Sunday, October 3, 2010

Studio update

It's been forever since I posted here, and I'm gonna work on that, but for now, let's get to the business at hand.

At this point, we have a big picture in frame where the album is concerned -- this is, by far, the most well-planned project I've ever done, with Mark and I constantly checking to make sure we're on the same page before a string is plucked or a skin struck. Through that, the album has gained a sense of identity, strong enough that it spoke to Mark in the last session.

I swear I'm not a hippy.

We had just finished laying down my piano part for Astoria (look, ma, two hands!), and re-recording the part for Calling You Out to give it the benefit of my hard-won confidence at wrangling the monster with 88 teeth. The mics hadn't been struck yet, but we were moving on to the next task: adding atmospheric electric guitar to Enough.

Mark had sold me on the idea over beers and bourbon one night, insisting that tastefully done, this wouldn't interfere with the acoustic vibe of the album. As we were listening through the track, he had a change of heart, using words like "personality" to describe the album. He assigned actual sentience to it! As the one in the room who is usually getting branded with the Crazy for talking like that, I was all-too on board for this discussion.

We made an executive decision: there will be no electric guitar on this album.

You guys. You guys.

You guys.

....also, it was amazing amounts of fun to develop a piano part and commit it to disk all at once.

We have a few more vocal sessions, then a string session, then we're going to try to record one more in one day, then comes mixing.

The end of the tunnel never looked so sweet.
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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pittsburgh: Papa J's Centro

This past Saturday, I tried out a new venue in Pittsburgh! Papa J's Centro, right across from PPG Plaza, is an Italian restaurant converted from an old-school brothel, which they advertise fairly prominently. Why they do that, I'm not sure -- rarely do you see marketing that lowers your expectations for sexual conduct -- but they're happy, and I'm happy.

My expectations weren't lofty (especially after I found out that the Dave Matthews Band was playing at PNC Park, less than a mile from my little venue), but you guys came through! It was so great to play to a nicely crowded (if not vacuum-packed) house, full of receptive fans ready to receive new tunage while reliving some of our favorite moments from the "days of auld lang cafe-au-lait" -- and it was so much fun that we're going to do it again!

Right after everyone left, Jeffrey and I scheduled our next date, for August 28. Mark yinz calendars!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Studio blog: Jerk

....So you've all heard "Jerk" by now -- it has a driving four-on-the-floor rhythm, which lends itself to an implied drum part. I was on the way to the studio a few weeks ago and was listening to Elvis Costello's "Get Happy," and thinking about how much I love "King Horse," a song that I don't think was very popular but which features one of Pete Thomas' best drum lines:

Start with four kicks on the beat. (1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4)

Add, in alternating occurance, a snare, a high hat, and a floor tom, on the 'and' between 4 and 1. (1 2 3 4 snare 1 2 3 4 hat 1 2 3 4 tom 1 2 3 4 snare....)

The chorus explodes into a more straight beat, dropping the polyrythm before it can resolve. It's so rad. I decided I wanted to steal it pay homage to it with "Jerk."

Mark was on board, but while he was checking his level, he started doing a pattern that went (kick kick kick tom kick-snare hat kick kick....) and it was so cool I dropped the straight lift in favor of that.

For the bridge, he started out with a four-snare approach, and I said, "It feels like it's too long a bridge for that snare to have any impact. Why don't you try four-on-the-floor and throw in scattered discourse from the toms? The kick will totally drive the bridge."

IT WORKED! It sounds so good, you guys. Drums all over the place. I can't wait for you to hear it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Studio Blog: State of the Union.

It needs to be said that I'm still buzzing off of the success of my TRAF set, partly because you can YouTube the living hell out of it! Thanks to David Oleniacz for:

.... and

.... and

.... and

I think my favorite thing is the two crotchety guys who full-on have a conversation about which way to go while standing in front of the camera, and nearly crash into it while heading past it. Like, "Damned if some kid on stage bein' filmed by some flim-flam flappin' flibflob is gonna tell us where to stand. We beat England for you!"


Today, Mark and I had a whole rundown of the remaining candidates. We determined a few things:

I am over "Afterglow."
I don't know what I hoped to accomplish with that song, and I feel like it captures the weakest attempt I've ever made at salvaging joy from the wreckage of a regrettably premature encounter. RETIRED.

