Saturday, October 31, 2015

BMI and ASCAP should upgrade thier business model


"Any royalty rate or fee that prevents an artist from reaching the audience has no value."


BMI, ASCAP and SESAC must change their business model because Artists are no longer free to be artists.


“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture,
society must set the artist free.”

John F. Kennedy


    ONCE UPON A TIME, music was everywhere. It wasn't just entertainment. It was community, family, friends, fun and a sense of humanity. But what happened?
    Music went from the Front Porch into stores and bins. Now the "bins" are gone, and so is the sense of community. Part of the loss has been the closing of thousands of music venues ... stages for artists to meet their audience.
    Part of the destruction of the music business has been the over-use, the over-reach of licensing music. This is a delicate subject, easily misunderstood. So let’s start with this thought:

"A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer,
it sings because it has a song."
Maya Angelou

    You have a song ... but you are not free to sing it anymore.
    In the early days, before corporate America figured out how to sell vibrating air on round vinyl discs, people were free to sing wherever they wanted. Cafes and street corners, sidewalks and theatres, schools and bars ... anywhere.
    This was the musical garden that gave birth to great art. Music “birds” like Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins all began their careers by meeting their audience on simple, common stages.
    Maya Angelou’s little birds are not so free to sing anymore. Those birds are only allowed to sing on government approved stages licensed by BMI, ASCAP or SESAC.

Any fee that prevents an artist from
reaching the audience has no value.

    The world of the arts has changed, my friends. America has become a venue starved nation. The business model of music has changed. Arts venues can thrive, flourish and make a living for many good folks ... when it's done right.
    But the world of arts needs to stop focusing on money because the audience, the source of the money, could care less. They want heart, passion and spirit. 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 My point is the business plans most are using are outdated, poorly executed and all wrong.

    Many great venues across America have closed the past couple years because of poor business plans, an over focus on money ... or because of outdated licensing practices.
    In my area alone venues like the Rudyard Kipling, Jim Porters and several others have shuttered their doors leaving the music public and the artist community in their wake. I bet you know of many in your area that have disappeared as well.

    One thing that most groups can change for the better is the size of their Pig. Remember the Pig?

    Another change that is needed desperately is regarding BMI, ASCAP and SESAC, called "Performing Rights Organizations" or "PROs." These agencies do wonderful work to collect royalties for artists 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'.

Let me make this clear:
I like BMI, ASCAP and SESAC

    I just want them to change the way they are licensing music venues. It is outdated and no longer helpful to the artists they claim to be helping. The system they are using now began in the 1940’s and worked ok for awhile. Then about 1995 the music business began its slide downward. The internet and free downloads reared its head and the financial structure of the music world collapsed with it.
    Everyone is changing with the times ... except the PROs. They continue to use the antiquated formulas of music licensing, once a great help to artists. Today it acts like a gun to their head.

    It works like this:
    PROs charge the venue a licensing fee to present music in their establishments and, in turn, pay royalties to the artists who have their songs performed in those clubs

    In theory, anyway.

    Fact: Most artists who play 1,000 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: unless a venue has a license it is illegal for them to let any artist perform in their room.

How Hard Can It Be?

    Artists are no longer free to be artists so BMI, ASCAP and SESAC should either help them or get out of their way.

    Little clubs, farmer's markets, schools and coffeehouses are like the farm system of a sports team. The smaller clubs and venues are where an artist learns to perform, gather their fans, sell their CDs and T-Shirts and struggle to make a living.
    Small stages are where small artists meet small audiences.             Eventually, small audiences turn into big ones. As I said, very few of the artists who perform in places 1,000 seats or less see a nickel royalties from the PROs. So why interfere? Why charge a small venue anything at all? 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.

    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.

    Fact: Venues are responsible for reporting the artists playlist so royalties can be paid. Guess how many venues do this: try none. The PROs are collecting royalties for songs performed but not reported.

   Making any sense yet? me either.

    Here’s another reality check: it is hard enough to compete with TV, Netflix and the internet. Getting people to come to small concerts is a huge job. The presenters get tired, frustrated and, in many cases, go broke.  

