pac manIt was 1980.

I was 13 and spending all my money on records. There were four record stores in walking distance from my house. A Rasputin Records that smelled like old cardboard, lacquer, cigarettes and pot, a bright and shiny Rainbow Records with the latest hits on display, and a couple of record stores in the Sun Valley Mall that I can’t remember. They all sold records and cassettes and 8 track tapes.

PopMuzik45imageAnd 45s.

Yes, I bought 45s – “Pop Muzic”, “My Sharona”, “Cars”… I was hooked!

In Through The Out DoorAround the corner from my house there was a Radio Shack and I remember I’d go in and drool over the stereo equipment. They had a cassette deck with left and right microphone inputs and I was excited about the idea of making my own weird recordings. I soon got it for my birthday and did make weird recordings. I also hooked it up to my step-fathers big stereo and blasted In Through The Out Door. I was disappointed and surprised that there was a ton of hiss even with the Dolby on.

Soon my crafty teenage mind came up with the ultimate plan. I had just bought a Cheap Trick album (All Shook Up) and really didn’t like it. I don’t know why I bought it, I think I thought it would have “I Want You To Want Me” on it. But no. So I came up with the idea of holding the record over the stove long enough so it would heat up and warp. Record stores always said you could return them if there was a problem, right? So why not buy them, warp them, and then bring them back? I thought I was a genius.

warped recordThe first problem was figuring out how to warp the record so it looked like it melted during shipping. I had seen warped records before but when I put it over our gas stove and twisted it the vinyl was too soft and I used too much pressure and it looked overdone. Then I burned my fingers.

When I finally brought it back (with the receipt) I could tell the record store guy with the long hair and the Doobie Brothers mustache was suspicious. He put it on the turntable and it WAS obviously warped so there was nothing he could say even after a barrage of questions. When he finally said he could give me store credit I just stood there dumbly as waves of guilt washed over me. This was not fun. Why wasn’t this fun? Why did I feel this way?

In my teenage brain I decided that I hated that record store and I would never go back and it was their fault for making me do this because they charged too much. And I never did go back. Now I know it’s because I was ashamed and embarrassed but at the time it was their fault.

mccartney IISo what did I get with my store credit?

McCartney II of course. I kept that one.

 

music on phone imageHave I lost touch with music? I think so. Marketers and psychologists say that when you touch something, you immediately feel more of a connection to it. All my music is on my phone now and touching my phone does not make me feel more connected to music.

Buying and playing music (I don’t mean playing an instrument) used to be a very hands-on thing. We went to the store to buy records and tapes and CDs. We got to touch the merchandise. I think it made a difference, at least for me. I found things in record stores I would never have bought or even known existed just because they were in the bin near a group I already knew.

record store imageRecord stores haven’t completelydisappeared. But they are rare in a boutique kind of way, like bookstores.

Now my entire music collection is on my phone and I listen with headphones or plug it into my car stereo or speakers in my house. When I buy a CD I put it in my laptop and it goes in my phone because it’s just so convenient. Or even more conveniently, I buy it on iTunes. And pretty soon I will get into streaming. I haven’t taken the plunge yet, but I will eventually.

listening to music imageI grew up on records. I LOVED records. My parents had a small record collection that I dove right into. When I got old enough I started buying my own records. The drugstore near my house had a music department and I was always excited to go there. You could pick the records up and read the covers and there were displays for the latest releases and always that sickly sweet plastic wrap smell. Studying album covers was part of the shopping experience and the listening experience. Even if I’d done it a hundred times before, putting on a record and staring at the cover was just what I did.

discwasher_lpRecords were something to take care of. I remember obsessing over cleaning my records. I had a fancy Discwasher system with the liquid cleaner and the brown brush and the little red brush to clean the big brush. The whole procedure made it seem like you were performing a critical operation that was going to make the music better. I hated pops and clicks. That’s what happened to records that weren’t clean, you heard pops and clicks. I hated it when my friends wanted to listen to my records because very few of them knew how to handle them properly. Records were perfect for obsessive compulsive people. I don’t think I’m especially obsessive compulsive, but I guess I am about some things, and I certainly was about records.

rem greenI gave up on records a long time ago. The first time was when I moved across country in the mid-80s. They were too much to carry so I got rid of all but a handful. The last new record I remember buying was R.E.M.’s Green. After that I was too broke to buy anything! The second time I gave up was around 2000. There were no new releases on records and I was sick of my old stuff so I just got rid of all of it. Yes, I do think vinyl sounds better but at the time it was just too much of a hassle. Do I regret it? You bet!

barefootI got a new phone last week. It’s really fast and I love it. My phone has become the center of my life. I know this because when my old phone died a few years ago it felt like I was walking around barefoot. I felt vulnerable. It was very strange! But now all I’m touching is my phone…and I never stare at an album cover on my phone.

