Highlights From FARM ’17

Happy to report that I had such an awesome time at my first FARM conference (Folk Alliance Region Midwest)! I would almost go so far as to say it was a game changer for me in my musical path… it left me feeling inspired and encouraged, and I came home with a new sense of clarity and resolve. Navigating the murky waters of a music career (especially a performing songwriter career) is challenging to say the least, but experiences like FARM help me once again tighten my bootstraps and keep chugging forward.

Highlights from FARM include:

  1. Being selected to perform for the DJ/Venue showcase (thanks to KRNL’s Bryan Katz-James!)
  2. Playing a number of awesome private showcases (led by a bunch of lovely hosts)
  3. Presenting to my fellow musicians on web presence (cause giving back feels good)
  4. Hearing Peter Mulvey’s seriously noteworthy keynote address
  5. Checking out Iowa City for the first time (and eating some amazing Iowa City food)
  6. Making a bunch of new friends (yay!)
  7. Listening to live music practically all day long (good live music I should add)
  8. Discovering a bunch of musicians/songwriters that I’m totally in love with.

 

So obviously I can’t leave you with that final point and not share my new finds 🙂

The Matchsellers

Notes: I had to leave FARM a few hours early, and this was the last act I heard just before heading out, and boy am I glad I stayed long enough to hear them! Good music that also makes you laugh just can’t go wrong. Don’t just skip to the music if you want a real taste of their hilarity.

Last Acre

Notes: I’m definitely a sucker for a father daughter duo, but that aside, these two have the most sweet and earnest songs.

 

Ordinary Elephant

Notes: These guys gave me chills. Songs that hit your heart hard with truth. Plus it doesn’t hurt that they look like they came straight out of the 1920’s.

Robin Bienneman

Notes: Out of everyone on this list, I had the hardest time picking just one song to share for Robin. His songs are quirky, funny, thought provoking… plus he is a damn good guitar player. I chose this one cause I support the message SO MUCH I even bought his shirt that says “Chicks Dig A Big Amygdala”. Also, thanks to the song, I now know how to pronounce “amygdala”.

 

Matthew Michael & Christina Marie

Notes: Sadly these guys don’t have an album out yet so nothing for me to show, but this couple has some gorgeous stuff. Think Civil Wars on anti-depressants.

You can follow them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pg/matthewandchristina

 

My Corporate Job 💼

I live a double life… I work for a global tech company by day, I’m a musician by night, and I’m a wife+mother 24/7 (but that’s a whole other post).

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There is a certain amount of shame that comes with being a trained/professional musician and composer who works in the corporate world. Literally since I was old enough to understand what it means to “work the 9-5”, I was determined to never set foot into that world. I mean, I’ve got the massive student loans from a “private-world-class” music school to prove it.

But life happens (i.e. babies), priorities change (families financial stability > music), and so here I am. And you know what? After a few years of living this double life, I no longer have any shame about it. In fact, I’ve come to realize that my corporate job has helped me in more than one way with my music career.

These are the 6 ways my corporate job has helped my music career so far:

1. I’m better at goal setting and being strategic

I’ve always loved goal setting, but I now have a more holistic approach to it. I’ve learned to not just dream up anything and everything I want to do and write a huge to-do list. Now when I set my goals (every 90 days), I really think about what is important right NOW, what are things I need to cut OUT of my music career (either temporarily or permanently) to better focus on what really matters to me, and I set clear measurables and timelines that are neatly tucked between realistic and ambitious.

2. I’m better at being productive (read, busy ≠ productive)

I had a reasonable amount going on with my music pre-day-job, and if you had told me then that I’d be getting MORE stuff done while working 40+ hours a week (and raising two little kids), I’d think you were totally insane. But the truth is, while I was pretty good at finding work and decent at being organized, I didn’t really understand the importance of having systems in place to keep me on task, streamlined, and truly productive. I’ve given up on paper to-do lists, giant white boards and physical calendars or planners. It might have something to do with being a coder, but I’ve learned the value of cutting out any and all inefficiencies I find. Even when I think I’ve got a good system going for me, I try to re-evaluate and decipher if there is anything I can do to have a quicker turn around on my music tasks. If you are curious, I’m currently using Trello for project/business management and AirTable for anything database related (songs, venues, PR contacts, etc.)