"Astoria" needed a little work.
We negotiated a bit on the sustained note at the end of the chorus, and getting the theme back in between the first and second verse. What was great was that Mark was frank and honest about where the song fell apart for him, and we found a solution instead of scrapping it.

So much for "So Much For Us." I think the bug up my butt about recording this because it didn't make the last album is made moot by Mark's assertion that it is suffering from too much bridge. Looking at it objectively, I agree -- if you're going to have a bridge, it should expand on the song, but looking at it now it feels like a lot more lyric to repeat the sentiments that were already there. Which, in fairness to the person I was in the moment that I wrote that song, probably what conversing with me on that subject was like: lots of reiterations on one monotonous theme. I'm going to try to rework it, but it's sidelined for now.

"Jerk" is a kick-ass song! You pretty much knew that.

"Here Goes Nothing" is better than Andy thinks it is. Andy Mac and I co-wrote the title track for this album, and I think it's one of my favorite crush songs since "Under My Nails."

"January" can start eight different ways. We looked at a lot of variants on the open, and it's still up in the air as to which one we'll use. It all depends on how we end:

"Home" does not need to be changed to sound less like other songs. I get a lot of flak from other singer-songwriters about small phrases that stick out to them, but after reworking it, Mark was like, "That's stupid. Put it back the way it was. Nobody is going to think that." Thanks, Mark.

"Hey Hey Hey" is not that big a deal. OK, it's a huge deal. But it's a bigger deal that we don't make a big deal out of it. Right?

"Enough" is better than I think it is. I'd been wish-washing on it, then Mark got enthusiastic. I may turn it into a duet.

"Boy Meets Girl" is recordable. I swear, guys, we're gonna get a good version of this song. I will not rest until it happens.

So there you go. Currently we're looking at this as a 10-song record:

Calling You Out
Wonderful Lie
Hey Hey Hey
Boy Meets Girl
Here Goes Nothing

I can't wait to start delving into this stuff.

Next week, we're going to go in and try to get basic guitar and vocal tracks for 3 or 4 songs at once, to experiment with our process a bit. Wouldn't you love to listen to this stuff as it happens? Stay tuned to find out how you can!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Studio Blog: "Wonderful Lie"

I had an idea for a transition, and I shared it with Mark at the top of the session yesterday, so we started on "Wonderful Lie," a newer song about stuff that happened a year-and-a-half ago. Some subjects just stay with you, which is fine, as long as they stay catchy.

"Lie" is probably my favorite of the new batch -- it has a nice pop hook, and seamless transitions leading from the end of the chorus into the beginning of the verse and bridge. From 8 bars in, you're always in the song -- no down time -- which is very appropriate for the situation of the lyric.

This time, the band comes in right from the start -- Mark and I put together acoustic, scratch vocals, drums and bass all in one day, and while we still have a few little ornaments planned, we're not hearing a whole lot more here. It's a very full sound!

Mark on drums is still my favorite thing ever. He leans in, closes his eyes, occasionally looking up to see if I'm in it, then we talk about sections that he or I am unsure about, then he goes back into it. It's like no process I've ever been through -- no matter what suggestion I make, he performs it perfectly, and we evaluate the ideas objectively. It's a 50-50 split on who's right, so far, and each and every time the acquiescence is smooth and unadorned, because it's time to move on. So rad.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mondays at the Rover....

....have been extended through May. We're going 9 to midnight -- come on out!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Studio Blog: "Calling You Out," day 2

Going out to Mark's studio this past Wednesday, I had, for the first time in a while, this amazing Zen-like feeling that everything was where it should be in my life. I mean, let's not even get into my dating situation -- that's always a mistake, and no one should ever ask how that's going, because like I ever know. Still, it's nice to be working on something again, and to have that feeling that this time it's going to be different, better.

When I showed up, Mark and Abby were rehearsing for her Living Room residency (which I haven't been able to go to because my Rover gig conflicts, which is I guess show biz, but it's really great that she has this opportunity and I hope it finishes well), and I got to zone out listening to her and a few of the finest vocalists in NYC work on harmonies for the final blowout set they have planned for week 4. Great stuff. We all shot the shit a little as they were on their way out, and after a little while I remembered each of them from some thing or other and we talked about how much fun that is, then we all moved on.

After a few listens at my rough draft, and a conversation about dynamics, we started work on the piano part. I'm proud to say that I played most of it, except for a figure that Mark suggested go a different way, which sounded so good I was like, "Well, play that then." We stripped down some of my ideas, fleshed out a few others, then moved on to drums.

