I’m Back.

18 Feb

I’m gonna make this short. It’s been almost three weeks since I’ve blogged.

(Funny word, blogged…like something you’d need to take an emetic in order to do right, but I digress.)

Anyway, the decks are cleared. No non-musical tasks stand in the way. The day is young and my boss Jellybean the cat,  has been fed.

 Now, the real work can start. I’ve been tweaking my new version of Sonar (that’s the recording software I use). I’ve got almost every necessary effect and instrument working and online. The most recent version of the song I’m sweetening,* “Stop Where You Are,” is loaded in RAM memory and I’ve had my first caffeine hit of the day. I’m psyched.

 Those women among you, if there are any, blow me a kiss and dab wistfully at the corners of your eyes. Guys, a hearty thumbs up will do.

Wish me luck. I’m going in.

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*sweetening – adding musical parts, like background vocals, pads, instrumental fills and effects to add color and interest to a composition or song.

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OMG – THE AWFUL TRUTH

29 Jan

I’d always thought that the term “cold sweat” was a purely literary invention; either that or an expression James Brown made up to write a song about. You can’t really sweat and be cold at the same time, can you?

It turns out you can. What’s more, it turns out I can, and I was – at 3 a.m. this morning as I awoke from a dream, gasping for air, smack in the middle of a full-blown panic attack.

It took a while to get a grip afterward. It even took a while to recognize my surroundings. Was I in my old apartment in San Francisco, in my childhood home, or in the barracks at some air base in Europe circa 1964? And what was happening? Someone had me in their crosshairs, that much seemed clear, but who they were and why they were gunning for me was a complete mystery.

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After I’d settled down and had some time to collect myself, I realized that both the panic attack and the dream were related to the subject of this blog: an old guy, me, who has suddenly decided to follow his bliss.

It came to me then that this whole thing, this effort to get recognition for my work as a songwriter is not just a diversion, not simply an excuse to get online and talk about myself. What this is, is my very own, very succinct “bucket list.” It’s the one thing that I know I really must do before I die.

Why does that scare me? I know why. I don’t really want to talk about it, but I probably should anyway. Simply stated, I’m afraid I’m not any good, and if that’s true, I don’t want you to find out about it

This isn’t false modesty, I promise you. I have friends whose musical judgment I thoroughly respect, who assure me that they really like some of my songs. I’ve been to Nashville and L.A., where I took meetings with some fairly important people, some of whom I got to know as friends, and none of whom seemed in any hurry to throw me out of their offices. Admittedly, not much happened as a result of those meetings, but the vibes were reasonably positive, nonetheless.

I’ve even had a few close calls with real success. Both Mickey Gilley and Eddy Money made test recordings, demos, of “Annie’s Got a Friend,” a song I wrote years ago with Rick Nowels. While at the top of their game, the group Alabama hung on to one of my songs for months before they finally let it go. All these people ultimately passed on my stuff, but it got close.

I remember too, when local boy, Huey Lewis, took Pete Elman and me to lunch one day because he’d heard a tape we made and wanted to meet us. I even played a song for country legend Harlan Howard one afternoon. “Nice,” he said. “I can’t use it, but you got something really nice there.”

Stuff like that happened a lot.

Objectively, I know I’m not a total loser, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling like one. That idea, that apprehension, that fear which has stalked me through life, in whatever realm I found myself, has also kept me from making a full-blown, balls out run at achieving my goal. And now, late in my life, when I’m really trying to do something about it, it’s still scaring the shit out of me.

That’s why this blog is so important and why I feel compelled to keep on writing to you, my phantom readers. It’s because I don’t want you to see me giving up on my quest, even if you’re not really watching.

Finally, I also want to report that I’ve ticked a few actual chores off my ‘to do’ list. In my studio, I’ve updated my audio recording software, replaced my uniform power supply and tweaked my mixing board. Next week, after I finish some unrelated money gigs, I’m going to crank things up and get to work on the first track I plan to release.

That song is called “Stop Where You Are.” Click here to hear it as it is now, before I make any changes. That way, afterward you can tell me whether I’ve improved it or screwed it up.

That’s all for now. I’ll see you next time. Until them, all the best from me, Ray Staar, Music Dinosaur.

TODAY’S LINK: My Heart Rocks – The Linda Imperial Band

WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO? (or: Blogging is Not for the Faint of Heart)

27 Jan

Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited about doing this. Blogging about my determination to make serious headway in the music business is the best way I can think of to keep myself on point. I’m neurotic, you see, and unless the pressure is on, I drift.

