A friend recently posted a blog that reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago at a sci-fi convention. I was not sure whether to chalk this event up to sexism in music, or just being new to that particular crowd.
The friend who posted the blog was Steph Anderson. She was moved to post her experiences with sexism in music after reading an article on BuzzFeed. What got my attention on this subject was that she and I have similar backgrounds. We both write and perform music about Harry Potter as well as about other topics that lend themselves to performing at sci-fi conventions.
My experience occurred at a convention whose theme changed yearly, and this particular year it was horror. All the guests and musical performances, known as filk, were horror-related. I performed as Mandala at Twilight, my vampire-themed music project.
I was excited to see that there was a song writing contest and eagerly entered it. I signed up an hour before the competition was to start and when I showed up at show time, there were only three other entrants. Two were male and one was female.
The audience was not huge, but there were people in attendance who were familiar with my vampire songs as well as my Harry Potter-themed music. Other audience members were familiar with my fellow songwriters because these filkers had been either performing at or attending this con over the years. I suspected that one of the contestants was recruited at the last minute to bulk up the number of competitors because, right before this musician performed his song, he admitted that he had just written it an hour before. It kind of sounded like he had.
After all four of us performed and while the judges were deliberating, the people I spoke with in the audience thought I had the first place award in the bag. I wasn’t sure about first place, but the one guy had a 10 minute-long song with about 15 verses, which made me start to daydream part-way through. His song was also a cappella, which it seems would not go over well with judges since a song is composed of more than lyrics and a melody; it also has accompanying music. Mr. Last Minute’s song was fair, and the other woman’s song was good, but I worried for her that her off-key performance would color the opinions of the judges. My song was more pop than traditional filk songs, but I figured a catchy lyrical hook, in addition to the fact that my song contained music, would help it to do well against the other song-writers given everything I just described.
The awards were handed out and I heard a few murmurs of surprise from the people sitting behind me. First place went to 15-verse guy, second place went to Mr. Last Minute, I placed third, and the other woman got fourth/last place. Someone behind me leaned forward and whispered that they were really surprised I did not get first place.
I was not too surprised. I figured that the two men were very active in the filk community in this area and that this familiarity may have played a role in the decisions of the judges. I thought, well they know me now, maybe next time.
After the room cleared out and I made my way into the hall, one of the judges approached me. She was the only female judge on the panel. She said she gave me the highest score and couldn’t understand why the other judges scored me as low as they did.
To this day I still do not know if it was that I was new to the scene, or more specifically, not in the “old boys” club. Neither should make a difference in a song-writing competition.
Art is subjective. Even if I really did think I was the best songwriter in the world, which I DO NOT, there is no way to know what will resonate with someone. I will never know for sure why the judges voted the way they did. At least third place looks snazzy if you don’t know it was out of four contestants. I got a nifty prize and was happy to get a few new fans, including the female judge who gave me her CD later that evening. What counts is that I enjoyed myself.
I just wish that the blatant sexism that we see all around didn’t force me to question if certain things don’t work out because I legitimately didn’t deserve them or simply because of my gender.
I bet you are thinking, “Mandala? Doing community service? WHAT could she POSSIBLY have done?!?!”
It’s not what you think! Let me start at the beginning.
Diagon Alley is a Chicago-based band made up of some ridiculously talented musicians. I always look forward to their Tuesday night Twitter antics, known as Tuesday Night Community Service (TNCS) and was excited when they asked me to be one of their interviewees.
The premise is simple: the first part of the interview is about the musician’s current projects. In the second part, Diagon Alley gets personal. The third part is the lightning round: questions are fired off faster than answers can be returned. Want to see what it’s all about? I’ve transcribed my TNCS experience below.
*Note* Like with any instant messaging conversation, the questions and answers often get a little out of order. Inevitably, someone is typing an answer while another question or comment is being fired back. I took the liberty of making a few minor adjustments to the actual order in which a few of these comments appeared to make it less confusing. I didn’t omit anything; I just tried to keep comments on one subject matter together.
*Second Note* Diagon Alley IS a punk rock band. There are a couple of bad words and some toilet humor, so be warned if you take offence to such things.
