Tuesday, August 26, 2014

When you’re dead, your songs won’t matter, so why hold back?

If you’re like me – a songwriter and independent recording artist who sells a few recordings online once in a while – from time to time your thoughts inevitably turn to questioning why you bother to write songs in the first place.  This usually happens when you’re starting to write songs again for your next album release like I am now.  Thinking about writing songs makes you think about what to write about, and that can make your mind wander to the point where you wonder what the point of this craft is.

Then if you think well into the future, you realize it’s probably not in the cards for you to write a song that becomes a standard that will live on well past your death.  The more you think along those lines, it can lead you to think about why you don’t release certain songs.  Hardly anyone buys them anyway.  I have a list of my self-ranked songs, some of which I’ve recorded, and some which haven’t even made the cut to record beyond a first take at all.  On these lists, next to the song title I write the reason it didn’t make the cut of my own, strange weeding-out methods.  They’re abbreviated.

My evaluation key, which I also sometimes write next to each song, is like this:  Definite Keeper (DK), Keeper (K), Borderline Keeper (BK), Almost Borderline Keeper (ABK).  Sometimes I can’t quite decide and will even do a DK/K, or a BK/ABK for the in-betweeners, sometimes later on deciding to bump them up or down for some reason.  This is my own method I came up with which sort of evolved after a songwriting friend and I used to rate each others songs with a 1/4K, ½ K, and full K when we were both new to the hobby.  I did color coding on a batch of songs once, using white as “waiting for upgrade/downgrade decision,” and have even done a bold/italics/strikethrough method, but DK/K/BK/ABK is what I’ve settled on.

I’ve never released an ABK, but through rewriting, I have actually boosted a few ABKs to BKs, but it’s rare.  Also rare are DKs, and I can honestly say I’ve only had a handful of those in twenty-plus years of writing songs.  Don’t get me wrong, you probably haven’t heard of any, but if you’re one of my few true fans who’ve bought every album, you might be able to pick some out we’d both agree were DKs.  I would hope this would be the case anyway, but one never quite knows for sure which ones others will consider your best.

There are many I don’t even bother typing in the list – the definite non-keepers.  Some of the borderliners end up getting released, some never do, some get moved on to the next album candidate list with specific notes about what to improve when worthy of revisiting for a potential re-write/re-record.  There’s always a reason for these designations, and I usually put them in parentheses after the song title, typically only for those that didn’t make it through the final weed-out process.  It’s the reasons though that I have to look back on and wonder what state of mind I was in when I wrote them.  Some of the reasons might even be funny to some of you out there.

Here are a few of those parenthetical “reasons to not release or record” from my notes:
music too simple
wife didn’t like it
potential stereotyping interpretation
too personal
music a possible rip-off
forced rhymes
potential inferred drug reference
lyrics too hokey
too much of a chick song
too much like some other song I wrote
too long
too slow
too conceited
controversial subject matter
lyrics too simple
lyrics great, music terrible
music doesn’t fit lyrics
too negative
too sappy
unclear meaning
sexual connotations
contains swear word

I’ve got many, many more reasons I’ve weeded out the hundreds of songs I’ve written you’ve never heard. One of the things you do when you’re all out of new songs to record and having writer’s block is you re-read some of these lists and notes.  You start thinking you might’ve had some that were borderline that you could tweak here and there to launch them to keeper status.  This rarely works, as I pretty much subscribe to the garbage in/garbage out principle, but it is possible.  Sometimes you can have great lyrics that just didn’t work at all with the music, and after a long period of forgetting about the song, you can fit them to a totally different chord progression and melody (assuming you forgot the original melody).  Other times you can revist a song title note that says great tune, terrible lyrics, and write brand new lyrics and make it work. You don’t want to waste great musical or lyrical ideas, and you never know when you might have something new that will fit.

As I’m in the midst of such a scenario here lately, thinking those “what is the point of all this” thoughts, I’ve come to a new realization:  Why not release some of those, since hardly anyone will buy them, and since it’s not going to matter after I’m dead and gone from this world anyway?  Some might turn out to be other people’s favorites.  Maybe the more controversial, more edgy, more personal, etc., songs would actually be better and more well-received than the universally-appealing, safe stuff I’ve been putting out!  Since I have no reputation to begin with, there’s absolutely no danger of it becoming worse.  The few true fans out there might be pleasantly surprised.  I’ve somewhat already proven to myself that it can work well.

Some that I agonized over, yet released anyway:

I need to do more of this.  I’ve received favorable feedback on all of the above.  I debated about releasing a song with a swear word in it for an embarrassingly long time, eventually decided to go for it, and lo and behold, it became a fan favorite (Mackinac Island).  After that I thought what many an artist has, which is that I didn’t want to give people more of the same so as not to repeat myself and not bore them or bore myself or become known as the artist who writes a particular type of song.  Now I’m leaning toward trying hard to not worry so much about what people think and just release away, self-weeding methods be damned.  Throw caution to the wind, since in the grand scheme, it will be a drop in the ocean.  Maybe this new approach I’m forming will be closer to what true art should be about in the first place.  Stay tuned for my 2016 release, as it just may surprise you.

The conclusion is don’t think twice.  Rate your own songs once, then trust your first gut feeling about whether to release them or not.  Don’t waste too much time on lists and notes and rating systems.  Go ahead and put the music out there.  Don’t let good songs go unheard because you’re too worried about what people will think of you.  People understand the art isn’t necessarily representative of the artist’s personal views and they know you write from other character’s perspectives.  When you’re not around anymore, it’s not going to matter to anyone, so as a t-shirt I saw once read “don’t die with the music in you.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

From Nobility To Notability

As I’ve said many a time and in many a way on this blog previously that it would be nice if my music could gain more recognition, awareness, reach a larger audience, etc.  As long as I don’t have to be a famous celebrity where people would recognize me in public and bother me.  That wouldn’t be much fun.  It’s not that I’m after popularity for popularity’s sake, but rather, I think what I do is in some ways sort of a noble pursuit (writing and recording songs), and perhaps deserving of being more notable somehow.  I’ve looked into what that means recently.

People are actually buying my music here and there lately, which is exciting, and makes me think more of that would always be welcome, but then it makes me think of how and what I could be doing to make more sales happen without too much effort or investment on my part.  My new album, which I released just over one month ago, has sold quite a few copies lately!  Surprisingly, there are some out there who have purchased the physical CD directly from Amazon, and unsurprisingly, there have been a lot of single-song MP3 purchases from Google Play, Spotify, Bandcamp, and of course, iTunes. All great, and more would be even better. Makes me wonder what, out of the various free things I've done in my free time to make people aware my music exists, has been most effective in terms of conversions. I use some analytics and get some data from online music stores, but it's not much to go on.

I sometimes wonder how to rise above the sales barely covering my costs, release after release, every two years.  I don’t just consider the nominal distribution costs, but also the upgrading of recording equipment and instruments from time to time.  Nowhere close to making enough money to cover the new Martin acoustic guitar….yet.  You never know if some happy accident might catapult me into profitability….or better yet, from nobility to notability.