    Here’s where it gets really sticky:

    As the market changes, as the music business declines, BMI, ASCAP and SESAC have to struggle to feed the pig. Remember the Pig? Instead of cultivating the fertile garden of music, they start squeezing the little venues for every dime they can get.
    The licensing model makes presenting music cumbersome, expensive, unprofitable and, in many cases, scary. Who on earth wants to go to jail because you let a folksinger play the banjo at a farmers market?  They feel at risk, so they shut down.

"When I hear music, I fear no danger.
I am invulnerable. I see no foe."

Henry David Thoreau

    By interfering with the possibility of artists to meet their own audience, the PRO’s have become foes of the very community of musicians and songwriters they are charged to help.
    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.


BMI and ASCAP should change their business model


    Here's our reality: Only until an artist can find their audience and draw 1000 people into a theatre can they register on the royalty richter scale.
    BMI and ASCAP are using an old, antiquated 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 both the PROs and music venues to be healthy and productive. We need to change the business model they are using so everyone ... and especially the artists ... can make more money.

My PROPOSAL:

    I urge everyone consider a new business model, one that will not only keep venues open but encourage more venues to open, more stages to open, more producers to start presenting music, giving more artists a place to play and find their audiences.
    The current model is nothing short of ridiculous.  I think it's unreasonable to charge the venue for the songs an artist chooses to play, anyway.

    So, I propose changing from VENUE licensing to ARTIST licensing. No more harassing small venues for fees just because they are willing to create a stage for musicians to play on.

The ARTIST PERFORMING LICENSE:

    With an Artist Performing License all songwriters, musicians and performers are clear to perform anywhere they want. Just show your card and jump onstage. Done.
    It's like a drivers license: I can drive on any highway in America so long as I have a valid drivers license. Same with music, I should be able to perform anywhere I want if I have a valid performing license.
    If an artist plays mostly small rooms, coffeehouses or non-ticketed events like farmer's markets, they pay $55 a year for a performance license. Done.
    When applying for the license, they list all their original songs plus up to seven cover tunes (the PROs now have an accurate list of who to send royalties to) Most artists play their own material, however if an artist plays mostly cover songs, then it's $75 a year.
  
The ONLINE LICENSE EXCHANGE

    To get the license, the artist goes to an online exchange, kinda like getting insurance. Here BMI, ASCAP and SESAC receive the accurate song list the artist is playing and their license fee is now pro-rated among the PRO’s as needed. This also gives our songwriters a fighting chance to get a check from the PRO’s for their songs that are getting performed ... something that is not happening now.

No more VENUE LICENSE:

    If a non-alcohol venue of 600 seats or less, or a farmers market, school, house concert, or benefit wants to present music ... 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. The venue simply goes to the online exchange, register the venue and what kind of music they present and that’s it.
    If the venue serves beer and wine: $200 a year.
    Full bar: $350.
    Done.

Here's why ARTIST LICENSING works:

    Where there is an audience, there is money.
    End of story.
    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 10 fold.
    Because the business model works for the venue, more operators would register. More stages will open.
    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 the venue will be more likely to actually PAY the ding-dang artists.
    And, if you do simple math, the PRO’s would be rolling in cash. A revamping of the current model based on the realities of the new business environment 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. They need to do this. How on earth can any artist find their audience and play bigger, better paying venues when you are part of the reason so many of the venues they need to find that audience shut down?

The "ANTI" Argument

    A common objection to this idea is:
     "... you really want the artists to in effect pay their own royalties?"
    To which I say:
     "WHAT royalties???"

    Remember, most artists don't see a penny in royalties. They want to work. They want to play. They want to grow their audience. They want to sell their CDs and T-shirts. They don't want to sit around waiting 14 months for their next 22-cent royalty check. So, for the love of Pete, get the heck out of their way.

    To be clear, BMI and ASCAP are not the reason most clubs shut down. But they are, unintentionally, part of the old system that is discouraging so many venues from letting artists meet their own audience.
    We need venues.
    We need BMI, SESAC and ASCAP.
    We need them to do well.
    We need the audience to be served.
    Even more, we need artists to thrive in this harsh, two dimentional 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 develop a genuine royalty stream for songwriters.

