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I finally, finally made it.

Hummingbird is being released on the 9th November 2019. All of the files have gone to the CD manufacture plant, everything is uploaded to Emubands for distribution, and I can finally breathe again.

Hummingbird large

It was a bit of an exciting ride. I had been gently ambling along, doing a bit of writing here and mixing there and not really rushing things. I figured I had until this week to send the CD Master files. Alas for me, the company I chose to use this time (entirely because they had really good reviews and because they are one of the few places in the UK willing to do low number runs of glass mastered CDs) got in touch with me to say they would be closed for a crucial period. So I ended up finishing the writing, recording, mixing and mastering, all within a frantic 72 hour period.

There was not enough gin in the world for this. Still, I persisted.

Everything went off by the 11th October. Last week was spent mastering instrumentals (in the event that I manage to place anything in film or TV, they always like a good instrumental) and dealing with the distributor, and this week I am doing promo and remembering how to breathe again.

Meanwhile, I had a very fun gig at Busk in York towards the end of September which gave me an opportunity to dust off a new cover (Waterboy, originally by Rhiannon Giddons) and generally sing to a very enthusiastic audience. It was a really enjoyable evening, very atmospheric, and I hope the first of many more to come.

So what now? Well, pre-orders are open for both digital and physical CDs of Hummingbird. I highly recommend it, but then I am biased!

The Launch Party is on the 9th November, at Micklegate SOCIAL, 148 Micklegate, York, YO1 6JX – FREE ENTRY! Doors at 7:30, music starts at 8 and I will be very ably supported by Sarah Hardman and The Nocturnal Flowers. Due to the venue’s own licensing laws, it’s over 18’s only, so please bring ID, but don’t let that put you off!

Hummingbird launch poster

See you there!

 

 

So here we are again, a fair bit quicker than your last wait for a blog post! Life continues, as it does, in a plodding fashion, interspersed with occasional mad dashes and periodic moments of standing still wondering WTF just happened/is going on/is about to happen.

We have a new addition to the family too, in the form of a Dutch Shepherd/Border Collie cross called Pepper. She’s a proper wee puddin’, except when she’s barking at/eating/chewing/chasing things that she shouldn’t, which thankfully is less often that it could be, given her age (6 months).

Oh, you want a picture?

Ok then:

Pepper

She likes: Goat’s ears, farting, running through long grass, rain, baths, the cats (who are indifferent/scornful so far), belly rubs, singing along when I rehearse and chewing things.

She dislikes: automatic doors, unexpected joggers, being told she can’t look in the cat’s litter trays for delicacies and heavy machinery.

What else to tell you… well, I finally completed the title track for the album, Hummingbird. This is a huge step as it’s one of those songs I’d been fighting with for ages. I have a theory that songs are either easy birth (15-60 minutes from start to finish, back in the fields straight after) or first time, new mum labour (hours and hours, maybe even days, excruciatingly painful, only aided by drugs and massage). Hummingbird was the latter for sure. I mean, sure, the drug was chocolate, and it was more like weeks, which would constitute a medical emergency in an actual childbirth situation, but the analogy (sort of) still holds…

Anyway. I finished it the day before Filey Folk Festival, and it gets it’s first outing here, at about 38 minutes in: https://www.facebook.com/caseewilson/videos/461181547958494/

Speaking of Filey, I had a blast, as I always do, and it was absolutely lovely to be booked for next year before the day had even finished! I know I’m not gigging much at the moment, and a lot of that is because I haven’t been actively seeking gigs – there’s been a lot on both externally and internally for me, but it’s so nice to know people want to book me πŸ™‚

The upshot of all this is, I only have a few more songs to finish before I’ll have the whole album. It’s definitely, finally, starting to come together – I just have to keep working on it, a piece at a time. And not get distracted by the New Hound.

