Below: Vintage 1967 Ludwig snare.
I got to play this amazing drum and you didn't.
It was fabulous.
While I listen to the Pre-Mixes and wait for Josh to work his electromagic in mixing, here's a photo dump of pix and vids shot by my dear friend Karl Blume at The Map Room on Monday. Tomorrow, I'll share some stuff from Day Two. Enjoy!
Below: Vintage 1967 Ludwig snare.
I got to play this amazing drum and you didn't.
It was fabulous.
This thermos has powered every recording session since Ten Miles. Yes, really. Almost two decades of mojo.
DAMN, I love this guitar. It's the same consistent, reliable, gorgeous sound and feel. Every time. #Alvarez
"It'd be cool to have a whammy bar..." Farting around between takes.
The first day in the studio was amazing!
Josh remains an absolute delight to work with! Calm and gentle, he keeps artists from freaking out and brings them back to the moment when they start to think in too many directions at once.
And even with a rough, unmixed recording, he makes me sound fantastic!
This is "V'ha-eir Eineinu (Light Up Our Eyes)". I was asked to write a new setting to this text by a Rabbi friend who wanted to wean her congregation away from the Shlomo Carlebach tune they'd been singing since the earth cooled. She hadn't found anything else she really liked, or that would be easy for congregants to learn by ear.
I wrote this the day before I was to teach it at services at her synagogue. (When it comes to commissions, I often work well under deadline.) She was thrilled. Her Cantor was over the moon and demanded a lead sheet (I slammed that out Saturday night after Shabbat ended). And I wasn't going to put this on the album, but in the end it reached out, grabbed me by the collar and wouldn't let me go until I changed my mind.
Not ready for primetime -- this is without ANY mixing or mastering. So no widespread broadcasting, okay?
How I did it: First track is me singing and playing tambourine. The next several vocal tracks are also me, laid down one at a time, and in a couple cases I purposely altered my voice a little to make it brighter or darker so it would sound a little more organic and not so pristine. Finally, I laid down the track with the large tar (frame drum) for something bass-y.
(Translation: Light up our eyes with Your Torah, let our hearts cling to Your commandments, and unite our hearts to love and revere Your name.)
First of all, let me make an admission:
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.
Hey, so in case yu think I've only been obsessing about the recording (which I basically sort of have), here's what else is happening at Rancho Beth:
1. TRAVEL CAJONS RETURN. Thanks to enthusiastic response, I ran out of travel cajons at the end of my June New York tour. Between rehearsing for High Holy Days and preparing for recording the album, I haven't paid much attention to anything beyond making music. But today I'm starting on a fresh batch of travel cajons, which I will bring with me to the URJ Biennial in December. If you're going to Biennial and want a cajon, put in your order early and pick it up in Chicago to save on postage.
2. Other percussions! I've expanded my offerings with various shakers, mostly from things I've taught about in my Junk-To-Funk workshops.
Starting with this cool shaker, I'll be expanding my offerings a little bit. I hope to bring a few of these to Biennial as well. (Video will be shared later on Facebook.) I will also be offering my Junkyard Sistrum on a limited basis (ONLY at live shows).
3. Stickers! Based on requests, I'm going to run one more round of stickers to bring to live shows. If you buy something else you'll get a sticker for free. If not, they'll be a buck each. They'll look great on your briefcase, or more ideally, the top tube of your bicycle.
I do not plan on making up t-shirts, patches or anything else. I'm staying with what I know, and more importantly, with what I can do from as many repurposed materials as possible. I hope you'll understand and appreciate my choices and the reasons for them. I'm super-excited about what's coming up, next week and in the next couple of months. Thanks for coming along on the ride!
On the hand front, I seem to be pretty well healed. Since getting treated by my doctor, and after a week's complete rest, I've resumed playing again and the trigger finger feels fine, with only a slight "lockup" now and then and NO pain at all.
I couldn't be more pleased.
Thank you all for your prayers and good wishes while I rested and recovered.
On another front -- it seems that my plans for a truly environmentally sensitive approach to distributing my music is running into some very tall hurdles. Some are technological and others are, well sociological.
On the tech front, very few companies are issuing digital download cards anymore. Those that still do are generally issuing cards made of plastic, designed to be reloaded from their server for multiple purchases of music by multiple artists. While on its face that seems fine, it does tend to dilute individual marketing efforts.
The one company I found that still issues download codes send them to you printed and perforated and ready to tear up into cards. They stress that the perforations mean it may not look as professional to a customer or a booking agent, but concede that it's cheaper than making CDs.
CdBaby, with whom I've done all my digital distribution (until this month, when I added my catalog to Bandcamp), advises that customers no longer want download cards because they represent an extra step in being able to buy and hear music. Older customers still want CDs, and prefer them over both download cards and online streaming/downloading.
