Nothing Any of Us Have Is Ever Really Lost

To anyone out there seeking work, a change or just fresh enthusiasm in what you’re doing: Nothing any of us have is ever really lost, whether those things are skills or passions. Sure, things can seem lost, faded or broken beyond repair sometimes. Yet they’re only ever waiting to be reclaimed, restored and shown again to the world in splendor. I was reminded of all this last week after a friend contacted me to restore a cherished family photo.

The family had tried several times before to have the image restored through one of those camera shops offering image restoration, but they’d never been happy with the results, and I suspected the problem had to do with time. While camera shops offer all kinds of incredible services (and certainly have great technology at their disposal), they’re basically in the bulk business. That is, they make their money completing tasks and selling goods in volume. They don’t really have people on hand to exclusively devote large amounts of time to a single client project—especially when it comes to restoring photos that have been around since the early 1900s, and I admit. When I first saw the image, I thought it may be a lost cause.

It was missing the top left corner. The entire bottom section had been ripped away. There were thousands of scratches and pits across the surface. The colors were faded and big hunks of the photo were gone from two ragged folds criss-crossed right across the image. In other words, there was no “one-click” solution to restoring the photo. As I mapped out the solution in my mind, I saw how the task involved copying and pasting sections of the photo into the damaged areas like puzzle pieces before any finished restoration could begin. So I got to work, and three days later, I delivered the restored image to my friend—and she was thrilled with the results.

As I reflected back on the work, I was certainly happy that I could restore a small piece of important history before it became permanently lost like so many images and documents that predate the digital age. Yet I came away with something that felt even more valuable.

In going into the project, I hadn’t restored an image for someone in about three years. So I wondered whether I still had the skills. In discovering that I did, I was happily reminded that nothing any of us have is ever really lost. Skills and passion are always with us, waiting in the last place we left them, and all we ever have to do is make the choice to reclaim them.

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Can Digital Art Alone Boost Social-Media Performance? (The Answer May Surprise You)

My newest social-media image for the Rockwood Farmers’ Market steps away from the traditional farm theme of local market social-media images and instead blends elements of nature, fantasy and local landmarks (including the blue figure featured at the bottom left). I also infused the image with rich textural and color elements to a depth and degree not typically found in poster-style images. So how did the image alone boost social-media performance?

  • 62% more people reached
  • 19% more likes
  • 20% more shares

And yes. Every single element in the image is original, all captured as independent photographs, then cut and worked individually in Photoshop before blending them all together. Hope you enjoy it.

>> Click here to see other images I’ve created on Facebook for the market.

Get Better Response to Your Music Demo Submissions—By Writing Your Own Rejection

Royalty-free photo courtesy of Wix.

It may sound like complete twaddle at first.

“Get a better response to my music demo submissions by writing my own rejection? Are you crazy?”

Depending on whom you ask, you may get a yes. However, when it comes to writing your own rejection email to get the improved results you seek, the approach isn’t as crazy as it sounds. How do I know? Because I’ve done it—and experienced those results—and in this short article, I’m going to show you how to do it for your own music submissions. But first, let me assure you.

I’m no special case, meaning I don’t have some special email list of elite music industry insiders. Like thousands of other creatives, I’m regularly faced with nameless email addresses and faceless online song submissions forms, all of which can be as rewarding as a rectal exam.

For years, I wrote submission emails according to the advice of online “experts” about “best practices,” “song submission etiquette” and “dos and don’ts.” I wrote emails like I was writing exams. That is, there appeared to be “right answers” to writing emails for song submissions. When I couldn’t get so much as a “thanks but no thanks,” I figured I was doing something horribly wrong. So I knuckled down and researched the “right answers” even harder. Yet I still got the same flat-line results.

Now I wasn’t so naïve to believe that the strength of a well-written email alone was going to convince some record company to snap up my music for one of their artists or shoot me into a studio to record my own album. The strength of my music was the most important thing. And if someone liked it, any attached email probably wasn’t going to detract from that (rejection-style or otherwise). The trouble was, without any feedback, I had no idea whether I was wasting someone’s time (and my own) because I didn’t know whether my emails were reaching a real human or some email address directly connected to a trash folder.

