Saturday, December 08, 2018

Faith and The Rational Engineer

Once you get accustomed to logic, proof, measuring, testing and prototyping, it's tough to accept breezy bullying, superstition and wishful thinking. The worst moments in my career were all when office politics overwhelmed sound engineering principles. For some systems, that could be lived with but when a system had a manned rating, well, I could lose my cool.  Bullies have no place among rational engineers.

There was a conversation I was having with a young man about the tension of being a scientist while practicing faith. If the guys in charge start going too far in the direction of claiming their special relationship to a deity gives them absolute authority, the pews in a city of engineers start to empty.  If the head of marketing or the fraud manager who earned a position by dint of a special relationship or class bullied their way through a meeting they could not run by demonstrating that theirs was a sound engineering approach, then it was time to move on.

In the time of Newton, the enlightenment, the newly enlightened scientists considered what they learned by scientific method as proper revelation. They put their moral or religious convictions squarely in the realm of provable repeatable testing and observation. They did not argue the existence of God because they understood that first cause is beyond logic, therefore, science. They were willing to accept that which they could not know need not be proven and to take comfort in faith while advancing the size and scale of what they could know and by doing, improve the lot of humankind without depriving humans of the comfort of faith. 

IMO, that works.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Joanne

A cover of a Michael Nesmith song that he recorded with the First National Band.

For D.J.L.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

All Original

The toughest gig in my opinion is the all original:  no cover songs.  Why?

For the longest time in my life, opportunities to play all original were rare.  The room owners would fight us on this topic.  They wanted commercial songs.  They did not believe local songwriters could compete with Nashville or Muscle Shoals writers.   There is still some of that going on.  Ours is a STEM-city.  White collar.  Music is blue collar work.

There was no vision and not much support.  Some writers would make the trek between Huntsville and those Real Music Cities because there were more live gigs here.   But even then, they played a mix of covers and originals with emphasis on the covers.   We became clones of famous acts which is what the audience wanted.

Then when the web took the money out of songs, the performance rights organizations (PROs) such as ASCAP/BMI/SESAC went on a head hunting rampage across the smaller rooms that support small acts such as soloists and duos.   The fees to pay them were/are harder on the small rooms and as a result, the owners of rooms where budding songwriters performed stopped having live music or closed their doors.  It was a tactical nuke on the innocents.  No one deserved that particularly the kids just starting out as performers.

OR... the room owner made a rule that acts could only play all original.   As long as the songs are not registered with the PROs, the muscle men cannot force the rooms to pay fees.   They try but the room owner can tell them to go fuck themselves.    Some PRO writers cannot play these rooms or if they do, they are asked to send a list of what they played to the PRO with which they are affiliated.  Then the muscle men bugger the room.  The room pays the fees or gets sued.   It's an ugly business but that is a different topic.   It is all legal.   On the other hand....

The unforeseen consequences were some professionals were kicked out of the spotlights and small rooms where they might have ruled instead opened up to a new generation of very young songwriters with attitudes.   Pluses and minuses because where there were opportunities, quality went straight down the tubes.  No free lunch.

For a short time, there was freedom. Gigs that even if not well paid were accessible.  Now we have boutique real estate interests and fly by night talent and artist development types sucking up the oxygen.  Oh well.  The kids are starting to see the hustle and where it all goes from here, one can't say.  The politics of greed are the politics of the music business.  Sad but so.

Before moving on, watch this video.  You need to know the reality of making a living in the music business.  It is not the royal road to riches it once was.  Sad but so.




Those are the facts.   Being able to work live as a singer songwriter is more important than ever.  So this is to say there are now more rooms for all original.  Your time has come. :)

If you can.   And that is not that easy.

Most singer-songwriters don't start with a full evening of songs they have written and can perform.   A night with other writers playing on average, three songs, or perhaps a twenty minute set are common. Three hours, or on average three forty-five minute sets is a lot of songs.   A lot.  Roughly 45 songs.   If that doesn't seem like a lot, try running for forty-five minutes while speaking on your phone and knitting.  Do that three times in three hours.

That's the physical challenge and you have to meet that no matter what you play.   I say this simply because too many people think it is easy.  It is not.   You leave zoinked and a little empty most nights.

Then there are the songs.  Do you have 45 original songs?  Or are you a Grateful Dead act doing one song for forty five minutes?   Good songs?  Songs that are cohesive, can hold your attention?  Can hold an audience's attention?   Can you play them every night and still do that?  Without boring your audience or yourself?   And some songs are not appropriate for some rooms and some audiences.  A family room is not necessarily the best place to sing about your long night out drinking and banging your sig other.  Randy may not be handy.

So be honest:  most don't and those that can won't because they aren't confident about their songs.   The singer-songwriter night is usually as I said, a night done with other performers, perhaps together, perhaps as separate acts swapping out.   That is a good deal.  You get to see what others are doing, swap some licks and share an audience, perhaps some social media cred, so networking or schwoozing as the old timers would say.   You may be the host and emcee.  You may be on the bill.

Or you may be the fool on the hill.   You want to play an evening of your songs.  You do this because you can, you want to and you like the view.   And the challenge.  Good.   Too many claim to be songwriters but don't understand that singing and performing songs well are part of the craft.

Most of us who do play an evening as a soloist and carry the entire evening do it with a mix of covers and originals.   This is a good deal.   By the time we get to being a mainline act, we've played a lot of songs and have enough songs in the songbook to carry it.   In some ways this is the best deal because:

To play with only this and that old hat is such a bore
But I sadly fear the love of the ear is to hear what it heard before - Songwriter's Lament

It is easier to learn songs than to write and arrange them.  You may discover as many do writing is not in your wheelhouse.   That's good.  Know your talents; they are not limits.  If it is in your wheelhouse, stretch out and reach out.  Those that don't write but do perform may use your songs.  That's great.  Note though, that because of the way money is made in the business these days, many/most bigger acts want a piece of the publishing and co-write with established songwriters.  A different topic but remember, if you are out there performing your songs well, you have a better chance at that opportunity.  Acts notice.  Publishers notice.

Your songs get better when played because you will find out if they work both as a performer and as a performed song.   Pay attention to how the audience responds.  Don't throw away a song because it doesn't work one night with one audience.   Different strokes for different folks as the hippies said.   This is where a deep catalog pays off and why you have to keep writing.   If it never works, you need to rewrite it. 

Sisyphus was not cursed.   The struggle is the reward.  There is no top of the hill; just the rock, the slope and your determination and stamina.  Stay at that rock and roll it, kid.

Back to this topic:  playing an all original night.  Keep in mind all acts have a burn rate and at some point you will need more original songs.   So keep writing.  Every day.   The songwriter room is where you get to try out those songs.  Love on that room if they ask you to do this.  It's tough work to do this act but very advantageous.   No one else has your songs unless you let them.  Your songs are your edge, your distinctive act, better than graphics, better than networking, better than selling dope. :)

The contrary motion is people vary in their desire to hear new things.   They say they do like to hear originals and they are being honest, but really, they are there to eat, drink, dance and well, socialize.   Unless it is a big time event, the singer-songwriter is a fire in the corner, a decoration meant to keep people in the room lest they wander away to follow the small animals.   Given too many obscurities, they move along.  So we resort to lights, videos, effects, stories and the other bric-a-brac of stage craft.

