A New Year Without Resolve
2015 was an awkward stumbling back into making original music. 2016 was spent answering the question “Who is Mike Rae?” 2017 was an exciting year of growth as an artist. 2018 was a year of transition in every aspect of life. 2019 will be exactly what it will be.
This is not to say that there aren’t things I would like to achieve in the next calendar year. However, I believe the reason that the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions are swiftly abandoned is that it takes more than an arbitrary measure of time to enact real change. Losing weight, making music, doing things that are scary, taking risks, being healthier. These are all things that are really hard to do. But if you really and truly wanted to do any of these things, you simply would. This observation, to me, is incredibly heart breaking because it indicates that I either don’t truly want these things, or the other path is just too much easier. When I look at my aging self in the mirror, when I recap the time spent on my warm safe couch, when I wake up in the morning feeling awful and hungover, when I do get up in front of people and play my songs: I know it is firmly the latter.
So I am going to return to setting goals for myself. I am going to outline some things I would like 2019 to be. But more importantly I am going to commit to doing the hard things. Not because of a resolution I made on January first, but because I know that is where happiness lives.
(Philosophical bullshit aside, here is a random list off the top of my head of things I would like to do in 2019 with no order, explanation, or punctuation. Full band new songs old songs singles EP Album venues weird places getting real weird new styles new sounds less fear more recklessness horns networking exploring bursts of creativity focus intentionality theory marketing genuine niche gimmick razzle dazzle.)
For the last few months or so I have been playing a recurring gig at the Cedar Street Courtyard on 4th downtown. About once a week I grab the bare essentials and scramble for parking on Mondays. One of my favorite things about the city of Austin is that there aren't any off nights. The city is abuzz 7 days a weeks 365 days a year with a never ending cavalcade of ways to stimulate all your senses. That being said, any night of the week where the temperature is over 100 will find outdoor venues sparsely populated with only the bravest of souls. The extra loud sound system forces my voice out of the narrow courtyard and into the surrounding one block radius occasionally freezing passersby. Some simply linger at the top of the steps for a few moments while others are enthralled enough to descend to the tables and listen to a few tunes. But for the vast majority of my 2 hour set I am playing to an empty corridor.
As I am quickly approaching the 3 year mark in my solo acoustic career, I can't help but to think that others in my shoes would be wildly disappointed. I had an absolute blast. I think the biggest reason is that I have never really taken my "music career" very seriously. At 31 I have no delusions about "making it." The last year has probably been my least active musically. I'm getting lazy. My fire is easily diminished and I haven't been doing the things that feed it. Getting up there and playing to no one kicks on my pilot light and reminds me how much music feeds my soul. I'm trying to find new friends who's fires burn brighter than mine. I'm collaborating with new musicians. There are things on the horizon that are very exciting. I just hope I will have the drive to see them to fruition.
I've been around town the last couple weeks. I had a show on Sunday at the Cedar Street Courtyard, an amazing venue that is unique in a city full of bars. But mostly I've been playing open mics around the city. WHAT?!?! OPEN MICS!?! Yeah. I love open mics. I know there is a popular opinion that open mics are for the old, the untalented, or the brand new. I've heard many artists scoff at the thought, saying things like "I don't do open mics anymore." However, I really think there are a variety of benefits to this open forum. First, as a newcomer to the city it allows me to check out venues and meet new people without sitting in front of my computer for hours hoping I am messaging the right person at the venue. Second, it allows me to work out new material in a contained space. I can get a feel for how something plays live and how people react to it. Not to mention almost every gig I've book so far in Austin has come from someone hearing me at an open mic. This is a city full of music and music people. I'm not going to turn my nose up at an opportunity to get connected because I'm an "established artist" or whatever.
What I am going to do is try to release some rough demos of new music over the next month or so. I've got a couple poppy bangers that I have been selfishly (read lazily) keeping to myself. It seems a lot of my new music is leaning that way and will soon be ready to compile. I'd love to release some studio material in 2018, if only a few singles. In any case, I'm cooking a few things up and will share very soon, my darlings.
Radio silence. I know. It's been a busy few months personally. Thanks to some equipment issues I haven't been able to play nearly as much as I've wanted to. However, I have been getting back into working on some new material and brushing up on old classics. I'm playing with new sounds and textures. I'm exploring new feelings and corners of life. I'd love to write some new blue heartache ballads, but to be perfectly honest, I'm just too far removed from that shade to be able to write from an honest place. Austin (though far too hot, always) feeds my soul and suits my sensibilities. Starting next week, I pledge to share more digitally and publicly. I will take better advantage of the blessing this city is. I will cut back on Fortnite to pursue higher passions. Ok so that last one is more of a loose guideline (HardTwoBeat on Xbox if you would like to waste time with me). Seriously though. New things coming in some capacity. Soon.
Lost in Austin
I. Love. This. City. I spent my first week here equal parts exploring and vegging. So far I've played at 3 local open mics and have eaten at over a dozen local establishments. I know this is cliché and seemingly premature, but this place feels like home. Which is a very bold statement because no place that I have been since I left Ohio has really felt like home (except for her of course). I have acclimated and adapted. I have made the best of every city I have lived. Still, no place felt like my place. It's not just the music. It's not just the liberal leanings. It isn't even the endless amount of BBQ. There is an undefinable substance with which this place is oozing. My passion for all things music has been rejuvenated, and I cannot wait to play new songs in new places for new people.
l made it. It's been a long couple of weeks, but I'm officially an Austinite (Austonian? Austinarian?). I still have some unpacking to do (it's not home until the record player is set up). I'm already looking forward to living in one of the greatest music cities in the world. I've already begun to immerse myself with the help of SXSW (Cannot wait for The Bright Light Social Hour tonight). This city is a constant buzz of culture and good vibes. I'm hoping to test the waters with some small sets before I try to start booking. There is no shortage of venues to book here. Everything is "something AND music venue." I look forward to playing sets at furniture stores, strip malls, taxidermy shops, and other places not usually ripe for musical accompaniment. For now I am just soaking in this place. I don't soak enough. None of us do.