Here we go…
Diagon Alley: Welcome to Tuesday Night Community Service.
Diagon Alley: Tonight we will be interviewing the very lovely @MandalaSongs Everyone follow and tune in!
Me: @DiagonAlleyBand Lovely? Why, thank you!
Diagon Alley: But of course.
Diagon Alley: Hey! How’s it going on this wonderful evening?
Me: It’s going very well! So glad to be a part of this tonight!!
Me: Just for the occasion, I dug out my cup from The Dungeon in NOLA. That was a crazy night with you guys & @DrearyInferi WTB!
Me: (Wrock the Boat)
Diagon Alley: Haa! You want to talk about Nola eh?
Me: I might plead the fifth depending on what you ask
Diagon Alley: See the thing is..none of us can remember a single thing. We were just..home.
Me: I woke up to find I had my pic taken with Col. Sanders. Don’t remember that
Diagon Alley: Thats hot. Did you get some chicken?
Me: I wish I could remember! I think not.
Diagon Alley: Now this story just took a shitty turn..
Diagon Alley: We are honored you have joined us. So what have you been up to? New songs? Shows? Tell us good things.
Me: My most recent project was a rather dark, piano-based, 5 song EP available only as a physical CD http://mandalasongs.com
Me: Going old school NO DIGITAL! j/k
Diagon Alley: Why you messing with us?
Diagon Alley: We will be stealing a copy as soon as we see you!
Me: You got it!!!
Me: I also am having a digital download sale over at http://witherwings.bandcamp.com
Me: http://witherwings.bandcamp.com is the only place to find my first Witherwings CD “Swept Away” in a digital format.
Diagon Alley: Any shows in the near future?
Me: I am working on a show for 2014 ATM. But that’s a tad into the future. I just had a baby in November, so no shows yet.
Me: I am SO open to doing shows, but I just didn’t plan on anything for the near future. Are you inviting me out to Chicago?
Diagon Alley: Excellent! Congratulations! That is all wonderful news!
Me: This kiddo is already really into music. I’m going to start training him to back me up very soon.
Diagon Alley: Family bands rule!
Me: No way! I think he will bring in the ladies to the merch table. He’s a cutie pie!
**editor’s note** I thought the comment “Now this story just took a shitty turn..” was a baby poop joke and so responded with the comment above. My bad.
Diagon Alley: Are you ready to get down to the nitty-gritty?
Diagon Alley: Haaa awesome.
Diagon Alley: What’s your favorite song to do gardening to? We rock out Kenny Loggins.
Me: Green Day!
Diagon Alley: Who’s that?
Me: Some Environmental band I dunno.
Diagon Alley: They have a cool name. We are thinking of taking that name. You can be in the band.
Me: Sold. I miss being in a band!
Diagon Alley: We just started one. We are called Green Day.
Me: we are going to have so many fans already!
Diagon Alley: Yes. Are songs rock the fuck out!
Diagon Alley: How nitty-gritty do you get?
Me: Well we already established the baby poo factor. That’s pretty gritty!
Diagon Alley: What foot do you put your sock on first?
Diagon Alley: Try the right tomorrow. See what happens.
Me: That’s crazy talk. Too wild for me.
Diagon Alley: What do you do with the poo?
Me: Flush it because we are all hip and with it and use these cool hybrid environmentally sound diapers
Diagon Alley: Like the car?
Me: Yes. Also with no gas.
Diagon Alley: What’s your favorite breakfast cereal and why? Please also note and show your work.
Me: Damn, I was going to run down to the kitchen, and take a pic, but I ate it all! I stocked up on Count Chocula! ALLL GONE.
Diagon Alley: This is now a problem.
Me: I even looked to see if I had a pic of a box on my phone. I love it that much – I thought for sure I would have taken a pic
Me: Instead I will give you this pic of an omelette I once made.
Diagon Alley: We want omelets
Me: I will make some for our first band practice as Green Day.
Diagon Alley: How will you handle your breakfast
Me: I recently learned to make oatmeal with chocolate chips. See a trend?
Diagon Alley: The trend is set.
Diagon Alley: How does there color purple make you feel?
