Just for the record, I’m feeling pretty excited right about now but watch this space for more details as they come to light.
Just for the record, I’m feeling pretty excited right about now but watch this space for more details as they come to light.
When I was five years old I asked Mum and Dad if I could have a piano in the house. We didn’t have any room for on nor was there enough money to buy one in the first place but that was okay with me… I still had my imagination to play with.
All through my primary school years I was writing stories and poems plus, making up songs to go with the poems and drawing pictures to go with the stories. Back then I was an unstoppable ball of creative energy.
It wasn’t until I reached high school though that my interest in music really came to the forefront. The school I went to had a very good music program which I was most keen about and it was there that I could really begin to immerse myself in all things musical.
My chosen instrument to learn was saxophone (it was a pretty cool instrument to play in 1983) however, they were all snapped up by other students so the next best thing to learn was apparently the clarinet, which I continued to play until I left high school in 1987.
Most of my recess and lunch times were spent hanging around the music room practising my clarinet and teaching myself piano. It was an environment in which I really felt I belonged to and through music theory lessons I was introduced to sheet music, manuscript paper, treble/bass clefs and a vast array of notes to play with.
Around about that same time, I wrote my first song after my best friend Andrew showed me an “A” chord on an old nylon stringed classical guitar which was given to me on my 13th birthday by my Dad, perhaps to compensate not providing me with a piano all those years ago and having the ability to teach myself guitar at home allowed me to take music home with me after the school day.
Add to that the thrill of writing a new song with each discovery of a new chord and my life was pretty much complete. All of my school friends were budding musicians, my whole life at that time seemed to be revolved around music, it couldn’t get any better than that.
When I left high school music became something that allowed me to escape the day to day pressures of living. Music made my growing up into a young adult a more tolerable experience.
I started up bands which seemed to endlessly rehearse but never played any gigs and at the same time picked up the bass because I could never find a bass player for these endlessly rehearsing bands.
Wherever I was working at the time I’d carry around a small notebook and pen and scrawl down song lyrics and songwriting ideas at every opportunity. I spent the rest of the time daydreaming what it would be like to play music professionally… That was my idea of Heaven on Earth and it was my goal to find it.
My first taste of being a professional musician came in 1994 when I joined a band that was on it’s way to Sydney. We went there in convoy with swirling romantic notions in our heads of making it big, bolstered by the fact that the biggest band agency in Sydney at the time had decided to put us on their books.
We decided that nothing would stop us. “We’ll play as a cover band to get some money coming in then we’ll start an originals band afterwards” we said to ourselves, “yeah sure, we’ll be able to do both.”
After being shunted around every corner of Sydney playing in every shitty dive you could ever imagine, the agency dropped us after a year on their books. We didn’t know this but at the time but we were “that band from Adelaide” that played the venues that no-one else wanted to play at.
With no real Plan B in place and poverty knocking at our door, the band split.
It was at that time I gave up playing music and tried to have a go at living in Sydney as a “normal person.” Four years later, and after some sort of nervous breakdown I came back to Adelaide in 1999 with my tail between my legs and the dark cloud of shame and failure hanging over my head.
Even in those really dark times, music never left my side. It would knock on my door but I just wouldn’t let it in. After a few months of not leaving the house (I was living with Mum and Dad at the time) I decided that I’d had enough of this wallowing and that not having music in my life was like living my life with an amputated limb.
The next time music knocked on my door, I opened it and embraced it with open arms and from that moment on my life became a process of rebuilding.
I was still working day jobs but I was also in bands that now had some drive and determination and were wanting to go somewhere. I started to find myself in situations that turned into great opportunities for advancing my music career.
In 2006 I had another opportunity to really make a go at playing music professionally. “Yes it’s a cover band” I said to myself, “but still, I’ll be doing nothing else.”
So, I ran with it and FIGJAM was born. We got our demos together, got out and about and networked like crazy, we played everywhere and for the first time in my life I felt that I was in control of my musical direction plus, I was making a living out of what I loved.
I was a self employed, professional musician.
Even though I was doing what I loved at the time, I still came across the same type of ungrateful, difficult, tight-fisted and clueless client/customer that you hear about but think “Nah, I’m a musician, that won’t happen to me.”
