Friday, February 12, 2016

LOVERS, HATERS, AWARDS ... and CRITICS

WARNING:
Anyone attempting to create outside of the box is a target for those incapable of the adventure.

"The music on WoodSongs is good, The host is an idiot ..."
Grey Brendle, Beaufort, SC

And so goes a recent public post on a Facebook page from someone I don't know, never met and who hasn't a clue about me at all. Every now and then, these little verbal spears appear amid the accolades, praises, applause, standing ovations, awards-with-my-name-completely-misspelled and other genuine kindnesses. And it makes you wonder:

Why?

Not "why am I an idiot." Heck, maybe I am and I just haven't realized it yet. But why would someone you don't know say something so public about someone they've never met?

Garrison Keillor is a fine man who has created an otherwise impossible broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion and, aside from all the praise he receives, he is constantly BLASTED by those who think he talks too much, can't sing, is a terrible writer, self inflated ego and on and on. All from folks who have never met the man.

Chris Thile is one of the finest musicians on earth. A sincere fellow of indescribable talent. He is stepping into the golden shoes of Garrison as the new host of A Prairie Home Companion and, amidst the great reviews of his effort, I have read some of the most scathing comments about his impending failure, his "Garrison Wanna-Be" status and bone-crippling negativity of his hosting skills.

Mainly, it seems, from the same people who hate Garrison.

Actually, they hate Garrison and hate Chris but evidently listen to the show every week for some reason in order to be qualified to make such horrid reviews regarding efforts they themselves are incapable of imagining no less accomplishing. Even on a small scale.

So, again I ask ... Why?

Garrison and Chris do great work. The difference between those two gentleman and myself, aside from the shear stature of their accomplishments, is they are paid, I am not. I created and work on WoodSongs for free. I get nothing. Not a cent, not a $ ever. The crew works for free and the artists who come on the show do so for free. The show goes free to public radio, free to public television and I was able to arrange hundreds of complete broadcasts to be archived online that anyone can watch ... for free.

Heck, my hometown newspaper, even after all these years, can't even spell my name right on those very rare occasions that I am included in a story about events that I create. Can't someone who volunteers to do something good catch a break?

Evidently not.

All artists, dreamers, risk takers, poets and performers have a deep love for their craft. And they have an even deeper love for their audience. But presenting their creations to the scathing opinions of others is like showing your nakedness to people you already know don't like you. "Michael is an idiot. He can't sing. He can't play. He's ... blah blah blah"  Especially considering the enormous amount of stress, responsibility and pressure a project like WoodSongs would place on someone. Can you imagine doing 44 of these productions a year ... with virtually no money to operate on? Harsh criticism, especially in public, is the most disheartening, demoralizing thing in life ... and it can wound deeply.

Until you realize a very simple, basic truth: haters are even more scared and more lonely than you are. They swim in a deep pool of insecurity and such low self esteem that their only salvation is the self elevating illusion that comes from looking down on those they perceive accomplish more than they can.

I think, in the end, the words of harshness become irrelevant to the work at hand. Like any worthy endeavor the artist, creator or dreamer only achieves their goal by keeping their head down, their spirits up ... and band aids handy for the wounds that come from those critical of what they themselves are incapable of doing. Sometimes a critic can make you better, they can sharpen you like a blade against a stone. They can also so rip into your spirit so deeply it makes you feel like quitting.

The point is nothing we do should be for any other reason than for the love of it. Love is the greatest transaction of the arts, and haters have no place in that world. They are, at best, jealous onlookers.

Recently a very good friend of mine, David McLean, came up with an idea of an award show that he himself couldn't be part of. I watched him get blasted from all onlookers ... at first. But he kept his chin up and didn't stop and now he is a hero. I'm proud of David. His heart proved more powerful than those who denied his efforts.

I'm sure Mr. Brendle is a fine fellow and I can sort of imagine him sitting in front of a TV watching WoodSongs muttering and throwing his popcorn at the TV set every time "that idiot" comes on the screen. And that's ok, because his harsh review means he is watching the show, the very thing we all work so hard ... and for free ... to accomplish.

It's just a shame the only thing I know of the gentleman is his public unkindness. Maybe, someday, Mr. Brendle will accomplish something so wonderful they will place a star along Main Street in his honor with both his names misspelled, too.

But in the meantime, back in 1937, Finnish composer Jean Sibelius said it best:

"Fear not the words of a critic, for no one ever erected a statue in honor of one."


Michael
Folksinger, TreeHugger, SongFarmer and Idiot
michael@woodsongs.com






Monday, January 25, 2016

The BRONZE STAR

Several folks have written and asked me about the bronze star I wear the lower part of my jacket.

Let me explain:

My father died about five days before I was born. My step father was a very fine man, but when I found out about my real dad when I was 12 years old, he became a striking mystery to me. As I grew up, I found that I missed him greatly, wished he was nearby, longed to know what the sound of his voice was like when he called my name.

