Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Day Off/ Hunting

There is never a day off for the hungry. I don't just mean the impoverished and homeless, but I mean for those who are always trying to get more done and explore. I have been working on a proposal for a second open mic night for two reasons. I'm hungry, and frankly, I've learned a valuable lesson about business.

Knowing your audience is a staple in almost every career. Writers, scientists, zookeepers, janitors, lawyers, the list goes on. Knowing who you report to (not your boss, but the consumer of your product or service) is the only way to get anything back from an occupation. This is why musicians who only play and write for themselves are accidentally famous, and their careers always either die out because they haven't enough staying power to seek out their audience and cater to it, or they bend too much to their perceived listeners and lose themselves. Its a tightrope in every job. And I have found that the three bosses I have to report to are my musicians, their audience, and my venue.

The issue here is that if my venue has not attracted a new crowd for my musicians, it could be either my fault because I haven't brought enough people in, the a fact of circumstance that the venue is not built to attract (or might even repel) the audience my show needs to sustain itself. So my options were to continue canvassing, and hope the crowd comes out in spite of surroundings which aren't generally their scene, or to move house.

The former proved to in fact alienate folks who were happy to support the show but uncomfortable in the venue which did not provide the same kind of atmosphere they wanted from an acoustic open stage night. One of my regular acts even took to the mic in between an original and a cover to say thank you to the 3 of us clapping and to warn the rest of the crowd that the upcoming tune was one he had written and that probably nobody would like. The other acts all loved it, and I realized I need to be set up in a space of people who come for the show, not stay in spite of it.

This is a tricky situation because it means that I need to seek out a space which wants a show like this which can bring in their existing guests and create a collaborative space for music to happen, but within a space that somehow hasn't caught onto this idea yet...

So today, with what I think is a rock-star-turned-music-manager outfit on, I am wandering the streets like a teenager fresh from grade 11 passing his resume around. Only I have done my research and know exactly why they should take me in.

So here goes phase 2 of this adventure. I feel I may have outgrown some contacts I've made so far in this business, and its nice to know that not everyone you meet ends up being someone who cares as much as you thought they would. Just because all artists are starving ones doesn't mean some of them aren't already full but passively accepting a second helping because they are still at the table. I never intend to be one of those, and will always offer something off my plate to the guy next to me who hasn't had a bite yet. Right now, I'm taking the old matriarch approach to this and deciding to eat last. But today I'm hunting and gathering for my flock of musicians who have somehow lined up behind me and deserve a crowd. Its now my job to go out and get them one.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Me(n) Who Inspire(d) Me

Another tale of a long weekend, and this time I was the protagonist of every good 80's romantic comedy. I got the job and the girl, relatively speaking. I had my time up in the most heavenly place on earth, the camp, and I got to come home and run what turned into the best yet open mic night.

I find myself saying this often, that this week's show was the best it's ever been. This leads me to believe that at some point a small plateau period will occur, and sooner or later a string of nights will get middle child syndrome.

This is a theater term for the second, and second-to-last performance of a show. It hasn't the excitement of a debut or the bittersweet, heart-wrenching finality of the last night, so it becomes a little self-unaware. I know this is imminent with my show, but on a weekly basis so far we've had every night measure against the others as better than the one before in a new way every time. The factors that made this week so special had to do with how every element came together so well.

I had set three goals this weekend. The first was the introduce my relationship to the camp, my home, the truest of spaces on this earth where I can perfectly envision my past and future and make sense of all that swirls in the head of the ever-metaphorical musician. I got my moment at the end of the dock looking out at the horizon I grew up on, which has changed both of its own accord, and seemingly to my whim, bending to provide whatever it was I needed it to show me at any given moment.

I also got to bust out some sick tunes with my dad. So bonus on that.

The last was that I would be able to make this show somehow stronger and tighter than any others yet, and it turns out that what proved to be my most shining moment came on a night when I was tested in every aspect of my role in this machine I've built. Just like cars in soviet russia, sometimes the car drives you. This week was a testament to the fact that it still steers me now and then, but I've got the reigns on this beast. Mixing metaphors is fun.

After the night got off later to accommodate for this weather bringing people in as the sun goes down, a few regular players came out and killed it as usual. We had a disgustingly flawless keyboard player who torn to shreds some Ray Charles and got the biggest crowd and applause of any acts since the first night. He very politely asked me if he could return. That was the first moment when I realized how my role as a host had put me in a position to be asked permission for shit. Cool, huh?

Following him, and living up to his performance, were a twosome from a band who plugged in the first acoustic bass we've had and rocked out some raspy dark chocolately Joplin covers and got the crowd on the patio cheering and dancing in their seats. Not bad for a Sunday night at this point. All the while I was on top of controlling the noise after our show two weeks ago that brought a complaint from the neighbors when our 'its just a brush on a snare and a little bit of hi-hat' drummer got a bit too John Bonham (at 12:30 in the morning no less.) Cops came to say hello and tell us everything was cool, we made a rule to keeps drums before 11 from now on, and I turned down her slick vocals a bit to make room for some fluid basslines to drip outside into the street and hopefully lull the neighbors peacefully to sleep instead. This worked too.