Saturday I played my last billed show in the great state of Oklahoma. It's been an exciting and strange three years here. Abbigale Dawn was kind enough to open and play tunes all night long. Not to mention the various Norman and OKC artists that came and played a tune or two to send me off. It was a bitter sweet night, but one that reminded me of the amazing people I have met in a state in which I never thought I would find myself. To everyone who came, thanks. It really meant a lot.
Where am I headed? Back to Texas of course! The first week of March I will be packing up and moving to Austin. If you've ever been you know why I can't wait to get there. It's an absolutely vibrant town teeming with culture and energy. I know it's an eclectic sonic ocean, but I'm sure I'll find a nice reef to carve out for my music. I'm also looking forward to working on my next release. I've been putting together something very different from "Spare Rooms." I'll try to release bits and pieces as I go so stay tuned.
I am still alive. Also, Thank you
I know I have been digitally stagnant since the album release. I'm not dead. I just took some time to relax after the release. I also had some life changes that monopolized much of my time and attention. First, I would like to thank every single person who made my first album possible: Everyone on the production team and the musicians that played on Spare Rooms. All of the supporting local musicians, venue owners, and managers. And most of all, every single person who supported me by coming to the release show, buying an album, and/or streaming my music. I cannot express what you've done for me. My heart is full.
Now it's back to the grind. I'm currently in a writing cycle and working on live dates for the new year. I've already got a fantastic show lined up featuring the amazing Abbigale Dawn on 1/20. I'm really excited about 2018 and am looking forward to sharing new music with you. Stay tuned!
Today I released an option to pre-order a physical copy of the Spare Rooms EP. Anyone who purchases a physical copy of the EP will receive a digital copy to stream/download. This is your chance to hear the full EP before it is released on 8/5! For my friends outside of the US I have added a digital only version. I can't ship you a copy of the album but you can still hear it before it's released! I really appreciate everyone's support in this process and can't wait for you to hear it!
Just a quick post about what's been going on. The date and venue are set for the 8/5 album release show. I'm really happy to finally be sharing the "Spare Rooms EP." In short, it is a Pop-Folk-Rock look into the major changes I've seen in my own life the last 5 years. It was hard to take that time and condense it into 5 songs, but I think each one speaks to experiences much bigger than songs could ever express. I'm really proud of the work I've done and have already been writing my next album. The new stuff is a pop/dance/rock departure from what I've come up with so far. I love songwriting and have a hard time sticking to a single genre. Be on the lookout for some glimpses into the new stuff at upcoming shows! In the mean time, here is a little teaser from Spare Rooms.
Blue Dome Music Fest
Wow. That's all I can really say about playing this festival. This was easily the largest show I've played to date and it was a blast. The stage for this festival is right in the middle of everything and for the first time in a long time, I got a little nervous. I was the only solo performer in the line up which was a little intimidating but it ended up being a great set. The crowd was really engaged with both my recognizable covers and my original tunes. Camella Hayes did a really great job organizing this 3 day festival. I really enjoyed playing this year and hope I get to come back again next time around.
Norman music Fest '17
NMF was great again this year. To be honest I think I had more fun walking around and catching random artists than I did playing. Thursday night I played the Michelangelo's stage. I was the last slot and it really felt great. The PA system they set up sounded phenomenal which made for a really great set. Friday night I played the new Earth Rebirth stage. Before I say anything else I need to say that this was their first year, and housing 2 stages under 1 roof for 3 days is a daunting task. I'm not sure they knew the magnitude of the project they were taking on. I commend them for doing a really great job. Sincerely.
The biggest problem they ran into (at least for the lobby stage) was visibility. They were both off the beaten path and an "unofficial stage." So both physical and marketing visibility were greatly reduced. They did a great job of promoting the stages, but it was almost like a secret. The warehouse stage seemed to do better because it was loud enough to hear from the main drag. Overall, the stages attracted some great acts and I would love to see them become an "official" NMF stage next year!
The very last session (I think)
Yesterday I finished the very last (probably) session at Lunar Manor. We spent a couple hours recording a couple acoustic songs in the "echo chamber." The echo chamber is the basement of the Valliance building. It was originally built as a racquetball court before being abandoned shortly after construction. The result was a giant open space with some of the most amazing natural acoustics I've ever heard. The only problem with this is there is no click track, no pitch corrections, no stopping. Everything must be done live in one full take. For someone who struggles with pitch, this is terrifying. I wasted a lot of "tape" just trying to relax and get into a good groove.
All in all the session turned out kinda bomb. Brine Webb is a really great engineer and super easy to work with. He helped me shake off the nerves and put down some pretty decent takes. More than anything, I couldn't get over the sound of the room. There are a thousand digital reverbs and filters you can run sounds through, but none of them quite capture the essence of a room like that. Towards the end I did an impromptu live stream of my last couple takes. The song is called "Makeup" and I'm not sure whether or not it will be on the EP, but it's one of my favorite original songs and I was really glad I got to get it down. You can check out the video below or on my Facebook page.
I still don't have a release date, because we still have a bit of mixing to do as well as mastering and pressing. I feel like we are nearing the end and should be on track for a June/July release. Stay tuned.
Everything is perfect and life is grand
I got the first round of final mixes today. Before I talk about them, I want to talk about my mindset over the last week for context. I've gone back and fourth about posting this because it doesn't make me look very good. In the internet age of music and promotion there are three main goals:
Use language and pictures that make it seem like you have a larger fan base than you do.
Get your name and face as many places as you can to seem bigger than you are.
Most Importantly, post pictures and status updates that lets everyone know everything is perfect and life is grand.
In one fell swoop I plan on doing everything an aspiring artist is absolutely not supposed to do. I have been really bummed out. This is actually par for the course for me. I am (like most artists are) hypercritical of my music. I fall in and out of love with songs. I work for days on a new tune only to rage quit and throw it in the scrap pile. I can't help but look at other musicians and covet their talent and exposure, all while constantly holding my own music up to theirs. Most of the time it has nothing to do with others. It's me wallowing in the depths of my own self loathing and abuse, vowing that I'm finally going to quit this childish dream.
I haven't had the guts to quit yet. Though this was a week where it seemed like a viable option. It doesn't take much. Nothing truly detrimental even happened. It's not like I had someone spit in my beer and tell me I suck. So what sent me into the abyss of despair? Me. I did. I played VZDs on Saturday. It was a last minute show (added the Tuesday before) I took to help out a new friend that books there. The venue is fantastic and the new stage really took it to the next level. I scrambled all week to try to get a hand full of friends out, but it was really last minute and competing with some other really great shows. Long story short, no one came out. The other guy on the bill managed to get 4 people out and there just happened to be 4 people there for a late dinner.
