I usually get a generous amount of airplay when I have something new to share, but it’s not something I expect or take for granted. It’s always a heartening feeling when people I have good feelings for respond to something I’ve done in a positive way. And I don’t think seeing yourself on the charts ever stops feeling good.
I’m always curious to hear which songs the DJs are going to gravitate toward. This time — and I don’t remember hearing this happen with any other album I’ve made — one specific song was played at least three times in succession, on three different shows, on three different days. You never really know what’s going to grab people. That’s part of the fun. In this case I blame Kelly Grace, who has a featured vocal spot on the song that got so much action early on. There’s something uniquely beautiful about the sound of her voice. “Quiet power” is the only way I can think of to describe what comes across when she sings.
In a part of the house I guess you’d call our living room (we’re alive, and we relax in there, so I think it meets the criteria) we have this old radio that used to belong to my Bubi. It’s probably sixty or seventy years old by now. It’s powered by tubes. It doesn’t look too imposing, but music comes roaring out of its mono speaker with a power that belies its size. I’ve been around this radio for most of my life. I still can’t get over how rich and full it sounds.
Last week, Brady devoted a segment of his show Music From Planet Earth to a whole chunk of songs from the first disc of the album. Pause with me for a moment to admire this great art Greg Maxwell made for the show’s Facebook page.
Gotta say I’m a little envious of the dude performing in that image. I’ve always wanted fans with tentacles and antennae.
I listened to Brady’s show on Bubi’s radio. The sound of my own songs coming through that mono speaker almost parted my hair. And there were no audible phase issues! Hooray! That was a treat in itself, but what was really fascinating was getting to hear five or six songs out of sequence, arranged in a way that was unfamiliar to me.
Something that simple allowed me to step back and listen with some small amount of objectivity for the first time. Since I’ve finished this album, the main thing I’ve felt is relief that the whole ordeal is over. I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish, but it’s been difficult to untangle the music from everything that went into making it. It felt pretty great to be able to forget about all of that and just enjoy the songs.
Was it an easy album to make? Not hardly. But as much as I might grumble about the frustrations and indignities I had to endure along the way, I think the juice was worth the pulp. It’s beginning to dawn on me just how proud I am of this one. You never want any statement to be your last, and I intend to make a lot more music, but if I got flattened by cartwheeling bears tomorrow I’d feel pretty good about going out on a note like this.
There have always been two impulses inside of me standing in direct opposition to each other, struggling for supremacy. There’s the desire to share my music and connect with people. And there’s the desire to keep it to myself and operate in total obscurity.
At one point I told myself I wasn’t going to give anyone a copy of this album when it was finished. I changed my mind. Already some of the contributing musicians have ignored my messages. I could go on harassing them until I get their attention for a few seconds, but having to beg someone to accept a free copy of something they played a part in is a bit too much for me. All it does is prove how little they cared to begin with. They never had any skin in the game.
Of the thirty-four singers, musicians, and visual artists who contributed to the album, there are at least fifteen I can’t share it with because they won’t acknowledge me. If I’m not in a great frame of mind, this is the sort of thing that makes me want to wall myself off from the rest of the world and start living up to the “reclusive” label I used to get tagged with by idiot writers who had no interest in learning anything about who I really was.
But the battle between those two oppositional impulses rages on. Hot on the heels of that latest disappointment, I gave some serious thought to sending the album out to a bunch of different radio stations.
Every now and then, one well-meaning friend or another has told me I should consider sending my music to different campus/community radio stations outside of Windsor. Other local artists have done this and had some amount of success. Why not me?
Tempted as I’ve sometimes been to give it a shot, the only way I’ve ever felt I could offer someone a decent introduction to my music was by giving them a stack of my last six or eight albums. If I sent a package that size to a radio station’s music director, I think they would roll their eyes and chuck the CDs straight into the “rejected music” bin.
I wouldn’t hold it against them. That’s a lot of music to dump on anyone.
One radio station playing my noise has always been more than enough for me. I have a relationship with CJAM that spans almost twenty years. I think it means something to the people there when I give them a new album and a handwritten note. It means something to me when they play my music. I know it’s a personal choice they’ve made — not something they’ve been instructed to do. My music would mean nothing to a music director who’s never heard of me or a host of DJs in another city.
I know it sounds like I’ve got the whole thing backwards. Local support is often taken as a given. You’re supposed to have some desire to expand your reach and gain new listeners outside of your own city. I’ve heard the expression “hometown heroes” used to belittle artists who don’t have any interest in building their brand.
My brain doesn’t work that way. I don’t have a brand. I make music. I share it with the people I care about. That’s about as far as the promotional game goes for me.
I’ve always wondered, though…would any music director or DJ at a station outside of Windsor have any interest in the noises I make? If I’ve ever had an album I could let stand on its own as a showcase for what I’m capable of, this is the one. I’ve learned I could send my packages through CJAM, eliminating shipping expenses and increasing my chances of being taken seriously. Why not give it a try? At least I’d be able to say I put myself out there. I’ve cracked the !earshot Top 200 a few times on the strength of CJAM’s support alone. You never know. If I scared up a bit of airplay at a few other stations, I might be able to make a real run at the Top 50. It would almost be worth doing just to piss a few people off.
I’ve given all of this a lot of consideration over the last few weeks. The more considering I’ve done, the less appealing the idea has become.