As the night went on, a friend showed up with intention to drum as well. I had to break it to him tactfully that we had a new plan for man beat animal skin to make boom boom sound. He was respectfully disappointed, as he should have been, but I made sure he knew I wanted to give him priority space when he could come play before the noise cutoff, and explained that I knew how my parade raining made me kind of the slimy record exec that pulls creative control out from under his bands to appease the venue. Keeping the balance of your acts being happy while respecting what the venue can handle. It's all part of the gig. If you milk the cow dry today, how you gonna have your cereal tomorrow? He laughed, said I was 'alright', the way your favourite aging rock star would have said it , and I felt completely understood as a musician who gets it too, and as the host of this thing that requires attention to every detail.

As the night wrapped up with my co-host, who had spent this weekend away with me and still proves to be my greatest ally in the success of this show to date, we did a couple numbers together that won the approval of some of the best acts to grace that stage for me. She breaks my achy heart every time she sings, and she glad-hands the divas and the duds of every show as I would, as if they all deserve their fifteen minutes under the lights equally, even when we have to be aware of how unequal they really are. Its another odd and scary part of the gig to navigate. I owe her more than I've got for how she's given herself to this show. She turned out to be a decent golfer this weekend too, so bonus again.

When it was all done and I slept sound for a year of a night afterwards, I awoke to the view of paradise, and I simply looked around and viewed it. There came the realization that when you think you've hit the top of something, there comes a clarity that you haven't even begun to see how far up something reaches. Its the scariest excitement I've ever experienced. We don't know which direction we are going, and are certainly showing no signs that we are slowing.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Long Weekend

This was the first long weekend in many years that I didn't spend it in the traditional fashion with my dad and my best friend around a fire with beers and meat on a stick and the smog of the city behind us, the smell of smoke instead embedded in our jackets. I did manage to get my best friend down into the smog for a similar day of drinking and eating, with some sunshine as well. But its never the same as a trip away. She ended up getting the chance early Sunday to jump in with some friends and get goin' up the country. She needed it almost as much as I did.

There were only two rightful places I should have been Sunday night. Either I would succumb to the expense of travel and hop a bus, hitchhike or steal a car and get up north to see my pops, or I'd be coordinating acts and sound-checking at the open mic. Where was I instead? At a wedding.

Of my boyfriend's best friend.

I chose to spend the sunny day all decked out in a dress and heels instead of a ripped shirt and messy tresses as the bbq or the show would have normally found me. While I've exhausted the first-time-you-leave-your-kid-alone metaphor, I would like to state that the feeling is especially strong when you've left your kid alone to go someplace where you could easily buckle and go check on them. I am proud to say the show went swimmingly and my co-hosts majorly killed it. It was clear to me immediately that this was more important to me than the fact that I didn't perform or see the show myself.

I want to leave a mark in the planet. I dug a giant hole once, which I imagine is still there, so I suppose that is a solid start. But jokes aside, this whole thing has become more to me that I was prepared for. So you have the kid, and you love it cuz you gotta, and then it grows up and starts doing things on its own that you couldn't have guessed at and are tearfully proud of.

The show went long, and lots of people got up there, including some friends of mine who came out to support what we've been trying to do knowing I couldn't be there.

I also had the fortunate/unfortunate business of hearing about the ways in which the night was shit. All the details of sound quality, or friends of friends being kicked out for minor but still foolish behaviours, some acts not getting to perform because the show was running late already and they were tardy...

I began to pick apart each of these items, and deal with them all. I didn't have to spend more than a minute or two on how to proceed. I panicked upon hear some of the hiccups, but quickly discovered an innate ability to identify and target the issues. I burned no bridges, found out the strengths and weaknesses of myself as a host and my stand-ins, and was confidently able to (somewhat) gracefully work out the kinks for the next show. Its an odd feeling accumulating peers in the industry you want to be a part of. I have invested so much of myself into this that I don't want to let anyone down, but I'm also only piecing together my identity in this capacity. I think my best advice to myself (and to you readers if you feel you have some use for it) is that the best answer is usually the one that leaves you feeling like you can walk away from the question smiling, or at least not frowning. This may sound cliche or useless but so far its been a fantastic yardstick. I imagine myself deciding how to talk to the owner or the bar, or the act who didn't get to go on, and I am reminded of my father.