So there I was. Hundreds of hours of songwriting and practicing and preparation. A tailored 45 minute set with a couple thoughtful covers mixed in played to 8 people who were really polite, but overall disinterested. Its one show. Who cares, right? No. Seriously. Who cares? How could something as inconsequential as a last minute gig affect me so deeply? I have no clue. The bad feels don't seem to operate under any sort of rhyme or reason. I guess part of it is my incredible lack of patience and a longing to move forward as an artist in a tangible way. I know I'm always getting better and I should treat every show likes it's the biggest show of my career and BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH. I'm ready for the music career that my social media accounts are trying to portray.
[I need to note here that all of this is ridiculous. Taken out of context it could be mistaken for the musings of an ill-tempered child. I get this, and the absurdity of it all makes it that much more frustrating. "Boo Hoo. Waaaa. I'm not famous yet!" Yeah. I hear it too.]
I took the long way to tell you about the first round of studio mixes so you can get the full effect. This morning I put on headphones and pressed play. An ear to ear smile rolled across my face and permeated my being. My current favorite track, mixed with a full band. It sounded just like I had heard it in my head all along. I needed this. I needed something to rekindle the inward fire that I am actively trying to extinguish with my negativity and harsh self-criticism. I needed a reminder that everything social media is vanity, and music is the only thing that matters. I really can't wait (and am terrified) to share my first studio release with you.
Playlisting and Championing the Scene
Playlists are the new mixtapes. Ok, maybe they have always been the same thing manifested in different mediums. But playlisting is huge right now with the rise of platforms such as Soundcloud, Tidal, Apple Music and Spotify. Now that buying physical (and I would even venture to say digital) copies of music is dead, playlists are one of the main ways people consume music. If you are not consuming music this way you are seriously missing out on a great way to explore moods, genres, geographical scenes and musical movements.
I rarely buy music. When I do it's at Guestroom and it's vinyl copies of music that is important to me. I know that sounds pretentious, but there is something very visceral about memorializing the albums that had a huge impact in my life via wax. They are not CDs. They carry a physical and proverbial weight that best embodies the weight of the music they contain. I say all that to say that I don't even buy digital copies of music like I used to. I have Spotify. It's truly an amazing thing. I pay $10 a month for all the music I consume. I can tell you right now I consume much more than $10 worth of music. There is no money that I spend every month with even comparable value. Playlists are a big part of this.
OKC has a fantastic and budding music scene. The music is there, but I get the feeling that the music culture is still catching up. By that I mean a ton of incredibly talented artists all over the metro are playing to empty or half empty venues. The music is there, the consumers of music are there, but there seems to be a disconnect. There are things happening on a large scale to help bridge this gap. New, mid to large sized venues are opening and pulling great national acts of various sizes (i.e. The Criterion, The Tower Theater, Diamond Ballroom, etc.). But I think as artists, we might be a roadblock to the music consumers we are trying to reach.
Stay with me for a minute. One of the hardest and most time-consuming things that we do as independent artists is branding and marketing. There are a thousand little things that go into creating an image and getting it in front of people. This is one of my least favorite parts of being a musician. To me it feels like an endless string of shameless plugs and self promotion. It feels that way because it is. There is no way around it. If you want to get the music you have worked so hard to create in people's ears, you have to use every available vehicle. So I let my soul die a little more as I promote another gig or live stream a show or post a promo pic. COME TO MY THING. LISTEN TO MY STUFF. LOOK AT MY FACE. Its absolutely necessary and completely depressing.
Follow me now. I created a new playlist a few months ago on Spotify called Oklahoma City Originals because it didn't exist. It features local artists from around the metro and I'm not on it. In my short 3 years here I have played with and discovered local artists that are not run-of-the-mill local yokels. They have talent that is competitive on a national level. They are also playing Red Brick at 11pm on a Tuesday to 9 people. Some of the best gigs in town are going to 50-somethings playing classic rock covers. I wanted a way to connect music consumers with a wide variety of local music. If we as artists take time to champion the local music scene outside of ourselves, we might just see a climate change. The rising tide lifts all boats. I want to continue to find ways to do my part in building the scene while I building my own career as an artist.
Click the image below to explore this playlist.
Vocals, Acoustics/ RPM
Saturday was the most delightful kind of hell. I spent a large chunk of time in the studio recording the final vocals and acoustic guitars. It was wonderful because I love being in the studio and working with Brine and watching [listening to] my songs come to life. I like listening to multiple takes and picking the most expressive one. The hell was one of my own making. Outwardly my fingers were screaming by the end of the day. Months ago I booked a gig at Native Spirits Winery on Friday (the night before) which was a 3 hour set. This was on top of playing and writing quite a bit at home this week. Then I got into the studio to play the acoustic guitar parts about 6-8 times on each track with the 6 and 12 sting guitars. It was the beautiful burning of music be made.
Inwardly it was just an all day cringe-fest. I hate the sound of my own voice. I'm a good vocalist. My voice is downright purdy. If I didn't believe that somewhere deep down I wouldn't be doing this. That doesn't mean I don't hate the sound of it. So it was basically hours of listening to snippets of my own vocals 2 seconds at a time played over and over. Basically the stuff of nightmares for someone like me. And surprisingly I'm not alone. Lots of vocalists do not like to listen to themselves recorded. For me, its all part of a hypercritical voice that is with me always. It is a voice that is never silenced, but one that I have learned to tune out long enough to create things that are not immediately thrown into the trash. Sometimes its good and helps to stave off my lurking ego, but it's usually just a crippling barrage of negativity and hopelessness. It yells when I hear my own voice. I ignore it as best I can.
It looks like the RPM challenge is a bit of a bust this year. I don't see my self completing the challenge, but all is not lost. I've gotten 3 solid songs out of the attempt and plan to have a few more before the month is through. I'm glad I gave it a shot, but I was just too busy to really give it the attention it needed. I plan on continuing the writing process well into March and beyond. I will probably release a few of the songs "unofficially" so check back periodically.
