This weekend we’re playing three shows with the best post punk chiptunes band on earth, Awkward Terrible. Zachary and I met AT when we played in Milwaukee this spring and were completely blown away. Immediately we began plotting to bring them to Indiana. I’m excited that all the plots are coming true!
Speak for yourself, Balke. I love this time of year. The title of this post is actually a benefit instrumental compilation that I’m honored to be a part of! Last year my contribution was comprised entirely of musical instruments I’d received as gifts, with the exception of guitar. This year my song centered around a Hammond organ that came on hard times and ended up in my parent’s garage, and is now residing in my living room. Jon Autry (who is also featured on the comp!) recorded the song, and decided that it was high time my Maraca Boot made it’s musical debut. I’ve had a rock stuck in the heel of my favorite pair of boots for over a year now.
This year in addition the digital album you can even get a mug featuring Gavin Smith’s artwork or a Christmas card with a digital download code! All proceeds benefit Middle Way House, a safe place for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and will be used to buy gifts for children currently staying with their mothers. There’s two hours of original instrumental cheer and it’s sure to spice up your holiday music collection.
For my Indiana folks, I’ll be a part of the official release show on Monday, December 3 at the Bishop. The Flannelgraph folks tell us there will be free pizza and Santa! See you there!
After a recent decision to pull my music from all streaming services, a number of people have been asking the age-old question, WHY? So I thought it wouldn’t hurt to type out the various reasoning behind my decision for the Internet to see. And while I did also pull my music from Rhapsody, Napster, and Zune, the catalyst for my decision was Spotify, therefore I will name it by name.
1. Everyone wins but the artist
As long as there has been a music industry, there has been opportunity for business minded individuals to sweep in and broker something unique and special to the masses. Musicians are an easy group to prey upon, and I’ve personally seen the sharks attacking so many times that I decided early on that if I was going to do it, I was going to do it myself. Spotify seemed like a really great idea at first, and my records were automatically released to them at the renewal of my yearly “worldwide distribution.” Fans could now easily access my music, I would still be paid, and perhaps I could pull in a few more listeners. But as the popularity of Spotify grew, it began to look more and more like another way for artists to be exploited for the monetary gain of others. I have the tools available to self-distribute my music (thanks, bandcamp!), and am ready to break these tired cycles. Many musicians who are in support of Spotify use a sort of “all press/listening/streaming is good press/listening/streaming” argument. I once used this argument, too. While some may be happy to use their recordings merely as a calling card for their live show, and therefore do away with the concept of making money from album sales, I do not feel the same. Additionally, For Spotify plays to affect attendance at my shows in any tangible way, I would have to have a hefty budget for press and promotion in order for all of the dots to be connected. I do not have a budget for press at this time (might not, ever!).
2. They’re not being honest with you
Perhaps the most insulting and disappointing aspect of Spotify is the ads they run ads praising the fact that they pay their artists. Now you can have everything available at your fingertips, for free or for a small monthly fee, AND a clear conscience. One friend of mine was hoping that with a paid account more money would go to the artists. The truth is, that whether paid or unpaid, from 100 album streams I make 18 cents. I have a thing for candy machines and I can always use change for the parking meters, but 100 album streams won’t even bag me a quarter!
3. Pulling away from this endless, meaningless stream
And I’m not talking about our existence. I know that as a music listener I attach more value to that which I’ve invested into. Most of my favorite records took repeat listens to be absorbed and appreciated. I’m not sure if I’m making the kind of music yet that yields the fruit of complexity and depth, but it’s certainly an aspiration of mine. And I don’t think an endless stream of free, disposable music provides incubation for such discovery.
4. It is not sustainable
Recorded music takes an exorbitant amount of time and/or money to create. As my Spotify listens went up, money from digital sales went down, to the point where I would be paying more money to distribute my music than I was making from it. Let me give it to you straight: in 1600 album streams I made as much as I do from 1 iTunes sale. I have decided to make music my living, for better or for worse: but trust me, I don’t always want to be eating garbanzo beans from a can in my car. I also have had the good fortune to know many inspiring individuals who have made a similar decision. Spotify does not create a brighter, more sustainable future where musicians can make a decent living. Rather the opposite, and that is a huge factor in my decision not to participate.
5. I’m headed in a different direction
Recently I’ve become more and more drawn to the idea of creating music with corresponding visual art. As I plan for my next record release, I want to move away from situations that wouldn’t allow for the whole piece to be experienced.
