21
Feb
11

Reshaping the band

I’ve been away from the blog, but not away.  The band has undergone some major changes.  Our lead electric guitarist, Jim, left the band about a year ago.  We played as a trio for about 6-9 months.  It sounded okay, but it was missing something without both lead guitar and backup vocals.  I neglected to mention thats Maya, our backup vocalist, just had her second child and was out of commission for the foreseeable future.  Playing as a trio was a good experiment, though, because it proved to me that I could do it and it was still passable.  You’re definitely more nimble as a smaller number.

As luck would have it, a fine guitarist we’d seen playing with another band a year back, became available after his own band evaporated.  Chito Salazar plays a different style from Jim and, unlike Jim, enjoys the front of the stage.  A married couple, Monique & Claude Hache, answered an ad for backup vocals and turned out to be professional singers in their own right with a lot of broadway-type show experience.  The band has a different feel and energy.

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12
Nov
10

At The Taxi.com Road Rally 5

Again I ate at the bar and had pleasant conversation with Paul, another member.  Again checked out the open mic and heard one great song by a youngish member.  The caliber of music overall, while not all the time my taste, was extremely high.

The final day there were several of the “song pitching” panels…so I had to choose between that lottery or hearing Jason Blume.  I chose the lottery.  Sure, the song is important.  But luck can be a wonderful thing.  Then I checked into “Better Guitar Recordings” which was more about correct guitar technique, per se, than recording tips.

One panel included Lamont Dozier.  I confess that I did not know his name before the Rally.  But let me tell you, it brought tears to my eyes when they played the compilation montage of his hits.  Turns out he is the most successful songwriter in the U.S., having written many, if not most, of the biggest Motown (Supremes) and other hits (How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You) from the 60’s on up.  I grew up grooving to this guy’s stuff sung by other artists.  What a huge talent this guy is.

The Rally is an amazing experience.  Perhaps a little lonely to go it alone as I did, but still worth it.  It had some shortcomings (I wrote a long letter to the CEO about), but much more that was right.  And it was free.

11
Nov
10

At The Taxi.com Road Rally 4

Jason Blume is probably one of the most sought-after mentors and presenters at the Rally.  Again, a number one hit writer, he travels all over doing workshops for songwriters.  He led a session on “Mastering The Music Row Formula”.  I had no clue what Music Row meant, but I went because it was Jason Blume.  Music Row, as it turns out, is a section of Nashville where the music industry is concentrated.  Jason was as advertized.  A good presenter, animated and entertaining.  And even though I am not a Country music writer, there was much to cull from the session.

About 5 sessions happen over the course of the 3 days where registrants submit songs to be heard by a panel.  If they like what they hear, they ask for a copy.  Some musicians have been “signed on the spot” as a result of such sessions.  Others get some polite constructive criticism.  The songs are chosen at random and you never know if yours will be chosen.  The only way to know is to attend the session itself.  Let me tell you, it is a nail-biting 90 minutes.  I want to get chosen and, at the same time, am terrified that if I do, the song will flop.  My songs never got chosen over the 3 days.  I perspired for nothing.

10
Nov
10

At The Taxi.com Road Rally 3

I had my 10 minutes of face time with Fiona Kernaghan, an Australian born musician and hit songwriter, and just a sweetheart of a person.  I was shocked that she liked what I played!  I needed more and she was kindhearted enough to reveal her contact info…while remaining non-committal.  I emailed her the same day.  On a tip from Mr. H., I caught some of the session with Don Grierson who made the point that it all comes down to good songs.  I finished the day with “pitching your songs correctly to Taxi”.  I wrote to Michael Laskow, CEO of Taxi, to suggest that handouts from the sessions like this one would be very helpful.

Ate at the hotel bar and had good conversation with seat-mates.  Then I checked out the open mic performances.  Opening the night was a diminutive blond-haired attractive 17 year old who confidently belted out a stunning song she wrote.  Her name is Brittaney Geisler and she happens to come from the Vancouver area.  If her other material is anything like this song, watch out.  This is a star.