The Home Stretch/ RPM/ The Deli
I just got the last set of full band bounces back from the studio. Some of the songs went in wonderful directions that I wouldn't have dreamt up on my own. I'm slated for what should be the final session this weekend. As this is where I will be recording my vocals, it will all depend on how quickly I get over this nasty cold. The wheels are already in motion for the album release show.
An update on the RPM challenge: Not going well. I should be close to having 5 full songs at this point and I only have 2 full songs with a handful of sketches. I'm not quite dead in the water, but this was a tough month to take this challenge. I was gone all this weekend, I've got a few live dates and I'm finishing up the EP. So without totally giving up, I'm giving myselfgrace if I don't complete the full ten songs. That being said, I'm going to trudge on and see if I can't pull this off yet.
Lastly, I played an impromptu short set at famed Norman music venue "The Deli" on Wednesday night. This was significant for a couple reasons. First, this is THE live venue in Norman. I've had it targeted as a venue to play since I moved here 2 or so years ago. Second, it's kind of a tight circle of musicians that run booking there. Being a newcomer to the scene I've had trouble getting past the gatekeepers. After being unsuccessful for so long I tried to convince myself it wasn't a big deal and I should be proud of the dozens of venues I've played around the metro. "It's just the Deli," I told myself.
But to be honest, even though it wasn't a booked show and there were only 20 or so people there, it felt really great to play. I had a really good set of 5 songs. After trying to quit at 3 songs I had patrons and other musicians asking to play another and then another. One of the drummers from a band that was playing hopped on stage and backed me up for the set. I started music as a drummer. I will always be a drummer at heart. Everything is better with drums. He was great and gave my tunes the grove that is often lost in acoustic shows. I'm really looking forward to putting together a backing band and getting back to full band shows.
First Bounces/ The RPM Challenge
January is wrapping up and so is the recording process. I just heard the first two full band bounces and I am thrilled. I will probably have one or two more sessions to go and then its off to mixing and mastering. In one of my next few posts I'll probably release a track list. But for now I don't want to get too excited and say too much. I cannot tell you how excited I am to share this music with you. Really. I can't.
I'm already pumped to get back to writing new music. Usually I would wait until the recording process is done, but I have decided to participate in this year's RPM Challenge. This is a worldwide project which challenges musicians to write 10 songs or 35 minutes of original music in February (the shortest month of the year). I took this challenge 2 years ago and it really kick started my journey back into original music. One of those hastily written songs actually made its way to the EP I am currently recording.
The point of the challenge (at least as I see it) isn't to write an album, but to just write. The ten songs I wrote in my first go round were so completely varying stylistically that they never could have been an album. Its a great opportunity to experiment. A lot of the time I feel the pressure (I create) to write music that people will like or that is catchy or would be a good "single." RPM lets me write whatever I have on my mind or that I am feeling in any form it chooses to materialize. I'm looking forward to getting weird with it. I may post tracks as I go. I may not. Stick around.
Saturday we recorded the lead and electric rhythm parts. Randy Sanders came on to write/play and brought a whole new flavor to the tracks. As of now the instrumentals are almost done. We will probably have Kendrick McKinney come back in for a little more work, but outside of touchups we are pretty much finished. I'll be going back in over the next week or two to lay down acoustic guitar and vocals, including the all acoustic tracks in the echo chamber (stay tuned for more on that).
Time travel with me exactly one decade into the past. I was writing original acoustic music under the name "RAE." It was today that I released the first two songs of an EP that never made it past the first two songs. It was going to be called the "Every Love" EP and was released exclusively to Myspace. With those two songs and a hand full of covers, I played exactly 1 show at the "Orange Street" in Akron. Even this venue is long gone and all that remains is the Myspace page declaring it closed. Go take a look at the photos. It was gross. But it was a real show. My friends came. My brother accompanied me on a few songs. It was my first outing as a singer songwriter and my first time on stage not behind a drum set or bass.
It's hard not to cringe when I see the pictures and hear the songs. Don't get me wrong, I stand by those two songs 100%. As long as Myspace hosts those two songs they will live on digitally. I like that. At any time I can go back and visit myself at 20 and bathe in nostalgia. I pat myself on the back for getting out there and then immediately kick myself for giving up so quickly. I know things were different then. I traded my dreams of being a singer songwriter for a job as a worship leader and aspirations of the pulpit. I get it. I totally understand why I quit when I did. It was easy. But it's hard not wonder how much better I would be now if I had a serious go at it. How many songs would I have written? Would I be a huge pop sensation by now? Would I be counting my millions on the bus for my 8th world tour?
No. I really don't think so. The songs I write now are fueled by the last 6 crazy years of my life. What did 20 year old Mike know about heartache, pain, love, time, human nature, religion, politics, or what it means to a person? Nothing. He thought he knew everything. He thought he was deep and thoughtful and transcendent and intuitive. He was a white kid from the suburbs getting into "intellectual" battles on Facebook. The fire in his belly was manufactured because he knew something was supposed to be there. Life tossed me around (I tossed myself around) and gave me songs. My 7 year hiatus from real music gave me something to make music about. I love where I am and how I got here. I love my misguided self from 10 years ago. He is me still in the shrink-wrap.
Studio Sessions/Festival Season
The studio musicians and I were slated for two days last weekend but due to weather concerns we only got one day in. However it was a super productive session. We got a ton done and I'm really excited to get back into the studio all day tomorrow. We are mostly adding the lead guitar and I'll be going back to do vocals and acoustic. I'm really excited about the way everything is turning out. I've had some of these songs in my head for years and I'm finally getting to hear them come alive. It feels like I brought 5 pencil drawings into the studio and the rest of the team colored them in. I can't wait to share it with you!
Festival season isn't here quite yet, but the application season is now. I love playing festivals. They are some of my favorite shows. The atmosphere is completely different from a bar or coffee shop or even a large listening room. It's a great chance to get in front of a ton of people who have never heard of you. They aren't there for you. Depending on the festival, they might not be there to hear music at all. But its a really great feeling to see someone walking by the stage with a mouth full of food truck food stop because something you're playing caught their attention. I love festival season.
