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.

What went through my mind just now…

“Oh crap I haven’t blogged in a while.”
“I’m seeing LADY GAGA tomorrow night, I need to blog about that.”
“Oh look, new comments on my last post. One with a question that I should answer.”

And this is why this post is about Lady Gaga and building community. Mariana asked a great question…how DOES an artist build a community? A large one at that. We all have family and friends, but that community is not usually big enough, rich enough, and really truly supportive enough to sustain a musician. (Your uncle might like your music because he likes you, but he might not be a diehard fan. Sorry uncles).

Costume Accoutrement

This is part of my costume to see Lady Gaga tonight in Houston. Yes, I am dressing up. I am kind of a cranky curmudgeon when it comes to Halloween, but I have had a lot of fun gathering costume ideas and accessories for this show. I got to pondering why that was the case.

Lady Gaga, when you study her, is not the typical pop star. Beyond the things I like about her such as her killer piano skills, her writing credits, her crazy outfits…she most importantly comes with a message that she makes sure her fans know. It pretty much amounts to, “Be who you are.” Not “look at me look at me I’m a skinny pop star let’s all go on diets” or “I’m so angsty let’s all mope.” From the gist I get from her interviews and what people say about her shows, the vibe is “we’re all here to have a good time, whoever we are.”

So yeah. You’ll get a lot of what society would label “freaks” at a show like this (that definition is another conversation for someone else’s blog). I’ll bet money I’ll also see a ton of flip flops and jeans. Completely nondescript white bread (I am one so I can say it) types.

Gaga has created a community among her fan base by not having a definition for them at all. Anyone is free and encouraged to go to a Gaga show. Her message is acceptance, because we’re all there for the music and the spectacle, not to show off our midriffs. This very thing makes me think it’s cool to dress up in something I would not be caught dead in outside the confines of the Toyota Center in Houston. With my midriff completely covered, thank you very much.

It’s almost an anti-definition of pinpointing your fan base…to take anyone and everyone and have that define your crowd. It’s the only way I can think to explain how a folkie like me is going to spend 3 hours among 10,000 other screaming folks tonight singing along to “Pokerface.”

There’s a more concrete answer to this community thing that I will address further, one a little more centered on the singer-songwriter. I’ll get to that, but first I need to attach my orange feather boa to my red cape.

This is a pretty impressive process these days, becoming a fan.  We have so much rattling through the hallways of our brains that it’s amazing any information stays in there at all, let alone has time to take root and be thought about for a while.

Becoming a fan of something, a musician, a song, an author…that definitely takes time.  It takes a lot of almost random occurrences along the way to really form a person into a “fan” rather than just “someone who likes something.”

The other night I was browsing in Borders, which is liquidating everything here in Austin, sadly.  As I was busy not finding anything I needed to buy, the song being piped over the store speakers caught my attention.  I had no idea who it was, and there was a crying kid in the next aisle so I couldn’t hear the words.  I just liked it, I don’t know why.

I pulled out my iPhone and dialed up the Shazam app, which listens to music playing and identifies it.  The first time was a no go, probably because even Shazam can’t translate through “screaming toddler.”  I moved farther back in the store and tried again…and immediately it told me I was listening to Florence + The Machine.  I had heard the name but never had a reason to pay attention to it.

Shazam is integrated with iTunes so I chose to “Buy” and within seconds the song was on my phone.  I listened to it in the car on the way home and yes, it was just as cool as I thought it was over the Borders speakers.

These tools – or crazy technology, as some would call it – are essential in the process of becoming a fan.  We need a couple of things in place to buy in to something.

1. Exposure. We need to hear it or see the artist.  This is obvious, but it is the thing that musicians spend a lot of time figuring out how to do.  Their songs need to be heard online or on the radio, people need to be in the crowd at shows, their Youtube videos need to be seen.

2. Interaction. Because of the aforementioned plethora of things taking up out time and brains these days, it is often not just being heard or seen that converts people into fans.  People want to be part of a community, or they at least need a reminder that they were interested.

I can tell you that I would not have stalked down an employee and asked who was playing.  Also Florence + The Machine are too busy to hang around Borders and watch for people that are bobbing their heads. Having Shazam handy allowed me to start off with a bit of interaction…I liked it enough to be $0.99 committed to trying it out some more.

The next step is probably something like me signing up for their mailing list or at least checking out the website.  I haven’t gotten that far yet, but I am going to share this song with you because someone posted it on Soundcloud.  I’m doing some legwork for you; you don’t have to go to Borders to find a new song today.

All this to say…I call myself a fan now.  A new fan, so I’m not solidified and I’m not booking any plane tickets to go see Florence play any time soon, but a fan nonetheless.  Have a listen.

02 Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) by NBiszantz