SIGH…

I Just Keep on Tryin'

I’ll Just Keep on Tryin’

I worked for a week and a half on a new song.  I got it recorded, put in the various tracks: drum, toms, bass, more bass, piano, synth, five vocal tracks.  tomorrow I’m going to scrub the whole lot and begin again.

I want it right.  It’s a good song, but I laid in a bad foundation, and then spent a lot of time trying to make it right to no avail.  I have a deadline, but under no circumstances do I want to turn a less than well made song.

I have some timing issues, that just cannot be fixed.  I tried quantizing, and oh well…

There’s nothing for it but to start again.

But think about it for a second.  How many times are we tempted to settle for not quite as good as we would like just to get the darned project finished.  I want good.  I don’t demand perfection because that not only is it impossible to attain, but it will drive me crazy trying to achieve it.  I do expect excellence from myself.  And by that I mean that I expect the best I can do at the time.

The project has a deadline, but tough if can’t get this right.  Though I do believe I will finish well before the deadline.

So tomorrow I start again.  It is something I know I can do well—starting aver again and a gain until I get it right.  Been there, done that, bought the tee shirt.  Sigh…

THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD?

The Little Engine Doesn't Run Here Anymore

The Little Engine Doesn’t Run Here Anymore

For years I have thought of myself as a lyricist only.  My claim is that I can play guitar well enough to write songs, but I am not a guitar player.  My self image is that because I only play rhythm guitar, I am not really a musician.  I have learned recently just how wrong I have been all these years!

It all started with a Christmas CD I wanted to do. I had a few Christmas songs written, and I really wanted to do a CD for last Christmas, it was October and time was running out.  I wrote the needed songs to fill out the CD, and started to record.  I realized that I need more instrumentation than just a rhythm guitar and a harmonica.  I needed steel guitar, mandolin and synth sounds to fill in and complete each song and to help each song be unique.  I also realized that I had no studio musicians to hand to whom I could turn the songs over, and get the sounds I wanted.  I realized it was up to me if I was going to get anything at all.

I began learning how to play the needed instruments.  Not well, and certainly at a master-level, but good enough to fill in and make interesting the recorded songs.

I began recording my practice sessions track by track.  I would work on a line here and a line there.  Just hoping that I would eventually have enough good sections to piece together and get something interesting enough out of to use in the overall recording.

It came together.  It was hard, but I got it done.  At first I was skeptical of the finished product, but then again I have several friends who are accomplished producers, tell me they liked the album.  It’s titled, “Cactus Christmas Tree,” and you can find it at, http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/hilarymarckx2 if you want to check it out.  It could be better, but by doing it I got the courage to do another one, which will be a whole lot better.

CK Chesterton once wrote something to the effect, “If something is worth doing at all, it is worth doing poorly.”  I take this to mean that if we just put off doing something until we can do it with perfection, it may never get done.  But that we should start and just get it done.

I remember a little book my mother used to read to my sister and me titled, “The Little Engine that Could.”  The story has a very small engine with a very big load, on a very steep grade.  All the way up the grade the little engine says, “I think I can!  I think I can!  I think I can!”  Then after it finally makes the summit it says, “I knew I could!  I knew I could!  I knew I could.”  But sometimes you don’t know you can until after the fact.  Now I know.

Success is a product of dreams come true.  You start with the dream.  You work/struggle/fight/create through the process, and then, sometimes surprisingly, you succeed.  Then, success breeds more success.

I am now in the final stages of a new project.  It is for a Broadway Musical, and as usual, it is a hell of a lot bigger than I am.  I have just completed several of the close-to-final mixes and I am getting excited.  Much if it is way out of my genre and much more complex than I have ever attempted.

Out where I live the trains have ceased to run.  The long, lonely, whistles have ceased their calls.  The clack-clacks of steel wheels on steel rails have been silenced.  But in my mind there is a small child who still remembers the steam and call of a whistle in the night.  And a too small engine that challenges me to attempt the impossible.

More to come on this.

