I had krav maga this morning, 6:45 AM sharp. It hurt to wake up. I was having some weird dream about being carted away to an internment camp…I need to stop reading conspiracy books. The initial infatuation with krav has faded into a deep respect for getting up early and punching and kicking things, but I’m finding my energy level in class falters sometimes. This probably has to do with me needing to eat more salads and less breakfast tacos.

So I was trying to do this side punch thing where you whip around and just smack the pad, and our instructor (who is AWESOME) had already described it as holding up your arm like Dracula holds up his cape over his face. This visual helped a lot. As she came over to check out my punch, she noted I was kind of just keeping my fist in the pad instead of bringing it back out quickly. So she tells me, “When you pluck a guitar string, if you keep your finger there, the sound is dead. So you have to pluck it and remove your finger quickly to make the best sound.” This helped, and I appreciated that she talked to me with an example she knew I could relate to in the moment.

She could have just said, “You’re a wimpy musician who’s scared about hurting her hands, so do the best you can,” but that wouldn’t have helped me at all. She found a way to keep the principles of krav maga in place, show me something properly, and relate it to something I’m familiar with doing. That is called synergy, and it leads to inspiration.

Makes me think about how musicians approach an audience, a fan, their business. No musician should sell out to what they think a large group of people want, that doesn’t work for most indie artists and would be the equivalent of the above example…giving up and saying, “Here, this is my watered down art that I think you want.”

On the flip side, keeping yourself completely inaccessible to a larger audience doesn’t do any good either if you’re trying to get people on your side and make a living at it. Your art is special, yes…but it’s your job to market it in such a way that people feel invited to hear it, see it, experience it. The art and technique of krav maga is it’s own giant study, but walking into class I was not interested in that my first day. I was more concerned with not looking like a dork (ha!) and not breaking an arm. Our instructor is great about really practical applications and descriptions, and that’s what brought my story into the story of krav maga. What if I’m loading gear out of a bar in Fort Worth and something goes down? That’s practical application.

Practically applying your music to people’s lives is simultaneously tricky and easy. Do what you do…but the spirit of changing peoples lives comes through living your own and living it well. Susan’s new album project does just that, I think…she’s asking for stories from people so she can write songs from them. She’s making their stories hers, and in turn the people writing their stories down have a whole new story to tell. I’m excited about the impact of simply writing down a story someone has in their head and how it might change their day or month or life. We might never know the inspirations that happen, and I don’t think my instructor reads my blog so she might never know how her example helped me, but the effect is there…that’s what it’s about.

Elizabeth Wills, Susan Gibson, Michael O'Connor

This photo is from a KEOS radio station benefit in Wellborn, TX. Elizabeth Wills is playing and there you see of course Susan Gibson and then Michael O’Connor. It was a lovely gathering of three folks I am honored to work with in multiple capacities. They’re all amazing artists and all amazingly different. It was good kind of a mind trip to have them in the same place at the same time.

Here’s a video I helped out with for Michael’s latest and awesome album “Devil Stole The Moon“:

I’ve often heard of these things where you make a pact with yourself and join a bunch of people and write so many songs in a certain amount of time. There are song-a-day challenges (GAH!) and album-in-a-month challenges and so forth. My friends Dan, Roland, and Emily are doing a song-a-week challenge and I’m lucky enough to be in the group. Someone puts out an idea each Monday, and by Sunday we all have to email the results to each other. We are in week 3 and I have turned in 2 songs…week 2 just did not happen, but I’m planning to finish it anyway to satisfy my OCD.

This was week 3 – I threw out the term “plus and minus” and here we are. I’ve already got ideas for changing it, but I like where it’s going. I had to Google this:

Here you go…

Check out my friends!

Daniel Barrett

Roland Garcia

Emily Shirley

Well, not the bad ones. Kick those bad connections to the curb before they suck the life out of you.

I’m talking about the mental filing cabinet of folks you know, because it’s really fun to flick through the files every so often and pull out two people and stick them together. Good friends do that for me and I try and do it for them.

I was musing today on the connection of Dan at Rubicon and my ex-neighbor, Jim. Jim moved to Austin about 6 months after I did and we became fast friends because we both play guitar. He plays fancy things like jazz and he reads notes and stuff. He was also working as a carpenter, and eventually he started his own company.

