I've played a lot of gigs. Hundreds, I believe. Indoors, outdoors, large crowds, small crowds, jazz, rock, acoustic - a lot of gigs. But this past Friday with my cover band In The Pocket at the Quiet Man Pub, something happened that had never happened at one of my shows before: somebody called the cops. I feel like it's a rite of passage or something. We were being too loud - rocking it too hard - and someone had had enough.
About 1/3 of the way through the first of two sets (yes, we had barely gotten going), I watched as two police officers came in and began talking to the bartender, who was obviously pissed. This bar has been having live music for as long as I can remember, but recently one of the neighbors has started a battle of noise complaints, and honestly we were a little surprised. I mean, the weekend before a noise complaint was probably justified because the bar was hosting karaoke, but for us? It's Saturday night and we're not "noise." Get a nightlife, already.
Anyway, kept playing, the crowd kept on dancing, and the cops were there for about 4-5 songs. And while I'm sure they enjoyed what they heard (who wouldn't?), they ticketed the bar and were on their way. It unfortunately wasn't a scene from the end of The Beatles' Let It Be with the cops coming and shutting us down, which would've made for a much better story and a much better blog post. But I think it's enough to say that on Friday night the cops were called to our gig. We're officially lawbreakers, right?
I am a DIY artist, and DIY, as you may know, stands for "Do It Yourself." But for an artist in the position that I am in, it's really much closer to DIAY - "Do It All Yourself." Consider the things that I have to handle: organizing the band, rehearsing the band, writing out the charts, booking (or trying) the shows, setting up the PR, reaching out to PR opportunities, managing a website, managing a Facebook page, managing a Twitter account, managing a YouTube channel (which includes shooting and editing videos), writing this blog, overseeing the design and production of merchandise, building my mailing list, writing and sending a bi-weekly email to my mailing list, networking with other industry people. Plus I have all of my commitments for In The Pocket and a few other things like giving lessons and playing in a jazz band. But, wait, I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Oh yeah: writing songs. That one's only kind of important, right?
There's a great song by Jackson Browne called "The Load Out," about what it's like being on tour, putting on a show in a different town day after day. And there's a lyric that says, "The only time that seems too short is the time that we get to play." Well, for me it's the time that I get to write. With all these things on my plate, the task that often gets pushed off is writing new songs, which is very frustrating because that's one of the main reasons I got into this gig. And because writing - for professionals, anyway - is not something that happens only whenever you get "inspired." You don't do job only when you're inspired, and neither do professional songwriters. And I'll admit that my time management skills could probably use a little more work and discipline, but whose couldn't?
At the beginning of the past couple years I've made it a goal to work on a new song each week, and as of now that has yet to happen. Why? Because looking at my workload, its quite possibly an impossible goal. But I'll keep working toward it.
As always, the #1 hazard of playing live is the drunk-off-their-ass person or persons in the room. I first wrote about this problem back in October of last year, but I encountered three instances over the past 2 weeks that I need to share.
"The Singer" - Saturday night, 1AM, middle of our second set. This girl, obviously wasted, comes up to us between songs and asks if she can sing with us. As the lead singer the question naturally get directed at me. Really? Why do you have to damped the night by asking me that? Do you really think I'm going to say yes? The looks I get from the other members of the band are priceless. Now cue her friends, also wasted, who insist that she's a great singer. While I'm sure she is, this is not open mic, and it is not karaoke. But I don't say that. The best way to handle it? Don't answer the question an simply launch into the next song. Well, that's at least what I did.
"The Repetitive Requester" - The next Saturday, 12AM, middle of our second set. An older drunk woman comes up and requests "some 80s - 'Everybody Dance Now'!" Now, setting aside the fact that we've been playing plenty of 80s music all night and that "Everybody Dance Now" was released in 1990, we don't know it, and I tell her that. People request songs that we don't know all the time, but unfortunately we can't know them all. This, however, is not good enough for her. Again, she comes back and get right in my face, adamantly requesting that we play some 80s, and specifically "Everybody Dance Now." She's insistent that she throws an f-bomb at me. Now slightly pissed, I again tell her we don't know the song and throw an f-bomb back at her. She leaves, but I think she was too drunk and oblivious to realize how annoying she was. One wonders if the obliviousness and the drunkenness were related at all.
