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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!

 

 

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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 🙂

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.

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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.

 

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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?

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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 “too 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.

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So I have a big gig tomorrow. Not Wembley, though I will play it as though it is. It’s big because it’s an entire evening of just me. I’m not the support, I’m the ONLY.

It’s a little intimidating, if I’m honest. I have a modest opinion of my own ability, and the thought that my random musical musings might entertain a room full of people for nearly three hours is a little too outlandish for me to believe. But someone believes I can, or they would not have asked me. I must believe I can, deep down inside, or I would not have agreed to it!

As I have sweated over set lists during the last few weeks, it led me to ponder about writing them. What makes a set list good, bad, effective, or just downright boring. Some artists don’t bother with them at all. I have seen a number of people wing it based on the mood of the crowd, or their own particular whimsy. I don’t even wing it for an open mic! I approach set lists the way I used to approach compiling mix tapes – with care, consideration and a lot of listening to beginnings and endings of songs to make sure they work in sequence.

I have concluded it’s a dark art, for a variety of reasons:

Every crowd is unique

I still remember, with crawling, cold horror, a gig I played at a local rugby club. The friend who had booked me (and knew full well that at that time, my repertoire was limited to sad, navel-gazey songs about death and breakups) swore blind that I’d be adored. The reality was a Friday night crowd who wanted a living jukebox. My friend and my wife both applauded each song but they were the only ones. The crowning moment for me was the gentleman who approached me at the end and said “You’ve a lovely voice but you made me want to slit my wrists”

Then there have been the crowds who have loudly applauded my originals but sat stonily through covers, even though I thought it would definitely be a “covers” crowd. You can’t always predict. Very experienced artists can adjust the set on the fly (see “winging it”, above) but I have never been one of those…

The length of the gig matters.

Long gigs can be hard on the voice, so it starts to matter where the more vocally challenging material goes in the set. Short gigs give you less time to make an impression, so you need to pull out your showstoppers. Decisions, decisions… My ideal length is probably 40-60 minutes, so I can really go for it without having to worry too much about stamina.

Variety is the spice of gigs…

A set will rapidly become boring if you group songs with similar themes, keys, chord progressions and styles. Because I have a bad habit of writing sad songs, I try to sandwich them between happier songs and mix up the keys and styles to keep the set interesting. I also have an unfortunate habit of writing songs using arpeggios. More of my set writing is about keeping songs apart than putting them together!

Banter – the bane of my life

Some people can play a 30 minute set and only do 5 songs, filling the remaining time with witticisms, wry observations, audience participation and stand up comic action. That is not me. I lack the gift of the gab. I try not to be averse to one liners and small talk, but on me it just tends to look like I’m trying too hard. If I’m very comfortable with the crowd, it might spontaneously happen that I tell a joke, or engage in some light banter (cautiously, and only under appropriate circumstances and wearing suitable safety apparel), but it doesn’t happen often enough for me to depend on it, so I allow a straight 4 minutes per song and do more songs per set than other people seem to. No-one has ever accused me of being boring though, so I’m going to assume it’s all good.

set list planning

Set list planning

So what’s the secret? I try to follow the old rule about writing a story. I have a opening song (usually a really easy one to play and sing that acts as a warm up) followed by a faster, happier one to wake people up. I make sure I know how the set is ending – generally with a vocally powerful, climactic number. Then I fill in the middle with songs, keeping them varied in terms of key/progression/style. Sprinkle a few covers in if appropriate (or vice versa if doing a mainly covers set) Allow an extra song as en encore, just in case. And then I throw it all into an iTunes playlist and check it works.

That’s my method. And although I nearly packed it in and put all my songs into a hat to draw out randomly at tomorrow’s gig, I’m not brave enough for that yet. Maybe next time…

(If you find yourself passing along High Petergate, York, tomorrow evening from 8pm, do call in to the Eagle and Child for an acoustic evening with me and the aforementioned set list! Entry is free and they go a fabulous selection of gins! *hic* )

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“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined”

That is the text on a kitsch little wooden sign that dangles from my work PC monitor. Presumably I bought it to remind myself that there is more to life than the nine to five (or in my case, 8:30 – 4:30) but it did start me thinking about balance and how bad I am at it.

Facebook helpfully reminded me recently that my fans hadn’t heard from me in eight days. It likes to do that. It likes to point out my inadequacies just in case I had forgotten to lie awake until 3am worrying about them. My own self-loathing couldn’t possibly be sufficient, now the internet has to pitch in as well.

Here is the unglamorous truth about being an unsigned, unheard of musician. You can only do music full time with money. Without money you need a job. But a job will sap every last ounce of energy out of you and make it very VERY hard to keep making music. And on it’s own, that’s already a challenge. Now add in self-promotion. Keeping fans up to date and building a following is another full time job. It’s ok if you have money, you can hire someone to do this bit for you. But without the money, you need a job. Circles and circles.

What happened to my optimistic plans of regular blogs, mailing everyone like a boss, free downloads, new content every week and all the things that I need to actually be doing?

In short, life. And life does this to everyone. In my case, my partner had surgery, and my new permanent daylighting project (aka my job which puts food on the table and keeps a roof over me and my keyboard) went stratospheric with intensity and busy-ness. I PA for two directors and do financial admin support, so my day is pretty busy. In the midst of all this, I simply ran out of spoons for anything else. I spent Mon-Thur, May-July coming home, eating dinner, going to bed, rinse and repeat. By the time I got to my dedicated Music day (Fridays) I was so worn out I was just sleeping and reading and trying to regroup so that my mental health did not become a casualty to the impending burnout.

So yes, it’s true. My fans on facebook have not heard from me in eight days. I haven’t blogged since April. I opened an instagram account which has remained unused. My mailing list is still languishing unused. I’m a terrible TERRIBLE promoter.

OK, well, I must have made some music right? Well, yes. I have written two things since FAWM in February. You can find those here.

Things are slowly starting to improve. My partner can now walk again, and pull weight around the house so I am not also doing all the cooking and cleaning. My workload is starting to settle down (either that or I’m getting used to it). I even spoke to PRS yesterday to sort out my tunecodes so I can claim on my live gigs from the start of the year (yes, that’s how behind I am).

I don’t really know why I’m writing this, other than I really want people to understand that when someone goes quiet for a long period of time, it’s not personal. That I still really appreciate the support of my friends and fans and that I haven’t fallen off the earth, I just got buried for a while and had to dig myself out. That this arrangement of having to daylight to pay the bills is not ideal but is one that so many musicians face because people have started to believe that music should be free, or that people should create art out of love and not want financial recompense. That I really, passionately believe that music has value and should be accorded respect, because no matter what you think of it, someone has poured their heart and soul into it, very probably after a long day of financial reporting, filing, street sweeping, serving in a restaurant, scanning items in a supermarket or cleaning toilets.

This isn’t the life I imagined. I have a way to go to get there. Thanks for your patience while I work on it.

 

 

 

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