Still flying…

In the words of Malcolm Reynolds, the stalwart captain of Serenity, I am still flying. It’s been a year since my last blog post (why does this suddenly feel like a confession) and I’m trying to find my way back into the world of creativity and self expression after what has been the hardest couple of years in recent memory.

This year’s FAWM saw a massive increase in my song-writing productivity – from 0 songs the February before to 2 new songs this year. This is good. It’s not the best, but it’s good.

I took the frightening step into full time self employment too, giving up my day job as an administrator to teach singing, so I am now, finally, making 100% of my income from music and music related activities. This is a really huge thing for me, as it has been a goal for the longest time.

So now, I’m actively working on two major projects: Promoting my tuition business (Tiny Cat Vocal Tuition – because we have cats, not because I intend to make my pupils sound like cats, let alone tiny cats…) and getting Hummingbird finished at long last and only several years later than originally intended.

Hummingbird

Album cover – first draft – drawn using Pixelmator on the iPad

Things still feel slow, but there is movement, albeit like a glacier. It can feel imperceptible, and sometimes it’s frustrating, that feeling that I am letting everyone down, that I am letting myself down, that I’m not achieving things as quickly as I would like. I hate that life events have necessitated recovery time, because I am essentially quite an impatient person. But creative projects, businesses and good wine all have something in common: they take time, and time taken makes them better.

So as I step into this new phase, I remind myself that I am still flying, and that I am allowed to take the time I need for my projects to mature. I have survived, and now I will thrive.

 

Well hello. Yes, as always, it has been Some Time, and I’m not foolish enough to promise it won’t be Some Time again until I post the next one. I haven’t really been in a disclosing mood. My father passed away the week before Christmas, and the year in the run up to his death was full of trying to find resolution, trying to deal with hopes dashed time and again, and trying to fit in all the things I wanted to say to him before he left us.

As a result, it was a strange year from a musical perspective too. I had intended to blog much more frequently, get my Patreon set up, release “Hummingbird” (now to be an album, not an EP) and gig much more. Instead I spent a large part of it seeing the inside of the Blackburn Royal Infirmary and googling things like “what to do when your parent has cancer”. Now I am starting to climb back on the horse, only to find the horse is more like a mule, and I forgot how to ride this damn thing.

Still, better late than never. I have been quietly chipping away at things in the background and today, dear reader, I’d like to talk about something close to my heart – expectations and how best to ensure they are met.

Let me illustrate with a story.

Early last year, I played a 3 set gig at a venue in York. Unnamed for their protection, and please don’t name and shame in comments if you know where I mean. It was a roaring success. Lots of my fans came, the venue did a roaring bar trade, random strangers kept coming up to chat to me and compliment the songs, it was fab. The venue contacted the promotor who had set up the gig and they were happy to have me back. Now, my set list for this was pretty much made up of stuff I had written, interspersed with some gentle covers – all in all the sort of set that goes with a half pub/half restaurant people-are-trying-to-chill-here vibe.

33448 Casee Wilson Eagle & Child 17-08-04

I returned to the venue in August. This was a completely different night. The bar staff were downright hostile, the venue was much quieter (illness and poor weather had shut down much of York that night) and in the first break, the bar staff approached the sound engineer and asked her to ask me to play more covers. I did notice, and gratefully, that several people stopped to compliment me on this occasion too, so it seems the disappointment with the evening’s entertainment was limited to the bar staff.

Quick reminder. I was invited back based on the previous gig. I changed very little on the new set lists, only focusing a little more on upbeat material as I had slightly less time so I dropped a couple of my more introspective songs.

I have heard from the promoter that that venue does not want me back.

The thing that kills me is that if they had said “listen, we’re going for trying to attract a more boisterous crowd, can we have more covers” when they had BOOKED me, that’s exactly what they would have got. They said nothing, leaving me going on what I knew from previously.

Two sets of expectations were not met here: I expected that my own material, which I crafted heart and soul and which they seemed to enjoy the first time, to go down equally as well months later. That expectation was not met and my self confidence took a massive knock.

