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2017: A Year of Transition and my Goals for 2018

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 Bands
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– guitarist 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.

My Mission
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.

Songwriting
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.

Teaching Songwriting
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.

New Recordings
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.

Building Community
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

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New Song “Empty”

Empty
by Rob Roper  2nd Draft  Jan 20, 2018

A thousand friends
no one to talk to, so I
sit and stare
at a plastic rectangle, four by three

I make some calls
hoping for conversation
No reply.
No escape from isolation.

Chorus:

How can we feel so empty in
a city of a million people?
How can we pretend
nothing’s wrong?

Sit with me and talk for awhile
I want to see your smile
’cause all too soon this moment
will be gone

We started out, in a
garden of Eden, but now we live
most of our lives
under a ceiling

It all builds up, so we
look for ways to vent our rage, we roll
down the street, in a
climate-controlled, metal cage

(Chorus)

 

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Chasing the Dream, Part 3: The Next Step

This is the third and final part to my “Chasing the Dream” blog series.  In this blog, I discuss the next step I’m taking in my music career:  I am transitioning to a semi-professional musician.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that I want my music income to cover my music expenses.  I will no longer subsidize my music with income from whatever job I happen to get.  Music must pay for itself from now on, including recording projects.

“That’s it?” I hear you say.  “What’s the big deal?”  Why not set a goal of becoming a professional musician?

Because that’s too big a leap to happen in one year.  It’s not realistic.  Ever since 2007, when I made the decision to call music my career, I’ve lost thousands of dollars at music each year.  That’s not a career, that’s a hobby.

So going from losing money each year at music to breaking even, will be a big challenge, especially given the current trends in the music industry.  Maybe someday music will not only cover its expenses, but also pay some of my bills, but I have to take it one step at a time.  The immediate goal is to break even.  A day job will have to cover my living expenses.

On the other hand, what’s wrong with having music for a hobby?  Nothing at all.  Calling someone a hobbyist doesn’t mean they aren’t serious or passionate about their hobby.  Just the opposite.  People love their hobbies, whether it’s fixing up old cars, skiiing, or music.  Some music hobbyists are no doubt more passionate about music than some music professionals.  The terms “professional” and “hobbyist” simply define whether one makes a living at music, or subsidizes their music with income from another career.

So why not remain a music hobbyist?

Because there’s no other career that appeals to me.  All my life I was searching for my career, and never could find it.  I met with career counselors, read books and took tests, but nothing really appealed to me.  Actually, many years ago, a career counselor suggested music– and so did tests– but I immediately rejected the idea, thinking there’s no way I could make a living playing the kind of music I like.

What do you do?

I used to dread the question you’re always asked when you first meet someone, “what do you do?”  I didn’t want to tell them want I did for my job, because people assume that your job matches your personality.  And that wasn’t me.  I feared that by answering “what I did” people would get false impression of me (which, many times, they did).

It was in 2007 that I finally realized that I should have been doing music for a career.  So beginning in 2007, I began answering “what do you do?” by saying, “I’m a musician.”  That was a big step for me.  It was quite liberating, in fact.  But I hadn’t faced up to the financial implications of saying that.  A professional musician makes a living music.  So now– 10 years later– I’m defining myself as a semi-professional musician– one who is in between a hobbyist and a professional;  someone who makes enough money at music to at least cover their expenses, but not enough to pay their living expenses.  I feel that’s the least I can do if I really want to call music my career.

The Plan

How do I plan to do it?  How do I plan to break even financially at music?  It will be accomplished both through reducing music expenses and increasing music revenue.

Reducing Expenses

On the expenses side, I decided at the beginning of 2017 that I would break even on music gear.  Any new music gear purchases would have to be paid for by selling old gear.  So far I have met that goal– I’ve sold a lot of stuff in the past year– 3 guitars, an amp, and a bunch of pedals– so I’m slightly in the black with 2 1/2 months to go in 2017.  I should point out that “gear” isn’t just the big stuff– guitars, amps, and recording equipment– it’s the little things, like guitar strings, which must be replaced periodically.  This has required a lot of discipline– there are some guitars and other music gear that I really want, but I’ve held off.

(I have more than enough songs for a new album, but I have not made plans to record those songs, because I don’t have  enough music income to afford it.  And, actually, now, I don’t have enough money period.  There are even a couple of songs I started to record, and have spent money on, so it would just cost me a few hundred dollars to finish, but they will have to wait until I have more music income.)

