A couple weeks ago I realized something, and it has since made me a very Grumpy Sally indeed. This is what’s happening: my work life involves running around town to spend a couple hours doing some form of work to receive wages per job that could get me less than one oil change or approximately one old chihuahua from the local shelter.
I have decided that I am not into this, anymore.
If you’ll remember, I liked this arrangement very, very much when I gave a big EFF YOU to the man and went self-employed/freelance over two years ago. But now the excitement of NOT BEING A WAITRESS has worn off and been replaced with an excitement not only to pour much, much more energy into music projects I’m getting more and more excited about, but also to NOT BE DRIVING AROUND TOWN ALL THE DAMNED TIME TO COLLECT MY MEASLY PITTANCE.
Nothing is worse than having to cut your work on your latest video short because you agreed to walk some rich lady’s dogs halfway across town and collect money that could buy you but two to three lattes, which you won’t, because you can’t afford them.
I’m also struggling more and more with this idea that the same shit just breeds more of the same shit. I recently mentioned offhand to someone that I babysit, and, lo! Now I have another babysitting lead. Does anyone want this job? I will totally put you in touch with that person, because I am so not interested in ever getting a new babysitting client.
Note to self: when you talk to people out in the world, even—no, especially—in casual conversations, you are a musician. You are not a babysitter. You make music, you work with Pyragraph (yay!), you teach music, you make videos and put them on the internet. But you do not babysit, at least as far as the outside world is concerned.
I look at other people, and compare my life to what their lives might look like. There’s Laci Green, feminist sex/gender education video blogger. She seems so busy and so, so, so ass-kickingly hardworking. What does she do all day? I have no idea, but I don’t think there’s any room in it at all for babysitting. I think she’s probably constantly researching/preparing/making her next video, booking her next college tour, speaking at colleges, plastering great stuff all over social media, and generally being a badass activist.
And there’s Tonya Kay, actress, burlesque performer, danger artist. She’s just fucking fearless. No side jobs for her. I feel like, to be a true Tonya Kay-like person I’d need to move from Albuquerque to a much bigger city. Just read her bio. Look at how much shit she’s done! And dude, I’m pretty sure she’s a few years younger than me. Let the spiral of self-loathing begin!
And there’s also Moira Smiley, who I took a vocal workshop from a couple years ago. She actually suggested that I move to a bigger place when I asked. Here’s the thing: she never once in her life worked any sort of job that wasn’t related to music. From the time she was eighteen, she was singing songs and booking shows. That’s just so very, very cool to me. She’s been completely immersed for her entire adult life not only in the music, but also the business stuff that goes along with that.
That’s so fascinating to me. A big part of me wants that to be my story, too, but I went ahead to college and stuff after listening to my parents, etc. as described in this rather unsympathetic Frank Zappa quote: “If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.”
There’s just anxiety. Sure, I have anxiety about money, but there’s also anxiety about time. I just hate hate hate spending time away from the things I want to do, in favor of shit I feel pretty much lukewarm about, and that’s what it really comes down to. My life—even just a couple hours of it—is just worth SO MUCH MORE than the money I recently spent on an oil change.
Not too long ago I met the lovely Tonya Kay in person, when she last performed in my town with the burlesque group, The Lalas.
Guys, I’m totally starstruck. I’m telling you, Tonya Kay is the fucking bomb: She’s funny, engaging, super-talented, motivated, on the ball, open, energetic, really friendly. (Not to mention, she blogs for Pyragraph from time to time.)
That night, she mentioned something about tactics public figures can use to protect themselves from the crazies/creepers/stalkers (I’m paraphrasing, here), and having a bit of experience with crazies/creepers/stalkers myself, I wanted to ask her some questions about it.
We had a great talk about gender, self-protection, personal boundaries and how to manage them.
Sage Harrington: You’ve been a performer for many years. I can imagine that you’ve been dealing with this nonsense for a long time! When did it start?
Tonya Kay: I’ve been performing since I was four and doing it professionally for 23 years. As soon as you are performing for the public, you naturally have fans. All fans have different personalities — they are just people like us, of course! Some fans are legitimate fans of your work and will follow you on social media, come to your live shows, watch you on television or rent your movie on iTunes. Some fans want to interact more and will request autographs in the mail, request photos after the show, start and continue conversations with you. Some fans want to give gifts.
Some get confused and think they know you personally or are sure you should know them personally — and that’s where it’s unacceptable.
All performers have fans. Performers young in the business or young in the exposure part of the business innocently don’t realize they have fans — or innocently don’t realize all fans have different personalities. It wasn’t until I was on tour in STOMP that my fan base was large enough that I realized how many different types of fans there are out there.
That’s when I realized I must start giving fans a place to interact with my permission.
At that time, social media wasn’t a thing. So I started a forum called the Lonely Garden and what a beautiful place it was — I became actual friends with many of the members of the Lonely Garden from back then and still follow their careers today! I hired someone to build a website that listed all my tour dates so fans could come see me. Nowadays you can build social networks and keep your interactions all online if you like.