The venue expected a covers jukebox, which they did not get. I doubt this gave them any lasting trauma, but I can understand that they may have felt disappointed.

So this goes out as a plea to venues. Please be clear about what you want. Please be aware that even if you don’t get what you expected, the artist has worked hard, so hard, to bring you these songs, and a little respect is not that hard to provide. And please, never put the sound person in the position of having to tell the artist that the venue hates them. That’s just unprofessional.

I’d love to hear from any artists or venue who did not get what they expected. How did you resolve it and what would you do differently next time?

In this day and age, a little internet-related paranoia is not surprising, in fact it is practically de rigeur to be feeling a little got at. But in the case of Facebook, it’s not just the tin-foil hat wearing brigade who are starting to feel the pinch.

Have you noticed how your reach has gone down and down? Have you noticed how where you USED to be able to become verified, you can no longer find the page that tells you how to do it? Or the option to do it in settings? How your music player no longer streams or displays properly? And how, no matter where you look, Facebook tech support consists of users on under-used forums, swapping out of date links to try to fix problems cause by Facebook constantly moving the goalposts?

Facebook hates musicians. If you are a business and you sell stuff, great! Facebook will allow you to become verified after checking your identity, taking your fingerprints, and extracting the promise of your firstborn’s soul. Try being a member of the creative community though and those tools shall not be yours. If you are unlucky enough to be a musician with a common name, you can forget becoming verified to help prevent confusion amongst your fans.

Facebook hates musicians. Trying to build a list of followers? Facebook won’t show your posts to the people who have elected to like your page and follow you, so you can forget about reaching a new audience. And if you have the temerity to pay for advertising, your organic reach will actually disappear, making you utterly reliant on advertising to even reach your existing fan base.

Facebook hates musicians. I have lost count of all the ways. My music player disappeared. Gone. Just a text link where it once sat, looking awesome and allowing people who visited my page to hear my stuff. So I went in search of an option to add another one. Also gone. And my account has not been authorised to host a catalogue, so despite the fact that Spotify stream all three of my albums, that is not enough for Facebook to allow me to use the Spotify widget. And there is no customer service, or technical support, from Facebook to even explain to me the mystical realms by which this works.

Then, on the same day this happened, I found article after article about how you can measure an artist’s worth by how many followers they have on Facebook. But artists can’t get new followers when Facebook methodically strips out every tool that they could once have used to promote their music. Facebook hates musicians. Facebook will actively prevent artists from inviting β€œtoo many people” to an event. Facebook. Hates. Musicians.

What are your options instead as an unsigned artist? Well. Your own website is a must. Tie everything to it, always return to it, and run your social media through it. Facebook can still be useful, with persistence, work and a staunch avoidance of their ad campaigns. Tie it to Twitter which, despite the character limitation, is a vibrant community where it is actually possible to become verified, eventually.

But there’s a new kid on the block that I urge you to try.

Tie your social media and your website to Drooble. Get your friends, family, foes, dentist, chiropractor and MP onto Drooble. Drooble is not just for musicians, although they are the primary audience. Music fans are also welcome, like a thunderstorm on an oppressive day, or like tech support would be from Facebook. Or a box of donuts when you’re really hungry. Unless you’re gluten free. You get my drift. Get thee to Drooble, and show Facebook how it’s really done.

Drooble loves musicians. Let me count the ways:

Karma – Karma is the lifeblood of Drooble. Everything on Drooble is free, from a monetary perspective, anyway. Interacting with others, to like a post, comment, listen to a song, post a song, write a post, promote some music, make a friend – everything earns Karma. That Karma can be exchanged for a fully professional Electronic Press Kit, or to make a song the song of the week, giving it headline exposure. There is an entire range of promotional tools which can be purchased with Karma – the more you interact and support others, the more you can support and promote yourself.

