This is the 4th year we’ve done the Red River Songwriters’ Festival in Red River, NM in late January, and the first year we actually had to brave some snowy roads to get there! We did it though…because nothing can keep us from a line up like this:

It was one big weekend of good friends, inspiration, and snowy vistas.

Lori McKenna headlined on Thursday night and was absolutely incredible. She’s had songs covered by Little Big Town and Faith Hill among others, but nothing beats hearing Lori play them with just her voice and a guitar.

Matraca Berg and Jeff Hanna headlined the next night, and again…so much goodness and a slew of hits. Matraca started off with “Wrong Side of Memphis” that Trisha Yearwood made popular, and ended with “Strawberry Wine” which is one of those songs that you KNEW BY HEART if you were anywhere between the ages of 12 and 112 in the 90’s.

Then I got a guitar lesson from Jeff Hanna and everything was amazing. Music takes you on some strange, wonderful journeys sometimes.

A couple of weekends ago I got to immerse in a gathering put on by the lovely folks at the Austin Songwriters Group. These folks have been bringing the industry side to Austin for a long time and it is much needed. We have a lot of live music but no publishers, song pluggers, or that sort of thing. ASG fills that void and also helps songwriters…write more. And better. Awesome stuff.

The keynote speaker/performer was James Slater, who has had a lot of hits including cuts by Martina McBride, Jamey Johnson, Chris Brown, and Enrique Iglesias (as an aspiring pop writer, this perked my interest). He gave a wonderful talk and has a great performance style. He spent years performing in piano bars in Europe and he’s clearly mastered the instrument. Biggest takeaway? Write what you want to write…don’t write to the hit. Sound advice, nice to hear it from someone successful.

The pitch sessions…so, when you register, you get to meet with a song publisher for 15 minutes. To…you know, pitch a song. All of these lovely folks are from Nashville and I am not actually country at all (though I have been told Nashville is pretty open-minded?), so I expected nothing. Sure enough, my first meeting was met with a resounding…”keep trying.” It was fine, though these things are apparently like Vegas because I walked out of that meeting and immediately signed up for another one with a different publisher.

I waited until the 3rd day of the conference for the next meeting, and this was with a publisher who works with Disney in Nashville and Los Angeles. I told her to put on her film/TV licensing and pop ears (no mouse pun intended), and played her a couple of EP tracks. Her response was very encouraging and helpful and I left motivated to pursue more film and TV stuff because she said…heck yes, do it.

Fast forward to the evening, after dinner break, when I am walking down the hall and Maggie, one of the ASG bosses, runs after me (thank you for running, Maggie) and tells me that “Throw You Forward” is the Publisher’s Pick and would I perform it that night? WHOA. Stunned. Usually I get a spidey sense about these things but I did not see this one coming. It was the good kind of blind-sided. I borrowed a guitar and played it live for ballroom of very kind folks.

So the lesson here is…well, a couple. First…join these organizations and go meet people. You’ll be inspired and who knows what creative or business collaborations will come from it.

But secondly and most importantly, if you knock on a door and it shuts on you…try the next door. Whatever possessed me to try again after having a lackluster first pitch session really paid off…the momentum is real, kids. Keep knocking.

Listed

5 Jan
2015


I’ve never been on a list before, guys. Well, like the “here’s a list of albums” kind of list. I’m sure I’m on plenty of lists like the “forgot to take water bottle out of bag at airport security once…might be dangerous” list. Anyway…a big thank you to Americana Music Times and Mike Fuller over at High Plains Public Radio for including Throats Are Quarries on their year end lists. If you don’t have it, you should probably buy it here because these guys said so.

Buy the EP on Bandcamp!
Buy the EP on iTunes!

Americana Music Times: The Best Albums of 2014 That No One Told You About

Top 14 Albums – HPPR

Stuff I Liked in 2014

31 Dec
2014


This sums it up.

OF COURSE.  The inevitable end-of-year summary, and my life would be incomplete without throwing my 2 cents into the fray.  I usually just do a music list, but I feel like 2014 was a weird year for media (or maybe just my consumption of it), so I’m going to highlight…whatever I feel like highlighting. Nothing is in order.

