Saturday, October 27, 2012

In Duluth, These Things Come To Mind

 Photo taken while bumming around Duluth by myself. 

I took my first solo road trip to do something musical yesterday and it gave me a lot to think about.

I drove the roughly 2 hours to Duluth to do my first live in-studio performance on KUMD and then I had a show later that night at Beaners, which I've played at before.

I was nervous for the in-studio. Ridiculously nervous. All week long I'd been preparing my answers, listening to old sessions to see what kind of questions they ask, going back and forth over what songs to  play. Unlike most "folk singers", I realized my new songs don't really come across well as solo performances for the radio. It's one thing to do them as part of a set by myself...but here I had to pick two songs from the new album to play by myself on the radio that people listening would jump on. They also had to be two songs that I could play without even thinking about it. That I knew I wouldn't forget a single word to. That wouldn't cause those horrible tuning issues I have with my guitar. And I had a hard time finding those two songs. In fact, even as I sat in the lobby waiting to be taken back to the studio, I still was unsure of what two songs to play.

Waiting to go live on air.

And so I sat there in the lobby of KUMD contemplating the songs and taking deep breaths and I could feel my heart racing. Throughout this whole little musical adventure, I set little goals for myself and try to keep moving things to the next level. I feel way more confident on stage than I ever thought I would. I barely get nervous anymore. I certainly don't break out in hives like I used to. This in-studio was two songs. Two songs and some light questions about where I'm from and what got me into writing music. Yet, I was terrified.

And I can't even figure out why.

As far as playing, really, there was one other person in the room. I couldn't see how many listeners where out there via the radio waves. I kept telling myself: I'm just playing to this woman. This nice woman who seems to really like my record. It's cool.

But it wasn't.

They put me on a stool and put some mics in front of me. She chatted with me and asked me some pre-questions, super casual. She was extremely nice. We tested out the mics and then it was go time. I could feel my lips trembling. My hands were visibly shaking. I wondered how it was going to be physically possible to play my guitar much less sing words with my lips moving involuntarily. Then she introduced me. Welcomed me. I think I said hello and thanks back.

And then I don't remember a thing.

Well, that's not entirely true. I remember rambling on. All these short, focused answers I had prepared for myself went out the window. I had a list of names that I wanted to mention and just kept trying to remember if I had already mentioned them. Then I got worried that I sounded like an ass and that these people I was mentioning would be mortified to be associated with me.

Then I had to play a song.

The first song I chose was "The Party". It's short. It works solo. It's got cute lyrics that I figured the college kids would like. I've played it a million times. It will be fine.

I started playing and I could feel my chest and face burning bright red. No big deal, right? It's radio. No one can see me. But that didn't matter.

Then my hands started shaking even more, so I just pressed harder on the strings.

Then I had to sing.

I don't know what came out.

I sang the right words, but were they the right notes? I don't know. I know my voice warbled. I KNOW I sounded terrified - which just made it harder to sing.

But I made it through. The song was over. I didn't mess up the guitar (I think). Song #1 done.

On to more questions.

I rambled on through the next interview section. I couldn't even begin to tell you what she asked or what I answered with. No clue.

Song #2. I was still completely unsure what I was going to play at this point. But my left hand somehow moved the capo to the 5th fret and that meant it was going to be "Here". A song that really needs the band. But I know it. And people always like it. So "Here" it was.

Immediately I screwed up the guitar but I kept going. And, once again, I somehow got through it. Hands and voice shaking and all.

Then she asked me more questions that I don't remember.

And that was it. I thanked her and left and felt completely horrified and embarrassed and just kept saying: Why do I do this to myself?

Seriously, why?

Here, I just went on a radio station and said who I was (so no hiding there) and - from my view point - completely embarrassed myself.

Why do I do this?


I LOVE playing music. I LOVE songwriting. I LOVE working with others to arrange them. I LOVE playing music with a band and feeling that energy and just awesomeness of this whole song happening in the moment by all of us random people playing random things and making it happen. I LOVE when you can tell someone in the audience is connecting. I LOVE recording and all of the crazy things that can happen - how a song can change in an instance because you decide to use this crazy organ that the studio has.

My album spot at the Electric Fetus record store in Duluth, MN

I LOVE all of these things.

I hate promotion. Hate it.

I am not a marketer. I am not a salesperson. I'm barely a talker. I do not have that in me. Yet I have to do it. And I'm terrible at it.

Booking shows. Networking. Nagging venues and radio and writers. Just not something I'm good at or have any desire to do.

But you have to. Sadly, it's probably the most important part of all of this.

I think I could get better at doing interviews. If I did enough of them, I would get comfortable with it, just like with playing live. But getting the interview is nearly impossible. And then you have moments like I just did and you just feel like you just blew it all. Any good momentum I had in Duluth, I feel like it all went out the window with that radio performance.

Because, here's the thing: I don't think I suck. I know I'm not at the level I wish to be and I know there are people out there in my musical/local peer group that our much better than me...but I don't suck. I made a really good record. I play pretty well live. But the rest of this I can't do. It drains me and takes all of the fun out of all of this.

I know this is the "work" side of the music business. I understand that it's not going to be all happy happy joy joy playing songs all the time sort of thing. But I'm not good at, nor do I have any interest in, this side of it all. There is a reason I'm not in that line of work in my day job. I don't like it and you literally could not pay me to do it.

So, I think I put a ton of pressure on myself with this in-studio. Like, this is it. I have to nail this because I probably won't ever get another one.

And I feel like I blew it.

Let's look at the show later that night:

Sign at venue.

