PROGRESS, PAUSES, and PLANS

PROGRESS, PAUSES, and PLANS

Here we are… it’s been almost exactly 6 months since we started recording Foster and the Flight’s EP, Rings on Trees:

and, most importantly, we’re still having a TON of fun.  In fact, it gets better every rehearsal, every show, every day.

Here’s a look back at some of the mental obstacles I encountered in the past 6 months: my doubts and my discoveries:

  • ASKING OTHER MUSICIANS TO PLAY MY MUSIC… “what if they hate it? what if they hate me? what if they don’t have time? ”  On the contrary, most musicians I’ve spent time with LOVE collaborating.  At the very least it expands your experience, at the most you grow as a player, you make connections, you make more money, and you have a ton of fun.
  • Building a band… “they’re already committed to another band! Can I be a solo artist AND have a band? Will they have fun? Will they have time?” Certainlyany musician I would want in my band would be a busy, overcommitted, excited human being.  Everyone in the Flight is pursuing other bands, other passions all the time, and scheduling can be difficult.  However, playing with these incredible musicians has not only been super fun, and sounded awesome, it has changed and improved my music (including the way I play it alone).  As the Flight rehearses and performs more it gets more fun, they offer more ideas, and we gel better musically.  Worth every minute, even for a solo artist.
  • Asking for help… I am absolutely incapable of doing all this stuff alone.  Being self-employed in any industry means you wear a lot of hats, and my skills do not extend from music, to publicity, to managing, to directing, to media.  I can certainly dabble, and take on the brunt work, but ALL of the success I have had I owe to the talented and generous friends who donated their skills and time.  Here are some of the contributors!
    • Larry Hart Larry Hart Larry, owner of Riff's Acoustic Music, became the first 'official' person to give me a testimonial: "Lauren Foster is a wonderful singer/songwriter who I love to play at our venue. Her songs and stage presence showcase her natural charm and soulful energy. Lauren is an accomplished acoustic player and can go from fast rhythm progressions, to catchy riffs, to emotional fingerstyle with ease, and has the vocals to match. She can cover many songs, but she shines the brightest voicing her own lyrics. Her approach to performing can be playful or serious and will always be highly professional."
    • David Stearns David Stearns David hosts my website and taught me how to build my own material into the site
    • Oscar Ortiz and Tim Braun Oscar Ortiz and Tim Braun Oscar and Tim volunteered their time, cameras, and skills to make a really nice, two angle video during a performance in Park City, Utah.
    • Claire Jencks Claire Jencks Claire combined her artistic talent with her skills in graphic design to make a poster for Foster &the Flight.
    • Annabelle Merg Annabelle Merg Anna volunteered her phenomenal photography skills at our first show to get some great shots of Foster and the Flight's first show!

  • Setting up shows… “what if they think I’m dumb for even asking? what if they need a certain number of people to come and not enough show up? is it worth it to pay for a space? is it worth it if no one i know can come?”  If they don’t want you to play, that’s ok!  Asking never hurt, and the good connections I made were worth a million ignored emails.  It’s someone’s job to sort through booking requests and find what’s best for the venue.  There is everything to gain, and nothing to lose, from reaching out to other musicians and venues!
  • That show went badly… “yikes, not enough people showed up, I sounded terrible, my drummer and I were off, I told people we would start at 730 and we didn’t until 830, they’ll never come back!  Was it worth it?  Yes, it is ALWAYS worth it!  Even the worst shows make the best rehearsals… 100% focused on the moment.  At first I was so worried a show might not go perfectly.  And playing often this stress would build up and make the next show even scarier.  Then one day I drove for over an hour to do a show in a place where none of my friends would be able to come.  The band couldn’t make it, I was bummed.  I got there and 3… only 3 people were there to watch.  By the end 15 people were watching but that is a tiny number.  Long story short, it was a blast.  Some part of me let go of all that stress and only focused on the fact that I love playing, talking to people, and performing. It turned into one of the best shows I’ve ever played.

So that’s just a few of the obstacles I feel like I’ve moved past. There are, of course, new obstacles every day, but step-by-step I’m learning how to do this music thing as a career and finding that I still totally LOVE it!

This summer I am putting all the progress on ‘pause’ briefly while I return to a soul-enriching, Rocky Mountain summer camp I’ve worked at for years in the past.  Like my friends and band members, I have other passions and maybe someday I’ll learn to balance them all, for now, I’m headed to the woods.  My goal is to perform 3 shows this summer anyway, one is already scheduled in August.  I will also get to rise to a new musical challenge as I help direct choir on Sundays for hundreds of people and lead songs each night at our campfire!
In the fall I’m heading to the big city… no, not New York, the big Colorado city.  Denver is a wonderful place to pursue a music career, and there are more opportunities.  If I’m going all in, it better be in the best possible place to pursue a ‘Colorado Folk’ lifestyle!  Can’t wait to get to know the city that’s been on my doorstep since childhood, but still remains a mystery to me!

Making it All Happen

MAKING IT ALL HAPPEN

I know I haven’t blogged in a while.  I got so caught up actually making things happen in the music world.  Since my simple, few plans at the beginning of February the following things have happened:

FIRST: I invited the talented musicians who recorded my EP with me to be in a band that tries to play live often.  The name is Foster and the Flight.