I cite the following definitions from some online dictionary:
  • noble:  music has outstanding or excellent qualities and lofty ideals or character, coming from personal qualities that people admire (such as honesty, generosity, courage, etc.)
  • notable:  music is unusual and worth noticing, remarkable, distinguished, prominent

When it comes to noble, I read it and say to myself “check” I’ve got those covered.  When it comes to notable, however, I’m not sure I can honestly say it’s distinguished or prominent yet.

The reason I wonder about notability is because if you want to get reviewed by or listed in certain well-known music-related online publications and databases such as AllMusic or Wikipedia, they require you prove you’ve already been written about in other publications or websites.  Reference documents that indicate a level of prominence to gain more or higher prominence.

You hear about people faking their number of social likes and friends and shares and tweets and adds and follows and that sort of thing.  They do it because it works.  The basic concept at play here is that perceived prominence and popularity whether deserved or real or otherwise, breeds actual increased, real popularity, thereby increasing real prominence.  I won’t lower myself to those types of tactics, but I’m told they are effective. What it boils down to is spending my hard-earned free time bugging people to write about me and my music, so as to show documented importance and significance.

Here’s a small subset of summarized information I got from Wikipedia that provides guidelines of what you need in order to be considered for a listing in a few of their appropriate categories:

Indicate...important because...(document it is true)significant because...(document it is true)

1.  multiple, non-trivial, published works appearing in sources that are reliable, not self-published, and are independent from the musician himself (newspaper articles, books, magazine articles)
2.  single or album on a music chart
3.  certification of gold or higher on a chart
4.  national concert tour
5.  major record label
6.  notable members of ensemble
7.  prominent representative of a notable style or scene
8.  been nominated for (or won) a major award
9.  won or placed in a major competition
10. TV or film placement of song
11. national radio rotation or music TV station
12. been featured subject of radio or TV

1.  writing credit on notable composition
2.  writing of musical theatre notable run
3.  wrote work used as basis for another notable work
4.  won or placed in notable non-newcomer competition
5.  listed as major influence on notable person
6.  appears in reference books about genre

SongsShortcuts: WP:NSONG, WP:NSONGS
Songs and singles are probably notable if they have been the subject[1] of multiple, non-trivial[2] published works whose sources are independent of the artist and label. This includes published works in all forms, such as newspaper articles, other books, television documentaries and reviews. This excludes media reprints of press releases, or other publications where the artist, its record label, agent, or other self-interested parties advertise or speak about the work.[3] Coverage of a song in the context of an album review does not establish notability. If the only coverage of a song occurs in the context of reviews of the album on which it appears, that material should be contained in the album article and an independent article about the song should not be created.
Notability aside, a standalone article is only appropriate when there is enough material to warrant a reasonably detailed article; articles unlikely ever to grow beyond stubs should be merged to articles about an artist or album.

The following factors suggest that a song or single may be notable, though a standalone article should still satisfy the aforementioned criteria.
  • Has been ranked on national or significant music or sales charts.
  • Has won one or more significant awards or honors, such as a Grammy, Juno, Mercury, Choice or Grammis award.
  • Has been independently released as a recording by several notable artists, bands, or groups.
Songs with notable cover versions are normally covered in one common article about the song and the cover versions. 

Articles about traditional songs should avoid original research and synthesis of published material that advances a position. 
  • Note: Songs that do not rise to notability for an independent article should redirect to another relevant article, such as for the songwriter, a prominent album or for the artist who prominently performed the song.
  • Note2: Sources should always be added for any lore, history or passed on secondary content. Wikiversity and WikiBooks have different policies and may be more appropriate venues.
Good online sources for recordings are the Freedb search engine or the Allmusic search engine. To find ownership information on song texts copyrighted in the US, the ASCAP ACE Title Search and BMI Repertoire Search utilities are invaluable. When looking in depth, a Google book search may turn something up. For material that has captured the attention of academics, a search on Google scholar may work. 

An experienced editor also provides a guide on ensuring that articles meet criteria.

Wow, so after reading all that carefully, and summarizing it in my own notes I’ve now shared with you, the world, it is overwhelming.  It’s one thing to find a list of online publications and blogs who write about independent music acts like me.  That’s hassle enough.  Then you need to email them a cover letter and link to free streaming samples of your music, or even mail packages of information and CDs to them.  Now you’re talking about a lot more of your free time, plus some some potential cost for materials.  After you find their submission policies on their websites, which is often difficult, they almost always say something to the effect of 1) we get tons of these every day, and can never review them all, or maybe we have someone briefly read/listen to your submission, but we can not possibly write about them all, and 2) we don’t ever return your stuff.  

So, no guarantees, and you start to wonder, “who has time for this stuff?...especially for most of us with day jobs and personal lives?”  The answer is probably along the lines of don’t give up trying, hard work eventually pays off, lots of irons in the fire increases your chances, etc.  It would be cool if you had money to pay someone else to do all this for you, wouldn’t it?  I guess when you get signed to a record contract with a major label you get an advance to pay people to do this stuff for you.  The Behind The Music or Where Are They Now types of shows on TV always seem to cover famous artists who sold millions and not only never became wealthy, but in fact ended up in more debt than before they were signed to the record deals.  On the other hand, there are artists who become so famous from major-label marketing budgets, when they get out of their contracts, they can still sell a ton of records on their own.  This has happened more and more frequently in recent years I would imagine due to the ways in which the internet has changed the music business.

I’ll stick to what I like - writing and recording songs in my basement, and selling enough online to cover most of my costs - except the Martin guitar.  I will keep hoping for a lightning strike of dumb luck or some phenomenon described with the word “viral” to accidentally occur.  This is like hoping you’ll win the lottery.  Not very good odds, but fun to think about it once in a while.  It would be nice to be more notable.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I Got To See The Violent Femmes Play Live...and they didn't disappoint

Here it is 10 pm and I'm home already after watching the Violent Femmes play live at the Common Ground Festival in Lansing tonight.  They did not disappoint.  They were excellent, in fact.  Exceeded my expectations.  They played slightly over an hour from 8-9pm as scheduled.  I went with my lovely wife Lenore.  If you can look beyond my giant head in the photo above, you can see Brian Ritchie on the right with his acoustic bass and Gordon Gano with his violin on stage.

I like this band so much, I even went so far as to pay for a t-shirt - a black one that says "American Music since 1981" on it - something I rarely do.  After all was said and done, I spent around $100 bucks for a few hours of great live music in a beautiful park setting by a river.   It was 35 bucks times 2 tickets, plus $6 parking, plus drinks and snacks that included both a funnel cake and an elephant ear.  Mmm.

