So Ferocious (2016)
Hot Night
Vim & Vigor
So Ferocious
Lovin is Easy
Ravenous
Fat & Happy
Scoundrel
To Be Known
The Animal I Am
Fever Dream
Azalea
Laziest Gal in Town
Heavenly Thing
Two Sleepy People
You Don't Know What Love Is
What Is This Thing Called Love?
Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?
Sweet Lorraine
Don't Come Too Soon
I'll Be Seeing You
Not Old, Not New
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Together Too Long
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Lonely No More
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All We Got
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O, Gabriella
Money in the Bank
Two at a Time
Every Punch You Throw
Baby Can Dance
Crazy for Love
Promise
Anything At All
Ain't So Green
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Everybody's All Alone
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On Jazz, My Record, and Kickstarter

So, I just ran this Kickstarter campaign. It went well. I asked for $29k to make a jazz record, and I raised over $60k. I had nearly 1300 backers, many of whom were brand new listeners, who discovered me via the campaign. A huge number of these backers were international (holla, Aussies!). After hitting my “true goal” of $34k (that’s how much I was looking for to fully fund the record), I added “stretch goals” to fund a PR campaign, a national full-band tour, and a solo tour in Australia.

In short, it was nuts. The likelihood of somebody in my position raising that amount of money on Kickstarter is quite slim. Thus, people have been asking me how I think it happened. Here are my thoughts.

1) I found an audience for my record, and I spoke to them directly.


Part I, The Record: This is a record I’ve been wanting to make for most of my life. I’m extremely passionate about jazz music, and relatedly, about the plight of jazz in contemporary America. Although it’s hard to pin down accurate and up-to-date numbers (you can’t believe everything you read on the internet), jazz currently holds around 3-5% of the American music market share. At the same time jazz has been losing listeners, its listeners are aging. The average age of a jazz fan in the US is around 50.

In short, jazz is going the way of classical music. It’s becoming a genre for well-educated, high-class, mostly old, mostly white people to listen to in concert halls.

Now, obviously there are exceptions to this rule. Two of them are notable, considering the crowd that is probably reading this post: if you’re a swing dancer, you probably love jazz. If you live in New Orleans, you probably listen to live jazz regularly. But let me gently burst the tiny bubble that we’re all living in: if you took every swing dancer in the US, and put them in a room with every single man, woman and child in New Orleans, you’d have maybe 400,000 people. That’s less than .2% of the US population. Add in every working jazz musician in the rest of the US, and you’d have - maybe - the population of Omaha, Nebraska.

So, regardless of your personal feelings about jazz, the amount of passion you have for it, or the amount of time you spend listening to it, dancing to it or playing it, you have to admit that it’s got a problem.

As a songwriter and song-geek, I have a big fear that the art of songwriting is going the way of, say, basket-weaving. Like, within a generation or two, it will be a quaint craftsy thing that kids do at summer camp; and popular music will be written exclusively by machines and committees. The folks who are currently lauded as the “great songwriters of my generation” do not move me even 1/100th as much as a Gershwin, or a Dylan, or even a Costello. I think songs are getting worse, and I think the waning of jazz in contemporary culture is partly to blame. In other words, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Dylan and Costello have both listened to plenty of Gershwin.

Every time I meet a young songwriter who’s never heard of Billie Holiday (this happens more than you think), or who compliments me at a show on “that great new song of yours”, and means “Sweet Lorraine”, the fear grows.

So, the kind of jazz revival that I’m most interested in is not of the Esparanza Spalding variety (although I think she’s great), nor is it of the swing danceable trad jazz variety (although I am a dancer myself, and I love a lot of the dance bands who are currently out there). Neither is it of the Norah Jones variety (which is accessible, clearly, but is not quite up to the Gershwin bar in terms of songwriting).

The jazz revival I want to see is of the tasteful pop variety (side note: I firmly believe that those two words are not mutually exclusive). I want to hear more jazz that meets a high standard in terms of songwriting, performance and production quality, BUT that anybody, from any background, can appreciate, enjoy, and get stuck in their head. The kind of record that your average thirteen-year-old girl might pick up, put on, and feel moved by. That way, when that girl starts writing songs, she’ll have some Gershwin knocking around in her brain, along with Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift.

Whew. It feels good to get that off my chest.

Part II, The Audience: So, the way this all relates to the Kickstarter campaign is this: there’s a demand for what I’m doing. Many of the backers I heard from said things like, “I’ve always thought that jazz was too complicated for me.” or, “My Grandparents listened to this music, I haven’t listened to it since I was a kid.”

When I put my campaign together, I made a conscious decision to speak directly to the people who I am making this record for. I wasn’t speaking to jazz musicians, or dancers, or anyone who’s already part of the “jazz scene”. I wasn’t even speaking to the fans I already had - at least, not primarily.

I was speaking to non-jazz-geeks, who want an entry into the world of jazz. As it turns out, a lot of those people were listening.

2) I kept people involved.

