Tides of people spoke on November 8th. A groundswell of angry, ignored human beings let their voices be heard that day. In reaction, another wave of people answered back. We can’t help but hear everyone now. Such turbulence. One wave after another.
The Women’s March was the happiest I’ve felt since the election. Yet I found myself, in the middle of it, blaming myself — my own complacency, my own inaction. I was asleep, naive. I should have done more before the election. Still, I wonder if it would have done any good. Maybe we all needed to hear the alarm in our own voices.
It seems that what’s happening now is a symptom — an outer manifestation of some larger human concern. It’s very noisy and crowded and confusing. We’re all speaking at once. Any of our voices can be heard globally now— but it’s so hard to listen, to hear the truth, in all of this chaos.
I feel compelled to say something too, though I hardly know what. I have groped for these few words. I’m awake now. I’ll engage in this conversation with all of the courage I can muster. I won’t go back to sleep.
I’m not one to talk if I don’t have anything to say. I’ve been writing, over the past few years, but not publishing as much. There are times for talking and there are times for listening. I guess I’ve been in a phase of the latter.
About four years ago, in 2012, I recognized that it had been a hundred years since the sinking of the Titanic. It occurred to me, then, that it would be interesting to try to write a song from the perspective of one of the musicians who played on that voyage. They were famously heard playing, from the lifeboats, even as the ship was sinking.
Truth is, the song I have written is not really about the musicians on the deck of the Titanic. It’s about my own feeling that my personal “musical ship” has been going down, for some time now. I know I’m not alone in expressing that a music career is a hard thing to sustain.
As I “imagined” being one of those fateful musicians who played as the ship was sinking, I learned that, for myself, the central question became; “Who am I playing this for?” And I knew, in no uncertain terms, that fundamentally those players must have been playing for themselves.
It struck me that that is the most important reason to continue to make music.
I finished my last CD at the tail end of 2009. I spent 2010 hitting my computer – as hard as I could – trying to get that work heard and “out there” in the world. I started this blog. I hit things so hard, in fact, that there were weeks when I made my hands and arms sore from hours of typing. In the end, I’m only one person. I was amazed however, in some ways, that I was able to do as much as I did. Unfortunately, to “do it all” is ultimately not sustainable. That’s why things have dropped off with my blog posting.
Despite all of the theorizing that goes on about the “new music industry” and the new “more level playing field” that it has created, I have yet to figure out a way to make my music be a more significant revenue stream. So, I swim in the sea of my music teaching each week – which I am so fortunate to be able to do – until I can get to the little islands of time that I secure in which to do my songwriting. In truth, the writing is what sustains and motivates the whole thing for me. It has been my focus – since the start of the year.
Earlier today, on a Music Think Tank blog post called “Chaos We Can Stand: Attitudes Toward Technology and Their Impact on the New Digital Ecology,” I read the following: Shifts, in the music industry have “changed what it means to be an artist. The traditional record industry strongly reinforced a belief that artists should just be artists. As creators of cultural content, artists were told they should not have to worry themselves with how they are engaging with their audience—these activities were viewed as disturbances to their creative energy. But as we know, the age of the aloof artist, disconnected from his audience or not even knowing them at all, is long gone. It is not that there cannot be artists who center mainly on the process of creation—but for every artist that is not willing do get more deeply involved with their careers, there are many, many more who are willing to do the hard work.”
“There is nothing that prevents artists from just being artists,” writes David Dufresne, CEO of the website management platform Bandzoogle. “However, if an artist wants to make a career out of being an artist, then that typically means that the artist will need to find both an audience that is engaged with the artist’s creative output, and ways to earn revenue from that engagement.”
Would that it were so easy. I continue to struggle to have the energy to “wear all of the hats” that one must wear in order to sustain a living and create a life in music. Although I know, deep down, it has never been easy.
I don’t mean for it to sound like I’m complaining. I am not. I’m merely pointing out the fact that, based on my own experience, it’s no small task to create music, produce it, market it, gig, and engage listeners when, in the end, there is little financial return on that huge investment of time and energy. I am fortunate enough (and crazy enough) to have been able to motivate myself to get this far – but I wonder sometimes whether I’ll be able to make it sustainable for myself.