Got to see a couple other bands as well, including The Wailers, who have a singer who sounded just like Bob Marley, and guys in their band who are close relatives of the original Wailers.  They played the hits from the Legend album everyone expected, so of course it was great.  Also saw some band who I think said were from Mississippi and called The Weaks, which was funny because they were all ultra skinny guys.  They played a good blend of originals that ranged from danceable funk to hard rock with alternative stuff in between and even a tinge of southern rock.  All wonderful and worth it.

I ran into a coworker who was there with his son, which was cool.  He thought it was worth the cost as well. We talked about how it's an unique genre, a niche band that created a style of their own and has influenced many since.  He and I had previously chatted in the break room at work while getting coffee about our love of this band, and how he was turned on to them by his son, who is in a band, who were influenced by them, just as I have been.  He wishes his son's band would be "discovered" and subsequently signed to a record deal by being asked to open for the Pretenders while playing acoustic on the street, of course, just like what happened to this band.  Who wouldn't wish that for any band?

The wife and I don't get out much - mostly because I'm an introvert who is either sitting at my computer, writing or recording a song, or watching television.  She is an extrovert, however, and craves being out in public, loves crowds, and feeling a part of the community.  So, of course I spun this outing as catering to her cravings, even though it has been something I've wanted to do since 1983 when their first album came out. She agreed to go, despite her tastes including Wayne Newton, Barry Manilow, The Bee Gees, and Journey, and her only knowing and subsequently recognizing one Violent Femmes song, Blister In The Sun.

She and I observed a crowd of people around our ages, many of whom knew every word to every song like me and were obviously in a total state of joy while watching them play.  There's nostalgia in going to see a band like this because they remind you of good times you had in 1983/1984 when that first album was popular.  If you happened to be around age 16 at that time like me, the album probably meant a lot more than to someone who discovered it at a different age, I've surmised.  The crowd was an eclectic mix as you might expect and the people watching was a bonus.  I didn't feel old, like I sometimes do nowadays at concerts.

On a related note, if you're reading this you might be interested in a previous post I wrote on this blog about why I liked their first album so much, in which I expanded on the social implications of being a fan of this band, here:

Why The Violent Femmes’ First Album Was, Is And Always Will Be A Classic

What was a very smart approach on their part was that they played that first album in its entirety to open the show, then ventured into a few lesser-known songs from other albums that had a more Americana feel as opposed to the acoustic punk rock sound of that first album.  Not sure if it was the original drummer or not, but this guy was outstanding, playing stand-up style with two primary drums played with brushes - one bass-sounding drum looked like a pony keg of beer, and the other a snare with a couple small cymbals.  The bass player of course played that huge Ernie Ball acoustic, but later switched to an electric bass.  The acoustic bass solos were outstanding, as expected.

They augmented their three-piece band with a cajon player throughout, and also had a horn section for a few songs, and the marimba for Gone Daddy Gone, which again, was outstanding.  Acoustic bass solos, an impressive drum solo on a minimalist kit, great backing vocals, too.  Although Gordon isn't much of a soloist on guitar or fiddle, and only played his telecaster as opposed to an acoustic, his unique, whiny vocals were as good if not better than what you hear on the records.  So, all the ingredients that make up their signature sound were there, combined with some extended jamming, and an expanded lineup.  All awesome.

Overall, a great experience to see one of the most unique bands of all time thirty years after their debut, still sounding as great as ever.  I'd heard their Viva Wisconsin live album, so I had an idea of what they sounded like live, but to see them in the company of other fans like myself was one of the best live music outings I've ever had.  I won't forget it, and feel inspired again to write more songs after quite a long drought.  Thanks, Violent Femmes!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

UTBGL Press Release - New Scott Cooley Studio Album

For immediate release from Scott Cooley Records in East Lansing, Michigan:

Scott Cooley’s latest record, Used To Be Good Looking, is the 6th studio album he’s self-released on his independent label.  Available in CD format from Amazon, and download from iTunes, Google Play, Bandcamp, and Spotify on June 21st, 2014, it contains 14 new original songs.  The first half of the record is a little more mainstream, poppy, and commercial with shorter rock songs, whereas the last half finds Scott venturing into longer and more serious songs with hints of jazz, bluegrass, folk, and blues.   Fans of the all-acoustic instrumentation, catchy melodies, and outstanding lyrics on his past releases will not be disappointed.

As far as live public performances go, he entertained attendees at Lamb’s Retreat for Songwriters in 2012 at the Birchwood Inn in Harbor Springs as a solo act, and also headlined the annual Schmoopiepalooza Festival in 2013 at Pickerel Lake in northern Michigan as a duo with his lovely and talented wife Lenore on accordion.  Scott’s recent experiences leading up to this release have included a few get-togethers with family and friends, a few days spent sailing, a few days spent skiing, walking the new golden retriever, Levi, and regular date nights with Lenore.  Essentially a non-performing songwriter and recording artist, Scott wrote and recorded these songs over the course of a few weekends, and an hour or two on a few different weeknights sporadically in his basement “man cave” spare bedroom studio since his last release.

The Scott Cooley band has in the past included wife Lenore as guest studio musician (accordion, keyboard, marimba, flute, background vocals) and spiritual producer Lucky Cooley (sadly, he’s now in dog heaven).  This album is different in that on the first 13 songs, there’s no one else on it, but Scott finally convinced Lenore to play right-hand-only accordion on the final track, “Smitten with the Mitten,” and thanks to her contribution, it’s a strong candidate for consideration of being designated as a state song for the state of Michigan.  Levi wasn’t quite up to speed yet on production advice, so as a solo artist, one-man band, and do-it-all-yourselfer, Scott wore all hats involved this time, recording himself playing guitar, bass, marimba, harmonica, drums, percussion, and singing the vocals in East Lansing. 

Scott’s fan interactions, aside from the aforementioned live performances, have been limited to only one or two announcements on his website, and several posts to his blog about his experiences with songwriting and music recording.  One fan chimed in with excitement upon discovering the song Mackinac Island from the 2006 Lakeside Landing album, and her intention to share with her college friends and family members in Michigan, and sure enough, the online MP3 downloads increased for that song again.  Another fan reached out to Scott to note that he loved the last album, Cherchez La Femme, and having been on hiatus from being a musician himself, felt inspired to get back into it. 

For complete details, see:

Saturday, June 7, 2014

How Blogging Is Like Songwriting

I’m not a great singer, guitar player, bass player, percussionist or songwriter, but I blend these things and put the music out there anyway, dammit!  I’ve got a new album that’s going to be in online music stores soon, and I’m now at the stage of letting people know about it because I want others to hear it, if they’re interested.  It’s my sixth such album in the last ten years, so I’ve been through this before, and it’s like blogging.  You make your thoughts known, and in that way you’re vulnerable.  Whether a post or a song, it feels like being naked in public.

Most people I make aware of it won’t care, won’t be interested.  Just like the bombardment we all get on a daily basis, whether through commercials on TV or junk emails.  We quickly change the channel, and we quickly delete.  Personally, I try to avoid advertising whenever possible, and having things suggested to me usually makes me less likely to be interested.  Sometimes though, you act on a recommendation from a trusted friend and you’re glad you did.  This very thing has happened with my music in the past.  Some people are going to like it, usually people you already know, and they tell people they know, and people tell you they like it.