Note that all of that gear is more work for you, the room has to be right to use it, and these are thrills that may not keep their appeal.  You may or may not be in a room where that is possible or desirable.   Say coffee house or small bar.   You may also be booked into a room too large and inappropriate.  Then that gear might look dinky.  This will be the case all original or not.  Most of the time, simple is better but if you have the crew and the yearning, go for it.

Another advantage of all original is live streaming.  You won't trip the wire that some live stream services have about streaming copyright material when you don't own the copyright.  They can remove your access to the service and you might get sued.  Caveat vendor.

So let's talk about some aspects of performing a live all original night.


Stories:  if you can tell them with confidence, stories fill time, break up the noise and add a bit of personality.   Some are good at that.  Say Arlo Guthrie.  He is the master.  Arlo isn't making those up off the top.  He crafts them.   He retells them.   He may change them up but storytelling like songwriting is also a serious craft.   Some have a talent for that.  Some don't.   But it comes with practice like everything else.

You can warm up an otherwise cold room with the right story.  Or you can turn them off like an auto engine and then they get coooooold.  The best stories are funny.   The more serious you are, the faster the average audience will hit the exit.   Again, most of the time they are there to socialize.   If you must preach, go to church.  A captive audience is a good audience for the stoic.  For the rest, as the man said in the musical, make'em laugh.

Using Tracks:  How you do the evening is up to you.   Some use tracks.   Some think that wrong.   Some use a looper.  Some think that is wrong.  Acts such as Ed Sheeran have very successful careers with a looper, and yeah, haters gonna hate but technology can be a plus.    There is a difference in using pre-recorded tracks and looping per se, but I combine them as useful.

They do give you much more flexibility in the styles you can manage solo.  Others loop in real time and that is an art all to itself.    When filling time, I often make up a progression then solo over it.

Acts such as Sheeran use complex loopers to build whole arrangements as part of their act.  Your mileage varies here depending on your instrumental skills, composition skills and practice with the looper.   Otherwise the difference between tracks and a keyboard player using stored sequences is none.

Using pre-recorded tracks, in my opinion, is fine as long as you produced those tracks. They are part of your art, part of your act, and this is your chance for people to hear the songs as you hear them in your head and heart.  Go for it.

Using tracks is a serious investment of time and you do need skills to make them.   You could use Band-in-A-Box.   I don't.  I enjoy arranging and consider it part of the craft.  This is a wrestle with your own soul decision but given I have a pretty good home studio, not a-list but all I need, arranging and recording are both fun and a dimension of the craft.

You do have a home recording setup, right?  If as a songwriter, you don't, you are a stone cold idiot.  I won't be nice about that.   There is no excuse for it these days.   Learn. To. Record. At. Home.  Ok?


Not Using Tracks:  Most don't use them in the belief that authenticity and "keeping it real" are the way to make it in the business.  Set expectations and meet them.   It makes sense but you will have to meet them.

So, is your latest marvelous studio produced song setting expectations that you cannot meet?  Did you actually play those tracks?   Can you sing well without a pitch correction application?  Is the song more production than song?   Can you play an instrument well and sing at the same time?   Too often what we hear on the recording and what is delivered live are so different as to make one wonder why they bought tickets.   You have to decide what you need to give your songs their best presentation, then stick to the goals you set for yourself and them.   Persist.

Using Technology to Hide Mediocrity: One can only get so far as a below average or even mediocre musician even if a credible singer or a pretty face.   You may be a songwriter but not a good musician.   You set expectations with your recording.   If you can't really play the song, it's time to book time with a music teacher or find a competent musician to accompany you.  Even tracks won't cover mediocrity.   This doesn't imply that you have to be a blazing instrumentalist.   It means you need solid rhythm chops, a reasonable knowledge of the instrument, and can play in time, on pitch while you sing.

A night in an open mic session outs that fact.   Given ten acts, the first three should not be there.  The next three need more work but have promise.   The next two have promise and have earned their place on the stage.   The next one has the act together and is a good opener for the tenth who is a pro.   It's a bell curve not simply of talent but of the study, discipline, practice and sacrifice required to be at the top.   Genius is rare and should be prized but it will not earn you that top slot unless it's minions are knowledge and hard won skill.   Watch the pros and take the time to listen.   Ignorance and attitude are the handmaidens of mediocrity and too often they rule the scene when the music is less important than other factors such as networking politics, greed and jealousy.   Persist in the face of mediocrity.

The harsh truth is mediocrity is common. The popular song lasts approximately 5 years.  That is a hit.  Some songs, say The Beatles, last a great deal longer.   Lennon and McCartney were geniuses.  There is a lot of talent out there and as Schopenhauer points out, talent rises to the demands of the time but not beyond it.  In short, talent can make you popular.  Only genius will make you immortal.
"Talent is like the marksman who hits a target which others cannot reach; genius is like the marksman who hits a target … which others cannot even see." - Arthur Schopenhauer
You don't have to be a genius to do good work.   Do your best.

Technology has a place.  There is no rule that says you have to do something or not do something because your hero did it.  Harpsichord players fought the piano forte.   Union session musicians outlawed the Mellotron and synthesizers until the funk musicians kicked their honky asses with them.   Technology for it's own sake is gaudy.   Used smartly, it opens up opportunities creatively and economically.  So let's look at the one innovation that finds more and more places on the stage with the singer-songwriter:  the looper.

Loopers:  If you do use tracks, my advice is to use a looper that can store all of them.   Then all you have to manage is the foot pedal to start and stop and the track switching button.   I use a Boss RC-30.  It is not ideal for live because you have to reach down and manually switch the tracks.  There are add on foot pedals that let you do that.  The effects on it are mostly worthless and it has a quirk that causes the built in drum sequences to kick in when you start a new track occasionally.  Otherwise, it has three hours of track time, a USB port and is easy to operate.  It has an XLR input with phantom power.  Some use that for a vocal mic.  I use it for the Godin nylon which uses phantom power.   That way I can rely on the phantom power being there and I control it.  Sometimes boards in rooms don't have this or it won't be on when you start.  It also keeps my guitar in the same stereo sends to the board as the track.  I can control the relative mix and balance them before the main board gets them.

It also pre-amps the acoustic nylon guitar so the signal is strong and I don't have to rely on a live mic and risk feedback given a nylon and even most steel string acoustics produce a weak signal.  Just know that many or most rooms use a single monophonic line to the board for the guitar.  If you are not in charge of the board, ask the engineer to provide you two lines so you can use the stereo outputs of the looper.  There is a mono output but don't do that if you are using stereo tracks.   You won't like it.

The RC-30 also has some pre-stored drum parts that are pretty good.  It has two separate tracks that you can use to add extra parts such as intermittent background vocals.  The trick of looping is you have to be precise with your foot starting and stopping the loop live.  Like everything else in music, practice is required.