I sent updates to my backers every single day. I made them videos, I recorded songs for them, and I wrote epic essays about each song I’ll be including on the record (I plan to post some of those on this blog). I also answered every comment and email that I got over the course of the 30-day campaign. Thus, the people who backed my project felt like I was talking to them, and I was.  At the same time, I posted on Facebook and twitter every day, and did my best to provide new content and/or information every time I posted. I had my friends make cute support videos. I tweeted at people with large fan bases who were also involved in Kickstarter (like Amanda Palmer (who tweeted the project) and Spike Lee (who backed it)). I ran silly contests on Facebook like “if we hit 1000 backers by 12pm I will make a video of myself rolling around like a kitten in a yarn factory.”  

 The risk of all this involvement was wearing people out, and I think some people did get worn out (sorry if you were one of them!). I was willing to take that risk because the advantage was huge: the people who did support what I was doing got really invested in the project. They became super-fans, shared my project with their friends, and made important suggestions about how I could better manage the campaign.  In other words, I was working to make fans, not just money. 

3) I prepared. A lot.

Before launching my campaign, I spent about two weeks reading everything I could find about running a Kickstarter campaign. I also stalked other people’s campaigns relentlessly and stole their ideas. Here are the best resources I found:


Launch and Release - This is a brilliant blog written by two musicians who also happen to smart, down-to-earth, mathy-type guys. They introduce a novel concept to the world of crowdfunding: statistics. In addition to a bunch of really helpful “case studies”, this site offers a “fundability calculator”, which tells you how much you can reasonably expect to raise on Kickstarter (as determined by the number of fans/friends/family you currently have access to.) Do yourself a favor and read this post. *Full disclosure: after reading their blog, I actually hired these guys to help me with my campaign.*

This TED Talk from Amanda Palmer - If you have any feelings of guilt, shame, or hesitancy about asking people for money in exchange for your art, watch this video. OR if you have any inner conflict about asking for gigs, or help, or places to stay. OR if it makes you mad that people steal music and other digital content. Amanda has a revolutionary and brilliant grasp on what it means to be an artist in the 21st century. What she says in this video is absolutely profound.

Here are my favorite Kickstarter campaigns:

4) I am really, really lucky.

That’s just a fact. I can’t explain it, but I am extremely grateful for it. I’m extremely grateful to have friends like Vienna Teng (see below). I’m extremely grateful to have so many outstandingly caring, enthusiastic, and generous fans. Thanks for your support, with this project and all the others.

Post by Vienna Teng.



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Why I’m Not Done Writing About Sex

(or, If You Thought That Last Video Was Too Risque You Better Brace Yourself)

I wrote my first blog about sex back in August. I made the decision, with that post, not to be private or coy about my sexuality, my interest in sex, or the sexual content of my work. I made the decision to “come out” as a woman who likes sex. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. I got a bunch of fan mail in response to that post (only a very small percentage of it inappropriate or creepy). I got to have dinner with Dan Savage and Chris Ryan. I had women of all ages come up to me in person and thank me for writing about female sexuality. I got hit on a lot more often at my shows, and more directly (which is fine with me.) 

 Occasionally, I get a different reaction. A few people have told me that they’re “bored” of this topic, that I ought to write about something else. A friend told me that I should show less cleavage in my promotional pictures, or people might “get the wrong idea”. People have said that they “fear for my safety”, that I should probably “tone down the sex stuff”. Well, I’m about to release an EP. It includes one song about sex, one song about sex and murder, and one song about sex and bravery. That last one is accompanied by a music video which features two burlesque dancers in their underwear, two very tall men in suits, and yours truly, dancing lasciviously and looking like I’m about to make some mischief. NPR just told me they wouldn’t post it to their website because it’s “too risque”. So, for clarification purposes, I’d like to tell you why I won’t tone down the sex stuff.  

Just Exactly What I Stand For

It’s not my job to sing pretty songs. It’s not my job to be cute, or to make people feel comfortable, or nice, or happy. My job, as I’ve chosen to define it, is to live vibrantly, and tell everyone about it. 

I stand for aliveness. I stand for joy and pleasure and inspiration. I stand for human beings having a vibrant experience of their own lives. I stand for sex and desire and passion and lust because those things make me, and most other people, feel alive. For the same reason, I also stand for music, love, honesty, silliness, poetry, bravery, chocolate, parades, and painting things pink. I will stop writing about sex, and music and love and honesty, when those things stop making people feel alive. So don’t hold your breath.


“I Fear for Your Safety”

Aliveness is inefficient, messy, and hard to control. It’s difficult to monetize, difficult to quantify, difficult to compete at. Aliveness does not increase GDP. What’s worse: everybody wants it more than money. In a society like ours, aliveness is automatically threatening to the status quo.

Sexual pleasure, being one of the most potent bearers of aliveness, is surrounded by a sort of gloppy, tarry, whiny puritan shame. That shame is society’s way of protecting itself – think of it like porcupine quills, or the fake blood that some lizards cry. Shame, and its attendant propaganda, floats around in the ether and pours out of other people’s mouths before they realize what they’re saying. 