The very first male relative I met of my father's was my son, MichaelB. When he was born and finally opened his eyes, I saw ... for the very first time ... a reflection of my own father.

Eventually I went on a search for my dad's past and his family and finally found them. My cousin, Laddie, became very proactive in seeking out belongings and artifacts of my dads.

One of them was my father's bronze star.

I do not wear it on my chest as the star is not mine. I put it on my lower jacket as a tribute to my father. I wear it, not as a military or political statement, not as a pro or con statement of any kind. I wear it in honor of my father who earned it. It let's him be with me when I am on stage ... and I find it comforting.

I always wondered what our relationship would be like. Would he like me? Would he be proud of me? Would we be close as a father and son should be?

All I know is this: if I was to leave this life I would hope my son would love me enough to publicly remember me and be proud of me. This I am doing for my father.

Michael

Saturday, January 23, 2016

KENTUCKY CUTTING THE ARTS?

REALLY???


I do understand, with respect, that our Governor is trying to balance the books. I'm sure the waste in spending equals or surpasses what we spend to encourage the arts, and in turn I'm sure the arts council could do a better, more fair, job at spreading the grants. Having said that, I would hope our good government officials would consider the possible words of Winston Churchill, when considering cutting money for the arts in order to fund the war effort:

"Then what are we fighting for?"

Whether Churchill actually said this or not is irrelevant. The point is simple, you can not provide a good place to live when the quality of life is not inspiring. Kentucky will not attract the lucrative "creative class" (I always hated that phrase, anyway*) if the creative atmosphere of Kentucky is desolate. The arts are in fact an investment to attract families, tourism and entrepreneurs to the Commonwealth. It pays for itself many times over.

Re-directing HOW arts money is spent may be a wiser and more lucrative course, instead of cutting it. But that's a whole-nuther issue and nobody has yet asked my opinion :)

I hope everyone reading this would consider becoming a member of the WoodSongs Front Porch Association as we send massive roots music education into classrooms and home school families. Free. We call our members SongFarmers. I think the government and arts council might study what we are doing just to see how much good can be accomplished on so very little. Visit us at WoodSongs.com/WFPA (SongFarmers.org is being rebuilt so it may not be ready when you read this)

READ THE NEWS STORY: http://www.kentucky.com/entertainment/ent-columns-blogs/copious-notes/article56182380.html

* Why I hate the term "creative class."
Simple, artists should never be separated from the spirit of their audience. Being an artist, making a living as one, comes from the grace and good heart of the audience. "Creative Class" somehow implies the artist is special, more blessed, more important than the audience that provides for them. Bull-dinkies, I say. An artist is best positioned as a servant, a laborer of heart and spirit underwritten by the audience that accepts their work. I'll give you an example of why this class structure doesn't work: Michael Jackson, arguably an impressive talent, jumped the shark when he floated a statue of himself down the Themes River. Michael Jackson wasn't god-like because he was famous, rich or had a massive audience. He was a fragile, flawed, mortal person EXACTLY like his audience. He would have been less lonely and a lot more stable if he viewed his position in a humble manner.

To quote Pete Seeger: "It is better to have friends than fans."

'nuff said.
mj


michael@woodsongs.com
SongFarmer.org

Saturday, October 31, 2015


BMI and ASCAP need to upgrade thier business model


"Any royalty rate or fee that prevents an artist from reaching the audience has $0 value."


Recently a wonderful performance venue in Lexington, called Natasha's Bistro, closed.

And it's a shame for an American hometown music scene ... for the arts in general. I know for a fact that everyone at Natasha's tried their level best to make that place work. Picking apart the possible reasons for the closing completely misses the point of what is actually happening to venues nationwide, not just Natasha's Bistro.

The bottom line is this: America has become a venue starved nation.

Many great venues across America have closed the past couple years. In nearby Louisville alone: the Rudyard Kipling, Jim Porters and several others have shuttered their doors leaving the music public and the artist community in their wake.

The world of the arts has changed, my friends. The business model has changed. Music venues can thrive, flourish and make a living for many good folks ... when it's done right. Whenever an arts endeavor launches as a "money enterprise" it is doomed for failure. That sounds anti-capitalistic and I don't mean it that way. My point is the business plans most are using are all wrong.

BMI and ASCAP need to change their business model


One change that is needed desperately is regarding BMI/ASCAP/SEASAC, called "Performing Rights Organizations" or "PROs." These agencies do wonderful work to collect royalties for artists to live on from radio airplay, live performance of songs and more.

The PROs have a great history of being a huge help to artists, big and small, new and established. I remember when I was just starting out, Clay Bradley at BMI in Nashville went through a great effort to explain how things worked in the music world when I knew absolutely nothing. Clay was very kind, helpful and spent all the time that was needed until I was able to get things through my thick little noggin'.

