2/27/09

Download Ten Cent Souvenir in its entirety for free!

Wow...I just discovered that, as part of my digital distribution agreement with CD Baby, Ten Cent Souvenir has been made available on Amie Street. If you've never seen the site, you should take a look. They price music according to its popularity...new music starts out being free and as more people download it the price goes up. Well, I haven't done a lick of work to promote my page on Aime Street, so all but one song are available for free. I thought I'd spread the word to the folks in my little corner of the web first. So, for a limited time, you can download 'Ten Cent Souvenir' in high-quality mp3 format for free. Here's the link. Pass it around!

Ten Cent Souvenir on Amie Street

2/23/09

Shaking the Tree




I had the chance to catch up with a friend the other day. We had a great conversation. I wound up clarifying an idea that I have been bumping up against a lot lately…I thought I should write about it.

The way I see it, any time you make an effort towards something, you will see returns. Maybe they will be the results you hoped for and intended to see and maybe not. But you will see something…a reaction to your action. The analogy that comes to mind is this: It’s like shaking fruit from a tree. Maybe you have your eye on one apple. You shake the tree. Leaves fall around you, other apples drop from the branches, and if the one you want is ripe and ready it does too. But if it’s a peach you’re after, and you’re shaking an apple tree, a peach is not going to fall no matter how hard you shake.

I think back on the years post high school. I was pretty sure that I wanted to find a career in music but I heard a lot of advice about the importance of having a backup plan. Perhaps a feeling of obligation drove me towards school. I went to community college for a couple of years, then to a university. I liked it enough but I sure didn’t apply myself the way other students did. I didn’t feel like I was in my element. I didn’t know what my element was…the time I was spending at school could have been devoted to finding it, but I talked myself into being practical. It took quite a while, but I finished with a degree.

I don’t mean to say that I regret going to school, or that school in general is a waste of time. I learned a ton of important stuff, and all in all I appreciate the experience. I regret making the decision to trudge through something that I wasn’t in love with. I regret not being more proactive in seeking out my element. I regret shaking an apple tree expecting something else to fall.

Maybe regret is too strong a word. I can’t expect myself to have 20/20 foresight vision, right? In reality, it was part of the process that has led me here and for that I am extremely grateful. I wouldn’t choose anything else.

The thing is, when you shake a tree, something will fall. It feels like progress. You see results. You find yourself with fruit all around you. It encourages you to keep shaking. You have something to show for the effort you made. Who knows if you could expect the same under another tree? Maybe there’s nothing up there but dry leaves? Maybe, but if you don’t take the time to find out you will be destined to eat nothing but applesauce, apple pies, apple juice…

If you want to be a musician, don’t go to business school. If you want to be a hairdresser, stop selling real estate. The more you work towards the wrong goal, the more entrenched you will be in that world and the harder it will be to find your way out. Besides, you will be working half-heartedly towards something that others are reaching for with all of their might, and you will seem much less special than they.

Of course, not everyone knows which tree to shake. In that case, the goal should be to vigorously shake every one in reach until the right one is found. Don’t just plant yourself under the wrong one and give it a little push once in a while.

Heh…I really should be writing a song or practicing guitar right now.

* Photo by Melissa Rae

2/12/09

Criticism

For years I have wondered why critics choose to write so many negative reviews. There is plenty of fodder, maybe now more than ever, but there is an amazing amount of good stuff being produced. Why don't critics use their forum to spread the word about things they like? Bad music certainly doesn't need a critic to slow its momentum. That will take care of itself. But good music can always benefit from a little critical praise.

So this week I saw two shows. One was terrible, one was fantastic. I found myself thinking and talking about the bad one a lot more than the good one. Why? Who knows? Was it because I felt ripped off? Well, I did. Had the tickets been free I still would have felt ripped off. The 'world famous' band looked like they had just rolled out of the tour bus bunks, a couple of them were obviously quite hammered, and totally called it in. One guy stumbled around the stage for the entire show and sounded terrible when he was actually playing. The rest of them performed with as much enthusiasm as a 12-year-old taking out the trash.

It might have been fun if the show was in a venue that was more suited to the music. A smoky bar with a stage in the corner and beers for a dollar would have been a better fit. Unfortunately, it was all wrong. The vibe of the room was stuffy. The sound was AWFUL. I'm not just being picky...it was undeniably bad. You'd think a venue that consistently charges $30 for tickets would install a proper sound system. Both acts were clearly struggling to hear themselves in the monitors, and the audience was struggling to hear anything the singers were saying. AWFUL.

The following night I went to see another show at the same venue. It was amazing. World class musicians, world class music. Every song had something great happening. I'd rank this show up there as one of the best I've seen. I felt the contradictory urges to go write music all night and to burn my guitar in acknowledgment of the fact that I'll never reach that level. I love that feeling.

Still, I wonder why I feel more compelled to tell people about the bad show than the good one? Am I trying to warn the masses? Do I need sympathy for the loss of time and money? Am I simply offended by the disregard for the audience showed by both band and venue? Whatever it is, it makes me want to talk about the experience.

In the restaurant world they have a saying: "If a customer has a good experience, they'll tell a few friends. If they have a bad one, they'll tell ten."

Maybe I gained a tiny bit of insight into the mind of a critic. It's a little more understandable, I guess. They have to listen to stacks and stacks of mediocre CD's. They probably feel robbed of their time and their only recourse is to make their experience known to the rest of us. Fair enough...but I still think they should cheer up.