Application season is not fun. Festivals want you to apply to play. Which makes perfect sense. How else would they do it? But I hate this. When I'm trying to play a venue, it's pretty clear pretty quickly whether or not I'm going to be booking the gig. With festivals you have to fill out an application months in advance. Then you won't hear whether or not you were accepted for a few months after you applied. That's if you hear back at all. Sometimes you just find out when the lineups are released online and you aren't on them.
I am not built for festival application season. I hate filling things out. I'm terrible at describing my music. There is a usually a "sounds like" box to fill out. I hate that box. I don't want to talk about all the amazing musicians that I have unabashedly ripped off to make "my music." I feel like the competition is pretty fierce (especially for yet another white guy with a guitar [eye roll]) and I need to say things that make me stand out. I start to have thoughts like "Maybe I should start sending tastefully censored nudes as the 'attached pic' they are asking for? I bet Ed Sheeran isn't doing that!" So. Here is how I have decided I am going to deal with this and future festival application season:
1. I'm not going to let the festivals I don't get into overshadow the ones I do get into.
2. I'm going to stop looking for a gimmick and let my music speak for me as an artist.
Recording Day one/ "Not our thing. But good luck."
I started the recording process on Sunday at Lunar Manor Studios. It was a quick half day of laying down all the scratch tracks. I'm working with Brine Webb and I couldn't be more thrilled. He's as fun to work with as he is a talented engineer/ producer. I really cannot wait to get into the studio (weather permitting, fingers crossed) this weekend to lay down tracks with the studio musicians. Check back here throughout the weekend and into next week for studio updates, pictures, videos and maybe a couple track samples.
(End News, Begin Blog)
I need (for my own health) to talk about an interaction I had with a venue booker. This is not the first time I've gone on a rant like this, so I am just going to start calling this "Whiney local musician crybaby corner." I understand these things aren't that big of a deal, but this is my blews (blog+news) section and I'll rant about whatever I damn well please. Please consider the following conversation via email:
Me: (Long, but not too long, standard email that I send to a booker the first time I'm trying to get booked. This includes all my info and links, as well as a non-pushy inquiry into booking. This email ends with the line "Do you know if you may have an opening?")
Booker: "Probably not but thank you." Sent from my iPhone
Me: (Trying to clarify) "Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. So are you all booked up for the next few months? Or are you not booking music?"
Booker: "Not our thing. But good luck." Sent from my iPhone
Ok. First, let me concede a few points. Bookers are generally really busy. Usually, they do not book shows full time for a living. They are bar owners themselves or incredibly busy bar managers. Sometimes they have multiple jobs. If they are getting a ton of booking inquiries, they need to be able to get through them quickly (I'm not convinced this is the case here, but I'm trying to give the benefit of the doubt).
My question is as follows, did this person not have an extra 5 seconds on their hands to not be a dick? I know it seems like I'm really reading into 2 short sentences, but consider this: I've played with two acoustic acts that have played this venue recently. I would understand if I was trying to book my acousto-pop at a metal bar. That's ridiculous and would genuinely be not their thing. But my style fits the venue and I am comparable to other acts that play there.
So this is what I believe this person is trying to say in two sentences: You kinda suck. Which is totally fine. I'm not everyone's cup of tea. The fact that I'm not wildly famous already leads me to believe that I'm not even most people's cup of tea. That's also fine. But these two smug, passive aggressive replies really stuck with me. If you're going to be a dick about it, be a dick about it. Reply with "I don't think you're very good," or "We generally book a higher caliber act."
I know. Who cares? What will writing this solve or accomplish? Nothing. At all. But I want this to be a place where I am open and share my successes and failures and excitement and frustrations as a local independent musician. The booker will never read this. He or She will continue to send replies like this. But writing this is cathartic for me. I feel better. I no longer fantasize about this booker contacting me to play in a year when I'm a big local name and I simply respond "Not my thing. But good luck."
New YEar, New music, same me
2016 was a really great year for me and I hope it was for you too, sincerely. Last year brought a ton of live dates at new venues. I was given the opportunity to explore the greater Oklahoma City metro and all the blooming culture it has to offer. I played a variety of different spots across multiple states and met a ton of other artists I've come to adore. I've made friends in a strange land and have been a part of a music scene that is absolutely exploding. I think 2016 got a bad wrap (R.I.P Harambe).
2017 seems even brighter. Next week I am heading into Lunar Manor to record my first studio album. I've been working on these songs for a year or so and I'm really excited to express them in a tangible way. Stay tuned for previews and looks into the process. The release date is TBA so keep checking back here for updates!
Thank you so much to everyone and anyone who has supported me. For coming to see me play dirty bars. For letting me test out new songs. For pretending to like them when they weren't quite ready. For giving me a place to express myself in a very raw way. There aren't many of you now. But when the droves of new fans start pouring in and I get the call to play on Jimmy Fallen, I won't forget those of you who encouraged me with scattered claps in empty venues. My dreams are wild and unreasonable, but if they are ever realized, it will be because of you.
Enid Pride(9/10), and the tale of 2 churches
This past weekend I played the Enid Pride Festival. And when I told people this, they all gave me the same puzzled look and asked "Like...Enid, Oklahoma?" I too was surprised that this was a thing. This tiny town tucked into the flat farm country has a festival celebrating the LGBT community. This is why I wanted to be involved. When I heard about it, my first thought was "this is awesome, I want in." It takes almost 2 hours to get there from Norman and I think all of 15 people actually stopped and listened to my set, but it was absolutely worth it. I really hope it continues to grow in the coming years and more people make the trek to support it.
What really struck me and has become lodged in my head is the fact that there were 2 churches represented at this festival. I'm not going to name them because it isn't important. One of the churches sat at the entrance of the park with scripture laden signs containing the few passages in the bible concerning homosexuality (Some of them were duplicates. Unfortunately the bible doesn't have as much to say about being gay as it does about trivial issues such as love, charity, community, etc.). The other church had a booth smack dab between the free condom booth and the Roller Derby team (GASP!). I can't remember what their tee shirts said, but it was something to the effect of "Love is love" and "everyone welcome."
