-of-season. If you are growing your own vegetables, purchase equipment and supplies for next year at the end of the growing season. Seeds are usually good for 3 years. (Although I do tend to purchase these at the beginning of the season because they are so cheap.) Shovels, hoes, gloves, pots, plant food and watering devices will all be good the following year. Just be sure you are purchasing items that you will actually need in the following year. If you have kids, consider buying their winter clothes for next year at the end of the winter season of the current year. Coats, gloves, pants, and all winter-styled clothes will be on clearance. Same with summer clothes. Buy at the end of the season. Don’t let the marketing experts get you!

38. Download free music legally. There are plenty of musicians out there who want to share their music with you. And many of them are just as good (if not better) than what you hear on the radio. Check out Soundcloud here where you can search for free downloads from the masses of members there. You can even get a free download of one of my album’s best songs by signing up on my homepage here through ReverbNation.

39. Wear winter clothes in winter. This may be obvious. In the wintertime, you can keep your home a little cooler if you wear a sweater or a shirt and jacket. Wear socks and house slippers. Save money on heat.

40. Wear summer clothes in summer. There may be really hot days where you can’t tolerate the heat without the A/C on. And I understand that completely, but if you can be “comfortable enough” with just a window fan, it will save you a lot of money.

41. Separate rooms. Our home has a very open floor plan, and therefore it used to cost us quite a lot in heating and cooling the entire first floor. Last year I installed heavy curtains over the arched doorway between the living room and dining room, and curtains at the other doorways that don’t have doors. We just cool/heat the room that we are using, and have seen a significant drop in our bills this year compared to the last few years. They aren’t fancy curtains, just plain beige ones on sale at IKEA, but they really work well.

42. Live smaller. The smaller the house, the lower the utility bills will be. Cosmetic upkeep costs less. (Carpet is sold by the sq foot!) Each possession takes up more space and becomes more noticeable, therefore reducing impulse spending. There is an interesting video on YouTube of a woman who built her own small mobile-home of mostly lumber from the dump here. Am I saying that everyone needs to go to these measures to save money? Of course not. But, it might inspire you to think outside of the box. The channel with that video also has many other going-green and money-saving related videos as well. If you’re looking to purchase a house or move into an apartment, try to resist the “bigger is better” trend for housing.

43. Transfer your balance to a 0% interest credit card if necessary. If you are getting credit card offers for 0%, yet continue to pay off a card at a higher interest rate, you should call your current credit card to see if the interest rate can be reduced. Otherwise, transfer the balance. There may be an interest increase after 1 year, and possibly a new interest rate implemented at that time, but if you pay diligently during the year, you should have plenty of opportunity to transfer your balance to another 0% card after 11 months. Sounds like a game, I know. And the credit card companies are winning in most cases. If you’re befuddled in credit card debt, take control of it by doing what you can.

44. Take a multivitamin. After studying as a nutritional science major for a year, (before going back to music) I’ve come to the conclusion that it IS best to get your nutrition from foods, but that multivitamins are a great and cost-effective health insurance plan. By taking vitamins, you’ll have the potential to avoid many health problems that could cost you a small fortune in medications and doctor’s bills.

45. Check your local water safety readings. Once a year, the water company sends me the lab testing results for the tap water in my area. I don’t know if this is the case for every city, but I actually read the information. Because my tap water is unsafe and unsuitable for drinking unless boiled, we use bottled water for drinking and tap water for coffee. Find out what is in your water. Some trace elements can’t be boiled out. Parasites and bacteria can be controlled by boiling. Other people live in areas with perfectly healthy tap-water, like some of my family in Indiana! :) If you have clean tap water, drink it.

46. Buy water in gallons, not tiny bottles. Or invest in a water filter! Besides being a major pollutant to our environment due to the number of plastic bottles that are not recycled, they are also expensive and not very space-efficient. Use a BPA-free canteen and use it for a lifetime, instead of a water bottle that you’ll use only once. Our tap water isn’t safe or clean enough for drinking, so drinking the tap water isn’t feasible for us, although that would be the most cost-efficient option. I happened to find a  Brita water filter pitcher on clearance at Target for more than 50% off and bought it, so some of our drinking water is filtered, saving on some of the bottled water costs.

47. Reuse packaging. I’m not saying you should hoard things that should be recycled or thrown out, but I have started a lot of my vegetable garden’s seedlings in old egg cartons and smaller plants in cut-off water jugs instead of purchasing expensive pots that do the same thing. I’ve mailed out CD’s using filler materials from other mailing boxes, and have sent out old college books bought from my seller account on Amazon.com taped neatly into recycled mailing materials too.