Building places like forums, fan pages, etc. — this is not just a place you are offering fans to interact with you where you feel safe and public, but also a place where you can host your fans! Let’s face it, performers enjoy the fan relationship as much as the fans themselves. We want fans and authentic human interactions as much as they do! But all of us want to feel safe, comfortable and free to express ourselves appropriate to that relationship.
Tonya, that is so rad! Way to use the resources available to you. Especially since I’ve read in some of your Pyraposts that you once considered yourself a technophobe. So, how can a “newbie” — someone who’s never had a gross or scary interaction with a fan — know who/how to screen out the bad ones? Some guidelines?
A fellow performer that I admire and respect very much had the worst-case scenario with a dangerous fan/stalker. It changed his life entirely in ways no one wants to change. He said the most enlightening words to me and I will share them with all my performer — heck, human — friends: “You cannot rationalize the irrational.”
Say it to yourself and listen to it.
YOU CANNOT RATIONALIZE THE IRRATIONAL.
Dangerous, abusive, negative fans are irrational. You cannot think them through, you can not screen them out, you cannot predict their behavior. It is irrational!
So we as public figures must set up a SAFE, COMFORTABLE, PUBLIC place where all fans are invited to interact with us. This safe, comfortable and public place has no private information available to either party. Your website does not host a phone number, address or even email address.
If contacted via those means, the contact is not visibly PUBLIC so it is not where fans get to interact. A phone call is not public. An email is not public. A visit to your work address is not public. In anyone’s life, private contact is reserved for family and friends. Fans are not family and they are not friends. Remember that. They may become both if invited! But they are not, as fans, invited to your privacy.
So social media: Google+, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, etc. These places are public. Any interaction is viewable by the public and the public is the strongest community functioning on taboo you have as a public figure. My fans OFTEN put a negative fan or harassing fan in their place for me. I’ve had two fans become abusive in the comments on various blogs I’ve written — they stop when they realize their comments are public or they are shamed by the public for behavior we all know is wrong towards any human being, including performers. You can block someone on social networks. And so on.
There are services like Google Voice that offer a virtual phone number so even your “trusted” work confidants do not have your private number. Contact forms on websites should always be what they call blind submit forms so that your email address is nowhere in the source code of the website and no fan can lift it, nor can any spammers. You can rent a P.O. box to use for your address on ALL THINGS, or, I often just use my agent’s address, making even the simple sending of a gift to me a visibly public action.
I have had to learn oodles of personal info lock-down tactics by error, and have had to train my family and friends on locking down their private info, as well as keeping mine locked down with me. The fact is, humans love humans! We live in cities, we communicate and create art to connect, we WANT to have fans and friends and family surrounding us abundantly! But there’s no reason we shouldn’t do that in a SAFE, COMFORTABLE and PUBLIC setting.
I share a lot of my personal life as a career, but there’s a lot I don’t share, too.
A lot of musicians I know share their email addresses on their websites. I didn’t at first but then added it at the suggestion of a fellow musician who said that it’s nice for it to be there should you get the “big call” (from a record label or some such organization). You’re suggesting a blind submit form instead? Or could you just screen the emails that seem to be sent from fans vs. the ones that seem to be sent from professionals?
Absolutely NO PRIVATE EMAIL on websites. NO PRIVATE INFORMATION at all. Blind submit forms allow you to receive a communication without the other party having your private information. Email is private because the public can’t read what was written to you.
But really, at this point, there is no reason for a fan to even email me. I have social networks and am available to interact on them. And for the professionals, I have agents aplenty who can take calls, inquiries and pass along prospective clients to me. I say, use blind submit forms if you must. Then create an email address that is used JUST to receive anything from the blind submit form so you can terminate it easily and without repercussion at any time if needed.
As much as I hate to admit it, my creepy “fan” interactions are really draining emotionally. I don’t feel like doing anything in public/online. I just want to kind of hide away, feel grumpy and violated, and heal. At least for a while. How do you avoid letting this stuff get to you?
Stuff DOES get to me. My lover notices that I am irritated for no reason or just in a bad mood sometimes — and I have to tell him (he doesn’t use social media) what happened online. Or if I am actually concerned for my safety, he is there for me — he bought me a fucking taser — and he takes my safety requests seriously. Like if I text him at 3am after a gig to walk me home, he’s there.
Emotionally, I crack down harder on my privacy every time a dangerous or even creepy stalker surfaces. And I draw lines quickly and clearly nowadays. I do what I need to do to feel safe.
Emotions always change, so I let the negative ones move on by interacting positively with some of my awesome fans online.
There are so many awesome people out there doing cool stuff — I tell myself, “Why focus on the douchebag when I could focus on the hundreds of other inspiring people that follow me instead?”
Someone like me, who totally feels like I’m not on anyone’s radar, would think that this couldn’t happen to me. But it can happen to anyone!