Case in point: Self imposed diets.

When I put myself on a diet, the downhill slide from resolve to regret is frightful and fast. First, it’s the odd tawdry episode featuring a fistful of Bacon Bits, then it’s a half-cup of creamy ranch dressing on my radicchio salad. Next, I’m hiding in a closet, sneaking a mini-bag of extra spicy Cheetos after dinner. Before you know it, it’s 3:00 a.m. and I’m regaining consciousness under the florescent glare of an all night doughnut shop, mopping powdered sugar and sprinkles off my shirt with a soggy napkin. Pathetic.

Put me in Weight Watchers though, and everything changes. I become Ray Staar, wild-eyed monomaniac, shedder of pounds. In other words, if someone’s watching, or even if I just THINK someone’s watching, I do better at things. That’s hopelessly co-dependent, I know, but what can I say? I am who I am.

My point is, blogging is a lot harder than I thought it would be and I tip my hat to anyone who keeps on doing it, day in and day out.

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Now, where was I?

In my last blog, I was agonizing over whether or not to put all my music on Sound Cloud and just give it away. After hours of arduous reflection and several imaginary visits to my therapist, I decided that I would do that, but with a proviso. On my first go around, I’ll give away a maximum of 10 songs and I won’t even do that until three months from now.

Three months? Why three months?

Even though all the material I’m releasing will be online for nothing, I still want to give anyone who wants to buy it an opportunity to do so. Therefore, I need three months to do two things:

  • First, I’ve got to laser all the warts off the songs I am releasing so that, if things go badly, I’ll know it wasn’t because I didn’t give it my best.
  • Second, I’ve got to find out how to get my stuff out in front of as big a buying audience as possible, without having to transform myself into a tormented, pill-popping music promoter in the process.

That may not sound like much, but it’s a pretty tall order, so if I don’t blog for a day or two, it’ll be because I’m busy, not because I’ve abandoned hope and gone on a paranoid feeding frenzy.

Meanwhile, the first song I’m going to fluff up is called “Stop Where You Are.” You can hear it in its present form by clicking here. Take a listen if you will, because I’d like to get your input on whether tinkering with it made it better, or if I should have just left well enough alone.

That’s all I’ve got for today so until next time, thanks for reading (even if I’ve only been deluding myself, and no one’s really reading this, after all).

Day 3 Dilemma

25 Jan

SHOULD I SET MY MUSIC FREE?

When I was in the nightclub business way back in the 1980’s, I used to advise every first time act that I booked to “give away the house,” i.e., to distribute at least as many free passes to their debut performance as there were seats in the show room. Not everyone took that advice, but of those who did, an overwhelming majority  made at least twice as much money at the door as those who didn’t. Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

Yesterday's Dilemma

The explanation is quite simple: Human beings are pack animals. We’re followers. I know that’s hard for some free-will freaks to swallow, but it’s true. We’re much more likely to enter into new situations and/or to try new things if we have company, the more the better. In the example above, random passers-by on the street in front of my nightclub were far more likely to pony up a cover charge to see an unknown act if the joint was already jumping before they arrived.

As many times as I’ve seen this truism verified, however, until recently, I was not convinced that it would work in the digital age. Even after the now-famous Radiohead giveaway of their album, “In Rainbows,” I remained skeptical. “Sure,” I thought, “It worked for Radiohead because they’ve already had years of exposure and a major label contract. It’ll never work for me.”

Then I read this article on Hypebot.com, a website devoted to new music and new music technology. According to Hypebot.com, free music is the new gold rush, the new road to riches, the new yellow brick road.

I encourage you to read the entire article. It’s pretty eye-opening. Briefly though, it tells the story of a promoter named Michael Fiebach who parleyed a giveaway promotion of the electronic act Pretty Lights into 4 million download bonanza. If you don’t think that many downloads had a phenomenal impact on Pretty Lights’ future prospects, fan base, live appearances and income, you’re probably reading the wrong blog.

Am I going to rush to the internet and upload my entire catalog to Sound Cloud? Maybe. There are still lots of differences between me and an act like Pretty Lights. Pretty Lights is an electronic act. I’m a LOT more old school. Pretty Lights skews to a youth oriented market. My audience, I’m guessing, is quite a bit older.

Let me think about this. I’ll get back to you tomorrow.

Today’s Link: Ray Staar on Indie Music Channel
Audio – Indie Music Channel

Tomorrow’s dilemma: MAKE A CD OR SELL DOWNLOADS – WHICH WAY SHOULD I GO?

