This morning, at the foot of a high office tower on Wilshire Blvd, I saw a man shining shoes while sitting on the back bumper of his car – next to his open trunk.  His tools were at the ready.  I could see how earnestly he polished the leather, the muscle he was putting into it.  He wore a hat and his beard was peppered with grey.  The shoes on his feet were worn.

It’s halting to come upon something like that – just a moment – but one that says so much.  We all experience moments of feeling like we need to do small, menial things in order to survive.  I don’t think there is anyone who escapes such things entirely – but there is certainly a vast continuum – and we, in North America, have it easier than most people in the world.

Still,  I was talking with friends the other night and we all agreed that the “overhead” that one needs to generate, in order to survive in this civilized world, is hard sometimes.

That said, the past week was filled with such preoccupations for me.  I worked on my taxes, hunkered down into my teaching practice, and powered my way through.  It felt like a grueling week – but then, this morning, I came across the man shining shoes from his trunk.

There was another thing touched me so much this past week.  At the end of my final two lessons on Friday, my students presented me with a beautiful loaf of homemade bread.  Such kindnesses mean so much.

"Trust the Sky"

I’m excited to be in Pandora with only one degree of separation between me and Patty Griffin – one of my great musical heros.  It’s a small thing really – but the world is shrinking.

I tried to get a letter to Patty once.  It was after a concert that she gave at the Wiltern Theatre in LA.  I walked up to the stage and asked if there was any way I could get a note to Patty.  I handed an envelope, to her stage manager, which contained “Trust the Sky” and a brief note.  I don’t know if she ever got it – but it felt like it was worth a try.

I’ll post it here on the ridiculously remote chance that she will ever read it.

April 10, 2010

Dear Patty,

I have no idea if you will ever read this – but it’s an interesting exercise…

If you could write a letter to one of your musical heros, what would you say?  You might speak in superlatives and say, “thank you” — you might “gush” — and feel like an idiot, wishing you could think of something better to say.

It blows my mind the lifetimes that you can contain in a song – the flash point that must flicker in your brain – the connections – the memories – the souls – the loss – the melody – your words…   The depth and breadth of what you have accomplished is far-reaching.

Maybe in some small way – you were once where I am now – and even though I am far behind you, I am on the same path.  I thought I would try to extend this gesture to you — to share, somehow, in what I am doing and tell you that you have been a huge source of inspiration.

Thank you so much for what you do.   paula mcmath

It takes courage to remember that there are people who are listening and interested.

Without naming names – it was reassuring to hear, this week, from some people who listened to the podcast of last Saturday’s radio spot.  It remains a challenge for me to be brave enough to consistently share.  Although they don’t know it,  the people who responded to the podcast have been really helpful in bolstering my courage.  Many thanks to them.

You never know where some small happening, in your life, will lead you. We meet people.  We read things.  We respond to seemingly insignificant, little whims and sometimes they take us to a place we could never have anticipated.

A few years ago, I ripped an article out of Music Connection Magazine, written by Bernard Baur, entitled “20 Radio Stations That Will Play Your Music.”   It sat in a file until I noticed it again a couple of months ago.  I emailed one of the DJs who goes by the name Tee-M (Tariq Mirza) at WPMD.  He asked me to send in a CD.   He took a listen, played a couple of tracks on his show, and then invited me to come in to the station to chat and to play a few tunes live.  How cool was that!  While I was at the radio station, I was chatting about how I had discovered “Tee-M’s UNsigned Music Show” – which is co-hosted by Mike Stark.  I mentioned the MC article and Bernard Baur introduced himself as the guy who’d written the article.  When they say the world is small – they ain’t kiddin’.

It was so fun to do the show.  I played a few songs with Ian Hattwick and chatted with Tee-M and Mike about musical influences.  It was a really great experience.

You just never know…

in the booth at WPMD
Tee-M (Tariq Mirza), Mike Stark, paula mcmath, Ian Hattwick at WPMD

So, here I am at the end of this blogging challenge and at the beginning of a new chapter in my blogging life.   What do I write about now?  What do I do now?  How do I keep things going?

I thought about these questions, out loud, with my boyfriend Ian Hattwick, and at the end of our discussion, he summed things up nicely:

“If you can be gigging, gig.

If you can’t be gigging, write.

If you can’t write, do business.

If you can’t do business, take the night off… ”

It makes a lot of sense to me.

Gigging is the work.  It’s what it’s all about – making music.   It’s meeting real people in the real world who are going to care about what you’re doing – because they’re there to see it.   It’s the hardest part and the most rewarding part – and not something you can do any old time…  usually.