He says the best answer is the simplest one. He also spent the first few years running his restaurant having as much wont for the place to feel like a family as to function like a business. This is both the peak of our strengths and the most difficult of our faults. The nature of his, and my, endeavours is rooted in people and community. He and I have such desire to please everyone around and to befriend the world that we aren't taken seriously or given the respect we might feel we deserve. The is little room for cold, calculating business at an open stage show, or a family restaurant. We both needed to learn how much of it to inject in to run our figurative shows as best we can. I don't want to become the hosts I've seen who slot their friends in, sling their band' merch like drugs and can't plan enough time into their breaks to thank their performers and staff at the venue. I also have to maintain a standard of professionalism with my colleagues, and set my prices accordingly. All of this takes thought, instinct and attention. This weekend I learned how to put things in place, let them go, and debrief with an eye toward where to go next.

I suppose if I'd made it up to the lake and sat on the dock with my feet in the water and a beer in my hand, I might have intellectualized all this. But living it out in the city might have been what I needed, more than a getaway. The show went on, the tunes were good, my hosts got to really push themselves and had a blast, and I got there at last call in time to hear all of this after spending an amazing night celebrating love with the man who had so much to do with this show happening from the start. Why would I want to getaway from that?

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

What Else Could I Be?

All apologies. Its been a month nearly and I suppose my journal has also suffered with my life so full of stuff. I wonder if it bodes well for readers of blogs that when they get something from us it's when our lives have calmed enough to see us type them up. But this reflecting aside, there is much to explore on the front of what else I could be, other than a foppish quoter of lyrics. Raise your hand if you saw it coming.

I could have been a teacher, although right now I AM in some capacity. He knows three chords already! But my real aim here was to take the two things I am most in love with right now and put one in the hands of the other. Like all teachers, my end game is a relatively selfish one. It must be an ancient animal instinct to want to see a man holding/using/building something out of wood. Us ladies can't seem to resist a man splitting a log, carting a little one in a wagon, or playing a guitar. The command of an instrument is not unlike the taming of an animal. Its magnificent and sexual to watch somebody masterfully (or adorably stumblingly) use an instrument that mystifies, excites, and eludes them.

I could have been an erotic novelist.

There was room in my head a long time ago for social work or psychiatry. If there were such a specialist willing to desert themselves in the most vivid and terrifyingly cerebral landscape: the artist's mind. Everyone else who I would deal with would surely leave after one diagnoses. I don't agree with the idea of normal, and generally speaking people seek out the comfort of that title. I would be happy to tell every patient they were functionally f*cked up and let them go on, with some guidance perhaps on how to deal with the un-crazies they'd unfortunately encounter in our sometimes very plain world.

I could have been a philosopher. And I'm by no means money-hungry, but this kind of a gig is really only lucrative if you have an empire who funds your work while you graze in fields all day and converse with civilians in the streets to rouse some heady dialogue. And for this, it would need to be both a very different political system, and probably also 400 BCE.

Failed scientist, mathematician and engineer are also career options for me. I guess right now I'm failing excellently at these, and will count them in the win column.

But for today, it seems, I have lined up two co-hosts for this week's open mic which I won't be able to attend, and it has become a symbolic moment for me. If I can create something that can't be easily measured or contained, whose future is unpredictable and whose potential is immense and completely dependent of my own efforts, I can do a lot of things in this lifetime.

I can run it into the ground, or I can run away from it, or I can just run. Just run it. There's still time for me to be all kinds of else.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Judgement Day

Not the apocalypse. Although I did see someone riding a full elliptical bike down the Danforth. No seat; just standing and riding. But this judgement day to which I refer is not the end of the world.

In fact it is an affirmation that the (my) world is going to keep turning. We have another month of the open mic!

This means a number of things to me. First off, it means that I have more time to prove that this little engine that could, CAN. There is a market for us, and the people who are coming to play are slotting Sunday nights into their schedules to keep playing for us. All of a sudden I'm starting to bridge the gap between the two things I want to do in this life. Make music and provide others with the ability to make music.

I recently learned some more valuable shit about myself in the process. Not only am I slightly qualified and horrifyingly passionate about musicians, but I am also decent at seeing this entire situation from the business angle. That said, I'M SELLING OUT!

Bullshit. Selling out is not about money. If the show, or any band, or your mom with her customized knitting outfit, if these entities earn money from their craft, GOOD FOR THEM. Its not about money, or sponsors, its about keeping the vision you have. If I rake in the dough playing small gigs in indie clubs and getting Now Magazine critics drooling at my feet, but all I ever wanted was to don a glittery tube top and shoot fire from a crown while I belt out candy pop, I'm a sell out.

The vision is the thing. The mission comes first. And if we start to grow, and it becomes a real destination for some folks and we get some stickers from some music peeps who represent the man, then bring it. This is about success by the standards we set for ourselves. This is not a contest of restraint or a battle of who has the better starving artist story. However, I did sneak into the movies today for the first time ever because I spent my last dime on bug traps for the hole I call an apartment. (I'm not proud of having cheated the filmmakers or the industry, and I love Joss Whedon but I own every bit of film and television he's ever touched, so the man can do without my ticket price for now. By the way, everyone go see The Cabin in the Woods. And pay. I plan to go again. AND PAY.) Point is, it's about measuring success as to the individual.

