Monday, September 29, 2008

The Man From Kazakhstan

Sorry for the radio silence, but there wasn't much songwriting news -- or even musing -- from Paris. I'm back now but am already preparing to head out again for a couple of days in Nashville next week. I was hoping to go later in the year, but my co-Grand-Prize Winner, Eduard Glumov, is in Nashville until mid-next-week.

Eduard makes his living off of music, and winning the ISC has changed his life. He has been running from meeting to meeting in Nashville, as well as getting some studio demos done (the new version of "I'm Not Your Friend" can be heard on his website).

It's odd, but he and I have only spoken on the phone twice, and have never met. All of our communication and co-writing has been via e-mail.

So I'll meet him early next week, and hopefully we'll spend a little songwriting time together. But he's got career things to do, and I'll be looking for other contacts as well. I expect to drop by NSAI, and go to Writers' Night at the Bluebird Cafe to meet some local writers.

Nashville is the one place where, more than anwhere else, writers are given their due, singers get their material from publishers who get songs from writers, and co-writing is not a foreign concept.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Another Song About Paris

If anyone wants me, I'll be in Paris for the week. Hopefully there will be some lyrics to be found there among the cafes.

I could sing songs about Paris
Till I ran out of breath
I defy you to find me just one
That hasn't been done
To death.

--- "Another Song About Paris" by Dave Frishberg

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Rumplestiltzkin song

As long as there's a video, I might as well show it. There was no camera operator, it was stationed, turned on and left to run, so it's not the best quality. And it was the end of an evening and I was getting a little weepy, but there you have it.

This is me at a fund-raiser I was hosting, singing "Rumplestiltzkin: Dead at 95"

The studio demo (sung by someone else) and the lyrics are at my website, of course.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bitchin' Babes

I had an absurdly late night, last night. Only because I had to be up at a reasonable hour in the morning.

I went over to Tritone for their "night of funk," first to meet Deirdre Flint for a couple of beers. It was too loud to talk so we "texted" each other by scribbling notes on my notebook (songwriters always have paper and pen). We had a great visit, talking about songwriting, before she went home (at a reasonable hour, as she was headed west to rehearse for the Four Bitchin' Babes tour).

If you don't know Deirdre's work, you're in for a treat. She writes about childhood, junior high school (especially) and dating with satiric glee and a touch of wistfulness. The Junior High School songs (about being a cheerleader, about the stud at the roller rink, about reading Nancy Drew books, etc.) are particularly funny, as is her perennial favorite "The Boob Fairy" (no, you'll have to go download it now, won't you?)

But my main purpose for being out was to see, support and otherwise hook up with, Aly Cat. Aly is a bitchin' babe in her own right, and does things with a bass that are illegal in several states. She takes the stage surrounded by four excellent musicians (all male, 2 guitars, drums plus a percussion/trumpeter). They have a wonderful woven-together sound, and Aly not only kills on the bass, she has a strong clear voice as well. She was the final band of the night and it wasn't until her set that a few people got up and started to dance. Those in Philly should keep an eye out for her.

However she didn't get on stage until 12:30am....and by that time I wasn't about to show up to see her and then leave. But it was too late for extended conversation afterwards.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Performing, first in an occasional series

Those who know me know that I've had a history of performing, but do it quite seldom these days.

I'm something of a vaudevillian, more of a song-and-dance man. I have stage presence, a strong speaking voice, comic timing and a general comfort level on a stage. And a love of musical theatre.

I'm not a strong singer, so choose material carefully when I perform music - songs in my limited range, and that rely more on the 'acting and storytelling' and less on the sheer vocal quality. Those I can sell.

And I don't play an instrument, so must be accompanied by someone who can keep up with my eccentric and erratic phrasing. My musical ability is present, but limited - I understand, as a lyricist, how the words marry to the music, and how rhythms create different effects; but in terms of creating a full song, even in those cases when I've been able to work through a decent melody line and a not-bad chord progression, I still have to go to a solid musician and say, here's the melody, here are the chords, here's the feel and style the music should have - and let them go from there to play it.

All that said, I got on stage last weekend for the first time in a year, to host a fund-raiser cabaret. Many friends performed, and we had a whiz on the piano (who used to music-direct at a professional theatre). I sang a number of comic songs, including "Jaws" and "I Want To Be A Side Man" (by Dave Frishberg), "If I Had A Million Dollars" (by the Barenaked Ladies, which I sang with Cole Wheeler) and even adapted the famous Stan Freberg "Elderly Man River" sketch to perform with my son.

Towards the end of the evening I performed my own song, "Rumplestiltzkin: Dead at 95" which keeps turning out to be a better song than I thought it was when I wrote it. It's the songs you think about least that sometimes come out the best.
I get emotional towards the end of the evening, and it was difficult to keep my composure - I need to perform it more often to regain some control. But it was a heady moment. I'd love to hear someone else sing it live (there's a hired vocalist on the demo on my website), but it was an out-of-body experience to hear my own lyrics coming out of my own mouth.

The other treat of the evening was meeting noted comedic folk singer Deirdre Flint, who showed up to enjoy rather than perform. One of the performers sang her Bridesmaids Dress song, and Deirdre donated a couple CDs for the cause.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Thoughts on Competitions

There’s a lot of discussion about contests and competitions, whether they’re legitimate, whether they’re worth it, etc. Obviously I’m a little biased having won one of the biggest ones.

There’s no doubt that some contests are money-makers. All contests charge a fee for entry, which can be as high as $35/song (and as low as $10). That adds up when you have a lot of entries in a lot of contests. Adds up fast.

And many prizes are usually donations or promotions from music-related businesses. In some cases they’re giving away trial memberships in online services, which is SOP for a business trying to attract new subscribers.

But there are tons of legitimate expenses in running a competition, not the least of which is that they have to pay judges, and if they want good ones (known and respected in the music industry) they probably pay well. And while some contests are simply money-makers, several of them (especially the largest and most prestigious ones) are really about promoting songwriting and giving people a chance to show their best stuff.

Winning a contest does not make you the best, but it does give you a little stamp of approval. It’s a gold star. It gives you a chance to talk to people you wouldn’t ordinarily speak to. You might get someone’s attention for five minutes that wouldn’t have given you the time of day before. It gives you a shot of confidence; like that morning cup of coffee, it may eventually wear off but you have all sort of energy while under the influence.

I decided this year would be the “competition” year – lots of songs, lots of contests, lots of prizes. I have the ISC (and GASC) win under my belt, so I don’t need to prove that I can win the top prize. My goals are to get at least honorable mention, finalist, or similar mention in a few contests, and in a few categories. I am trying to show my range of styles, my ability to collaborate with several people and depth of talent. And I want to get my work in front of a lot of peole.

Goodnight Kiss Music was running a special contest to find material for a singer they’re promoting. The main prize was to get a song cut, so I entered a couple of songs and a few lyrics. One of the songs got an “exceptional merit” mention and two of the lyrics came in second and third. And I got a nice, private note from one of the judges with some very complimentary comments.

So, mission accomplished. So far.