Everyone in the public eye has fans. This includes all professional and semi-professional artists. Do not think just because you are “small time” or “a male” or “a chef, not an actor” that you are exempt. If you start talking to your fellow artist friends of whatever gender, discipline, level of exposure, you will get their “stalker” or “creepy fan” or “abusive co-worker” story. There is no reason to live in fear, but simply make sure you provide that SAFE, COMFORTABLE and PUBLIC place to interact early and you can get to know people and let them get to know your work!
Here’s the deal with PROs, or Performance Rights Organizations:
They’re fucking confusing.
That’s what I thought when I first started learning about them. I don’t necessarily feel that way anymore; it’s just that there’s no handbook. This is the “clueless-about-royalties-and-stuff” me from three years ago: She’s wandering around, tripping over mic cables, bumping into walls and people at bars who seem like they kind of know something about the music biz. She’s trying to focus, through the fog of a beer or two, on this foreign business-y stuff they’re trying to teach, all after having sung for two hours. She’s just not absorbing it all that well. The info, I mean. She’s absorbed the beer just fine.
This is why I’ve put together this here three-episode mini-handbook (look for volumes two and three coming up) on what I’ve learned about getting set up with a PRO. My hope is that you can use this info to help make sense of those weird, confusing impromptu post-show business lessons, and piece together the scattershot advice you get from other musicians you meet backstage. With a little self-education you should be able to handle this stuff on your own, without some sort of asinine service. It’s not that hard to understand.
Like Nataly Dawn of Pomplamoose said about managing her indie career in this interview, “People think that all of these things have to be done by geniuses behind huge desks or at the top of skyscrapers, but you can just go online and do it yourself.” So what follows is a long and windy tale that documents, more or less, how I came to understand this stuff. This is what I know.
What is a Performance Rights Organization?
A PRO is a nonprofit that represents writers and publishers of music. (We’ll talk more about what being a writer and a publisher means later.) PROs basically chop up a song’s “ownership” 50/50. They say, “Hey, this song has been reported to us as having been written by Sage Harrington and published by Goat Soap Society, and since it’s been covered about a gazillion times at live shows by artists all over the country, both she and her publishing company deserve a whopper of a check!”
What does this mean for independent artists? Let’s start by talking about my CD. I recorded one almost two years ago, but before pressing it, I wanted to affiliate myself with a PRO. I’d been told at a music conference, by old music biz guys at bars, and by other musicians, that I needed the ASCAP “stamp” on my CD, or else radio stations and those ever-elusive big-time music execs that could potentially pluck me from the hoarde (or, herd) wouldn’t take me seriously.
Joining up with a PRO (the main ones are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC; there are more, but these are the most popular) means that you’re legit. You’re into this as, like, a career. It also means this organization has your back. They’re there to help you. You meet whatever requirements they have for you, pay them a fee, maybe, and they collect money in certain ways for stuff you’ve made.
A Couple Disclaimers
Let me say right now that I’m going to be talking about ASCAP a lot because they’re my PRO, although I’m not necessarily endorsing them specifically. I’ll be talking about their system because it’s the one I’m familiar with, so please keep in mind certain things may be specific to ASCAP but will probably also be true for other PROs. I can’t be sure, not having had the opportunity to poke around in the members-only section of other PRO websites.
Lastly, I am a singer-songwritery type, so I’ll be coming at this adventure from that perspective. Things may work (probably only slightly) differently for composers of classical works or those who write (or want to write) music for production libraries.
So Let’s Get Started: Some Distinctions
There’s this thing that happens in the legal world: You start thinking of yourself in segments. It’s weird, but it’s a system that has its roots in a time when different people did all these different jobs. In the olden days, singers sang, lyricists wrote, and a whole team of business people made a bunch of money and hid it from the singers and the writers. Today, this system seems weird because Indie Rules and We’re Doing All This Shit On Our Own over here.
Hopefully there will be more money and emotional well-being in it for us indies than there was for the likes of Stephen Foster, the writer of “Beautiful Dreamer” and other classics, who, as Rennie Sparks writes in The Handsome Family‘s song, “Wildebeest,” “smashed his head on the sink in the bitter fever of gin” after he made little to no cash on the wildly popular songs he wrote like “Oh, Susanna” that we still sing today.
Back to business. Here are the parts of you:
What you’ll probably want to do first is register yourself as a songwriter with a PRO. This is pretty self-explanatory. We artsy fartsy types are probably least scared by this category. This is where we shine. This is where we write goofy minute-and-a-half-long songs about porridge, pen deep lyrics about existential angst or abandonment, write contemporary bluegrass tunes on the guitar, compose opuses, or record short instrumental pieces at home on mandolin, piano, cello, sousaphone, glockenspiel, and marimba that will hopefully get picked up for use in a Target commercial.
Within the distinction of “songwriter” there are more distinctions: You might be a singer-songwriter, where you write the words and the music. You might just write lyrics. You might compose instrumental music. You might write classical works. You might create music for production libraries, which movie-makers and the like access for use in film, TV, and commercials. These are all distinctions that PROs make, so you should be aware of them too.