CB XmasI was walking into the mall with my wife on Thanksgiving weekend when I heard the piano. It took a split second for me to recognize what it was: Peanuts music! My body felt a jolt and I laughed inside. It was LOUD! Was it being played live? I realized no, it was coming from the ceiling through speakers. I looked around to see if anyone was having the same reaction. No, business as usual. My mind flooded with images of sitting around the black and white TV in our living room when I was a kid—the kind with the wood trim that looked like a piece of furniture. I can hear the announcer’s voice: “…A Charlie Brown Christmas Special.”

Then one year I was watching it sitting on our blue couch. Then on the floor on the oval rug.

70s tvThe Charlie Brown Christmas Special really spoke to me, even as a little kid. Even though it was supposed to be a happy holiday and Charlie Brown liked doing all the fun stuff, he still wasn’t happy.  Linus called him out at the top of the show: “Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy’s right. Of all the Charlie Brown’s in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.”

Charlie Brown and the Grinch were my favorite Christmas shows. But I liked all the others too.

They were all SPECIAL. They were rare. They were cultural events (for kids) that were experienced once a year. Now I can watch it on youtube anytime I want, which is very convenient for researching for a blog post, but I think takes away some of the magic.

RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER -- Pictured: (l-r) Front Row: Hermey, Rudolph, Head Elf, Yukon Cornelius, Sam the Snowman, Santa Claus (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER — Pictured: (l-r) Front Row: Hermey, Rudolph, Head Elf, Yukon Cornelius, Sam the Snowman, Santa Claus (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Mick Lasalle talks about this idea in hisSF Chronicle blog post about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer tv show: “You had to watch them when they were on, or you couldn’t see them. And after they showed, they were either gone forever, or, in the case of a perennial like “Rudolph,” gone for another full year. And you remember how long a year was when you were six years old. These television events were important, and immovable, and if you were a child, you had an appointment days in advance to watch these shows, as each one, it seemed, took you closer to the big day.”

* * *

I remember I was blown away in high school when I met a kid who could play the Peanuts song (actually, it’s called Linus & Lucy) on the piano. We were hanging out in the auditorium where there was a piano and I thought he was a magician. He ripped through it like it was nothing (I heard he later became a professional musician).

Years later I interviewed Local 6 member Larry Vuckovich for the Musical News, who studied with Vince Guaraldi (also a Local 6 member), the master who wrote the music for the show. It was amazing to be talking about this music, that is so ubiquitous but feels so personal (I think because I experienced it as a child), with someone who actually knew him and played with him. And then for this post reading up on the wiki page about the musicians who actually played on the sessions. (There’s some controversy about that — which sessions were used for the show and album and who gets credited for what). Wikipedia says the Charlie Brown Christmas album is the 10th best-selling Christmas album in the United States, and critics say was responsible for ‘turning on more kids to jazz than the greats themselves’.

When I was a kid I didn’t know Peanuts music was called jazz. I just liked it.

It’s kind of a strange feeling when you become an adult and you look at these things from your childhood that were so magical.

stonestown imageWe can deconstruct them and figure out how they were made and who played on what, but that stuff just flies right through the 20 foot glass doors at the Stonestown Mall as soon as you hear the music.

 

 

happy-musician-1-editThis is a HAAAARRRRDDDDD topic! It sounds so simple, but it is deep and profound.

A Happy Musician Thinks About Money, But Knows It’s Not The Most Important Thing—

The Dalai Lama says, “It is better to want what you have than to have what you want.”

Okay, stop. I need to unravel my pretzeled-out mind before I continue. What does that really mean in everyday life? Want what you have and that’s it? What if I want a new guitar?

“Economists find that money makes truly poor people happier insofar as it relieves pressure from everyday life — getting enough to eat, having a place to live, taking your kid to the doctor. But scholars like the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman have found that once people reach a little beyond the average middle-class income level, even big financial gains don’t yield much, if any, increases in happiness.”
Arthur C. Brooks, NYT “A Formula For Happiness”

I have experienced this crazy-making cycle myself: Wanting more money, the thrill of getting more money, and then wanting more money. I actually would like more money right now. I read somewhere recently that we are wired to want about 20% more than what we have (I tried to find the source on the internet, but alas, could not. So much for my journalism skills!). So what is the most important thing?