As the years went by and the novelty of being a professional (cover) musician wore thin, I started to realise that in my drive to make a living out of music by playing covers I was forgetting the real reason why I wanted to play music in the first place.
I was starting to burn out.
There were however, some bright lights during this time. I finished and released my debut CD “Seeing Stars” in 2012, I made the decision to start building a home recording studio so I can do all my future recordings in-house and I got married.
But all in all, it was decided that FIGJAM would wind up at the end of 2015 and in the vacuum left by that decision I had given myself some time to think. I realised that I had made pretty much the same mistakes that I made in Sydney all those years ago.
I realised that I didn’t have any balance in my life anymore and that trying to play covers to fund your own music is not as easy as you might think.
So where am I now? Well, I’m doing a lot more songwriting and recording plus collaborating with other songwriters and getting myself reacquainted with my blogging through this site as well as my other two blogs All About Songwriting and All About Music Business with more sites to be launched down the track.
Apart from the very occasional live gig here and there (if they land in my lap) I’m still taking a long break from performing and I’m happy with that at the moment. I’ll be back on stage when I start missing the gigs.
Have I come full circle? Well, I’m not sure but I’m looking at where I am and what I’m doing musically with a fresh pair of eyes and ears and that’s got to be a good thing.
What I will say though is that despite everything that has happened in my life so far, it’s comforting to know that music has never let me down, its always been there to pick me up, dust me off and be the means for me to get on with my life.
I would hate to think of who I am and where I would be if I didn’t have music in my life. It’s been there for me for as long as I remember and now, I just want to work on being true to myself and my chosen craft so I can create a way in which I can honour and repay the muse.
And repay her I will… In full.
Right now, I don’t think I could ever go busking again. I had tried though… Once.
It was many, many years ago before I started learning to play guitar. I was still just playing clarinet at the time and one afternoon I thought it would be a good idea to catch the bus into the city, go to Rundle Mall and start busking, playing some pieces from a book called 101 Songs For Buskers (the Bb Clarinet version of course).
I thought I was doing ok until I started getting seriously hassled out by this one guy who for some reason, thought it would be funny to interrupt me at any given opportunity whilst trying to steal whatever money I had made in the short time I was busking.
As I was 14 at the time I had no idea how to handle such a person and apart for some passersby who came to my defence, I got really, really freaked out and after about 30 minutes or so of being hassled, I just packed up my stuff and got out of the there as fast as I could vowing never to busk again.
So much for being spontaneous I thought…
(Fast forward to the present day) I know a few musicians through running Open Mics around Adelaide who make some sort of a living busking around town and I think they are the bravest souls around, especially the ones who busk at night.
While striking up a conversation about busking with these musicians they always ask me why I haven’t done it myself.
I answer them by saying that for me, busking is not an environment that I feel comfortable in because you’re far too exposed to randomness, chance and the idiots that will inevitably want to spoil your performance (I don’t tell them about my bad experience all those years ago, they don’t need to hear that).
I’d rather play in a more formalised environment such as a pub or club where you have some sort of control over the performance. To my amazement the reply I get is that they would rather busk because of the freedom it gives them and that performing at a venue is too restrictive and not a comfortable environment for them.
I suppose you’re either a busker or you’re not and right now I’m definitely part of the latter group. I guess it depends on whether your ideal performance is carried out in an exposed environment or in a structured one.
You’re probably asking yourself “why am I writing about busking?” Well, I was reminded of my experience through stumbling across a website called The Buskers Guide and in it is a series of articles about busking in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide and it got me thinking…
“Could I give busking another go?”
With the advent of busking licenses, busking auditions and councils having more by-laws and regulations concerning buskers and busking maybe the environment is a little bit more structured and safer than it was 30 years ago.
Giving busking another go is an interesting concept for me to grapple with because I do want to get back out and perform and I want to eventually venture outside of South Australia and busking would be a great way to add to the touring income. I realise that by being too scared to busk I am cutting myself off of many gigging opportunities.
Before I make any decisions I need to find out more about what today’s busking environment looks like and websites like The Buskers Guide is a pretty good place to start.
Maybe I need to unshackle myself from routine a bit, gain some artistic freedom in my life and live a little. Should I give it a go and see what happens?