    To be clear: Converting to artist licensing will create an explosion of clubs, coffeehouses and other stages, generating an audience big enough to employ thousands of performing artists.

    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






Saturday, October 10, 2015

The SongFarmer Album

So, I decided I want to record another album. It's time. And I have a passel of songs that are ready. I'm simply in a puzzlement as to HOW to do it.

Years ago it was the norm for an artist to spend $20,000 or more in a studio with great musicians, carefully laboring over each song, making each note and inflection perfect, making each song mix the best possible. Then taking the finished work to a mastering studio, refining every audio wave and EQ so the album will stand the test of time ...

... only to have most of your fans listen to the thing on a $9 set of earbuds while on a treadmill in a gym. Or in a car going 70 MPH down the interstate.

It is part of the demise of the record industry. Records are, essentially, gone. Record stores are gone. Record companies are folding. For the most part artists sell the bulk of their CDs at their own concerts and live events, not stores. So, if we look at the situation honestly, record labels sign the biggest customer of their own CD when signing an artist. So why be part of a record label and give away all your equity? It makes no sense.

Even worse: we are living among the first generation of human beings that hear music as a flat screen, digital two-dimensional experience. They don't even get to hold a ding-dang album jacket anymore (that's why, if you are fortunate to have a hometown, indie record store, support them. Don't get your music from websites when you are one of the precious few with an actual record store).

HERE'S A PAINFUL FACT: nobody listens to albums on stereo systems anymore (this is not a reference to LPs but to the entire recorded project, whatever format). Oh sure there are exceptions, but the truth is most folks listen to music as crushed low res MP3 files on smartphones in crappy ear buds with little or no sonic quality to them while jogging. In short, we have learned to listen to mostly crappy music on crappy playback systems in crappy environments.

HERE'S A SECOND FACT: the public is not only getting used to the lower quality playback of music, they are being conditioned to hear only singles from a project. The MP3s are loaded into their phone and are played on shuffle ... one song at a time. Kind of a personal Pandora playback. It leaves visionary artists in a quandary as the presentation of a concept album - a full musical cycle like Pink Floyd's The Wall or the Beatles Sergeant Pepper - has become extinct.

HERE'S A THIRD FACT: music is as much visual as it is audible. As the idea of physical records die, so dies the majesty of the album cover. Holding the album jacket in your hand, reading the lyrics as the album played drew fans deep into the magical world being presented to them. The current two-dimensional music world is shallow by comparison. The problem is folks only know it if they knew it from before. Fans today don't have a clue of this because there is an entire generation of humanity who have grown up experiencing only the flat digital experience of music.

Think of what is really happening: they are emailed a MP3 of a band from a friend, Google the band, YouTube the band, iTunes the band then download the band. They've never even seen the band live. Who could have predicted just five short years ago that record store chains would collapse nationwide and Cracker Barrel would become one of the biggest retailers of CDs in America? And to make matters worse, fans have gotten used to getting music as free MP3s.

It's gotten so wacky that new cars don't even have CD players in them anymore, just a USB port.

So here's what I'm doing: the SongFarmer album is being recorded in the same format the public is being trained to listen on: an iPhone.

Which, oddly enough, isn't all that bad.

The iPhone is a recording platform that far surpasses what the Beatles recorded Abby Road on. I'm using a special hi-end mic made for iPhones and iPads by Apoge, a special recording app for iPhones (no, not Garage Band) and using my artists cabin as the studio, which has very beautiful acoustics and a warm, natural reverb. Wood tends to help with that.

And heck ... since most folks will end up hearing the ding-dang thing for free I might as well record the ding-dang thing for free. 

The SongFarmer album is a folk album, performed in single takes with just my Martin 0000-28s guitar and long neck Vega banjo. New original songs like Hippy Luv, The Coin, Rainbow Wife and traditional banjo songs like Little Maggie are included. There is little-to-no editing involved.

I like the songs a lot and will be including the long story song Pamper Creek. I wrote the lyrics while living in Mousie KY after seeing the big Sandy River flood between Prestonsburg and Pikeville. I asked a fellow how high the flood waters got and he said I would be able to see myself by wherever the Pampers where hanging from the tree limbs. It's sort of a modern day Appalachian Alice's Restaurant.

