Writings and Videos on Vicki's Musical Experiences
Vicki Shares Her Thoughts and Music Musings
Welcome to my thoughts and music musings! Here I will share with you ideas and my feelings in regards to music.
I've decided that this year I am going to make a few videos and write about what I have experienced and learned during my 20 years in the music industry...the good, the bad, and the ugly! Some things people will balk at and some things people will agree with, but what I write is not to please anyone or support anyone's beliefs. What I write here is what I believe and what I have experienced. Nothing more; nothing less. This is my path and no one else's. Take what I have learned and use those things which help you and leave those that don't.
I don't believe in competition; never have and never will. In the end, we follow the music that touches us in some way, whether it be that we like the beat, the licks of a guitar, the lyrics, the artist. Music evokes an emotion of some kind and we have many emotions open to being touched by many different songs. Look at your music collection. You don't have one artist in it. You have many. Thus, it's not about being the best songwriter or musician. It's about communicating and relating. It's about being the best YOU can be. To me, that is what music is all about. It's about sharing all that I am with all of you to let you know that you are not alone and that there are people out there who care about life and this world; who care about you...even if you don't know them or they, you.
If it's one thing that you remember about your music, remember this. It's not about money or awards or what the BUSINESS says about you and your music. It's about what you have to say and how you say it. There will ALWAYS be someone who likes what you do; you will ALWAYS have fans. There is no right or wrong way to write a song, but there is a commercial way. If you want to be a business, then you must learn the business and become a business person. If you just want to write songs and play because you enjoy it, you can and the only person stopping you is you.
Thoughts on inspiration and practice.
Damn it's cold outside! Wow! So I am inside trying to get a little inspiration to write some more songs. For me, the things that inspire me most are nature, critters, the waves splashing the shores of the Great Lakes, driving over the Mackinac Bridge (a 5 mile long suspension bridge - a marvel and testament of what working together can accomplish), waterfalls...I'm sure you get it. Calm and amazement!
As far as the inspiration goes, though, when I'm "stumped", I go through my set up and see if there is a cool loop that I might want to work with or I go outside and record a few notes to see what might come up. Sometimes I just sit on the keys and pound out some chords to see if anything sparks interest. Just making sounds for me might spark some creative juices. It doesn't work for everyone, and it doesn't work for me EVERY time, but it's a good place for me to start. I'll also take stories and figure out if I can write something that would fit the emotions of that story. Problem for me is that I can't write anything 90 seconds long! It always turns into more!
Anyhow, being cooped up inside makes it hard, but I am trying!
One of the things I do after I've written a song is to "test it out" on people. I like to play it for random strangers in my car or over a speaker. With coronavirus nixing that ability, I now find other ways to get people to listen. I'm not a big you tuber or social media mogul, so I have to find other ways.
One of the ways I hone my performances and my music is to perform for free at assisted living homes, retirement communities and hospitals. As the weather gets nicer, I will call and offer a performance outside. The equipment I have now allows me to run on batteries so there is no need for electric. I can play in a parking lot or outside space allowing social distancing and plenty of ventilation for those who wish to be outside or listen from their room windows. Sometimes I receive donations from people to play for a specific home that may be too far for me. That donation covers my travel and/or CDs for residents.
In the end, I get to see how my music is received and I get to help people who cannot get out into the world like they did before. It's a win/win for us all. To me, THAT is what my music is all about. THAT is what gives me the most pleasure in life; knowing that maybe I am making someone happy and helping someone who may feel lonely or sad. If I can brighten someone's day and give them positive energy, then I've done my job.
Thoughts on electronics vs acoustic and perfectly imperfect.
I get this question all the time and it's something a lot of musicians have a pretty hard stance on. Electronics or acoustic.
Let's get real here. In my opinion, it's about tools that help you create music. There are guitars of all types, drums, wind instruments, pianos, there are sticks, stones, birds, water, glasses, and on and on. There are so many things out there that make sound and sound put together with other sounds can create moods and feelings and communication. For me, it's never about the instrument you use, but about how you use it. I cannot play guitar, but I can use my synths to emulate it. Is that wrong? I don't think so. It's another way to create a specific sound. I play flutes and even use synth flutes. Is that wrong? Again, it's another way to get sounds. I've recorded trees and wind and birds and all of those sounds have been used in recordings because those sounds help to create an effect; they help to enhance a feeling or message that I am trying to portray. So, music isn't always about what we've been taught or pushed to like through commercialism. Music is using sounds to create an audio environment communicating/evoking a response of some type.
Now, I believe that musicians who play their instruments are more valuable than the instruments they play. Why? Because they have something to say. They can evoke a response and enhance a song in ways that electronics cannot. Electronics cannot feel. Electronics are not intelligent. Only a musician - or lets say a human - has those qualities.
I do NOT believe in perfection. Humans can never be perfect, but we can be perfectly imperfect. We strive to play our best and there are some incredible musicians out there who have accomplished amazing performances! Many we'd say prefect! But, remember, they had to practice, practice, practice and work hard. Every day they dedicate time to their craft. Every day they strive for better. I commend them for such dedication. Lord knows where I could be if I had half of their determination and skills. But I accept that which I have and live as I see fit. In the end, it's about being happy. If you are happy where you are, awesome! If you are not, find out what you need to do and do it! It's not about the rest of the world. In the end, it's about you. If YOU are happy, then you will find that those around you change and your environment changes. It's that law of attraction at work. Believe me, it's true.
Making Music vs Music Business
In my opinion, there is no right or wrong way to write a song. You write that which you know. You write music to communicate with others something you have to say. That can NEVER be wrong. Period. If you put your heart and soul into it, you perform it from your gut and you believe in it, THAT's a song and that is all about you.