What has been your experiences busking? Feel free to contact me and let me know. Let’s start a conversation about this.
Here’s a bold statement to start things off with…
From now on, I’m not writing albums anymore but I’ll be creating and maintain an ever-changing and constantly evolving aural portfolio of songs instead.
Photographers have a visual portfolio available for their clients so why shouldn’t I, as a songwriter, have an aural portfolio of my songs available online?
I came to this conclusion after looking back on my experience of writing, recording and releasing my first CD Seeing Stars which took an extraordinarily long time to create.
I learnt the hard way that creating an album took a lot of effort, money and some time off the live music circuit to produce the thing.
I also remember the huge stressful build-up to the release of the CD which at the end of the day was very successful however, because I didn’t have a plan on how I was going to market, promote and sell my CD’s post release I still to this day have a few boxes of CD’s under the bed.
Personally, I found that writing songs for an album of 12 – 15 tracks was too limiting in its scope to me.
The more I look into this paradigm shift from creating albums to maintaining an aural portfolio I’ve become more a fan of the “record and release often” concept.
Putting together a body of work by recording and releasing one song at a time will allow me a constant flow of momentum while still playing live and doing all of the other necessary activities an independent musician needs to be doing at the same time.
Don’t get me wrong though… The concept of carrying physical CDs purely for sale at gigs still rings true for me but for the online world, the CD (and even downloads for that matter) are becoming less and less relevant.
Another part of this shift in thinking is that I’ve decided to give away my music downloads for free and devote all my energies on finding ways to be found online, re-purposing my music and building/maintaining my mailing list based on my aural portfolio rather than trying to sell individual downloads online.
I am taking my lead from a San Franciscan songwriter by the name of Dave Hahn. He’s set up his own aural portfolio at songwriter.fm
David gives his music for free for two main reasons which he explains on his website. He says…
“First, I really want people to hear the music I’ve written. The only thing better than creating something exciting is sharing that something with others. For me, writing songs is about connecting with people, telling a story, and sharing a common experience. Writing a song is, then, only half of the thrill of being a songwriter. I also want people to hear it!
Second, I want to build a career as a songwriter. As a Broadway conductor, I worked with some of history’s best songsmiths. I’ve seen what it takes to write a great song and to make a career out of it. What it takes is this: People need to hear your songs, like your songs, and give you the resources to make more of them. That could come in the form of a Kickstarter donation, a TV or film placement, a commission, a publishing deal – or any kind of songwriting project. I want to work on those projects.”
In giving his music away for free, David Hahn is concentrating on the other ways that a songwriter can make some money out of their music rather than the old buy/sell downloads model. I know that there are plenty of artists that have adopted a “pay what you want” model but me, I want to start giving away my music for free too.
Doing this is not an exercise in devaluing my music. I’m looking at this as increasing my chances of getting found, increasing my chances of exploring the other options for monetising my music.
On songwriter.fm you can sign up to David’s mailing list where you get a free song each week plus, you can browse his site and listen to all of his other songs. Each of his songs have their own page with lyrics, sheet music downloadable as a PDF, a YouTube video of the song and a Soundcloud version of it too.
I really like the idea of each and every song being a focal point of music discovery for somebody and utilising social media at the same time.
The site layout is extremely simple and specifically designed to facilitate some sort of dialogue between client and songwriter. For me, stumbling upon David’s website was a real game-changer for me.
It was very inspiring indeed.
Through studying songwriter.fm I realised that there are many ways that a song can be re-purposed for discovery or monetary purposes. My job as a songwriter (besides writing songs) is to find the many different way that my songs can be re-purposed such as:
My belief is that as a songwriter I shouldn’t necessarily have to worry about genres, trends and fads because what I write, what I create and the output of my creation should be anything that I want it to be not to suit some arbitrary collection of songs.
If I write something that can be turned into something with a country twinge then so be it. If I write a song that has a strong leaning towards rock then so be it.
I always thought that to be truly a liberated songwriter is to create without prejudice to the outcome and the aural portfolio approach I’ll be adapting in 2016 is something that will take me one step closer to artistic and creative liberation.
I’ll be using this blog as my way of keeping you posted as to my progress however, I have started off my aural portfolio using the songs from my first CD “Seeing Stars.”
Have a listen and let me know what you think.