Me: I’m afraid I never saw that movie.
Diagon Alley: Did you read the book? Oprah is in it.
Me: Oprah WROTE it. You see her all the time in Chicago, right?
Diagon Alley: She buys weed from us. Cuki isn’t allowed within 100 feet of her. Old shit.
Diagon Alley: Sooo. Are you ready for the lightning round?
Me: I sure hope so… I mean… BRING IT!
Diagon Alley: Pizza or Tacos?
Diagon Alley: live or memorex?
Diagon Alley: trolling or fly fishing?
Me: trolling on the net baby
Diagon Alley: Leather or micro-fiber?
Diagon Alley: Overalls or Suspernders?
Diagon Alley: Dolphin or Porpoise?
Me: dolphin. people always confuse those two…
Diagon Alley: Polka or Waltz?
Diagon Alley: Butler or bartender?
Diagon Alley: Dark Grey or Light Grey?
Diagon Alley: Menthol or Full-flavor?
Me: cough cough neither
Diagon Alley: Grey or Gray?
Diagon Alley: Pj’s or Snuggie?
Diagon Alley: Foot or Feet?
Me: It’s good to have two
Diagon Alley: Fight or Flight?
Me: I’m BUCKBEAK!
Diagon Alley: Baby Ruth or snickers?
Diagon Alley: Compression or Extrusion?
Diagon Alley: Sharpie or dry-erase?
Diagon Alley: Flour or Flower?
Diagon Alley: Cotton candy or a bag of sugar?
Me: both! Pour them in my mouth!
Diagon Alley: Pigeon-towed or Bow-legged?
Diagon Alley: Herpes or Hemmorhoids?
Diagon Alley: Raviolli or Rotini?
Diagon Alley: Cacti or Porcupine?
Me: I love animals
Diagon Alley: Desert or Ocean?
Me: always the water
Diagon Alley: York or New York?
Me: NEW YORK!
Diagon Alley: Dreamsicle or Fudgesicle?
Me: rOCKET pOP
Diagon Alley: Skidmark or Pee Stain?
Me: You are gross
Diagon Alley: Space Shuttle or Space Station?
Me: Don’t make me cry. I no longer have a choice!
Diagon Alley: Skynard or Allman Brothers?
Diagon Alley: Fries or tots?
Diagon Alley: Beer or Shots?
Diagon Alley: Salt or Pepper?
Diagon Alley: or
Diagon Alley: Orange Soda or Grape Soda?
Diagon Alley: Convection oven or microwave over?
Me: We have one that’s BOTH
Diagon Alley: Pandora or Spotify?
Me: Spotify gives me money
Diagon Alley: Handsome or Pretty?
Diagon Alley: Burps or Farts?
Diagon Alley: Bus or Train?
Me: GGGARRRRRRRRR DON’T SHOW ME THSES THINGS
Diagon Alley: Jekyll or Hyde?
Diagon Alley: Slow or Fast?
Diagon Alley: speed of light, or speed of sound
Me: sound. Love me a sonic boom!
Diagon Alley: sabb or volvo
Diagon Alley: Trampled by elephants or Strangled by snakes?
Me: Elephants. Execpt for that one guy who got smothered by poo.
Diagon Alley: darth vader, or dark helmet
Me: That’s not fair
Diagon Alley: “take my hand”, or “when a man loves a woman”
Diagon Alley: Genesis or Apocalypse?
Diagon Alley: alligator or shark
Diagon Alley: blue or yellow
Diagon Alley: candy or chocolate
Me: ALL OF IT
Diagon Alley: Genesis or Phil Collins solo?
Diagon Alley: blondes or brunettes
Diagon Alley: jumping or flying
Diagon Alley: wipe the seat clockwise, or counterclockwise
Me: You guys know to wipe? That is so awesome!
Diagon Alley: Genesis or Peter Gabriel solo?
Diagon Alley: have wrong size shoe, or wrong size underwear
Me: Ew. Harder to loose the shoe.
Diagon Alley: Giving money for the homeless or buy beer for the homeless?
