This is Gaga working hard for it.

This business is hard. All business is hard, but the music business is hard, especially for the indie DIY type that is trying to make a living while being a good business person and being an artist. Oftentimes this level of artist is doing everything…booking, practicing, writing, promoting, driving, loading in, running sound, getting paid, mapping, changing flat tires, calling radio stations, web designing…ALL OF IT. It’s hard. This is why I have a job working with one very amazing artist helping with all of these things, and how I landed my idea for Social Thinkery so I could work with other artists on these topics as well.

Bill Small and I did a webinar last week, discussing things like booking, having a great website, and getting past your limiting beliefs in your career. We’re going to do a few more free webinars, but they do by fast and it’s hard to cover anything in-depth.

That’s why we are offering a 12 week course where we can meet with folks weekly and really get in-depth with each artist to address their specific needs, wants, and questions. Everything from Social Media Strategy to setting goals to booking yourself to pushing past your self-imposed limits and anything else artists might need. I’ll be working directly with each artist on their online presence, and we’ll take the 12 weeks to build something great.

Bill talks about it all here – take a listen and consider the course. It’s going to be amazing. Here’s the link. Take a look.

Ukulele
 

This installment of #askjana comes from Heather, who is about to enter her soon to be finished EP in (I hope) a bunch of songwriting contests this year. Heather asks:

“How do you choose what songs to enter in a songwriting contest? And any other contest general tips?”

I’ve done quite a few of these over the last couple of years. There are two schools of thought for them and I subscribe to both. One side of the coin is that winning these definitely ups your “folk cred” in the songwriter community, so entering these competitions is a must for a singer-songwriter. Another school of thought is that it is weird to judge people’s music. Yeah, it is. But enter them anyway.

Most competitions have two facets to them. There is the entry process, where a pool of songs are selected from a (probably) giant pool. Then there is the actual competition, which usually involves a live performance.

Heather’s question is a good one because your task when entering is to

1) choose your most solid songs
2) that fit into the genre of the contest
3) that you can also perform with confidence when you get to the competition stage

Look at past winners and get a general feel for what goes at that particular contest. Some are straight up singer-songwriter acoustic guitar and words types, some lean country/bluegrass, some are very open to genre mixing. Keep your entry in line with those general guidelines.

Also keep in mind you might be asked to enter more than one song – pick the best ones (“Best” being the combo of a really solidly written song coupled with your ability to deliver a strong performance…if your brand new song is amazing but you’re shaky on the live performance, skip it). Yes, it’s like asking to pick your favorite kid…just do it.

Congratulations! You got selected to show up and…compete. What does that even mean? We are songwriters, not cage fighters. It means show up practiced and ready to compete, but know that some of the greatest benefits to doing these competitions is not what place you get, but who you meet and the networking you get to do.

Size up how the competition will go…some give you two songs only and they pick the winners. Some have rounds where you play 2 and then you move up to the finals to play one more. This means have at least 3 contest-ready tunes (even if you only had to enter one!). If you just have to play a one set, do your best songs (see criteria above).

Now let’s go with a scenario in which you play 2 and then move on to play 1 more.  You play your best 2 tunes for the semi-finals and move on to the next round…and suddenly you think, “I just played my best songs! NOW what do I do?” Except you want to play a really friggin’ great first set so you CAN move on to the finals. Hrm.

The real trick is to have 3-4 tunes you are immensely confident in both craft-wise and performance-wise…because you must be confident and know the song inside and out so you can perform it well and connect with the audience, not worry about playing it right. Practice and more practice helps that. You’ll probably be nervous anyway because no matter how many gigs and open mics are under your belt, few probably had a panel of judges sitting right in front of you taking notes. You will feel nervous. Over-prepare so you can cope.

The day of the competition take care of yourself however you need to…get a good night’s sleep.  I spent 20 minutes wandering around the parking lot of the Fairgrounds in Halletsville, TX at the Songwriters Serenade warming up. If socializing makes you at ease, go ahead. If it doesn’t, don’t feel pressure to chat before you play. You will see all the other contestants engaging in whatever zone-inducing habits they partake in…so don’t be embarrassed to warm up in your car or stretch or find a corner and play guitar.

