My Music and I

Shortly after my last blog post, I received an ultimatum about my situation that forced me to temporarily adjust my priorities. I needed to find a paying job and settle some debts before I continued to devote the bulk of my energy to organizing a live band or writing new music or else risk total destabilization. It’s been almost two months since that post and I felt overwhelmed and unsure of how to say some of the things I needed to say. I didn’t have a job and I didn’t have the confidence that comes with the security a job has.

I’ve been working as a production technician at the local television station for about three weeks now and work during the live broadcasts of the daily news. It’s a rewarding job with awesome people involved and I feel privileged to have it.

I mentioned adjusting my priorities earlier; while that meant that I have not been promoting my music as much as I could have been over the last several weeks, it does not mean, even remotely, that it has ceased to be an important and driving element of my life. I’ve been putting together a collection of orchestral work that I’ve written and plan to release in the near future. It’s a little off-genre, I know, but The Purge arose out of my desire put together the kind of album I’d always wanted to make and this orchestral release is a progression of that desire. Don’t worry, if you’ve liked what I’ve done thus far with The Purge, I’m not planning on completely reinventing The Purge’s sound or anything, just releasing an oddity that I hope some of you will appreciate.

New Purge music is inevitable. Expect it. My Music and I are not going anywhere.

Also…..

I’m working on my brother’s first release under the artist handle “Cysthen.” I’m mixing his music for him and I’m proud of what he’s done. I’m not sure when his plans to release are (clearly I have to finish mixing everything first), but I’m sure to be promoting it when it’s done. It is super electro and super pop. Think Robert Delong meets VNV Nation meets Unicorn Kid.

 

The Purge, Live: Who, What, Where, When, and How?

I was recently asked by a fellow artist if I “still planned on taking The Purge live.” It wasn’t a strange question, but I had to respond with a more complicated version of “yes.”

I finished audio production for Waves around late October/early November. That was 6 months ago and I’ve, in the mean time, released three new The Purge songs but have yet to perform a live show. I’ve had some very talented musicians approach me about getting involved, but for various reasons I didn’t capitalize on the moment. Part of that is because I wasn’t 100% sure on what The Purge live was even going to be like.

We Are Sex Bob-omb

 There are many decisions to make when you try to take what is, essentially, a studio-oriented music project live; more-so than there are when you’re a more traditional band that writes and performs all their music together. How big of a production should this try to be? Will you need to try and produce accompanying video? How reliant will you need to be on backing audio (pre-recorded music or portions of music)? How many other musicians are in the band? How will you repay them for their time and commitment? Can you even afford to do that? What will you do about stage-lighting? What will the overall tone of your show be like? Which songs are crucial to your set-list and which ones aren’t? How long will your set be? The list goes on and on.

For the traditional band, live performance together is the creative process and recording is an after-thought. For projects like The Purge, recording is the creative process.

I <3 FL Studio. Thanks to Rebekah Pascouau Photography for the photo.

I <3 FL Studio. Thank you to Rebekah Pascouau Photography for this photo.

There are multiple routes I could take The Purge live. One extreme, and the perceivably quickest and easiest route would be to rely very heavily on backing audio and simply walk on stage myself. I would not be uncomfortable doing this, but I do feel like it might be a waste of resources and talent when I’ve had enough other musicians approach me about getting involved. I also know from my experience with my last project that working to organize a heavily automated performance by yourself is a pretty joyless chore when it comes time to adapt it, whereas a more organic approach has the ability to bend and be flexible.

The other extreme, and the most traditional approach, would be to assemble a committed group of 3-4 other musicians/artists and arrange the songs live so that backing tracks become wholly unnecessary. It may or may not come as a surprise to some readers, but I’ve never actually played my own music with a group like this. One fear I have about this approach boils down to what is, basically, a trust issue. I’ve talked to other artists like Edgar Graves of The Cemetery Boys about band structures and he’s always liked to keep his band small. His reasoning was that it’s, and I’m paraphrasing a little here, difficult to arrange the schedules of a group of other adults who have varying degrees of commitment to the project so that you can play shows and rehearse consistently.

Too Tired for Band Practice

But that isn’t to say I’m not above trying to make that happen, and it may even turn out that a few songs would require limited backing track use regardless of how many musicians are in the band.

Simply put, I won’t and can’t  know for sure what The Purge live will be like until I assemble my team. What I do know is, however, I would like to see The Purge performing consistent shows and performing them well by the end of the year, in whatever shape or form that may be. If you’ve ever talked to me about getting involved with the project live, expect a message from me by the end of next week. If you’re a musician who has thought about getting involved with the project live, please contact me.