3. I’m better at working with (difficult) clients

I went to school for Film Scoring, so pre-day-job I was primarily writing music for a variety of media. Honestly I didn’t really deal with bad clients, but then again I wasn’t getting paid much 😉
And I’ll admit that when a director asked me to redo a cue, or make changes that I didn’t agree with, I definitely did more than cringe. Now, if I want to be a starving musician, I can just write music for myself and leave it at that. But the fact is, if you want to make money being a creative, you need to put your ego aside and remember that you are creating something for someone else. I’ve definitely learned to better swallow my pride and respond in a pleasant and patient manner, while gently reminding and assuring the client that I’m going to deliver exactly what they want.

4. I have a new appreciation for the creativity that can (and should) go into the process of running a business.

It’s  not just charts and numbers…  its strategy and ideas. Experimenting when possible. Taking creative risks. Booking shows, thinking of merchandise, how to better market my music, how to find new clients… these things don’t need to be monotonous tasks. I’ve come to embrace and LOVE coming up with strategies and plans.

5. It’s taught me to be GENEROUS.

Surprising huh? I admit, I kind of hit the jackpot when it comes to huge corporations. The company I work for is a leader in giving back to the community (via product, money and time) and it’s given me a new frame of mind with what I want for my music business. I’m still exploring how I specifically want to tackle this, but during my last tour I put on a show in a town I had never before played, and gave 50% of the ticket sales to a local non-profit. This show was successful on every level, and it made me realize that if giving back is part of my “brand”, it not only gives me those warm fuzzies on the inside, but it also opens up alternative avenues to reach people I wouldn’t have otherwise reached, and create a deeper, more meaningful relationship with the town I’m playing in.

6. It’s given me FREEDOM in my music career.

In the very least, having this day job allows me to can figure out what I want to do in music, and how I want to do it without much financial pressure involved. Thank you, day job!

Listen, I’m not saying this is for everyone. I’m definitely not saying this is my long term plan… But if you have a day job AND do music, (or any kind of art), just know that you are not alone (obviously), and it’s really not that bad!

Embrace the present moment, and let it serve your creative side.

February Album Writing Month

Last month I did something a little crazy.

I committed myself to writing 14 songs during the month of February.

That’s 1 song every 2 days. That’s insane, right?

Well apparently there are a bunch of other crazy kooks out there, because this year well over 2,000 took part in February Album Writing Month (http://fawm.org/). Unfortunately, I didn’t crank out 14 songs, BUT I gave birth to 9 songs I have varying degrees of love for, (2 of them being co-writes with the fantastic Rebecca Jasso). If you aren’t crazy about reading my thoughts on this intense experience, skip ahead to the end to hear 8 of the 9 songs. I’d love to hear your thoughts+feedback… so feel free to comment below or shoot me an email!

Otherwise, here’s what I learned at the end of it all:

  • I’m a slow songwriter and that’s OK.

I was a little bummed out by how others were cranking out songs like it was NOTHING. But then (for some inspiration) I watched a cool interview of Jesca Hoops, who talked about the process of writing her latest album. She said when she first started, she walked for 10 miles with her phone as a voice recorder to come up with ideas. After 10 miles she had nothing. Then, feeling a bit defeated, she went down to her music room, and a song just suddenly came to her in it’s entirety: words music and all. Lesson being, we all write differently, and the creation process is different for everyone.

  • Virtual Co-writing is FUN and LIBERATING

To make FAWM a little more feasible I knew I had to do some co-writing. Rebecca and I were both committed to FAWM this year and have a mutual respect for each other’s work so we figured, why not?! So we decided to each give each other a lyric writing assignment.