Another way I hope to reduce expenses is that I’m going to ask fans to volunteer for some of the work that I would otherwise have to pay people to do– band photography, videos, graphic art design for CDs, posters and flyers, etc.  A professional who makes a lot of money from their music can afford to hire professionals for this stuff.  I can’t.  I have to ask for help.

Increasing Revenue

On the income side, I need to raise more revenue than I have in the past.  Here are my potential sources of music revenue:

1.  Revenue from Live Performances

Unfortunately the pay for live music has paralleled the dramatic fall in pay for recorded music.  The reasons for this are not as clear as recorded music, but nonetheless a reality.  The majority of gigs I’ve played over the past 10 years paid nothing at all.  I will continue to play live because I love to play for people.  My plan is to play with two bands– acoustic and electric.  I may become more selective with the venues, however, in order to realize my goal of becoming a semi-professional.  I will favor the venues that pay better, unless there is a chance to reach a lot of new people with my music.

2.  Revenue from film and TV

In the past year I have begun exploring the possibility of composing music for film and TV.  I joined the organization Taxi, which connects composers and songwriters with film and TV industry people.  I plan to go to the Taxi convention in LA in a couple of weeks to learn more about this.  That is a significant expense, but I think it could pay off, although more likely in a couple of years.  So this will result in increased costs in the short term, but hopefully significant revenue in the long term.

3.  Revenue from Teaching.

Most music professionals realize a significant portion of their income from teaching private lessons.  I actually like to teach, and am good at it.  So it is high time that I start offering lessons.  I tested a songwriting class last summer, and it was successful.  I can also teach beginner guitar lessons.  I just have to figure out how to offer the classes and market them, and get my first students.

4.  Revenue from Producing.

Producing other people’s recordings is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.  I have a good ear for arrangements, and have recording experience of my own now.  I need to figure out how to market my skills in this area and get my first clients.

5.  Revenue from Recordings.

This includes CD sales, downloads, and streaming.  Given that the big corporate streaming services only pay between 2/10 and 6/10 of a penny for streams, that is clearly not a viable source of revenue.  So I have been on a campaign to get my fans to join the Standing O Project, an alternative artist-friendly subscription streaming service.  Which leads me to….

The Misfit Club

I want to– no- I’m going to— become a semi-professional musician. Would you like to help me?

The Misfit Club will consist of people who want to help me “chase the dream” of becoming a semi-professional musician by giving me regular financial support.  There are 3 ways you can do that:

1.  Join the Standing O Project
2.  Join the Misfit Club in Bandcamp
3.  Volunteer

I mentioned the Standing O Project earlier.  When you subscribe to this artist-friendly streaming service, you are asked to choose one artist to support.  Half of your monthly subscription– $5, $10 or $20– goes directly to this artist.  I already have 3 subscribers of the Standing O Project supporting me.  My goal is to get the number to 10 by the end of the year.  Who’s next?  Here’s the site:

https://www.standingoproject.com/

Another way you can become of member of the Misfit Club through my Bandcamp download site.  That site is:

https://robroper.bandcamp.com/the-misfit-club

Volunteers

I mentioned earlier that reducing expenses by recruiting volunteers is another way that I can achieve my goal of breaking even at music and becoming a semi-professional musician.  I already have two volunteers.  One hosts my web presence, and another does my taxes for free.

Here’s some other work for which I could use volunteers:

*  Booking assistant
*  Photography at gigs
*  Video at gigs
*  Recording at gigs
*  Create videos for my recorded songs
*  Poster design
*  CD artwork design

Please email me at rob@robroper.com if you would like to volunteer in one of these areas.  All those who provide significant volunteer work will automatically become members of The Misfit Club and receive its benefits.

The Misfit Club Benefits

Upon joining, members will get a Misfit tshirt and a copy of the Misfit Deluxe CD.  Also, I will share with you songs-in-progress– lyrics and/or music– that I’m working on, so you can see a song develop.  But mostly, Misfit Club members are treated as my inner circle, as friends.  They are helping me to “chase the dream.”

So how am I doing on my goal to break even at music?  In 2016, with two album releases, I lost almost $9000 on music.  In 2017, I’m only $528 in the red, with two months to go.  So I’m getting there.  And with a little help from my friends, I will get there.

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Chasing the Dream, 3 Years Later

In my song, “The Other Side of Nowhere,” the mentor criticizes the student for “doing what you should, not what you want.”

I did what I should for 40 years.  I’ve been doing what I want for the past 3 1/2 years.