Unless you are really looping, that is playing over a segment over and over, be sure to add a soft count in click at the beginning and some silence at the start and stop of the track, say about five seconds.   This gives you breathing time when you position your foot to start and stop the track.  Otherwise you may not be ready to start and will have to restart; or at the end the loop will restart automatically.  These are not disasters but they do break the fourth wall (see theatre craft if you don't understand that).

The RC-30 is really a songwriting tool not a live looper but for the price and functionality, good enough and very useful when writing songs.   Trade-offs.    Shop around.

Do use a looper that has 44khz stereo wav files and a USB port that lets you move them between your home recording system and the looper.  Stereo is best and the tracks should be mixed to give you space in the mix for your live contribution.   Again, a bit of an art form so experiment and remember when you don't control the mix at the board, some strange things can happen such as too much reverb or none in the house mix that can separate your voice and instrument from the loop track in audio space.   There are risks.

It helps to keep them organized in a directory on your computer and if you keep a lyric book in front of you, order the lyrics in the order of tracks on the looper and list them by title and loop number on a sheet in the book.   You can move between songs as you feel it. 

Note:  Yes, I know about iPads, screens etc.  Fab.  I don't use them at gigs.   Paper in plastic doesn't crash, doesn't need batteries, doesn't break, etc.   Simple things are robust.   Keep track of your book.  People steal them.  In the days when we had to drop needles on records or beg a radio DJ to play a song so we could learn them, the book had high value.   Today when most lyrics are on the web, it's stupid.  On the other hand, as a songwriter, your lyrics are in that book  A little paranoia is healthy.

Be consistent in the volumes and the mix effects, something you do on your recording work station so you don't have to continually adjust it on stage.   Be careful of compression.  It can work in final mixes of a song, but on live tracks, it sounds canny and unbalanced.  Experiment and simplify.

Some acts use very complex systems for tracks and have the crew and other resources to support them.  Que bueno.   The approaches I describe here are for the singer-songwriter act playing mostly solo.   Do what works best.  Keep in mind that performing is challenging.   Complex setups that you have to control in real time are failure prone and from time to time will.  You have to laugh it off and get back to the song.   Whenever you can, simplify and focus on the voice and the instrument,.

Using CDs for Tracks:  If you must use a CD player, be very very sure it is on a solid base so vibrations don't cause it to skip.  It's embarrassing and ruins the mood.   Best if doing this to have someone else handle it such as a DJ but truthfully, avoid the CD.  You will want to change order, put in new songs, etc.  After a while you will have a stack of junked CDs.  It's a waste.   Just saying.

Staying in Sync:  Remember you have to perform AND listen to the track.  If you don't have a foldback system, use headphones.   I know, it looks wonky but if you are behind the mains, the odds that you will drift out of sync are high.   Treat it like working in the studio where you are overdubbing parts.   Relax.  If you can use wireless earbuds, even better.  Most high end acts do.  A good solid and simple drum part is a big plus.   You can hear that even in a noisy room.

If you can't hear or stay in synx and have to turn everything up, your instrument volume may be too loud or you are working with someone who only listens to their own parts and thus, cannot stay in sync.   Regardless, if you use tracks or loops, you must practice with them.  They are not the best tool for jam bands.

Instrumentals and Public Domain Songs:  if they fit your song styles, a positive.  You can show off your chops a bit and let your voice rest.   This is where all that time in the practice room at college learning Fernando Sor or Bach or playing blues pays off.   You can also sneak in some old public domain folk songs as long as you are sure they really are in the public domain.   These are not original but neither do they open the door to the muscle men.  You might even have a sing a long.    Try to do something original with them.  Have fun.

Bands:  If you are playing with a band, most of what I am saying here is cum se cum sa.   A band requires more time and space and gear, costs more and you still need forty-five songs.  The plus is you may have other writers in the band.  Your mileage will vary depending on how well your styles mesh and or your collaborations work.   If all that works, it is a wonderful experience.  It worked well for the Highwaymen. :) 

A really good songwriting band is really rare.   Ninety out of every hundred bands are cover bands.   There is nothing wrong with it and it is good experience but it is a ceiling limited ensemble.   There can only be one James Taylor and one Lynard Skynard,    While most of us are derivative in some way, original means original.   This was more common in the Sixties and Seventies when everyone from The Beatles to the Eagles to Steely Dan ruled the airwaves.   I am not quite sure what happened but good songwriting bands seem to be more rare these days.  It IS a metric ton of work.

I worked over a decade with one good songwriting band.  We built a studio, made indy albums, got some airplay, performed at Opryland and on TV, but most important, learned more about writing, arranging and recording than is possible any other way.   Some of the best years of my life, but all good things come to an end.

Despite having made good all original albums, the room owners forced us to play covers and despite our efforts, that slowed down the song writing and recording because of the time it consumed to learn and practice covers.   If I did it again, I'd say no to the room owners but we needed the money.   It is an ugly business.   That aside, the fellows in that band took a garage effort and turned it into a powerhouse of writing and recording.  They were at their best when together even though they all went on to do very good work solo.  But as I describe below, there is a life cycle to all creative collaborations and you have to be sensitive to what your goals are in relation to the group.   Things change, people change and at some point, you are no longer creative together.   Then you have some hard but necessary decisions to make.

It is very very very important in a recording band, but several more orders of very in an all original act for the members to be going in the same direction if not spiritually at least in the business.   A band has to evolve to a sound and the more different sounds they have to play, the more difficult it is to establish "a brand".   In music speak, this means the gigs they can book, the fan base they build, and how well they can work onstage and in the studio.

A good blues jam does not an all original band make even if it feels right.   You have to make firm decisions early about songs to record, who is singing lead, who gets the solo, and who gets the songwriter credits versus who simply played on the track.  A songwriting band is a different organization and the relationships are different, more intense.   You are much more tightly tied together financially when you share a song catalog and recordings that require original members to play as heard by the fans.   Yet, they also have a time and a season and there will come a time when that old magic just ain't there.



Relationships are hard in any situation and when you toss in egos, substances, "women", managers, fans and the really enjoyable but hard work of writing, recording, performing, meeting commitments, making decisions everyone has to live with, in other words, creating a thriving business enterprise and not a weekend warrior band, relationships can melt overnight.


Arguments are part of successful collaborations.  You won't agree on  everything and you must hash your disagreements out.   I had a rule about shutting the studio off to outsiders when we were working.   No one should see the sausage being made particularly when the sausage makers turn into children when working together and yes, like it that way.  It's fun.    It isn't a show.  The studio is your sandbox and there will be sand tossed around.   It's not good for outsiders to be involved in that anymore than you want your neighbors commenting and participating in a family squabble.

If you see the workspace filling up with non-band non-recording staff, say fans, family, girl friends, the candy man, whoever, that is not a happy sight.   People show off, listen to the wrong people and begin to loosen the cohesion absolutely necessary for creative work.  Worse,  the members get bored, distracted, uninterested in the work and... the songs.    At this point unless you can confront these problems, you are screwed.  Done.  Call the lawyers.

