I’m really quite proud to announce the release of my fifth album: Soulful Filling. Its always a bit of a sprint at the end, and I’m glad that it’s finally up on the site. This one is super mellow/introspective – so put it on when you’re ready to chill.
Please pass on the word via the internet – email/blogs/forums. It would be much appreciated. I will begin the promotion phase shortly.
BTW – Burning man was EPIC. More on this later.
Ah yes – one thing I neglected to mention is that during all these celebratory doings I also managed to complete my fifth general fuzz album on Monday. Done and done. I had to finish it by this week if I was to leave enough time for CDs to be made by the time I go to Burning Man.
I thought I was really on top of it – I had it mostly finished by mid June, thus leaving plenty of time for final touches and what not. My dilemma was that I really struggled with the length of the album – it clocked in at 45 minutes, and felt it was a little short. I sat with it for a week, and in my standard neurotic/obsessive ways became increasingly unsatisfied with its length. I had Dave SG review it, and he agreed that it was a little short, which pretty much sent me into overdrive. I frantically set out to do what I do not do naturally – compose a song in a short period of time in a specific style to fill a transitional gap on the album. This stressed me out to no end. In fact, I’ve never once been successful at doing this. Normally music just flows as it does, in its own time, and compositions have a mind of their own. For example, there are couple solid tracks which I explicitly did not include on the album because I didn’t feel it fit in with the general mood I was trying to cultivate (read: mellow).
There were several false starts, and I mentally gave up on it each time. One day, after reviewing some musical tidbits I had recorded through out the year, I decided to expand on a pretty piano lick to see where it would go. I started sketching out the track, and went through a totally different mental roller coaster attempting to compose something which I felt would be worthy. In the end, I managed to write the track that bridged my perceived track gap, and finally capped off the album. I neglected sleep, my wife, and all the responsibilities that I’m now desperately trying to catch up on. After countless tedious hours self mastering the album as a whole, I’m truly relieved to have sent it out. I’m no longer tweaking bits, and I don’t have to listen to it for a while.
Stina was wondering why I wasn’t rejoicing after I sealed the envelope. There’s such a long tail to finishing these albums that it’s hard to let go. I’m still too close to it – am I really 100 percent satisfied that everything’s perfect? Probably not. In time, when the music isn’t so deeply burned into my brain, I’ll be able to look at it with pride and distribute it with joy. Already, though, I’m starting to feel good about it – certainly better then I ever have previously. It’s certainly my best effort – though not my most accessible. I’m pretty ok with that.
So, yeah, I now need to finish up a fancy flash widget for the “making of” page, then do that write up, and then it’ll be released. Fortunatly, I’m not feeling any pressure to finish that. It’ll get done eventually
Oh, and the album art is AMAZING, and there’s a whole back story to that, so I guess that’ll have to part of the write up.
I spread the “what I learned” post around the internet a little bit, and got some interesting feedback. Some people really resonated with my experience, and some people rejected it pretty strongly. I got some excellent advice along the way – like the idea of delaying the release of an album for a couple months to allow for a little emotional distance.
It also helped clarify that it is really important to me that other people listen to my music. That is not the case for everyone, though I imagine that is the case for the majority of musicians. I feel that there are a few people in this world that will really resonate with my music, and I want to maximize the potential for that discovery to occur.
A number of people listened to my music because of my blog post. I made a few new fans and got some feedback by complaining about promotion and the lack of feedback. The irony was not lost on me.
The ultimate validation came today in my inbox though. I received this email:
Subject: its travis from String Cheese
hey man you gave me cool abberations at some Zilla or eoto show recently. I often get home and give the cds i get given a listen. I listened to yours and kept listening …it was in permanent rotation in my car for months.
I got unlikely feedback from a musician whom I deeply respect. I’m riding pretty high today, and I’m on the cusp of finishing album #5.
Let me lay out a couple of things I’ve learned in the past almost decade of producing free music. They would probably apply to any aspiring musician. Many of them may be obvious and intuitive, but it’s always helpful to take stock.