This is also self-explanatory. You play at bars, libraries, coffeehouses, venues, etc. Hopefully the venue pays you. Hopefully you sell some CDs. Hopefully people sign up for your email list. Hopefully you make a connection with at least one person. A PRO can’t help you too much in this area (but more on that in volume two). You’ve gotta do all this wrangling of guarantees and promo and whatnot on your own. This is, largely, a whole other ballgame.
This is where things start getting weird for us artsy types. What is a music publisher supposed to do, anyway? What’s happening in publishing land may seem scary, overly climate controlled, cold, business-y, and cultured under an unhealthy amount of fluorescent lighting in an obscene amount of tweed and starchy white button-downs.
If you find one you’d like to work with,”traditional” publishers can help you push the songs you’ve written for other people to sing. Each time your songs are performed or recorded, you, as the songwriter, get paid for it. I’ll let Wikipedia and About explain further.
But why do I have to bother with this whole publishing charade as an indie? Why should I sign up with a PRO as a music publisher? Well, you could potentially get into the publishing racket and be a pusher of your own tunes, if you wanted, but here’s the reason I did it: I wanted 100% ownership of my songs (also, I don’t have any music publishing friends to hook up with). Remember, when you register a song with a PRO, they’ll ask you who owns it: Songwriter(s) own a total of 50% and publisher(s) own the remaining 50%. So, when your song is played on the radio, covered, pressed, and/or downloaded, your PRO keeps track of that and sends money to the writer(s) and publisher(s) accordingly. If you’re not set up to receive royalties on both the writer’s side and the publishing side, you could be missing out on half the cash.
After learning this, I registered myself as a songwriter and a music publisher with ASCAP. Here’s an interesting, if slightly confusing, second option: It’s apparently possible to claim twice the ownership on the writer’s side to circumvent this whole publishing company dealio. A friend of mine, (who’s affiliated with BMI) does just this to avoid the fees associated with creating a publishing company.
Phew! We got through some heavy stuff today. There’ll even be more to cover next time. In Everything I’ve Learned About PROs, Vol. 2, I’ll write more about the weird legal distinctions that’ll give you the background you need to understand how all this works.
I’m not sure if the internet needs my American Idol audition story. (This American Idol audition story already lives online, after all.) I don’t know if you need me to recount a day I spent mostly standing in a line that was not as long as it would have been in, say, 2004. I mean, they brought the American Idol bus to Albuquerque? As one of my friends said, “Their ratings really must have fallen if they’re coming here.”
My mom was the one who told me about the American Idol audition. Of course my mom thinks I should go to the American Idol audition.
Tons of people think that American Idol is one of the only surefire ways to a career in music. Ain’t necessarily so, and I’m assuming you also think there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Er, earn a living making songs.
But I kept thinking about it. I thought about how Amanda Palmer promoted a contestant of The Voice in her blog. And I thought, hey, if Amanda Palmer is endorsing a certain lady competing in a teevee show and if other independent artists are using it as a platform to increase their visibility, it might be worth looking into.
So I read the gross waiver they make you sign. They say things like this, but in legalspeak:
We are allowed to say defamatory things about you!
We may require you to sign other creepy documents!
We own any video taken of you and will pay no royalties on any original material you perform!
So this is where the hey-I’m-an-indie-I’m-in-control-of-everything-including-my-extremely-small-mailing-list thing butts up against corporate-town. Who’s in charge, if they let you in? Not you.
Oh, and they also encourage you to bring the waiver yourself, because they have “limited supplies” of it at the audition site. Bullshit. They want to cut down on their paper costs. I can’t blame them for this. I want them to cut down on their paper costs, too, but not for the benefit of their coffers, but for the benefit of, you know, the earth.
I decided to go in spite of this.
I got up early and stood in a line in the rain, feeling waves and waves of nervousness crash down upon me. This happened because I am no expert at taking auditions. I hardly ever feel nervous performing in my little town of Albuquerque anymore—our community is so small, and the venues I play at so familiar, that I can hardly ever get my adrenal glandsworked up, ironically enough. So it was nice to practice managing that type of anxiety. I don’t know that I did that great of a job.
At the end of the day four of us were there at the head of the line and we were—gasp!—sent before one of the two ominous tents where the—what to call them?—magical glowing beings sat, who bestow upon you the blessing of Talented! or Not Talented!
You are a singer. You stand on painted tape. You step forward and hand your creepy paperwork to the magical auditioner being, who is really just a person. The other three step back onto their strips of tape. You stay, plink your ukulele, sing this song, and you quickly realize that you don’t know jack shit about auditioning.
I chose exactly the wrong song, I think, to sing in front of exactly the wrong judge, (need I say this next part?) in exactly the wrong competition.
Of course I spent the next day or two mulling over the auditioner man’s comments. “You have a soft, pretty voice, but we are looking for more developed voices…” What does this even mean? What am I supposed to do with this information? I tried to take it as constructive criticism, but I really don’t know if I even should, when it’s certainly a canned phrase he uses endlessly in his line of work.
Here’s the moral of my story: I realized that if I actually want to audition for something again, I gotta get my shit together. I gotta practice and talk to people who know what the fuck they’re doing. I gotta go to auditions, and take them, and get rejected, and then do more. This iswhat actors doall the time.