ON AGE, BEAUTY, AND PERFORMING…

Broken Hearts & A Little Bite

Broken Hearts & A Little Bite

A really powerful and essential question was asked recently, How do you guys feel about becoming a performer over the age of 30?  Do you feel it is ever too late to become a live performer?  It was the beginning of an ongoing conversation I got into late on a LInkedin site, and I liked the question a lot, so I thought I’d try to answer it in this blog

I have performed at open mics since God made dirt, but in my late fifties, I decided to see what I could do at a professional level. I think you need to pick the level at which you want to perform and shoot for that. Some realism is in order, however. I mean, if you are 70 which I will be in August, don’t be disappointing if the twenty-year-olds aren’t screaming at you, or hitting on you or you can’t get hired for their bars. AND if they do don’t confuse your music and wall of sound with your sex appeal. I played with a band up until two years ago and then decided to start concentrating on pitching my own songs, which is doing OK, and playing as a solo act. It’s harder to get gigs, but I like me best, so it seems to work out well.

SO, to answer the question straight on, Where there is a will, there is always a niche, or a venue. You will need both to make it, but if you target your market correctly, make it you will. Best of luck to you! 

Yesterday I played at a venue where there were lots and lots of musicians, a good crowd of fans of all ages, great wine, and lots of camaraderie.  I had this post on my mind as I looked around the space.  What struck me was what age differences there were.  What also struck me was that crowd response had little or nothing to do with age.  When good was played, it was paid attention to.  And there is something extra about good.  If you want to perform, no matter what your age, if you are good, you will be listened to.  I saw a young girl, probable around 15, go on stage who was an accomplished singer/songwriter/guitar player and all the conversation stopped and the crowd listened.  The same happened with a few men at 60+.  When I finished my set I had 20-year olds come up to me and thank me for my music.  Age seems less a factor than being exceptionally good.  Also,  it seems that while labels are not so inclined to sign Rockabillies, fans are really inclined to listen.  So at 70, with a few broken hearts and a little bite, my style/genre seems to go over just fine.   Actually, I do think genre has a lot to do with fan acceptance.

However, with all that said, I do believe that some show promoters are much more finicky than are the audiences and fans.  The fans come to have fun and listen to good music; the promoters are more concerned with second guessing the fans and making bucks.  But still, if you have product, meaning charisma and groove on stage, age is no issue.

Now if you are considering attaining stardom in the immature and bland  pop market, good luck if you are over 15.  Just how it works.

NO BAND, BUT PLENTY OF WORK!

Twang

Twang

I WAS TRYING TO put together a new CD, and I thought it might be interesting to do some posting around the lyrics and both the process of writing them and putting together the Album.  I’m still trying…

The Album itself has gone through a whole bunch of permutations.  First, it was titled, “Vinegar Pie,” because it was named after a song that is in the collection.  Also, the collection was only nine songs.  I had been asked to write songs to support a one person, three act play by the same name.  I wrote the nine songs as a kind of dialogue with the various acts and their themes.  They were performed before, between, and at the end of the acts.  I thought the whole play was kind of a moment of genius on the part of the playwright, but the feeling apparently was not reciprocated and I was fired.  Stuff happens! I mean, I don’t like rejection any better that anyone else, and it hurt and I was pissed, but I got over it and moved on.  What I got out of the deal were nine really good songs.

As I wrote above, I had produced (sort of) the nine songs and put them onto a CD titled “Vinegar Pie.”  However, with the firing event, I decided to re-release the songs with an additional three and re-title the collection, “The Quilter.”  And that’s what I did.

Recently I realized that all my earlier releases were in desperate need of some tweaking and refining.  I bought a mastering program called OZONE, that works really well.  I set about re-mastering my CDs.  To say re-mastering is actually a joke because they were not mastered in the first place.  OXONE really made a big difference in the overall sound of my first project, “Preachin’ to the Choir,” which, when re-mastered I actually put out on CD Baby.

After I was finished with “Preachin’ to the Choir,”  I turned to “The Quilter,” and to my dismay, I discovered that my recordings were atrocious.  YIKES!!!  I am now re-recording the songs and getting them “right.”  The good thing about learning to really hear, is that you can hear what you do as it really is.  That is also the bad thing about really learning to hear.

