Thursday, July 3, 2014

Have You Had A Melt Down Moment On Stage?

As someone whose learned how to think on their feet, wing it and go with the flow, attributes very useful for an entertainer, today I was thinking about those moments when such gifts were nowhere to be found. Those melt down moments in front of an audience.   Never in my 30 plus years performing have I had such an experience and in one year I had two (Not too long ago). Sure I've been frustrated, but it never made it to the stage.  
Once in Memphis at a music convention, there are after hour shows (That is, after all scheduled events) known as "Gorilla Showcases." Musicians spend their days networking, passing around fliers to get people to attend their performances which are held in the artists hotel room. For some people gorilla showcases are the best part of these conventions.  In one evening an artist might perform at several.  7:30 PM in room 205. 8:30 PM in room 517, etc. This particular night I had two.  One at 9:15 PM, which no one attended and another after midnight (12:30). Only one person showed up. Indeed I was disappointed. I was tired and I really didn't feel like playing. I was torn. I didn't know how to give less than my best, but I just didn't have it in me.  One person or many people never mattered to me before. My output was the same. But this night it did matter. I came close to crying because I didn't want to give my best, I was crushed that this was something I had to think about.  Give less?   It was a struggle to push myself to play like I was in front of a full house, but I managed to do it. Professionalism won.
A few years later other things were happening in my life. I found myself canceling a lot of local shows.  I'd only play locally if I was asked. On one such show, I made a spectacle of myself. I was just muttering in the microphone like a punch drunk boxer. I wasn't even trying to hide that I shouldn't have been on a stage that night. It was embarrassing.  However, I was consumed with life and it's bad hand I'd been dealt.  I'm sure some folks probably thought I was strung out on drugs. I was certainly acting that way.  No I never indulged in drugs and I was yet to introduce myself to alcohol. (FYI, I never drink in public.) 
On another occasion playing a gig as my alter ego "Alvin Ray Jr",  a hand full of people came to see us, the other folks in the room were there for the other band. By the end of the night, the room was nearly empty.  Disheartened knowing that among other things we'd never get asked back, I'd had enough and didn't give a damn about being professional. Enter the melt down.  "This is our last show. Thank you…"  The guys couldn't believe that I said that over the PA.  It was tacky to say the least.   
I knew it was time to retreat and try to make some needed changes in myself, time to recharge the joy if possible.   The good news?  Now I can say "Been there. Done That."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A New CD? Don't Let This Happen To You. Again.

Oopps!  Here I go again.  I'm writing this as a heads up and a reminder to some of you independent artists who record and make Cds.  I haven't recorded a Cd in five years.  In April, I recorded and released my latest recording,  "Between You and Me."  It's been only a few months and it already seems like the project is done and years old.  I sold as many to my fans via social media as I'm going to.  Sixty-nine (total downloads and hard copies).  Did I mention that I have over 2000 fans?  

Everyone knows that no one is buying music anymore.  Which means that a Cd has strictly a more prominent role. Promotion.  Sadly, promotion is the one area that most artists fail in. We put all of our energy into producing it, but the promotion is left to chance.  I realized that here I am again ready to make the same mistake I've made for every project I've ever done. 

I haven't given any more thought to my latest CD after the few sales halted.  What have I done to promote it?  Have I sent it to radio stations or the press?  "But I can't afford an official manufactured cd with a glossy cover. No one's going to write about a cd with a homemade label."   Legit concerns, but excuses none the less.  
True, effective promotion usually is costly, but I'm sure it would make a huge difference and it would aid in getting more gigs. 

Perhaps I should use kickstarter to raise some money to promote my current CD.  Whatever the case, I need to do something. I need to ask more questions. I need to put as much thought in doing something with this Cd as I did in creating it. Why?  Because nobody else is going to.   
Yup, cds may be items only sold on live gigs, but they are also, more importantly today, a promotional tool.

So yes. My work is cut out for me.  Seriously, I almost forgot about my CD.   Don't let this happen to you. Again. 

Here is my latest:

Monday, June 2, 2014

McDonald's and a Music Career

It's 9:28 AM and I'm really pissed.  Let me back track.  I was invited to stay the night after my house concert in New Jersey. And a wonderful night it was. My plan was to get up at 6 AM and be on the road about 7:30 AM.  "Would you like some coffee or something to eat?"  "That's very kind of you, but I think I'll just get on the road. Thank you though." 
I confess, I don't really care much for McDonald's, but I live for a sausage McMuffin with orange juice and coffee. The goal is always to make sure that you get to a McDonald's drive-thru before 9:30 AM. Well goodie. I'll have plenty of time. 

About 8:30 AM I thought it was time to start looking.  There's an exit ahead indicating a McDonald's, an arrow pointing right, off the exit.  I make the turn.  I see other stuff but no Mickey D's.  Then there's the sign, McDonald's 5 miles ahead. What???  I'm not getting off the road to drive an extra 5 miles for a sausage McMuffin, which I was starting to crave by now.   I got back on the main road.  I was beginning to get anxious. It was getting close to 9 AM.    Miles are zipping by and no Mickey D's.  I could taste that McMuffiin.  I could smell it.  Praise Boris, (whoever that is), another sign for morning mecca, McDonald's.   Turn right off the exit.   
I turn right. It's 9:10. I should be good.   Where the heck is McDonald's? I drive 2 miles, 5 miles, 10 miles?  Logic had left me and so did the GPS after I tossed it out of the window.    I've driven this far. I know I can make it. Surely it's over the crest.

