What's a producer?
Last night after work, I drove out to Thousand Oaks for another pre-production meeting with Shane Alexander, who will be producing the record.
If you don't work in music, the roles can sound mysterious. Using film as analogy: as songwriter, I'm like the writer of the screenplay. I craft a story in exactly the way I want to tell it, creating structure through the placement of every word and melodic motif.
Since I'm also the artist -- the vocalist who performs and embodies the songs -- I'm like the lead actress, evoking emotion through my enunciation of the words and the timbre, volume, and expression of my voice. The rhythm of my guitar, whether it's strummed or finger-picked, with chords or individual notes, supports my voice and the story.
The producer in a music project -- in this case, Shane -- is analogous to the director of a film. Listening to my vision and my particularness as an artist, Shane's role is to build the sonic world that will support and best showcase each song, my artistry, and the complete album as a whole.
Last night, up at Buddhaland Studios, Shane and I more or less finalized the 7 songs for the album, plus discussed 1 or 2 other songs that might be released as separate bonus "single" tracks. Playing to a metronome, we ballparked the tempos and jotted down notes about Hammond organ, pedal or lap steel, shaker and tambourine, French horn or clarinet. As he said, I have a "rock bone," which is true, but a few of our favorites are definite ballads.
It's a funny thing to stand on the edge of a future with someone who you know will be important in your life. Songwriting, at least the way that I do it, is very personal. It's not just the lyrics of the song or the expression of the melody, but the backstory of what went into the song, the process of carving it into a shape, and the scraps left on the work table when it's done. It's also a lifetime of music rooted in the folk revival of the '60s, with long years of orchestral and renaissance ensemble playing, kirtan music, and puzzling out songs on my guitar.
Shane and I have never before worked together. In our hours together these past two weeks we've been studying each other's artistry and work philosophy. To get to the final product, he and I will be engaged together in every step of the process. We need to know that we can trust each other, that we can communicate, and that aesthetically we're on the same page. I noticed last night that we're beginning to understand each other's language. Eventually, we'll know the shorthand, probably talk in music as much as words.
Like a schoolgirl off to the prom, Los Angeles spring is flaunting all its blossomed beauty. The mockingbirds are yodeling every tune they've ever heard, starting first thing in the morning. They make for a sweeter alarm clock than a rooster or iPhone, for sure. And I don't mind at all, because after a WHIRLWIND of a first campaign week, we're 109% funded from 108 backers - I am STUNNED.
Yesterday after work, I took the rolling green-hilled drive out to Thousand Oaks, to spend the evening at Buddhaland Studios playing through songs for the record with producer Shane Alexander. The studio decor is all the colors and textures I love -- guitar wood and strings, blue velvet, earthy woven rugs, Buddha candles, a old upright player piano without the scrolls, a Wurlitzer, deep couches. (Of course, I took zero photos, but here's some I found on Facebook. Shane's the proud looking guy in the blue sweater.)
Shane and I met through engineer Brian Yaskulka, who will be mixing the album and whose work I have admired since The Rescues EP came out in 2010. My sweetheart / bad*ss bassman, Darby Orr, whose playing I love not just because of my love for him, will lay down the low end. Denny Weston, Jr., whose gorgeous playing I first admired a few years ago when he was on tour with K.T. Tunstall, will play drums and percussion. More players to come...
This was the first time Shane and I sat down one-on-one. We're planning on a 6-song album, but have 10 songs in the quiver, whittled down from much more. I played him all 10 as we talked arrangements -- "Chop that chorus in half... go right to the verse 2... add the tag..." and "French horn here... rim shots on the snare... pedal steel right there..." and got the feel for working together.
If you watched the Kickstarter video, you saw a little clip from a recent solo gig. Yesterday I uploaded 3 full songs from that night to YouTube -- click here to watch/listen! These songs will be changing over the next few months. I'm already hearing them like the way you watch kids when they graduate from elementary and head off to middle school. Still gangly, still kids, but less so every day. By the end of 2019, they be all growed up.
By early 2020, they'll go out into the world to heal, entertain, and make their mark in whatever way they can.
I'm so grateful for every bit of support that has come through for this project. I can't wait to inscribe every single supporter's name on the walls of my little she-shed, so that I can remember, on those inevitable days when I'm feeling like this boulder is too heavy to push, that I am not alone.
To re-phase E.L. Doctorow: Life is like driving home at night in the fog. You can't always see the road, but lit by a thousand tiny torches, you can make it all the way home.