When Mark does drum tracks, he pulls out only the pieces he's going to use. In this case, he started with just kick and snare, then played through once and said, "I think one cymbal." Then he pulled out some brushes and went to work. He's a completely vanity-free drummer -- the fills were present but not fancy, lots of space given to what was already on the track. A couple of times, we talked through some sections, me going "how about boomDAKboom instead of boomDAKKAboom...."

On one note in particular, we auditioned a series of zzzzzing sounds from his cymbal until I realized that the reason we weren't getting the one I was hearing was that he was holding the handle in such a way as to prevent an attack at the top of it, so I showed him what I meant, and he recorded the Tik-zzzzzzing that I had been going for. It was a cool moment.

Last, we worked on guitar. I did a standard open-strum background to thicken up the sound a bit, as I tend to do when I record at home, then dropped in the lead phrase from the demo with some minor revisions, and some harmonics to sweeten up the breakdown. My favorite part was adding lead bits to the second verse. Because I wanted the guitar to sound as open as possible, and because I'm an inexperienced lead player whose ideas don't always translate well to performance, I used the capo in two separate positions to get the little interjections. All in all, we got a lot done on this track -- all that really remains is to do some vocal bedding (which I longed to do and never got to do on the last album), and we can move on to the next song.

I love this process, so far, a great deal more than the one on the last few albums I've made, which have involved rehearsing a band, going in, doing basic tracks, then fleshing those out. Building a track from a straight acoustic performance is how all of my home recordings were done, and I missed that method so much. It's gonna take a little while, but I think we're going to have something good at the end of it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Studio Blog: PreProd in record time, "Calling You Out"

The first day in the studio with a producer like Mark is all about pre-production. The two of you sit across from each other and talk about your music. You play him a song, he listens to it beginning to end and makes notes about how to make it flow better, trim excess time, tighten up the intros and outros. That's usually the whole day, and then the next week maybe you start recording.

I am proud to say that after about an hour and a half, give or take, we were ready to start recording "Calling You Out." Mark listened to eight of my songs, all of which he felt were already tight enough on their own, all of which he felt began and ended strongly. When a producer and an artist agree on all the issues of flow and time, it's a great start. By process of elimination, we decided to start with "Calling You Out," because it's a very accessible song that will allow us to feel out our process without getting too bogged down in the technical aspects of the composition.

The version we started with felt a little slow to me, but not to Mark, so he made a strong pitch for why it worked. I was ready to acquiesce when he said, "But let's try it faster anyway. Who knows?"

I played it maybe two clicks faster than last time, and it was like night and day. We listened to the two versions back-to-back, and I said, "It's minute," and he said, "Yeah, but wow, what a difference, huh? I'm glad we did that."

At the end of the day, I went home with a reference mix waiting in my inbox, with scratch lead vocal, completed acoustic guitar, bass guitar and shaker tracks, and a fully developed idea for a piano motif.

I spent some time today (two days later) playing with my Zoom HD8, sketching out ideas for background vocals, lead acoustic guitar, and laying in the full idea for the keyboard part. This is invaluable, because when I go back next week, I'll have fully formed ideas for what I want to do, instead of vague stuff that we hedge around.

Dudes, I am so psyched.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Studio Blog: Introduction

I've looked around for about two years for someone to work with on the new album -- recording in Pittsburgh would have meant too much travel expense, and I want to be more present during the process this time around. Last time, I wasn't there for half of the sessions, allowing the producer leeway to play through his ideas until he found something he was happy with, and it worked to my detriment.

I can't stress enough that I think "Boy Meets Girl" is a perfectly good, listenable album -- I've re-ordered, which is the goal of any independent release -- but the point of my solo career, at the end of the day, should be to be this guy with an acoustic guitar, and "Boy Meets Girl" doesn't reflect that so much as ask you to infer it. This time around, I'm putting my styling on shout, and gambling that it will work.

When I moved to New York from Pittsburgh, I had the good fortune to become re-acquainted with some of my fellow exports: Jamie Rae,
Jenna Nicholls,
Brian Halloran, and Abby Ahmad are the four that immediately spring to mind, and as best as I could, I set out to incorporate them into my showcases in Astoria.

