Random News

Jango sent me a missive today, asking me to take a surveymonkey survey and asking for any other feedback. In this case I liked the opportunity to share my thoughts - I've skipped a lot of surveys in the past but Jango is a pretty fascinating service and when a site is new, it kind of invites thoughts and advice of how they could do things differently. They even gave me a free 500 plays out of the deal. I like how engaged Jango appears to be.

In other news, I'm enjoying doing the Acoustic Conversations podcast. We have a variety of musicians on the show, all at different points in their career. A couple that are actively hawking their cds, rehearsing regularly, and gigging out whenever they can. A couple of others that have it as their livelihood and have toured nationally and internationally. A couple that have done all that and are now relaxing more at home with their large repertoires and familyish local fan base. And some others that are just starting to take it more seriously, gigging at the open mic nights and doing shared bills with other musicians as they try and get recording projects together. That's about where I'm at, and it's good to be in touch with them as we can discuss putting together some shared bills. If you haven't yet, head on over to Acoustic Conversations and check out some of the episodes. There's some good stuff over there, some of which might be sharing a stage with me in the future.

Year In Review, The Year Ahead

Time to take stock. Like many, I'm looking both backwards and forwards tonight, and there is a lot to consider.

Some of what I've done musically this year is journaled on this site. At the beginning of the year, I had managed to form a jazz trio for myself. This was more a practice trio rather than a performance trio, and it went well for a while, but it eventually disappeared due to conflicting schedules and other priorities - specifically, my bass player got way too busy and had to focus on things that had regular performance opportunities. That happens with bass players, I've learned!

I've also been rehearsing semi-regularly with another trio - trippy progressive improvisation - and we're continuing. We're still figuring out our goals, not sure if we're good enough at the straight improvising to justify playing live, still gathering up recordings good enough for a cd, and still figuring out how and whether we can turn the material into actual arrangements we can play from in the future.

I had a couple of mixed-media things fall into my lap, from a soundtrack to some Australian Community Television, to some additional Art Musings paintings (I actually still have more to post), to a soundtrack to a video someone shot of an Art Installation.

I posted a few more Piano Musings, too. I actually have several more to post from more than a year ago, but I guess this eventually fell out of my practice routine as I started focusing more on jazz and songwriting. The piano musings were always intended to serve the purpose of getting me more comfortable with both jazz and songwriting, so maybe they worked. But that doesn't mean I won't do more in the future.

I dabbled with some video of myself (get a haircut!). That's really fun, I hope to do more of that in the future.

Mostly, though, this year was dominated by struggling with and then completing two songs - Not Today and She Believes. I think She Believes is by far my favorite song, and Not Today is my most commercial. It's a little disappointing to me that the two songs took so much effort, but I'm trying to reinforce to myself that it's just because of some combination of inexperience and high standards.

In the latter part of the year, I think things started to rev up a bit - I started attending songwriting workshops more, and I also managed to write a couple of more songs, including Damn My Eyes and I Don't Mind. Damn My Eyes is commercial, I Don't Mind is not.

And this basically culminated in my first gig, a two-song presentation at a songwriting contest. I got good feedback and got some networking in, too - this networking indirectly led to my second gig, which is coming soon.

That's not really the whole story, though. There was a lot that I did musically that wasn't journaled on this site. For one thing, I had a ton of rehearsals and a ton of recordings. According to iTunes, for the year of 2008, I have 357 recordings, for one full day's worth of recorded music - multiple takes of my originals, of jazz standards, etc. That doesn't include one more rehearsal from November that I still have to process, and several additional takes of originals that I've rehearsed on my own. I've culled through all those recordings to create a "Best Of 2008" cd that I've given to my family; that was a lot of fun.

I found some new players and some new skills. I also got some new hardware that will really help with having high quality recordings in the future. And, with my buddy Steve's help, I've started working towards some actual multi-tracked versions of my songs with the goal of releasing an EP or cd of my stuff. So a lot of things have shifted.

But the biggest shift, I think, is in my psyche. It's really, really hard to adopt the identity of a musician, then a songwriter, then a performer. I've been a musician off and on for many years - owning a degree in music helps reinforce that feeling. But to call myself a songwriter, that's especially difficult early on when all you have is the faith in songs that don't exist yet. It's easy to feel like a fraud, or worse, delusional. I cringe along with everyone else when I watch American Idol and see the awful talents that are so sure they are good, except with me it's always with the nagging doubt, Oh my god... am I one of those?

It creates a feeling of desperation, of almost wanting to apologize for the output you've produced so far, but to tell those around you, but just wait... hold on... the stuff I have coming up is so much better...