I am grateful for the tiny torches who are illuminating the campaign.
Community of friends, family, and fans,
Happy Launch Day!
I've learned over the years that "If you build it, they will come," is not practical advice. You can be a visionary like Gaudí, but if no one knows about your cathedral, who will visit? Who will be inspired?
You must not keep your vision to yourself. That idea to which you’ve put time, heart, and effort, NEEDS you to be its biggest champion until it has its own legs. If you take it from conception to creation – from lyric idea to completed song -- you MUST honor it and give it a life that will allow it to thrive. It should not live and die in the shed.
Today kicks off the launch of the Kickstarter campaign. As an indie-preneur / DIY artist / singer-songwriter / writer / yoga teacher, I've had PLENTY of time to engage with self-promotion. And guess what -- it's freaking uncomfortable!
But it takes a village to raise many things. A record is one of them. Right now, I’ve got a collection of songs, a record in infancy. The new tadpole-album DEPENDS on me being its biggest advocate so that it can become a fully realized album.
So, friends, bear with me. It’s not “If you build it, they will come.”
It’s “If you build it and TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT, they can visit, be inspired, and offer support.”
So, friends, I would LOVE your support in this…
First – By bearing with me in this giant promotion month. Maybe even cheering me on! I could use the rah-rah-rahs to keep the energy going during the campaign.
Second – By backing the campaign! I’ve created a number of backer incentives with you in mind, inspired by our passions of Stories, Songs, Yoga, and Pie. Lots of cool things, so click the link and select your level.
Third – Word of mouth is still the best way to spread the news. If you feel moved, I would be so grateful if you share the campaign with your communities.
VISIT THE KICKSTARTER PAGE!
Did you ever had a dream so bright that, though the path was not blazed, or the road twisted like an M. Night Shyamalan plot, you could follow it like headlights in the dark?
Did you dedicate everything to your dream, as they say you must, with tenacious commitment?
And, did it happen, after years and years, that one day your light blinked out?
Over the past year, after a looooooong hiatus from my singer/songwriter career (during which I recorded 3 albums and toured throughout the northeast and across the U.S.) I've been working on a new collection of songs.
It started last spring with one song about a woman and a question:
"If you were the woman that you wanted to be..." ....?
Every song is a conversation. As I wrote the pre-chorus, I found myself hearing the song not just as the composer, but as the intended audience. In my early 30s, my own brightly-lit dream -- of recording and performing my own songs -- blinked out. Maybe the electricity faltered. Maybe life got stormy. Maybe I was in a marriage that wasn't working. Maybe I felt too young to be stuck there for life. Though my heart still ached to write songs and sing, I found that I couldn't do it anymore. For the first time in my life, I stepped away from music.
I left the East Coast for someone else's dream in California. I practiced yoga. Wrote down stories from the touring days. Composed music for film/TV. Played in several kirtan/world music bands. Made a lot of pies. I got divorced. Fell in love. Grieved over not having children. Married. Became a stepmother. Published essays and poems. Did very little songwriting (though, truth told, not none). Made more pies.
Ten years went by.
The years were tender, hard at times, often quite beautiful. I embarked on a sort of archaeological self-excavation. Then, last year, I built a tiny "she-shed" cabin. I needed a quiet place to write. A room of my own. And -- suddenly -- my dream re-sparked. The light went on.
Was the song about the woman? Or was it about me?
The answer came, solid and strong: I'd be writing songs. I'd be singing. And so I did. I wrote six months' worth of songs, a new one every week. And out of that emerged a new record.
April 23, 2019 is the launch of the Kickstarter campaign for A THOUSAND TINY TORCHES.
Turns out, sometimes a dream is not at all like headlights in the dark. Sometimes it's a long string of sparks, flickering here and there, revealing pieces of the world one blink at a time, like a time-lapse release.
Sometimes it's like A THOUSAND TINY TORCHES illuminating the night.
A THOUSAND TINY TORCHES is an EP collection of some of the songs I've written in the past year. My last album was released over 10 years ago. A THOUSAND TINY TORCHES is the album I didn't realize I've been making ever since.
I dare say, these are the best songs of my life. They come from growing up and growing older. They come from listening to others and examining myself. They come from loss, grief, joy, love. They come from a deep appreciation of the Folk, Americana, Country, and Singer-Songwriter artists who have buoyed my spirit throughout my life.