No one cares about my music the way I do. There’s no reason for them to – for me its a primary extension of self. It’s what I pour myself into, laboring, debating, molding, and refining everything for a ridiculous number of hours. Then, after all this toil and triumph, I release an album, where all my pride and insecurities are balled up in an explosive state of nervous excitement. My friends and fans will support and celebrate with me, which is truly amazing, but it’s important to recognize that most people don’t care about it, nor understand the effort it takes. It’s important (though almost impossible) not to have expectations of how my music will be received. What’s most important is how I feel about my music. You’ll hear this again and again when you’re an artist – it just took experience for me to internalize it.
This is so true for so many things in life. I watch a movie, and when the credits are rolling I start thinking about what to do next. Only when I start watching the “making of” on the DVD do I begin to appreciate how amazing the process of creating the movie was. I created an interactive “making of” page for one my previous albums to give a listener some insight to the creation process. Hopefully it made the music more interesting to listen to.
It’s always a good idea to talk to people about the process of creating something, be it an event, a piece of art, a cake, or whatever. I’m often oblivious of the extraordinary effort it takes to accomplish a task.
When I released my first two albums, I really pushed my music on my friends, family, and peers, since, well, there’s already an established relationship. What I didn’t recognize is that many people I know don’t really care about music. Then there’s those who do, but don’t really dig my downtempo stylings. While of course there are exceptions, I finally recognized this isn’t really my target audience. My target audience are folks who dig downtempo melodic electronica, which is a certainly a niche category.
Why was no one coming to my website to download my free music for the first few years? Because no one knew about it. I had to learn the art of promotion. Since I’m not trying to sell my music, the traditional channels – i.e. labels – are not available. I must contact the radio stations, magazines, websites, blogs, and forums myself. Occasionally a fan will help spread the word – and to those people I am incredibly grateful.
Successful promotion turns out to be cast a wide a net as possible, putting a lot of effort in spreading the word, sending out cds, and getting very little back. You have to accept a lot of rejection. I’ve learned to be happy if 5% of my emails or mailings gets a response – that is, not even a positive response, but a message indicating that the party will or did check out my music. It’s not really something that I enjoy.
Just because people know about something, doesn’t mean they’ll care. When I hand someone a business card, realistically, there’s a minuscule chance they’ll go check out my website. When I hand someone a cd, there’s maybe a 50% chance they’ll listen to it. The best time to hand someone a cd is when they’re about to go their car, and I can suggest they check it out on their journey. We now live in an era where data is free, and people collect it without using it. Humans like to have stuff. If they do end up on my website and download an album or track, it may get lost in the shuffle of other downloads.
Unless your music is simple and poppy, or incredibly accessible, most people won’t be able to make sense of it on first listen, and consequently not return for a second listen. I can not approach my own music with fresh ears – I’m intimate with every second of it. It’s great to have someone who’s not a huge music fan listen to my music before I release it to gauge how most people will receive it. It has previously helped shape the ordering of tracks on an album. Accessible music will always be more popular than complex music.
I’ve learned that it often takes many listens for people to start really enjoying my music. My favorite story is of a co-worker who’s cd player broke with my cd in it, so they had to listen to it all day on repeat. The next day he told me never to stop writing music.
My next album will not be very accessible. At least I now know what to expect. The advantage of being totally independent is that I can choose to make musical decisions like this. I’m writing more complicated music because that’s what I want to do.
This is the most important thing I’ve learned – the small percentage that do care and listen to my music, don’t think how important it is for me to get feedback from them. This is completely normal. How often to do you appreciate something and think “I should tell the artist (or whatever) how much I enjoy their art?” Not often. Since the process of acquiring my music is completely devoid of personal interaction (click on a link on a website), there’s nothing bonding the downloader to me. They download the music, and perhaps listen to it sometime down the line. Maybe they like it – maybe the don’t. I will most likely never get feedback. The thing I’ve taken away from this is to always contact artists when I enjoy their work. It’s a great habit. Or if an artist is serious about soliciting feedback, both negative and positive, I try to do so. They always really appreciate it.