So one event you will have to accept is that at some point personal evolution and growth take over and people go in different directions.   Let it go, amicably if you can.  This is when those original agreements hopefully on paper are your sanity.   A band is a rolling dysfunctional marriage and if you don't think a divorce is painful you have a painful lesson to learn.   If you are co-writing you have children you have to care about for the rest of your lives:  the songs.

Opinions vary on if it is a good idea to hold a band together because it is still financially viable (see The Rolling Stones) or to break up when it stops being creatively fertile (see The Beatles).   You have to make that decision.   Being a songwriter first and everything else second, I am of the Fab Four persuasion.   When it stops being creative, I'm ready to move on, sadly, hopefully with fond memories on speaking terms and still hanging out on occasion, but onward.   Others who are very business focused first, and that is not a bad attitude if music is how you make the rent, are Stones.   Know your priorities.   I prefer having a day job and writing as I please than to have to play the hits year in and out until I die in the Green Room.   You mileage will vary.

Some of this is inevitable but some can be managed if you avoid certain toxic personalities who infest the world of entertainment and any creative project.  Here are a few of the most common ones.

The Show-off:   Also known as a diva, this is a member of your group that like any other narcissist insists that they are always the center of attention.   This person will play very long solos, get into volume battles with other members, step on jokes, make inappropriate remarks, work the room manager to their own advantage, hustle the wait staff, and say things about the act that really hurt your image.  They are to put it bluntly, a jerk.   Fire them.  Fast.   Too often they are also substance addicts.  Fire them faster.

My elder brother was a successful local band leader, guitarist, singer and stage performer.  He told me once that he would much rather work with a basic player who did their job without complaint than the hottest jazz musician who was also a snot.   As time went on, I found out he was right.   Cohesion matters.

This is a problem for any act but for the songwriter doing all original, they are hurting your songs.   Take care of business.

The Opportunist:   This is the person who while playing with you at the gig is covertly trying to book their other band.  Or they want the act to be something that suits their own tastes and resent your songs.  Their role is as a sideman and they are not doing the job.  This person does not belong in an all original act.  They do not actually work at making the song present well.   They need to move on and create their own act. If combined with a Show-off, they can hurt your business.    Be smart.  If you need them, you need them.   If you don't, send them on their way with encouragement.   You are the Boss. Take care of business.

The Covert Narcissist:  This one is the most destructive because it is actually a person with psychotic disorders.   You can look the term up but essentially, this is the quintessential snake.  They are a passive aggressive and extraordinarily manipulative.   While all smiles and mystery on the outside, inside this person is a shell, empty, hollow, devoid of empathy and only lightly creative because the emotions aren't real.   They are a fake.   Everything you see on the outside was acquired from others that they mirror.

Because of the mystery they project, they can be quite alluring and often they become the band front.  Over time their habit of pushing people away who pierce that front can destroy band cohesion.  They are character assassins.

Everything is about them.  Unlike the diva, they possess little real originality.    They are puffers of their own image,  Unlike the overt narcissist that is easy to spot, the covert can take some time to figure out and by that time, they have you or whomever they have targeted figured perfectly, know which buttons to push to get what they want and do not care who gets hurt.

These types are very dangerous creatively and personally.   They will take credit where none was earned, create jealousies because they actively exploit personality differences, and make you feel as if  you are inept, worthless, stupid and creatively impotent.  As a songwriter in an all original act, this personality type is not your friend, or anyone else's really.

If you think you are dealing with a covert narcissist, get away, carefully, calmly and with as little conflict as you can manage, but get away.  Enough said.


Purists:  These are the people who have rules about your setup or style of playing or writing that they attempt to apply to invalidate you.  The blues/jazz and bluegrass purists are the worst in my region of the world.   Again, words like authenticity or phrases like "keep it real" are often heard.

Some rooms will not let you use tracks.   Purist songwriter rooms like the Bluebird usually don't although that might have changed since I was there.   I understand it given some performers don't produce their own tracks or even play on them.  In the case of The Bluebird, it really is about the song .   This is not a gig; it is a short demonstration.

Scope it out and be prepared.

As to other musicians who criticize your choices, I Know Betters, usually competitors, may snark about the tracks to deflate your shoes.  Ignore them as you should other assholes.    There is always at least one.  I had a partner who would lean over the bandstand and whisper into their ear, "And where are you playing tonight?"

Another kind of purist is the style Nazi.  They may be a player or a fan with a deep collection of vinyl in a style.   If you play covers, they tell you how you are different from the original artist.   If you play original in a style, they tell you why your originals are inferior to another artist playing in that style.  Order them a drink and leave them to their opinions.  If they are a band member, take them to the woodshed privately.   People who work to rob you of concentration or confidence are not your allies. 

On the other hand, someone with a friendly attitude hoping to show you an easier way to play a part, or can tell you where to go hear a good act, is a positive person. Buy them a drink too and thank them.

Duke Ellington would say, there are only two kinds of music:  good music and bad music.  If it sounds good, it is good.   This leads to the best advice I can give you for the long haul because there are always politics of rooms and fans and the churn of popularity of styles;
Win the old fashioned way:  PLAY BETTER MUSIC.

The Talking Head:   This one can cut both ways.   Some acts have been very political and very successful.  It is part of their brand and they are honest about the causes they espouse.  Others?  Not so much.   The first problem is the audience and the room owner have to be solidly on the side of those causes.   When one is a known successful act, expectations have been set and the occasional rant on the topics of the day work.   The second problem is the other band members may not share your political views and resent being represented as supporting them by sharing a stage with you.

It's better to write songs about them but if the act and the audience have a common set of issues, go for it.   Keep the language... restrained.   There is no place for threats and profanity onstage.  Ever.

This can go toxic.   First, in the rooms one is playing as a singer-songwriter starting out, it is unlikely the audience and the room are squarely on the side of these causes and depending on the mix, people get bored, people get angry, and people get tired of being yakked at as my wife puts it.   Second, in a band situation other band members may not be on board with these issues and do not want to share a stage with them, they will leave usually after a screaming match.  Sometimes on stage.  Ugly.   I knew one fellow who booked a free gig for a political rally and his drummer promptly resigned.

Again, this is where your mileage may vary.   Politics are mercurial.  Values are not.   Mixing band brands and politics can be a bad brew particularly if the act is a recording act doing originals.   Sometimes the best idea is to take these politics out as a solo act and book the rooms accordingly.   Just remember that there are people who get offended by Christmas songs and not everyone thinks a Confederate flag is part of their shared heritage.   And they get .... irate.   One night while sitting in an IHOP after a gig, a member of our band got a note on a napkin telling him he would be killed for the things he said that night.  Unpleasant.


The Meat Puppet:  This personality is not so much a must to avoid as a can't be avoided.   They are the expression of a business that is more entertainment than music and where popularity is more important than musical skills.   The Meat Puppet can combine the qualities of a diva with an overt narcissist to create an entertaining personality that will vault them to the top of the scene despite an obvious paucity of actual musical ability.   They are often college art majors who are able to sing in a style but cannot play an instrument past a ukulele or three chords on the white keys of a piano.