SO --- I've had a lot to ponder the last couple of weeks.
As much as it pains me, I recognize that I will have to issue CDs for sale at live shows. Because of my age demographic -- my target audience is mostly 50 and over and I'm quite proud of that as a Jewish recording artist -- I am expected to have CDs for sale at my live appearances.
It bothers me, of course.
In an effort to reduce my footprint, I had hoped to avoid putting more plastic into the world altogether.
But the music business I operate in isn't quite ready for that.
Something funny I found online explains the psychology beautifully:
Of course, this means that those of us who know and love CDs still want them, even as the recording industry has begun to phase them out. There's a considerable amount of push and pull here, and it's largely generationally-based. If you're fifty and over, chances are you still have a perfectly good CD player in your home, and perhaps another in your car. You're not ready to change your home technology yet, so why can't you just keep buying music on CDs? Right?
Well, in the Jewish contemporary music scene, many fans (especially older ones) still want their CDs, regardless of the environmental or technological concerns.
And so, with a big sigh at having learned a lesson, I will be making CDs available of this latest album.
But be prepared.
Due to budgetary concerns -- I had only raised enough money to record, mix and master the music, not to have CDs made -- I'll have to do it as plainly as possible.
I will NOT go back to my supporters and ask them to help me raise the money for CDs, especially when they will all be getting digital downloads before the official release date. (Dear supporters: Thank you for everything you've done to make recording my music possible. If you want a CD to play in your car, feel free to burn one from the digital files after you download them. You have my permission.)
So just know that the look and feel of this CD will not be super-glitzy or glamorous.
I am NOT about glamor.
I'll have the CD's duplicated in bulk, on a spindle, just as I did for City Of Love, so long ago. And as I did for my very first album, I will hold a stuffing party with some friends. We'll apply decals to paper envelopes (hopefully without plastic windows, but that's proving to be more expensive - UGH), then stuff the CDs into the envelopes and box them up.
This is exactly what I did for City Of Love.
And in order to give fans what they're really asking for, I will do it again.
But note: CDs will ONLY be available for sale at live shows. I will NOT make them available to any online distributors. That's another way of reducing my footprint, by avoiding too much of the physical stuff going by mail and using fossil fuels needlessly, when it's actually pretty easy to just download the music and save it to your computer or smartphone at home.
I hope people will understand that this compromise is one I'm not making lightly at all. It's something I've had to give a lot of thought to as I researched my post-production options. I appreciate peoples' patience as I've waded through the technological landscape. It's certainly a different one than when I started making Jewish music twenty years ago.
I appreciate your understanding and your support more than you can know.
Like my hands being stiff and sore, and me coming down with a case of trigger finger (yes, this is a thing! Can be caused by gripping something really hard, like tools or, according to my doc, a guitar...)
Rather than power through in pain from intensifying hand issues, I'm getting some medical help and postponing the recording session for a couple weeks.
SO MUCH #Gratitude right now to:
-- colleagues Joe Buchanan and Sue Horowitz for their sage advice;
-- My doctor for being able to get me in so quickly to take care of me;
-- Josh Powell at The Map Room Studios for being able to reschedule on such short notice and for reassuring me that it's not a massive hassle for him.
-- to all my friends and supporters for their patience with the process. Because I'd rather heal up, rest up and make sure I can do it right at full-strength.
Rescheduled studio dates are October 28-29.
THIS WILL HAPPEN.
Thanks for supporting Jewish Music Made By Hand!
To all my fellow Members Of the Tribe: Happy Jewish New Year 5780!
May you have a year filled with sweetness, possibility, hope and peace.
Now that I'm home from Bremerton, I'm plunging full steam ahead into preparations for recording The Watchman's Chair next week. In between rehearsals, I'll be prepping the exclusive 'Zine for supporters who backed the project, building a small sukkah and putting the garden beds to bed for the winter.
Fall swooped in quickly and early here in Portland. We had our first frost this week and the leaves are turning an amazing range of golds, reds and oranges. The world turns and turns some more, and we move through the seasons with aplomb, picking up surprising speed as we get older. The scenery along I-5 took my breath away this morning as I returned form Bremerton, with bright flashes of red and gold peeking out from between the evergreens, and freshly-white Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood peeking from above the hills to the east.
I feel incredibly blessed to make my life here in the Pacific Northwest.
I'm looking ahead to a recording, mixing and mastering my album, and after that a couple of trips to California before heading east to perform at the URJ Biennial in December. I'll make a few visits to local open mics in between to stay sharp and focused, and to meet up with musicians outside the Jewish scene.
I cannot wait to share my new songs with you all later this fall and winter! Stay tuned for more details as we get closer to releasing the album.
Happy fall and enjoy thecolors and the crisp air of these rare, golden days.
Musings on this amazing journey through music, prayer and community, most of it accomplished while balancing on two wheels.