The album has a more important use, though. It will introduce the fine efforts of the WoodSongs Front Porch Association to media and radio stations around the world. We call our WFPA members "Song Farmers," thus the album title, and members will get a free copy of the physical CD when they come to the big WoodSongs Gathering Sept 23 and 24, 2016 at SHAKER VILLAGE near Lexington, KY.

The album should be finished and ready for release to radio early spring 2016. In the meantime, join the WFPA, get free tickets to the Gathering ... and a free SongFarmer CD. Visit SongFarmers.org or call 859-255-5700 to sign up.

The mission statement is: To gather the global community of front porch minded musicians, bring roots music education into school free of charge, and enhance communities by redirecting the energies of local musicians.

Keep visiting the MichaelJohnathon.com SongFarmer page for updates, pics and a diary of the album progress. When it's ready the first single from the album Pamper Creek will be, drum roll please, downloadable as an MP3 for free.

Then you can listen to it on your smart phone with crappy ear buds while jogging :)

Michael Johnathon
Folksinger - SongFarmer




Thursday, September 24, 2015

SongFarmer

SongFarmer ...

It's a great word. Much better than "folksinger" or songwriter or performer. It is a poetic way to describe someone who uses their music to plant artistic seeds in their communities, their families, their careers.

We call the members of the WFPA "SongFarmers."

Here's why:

When I was creating the WoodSongs Front Porch Association (WFPA) I was trying to provide an alternative to other great efforts like the Folk Alliance, the IBMA or the Americana Music Association. These are music business trade groups that try to help musicians, record labels and agents connect to enhance the artist's careers. The WFPA doesn't complete in any way with those very fine folks. Heck, I'm a member.

Problem is, if I can speak plainly here without sounding like I'm pointing fingers ... there is no music "business" anymore. Not for the tens of thousands of small artists playing at farmers markets, retirement homes, small noisy clubs, schools and front porches across the land. Records stores are essentially gone. Record labels rarely sign artists, if they exist anymore at all. Booking agents don't take on many new artists because so many venues have shut down they can hardly keep the artists they have working no less a new act.

Small, talented, sincere songwriters, performers and artists are then asked to pay for association memberships, conference fees, travel, hotels and meals ... often $1000 or more total ... to attend a trade organization event where they, if they are lucky, end up showcasing in front of other anxious artists who wish they had your time slot. And instead of being helped to understand what to do with a garage full of unsold CDs in a world with no more record stores, you might be treated to a two hour speech that have nothing to do with music or the issues at hand.

To a SongFarmer, the front porch is as an important a stage as a concert hall. Their banjo is a community plow, their songs are like seeds, their guitar is a hammer and saw. Music is an issue of the heart, not their wallet. They don't make fans, they make friends.

With the WFPA I wanted a new way to reach out to artists in a way that will REALLY help them, REALLY explain the new music world, REALLY point to a brand new direction for their music and careers. I wanted the WFPA to be very cheap (just $25 a year) And to attend our yearly conference, called The Gathering, they get to come FREE. The WFPA needs to be very effective and have a solid, realistic goal.

And indeed it does. Not only does the WFPA offer realistic help to the community of SongFarmers, but we are sending roots music into thousands of schools and home school families with lesson plans. All for Free.

And before all you finger-waggers get started, I'm not putting down the FA, IBMA or AMA. I don't think they are lying to anyone. I do, however, think they are lost in an old business model that no longer exists.

Heck, new cars don't even have CD players in them anymore. The music world is upside down and inside out. Who would have guessed just five years ago that today one of the biggest retailers of CDs in America would end up being a restaurant chain? And, no, it's not Starbucks ...

Artists need to have a brand new outlook on music. They have to have a truthful, painful look at what is really happening out there. They need a spectacular new direction for their music. And they HAVE to learn, as brutal as it may seem at first, how FREE works.

So, this weekend, we will have our first WoodSongs Gathering, a music festival and member conference of the WFPA. We call our members SongFarmers, and it will be at the amazing log cabin village of the Museum of Appalachia near Knoxville, TN. We have a spectacular creative board like Art Menius, Kari Estrin, Josh Dunson, Raymond McLain, Doug Oines, Steve Martin (IBMA) Reggie Harris and others helping guide the event, the members and intent of the WFPA. It's the real deal.