The plan was hatched around the time I wrote “The Other Side of Nowhere” in 2009.  I cut expenses and began saving my money.  I had no illusions that I’d be able to make a living at music, although, I confess, I did have that hope– or dream.  But I knew it was a longshot.  I just wanted to see how much I could accomplish with music if I didn’t have to spend 8 or more hours a day working for a corporation.

I left my IT job in March, 2014 and have been studying, writing, composing, recording and performing music full-time since then.

What surprised me was the praise I got from so many people.  “You’re chasing the dream!” they said.  One friend said she was living her life vicariously through me.  When I ran a crowdfunding campaign in 2015 for my Total Flower Chaos recording project, support for “chasing the dream” was cited by many people as a reason for their contribution.

I didn’t expect that.  If anything, I expected the opposite.  “I have to work.  Why should you be happy?” was more the reaction I expected.  I’m still trying to understand this.  I think it says something about our society, when people admire a person just for doing what they want to do.

But all good things come to an end.  My savings is about gone, so I have to take a day job again.  It was a good run.  So what did I accomplish?  Was it worth it?

In the last 3 1/2 years, I did the following:

  • I wrote several new songs, started dozens more, and recorded several home demos of the new songs.  Although I wrote some in the acoustic singer-songwriter style, I focused on writing rock music.  This was important to me, because I love rock music, but I hadn’t really figured out how to write in that style.  I feel like I’m starting to get it now.
  • I released a 3-song spoken word over rock music EP, “Word.”  This was also a radical departure from my previous acoustic singer-songwriter-oriented recordings.
  • I released a 5-song instrumental rock CD called “Roses,” under the band name of Total Flower Chaos.  I really went out on a limb here.  At the time the project began, I had never written even one instrumental rock piece.  I had never even composed a melody on guitar.  I was conscious at the time that I might fall flat on my face with this, but I did it anyway.  I grew as a composer and musician as a result.
  • I went back to school for 2 years to study music theory, piano and composition.  I learned how to put circles and lines on paper and make them sing.  But I learned much more.  I learned what professional musicians go through;  the sacrifices and hard work it takes to become a professional musician.  I can speak their language now.  I learned how to practice.  I learned discipline.  You don’t feel like practicing tonight?  Tired?  Too bad, you have a test tomorrow.  Get your ass on the piano and practice.
  • I continued to perform live in my acoustic singer-songwriter group, Scupanon.  Despite my commitments to rock music and classical music theory, I still love to play folk music.

But all good things must end.  My savings is running out, so I am going to have to take a day job soon.  I hope that’s not too big a disappointment to those of you who have been living vicariously through me.  It doesn’t mean I failed.  Making a living at music was never an expectation, only a dream.

So one chapter of my life is coming to a close and a new one begins.  I will once again sell my labor power to a corporation for money to live on.  I will still create, record and perform music, although I will have much less time for it.  What’s the plan?  That’s the subject of my next blog.

–Rob Roper, September 12, 2017

 

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New Song “Metadata”

This was inspired by the documentary CITIZENFOUR about Edward Snowden.  Snowden worked for the National Security Agency and exposed their program of spying on all US citizens, supposedly to protect us from “terrorists.”  Snowden had to flee the country of his birth to avoid persecution for revealing government secrets and was given political asylum in Russia.  The NSA program exposed by Snowden includes the collection of “metadata” of all phone calls, text messages, internet searches, social media posts and other information about citizens.  By “metadata”, they mean the time and date of a phone call or text message, from whom and to whom the call or message was sent, etc., and not the content of the call or message.  The metadata can then be filtered, analyzed and searched to supposedly identify potential “terrorists”, but obviously could also easily be used to identify and persecute opponents of government policies.  Here are the lyrics to my latest draft.

Metadata (We’re Watching You)
by Rob Roper  3rd Draft  Aug 25, 2017

We’re watching you, watching everything you do
We’re watching you, it’s for your own good
We know what you like
We know what you don’t
We know where you go
We know how you vote
We’re watching you

Privacy is dead, freeedom long gone
if you’ve done nothing wrong, then just go along
Don’t you see?
Both parties agree
It’s what we need
to keep us all free
We’re watching you

There once was a man, who ran off with the plan
but you didn’t understand, so now he’s living in a… cold land.
and now he’s fading out
we got the news blacked out
one less boy scout
who stuck his neck out
…for you

Hitler, Hoover, Stalin, in their wildest dreams
could never have imagined, such a beautiful scheme
So hang onto your phone
Take it everywhere you go
’cause that’s how we know
what we need to know
We’re watching you
watching everything you do.

We’re watching you
It’s for your own good

Don’t worry
It’s just…
metadata

 

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