Monday 7 April 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis or Why I Haven't Watched This Movie Yet.

I saw the trailer for Inside Llewyn Davis the other day. It has just come out on DVD. As a musician or songwriter/performer, there are certain movies that I cannot watch. The Jazz Singer with Neil Diamond, Ray, Almost Famous, and now recently Inside Llewyn Davis are all on my list of no can do movies. The first three I have seen at least a hundred times each and the last I have not seen. I now know what movies about performing do to me on a deeper level, it feels good to watch but it shakes up my soul too much.

When I was a kid The Jazz Singer was one of those films that made me really want to take music serious, to where I needed to do this no matter the cost. When I bought the VHS 15 years ago it would be my 'Go To' flick whenever I was low or feeling that I just couldn't push myself to keep improving and working on my craft. It did its job and I was able to use it to help me. After a while though it became a bad crutch, my inner thoughts speaking to me:

"I'm not doing what I should be doing and rather than address the reasons for no movement lets go to our happy place and long some more about the whole thing"

So when the Llewn Davis movie hit my radar I knew if I watched it, it would most likely have the same effect on me and at this point in the game I just can't afford anymore wasted time or lamenting. The trailer for the movie is very effective for getting inside your being with the acoustic guitar music playing under the scenes and shots of coffee houses and John Goodman as the Albert Grossman type manager and New York City in the Dylan Era complete with snowy night visuals and cab rides… Totally right up my alley.

As a songwriter I don't believe that I have reached the place I want to be. That said, I think I am getting close but I also believe to be a truly successful writer I have to pen that one tune that hits a lot of people at once. Maybe something that could define who I am. An unselfish, unpretentious four minute piece that talks about you and me and the human condition. Perhaps something that Llewyn Davis or someone like his character in real life would write and could perform in public. On Saturday morning I started writing without a guitar, trying to speak true about this very idea. Three kids running around and folding laundry while my better half was at a trade show. By the end of the day I was spent but I had the basic idea completed, and I called it The Disaster.

Its not entirely autobiographical but there are definite personal elements in there. Facebook is a tough place to try to hock your craft if that is the first place you go to let everyone know about something new. Often I feel that people aren't receptive to me, and does anyone give a crap anyway? Which is fine because when you put yourself out there, its not on them, its on you. Thats just the way it is with this profession that I wish to take on, you can't make everyone like you but you hope that some do and this is why you do it.

The Disaster is about that 'Train-wreck' of a guy that everyone sees coming a mile away. He keeps at it and fails drastically at whatever he does, spreading himself so thin he doesn't even know who he really is. People talk about him behind his back and it blows him down. He of course keeps getting back up and maybe he learns something every time from his falls. He really is a good guy but maybe he's just misunderstood. Sounds like a lot of people I know and as well I've been there too. It takes a good amount of inner searching to be able to give of yourself in a way that is a bit self deprecating, but also humble and positive.

About 6 months ago I read an article about Gordon Lightfoot in which he said to try to write about others, put yourself in someone else's shoes. So I took that to heart and it changed what I was doing. There are billions of people in the world and you are but one. There are so many stories out there to write about, the content is infinite. Since then I have written 16 strong tunes, mostly not about myself. Some of the things I've written about include: a fictitious skateboard hero, a guy with one eye, a miner working in the oil sands in Alberta(this one was actually about a friend of mine who really works there), a Canadian immigrant from Africa who came to escape the diamond trade and then one about living on Georgian Bay. Its been a very fulfilling creative period for me. I've been able to perform the songs in public at gigs and the response has been positive.

I have a very important show this Saturday at The Lancaster Junction. I'll be playing an hour of good covers and then my own original tunes. I'm not sure if The Disaster is the song, because in the end it will aways be about the song, but I think its close.

I'll be thinking about Llewyn Davis this week as I prepare for my gig, the Cohen brothers really know how to get under your skin. Maybe next week after everything eases up a bit I'll rent the movie.

Then again, maybe I won't.