It was in Duluth. I have some family there: My nephew and his fiancee and they came to the show. But other than that, I don't have anyone to assist in getting people to the gig.  But when did it change from the venue promoting and getting people to the show, too? I'm happy to get my friends and family there to help your business...maybe you could do a little something in return to help mine? I wasn't even listed on the website as playing last night. Yet, I was going on the radio to promote this show.

So there I was on the radio in a city where I know just a handful of people. I had to do well to get people to want to change whatever plans they had and come to this show to see me.

And no one came. My nephew and his fiancee were there. And that was awesome. They had never seen me perform before. It had been ages since I had last seen them. And so it was a nice little reunion.

But it was them and two other people, the bar staff, the sound guy, and the other band.

Determining the set list.

So, basically, I was playing to these two other people. And I did. I played to them. I played my heart out to them. Because this is how it goes in the beginning, right? And I'm in a town where I don't know anyone. And this is how it is. You play your heart out to the two people sitting at the bar and you hope they like you and remember your name so that the next time you come through town, they come back and maybe bring a couple of friends.

So that is what I hope happened.

But that was Duluth. Where I don't know very many people.

Here in my hometown, I should be doing much better. I know a lot of people. I have oodles of connections. Everything is supposedly lined up for me to just take and run with it.

But it's not happening.

But it's only been 2.5 years.

But still.

I play a show - and it doesn't matter what night of the week it is - whether it's Monday night or Saturday night - and I get maybe 2 people to show up. And one of them is my husband. Thank the goddesses for him. I am forever grateful that he comes to all of my shows. He is so supportive.

But still. Two people. I bring in two people on a Saturday night. And let's be doubly honest here - the other one is usually someone Shawn invited. So I get my husband to come to my shows.

That's it.

On a Saturday night.

And let me tell you, venues and other bands notice this.

And they take it to heart. And the venues don't book you and other bands don't ask you to play with them.

Because, as I said earlier, it's great to have your family show up, but I'm relying on the other bands' fans to like me and want to see me again and buy my album. And they are relying on my friends and family to do the same. And the venues are relying on me to make it worth it to be open on a Monday night. So when I can't even get my friends to show up for a show, they notice. And they won't ask me to play there or with them again.

I get told by everyone repeatedly - just let me know when you play a Saturday! Well, people won't book you for a Saturday if they don't think you can draw people in. And a poor audience for a Thursday night does reflect that.

And then, on the rare occasion that I fall into a weekend show and no one shows up...well, I won't be getting another one.

So then I wonder, well, if I can't even get friends and family to shows on a regular basis, maybe I really do suck. Maybe I am that terrible that even they can't stand to listen for 40 minutes.

I tell ya, as someone with self-esteem issues, it's hard to rationalize all of this.

And now I have one more show lined up this year - one that I cannot find a third band for so who actually knows if it's going to happen. And then what? I know I have 2-3 albums worth of new material I want to record. I could do that. And then when that's done, I go through this whole cycle again? Yes.

So back to the start here: Why do I do this to myself? Why did I put myself in front of a microphone for a radio audience and proceed to ramble on about whatever and sing out of tune? And then why do I go on stage and perform for my husband and the bartenders on a Tuesday night?


Here's why:

I LOVE making music. Daily, I kick myself for not starting this when I was younger and when my friends were younger and could and wanted to go out on a Tuesday night and hear live music. But that doesn't change how much I love songwriting and singing and playing my guitar. It makes me so happy. Whether I'm just sitting at home alone, in my bandmates' basement practicing and arranging with the band, or on stage. I LOVE making music.

But I HATE all the other stuff. It really just takes the fun out of the rest of it all and makes me feel about this big.

So now what?

Like I said, I have one more show left this year. One more show that is on a Monday night and - as of right now - has an incomplete bill and is completely stressing me out and that I can be pretty sure will only have my husband in the audience - for which I am so grateful he is always there for me.

And I think I have a show set up in January.

But I have no other shows on the horizon. No events. Nothing.

I see all of these cool events around town. Block parties, charity shows, theme nights...I see all these local musical compilations and I see bands that I play with that I feel like I'm on par with get on these things and I just don't know what I'm missing.

And I'm sure I sound whiney and awful right now. But I just cannot begin to express how disheartening it is night after night. Imagine once a month your job is to put on an event and each time no one shows up for it. How long do you think you're going to be able to keep this job - no matter how much you love it - with that kind of track record?

Because - the ugly side- these things cost money. Last night I drove to Duluth, spent money on gas and food. And made $20 - which didn't even cover half the gas.

I want so badly to make another album. I want to make 50 more albums. But eventually I need to stop taking money from "important" things like home improvements and car payments and stuff and start being able to take money from shows and album sales to put back into shows and albums.

When the bartender hands me door money at the end of the night, I want to feel good about taking it instead of feeling like - well - this should really go to the other bands because I brought one person and he was on the guest list.

I just don't know how to do it. I don't know how to promote myself. I don't know how to get people to come to my shows. I'm out of ideas.

But I want to keep making music.

So, do I just keep putting money towards making records and just let everything else fall by the wayside? Is it a case of if I stop worrying about audience attendance so much that maybe it will just work itself out? Is my worry coming across in performances? Do other bands worry about this stuff?

How do I do this?

Advice requested.

Beaners set list 10/26/12

  • Ramble Song
  • Good
  • The Party
  • Can't Even Tell
  • The Paul Simon Song
  • Easy to Blame
  • Here
  • Minnesota
  • Johnny B. Goode
  • Beg, Borrow, or Steal
  • For the Time Being (New song! First time played!)

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