Dan met Jim along the way of course so flash forward to now and Jim just finished a gorgeous renovation to the Rubicon Studio. This photo doesn’t do it justice, but there used to be no window there. Now we have full vision between every room in the studio for tracking, and a much more open space that feels right. Even the doors have windows! He also built the awesome porch out front that we sit on all the time.

Rubicon Recording Studio

Point being, I might have easily just referenced Jim in my filing cabinet first under “friend” and “guitarist”…but that’s not the extent of Jim at all. Makes me want to go back and personally inventory everyone I know, just to make sure I’m not missing their talent. Life is cool.

Mojo Plug

PS: Dan also had a Mojo connection put in. We can literally plug in and dial in more mojo. Sometimes you need that.

This is a lake out by Groesbeck, Texas. You can’t see the lake because it’s all been sucked up into the burning ball of fire that Texas has become this year. I am pretty sure the water was supposed to be above our heads (judging by the height of the pier that lead to nowhere). Instead I wandered into the thickets and picked up mussel shells. I found a pair of flip flops that were buried in sand next to each other…too scared to dig and find a foot. Weird. This heat is tiring me out…weather affects me. A good week of rain would do my brain good, but it would also do this whole parched earth thing really good.

Dry Lake Bed
Stacey took this artistic shot of me
trying to stand up in the weeds

Dry Lake Bed
E-Dub and I examining the aqua evidence

Thanks for the photos, Stacey!

…and it’s not over yet, if you run your weeks from Tuesday – Monday or something like that.

Tuesday 9.20 – SusanG and Mike Blakely in Marble Falls
Wednesday 9.21 – catatonically tired and in bed watching Bridesmaids by 7:30 PM
Thursday 9.22 – Ana Egge at the Mohawk – CD release goodness
Friday 9.23 – Mindy Smith at the Cactus Cafe
Saturday 9.24 – Elizabeth Wills in Groesbeck, TX
Sunday 9.25 – Elizabeth and Michael O’Connor (KEOS radio benefit…scheduling had me split before Walt Wilkins, Kevin Higgins, and suSANG! played dangit)
Monday 9.26 – SusanG and KC Clifford in Austin. This has not happened yet as I type.

Ana Egge
Ana Egge

Mindy Smith
Mindy Smith

Elizabeth Wills
Elizabeth Wills

Michael O'Connor
Michael O’Connor

Ladies and gentlemen, I want to present to you the phenomenon that has confounded me ever since I worked myself up past the title of “merch girl” in this business: The Band Menu. I cannot figure the logic of what those three words imply, and yes…the “The” is important, because it allows for the very distinction that floors me. Here’s how it goes sometimes out there on the road:

Me: “May I have a menu?”
Them:”Are you with…The Band?”
Me: “Yes, I am.”
Them: “Here is The Band Menu.”
Me: “You mean, a menu for the band?”
Them: “No, you order from…The Band Menu.”

Is it at this point I curse passing up that bag of Baked Lays and some 2 day old carrot sticks at the truck stop we were at 2 hours prior because I know what is going to happen. (Note for proceeding: I am trying to make a point here, so everything is grossly exaggerated and not pinpointed to any specific place or time or gig. This is an amalgamation of experiences. Also I have eaten some of the best food ever at venues which are oftentimes very generous. I’m talking about you, Morso Wine Bar in Gig Harbor, WA).

So maybe we walk in the lovely venue and they have a lovely menu because we eyeballed it online or snagged one from behind the counter.

The Menu
Like I said, this is some random menu I got from Google to make a point.
It’s not from anywhere I’ve been. Stop trying to trace it.

Then we get handed The Band Menu, which usually (when there is a The Band Menu Policy in place) looks like this:

The Band Menu

Siiiiigh. For reals. They edit their normal menu for Musician Eating Purposes. I think they actually even just copy the kids menu sometimes. The Band Menu is usually full of a whole lot of fried food and no greenery. A lot of times after traveling, you would kill for a salad. Even some cabbage on a plate with Italian dressing. Sometimes…there are no salads to be found. No fish. No unfried meats.

