To Pay or Not To Pay

The music business is a strange place. There are musicians at the top of the pyramid who make more money than I can even wrap my head around. They have a thousand person team and, more importantly, make enough money to be able to pay that team. On the other end of the spectrum is the guy on the corner with his run-down acoustic guitar and an open guitar case with a hand-written sign that says, “Tips”.

Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Some gigs pay well, others leave you in debt. This blog post could go into great detail about some of the costs that goes into playing a gig or going on tour, but I want to address a different topic today.

Unless you’re Justin Beiber, and Usher stumbles across your YouTube channel, every musician has to pay his/her dues. There’s no way around it. And to be fair, I’m sure Justin even had to pay some dues, in his own billion-dollar way.

Dues for a musician include many things. Putting in more time on the “business” side (i.e. booking shows, promo, making travel plans, etc.) of your music than the “music” side (i.e. making music); playing shows that pay little to none, or leave you in debt; spending time networking and pitching your music (and yourself); and so much more. Only those of us that LOVE what we’re doing will last, which is appropriate I think. If music was easy then everyone would do it. And to be honest, it already feels like everyone does it… But if you’re scared of a little hard work then the music business is not the place for you.

However, while paying those dues, there is one concept that everyone musician will come across at some point, and that is the “pay to play” show. This can be set up several different ways. One is a set, straight forward, you have to pay $____ amount to play this show. I’ve come across this during events such as SXSW or CMA. Bars know lots of people will be out during these events and they know musicians will be thirsty to play in front of all those people (definitely beats playing to an empty room). So they throw on a fee to play.

The other structure that I’ve come across for “pay to play” is this: the bar requires each musician on the bill to buy “X” many tickets and sell them themselves. Because they musicians have to buy the tickets, they have to sell them in person, which can become difficult when you’re not close to or know the patrons trying to buy the tickets. And also, if they don’t sell all the tickets then it’s the musicians loss, not the venues.

Never involve yourself in a “pay to play” gig. Ever.

I’ve never owned a venue, nor have a I been a talent buyer, so I can’t speak for their point of view. And like I said before, I am a strong believer in every musician paying their dues (which says a lot, since I am currently a musician paying my dues). But shows that are structured like this make me see red.

First of all, we’re all just trying to make it. Venues, musicians, drunk listeners, everyone. But when a venue takes this to the next level by trying to extort the musicians, that’s taking it too far. It’s one thing to not get paid for the services you’re providing. It’s another to have to pay. Would you expect any other profession to pay for their services? A new lawyer paying you for their consultation because they just got out of school? Or a teacher paying you because they haven’t taught many classes yet? It’s ridiculous.

Second, it is everyone’s job to promote the show. Let me repeat, it’s EVERYONE’S job to promote the show. This includes the venue, talent buyer, musicians, managers, booking agents and maybe even the patrons. No one gets paid if no one promotes it. And if everyone works together, everyone gets paid.

Let me be very clear: no gig is important enough to pay to play it. Don’t involve yourself in those deals. Not only will it leave you with a bad taste in your mouth, but it only reinforces more gigs to be structured like this. And even worse, it will cause me to go on more rants about the subject. So please, don’t pay to play.

Angel From Montgomery – Live at City Winery Nashville

just be yourself

Ya, ya. It’s been said. Who did you think I was being? Can you be more cliche? Etcetera, etcetera. The concept isn’t a new one. Or a complex one. But it’s important and it’s easily lost in the chaos that can sometimes be our lives.

Think back to the last person you met. At your job, at a party, wherever. Think about whether or not you liked them all that much….think of the answer? Now ask yourself if they seemed “real” to you. Did they seem comfortable in their own skin? Did they seem like they were trying to be someone they’re not? Did something seem off? We may not be purposely thinking about it on a day-to-day basis, but if we meet someone who isn’t being “themselves” we can sense it.

So now ask yourself, when was the last time you didn’t feel like yourself? I’m not sure about you, but there have been several groups of people throughout my life that I thought were pretty cool, so I did my best to morph myself into a person that seemed fit to “hang” with them. This, of course, never worked out for too long. Either they got sick of me or I became exhausted from working so hard on being something unnatural to me. Either way, it didn’t work out in the end.