They can be very useful to a professional songwriter because when the time comes to make an album or EP, they have no original songs.   Most of their time onstage was spent performing covers and often they have a favorite artist that they clone relentlessly.   A songwriter who can spot that and create songs that mimic that artist can pick up the job as their favorite songwriter.   Often the Meat Puppet has an accompanist who also acts as their musical arranger and is sometimes the songwriter as well.   If not the latter, the songwriter will want to be familiar with this person and the producer of the recording.  Work closely with them to ensure your song gets the best production possible.  This is an opportunity because the Meat Puppet has a following and does sell product.

The caution is often the Meat Puppet is insecure about their deficit of musical skills and may have that fiery temper of the diva.   They will walk into a room, make demands and can walk right over to a skilled musician and berate them for anything that will let the meat puppet dominate the room and the conversation.   Their following is as slavish and witless as the Meat Puppet is self-obsessed so character assassination is a real danger.    You may want the project but not the gig or their social circle.

Submit the song, endure the scene, then walk away and wait for the check.

The Puffer:   In olden daze there were real music critics whose role was to write insightful reviews of music works and artists.   They performed a service to the public by revealing the inner processes and allowing us to understand the effort, the highs and lows, the business and the pain of being a creative.

Then there are The Puffers.   The job of the puffer is to write fake news, fake reviews, fake histories and otherwise fool the public into believing an act deserves attention.   A puffer may be an industry publicist or a journalist of sorts and in these days of social media and the disappearance of print media, puffers are more and more the sources of entertainment news.

The puffer has been around longer than fluffers on the set of a porn movie.   They are like the Meat Puppet in whose company they are often found, unavoidable.   The problem is if taken too seriously they can destroy the career of good artists and make the career of a mediocre one.   They may attempt to be the curator of the local scene and as such, not being a very good critic, they can poison it just like the puffer fish itself.

From time to time you may want to punch out a puffer.   Don't.  It might feel good but don't.   Do keep up with them because they are like the dye you put in a septic system to find leaks.  They give you information about the politics of who is being financed for a project and who may be doing that.   When trying to get a songwriting project, they offer clues.   Otherwise, they can give you herpes.

The Evil Tech:   The Evil Tech is the gremlin of music productions and tend to inhabit venues and scenes that are somewhat scuzzy.

Sometimes they are part of the social network of artist development types or producers on the hunt for targets of exploitation.   They run the sound or lights but consider themselves like The Puffer as curators of the creative scene.   They offer opinions, listen to your conversations and gossip incessantly.   Often they are wanna-be musicians who simply do not have the dedication and chops to be good ones but they live on the fringes of the scene and perform services.  Sometimes they are also the band candy man.

You can't eliminate them and you can't kill them.   You may want to but you can't.   The best approach is to stay polite and keep them away from your business dealings.

The problem is an Evil Tech on the sound board or lighting panel can seriously hurt your performance and will do it intentionally.  That is the point: they are not incompetent; they are evil.   If you have the clout and you know this, refuse to work with them.  The risk is real and the consequences are real.

Moving on...

The Room:  most of the time you will be in a smaller room.   Rooms are better than busking on the sidewalk in winter so be grateful.     A room is defined by the product it sells and the crowd regulars.  These make a difference in your experience and what you can do successfully.

Rule of Nature:  big rooms for good bands.  Small rooms for soloists or duos.

The reasons are economic and while not always the case, a singer-songwriter playing solo or say with one other player presents better in intimate settings.   Thus, The Bluebird in Nashville, a room dedicated to songwriters, is a converted sewing shop in a strip mall next to other offices.   It is small and the audience is right there in your face.   It is the scariest gig there is for the songwriter.   It is absolutely worth it.  Why?   Because you did it.   Looks good on your ads and does make you better.

Learn to like terror.  That is your limbic system telling you what you are doing is hard.  Rise on it.   There was a musician on a jetliner that crashed in a ball of flame in Sioux City.  He got out of the wreckage and played his gig anyway.  Hopefully you will never endure such a challenge but you can bet there will be some from the double booked evening to the broken van to the band member who gets so wasted they fall off the stage.  At some point, your patience and perseverance will be tested.   Persevere.  The show must go on.

Although there are many kinds of rooms from private listening rooms to stadiums, let's look at the most common rooms for small acts, the coffee house, the restaurant and the bar.

The Coffee House:  A coffee house is not a bar.   They are usually brighter, better lit and well, more sober.   Pluses and minuses.   A coffee house clientele is often stopping by for a caffeine fix, so they walk in, get their coffee, talk to the barista and leave.  They may nod at you.   Worse, they may sit down, pull out a book, put on their earbuds and bliss out ignoring you.   Try to be nice.  It is irritating but it is their space.  You are a service, not a divinity.

Others may sit right in your face and talk to you.   Here you have to learn to stay focused while they regale you with their tales.   Then it becomes a semi-private event or appears that way to the rest of the patrons.   Be nice but get on with the music.

Another problem of a coffee house gig is most people consume most coffee early in the day.  So your walk-in crowd tends to be elsewhere in the evening when you perform.

When you are building a fan base and need exposure, you may want to pursue restaurants and bars.

Bars and Restaurants:  Bars are distinctly night crawler territory and a restaurant is a mixed bag depending on their service schedules.  A restaurant-bar with an excellent dinner menu is a very good gig for maximum exposure and soft sounds.   Plan for the part of the evening where the patrons and the audience switch over from mostly eating to mostly drinking.   Mellow early; rock out later.

Restaurants are great.  I played at an Ireland's in the early daze.   It remains my favorite even though that was a long long time ago.   Restaurants are that healthy combination of food and booze and families.   So things tend to be sweeter.  They can be noisier what with the clanking of utensils on plates, chairs scraping the floor, wait servers busily coming and going, conversations, and so forth.   But unless they are very posh therefore only the best jewel wearing and often rude people are there, you get to play for a bit of everyone.

Respect the help who are hustling on the floor and remember if they don't like you, you will be moving on shortly so if they say you are too loud, you probably are.   Keep it quiet at least until after the dinner hour.   The best options are usually local Mom and Pop shops as franchises often package muzak with the franchise.  There are exceptions and in this part of the world, those are often Mexican restaurants.   Write some mariachi.  Now that looper really is your friend.

Be very conscientious about your volume.   These are your songs so try not to blow their socks off.  It is easy to be too loud when you are behind the mains.   Watch for the signs such as people cowering against the walls, babies screaming out in pain, or melting coffee cups and wilting flowers.

Don't drink too much product.   It will make you jittery and you will lose focus.   A bit goes a long way.  Keep a bottle of water handy.

Bars are usually harder rooms in which to play all originals.   Having room appropriate material is even more important.  You can play more out on the edge but keep the mushy minimal.  The more wasted the audience, the more out front you need to be to get their attention.  Again, stage bric a brac has a place and a use.  When playing solo in bars, play louder and do more uptempo.   Stay sober.    It is hard work and drunks don't do it well.  No one plays better wasted.   Really.