BUT we have this industry called the MUSIC BUSINESS and that is exactly what it is; business. Just because you write a song that you feel is the best thing since sliced bread, doesn't mean that the industry will think it is. Every song written by a songwriter is a great song, but not every song is a commercial piece. When people in the business tell you they cannot use your material, it's because people in the business are there to make a profit off of you. You are a product. Your work is a product. People in the business - your big labels and publishers - they don't care how nice you are, they care about selling. They have a formula and they have their opinion of what you should look like, how old you should be, and what they want. Are you sellable is the big question. Like all "good" capitalists, it's about profit. They don't care about you, just the product.
When you write a song, you have to step out of your artist self and put your business hat on. Look at your song from a business perspective. Some people cannot do this, but you need to learn to. Analyze the songs on the radio that you hear. Analyze the songs on the albums you have purchased. How are they structured? How do they sound? How do the lyrics flow? Do the lyrics match the music - are the lyrics sad/is the music sad? Happy/happy? Can someone relate to the subject? Has the subject been covered before and how is your song different from all the others of the same subject? These are questions that you need to answer...and be damn honest with yourself. You can be a passionate artist with a lot to say and have a great local following, but that won't mean you can or will make it in the industry. Making in on your own is another rant for another day. It can be done and I'm proof of that.
Anyhow, the point is, you can make music and feel good about what you do no matter what anyone says. Just love it. Just be who you are. You can be independent and do what you love. You can make money to pay your bills if you practice and look at all the options. There are MANY options. If you want to go commercial, remember that what the industry wants is a sellable product; a whole package. The more you study what is happening, the more "different" you are and the more you work at building up a following; the more attention you get, the more commercial you become and the more interested indie and larger labels become because....money. Business is about profit. No one goes into business to lose everything. The goal is to make a profit. Period.
Just to put a quick couple of ideas out there for those looking to get into the industry. Remember, Faith Hill was a receptionist at a label, so don't rule out getting a foot in the door by interning or working at a music hub of some sort while you're working on your songwriting.
Graphic Design (album artwork, photography, illustrations, ads)
Musicians - studio, back up, performing, teaching, music therapy
Producers/Engineers - recording studios, radio, sound in theater/plays/movies
Business - accountants, admin, receptionists, usual business related jobs
"The music business is all about who you know..." I totally disagree. The music business is all about who knows YOU. Yes, it's all about who knows you and there are things that you can do to make sure people get to know you.
First off, get over yourself. You're going to have to work your ass off to get somewhere in this industry. If you were that amazing of a songwriter and performer, you' d have been signed and noticed already. Most of the songwriters, singers and performers who have had "overnight" success would tell you that it was a lot of work and effort and by no means was their successfulness an "overnight" happening. It just doesn't work that way. So get your ego packed up and walk it over to the door.
Now that we have that part done, practice, practice, practice. And when you think you're awesome, practice more. I can tell you I'm the absolute worst at this part and I need to tell myself to get off my ass and work every single day. Literally. When I go out, I bring business cards and CDs of my music. I've even begun getting thumb drives and I put my songs on those. They are stashed in my car, my purse, my CanAm, pretty much in anything that would allow access to them so I can give information out to people when I meet them. You can tell people until you are blue in the face that you are a musician or songwriter or performer and they'll nod, sound interested and then think, "If you're so good, how come I've never heard of you?" And, like many people, myself included, will assume you suck. This is when I give them my music. Mind you, you CAN give them away willy nilly, but it will be costly. I generally just give out CDs to store owners, potential performance venues, people who could actually help me...and yes, a lot just to regular folks I meet because hey, who knows and I have a lot of CDs. I also offer to perform for free at various places - retirement communities, hospitals, assisted living homes, fundraiser events, you get it. I also like to get booths at craft events or art festivals. Sometimes, if they don't have performers, I offer an exchange; performing for a booth where I can sell CDs to cover my costs. Not only do you get much needed practice, but people HEAR your music. They SEE you perform. They interact with you. They talk to others about you. Get that part? They talk to others ABOUT you. Name recognition is the game here. You need people to know who you are. You need people to talk about you.
A little trick that I have learned which has helped me IMMENSELY is this; I don't perform covers. I am a songwriter/composer first and foremost. Yes, I have covered others' music, and you MUST do some covers at some point in your career, I'll cover that later, but I do not perform these songs live. I only perform my own music. How is this beneficial? I perform for a lot of small venues and fairs. Licensing music is a huge expense that many cannot afford. As I own all the rights to my songs, I can play at events without the event actually having to purchase a music license. Many larger events and businesses have these already, but a few won't and, that's a huge advantage to you. Give them your music, links to your site, video, whatever you think they might need to get your foot in the door. It's not easy, but you can do it. And don't be an asshole!
I'll tell you right now, people will gladly speak about the asshole they met over the nice person you are. 15 years after I left Minnesota and moved to Michigan, I was talking to a gentleman about an organization I used to run. He said, do you know "such and such" and I said, yes, and he was like, I wouldnt work with that asshole if my life depended on it. He is so negative and so about himself. And this particular gentleman is still no further now than when I met him some 20 years ago. Me, on the other hand, well, compare our resumes and you'll find there is no comparison. BE NICE and do your best AT ALL TIMES. Go with the flow, don't freak out over issues, stay calm, think of a solution, ALWAYS SHOW UP EARLY so that you can prevent problems or at least have enough time to correct any that show up. THIS will get you repeat business as well as people sharing your info for new gigs later down the road.