Writing is also central to what it’s all about.  It keeps things interesting both for the artist and the listener.   Sometimes it’s not the easiest thing to get to either – as many of us have discovered in the creative realm, but without trying to meet “the muse” half-way, you won’t bump into her very often at all.

Doing business isn’t always easy – but it is always there.  It’s an email, a phone call, a blog post, or a tweet away.   We can do it day or night – anytime we can get to a computer or a phone.  I think it’s wise to systematize things.   Plan and aim to do specific things on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis.   Keep the “business” wheels turning and lubricated.   I do my best to stay flexible and creative in this world too – because it so unquantifiable.  It’s hard to tell if all of the effort is even working…  In the end, it’s an exploration – an experiment.   It will take a shape and evolve – if you give it that initial throw.

Take a break.  Sometimes I struggle with stopping.   Sometimes, it is absolutely the right thing to do.

Week 9 of this blogging challenge has got me thinking…

Question:   Who interests me enough, as an artist, that I would want to buy everything that he or she has to offer?

Answer:   There aren’t a large number of people in this camp for me, personally.   As an artist myself, that’s probably not a bad thing – because I have to be careful about how I spend my money.   In this economy, don’t we all?

Beyond this question:  Can I think of an artist who consistently creates work that I like and would want to buy?

Yes, but…    truth be told, even my favorite artists don’t always hit the mark for me. Hmmm.  The plot thickens.

If I could imagine an artist, who might exist, who consistently creates work that I like and who succeeds in getting his or her wares, to me, so that I can purchase themwhat would that look like?

I feel a need to posit these ideas in imaginary terms – because, if I can isolate the things that might make me want to partake in an artists’ career on a consistent basis (ie.  buy stuff from him or her… ), maybe I can formulate an approach that will feel right for me.

Enter: The Imaginary Artist of Week 9
[I’m going to make her a woman – so, that I don’t have to keep saying he or she… and I’m basing her on some of my favorite artists.]

1.   She would come from a standpoint of humility.   Her artistic voice would be subtle and yet profound.   Something about her would strike me as honest and authentic and her work would resonate for me personally.  Primarily, she would have insight to offer about life.

2.  She would have a musical talent and musical sensibility that hits my ears the right way.

3.  She would speak “artistically” and “commercially” when she has something to say.

4.  She would be friendly and consistently active, in her communications with her listeners, but always with an air of generosity.   It’s a subtle thing.  [ I’ve read many emails from artists.  Some strike me as fundamentally giving, others as, well, not so giving… ]

5.  She would be creative in offering products, besides music, that would resonate with her overall message.

6.  She would be a part of a community of artists.  This could take many forms.   I find it appealing when artists are a part of something beyond themselves.   This might include a fundraiser or charity event or a supportive collaboration.  It makes it that much more appealing, to me, to hear an artist is involved in a community of people who are putting their talents to some use beyond simply fostering a career.

7.   She would, likely, have a side-line career as well.   Most of us, out here, have to have something else to help pay the bills.   From time to time, it would be interesting to hear about the struggles, the checks and balances involved in an artistic life. I always like to hear the gritty details – because, as we know, this life ain’t always easy…

8.  She would communicate about “works in progress” and find creative ways to show them so that they might invite support from listeners.

9.  She would get out there and play gigs.

10.  She would create a unique body of work worthy of interest and word-of-mouth.

So, with all of that said, I’ve got a lot of things to add to my list.   Ariel’s book shows it as a funnel.  I think it’s a good metaphor and image to hold onto.  I continue to think of it all as a process – a way of living.

Ariel began Week 9’s chapter with an admission that she’s a “business book junkie.”  In my life, I’ve been an junkie for books about artists lives;  biographies, auto-biographies, biographical novels, books on artistic process, books on songwriting, books on the music business, books of poetry, literary criticism, interviews with artists, you name it…

The 3 books have been among the most useful to me – real life-changers – are these:
“Creating A Life Worth Living” by Carol Lloyd
“Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott
“The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron

I’m currently reading the incredible biographical novel, “Lust for Life” by Irving Stone, about the life of Vincent Van Gogh.  Wow.

I’ll close this post with a promise to continue this blog.   I began blogging as part of this challenge – but I have enjoyed it so much that I’ll continue to post here, once a week, indefinitely. What began as a task, that I set for myself, has turned into a mode of expression for which I am very thankful.

Thank you so much, Ariel, for the invitation to enter this world.