August 20, 2012: one year ago I left behind paychecks, security, and whatever semblance of normalcy my life clung to. And what a year it’s been. I had set my mind to playing music full-time for two years prior to leaving my job, and my feelings toward the decision have progressed beyond uncertainty into “hands down the best choice of my life.” Sure, I’ve spent cumulative hours and probably days sobbing at my kitchen table, I’ve bent my ethics in order to pay my bills, and I entered the wild world of credit cards. But at the end of just one year I’ve also accomplished the things that I’m most proud of in all of my 26.
Writing and performing music has always been my first love. But like so many people, many of them more talented and gifted than I, from the beginning I assumed I had to have a day job. This concept seems like such lunacy now that I laugh about it with a wild glint in my eye, while eating a breakfast of carrots and BBQ sauce that I scavenged from the fridge of the beautiful lake house that my best friend is house sitting. I find myself in the strangest places these days. I remember my last week at the salon, when a client of mine who was self-employed in some area of hypnosis told me, “the people who don’t jump off the edge like you’re about to, they’re the suckers.” I saw a wild glint in his eye and thought to myself “well, you’re kind of crazy.” It turns out that you have to do so many crazy things just to stay afloat that it becomes run-of-the-mill. The beauty of it is that you can ask of yourself that which no one else in this country can legally ask of you. And instead of fulfilling someone else’s dreams, it will be in the name of whatever ideal you choose. It is only now that I’m beginning to see and greatly resent the monopoly that our culture has on our time. Forty hours a week spent doing something you don’t care about? Now that seems crazy.
So, why am I so excited about the future as I eat scraps out of someone else’s fridge in the midst of a life that in no way seems financially sustainable? Because if there’s one thing this past year has given me, it’s hope. When you cast yourself out on the line to humanity, it’s as if all of their goodwill is available to you. And this is coming from a gal who was raised in a bootstrap republican household, and therefore been working and paying every bill she incurred since age 14 (thanks for the work ethic, mom and dad!). Being perpetually broke for the first time in my life has taught me many things, but most importantly, that kindness is learned in accepting it. I’m the type who swings hard to the side of independence and isolation, and both of those things have had to take a pretty tough beating in the last year. Thankfully they were beat down by support and camaraderie. I’m really not sure how I get by every month, but I did just make up this probably accurate statistic that 20% of it is my scrambling desperation and 80% of it is human kindness.
I feel as though I can’t type this all out without mentioning the songs of John Davey. JD has been playing music occupationally since I’ve known him, with what I perceive to be little regard for the trappings of success. He’s somehow both a people’s musician and a musician’s musician, with an approach to songwriting that can only come from years spent on the road. One line from his song “Spent” that keeps rising to the top of my thoughts is “the return on my exchange is much, much, more than you could even ever believe in.” Touring as an independent musician becomes less and less about crowds and money with every show, even as a goal. Human connection is the byproduct that I’ve begun to prize above all, along with the introspection and friendships that are cultivated by a life on the road. Money is only important because it means that such beautiful things can be sustained. And after dragging amazingly talented musicians like Zachary and Noah all around the country with me over the last year, sleeping in cars and eating border sauce for dinner, I want more than anything to be able to cut paychecks to the people who believe in me enough to spend months performing my songs.
As to the future, I couldn’t be more excited about the next moves that are already taking form in camp LKB. I have dozens of new songs I want to use to make records. I’ve already begun planning and collaborating for tours in 2013 that nearly make my head explode in anticipation. My hope is that I can get help from professionals with the things that make me sob at my kitchen table, like booking and press and promotion, and focus more on writing and performing music. But regardless I will carry on, or more appropriately, we will carry each other on.
Well it looks like I’m not the best Tour Diary keeper (just like my real diaries!), and while I’d love to revisit our stay on a 90 acre farm on a mountainside in Virginia and the burning of the Candyland flag, I’ll save the remainder of our tour stories for a chat over a cup of tea. It was an amazing six weeks, and such an abundance of goodwill and human kindness goes in to every successful tour that I only wish I could give proper thanks here to everyone who helped us on our way. Today I’m going to focus on just a few of the talented musicians with whom we had the pleasure of sharing stages with across the country.