Drooble Radio – you do not need to spend Karma to upload songs to Drooble which are then automatically added to Drooble’s online radio. This allows new users, who have not yet found their way around, to hit the ground running and get some songs up. Ditto the (very thorough) profile, which all users get for free, as well as the interview portion which allows you to really express who you are and what you are about.

The community – because of the Karma system, when you post on Drooble, it doesn’t just disappear into the void. The encouragement of interaction has the lovely effect of creating a community of likeminded people all of whom either make music or love listening to it. So far, outside of FAWM, it is one of the friendliest online places I have been. It’s a breath of fresh air.

I have only been on Drooble for a couple of weeks, around work and gigging, but so far I have a lot of hope for it. It has it’s weak spots – some of the technical aspects are still being ironed out, but the team who created it are incredibly approachable and happy to take feedback. It’s main problem is that not enough people know about it yet. I’d like to see more promoters, reviewers, record labels and fans taking an interest, to make it a truly excellent networking place. A musical LinkedIn if you will. The tools for musicians are really very good, and it doesn’t take much imagination to extrapolate that this could be a gamechanger for musicians trying to get their careers off the ground as independents.

Here endeth the lesson. The TL:DR is: Facebook hates musicians. Drooble loves them. Go Team Drooble.

I have been thinking about gigs, specifically what makes a gig successful – one thing led to another and I started pondering the various experiences I and others have had with venues and promoters.

I see a lot of online conversations about the responsibility of the artist – to bring lots of people, to sell tickets, to put on a good show. What about the venue’s responsibility? What about the promoter?

Let’s be fair. A good gig won’t happen in a vacuum. You need a decent act, a decent sized audience, and competent support from the sound person, bar staff, door people.. there’s an awful lot of responsibility being dished out there. The artist is not the only beneficiary of a good night – if the venue and the artist both do their jobs, the artist should see some increase in exposure (I’m not getting into pay to play here, and I am assuming all gigs discussed here are paid) as well as their fee. The venue should see good footfall, and strong bar takings, while the promoter should gain an excellent XP boost, as well as their fee. This should be a win-win-win for everyone, yet all too often it’s not.

So how can venues and promoters work with the artist to put on an excellent night? Here are some suggestions:

Don’t miss easy promotion opportunities. And don’t leave all the promotion up to your artist. Seriously. I cannot say this enough times. All that happens is that the artist fills the venue with their fans and friends, but they don’t get any new fans, and if it’s the wrong demographic, the venue doesn’t get any new customers. If the venue and the promoter pull their weight, it looks good, and as an added bonus, you get more people. Remember folks, more footfall is more bar takings, and potentially more people who decide your gin palace is awesome even when you don’t have live music on. I will say this again, in case it has not sunk in enough. EVERYBODY WINS.

Also, the easy stuff. Does the venue have a blackboard? Put the artist’s name on it when they’re performing. People walking past on the street, drawn in by the sound of the music will (and this is crucial) KNOW WHO PLAYED. Then if you have the same artist back, you may well draw in some of these people, who became fans. Put posters up – you don’t need many but some well placed posters before and during the event tell people who is playing. You don’t leave your beer pumps unlabelled do you? You don’t say to customers β€œah, no, you must guess which beer it is you like from these unlabelled taps”. So why leave your entertainment unlabelled?

Don’t leave your artist out of pocket. Yes, some people are willing to play for exposure at the start of their careers. Unfortunately, your landlord called, and regrets to tell you that he does not accept rent in the form of β€œexposure”. Neither can you pay your gas, water or council tax bill with it. If you really can’t afford to pay your artists, because it’s a charity gig, or you are just poor (rethink your business model, see above, and label your beer taps), then at least cover a free ticket in for a guest, travel expenses, and maybe a beer. There are many forms of pay to play – the most ubiquitous is when the artist has to travel to reach you (costs money), to play a set and then receive no pay, so that they are out of pocket for doing the gig. Let me tell you this right now, it does not matter whether they are booked to play three songs or thirty songs. They still travelled, lugging kit, and they still gave up their time. Don’t make them pay to do it.