Just like I’ve had people tell me before that they like reading things I’ve written in this blog, people have told me they liked my music before.  This next album I have coming out soon is one where some people have heard some of the songs already in advance of it’s official release, and believe it or not, they’ve said they liked some of the songs already.  Five of them have had multiple people go out of their way to mention to me the song titles as their favorites so far.  

There are 14 songs on this album, and you never know which ones people will collectively like the most for sure, but when you start hearing about it, it’s exciting.  The word gets back to me via email, social media, and verbally.  The interactive part is cool, just like blog post comments.  The negative feedback stings a little, I must admit, but it’s offset by knowing some people liked some of it, which come to think of it, is the same way I feel about most artists’ albums I’m a fan of myself.  It’s a common thing, yet it always feels strange to me to be in this phase of the process.  It’s hard to describe, but you’re taking a leap, taking a risk, putting your hard work out there for people to judge or ignore.

This informational post about songwriting is open to discussion with the interactive comment feature below.  I would like to increase the social interaction and sharing regarding this blog with readers, other bloggers, and other songwriters and online independent recording artists.  Although I primarily post my personal commentary on the subjects of songwriting and the frustrations with gaining an audience for my recorded music using the internet, I realize that if I were to steer this blog more in the direction of personal online brand advertising, my frustration might decrease.

Rather than keep a running account of my activities I've undertaken in the course of writing and recording (and then trying to sell) songs, I thought it would be better to write only when I really felt compelled to.  So, you'll notice large chronological gaps in my posts, and clusters of closely-spaced blog activity, instead of a more consistent online dairy.  Even though I studied journalism in college, and indeed have written many a news article in my various day jobs I've held over the years, my favorite course was advanced expository writing, which typically focuses on one discrete topic.

I therefore enjoy explaining, analyzing, presenting ideas, informing, and describing my experiences and thoughts, often with evidence and examples, and only when I really have something to say...often something to "get off my chest" because it's been weighing heavy on my mind and bugging me, whatever it is. Most of the time I ramble in a scatterbrained fashion, sometimes without getting my point across effectively, sometimes without making a point at all, but usually because I feel the need to tell people my thoughts.  

After all, this is a blog about the trials and tribulations of a guy who plays a guitar and makes up songs in his basement, records them, and then tries to sell them online.  I know there are millions out there who do the same thing every day.  The fun part is everything leading up to the trying to sell part.

Songwriting isn't much different than other types of creative writing in this regard.  The best written works are the result of involuntary inspiration.  You can sit down and force yourself to do it according to a consistent schedule, but the quality of the output, I would argue, suffers in comparison with waiting until a strong urge is present.  When you're revved up about it, good things happen.

Persuasive writing, however, throws a monkey wrench into the engine, especially when faced with convincing readers of the persuasive writing that they should buy your creative work - in my case music with lyrics.  When faced with the reality that it would help satisfy my desire to have my music reach a wider audience, I find that the type of persuasive writing I typically fall into writing is more in the form of argumentative writing.  I argue for myself, as if representing myself or defending myself as a lawyer would in a court of law.

Another way I tend to handle telling people about my music to persuade them to buy it is to use self-deprecating humor or satire.  I do this because it naturally feels strange to create something and then try to recommend it to people.  It's normal to not think of your creative work as particularly valuable or noteworthy, I think, because you don't want to tell people how great it is and then be disappointed they don't agree.  No one likes negative critisism of their work, which in some ways is more painful than a lack of sales transactions.

I think what this boils down to is that we humans have an innate desire for acceptance and we care what people think about us and our work to a certain degree.  When we toot our own horns, we risk the pain of people who want to bring us down to earth.  So, we strive for a balance.  Sales experts would say it's all a numbers game, and there may be data to back this up.  We live in a world where we love to root for the underdogs until they become the top dogs, and then we love to push them to the bottom or the back of the pack again.  Build them up, only to tear them down.

I could tell you my new album will reveal undiscovered brilliance, hidden talent, surprising quality, and that it's just a matter of time before it becomes more popular, and I can list reasons why I believe this.  If I use words like "emerging," it might make you want to contribute to an upswing in popularity by telling others.  If I'm excited about my music, you will be more likely to get excited about it yourself.  

A different way to look at it is realistically, which wouldn't produce the same results.  We all would love to be wildly popular and then pretend to be humble and understated about it.  None of us want to be thought of as artists who think they are better than the reality of how they are actually perceived by others.  People have told me they like some of my songs, and I believe them.  People have bought my songs and albums, and I have a little money to show for it.

Since I know what people tend to like, I tend to want to give them more, only without repeating myself.  This is tricky for an artist.  You want a signature style and sound, yet you want your new music to be fresh.  You offer up your "babies" you created for judgement, wishing you'll hear nothing but compliments and encouragement.  You get some of it, and you want more of it.  At the same time, it does you no good to hear the negative, so you want to avoid it.  These are the risks that are inherent in this balancing act.

It's no different than blogging.  Anyone can blog about anything at a nominal cost.  It's when you try to make money that it becomes a challenge.  You hear about blogs catching on, getting a huge number of subscribers and readers, a fan base if you will, and then they are able to get people to pay them for advertising based on that base.  We'd all love to have that kind of accidental popularity, and it sounds like a nice easy way to earn money, but intentionally setting out to have that doesn't work.  It's why most small businesses fail.  The successful ones, it seems, start in a garage or basement and catch on almost accidentally.

I am passionate about the songwriting and the recording.  When that part is done, the fear and loathing kicks in.  Telling people about your music, describing it, persuading them to buy it, it's tough, and it’s necessary but doesn’t quite feel right.  Artists signed to real record labels have people take care of this part for them, and they pay to take it off their plate so they can concentrate on performing and writing and recording more.  The independent, do-it-all-yourselfers like me can’t possibly feel comfortable with all aspects of it.  

So, I get through it using free methods, cringing about it, doing as little as possible while knowing if I don’t do anything at all, no one will know the album exists.  I’m embarrassed about it I think.  Not because I’m not proud of the music I create, but because I’m scared of negative feedback I guess.  I get through it, this part I don’t like.  This making people aware of the music part.  

There’s so much music in the world, and so little time it seems.  It’s really neat that the internet allows you to very inexpensively put your music in online stores so people can buy it, and when some people do actually buy it, it makes you feel good.  You hope it catches on more.  You know it probably won’t.  You think in your head that people are going to be saying things like, “remember that Scott Cooley guy?  He thinks he’s a musician now.  Have you heard any of his stuff?  I streamed a few seconds of a few songs for free, and it’s not for me.  It’s sad he probably thinks he’s way better than he really is.”  Those kinds of thoughts go through your head.  I know I’m not alone feeling this way, so comment if you can relate.