Will you join me in the making of this album by signing up on my mailing list and, when it goes live, backing and sharing this campaign? Whereas years ago, making a record was a magical effort behind secret doors -- nearly impenetrable to independent artists like me, and completely closed off to you -- times have changed. Now, YOU AND I ARE THE RECORD LABEL.
Will you be a part of this campaign and add your light to A THOUSAND TINY TORCHES?
The house is asleep, but I'm up late writing to you with some exciting news:
After years of working behind the scenes at my day job in the music industry, and after more than a decade since my last singer/songwriter album, I'm about to embark on the next chapter of my music career. This summer, I head into the studio with a bundle of new songs, an incredible producer team, and some AMAZING Los Angeles musicians.
It's a big step and I'm really, as my almost-15-year-old kidlet says, nervocited. Excited about the album... nervous about putting myself "out there" in a vulnerable way and asking you for help.
I know you're in my corner. And community and support are perhaps two of the most beautiful ideas ever.
But it's scary to bare your heart to even one person. It takes a good dose of chutzpah to shout it out publicly. Day by day, I've been mustering my courage to tell you about this. I've been practicing by talking with a friend here, a stranger there, the mirror when no one is around.
Here's the support I need from my community:
On April 23, I will be launching a crowdfunding campaign and inviting my community of family, friends, and fans to gather together to help fund the making of this record.
The campaign will be launched on the Kickstarter platform (I'll send you a link when it's live), and there will be a video (it's cute and a little homemade looking -- I learned iMovie just for this!) telling everything about the project. On Kickstarter, I've set different support levels for backers, so whether you contribute $15 or $1500, there's a special reward with your name on it.
Tell me: What kind of backer rewards would you like to see?
Here's one idea: I designed this graphic around a sketch (of me - obviously!) by Max Forward, a phenomenal storyboard artist here in Los Angeles.
Would you like to see it on a t-shirt? A tote bag? Pins?
At the center of everything that I'm grateful for in my daily life glows these three shining lights. I tucked the girls into bed for the first time ten Thanksgivings ago. They were all single digits and glitterbombs, all dolls and painted nails, all make believe and dances. They were so gangly and immediate in their emotions, when they looked to me for some guidance, I think I stepped into adulthood for the first time. They came into my life with a lot of love, but I'd be lying if I said I came in knowing anything about being a stepmom, or that being a parent of any kind, especially during early teen years, is simple. To our girls' credit, it's not easy having two houses and four parents all poking into their business, and they navigated it pretty well most of the time. They made it a little easier for us too: they'd switch around, and one of them always kept our house in laughter even when the other went to the dark side.
Somehow - we might have hit the jackpot on this one - they're both shining pretty bright right now, full of creative energy, navigating the middle and late-teens with drive, inspiration, love. Nowadays, with Em already out in the working world, it's generally some combo of us - rarely all 4 - in the same room at the same time. Our house is a whirlwind of the arts - Es always bent over her drawing pads, Em off at auditions or modeling shoots, Darby surrounded by his synths and drum loops, and me working out songs on the guitar.
Just in a wee little social media post I couldn't possibly say how much these three inspire me, but Thanksgiving always means a lot to me because of them, and I keep trying, in my songs and stories, to do them justice. I still tuck them in at night with lights-out talks and back massages. So deeply, deeply grateful to these three for bringing me into their family ten Thanksgivings ago.
As complicated as parent/child relationships can be, stepparenting has this additional challenge:
There is no guarantee of love. Not at the beginning of the relationship with the kids, not through the years, not from the kids toward the stepparent, nor the other way around, at any point.
Stepmothers, in particular, are difficult and complicated for children, because there are loyalties and alliances to the biological mother that the children must navigate. Most times, if the stepmother is there after a divorce in the first family, and there are two households that the children orbit around, the children must learn to adapt to different values, different rules, different cultures, different expectations, different dynamics.
Those differences in households are likely some of the factors that led to the divorce in the first family to begin with, and so the stepmother and biological mother frequently do not share values, leading to dynamics between the two mothers that the children must also navigate. The partner - biological dad, in this case - can get caught in the middle as he himself negotiates between his former and present partners. Children always come first, which means that stepmothers must many times bite their tongues, step aside, acquiesce.
When the stepmother has come to the family without her own biological children, as I did, she is simultaneously childless and a mother. She may, as I did, have deep desire to nurture the stepchildren as she would have nurtured her own. She may find that the children simultaneously accept some nurturing and reject others -- because, after all, they have a biological mother living not far away. The stepmom in this case must find a tenuous, untrod path to walk that is not depicted in any fairy tale, movie, book, or pop culture touchstone. If she doesn't want to be the "evil stepmother," and cannot be the "good mother," she must invent her own role, and move against every depiction she has ever seen of women's roles in the family.