So, I’m not sure if I’ll want to, or feel the need to, do a cattle call audition like this again. Honestly, makingDIY videosin my home is probably a better use of my time. But if I do, at least I’ll know a little bit better what I so didn’t know this time around.
I’ve talked previously about PROs here, here, and here, and the thing is, if you’re doing a cover song, the songwriter has to get paid. I hadn’t the faintest clue how that mysterious process could take place until I listened to an interview given by (guess what, it’s someone I’ve never mentioned before! and certainly not here on Pyragraph) Pomplamoose’s Nataly Dawn, wherein she says, “People think that all of these things have to be done by geniuses behind huge desks or at the top of skyscrapers, but you can just go online and do it yourself.”
The site you’ll want to visit, in order to do this thing—license your cover song—that could previously only be done by geniuses with expensive furniture, is HarryFox.com. Or LimeLight. There are doubtless more mechanical license clearing companies out there that I don’t know about.
So, now what? Which licenses am I supposed buy? If you are, like me, doing a purely digital release, you’ll probably want to go for “Interactive Streaming,” and “Digital Downloads (DPDs).”
These categories are pretty self-explanatory. “Interactive Streaming” refers to your YouTube and Spotify-type plays. Your license-facilitating-company will ask you how many times you think your video will be streamed over the next twelve months. Here’s the part where you estimate low, because you’re going to pay a certain percentage of a penny or something for every stream you estimate. If people end up playing your song more than you expected, you can renew your license later.
Oh, and why should you do this? YouTube is plastered with unlicensed cover songs, so why should you bother paying the fees? Everyone and their mother’s cat has covered songs in their bathroom, in their bathrobes, on their ukulele, and posted them to YouTube. Seems like people (YouTube regulators and the copyright holders themselves) are usually pretty lax on all this, but they could still take your video down at any time if, for example, the copyright holder complains.
Onward! You still have one more type of license to pay for. Your “Digital Download” license is for the iTunes-type music store. Again, you’ll want to estimate low on how many you might sell, and you can renew later on if you need to.
And at this point, I’ve got a question for you, intergalactic-hive-mind-interweb-brain. Who polices this whole licensing thang? Is it mainly the copyright holders? Their PROs? Some other strange, mysterious shadow entity? If you know, please enlighten me (like, comment below).
The only thing that (cheap-o me) wants to mention about this whole process is the $15-$16 fee they’ll charge you per type of license, per song. It feels weird paying a bunch o’ fees that significantly outweigh the actual license, i.e. the mulah that’ll eventually make it to the songwriter you’re so in musical love with. I paid over $30 in fees and about $6 or so in licenses. Cognitive dissonance.
On the other hand, I’m happy to know how this process works. I’m finally modeling my music self after Pomplamoose, which I’ve been wanting to do for ever so long. I’m just glad I’ve finally done it. This is just the beginning, friends, just the beginning.
I just released my first digital single (looky, looky! buy buy buy!) and I am very excited. I am so waiting for all that sweet cash to roll in. (Yeah, mostly still waiting.) I had never released a song online until just recently. This was a huge mental hurdle for me; I had no idea how to get it done. Since I figured I couldn’t be the only one wandering through the foggy land of confusion, I wanted to share what I learned. As you’ll notice, both my first and second albums, which exist in physical CD format, also exist on the internet (hence the links). This is because the people who made my CDs have magical powers. Not only do they poke tiny holes in plastic discs that make noise when placed in the correct receptacles, they can also change the pixels—change the internet—by merely thinking their thoughts.
At least, I think that’s how they do it. Lacking this kind of magical prowess, I had a few questions: What if I wanted to go the Pomplamoose route, and not press any discs? Pomplamoose (a band I love for both their music and their business model) has never pressed a disc. So, how did they do this? They probably used a service like this. I resisted the idea of using a service like this for a long time, being the cheap-o (er, not cheap-o, frugal-o!) that I am. I was willing to do a little extra work to avoid extra costs! Sadly, I learned that a company like iTunes won’t even talk to you about selling your music unless you’ve got 20 albums or more in your repertoire, and even then they make no promises to sell your music.
But lucky for us, a bunch of companies have worked out secret, perhaps dark deals with companies like iTunes, so we indies have an in! Seems like we gotta go with the middleman on this one. Obviously, these middlemen are going to charge you money. Which one will get you the best deal? Ari will tell you. This seems to be the general pattern: Some places take a cut of your sales when you make them. Other places charge an annual fee. Depending on the volume of music you’re selling, one or the other might be a better deal for you. The not-annual-fee variety is definitely the better deal for me, cause at this point I ain’t selling much.
Alternatively, if you didn’t feel like your songs had to be on evvvvery single damn online music platform (although someone like Ari Herstand would say you should) for whatever reason, you could just simply upload your tunes to a site like Bandcamp for no money down at all. This is what Jonathan Mann does. He’s got a really interesting process: He writes a song a day and posts it to YouTube. Seems he uploads every single song to Bandcamp but saves digital distribution for his full albums and EPs.