This is the stage I'm in right now as I prepare to release my new album.  I've been through it before.  The simple fact that I'm blogging about it makes it seem like a bigger deal to me than it really is.  Like blogging, occasionally this music hobby is something I enjoy in my free time, and I would like others to be aware of it so they can enjoy it.  I'm going to keep on doing what I love, and you can like it or not, and that's ok.  Such are the thoughts of an amateur songwriter and independent recording artist.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Narcissistic Confessions

It's long overdue for me to explain to whomever might be reading this why I created and continue to maintain a website about myself (which includes this blog, wherein I also blog about myself).  I admit I've gotten a little carried away with the whole thing - there's a lot of information here.  I'm on a fence about being ashamed/embarrassed to the point of deleting it all, and being really proud of it.  Although it could easily be interpreted as a sad thing for someone to do, I have to confess that working on it makes me happy.  Here are a few insights into my motivation to do such a thing:

Write what you know:  "They" say write what you know, and everyone's favorite subject is themselves, there's no denying it.  Get someone talking about themselves in conversation and they'll like you even when you yourself hardly speak.  I'm a writer for my day job anyway, and often enjoy different types of creative writing in my free time.  Having my own website is an extension of what I'd be doing anyway.  Perhaps bits and pieces of what I've written in these pages will become part of a more formal book someday, you never know.

Fake it 'till you make it:  As a songwriter, I'm like most others in that I'd like my songs to reach a wider audience.  When you love writing songs but you're not a great performer, you call yourself a songwriter - meaning you think it would be cool if a famous artist recorded one of your songs.  When you haven't had a famous artist record one of your songs yet, "they" consider you "aspiring" or "emerging" or some similar word.  And when you're aspiring, they advise you to present yourself like a pro until you become a pro.  This site is a step in that direction.

Vocational practice:  As a career professional writer, you've got to keep up with changes in technology.  All forms of writing are online and electronic now, and gone are the days when a writer could turn in a hand-written, pen-on-paper work and a publishing company did the rest.  I started by writing instructional manuals meant for printing, and now what I write is rarely printed by its readers - people not only buy written works online, but they also read them online now.  As a way to improve my skills with various online writing technologies, I started creating websites with "practice" subject matter, and happened to use my interest in songwriting as a topic.  This evolved into the you're visiting today.  It has also led me to indeed become skilled with webmastering to the point where at my current employer I regularly maintain websites, as well as moonlighting as a website designer/maintainer for personal clients in my free time for extra money.

Online presence trend:  In recent years, our social world has changed drastically due to advances in technology.  Everyone has a computer, and everyone is online now.  The internet isn't just for celebrities and people who are trying to sell something.  Instead of the limitations of free social network profiles where you write about yourself, why not have the freedom of your own domain and website so you can really go to town?  If like most people I'm going to post some online information about myself on Facebook anyway, I can now experiment with layout, formatting, presentation, graphic art, multimedia, etc. in addition to writing and paint a more interesting, detailed and complete picture of myself this way.

The mad scientist thing:  Although I suspect most people I know would describe me as reasonably outgoing and social, there is a side to me that is a loner.  Writers are by nature lone wolves to a certain extent, and I've always gravitated to individual as opposed to team sports.  Similarly, songwriting is a solitary pursuit, and the introverted side of me craves quiet time alone for this.  Rather than being a performer as a solo act or as a member of a band, which I've enjoyed in the past, my involvement in music has evolved to the point where I lean toward recording in my home studio lab as yet another way to express myself - mad scientist-style.  Tinkering with my website is an extension of this same kind of madness.

My Take On Folk Music

The exposure factor.  If you grew up in the Flint, MI area in the 70's & 80's like I did, chances are you didn't really know what folk music was.  As an adult, I'm still not sure I know, despite people telling me I write folk songs.

When you look up what folk is, you get the impression it is supposed to be played by common, everyday people who are non-trained amateurs that don't have much musical talent or skill.  Definitions for folk make you think of poor people who grew up in remote areas with no formal education who play simple music taught to them by the oral tradition on homemade instruments.

When you go to listen to live folk, you find that the folk music scene is full of very talented, formally-trained singers and players.  Today's folk world is made up of very sophisticated, highly-educated people from urban areas who prefer instrumentally complex music played by the formally-trained, literate and highly-skilled on vintage premium instruments like Martin guitars that cost well over a thousand dollars.
Common people, fitting in & acceptance.  I think of Garage Rock and Punk Rock as a couple of examples of genres where you don't have to be a great writer, player or singer to participate and fit in.  Despite folk's history however, modern folk is the complete opposite of garage and punk, where you are much more likely to find people who know how to read music, who took lessons, who understand theory even.

Liberals and open mindedness. One might surmise that it's historical association with liberals like Pete Seeger would mean it would be an accepting bunch, but then when one learns that Pete himself thought it was terrible that Bob Dylan "went electric" at the Newport Folk Festival in the 60's,  you get a glimpse that there are narrow-minded "purists."  Even though average singers and players with simple songs ought to be accepted, and even though the typical folk crowd is full of people you'd think were very liberal, open-minded and welcoming of those average, simple musicians, in reality, they are elitists with high expectations, narrow-minded in what they want to hear.  Theoretically, if you grew up on a farm and your grandpa taught you three chords and some songs his grandpa taught him on the back porch, even though you can barely sing or play them, it ought to be acceptable for you to show up and play them on an old guitar you bought for twenty bucks in a pawn shop because you're just a regular guy, but I have not found that to be the case at all.

For example,  Once I went to a house concert/guitar pull/hootenany/"in-the-round" songwriter's group/club type of thing, where they take turns playing a song, politely applauding, offering supportive/constructive criticism, and the like.  When I showed up, they were freaked out by my black acoustic/electric guitar, commenting on it in an unusual way where I could feel an implied disapproval.  Guitar snobs, and subject matter snobs, for that matter.  When it was my turn, and I chose to play a love song I'd recently written in verse/verse/bridge/verse format - I'd committed another faux pas.  Apparently, if you're not writing about very serious topics (statement songs, protest songs) or corny humor songs, that's not appropriate either - their subtle feedback indirectly let me know I was in the wrong place.  There's an intimidation factor there that goes against the concept for me - it's a group of very serious people making up a very serious kind of music that ought to be much less serious and sophisticated.  I remember another time I played at an open mic night in a bar in the Lasing, MI area once where it was advertised as an "open" blues jam and when playing my songs, which were bluesy, sad, etc., I had hecklers in the audience booing because I wasn't playing traditional 12-bar blues covers of Muddy Waters songs.  It was bad enough I had an acoustic guitar, but then I had the gall to play originals that weren't 12-bar!  Eventually, I think I threw in an Eric Clapton tune just so they wouldn't throw me out.  So, although my experiences may not have been normal, I'm sure the underpinnings of my stereotypical observations may ring true for many a different music "scene" out there.