This is what I want to say here:
I have found that the greatest gift of stepmothering is a gift that doesn't come easy. With no guarantee of love, many times a stepmother can close her heart, turn away, reject the child and the biological mother and, in some way, her spouse. In that case, no one wins. The other way is harder, but I have to thank Darby for supporting me in my efforts to always choose an open heart. To soften when I want to flare. To talk when I want to shut down. To go upstairs and give love to those girls when I have wanted to hide.
There is no guarantee of love for stepmothers, but ten Thanksgivings down, I don't doubt the love between me and my girls. When I say that they have been my greatest teachers, this is what I mean: They have taught me again and again, every day since ten Thanksgivings ago, what it means to choose love.
Voting is not hard, but it's not necessarily the easiest of things to do. We are hard-wired to conserve energy, and going out of our way to vote takes a bit of effort. It's easier when an effort is routine - like brushing teeth or chores; or when there's a palpable and quick positive response, like a paycheck or a grade; or if there's immediate avoidance of a negative response, like a scolding or arrest. It is harder when we can't readily see the importance of our effort.
If you've ever played on a sports team or in an orchestra, you know how intrinsic your part is to the success of the whole. Even in the sea of strings, every violin adds to the strength, power, and poignancy of the music. Even if the listener can't identify your alto line, your presence in the choir has been written into the score because your unidentifiable contribution is of utmost importance to the impact.
Voting requires all of us to add our unidentifiable singular voice to the choir for the benefit of the whole. That is the foundational concept of a democratic nation.
Voting is a gift to us from those from before who overcame their own hard-wired impulse for inertia. Every vote -- even those who had the right since the beginning of this nation -- was hard-earned through some kind of revolutionary battle. Our forefathers and foremothers overcame their own impulse for inertia because the desire for freedom for themselves and future unknown generations was greater than their individual impulse to conserve energy. Our forebears understood that it would take effort to have a say in the rules and people that govern their individual lives. Freedom was worth the effort of interrupting their daily schedule. Those forebears in demographics that had less historical power had to sustain the effort to battle their own inertia longer than the original American revolutionaries. But regardless of demographic, because of the efforts of our forefathers and foremothers, none of us today has to battle the United Kingdom or argue with the Supreme Court to gain the right.
We, this week, have a much smaller task. We do not have to fight for the right to vote. We just have to know our values, weigh them against the values of the candidates running, show up at the polls, and cast our ballots.
The US, as a whole, doesn't encourage us to vote. It would, of course, be easier if we could vote online from the comfort of our homes -- imagine if it was as easy as voting on The Voice. Some states have introduced more accessible methods, and some states have made it harder, but either way, we each have the obligation to follow through on the gift that history has given us.
Your personal schedule will be interrupted. You will have to read the ballot, pay attention, and assess it critically against your values. You will have to disregard the advertisements, which utilize advertising psychology and attempt to sway your emotions, and rationally assess what's at stake. To do this, you will have to find the right voter guide to help you with your selections. You will likely need to drive out of your way, or take a bus, or walk, enter an unfamiliar building, and interact with strangers. You might need to leave work early, or figure out what to do with the kids.
Every day of your life you overcome the impulse for inertia. You can do it now, too.
Elections only come around every so often, like mammograms, or colonoscopies, or a visit from the in-laws (or the outlaws). Unlike the former, voting will cause no discomfort to your physical body. Unlike the latter, it doesn't drink all your beer.
And on the way home, with your I Voted sticker proudly displayed on your lapel, you can go out of your way once more -- this time to pick up a sweet reward for your efforts. Go on, eat that doughnut. You deserve it.
Thank you for voting.
How Bad Do You Want It?
Last week, I caught one of those unwanted autumn colds that blows in unexpectedly just as the days warm for a quick Indian summer rebound. Being of hearty stock, I figured it would run its course and be gone by week's end. Instead, it settled into my chest, clenched my voice into a scratchy rasp, rifled through my schedule and canceled my weekend plans. Sunday and Monday were all tea and cough drops, but on Tuesdays I'm down at the college to teach, and by Wednesday my voice was entirely gone. Friday night had a gig scheduled, one that I'd been greatly anticipating not for its glamour (since, on the back patio of an urban bookstore, it certainly had none), but because I planned to sing new songs in front of an audience for the first time. With my voice shot, I couldn't rehearse, and as Thursday turned into Friday, I didn't even know if I'd have enough voice to sing on stage.
