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You Can Be a Record Producer!

It’s true. You can even be MY record producer, or at least an honorary one. All it takes is some money. But before you label me a total mercenary, read on…

You may have noticed these days the indie record/music scene is almost as big as the non-indie scene – if not in terms of dollars, then certainly in terms of the number of artists. In fact, there are undoubtedly more independents than acts signed to major labels. Everyone with three chords and a laptop is a musician nowadays. Democracy comes to the music biz!

Independently poor

The Internet played a large part in this, of course. Suddenly everyone was illegally sharing music and no one was buying. So labels would only sign sure moneymakers, forcing artists to make albums independently – i.e., paying to do it themselves. And becoming even poorer in the process. Sometimes they’d make the money back and even turn a tidy profit, but often they’d end up working at Timmie’s to pay the studio bills.

But the indie scene has actually been around a heck of a lot longer than the Internet. I like to say, jokingly, or semi-jokingly, that at one time it used to be called the folk scene.

Folk pioneers

That’s where my musical roots are. My old band Stringband has been called a pioneer of the indie record scene. What that means is we just couldn’t get any label to sign us all those eons ago. Most of the majors in Canada then were US subsidiaries, aiming at the big US market, and they all told us we were too folky and too Canadian. So we started our own label.

A generous fan funded our first album, done on the cheap, but we wanted a bigger budget for the second. So we borrowed an idea that was floating around: we asked fans to send us $5 up front (yeah, I’m talking the good old days; the horseless carriage had barely been invented), and we’d use the funds to make the album and then mail them a copy.

It worked! We briefly considered running off to Mexico with all those five-dollar bills – it was February – but in the end recorded our next two albums that way. A few other folk acts were doing the same thing, then more followed suit, and  that model has since become commonplace in the indie scene.

Back cover of Thanks to the Following, 1975commonplace in the indie music scene.

Crowd pleaser

Now they call it crowdsourcing; we just called it asking fans to help. In fact, for our third album, I got the bright idea to title it Thanks to the Following, and we printed all the supporters’ names in tiny font starting on the front cover and almost completely covering the back.

If you decide to go this route, there are websites that can help you, such as http://www.kickstarter.com/, http://www.gofundme.com/ and others. Or you can do what I and many musicians do: contact your mailing list, and tell the fans you’re making a new CD.

Full support

Create multiple levels of support – e.g., see my fundraising pitch – and offer various perks. For example, my “entry” level is $20 to pre-order one CD; my top two levels include, among other goodies, an honorary producer credit on any song of the patron’s choice.

So “honorary producer” may not be quite like twiddling the controls at the recording console (more likely a computer these days) or telling the drummer to go easy on the high hat, but several devoted fans have chosen to support me this way, and I know many other artists with “angels” who have happily contributed to their recording projects. As the wise woman said, “You won’t know if you don’t ask.”

And —  oh yeah — dear fans awaiting the new CDs, please be patient. I’m crowdsourcing as fast as I can!

Music & Horses

Sometimes, as a musician, your music life spills over into other areas of your life – and vice versa. Lately, for me, that’s happening in a big way: my music and my passion for horses are trotting along together in tandem.

 And no, I haven’t run off to join the Mounties and their Musical Ride. But for the last year I’ve been writing some horse-themed songs – enough, in fact, that along with five I’ve already recorded, I’ll soon be able to release an all-horse song CD. 

 A special barn concert

Not only that, on Saturday September 17, I’ll be playing my very first-ever BARN concert. That’s right, I’ll be playing some of those horse songs, and others, at a fundraising event at the stable where I ride in Whitchurch-Stouffville.  (A while back in my Yorkscene blog I wrote about house concerts – concerts that take place in someone’s home. Well, this is a spin on that concept!)

 The stable is a special place, called Horses of Course, which accommodates riders with a range of disabilities as well as able-bodied riders. One of them, Krystianna L., was a plucky little girl diagnosed with neuroblastoma when she was very small. Krystianna spent huge amounts of time at Sick Kids’ Hospital, but whenever she was well enough, she’d take riding lessons at Horses of Course. Her favourite horse was a little chestnut Quarter Horse mare named Meg.

 Sadly, Krystianna died in 2009 at the age of 13 – but not before the folks at the barn put Meg on a trailer and took her to Sick Kids so Krystianna could see her one more time just days before she died.

 Canter for a Cure

So this Saturday her friends and family are organizing a day called Krystianna’s Canter for a Cure, full of horsey demonstrations, and activities to raise money for neuroblastoma research, and also for a bursary for young riders with disabilities who need financial help with riding lessons. And that’s why I’ll be singing my horse songs there. If you’re a horse lover AND a music lover, then this is the event for you. Not to mention you’ll be supporting two worthy causes.

It’s a benefit!

And that’s something we musicians do a lot of: I don’t know a single musician who hasn’t played benefits and fundraisers, and we’re always happy to do it, because we rarely have much money in our pockets to donate, but we can usually find the time to sing for a great cause. In fact I’ve played so many I’ve even written a tongue-in-cheek song called “Not Another Benefit.”

But as well as singing about chestnut mares, naughty ponies, and other equines, I’ll be more than happy to play that song this Saturday with the sound of horses nickering around me.