48. Cloth Diapers. There’s no shame in using disposables, but if you think you can use cloth diapers at least some of the time, you should try it out. You’ll save hundreds of dollars. If you have a sewing machine, sew your own for even more savings. I wore cloth diapers as a baby…so I know it’s possible! Just something to consider.

49. Make your own baby food. I have a Magic Bullet that my family bought me for Christmas one year, but I figure you can use any small food processor. Some people make baby food in bulk and then freeze “cubes” of it to be thawed and used later. I’ve always just made food for each meal for my little one, but freezing food is a good idea if you think it will save time. It will definitely save money. Baby’s first carrot…a real organic carrot that mommy steamed and processed into a bright orange mush. I’ve also bought a few of the organic baby foods on the market…you would be surprised the difference in taste…and price!

50. Buy used children’s clothes. If you have children, you know how hard it is to resist buying the newest, cutest clothes that come out on the racks at the beginning of each season. We all want our kids to have the best, and I personally like to dress up my daughter like she is my real-life “Baby Alive”. (Whom I have talked about in previous blogs.) But if you are pinching pennies…it is worth it to buy used clothes. Often times they are just as cute as the new ones, and last longer because they have already lived through the trials of washing machines. There are some used baby clothes I’ve seen that are NOT a deal though. If a thrift shop, yard sale or second-hand dealer marks their prices too high on used clothing, pass. Sometimes though, you can get an incredible deal by being willing to look at used baby stuff. I go to a neat consignment sale in my area that they have 4 times each year. If you’re in the Philly/NJ area, you can check out Growing Express Consignment here.

51. Try Natural Beauty Solutions. There are too many to list here, but if there’s something you need that isn’t an emergency, check out the ingredients label and be willing to google to learn more about those ingredients. Maybe you have an equivalent ingredient in your home already. Vinegar makes a great cleansing hair-wash to take out product build-up, and works better than some of the more expensive clarifying products for hair. Pour white vinegar (usually less than $1 a bottle) into your hair in the shower, give it about 3 minutes to work, then rinse it out and condition as usual. Olive oil from your kitchen can be used in place of most moisturising oils, and with better effects. Cuticles, feet, ends of hair, elbows, knees, and lips can be moisturised with olive oil. Baking Soda and Peroxide are the ingredients in most tooth whiteners. An occasional brushing with either – or both – can whiten your teeth for a fraction of the cost. The possibilities for savings are too many to name them all.

 

Musician and Mommy

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The balance between being a self-promoted musician and a full- time mom can be tedious, to say the least. Let me cut right to the chase. Having a kid can destroy your career in music. Because of the lack of sleep, the brain isn’t functioning at top speed, causing more musical mistakes and difficulty with technical progression and the voice sounds “tired” (if you are a singer, like me). The amount of time and attention a baby needs is enormous, and most self-promotion tasks can’t be handled with a baby at the breast or with a toddler whining in the background. Song writing requires a certain aura of “peace and quiet” and the reassurance that one has an unlimited amount of time to craft. This is how I like to write songs. Writing knowing that I have only 1 hour to hash out an entire song doesn’t work so well for me, and many song ideas get forgotten as the maternal instinct switches on at the baby’s cries.  But I wouldn’t change all of this for the world. Suddenly, my daughter is more important than logging hours of online self-promotion, or spending time calling countless radio stations to beg for a few airplays. Unlike most bands and musicians, I can’t justify spending a lot of time seeking Facebook “likes, Myspace “friends” or Twitter “follows”.  If I spend time doing those things, then I take time away from something (or someone) else.

While it has not been easy to continue with the same passion on the business front, my musical creativity has grown in ways I never imagined. Along with the plethora of children’s music that now fills my day, I’ve also been inspired to write some very deep and personal songs about my daughter which have become some of my most valuable songs in my eyes. People who don’t have kids are going to hate me for saying this, but until you’ve had a child you don’t understand that life. I can say this with certainty because I was once a childless person, and when I had Zoey I became aware and understood what all of those friends with children meant. Let me explain it this way…If you have never been in love, you can’t really understand what being in love is like, right? Falling in love is an experience that is unique to itself. People can’t fully understand it until they have lived it. It’s the same with having a broken heart. If you’ve had your heart broken you know what a life-changing experience that can be. Until you have pushed another human being out of your body, you can’t fully understand the attachment, love, concern, stress and connection the parent feels for that child. Scientifically, you can chalk it all up to the hormone oxytocin, (the family hormone) that surges at ridiculously high levels just after birth, making a mother bond with her baby. When couples with children say “you don’t understand”, it’s pertaining to this experience – not the implication that you have no idea what stress or hard work are, or that you are ignorant to the basics of child-rearing, or any of that stuff that people without kids think they mean. Anyway, this intense experience brings with it a whole new way of looking at the world, and a new way of writing music. Not all of my newer songs have been about my daughter, but they have a new freshness and wisdom about them that would attribute to being a mom.