So here’s the dilemma. Last post I discussed the art of networking and the necessity of becoming skilled at it. So what do you do when you are put in a position to work with someone who don’t feel like you can be yourself around?

I was writing a few weeks ago at a place that allows musicians to rent rooms to write, record and network. Everyone is really friendly, supportive and easy going. There was one young songwriter who was very sweet and very excited about getting into the music business. Her enthusiasm led her to be very chatty and slightly pushy with having people hear her music. Her enthusiasm and insecurities were heard clear as day as she talked to people, and unfortunately you could see it quickly turn people off. It was difficult to build a relationship with her and talk with her because her effort to be someone she wasn’t screamed over every conversation. I’m sure everyone has experienced this, both from an outside perspective, and from within. I wanted to shake this girl, tell her to take a deep breath and stop trying so hard to be someone other than herself. But it’s a lesson learned best from personal experience.

Here’s another, similarly awkward situation: Have you every been thrown into a group of people who are ALL putting on a persona? I don’t know about you, but these situations and common and exhausting. Everyone is trying to tell the funniest joke, or share the coolest story, or not care the most about everything. Everyone wants to be someone…other than themselves. Sometimes it can feel difficult to find people who are 100% themselves. Especially in the music business.

I’m not sure I have a piece of advice in this post. Mainly because I’m no better at this than the next person. Sometimes it’s more fun to be someone else. Sometimes I just don’t feel like being me. And other times it’s exhausting being anyone but me. Who you are might not always feel right for every situation, but perhaps not every situation is right for you? I think some of the most successful people out there are the ones who unapologetically embrace who they are. They’re kind, giving, empathetic, and not perfect. And most of all, nothing but themselves.

Here’s my cover of LOLO’s “Not Gonna Let You Walk Away

Photo by Lindsay Bittfield and Madison Palmer. 🙂

 

 

The art of networking

Networking. Blah. The word is even annoying. Networking. Working in a net. Who would want to do that? Sounds sticky…

As much as I’d love it to be different, no one gets anywhere on their own. Be it a business, an idea, a family, or a dream. We all rely on others, as well as support each other. If you’re reading this and disagreeing, then something is amiss. Stop and start over. But while we all need each others help, and there is a right and a wrong way of doing it.

Now I have to preface; this list I’m about to jump into of the necessities when it comes to networking is only a work in progress. I am absolutely no expert, and am no where near done learning the art to networking. But since seriously pursuing my dream of becoming a singer/songwriter, and especially since moving to Nashville, I’ve learned a lot, both from my own mistakes and from others. So here’s what I’ve gathered so far:

  1. The art of listening: It’s not always about what you have to say. Most people just want to be heard, and more often than not, there’s not enough people out there willing to listen. You can make a lot of friends just from shutting the hell up and listening.
  2. The art of learning: You can learn something from everyone. Even children (sometimes especially children). Keep an open mind. Even if you disagree with people, there’s still something to learn. Sometimes those are the biggest lessons.
  3. The art of wading through the BS: It’s important to learn and listen. But what is almost just as important is knowing when to agree to disagree. Or even ignore someone completely. Since moving to Nashville, I’ve come across many people who’ve given a plethora of unsolicited advice. Some was helpful, a lot of it wasn’t. I listened, processed, and decided it wasn’t for me. And that’s ok. Not all advice is good and it’s extremely important to know the difference. Sometimes bull is just shit.
  4. The art of helping others: Any connections – business, personal, whatever – are about what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. A friend won’t get a drink with you unless they’re enjoying themselves. A significant other won’t take you out on a date unless they want to. And a business associate won’t work with you unless the deal is mutually beneficial. Every connection you make, you have to keep this in mind. If you approach a publisher and focus only on what they can do for you, you’ve already failed. Ask yourself, why do they want to work with you?
  5. The art of waiting for the right moment: This relates to number 4. People won’t be interested in working with you unless it’s mutually beneficial. And in order for it to be mutually beneficial, you have to build a relationship. If you jump into business “right off the bat”, again, you’re already failed. Take time to get to know people. Who knows, maybe you’ll make a new friend at the same time.
  6. The art of being honest: 9 times out of 10, it’s obvious when someone is lying or being fake. Remember when you got that compliment from that girl on how great your hair was that day, and it felt a little off? Go with your gut. And in reverse, if you’re networking with someone and you find yourself lying or bending the truth, they can most likely sense that. Best to just to be yourself. Everyone else is taken.
  7. The art of bragging: Now this one is tricky. I’m not condoning bragging. I’m actually cautioning you against it. No one wants to work with the person who’s name dropping every other sentence or subtly reminding you of all the fabulous people they’ve worked with. Don’t be that guy. But at the same time, it’s important to let people know that you know what you’re doing. You’re someone worth working with. It’s a balancing act that requires a great deal of self-awareness.
  8. The art of not being everyones friend: Going along with being honest, know that you’re not going to be everyones friend. And not everyone will like you. Don’t try to force a relationship just because that person has something or is a connection that you’re interested in. It won’t end well.
  9. The art of making your own path: When it comes to networking, it easy to see what everyone else is doing, and try to copy those steps. Justin Beiber got discovered on YouTube, that’s what I’m going to do? Gretchen Wilson used to bartend at Bourbon Street, I should work there too! Unfortunately life doesn’t work this way. One persons path isn’t necessarily yours. Watch, learn and then make it your own.
  10. The art of having confidence: Ever have that friend who was constantly looking for validation? They were fun, I’m sure, but also a bit exhausting. Business is already hard. Don’t make it harder by going into it without the self-esteem or confidence required to back up what you’re doing.
  11. The art of not having too much confidence: Also, don’t be a cocky ass hole. No one wants to work with that person either. Know your strengths. Know your weaknesses. Accept them. Move on.

It’s a lot, I know. And I’m sure I’ve missed a few points. I’ll add to the list as I continue to learn. I think that when it comes down to it though, just be honest. There are so many people out there in the world trying to be something other than themselves, and its exhausting. Know that you can be you, be honest, listen, learn and move forward. But no matter what, don’t stop chasing what you love. Now go work in that net!

Just for fun, here’s some Love on the Brain, with special guest Sammy, my roommates dog. 🙂

 

 

 

why it’s not too late

I get why we’re all obsessed with youth. I hate it, but I get it. And I hate it more and more, the older I get, as we all do. The older we get, the more we imagine our time running out, the more difficult it is to reach our own personal goals, the more we work on trying to keep our youth…

This has become especially apparent to me as I’ve pulled the trigger on moving to Nashville and going after my dreams. I’m not a spring chicken anymore. I don’t look like one, I don’t act like one, I definitely don’t feel like one. It’s pretty easy to feel ridiculous following this dream at my age…

So is it too late?

Since moving to Nashville, I’ve met with some locals in order to pick their brains and get any advice I can about navigating Music City. I was sitting in a coffee shop this past week when I had a realization: I’m glad I waited. It’s not too late. And here’s why:

  1. Life experience: I have some. 10 years ago I had none. I was naive, didn’t understand the world, didn’t know how to navigate the world, didn’t know that I didn’t even understand the world. Even 5 years ago I wouldn’t have known who to trust and who to stay away from. I didn’t understand how to talk to people in a healthy and calm manner, how to say what I needed to say, how to separate emotion and logic when it matters. With age, you gain a better understanding of who you are and what you actually, truly want. You even start to understand how little you actually know. You stop worrying so much about what others think about you and start to stand on your own more. If I followed my dreams 10, even 5 years ago, I would have failed. Hands downs.
  2. Confidence: With life experience comes confidence. With confidence the world opens up. Having the confidence to stand up for yourself, and having the confidence to know when not to. When I was younger, not only did I not have the confidence to chase my dreams like I am today, but I didn’t have the confidence to know how to do so. And most importantly, with age we understand that confidence is a choice. No one is going to give it to you and no one can take it away.
  3. Understanding people: For lack of a better way to phrase this, with age, you learn more about people. Their wants, desires, how to “read between the lines”, how to know how to approach 2 very different individuals about a similar business proposal. No one achieves their dreams without working with others. And understanding people and how to work with people is imperative.
  4. Business: I know this wasn’t everyones experience, but when I was younger I new nothing about business. Not only that, but I was proud of my ignorance. I used to jokingly state, “I’m too creative to understand business.” I owned it like it was the latest fashion trend. Then one day I woke up and realized that no one is going to do it for me. Either I figure it out or it doesn’t get done. Since this realization I’ve learned how to book shows, organize and manage a band, write press releases, network, promote and market my product, write sponsorship proposals, film and edit video, produce music, write a business plan, manage a budget, and the list goes on. If you told 10-years-younger me that one day I would not only learn how to navigate the world of business, but do so proudly, I would have laughed in your face. Absolutely no way! But here we are.