Me: Well they might just buy beer. Eliminate the middle man
Diagon Alley: colonoscapy or a tummy tuck
Me: There is a poo theme here.
Diagon Alley: smoke 13 cigarettes or drink 13 beers in a row
Diagon Alley: Last one! Sausage fingers or Crooked talon toes?
Me: WHAT THE I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT IS.
Diagon Alley: We would like to thank the very wonderful @MandalaSongs for joining us tonight. We had a blast! Thank you.
Me: No, Thank YOU!!! That was a blast!!!
Me: See you guys this weekend for band practice. What do you want in your omelets?
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog, I released an EP back in October, but was too busy preparing for and experiencing the birth of my first child to post about the making of the album.
I had a lot of emotional baggage I wanted to dump before I needed to be a rock for this helpless little bundle, and I really feel that producing this CD was effective in doing that. I previously blogged about some of the CD’s darker content, but never got around to explaining some of the behind-the-scenes work that went into making the CD.
When it came to the album art, I decided that I wanted to make it myself. I was once very active with sketching and doodling and I liked to paint once in a while. It has been a while though, and I was unsure of what I was going to be able to accomplish. I had a vision, but could I pull it off? I think I did!
I needed four images: the cover, the inside cover, the back cover and the CD itself. The image featured in the photo above was used for the back cover. The front cover ended up being an experimental mixed-media piece. I like how it came out.
If you would like to listen to some of this new music, I have clips of two of the songs: “Momentarily Distracted” and “Wrong” on my website. If you like what you hear, visit the site’s store and pick up the full EP!
My music career has taken a brief pause these last couple of months as I have been adjusting to being a new mom. It has been exhausting, but I am so in love with this little boy. He is starting to coo now and I just cannot get enough of it! And yes, I have been recording him!
I knew being a first-time mommy was going to be all-consuming, so I made sure to bust my butt to get some new music out before the baby was born.
If you are not already aware, I released a five song EP in October called Momentarily Distracted. It was a unique experience for me in both recording and song-writing. It was the first time I used Ardour 3 as my sole DAW (digital audio workstation.) Learning how to use Ardour has been a huge part of this blog and I am quite proud that I was able to navigate it with relative ease after a short adjustment period. It was also the first CD I put out under just “Mandala” rather than one of my other projects.
As I have done in the past, I collaborated with a couple of musicians to fill out the sound on a few songs. I wear many hats, but I am not the best bass player and I am certainly no drummer. I love that with today’s resources and technology, you no longer need to be in the same city, or even the same state in order to collaborate with other musicians. While I reside in the Washington DC area, the drummer lives in Massachusetts and the bass player lives in Florida. Both guys are really into recording equipment and I knew they would be able to provide me with high quality recordings to edit and mix into my own.
It had been a couple of years since I used outside musicians, and that was long before I converted my studio to a Linux-based system. I knew I might have to do things a little differently. The only issue I really had with these songs was that both the drummer and the bass player recorded their tracks with a 44.1 sample rate, whereas I was using 88.2 kHz. (My previous DAW only allowed my to record in 44.1, so it was not an issue.) I did some searching and found a blog that explained “time stretching” in Ardour. Time stretching is when an algorithm is used to force a recording to play at another speed without changing the pitch of the track. It seemed like the perfect solution, but I was not able to get it to work. It would get through about 99% of the render before crashing the session no matter how many times I tried it.
I was on a tight schedule and needed a quick solution. I ended up just creating a final mix in 44.1 kHz. I imported the bass and drum tracks and made sure I had all my vocal and MIDI keyboard tracks exactly as I wanted them before exporting them from 88.2 kHz to 44.1 kHz and importing them to this “final” version. I still maintained my higher bit rate when converting. The two musicians had nearly final versions of my parts to perform along to, so everything synched up perfectly.
I have been meaning to post an update, but I have been so busy that I felt like I could not properly express all of my emotions.
I finished recording and editing my CD, sent it off to be printed, and it is now in my hands. It looks and sounds great.
I opened one and listened to it yesterday, and was surprised to find myself getting emotional about it. Writing these songs was a very different experience for me than it was with other albums and projects. Whether or not an album had a theme, I always tried to stay true to my source material, but it was a must to also make each song personal. This time around, there was no theme. This is not a CD about vampires or about witches and wizards.