My feelings on the church are complicated. We don't have time to talk about them now. But I can say that after doing both undergrad and graduate studies in theology, I think I have a decent handle on Christianity, the Church, Jesus, theology, etc. The church LOVES to ask WWJD. It was a huge thing in the 90's and early 2000's. I think the reason you don't see the bracelets anymore isn't because it was a trend that ran its course and petered out. I think it's much more likely that when faced with that question, the answer was generally not what people wanted to hear. Would Jesus have been outside picketing or inside with a booth that cost money to set up? Maybe neither. But if it HAD to be one or the other, I think it's pretty clear.
Picketing is a really great way to peacefully protest injustice. But if I had to guess, I would say that picketing probably brings the same number of people to Church as the bible tracts left on the back of toilets and handed out half heartedly outside the mall. No one (that I know of) was "Un-gayed" that day. Maybe that wasn't the point. Maybe they were just there to say that their opinions were represented. But they didn't even have the fortitude to stay until the end. They missed the opportunity to show their well crafted signs again to everyone as they left! Maybe they got hungry. Maybe they got discouraged that no one was turning around and driving straight to church instead. Maybe they saw how much fun everyone was having and decided this whole LGBTQ things isn't a fad or a phase or a choice, and that a girl can love another girl and also love Jesus. Maybe seeing the colorful flags and hearing bits and pieces of the motivational speakers strangely warmed their hearts and allowed the scales to fall from their eyes to see these people AS people, and not "detestable" or the downfall of all that is good and moral in this country.
I doubt it.
But a guy can dream...
Native Spirits Winery(9/2)
A couple weeks back I played Native Spirits Winery. If wine is your thing, you'd be hard pressed (get it?) to find a better spot in Central Oklahoma. The vineyard and grounds are a magical place to walk as the sun begins to set and the heat of the day fades. Aside from a great patio to enjoy, the indoor area boasts a great bar and intimate tasting room that is the absolute perfect size for a night of great wine and acoustic music. What made the venue for me was staff/owners and the patrons. I was overwhelmed by their generosity, but even more so by their attentiveness. I'm used to (and don't mind) being background music this type of setting. However the patrons were very engaged in my set, and were so sweet as to clap after every single song. And not in a "oh crap, its quiet, I think we are supposed to clap here" sort of way. There was eye contact! Which doesn't sound like much, but is actually pretty rare for a place like this. I very much look forward to playing there again.
Saints Pub(8/25), your mom's place(8/27), And getting Paid
Thursday night I played Saints Pub in the plaza district. I met Tom, a member of a local art collective called Junk Punk. He uses recycled, reclaimed, and donated objects to create really great art. The venue itself, as well as the whole district, is a "post-hipster" paradise. If you are patient to mine through a bit of pretention, there is a ton of character and thoughtful design. You just have to be willing to block out the sea of overdone twirly mustaches, and the drunk thirty-something screaming the same spoken word poem from his blackberry at anyone unfortunate enough to make eye contact (I kid guys. I wish I was cool enough for a stache). Saints is a really great venue, and Henry the bartender couldn't have been friendlier.
Saturday I played Your Mom's Place. It is exactly what it says it is; A dive bar. Nothing more nothing less. Whatever you think about when you hear that is probably spot on. Dark, small, smoke filled, lots of beer, lots of random shit on the walls. I love dives like this. They are what they are, no apologies. Would I drink there of my own volition? Probably not. Not my scene, and I still struggle to pay $3 for 3.2 beer. It's not their fault. Blame this state's crazy liquor laws. I'd play there again if the money was right.
I'm still navigating the waters of being paid to perform. A recent gig was booked by someone who approached me about playing (which is happening more, but is still rare). I'm to the point where I am playing very few gigs that aren't paid, and those are usually festivals or "just for fun" shows that I take simply for exposure or kicks. When I booked this gig, the promoter told me "It pays. Not a whole lot and really depends on the crowd." I was fine with that.
Long story short, after the 40 min drive to the venue and a 30 min delayed start, I was told in a really rude tone "We're not going to have any of you play if no one is here. I'm sick of (name redacted) booking these things. This all comes out of my pocket." Sure enough, only one person that wasn't playing came. The owner then told us (the other acts and myself) "I'm going to give you all $20, because that is the kind of guy I am and the kind of venue I run." Like he was doing us all a HUGE favor. I had already bought 3 overpriced beers because he hadn't given any of us drink tokens yet. The remaining $11 covered gas.
I know that running a bar is not easy. Profit margins are razor thin at best. If no one is coming to your bar, things are even more bleak. I was fine with the amount of money I was paid. What I was promised by the booker was spot on. But I won't be talked down to and threatened with a canceled show by a bar owner who is struggling to make rent. The deficit doesn't lie with the hired entertainment. I have not sent your bar into the throws of financial ruin.
I was angry. I could have left. I'm glad I didn't. That would have been super unprofessional. I went on 45 minutes after the agreed upon start. I played a really great set. One of my best to date actually. I played a great set to 6 people and the bar tender. I had a lot of fun. It's easy to get caught up in the drama of being a musical no one. I almost forgot that I love playing live music and that things like venue and crowd size and temperament of owners are completely irrelevant. Music for music's sake.
SO what genre is your music?
I hate this question. As an unknown musician, its also the question I get asked most frequently. And before you quit reading here because you think this is going to be a post about how "I hate talking about genres because I don't put my art into boxes and my music transcends genre;" don't, because this is not that post. I would love to neatly fit into any genre. I AM BEGGING FOR A GENRE! I wish I could say I was folk because it's still trendy to be folk, but I'm not really folk. I feel like my hooks can get pretty sugary, and my song structures are relatively simple. So I know I'm a bit poppy, but I'm not pop. I usually dodge the question by throwing myself into the giant bin of "singer-songwriter," but that, in people's minds, usually harkens back to Bob Dillon. And I am no Bob Dillon, in style or in brilliance.
The dodge never works. People want more. The follow up question is always "well who do you sound like?" Ugh. Here is the deal with that whopping dump of a question. If I say John Mayer, you're going to be disappointed when you hear my stuff because it doesn't sound like Mayer (Though he is a huge influence). If I say Punch Brothers, you've either never heard of them (which works in my favor) or you would laugh at how much of a far cry my music is from their 4 part harmonies and world class instrumentation. But these are a couple of the musicians that have shaped my love of music and my process of writing. ("Holly Roller" is the poor man's "This Girl")
So how do you tell people about your music with out being a psychopath, pulling out your phone, and making them listen to your soundcloud on the street? I feel like handing them one of my cards and saying something like "Check out my website and listen for yourself" is equally as douche-a-rific. I guess for now I'll just keep awkwardly stumbling my way though the question. Or maybe I will take some time to sit down and thoughtfully explore the question, and come up with an answer that is satisfying to myself and the asker.