09
Nov
10

At The Taxi.com Road Rally 2

After walking 10 miles in blistering heat and then standing in line for several hours, not to mention jet lag from a recent trip to Israel (6 hours) added on to the 3 hours time difference from East to West…I was bagged.  I just went to bed that first (Thursday) night.  I had contemplated signing up for the open mic, but couldn’t find the energy.  Doesn’t take me much to cop out of getting on-stage anyway, at the best of times.

Had a good workout Friday morning.  It was incredible…at 6:15 a.m. the exercise room was overflowing.  Not a single machine was free.  Luckily, I don’t use a machine for exercise.  So no problem for me.  I grabbed a Starbucks and found a place in the main ballroom for the opening session.  It was a tribute to Michael Lloyd, a celebrated hit songwriter and musician.  Mostly a feel-good session.  Then went to a session on ‘you’re never too old to rock and roll’.  Looking around the room at the plenary sessions, I was shocked to learn that I was one of many grey-haired musicians.  In fact, I would say that 1/3rd to ½ of the registrants were over 40.

08
Nov
10

At the Taxi.com Road Rally

I arrived from Ottawa just before noon.  Waiting around at the fragile/oversize baggage claim for my guitar I began meeting others (also waiting for guitars) destined for the Road Rally.  The easy camaraderie was already beginning.  It was a short shuttle to the Westin LAX, the conference hotel.  I checked in and inquired about a Staples store or shopping centre nearby.  The concierge told me that there was one about a mile down the road.  It was a beautiful day (about 31 degrees Celsius or 88 F) and I figured a mile was not too far to walk.  Got my sandals on and baseball cap and set off.  The airport neighbourhood is nothing pretty.  With all the bankruptcies and foreclosures, it made for an even more “scenic” walk.  FIVE miles later, drenched in sweat and dehydrated, I arrived at the Staples store and got what I needed.  Not a taxi in sight, I walked back to the hotel.  I managed to flag down one taxi half way back.  He declined to take me because he wanted to go in the other direction!!

I neglected to mention that when I left the hotel at 12:30, I noticed people already lining up for registration.  The early birds get their pick of the one-on-one mentor sessions.  These sessions last just 10 minutes.  But it is your opportunity to access an industry professional that you may not otherwise ever be able to talk with…let alone for 10 minutes.  Some, it was clear, were hotter picks than others and there were lots of keen Taxi members willing to camp out for hours for the chance to snag one.  Registration was set to begin at 5:30 and I lined up at about 4.  By this time the line snaked through the lobby and out into the parking garage for some distance…only half of what it was to become.  My line mates were friendly and talkative and the time went by relatively quickly.  EVERYBODY, it seemed, was friendly and talkative and interested in networking.

07
Nov
10

On the Road to Taxi.com Road Rally

It was touch and go for almost a week before the Road Rally.  Let me back up.  Taxi.com is a major on-line A&R service that shops your songs to TV, Film, music libraries etc.  It costs about $300 to join and the annual 3-day conference is included for free.  I joined some months ago and thought it was too good to be true.  But all the forum comments looked really positive and I thought I’d give it a shot.  All it cost me (aside from lost time and income from work) was the plane fare and hotel expenses.  I had a major meeting in Israel the week before and had just 3 days to catch up before setting off to L.A..  My wife returned from Israel with some terrible virus that just wreaked havoc with fever and cough and general unwellness.  I figured that if she didn’t improve, I was going to have to cancel my trip.

Well…that was interesting.  On the one hand I felt guilty for feeling resentful that she might be the reason for my cancelling.  On the other hand, I think I had a secret wish that if I did cancel, I could blame it on someone else.  I would be relieved of having to come down to L.A. alone, not knowing what to expect, vulnerable as usual as any struggling musician and it wouldn’t appear that I had chickened out (no offence to chickens).  I love my wife and only want what is best for her.  But boy, if I’m really honest with myself, what a lot of ugly feelings and thoughts permeate my soul from time to time.  Vulnerable…I never really understood it before.