Facebook Pages: It only takes a couple of minutes

There’s a thing that I’ve been doing for a while now to try to help out artists I dig or businesses I enjoy increase their Facebook presence/reach that they can’t do for themselves. It takes, at most, a couple of minutes of my time but it’s always yielded results I could see and made me feel good about the time spent doing it. I’ve done this for quite a few awesome bands and businesses, and you should check them out if you haven’t already; Rebekah Pascouau Photography, The Cemetery Boys, Full of Wanderlust, Taste Fire Hot Sauce, Karacell, 0pt-0ut,  Little Black Rain Clouds, Ikagura, The Hissy Fits,  Scar Limit, Overlock Hotel, Asylum XIII, Automated Messiah, We Never Sleep, Saltine, Heretics in the Lab, Deist Requiem, Pillbuster, Black Blinds, Human Services, Pain In The Yeahs,   etc… But I digress.

Mass Inviting:

Does the process need to be this indiscriminate? Absolutely not.  Right above that little “invite” button is a search button. Those of you who have taken the time to organize your friends list into categories can really take advantage of that feature here. There’s a drop-down to the top left of the search pop-up where you can filter the people you’re seeing. It takes a bit longer to do it this way, but you can.

Why bother with doing this at all, you may ask? Well, I went to Die Sektor’s page in preparation for this post and invited everyone and let that sit overnight. Then, after starting to write this blog I went back on Facebook and made sure I hadn’t neglected some bands I dug to see what would happen in a few hours:

 

Mass Invite Results_Cut

 

It’s been less than a day, and these are real people liking these pages who actually know or would like to know more about the band. The numbers on these keep trickling up too. You even get to feel good as you see how your contribution helped a page you genuinely dig expand it’s reach. Doing this for an artist I’ve yet to do this for usually results in an average of close to 30 new genuine likes overall. Maybe if I had more conventional taste in bands I follow/associate with those numbers would be much higher, but the point is that most of these people who responded genuinely like these bands but probably didn’t realize they hadn’t liked them on Facebook yet.

As some of you may or may not know, Facebook has been filtering out more and more page posts from news feeds (unless they have $$$). Is that a bad thing? Maybe not. Facebook probably should be more about checking out what your best friends are doing and not necessarily what artists you-kinda-sorta-enjoy-sometimes-when-you’re-in-the-right-mood are doing, maybe. But what about those who do spend their money on “buying likes” or “Facebook advertising?”

Seriously, check this out:

Reach is important, and Facebook allows you to pay for “targeted reach,” but it’s mostly a superficial game that cooks books and, in fact, tends to dilute the effectiveness of posts. Taking it upon yourself to perform an active role in promoting content creator’s pages for them is the best way for a page to reach people who will actually care.

As a content creator and page manager, I’ve learned to look at it as a civic duty to help other people like me expand their reach like this. I’ve yet to make a big deal about this before, but I’ve been trying to increase my own reach recently and, selfishly, I am hoping that some of my friends return the favor and follow-suit in doing so for the band, business, artist pages they enjoy. It only takes a couple of minutes.

Seized

When I was younger (I think in high school), I read a famous newspaper article entitled, “Thirty-Seven Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police.” The headline pretty much says it all; thirty-seven bystanders and neighbors heard or witnessed the murder of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese and deliberated about calling the police until it was too late. It’s a poignant story that has stayed with me because of how inhuman the people in that story seemed to be and I, like any young person, told myself I would behave differently in a similar situation.

I have a song called Seized. It’s a narrative song that tells the story of a person, late at night in a lonely London square, witnessing a drunk or drugged woman being escorted against her will by three men. The narrator is paralyzed with fear and shock that such a thing is even happening and does virtually nothing to stop it, moves on with his life and then flies home to another country.

One of the first things they teach you in an introductory lesson to reading poetry is to never assume that a first-person narrator is speaking as the author him/herself. Many writers will pass on that narrative responsibility to a fictional character and it is a very wise storytelling technique to do so. Every now and again, however, a poem or lyric is, in fact, autobiographical. The lyrics in the song, Seized, are one of those exceptions.

I was on vacation with a girl-who-HAPPENS-to-be-my-friend-NOT-my-girlfriend to spend a couple of weeks abroad in London as a kind of graduation present after earning my B.A.. One night, after enjoying a small festival along the Thames filled with dozens of talented buskers ranging from The Beatles reenactors to Gypsy Punks to Jugglers, and then later failing to find a hip night-club near our hotel in Croydon, myself and my traveling companion found ourselves witnesses to an uncomfortable scene.