I think the biggest shift in my psyche is that I've managed to mostly get beyond that. A buddy of mine and I call it Back Pocket Thinking. To always have that secret weapon in our back pocket, so we don't have to face the thought of our public side being a complete representation of who we are.

So it's really only been over the last couple of months that I've gotten more comfortable with seeing myself as a songwriter that is merely represented by what I've written so far.

And I'm okay with it. Depending on how you count, I have six, nine, or twelve songs, and they collectively paint me as a songwriter that writes sometimes sweet, sometimes innovative, sometimes whacked songs. I've been experimenting, but so far I haven't written a song that makes everyone wince.

I have several ideas for future songs, but on top of that, I for the first time have the glimmering of an idea of a direction - a "sound" that I have a very abstract sense of, that I think might fuel the creation of several songs.

But, I'm not putting that in my back pocket or anything. It's just something I've suspected. Doesn't mean it actually exists.

And so what of the upcoming year? Well, I'm still shaking out priorities, but here are the main principles and opportunities.

Songwriting Community - This entails being a more consistent presence out in public, mainly among other songwriters. There's a lot to learn locally, and I might be able to both get and give a lot of help. Right now this involves making it a priority to attend local songwriting workshops and contests, either as a spectator or a participant.

Produce Those Songs - This is probably first priority, actually. I've got three songs multi-tracked and in progress, and another two on the way. There's a lot of work to do, a lot of unknowns, specifically how to find an engineer that is willing to work within Logic Pro using the arrangements I've already put together. But I'm going to do it until I feel like I have a set of songs that feel cohesive and done, and then create the album.

Gigging - I intend to gig my originals more than once this year. :-)

Jazz Solo - I do have opportunity to play out solo as a jazz pianist/singer. Abstractly, I think this would be very good for me. I'm not an A-List pianist in town, but there aren't many that sing and play at the same time. It's a matter of if I can string together enough compelling material to justify a full gig, but I've got ways to get there. The main thing here is time.

Jazz Combo - This is more fun, and easier to do - the playing isn't as hard, and the sound is naturally more compelling. So far I'm lucky to have players that are interested in doing this with me.

Marketing - This is the thing I know least about. Granted, it's hard to do this before there's much to market! One thing I think I'll do, however, is write more on this site, despite the sneaking suspicion that I'm oftentimes the only one that reads it. :-)

If I were to make actual goals (aaaaugh! Goals!) they would probably be along the lines of... having a well-mixed/mastered recording out that I can give away (for marketing) and sell (at gigs and online). Have a few new songs. (I know my goal should be to write a TON of new songs, but... sheesh, maybe after I get a manager to handle the rest of this stuff.) Be gigging, and hopefully get some more supporters that aren't existing family and friends. You know, lowering the old Hack Quotient. And, in general, success. Always a good goal to have in this economy.

So that's it! Despite it seeming like a lousy year out in the real world, it was a good year here. And I'm feeling positioned to have an ever better on in 2009. As always, I'll be journaling it here. Thanks to all who have come along so far.

Tired Hands

Man, after three hours of rehearsing with the trio - four takes of Not Today (working name for The Aaaaay song), three takes of She Believes, and four Triage songs... where I was especially pounding, competing with the volume... I woke up with very sore hands! And I think a bruised cuticle or something on the outside of my right thumb. Not very pleasurable to be typing right now. Might need to take a hand break today.

Music for MLK Day

If any of you are looking for music to listen to on Martin Luther King Day, I have a couple that I listen to that I like quite a lot:

  • New Morning For The World: 'Daybreak Of Freedom' is a gorgeous piece for full orchestra and narrator, narrating excerpts of several of Martin Luther King's speeches. I listen to a recording from this cd.
  • Local jazz pianist Darrell Grant has a cd that came out in the last year called Truth and Reconciliation. There's a piece, "I Shall Believe", that is a loose cover of the Sheryl Crow tune, and it has historical archive audio footage of speeches by JFK and Martin Luther King.

I listen to them every year on MLK Day.

Crashes and Rehearsals

Well, about a week ago my hard drive died and that was a lot of fun. I didn't lose anything in the way of music - just two revisions of one of my piano musings, when the one I wanted to keep is still around. And some recordings from my jazz trio rehearsals, but I've already uploaded them on a website so I still have them. Still, annoying. I think I've just about decided to invest more in to an actual desktop computer system so I have some redundancy.

The other advantage of that is that I will be able to start getting back into multitracking. Right now the only multitracked song I have is Together, and I'd like to do more of it.

Saturday night, I recorded some more versions of All Aboard and Balancing Above The Air, with the intention of finally getting demo-quality songs that I could put up on I didn't quite get there, but it was still nice to come up with a couple more versions I can listen to and examine. These recordings have piano and drums. I might upload them here in the future - still letting them sink in.