Communication, communication, communication. One of my biggest bugbears is this: I see an advert on social media, or receive an email soliciting acts for an event. It does not have to be a large event (where I could perhaps understand the problem of trying to respond to several thousand requests), it can be a small neighbourhood thing. I follow the instructions to apply to play, add in a personalised message, and generally spend some time sending out a really nice application. Nothing. Radio silence. I eventually find out I was not selected by the event happening. Or by hunting out the line up if it’s a slightly larger event. Please, if you run events, contact the unsuccessful. Make it a form email if you have to, I don’t care if it’s impersonal, but at least let people know.

Let’s assume I have been successful. For some events, the organisers will get right in touch, send a rider form out or request some promo material. Great! But some let you know you are playing and then send out no further information until a week before the event. Now I’m the sort of soul who preps my set list well in advance, so you can imagine how frustrating it is to not even know the set length until we’re practically tripping over the event. Plus, I don’t drive, so I have to factor in travel arrangements. If the organisers aren’t contacting the acts, there’s a decent chance they also aren’t promoting (see my first point) so it’s a double-dastardly bit of badness.

The thing is, it’s not that hard. It just involves being a little bit organised and timetabling things sensibly. But the difference it makes, to the artists at your event, to the punters attending, and to your image as a promoter/venue/organiser is almost incalculable. The devil’s in the details.

Hire decent staff. I shouldn’t even have to say this. I played a large venue last year where the sound guy was awful. I was horrified at how bad he was, because the venue has a better reputation than that, but he accused me of not knowing how to plug Loopy McLoopface in, repeatedly, his every word implying that I had no business being on stage with equipment. Then, when faced with the actual cause of the problem (his failed DI box), he did not apologise. Instead, halfway through my set, he added some exciting whalesong (despite my free trial of this, I have decided, regrettably, not to include it on the next album) and then lost my sound completely. For a song and a half.

fs_suck_knob

Cartoon by Far Side, not by me, I’m not that talented!

What should have been an incredible set was definitely coloured by this guys incompetence, and it took me a while to get over the disappointment. At another venue, I had sexual innuendo flung at me (rather like a monkey flings faeces) by a sound tech who not only behaved completely inappropriately, but had turned up drunk. Fortunately, these events are few and far between, but they stick, like the aforementioned faeces, and the impact on the organisers isn’t complementary.

If you want to keep artists coming back and willing to work with you, have a zero tolerance policy to incompetent and unsafe staff in your venue. And if you, or the staff you work with, have prejudices against any group of musicians (women, people of colour, Nickleback), leave it at the door. Your job is to put the best night on you can. Treat your artists with respect and they will (generally) do the same for you. If they don’t, then of course, feel free to show them the door.

That’s all for this post, folks, but if you think of something that I missed, feel free to add it in the comments!

I realise this is a loaded topic and I am opening a can of worms here, but today I’d like to discuss a subject close to my heart: diversity in the music scene.

As I say, this is a controversial thing to bring up, but I think in this day and age, it’s important to discuss whether we truly feel that the music industry, and especially the local grass roots scene, is diverse enough.

Before I start, I would like to be very clear that the people with whom I network are a lovely bunch. If diversity is lacking in a lineup, it’s not deliberate – I don’t believe that any promoters or organisers around York are deliberately excluding anybody.

So, with disclaimers out of the way, my thoughts.

I don’t believe there is enough diversity in the local music scene in York, and this is disappointing for a number of reasons.

Look, I get why the higher up music industry is still having issues. There are entrenched ideas going back decades that are hard to shift – a lot more minds to change and a lot of work to do. But there is absolutely no excuse at local level. Most local shows are put on by much smaller networks, in a local area, drawing on a pool of talent easily accessible via social media. There is no shortage of musicians keen to play.