Here is a link to my song The Disaster:

Friday 21 March 2014

Relationship Building 303

So over the last 10 days I must have sent out no fewer than 100 emails and made just as many calls trying to raise funds for the session in L.A.. Since the session is now on hold I feel its important to follow up with all of the people that I approached and thank them for their time. Being a musician my makeup until a little while ago, was to be very closed off and keep to myself. Head down… don't bother me man i'm working.

That just won't do now. Its important I feel to be as open as possible with all of this and to start to build relationships, nurture them honestly and let them grow naturally.

Truth be told, leaving the deal for the session on good terms, I now have a strong relationship with an A&R individual at a major label. As well because of reaching out and following up thanking them for their time, I now have some new connections with a couple of gatekeepers and their respective iconic Canadian singer-songwriters that they represent who they spoke to about me.

I'm still learning though and am keeping myself open and flexible to things as they come at me.

Good Friday to you.


Wednesday 19 March 2014

Big Fish, Little Fish, Green Fish, Green Fish, Green Fish, Joe Fish

What a week its been for me, hell what a 10 day stretch its been for me. Last week I had the opportunity to Skype with an A&R rep from a major label. We talked about my career and where I see it, who my market is, and how important it is to reach a specific demographic. Then he listened to some of my tunes commenting on how he liked this and my lyrics were strong and I had an interesting voice. This is what we in the business call a Consultation. Near the end of the conversation he got into: Joe I have some bad news for you….. I chimed in with: Dude don't even say it I know, I know its a young persons game. "I won't be able to offer you a deal at this time" was his next line.

I've been working on songwriting and performing for a good while now and I guess I must have looked crushed because he said, "Dude don't give me that face….. ok this is what I can do for you…." He took out his calculator and said "usually I charge $8500 US. per track to produce but for you because I see a lot of myself in you, I will waive my producers fee. You just need to get yourself out her to L.A. and cover some of the costs for recording the weeks session. Studio time, engineer, sound design, mixing and mastering ……. 12 thousand US Dollars."

Now had he been anyone else I would have laughed and ended it right there but this guy is responsible for some of the biggest acts and has over 100 million in record sales, I'm not boasting here, just giving you a frame of reference for later. So i'm like ok so 12K and a plane ticket…. I'll get into it.

That was Sunday last……..

For the last 10 days I have approached just about everyone I know family, friends, friends of friends. Today I reached out to Dan Hill and Ron Hynes and even the president of ASCAP to see if anyone would sponsor my recording. I received a response from Dan saying something along the lines of its a nasty business and I should be wary of such a deal. I went back to the industry pro's site and re read his accomplishments. Really a large figure in the business, I'm still on board. He gave me until tonight to give him a yes or no so I continued and was on the phone all day, sending emails out to everyone who I might have thought had been in the same position as myself at one time in their own career. So its crunch time and I have an hour to deadline and I send out another email to another industry guy who previously talked to me about my career, to see if maybe he would get behind this, no answer and then its 9PM or 6PM PST. I've done all I can do and I was unable to jump through that large door that was so graciously opened for me.

So I did what everyone else would do in a situation like this…. I went to the pub.

My badminton crew was there wondering where I was tonight and I laid out this story for them. They were on my every word about the last 10 days and of course i'm thinking could this be it, would these nice people be able to support it… no that wouldn't be right but they did offer up great words and suggested to me that I walk away from the deal and come back to it later. Since I was not able to come up with the funds it wasn't hard to get to.

I had my beer and poutine bought for me and got a great handshake and some encouraging words from a good friend and went home to write my last email for the day to the industry pro in question.

Here it is minus the greeting as to protect confidentiality:

While I appreciate the offer that has been presented to me at this time i'm going to have to graciously decline coming to Los Angeles and working with you. I take songwriting very seriously and am grateful for what I received from our Skype conversation. I have been able to apply it towards my music and in the end that is what counts. Some offers do come but once in a lifetime but I feel that I have the talent and determination to make it in this business.

Thanks for working with me and pointing out my strengths and weaknesses. It is only through seeing clearly what they are that we can grow.


Well good reader, that was the hardest email that I ever had to write and one of the toughest weeks I've ever experienced in my music career. Man I'm getting so close I can almost taste it….. almost.