Day 2 Dilemma:

23 Jan

I’M THINKING ABOUT STEALING SOME SOFTWARE.

Well, not stealing, exactly. I’m considering buying a copy of a program from someone who ripped it from his own CD and then disabled the manufacturer’s copy protections. I’m not thinking about stealing, really. What I’m thinking about is receiving stolen goods.

This is an issue that comes up for a lot of struggling songwriters. For some, the answer is automatic: “Do whatever you have to do to ensure a competitive edge.” For others, the idea of acting outside the law is a little more prickly. Their consciences do battle with their desire to thrive.

Am I going to actually go through with this purchase? I don’t know, but to be honest, I’m sorely tempted. First, because I need this program to do my work and second, because the version I’m now using is starting to crash, refusing to recognize plugins and dropping data at the most inconvenient times.

Worst of all, since I can’t afford to upgrade to every new version that comes along, and therefore can’t take advantage of the manufacturer’s deep “buy now” discounts, my current version of this program is the third one I’ve purchased at close to full price. So far, in other words, I’ve paid over $1500 for a piece of software that’s now effectively useless.

Chew on that Mr. or Ms. Congressional Representative, the next time you consider passing legislation that egregiously punishes online ‘piracy.’ Exactly who are these pirates you speak of, anyway? People like me, or the corporate big wigs who dictate marketing policies?

Today’s Link: Watchin’ The Workin’ Girls Video YouTube

Tomorrow’s dilemma: SHOULD I FREE MY MUSIC?

I’m Climbing Out Of The Slime

22 Jan

I’ve always wanted to be recognized as a songwriter.
Toward that end, I’ve spent much of the last four decades writing and recording popular music, some of which you can hear by clicking THIS LINK

During those same forty years, in order to remain close to music and music people, I’ve also worked in various related fields. I’ve been a roadie, a song plugger, a night club owner, a voice actor, a recording engineer, a talent booker, and a music contractor. It hasn’t all been easy and fun, but I wear my show business scars with stubborn pride, and I wouldn’t trade my life experiences for anything.

Still, I do have one nagging regret. I was never able to support myself with my music –  with my songwriting. The tough-love contingent out there might say: “You probably weren’t  good enough,” and maybe they’re right, Still though, old as I am, I’m not quite ready to accept that summation.

Until recently, there has been only one road to success in the entertainment industry: work hard, get good and then get lucky, i.e., get discovered by one of the majors, a record company. For almost a century, without legitimate industry backing and support, the chances of becoming a household name via creating music were slim to none.

Working under that model, I’ve had brushes with fame and success. I’ve met and mingled with my share of luminaries, great and small. I’ve watched people with a modicum of talent soar into the stratosphere. I’ve also witnessed the creative demise of more than a few genuine artists whose passions moldered for too long in third-rate night clubs and piss-in-the-sink hotel rooms.

Why did so many promising careers stumble and fall by the wayside?

Under the old paradigm, there was only so much room at the top, and if your style or your look or your sound, however good or interesting, didn’t fit the record companies’ notion of “hit-worthy,” you were out of luck.

Today, however, things are different.

Where record company executives once had a strangle hold on product distribution, now anyone with a dozen songs can upload an album to iTunes and instantly make it available to millions. Where studio time was once prohibitively expensive, today anyone with a couple of thousand bucks can set up a recording studio rivaling many “state-of-the-art” facilities. Moreover, with the help of social networking and You Tube, an artist’s fans need not wait for personal appearances or record company press releases to stay in touch. News, updates, new songs and videos can now be widely shared and publicized, world-wide, for free.

It’s a brave new world out there, and I’ve got a mind to step into it.

This blog will be about me, music dinosaur Ray Staar, and my 18 month effort to use new media to finally realize my lifelong dream of being able to live off the fruits of my creative endeavors.

Everyone is welcome to read and participate. Be a supporter, be a silent spectator or an outspoken shit-disturber. If you’re on the same path as me, share your experiences. If you turn out to be a fan, share my music. Give me helpful hints if you like. Suggest song titles,  recommend strategies, offer advice, good, bad or indifferent. I’m open to your input.

I can’t promise that I’ll actually do what I’ve set out to do. I can’t promise that you’ll be in on the ground floor of a teary, spine-tingling saga of rag-to-riches success. I can only promise this: between today, Sunday, January 22, 2012, and Saturday, June 22, 2013, I’m going to be on a quest, and I’m going to blog about it here. I’d like you to come along.