Drums & electric guitars;  the "world" thing.  Gotta get the obvious out of the way too -speaking of blues, which is a separate genre, and can be played acoustic or amplified, it also gets included in folk.  Which brings me to a couple of other weird things I've noticed about folk music: one is that if you take away drums and electric instruments from rock, you're pretty much left with folk;  and the other is that somehow a bunch of other, seemingly-unrelated genres, a.k.a. "world" music which is vast in variety, get lumped together.  Neither make sense to me, but that seems to be the way it is.

These are the paradoxes that contribute to folk remaining a mystery to me.  Regardless of my understanding of acceptable folk structures, topics and instrumentation, the bottom line here is that even though my songs and recordings have been described as folk, I don't necessarily agree because a hacker like me doesn't fit in to the modern folk scene.

Catcher In The Rye Review

I suspect that I’m not the only member of Generation X who should’ve read this book while young, but didn’t, and have now rediscovered it as a middle-aged adult. I have a vague recollection this book was assigned reading when I was in college. I probably skimmed it, wrote a paper about it, got my passing grade, and moved on, as I did with many a reading assignment in the ‘80s.

I’m afraid I would’ve enjoyed it more, had I not been influenced by all the hype. There’s only one thing worse than assigned reading by a professor, and that is recommended reading from family or friends. The childish rebel in us all wants to do the opposite of what we’re told we should do. This is also one of those books that people my age are always being asked whether they’ve read or not, particularly male English majors like myself, and then worse being told they should read it, usually by some phony who got way more out of it back in his day because of what was considered in its time to be rebellious, controversial language. The funny thing is, phonies (to use the main character Holden Caufield’s favorite adjective) like these seem to have missed the book’s main message, which was perhaps hidden by their excitement over the blunt teen colloquialisms of that era.

To me, this book should teach a lesson to the reader that one shouldn’t try to ship their kids off to schools to rid themselves of the hassles of parenthood when those kids are unwilling or uncertain about it. Such action puts parents at risk, after becoming empty-nesters, of wishing they’d spent more time with their kids and had developed better relationships with them. This book is filled with conversational language and stream-of-consciousness writing style that, while entertaining, masks the overall message of the importance of family.

At first glance, one might think the protagonist’s cynicism is hilarious, but upon further discovery one realizes it is incredibly sad. Likewise, on the surface it appears to be a simple story of a child struggling with becoming an adult, when in fact it is a deeper tale of neglect, and of a depressed child being “pushed out of the nest” before ready. When Holden hears the little kid singing the “Catcher In The Rye” song, and it makes him feel better, it’s because the scene symbolizes his yearning to be a happy child with the comfort of his family nearby. Holden’s parents continually want to ship him off to any boarding school who will take him, which not only shows they don’t care much for him, but aren’t willing to put in the effort to prepare him for the challenges of adulthood. One would think his parents would want to maximize their time with him, having lost another child previously, but the opposite has occurred.

At age 16, Holden wants what he’s never been able to get -the love of his parents. Although they’ve provided for him well, it is apparent that he does not value being sent to the finest schools, having the finest clothing, etc., and instead contemplates moving to Colorado for a more modest life devoid of such superficial things and the types of people who value them. He decides to stay home for one reason only, and that is to be able to spend time with the one family member who returns his unconditional love, his little sister Phoebe.
Maybe the moral lesson to be learned is that one should consider himself lucky if he can count on his hand one relative with whom it is important for him to maintain a meaningful relationship - one that includes unconditional love; and that to be a wealthy person one needs much more than material things or the “advantages” of a prep school education.

Author's note:  Originally posted on Monday, December 10, 2007 as a book review on Amazon, and spurred on by the passing of J.D. Salinger in 2010, I am reposting in 2014 as I rearrange my two different blogs.

2014 Update:  And the songwriting lesson to be learned might be that one should consider himself lucky to have relatives and a spouse who support their creative hobby by letting them spend time enjoying it.  Songwriters need unconditional love, and if you are someone who must write songs in your free time, you are lucky if your wife will not only put up with it, but actually encourage it.  Parents too, should encourage their children to pursue creative endeavors like songwriting if the kids are interested.  Think of the great works of art that make the world a better place, which wouldn't exist if their creators weren't allowed to make them, and weren't encouraged by someone along the way to make them.  It makes a world of difference, and a difference in the world.

Dog Owners Can Be Competitive

You learn interesting things about dog owners when you become one.  My wife and I recently got a golden retriever we named Lucky.  For each of us, it was the first dog we'd owned as adults, and we both grew up with dogs.

So, first off, we noticed that people are not shy about telling you negative things about your dog they notice.  Could it be they are jealous?  We still don't get it.

A common one is people noticing the color of his nose and then telling us we'll never be able to "show" him.  Why would you ever think to tell someone this?  It's as if they think that all dog owners became dog owners because they wanted to eventually enter them in dog shows or something.  We just simply thought it would be nice to have a dog, and it has been, except people pointing out what's wrong with him.

Another person said oh, he's got clouds in his eyes and will lose his eyesight.  The vet we took him to tells us there's absolutely nothing wrong with his eyes, his nose color, or anything else for that matter, and that he's in perfect health.

We also noticed that some people enjoy complaining about their own dogs to you, and then when around yours, complain about yours as well, as if that's something they have in common with you to talk about.  It makes you wonder why they got a dog in the first place!  We liken it to meeting someone and telling them their kids are dumb or their house is ugly, or telling them your own kids are dumb or that your own house is ugly.  You just don't say those kinds of things in polite society, right?  These are people who appear to be educated and even sophisticated otherwise.

These are just things we wouldn't ever do, despite thinking them.  Why should dogs be any different?  I must point out here that we are a couple who does not have children, and perhaps treat our dog a little more like we would a child than most.  If we were lucky enough to have children though, we certainly wouldn't ever complain about them to other parents, just as we wouldn't ever complain about each other to our family or friends.  In fact, I get angry when I hear people complain about their spouse, their kid, their dog, etc.  I always think to myself, "why in the world would you choose to get married or become a parent in the first place?"  Same goes for a pet in my way of thinking.

If I have some complaint about my spouse, I take it up with her, not other people.  That's just how I live my life.  Now, I realize it's a common thing for women to complain about the men in their lives when in the company of other women.  Even so, I personally wouldn't dream of ever uttering a negative word about my spouse to anyone but her.

Maybe I'm unusually sensitive about this sort of thing and it truly is commonplace for pet owners to complain about their pets to each other - a misery loves company thing.  To me though, it's a free country, and so if you don't like your spouse or house or car or dog or whatever, you can get a new one, so this remains a mystery.

The reason we named our dog Lucky is that we feel very fortunate to have him, and appreciate the joy he brings to our lives.  Maybe people don't appreciate what they have enough, maybe not like they used to.  Maybe the economic downturn will reverse this apparent trend we've observed, or maybe it's simply by random chance that we've run across several people like this lately.  The more I think about it (and write about it), the more I lean toward a conclusion that indeed, we got a great dog, and these other people are expressing envy or jealousy (never sure of the difference between those two words, but it's gotta be one or both).