It works like this: PROs charge the club or coffeehouse licensing fees to present music in their establishments and, in turn, pay royalties to the artists who have their songs performed in those clubs

Fact: Most artists who play 400 seat or less venues don't see a penny from the PROs. I'm not picking on the PROs here, just stating a brutal truth.

Fact: Venues are the gateways between artists and the audience, the venue operators are the soldiers in the war to find that audience ... and the current business model is killing them off.

Fact: For the venues, these fees are often too high when weighed against the income potential of the room, so they shut down or cancel their music presentations.

This leaves the artists, the very ones BMI and ASCAP are trying to help, with no place to work. No place to test new music. No place to sell their CDs. No place to earn a living. No way to meet the audience ... the ultimate underwriter of all the arts.

Little clubs, farmer's markets, schools and coffeehouses are like the farm system of a sports team. As I said, very few of the artists who perform in places 400 seats or less see a nickel royalties from BMI and ASCAP. Even tiny 30-40 seat living room concerts are charged hefty fees by BMI and ASCAP just to let artists pass the hat to play their own ding-dang songs.

Here's the reality: Only until an artist finds their audience and can draw 1000 people into a theatre do they register on the BMI/ASCAP royalty richter scale.

Like many of the venues themselves, BMI and ASCAP are using an old world business model that no longer works. As that model fails, they try harder to enforce and collect fees from venues, forcing even more clubs to shut down or stop presenting live music.

We need PROs and venues to be healthy and productive. 

My proposal:


I urge BMI and ASCAP to consider a new business model, one that will not only keep venues open but encourage more venues to present music, giving more artists a place to play and find their audiences.

I think it's unreasonable to penalize/charge the venue for the songs an ARTIST chooses to play, anyway. So, I propose changing from VENUE licensing to ARTIST licensing.

ARTIST PERFORMING LICENSE: If an artist plays mostly small rooms, coffeehouses UNDER 400 and/or non-ticketed events like farmer's markets and includes, say, 5 cover songs in their average set, they pay $75 a year for a license. When applying for the license, they list the songs they will cover (the PROs now have an accurate list of who to send royalties to) The license fee is pro-rated split between the PROs. If an artist plays mostly cover songs, then it's $150 a year. With an ARTIST PERFORMING LICENSE they are clear to perform anywhere they want. Just show your card and jump onstage. Done.

VENUES LICENSE: If a non-alcohol venue of 400 seats or less wants to present music, or a farmers market, school, house concert, benefit ... no fee. NO FEE. Done. That's it. Artists simply need to show their current license to play and that venue is in the clear. If the venue serves beer and wine: $200 a year. Full bar: $350. Done.

Here's why ARTIST LICENSING works:


Any artist would gladly, GLADLY WITHOUT HESITATION pay the fee knowing that - instead of three clubs in town - there are now 25 or 30 places to play. They have increased their business 20 fold. Because the business model works for the venue, more operators would get the simple music license. More stages will open up. You want to play a stage somewhere? Show your license and BOOM no problem. Artists will have more places to perform and find their audience. And OMG the venue will be more likely to actual PAY the ding-dang artists.

And, if you do simple math, BMI, SEASAC and ASCAP would be rolling in cash. A revamping of the current model based on the realities of the new business environment of the music world will work in their favor. For every one venue there are 200-400 artists in that region that would stand in line ready to get their performing license. If the PROs do this they will be encouraging and stimulating the farm system nature of small venues. The need to do this. How on earth can a small artist find their audience to begin playing bigger, better paying venues when you are part of the reason so many of the venues they need to find that audience shut down?

As Donald Trump would say, "It will be Yuge."

To be clear, BMI and ASCAP are not the reason Natasha's shut down. But they are, unintentionally, part of the old system that is shutting down and discouraging so many venues and artists.

We need venues. We need BMI and ASCAP. We need them to do well. Even more, we need artists to thrive in this two dimension digital age.

Artist Licensing opens up the floodgates for performers to meet their audience, increases the number of stages to perform on, in turn creates long term careers for performers and developes a genuine royalty stream for songwriters.

So ... take THAT to the bank, peeps.

mj
SongFarmers.org

___


REFERENCES:

http://www.kentucky.com/2015/10/30/4113064/natashas-bistro-will-suspend-operations.html

http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2014/10/29/ascap-bmi-sesac-force-local-coffee-shop-shut-live-music/

http://www.wlky.com/news/two-louisville-music-venues-shut-doors/33342336

http://www.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/news/2015/10/15/north-star-bar-fairmount-closing-poplar.html

http://www.phoenixhill.com/

http://www.courier-journal.com/story/entertainment/music/2015/06/16/rudyard-kipling-closing/28814321/

http://www.kcra.com/news/folsoms-toby-keith-restaurant-music-venue-closing/30495246

https://www.yahoo.com/music/s/brooklyn-booms-famed-music-scene-under-gun-170014855.html?nf=1

http://www.kentucky.com/2013/05/06/2629466_eddie-montgomerys-steakhouse-in.html?rh=1