So I chucked the “experts” and their email advice. Instead, I borrowed a page from my marketing experience as a copywriter and sent the following email to an overseas record company along with a song demo:

Dear [XXXXX Record Company],
Two things you don’t know about me as a songwriter:
  1. I’ve been writing songs for many years.
  2. You’ve never heard of me.
Okay, you DO know that you’ve never heard of me, because I just told you that. So scratch that last point.
I’ll start again.
If [XXXXX Record Company] is currently seeking songs to present to its artists, I’d like to present the attached MP3 for consideration.
The song is called XXXXX, a rough demo recorded with a folk guitar, Abelton Live Lite and me warbling along on vocals as best I can to give you an idea of how the song could sound with a more awesome singer in a better recording studio.
If XXXXX appeals to you, I’d be pleased to chat with you further about that, and can be reached at abmcreativeservices@gmail.com.
If the song doesn’t work for you, I’ve provided the following cut-and-paste reply for your convenience:
“Dear Xristopher,
Thank you for your song submission. We can see that you’re an enthusiastic and talented songwriter (and oddly charming, to boot). Unfortunately, one or both of the following things applies here:
  • We do not accept unsolicited song submissions.
  • We decided to pass on your song, even though we suspect another company will turn your song into a monster hit and we’ll totally regret sending you this rejection.”
(Yup, I went there. I played the guilt card.) 🙂
Thanks tremendously for your time, and I look forward to your feedback.
Cheers.
—Xris

Within a short period of time, I started getting replies to submissions at about a 3-4% response rate (considered fair to good in direct marketing) based on how I’d written my email according to some key rules of copywriting:

  • I’d written in a friendly conversational tone that avoided desperation or anything along the “what can you do for me” line. Instead, I wrote with a value-based offering that said, “I’m writing to offer you something that may help you.”
  • I didn’t try to convince anyone that my song was “the best song ever!” They’d listen to it and make up their own mind about that. It was enough to just mention I’d attached a song.
  • I made it simple and convenient for anyone to actually reply to me. No one needed to take time out of their busy day to write a single word. All they had to do was copy and paste what I’d given them and shoot it back. Said another way, all they had to do was press the Easy Button, and the incentive to actually press it came from a light blend of disarming humor.

And here’s the most important bit.

I started getting replies from actual people using their actual email addresses.

This is one of the most valuable resources you can collect as a solo artist or band submitting your music to someone, and why you may want to consider the rejection-style email or some other email style at which the “experts” would scoff.

You may initially face a wall of nameless email addresses and faceless submission forms. And there’s no guarantee that someone will hear your music the same way that you do. Yet the sooner you can find ways that work for you to get past those walls and reach real people on the other side, you start collecting real email addresses for real conversations, which are always better for getting you closer to the artistic success you seek.

A Six-Minute Rock Opera

People say the rock opera is dead. If that’s true, I suppose this short instrumental track called “The Horseman” is in the key of Lazarus, meaning I’m not sure who signed off on the coroner’s report. Yet a quick Google search of artists like Ayreon, Epica, the Protomen and others soon evidences something clear.

Operatic, progressive and concept rock have remained very much alive in new and emerging forms, and “The Horseman” is my small contribution to the genre.

This track is the “third act” in a three-song series called “The Horseman.” I hope you enjoy it, and hope that it sparks your own thoughts toward what you enjoy doing, what others believe and what you know to be true.

9 Top Tips for a Better Band Rehearsal

Photo: A portrait of the writer in a rehearsal space.

If there’s one activity that has the potential to be hugely productive or a complete waste of time, it’s band rehearsal.

Sure, many band rehearsals start out with the best intentions. Yet without planning, focus and (dare I say) dedication, intentions can quickly derail, headaches can soar and you can easily wind up with:

  • Guitarists endlessly noodling away on riffs that may have nothing to do with the songs at hand.
  • Drummers ceaselessly adjusting their kit or practicing snare rolls because they’re bored as hell.
  • Singers who show up late, then waste another half hour texting or making social-media posts to “fans.”
  • Bass players who decide, “Yup, I gotta start looking for a new band.”

The next thing you know, you’ve spent valuable time and even hard-earned cash for rehearsal space when it would have been just as productive to stay home, eat Doritos and play Minecraft.

To avoid all this, here are nine top tips for a good band rehearsal.

  1. Rehearsal Is Not Practice

Practice is what happens when band members sit down at home to master their individual song parts. Rehearsal is what happens when band members come together to perform their parts together and get the song down tight.

Yes, a certain level of song-tweaking happens in rehearsal. Yet overall, rehearsal is like sitting in the wings at a concert and warming up before taking the stage.