There, I feel better now.

The post up to this point was from 2009.  Fast forward to 2014 here as I provide new info due to re-posting this older blog to consolidate my two different blogs to get rid of one.

As an update, the wife and I are now on our 2nd golden retriever now, Levi, who we got as a puppy after we had to have Lucky put to sleep.  It’s surprising how attached you get to a dog, and that sure was hard.  Puppy training, which we didn’t have to go through with Lucky, gave me a new perspective on this whole thing.  We did several group dog training classes, or sets of classes.  In these, although you’re proud when your dog excels, you’re also much more sympathetic to other owners’ plights, as you’re all in the same boat.  We were spoiled with Lucky.  You also realize animals aren’t a whole lot different than human kids, where they are born with a certain personality, and they’re all a little different, making them by nature easier or more difficult to train.

How does this all relate to songwriting and recording, you might wonder?  Well, Lucky served as a spiritual producer, and now Levi is in training for the same.  You learn a lot from dogs’ reactions to music, which is not unlike human audience feedback, you just have to get to know the dog well enough to pick up on it.  They have outstanding hearing, so that qualifies them uniquely well.  In addition, you can run your ideas by a dog and get their non-verbal reaction.  They listen well, of course, and much of the time, they understand what we’re talking about.  Much smarter than the average person would believe.  Sometimes it just helps to have someone to be there nearby, and you talk about your ideas out loud, which in and of itself, allows you to come to the right conclusion.  Dogs are great for this, and because of this fact, they are an invaluable weapon in the home recording studio.  Such advantages allow you, the dog-owning songwriter, to stay competitive in the music business via underrated quality control to bring your fans the best music possible.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

4 Months In – Song/Week Project Quarterly Progress Report

Not sure about this whole song-per-week thing still.  One other songwriter and myself each post one online every week then do a brief critique.  As I blogged about a while back, submitting on a deadline goes against my previously-established grain of the last 25 years or so of songwriting.  I typically go through droughts, waiting for the muse to show up, then write songs until it leaves again, and over the course of a year, end up with a handful of keepers.

Now forcing myself to write a song every Tuesday night for about 4 months hasn’t produced any keepers at all.  I keep telling myself it is keeping the skills fresh or something like that, but in reality, it isn’t working.  I wait until the deadline, then crank out a lame song in about a half hour, record it, post it, get negative comments about it which are not surprising.  I know the songs are no good when I share them, and I already know why they aren’t good.  Negative feedback from the other guy only makes you feel worse about what you already knew.

This makes me understand more about why many artists have a policy to never read any press reviews of their creative work.  Then I realize that before the weekly songexchange club, indeed I had to write a bunch of non-keepers before getting a keeper.  There’s a ratio at play in this process I accepted long ago.  The difference is over the years, you learn to self-evaluate pretty well.  So, if every week you have a song you’ve already weeded out based on your own standards, and then you offer it up for confirmation, its asking for someone to make the situation worse, which is not a confidence-booster.

Usually, I wait until the urge strikes, when I actually feel like writing songs again, and then for several days or weeks I get a few great ideas along with some that aren’t so great.  If I get a couple keepers out of a flurry of feeling like writing, that tides me over during times that inevitably show up when I don’t really feel like it.  I’ve got to be in the right frame of mind, and it’s unpredictable what makes that happen.  I guess I’m riding out a dry spell by continuing to write even though the muse isn’t present.  I just hope it doesn’t prevent the muse from showing up again.  I worry that this is bad mojo and will somehow deter the good stuff from entering into the picture.

Then I think again about those writers who have a publishing contract to produce on a fairly regular schedule.  Maybe those deals don’t even exist anymore in today’s music business, but I wonder if I could handle that type of pressure, even if I had an advance to live on and didn’t need the day job.  It’s as if you’re a salesman working on commission with a big loan to pay off.  Takes a certain personality – someone who knows it’s a numbers game, has patience, keeps plugging away without letting it get him discouraged along the way.  I probably don’t have that type of personality.  I suspect I would either get mad or depressed if I didn’t get sales for a while.

I’m going to stick with it, see if any gold pans out.  Maybe grinding it out will pay off with benefits I don’t yet realize.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

About My Output – Behind The Scott Cooley Release Schedule Commitment

The countdown continues.  It’s a permanent advertisement of an expectation for fans and for myself that I’ve established as a constant reminder at the bottom of the left sidebar menu on  I’ve created a pattern that was premeditated to release a record of new songs every two years, and the countdown timer widget displays how many days remain until the next one.  As I post this, that number is 141.  When you’re an independent recording artist and do-it-all-yourselfer, you can put out new music whenever you want to.  I could just wait until I’m ready, take my time, and leave people up in the air and wondering without a clue.  Instead, I choose to reassure existing fans another is on the way, and when they can get it.  I do this according to a schedule for several reasons.

It’s self-imposed, for starters.  Every two years, in even-numbered years, on my birthday (June 21st, which usually coincides with the summer solstice), I make available for sale a new album that has 13 songs on it.  There have been a couple original instrumentals, a few “Trad. Arr. By’s” a.k.a. public domain cover songs, and one or two co-writes with my lovely wife Lenore, but otherwise, they are all new original songs where I wrote the music and the lyrics.  Additionally, aside from my lovely wife Lenore occasionally playing accordion, keyboard, flute, marimba, or singing background vocals on a few songs here and there as a live-in “guest” studio musician, they all feature me singing all the vocals and playing all the instruments myself. 

I sing lead and background vocals, and play all acoustic instruments, including rhythm acoustic guitar, lead guitar on acoustic, slide guitar on a Weissenborn Hawaiian acoustic lap steel guitar, acoustic non-upright bass guitar, harmonica, marimba, snare drum with brush, djembe, congas, bongos, bhodran, wood slit drum, tambourine, hi-hat cymbal, shaker, washboard, and some cowbell, but never enough.  I think that about covers it, but anything else you hear in any of the songs, I made the sound.  These are the things each album have in common with each other.  As a music consumer, I like knowing what I'm going to get to a certain extent, and there's value in knowing an artist I like will not let me down with their next album.  It's comforting.

I decided on this schedule due to my typical output, and like it or not, I put out 13 new songs every two years.  Maybe I should say “ready or not,” because I don’t spend too much time perfecting the recordings, and even if I had more time between releases, I wouldn’t want to get them all perfect.  I come close to how I originally envision each song, get the basic idea down with a few tracks, usually arranged how I wanted, and produced how I wanted, and call it good, and then move on to the next song.  Listening back now, there are a few things I would re-do if I ever hit the lotto and could afford time in a real studio.  A few where I’d change a couple words, sync up the pronunciation of certain syllables in my singing with the music a little better, transpose a few songs into a better key for my vocal range, play the instrumental break in a different spot in the song maybe, touch up a few things here and there I guess.  For the most part though, they’re the best I could do without spending too much time on it – that is to say without it feeling like a big hassle to start over.