A Happy Musician Knows The Most Important Thing Is People–

And this brings us back to the zombie apocalypse. But seriously, Arthur C. Brooks had another article in the NYT titled, “Love People Not Pleasure” (that’s where I got the Dalai Lama quote). That’s GREAT news for musicians because I’ve heard the music business is all about networking. I don’t know how that applies to musicians who need to audition to get into an orchestra, but my guess is that if they win it, putting people first helps them keep the job. Brooks’ article concludes with the idea: “Love People, Not Things.” But I do love my guitar(s)(s)(s)(s).

Career Satisfaction?

I just read on the internet that we need to find MEANING in our work, and this is what we need to do while we pursue happiness. Dang, that’s a whole other subject! I hope it doesn’t contradict what I just wrote. I spent a lot of time on it!

And Finally, For A Quick Attitude Adjustment…Exercise–

Playing music is supposed to do wonders for the brain, so I was hoping that exercise is not needed for musicians because it doesn’t really come naturally to me.  But over the years I’ve found exercise to be helpful to get me out of a funk.  Here’s a cool up to date article about how running improves our health and mood. As they always say, check with your doctor first. Oh, and eat your vegetables.

Here are a few more songs, rough and ready, in need of re-writes, re-recordings; warts, blemishes, wrinkles, baby fat, and all. BUT, I like them, so here they are!

Heaven Only Knows


Butterfly In The City (For Laura Spear)


In Love With The One I Love

 

I’m continuing my song a week journey. I’ve definitely fallen and gotten up a few times. I look forward to hearing them produced the way I have them in my head…

Taylor SwiftTaylor Swift decided to not put her music on Spotify last week and the music world is all a-buzz. The issue of content creators (that warm and fuzzy catch phrase for artists of all stripes) not getting paid for their work is a very hot topic right now, at least among artists. I hope somebody’s getting some money out of it!

It seems I get reminded of this topic every few months: A little while ago there was an interview with David Byrne on the subject which caused quite a stir. Last week, because of Taylor Swift, I read about the subject in the New York Times. Over the weekend I’ve seen extended conversations on the West Coast Songwriters Facebook page. Everyone makes compelling arguments:

  • Music Streaming is here to stay
  • Spotify cheats it’s artists
  • The market is saturated
  • Artists are greedy
  • People expect music to be free
  • It is only $10 for a subscription
  • No good music will be made if people can’t make a living
  • Spotify is only one company, Taylor Swift has her stuff everywhere so it’s no big deal
  • Follow the money – Spotify is about to go public so the music industry wants it that way (or something like that)

And then my head hurts. Selfishly, as a content creator, I think I should be paid for writing about this, but, I’m also all for finding a good bargain. So, you reading this for free is okay with me. But if this blog post turned into a series and then a novel, I would want to sell it because I put so much time into it. And then I’d quit my day job, you see, because novelists…

But I digress.

The 90s in San Francisco was a great time for collecting records on the street. I’d be walking along and suddenly there would be a box full of old records on the sidewalk. “Awesome!” And some of them were even good. But then I got rid of my turntable and records because I was sick of hauling them around when I moved. CDs were smaller. I wasn’t an audiophile so it wasn’t a big deal to me.

So…how do I feel about this streaming issue? Besides the fact that there is no access to the information you’d find on the CD jacket — like who wrote it, recorded it, played on it — if all I’m going to lose is the ability to stream Taylor Swift on Spotify, it’s not a big deal to me. But if you’re going to take away my dream that one day I can quit my day job, well then…

EVERYONE SHOULD DIE.

 

 

In the mid-nineties I went to a career counselor. I had graduated from college and was at a real loss as to what to do next. She gave me a few personality tests including the Meyers Briggs.  I was an INFP. A few weeks ago I retook the test online and was an INFJ.  I thought that was pretty cool. “Wow, almost nobody is an INFJ, that’s amazing! That’s why nobody understands me!” What a relief.

I say all this to tell you about the Far-West Conference I went to this weekend and my experience of it. I did a count and over the years have only gone to about 8 conferences. I’ve always come away exhausted. I used to think there was something wrong with me but now I know that I’m really just an introverted person. Lately I’ve seen things about Introverts everywhere. I read a lot of books about it from the library. There’s a good Ted Talk about it. Anyway, so introversion is a hot topic now. I guess that makes me hot.

Introverts need a lot of alone time, and I know I do. Spending time talking to people and networking takes away energy from introverts. So I went to the conference the first night and it was fine. Then the next day the conference started at 9am. Waaaayyy too early for anyone I think, especially musicians. But I was determined to make it happen. Okay, then it got to dinner time and I was exhausted so I went home. Then I came back that night to check out the guerrilla showcases. Lots of musicians singing in hotel rooms. I’d been told over the years that I really should go to this conference, and that the best part is the guerrilla showcases. Okay, I did it!