I have so much more to write on this topic, but my baby wants me to fix her eggs now, so I will have to continue this post later….maybe.

 

You’re not famous? Your music must not be that good.

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I had a discussion today with one of my promoters in the virtual world of Second Life.  Yes, I’m still doing the geeky thing of giving live performances via my Shoutcast radio stream to groups of 10 – 100 people, several times each week. It’s great for keeping myself rehearsed for “real life” performances, and it has helped me to share the music I have felt so driven to write down, record, rehearse, and develop into my art. If you’re interested in hearing one of these live shows, you can find more information about it HERE.

I digress. . . during this discussion with Terrance Popstar (his virtual name), my word-of-mouth promoter, he was sharing some of his experiences in conversing with others about music. It seems that while some people are more than willing to watch a YouTube video rather than just standing around in the glorified chat room atmosphere of Second Life, some get quite irritated by a promoter that drops in to promote. I’m so thankful to have him on my team. It’s not a job that I would do well at all. While I enjoy sharing my music with people that enjoy it, I dread forcing my music at people that don’t want it.

One of the responses Terrance was sharing with me roused my attention more than the others. He said that when he asked the group of SL patrons if they had ever heard of “SaraMarie Philly, a musician on the grid” that he promotes for, one of the people replied, “If her music is any good, she will gain attention without you having to go around promoting.”  

Just typing out that sentence again makes me cringe. This person could not be more ill-informed. There are many, many musicians out there that have great music and writing skills that will never have the opportunity to share their music with the people. Think about your favorite artist or band from when you were in your teenage years….you know, the CD (or cassette….or 8 track….or record) that you played over and over and over again…because the music made you feel a certain way. It spoke to you. It became part of who you are today. That music probably found it’s way into your hands through a great deal of promoting, performing, word of mouth, and money that was behind it. It was probably a group signed to a major label, with the money to make sure that the artist was promoted adequately. Because without that promotion, it would be highly unlikely that you would stumble upon that band or artist.

Unfortunately, the “rags to riches” stories just don’t happen so much anymore. Things were different  50 years ago, before digital marketing and distribution became over 60% of the market. Dolly Parton is a good example of the last “rags to riches” story from that era. Her family was poor when she was growing up, but they noticed her talent for singing and got her into radio at a very young age. Yes, Dolly Parton was a child star. It wasn’t until much later that she became the star with big boobs, and later yet that her song “I Will Always Love You” ended up in the hands of Whitney Houston for the movie The Bodyguard, which earned her more money in royalties than any of her own performances ever did. But….back to the truthful fact. People did NOT just “discover” her because she was a good singer. Her parents promoted her, she was signed to a small label by the time she was 9 years old, and that label promoted her. That’s what labels do. And honestly, even though Dolly Parton claims to have been “dirt poor”, she grew up on a tobacco farm. None of us can really be sure whether tobacco farming was profitable or not at that time, although tobacco products were certainly on an economic rise. It is reasonable to say that while they may have been dirty from farming, they may not have been as poor as she let on. It does however make a great story for promoting the young budding singing star.

Let’s flash back….or forward….to NOW. Artists are not usually just “discovered”. Even the acts that you would think are just discovered via YouTube or Second Life or radio programs are really not handed the golden ticket that you think. In the mind of the public, there are talent-scouters all over the place, and if a good musician should happen to be heard by one of them, they will be handed a business card, signed to a label, and given a lot of money to create music. It doesn’t really work that way anymore. Music labels are looking for acts that already have a following. They are looking for acts that have the money to pay for the recording and production of their albums on the front end and purchase all of their own equipment or already own their own sound system. Basically, they are looking for acts that have done the hard work of promoting themselves so that when the label signs them, their work is a little easier. It makes sense from the label’s standpoint. You may be  thinking, “Why do you need a label? Just release independently and promote yourself. People will notice.”   In a perfect world, this would be great. You would release your CD and have your discs replicated, and then send them out to Target and Walmart and all of those other places that people frequent……scrreeech….oh wait, those places only allow music that is released through a major label to be on their shelves. Really? Yeah, really. Not just “a label”, but a MAJOR label. Meaning…..more money for promotion.