During Abby's set at my earliest showcase, at Winegasm, she played this awesome song called "Landing Gear" that, well, picture "Time For Change" with an expanded focus, one that nailed pretty much the national post-9/11 outlook. The best part of the song for me, though, was this intense rhythm figure that ends with her fully spanking her guitar. "Wow," I thought, "That is NASTY. And AWESOME. And will never be recorded."

In the studio, things tend to change. Microphones placed to the left of the soundhole of your guitar will pick up the sound of you playing your guitar if you're a standard player, with a plectrum or a supreme grasp of the fingerpicking styles of Robert Johnson and the like. However, if you want to spank your guitar, the only sound that mic is going to pick up will sound like a mistake. I was certain that they would take out Abby's spanking noise and make it part of a percussionist's figure, or worse, turn it into a snare hit.

Then the album, "Curriculum," came out, and it was there! Not only was it there, but it was the catalyst for this awesome chain reaction of nervous tom hits. Abby's producer/boyfriend, Mark Marshall, had completely bowled me over. I have pored over this album, and I can tell you it is a piece of incredible worth, an intimate portrait of Abby's style and attitude. The end of "Lost on Me," a later track on the disc, has this crazy drum fill that feels like frustration is melting away from her every time it attacks, with a rhythmic incongruity not unlike a dresser falling headlong down a flight of stairs. Fantastic.

I had a meeting with Mark, and we talked a lot -- about "BMG," about "Curriculum," about the album I want to make and the music each of us listen to, the approaches we've taken and would like to take. It was like a choir preaching to another choir that modeled themselves on the choir that is preaching to them. Kind of amazing.

I'll keep you guys posted as more stuff happens.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

When I was a drama kid, I was required to take Theatre History.  It was mind-numbing for most of the time, but one awesome thing I took from it was a tidbit about vaudeville actors.  Apparently, when vaudeville was in its prime, two complete strangers could meet at the stage entrance, compare notes, and do an entire show, no rehearsal required, just by creating a rundown of pre-established bits that were being done all across the land.  Mind-boggling, right?

Last night, Andy Mac and I did our first of at least four, and hopefully more, gigs at the Irish Rover in Astoria.  We've done hour-long sets before, and on one occasion, we traded sets (I helped him out when his voice went out) at the Diving Bell, but we had never done three full hours together. 

Andy is a consummate professional -- when I tell you that I play a lot, know that Andy plays even more often.  When he's not doing his own shows, he's doing sideman gigs as a percussionist.... Which is what he thought he was going to be doing last night.  I surprised him by learning the first half of his latest album, "Struggle Fantastic," and having the charts at the ready (I had practiced with my iPod so I could nail it at the show.)

Other neat things happened -- we played a completely new song, "Is It Enough," which literally had never been played at a show, much less in front of people.  I showed it to Andy as we were setting up, he made a suggestion about the prechorus, and an hour later, we just shot it out into the air.  That was rad.  Also, a version of "Use Me" where we traded verses.

I think my favorite part was when we played "The Way Things Are," which Andy had never heard or played before, and we got to the bridge, with its bouncy rhythm change-up, and he landed on the cue of me bouncing on my toes to indicate that the change was happening.  Totally non-verbal, totally awesome.  Can't wait to do it again.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mondays at the Rover

For those of you that don't know, the Irish Rover is located on 38th St and 28th Ave, in my home base of Astoria.  Every third drink is free!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fool's

March 31st, 2008, I had just finished moving my stuff from Pittsburgh (home for over 20 years) to New York, assisted and enabled by the ever-generous Kari, and was struck by inspiration. I was never one to go for April Fool's jokes, but this one couldn't be missed!

The morning's MySpace bulletin read:

"Ha! I got all of you -- I didn't move to New York! I just found a smaller place on the South Side -- I wanted to be close to the scene again.

Come hang out with me tonight at Dee's, I'll be there at 10:00 sharp."

This afternoon, my karma returned to me when my roommate's prank of telling our absentee roommate that there was something wrong with the toilet resulted in a chain of concerned calls, which then resulted in the caretaker waking me up from a much-needed nap.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sad Songs

Yesterday, I got an email letting me know that "Sad Songs," one of the songs off the album Boy Meets Girl, is going to be played at the end of the 6th inning on May 6, 2010, at PNC Park. I don't know if they're playing the full song or not, but they're putting my name, the title, and a link to my site on the huge screen, and that makes me smile.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Confessions of a Tasteless Hack (Bill WIthers, Touch)

"My real life was when I was just a working guy. You know, it's OK to head out for Wonderful. But on your way to Wonderful, you're gonna have to pass through All Right. And when you get to All Right, take a good look around, and get used to it, because that may be as far as you're gonna go."
- Bill Withers.

