Category Archives: Toby’s Posts

Plugging

“Just keep plugging.”  That’s what I keep telling myself.

It was a grind on Saturday, but I am so pumped about what I am working on.

In the past, I have posted everything as I have recorded it.  This time I am taking inspiration from Charlie Van Stee‘s and LETRON‘s respective forthcoming albums in that I am keeping a tight lid on things.  I did share a recording with my bass player and collaborator, but no response…go figure.  Haha!

It was neat to hear LETRON’s Heels recently.  I had no idea what she was working on all the last year, but I knew she was working.  It was awesome to be surprised by the inventiveness of the recording in its polished format.

The Grind of Writing and Recording

Writing and recording music is one of those things, like reading an academic article or raising a child, that provides very few tangible benefits in the moment.  But the outcomes can be wonderful and romantic.

So it is that I have been writing all day, grinding out notes and lyrics and melodies and chords in the hopes that by dinnertime I will have something to record.  I do.

I am trying some things I have never tried before.  Wish me luck as I dive deep into it this evening.

Randy Napoleon Secret Show Today!

For the last week or so, I have been planning a secret show starring nationally-reknowned jazz guitarist, Randy Napoleon.  The invitations have already gone out, however I know that some of the invitations disappeared into the internets.  If you are reading this and would like to attend, call me on my cell, and I will send you an invitation.

Miladic Video Directed by Fifi 3PO

I just watched the new Miladic video.  Wow!

It was directed by the master of fancy names, Fifi 3PO, who also directed Run. Run! Run!!! RUN!!! RUNNNN!!!!

What inspires you?

An energy flows from my upper stomach and into my eyes and exits through my armhairs when I listen to “Every New Day” by Five Iron Frenzy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFIMOJ46ofk

Five Iron Frenzy is a now-defunct Christian ska band from the 1990′s.  They were among the biggest bands on the Christian touring circuit for a while in the mid-1990′s, at the height of the short-lived pop-ska scene (remember Squirrel Nut Zippers?).  They were also one of the best bands of that decade.

They had 2 1/2 good albums followed by a bunch of crap, which is as good as we can hope for most of the time.

“Every New Day” is something of a rock-infused ballad.  It is up-beat and heart-felt at the same time.  It is genuine and caring.

While the lyrics were written in deference to the Big Man in the Clouds, I think a lot about Lisa when I hear it today.  It is about how someone can make someone else feel like every day is fresh, beautiful, and exciting.

One time back in 2001, I was waiting in line at a Dairy Queen with a former girlfriend.  We were fighting about something that was probably not worth fighting over when I saw a mentally challenged girl a few spots up order a chocolate fudge ice-cream sundae.  When I saw how happy the girl order became when the sundae hit her hands, I immediately lost all reason to argue.

Here I was with someone that I cared about, enjoying a summer day at a DQ, waiting for ice cream, and fighting about something dumb.  The fickleness of human interactions was visible, and I became instantly ashamed.

The girl with the sundae was beautiful, and we were raining on her parade….or maybe she was shining a ray of sunshine on ours.

There are people among us who are rays of light.  There are those of us that suck up sunlight, and there are those that radiate it.

There are great and wonderful things happening in this world all around us all the time. Sometimes it helps to be reminded of that.

1% of the Time

Lisa has a hard time at my shows.  Last night we had a talk about this.

The songs I sing are not well-rounded pictures of situations.  They are photographs of moments in time blown out to 2-5 minutes.  None of my songs give people a well-rounded concept about anything.  They are emotional and reactive and beautiful snapshots.

Unfortunately, when I sing about a snapshot in time that I experienced with another person many years ago, it is easy for people to get the idea that those snapshots represent the whole of relationships.  This is not the case.

When I sing about people who hold or have formerly held prominent roles in my life, it does not do justice to the complexity of those relationships.

Since Lisa and I rarely talk about past relationships, those 2-5 minute songs are all she has to work from.  It makes sense that she might increase the magnifying glass and turn them into her reality of those relationships, filling in all gaps with the contents of my songs.  But the fact is most of my relationships are scarily ordinary.  I regularly experience and have experienced moments of brilliance with friends, current and past.  But for the most part, nothing exceptional happens 99% of the time.