So I think from the restaurant point of view, maybe they had a band come in that ordered 6 of the $65 Buffalo Mignon or something, I don’t know. Somewhere along the line certain places decided that feeding their entertainers what they offer their customers was too costly, so The Band Menu was created. Keep costs down. Keep your musicians sluggish from a meal of fried meat so they don’t get out of hand in the 2nd set. I don’t know. It has literally made me sad at certain times to think that after driving all day to get to a show where she is going to kick butt onstage and pour out her heart and soul, The Boss has to choose between chicken tenders and steak fingers for dinner. It’s wrong.

The polite thing to do would be to give each band member a reasonable cap, and if they go past their stipend amount, they pay it. It’s fair. It’s human. It’s respect.

I’m sure from the venue side of things, there are horror stories of giant tabs from bands and no tipping or whatever, but I know a lot of musicians who do things right. Don’t make them eat the steak fingers. Unless they want the steak fingers…but give them some green beans too, because they need the vitamins.

(I feel the need to clarify I don’t want a gripe fest…the majority of venues feed us well and happily and let us pick things from their awesome menus. However, The Band Menu has happened enough times that I felt compelled to bust this phenomenon wide open here on the internet. Dateline shall be calling, I’m sure).

We just experienced the perfect house concert, and I say “experienced” because I’m about to speak for Susan as the artist and myself as the booker/tour manager. We have done a lot of house concerts together, and some are awesome and some are less so, for various reasons explored below. For a brief rundown of a house concert, see Concerts In Your Home. Basically, people have an artist play in their home; it makes for a special atmosphere for music and community. I am using Rockin’ Box 33 in Lubbock, TX as an example of the perfect house concert set up. Hosted by Melissa, it’s 100% pro and therefore 100% joy.

Some notes on what makes a house concert such a success…please note that these are all my own opinions and not anyone else’s, and some of this sounds hardcore…but it is, because I help run a business.

Good House Concert Stuff

– A core group of attendees. Rockin’ Box has a devoted following because the venue is cool, the hostess is cool, and the roster of artists who play there is cool. Melissa is picky about who she brings in, but she encourages her crowd to come see people they have never heard, and they do it because they trust her. This brought in a large amount of folks who had never seen Susan before and consequently became fans.

– Open to new attendees. Sometimes places seem a little closed off and uninviting…that’s when you start questioning if you are doing a house concert or a private party. There is a difference. Rockin’ Box 33 has a great website to promote each show and many of Susan’s Lubbock fans who hadn’t been there before attended. They got a great show in a new setting and Rockin’ Box 33 got some folks on their list who will probably come back. Win/win.

– Honest about business. Melissa had no qualms about explaining to her crowd that the money at the door was all going to the artist and this was how we make a living, so please give appropriately and buy CDs. It is so awesome when the host points this out; sometimes money is a weird topic, and sometimes it is hard for an artist to gracefully include a plea for funds in the middle of a heartfelt set, even though the need to make a living is just as heartfelt and the songs the artist writes. When the host sets out the money expectation and follows through on it, the artist can do what they do best…put on a kickbutt show.

– The “door collection” versus “suggested donation” versus “tip jar.” It’s all in the verbiage and the set up, friends. Melissa had her lovely assistant at the gate to the yard collecting the money, and everyone gave the same amount. To go through the gate you paid the money. It gets sticky because technically, house concerts are not businesses, so they are not allowed to charge a cover, hence sometimes we get a “suggested donation” or a “tip jar.” I have personally found that anytime folks are presented with the option to waiver from a flat fee, less is given on average. Human nature, I suppose. My very non-scientific estimation is that by ratio, a “suggested donation” of $10 – $15 will net about $7-$8 on average per person, and a “tip jar” makes it a free for all, people sometimes throwing in $3 and calling it good. (Thanks to the good hearts who throw in more, it’s beyond appreciated!)

I’m going to digress a moment and say that many house concerts function as great places to build audiences who are truly interested in acoustic music, and most house concert hosts have the best of intentions and a love of music. However, it is disheartening sometimes when on paper it looks promising…$15 a person times X number of expected attendees, then to get a nice full house and to see a rockin’ show (worth $100 a pop, if you ask me)…and then discover the collection/donations/tips to be a fraction of what was expected. It’s like having your CPA do your taxes and throwing them a $20 for the 6 hours of work…which would never fly for other professional realms…why do it in music? Mini-horror story…sometime in the past a while ago somewhere…there were about 60 people in a crowd and we took home less than $150. Do the math.