Quoting Napoleon's Songs

I've been collaborating with Quoting Napoleon as their sometimes-keyboardist lately. They already have a cd released, and also have their songs available through snocap, which I think is a pretty cool system. You can browse clips of their songs here and then buy them for full downloads. These are the songs they came up with before I started playing with them more regularly, although I am working out some subtle keyboard parts for these songs, too.

Two Christmas Songs

In 2006, I had plans to go home for Christmas. I go to Colorado just about every year to see my parents and my sister's family, including my two nieces.

That year, there was a huge blizzard in Denver that snowed out the airport and canceled all sorts of Denver flights. My flight got canceled before it took off. I never made it to Colorado.

I spent Christmas at home in Portland that year, in an undecorated house and without many backup plans. On Christmas Eve I got the idea to try and work up a couple of recordings of Christmas tunes for my family back home. I hadn't done much recording of myself at that point so I wasn't sure how well it would work.

I found two to work on - one from a fakebook, and one just from scrounging up a guitar tab online. I managed to work up arrangements and learn how to sing and play them and record them and email them off to my family by Christmas morning.

I'm making them available here - I didn't write them, obviously, but I'm not releasing them for commercial purposes. Enjoy.

The Christmas Song

I'll Be Home For Christmas

Leaving Deja Nu

Well, it's been about two years and all good things must come to an end. Over the weekend I informed Deja Nu that I would be leaving the group. When I joined Deja Nu, it corresponded to the time when I accepted delivery on my grand piano, which is when music started becoming a big part of my life again. It's hard to say goodbye to a group that is so closely associated to my own sense of personal progress, but it was time to move on. I am looking forward to having more time for musical exploration now, before I decide what my next project (or projects) will be. I'm looking forward to looking around and making myself open to new ideas.

I came up with a new rendition of One For My Baby, kind of exploring my feelings about leaving - sad and destination-like. If you don't have access to my standards page, feel free to email me. I sent it along to the group to say goodbye. I wish them nothing but the best.

Recent Networking

Fun day today - I went to Tony Starlight's to see The Swing Sisters perform this evening. They had a very short break between sets, and their pianist had just ordered a burger. It got delivered right when the set was about to start, and he wasn't about to abandon his burger.

So I got called up on stage to sit in for a song. I was that guy, the "guest pianist" who gets called up from the audience. That just tickled me, I haven't been in that situation before. So it was a lead sheet I hadn't seen before - wow, I don't even remember the name of the tune. We did the head once, then James took the AA and gave me the BA. The combo was pretty tight and we had some good energy rise and fall later in the piece. It was quite fun. I'm hoping I'll get to do some more combo playing in the future.

I also sat in with Quoting Napoleon the other night. They're looking for a keyboardist, and I'm still considering whether I want to be The Keyboardist, but it's a fun opportunity to consider. They're bass, drums, rhythm guitar, electric guitar, and fabulous lead vocals. They've got a great repertoire put together already and are completely receptive to new song ideas, cowriting, and working up songs of my own. It's a little different than the idea of me creating/forming my own actual band, but then again, I'm still working on building up my own repertoire, so it might be a good fit if it helps motivate me to write my own stuff even faster.


Taking a well-deserved vacation right now. My other job is as a software consultant, and I find that as music revs up, it is harder and harder to go a day without doing something musical. June was horrendously busy with two important client projects - one team-developed project built for uses internal to the client, and another project where the client I was helping was under the gun by a client they were selling to. That was probably the highest priority client work I've had since I've gone into business for myself. As a result, I didn't get to do as much songwriting as I would have liked. I'll be changing things around when I get back from vacation to have some assistants I can subcontract to when things get too busy.

All that said, I Have A Cold has been a big hit out here, especially to my nieces! I've subscribed various family members to my podcasts, and also gnashed my teeth at their choice to use Windows - which showed me there were some funky design things happening with this site on IE - I should have them fixed up now.

I have a few other songs in half-completed state, although I do find it is sometimes more difficult to finish those songs than the songs I start and finish within one sitting. Hopefully July will open some things up for me - pretty soon I hope to have enough repertoire gathered up that I can actually start rehearsing wtih a couple of other musicians. So far I'm thinking of bass and drums definitely, already have people lined up, but I'm also considering adding a good guitarist that can do both acoustic and electric... I'd need a good versatile multi-instrumentalist there to fit in though, and don't have many good leads yet.

Vacation's great and all (and I'm over my cold now!), but there's no piano around here! I almost brought my two-octave USB keyboard but it was too big for my laptop bag. I've thought about buying one of those midi controlled rollup keyboards too, but... oh man, I don't know. I just don't think I could do that.

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