“If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.” Turkish Proverb

“Who speaks, sows; Who listens, reaps.” Argentine Proverb

“Let a fool hold his tongue and he will pass for a sage.” Publilius Syrus

Week 8’s Chapter:  “Real Life Networking Tips” strikes me as one of the most philosophical chapters in the book.  It speaks from a very generous stand-point – a way to approach people in the real world.  It asks the question,  “How can I be helpful to this person?” From what I’ve witnessed of Ariel, she lives in this philosophical stance.  Take the fact that we are all musing on her book.  It’s evidence that she’s been a great help to all of us who are participating in this blogging challenge.  By the same token,  she’s modeling the fact that she’s also building her business.

We spend so many hours in front of our computers now.  (I literally dream about drafting emails some nights… )  In some ways, the art of speaking to someone, face to face, is well – an art that perhaps some of us need to brush up on – myself included.

It seems to me that the key is to let people talk about themselves.  Ask an open ended question and see where it takes you.  It’s an instinctual thing – human interaction. Sometimes I’m pretty good at it – but I find it’s necessary, when talking to people whom I don’t know, to be as relaxed and receptive as I can be.  It isn’t always easy.  Being in a setting where people have a glass of wine in hand is usually helpful…

I’ve heard that if you want to gracefully insert yourself into a conversation,  it helps to go up to groups of 3 people.  (It isn’t wise to try to talk to 2 people who are obviously engaged in a discussion.)  There is also research that has been done that proves that 5 people is the magic number where conversations will always divide into smaller groups. Next time you’re at a dinner party of 4 (or 5) – take a moment to observe how often things break into smaller talks.

Another tip that helps is to wear something that might be a conversation starter;  maybe a hat, or a cool piece of jewelry, something brightly colored…  something like that.  It sometimes helps others to break the ice with you!

After building rapport and exchanging emails or cards (of course – have a good business card),  it makes sense to maintain a graceful standpoint in following up.  If I’ve managed to make a good connection, in person,  I find people are usually open to being added to my email list.

The biggest goal in networking is to be memorable.  Maya Angelou said,  “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

One final thought. A real touch-stone, for me in life, is something that Franz Kafka said.  When I’m wondering what to do or say or whatever – I try to remember his words. “Remain… listen. You need not even listen, simply wait… learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked.  It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

How many of us have been asked why we’re not “famous?”  It’s funny – it strikes me as a naive question – and yet, I’ve been very naive myself.

I heard a statistic that most children, in our culture of fame, believe that they’ll be famous someday.  Who among us can say that we never thought that fame might come to us?  Maybe some of us still think it’s possible.  Maybe it is…

How do the “famous people” get “famous” anyway?  I heard someone else say that it takes a “burning, maniacal rage.”   Perhaps those of us who are still among the unknown,  have only a “luke-warm, moderate hope.”   My own naivete is being challenged daily.   My awareness is growing.  I see that “fame” does not equal “success” and that all of these things are measured in shades of grey.

Week 7 of this challenge focuses on building a mailing list;  email by email, person by person, week by week…  It isn’t a glamorous thing to think that that’s how it’s done – but it is.  Brick by brick.

“Get your message and your music out regularly and consistently.  Build trust.  Create community.  Mine through your inbox.  Set a time aside, each week, to send out a friendly request to add people to your email list.  Offer something in exchange.” It isn’t rocket science – but it’s labor intensive. BUT (and this is a big but!) who are we to think that we can do this thing without such labor? How naive would we be to think,  like kids do,  that someday we’ll just “end up famous and successful.”  We can wait all we want, but without putting the work in, it ain’t gonna happen…

Over and over, in this challenge,  I am reminded that we’re lucky enough to exist in an age where we can reach out to the world and ask to be heard.  We can put ourselves onto the “world stage” in ways that were once not possible.

With all of this in mind,  I have drafted my email-list request letter.  I’ve created a folder, in my mail program, for potential mailing list additions.  I’ve scheduled a weekly time to do the work.  I’ve started a list of friends who I’ll consider doing a list-trade with.  I’m also thinking about the texting strategy.  I put it in my calendar to consider again in a couple of months.

This morning,  I registered my name and repertoire with SoundExchange in anticipation of being included in Pandora. It took weeks and weeks to hear back from them.  I was thrilled to know that my current work will be added to their genome.  I am reminded of something I said in one of my first blog posts here,  “mostly we send out the emails and wait…”

In the end, I say – hold tight to the “luke-warm, moderate hope.”  It springs eternal…

Insight abounds – in this arena – and things are starting to gel for me.  More and more, I am seeing the value of reaching out to people who have expressed genuine interest in my music.  Why wouldn’t they be interested in the continuing process that is leading me down this path?