The deal was, there is no music to write to, and you are just focusing on writing the lyrics based on what the other person is looking for. You hand off your completed lyrics, and the other person completes the song by adding the music (with no input from you). Rebecca asked me to write a simple catchy pop tune about the sun in the summer (or something like that). As I wrote the lyrics I couldn’t help but have a little melody in my head just to keep some sort of syllable and rhyming structure, and by the end of it, I thought the song was cheesy and annoying. But what Rebecca came back with was SO much better than what I had in mind. I was honestly in awe. Seeing my lyrics unfold in an unexpected way was pretty cool guys… We might just do it again! You can check out that song by clicking here, and in the below playlist you can hear the lyrics Rebecca wrote for me in the song “Mechanical Boy”.

  • When I think my well is dry, it might just be a matter getting the rusty gears cranking again

OK thats a terrible mixed analogy but I think you get it. Sometimes (or a lot of the time) I’m overwhelmed with all the things life throws at me, making it inevitable that my creative/songwriting gears will get rusty from lack of use. That usually leads me to feeling that I don’t have anything in me to give or create… that I’ve run out of inspiration. Pushing myself to JUST WRITE not only led to 9 pretty cool, more-than-half-way-decent songs, but it also got my creative juices flowing once again. My little songwriting gears haven’t stopped yet, and I have several songs I’m still in the process of writing.

And let me tell you…

It feels good.

So that’s it! FAWM 2017 was a success in my book.

I didn’t totally lose my mind.

I got some great stuff out of it, and I’m super pumped to start playing some of these new tunes. As I play them for people, I’m sure fine tuning will happen. Maybe a couple of these will end up in the “do not play” file. Others will hopefully make it on my next album!

So if you read all this, I’m guessing you are curious to hear these tunes I wrote! Here is a little playlist I put together for you:

*NOTE* – These tracks were all recorded via my iPhone voice recorder, so they are just memos really.

Music For Song

That beautiful human being pictured above is Songja Ono (aka “Song”).

I didn’t really know Songja, but her mom (whom I affectionately call “Aunt Catherine”) I know well. Many late night talks over pizza at a Beacon Hill bar will make you feel close to someone. I know Aunt Catherine to be a strong, fierce woman and I never doubted that Songja inherited her mother’s strength.

So when I found out she was sick, I believed she would absolutely get better… because sometimes we forget that spiritual strength and physical strength aren’t the same. We forget that much of what happens in this world is completely out of our control. Also, we forget that sometimes someone so beautiful, young and full of life can die at a young age.

Songja was still alive when her mom called me to ask if I would take care of the music for her funeral. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for her to make that call. I was only on the receiving end of this phone call, but my head was spinning and my heart felt heavy. Even with the weight of it all, I couldn’t help but feel deeply honored. I wanted Songja to keep fighting to live. I didn’t want her mother to go through the immense suffering she was already enduring and was going to continue to endure. But I also realized that the role I was about to play, albeit small, was important.

I immediately said yes.

I wanted to do absolutely anything I could to help in this transition.

I won’t elaborate on the experience I had planning the music for Songja’s funeral. All I can say is that it helped me understand the value and importance my skills and talent play in the lives of others. It helped remind me of the meaning in what I do. My goal was to create an atmosphere of love and peace… to accept that there is sadness in losing Songja, but also remember all the beauty and goodness she gave in her life. For her loved ones, friends and family, to be able to rejoice in the life she lived.

Usually when I perform, I demand attention. But I knew that for Songja’s funeral, I needed to be completely and utterly in the background, while still affecting the mood and feeling of the environment. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I accomplished what I hoped for, but the lovely letter I received from Aunt Catherine gave me confidence that I did my job well. Here is an excerpt:

Songja’s funeral was probably the most touching experience I’ve had so far in my own life. She is the main contributing factor of course, because if you knew her and the kind of person she was, you would know she was a truly remarkable person. I’m honored to have played a part in it, and to have been able to contribute in the challenging transition her family faced in her passing. I don’t wish for these opportunities to present themselves to me… but I’m grateful that being a musician allows me to give back to the world in a meaningful way.

-SE