But I probably won't. Who's got the time to ponder? I'll just keep writing music and hope I gently float into a genre one day.
The Many Branches Approach to Songwriting
So when I saw that I only had two dates booked for August, I stopped working on it and decided I would spend the month writing new stuff (which ended up not being the case after I booked 3 last minute shows and a trip to Waco). I know I have a good amount of material now (more than enough for a full LP), and it's really time to buckle down and record something. However, as a songwriter, I feel as though I am constantly improving and writing better stuff. The songs I wrote a year and a half ago aren't even in my live rotation anymore. The songs I wrote 4 months ago are slowly moving in the same direction. I'm constantly falling in and out of love with songs that I've written. I know this points to a trend that will manifest itself as a constant process of never being satisfied with my material and constantly trying to write "the best song yet." But I can't help it. Going into an actual recording studio will make it real, and means I will have to chose 1 or 2 songs that I will push until I record again. I will be completely representing myself as a musician with these 1 or 2 songs. That's a lot of pressure!
What does that have to do with a new songwriting method I am trying out? Not much. But it's a little look at where I am right now. In working on a new song that has a really great feel to it, my indecisiveness kicked in again. I wrote a verse of lyrics and wasn't thrilled with what came out. They were good lyrics, but the groove and melody of this song were too good to waste on "good lyrics." So I wrote a second set with a different feel and direction. Then I spent time playing both and decided the second set was much more interesting and took the song in a different direction. After that I filled out the pre-chorus and chorus with a great melody and lyrics that seemed to fit the verse's content.
The song still felt disjointed. So I'm writing a whole separate set of lyrics and melody for the pre-chorus and chours. I've never tried this approach but it has kind of turned songwriting into a choose your own adventure experience. It's the perfect fit for the over obsessive and critical musician I am. I'm still in the middle of writing it so maybe I'll update this later with the finished product. For now, I just thought I would give you a gander at something I'm experimenting with right now.
The Patriarch 8/6/16
The Patriarch is the father of venues in so many ways. To this point, I've bragged on a lot of the places I've played. However, upon playing/drinking at The Patriarch, Jacqueline and I were both left scratching our heads and asking "Why isn't there not something like this in Norman?" Maybe it's because we both lived in Central Texas before moving here and were spoiled by the weird, hip and wonderful bars of Waco and Austin. Maybe we've grown to expect more from a college town like Norman. Either way, The Patriarch is the perfect blend of craft beer, history reimagined, and intentionally fostered community. Here's why:
The 48 rotating beers on tap are some of the best US based brews you will find around. I end up standing in front of the hand chalked menu with a blank stare and an open mouth trying to decide, as they carry beers from many my favorites (Boulevard, Coop, Rahr and Sons, Anthem, etc.). They also have a beer shack out back with a couple extra taps for good measure.
The bar is a remodeled 3 story, 113 year old house with a backyard that homeowners dream of. There really isn't much more to say. Go there and behold.
What really struck me was the buzzing community that gleefully littered the entire facility. 2 and 4 seated tables are rare and par for the course are long picnic style tables often pushed together. On a busy night, you will most likely be sitting near someone you've never met; which is fine because the locals are friendly and personal space is overrated. The beer, the tables, the lights, the yard games, the staff, (and last Saturday, the music) all come together in a beautiful experience that encourages talking to strangers and losing yourself in long postulations and discourse with good or new friends. I've not played every bar in the OKC metro, but I have a hard time believing it will produce something as special as The Patriarch.
Othello's (7/30), Bluebonnet Bar (7/29), and drawing a fat crowd
I played 2 sets this past weekend. They were both the average 9-12pm bar set. Let me first say that I love these bars. The Bluebonnet Bar is the best old bars in Norman. You can smoke like it's the 80's. Beer only, and beer in a can/bottle only. Cash only. This place is a relic in the best kind of way. It is a delightfully dirty cowboy oasis that is about as far from Campus Corner as one can get in Norman, OK. Othello's is the best Italian food in Norman. No joke. They also have an old world feel that is a modern taste of Italy. The highlight of Othello's is Joel Forlenza. He plays piano Tuesday- Saturday from 5:30-8:30 and he is phenomenal. I always hate going on after his set because the diners/drinkers are generally still captivated by his smooth vocals and fancy finger work.
Obviously, I have a great deal of affection for these bars. Both of these bars were almost completely empty when I played them. At Bluebonnets, I played to the bartender, the owner, the sound guy, and one single drunk guy who talked to me for 20 min between sets about the illuminati, and how my father is actually a Free Mason. At Othello's I played to the bartender, my encouraging girlfriend and Jenny, the one local who waltzes in every Saturday like clockwork to order dinner 5 minutes before the kitchen closes. I'm sure the cooks love her.
I try not to book the same city 2 nights in a row because it's hard to draw the same crowd twice. Either people are going to come to one and not the other or they will spilt down the middle and you will only have a couple people at each. But what if you aren't from Norman OK? What if it doesn't matter how many shows you book in a weekend because you only know 3 people in Norman that ever come to your shows (Shoutout to Zach, Luz and Yuri!!)? How do you build even a small fan base from scratch? I'm not the first person to ask these questions. I can't be.
So I feel bad. I'm a great musician and I bring a really good live set to the table, but I don't bring people with me (yet). Venues don't like that, and I get it. But to be fair, these bars were both empty with or without me. Othello's sold a giant salad they wouldn't have sold if Jacqueline would have stayed home (not exactly big dollars I know). One venue promoted my set on their social media a few hours before the show started, and the other posted nothing (though I'm convinced it wouldn't have matter either way). So I'm struggling. I don't have a draw as a musician right now, so I am looking for places to play so I can get in front of new listeners. But how do you turn the people who heard you on accident into people who will come to your next thing on purpose? Great question. IDK.
Here's the plan: Play early, play often. I have to assume that playing out as much as I can will help. Maybe I should start specifically inviting people to my shows (which could be my least favorite thing to do in the whole wide world). Maybe I should just start playing shows that I wasn't asked to play. Like in someone's backyard or at the mall. I could probably get 4 or 5 songs in before security realizes I wasn't invited.