To get there and deliver audiences the kind of performance you know you can give, email band members sheet music, tab and lyric sheets, demo recordings or whatever works best so members can practice their parts on their own, well in advance of rehearsal. If email doesn’t work, set up a shared folder in Dropbox or other file-hosting service so band members can download what they need.

Other helpful things to share include rehearsal-time schedules, band-member contact info and important song-change info. It’s all well and good, for example, if the singer has decided to change some song from the key of G to A. Yet if the rest of the band doesn’t know about this, valuable rehearsal time can get wasted before everyone else is playing on the same page.

  1. Arrive on Time

Band rehearsals tend to work best when all band members show up on time.

Yes, cars break down. Buses run late and other unavoidable things happen to occasionally cause legitimate lateness. However, showing up late because “you forgot” doesn’t just waste the time of your band mates (who did show up on time). It’s disrespectful and sets a bad precedent. So leave yourself time to get to rehearsal. If you’ve got a lot of gear to set up, show up earlier to make sure everything’s cabled and ready to rock when the others arrive. If you’re renting a rehearsal space and can’t arrive early, skip the complex gear and strip down to a rehearsal setup that’s easy to move and quick to power up.

  1. Choose a Leader

Whether your band has a recognized leader or your group operates as a democracy, appoint someone to lead the rehearsal and keep things running productively and on track. That’s why orchestras appoint conductors and movie studios appoint directors.

  1. Structure Your Rehearsal

Decide on the goal of a rehearsal in advance. Will you be working on an entire set? Just one or two songs? Will you be working on a new arrangement or cover songs? You don’t need to be a drill sergeant about it, but have a plan before you walk into rehearsal, and communicate that plan to band members ahead of time.

  1. Commit to Time

Rehearse for a solid two to three hours. Unless you’re a member of Jimmy Fallon’s house band or a similar crew who can pretty much whip off a killer performance on a coffee break, an hour simply isn’t enough time to work through songs when you factor in gear setup time, tuning, a bit of chit-chat and so on. Yet don’t make it one long rehearsal. Be sure to allow for short 10-minute breaks every hour.

  1. Hang the “No Friends” Sign

Rehearsal time is not an opportunity to impress your friends with an “exclusive invitation” to check out your “killer band.” You wouldn’t invite your friends to your day job to check out your “killer workplace.” Your co-workers wouldn’t appreciate the distraction and your boss might just bounce your butt to the curb because a workplace is for work, and rehearsal time is for the same purpose—necessary work to hone songs and perfect your show. It’s not an excuse for a house party.

  1. Turn Off Your Phone

In the history of band rehearsals, very few musicians have missed a call informing them that they’ve just inherited a tropical island or their Auntie May has tragically (albeit spectacularly) perished in a flaming stunt-rocket shot over the Grand Canyon. Said another way, most daily phone calls are regular calls that cause needless distraction in rehearsal and are best left for voicemail. So turn off your phone and focus on the music.

  1. Choose Soundproofed Commercial Space

When it comes to renting commercial rehearsal space, demand definitely outweighs supply in most areas. So would-be rehearsal-space businesses are often quick to just divide up some vacant cinder-block warehouse with plywood walls and call their spaces awesome. Yet without proper soundproofing between units, that “awesome” space may quickly turn into a nightmare as you attempt to work through songs while your ears bleed from the invasive sound of some neighboring thrash-metal band performing “Bohemian Rhapsody” with chainsaw abandon. Find a soundproofed commercial space that fits your budget and keep using it.

  1. Record Your Rehearsals

A rough rehearsal recording serves as an unbiased post-rehearsal review. You may notice things that weren’t apparent while involved in playing. That includes capturing moments of inspired brilliance that may otherwise be lost. Rehearsal recordings can also serve to show other musicians how a song goes, should you need to bring in additional players.

Rehearsal recordings do not need to be audio perfection, and they’re definitely not created to post on social media or send out to labels. They simply need to be good enough to help you understand what’s working and not working for your band, so you can iron out the rough spots before performing live.

You don’t need pro audio equipment to make a rehearsal recording. Some bands simply use a single microphone in the middle of a room. Other bands just clip a digital camera to a tripod to both examine their performance and study how they can improve and perfect their stage show. Easier still, some commercial rehearsal spaces come pre-wired with basic recording equipment that either comes with the cost of the rental or is available at an additional, nominal cost.