Usually a bar gig starts later in the day but sometimes you will be a front act to a band.   You will possibly be using the house PA or the band's PA.   Be respectful of equipment you do not own.   Don't touch their axes and don't change their PA settings particularly if they are a house band.   For a house band, this is a regula job so they show up ten minutes before they go on, tune up, plug in and turn on.   They don't like surprises.   If you can, have a chat with their board engineer to minimize hassles.  


One point:  alcoholics, not just people drinking but real dipsomaniacs, are sensitive to sharp high pitched loud sounds.   These are the people you see arriving at 4PM while you are setting up.  (You do try to set up before the festivities commence, yes?)   They tend to sit at the bar in front of the bartender who is their best friend, start drinking early and drink all night.   In their opinion, this is their room, their second home and if you make them uncomfortable, they will see to it you don't come back.  Solo or band, they are the log under the water that hulls your boat.   During warm up, try not to jostle them.  If your drummer insists on tuning drums at the gig and spends two hours getting his or her sound "just right" with repeated hits on the snare, the drummer will likely cost you the gig.  There is a reason for the low slow mellow of old school country music.  They are that reason. 

Personally, I prefer coffee houses and restaurants.  Fewer side businesses.  Fewer drunks.  Families can come with small children and I like playing to that crowd.  
Be Aware:  not all crowds can mix in all rooms.  Know your following.   If you are a jazzy cat or pure folkie whose fans get high in the parking lot then nurse a glass of wine all night, they do not buy enough room product.  No matter how much they like you, at the cash register, you are a failure.  You have to pick the room that suits your songs and your fans.  Best pay attention to who has been playing there before you.
At a certain point I began to dislike the dark energy of the night crawlers.   It's a personal preference.   Other people I respect are exactly the opposite: they like the bars where people are rowdy.   Most aren't playing all original though.  In my experience, the coffee drinkers and restaurant patrons are better listeners to unfamiliar material.   You do have to like and enjoy your audience.  If you don't, move on because it shows and it hurts the songs.

Are You Too Old for the Crowd?   Ageism like racism is real.   Like it or not the younger you are the more forgiving are the listeners and the more attractive you are physically to any age.  This is a fact of life and for a career entertainer, a heartbreaker.  As Anne Murray, a singer of enormous talent and endurance said of the music business,  "When you are over forty, they don't have much use for you."    Some genre listeners are more tolerant than others and an act that has made it big can keep going, but the rules change with age.  Just be prepared to accept it with grace.

Even though a veteran performer can usually clean the clock of the younger performer musically, the name of the game is entertainment.   Younger audiences don't prefer performers who look like their parents.   This is also true of the wait staff, the baristas and so forth.   If it seems unfair, it is but again, you need to be a profitable investment for the room owner.  The game is butts in seats and a healthy cash register.  If you can ensure those, you can be walking dead.

If you are an elder, do your best music and don't be creepy.   Otherwise this is life among the mammals.  All you can do is be the best you can be and take some pleasure in knowing you can do things that scare the hell out of that kid starting out.   If they are open to it, mentor them.  If they are not, politely ignore them.

Listening:  The best songwriter rooms such as The Bluebird that truly honor songwriters have signs up that tell people listening is required.    But you may not get that.  As described depending on your fan base, your songs, the room you are in and heck, is there a football game on where a lot of money is on the table, you may not be the center of attention.

I once played a room where I was well liked but when the big game came on, a local gambler paid me handsomely to sit in the booth with his girlfriend while they watched the game.  It was not an insult.  It was priorities and he made sure I understood that with the natch.

If you can avoid the night of The Big Game, do it.   Playing the night of the Iron Bowl here in Alabama was never a great evening.   No matter how well you do, at least half the room loses on the field and at the betting table.   Things get.... interesting.

Hanging Tough:  By this I mean taking care of yourself and hoeing to the end of the row.  It is very gratifying to step up and perform for an audience.  It is a very big kick to your limbic systems, a high, a joy.   But.... there is a dark side.

The very qualities of empathy that make you creative, a good songwriter, the need for approval that makes you endure the bad nights, the need to see the world or your own emotions realistically and express them in a song, these make you vulnerable to depression, to heart break, to cynical bitterness.  Some are gentle souls, kind, giving, accessible, and sweet.  Others are hard as oak and can have a patina a little scary to encounter.   Many are good eggs but do not care or people to shine them on preferring to be treated as the human beings they are and not the character of Margot Channing in All About Eve.  Some like their star status and want the polish laid on thick.

While not always true, my experience is the best are of the first type and mostly want to preserve their humanity and privacy.  They are nice folks unless you violate those by being too aggressive, rude or whining.
Respect people.   Following them into church, bathrooms, public places and otherwise not allowing them to have a life is bad form and bad manners.  There is a protocol for submitting songs to artists and while they may have a Facebook presence and even chat, there is a rule: Thou Shalt Not Take Demos to the Boss.   If you must, ask for permission.
Some of us deal differently. Too many become substance addicts.  Some become raging ego maniacs.  Some commit suicide in an hour or over a life time. The business is tough on you and tough on those you love.  The darkness is real.  So are the people who do everything in their power to humble you, to rob you, to push you out of the spotlight so they can take your place.

It is up to you to find a way to endure that doesn't kill you or destroy your gifts.   Some who do are people who are sports types, have a physical education background and know how to handle the physical and mental stress.  Some are people blessed with a healthy family life and know when they go home, they are part of the tribe and loved.   Some have a deep spiritual life.   Their church and their practices give them an outlook on life that enables them to regain balance when knocked off center.  All of these know how to be creative and secure even though the very career they have chosen, the act that enables them to be the breadwinner, also exacts enormous sacrifices.

Some have none of these and the tragic endings are so numerous as to be assumed.   I've buried friends.  It sucks.   Better to be a healthy human than a "good hang".

I am a fan of Zen.    Zen is not worship.  It is a set of mind-body practices informed by thousands of years of dedicated experience.   When viewed from the perspective of modern neuroscience, the Zen models of how the mind works and what will keep it healthy are remarkably perspicacious.

Learn to meditate.  It is not spooky weird.  It is a way to calm the mind, quiet the emotions, and center.   It works and over time you will find it is very much the same practice as performing, a means to let your body do the work while you watch from a stable space.  Just like music, it takes practice.  Let it come naturally.  Otherwise you become the farmer who pulls up plants and looks at the roots to see if they are growing.

If chemical comfort is your thing, a bit of weed helps.  Not on stage but when you need to relax, it is far far better than alcohol.  Truth.   Avoid opiates, cocaine, etc., like the poison they really are.  Don't do 'em and don't work with people who do.  They bring not only problems with performers but the whole criminal element that goes with them. Keep away from dealing and stealing.

Whatever works for you and keeps you happy and healthy, do that.   To keep the talent alive, to continue to grow and improve,  you must take care of your emotional and physical health.   Otherwise, the rocket ride will kill you because you have no parachute and the rocket engines do burn out.  Hang tough.


