2017 was a year of transition for me. I completed 2 years of formal music study at Metro State University in Denver. My acoustic band took a break, and I started a new rock band, although not the one I intended. I clarified my musical mission and goals, and made the decision to transition from a serious hobbyist to a semi-professional musician.
Formal Music Study
January-May 2017 was my fourth semester at Metro State University in Denver. I took Music Theory 4, Piano Class 4 and Basic Techniques of Composition. The introductory composition class was fantastic. For our midterm and final, we had 3 weeks to compose something 2-5 minutes long, for piano, clarinet and flute. I am especially proud of my final composition, which I named “The Journey.” I named it that because it became clear to me that I was subconsciously writing music that summed up my last two years of going back to school for music. It was a great experience, one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. It made me a better musician, a better composer and songwriter, and will make me a better teacher and producer of other people’s music– two goals of mine.
My acoustic band, Scupanon, played a gig in February, and then we took a break. Paul Ermisch (violin) and I have been playing together for 7 years, and it just seemed like we needed a break. Plus I wanted to form my psychedelic hard rock band, Total Flower Chaos. I didn’t find the right musicians for that, but I started jamming with three excellent musicians– gutiarist Paul Webb, bassist Sean Mullen, and drummer Jay Meikrantz. They wanted to play my singer-songwriter songs. So we started playing out at the end of August, and recently adopted the name of Electric Poetry, as suggested by my friend, Janet Lipson, who joined the band as a backing vocalist. So Total Flower Chaos didn’t happen, but Electric Poetry did. Life happens that way sometimes. After playing my first few gigs with these guys, I realized that this band will help me realize my mission of serving the misfits.
Serving the misfits– that’s my mission. It has been ever since I decided to make the goofy “throwaway” song by that name the title song of my first big album in 2010. The response to that song has made me realize how many people consider themselves misfits. Even people who I would have considered “mainstream” don’t think of themselves that way. They might have a mainstream haircut, wear mainstream clothes, have a mainstream job, a mainstream family, and live in a mainstream neighborhood, but they don’t feel like they fit in. They relate to “Misfit.” These are my people. These are the people I want to serve with my music.
I have to criticize myself for one thing in 2017: I did not spend enough time on songwriting. I was not disciplined. In the past, I found that if I scheduled songwriting sessions, I would get songs written. But I didn’t do that. I guess I figured that, not having a day job, I didn’t need to schedule sessions; I could just write when I felt like it. But that didn’t happen. Sure, I started a lot of songs, and completed a few, but I should have gotten a lot more songs finished. So scheduling songwriting sessions, and putting more time into songwriting, will be my #1 priority in 2018.
I can, however, celebrate achievements in my goal of teaching the art of songwriting to others. Last summer I developed a songwriting class, and tested it on a few songwriters I know. I was a success, and so I pitched one portion of my class to the Rocky Mountain Song School, which I’ve been attending most years since 2004. It was accepted, so now I get to attend the school as a teacher next year. I will be teaching a class on how to generate new music ideas for songs. And I want to start giving private songwriting lessons or mentoring in 2018.
Composing Music for Film and TV
Another one of my goals has been to explore the possiblity of writing songs and composing music for the movie and TV industry. I joined Taxi in 2016, an organization that connects songwriters and composers to people in the film and TV industry. I attended their annual conference in November, where I learned a lot and made contacts. Before beginning to compose music for their listings, however, I am working to improve my recording engineering skills, which is essential to working in this business today.
Work: A 4-letter Word
2017 brings to an end my 3 1/2 year period of doing music full-time. When I volunteered for a layoff from my IT job 4 years ago, I had no illusions that I would be able to make a living from music. For the previous 5 years, I had cut my expenses and saved my overtime money so I could do this. I knew that, barring some big break, I would have to take a day job again at some point. Well, that point is now. My savings lasted longer than I expected (call me a savvy investor) but have almost run out. So at the beginning of 2018 I took a new day job.
From Hobbyist to Semi-Professional Musician
All the money that I make from the new job above my living expenses will go into my retirement fund, so so I can hopefully retire for good at 66 and just do music full-time until I die. Music will have to pay for itself from now on. Music expenses will have to equal music income. I call this being a semi-professional musician.
When I say music must pay for itself from now on, that includes new recordings. That will be difficult, given the current trends in the music industry. In the “old days”– that is, just 10 years ago– you could sell CDs and downloads and recover your recording costs, and– heaven forbid– maybe even make a little more. But now, when streaming is the prevailing way of listening to music, that is impossible for all but the biggest pop artists. Big corportate streaming services such as Youtube, Apple and Spotify only pay a small fraction of a penny per stream, so it is impossible for small independent artists such as myself to recoup the recording costs.
The problem is compounded by the fact that live music venues are paying less and less. In the Denver area, for example, I am finding it difficult to find gigs that pay more that $150– for the entire band– and many don’t pay anything at all.
So independent artists such as myself have to find new ways of raising revenue if we want to record new songs. Towards that goal, about a year ago, I became an artist in the Standing O Project. The Standing O Project is a small company of people– musicians and songwriters themselves– who think songwriters and musicians should be able to make a living at music. They have changed the way artists are compensated when their music is streamed so that artists get a much larger percentage of your subscription fee.
The Misfit Club
So one of my goals for 2018 is to get more of my fans to subscribe to the Standing O Project. I see this as part of a larger goal of building a community of supporters that I call The Misfit Club. The details of that remain to be worked out, but that is a significant component of my goal of becoming a semi-professional musician where music income covers music expenses.
More and Better Gigs
I also plan to play more– and better paying– gigs in 2018. This is another part of completing the transition from a music hobbyist to a semi-professional musician. If music income music cover music expenses, then gigs must provide income. I will now focus on venues that pay better, and forego some of the venues I’ve played in the past that don’t pay well– or at all.
I also want to start promoting my gigs as a way of building community. I want to encourage my friends and fans to come to my bands’ gigs not only for the music, but as a way of meeting new friends. I want Scupanon and Electric Poetry shows to be a gathering of friends. A community of misfits– although that sounds like an oxymoron– and perhaps an impossible goal. But I say it’s worth trying!
I also want to apply the community concept to other bands and individual performers. I want to find people who share my cooperative spirit by helping each other get gigs, and inviting their friends to open for them at gigs. I have done this for many people and bands over the years, and some have returned the favor. So I want to network more in 2018 and find people and bands who share my attitude.
As I mentioned I will schedule songwriting sessions in 2018, and get more of the dozens of songs I’ve started finished. And if I succeed in recruiting more members of the Misfit Club, I might be able to think about my next album.
So there you have it. The transition year is over, and I’m moving forward in 2018. More songwriting, more composing, more gigs, and the start of my songwriting teaching career. Build community, income covers expenses, and start raising funds for a new album.
As Timbuk III said way back when, “the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”
-Rob January 22, 2018