The last time I lost my voice, it was metaphor. I could talk and sing, if I wanted to, but I lacked the desire. The sudden desire to not sing, after years of desiring the opposite, took me by surprise. I tested myself time and again, played a few gigs here and there, to see if I'd really lost it. Eventually I stopped trying; the desire was inexplicably gone. With nothing else to do, I practiced a lot of yoga and took up running. I noted with curiosity the cycles of fruit, leaves, and clouds in southern California's subtle shift of seasons. Those changes might have escaped my observation if life had been louder, and my quietude also revealed gaps in some of the foundational logic on which I'd built my life. My former marriage fell away. As inner listening tends to do, I developed new awareness of my own inner workings. I became accustomed to silence's hard questions, and learned to endure the disquieting geological time scale in which difficult answers are disclosed. Among other things, I discovered, for the first time, something in myself resembling trust or faith. I wondered, during those years of silence, if I would ever come back to writing songs, if I would ever again want to sing them.
They say that the Universe will test you. It will throw obstacles in your path to check your dedication to the thing you appear to want. How bad do you want it? the Universe will ask, and if you crumble and skulk back to your room, the Universe will have proven its point. That's what I thought, it will say. But if you really want it, you dig deeper. You find a way to get over, get around, or work with the obstacles. And the Universe will sit back in its chair and say, Oh really? Now look at you, kid. Tenacious little thing, aren't you?
After a long decade of weird absence, the desire to create music returned to me. Maybe I needed that time to attend to rebuilding my foundation. Maybe I needed to find some faith. While I did that, my voice had run off on sabbatical. It's reappeared now full of stories from its travels, and for the last few months I've been writing those stories into songs. When this cold swiped my voice, I considered canceling the gig. Especially on Thursday night, I began to contemplate how I might contend with things if my voice never returned (oh, how illness turns me pessimistic). But on Friday I woke hearing the Universe asking, How badly do you want it?
Resources for Indie Songwriters
The information age! What a difference it is, starting out as an indie musician (as I feel I am doing, once again) and being an indie musician in the '90s / '00s. Back when I started playing gigs, we collected names and street addresses for our mailing lists, and mailed out postcards (with stamps!) every month to our fans. The way people got "free" music back then was by riding the subway -- and hearing the buskers play on the platforms.
Lately I've been appreciating the number of resources that are now available to indie artists. It can be overwhelming, so I thought I'd share a few of the rabbit holes I've been running down lately. If you have others you think I should know about, email me and I'll check them out.
WEBSITES / COACHING / SERVICES
A new (record) (project) thing
I want to give you a brief update about something from my last post regarding my new singer-songwriter/Americana/indie-folk album project: After talking with a few different producers here in Los Angeles, about a week ago, I toured a new recording studio nearby (down the street from the studio where I've worked for 10 years!) and had a long meeting with a producer who (fingers crossed! knock on wood!) seems like the right fit for working with the creative vision I have for this collection of new songs.
You might ask where Darby is in this project. After all, he's had a long career in music as a staff songwriter for a major label (Sony) and as a film/TV composer for production music libraries, and has worked with artists to produce songs and albums in a variety of genres. And he's my husband, with a small recording studio right in the house. In fact, without announcing it to anyone publicly, we've written together over the years, mostly for film and TV, and a few of our co-writes have been licensed. And we're currently working on a kirtan music project called The Bliss Drops. That record, or rather, the first finished track of that record, sounds fantastic. I'm quite happy with it. But the slow-going of that project is, partially, what has led us to realize that if I want to really get this songwriter album of mine done, I'll need to outsource away from our family. Between my day job, all the freelance work we both do, and family responsibilities, (not to mention peaceful downtime to nurture our relationship), we'd get nothing done. But, Darby is here being an incredible cheerleader as I venture forth on this journey. His feedback on my songs-in-progress keeps me honing them till they're the best I can make them, and his advice along the recording path is invaluable. And certainly his musicianship will be on the tracks - maybe as bass, maybe keys, maybe both.
Meanwhile, the music industry has radically changed since my twenties when I was performing and recording regularly. It's for the better, I believe, but I have a lot of catching up to do.
Thought I'd share some of the resources I've been appreciating lately. They're in my next blog post here.