There’s a protocol you’re meant to follow when sending your music to a radio station. Along with a copy of your album, you need to include something called a one-sheet. This is a single-page overview of your music, usually geared toward whatever your current album is. You provide a brief bio and praise yourself in the third person. Maybe you include a few quotes from local journalists to make yourself sound important. You offer a list of three or four suggested tracks, since no one is going to take the time to listen to your album all the way through. You specify what genre your music falls into. You include a RIYL (Recommended If You Like) subsection, noting what your music sounds like or who your influences are.
There are some music directors who are receptive to a more unique or less formal approach. But ask anyone how to run a successful radio mailing campaign and they’ll tell you the one-sheet is a must. It’s all most people have the time to read, and it gives them the information they need in a form that’s easy to digest.
There’s no polite way to say this, so I’m just going to say it: I think one-sheets are bullshit. I think they should be renamed “one-shits”. I understand why artists make them and why radio stations request them, but this idea that some semblance of who you are and what you do can be condensed onto a single piece of paper is absurd to me. It’s impersonal. It’s reductive. It’s worthless. It’s like handing someone a business card on your first date and assuming they now have a good understanding of what you’re all about based on that little laminated piece of nothing.
I’ve never made a one-sheet. I’ve tried once or twice just to see if I could do it. I can’t. It’s an affront to everything I believe in. Even trying to put together a parody of a one-sheet for the purpose of this post felt like a colossal waste of time. I lasted all of three minutes before throwing in the towel.
I don’t know what genre I fit into. I’ve never been able to come up with a satisfactory answer to that question. If I tell you I’m a progressive alternative folk artist, I fail on two fronts — it’s not really what I am at all, and contorting myself to fit inside that box doesn’t begin to capture how my music sounds, what it does, or where it goes. If I invent my own genre like “kaleidoscopic anti-pop” or “homespun sonic archery”, I come off as being pretentious. There’s no way for you to know I’m slapping those words together with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Singling out a few choice tracks? Ha! There are no singles on the album. It’s an album. And writing about myself in the third person always makes me feel kind of ridiculous.
(Note: if you’re an artist who’s made a one-sheet as part of a radio mailing campaign or a music director who finds them helpful, I’m not criticizing you. My disdain is reserved for the one-sheet itself. It’s the concept of the thing I object to.)
I’ve also learned a number of stations no longer accept physical albums. They’ll only consider digital submissions.
I refuse to digitize this album. Forget about losing the precise spacing I programmed between the songs to create the rhythm of the listening experience. I won’t separate the music from the lyrics and the artwork. I didn’t work to make this a meaningful tactile experience so I could turn around and flatten it out into a one-dimensional online magazine.
After mulling it over, I decided I can live without solving the mystery of what would happen if I sent my music to different radio stations across Canada. At best, I’d gain nothing but some bragging rights, and I’d deplete my already limited supplies. At worst, I’d deplete those supplies for nothing.
Here’s what I did instead. I sent copies of the album to three specific DJs who have shows on CJSW (Calgary), CBFX (Montreal), and KEXP (Seattle). I wrote each of them a handwritten letter. I did it because I like what they do and my gut tells me they might be open-minded enough to get something out of the music. I’m bypassing the music directors of these stations altogether, making it clear I’m not after any airplay or attention, and kicking an inherently impersonal undertaking in the ribs with everything I’ve got until it passes out from the pain.
Believe it or not, this is how I first gained some traction at CJAM. I tried to get the attention of two different music directors in 2002 and 2003. Or maybe they were station managers. I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter. The first guy wouldn’t give me the time of day. The second guy was nice enough but didn’t do anything. He was gone within a few months. I was later told he was incompetent and nothing ever got done on his watch.
After respecting the chain of command and getting nowhere, I found a few shows I liked, with DJs who had eclectic enough taste that I thought they might at least be willing to listen to a song or two instead of dismissing me out of hand. I dropped a few CDs and letters in their mail slots. Most of them ignored me, but one person started playing my music. Because of her I got the attention of the station manager and the music director, my albums made it into the on-air library, and the rest is lobster ravioli.
Today I’m not trying to get anyone to notice me. I don’t expect any of those three people to play anything of mine on their shows. I don’t expect any of them to even acknowledge me. But if just one of them happens to find something of value in the music and they take the time to convey that to me, it’ll mean more than any amount of airplay in another city ever would.
In the meantime, I’m enjoying hearing myself on the radio right here at home. Who could ask for anything more?
A little bird told me Brady is going to be playing some selections from the second disc of YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK on his show this Friday. If you’re expecting a copy of the album but haven’t received it yet, you can get a bit of a preview of what’s on the way by listening to Music From Planet Earth on CJAM tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. If you’re so inclined, you can stream the live feed here (or peruse the MP3 archives later on).
Unrelated, but kind of fun:
A few days ago I was listening to the 2003 CD remaster of Synchronicity by The Police. I pulled out the lyric booklet for a read-through. When I got to “Walking in Your Footsteps”, I did a double-take. There’s a glaring typo in the chorus. It reads, “Walking in YOU footsteps.” The R is nowhere to be found.
What’s incredible to me is that this wasn’t missed once or twice. It was missed five times in succession in the same song. There isn’t a single error-free iteration of the phrase in the body text.
These typos don’t exist in the lyric sheet that came with the vinyl record or the original CD. So someone fell asleep at the wheel when they were putting the reissue together. This was a major label project with (I assume) some serious money behind it.
After seeing that, I feel a whole lot better about the two minor typos I missed in the initial run of SLEEPWALK booklets. I guess we all miss a letter, a word, or a bit of punctuation sooner or later.