Bonus Tip (And the Most Important One of All)

Have fun. Yes, band rehearsals and the music industry as a whole can seem like a lot of work. Yet you likely didn’t get into music because it felt like a job. You got into music because it felt amazing and fun. So keep that feeling in rehearsal. Embrace it and nurture it. When you have fun in rehearsal, you carry that energy to the stage, where your audience has fun. And that feeds back into a loop that helps keep your band thriving and performing at its best for years.

No Money in the Music Industry? Think Again. (It’s Just a Myth)

Royalty-free stock photo courtesy of Wix.

I heard it as a teen musician, and I’m sure musicians of all ages still hear it today:

“There’s no money in the music business.”

Yet nothing could be farther from the truth.

In Canada, the music industry generates hundreds of millions of dollars every year, and in the U.S., the numbers reach the billions. The key to tapping into this massive reservoir and (hopefully) creating a sustainable income as a band or solo artist comes from understanding the fundamental shift in how artists are now supporting themselves across North America.

Prior to the invention of the MP3 and revenue-killing sites like Napster, artists could earn substantial music income from sales of CDs and other hard-copy media, and live performance more or less amounted to self-sustaining sales promotion.

Today, the paradigm is inverted. While subscription music services like Spotify can generate solid income for some artists, music streaming has generally finished off music sales as a viable income for artists who haven’t won American Idol or aren’t personal friends with Scott Borchetta. Recorded music for most artists has now moved into the area of advertising and promotions, all necessary for a main goal—to increase fans and compel those people to attend live performances.

“There are more music artists out there now than ever in the history of the music business, and they’re all touring to make money,” says Ben Jumper (owner of Nashville’s massive Souncheck rehearsal studio) in a 2016 interview with Sound on Sound magazine. In a similar ABC News story called “Concert Tours Are Where the Real Money Is,” writer Peter Kafka notes that while artists may never see a royalty check from a record label no matter how much music they sell, a headlining concert act “can take home 35 percent of the night’s gate and up to 50 percent of the dollar flow from merchandise sold at the show.”

How much money are we actually talking about?

In Canada, a landmark 2013 study by the economic consulting form Nordicity reported that live music companies in Ontario generated $628 million in revenue from live music activities and earned $144 million in profits. In a separate 2013 report, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) considers the province’s music industry as one of Ontario’s top three competitive advantages along with mining and manufacturing. Ontario’s live music sector generates 80% of total national music-industry revenues (which rose by 65% from 2005 to 2010), and 80% of recording-industry expenditure happens in the GTA. Overall, live music revenues in Canada steadily rose from $850 million in 2013 to almost $988 million in 2015.

In the U.S., the numbers have been steadily climbing in the billions. According to Statista, live music industry revenue rose from $8.72 billion in 2012 to $9.94 billion in 2017, and are projected to hit $11.99 billion in 2021.

Live performance naturally doesn’t come without its pitfalls, challenges and critics. Before artists can start commanding headliner paydays, they typically have to spend time playing low-wage gigs that often barely cover expenses. There’s also the physical cost, and as critics point out, record labels largely do not protect the health of their artists, and leave them on their own to manage the hard physical realities of touring.

The good news is that while “paying dues” and dealing with life on the road hasn’t changed, the myth of “no money in the music business” is just that.

A myth.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and for artists who choose the right songs, put on the right show and choose the right promotion, that light is only getting brighter.

PS: Where is that light growing brightest for musicians in Ontario?
I’ll drop the details in my next post.

You Are Everything You Need (The Lyrics Are Now a Song)

Yes, you are all you need, and that is enough for a love song. What I mean is, a few days ago, I wrote a blog post about pop-radio love songs and how they’ve traditionally revolved around the subject of incompleteness… pain and longing… and the belief that you cannot feel whole without the presence or validation of another person.

As an antidote to this misconception, I wrote some song lyrics on May 11, 2018, called “Stars.” And over the weekend, I set those lyrics to music—a simple bass line with organ, vocals and guitar, recorded with nothing more than Abelton Live Lite, a Graphite keyboard and microphone.

Quality-wise, the recording is a demo.

If the vocals sound constrained in areas, the reason is simple. Where other songwriters enjoy access to soundproofed recording studios and proper audio equipment, my available “studio” basically consists of a laptop in an apartment where there’s little soundproofing. So as much as I enjoy getting lost in recording, I was also fairly conscious of what the neighbors were hearing and thinking as I worked through vocal tracks for a few hours.

I really have to start working on that FACTOR grant to get better digs.

Anyhoo, I hope you enjoy the demo, as well as the idea that you’re everything you need.

Have a great week, everyone!

–Xris