I got home about 3 in the morning. I figured I’d go later in the day on Saturday but I never made it. I was beat. I decided to stay home. I felt kind of guilty but I chanted about it (because I’m an SGI Buddhist, and chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo brings out your buddha nature, and that’s what I do…) and felt better.

When I started thinking about it and writing stuff down I realized I’d covered a lot in the one day and two nights I was there. Here are a few notes:

Video: I need some live action video on my website and youtube channel.

Radio: Nothing’s changed. Community radio is not the place to sell CD’s. Use it to promote shows. Can use an old release. Does not have to be latest and greatest like on commercial radio on which a new CD has only a 12 week cycle.

I was reminded about the Bottom Line. The Bottom Line is: How many people can you bring?

I’ll say it again: How many people can you bring?

That’s the Bottom Line. Also the Top Line. That’s the whole point. I mean it is show business after all.

So I survived!

And today I found out I won third place in a drawing. My prize is a free creative clarity consultation from Patricia Morrison, one of the people at the conference. It feels good to win!

In the future I’ll try to follow my instinct more because it worked out pretty good this time.

I just ordered some new business cards because I’m going to a music conference. I made my last batch a few years ago and over that time I grew to hate them and felt embarrassed handing them out. It didn’t help that I ordered 500, which represents a ton of networking.

I continued to give them out because I didn’t want to waste money (the guilt of wasting them was stronger than the hate of using them). I recently did a purge of my desk and decide it was time to finally get new cards (I kept about 50 after the purge). Hopefully they’ll arrive in time for the conference. I ordered 250. If they don’t show up I’ll pass out my 50 less than perfect cards, and if all else fails, I’ll just give them a CD (thankfully the contact info is the same).

So the lesson learned here is don’t order too many business cards because I might need to change them, or end up hating them so much I don’t want to hand them out. Maybe it’s best to adopt a pay as I go mentality? I know I have perfectionist tendencies. In this case maybe good enough really is good enough.

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My New Business Card!!!
My New Business Card!!! (Please excuse the funky scan…)

Oh wait—my new business cards came today, and I like them! (Ask me how I feel in a few months…)

In the 2nd week of June I started the project of writing a song a week for a year.

Here are the first three:

Notes:
The song Margie Baker was inspired by the one and only Dr. Margie Baker–she’s a San Francisco Bay Area musical treasure. I had the opportunity to write an article about her last year (2013). When I sent the song to her she said she wanted to record it and have me sing on it with her! Wow! Stay tuned for that!

 

Alex Walsh Show Business Blog #2

9/7/14

Why am I doing this?

This has been the question my whole life. Why am I writing this again? I wrote the first blog post on Friday and since then I’ve been avoiding doing another. But today I felt like the avoiding was too much. I have all these sentences started in my head. But I didn’t start because they went nowhere. So what’s the point? I feel like my whole life is ahead of me. What else? I’ve got nothing to say. No big ideas. What do I know about show business? I don’t know.

I played for one hour in the Bart station in 1989 and made $8. I then calculated that I could quit my day job (in a fabric sample shop in the design district) because I hated it and I was only making $6 an hour. I was 22. It seemed like a good idea so I did it. And the rest is history.

Young Blue Bucks Logo

No. Sorry. I went on to start a band which was actually a duo. Sort of like the White Stripes but with a dude drummer that I wasn’t married to. This was in 1990. I also worked in Pasqua, a Starbucks type coffee shop in San Francisco (before Starbucks took everything over). I was lucky because I found a manager/producer who wanted to be involved. He had a studio and a van and a good job at Wells Fargo, and he loooved us. So the three of us became the Young Blue Bucks. And it was cool. I was on my way.

Young Blue Bucks promo scan

But then the band broke up. Two years had past. It was either continue or fold. The manager lost his high paying job, and the drummer lost interest, and I just kept going. And here I am.

So what’s the point? Well, we had a good time, and the people we played for enjoyed us.

Just the other day on Facebook a guy messaged me that he woke up with a Young Blue Buck song, My Third Eye, in his head. Now that to me is crazy. And it makes me feel really good inside.

I guess that’s the point, right? People were touched by the music we made.

(I think I start asking what’s the point at times when I’m really lost. It’s like a mini-mid-life crisis that lasts for a few hours. I don’t think I’ve written enough because I still feel that way. I prefer it when writing clears everything out. Maybe I should write a song now…)

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