In the process of re-recording, I decided to add four more songs to the collection.  While you might think that this is over kill, I might say in my defense that many of my songs are only around two to two and a half minutes in length.  Also, I am in favor of the idea of giving my fans more bang for their buck/

The Title will be, “On My Mind,” but don’t hold your breath for it.  It seems that other projects keep jumping up and getting in the way.  Earlier, I wrote about the project for the Medical Marijuana musical, and just last week I was approached to write for another musical.  So while I have “On My Mind,” on my mind, right now, that’s all it is…  Do not read this as a complaint!

By the way, please, when you read this, if you have something to say to me, post it on this site by pushing the  “Comments” button.  Thanks for that!  I will respond.

WORKING WITHOUT A BAND

Hilary at Barley & Hops

Hilary at Barley & Hops

I have been asked to comment on performing without a band. Alice Groves asked, “I would be interested in hearing more about your quest to perform without a band. The only alternative is recorded music.” Richard McLaghlin responded to her by stating, “Actually, you could just pick up a guitar and engage the audience. Of course the pop musicosphere is so addicted to production values, songs layered like some bizarre, sonic gateau, and the auto-tuned chorus of backup singers and doubled voices that they just would not know what to make of it all.”

I do not believe that recorded music is the only alternative.  There are many alternatives.  I have been performing, at some capacity or another since 1970.  I have played solo and with bands and with a combination that includes recorded sounds, and live instruments, as well other singers.  I like bands and combos for the complexity they add to the music, but I do enjoy the solo performance.

I think it takes a lot more expertise and confidence when one plays as a solo act, there is only myself to blame my mistakes on.  Rhythm and tempo are harder to lock in, and it takes a whole bunch more raw energy to engage the audience.  It can not only be achieved, but done really well.  Convincing club owners that your solo act is as viable as a band performance is the trickiest.

Also, please understand the context in which I am working.  I am spending much of my time producing for my upcoming CD, “Living the Green Life,” and do not have the time to spend on working with a band.  Yet I need to keep sharp for the times I gig on large stages or play with other musicians.  I am performing regularly and weekly as a solo act so I don’t lose my skill level while stuck in the studio.

It becomes harder to book gigs as a single act.  Clubs and bars seem to want a wall of noise against which to balance alcohol sales and an experience of excitement from and for their customers.  I look for venues that are interested in a different type of action.  I am interested in building a rapport with the crowd–talking, joking between songs and answering questions in the middle of a song.  I like to make them laugh, and to feel as if their experience of my act were somehow part of the performance.  So, I need the intimacy of a small venue. At this time in my career I am not looking for stardom or fame, but I am looking for ways to give myself and an audience maximum enjoyment from a performance.

More Pedals and Swirly Fuzzy Stuff

More Pedals and Swirly Fuzzy Stuff

My performance is itself both simple and complex.  It is me and one of my Martins.  I like the Martin guitar tonal signature better than any other acoustic guitar.  I have an 2000 HD-28-V, and a 1959 00-18.  They each have distinct sounds, but both have a playability that works for me.  I also like my G5120 Gretsch a whole bunch.  It has a scale similar to the Martins so there is no muscle memory confusion when I switch back and forth.  To all this I add a pedal board that gives me options galore.

My music is a combination of Country, Folk Rock, Rockabilly, Honky-Tonk, Country Jazz, and Country Pop-esque.  It ranges from edgy to not-so-edgy to sort-of-soft.  They are my own songs because I like my writing best.  I work with just one of the Martins for the most part, but also I use a Boss Looper for songs that are more complex and need other instrumentation behind some of the simple lead guitar work I do with the Gretsch.

I use the Boss Looper as a devise to hold material I have loaded off my Tascam 24-Track recording device.  I work out my arrangements on the Tascam before I load them into the looper.  I play keyboard (an older Korg Triton), lap steel, mandolin, banjo, auto harp besides guitar, so I can fill up some of the songs with complex layers of sounds that add to my vocals and lead work.  I only do this on a few songs.  My main form of presentation is acoustic guitar and harmonica.

