Singer Songwriter Blogger Guitarist Content Creator
Let me explain. I’m deep in a year-long program with Rubicon Artist Development called Rubicon Gold. It’s for folks like me who want to keep focused on our musical goals and “next level” it. It’s self-paced and guided by my producer and great friend Daniel Barrett. There’s reading, check-ins, goal setting, vision and values assessment, and lots of positive encouragement.
It’s actually changed the entire action plan for my music in the past five months…or at least helped me embrace it. I’ve always been fascinated with commercial music and music business, and I unabashedly love popular music, and now I want to write it. I want to meet people who write it, write with them, write it alone, get cuts, chart things, see my name in the “songwriter” slot of the Grammy nominations, have my songs in the background of your favorite TV shows. Working with Gold and Dan has helped me work this out, and now I’m starting to take steps to do this. I have a trip planned to Los Angeles in April and while I feel a little bit like a freshman on the first day of class, I already have a few things lined up to make this trip a good one, and it’s just the start.
You may also recall that I have blogged about Dan’s book before – The Remembering Process. Dan taught this to me years ago – and I recommend you get the book. The jist is a technique beyond positive visualization to make proactive change happen in your life. Instead of thinking about the future, you actually REMEMBER the outcome you want as if it already happened. It works and it’s FUN.
Dan challenged us Gold program folks to make a video about how the year is working out for us, so I decided to apply The Remembering Process and post my interview with Oprah after my success as a popular songwriter in the year 2025. I know, I haven’t aged a day and neither has O. (She said I can call her “O”). Here it is…as you can see, I’ve had some good stuff happen.
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.
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.
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?
Katie: You mean you own 2 Taylor Sw-
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.
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.
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.
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.