I don’t mean to sound like it’s a negative experience to create and release music – it’s not. There’s simply a lot of challenges I never imagined. I absolutely celebrate the tools, ability, and lifestyle that allows me to craft the music that I want to. I’m still in awe that there’s a distribution method that allows me to share my music at almost no cost to the entire world.
We are still very much at the beginning of the musical explosion that’s about to take place. The tools that are available completely eliminate the cost barrier to create music. As this generation learns those tools, the variety and quantity of output will be staggering.
Good times ahead. And good times right now.
I would love to hear what other lessons musicians have learned, or your experiences with anything I mentioned.
I’ve recently stumbled upon a fantastic music website called The Sixty One. Its sorta like Digg for music, only there’s a cool gaming element. You “bump” tunes you dig, and then if other people then “bump” that tune, you get points. You level up, get new abilities as a user, it fabulous. I’m having a lot of fun and finding seriously good music.
Anyhow, if you decide to join, please give me a “bump.” Not cause I’m “coming down” off “herion” or anything, because I wanna level up. Get me some more uploads.
Yesterday I attended the SF Music Tech Summit.
(photo by crazywanda)
I had a fairly good time. I went for a couple reasons:
1. There are a ton of companies in that space – I cannot keep track of them. Some clarity on innovation would be nice.
2. I’m a digital musician and a tech worker, what should be a natural fit for this conference.
What did I take away? Well, I got a light smattering of tech – there was only one talk devoted to technology. Most of it was through talking to folks who were building companies – learning about what frameworks their using, and theirs approach to scaling their services. It was fabulous hearing about how Pandora deals with their bandwidth growing pains.
Since everyone seemed to agree that DRM was dead (this was a tech conference, not a major label conference), most of the talks seemed to revolve was how to monetize music services since the media is available for free. I was probably the only attendee coming from the creative commons perspective – which is par for course. Since my business model is determining how much money do I feel like losing through my music, I don’t care too much about the monetizing issue. Ah well.
One interesting idea is the concept of the musician “middle class” – the local bands, the musicians who are not ready to attempt the major label push – and the companies that are springing up to offer services to this group. These companies get local band’s music on the digital distribution services, build basic band-fan interaction infrastructure through social networks/blogs/websites, establish artist identity, and help with local promotion. Since the old concept of label isn’t necessary – the cost of creating a record has become so small – this is the new paradigm. Conversely, it doesn’t take much capital to start this type of company – so there is room for many of these companies, and I would consider them to be the new digital “labels”.
Music categorization is a very difficult problem to solve. It seems the best filters will consist of your friends, and the people who share the same taste in music. Finding those people is not always simple. Conversely, people who share your music taste breed a community. So monetize that, or something.
Music is still an important part of defining your identity (thank goodness) – and is used as a major expression of self. Hence, there is huge money in ring tones. I think I’m too old to understand that one. At least Haber once attempted the general fuzz ring tone.
Anywho, I met some interesting folks, and now have some websites to check out. Since I never heard the term “creative commons” during a since talk, I’d like to re-emphasize for my own benefit: Creative Commons KICKS ASS!
The Kahvi collective is an amazing net label dedicated to sharing high quality mostly downtempo non-vocal electronica. I’ve been listening to their releases for the past year or so, and I’ve discovered some real gems along the way. At the end of last year I released a compilation album of tracks spanning my four albums on Kahvi named “Red Balloon.”
DJ Polaski creates seamless mixes of electronica tracks. He’s released a number of Trance mixes which get played on mega internet radio di.fm. Over time, he has become more focused on making mid to downtempo mixes, and has become the resident DJ on the Kahvi collective. He and I have become friends through much internet banter, and he then surprised me by making a seamless mix of my tracks which clocked in at over an hour, full of clever interplay between the tracks. Now this is no simple task. My songs are not meant to mixed that way – each track is really an island onto itself – and it took an intense amount of work and creativity to make this happen. He sent me the mix, and I was really touched. After taking it in, I felt there was some room for improvement, and since he uses the same tool I do to create tracks (Ableton Live), I had him send me the project file and made some changes. Then we went back and forth a couple times on the project, tightening the mix and learning different techniques from each other. It was a really fun process.