By The Way And Seriously:  You have the best view in the room.  You will see things that are none of your business.  Be a good guy and say nothing as long as no one is getting hurt.  Take Care of Business.  Yours.  This is particularly true of private parties.   They are private.   Be smart.   Do not try to be 'a playa' in a game you do not understand.   Be wise.  Shut your frikkin' mouth.

From the room where they lock the doors, the cards come out and big money is on the table to the unannounced but voracious swing party where clothes come off and you get to watch activities you've only seen in online porn, the variety of crowds and rooms are awesome and dumbfounding.  They really are mammals.  Deal with it.  Sing on.   Get into your sound and make it count.

How to make it count:  your emotions are the ocean on which your sound floats.   It is actually hard to get that with originals.  You may be distracted by the events that inspired the songs and you can go fishing to distract yourself.  Or, and particularly when the song is fresh, you may gush.

I have a few like that, such as Daddy's Guitar, that are so personal I can barely play them live.  That song got me into The Bluebird and the challenge for me was I would start to cry.  I had to tone it down to get through that audition. 

You do have to "sell it" and being able to project honest emotions in your voice, your face and your playing is how you do that

Over time you find a balance and then you have a power no one else has: your songs,.   John Lennon said to really hear a song you have to hear the songwriter sing it.   There is some truth in that and it is your super power.  You know what the song is really about and everyone else who says they do are imagining.   That's good.   You want them to do that.   A good song is evocative.   Make it count.  Don't be too timid and don't gush.  Find the balance and surf, baby.  Cowabunga!   It is a deep deep pleasure that lights up your brain like a holiday on main street.   Get it while you can.  If you can't, it may be time to move on from that song.  Trust your instincts.

There are originals I will not perform not because of the room or audience, but because the topic upsets me in a shockingly emotional way.   I wrote them for a reason but their content is disturbing.



When I wrote My Son's Time To Go, it was the beginning of the War in Afghanistan that was quickly followed by the Second Gulf War.   I could see America doing the same thing we had done in Vietnam:  starting wars we could not win and would not quit until our military industrial complex and the politicians who feed them were sated.   Worthless.   Death and blood money.

But the terror that gripped me was they would restart the draft and come for my son as they had come for my brothers.   It is a terror I cannot shake.   As a parent, my kids are everything.

I wrote the song, did not record it until eight years later, then after I did, discovered I did not want to perform it.  I made and posted the video and purposefully made it as grim as I felt about the subject.  It has a haunting beautiful melody, tells a true story but is as vicious a work as I know how to make.  It is meant to disgust.  That is the point.   There is no good war, just a cycle of violence and inhumanity that spans generations, that we accept and cheer for until our own children have to go fight.  Then we see the inhumanity.  Then the fear takes us prisoner.

You may write one:  completely honest good work, but it terrifies you.  Accept that and move on.

Then there are songs you have written that you love to perform.   The chord progression is rich, the melody suits your voice and the subject matter is emotionally charming.   We love our songs like children but we do have favorites.   These songs are our jewels.

They may not be crowd favorites.  This is where you should stay with the song and wait for the crowd to catch up because what you enjoy playing you will play with zest and a smile and over time that joy becomes infectious for your fans.   The longer you write songs for your own act, the better you will come to know what you like and what works for you. 

This sounds self-serving and it is.   And there is nothing wrong with that.  In fact, it becomes what brands you, your sound, your songs.   Remember:  singer-songwriter, not just songwriter.   You are a performer.   You love it.  And... you earned it.  Joy to the world.

Support the Room:  If your city has a real honest to get go songwriter room, you are blessed.   Hang out there.   Get a gig there.  Keep it alive.   Tell other writers to go there.   You NEED a room to try out new material.  You NEED a listening audience.   You NEED the practice.    We all do.

Money is good because money is respect.  But you need that room.  If you have to play for free, do that.   There are many ways to pay it forward and trust me on this, it always pays you back.  Have a heart.


The End:  I was chatting with a mate about things music and the passing of friends. We are at the time when we dread going on stage until it begins, then a tune or so later, it's all good. I hear this from other players. There is an inner drive, a voice that says, "I don't want to suck."

I read that from even very famous players. One lady who had an enormously successful career and could still be out there raking it in said, "I did not want to be less, to have people say, oh well, she's not as good." So she retired and refuses to work. She can do that. Others who need the income can't. And that is the game.

There comes a time when the audience is not the thing, and the applause or lack of it, the attention and the politics are irritating. What matters and we still crave are the respect and company of other musicians. At the end, it is about the tribe and the music.  Giving the songs their proper due is the right thing to do.
And In The End  the love you take is equal to the love you make - The Beatles

Monday, October 15, 2018

Lessons Learned As A Singer - Songwriter

By the numbers:

0.  No fame is as fleeting as that of a songwriter.    It is a perfectly valid reason to become a better singer.

1. If you sing in a style that no one can harmonize, you are a stylist, not a singer.

2. If no one leaving the room can remember a word of your performance, you are a poet with a guitar, not a songwriter.

3. If you are the only person who can "perform your song". see item 2. A good hook with a standard structure beats a long monotone self-confessional every time.

4. Kris Kristofferson wrote with only three chords too. But the lyrics and melody are memorable. See Loving Her Was Easier.   Find the version by The Glazer Brothers.  Then look them up.  Fascinating fellows.

Your job is to write melody, lyrics and chords. Somewhere in those you have to do something really original. Rewrite until you do. Quality over quantity.

5. If what you have are raw songs that you can't actually sing well but a pretty face, you can be labeled as "an innovator" but your producer has to do all the musical work. What you are is "product" or as the pros say, "meat". That's ok but you have a very short career ahead. Have an exit strategy known as "a day job". There is no shame in it. In fact, in these post-CD-album days where the song is worth almost nothing and the recording has a little bit more than nothing value, more do it than don't.

6. If you pay for the recording, you own the master. Don't leave it behind. Don't take handshake deals.. You will get screwed. I know that seems cynical and well, yah, these are your friends but listen to Cyndi Lauper, The Wise: money changes everything.  Wait for the contract and go over it with a music lawyer.

7. Training. Music lessons on the instrument and voice, analysis of other songs that you didn't write, transcription, all of these pay off big time. You can steal but if you don't make it your own work by knowing how to do that, you can wind up being sued into poverty. It happens. See George Harrison and Ed Sheeran.  Successful stealing comes of being a very competent analyst of all things musical.   Theory matters.   Tech matters. 

8. There are these things called rhyming dictionaries, chord catalogs and yes, progression catalogs. Knowing how different styles of music apply these is your ticket to a long career as a songwriter. The markets change about every ten years and you will have to adapt or retire. See Item 4. The three chord progression is less than a quarter of a page of a progression catalog. Maybe expanding your vocabulary, understanding extensions, substitutions, resolutions, etc. is worth your time. A performer may be stuck in the style that made them famous. You don't have to be and shouldn't be.

Part of your education should be Figured Bass, aka, the Roman Numeral chord system.  Yes, Nashville uses the Nashville Number System, but figured bass is the most common way to write a progression without an assigned key center anywhere else.   You don't know what a key center is?   Ummm... ok.  Good luck with arranging.   No, the main benefit is you will learn chord functions as standalone units of thought.   This is very nice to have when you are writing more advanced work.  Just a thought.