My music is the audio representation of 1% of my exceptional waking hours.

So, while 1% of the time I spent with former girlfriends and friends was exceptional, 99% of it was pretty unexceptional.

I would argue that 2-5% of my time with Lisa is exceptional, which is pretty exciting stuff for me!  The fact that I have only a handful of songs that reference Lisa and our experiences together is merely a factor of time and my lack of recent musical production.  Rest assured, they are coming.

I have songs in the works about cats, marriage, love, and family that Lisa has played a significant role in crafting.  Unfortunately, until they are finalized, my band will continue playing songs from past albums.  I love them and will probably always love them, but it is time to move on.

Over the past year or so, you have probably noticed that my band has been focusing on our more abstract songs and less on songs that call out former girlfriends directly.  This is a result of me attempting to bring Lisa into the fold.  I would do more if I could, but we are working from relatively finite resources here – 2 LPs + a number of odds and ends.  We are also continually rounding out our collection of songs that we cover, the expansion of which is partially owing to my desire to bring Lisa closer to the Cryns #3 community.

I will continue to talk with Lisa about things I can do to make my music more accessible to her.  I desperately want her to sing along with the rest of you, even though she is shy about singing out loud.  I know she’s got a beautiful singing voice buried underneath that shyness.

Crowd-Funding

I have always wondered what it would be like to have investors – folks who believe in me and my music so much that they would front me money for my next project.  Basically, a record label.

What if I had people demanding that I get in the studio to record, demanding that I make a music video.  And what if I was on the hook financially for those outcomes?

Would it produce better, quicker results?

I think so.

There is a newish thing happening on the indie music scene.  It is called “crowd-funding” or “fan-funding”.

The idea is that I get a bunch of friends and fans and family to invest money in my next project.  In return they get something based on the amount they give – i.e. a cd, a hug, a drawing, a song named after them, a party, etc.  It is like quid pro quo, except there is an element of awesomeness to it.

In addition to getting fabulous prizes, investors have a real impact on my production.

What do you think?

[source]

Music to Swear By Preview #8 – Mason Jennings' "Nothing"

Head on over to Music to Swear By to listen to this weeks’ podcast featuring Ryan, John, and me.  Over the course of the podcast we talk about our experiences playing in this band.  I learned a lot about Ryan and John – things they never told me about life, love, the universe.

Like yesterday, I will be unable to post this beautifully-haunting rendition of Mason Jennings’ “Nothing” on account of the stupid laws of this fair land we call, “home”.

Thankfully, YouTube has a deal with the big music publishing companies that allows me to post videos of Mason Jennings’ “Nothing”.  Here is one such recording from May 2008.  Email me if you want to hear the new recording.

Music to Swear By Preview #7 – "I Bombed Korea"

Unfortunately, arcane publishing rules that plague our creative community make publishing this recording a legal liability.  So, if you really want to hear me play Cake’s “I Bombed Korea”, you will have to email me.  Sorry about that.  Stupid Congress.  Stupid media conglomerates (Disney, I’m looking at you…).

BUUUUT, you can listen to me play the song on YouTube (recorded in January 2009).

Music to Swear By Preview #6 – "Let's get funky!"

This song, as you know, is about a song.  The title of both songs is, “Let’s get funky!”.

A few days ago, I stumbled across an old recording of the original song from 1997.  While it has lost the rich horns and Bob’s voice that accompanied the original recording, I am pleased to say that today’s recording has lost none of the luster that made the original a success.

This song and more will be featured in next Wednesday’s Music to Swear By podcast.

Music to Swear By Preview #5 – "Monster"

“Monster” is mostly written by my sister, Liana, who is the most beautiful, charismatic, and wonderful human being on the planet.  Listen to my band play it in Music to Swear By host, Tony’s, basement.

And tune in to the Music to Swear By podcast featuring Cryns #3 next Wednesday!

Music to Swear By Preview #4 – "Run. Run! Run!!! RUN!!! RUNNNNN!!!!!"

RunnNNnnNNN!!!  Here is a solo rendition of our hit music video’s soundtrack, as recorded for the Music to Swear By podcast.

Check out the podcast next Wednesday!  In fact, check out other Music to Swear By podcasts right now!  It truly is an entertaining listen!