I’ve not talked much about it on social media, but I am pregnant, and there is something about bringing a little baby into the world that made me want to dig deep and release a lot of darkness before the day I meet him or her. Some of the songs will not be easy to listen to. When I listened to the CD yesterday after having some distance from it, it was sort of hard for ME to listen to. In fact, I feel a little like Tori Amos as I enter into the uncomfortable territory as she often does with her songs.
I am very proud of this album. It is an EP, but it is a power-packed five songs, and I hope you enjoy them. I hope that people can relate to the songs and maybe feel the release that I did by writing and recording them.
I will be performing these songs live for the first time tonight here in DC and then tomorrow in Greensboro, North Carolina where I will also have the CDs for sale. On-line sales will start on Monday, and I will post an update here with that link when they go live. You can listen to short clips of two of the songs right now on my Website. The songs are called “Momentarily Distracted” and “Wrong.”
*UPDATE* You can now purchase the CD from the shop on my Website!
Trent Reznor, formerly of Nine Inch Nails and currently of How To Destroy Angels, recently announced that he and his band have “formally partnered with Columbia Records for our next series of releases.”
I took a class a few months ago called Survey of the Music Business. Our final paper was to write about a national/celebrity musician who embraced a facet of the music business that we valued. As an independent musician who does everything DIY, I decided Trent Reznor was a great celebrity to discuss. He has gone fully DIY over the years and has not only been very innovative, but has been very vocal about it as well.
A few highlights from my paper:
Trent Reznor is a proponent of getting his music to his fans in ways that side-step the major channels such as radio or MTV. In 2005 he made his album “With Teeth” available for streaming on MySpace prior to its official release. He also placed a promotional video for the song “The Hand That Feeds” on his personal website rather than go through television channels.
Trent was also ahead of the curve in releasing his music to fans to manipulate. In 2005, just three years after Creative Commons released the first version of its licenses, Trent released the source files in Garage Band format for “The Hand That Feeds” and encouraged fans to remix the song. He later released a second song from the album with additional available formats.
Avoiding major digital retailers, Trent released his 2008 instrumental album “Ghosts I-IV” on his website and offered the album for download in higher-quality formats than the usual outlets could offer. He even offered (and still offers) the first volume for free. Despite the free content, his $300 limited edition packages sold out. In addition to the unusual style of the release, the album was licensed under Creative Commons.
So what about all of that success you had without a label, Trent?
I guess I cannot fault him, after all, he DID start off with a label, and perhaps he would have just stayed a local band to me in Cleveland, Ohio if his early labels had not shot Nine Inch Nails to popularity. He became a master of self promotion over the years, but he DID have a bit of a head start thanks to labels. He says in his facebook post that “complete independent releasing has its great points but also comes with shortcomings.” I do understand that.
For all the boasting he has done about being independent, I sure would love to hear more about why he is changing his course 180 degrees. Call it professional curiosity.
In the last couple of days I have seen many people posting about the recent controversy involving Amanda Palmer.
On August 21st, Amanda put out a call for volunteer musicians to join her and her band-mates on stage in every city of her tour. She offers to pay them in beer, t-shirts and hugs.
Several news outlets such as Prefix and Digital Music News have published articles either bashing this practice or talking about how people are bashing this practice in light of the huge amount of money she raised using Kickstarter. There are some pretty harsh replies in the comments.
But when I read the articles, I was not outraged. I didn’t see the fault in this request.
I thought from the headlines that I would be upset. After all, I am a musician who has had to play plenty of shows for no pay. Instead I was given the meager compensation of being allowed to operate a merchandise table, sometimes only during my set. I was even asked to play a show this past summer at a very large convention where my perks were so non-existent, I was not even privileged enough to be able to attend the convention!
Needless to say, I turned that one down.
I am lucky that my fans are generous and I usually make enough to cover gas and tolls, and can stash a little away for my next big equipment purchase (I am so close to getting new monitor speakers for the studio!!!)