Time will tell. I’ll keep giving it my best effort. I hope this post, in some small way, explains my absence, here, over the past couple of months.
They say free time boosts creativity. Like most of us, I have precious little of it. I remind myself, as often as I can, to treasure the moment. Lately, I’ve found inspiration from sitting under a great, old tree.
This morning, I found out that a piece I was interviewed for, in December, is airing today on NPR’s Marketplace. Alexandra Schmidt conducted interviews and wrote the piece. It centers on how QR codes are bridging the gap between real life and cyberspace. If you’re interested, you can listen to the spot by cutting and pasting the link included below. The segment starts at about the 14 minute mark. I’m also including the written article in this post.
[ find an easy link to NPR’s Marketplace on the blogroll ] http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/01/21/am-qr-codes-bridge-real-life-with-cyberspace/
I blogged previously about Warbasse Design and how Philip Warbasse designed QR codes for me. You can see previous posts below, Week 20 and Week 17.
The ripple is expanding…
QR codes bridge real life with cyberspace
Little black and white squares have started popping up in magazines, on billboards and storefronts. They’re called QR codes, and are aimed at linking the online world with the real world.
This photo taken March 11, 2005, shows a ‘QR Code’ being displayed in a camera-equipped mobile phone in Tokyo. QR Code allows users to enter text information such as name and address on a name card, Internet URL or e-mail address, into mobile phones easily and quickly. (TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
The QR Code for marketplace.publicradio.org. (Code courtesy of qrcode.kaywa.com).
TEXT OF STORY
STEVE CHIOTAKIS: You no doubt have seen a bar code. Those line markings on all kinds of products that get scanned at the grocery store checkout. Now there’s a new type of code that’s popping up. Digital codes that link the real world with the online world.
But as reporter Alex Schmidt tells us, a lot of consumers still don’t know what they are.
Alex Schmidt: What they are is QR Codes, which stands for Quick Response. They act kind of like barcodes for your smartphone. You scan these little boxes and a website comes up on your phone. From there, you can get things like coupons or digital downloads.
And advertisers love them. QR designer Phil Warbasse explains why.
Phil Warbasse: What it really does is it turns a five-second pitch into potentially a five minute experience. It extends the time that you have to be in front of your audience.
Warbasse has worked with Chipotle restaurant to put QR codes in a menu, which takes users to a video with celebrities talking about healthy eating. And he’s created one for Paula McMath. She’s a singer who plays weekly on Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade. McMath has her QR codes printed on business cards. When you scan them, they take you to a website where you learn more about her music.
But there’s a potential problem — passersby aren’t quite sure what the barcodes are.
Schmidt: Have you ever seen these?
Man 1: Never in my life.
Man 2: I’ve never seen them before.
Man 3: No.
McMath knows she’s using an early stage technology.
Paula McMath: I realize that on some level, I am a little bit of a guinea pig maybe?
But being experimental could also get her noticed. Lucy Hood directs USC’s Institute for Communication Technology Management.
Lucy Hood: Think about it: you’re a consumer, you’re blobbing along. What’s happening? What will make you pay attention? Something new.
Hood thinks QR codes will need a big, sustained media moment in the spotlight to really drive mass adoption. Sort of like text messaging on “American Idol.” Hood convinced “Idol” producers to use that technology when she worked at Fox back in 2002.
Hood: We went from 12,000 text messages sent to 12 million in one season.
Hood’s guess for QR’s big moment of exposure? She thinks it’ll happen with a movie, sometime this year.
I was fortunate to attend the NAMM Convention, this past weekend, with Jessica Huebner and Liona Boyd. Liona Boyd is multi-award winning, internationally known classical guitarist. It was really something to listen to her stories as we all spent the day together.
NAMM is always kind of overwhelming – but this year was pretty special because of the great company. I also bumped into some musician friends whom I hadn’t seen in years.
I was honored to be asked, by Paul Zollo, to play at his photography opening Angeleno Portraits at the Talking Stick in Venice, CA this past Sunday. Paul brings the same great sensitivity and clarity, that he uses in his songwriting and writing, to his portrait photography. The opening boasted an amazing array of talent – culminating in a performance by Paul Zollo with the accomplished members of his band – Earl Grey, Billy Salisbury, Chad Watson, Bob Malone, Edoardo Tancredi, and John O’Kennedy. The exhibit will be there through the end of January.