Music to Swear By Preview #3 – "Tonight was a wonderful night!"

Check out this fabulous rendition of Cryns #3′s “Tonight was a wonderful night!”, performed by Cryns #3 on the Music to Swear By podcast!

The full podcast will air next Wednesday.

Music to Swear By Preview #2 – Duluth

In this recording from our session at the Music to Swear By podcast, the band plays, “Duluth”.  Enjoy!

The full podcast will air next Wednesday.

Music to Swear By Preview #1 – "Kirsten Dunst"

I recently travelled to Shoreview, MN to record an episode of the Music to Swear By podcast with with co-hosts, Tony, Paul, and Dave.  The guys were gentlemanly and smart despite their penchant for the F-word (or maybe because of it).

Over the next 8 days, I will be releasing a series of 8 recordings Tony made during the podcast both with the band and solo after the band left.

This first song is one of my favorites to play live.  It is called, “Kirsten Dunst”.

Our episode of the podcast will air on Wednesday next week with a preview scheduled to be posted this Friday.

Going Pro

Today I spent a couple of hours hanging with Charlie Van Stee in my apartment.  Together, we listened to the demo tracks from his forthcoming release, “Tigers will eat you!”  (You can listen to most/all of the tracks on Charlie’s Facebook page.)  It is his most heartfelt effort to date, imho.

Charlie wants to make a career out of music.  He is sincere about it, and I believe he has a good chance to do it.  This week, I have talked with two other musicians with dreams of doing just that (Ariel Apricio from Brooklyn and Keith Axline from San Francisco).  Both of them have found it tough going.

I believe that anyone with a bit of talent and a ton of determination and hard work can make a living playing music.  What people don’t always realize is that, like anything else, if you want to make money at music, you have to devote 40 hours a week to it and run it like a business.  This includes networking, honing your craft, and developing a reputation as a professional.

Below is my checklist for things to do to become and maintain your status as a professional working musician.  This list is reflective of my web biz more than it is of my music biz, but I think the same rules apply to both.

Networking

  • Attend local shows 5 nights a week
  • While you are at shows, meet the bands.  Meet the promoters.  Meet the bartenders.  Meet the bar owners.  Engage them all in conversation and hand them all your business card.  Follow up the next day with an email or phone call expressing (sincerely) how nice it was to meet them.
  • Maintain regular contact with aforementioned industry folks.  Ask them for gigs, leads, networking opportunities as appropriate.
  • Maintain an email list and add new email addresses to it at every show
  • Develop an online social networking strategy.  Get active on online social networking websites that make sense to you (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, etc.).  Spend reasonable amounts of time on these and be focused.

Honing your craft

  • Warm up for 1 hour every day
  • Practice for 2 hours every day solo
  • Practice twice a week with your band (if applicable)
  • Listen to music and music-business podcasts (Check out the CDBaby Podcast)
  • Develop a regular schedule for songwriting (This is the only way you will get better and quicker at your art!)
  • Write. Write. Write.  Blog about your experiences.  Write music.  Write poetry.  Think about things that happen to you, and write about them.
  • Become a leader in your local music community.  There are all sorts of local music organizations in Minneapolis (and probably every big city).  Get involved!

Developing a reputation as a professional

  • Show up to gigs early/on time
  • Be courteous and professional
  • Dress appropriately
  • Get contracts signed well in advance of gigs (if applicable)
  • Hire someone (or get a volunteer) to watch the door so that you don’t get ripped off
  • Sell cds and merchandise at your shows
  • Treat everybody with respect (they are your customers!)

The bottom line is that unless you get SUPER lucky (like Owl City), it will take hard work to make it as a professional musician.  Being a career musician requires starting your own business.  Time spent up front will pay dividends later.  Most of your good gigs will come from friends-of-friends.  You will get paid more the longer you are in the biz.

Now get to it!  :)

Music to Swear By

If you haven’t checked out Music to Swear By‘s podcast series, you are missing out.  It is a perfect mix of smart humor, satire, music, and fart jokes.  Seriously.

Last night, John, Ryan, and I had the pleasure of recording a soon-to-be-released “Music to Swear By” episode in the fancy basement recording studio of ringleader, Tony FU’s, house.