MUSIC

Taylor Swift – 1989 of course.  I’m not just partial to TaySway because she helped me write a good blog post…she killed it this year.  Her album is pop goodness, her promotion was spot on, she’s hilarious, and I think she will continue to climb.  Hail the Year of Taylor.  A vignette:

(SCENE: Jana meets up with Katie) 

Katie: Is that a Taylor Swift shirt?

Jana: Yes.

Katie: You mean you own 2 Taylor Sw-

Jana: Yes.

(END SCENE).

Icie - we found each other on Twitter and I listened and loved it.  Smart lyrics and um…British rap.  Yes, please.  Broken Violins is great.

Drew Kennedy – Drew released Sad Songs Happily Played, which is a live album he didn’t know was being recorded while he was performing.  This is the coolest way to make a live album.  He is such a good writer and if you don’t have it, well…get it.

Kelley Mickwee – Kelley is one of the best singers period, and her debut solo album You Used to Live Here is full of amazing songs.

The Belle Sounds – Black Stone EP.  This band sounds like nothing in Austin at the moment, which…face it, can we all admit how refreshing that is?  Noelle Hampton’s songs are gems.

Emily Shirley - Suffering Soul.  Emily’s releasing a single at a time these days, which I love.  This one captures some sort of cinematic genius where you can almost picture Quentin Tarantino getting out of a muscle car in the middle of the desert when you listen.  (This is my own personal movie, take a listen and apply your own).

Sara Barreilles – her album The Blessed Unrest did not come out this year but she was nominated for album of the year at the Grammys for it and this single – I Choose You – came out this year and it’s so good.

Susan Gibson – OF COURSE.  This would be a favorite even if I wasn’t in the audience.  The Second Hand: Live at the Bugle Boy is the thing that captures the genius of the Gibson live show, in a great venue, FULL of great people.  The perfect night on disc.  If you have not heard The Second Hand or The Best of You well GO LISTEN WHILE I WAIT.  I AM WAITING.

 

TELEVISION

Amy Schumer – I am fairly convinced she is the smartest thing on TV these days.  Watch any of these sketches for her biting satire.

 

THE INTERNETS

Serial – I know, everyone’s talking about it, but it is pretty interesting.  The parodies are even good.

Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin – this show went on hiatus last year and I was sad.  Now it’s back.  Alec has many skills but I think radio host is one of his best ones.  It makes me want to have my own show and talk to people, which is weird for me to want.

With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus – the set up of this podcast blew my mind.  Every week Lauren is a new character and her guest is actually the HOST, making Lauren the special guest.  As the theme song says, “She’s the host but she’s always a guest and the guest is a host so she’s not really the host, it’s With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus, with your host as somebody else.”  Whoa.

Caity Weaver’s 14 Hour Search For The End of TGI Friday’s Endless Appetizers.  Just…read it.  Pure genius.

 

BOOKS

Yes Please – Amy Poehler: No brainer.  Amy’s book is different than most other comedian tomes I’ve read and I’m good with that. She’s smart, kind, and oh yeah, funny.

The Power of No – James Altucher: James is my favorite blogger.  He writes about real stuff and getting better at life, as opposed to all the self-improvement blogs that contain an air of unreachable perfection.

The Remembering Process – Daniel Barrett and Joe Vitale: This book is amazing and I’d be saying that even if Dan the Producer of Awesome hadn’t written it.  Truly, get this and reframe how you think.  It has done me wonders.

Through the Woods – Emily Carroll: I never thought I’d be caught up in a graphic novel of scary stories, but I found Emily Carroll one day and she sucked me in.  It’s Hitchcockian in its creepiness, which is about the right kind of creepy for me.