I didn’t know Paul until a little over a year ago. I met him at the Songwriters’ Co-Op at the Pig’n Whistle in Hollywood. He read excerpts from his inimitable Songwriters on Songwriting and he was there to provide his insights to each of the songwriters who performed a song that night. He offered some very kind words about my work and later, via email, we struck up a correspondence. I’m pleased to say that he’ s become a wonderful ally – and we’ve forged the beginnings of a friendship. It’s quite something to meet someone who has been a “hero” and then to be able to call him a friend.
One of the high points of last year was receiving a review, from Paul, for Trust the Sky. It felt like the review of a lifetime, to me, and I am forever grateful that he wove such words together in talking about that body of work.
I’m including a link to Paul’s online music ezine /blog bluerailroad.com. [see the Blogroll] I’ll also include the review below.
Many thanks to you, Paul Zollo, for your support and great words of encouragement – both written and spoken. _______________________________________________ Trust the Sky – paula mcmath Review by Paul Zollo bluerailroad.com
She writes the kind of songs people say nobody writes anymore. The kind of songs written by the greatest of the great singer-songwriters – songs with uniquely poetic lyrics wed to gorgeous melodies, songs in which both the words and the music are equally inventive and inspired. In great songs, it’s not the words or the music that matter most, but the way in which they connect. In her songs the melodies and lyrics glide together with the immaculate dynamism of figure skaters. The haunting “Trust The Sky,” for example, is a song of quiet zen acceptance, of learning to trust the universe. Its tune is ripe with unexpectedly delightful melodic passages, such as the bluesy turn on the title phrase at the end of each chorus. It’s surprising and beautiful, as is this entire album. Add to that a bridge of aching yearning that resolves into a sparsely tender acoustic guitar solo, surrounded in loving instrumental touches, combined with a lyric of gentle confidence, and you have something timeless and great.
The production throughout – as steered by Paula with the multi-instrumental Ian Hattwick (who also co-wrote several of these songs and contributes lovely musical touches to each track) – is wisely subtle, always understating the arrangements to enhance rather than overwhelm these powerful songs. These songs are not only inspired, they’re crafty – designed by a savvy songwriter to last, so that they won’t fall apart on the street like a cheap radio. But they are singularly uncontrived, which is the hardest challenge for all songwriters, met and surpassed by Paula, to write something which is fresh and unheard, yet alive with a timeless inevitability. Her songs sound great on first listening, and only grow richer in time.
“Without Ever Saying A Word” is a breathtaking ballad that is brilliant in its simplicity. Kind of the lyrical flipside to George Harrison’s “Something,” it’s built on a clever conceit but easily transcends cleverness to pinpoint an intangible, always a hard hurdle to clear in the realm of romantic songs, and with a gorgeous tune. “So Long” is a great upbeat declaration, and on it she bears the kind of edgy but passionate feminine presence of a Liz Phair or Patti Smith. Sparked by an unrestrained electric guitar solo by Hattwick, it shows the range she possesses, from tender ballads to rockers. The poignant “3 Flights of Stairs” displays the kind of lyrical spell she can cast, as she projects images of fragile vulnerability, connecting this stairway to a person’s crooked spine so that we not only recognize her subject, we internalize it.
That this is her debut album is hard to believe, because it resounds like the work of a mature, experienced singer- songwriter, someone who’s been doing this for decades. But like Laura Nyro, Carole King and others who wrote inimitable masterpieces from the very start, Paula is a prodigiously gifted singer- songwriter who has taken her inherent abilities and soared with them. With clear and confident vocals and a natural gift for harmony singing (she beautifully overdubs harmonies with her own voice with the warm assurance of Joni Mitchell or Dan Fogelberg), she has everything it takes and more to be a lasting presence in our musical landscape. In a world where there seems to be too much of everything except time to take it all in, this is a collection of songs that demands attention, and given it, it’s time well-spent. This is a record that makes no promises it doesn’t keep, but culminates in the promise of more to come. Paula McMath is very much the real deal, an artist plugged directly into the electric current of creativity. This is not to be missed.