HYDRATE. Start 2 days before. You’ll pee a lot. This is a good thing. Your throat will be lubricated and work for you. That parking lot in Halletsville? Dirt lot. It was windy. Ick.  Water helped.

When you’re up there, treat it like any other gig.  Banish thoughts of the awesome girl who played ukulele before you, or the dude that plays guitar like Tommy Emmanuel.  You got here based on the merits of your entry, so relax into it and have a great time.  I say this because I don’t always do it, but it’s always better when I do it this way.

If you win: be a gracious winner.

If you don’t: allow yourself to feel sad and mad for a minute if you do.  I did.  You go through these “I should have done a fast song because the winner did that” thoughts.  You start ultra-comparing.  Allow it for a TINY bit, then let it go.  Be a gracious not-first-placer.  (There aren’t really losers at these things since you all got picked to be there, even if it feels like it).  Revel in the friendships made, get business cards, Facebook friend them, whatever.

Win or lose, when you get home dissect the competition fairly (once you’re out of the YAY! or Booo. phase)…note who did well and why you think they did.  Sometimes judges share notes with you, sometimes you have no idea what the heck they were judging.  Oftentimes their list of criteria will include:

Song quality
Overall Performance Quality
Audience Engagement (Good banter is great.  Nervous rambling is not).
Instrumental skill
Confidence

The thing to remember is that while there are criteria, the judges are human and have their own preferences, tastes, and preconceptions. This fact leads back to the main point of Do Your Best and Have Fun. Nothing else will do for these things.

To recap…
– pick your “best” songs
– prepare a lot
– relax and do your thing
– be gracious regardless of outcome
– meet people and network
– have fun.  I SAID HAVE FUN!

Some great ones to enter include: Kerrville New Folk, Wildflower, Telluride, Songwriter Serenade, and Merlefest.  Don’t stop there…start local and try everything.  Your community will grow and so will your performing chops.

Plus a lot of these competitions are at festivals and they have funnel cake.  You can’t beat funnel cake.

$2

Interesting scenario this morning. Katie sends me a link to a Youtube video. It’s a cool version of a song I had never heard before (so technically it was a cover but since I didn’t know the original, eh)…being played by 5 people on 1 guitar. I see a TON of content every day, and hundreds of videos float through my Facebook and Twitter streams and I never pay attention. This one sucked me in, and I watched the whole thing. Then I followed the link at the bottom of the video to their fan page. Then I watched another cover video by the band. Then I “fanned” them on Facebook, but not after thinking about it. Then I bought the single for a dollar on iTunes.

I have currency. This is why I paused before becoming a fan. Do I want to spend my mental energy on a new band? Do I want this band in my stream every day? Do I want to see what they’re up to and find out more about them? I decided that yes I do, but only because their content has already proved dynamic and interesting and creative. Had anything in that process of link to Youtube to Facebook broken down, I wouldn’t have given them my $.99 and a promise of future attention. That’s how right on you have to be with putting your music out there.

What were the components that worked so well?

Reference from a friend…I trust Katie’s taste. She said “check this out” – so I did.
– Well-made video. It’s not fancy. It’s one shot, but it looks good and sounds good.
Link to more info…in this case, to Facebook.
Website in place (I checked out their home base, too…to make sure they really existed).
Invitation to buy – a link to iTunes? Sure. I have a dollar.

That’s what makes something viral, step one being the most important, but the other steps have to be there to keep step one happening over and over again.

The band? Walk Off The Earthhere’s their Facebook page. Enjoy.

Over the years I have had several conversations with Dan about finding a style, a personal sense of fashion, a Thing, if you will. I think we all go through stages of Things…some folks stick with one and some change a lot. Some people don’t give it a thought and some obsess. However you do it, you do come out with your own identifiable and predictable markings, to put a biological bent on it.

Dan has shared with me some of his process, and described how he pinpointed a few folks out there in the world that he wanted to emulate for his personal style…choosing icons is a big help in narrowing down what you’re looking for. Theoretically you will be drawn to things that suit your personality, which is a big first step. There’s a lot of options out there. A LOT…and I have looked at a lot of them. I have quickly dismissed a ton of them. Figuring out which ones I like, however, took a while.

