Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring Cleaning

This week I offer a short and sweet post as I am on my way out the door for some Spring skiing/snowboarding. Yep, Spring is upon us and I am feeling reborn. The malaise that typically coincides with the completion of a relatively major project is gone, and now, I am ready to subject myself to much more; projects and malaise. Portrait of a tortured artist? Or an artist that loves torture? I hope I am not THAT cliche ridden.

The days are getting longer which gives me more time to retreat from the sun (I am a salamander), hide away in my bunker, and get to work. Right now, I am all about industriousness and full on output...with some quality control of course. I don't know, maybe I am falling victim to the latest rash of Home Depot commercials - turning up my "doing dial" - or something like that. But really, this is also about staying busy and staying positive in a down economy. It is no secret that gigs have been tough this year, all things are slow, so, I am working on controlling what I can while I can.

My wife often asks me what I do during the day when I am home working. In a nuttshell, in no particular order, and with variable attention and priority, here is what I am working on. ALL of which will be completed by year's end. Here it is in writing. It shall be done. If I could sign this blog, I would use twenty pens to do so.

My current work flow and projects in process:
  • Spinning some solid ideas for new solo compositions.
  • Completing work (at least back in the groove) on the next New Roots Duo CD. The tunes are getting close and recording should begin this Summer.
  • I have outlined and have begun arranging the Christmas CD. Yep, I am going to do it.
  • Getting closer to starting my etude project/teaching method.
  • Finally transcribing my pieces and will have them available for sale on my site as I get them done.
  • Setting up shows/gigs.
  • Playing shows/gigs.
  • Scheduling and keeping up with various rehearsals.
  • Practicing, practicing, and practicing again.
  • Always listening. Always.
  • Researching new pieces and ideas for instruction.
  • Teaching.
  • Keeping up with business junk and general promotion.
  • Blog.
Of course, all of these options could be sent back to committee for review. I also reserve the right to repeal any and all subjects based on feasibility. Geez, I don't want to bankrupt my soul.

Happy Spring Everyone!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Great Christmas Album Dilemma

This week's events have sparked, or rather, reignited, the nagging internal debate that I have suffered through for years as a musical artist: Should I make a Christmas album? My wife thinks so. I was at Hoffman Guitars the other day, and, I was being encouraged to do so by the staff as well. I greatly respect all of these opinions.

As we all know, Christmas is BIG business. Some say it is evil business. And EVERYONE has made a Christmas album. To me, Christmas has always just been about a fun time filled with family, friends, warm memories, and...presents! A beacon of light in the the vast darkness of the Minnesota Winter season.

Many artists that I greatly admire have made Christmas albums. I remember when  Billy McLaughlin took the turn sometime in '96. His words: "Ben, I sold my soul and finally made a Christmas record." Now, he is doing VERY well with his 'Simple Gifts' ensemble and has managed to make the experience into quality musical art...and big business.

Leo Kottke actually contributed a tune to a Christmas compilation album. His only criteria: he had to write his own Christmas tune; the exquisite 'Accordion Bells'. Of course, this idea is the most appealing to me.

Pete Mayer released a holiday album called, 'Midwinter' - a collection of original songs on various themes of the holiday season, some more strongly related to it than others." Another attractive idea but, I am no Pete Mayer.

And then, there is Lorie Line...we'll let that one go.

I guess I have always thought of these projects as 'selling out', or a way to jump start a sagging career, or a way to jump start ANY semblance of a career. I have not been able to put a positive spin on my own possible participation in such an endeavor. I am still desperately holding on to the idea of being 'the artist', the guy who does not compromise his principles, and, blah blah blah. So, how does one balance the business vs. art in this debate? I think it is an unwinnable war. I feel as though there is devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other both whispering in my ears. Is that a scene from 'Animal House'?!

So, I am starting to make plans and have begun to outline the project. This does not mean it is going to get done, it just means I am thinking more about the possibility.There has to be a snappy title; something other than "Holiday Guitar", "Christmas Music for the Soul", "Guitar and Tinsel", and so on....

Tune selection will be very important. I gotta incorporate the 'hits' but be sure to include some creative twists as well...maybe an original composition or two. Maybe some Elvis? Oh! I have an idea!

Cover art is key as well. See title comments. Avoid any and all cheese.

No flutes, no strings, no harp.

Keep it simple. Intimate. Do what you do best.

Red and green with a little blue.
100 percent solo guitar.

A lot of joy and additional warmth can be brought to a lot people with music; especially friends and family. What a wonderful gift.

Hmm...this could be good.

Stay tuned my friends. 7 months and counting. Have you started your shopping yet? Get ready! Ben Woolman's Christmas album, coming to a Walmart near you!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Just Walking Around

Dan said, "Let's just spend a quick 10 minutes on this." And then, we were off...