Although I’ve recently committed to writing one new song per week, which I’ve previously blogged about here in a recent post, overall through the years prior to the new 2014 1song/week thing, my average productivity level and keeper ratio seems to be about one good song per month, even though sometimes I might go months without writing any songs at all, or write three good ones in one week.  So, the resulting output gave me approximately 24 songs to choose from in a 2-year period, so a little over half of them would end up on an album.  It just seems to work out that way over time, and I’ve managed to stay steadily employed for over a decade now where I have a regular day job, generally working 8-5, M-F.  That leaves me a couple hours in the evenings on weekdays and several hours on Saturdays and Sundays to spend on writing and recording new songs.  I don’t always use those available times, but I would say out of maybe 20 hrs. of available time per week for these activities, I average using about 7 hours per week.  Another way you could look at it, when averaged out, would be one hour per day on this hobby of mine, even though I have long droughts.

I don’t know how people with kids and other free-time pursuits could do much more than me, but I know some who manage to.  I wrote my first song in 1990 or 1991, and I think I’ve written over 500 songs since then, maybe closer to 600 by now, and here it is 2014, so call it 25 years and 600 songs, rounding a little, and by my old way of doing math, that’s about 24 songs per year, or two per month.  Those are total songs though, and the keepers are essentially the ones I’ve released, which when I release my 2014 album later this summer, will only be around 75 released songs I considered keepers.  Looking back, some of those 75 songs wouldn’t make the cut now, but for whatever reason, my weeding out criteria at the time told me they were good enough at the time to release.

Crunching numbers and figuring out averages isn’t really what dictates my commitment though.  The main thing I notice about recording artists I am a fan of is that when you look at their discographies, they rarely release an album every year, sometimes every two years, but usually it’s more sporadic, where they’ll go three or more years between releases .  That has always bugged me a little, since they don’t have day jobs.  When you’re a fan, you crave more, and you’d like it to be predictable.  You figure the major label artists who are popular and famous have plenty of time to focus on writing and recording because they’re not doing gigs non-stop, year-round and they don’t have a 40+ hr per week day job taking up their time like me.  So, I figure I can at least come up with 13 decent songs every two years, and although I’ve felt ahead of the game a little at times, I’ve also been worried I won’t be able to deliver and meet my own self-imposed release schedule deadline at times.  Yes, it’s true that with so many songs already written in my catalog, I could always resurrect an old borderliner, spruce it up enough to pass my criteria when it came down to the wire, but I generally want new songs written since the last release on each next album.  Right now, only a few months away from my next release, I’m a little worried I won’t be able to pull it off, but I’m getting there.

I have to bring up Sufjan Stevens in a topic like this since he sort of supposedly claimed at one time he was going to write an album for each of the fifty states, and he was around age 30 at the time I think, and so far, only wrote one for Michigan and Illinois.  He later said it was sort of a publicity gimmick when people asked him if he could pull off such an ambitious commitment.  I don’t know what was said or not said exactly, but that was the gist of what I read about it online.  I don’t know the guy, but it just so happens I have a distant relative who is married to his sister…I think.  Just an interesting side note there, and I suppose I could get his official contact info and ask him myself if I really wanted to know badly enough, but I don’t care.  The point is, I’ve come up with a reasonable release rate for me, and so far, I’m mildly comfortable with being able to honor it as advertised.  Actually, I’ve never specifically said I’m going to keep this up indefinitely, but I guess that’s what I would like to do if I can, and if I remain interested in it.  I can only imagine the pressure some artists must feel when there’s a contract involved. 

We’ve all known about popular recording artists who just mysteriously stop releasing albums despite apparent demand.  Why didn’t a great songwriter like Chuck Berry keep cranking out new songs all these years and release more albums of new material?  Some lose their mojo maybe, some find new passions, some get dropped from their record companies.  Others take long hiatuses and are wildly popular again when they reunite, maybe they release a new album ten years after the last one and it does well.  Bands break up, then reunite, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it’s just nostalgia and touring to make money again with no new album.  Sometimes members quit or get kicked out or die, sometimes they get replaced, some could never be replaced.  Who wouldn’t buy a new Beatles album with Paul and Ringo playing with John and George’s offspring in the band, or a new Led Zeppelin album with John Bonham’s son on drums?  Albums like that would sell like hotcakes you would think.  Other artists who are long dead somehow magically keep having new releases of previously-unreleased material decades after they’re long gone.  Record companies and the estates of the departed artists know there’s a demand, so it happens.  People like Bob Dylan and Neil Young seem to be releasing the “basement tape” types of recordings, outtakes, b-sides, rare demos, alternate versions, etc. while they’re still alive, which is cool I think.  I’m sure they’ve each got tons of non-keeper songs no one will ever hear though.  That’s the case with me.

Sometimes you need to make a personal commitment, or even a public one for that matter, to keep you properly motivated to keep going.  There is a ton of great music in the world today made by artists who dealt with years of rejection, negative critical reviews, and the like.  They stuck with it, kept going, didn’t give up, and it eventually paid off.  Some get more famous and popular after they die, which is weird.  Others finally get recognition and gain a larger audience later in life.  In this era of the music business there’s no excuse for not releasing new material since the cost of production and distribution is so low.  I’m proof you don’t have to spend much of your own money, nor do you need to be signed to a record label, to gain a following and create a demand for your music.  It’s a DIY business now more than ever, and we now know that this rock and roll thing isn’t a fad that is only for the young.  It’s totally possible for recording artists and musicians to continue to have an increasing following well into their 50s, 60s, and even 70s. 

I’d like to hold out hope that I’ll be in that category, where as time passes, more people will take notice of my music, and that they’ll appreciate the consistency and quality of the output.  As a music fan myself, it’s great to discover a band or solo artist, check out their past releases, and then also know you can look forward to new records in the near future from them.  My release schedule of a new album every two years also allows me to ensure a quality level I’m comfortable with.  A quality level that is good for me, anyway.  Delays are commonplace in most construction projects.  Building things, creating things, they often take longer than you originally envisioned or estimated, and unforeseen circumstances beyond your control crop up.  Consistency and quality, yep, that’s what’s behind this little unofficial deadline I’ve set for myself. 

If I continue to gain fans along the way, it will make me feel good that they are not only discovering my past catalog of material, but also that they can look forward to new future releases too.  Music is fun, and I have no intention of giving up any time soon.  Saying I’ll release a new full-length album every two years creates a little extra motivation to stay in the game and keep having fun with it, and then delivering on that promise gives me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that I’m not disappointing myself or the growing group of fans out there either.  If all goes well in the coming months, six albums in one decade, 2004-2014 will be currently available come June 21.  For the first five officially-released albums, there are only 1-2 songs on each I might consider leaving off if I were to do it over.  So far, so good, and 2014 is looking like it will live up to the promise as well and not let anyone down.