A lot of times I’ll admit to accidentally dressing how I do. My identifiable markings have been flip flops and ironic tee shirts for quite some time, and while I don’t plan to give those up completely, it’s been gnawing on me lately to figure something else out that suits the various situations I find myself in. I operate as a business professional, a tour manager, a singer-songwriter, a twenty-something, a nerd, and whatever else I can’t think of at the moment.

I do know I’m too lazy to switch looks in those different contexts. I’m not going to step into a phone booth after I play a set and switch to tour manager clothes. Nope. Whatever I’m working with has to fit all those contexts, which will ideally end up reflecting the core of who I am. This sounds heavy but it’s actually a lot of fun. I spent some time this weekend figuring it out.

First I gutted my closet of stuff I hadn’t worn in a long time and had no intention of wearing again. I also got rid of quite a few t-shirts. Some were a little too ironic. I kept quite a few, but one goal is to be more selective so that the t-shirt is a choice and not an obligation.

Then I found the holy grail for this particular project…Evernote. You can clip things like links and photos and save them in folders online to refer to later.  Brilliance.  I started by picking my Big Three…people whose style I love but isn’t too far out of my reach. I’m not here to copy, just adapt. This made it a little easier to be open to possibilities. My Three surprised me but I’m happy with them.

1. Kathleen Edwards. Folk-rocker extraordinaire. Canadian. Pretty simple. Wears t-shirts.  Scarves. Kicks butt and takes names.  Cool shoes. I’m in.

2. Terri Hendrix. I almost feel like I’m cheating because I know Terri personally, but she is always wearing something cool. Her accessories are always perfect. She always makes a statement at her shows via her fashion.

Terri Hendrix
Photo by Kingsnake!

3. Wild Card! I figured I had to go Hollywood with one of these, because the alternate route would be Politician and no one wants that. I was standing in line to check out at Target the other day and suddenly found my third…Portia de Rossi. I knew her from being on the hilarious and tragically short-lived Arrested Development and Better Off Ted series, and I knew her as a pretty glam red carpet walking star. The photo I saw in the tabloid was one of those creepy paparazzi on the street things, and the ensemble was simply cool…boots, hoodie, bracelet, everything looked pretty low key but worked.  Look at the one below…t-shirt…BLAZER!  Brilliant.  I don’t know if I can pull of that pointy of a shoe.

Anyway, this is a work in progress.  Mostly because I have bookmarked a ton of shoes on Zappos.com and can’t afford them yet.  I’m sure I’ll find some other things to draw from.  I noted almost everyone I dig wears a lot of scarves.  I may have to move to a colder climate to maximize my love of layering and desire to wear scarves.  Who knows.

The point?  Regardless of whether you’re in it for stage wear or business wear or you just want to know what to wear…this is a fun exercise.  It can lead you down some unexpected roads.

I guess the last point is, when seeking inspiration, you can look at the tabloid photos but don’t touch them or read them or buy them.

Thai Food!

Oh, “stay healthy.” How generic, Jana. Why not just copy and paste an article from Women’s Day and call it good?

I know, we should all stay healthy for health’s sake…but touring around in a car or van poses some unique obstacles, hence…Women’s Day isn’t going to cut it for this series. What follows are just simply some things I have found to either work or not work for me. Everyone is different, but we’re all sitting in cars a lot.

– Weekends. We go on trips lasting 2-3 days that don’t really require a whole lot of food forethought. We carry a box full of every kind of good granola bar we know of…Lara, Cliff, Kashi. Having variety really helps when you are faced with the decision of granola bar or granola bar. Usually venues or the kind folks we stay with take care of food things, too. Home cooked food is awesome. Venue food is tricky, because the onion rings are always going to look good, but if there’s a salad, get a salad. This is generic advice stuff, but when your tab is covered and you’re staring at the “Fried 3 Sampler” versus the grilled chicken salad, it gets hard. Just do it.

– A week. All of the above plus go to the store and pack a cooler. Things we buy include almonds, trail mix, apples, plums, bananas, string cheese, carrots, and something carby. Don’t get everything with carbs, because you’re still sitting a lot even if you buy whole grain carbs instead of eat deep fried ones. The trick to having a cooler is to keep it iced and to actually eat the stuff in it. I am Offender No. 1 when it comes to thinking carrots are a good idea at the time and then not eating them for the whole trip. Note to self: Just eat the carrots!