I’ve been like many of us – afraid that I will appear vain or braggadocious if I send out frequent email blasts.  Now, I’m realizing that there could be a way for me to make such emails an extension of my voice as an artist. Good things are happening all the time, in my career, that are worthy of sharing.  I believe in keeping things short and sweet.  So, it makes sense that, if I reach out more often, I can keep my messages succinct and to the point.

With all of this in mind,  I’ve put together a list of 3 things that I will aim for in my emails.

1.  Humility is attractive and compelling to me.  [ However,  being so humble that you don’t say anything at all – is neither.  I’m also not a fan of “self-effacing”, or “false humility.” ]  That said,  I will aim for a simple, matter-of-fact, “this is what I’m doing” kind of approach.  I’ll write the kind of emails that I feel would draw me in and make me curious or make me want to listen.

2.  Whenever possible,  I’ll post a gig as part of the blast.  I like it when an email simply spells out when and where the next gig is – but it’s cool to have a sentence or two about what else has been going on.

3.  I like a plain text email – with maybe a link of interest.  It’s an issue of personal taste, but I’m not all that crazy about the emails with the big banners and attachments.  [ In all of this stuff, we need to do what is comfortable for ourselves. ]  I remember noticing that Bandletter has a simple, text email template.  That’s the way I’ll go.  Up to this point,  I’ve been using Ezinedirector.

It was affirming to run across Jill Sobule in a blog discussion about 1000 True Fans.  I met Jill at the Durango Songwriters Expo.  I’ve covered one of her songs at a few of my gigs – and she’s a real inspiration to me.  So, it’s great to be reminded that she is a good business woman – as well as an artist.  She’s found her own style – and I am happy to notice that I find her approach valuable as an influence.

There is no one solution to the issue of self-promotion for independent artists.  I like that this blogging challenge asks us to experiment and make sense of what we are doing in this arena.  It’s great to be reminded that trying something creative and different is part of the fun of this life.  I am learning a lot and finding that this is a small world.  I’m learning that I’m not the only person who has been self-conscious about “tooting my own horn” – or whatever.

It does no good to do all of this work – and then hide it under a rock.

Whew!  Another intense week – and added to it, I’m now kind of “on the road.”  I did 3 small sets at the Emancipation Day Celebration in Windsor, Ontario this past weekend. The festival commemorates the Emancipation Act of 1833 – which made Canada the final stop on the Underground Railroad to freedom. I’m parlaying the gig into a visit with family and friends in Canada.

I’ve read Chapter 5 a few times and have come up with 2 valuable touchstones;    Bloggers read other bloggers’ blogs.   It is key to post regularly and consistently.

I set up my Google RSS Reader and I’m getting updates landing in my email.  So far,  I’m diggin’ the Music Think Tank, The Dean’s List, Moses Supposes, and Blue Railroad.  I’ve got a ways to go as far as establishing rapport and relationships – but, as Ariel says, it will take some time to leave enough “breadcrumbs” and comments behind to become a legit part of these communities.

I’m thinking more and more that MSi9W is an invaluable process – for a professional life in music.  It has been really cool to wrap my head around all of these concepts and commit to following through with them.  Before I began this blogging challenge – (I hate to admit) – the thought of actually being a blogger was pretty foreign to me.  Now,  it feels really doable and not so intimidating.

Since the beginning of this challenge – I’ve learned so much.  I started by really over-thinking things – and trying to be very succinct.  I didn’t want to bore anyone by going into any detail.  At this point, about half way through, I feel a lot more at ease with just sharing my experience in cracking this world open for myself.  I’m finding, from reading other blogs – in this challenge, that it’s all in the details and in the sharing of experiences (and frustrations) that we learn the most.

As far as finding myself on blogs/posts that already exist – that was pretty cool.  Truth is though,  I already knew that Paul Zollo had done a really nice review on Blue Railroad.  I also knew about Songwriters Vantage, Pozervision, Crossroads, and McCabe’s.  I guess that ties into the value of real-world networking and getting out there.

I have worked to belong to a number of music communities in Los Angeles.  I’m a regular participant in the Songwriters’ Co-Op.  I’ve been to music conferences such as Durango and TAXI.  I’m a part of the music-making-teaching community of McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica.  I’m a part of the performing community down on the 3rd Street Promenade.  I regularly go out to hear music and meet people too.  It all adds up.

I’m sure it will take things up a notch to reach out, with diligence, into the cyber world.