So now for a little something completely unrelated to the recent storm. (Other than it may be my storm-related inability to do other things right now that leads me to write this.)
As some of my blog readers/facebook friends know, I was struggling with writing harmonies/recording background vocals for a while.
This was a jolting surprise, because I had thought I was capable of doing it. In fact, I thought I was good at it! I've been in choirs. I've made up harmony parts before, with bands and other music situations. I've sung backup to myself in the studio on other occasions and made up harmony parts on the spot.
But, for my album, recording background vocals wasn't going well in the studio, and I was frustrated. How had I been so delusional about this, thinking that I was good at something that turns out I couldn't do at all?
Then I changed my approach.
I got the recording microphone on my computer to work (thank you, boyfriend). Using a free open source computer recording program, Audacity, I was able to start recording potential parts over top of my songs. Then I could listen back and see how they sounded. I used my keyboard to plunk out notes and see if they worked with the corresponding chords and melody line. Once I decided on how the part would go, I sang it over and over again onto the computer program until it sounded right. Then I practiced it along with the song until I knew it.
Then I went into the studio, with a part written and learned.
Now, I have recorded some really good harmony parts, and am in the process of finishing the rest. Turns out, I'm completely capable of doing this. I just needed to re-format my method.
And spend hours and hours and hours working on it.
Totally worth it.
Now I'm wondering what other approaches need changing.
Friday, October 26, 2012
As many of my friends are already aware, I got some choice comments on my blog this week from a self-described “old salt in the music industry” (who I do not know and does not know me) telling me that “maybe it is time to give up” and make “mature decisions” since I am too old to have a “debut single in the Billboard Top 40” and therefore have no hope of a music career. He warned that if I keep this up, I will wind up “leeching off my parents and boyfriends” until I am “left as a destitute spinster.”
This really struck a nerve with me, and when I shared it with facebook friends, received an enormous outpouring of both support for what I'm doing and rage about the comments.
See, I'm well aware of the age thing. Even when I was 25, I felt “too old” to “make it,” based on hearing that “record companies won't sign anyone over the age of 25.”
It was around that time that I put music, and my serious aspirations with it, on the back burner, deciding that it wasn't worth it, that my dreams were unattainable and therefore not worth pursuing.
Interestingly enough, as I was throwing in the towel, the entire music industry was shifting away from that long-held model of success. The internet happened, and all bets were off.
As I was giving up, people like Ingrid Michaelson were recording albums independently of a record company and breaking out through MySpace and song placements on TV. Ingrid had her first song on Grey's Anatomy, which catapulted her into the world of widespread recognition for her music, at age 28.
And she's not the only one. Even on the Billboard Top 40, which is not necessarily my measure of success, I can think of two recent examples of artists having their debut hit well over the age of 22 – Psy with “Gagnam Style” and Carly Rae Jepsen with “Call Me Maybe.” These songs both “broke” via the internet. Carly Rae is 26. Psy is 34.
Closer to home, Sean Rowe, a wonderful musician whose open mics I used to frequent back in Troy, NY, was signed to a record label two years ago, at 36. He is now touring the country and world.
I'm not listening to the conventional wisdom anymore (and certainly not to the alter kocker who is such a macher in the music industry he has the time and inclination to troll around on unknown musicians' blogs, giving them cutting edge unsolicited advice like “give up.”) Instead, I'm listening to my heart. And my heart says, “Do this now.”
There is a saying, that goes, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”
I think we all feel like we're behind in some way or another. That we should have started sooner or that it's too late for something we want to happen. And I have certainly struggled with feeling behind in my music career, at age 31, recording my first record, when so many complete that a decade and change earlier in their lives.
But I think that part of why people have been so supportive to me as I've been endeavoring toward this, and part of what enraged people so much about these comments, is that I'm working to become living proof that it's not too late to do the thing you've always wanted to do. And there are so many of us in this boat, whether it's music or getting married or whatever else it is that we don't have or haven't achieved yet, who want to believe, who need to believe, that there is still plenty of time for us in this life. That just because it hasn't happened yet, doesn't mean it never will.