Trivial details of my still poverty-stricken existence aside, this weekly gig I put together still holds so much meaning in so many interesting ways that I can't dwell too much on all the things it says about me and what I'm doing with my life. It's such a ride that I just have to not stop to reflect just yet, not too much anyway. For now I think the course of action is to keep going, keep building.

Its an odd thing to consider, defining yourself. I have always been a lot of things, but host is a very different role from performer, from marketing chick and roadie and back-up guitarist and harmonizer and that girl who works at second cup and is inevitably also creative in some way. All of these labels excite and inspire me to live up to them. I'm still a little foggy about the version of me that made this happen, because now I'm her sometimes, and other times I'm also a fumbling fop who plugs some things in and makes a night of music happen for a bunch of people who then say that they enjoyed themselves. Still got to wrap my head around these things. But in the mean time somebody smart decided I have more time to keep doing this. Maybe before it's all over I'll figure it out at least a little bit. Doubtful though. And I wonder, does it really matter if I ever completely 'get' it?

Friday, 6 April 2012

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Shameless Advertising

The other night I spoke with the owner of the Fox and Fiddle where the open mic is held (and by this I mean he let me do one, he's letting me do another, I suppose this is how things start). He gave me a stack of amazing posters and some advice: "Take these everywhere. Go to Timothy's and Starbucks (I daylight as a barista- at Second Cup) and tell everybody." As if I haven't called my own mother 3 times to make sure I tell her that I'm doing this. Then he says "get birthdays and suggest parties on the night of the open mic." I suspect that most birthday parties would be best enjoyed at wild kareoke or live bands, but perhaps a certain group really wants to hear some nice soft unplugged stuff to celebrate a year gone by. So I considered this.

He is an ad man. He runs two other very successful restaurants among other ventures, so I trust his advice. I also take it with a grain of salt. (After all, the artist must do all in her power to fight 'the man' and bite the hand that feeds.)

Also, my ignorance about strategic selling has me in a spin. I know how to tell friends and regulars at work about my project, but I estimate half of that is small talk white noise to them. I hope more of them come to support, but it's akin to tossing a bag of denim cutoffs off the roof of a downtown office building onto a hundred pedestrians. Maybe 10 of them take a pair home. The real gold is in the other 25 or 30 who tell of the miraculous heaven-sent shorts. They tell their unfashionable friends who then show up the next day in wait. What I need is to find some really unfashionable people who want my demin shorts.

So I went out on the town. I really went to town on the town. I plastered my posters anywhere that would have them. It's actually starting to excite me to consider where else I can take my campaign. Where do musicians go? Hopefully to my open mic night. But the question is, where are they now? Do I know how to sell them on this? What kind of suit is somewhere between the effortless charisma of Janis Joplin and he smoky charm of Don Draper?

Monday, 2 April 2012

Its All Happening

The first open mic ended a mere 3 hours ago. Am I on top of the world with giddiness and joy?
 Sure. But more so than this, I feel exactly the same as I did yesterday. This I am counting as a massive success.

It means that this didn't factor in fear. It means that I felt safe on that stage. I felt at home up there. This is almost a more terrifying thought than the notion of being so engulfed with nerves that I came off this night in a fit of glee at the surprise of my accomplishment.

Hands down, the ultimate figure to count tonight was the feeling I had walking down from that stage during breaks to chat with friends and family, with musicians who might sign up, with myself about where to take it next. It felt as if I were completely in my element.

It was raw and rough in a lot of ways. The crowd was receptive, nobody left as a result of me, and in fact a few people stayed late to hear.

The total sign ups (not including me) was 3 people. I played for most of that time. And there were a million tunes I didn't play that I am now sitting here excited to play next week.

There was talk tonight of how to end the show. The beginning is easy, its all energy and lights and the first stuff of the night. The last few have to be very specific. They need to follow an arc that reels the crowd back in and makes them hostage until next week.

Tonight my most memorable moment came right after my dad, who killed it by the way, was about to leave. We were unpacking, stowin away all the equipment, and the love of my life and I started tearing down. My father, the reason this became an idea in my mind way back as a child. My boyfriend, my partner who made this come to fruition tonight. We untied the cords and loosened all the mics from their holsters, and I said "you know the song my dad sang to his girlfriend on their first date?" And he smiled because he and I designated this particular tune to ourselves a long time ago as the reigning champion of any kind of musical challenge. The ultimate send-off tune.

The seats are all empty, let the roadies take the stage.

Oh won't you stay just a little bit longer. I am no where close to done. No where close.