There were a ton of buskers over by the Ferris Wheel, a.k.a. The London Eye.

There were a ton of buskers over by the Ferris Wheel, a.k.a. The London Eye.

The whole scene could not have lasted more than a couple of minutes but I’ve given it a great deal of thought. Despite that, I find myself, now, trying to avoid the memory by finding convenient distractions around me.

An empty square in the city is an uncanny place. At just about any time during the day there is an aliveness and a hustle; a filled-with-people-ness, that feels so intrinsically character to the location that to walk through it alone is to feel, yourself, like some societal pariah. When something goes wrong and there are no modest masses or authorities to call to, you suddenly cease to sympathize with all your libertarian, police-hating friends and regret that you can’t pass on responsibility to someone with a gun and a marked car or a distant administrator of justice, peeping through a camera’s lens. And don’t let them argue that if you had a gun you’d have felt empowered. You still would not had you been outnumbered. Any daring acts of heroism against the odds would still have to occur after that fear of death was overcome, and in that environment the fear of grave retaliation would be heightened still… But I am avoiding the action.

I heard a voice sneak beyond the Turkish men surrounding a tall, long black-haired woman. For a moment she stopped and they broke formation, perhaps startled by her change of heart. “I think I need to head home,” she said. The men, all in brown button-ups, their hair uniformly spiked with grease, scuttled around her once more and chanted their suggestive and condescending reassurances.

“Don’t worry, baby. We’re going to have fun together.”

She began to head the other direction but seemed to struggle with simply maintaining her balance when two of the men slipped under her shoulders and diverted her back towards the direction they’d been heading. She struggled against them shortly, dragging her feet for a few seconds before surrendering herself to the current. Before they turned away and headed back towards the street, her green eyes looked at the two of us and she whimpered meekly, possibly because she knew in her heart already that we two tourists wouldn’t know what to do or because she’d simply not the energy to raise a more appropriate scene, “No, no, no….” My companion and I looked at each other for a moment after the group disappeared around a corner, and then we wordlessly continued on our way. The next day, I wrote a love letter to my girlfriend and had eggs for breakfast in the hotel lobby.

I think on this sometimes, and I try not to wonder what did or didn’t happen after that, but its impossible not to. I’m forced to ask myself, “Did they scuttle past a helpful police officer and raise a scene or did they make it back to the men’s building?” I don’t like imagining what may or may not have happened then. I could pretend they stayed up late and watched Netflix together or something, but I’m not young and stupid enough for that. I can only assume that if they did make it back, at the very least, something degrading and humiliating happened to that woman, and at worst something violent and even more horrible did.

Writing songs about your self is an admittedly self-absorbed act, but I don’t believe it’s usually an egotistical boast as much as it is a way to express a timid and frail ego. Standing by and watching, and then later trying to forget (with iterate success and failure), that woman was a tremendous blow to my ego. I’ve told myself that I was scared and outnumbered by men who appeared like they could beat me in a fight, and I did honestly fear that they may have been armed with a concealed weapon (very probably a latently racist thought, but they already appeared to be perpetrating rape) to try to expunge my feelings of guilt, but it’s never worked for long. Some say chivalry is dead, and I learned that night that I am no knight. While “Macho” culture has its own horrible pitfalls and misogynist mutations, as a “Man” I know I was supposed to try and stop them, or at the very least distract them so that she might have had a better chance to escape. The least I could have done was shout, “she should be allowed to express her autonomy, guys!” But I didn’t do that. I was in an unfamiliar place faced with an unfamiliar crisis and I was afraid for myself and my companion so I “played it safe” at that woman’s expense.

At some point along the way, I had become just like those people who stood by and did nothing while Kitty Genovese was killed.

RAINN Charity

A couple of months ago I made it a habit where I donate half of whatever money I raise through Bandcamp.com sales to charity.* I’m making a promise right now that I’m going to continue this trend until at least the end of the year. After the month of May, my donations will go to RAINN, an organization dedicated to raising awareness of what is and ending non-consensual sexual violence.

You can learn more about RAINN at http://www.rainn.org/get-information.

*In case you’re wondering why I’m only donating Bandcamp.com sales and not other online retailers like iTunes and whatever, it’s because that stuff is so much harder to keep track of because I sometimes won’t receive or even be made aware of sales made there until literally three months afterwards and I can’t get my hands on any of the money made there until I reach a certain cap. With Bandcamp.com, I get an automated email almost immediately when someone buys my music and it gets deposited into my Paypal account just as quickly. Click the “Music & Merchandise” tab on the menu to visit my Bandcamp page, or Click Here.