9. Any time an experienced and usually older writer, musician or producer takes the time to give you feedback, LISTEN AND REMEMBER. That they do that is a grace and a blessing. If you are one of those "don't listen to anyone over fifty" folks who love their own generation and like to disregard what came before or who, you are an idiot. That light at the end of the tunnel of your quest for fame and a seat on the square is a train.

If you are one of those people who curls up in a ball and hides in your room anytime you are criticized, YOU ARE IN THE WRONG BUSINESS.   Please, your mental health conditions may interest your therapists but they are wasting your producer and band's time.   Being a head case really shouldn't be part of your "brand".   We all get it that mental health is a serious issue but if you understand the ADA (disabilities act) as applied, it is possible to have a disability and not be disabled because you can do the job and do.  That is your goal.

Stop trying to be cool and start connecting with honest emotions:  yours.  You will get better at that as you age, so be prepared to write a long time before you write well.  Persist.

Don't take journalists too seriously.   A puffer in the music business has the same description as a fluffer in the porn industry, just a different shaft.  Puff pieces are a regular part of marketing and quite legal, but the advice not to believe your own press is good advice.   Trust your ears.  As Duke Ellington said, there are only two kinds of music, good and bad.   If it sounds good, it is good.   Puffery is one means for mobs to take over music scenes.    Puffed acts tend to deflate quickly when exposed to enough audiences.   As they say in the album "We're All Bozos on this Bus", please deflate your shoes.   A big ego is terrible for your posture.

10. Busking may get you noticed but it also means you are a street panderer. It is honorable but come winter, you are just out in the cold sucking in carbon monoxide. The city isn't doing you a favor. It is helping room owners get free music so they can pay real estate developers. You are being used.

An agent that gets you gigs reliably is worth shredding the natch with because they are doing the legwork and political stuff you may not be good at or want to do. Take Care of Business (TCB).  Otherwise, it is a good rule to play every gig you can get.   If you are planning to be a performer as well as a songwriter, you need a fan base.   Live streaming is your friend.

The idea that only the song matters, not the performance, is a ticket to nowhere.   There certainly are those who aren't great players or singers, but they are the exception on the other side of the sidewalk. 

11. If you turn up to Eleven and are Proud to Be Loud, for God's sake, tune the guitar. Pretty please.

12. Tracks and loopers are fine as long as you know how to make good recordings. See items 1 through 11. If you don't, you aren't trying. These days a home recording setup costs bupkus compared to what you will pay to demo your songs in a commercial studio.  The more you can do yourself, the more money you get to keep.   

Get a copy of Guitar Pro or something like it and learn to write out parts.  Get a copy of Finale (easy) or Sibelius (powerful but hard) and learn to score.   This takes time so if you don't have serious classical chops, start with Guitar Pro.  It is a tab editor for midi.  It has chord catalogs and scale possibilities.   Spend time writing out progressions and copying progressions.   Use the import/export function to push the midi to other editors like scoring editors.  You will learn more that way than almost any other.  You can learn what other instruments sound like in your song.  You can discover sounds.   You can expand your vocabulary,  Best of all, you can hand a trained musician a written part.   They may not like it but you will learn from that too.   This is long term studying but very very worth it.

There may come a time when you have access to professional recording.  Very cool.  Better gear, better ears, better sound.   You will know when that time comes and as long as you can afford it or someone else can, very very cool.  Pay attention, don't interfere with the elves at work, do your job and let them do theirs.

Don't be a diva and do prepare.   It can be very scary and the time is limited to the budget.  The more you do your own recording, the more you know about your sound.   Unless you have signed a deal that puts the producer in charge (not a bad thing unless they are bad at this), it's up to you to get your sound.   Relax and understand this really is a chance to learn every time you do it.   Ask questions but during breaks, not while the engineer is engineering.  Above all, keep your hands off the knobs.

13. If you do it for a passion, be passionately good at it. The world is full of mediocrity.  No your Mom is not your best critic. You are. Don't compete with the other writers. Compete with the you you were yesterday.

It is ok to play in "old styles" out of the current trends as long as you can play them well.  The word "tight" has meaning and being tight has value.

Rehearse.  Record your rehearsals and listen.   Use that smart phone to get a video of how you look.  For songwriters, that last bit isn't too important.  For performers, which is what a singer-songwriter is particularly with a band, it is important.  Don't let it get you down or rob you of confidence.  Just work at it.

It's not ok to stare at the floor.

14. Drugs make you stupid. Sometimes stupid is good. When recording, stupid is never good. Party later.  The songwriter drug of choice is:  coffee.

15. Take care of your body. I buried friends. It sucks.

16.  Collaborators.  Some say always.  I say only if you have a good productive relationship worked out on paper, signed and notarized.   Trust but document.   Again, money changes everything including, sometimes, the writer credits.   The money is in the publishing and the masters so be very very sure what you are signing up to.  Music lawyers may be a nuisance but they are necessary.

17.   Some say "always be positive and avoid being negative".  I differ.  Be honest.  Be yourself.  Be strong.   Sometimes you will go it alone.  As they say, the bird flying solo has the strongest wings.

Be wary of those who hide their feelings in music or any business.  Often, these are the snakes, the sociopaths who haunt every hall where money is made and who suffer no pain because their ability to be empathic was wiped out before they were out of short pants.    It seems smart to be inward when you are hurt and in some situations, it is.   But there is a difference between self-control and sociopathy.
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Take a lesson from the #metoo movement.  In situations where you are being used or abused and you keep that to yourself and do not confront that abuser immediately, you will have a very hard time doing it later and meanwhile, you are being damaged.  Sometimes irreparably.   God gave you a mouth and a temper for a reason.    DO NOT ACCEPT IT AS THE PRICE OF SUCCESS.  It never is.  Then get out of that room and don't go back.

Trust your judgement and step up.  It is your song and you are the champion of your song first and always until someone joins your team.  Find them by being open to them and going where they will be.

Avoid clowns and haters.   Take care of business as I said above because if you are unhappy and desperate, it shows.  Desperation is the worst.   It is the grime on your windshield and any serious person will notice it and ask themselves if you are a burden instead of an asset.

18.  Study the craft of songwriting.  That above all else:  get better.  Never stop learning.  There is a book by a master, "Tunesmith".  Written by Jimmy Webb, it covers many aspects of the craft and the business.   It is worth every penny and more.  See Amazon.  Be aware that many many of the veterans are not happy about The Web.   They are right.   No, it isn't going away, but they are right.

19.  You don't have to be a star.  In fact, you may not like that as much as you want it.    One of the best folks to explain it to me was an old country gentleman named Chet Atkins.  He said, "You have talent.  Come as a songwriter.  I have lots of great guitar players but not enough good songwriters."  I didn't listen.  I was young and stupid.  Don't be me.

20.  Live long and leave a beautiful body of work.   Your songs may outlive you.  That's success.

21.  Hi!

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