I am not cool.
I am a self-taught singer-songwriter, cobbling it together in a back room of the house I share with my partner.
I practice some kind of music six days a week (Shabbes is Shabbes, right? so I honor it).
I do not have artist representation.
I self-produce all my recordings.
I make my demos at home with extremely limited technology and even less technological knowledge.
I hustle my ass off to book everything I do.
Sometimes gigs that I book fall through with no recourse because someone at the other end of things changed their mind or they pulled a behind-scenes power trip that has absolutely nothing to do with me (though no one will usually tell me that so I'm left to fret and worry that it might be something I said -- this has happened several times over the last twenty years).
I live on so little it's maybe shocking. Or maybe not. Whatever.
I know that I'm not along among singer-songwriters in that regard.
(Among Jewish singer-songwriters, that might be another question, but I don't need to explore it here.)
I write about stuff that matters to me, things I'm moved by or have thought long and hard about. I write songs that reflect my questions and experiences, and I try to find some nugget in there that helps the story become somehow universal so others might relate to it, too.
I'm not always successful.
I get no meaningful support from any synagogue community where I live, including the one where I remain nominally a member. So I book gigs out of town, and visit communities where artists don't often go. I try to bring something I can leave with them so they can pick it up and turn it over on their collective hands and make it theirs, make it useful after I go home.
I collect flyer miles and sell stuff I make on the side, to come up with the money to go to Jewish conferences where I can get my music heard and my name out there. I have been blessed by a few friends over the last several years who have helped contribute to defray the costs of attending these events, but by and large I pay out of pocket for them; so I have to choose my conferences carefully and I'm lucky to go to one or two a year.
My story is not an isolated case. In smaller towns and cities across the United States, hundreds of lesser-known artists are doing pretty much what I am trying to do. Some may enjoy a lot more community support, others may be working solo like me, others' situations lie somewhere in between.
I salute those lesser-known artists who, like me, are doing an awful lot on their own without a whole lot of support where they live. The fact is that some communities can't afford to support their musicians; others simply don't make it a priority. Because no one's really talking, it's hard to know which is which.
So in the end, I may not be cool.
And I am actually really okay with that.
Being cool is a hard act to sustain, both outwardly and on the inside as well.
(I fell down that rabbit hole once and don't need to ever do it again.)
I have more important things to worry about. And more important projects to pay attention to.
Tomorrow, I head into the studio to record against, multiple odds, my fourth collection of original Jewish music.
Today, I spent several hours refining moments in the songs I've selected to go on the album, and in the end I had to pull percussive accompaniment from a song that I was going to use because in the end I had to admit that it wasn't where I wanted it to be. I may pull it entirely from the album or I may just go with vocal and guitar. But in the end, I want what I put on the album to be my best stuff.
If you want to get a peek at what I have to consider along the way, I shot some video of myself accompanying myself (yeah, I know, that's pretty meta) so I could figure out how to proceed. I've posted those videos over on my drumlove blog and you're welcome to go and check them out there.
In the end, I wasn't happy about the way the song was going with any of these accompaniment choices, and so I decided that I needed to either play the song without any percussion, or scrap it from the recording this time around. What will I decide? Wait and see.