SongFarmers are taught the most important rule of the new music world: LOVE is the most important transaction of the arts. It isn't marketing, management, what record label you're on or who your investor is. All of that is irrelevant without LOVE. "Love" makes the world of art work. Think of it millions of people spent a billion dollars on an album, not because it said RCA ... it's because they LOVED Elvis. It's love that makes the audience buy a CD, buy a concert ticket, buy a T-Shirt.

Nashville has virtually lost it's entire music middle class because the bean counters focused on marketing and money ... not love. The only thing ... THE ONLY THING ... the audience responds to is their love for a song, love for an artist, love for an idea.

SongFarmers learn to direct that love in a way that does not focus on money. They focus on their families, their hometowns, their audiences. SongFarmers resurrect the emotional front porch in everyone who hears them.

Just about a year ago, I performed a concert in Winnsboro Texas and two wonderful songwriter friends opened the show, Lynn Adler and Lindy Hearne and they gave me a little bumper sticker that proclaimed their lakeside cabin home in Texas an "organic song farm." That little sticker sat on my desk for months and then one day, as I was organizing the WoodSongs Front Porch Association it occurred to me that "song farming" is exactly what we are trying to do. Our members would be called SongFarmers.

I called them up and said would you mind if we stole your word? lol. They said, go ahead, we stole it from someone else. It was so Woody Guthrie:

"Aw he just stole from me. But I steal from everybody. Why, I'm the biggest song stealer there ever was."

I think Woody was a SongFarmer. So was Jean Ritchie and Pete Seeger. So is Rik Palieri, Raymond McLain and most of the music world filled with artists who love playing more than anything else.

So join the WFPA. Become a SongFarmer.
Change your thinking about the music business for the better.
And see the amazing work our members are doing.

The mission statement is:
To gather the global community of front porch minded musicians, bring roots music education into school free of charge, and enhance communities by redirecting the energies of local musicians

Visit WoodSongs.com/WFPA or SongFarmers.org and come to the WoodSongs Gathering Sept 25 and 26 at the Museum of Appalachia exit 122 off I-75 ... sing with new friends among the autumn leaves near Knoxville TN.

Michael Johnathon
Folksinger - SongFarmer
michael@woodsongs.com





Thursday, April 09, 2015

Don McLean, American Pie and the $1.2M sale of the song lyrics

_
A long, long 
time ago ...

... a young teenage boy, struggling with events of the day and a relationship with his father, found solice in the music of Buddy Holly. Delivering newspapers for his hometown paper, the Standard Star, he cut open the string holding a stack together. As the papers spilled over he saw, in the right hand column, the headline of his hero dying in a tragic plane crash.

Buddy Holly was only 22 years old.

Years later, as he began his fledgling folk music career, he was living in a quaint, small gate house in Cold Spring, NY. It was there he began sketching out the musical ideas for an epic journey through his own past and into America's future. But it didn't all happen right away. Two months after dabbling with some lyrics, a chorus appeared, almost out of nowhere:

Bye bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry
Them good ol' boys are drinking whiskey and rye
singing 'this'll be the day that I die,
this'll be the day that I die ..."

As the thunder of the song grew louder, Don found himself performing in more cities. He already had one record out and it was time to record his  next. As he was preparing for his second album session, the record label folded and he lost his deal. Believing all will eventually work out, he kept on writing songs for this next album. Then, while in Philadelphia, lightening struck ...

... one of the final songs for this new album was the completion of the song he started in Gate house in Cold Spring: American Pie.

It was an epic rock'n'roll, folk song history lesson that was as much literature as it was music ... and it was over 8-minutes long.


Six weeks at #1, several world tours and many decades later, the news hit this week that Don decided to sell, not the "song," but the original 16 pages of lyrics and notes to American Pie ... and somebody bid an astounding $1.2 million dollars for the honor.

Since then, I've read a couple of critical stories about Don's decision to sell, most offensive was an article in the Washington Post by Justin Moyer. It was uncalled for,  no matter how well meaning he might be as a fellow writer. Heck, the headline referred to Don as "gloomy."