“The Mac is most definitely…back.” That’s what Mick Fleetwood said to the Toyota Center in Houston on Monday. Really, with a history as insane as this band’s, you can argue they went away several times, or they never really did…maybe they just morphed a lot. They have definitely gone through some changes, but this line up of Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, and YES, Christine McVie…is kind of The One. Some diehards argue for the British blues band version of Fleetwood Mac but whatever. This is the one…Britain meets Southern California to make magical pop rock for forty years. Wow.

I was introduced to Fleetwood Mac in 1997 thanks to PBS (how lame does this make me?). I was 15 years old and taking guitar lessons and they were playing The Dance special on repeat every few weeks, so I happened to catch it. Then I got the CD. Then I could not stop playing all of the songs. This is probably how most Fleetwood Mac fans are made…you play their songs once and you can’t stop.

I had given up ever seeing them live because while you’re not supposed to pick favorites, Christine McVie is totally my favorite and she left the band 16 years ago right after The Dance. It wouldn’t be a true Fleetwood Mac show for me without “Everywhere” and “You Make Lovin’ Fun” and “Little Lies” and “Don’t Stop” and “Songbird.” When they announced she was back, I knew this was the year. Luckily my friend Kelly was quick on the ticket grab and got seats for me and Susan as well.

It was everything I wanted, really…they started with “The Chain” which is how you have to start. All the Christine songs, Stevie twirling for “Gypsy” and “Dreams” and an acoustic version of “Landslide”. Lindsey KILLING IT on “Second Hand News” and “BIG LOVE” (have you not seen him play guitar on Big Love? Click this) oh my goodness. “Seven Wonders” was something from Tango In the Night I hadn’t totally paid attention to lately but I loved it live. All of them sounded great. Mick Fleetwood is like 70 years old and could out do most people half his age on a marathon, I think. Christine ended the show with Songbird solo on the piano and I was ecstatic.

So there you have it. I highly recommend Ken Callait’s book Making Rumours – it gives you insight into how these folks work, and how many drugs they took, and how it’s amazing they’re all alive, really. A true American (sorta British) rock band that made it through to be legends and can still play their butts off. Props.

Pomplamoose on tour. Taylor Swift and Spotify. Grammy nominations. If you’re a music industry news junkie, you’ve read about all of this in the past couple of weeks. If you’re not, just know that a lot of people have spent a lot of internet time debating music and money and art and commerce…like always.

I wrote this folk rap last year, and I am finding out the topics I wrote about are still looming and perhaps even more in the limelight.

The first part of this song is about playing open mics in college, playing my first real paid gig in front of the check out line of the natural foods store with my friend Ben. We had to play for 4 hours while people bought organic beets. It made us hearty.

The second part launches into those questions most musicians have…how to create a community and network of fans, how to grow that community, whether the very thing we think is the product nowadays is really the product at all. Is it the job of the artist to make the populace respect and pay for art? To cultivate a culture of money in exchange for music, art, prose, whatever?

Or is it the job of the artist to adapt to the overwhelming and all-consuming tide of technology and consumerism that dictates how entertainment is delivered as quickly and as easily as possible? That means accepting that music will never really be purchased as a “thing” again, simply accessed from the cloud. How does that affect value? Does it undermine the work behind it or open up the artist to millions more potential fans? What is the next income-producing mechanism for musicians if it is not music sales or, as Pomplamoose seems to point out, large scale live shows?

I don’t have the answers. I’d like to sit on a soap box and say music is inherently valuable and should be paid for, but I stream Orange Is the New Black without wondering how the producers and actors get paid off each stream from my $8 a month, and I get sucked into internet web series that are sponsored by large corporations with the understanding that I am being sold something as I am being entertained. Does it bug me much? No. Did it bug me that Lady Gaga’s show at SXSW was sponsored by Doritos? Mildly, but I got over it because I had a good time (thanks, chip people). More people will buy nacho flavored chips this year than pay to download a song. It’s real life.

The last part of the song is about how “artists gonna art”, basically. Some will always be after the dollar. Some earn it, some think they SHOULD be earning it. Some will make and create and not ever worry about it. Each of these groups will have people who are successes and non-starters. The world will keep spinning and there will always be new art and entertainment to consume.