When I first started doing the singer-songwriter 'thing,' and entertaining it as a life, my parents tried the scare tactic of having a guy over who had been through the rigamarole of the music business. He brought a guitar with his old band's name stenciled onto the case, played me a perfectly crafted song in an alternate tuning, and told me failure was a near-certainty.

I'm absolutely certain my parents expected this to dissuade me from my pursuit -- instead, it galvanized my desire to prove to them that this can happen. My biggest regret is that by the time I was 21, I was so gung-ho about achieving unassailable success that I had lost sight of the work. I was obsessed with words like "springboard," trying to find ways to vault myself to fame and fortune -- I should have just been doing the work.

Yesterday, I stumbled across the trailer for "Still Bill," the new documentary on Bill Withers' autumnal years (still going, btw), and that quote up there was in it, and blew my mind whole. I can't imagine what it would be like to live in this guy's world, to have him around to give advice. Does he always talk like that? Is the secret to his amazing frank lyrical style just that when he opens his mouth, he says fantastic, profound shit, by using little words that say giant things? I think it may be.

I have to confess that the reason I'm obsessing about Bill Withers, also, is that up until a few days ago, I didn't have a single Bill Withers album. Having bought the Greatest Hits, I think it's still arguable that I don't. So many of these songs have been such ubiquitous fixtures in the world, it's weird to think they have a context -- how did no one sit me down when I was wearing new grooves into that Club Nouveau version of "Lean On Me" and say, "OK -- Here is where we blow your mind with how great this stuff can be," and lock me in a room with the real thing?

My musical awakening was slow and churning. My parents turned me on to the Beatles, and popular folk, mainly. My father was big on folk groups -- Peter, Paul and Mary, Chad Mitchell Trio, The Brothers Four -- and Dionne Warwick, which really meant that he was big on Bacharach, I think, because the R&B started and stopped in his collection with her. My parents also led a folk choir at St. John's Student Parish in East Lansing, and the swingier hymns used to get my attention (before I hit puberty, I would sing along with my mother's harmony parts, which is probably why I've always been good at background vocals).

Frustrated with my limited tastes, my sister locked me in her room with a Top 40 station one day, and I started accepting that stuff as the Real Stuff. Today, I can enjoy Survivor's "The Search Is Over" with a healthy level of irony, loving it for how truly limp it is, but back then, I was of the belief that THAT was the pinnacle of songwriting. Well, that and Paul Young's version of Daryl Hall(who?)'s "Everytime You Go Away," which I was only OK with once someone explained to me that she wasn't taking actual limbs with her.

The Eurythmics, though, were the first band that stuck out for me as true artists -- the smoothness of Annie Lennox, the jerkiness of Dave Stewart, the ineffable (for a 9-year-old) clash of the analog and the digital -- so when my mother asked me what album I would like (she was on her way to buy Michael Jackson's Thriller), I asked for whatever was the newest one of theirs. "Touch" became my first LP.

Look at that cover. Would you let a 9-year-old have that? If you were my mother, you would. I wish I could say that from there, I embarked on a voyage of alternative discovery -- that I experienced Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cure, the Smiths, all of that stuff, while it happened, but I can't. Somehow, I just kept letting the radio tell me what to listen to, even though I adored "Touch," and memorized every bleep-bloop, and loved the songs that didn't get on the radio way more than the songs that did (I could never process that "Cool Blue" wasn't a hit, and that chorus still freaks me out).

I've since bought it in all other formats, each time rediscovering the material and finding new things to love about it, but I still have that copy of that record -- even when I got rid of all my albums (unwise, but I move around a lot), I kept that one around.

That was fun -- maybe I'll do more of these.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Winegasm Tuesdays

Do you live in Astoria? If not, do you like Astoria? If not, how do you know you don't like Astoria? I mean, have you been there? Well, don't you think you should try it out before you knock it? Good! Then do that on this or any every Tuesday, by stopping out to Winegasm, a pleasant eatery/winebar in Astoria on 37th and Broadway, at which I play every Thursday night from 8 to 11 pm.

