Stalactites and Stalagmites (7/19/07 #4)

2:56 minutes

The scaffolding from where treasures are stored and later forgotten.

Music Income Sources

I was browsing around yesterday and I found this article on the tunecore blog. There's a free ebook linked within that I quite liked. So much so that I put together this rough graph of all the information I found in the ebook (click to embiggen):

Music Recording Income StreamsMusic Recording Income Streams

Comments or clarifications appreciated!

Weekend Studio Notes

Spent some more time this last weekend at the studio. Now we're getting to the tail end of the recording process, we're recording with Rob Stroup at 8-ball studios, in Portland.

Thursday night I drove down from Seattle, and rested up for Friday. Friday was a ton of fun - I got to play a Leslie organ/speaker for the first time. They way they recorded it is by pointing mics at the back of the leslie speaker, and then turning the volume WAY UP (by way of volume pedal) so that the signal would be loud enough that the mechanical noise wouldn't show up on the recording.

This was my first time at playing an organ like this and it was a bit embarrassing that I couldn't even make the classic organ glissando sound quite right at first. The sound was also so loud that it took a bit for me to calibrate, I had to remind myself not to be tentative. But soon enough it started coming together. Jake Oken-Berg was there next to me and was stomping on the pedal button that turns the vibrato on and off while I was playing, a true collaborative effort! I had Jake also take over and play organ on a couple of the parts while I did the bridge and the last few choruses.

After that it was cello time. Skip vonKuske came over and did a great job - from solo lines, to layering, to some tremolo stuff on the song of mine that Jake is doing his own arrangement for.

After the cello, it was time for me to finish recording the piano part for Damn My Eyes. We've gone back and forth on this song a few times, there was some concern that it would sound too "classic jazz", but that was never really the direction I intended for it. We made a couple of short cuts, and over the last week I had been working on a piano part that sounds more intentional, and a hell of a lot more aggressive. I love it now, and for the first time I even think the song works live as just voice/piano - I'm looking forward at trying it out at an open mic sometime. Anyway, it works really well with the bass and drums now, and I'm looking forward to hearing how it shapes up after we finish layering.

We ended the day with me doing some lead singing - finally! It was funny a couple of times because I'm so used to singing at the piano that it felt alien to sing standing up. I had Rob change the mic a couple of times until I finally decided that standing up was better so I could have more breath. We ended with Not Today and I felt really locked in on it, to the point that I was demanding to sing more takes after we were done just because I was enjoying it so much.

Day Two of the weekend was all about the guitar. Guitar is an instrument I haven't really been able to wrap my head around for these songs, but that's where Jake and Rob were very helpful. We had Bob Dunham in to do the guitar, he brought along about fifty thousand guitar pedals, and we basically just experimented all day. It might be that we strip down some of the choices later in the editing/mixing stages, but I think a lot of the material and choices work really well, and Bob did a great job.

What's left? Well, there's more organ to do... a couple of specialty instruments, the possibility of some string playing, and then just a whole lot of singing. We're definitely in the fun stages and I'm realizing that I absolutely love the recording process, at least when I'm on mic. It's even more fun than the gigging and the rehearsing, although I have to say that there's still nothing that tops the feeling of playing through a new completed song for the first time. Writing is painful, but the sense of victory you get at the end, that's really something else.

Still definitely on track for 2011 being the year of the cd release. More later!

The Year Of The CD Release!

Some technical difficulties and a greater reliance on facebook and twitter have caused a certain lack of updates here, but that will be remedied soon. :-)

The news, though, is that 2011 is the year of the cd release! Quite possibly more than one. I'm fiddling with discmakers right now for one vague purpose, and will be visiting the studio to hit the home stretch of tracking for another. Stay tuned (ha) and I'll have information soon.

Her Worry Dolls (7/19/07 #3)

2:19 minutes

She got them in Guatemala, and kept them next to her matryoshka dolls. At night, the worry dolls would dance and try to offer comfort to their counterparts.

Damn My Eyes reviews

I submitted Damn My Eyes for reviews over at Garage Band more than a year ago, and the reviews have been trickling in ever since then. It looks like the review process finally stopped a few days ago. You can check out all the reviews here, but here's the general summary.

First, there were several "awards". The awards are always a good stroke to the ego, but I never actually noticed any traffic bumps on any of them until the last one. Damn My Eyes was given the "Track Of The Week" award in Alternative Pop on Jan 18th, and there was a measurable impact - I got about 25-30 new "iLike" fans (from 71 to 98, I believe), one or two of which joined my mailing list. iLike's fans are kind of in a separate category - I can reach all of them through bulletins, but they don't give you email addresses for any of them, so I honestly don't try and contact them a bunch except to remind them of my mailing list. I do tend to send out announcements to them when new songs come out, though.

The reviews were informative. There were a few common themes. Many felt Alternative Pop wasn't the right genre, and that I should have put it in jazz instead. I'm torn on that, it's my most "jazz"-ish song, but it's played much the same way every time and has an actual song form, so I see it much more as jazz-influenced pop. Beyond that, I see the theme of the reviews as that they like the idea and the recording, find it a very enjoyable song, and that it is a bit conventional - doesn't take a lot of risks into really original territory. At the same time, it's the song of mine that has gotten the best response so far, ahead of Together, My Favorite Clown, etc. Over on Jango, Damn My Eyes is a touch more well-reviewed than She Believes, too. Damn My Eyes continues to exist off to the side for me, one of my more favorite songs but not in the core group (She Believes, Not Today, and So Beautiful). I think it can be dressed up more but beyond that I think it'll be one of those songs that is really fun to play live as a change of pace song.