– A month. This clearly requires some maintenance and pruning of your cooler supply. The good news is use this as an opportunity to get to know a cool grocery store in some other town (or a Wal-Mart, whatever works if you shop at 2 AM) and replenish once a week or so. We tour up in Montana in the summer which means we get local cherries. Be a local foodie, because it usually means you’re eating better.

Sometimes you just don’t want to eat anything from the cooler. If you have to open that lid one more time and find the string cheese under the one Red Delicious that is hiding next to the baby carrots you just might surely pass away right there from boredom. Since you’ve been awesome about your budget by using a cooler, you can afford to eat out! We choose Thai food when we can, because we like it and the ingredients are usually fresh…bottom line, don’t go fast food. Don’t do it. Try to eat food from places that start with whole ingredients.

Fruit and Veggies in Seattle
If you tour in Seattle you have scored.

So I sound all preachy and locavore and stuff, but the truth is we stop at truck stops and convenience stores a lot. The good news is Subway has become the new megalith of fast food, and they’re big about truck stop locations. Granted, if you’re comparing Subway to Whole Foods, you’re still eating fairly badly…but at least you are getting vegetables in your diet. Load up on the vegetables and then load up again. They try to get away with putting 2 cucumber slices on your sandwich, but don’t fall for it. Demand thine veggies! Once again, besides Subway, do not do fast food. Or eat it once a week, not every day.

Just be sane and thoughtful about it, and then remember that your calorie burning is severely reduced because all you’re doing is sitting, so subtract accordingly. Sometimes, a granola bar is all you need.

It’s obvious, but we all say it and then it’s really hard to do. Of course, you’re packing light for the consideration of the other people on the tour who need room for their stuff, and there’s also the fact that usually you travel with a lot of gear and that stuff takes up space.

Then there’s the sheer practicality of…who wants to carry that much stuff all the time? Every time you want to unload the gear, you’ll have to unload your personal bags and then load them back in the vehicle. Then when you need to put the gear back IN, you’ll want to unload and load your personal bags again so they are up front and handy. This is a crazy amount of moving stuff around.

Many times, unless you travel with 3 vicious canines like we do, you will also want to carry your electronic gear into venues and such with you so it doesn’t get ripped off. This means, pack even lighter. Here’s a math equation:

The weight of your crap is compounded 2.5 times per day spent on the road.

——- MATH TIME! ———-

W0=W
W1=2.5W
W2 = 2.5^2 W
with W0 being your starting weight and W 1 being the weight at the end of day 1 and W 2 being the end of day 2
SW = Starting Weight
CW = Current Weight

CW = SW X 2.5^day

——- END MATH TIME! ———-

(Math Time was brought to you by my friend Stephanie, because I could never figure that kind of thing out. Thanks, Stephanie!)

If you leave the house with 12 pounds of luggage for a 14 day tour, you will be lugging around 4,470,348.36 pounds of sheer dead weight by tour’s end. This is not accounting for you acquiring anything new…this is just the strange mathematical force of your existing possessions actually getting heavier as they sit in a moving vehicle.

The general rule of thumb is…if you forget it, you can buy it. If you think you might need it but you’re not sure, leave it at home and if you miss it you can buy it. Caveat: this does not include things like portable electronic devices and their chargers. Chargers are expensive, don’t forget them.

The less is more principle also means you stand a lower chance of losing your stuff. The more stuff you have in a hotel room, the more you will spread it around and the more likely you will leave something. (See caveat about chargers. Do I sound like I’m speaking from experience?) Anyway, it’s way easier to eyeball your bags and make sure everything looks like it’s there if there’s not 459 items stuffed in them.

My favorite road bag is a Timbuk2 messenger bag. I drug one around for about 3 years before it got a tiny hole in the bottom from being scraped along the floor/street one too many times (see above paragraph about packing too much and then consider the fact that sometimes I ignore my own advice). I promptly replaced it with another. Also, they look cool. Spend some time at REI or something and find a high quality travel bag, ideally one that can mush up against other stuff. Reinforced steel framed luggage is good for flying, but not so much for shoving in a trailer.

Booking Hat

Or you can just wear a tall hat and shove your stuff in it.

These simple tips and equations will help you have a breezy and successful tour, as well as save you from a lifetime of spinal issues.