So now I’m psyched to release “Fusion”, a 65 minute seamless mix of General Fuzz tracks.
Download it here.
Over the years I’ve learned not to depend on other musicians to come through for me. Whats really important to me is not high priority to other people. Many musicians have a tendency to be flakey, and are prone to cancel at the last minute. It’s a very frustrating lesson to learn.
By the end of ’07, I had contacted three professional musicians that I really wanted to work with on my new album. I had mentally prepared myself for the fact that some or all of these sessions might not happen. This week I’m ecstatic to say I had a session with the third, and final musician, Rashida Clendening, also known as Audio Angel. It took my breath away.
After the last fully collaborative album, I’ve started to see myself both as a composer and a producer. When I have an artist in my studio, I record in a fairly untraditional manner. I like to have lots of material to work with, so I loop a section of a song and have a musician either play a melody/harmony that I’ve composed for them, or have them improvise for a while. I give feedback as we’re recording to help ensure that I record audio that I’m confident I can use. At the same time, I try to give musicians the freedom and space to explore different ideas and use their voice. After the session I go back through the audio and seriously edit/re-arrange it so it sounds the way I want it to. For example, I’m currently working on a song that Dan Lebowitz recorded on. I’ve spliced tons of tiny bits of guitar line to make it sound like it has a natural progression with the song. Literally nothing you hear in the song was played in that way, but it should sound like it was. Of course, you still need excellent source material to make this process work. I consider this process producing opposed to composing.
Anyhow, I have composed a very short, minimalist song that is almost prayer like. This song is has become a little bit sacred to me, so I’ve been struggling how to produce it. I have been envisioning that the melody and harmony would be sung. I’ve seen Rashida perform in various ensembles over the years and really appreciated her ability to dynamically match the musical context (along with her truly magnificent voice). She’s also incredibly outgoing, radiating positivity and beauty in every encounter. That means a lot to me. I wanted to find out how she would approach this “prayer” song (no idea what it’ll be called), which would primarily comprise of her singing.
We did a session on Tuesday, and even though it was mostly her singing small bits of the song at a time, there were several times I got chills listening to her. That’s never happened to me before during a recording session. I have great hope for this song reaching its maximum potential. I also have a deep respect for her, not just for the recording session, but when we were talking and learning about each other, she was challenging me to become more then I am. She left me with more then just inspiring audio – she left me with ideas to think about.
This has been a really special week for Jimmy. Last night Dan Lebowitz brought his trusty guitar over to chez Fuzz to add some of his signature tastiness to a couple new tracks I’m working on. He’s been #1 on my list of people I wanted to work with since I finished my last album. I’d been slowly crafting a plan to make that happen, and it was most excellent and satisfying that it actually occurred. I was surprised how even in the fuzzy context his guitar playing is so recognizably Lebo.
Today, pedal steel guitar jedi David Phillips came over for some work on a different track. He’s a truly exceptional musician, and conveniently lives two block away. The ambiance he was able to conjure out his 14 string instrument was truly awe inspiring.
So, in two days, I worked with two professional musicians. Um, can you say solid? I can.
I can also say tightly polished unit, but you know that already if you read my blog. Blog reader! Now, I don’t say that with scorn. I say that with love. I got nothing but love for you, even though you don’t leave comments, lurker.
Also, in other exciting musical developments, I’ve been working with DJ Polaski on a General Fuzz mix that he’s created. Its gonna be stellar. He’s really opened my eyes to the power of continuously flowing sound scapes. Whats not to like about a different type of sonic journey?
Nothing, my blog reading friend. Unless it sucks monkey balls.
So real good times, minus me mailing in Stina’s unopened absentee voting ballot. Doh.