Your ears will thank you!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Wednesday Night Song Club

Last night, after a co-write session and a few stops off at clubs to inquire about future bookings, I hopped the F-train to Bergen St, and a pub called Ceol, where on Wednesday nights, Niall Connolly hosts the Wednesday Night Song Club.

Niall was one of the first dudes I met on my way out to NYC, and our first exchange yielded a bevy of fresh opportunities for us both, as I gave him the straight deal on booking in Pittsburgh and he, to me, on New York. He also did me the kindness of taking me around to a few of the places he was playing on the monthly and letting me do a few songs to impress club owners. Thanks to Niall, I had my first month booked before I even got here.

The WNSC is Niall's brainchild -- a "closed mic" situation, in which you are allowed to play three songs (more if you are that night's feature act), but only if you have been invited, or vouched for by one of the night's trusted friends. I was with him from the humble start of it, and have guest-hosted a few times while he was out of the country, and followed him gladly to Ceol in Brooklyn when he moved it from the West Village.

I haven't been able to make it for about 4 months because I've been doing sound at a comedy open mic on the Upper West Side, so it was a treat to come back to the show. I forgot how amazing it actually was.

Niall is a friendly, affable guy, and if you give him your best, he'll give you his -- he's the perfect host. It's only natural that he would attract such incredible talent as to make everyone in the room look at each other and go, "Wow, (s)he's good. I should QUIT. Just get out of their way and QUIT." The result? We all go home and write better songs and come back the next week in the hopes of holding our heads up at the end of the night. What we rarely address is that we all feel that way, intimidated by each other's ability to nail that piece of sentiment that eludes each of us.

What the showcase does lack, however, is audience members, and that is a crying shame. If we're moving each other this much, while we silently study each other's form and method, dissecting song after song, chord by chord, imagine how much you'll love it when you're just having a beer and some awesome pub grub (their bangers and mash is not to be missed.)

If you're ever looking for something to do on a Wednesday night, the WNSC kicks off at 8:00 and goes 'til midnight, and caters to many and often all tastes. Please support this worthy pursuit. Take the F or G to Bergen St and look around -- Ceol's the green awning.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Open Mics

As I type this, I'm sitting on a vinyl-coated bench at the tiny-yet-spaciously-intriguing Root Hill Cafe in Park Slope. It took me an hour to get here from Astoria by train, but that hour is well spent on the pursuit of a boundless opportunity -- a new open mic.

Open mics are a huge part of my lifestyle out here. It's how I make new performing friends, and it's key to the process of finding new venues and opening them up to my music. When I first moved here, I was taking the approach of bringing my Big Dang Album around, passing copies of it and my business card over countless coffeeshop and beer joint counters, only to find it scaring them off of me, because they thought I'd be either bringing the Big Dang Band with me, or that I wouldn't hold up as a solo performer -- in retrospect, I wish we had put some acoustic-only songs on it.

That makes it sound like I hate my album. I don't -- and I don't think my fans do -- but the next thing is going to be much more sparing in the bells-and-whistles department. I can't think of many artists out there that don't switch up their process each time.

I have a few policies when going to a new open mic, and they've served me well. So here's some tips:

1. Show up early. The first time I go to any open mic, I show up an hour before sign-up, to get used to the room, and to ensure that I get a slot. I don't usually sign up for the first slot, as I want to get to know the regular performers in the room, as well, but it's nice to have your options open. Having run an open mic or two, I can't tell you how annoying it is when someone shows up after the slots are filled and starts grousing that there isn't more availability. If you're not there when the list comes out, you're just not trying hard enough. So, until I know exactly how the rhythm of the sign-up for each place works, I err on the side of caution -- and I have never been turned away from an open mic.

2. Don't be a spaz. The worst thing you can do in this environment is to come off as a tryhard. I'm pretty ambitious and outgoing, so this is the rule I almost always break. In fact, I just broke it, because the second track from L.E.O's "Alpacas Orgling" just came on the store's iPod, and that never happens, so I just Spazzed about that to the owner.

3. Be a participant. When you're not playing, you are an audience member. This means talking is minimal, and that can be tricky when you've just played and people want to talk to you about it. The next person deserves the same attention you got, though, and you need to give them that. It's not hard to keep answers short and polite -- over the years I've gotten very good at getting email addresses and selling CDs with minimal gestures and conversation.