Dude, he just scored $1.2 million bucks. How "gloomy" could he be?

To Justin and any other critic of what any artist does with their property: please be more respectful. I'm sure you're a nice fellow and just trying to be interesting. But you are criticizing someone who has achieved an unbelievable accomplishment. They created something of value far beyond anything you can dream of or do yourself. Why do people feel they need to put down anyone for doing what they themselves can not?

Don McLean owns American Pie. He is the artist who created it. The man has a wife, home and children he wants to take care of and secure their future. I wonder what creation of value Justin Moyer or any other critic has that would come within a tenth of America Pie's value?

American Pie was born out of great heartache and loss, it's birth was staggered and painful. It is viewed as one of the most important songs of the 20th century and deservedly so. If Don chooses to sell the pieces of paper the ding-dang thing was written on, all power to him. He is the envy of every songwriter.

And most of America, while singing American Pie, will never know who Justin Moyer is.

Don McLean did more than the right thing.
He did the thing that was his right to do.
'nuff said.

To all the critics out there, I want to paraphrase Finnish composer Johan Sibelius:

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

Folk on, 
mj

michael@woodsongs.com

_

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Selma, Seeger and a Song

SELMA 50 years ago. 


I think it is great that President Obama is speaking at the Selma bridge today. That is not a political view, but a human one. Fifty years ago, those marching over that bridge, those who embraced that struggle, would never ... NEVER ... have dreamed such a day as today was possible.

What will often go unnoticed was the banjo player marching along with Dr. King that day. Pete Seeger heard the song WE SHALL OVER COME at the Highlander Folk School and taught it to Dr. King, who in turn began having it sung at rallies. It was sung at Selma as the marchers were beaten and hosed down on that bridge. And it was sung by millions as the struggle for equal rights continued. It's been sung in schools and festivals and front porches around the world.

It was never a hit song. It was never on the charts. It was never on MTV. It was simply good.

I don't think we have "equal rights" today. We are more equal-er than we were, but still there is more to do. I don't personally believe the human race is in the emotional or spiritual shape to embrace that kind of freedom. 

Someday. But not today.
mj



Saturday, February 07, 2015

Chris Thile subs for Garrison Keillor on APHC


"I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it." - Garrison Keillor

As we come up on WoodSongs 800th broadcast I can get a small idea of why Garrison Keillor would want to take a break, step back and listen to A Prairie Home Companion like any fan would ... sitting at home with the radio on while doing other things.

It gives you a whole new perspective of what, why and how you are doing something. Sometimes, your brain needs a ding dang break from doing something so well for so long. Garrison is the king and he deserves it.

And what better sub-host could he pick than Chris Thile? Chris has been on WoodSongs nine times in various musical incarnations. He's creative, personable, fun, happy and fearless. And APHC is about the art form, not the ratings. Because of that, they have great ratings because good art is all this audience cares about. Having  a seasoned "pro" host wouldn't serve the art form as well as having a genuine, respected artist at the helm like Chris. Garrison has done his fans and his show well. And I hope everyone tunes in, it will be a special night indeed.

I'll probably add more to this later. For now, I'm getting ready to relax and tune in A Prairie Home Companion with the wifey and the twins here at the log cabin.

We'll be listening while doing other things, too :)

 mj
_______


So the weekend has past and we are getting ready for a WoodSongs broadcast tonight. I got to listen to most of the first hour of Chris Thile's premier as guest host ... and then the last 15 minutes or so.

Chris did a great job. Actually, he did a fantastic job. He was fun, he sounded relaxed. The music was impeccable as expected, Sarah sang like an angel ( I liked the jokes about their last names), the poet was entertaining and brilliant. Garrison's staff did a bang-up job helping Chris navigate from segment to segment ... and the guy ended exactly on time.

I think Garrison picked well asking Chris to to guest host. I understand Garrison called Thile and left a message on his cell phone about it. Considering Chris' touring schedule, Garrison got lucky.

I'm not a big fan of critics. These are folks who are often incapable of doing what they are criticizing who are given a media forum to tear down. Or build up. And I'm sure somewhere out there a reviewer will have something harsh to say. No one is ever 100% approved by the media, no matter how great or sincere.