What continually blows me away, is the diverse age groups that seem to like what I do.  I have people from their 20s into their 80s respond to what I do.  I think that Rock ‘N’ Roll has been around long enough and is well enough established to have become the new standards for enough generations to be accepted by most individuals.  Yes, there are the musically ignorant and stilted who only recognize what they listen to as the REAL music and refer to all the other genres as crap.  And they do leave the second they hear a little twang,  but the majority show nothing but respect for my performance.

Thanks, readers, for reading, and please feel free to comment and ask questions in the “Comments” section of this post.  Hilary

Hilary Writes a Soundtrack for a Musical — Part 1

A Musical About Medical Marijuana.

A Musical About Medical Marijuana.

I have sure had a number of things on my mind.  I am figuring out how to perform without a band, and still keep it interesting.  More on that later.  Also, I have been working on a musical.  I am trying to produce my songs so a playwright can write a script for a Broadway Musical.  I am just so far out of my league that I am running in circles and snapping at my tail.

I am working with Coni Congoli Koepfinger who is Associate Director, and Playwright-In-Residence at the Spiral Theatre Studio, New York, who has written over forty plays of which over fourteen have been published.  She holds an MA in Literary and Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University.  She is very prolific and talented, and a little scary when I realize that it is my work she is scrutinizing.  So far it is going very well.  To find out more about her check out http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsC/ciongoli-koepfinger-coni.html.

She is an amazing writer, and she has a team working with her with a vast array of experience.  The Spiral Theatre Studio is the brainchild of Paula J. Riley who is rebirthing the Legacey of her mentor, Iza Itkin, and it is a phenomenal concept in and of itself, and if you are interested in more information about it, I suggest you check out  http://www.thespiraltheatrestudio.com/ or http://thespiraltheatrestudio.blogspot.com/ to find out more.

The play, Livin’ the Green Life,” is based on a collection of songs I wrote about four years ago depicting the development of the Medical Marijuana Movement.  The songs begin with the bad old days and dark beginnings, and proceed to the Movement it has now become.  My lyrics tell stories about fear, death, paranoia, hope, family systems, and the everyday people caught up in the overarching story that is Marijuana.

My idea, originally, was to write my songs and give them to a producer who would then, using studio musicians, develop them into finished, mastered, songs that could be used for a soundtrack.  My problem became clear as I attempted to find producers who could do this.  I soon discovered that they did not have my particular and peculiar vision for how the songs should be produced.  YIKES!!!

What I had produced as rough sketches, were just that, rough sketches.  I then needed finished, studio produced, mixed and mastered songs that were complete.  I had to learn how to do all that.  AND that my friends is what this last year has been about—learning how.  Not an easy task, this learning thing, but doable and fun.

I have had to find musicians to play on my songs.  I have limited expertise, musically, and need lead guitar players, sitar players, to lay in the tracks for my songs.  Finding them has been a trial, but that is getting done.

I have learned that it is I who must decide on what songs to use and how to order them.  I had thought that some genius producer would jump in and wave a magic want and get that done in a flash.  I am working on the ordering of the story songs to fit an overall movement on meaning as stories within the story.

More on my progress at a later date, but know that I have committed to completion by the end of May or June.  I have a series of important meetings from July through the end of Trout season with a number of important rainbow trout, and I do not want to miss out on those stream-side sessions.   So onward, forward, charge—tie those flies!

News Flash

News? Well I am working–actually working on producing a new CD, and the project is bigger than I am. I will go into the whole thing in more detail in another post, but suffice it to say that I am madly trying to learn stuff that I need to know in order to get to the next level–whatever that is. What I am trying to do in this posting is to just get a post done.

Borderlands of Hell --

Borderlands of Hell —

With the help of Rob Fisher, I released the “Borderlands of Hell CD” on CD Baby last year. and it sounds really great! Now I am learning to produce my own CDs–very exciting More to come