If you dedicate your life to aliveness, or anything that inspires it; be it sex or music or humor or painting-things-pink; people will tell you to get a job. They will ask you about your fallback plan. They will say, “I could never do that”. They will tell you they fear for your safety. They will tell you to show less cleavage and write about something else and focus and get serious and grow up and tone it down. 

 In essence, they will tell you that there are better things to do than run around feeling alive. I’m here to tell you that there aren’t.



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How to Improve Your Sex Life and Save America


I was at a Halloween party on Saturday, sitting between two men whose entire bodies (including their heads) were covered in green spandex, when I reached this conclusion: all of us, in the company of our friends, families, lovers and co-workers, ought to spend much more time talking about sex.

I propose that talking about sex will help us to feel less shame, have better sex, and even weaken the influence of politics (and worse, politicians) on our personal lives.

Here’s how it works.

Waste less of your life feeling ashamed.


We feel ashamed when we think that we are doing or feeling something uniquely awful. You can’t feel ashamed of doing something that everybody you know and love is also doing. At least, in theory you can’t, but in practice you do: everyone you know and love picks their nose, poops, does not look like an airbrushed supermodel when naked, and has all kinds of dirty, dark, and deviant sexual desires. Just. Like. You.

Keeping the shameful stuff to ourselves keeps us isolated from each other. We are so afraid of each other’s judgment that we clam up, and forfeit the possibility of connection. The irony is that connection is the only thing that can alleviate our shame - when we realize that we are not uniquely dirty-minded, just plain old run-of-the-mill dirty-minded, the shame begins to evaporate. Of course, it may not be the case that your best friend shares your fantasy about being tied up. But guess what: there is only one way to find out.

Personally, I am sick of shame. I’ve spent enough time with it to recognize the depth of its uselessness. If you could also do with a little less shame, follow these simple instructions: 

  1. Invite some friends over. 
  2. Make a pot of tea. 
  3. Pose this question: “What turns you on?”


Have better sex.


One thing I’ve often found perplexing is why competent, intelligent, fully-grown members of society so often turn into simpering weenies when things get sexual. They lose the ability to ask for things they want, and to say NO to things they don’t want. As anyone who has ever hung out with a toddler knows, these are not advanced skills – every one of us mastered them completely by the age of 2.

So what gives? It seems to me that our vast reserves of shame cloud our judgment and thicken our tongues. Whatever the reason, the fact is that most of us suck at communication when we’re turned on. Luckily there’s a really easy and reliable way to get better at things: practice.

Start talking about sex before you get into bed with somebody. Like, WAY before. At the party, on the date, in mixed company. Right after “what do you do?” and “where are you from?”, ask “what turns you on?” 

If you’re honest with yourself and the ones you covet, here’s what I predict: you may have fewer sex partners (having filtered out the incompatible and easily-offended ones right off the bat), but you’ll have much better sex. Your sex partners will know what you like before they have the chance to try all the things you don’t like. You’ll know what they like, too, so you can spend less time worrying about your performance. Even better: the more you practice talking about sex, the better you’ll be at it; so when your desires inevitably change and develop, you’ll be more likely to get those satisfied, too.

And here’s the revolutionary part: when you talk about sex, the people around you will also have better sex. Talking about sex is contagious (that’s why I wasn’t allowed to hang out with my Christian homeschooler friends after I was about 13). It jumps from host to host, devouring their shame, connecting them to each other, and making their sex lives hotter. It’s a miracle drug. If I could make it into a pill I’d be a billionaire.

Kick politicians out of your sex life 

(unless you’re having sex with one).


Part of the reason politicians and voters support stupid, counterproductive, dangerous legislation about sex is because they are under the influence of sexual shame. Remember how being open about sex and sexuality brings people closer together? It also weakens people’s opposition to no-brainer civil rights issues like marriage equality. In short: shame makes us stupid.

Sexual shame gives politicians and voters the selective-blindness required to support policies that are bad for them and their families. Shame allows closeted gay politicians to endorse anti-gay legislation. Shame allows parents of gay kids to keep mum about their support for marriage equality. Shame allows otherwise rational people to suggest that abstinence-only education is a good idea. Shame allows people with uteri (or daughters) to support a Presidential candidate who wants to de-fund planned parenthood andoverturn Roe v. Wade - a lethal combination for women, regardless of your religious or moral position on those issues (HELLO SCIENCE: making abortion illegal does not mean that fewer women get abortions, it means that more of them die in the process.)

All of this is not to mention that oral sex is currently illegal in eighteen states.

In short, sexual shame is what a lot of people are smoking when they vote against there own interests. And what have we learned is the sobering antidote to sexual shame, friends? Or at least the morning-after, hangover-easing french toast and OJ? Talking about sex.

So turn to your neighbor, open your mouth, and say something sexy. For the good of humanity.





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