And PHOOEY on anyone who dares to try and take that belief, that hope, away from us.
Eight years ago, I got my first “real job.”
I was a year out of college. I was singing in a band and performing in community and regional theater productions. I had just moved out of my parents' house, into an apartment in Albany. I was working as a bartender. The money was good, or at least it felt good, coming home with pockets full of cash every night.
But one night I had an epiphany, as I attended to a sad, sad man standing in front of me on the other side of the bar. Everyone called him “Whiskey Tom.” He came to the bar quite often to drink shots of Jack Daniel's that he would chase with bottles of Budweiser. He was tall and skinny with long, stringy hair covered by a baseball cap. His remaining teeth were so rotted you cringed from the smell when he spoke to you. And when he spoke to you—in his high pitched, frantic voice—what he said never made any sense. His eyes were open a little too wide, his movements too quick, erratic. Apparently he had gone to Vietnam and come back like this.
I don't know what it was about this particular night, or this particular moment, when he ordered another shot. And I picked up the bottle and began to pour him the shot that he didn't need, that wasn't going to make his life any better, and it was as if the entire movement happened in slow motion. As I watched myself pour the shot, a loud voice boomed over the soundtrack in my head:
“What am I doing with my life? I am not making this man's life better. I am not making anyone's life better. I have a college degree and skills. I should be doing something to make the world a better place.”
Shortly after this moment, I began applying at non-profit organizations in Albany. I eventually got hired by Hunger Solutions New York (it was called the Nutrition Consortium of NYS at the time), and I spent the next seven years working to reduce domestic hunger through increasing utilization of the nation' nutritional safety net (school meals, food stamps, etc.). This work took me to Washington, DC, working at a respected national anti-hunger organization.
It was in DC that I had another epiphany about my life, as clear and jolting as Whiskey Tom's slow motion shot of Jack. I realized that what I truly wanted, and had for a long time, was to spend my life making albums and touring with a great band. It was a life that I had always deemed impossible, but I decided that I needed to do everything in my power to make it happen. Conveniently, the grant I had been working on in DC was ending. It was time to move to NYC, like I had always wanted, to make my dream come true.
I was sure that if I just tried hard enough here, I could eek out a living, between music and teaching yoga. It's been over a year now. I am almost finished recording my first album, I have played about 30 gigs here, along with countless open mics, and street/subway/park busking performances.
Am I making a living?
Not even close.
I take a bit of solace in the many, many talented musicians I have met here. Among them, only a very few make a living on music alone.
As my album gets closer and closer to done, I realize that there are things I need to pay for beyond what I raised in my Kickstarter campaign. Things always cost more than you think they are going to. I also want to be able to hire top notch players to back me up for my CD release party and beyond—if I have a great sounding album, I should have a great sounding live show. I'm at the point where, to move forward, I need funds. And the best way for me to get funds, it seems, is to get a job.
So I'm working on getting a job. A job where I have a regular income, and preferably health insurance.
And there's a part of me that feels like I'm giving up. Like I failed. Maybe if I had just tried harder, worked harder, spent less money, I could have done it.
But I have come to the point where the two epiphanies of my working life, eight years apart, are melding together. I need to do something meaningful with my life, and I need to do music. At least for now, something else needs to support the music. That doesn't mean I have to stop the music. It just means I need to stay focused on it with a bit less time and energy available to me.
There are also added benefits of having a job, beyond the obvious of income and health coverage. Having coworkers will likely be helpful for building an audience in NYC. My former coworkers from Albany and DC are some of the biggest fans of my music. Hopefully my future NYC coworkers will also be supportive. In a similar vein, I have been somewhat lonely since moving to NYC, and this will likely remedy that. I'll get to meet people and hopefully make friends.
The hope remains, the intention remains, that I will transition into a full time career in music; that it will become financially viable.
Until then, I gotta do what I gotta do. And I am fully aware that in this economy, getting a job of any sort is truly a blessing that should not be overlooked. Despite that awareness, I still grapple with the mixed emotions of the reality that I did not achieve what I proclaimed I would, decided I would, thought I would. And it is this reality that brings me to this point.