Youtube Soundtracks

For those who don't know, I've released quite a few piano improvisations over the years, through a podcast I call Piano Musings. They're released under a Creative Commons license.

I hadn't done a search for my name over at youtube for a while and was surprised at what I had found - a few people had taken the music and applied them to some of their home videos. Always kind of fun to see where they end up.

First, it appears there was some Italian film festival, and Unbond made its way into this one. It's the middle piano cue; the ones at the beginning and end are someone else.

Next, using A Merry-Go-Round In Rain, here's a short video of a snowfall in someone's backyard, from Brussels, Belgium:

Weirdest is some level cheat for some online game. They had used Phoenix Grace, one of my favorites... presumably because the youtuber's username is "ElitePhoenix". Oookay.

The music has of course ended up in several other places, which you can page through by reviewing my Art Musings page. And if you have end up using the music for any of your own projects, please let me know! The music is protected by a Creative Commons license, which means they are usable for non-commercial purposes if you give me attribution.

More Costello's

James Jeffrey-West with a cool writeup of the gig we shared a couple of weeks ago, and also includes a video he shot of me singing Old Friend. Check it out:

Gigging at Costello's

Had a very fun gig at Costello's Travel Caffe last night. By the way, for those of you who don't know I had a gig last night, be sure to join my mailing list.

I ran into James Jeffrey-West at a couple of songwriting workshops earlier this year, and then we ended up sharing a gig at the Local Lounge on MLK. Shortly afterwards, Pete and I interviewed him for Acoustic Conversations, for an upcoming episode. James has a regular gig at Costello's, and invited me to take part.

Last month I headed down there to catch a show of his - the venue is really warm. The night I was there, it was a packed house. At the time I wasn't sure about playing there, because everyone is eating dinner and I'm never sure if I'd end up being background music, sitting down behind a keyboard at floor level. And if you've read my previous blog entry, you know how I can feel a bit conflicted about a couple of my songs needing more instruments.

But one idea I've been toying with has been to play standing up. I had never done that before. I also wanted to try talking while playing a little more - I went to a David Wilcox concert a couple of weeks back and he does a lot of that, it really adds to the experience. So I practiced both this week, and then there I was standing up behind the keyboard, talking and singing. And it worked great!

I biffed the piano parts a little more often than I normally would but I think that's just getting used to the new position. My pedal was squeaky under my boot and was also trying to get away from me - I think I can solve that at future gigs with a sticky mat and a sock. And I had a great time. I have had a couple of discouraging gigs in the past, but I do seem to enjoy gigging more every time I go out. I think it's getting a little easier now.

James puts on a very nice show. He has a great set, with wonderful stories behind his songs. He has different people playing with him every time he is there at Costello's. I definitely recommend signing up for his mailing list and attending a show there.

The Piano Scene

It's been quite a crazy experience trying to understand the pop and singer/songwriter scene as it applies to piano.

Here's the situation. You have a piano, some piano skills, and you can sing a little. You write some songs for the piano. In any batch of songs, you're going to have some songs that absolutely require a band, some songs that absolutely require a real piano, and other songs that are still just fine for a random electric keyboard with no backing musicians.

When you're starting out, you're basically limited to the third type of song. All your band songs (for me that would be Damn My Eyes and Not Today) can't really even be performed. Other songs that really should be played on a grand (for me that would be She Believes and Old Friend) sound more like a pale imitation of themselves when you play them on a keyboard pumped through an small sound system.

And so for piano songwriters, it becomes a sort of permanent treasure hunt to find where and how to play. Every once in a while you think you find a possibility and then you get a curveball. Here are some of the recents.

  • Jo Federigo's in Eugene - I traveled down there with Debbie, after hearing Lisa Forkish rave about playing on their piano and for their audience - their website said they were still open, but their telephone had a mysterious voice mail message explaining they were closed until further notice.
  • Martin's off Madison in Seattle - I heard there was an open mic night here with a real grand piano and was very excited to attend. Took Debbie and loved the atmosphere and the food, and they had a great pianist there. Soon it dawned on me, however, that all the piano music was loungy jazz standards, heavy on Bacharach and music theater, and that Debbie was the only woman in the entire place. And I confirmed with the waitstaff that "open mic" basically meant singing karaoke while the pianist backs you up. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, but disappointing to find a cool piano bar only to find that it doesn't cater to your style of music.
  • 88 keys in Seattle - there is a monthly songwriting event here at a dueling piano bar. I attended tonight - it was pretty funny because the pianos aren't even real - they're digital keyboards in grand piano shells. It actually wasn't bad, because the stage and sound were quite good, but the event is on a Tuesday night when the area is completely dead - it's tough as a songwriter to sign up for a 30-minute showcase slot and have no one in the audience other than the other songwriters that have showed up. It's not a good way to build an audience.

I had a great meeting with Jake Oken-Berg recently and we talked about other venues in town that are good for various levels of local songwriters. There's a good piano at Wilf's Restaurant, but it is more for jazz musicians that can fill up a three-hour set - I'm not sure they are amenable for a shared bill where each person might have forty-five minutes. There are venues like Jimmy Mak's with a great piano, if you can guarantee that you'll fill the room pretty well. There's a nice-looking smaller venue in Seattle named Egan's in Ballard that might have possibilities for if you can't guarantee a big crowd. The entire question is how to get started and put on enough of a good show with the puny songs and the electric keyboard and the small sound systems, to gather up enough fans to be able to justify the nicer venues. Tough road.

What seems like a possibility is the house party circuit - finding a collection of folks with grand pianos in their homes and putting on small concerts. I've got some brainstorms in the works for that, as I get closer to having a good hour of original material.

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© 2007 Curt Siffert. Some audio protected with a Creative Commons license.
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