Is there money where there’s heart? I can see it…my answer is yes. Maybe just not how we all think it should happen.

Fort Worth Bound

1 Dec
2014

I LOVE ELIZABETH WILLS AND I DON’T CARE WHO KNOWS IT. I mean, everyone should know it and love her too. We’re sharing a show in Fort Worth this weekend and I can’t wait. I’ll even practice.

I MEAN WATCH THIS:

Happy Thanksgiving

30 Nov
2014

I spent the holiday in Albuquerque, watching pseudo-science shows on The History Channel, eating food, and hanging out with my mom and niece. It was great and now it’s time to conquer December!

Speaking of December, there is indeed an influx of Christmas music happening. This is one of my favorite Christmas albums and no one has heard of this duo…Fisher. Check them out, it’s hauntingly good.

Birthday Shenanigans

22 Nov
2014

Well, I don’t know about “shenanigans” per se..no trouble was made nor had while I turned another year older. We did have a great time, though. Since I work with Susan Gibson and work with The Bugle Boy, I managed to finagle a Susan Gibson show AT The Bugle Boy on my birthday. It was awesome. Susan put on a great show and our friend and ama-za-zing singer-songwriter Elizabeth Wills surprised us and came down to celebrate, too. She and Susan duetted and it was perfection. Our friend Spring made…THE BEST CUPCAKES EVER. I didn’t even take a picture, I just wanted to brag about those cupcakes.


The love was evident.

I went a little viral on the below T-Swift post. Hypebot re-posted it and it’s been shared a lot. Thanks everyone for checking out the blog and sharing. The key to a good blog post people want to share:

1) Make a list.

2) Insert celebrity name in title.

3) Add the word “factor.”

There you go. Next up, “The Jennifer Lawrence Factor.” Just kidding, maybe.

You will not be surprised to know that 1989, Taylor Swift‘s new album, is my jam this month. I am a little surprised at how invested I am in her career lately, though. Her music has definitely grown on me over the years and I got really interested when she announced a full on split with country music for this record. Studying The Swift is like a study in everything a musician can do right on a grassroots level. The weird part? She’s arguably the biggest pop star in the world at the moment, and she just sold 1.2 million albums this week…in a year when (for the first time in decades) NO ONE ELSE has gone platinum. In fact, her first week sales numbers have consistently gone UP when it’s trending downward for everyone else. It’s not a coincidence. Let’s examine this, shall we?

Swift Factor No. 1:
Be a social media phenom (and go where your fans are)

Taylor has openly admitted to stalking her fans online, and they know she’s lurking. Her Tumblr (the blogging service for people under 30, really) is hilarious and a peek into her sense of humor, which I love. She reblogs fan posts, artwork people have made, and posts the occasional embarrassing middle school photo (because we all have them). She’s just like us, trolling the internet late at night when we can’t sleep.

On Twitter, she’s been re-blogging photos of her fans with their 1989 albums in hand and selfies she’s taken with them. Most pop stars try to seem a little bit untouchable, which is a tactic that actually works sometimes (hey, Rihanna). Taylor’s approach of accessibility has made for a very loyal crowd in her demographic, though. The selfie is the new autograph and the re-tweet is the new high five.

Swift Factor No. 2
Connect with fans on a personal level

Her PR game started way before release week, obviously. One ingenious idea was to host “Secret Sessions” where fans got to listen to the album before it came out. This has been done before because fan clubs have existed for a long time. What made this interesting is that the fans were selected through social media (hence the lurking) by Taylor and her team, and they were invited to Taylor’s own house where they listened to 1989, took photos (Polaroids, which jive with the album artwork!), and ate cookies…baked by Taylor. Again, back to that point…the biggest pop star in the world right now is baking cookies for her fans. I’m sure it made the life highlight list for all the participants, but the ensuing news stories also made casual fans wish they had the opportunity to go, and non-fans admit that hey…that’s pretty cool.