There was a time in my life that I thought if someone heard me sing, then “doors” would open and I’d be famous! I thought that if someone would just give me a gig, I was sure that a producer or agent would just happen to hear me, fall in love with my product and I’d be famous! I was too scared to actually go for my dreams, because the only thing scarier than not succeeding is trying and failing. I lived in a world of hopes and dreams and not in a world of hard work and perseverance.

Only with age have I learned how to navigate my way through these false ideas and misconceptions. People put so much pressure on the youth finding their way, but I call bullshit! The world would be a better place if more people went after their dreams in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s! The more you age the more your know. So it’s not too late. Go out there and make shit happen!

Speaking of chasing dreams…here’s a home-made video  we shot for the 2017 Tiny Desk Contests: Box Wine Blues 🙂

To Plan or Not To Plan

I’ve had one, real, big girl job so far in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a plethora of small jobs. Anywhere from life guarding to caregiving for adults with ID to gallery guarding. I’ve worked it. But I’ve had only one, full-time, real, big girl job. For 6 years now I’ve worked as a music therapist on a pediatric unit.

Despite needing a new challenge (and soon getting one), I’m really going to miss this job, in all it’s frustration and glory. But that’s not what this post is solely about.

Despite my sadness regarding closing this “door” as I move to Nashville, my real anxiety right now is that another one hasn’t opened yet…

I know, I know, I know. Everything will work out. And I knew that moving would be tough. And I knew I would reach “freak-out” mode. But my last day at work is tomorrow and I’m moving in 14 days and I don’t yet have a place to live or a job…!*)&$#*()#*@! (where are emoji’s when you need them?!)

Every job in Nashville tells me to call them after I move and every house/apartment says I need proof that I have a job. Where does that leave me?…Freak-out mode.

Everyone I run into asks what big plans I have in Nashville and am I excited yet. And all I want to do is tell them what they want to hear, and talk myself into believing it’ll be okay. But to be honest, I have no clue what I’m doing. I started crying the other day when a co-worker asked me what my plan was…crying. And I’ve yelled at my Mother more times that I’d like to admit, when really all she’s trying to do is help and be supportive (sorry Mom). And worst of all, this has all been my decision! No one forced me to quit my comfy life and move across country. But it still feels like I’ve jumped off a cliff surrounded by heavy fog. And I’ve already jumped, so there’s no going back…but I can’t yet see where I’m going to land. What have I gotten myself into….?

Taking a step back though. Despite my incessant need to plan and know what I’m doing with my life, isn’t this the “musician” way?

I’ve traveled to Nashville several times now for business and networking, and on each occasion I’ve met musicians who just…moved there. One guy packed up everything he owned in his jeep, moved down to Nashville with no job and no place to live, slept in his car most nights and rented a hotel every 3rd night to shower and sleep in a real bed. He planned on doing that for about a month until he could move in with some roommate he found online.

Talk about guts!! Another guy I know was offered a job with a band a while ago, so he quit school and moved across country to play with them. It wasn’t a touring band and he didn’t stay with them for long, but it led to other opportunities, and now, he’s made music and touring into a steady career!