I get the outrage though. I get that musicians are insulted that somehow people expect them to perform for free while everyone else involved in a production gets paid. I am not sure how or when this started, but it seems pretty common these days.
In fact, a former band-mate of mine, who has a new band and is playing regular (paid) gigs, recently posted a response he wrote to a request for his band to play for free. I might have clapped after reading it. I certainly shared it with anyone who would read it. This is what he posted on his facebook page:
Got an e-mail asking The StraightJackets to play a corporate affair…for free. They promised us “exposure” via their website and videos posted on YouTube that would be far more valuable.
Oh, by the way, they wanted us to bring the PA, too!
Thanks for contacting The StraightJackets.
Corporate shows start at $1500. Outside shows cost $1000 more because of the added PA necessary.
We will add your event to our calendar which gets THOUSANDS of hits and will add videos from the show to our video page giving you incredible exposure for your product. Literally millions of hits per month. You will have more clients than you have product for. That will more than offset the fee we charge to play for your event.
What…you don’t think that the exposure is worth the money?
Neither do we.
But, we are glad to provide you with this exposure since you have asked us to rehearse until we are good enough to be in demand, buy a full PA big enough to handle an outdoor event, travel to your event, set up our PA, play for your event and entertain your clients and friends, tear down, and load out our gear for you…all for free. I guess you are also wanting us to be skilled, talented, and professional, also for free.
You don’t give your pools away for free and we don’t give our music away for free, especially to corporations. You will be paying someone to pick up the garbage for your event, the least you can do is pay the musicians, too.
Good luck on your upcoming venture.
So yeah, if this email got me all riled up, you would think I would be outraged by Amanda Palmer, right? Nope. Why? Because if I was reading Amanda Palmer’s blog, it would be because I was a huge fan. And if one of my favorite musicians gave me the chance to play with her on stage in my home town, I would take it without a thought. Beer, a t-shirt, and a hug as payment? Bonus.
She has a paid band backing her up. This call for volunteers is a way to incorporate her fans into her art. It is something she is known for. There is a reason she has a HUGE following and can do spontaneous shows and pack the place.
The controversy apparently arose from the fact that she raised a huge amount of money from Kickstarter. They wonder if she has all this cash, why can’t she pay these musicians?
I think people are missing the point.
Yeah, she did raise over a million dollars from Kickstarter, but since she breaks down where that money is going in her blog it is clear to see that this money is allocated to her amazing Kickstarter rewards and to creating and distributing the album. It has nothing to do with whether or not she has money left over to pay musicians; she IS paying her touring band. Instead, it is about her fans having a once-in-a-lifetime experience to become a part of her show rather than just watching it from afar.
So yes, I think musicians should be paid, but sometimes you take a freebie because it is something that is so cool, you just can’t pass it up. It might even lead to a future paying gig. There is a big difference between being asked to be the main entertainment for a private party and asking if any fans would like to be a part of their favorite musician’s show.
So you just keep doing what you are doing, Amanda Palmer.
Digital Music News posted an article yesterday called Amanda Palmer Agrees to Pay Guest Musicians. The article quotes the blog, but does NOT post a link to it. I always like to read things in their entity, so I searched for it on my own, and now you can read it for yourself.
While searching, I also located a blog from September 14th that further explains Amanda’s personal experiences with volunteering or having to pay her own way, and the benefits she received from it. For example, I learned about an experience she had with her former band:
“…sometimes even paying for my own travel for the privilege of playing with my idols. (the dresden dolls lost a lot of money in order to travel around opening up for nine inch nails. and good lord, were we grateful to lose that money…it won us a huge bunch of fans).”
Amanda makes many, many good points about how different things work for different artists, no matter how famous or how obscure. I really recommend reading it!
My opinion on the matter still remains that there are situations in which I volunteer my time, and others in which I do not. I guess it depends on whether or not I feel I am being taken advantage of, or if perhaps I am gaining some sort of advantage (even if small) for doing so. Only good can come of her decision to pay these musicians, but I still do not fault her for asking for volunteers. After all, I am in the middle of recording a CD at the moment, and where would I be if I didn’t have musician friends who were willing to work for peanuts?! The good will comes back around, my friends.