"The Hit & Run" - Same Saturday, 1:30AM, middle of our third set. In fact, I remember specifically that we were going from the 3rd verse to the 2nd pre-chorus of "More Today Than Yesterday" (by Spiral Starecase, but we do the Goldfinger version). Drunk woman walks by, can't keep her balance, slams into my music stand. Like a bunch of dominoes, the music stand hits my mic stand and my keyboard, all of which then hit me. It happened so fast no one saw it coming, least of all me, and for a moment I'm sent into a state of "did that just really happen?" Yes. Yes it did. But what could I do? Everything was still standing, and aside from some wrong notes on my part the band kept chugging along. Nothing goes wrong on stage.
Finally the album release is set for June 11, with the launch party being planned for June 8 (full details coming soon), and don't forget the CD Listening Party in Poughkeepsie on April 27th. It almost feels like things are beginning to fall into place. Who would've imagined that? Maybe now my stress level can start to come down a little bit? Well, that has yet to be seen.
In anticipation of the release I'm already started to see some favorable press opportunities coming in, and I've had some good planning conversations recently with my PR company. In fact, I got my personalized marketing plan delivered to be two days ago and I've been trying to sort through all the information in it. There is a lot to go over and do, and sometimes too much. When in doubt, make a listen. Then pick one task - any task - and just do it. Start anywhere, but start.
One thing's for sure: this will not be the release of A Thin Line all over again. This time I'm armed with more experience, more knowledge, more resources, better music in front of me, and a better team behind me. I'm ready to go Over The Edge. I hope you are, too.
In today's music, there are some producers who are superstars. Timbaland obviously comes to mind. Will.i.am. Dr. Dre. Stargate. The Neptunes. Having these artists produce your song is a marketable event, and fans would be interested in your work just because these people were involved. But back when Phil Ramone was first beginning to leave his mark, it wasn't like that. When I mentioned to a few music friends that Phil Ramone had died on Saturday, there wasn't a universal grasp on who the man was or what he did. I had a little explaining to do.
I grew up listening to Paul Simon and Billy Joel, the two artists that I most closely associate with Phil Ramone. His work with Paul Simon in the 1970s produced some of the best career-defining work of Simon's career, including "Loves Me Like A Rock," "Something So Right," "Still Crazy After All These Years," "I Do It For Your Love," "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover," and "Slip Slidin' Away." Still Crazy After All These Years won the Grammy for Album Of The Year in 1976, a full decade before Simon's much-celebrated Graceland era, and its the music from this period that I have the most childhood memories about.
For Billy Joel, the addition of Phil Ramone to his team was arguably the decision that would change Billy Joel into BILLY FREAKIN' JOEL...if you get my drift. Joel was an up-and-coming artist working to making a name for himself and achieving some moderate success before Ramone signed on to produce the album which would become larger than life: The Stranger. After that, you had 52nd Street (Grammy winner for Album of the Year), Glass Houses, Songs In The Attic, The Nylon Curtain, An Innocent Man, and The Bridge. In all they collaborated on 7 albums that contain so many Billy Joel classics that it may just boggle your mind.
And so when I was growing up listening to this music, I had no idea what a producer was, what he did, or that in these cases his name was Phil Ramone. Chances are you may not have known either, but now you do. (Learn more here) It seems that in addition to the technical innovations that he was well known for, he was like a silent influence for me, because I didn't even know he was there. But he was there, and the sounds I heard on those records have forever influenced my ear.
To celebrate and remember, each day this week in the 11AM hour I will be posting out my #PhilRamoneSongOfTheDay. Connect with me on Twitter to check it out.
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