4. Play the 'hits.' I have a song called "Right On" that doesn't fail, ever, as long as I sing it well. Every open mic I play for the first time, I play that song, because I feel that it's owed to the room to at least give them one indication of my act at its best. For comedians, it seems like their rule of thumb is to exclusively try out new material and either tank it or watch it sail. I wish more of them would bring their 'A' game for the first minute or so. After that I can do whatever. (Tonight the backup number was a newer song called "Wonderful Lie" that is proving itself to be a pretty sturdy player.)

5. Banter light, banter quick, and get the eff off the stage when you're done. This should always be your behavior, but especially the first time. Load it up, load it off, and be quick about it. I have seen people show up to open mics with some of the most convoluted setups you can imagine, and it never goes well. If you have 8 minutes to play, and you spend 5 of those minutes getting your loop pedals to work in sync, guess what? 3 minutes.

6. Never, EVER ask when your spot is coming. I know I talked about this in the soundguy post, but seriously. Just don't. There's an open mic in the Village where if you ask the soundguy when your slot is, he will stare lasers into you and you will feel them, and I totally side with that guy.

and lastly:

7. Buy a drink. You're not rich -- you're doing open mics. Sure. But you are using a space that is opening its doors to you for the furthering of your career. Pay your rent -- buy a drink. Coffee, Soda, beer, I don't care, but buy something. Otherwise, you'll see the venue close, or you'll find yourself being received with much less grace as time goes on.

Rock it like you stole it,

Sunday, February 28, 2010


Remember 6 months ago, when Facebook forced us all to talk about ourselves in.the third person, by starting every status with "(First Name) (Last Name) is:", and then they took the "is" away so we could decide for ourselves whether to be narcissistic douches?

I'd like to think we're better as a society with the optional "is."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Thank you!

A special thanks is in order, to the crowd that came out last night. That was an hour of pure privilege.

Picking a performing art as a career involves a lot of self-assurance and a thick skin. You hear "no" so much more often than "yes," and you deal with a lot of callous disrespect from people that don't understand that what you do is a job. It's been getting me down a little bit lately, and I have had a harder time holding my head up. I hadn't even noticed that I was depressed before last night, when that depression gave way.

Last night, you all came, despite horrible weather conditions, and brought your friends, and sat, and listened, and clapped and laughed, and let me entertain you. In your applause, on your faces, and in our conversations afterwards, you gave me more valuable affirmation than I knew I needed. It was amazing to share that with you all. I will never take this privilege for granted.

Let's totally do that again soon.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Caffe Vivaldi tonight, 8:30 PM

Be sure to come see me at Caffe Vivaldi tonight, at 8:30 PM! It's on Bleecker and Jones St, super-close to the W 4th St stop on the BDFV. I'm playing with my friend Andy Mac on percussion, it's going to be awesome!

Reflections on doing sound.

Having now done sound at a club for four months (half of that time doing it 6 nights a week), I have a new mission in life:

I want to call every sound engineer I've ever had and apologize.

Then, I want to make a series of resolutions for how I will deal with all sound engineers and open mic hosts in the future.

I will always memorize the two people before me, so I won't ever have to ask the sound engineer/host when I'm up.

I will research the club's backline before any and every show I do.

I will promote. Promote. Promote.

I will tip my sound engineer (please don't judge me for not knowing that was a 'thing.')

I will leave my sound engineer alone when he is DOING EFFING SOUND.

I will listen closely to my sound engineer's questions and instructions, to ensure a smooth production from the gate.

I will let my sound engineer judge the levels in the room for himself.

I will never scold an engineer again for any of the following:
  • Stray feedback
  • Loss of sound onstage resultant of own faulty equipment
  • Not paying rapt attention to my set
  • Too much bass in my monitor
  • Too much treble in my monitor

I will NEVER say the following:

  • "Can you make sure my vocals get heard above the mix?"
  • "So, a little bit about the band you're about to hear: We are a [name three disparate genres that do not describe our act]."
  • "It's very important that [ANYTHING.]"
  • "Why is there nobody here?"
  • "I have played at B.B. King's twice. Have you done sound at B.B. King's twice?" [TRUE STORY. Someone said that to me.]
  • "Audience: What do you think of our sound? Want anything turned up? Down? Just ask the guy in the back."

Seriously, soundpeople -- I am so, so sorry. I must be better. I will be better.