Musicians like Ari Herstand and Pomplamoose, who, you know, don’t have as giant a raft of music to be selling, seem to have all of their songs available on all platforms. But if you don’t feel like you need your shit on iTunes (like, if it would be prohibitively expensive to pay for digital distribution for each and every one of your 365 songs a year) then don’t. That’s the cool thing about this career. Do what makes sense; you don’t have to waste your time on things that seem like a waste of time. Yay! If you’re only interested in releasing original songs, you can stop reading here. But if you wanna do covers, you’re not done yet.
So after writing a ranty rant on how music is undervalued I really wanted to write something else to kind of bring everything around to a more positive space. I want to talk about good things, about feelings of renewal and optimism—but really, I’m not in the mood yet.
I’m still in a funk.
This. This, y’alls:
This is a Twitter feed that one of my (need I spell it out? full-time working, touring, song-writing) musician friends created as an outlet for all the weird, gross, misdirected things people say at shows.
People say shit like this. And they mean it. And they just don’t get it. People can be really ignorant about art and music and not realize what they’re doing hurtful or sexist or racist or just plain asinine.
Exhibit B: A a friend of mine (need I spell it out? an incredibly beautiful, lovely, surreally talented person), mentioned doubting that doing music is worth it. That doing music is the right choice. The right life choice.
At first I was confused. Like, are you for reals? Of course it is! How could you let anyone tell you otherwise?
Then I remembered what the world is constantly telling us: you can’t make a living doing music.
Can you play for our thing? We can’t really pay you.
This gig doesn’t pay, but you can get exposure and can sell CDs and stuff.
The 3-hour-long sets your band is supposed to play for $125 where you’re basically background noise and no one gives a shit. Focus: Music? No. Beer sales? Yes.
I remembered that, and I understood what she was saying.
It’s also weird because the world is simultaneously telling us the opposite: that it’s really, really important to be a famous, supertalented pop star, and that you’re gotta work really hard to get to the point where millions of people adore you and you can sell out stadiums. People don’t seem to get it—you can be a successful musician without being famous. You can also be a “successful” musician without even making enough for rent. The cultural narrative is really fucking schizo in that way, and it’s totes annoying.
Yeah, we musicians are all a little bit counterculture. We don’t wanna do the prescribed thing, probably because that would be boring. And stifling. We wanna be out on our own. We want to do things the wrong way, the not-standard way.
But there’s a time when you just gotta call it bullshit.
It’s been a weird year, in some ways. About while ago this happened and a Happy Gland Band video went sort of fungal. No, bacterial. No, virulent. No, viral. And I spent a bunch of energy trying to ride that wave as hard as I could, which led pretty swiftly to the fresh, warm spring wave of Gotta Get Outside And Plant Some Plants, rather than the rip tide of Oh Shit Look At All The Various Ways I Could Spend Hours In Front Of My Laptop I was getting sucked into.
Sometimes a girl just can’t deal with the idea of tweeting every goddamned thing that enters her brain. Okay, if we’re talking about me, it’s all the time. Awllll the timmme.
Things happen in waves (to further bludgeon you with this metaphor), and a bunch of stuff has happened lately that’s pushed me into this really private-feeling space. I don’t want to always be thinking about presenting myself to the world. I don’t want to be visible, all the time.
Social media is all about constructing this version of yourself that’s supposed to be attractive to people, and that pressure can just be exhausting. (By the way, maybe I should compartmentalize social media stuff more, the way Danielle Vincent does. Then maybe I wouldn’t feel the horrible weight of guilty avoidance weighing down on me at all times.)
Then, more things happened.
This ohsohilarious April Fool’s joke, for instance. Yes, you’re hearing the bitterness of one upon whom the joke was played and she was got and she talked about it publicly on social media and spent a really really long time drafting up a blog post about it before she realized that, hey, it’s April first and…shit. I mostly felt angry that I had spent over an hour wasting precious time in front of the computer screen, after I had so recently renewed this sense of Learning To Prioritize and Using Computer Time Wisely So That I Don’t Become a Cranky Musician Who Never Practices Or Enjoys Life!
But seriously, I wanna talk about why this April Fool’s joke is so funny. Because isn’t it hilarious to think that working musicians would be paid a wage comparable to that of people who have real jobs? Isn’t is just dandy that we’re basically expected to scrape by? Isn’t it awesome that what we do is so undervalued?
I met some amazing musicians recently who played their songs and performed beautifully and broke my heart and brought me to tears when I listened to their music and thought about what they had told about ageism, about needing to keep side jobs, about trying and trying and trying to make this career work.
These amazingly talented, lovely players, these two people who have spent so much to become such beautiful artists, these people who are reservoirs of beauty who, by doing their art, can open us up to the truths of life—we don’t even have the dignity as a society to make sure that they are modestly taken care of.