Still thinking that maybe an artist can get “discovered” by just putting themselves out there with no promotion? Let’s look at Beyonce Knowles, for example. Her father took classes in music business and started managing Beyonce’s music group Destiny’s Child when it was just in it’s beginning stages. How many dads, upon seeing their little tween girls singing and dancing around with their friends would take this kind of financial risk to try to turn them into superstars? One with lots of money, and the willingness to promote his butt off.

Taylor Swift is another great example of how most music success happens these days. Her father was willing to co-invest millions of dollars into the label that signed her, making her at the top of their promotion priorities. Don’t believe everything you read in a musician’s Wikipedia profile. One of the thing they tell us at seminars and music conferences is that we need to have a compelling story. Some promoters even encourage people to make things up, or stretch the truth a little. An example? I tell people I grew up on a rabbit farm. It’s true…we had a big barn full of rabbits that I raised to show for 4-H. About 50-60 rabbits at one point. But reading the sentence, “I grew up on a rabbit farm” makes it sound like that was my family’s main source of income, which it was not. Both of my parents had full-time jobs. Taylor Swift grew up on a Christmas Tree farm. Her father also happened to be a very successful stockbroker.

You may point to the band “Karmin”, who got “discovered” on YouTube.  Let me first point out that YouTube is NOT the automatic-success-for-the-talented story that you think it is. After the basics of having good recording equipment to make a video that is worth watching, there is also the issue of promotion. You think that there is no promotion that goes into YouTube? You just put up a video and people flock to it and watch it? Consider this. . . YouTube sells advertising. So, people that pay that fee to be advertised get listed at the top of the search results, sometimes with a pretty box around their video, and get more views than people that don’t pay that advertising money. Also, the more views a video has, the higher it will appear….so if you are uploading a video with 0 views, it will show up at the bottom of the search query, not at the top. And that’s for people that happen to search for it. The way that YouTube videos become viral is that the uploaders promote the video to their friends, and it spreads by word of mouth.

 

There IS an element of needing to be “good” in the music business to share your product, but please don’t think that just because someone hasn’t been “discovered”, isn’t “famous” or doesn’t have a huge “following” that their music is of any less quality than those that have the three aforementioned attributes. And if you’re ever standing around in Second Life and my promoter happens to drop in, try to be nice to him, please.

Fat Singers

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As a woman of “average” to “curvy” size/shape, I often find myself considering whether I “belong” in the pop music genre. Let’s be honest, there aren’t that many female artists who have breached a size 8, let alone thesize 14/16 of the average American woman. Every time this subject comes up, someone mentions “But there’s Adele, and Ditto…and Jennifer Hudson. Oh wait, Jennifer Hudson lost a lot of weight.” The Grammies also revealed a thinner Adele, and Ditto’s weight is constantly a subject of talk among interested musicians, as it yo-yo’s from quite “round” to “deliciously plump”.

I don’t want to say that I advocate an unhealthy lifestyle, but I do think our culture has gotten a bit ridiculous when it comes to expectations about size, weight, and appearances in general. There will always be the person that argues that they are simply fighting the obesity epidemic because of the health implications and the cost that it imposes on the rest of society. OK, fair enough. Let’s look at this in a different way. We all know that drinking and smoking are also bad for one’s health. Moderate drinking can have positive effects on the circulatory system, so we’ll just ignore that one and go for smoking. Smoking has no health benefits and one should consider the impact of second hand smoke if they are genuinely concerned about health only. However, while we may agree that smoking is a bad habit, we are more inclined to accept someone’s addiction to smoking but find saddlebags and pudgy tummies “disgusting”. Think of all the mean things that have been directed toward overweight people and imagine that those same words were applied to a person that smokes. It just doesn’t equate. So, we can safely say that the problem our society has with heavy people is NOT the issue of health, but the issue of how a person looks. 

I’m happy for Jennifer Hudson and Adele who are undoubtedly happier with a few less pounds, but I can’t help but think there is no place in the current entertainment industry for women who are not “the entire package”. Sadly, many fantastic voices of our time will go unheard because we are seeking the most beautiful/trim  people rather than the most talented.

While I’m not an advocate of gluttony or forgoing health efforts, but I do advocate self-acceptance and following your dreams no matter what your size, age, race or experience. Share your gifts.