Like my music career, I've invested so many miles and so much time that I can't turn back now.   Then suddenly I pass a McDonald's sign on a bent pole. Was I suppose to turn? I couldn't tell.  I'm hyperventilating. Nothing in sight but a sign for the main road up ahead.  I'm seething.     I found Waldo but not that damn clown.   I get back on the main road. It's 9:25 AM. There was no way I'd beat the deadline.  My composure and inhibitions left me. My language was affected as well. I was F***ING PISSED!  Or if you prefer, J'√ČTAIS FOU COMME MERDE! Excuse my french.  I'm back on the main road.  Behold!  McDonald signs were popping up everywhere. Like it was rubbing it in my face. I desperately wanted to pull up to a McDonald's and hope to get one of those clerks that don't smile and have a permanent scowl on their face, and when they greet you with "What do you want?"  I respond "YOU THINK YOU GOT F***ING PROBLEMS??!!!!"   

I was filled with hate and resentment every time I'd see a McDonald's sign.  I was bitter.  Now I'll have to walk in a dunkin donuts with a REAL bad attitude. Which was so unfortunate for the fresh faced, bubbly clerk.  "Hello [smile]. What can I get for you today?"  

It frightens me that this sounds so much like my career. :)

Ps. I was just informed that breakfast served until 10:30 am.
Dang! Well just like I said, it's like my music career.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

But I Don't Want To Be Peter Lawford

I was trying to understand why I found myself stating my disappointments of late, regarding my music life.  It's annoying to most and it's generally not seen as professional.  Aside from the fact that Facebook is a narcotic, most folks recognize that the music landscape has turned upside down.  We applaud the fact that record companies aren't even a second thought anymore, except if you're a young hip-hop artist or a young booty, buxom beauty that can hold a microphone and let the engineers do the rest.

Being an independent artist is the norm these days. Using social media to build an audience, promote shows etc, is what we're all trying to do.  People like what they like, and unlike record companies, people directly aren't as discriminating about age, beauty or even quality.  This is a good thing. If an artist has any hope, it's because the fans want what they are creating.  Sadly, music fans have become dormant and passive. The reasons are understandable.  But artists have a serious problem before them.  If no one is buying their music, why should they produce it?  Because they love it?  Again, If no one is buying music, why are the studios, studio musicians, cd manufacturers, etc., still charging?  Because they don't love what they do?    

It was always seen as unprofessional to talk about our hardships except if you've already achieved fame or someone is talking about you on "Mysteries & Scandals.”  You have to be dead, of course. The thing that has been most frustrating to me is the formality that I have to be silent and pretend that I'm not effected by the lack of tangible support.  There's nothing to hide behind anymore.  If I don't sell a CD, I can't blame the retail stores for placing it in a bad spot. Are we not selling our music because our fans simply don't want it?  I don't really think that's the case. However, I am clueless and puzzled as to what the actual reasons are. Maybe fans don't know the details of today’s musician’s woes.  We spend (a lot) more, and we get nothing in return but debt and anecdotes from people who make their money from other sources.

This has never been an easy business.  I think it's more difficult today, because while it used to be some talent agency or music “authority” who would convince fans to support artists, now it’s entirely up to the artists themselves. Most of us don't have the skills or financial resources to take on this task. The least I can do is talk about it and stop pretending that this is business as usual. Things are different. Very different. We're all stumped.  But there's one thing that hasn't changed - in fact, it's more clear than ever.   If any artist has a chance, it's because you, the fan, values what they do - and lets them know.

ps. I'll be asking for your dough in a few weeks.   :)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

What About Alvin Ray Jr. ?

I'm a late bloomer. Real late. I never had the courage to do most of the things I try to do these days.  Perhaps it's a "I'm over 30 years old and I don't care anymore" thing. I've always had all these things flying around in my head, but being the typical shy person, I kept it all to myself.  One day I decided not be afraid of looking stupid.  That was the beginning. It opened up a whole new world.  Of course I couldn't or wouldn't to anything without the permission of a stage.  

When I lived in Ithaca, NY, I'd play gigs with some great musicians, these guys could play a solo for hours. When it was my turn to solo, I'd play 16 or so bars and get bored.  I'd just stop and start telling a story. I'd just make up something, whatever came in my head.  The band indulged me.  Now this was fun.  It's amazing the things you can do when you're not afraid to suck. Really. What's the worst that can happen?
I've discovered lots of things about myself.  Such as being consumed with characters and not just a song. Alvin Ray Jr. was one such character.  One day I realized that I could do a few Jimi Hendrix like things. I'd try to talk like him and play guitar with some of his phrases, just enough to have fun with it.  My goal was to make a short self made movie about a guy who clearly was Hendrix influenced, but hated it when people actually noticed it.  "Hey, you play like that left-handed guy!" "Who, Albert King?"  

I really wanted the opportunity to play loud and dirty and too much.  I dusted off my electric guitar which I hadn't played in  30 years and put a band together in hopes of warming up for an eventual film shoot.  And what the hell, let's see how an audience might react to this.  After two shows, I think I'll just stick with the original idea.  We have one more show in April. After that, we may become a virtual band. More to come...