2/10/09

Fine tuning a process

Part of what I enjoy about my current lifestyle is the variety; yesterday I worked with my friend James West on a short film score project. Today I made tamales. Tomorrow I'll remix a couple of tunes for a project I produced for a friend. Every single day is different and I look forward to them as they come.

On the other hand, I really like routines. Lately I've been accompanying Anna to the U of O where she's auditing an Italian class. I go to school with her each morning and spend an hour reading and writing in the library . I bring my travel mug full of coffee, my notebook, turn my cell phone off, and allow myself to wander through the stacks and read a chapter of any book I want. It's time that I have scheduled to follow my nose a bit and I end up discovering something cool and new every day. It's an attempt to keep 'the well' full.

There's a part of all of this that I'm trying to adjust. True, I really do look forward to each day. True, I have a life of varied and interesting experience. But I have found that it is hard to finish projects in a timely manner. I might only have one day a week to devote to any number of things that I have started. The recording project with James has been crawling along for months!

I'm starting to wonder if I shouldn't divide the year into quarters and devote each quarter to one or two things. Write songs. Record songs. Release record. Tour. I'd feel like I was letting a lot slip through the cracks if I did it this way, but the net result might actually prove me wrong.

Anyone out there have a work routine that is working well?

2/7/09

Free download!

It's amazing. I am becoming a fan of Google. I spent an hour or so putting together a page where folks can sign up for the mailing list and get a free mp3 for their trouble. I got the idea from this guy: Cameron Mizell

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when I shopped around to find a web guru who could help do this for a reasonable fee...now, I can do it myself and it is totally functional. I wonder what other promotional tools are available for DIY artists...

So, I'm giving a tune away to help promote the record. I'm hoping that friends and fans will pass this link around, post the tune on their blogs, etc. We'll see if it works! Get yours here:

2/1/09

In Bruce's defense...

I've been keeping an eye on the Lefsetz Letter, a blog about current music, media and marketing. The guy seems a bit surly but he offers good insight into the music industry. In the past week he wrote two entries about The Boss. Both were fairly harsh criticisms that I found to be off-base. I felt compelled to write a reply to him, but he doesn't seem to post many comments on his page so I thought I'd post my letter here. His original post can be found here.

What do you guys think? My letter is as follows:

Wow...another Bruce blog?

I've appreciated the opinions and analysis on your blog ever since a friend turned me on. Good stuff. When I clicked on your previous Bruce headline I was a little surprised by your scathing review of his latest record; I think it's a solid effort. I chalked it up to a difference in opinion. Now, another anti Bruce blog...he must really get under your skin! I would think that a writer might rather use the time and forum to spread the word about something he/she likes, rather than write two articles in a week dismissing the same artist. He's in the news, though, and your blog deals with current music, media, marketing...fair enough.

I guess I just don't agree with this one. Listen, the guy has been in the public eye for 30-plus years. He has run a multi-million dollar operation for 30-plus years. I'm trying to think of another person in his position who hasn't made a few bad calls over the course of their career. I love me some Paul McCartney, but that whole Jacko thing in the eighties? Ouch. Miles Davis put out some serious crap at the end. Go down the list of legends and you'll find some strange decisions and missteps in all of their careers.

So maybe Wal-Mart was a bad idea. Maybe 'Magic' was compressed all to hell. Maybe there is more strategy behind his public persona than some of us might want to believe. I don't think any of this is part of what he thinks of as his art. These are all just decisions that were made, probably by a group of 10 or so people, with the same goal that every artist/manager/label has: get the music to the people. This part of the process comes after the art is made, and in today's industry artists are forced to consider every possible outlet for their music.

Your description sounds more like Elvis in the final years. Washed up, desperately clinging to the fame and fortune of a bygone era. Bruce is nowhere near that world. Doing it in part for the money? Um...yes. Which professional artist isn't? But he continues to produce relevant work. He's not simply repackaging old stuff, crappy unfinished demos and half-assed covers. He is not simply squeezing the last remaining drops from a career based on work he did as a youngster. He continues to work. He continues to push forward. Even if his latest record is an album of singles (an assessment I disagree with; the opening track clocks in at over 7 minutes), who the hell else can write an album full of singles?

(An aside: I dare say that Ann Powers is totally wrong about our era...it is all about the single! Maybe the sales are dramatically lower than ten years ago, but consumers are making it very clear that they would rather pay $.99 to download their favorite song than $18 for the song plus 12 other crappy filler tunes. Fans love the single. The current industry is entirely single-oriented)

As for Bruce's artistic motivations, I know a few folks who have worked on his albums at various stages in his career and they all say the same thing: he works harder than anyone. He devotes more to his craft than anyone. He cares more about what he does than anyone. The fact that he continues to write, record, and tour is amazing. If his sole motivation was money he would simply tell his team to work the back catalog, book an occasional stint in Vegas, and spend the rest of his years kicking sand along the Jersey Shore. Instead he tours the world (think that's easy?) and makes records of new material during breaks. You put him in the category of aging, out of touch nostalgia acts...who else among his peers is still working so fiercely after 30 years?

After reading and re-reading your articles I'm not sure what you are suggesting he do. If he were to have packed it up and given in to the changing times, wouldn't that indicate that he was in it for the short term success? Lost the edge and got too comfy? If he were to attempt a different strategy, say, working with the latest hipster producer and making a Youtube video with treadmills, wouldn't he seem like a desperate old fella trying to reach an audience of children? If you were his manager or attorney, what would you suggest?
It seems like you are simultaneously criticizing him for being too calculating and not calculating enough.

I look forward to your next blog...thanks for putting your ideas out there.

Ehren Ebbage