She’s A Keeper (Kansas City, MO)
I’d heard whispers of She’s A Keeper throughout Missouri and especially surrounding our shows at Candyland, the now retired DIY venue in Columbia. Everyone said they were “really good.” In fact, after our March show several members of SAK were present and played an impromptu set of covers that turned in to a rap battle. With each band member being vivacious and charming in their own right, we quickly all became buds. We were honored to be asked to play at Candyland’s final stand, which was a weekend long festival that SAK was also playing. I was outside while they were soundchecking but Zachary quickly found me and attested that they were “really good.” Could it be that a group of awesome people could also be a group of talented and creative musicians? For this is a rare occurrence. I crossed my fingers and walked down to the basement where they would be performing. Commence being blown away. They played a set of mostly new material that was handled with a comfortable familiarity, and for the first time that I can consciously remember I thought to myself, “I wish that song would have lasted longer.” Every member played 2 or 3 instruments with such ease that it was hard to tell who was the real drummer, bassist, and keyboard player. Even with a jerryrigged PA and the difficulty of running one’s own sound, their tight harmonies were still decipherable. Not to mention the fact that Fritz, the primary drummer for the band, had a cymbal that had once belonged to a drummer who performed with Neil Young. I kissed it. She’s A Keeper is a hard working band that has the chops to prove it, and it’s my hope that Indiana will see them sooner than later.
It might be cheating because we played with AC Deathstrike in January and this tour we played only with the band’s front man, Alex, but this is my blog and I make the rules. Alex prefaced his set by saying he hadn’t practiced it because he’d been too busy learning Blink 182 covers, to which Zachary, Noah and I cheered with fervor. We convinced him to play three Blink covers, which were scattered throughout a set of solid originals. Afterward Alex treated us to his Super Nintendo Entertainment System and impressive collection of games. I am truly a fan of AC Deathstrike as a band and as people. Their live shows are brimful of energy and their recordings are spacey, cluttered just to the brink of indie pop perfection, and will stick in your head for days. Alex said “we’d probably be a better band if we didn’t get along so well. Most times we get together and just end up playing Super Nintendo.” Lucky for them they don’t need to be a better band, at least in my opinion.
Our evening with JB in Peoria, IL was gold from start to finish. He performed an acoustic set that included four part harmonies and the adorableness of his wife Stephanie singing while holding their 7 month old son Henry, who didn’t seem to mind the spotlight one bit. JB has a real knack for arrangements, and with just a guitar and four voices was able to build and accentuate his already dynamic songwriting. It’s always nice to find other touring musicians while on the road, because well, they know how it is. The Bartmans fed us the best meal of tour, during which we all enjoyed discussions of recording, John Vanderslice, plastic surgery, and life in general.
We met this trio of ladies on a porch in Tallahassee, which was our first house show of tour and a real treat. They were Zachary’s favorite new band we encountered on the road and everyone was charmed by their epic love song for Mister Spock. The band is currently working on a recording that will most likely be the cutest thing to come out of Florida, ever.
We played with this band, primarily composed of music majors, in Norman, Oklahoma. Barling writes engaging and well executed music in the vein of traditional country, and even has a murder ballad to prove it. Pitch perfect harmonies, pedal steel, and upright bass iced the cake. After the show we stayed up in to the wee hours of the night talking all things music. As a self-taught musician I’m always anxious to pick the brains of those who seek formal education, and our night with those Barlings was certainly a tour highlight.
Our show with Trotting Bear came after a particularly long and exhausting day of tourism. We awoke at 8 am and proceeded to go antiquing, sightseeing around the Mounds of Cahokia (the largest archaeological site north of Mexico!), checked out the arch, and also went coffee shopping around town. The fun was equivalent to the exhaustion at the end of it, with some education about the ancient Mississippians to boot. Fourteen hours later, at The Heavy Anchor, Trotting Bear opened our show with a set that was articulate, tranquil, and simply lovely. Listening to the duo perform was like taking a nap on a Summer afternoon in soft grass. It was just what the doctor ordered, and after their set I was recharged and ready to play the hell out of some music.
Over the course of our tour we also had the pleasure of performing with some Midwestern musicians we’re already head over heels for, namely The Dead Records (I just backed their kickstarter today, and you should too), Grey Gordon (who released an amazing new record this week), Ryan Kerr, John Davey, and Scott Hensley.
Zachary is currently working feverishly on a video documentary for the tour, so keep your eyes out for that! It’s going to be embarrassing, I mean… Hilarious. Now back to booking MORE TOURS!