– Money collection placement. As I said earlier, someone literally stood at the door and took money from people coming in. Other times, baskets or jars are strategically placed around the home. This works too, but only if the host is adamant about people contributing and keeps an eye on who has given their money or not. It sounds like hounding, but when people received the invitation or Facebook post or whatever about the show, they knew they were signing up for something with a $15 price tag. No need to be shy about collecting, and it makes a big difference to the artist’s bottom line.

– A listening atmosphere created. Again, like money collection placement, it’s simple psychology sometimes. Enter a room where all the chairs are facing a stage, and you expect to watch the stage. When things are less organized, attention might not be on the show. Melissa is proud of the fact that she can shush people if need be; that rarely happens because her folks are well-acquainted with show etiquette, but if someone is having a conversation during the show, she has no issue with asking them to take it outside the venue. Everyone there paid to hear the music, not hear some guests talk about their guinea pigs. Really.

– Not over-saturating your core crowd. Remember when I said Rockin’ Box 33 has a core of people who will come to the show no matter who is playing? That is gold for an artist because new fan acquisition is part of what keeps the wheels on the road. Once a month, folks know they can spend a relaxing evening at Rockin’ Box 33 and see a great show. Melissa makes it a point not to keep her schedule too busy, because it is easy to tire out a crowd. Over-booking will kill a certain kind of venue, and she knows too many shows is the difference between 40 in attendance and 80, which is a big deal. This makes is hard for me as a booking agent to schedule things sometimes, if a venue only has 12 spots open a year, but the good points far outweigh the booking difficulties.

I say all this after 4 years of house concert observance as a tour manager/merch girl, and even more of attending as a fan. I will reiterate, this is my favorite kind of show to book and attend, because we get to see people face-to-face and actually talk to them, sometimes share a meal, and make a good connection. It’s a lot easier than loading into a smoky bar, too. The vast majority of people we work with do a really great job. These are simply some of my observations and notes from seeing so much of this go down, and I hope it might help some upstart house concerteers to have smooth sailing with their series. My sincere thanks to Melissa at Rockin’ Box 33 for setting the bar high.

The main reason I love working with people like Dan and Susan (aside from the fact that they are hilarious and I am hilarious and we have hilarious times) is that they are dreamer and schemers who get things DONE.

Susan and I had a great brainstorm session last week, whereupon I had some thoughts about her putting out a new recording next year, and she ran with it and this is what came out:

Suddenly her new record is about to be written and we have some pretty creative ideas about putting it out there once it’s done, too. I’m grateful to be able to use my noggin with other folk’s noggins to get good things done.

Krav Oh-Ma-Ga
This is me trying to look alive after class. Trying.

I haven’t had the guts to make a video at krav maga class, as it is only week 1, but I think I’ll be able to sneak some footage here soon. My roommate and Rubicon Year artist, Heather, is in the class, too….THANK GOODNESS. Since we are both new at it and I won’t speak for her but I’ve never thrown a roundhouse kick in my life, it’s good to learn with someone.

Tuesday was Day 1 and Dan warned us we might puke. Since I’m not a regular gym attendee these days, I figured he was right after the morning warm up with jogging and squats and pushups and whatnot. Then we went directly into some punching and kicking techniques. We actually practice on a partner, who is holding a pad, but maybe the first thing to get used to was using physical force on another human, no matter how padded up they are. I had a lot of fun learning that day because every technique is new to me. We even learned how to flip someone over onto their back if they have you pinned. Easier than you’d think if you know the technique. I did not puke and left with an air of elation.

Yesterday morning I was walking like a granny, and I am still pretty sore. This morning was Day 2 and it was even more fun. We learned the roundhouse kick, which takes quite a while to get the hang of, but it’ll happen. We also did an exercise where Heather would call out “Cross! Jab! Hook! Hook! Jab! Cross!” and I would have to do the correct punch at her, and then she would try to hit me in the head. She got me a couple of times. Thank you, pads.

I am surprised at how much I am enjoying it…I had some torturous PE experiences as a kid (meaning, I just didn’t enjoy it) and I have shied away from a lot of that since. This, however, combines a workout with actual practical skills for real life, which I think helps the appeal for me. This is our instructor…she is awesome. She told me I have a good hook. Yessssss.

Now I have the weekend to recover and get unsore so I can go get sore again! They tell me it’ll go away after a few weeks. In the meantime, Tylenol and Advil. Rawk.