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
Under Your Thumb
Trigger Finger
Backbone
Smoke Alarm
Together Too Long
Backseat
Little Death
Lonely No More
Backbone
Idiot Heart
Chicken
All We Got
Honest Truth
Buoy
Itches and Tugs
Please
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
Don't Wanna Know
Everybody's All Alone
Take Me Along
Lovesick
Temporary Lapse
Time
Wedding Song
Willing To Fall
Redemption Blues
thoughts on love, sex, music and ferocity
tagged: music
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In Praise of Doing Scary Things.

Well, my new record is out.

I first conceived of this record about three years ago, right after I finished Idiot Heart. The thought was, “Those are the best songs I know how to make. Maybe next time I’ll record the best songs I can find, whether I made them or not.”

The best songs I could find, according (of course) to me, happen to have been written in the 1930s-50s. This venture could easily have resulted in a tribute to Joni Mitchell, or Tom Waits, or Sam Cooke; but instead it resulted in a record of classic jazz. To me, the record is not about jazz; it’s about great songs. Great songs are my passion, my purpose, and my thrill; this album is just another way of exploring and sharing that joy.

Have you ever made something really big and complicated? Say, a house, or a book, or a large event, or probably a kid (not sure, haven’t tried)? It’s strange, and powerful, and wonderful, and terrible. Mostly overwhelming. You wake up every day for a year or two with one goal in mind, and you run the whole gamut of human emotions about meeting that goal. One day, you wake up thinking “I’m a GENIUS! Everyone will LOVE IT!”, and the next day, “I’m a LOSER! Everyone will LAUGH AT ME!”

You quit, about two hundred times. You get re-inspired and take up the cause with aplomb. Some days, you blame other people for whatever tough bit you’re currently trying to chew, and spend the whole day in bed watching Netflix. Some days, you wake up early, drink your coffee, and tackle a few of the scary parts before noon.

At this point, I’ve made enough big, scary, complicated things to at least understand what I’m getting myself into. The demons are just as strong and stupid as they ever were, but now I have the advantage of occasionally looking up from the wrestling match and thinking, “Oh yeah; THIS little fucker. I’ve beat him before, and I’ll do it again.”

Here is a partial list of the demons I battled in the making of this record:

  • Demon of YOU’RE NOT A REAL ARTIST/MUSICIAN/SINGER
  • Demon of YOU’RE A FAKER AND EVERYONE KNOWS IT
  • Demon of LEAVE IT TO THE EXPERTS
  • Demon of IF YOU FAIL YOU WILL NEVER RECOVER
  • Demon of NOBODY CARES ABOUT GOOD ART
  • Demon of NOBODY ASKED FOR YOUR OPINION
  • Demon of YOU DON’T DESERVE THEIR MONEY
  • Demon of IF YOU’RE SO SMART, WHY IS EVERYONE ARGUING WITH YOU?
  • Demon of BE NICE AND LISTEN TO THE MEN
  • Demon of IT WILL NEVER BE PERFECT, SO YOU MIGHT AS WELL GIVE UP NOW

There are various and sundry others, but most of them are children of the big poppa demons listed above. I am listing them so that you might recognize your own demons, and notice that they aren’t as unique and smart and special as they seem to think they are. It’s surprisingly empowering just to look at your demon and say, “I see you, demon.”

And when you do name your demons, and take a good swipe at them, you might get just a tiny little break from their incessant shouting. When you get that break, you look around and think, “Oh yeah, I’m singing these songs. And I LOVE these songs. I want nothing more than to share these songs with anybody who will listen.”

Or, maybe you’re writing this story, or building this house. Whatever your passion is, it will shine through the haze of your boring, run-of-the-mill insecurities just for a minute; and lo and behold, it’s just BEAUTIFUL.

The creative impulse is a sacred thing. It drives us to fill the world with beauty, and to connect with other people. It is one of our most precious capacities as humans. The advantage of doing scary things is that you are faced with all your demons, all at once, in an ugly, stupid parade. Occasionally, you’ll get a bite out of one, and he’ll scurry off under a rock for a minute. In the brief silence that follows, the truer, bigger, brighter joy that drives you fills the whole sky.

And if you’re lucky, there’s a bonus: you might have made something good.

I think this record is a good one. You can listen and buy it here: http://carsieblanton.bandcamp.com/ 



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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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The “Pay What You Please” Manifesto

In 2008, I helped start a business called “Quidplayer”, which built a nifty little widget for artists to post on their websites. The Quidplayer is a music player that allows fans to pick their own price for the music they download from artists. It was a fairly revolutionary idea at the time (I had only heard of Radiohead taking that approach, never a smaller-time artist). These days, because of the success of Bandcamp and similar businesses, I’m happy to say it’s becoming more commonplace.

I’ve now adopted Bandcamp on my website, allowing fans to download tracks from the Buoy album for any price they choose. I’m planning to release the new record, Idiot Heart, in the same way. Additionally, for the past year, I’ve been inviting fans to choose their own price for my physical CDs at my shows.

This approach has gotten mixed reviews from fans. Some people are instantly in favor of it, others are downright incredulous. I’d like to let you in on where the idea came from, and why I’m now 100% sold on it.

The fan experience

Before I was a musician, I was a music fan. I still am! Music that moves me is worth more to me than almost anything else in the world. I would eat gruel every day for the rest of my life, or live in a tin hut, before I would give up good music. Music that doesn’t move me, on the other hand, is worth nothing to me. So how can two songs, one totally inspiring and one completely boring, both be worth $.99?

My answer is, they aren’t.

Not everybody has the same taste, but I will wager that everybody who loves music has a similar experience. If you really love an artist, if their music gets inside you and wreaks glorious havoc, destroying and rebuilding your interpretation of the world, making you laugh and cry and reconsider things, their art is worth an infinite amount of money to you.

The industry

Something big happened in the music world about a hundred years ago. Vinyl records were invented. Suddenly, record labels could record musicians, and distribute their music to jukeboxes, and later, directly to music fans and radio stations.

Imagine the enormity of this! Before 1910, a musician was a working person who traveled from town to town, performing their music live, in the same room with their fans. A fan was a person who saw that artist, enjoyed their performance, and planned to see them again the next time they came through town.

Recording changed the face of music in countless ways. The most shocking and new and important way, I submit, what that it turned a song – previously an experience, unsellable and unquantifiable - into an object which could be bought and sold.

With that one little idea, the recording industry was born. You can’t have an industry without a product, and you can’t make a product out of a musical performance unless you stamp it onto a piece of plastic. Now, a hundred years later, the music-buying public seems to think that a song is more or less the same as a pen, or an iPod, or an ice cream cone: it’s a thing, and it’s worth a fixed amount of money.

This, my friends, is lunacy. Songs are magic. Money is just money.

In Conclusion

It seems to me that the big mistake – the very biggest mistake in the history of the music industry – was not highly paid record executives, or unfair royalty distribution, or Napster, or iTunes. It was the faulty premise on which the whole empire was built: pretending, in the first place, that a song could be bought or sold.

So, here in the 21st century, as I make my songs and sing them into microphones, as so many others did before me, I’m challenging that premise. If you hear my music, and you like it, and you want to take it home with you, don’t ask me what it’s worth.

To me, it’s worth everything. It’s worth every failed love affair I wrote about. It’s worth the debts, and the late nights, and the incessant station wagon traveling. It’s worth every ounce of heartache that went into conceiving, writing, singing, and recording it. It’s worth all the money I’ve ever made, and ever spent, and ever will.

The question is: what’s it worth to you?



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