When I "Make it"
When I "make it" you probably won't know. I don't think it will be heralded with an announcement ("Hey guys, thanks for all of your support. I finally made it."). It will come and go and I'm not even sure I'll know that it came and went. I know it's a vague phrase and it means different things to different people. But one thing I think we all have in common as musicians is getting caught up in the pursuit of "making it" without ever really know what "it" is.
Personally "it" is not a record deal (Though I'm currently fielding applications if you are reading this, Atlantic Records). It's not a Grammy (Though I've already cleared a space on my dresser for the day one of my well crafted songs are finally recognized for the genius they are). It's not even being able to support myself by doing music full time (Though few tings in this life would bring me more joy). I don't know what it is or what it means. I do know that "Making It" is a thing and I'll know it when I see it or maybe feel it.
Right now I'm making music that I think my mom likes. Maybe not all of my songs, but I think she likes some of them and that's good. I make music that I like. I make music that some of my friends like. I go out to clubs and bars and I play music that strangers don't seem to hate. I have to assume these are the first steps in "making it." And if they aren't then I'm headed down a long road to whatever the opposite of "making it" is, and doing so fairly happily.
Sauced on Paseo 7/23/16
I had a blast playing Sauced on Paseo this past weekend. That is a standard way I describe shows. I say things like that a lot. "I had a blast!" "I really enjoyed playing..." "I had a great time at..." and its always true (even if it is terribly generic). If I have a bad time playing somewhere I generally just don't talk about it. But I can genuinely say that I enjoyed myself more than usual at Sauced. There were a couple key factors composing this delightful evening.
First was Dave. Dave is the Jack of all Trades at Sauced. At any given moment in the night you could have caught Dave bartending, loading in, checking sound, catering to the bands, running the sound system and a multitude of other activities. Dave is one of the friendliest and most accommodating booker/ promoter/ manager/ bartender/ everythinger I have met. He not only cares about his venue but he cares about local music and works to grow both simultaneously. Dave is a really good dude and I look forward to working with him in the future.
Second was the lineup. I had the privilege of opening the show for two up and coming local bands The Indigos and The Happily Entitled. I got a chance to hear some of their stuff online before the show and I can tell you it was just as good live. But beyond being incredibly talented musicians, they were really supportive of each other. You'll find often times that many bands will show up for their set when its their time to play and you won't see them outside of that time slot. These bands supported myself and each other not just with their presence, but with genuine encouragement and enthusiasm during the sets. I was inspired and challenged to always be looking for ways to encourage other local musicians in an industry that dissuades us from spending energy on anything that doesn't further our own careers. Not cool, music industry. Not cool at all.
Lampasas 'Spring Ho!' Festival 7/9/16
This past weekend I was invited to play the 'Spring Ho!' Festival in Lampasas, TX. If you squint hard enough at the picture below you can almost make me out in the gazebo. To be completely honest, I don't know when this picture was taken. That might not be me. But I was there on Saturday and got to play 2 separate sets as the crowds meandered though the vendor's tents perusing air brushed tee shirts and hand carved wooden beer mugs. The smell of funnel cakes, German sausages and corndogs gently wafted across the canal as I laid down a mix of new originals and down home country favorites. A big thanks goes out to Beth Hensley and the rest of the festival committee. They were welcoming and accommodating even to the small stage "not-yet-famous" musicians such as myself.
I also got to share the stage with the incredibly talented local musician, Megan Blair. You can check out some of her Spring Ho! set as well as other videos here.
Live from the outskirts of Norman 6/18/16
Hollywood Corners is rapidly becoming one my my favorite venues in Norman, OK. I've played there multiple times now and each time I've found new things to love about it. Not only are the design, decor, and layout really unique, it is set up to host small acoustic acts such as myself as well as full band, backyard parties. At least that's the way it feels. Stepping off the "back porch," it really feels like you are walking out into the back yard you've always wanted. The stage is a revamped flatbed trailer with lighting that encourages you to relax if you want or stand up dance around a little. Being located on the far north end or Norman, I don't think it gets the exposure it deserves. Go, eat and drink, listen to some music, and enjoy this gem before it becomes the next big Norman tourist destination. Seriously.
Shout out to Joey. He's super easy to work with and really accommodating. Also shout out to the patrons of this fine establishment. A lot of music fans that know how to drop a buck or two in the tip jar. Thanks for supporting me and for supporting local music!
Mike Rae is looking for musicians!
Mike Rae is currently looking to add a backing band. Open positions include Bass and Lead guitars. Preferred applicants will be guys or gals in their 20's or early 30's with experience, gear and availability for a limited number of practices. All of the songs are already written and most of the parts will already be laid out and ready to be learned. All musicians will be responsible for learning parts on their own time in order to keep practices infrequent and short. The recording and show schedules will be pretty aggressive for June/July/August, so I'll need musicians with flexible availability. If you are interested or would like more information, please either use the contact page at the top of the page or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Recording and more
There are a lot of exciting things on the horizon. On top of a great list of upcoming shows, I will be hitting the studio to record a proper EP with some of my good friends. Along with this venture, I will be adding a full band for some of my upcoming live dates. There are still a lot of details to work out, but I am really excited about Ahhhhh Summa 16'. In the meantime, you can always tab over to the Music Page and listen to my acoustic demos.
We're in business
I'm busy booking shows and festivals! I took some time off in January to continue writing and filling out some of my sets. Don't fret! I've got a lot of live shows coming up so you will have plenty of opportunities to see my beautiful face. I've got business cards now so "I guess you could say things are getting pretty serious." Come see me live and I'll give you one for free (while supplies last). Unless I don't like you. Then they are $3 each. $13 if you want it autographed. Which is a steal considering it will one day be worth dozens of dollars.
Thank you, Akron!
It's a new year and I can't think of a better way to kick it off than by thanking my hometown supporters. It was really amazing to get the opportunity to play live while I was home for the holidays. It was even more incredible to see how many people came out and showed their support for my wild dreams. I also want to thank Meredith Joyce, Toupee Paul and Akron Musica. It was a magical night and I can't wait to hurry back and do it all again.