For some reason though, I’m looking at lineups around York at venues I frequent and in the singer-songwriter genre, by far the most prevalent act is guy-with-guitar. I’ve seen entire nights of just one gentleman with a guitar after another. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good guy-with-guitar as much as the next person, but it does get a little dull if that’s all that’s on the menu. Punk, rock and indie all show the same pattern – it’s all groups of lads, followed (but not closely enough) by bands with a female vocalist.

Where are the women? There must be female bassists, drummers and guitarists – I know because I went to college with some – but I’m not seeing them out on lineups – not nearly often enough. Female singer-songwriters are out there too, but again, not seeing them often enough. In fact, I have seen requests to play on facebook chats where the lasses are passed over for the lads. There tends to be a first come, first served policy with these types of gig recruitments, and it’s easy to miss the one female voice posting amidst all the lads clamouring for a spot.

So why is this the pattern? (And I fully expect it may not be the theme where you are, dear reader, so I am definitely keen to hear about scenes who are managing to get the balance right)

I have some theories (that it’s a demon?)

  1. Women are not networking the way the men are. This on its own may have reasons: lack of confidence, not hanging out in the same circles, not being as likely to be recommended (the lads have a bro pact and recommend one another to promoters and organisers, or like working together so tend to pick one another over a less well known female alternative)

  2. There are statistically fewer female acts in York, so they just aren’t coming up as often. This is probably true, but questions should be asked as to why. The local colleges all have strong diversity schemes aimed at drawing women into the music business, and I see dozens of women busking in the city centre, so why aren’t they playing more venue line-ups?

  3. Some promoters don’t view female performers as important or deserving of a spot on the bill. This is a controversial suggestion, but sadly may be true. It may be an unconscious bias, but I believe it exists just the same.

  4. Women can feel threatened by trying to slot into the male-dominated environment and may have their confidence undermined by men telling them how their kit works, or assuming they don’t know their instrument, or assuming they don’t take it seriously. This can result in them deciding that gigging is not for them and so you lose another performer from the scene.

Assuming local promoters would like to be more diverse in their lineups, I have some suggestions to help things along.

  1. Look at your lineup and ask yourself how many different types of people are represented. Not every lineup has to look like a rainbow flag, but at least try to get a few women in there. If you live and network in an area that is not very culturally diverse, it will be harder to get diversity reflected in your acts, but just about everywhere has a roughly equal ratio of men to women, so your gender diversity should certainly be present. If your area lacks lots of solid female acts, then recruit from further out and show the women who come to the show that they too could be up on stage, doing that thing.

  2. If local female acts put on a ladies-only showcase, please don’t feel threatened and start calling them out for sexism. Go to the show, and talent spot for your lineups!!! The only reason female showcases are still needed is because of the aforementioned lack of diversity. If you start giving women slots, and evening out the ratios, there won’t be a need for it anymore.

  3. Reach out to local acts via social media and start building connections. Then, when you need acts for a lineup, you already have a feel for who is gigging regularly, who is reliable and who will really bring that extra spark to your night. Please don’t be the dude who passes over the hard-working woman who shows on time, knows her own kit, plays well and pulls a crowd, for your mate who routinely rocks up late, doesn’t have his own leads and fumbles his way through his set. And yes, I have seen this happen.

  4. Don’t make women feel threatened, patronised, or lectured. I had a sound engineer tell me I could take my kit off on stage. I had another engineer tell me that I didn’t know how to plug my kit in – when his DI box was at fault. I have a thick skin, but women just trying to break into gigging may not have, and this may result in them never attempting to gig again.

  5. If you do a facebook shout out to fill a lineup, be extra careful not to overlook the female voices requesting to play.

  6. If it’s a paid gig, pay women the same as the men. This SHOULD be obvious, but we only have to look at the BBC to see that apparently (and sadly), it isn’t.

I realise there is far more to this than what my mere 1000 words or so has covered, so please, leave me comments – what is your scene doing well? Where can it improve? How can we make the local music scene more diverse for everyone?