So to plan or not to plan? Despite my efforts to create a solid, smart plan, life doesn’t seem to want me to form one. So perhaps this is a great opportunity for growth. Not that I’ll stop looking for job and housing, but at some point maybe it’s healthy to just “go with the flow”. You can’t control everything in life. Sometimes you have to put the work in and trust that things will end up okay.

So here’s to jumping into the fog and trusting that I’ll land somewhere safe.

Here’s your daily dose of music: Lets Get Together 🙂

“I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, I’m saying it’s going to be worth it.” ~ Art Williams

 

What’s next?

I have no idea… Do you know? Does anyone? The older I get, the more I realize that I have no clue what’s next. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have any control in the matter.

As many of you know, I’ve recently decided to uproot from my comfy home in Kansas City and take a chance in Nashville. Sounds flashy right? Living the dream. Following your heart. Taking a chance….

The reality is I still haven’t figured out where I’m living. What source of income I’ll have. How to “follow my dream”. If I’ll have insurance to fix myself when I break. If I’ll have a retirement savings plan? How much will moving cost? How much of my furniture should I keep vs. sell? How will I find the time and money to continue to tour with my band living in a different state? What will I do if I completely flop… What’s next?

Despite all these unknowns, I’ve been feeling rather calm and collected. Weird, right? I have no idea what the hell I’m doing, yet I have a sense that it’s all going to work out. And I have a theory as to why.

I’ve always taken the safe road. I finished high school, went to college, went to grad school, have a nice cozy job and great friends. It’s been a great life. I’ve been very lucky. And yet, ever since I can remember I’ve always had this feeling that all I want to do is sing. And despite all my safe and “right” decisions, that feeling has never gone away. Now, six years after working as a full-time music therapist, I’ve finally decided that I can’t keep ignoring that feeling. Let’s see where it takes me.

I have no answers and don’t know how life will turn out, but I’ve found a great sense of calm and happiness by finally listening to that gut feeling I’ve had since I was a little girl. Sometimes when we feel on edge, or that things just aren’t right, I think it’s because we’ve missed something. Or ignored our gut feelings. Or simply didn’t have the guts to follow through with what that “voice” in our head was telling us to do. It can be scary when we don’t know what’s next. But if it’s not right, sometimes it’s even scarier knowing what is.

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Balance.

How do we find balance in this fast-paced world?

Balance. I think it’s something that everyone strives for. It’s an elusive concept and one that definitely requires a lifetime to get a handle on.

For those of you following this blog (btw, thank you for that), you may have noticed that I took a bit of a hiatus. Life has been busy and I needed to regain some balance.

The decision to find balance isn’t always an easy one. We live in a fast paced world and it seems like taking time off is not only hard to come by, but often frowned upon. How many times have you witnessed people jealous of a coworker who uses more vacation time than their self, or a competition between acquaintances about who has the worst work hours. In American culture, allowing yourself to feel balanced can seem like an anomaly. And the music world is not exempt from this.

The music world is fast paced and competitive. It’s not just about luck and who you know, it’s about working hard enough and consistent enough to end up in the right place at the right time. Most often musicians don’t “make it” because they don’t want to put the work in. And most of the time, the ones that do are the ones that were too stubborn to quit. So where does balance fit into this world?

I honestly don’t know. Right now I work 4 jobs; 2 music therapy jobs, a private music teacher and then, the job that takes up most of my time, being a singer/songwriter. The latter requires a lot of self discipline. I don’t have a boss telling me when I need to complete projects. If I don’t book the gigs, then they just don’t get booked. If I don’t write the songs, then they don’t get written. If I don’t write the blog, then – well you get the idea.

I find myself weaving in and out of working all the time, and then recovering and working barely at all. I’m not sure if this is better than just working a moderate amount of time all the time. But regardless, this is my balance. And so far it works for me. It allows me to have some recovery time, to self-care, spend time with family and friends.

After every recovery period, I’ve got to get back at it. Remembering that success is about work ethic. To be too stubborn to ever quit. But knowing when it’s ok to take a break and find my balance.

Latest video: Let’s Get Together