The vulgarities were flowing out of my mouth.  I don’t know what happened.  It’s like I forgot how Catholic I was for a 40-minute span and spewed enough sin to make God raise an eyebrow.  The storm that I drove through on the way home could only be my doing.

35W was flooded.  Noah’s Ark even floated by (haha!).  Upon arrival at home, I said 142 Hail Maries and went to bed.

I do want to say, Catholic jokes aside, that the hosts, Tony, Paul, and Dave, were most cordial and represent a sect of down-to-earth, brilliant formerly-city-folk that can only be found on Brigadoon Drive in Shoreview, MN.  I’m not even sure Brigadoon drive exists when I turn my back.  It’s the end of the rainbow.  A pot of gold.  That’s how special it is.  Its inhabitants are mystical and funny and have a podcast that you need to listen to at the gym.  Seriously.  Check ‘em out!

Music To Swear By Recording Tonight!

Local podcaster, extra-ordinairre, Tony Fu, has invited John, Ryan, and me over for a recording of his “Music to Swear By” podcast.  I am pumped!

Tony likes music with swear words on it.  He heard us play one night and liked our verbs.

More to come as I have it!

Ain't Life Grand? Well…mostly.

All is lost.  Liana told me that she is giving up music.  Turns out that the hard work of making a career of the music biz wasn’t for her.  But she is in Hollywood and has dreams so big that they don’t fit in this universe, so I forgive her.

I, on the other hand, have manageable dreams.  The kind that I can taste, if only I was willing to put in the work to reach them.

But I know that my dreams of rock stardom will not be satisfying.  Even if I became the most famous musician in Minneapolis history, I would still go home to my 4 cats and my lovely girlfriend and lead an utterly amazing and downright normal life off the stage.

Life is grand.  But it can’t keep up with those fleeting moments of triumph on the stage.

The greatest moment of my life was hitting a jump shot at the first-half buzzer in a varsity high school basketball game against Stillman Valley.  I lost control of my emotions and jumped so high in the air that I might as well have hit my head on the gym ceiling.  It wasn’t a big shot in the grand scheme of things, but I was in the midst of the greatest game of my career.  The crowd was pumping along with the cells in my body, which for reason unknown to me, had conspired to give me a temporary shooting hand that the comes around once in a lifetime.

Sometimes being on stage is something like that.  But it doesn’t quite make it there.  At best, it is a tamed-down version of that jump shot.

I can relate to drug addicts who are continually seeking the next fix.  I don’t do drugs – never have – but I do seek out that next fix.  I call it art sometimes.  And sometimes I call it performance.  It is a mix of the two.  I am in search of the perfect mix of performance, art, energy, and crowd.  I am on constant watch for it all coming together.  For all my cells to decide to do something special for a brief moment in time.  To push me to that promised land once again.

New Album in the Works?

So what if the paint hasn’t dried on our last album?  I am in the business of making music that I love, and I have been writing up a storm over here.

Having the piano in the living room is a big help, as I have been able to play it every day for at least a bit.  Usually when I sit down there, I write a song or a part of a song or a riff or some vocal melody.  Something.

I love the piano.  As it happens, “Faraway Farm & The Bird” was five minutes from being a piano-based album.  I had a list of about 100 songs in mind as possible album tracks, and as I narrowed it down, the mold of the songs was inching towards piano.  “Run. Run! Run!!! RUN!!! RUNNNN!!!!!” was originally written on piano.  It was also called, “Little Franky” at the time, but that is a different story.

Anyway, because Ryan, John, and I were having such a ball playing as a indie guitar-rock trio, I thought I would push the guys to produce some magic in that arena.  They delivered, and I haven’t looked back since.

But I do miss playing the piano live.  My weekly gig at Sportsman’s Pub is many years in the past, as is my piano-rock duo, Arthur Dent.  This next project is looking more and more like it will be an album of emotionally-charged piano music.  I have a song about my brother, Noah, a couple of beautiful songs about Lisa, a couple of songs about my cats, and a bunch of other ideas.

I like to put together a list of 100 for pretty much every creative thing I do, and musical albums are no exception.  From the list of 100, we will narrow it down to 10 or so that will be recorded for the album.

Oh!  And I also have this beautiful dance thing with Nate happening.  But more on that later.