I have been decompressing from my CD release and accompanying release concert the past couple of weeks. Just kind of walking around both literally and figuratively; stuck in a moderate rut. Coming down from these peak events can be so draining and it always takes some time to find my feet again, stand up, balance, and start moving on to the next thing.

Dan and I were setting up to begin working through a routine rehearsal session. We have both been more preoccupied with our other projects as of late but remain committed to writing and rehearsing as a duo in an effort to release another collection of music later this year. We were tuning, chatting, etc, and then I started to play a rather simple, lush, chord progression on my baritone guitar to warm up. Dan started playing along and the beginnings of a new piece of music were born.

By the end of the session, we had the framework, or at least a bulk of the main ideas for a complete piece. You never know when these moments will occur and it's funny how sublime ideas can emerge after some time away and extended periods of nothingness. This wasn't the intention of our rehearsal. What was on it's way to being  somewhat standard ended up being somewhat liberating.

Moments like these serve as a reminder of why I make music in the first place. It is so easy to get bogged down by the business, the criticism, the stalled progress, and the emptiness. But every so often, there is a light. Even a new sprinkle of a musical idea can serve as a fine elixir to ease the ailment of creative and professional stagnation. It is even bigger than. When one is so consumed  by their work, it can influence the overall perspective on life and existence. I am serious. Looking inward, mining the dark interior caverns, following an idea to it's ultimate apex, or ultimate demise. When you are fully consumed with this process, you forget everything else but the music. And, no matter how brief, said process is crucial to maintaining the mental and spiritual health of any musician. These are the only times when I feel that I am truly living in the present, completely centered.

So, 10 minutes and 1 hour later we had a new tune. I am still walking around. However, I definitely have a new spring in my step.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Tune In, Listen, Raise Your Thumbs!

This week I offer you a sort of corollary to my previous article, The World is Not Small. Internet radio is quickly becoming a viable promotional tool for independent musicians such as myself. They are becoming more and more ubiquitous, are often free, pay royalties, many major artists are on board, and, the most powerful aspect of all is that the listener is in control. On various services such as Pandora, listeners can create their own personalized stations based on an artist or genre they like, and then, music that fits the chosen criteria begins to populate their set list.

Currently I am in the process of adding my music to as many of these stations as possible and just working on getting to know the medium. The approval process for Pandora is quite lengthy, is cool, then, a friend of mine introduced me to Jango which boasts over 6 million listeners strong. It works the same was as the other stations with one additional feature; the artist can pay for target marketing. The theory is that with target marketing you can identify the exact listener who your music will appeal to according to demographics, genre, geography, and hence, start building a legion of  fans potentially around the world. Sure, I am skeptical but, since I am not touring at the moment, any and all forms of promotion for the new album are on the table. So, I bought 1000 targeted plays, and this is how it all went down (I mean, Madonna is here, so, how bad could it be?):

Here is the link to the Ben Woolman Jango Station.

I associated myself with artists like: Leo Kottke, Michael Hedges, Sting, Pete Huttlinger, John Fahey, Nickel Creek, James Taylor, Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, and so on.

Genre (never has there been an adequate genre description for finger-style guitar so I always settle for what is offered): Folk, Instrumental, New Age, Ambient, Barf

In a little more than a week I have had my music played 2000 times to a target audience (yes, I re-upped to another 1000 plays), plus, additional organic plays to folks who found me on their own. 131 people have become fans in that they chose to click the thumbs up logo on my station which states, "I am a Fan!".

My music has now been heard in the following countries, that I know of: US, Canada, Texas, Italy, Australia, Egypt, Brazil, Japan, UK, Columbia, New Zealand, Mexico, Phillipines, Finland, Netherlands, Turkey, France, Germany, Morocco, India, Bosnia, Singapore, Czech Republic, France, Portugal, and, Romania.

Select listener comments:

very nice mood indeed, Ben...thank you!

fantastic guitar playing.

Make me feel dreams!!

this is very light, pretty and very relaxing... Reminds me of the beauty of simplicity.

nice guitar...makes me more jealous of you..amazing ...

Time will tell if this kind of promotion will yield any tangible results, i.e. sales. I remain a skeptic in many ways but it has been a kick to get e-mails on a daily basis informing me that someone, anyone, is listening and that they are now a fan of me. But, they are tuning in and showing their love. It definitely has been an effective promotional tool for my self-confidence and most assuredly my ego. Without much live performance at the moment, this kind validation can be invaluable. The bottom line is, my music is out there and it is being heard. Oops, that reminds me, I am just about out of plays this week. I better login and check my account. Hey, who says money can't buy happiness?