TRANSCENDENT BEAUTY—THAT’S NOT ENOUGH FOR US. We’ve gotta make sure that on top of doing their heartbreakingly beautiful things, they’re also serving the masses their faux-Italian-sized lattes, answering tech support calls, stocking groceries on the shelf. THESE are the things that are really valuable to us. Not education, not music, not art. Not people’s emotional well-being. It just feels so arbitrary and sad.
Clearly, it’s more than just the fact music is undervalued. This is a systemic problem that affects a whole hell of people harder than educated middle-class white chicks who play the ukulele (hey, that’s me). We could talk about the need for universal single-payer healthcare, about grave income inequality, about racism, about sexism. Inga, wanna chat sometime?
Ah, you guys, I feel so ranty and whiny and complainy, and I’m sorry for being such a bummer, but I just really needed to talk about this.
Due to the crappy way I’ve been feeling lately (as discussedpreviously) I needed, just needed, to do something real. Something, er, analog. Something that did not involve pixels. Something that did not involve booking underpaying shows that I would struggle to get through.
I wanted to do real things with my real muscles, so I signed up for a circus intensive. Besides, I didn’t have any shows booked (I was tired of the pixels, remember?) so what else was I gonna do with myself? It was perfect timing.
What can I say about it? It was so much fun. It was beyond liberating to do something so new, so exciting, so beyond my brain’s normal functioning patterns. It was a six-week intensive with classes in all sorts of disciplines: aerials (fabrics and trapeze), clowning, physical theater, stilts, acrobalance.
There’s this thing that happens when you’re taking a fabrics class, for example, and you’re a beginner. The teacher shows you how to do something (and usually they show you about three different things you can do once you’re all twisted up in there), and you go, “Oh, cool, okay, I could totally swing that, that looks super do-able,” then you get up there, you reach for the apparatus, and you’re like, “…uhh…”
You have no idea what to do, and feel totally lost.
This is really refreshing. I’m loving being a beginner. Not to say that I don’t feel like a beginner at music in a lot of ways—I totally do!–but it’s so exciting being at the very start (like, three months and counting!) of this aerial thing. What’s exciting about being at the very beginning is seeing your own progress. Because during one class you’re hanging upside-down, inexplicably not knowing which way is up (note to self: the ceiling is up), and the next you’ve totally got it: What seemed like an interminably long sequence of impossibly complicated tasks has somehow solidified. Understanding has come to the fore from a dark, foggy netherworld of confusion.
And when that happens, it is beautiful. It looks like this, but in your mind.
I’ve got circus muscles now. I have upper body strength, which is something that I’ve never had any reason to develop before. Flashback to Sage’s early teens: At a summer dance intensive I attended, a yoga instructor referred to all us ballerinas as having “weak little dancer arms.” So, that’s been the image of my upper body strength I’ve carried for all these years. Until now.
Surrounded by wonderful women at this wonderful studio (by the way, I am totally going to keep taking classes up there—the atmosphere is just so dang warm and supportive), I’ve become stronger, more confident, and totally jazzed to keep learning the aerial arts.
The workshop concluded with a series of performances. I performed in a clown act (hence, the nose you see in the above photo) and a trapeze act. And, ironically enough, we choreographed our trapeze act to this steampunk song about the evils of the man who invented digital clocks. (It’s ironic because I didn’t choose the song—my trapeze partner did. Remember how I said I was tired of the pixels?)
And now I feel like a strong, tricked-out trapeze badass.
I took a fabrics class the other night and climbed all the way to the fuckin’ top—although I think it was maybe a little shorter than the ones I’ve become accustomed to climbing—I MEAN, it was the longest fabric ever and I just feel so confident, strong, and totally refreshed.
If you need stimulation of your happy gland, look no further than Sage & Jared’s Happy Gland Band.
Sage and Jared make me happy just looking at and being around them (Sage has been my kids’ babysitter for a few years now, plus she wields editorial awesomeness at Pyragraph; my kids are friends with Jared’s kids; I could go on), but hearing them play music together makes for mega happiness.
Before the Gland Band formed not quite two years ago, Sage Harrington was already a well-loved singer-songwriter in Albuquerque, both solo and with various other acts. Her voice is just plain arrestingly beautiful and her songs are funny, some darkly so (“You Are a Terrible Person” comes to mind), with progressions and melodies that remind me of Regina Spektor (whom Sage sometimes covers, and so, so well).
Jared is the bass player in the perennial favorite filthy mangy jazz band from Albuquerque to Kazakhstan, Le Chat Lunatique. Jared also writes darkly humorous songs about love, death and cockroaches, so he and Sage were destined to join forces, with an assist from two tiny dogs with pink hair.
Sage & Jared’s Happy Gland Band will be unleashing happiness upon Pyragraph’s ReLaunch party, and we’re feeling positively engorged.
1. What’s your act?
Sage and Jared’s Happy Gland Band! We are awesome because of reasons. It probably has something to do with the ukulele, the upright bass, the singing, the singing chihuahua, the supper, and the other dog with the gaping, rotten maw and pink mohawk.