But Chris reached well beyond his comfort zone. Garrison entrusted his legacy and years of creative sweat and placed them all on a "rookies" shoulders.

Bottom of the ninth. Based loaded. Mandolin player at bat.
Grand slam.

'nuff said.
mj


Monday, January 26, 2015

MOUSIE HIWAY: The Adventures of BANJO MOUSE in Appalachia


It was a fun, exciting goal ... put on hold for a while. MOUSIE HIWAY: The Adventures of BANJO MOUSE in Appalachia is the first in a series of children's books that involve music, a good story, a fun character and a valid lesson.

Alas, life, schedules and energy are not my friend at the moment so the project is on hold. MOUSIE HIWAY, the first of the series is about a banjo playing mouse that travels Appalachia, meeting other musicians and forming the Mousie HiWay Band. I hope to pick up the project again soon. This feels funny because I never stop anything. Ever.

The story and accompanying CD (I would read the story and have the music going on behind me until the end when the whole bluegrass band plays the song "Mousie HiWay") would introduce the sound of the banjo, fiddle, mandolin, dobro and bass to young ears in a fun way.

I'm not aware of another bluegrass-related children's book like this.

Anyway, I like the story. And the rhymes. And it's based somewhat on fact. It's true: I did live in Mousie Kentucky and Blue Moon Mountain separated the little hamlet from Hindman, KY, the county seat and yes, I traveled the hollers with my banjo.

So, here is it, read it with a tempo, find the phrasing. I'm including an early sketch of the Banjo Mouse character. You have my permission to read it to your kids if you want, but not to reprint this in anyway. Actually, it would be great if you created your own pictures to go with the story. Make your own children's book. Heck, why not? How hard can it be?

Send me pics if you do: michael@woodsongs.com

If all goes well, I hope to have a book and hold my twins in my lap someday, reading this to them.

MOUSIE HIWAY

The Adventures of Banjo Mouse in the Appalachian Mountains

words and characters by Michael Johnathon
c2015 Rachel Aubrey Music, INC/BMI

Banjo Mouse
Fiddle Fox
Doggy Dobro
Mando Mouse
Little Bitty Beaver




This is the adventures of Banjo Mouse
He didn’t have a bed and he didn’t have a house
But he had a lot friends where ever he’d go
'cause he knew a bunch of songs on the ol’ banjo

Then one night in the Appalachian hills
He heard a lonesome sound and everything got still
In the silvery moon just sittin’ on a rock
He found a new friend named Fiddle Fox

Well, he and Fiddle Fox played all night long
They played a lot of tunes, sang a lot of songs
But when the sun came up they had no place to go
till they met a new friend named Doggy Dobro

When Doggy played the dobro he could bend those notes
He would bend them up high and bend them down low
with the fiddle and the banjo they would laugh and shout
It was a dream come true for Banjo Mouse

But now, the whole band knew there was something still a-missin’
You could hear it so plain, you could hear it if you listen
So they mumbled and they grumbled till they figured it out
When up from a holler came Mando Mouse

Mando Mouse was Banjo’s cousin
He could play his mandolin, even when he’s runnin’
He could play it so fast he had everyone a-shoutin’
And it echoed through the hollers of Blue Moon Mountain

Now, Banjo Mouse knew they wouldn’t get far
They had a real fine band but they needed one more.
So he wondered and he pondered and he wished upon a star
And from a cabin on a hill came Kitty Guitar

She was a six-string Kitty she could pick and sing
Banjo Mouse could made the banjo ring
No one played the fiddle like Fiddle Fox could
and Dobro Doggie made the song sound good

But Banjo Mouse stopped and said “hey wait a minute...”
we have a real fine band but there’s something not in it
We all want to play a real big show
but the show won’t go unless we play it down low

And then though the bushes came a rumblin’ sound
it shook all the trees and it ratted the ground
and down from the mountain with a smile on his face
came a little bitty beaver with a great big bass

Well, from Blue Moon Mountain to the hollers all around
the people all gathered for that bluegrass sound
and they sang and they cheered again and again
Everybody loves the Mousie HiWay Band!