Swift Factor No. 3
Make a physical product people want

People stream and people download. CDs are dinosaurs, especially to anyone under the age of 35…which is Taylor’s main demographic. How the heck did she sell 1.2 million albums to people who don’t buy albums? I saw a couple of factors at play. First, if you bought the physical CD, you got the added bonus of lyric Polaroids. There are 5 sets of of them, and each CD comes with 13 photos. Kind of a throwback to collecting trading cards, but it’s fun to get a bonus for buying the real CD. I’m not sure on what her numbers are from each store, but she partnered with Target to sell the Deluxe version which included (some really great) bonus tracks and voice memos of rough demos. Extra content only available on one format = more sales. There was also the Swiftstakes, where entering a code from the CD puts you in the running to meet Taylor on tour next year. It’s like a lottery ticket with a bonus CD, so you win anyway.


Swift Factor No. 4
Take chances and be vulnerable

Those voice memos on the Target edition struck me as brave (because yeah, I got the Deluxe release). They’re raw beginnings of songs that are super produced and polished on the album. They are hesitant and unsure and sometimes pitchy. That’s how songs get written, and if there was a thought that Taylor wasn’t writing her own stuff, this helps combat it. The other thing I admire about this record is that the last track is a co-write with Imogen Heap, who is a hero of mine as a songwriter and a producer. Apparently, Taylor admires her too, and fortunately when you are Taylor Swift, you get to write with cool people. Imogen blogs about the process here, and they turned out “Clean”, my favorite track on the album. While there are plenty of Max Martin produced songs here, having Imogen end-cap it is a really classy thing to do. It makes me excited for the artistic growth that’s bound to happen if Taylor continues to do her thing.

Swift Factor No. 5
Respect your own work

The other big hullabaloo this week aside from baking cookies with fans and selling a bunch of albums was that 1989 was not on Spotify and in fact, her entire back catalog was removed from the service. I thought it a given that a brand new release would not be on a streaming service immediately, especially since there was such a mad rush to sell physical product, but the removal of older albums was interesting. Granted, rumor has it that her label is up for sale and this was a bargaining chip (remember kids, follow the money), but all the indie artists I know have been aflutter with Swift commentary this week because it’s a big deal when the Big Folk stand up for the Littler Folk (even by proxy of actions with other intentions). Taylor and her label have bargaining power in this art-meets-tech world we live in, and she just pulled out of the game entirely. Whether it’s permanent or temporary (I suspect temporary…streaming is not going anywhere), it is at least causing us to discuss the value of music as a service. We pay $100 for cable TV access every month, and we lay down $8 for Netflix easily. What will make the majority of music listeners pay for access? And in the meantime, how is music even valued these days? Fans aren’t paying $13.99 for the Deluxe Target version of 1989 for the songs. They’re paying for the right to be a fan…to call themselves members of the Taylor Nation and to have a communal experience. And hopefully, whatever comes of this Spotify streaming conversation, artists will be able to stand up for the work they create. As Taylor said, “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.” Boom.

Swift Factor No. 6
Make your loyal fans have your back

Another interesting point in this whole thing is that no tracks leaked early from those aforementioned “Secret Sessions”. The fans were asked not to record anything and no one did. When the album did leak online a few days early (who does that? Some intern from the label I suppose) and tracks were being posted around Tumblr, fans were refusing to listen to them or share them. They assumed it would hurt Taylor and her sales, and at this point the diehard fans were like a rabid guerrilla marketing team…they had a vested interest in their girl doing well on opening day. This is direct opposition to most album leaks…people generally scoop them up with little thought. Taylor had connected so much with her base that they weren’t about to mess up the album release or spoil the experience of Release Day excitement (which they knew Taylor would be tweeting and blogging about right along with them).

Phew. That’s a lot of dissection for a 24-year-old pop star. I just think that Taylor encapsulated everything I try to preach about over at Social Thinkery when I meet with clients…connect with your fan base far beyond that of a “I am an artist buy this music because I made it” mentality. It’s old and uninspiring. Create your army that will go to bat for you, spread the word for you, share in your victories with you…that is a fan base that will keep returning as long as you stay true to your art. Follow the Swift.

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