2. Tell me about your backgrounds as artists/performers.
Sometimes our background is a nice, neutral taupe. Sometimes we opt for a lively neon orange to lift us out of the doldrums, during those rare cloudy Albuquerque days. The majority of the time, however, I go for the ’90s laser beams (example) while Jared prefers a green screen, so he can project whatever he likes on it, thusly.
3. What was the worst gig you ever played? Give me all the juicy bits.
It was an early spring morning in 1982. We were still recovering from the show the night before playing for the Pinball Machine Workers Union Local 409 Biannual Convention in Olathe, Kansas. It was a great show but we all had a few too many Zima and Creams. We were at the Johnson County Executive Airport prepping the Happy Gland Dirigible for what should have been an easy flight up to North Platte, Nebraska for the third annual Wig, Toupee and Merkin Workers Association Gala Event.
Sage had just finished checking pressure levels in the rear ballonets, and I had just completed the preflight checklist for both engine nacelles. Everything appeared to be in proper working order. We were cleared for take off by air traffic control at 8:50am. The wind was in our favor as we untethered our trusty old airship and rose skyward. I started the propellers and we set a course northward as the morning sun shone through the starboard portholes, warming our tired bones.
George Michael, our tiny shivery chihuahua, found a small oval of warm light on the floor and made it his own. Daphne, our other dog, wheezed. We had been aloft for no more than an hour when, just as Sage and I were finishing signing a pact to never drink Zima and Cream again, we heard a loud POP. It had come from the engine on the port side. We looked out the porthole and to our horror saw that the propeller had seized up and was billowing smoke!
I panicked and started screaming and breaking plates over my head, but fortunately Sage kept a level head.
“Get a grip!” she implored. “We just gotta set her down! We’ll get through this!”
“You’re right.” I said setting down the Falcon Crest commemorative plate I was just about to smash against my skull. “We just need to kill the other engine, release some hydrogen, and set her down gentle in the nearest clearing.”
We scanned the ground below us and saw the perfect spot. We were descending a little too fast for our liking but we finally got her under control and actually made a decent landing, considering the circumstances. The clearing we were in was actually a large courtyard in what appeared to be a university of some sort. As we disembarked down the gangway we saw a man with an eyepatch walking towards us. He walked up to me and held out his hand to shake mine but missed.
“Welcome to the New South Heathrow School for the Blind in One Eye. I am the Headmaster, Dr. Plimothy Danderfield-Ortega.
“Pleased to meet you, Dr. Danderfield-Ortega,” Sage offered. “We are Sage and Jared’s Happy Gland Band. It seems we have had a minor engine catastrophe, but were fortunate enough to find this courtyard to make an emergency landing. We mean you no harm.”
“Harm, schmarm!” said the headmaster. “Why, your landing here couldn’t possibly be more fortuitous!”
“Oh, is that so? How do you mean?” we said in unison.
“Well you see, tonight just so happens to be the night of the New South Heathrow Sadie Hawkins Dance, but the band we hired cancelled! They are called ‘Lola and the Primates’ and they specialize in what they call ‘Grungyachi’ which is a blend of grunge and mariachi. But they just called and said they won’t be able to make it because they all have mono. Does Sage and Jared’s Happy Gland Band play ‘Grungyachi?’”
“Of course we do!” we said. “Asinine musical genre mashups are our specialty. Although, we are not sure what ‘grunge’ is. Are you sure it has been invented yet? It’s only 1982….”
So we ended up playing the gig. The entire school seemed to have a great time, but we had some sound issues: There were WAY too many mids in the monitors and Sage’s mic stand was stripped. WORST FUCKING GIG EVER!
4. Who are your favorite performers at the moment?
Well, the Aluminum Corporation of China (ACC) is always a strong performer, and a great member of our portfolio, currently. Wouldn’t think of getting rid of it, except for, you know, the despicable use of energy and water that goes into shifting all that earth around and destroying all that nature just so all that cash can be shifted around, too, from the poor to the not-so-poor, to the not-at-all poor, like us. But when you’re cashing the checks, you forget about the little birdies and whatnot and just buy the securities, liquidize them when the time is right, convert it into bullion, and seal it away in your Swiss bank account. But I digress.
We were really into mortgage-backed securities until we realized they had become toxic, which was unfortunate. Tesla, too (TES), ranks up there. (Not this Tesla.) Really, though, my pet performer (which is doing fairly well at a decent enough rate of growth) in our portfolio currently is Integrated Dirigible Exteriors, Interiors, and Internal Systems Incorporated (IDEIISI).
People are always down on boring, boring bonds—I actually like to use bond facts to drive away unpleasant people at meet and greets at our sold-out stadium performances—plus, they make me feel really patriotic inside, just like the USO girls do. I just want to dance some American dances when I think of the bonds.
5. Thanks for playing the Pyragraph fundraiser. What’s the most helpful tip you could share with aspiring performers?
Most valuable tip anyone’s ever given me: Always bet on the fourth horse from the left in the third race, but only after the appropriate number of Pimm’s Cups, which may vary for each individual. This is an art, not a science, and therefore completely unexplainable. You just have to get pretty drunk, that’s the main requirement. Also, you could just bet on the one with the stupidest name.