We pack into Ben’s tiny studio apartment for rehearsals

 

SECOND: I’ve started getting better at booking gigs.  Persistence is a super important factor but I’ve learned some other helpful things about the process:

Our poster for our debut performances on the 24th and 25th of March in Boulder and Fort Collins

Some helpful things I have found for setting up gigs:

  1. Look as professional as possible online.  This includes setting up online material (website, reverbnation, soundcloud, youtube, facebook).  Next linking all your online things so that they are one giant team, instead of a bunch of individual tiny entities.  The things you need to set this up:
    a) Smart talented friends who are internet savvy, willing to take nice      pictures of you, come to your shows, make posters, etc.  Usual this requires more than one helpful companion.  Thank them excessively with nice scotch, beer, or at least heartfelt thank-you’s.
    b) A few professional-sounding tracks, or as close as you can get
    c) A few nice looking photos
    d) At least one nice video to show your performance style
  2. Write a bio like the ones you read about actors when you go to the theater (i.e. the things your obsessive, prone to exaggeration fans would say about you.  Be honest, but be honest about how you are at your VERY best).  I got a couple of friends to write down some ideas for bios and then pieced them together myself.
  3. Try to get a legitimate music person to write a ‘quote’ about you.  Mine was Larry Hart, the owner of Riff’s Acoustic Music in Park City.  He has seen me play quite a bit, books live shows, and owns a guitar store.  Not a lucky connection… I met him by spending a lot of time in his store, falling in love with a guitar there, and talking often with him.  Here’s the quote he sent me:“Lauren Foster is a wonderful singer/songwriter who I love to play at our venue.  Her songs and stage presence showcase her natural charm and soulful energy.  Lauren is an accomplished acoustic player and can go from fast rhythm progressions, to catchy riffs, to emotional fingerstyle with ease, and has the vocals to match.  She can cover many songs, but she shines the brightest voicing her own lyrics.  Her approach to performing can be playful or serious and will always be highly professional.”
  4. Pick specific dates.  Look at their calendar and find a date that is available and then suggest it in the e-mail.  It is easier for the person booking and shows that you have paid attention to their website and that you are organized.
  5. Use any possible connection.  Names, places you’re going to play at, want to play at.  Throw in a picture or two.  Include easy links to music, websites, videos.  Etc.  Make it as easy as possible for the person booking to find you.

 

So it’s lots of business stuff, lots of marketing but it feels like we’re finally going somewhere!  DEBUT PERFORMANCE TOMORROW!

Sundance Film Festival

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL

Here I am, the most acclaimed independent film festival in the world, what a better place to… see great music?  All the hype is taken by the films, but Sundance still has the money to bring in world renowned musicians.  Thus, I find myself arriving 30 minutes early and sitting front row to hear some amazing, small venue performances by folks as big as Sea Wolf.  (I’ve heard Sundance is a great time to ski too, empty slopes!).

Watching them all here is a reminder that I need to see more live music: creativity breeds creativity, talent inspires talent.  There was a ton to learn from every musician, but here’s a bit of what I picked up:

Greg Holden‘s presence and confidence carried his music beyond what it could do standing alone.  He looked the audience in the eye during each applause, and looked fearless to share his music with us.

Kat Edmonson was so unique.  A strong, jazzy voice, understated stance, and eyes so bright they lent her tiny body the presence to captivate the room.  Truly the best performance of the day.

Dave Berg came on nervously, but never ingenuine.  His casual approach was strange after the tuned, styled appearance of Kat, but by the end of the show he had won the audience over by chatting as though the whole room was a few old friends of his.

Paul Kelly ran onto the stage.  For someone who’d been touring for decades he exuded energy and intensity in every one of his campfire-style songs, even the slower ballads.  His banter with the audience was very consistent with his music: direct and observant.

A few days later I went back to see some more music, and, though there were many great artists, I must focus on the band that took my breath away: The Head and the Heart.  Truly one of the best performances I have ever seen.  The music was so good, but the thing that captured us all was the energy between the band members.  They would turn around and laugh with each other, and all were practically exploding with energy and dance on stage.  Whether they were playing or not at a particular moment, each was all in to the performance.  It looked like SO MUCH FUN.  It was so much fun, watching them play music.  Damn.  One of the best performances I’ve seen.  Ever.

 

Live performance at Riff’s Acoustic Music in Park City, Utah

I guess the thing to take away from all that music, film, talent, and creativity at the Sundance Festival is that energy, passion, and persistence will get you there, even if it takes a long time before anyone notices.  Check out my NEW VIDEO, recorded with two cameras and two talented artists (Oscar David Ortiz and Tim Braun), at Riff’s Acoustic Music.  Thanks to Larry, the owner, for all his support and encouragement, he made this happen!

CCM RECORDING STUDIO

THE REAL DEAL: CCM STUDIOS

On Monday night I experienced a real recording studio for the first time.

We scheduled three hours to record three tracks.  With the parts ready to go, practiced over and over with a metronome, one hour per song seemed plenty.  I knew it would take longer than I expected, but I was surprised by the 7 hours we spent that night.  It’s a good thing Sophie thought to bring a few six packs and chocolate.

After fighting rush-hour Denver traffic I almost missed the studio.  The building was much smaller and less imposing than I expected:

When we drove by it was already totally dark outside, making this building seem even smaller

Everyone arrived within 5 minutes of each other.  We started setting up the drumset at 6:30PM.  An hour and a half later the mics on the drums and bass were finally ready to go.  I think there were 7 or 8 on the drumset alone.

The drums with the mics

At 8:00 PM we finally started recording.  I was in a hallway with a window through to Brendan and Ben in the main room.  Sophie stayed out of the first recording, becoming instead an invaluable advisor and active listener.  Chris stayed in the main room with the computers and monitors, plugged directly in.

Darren was an excellent technician. Chris, the keyboard, Sophie, and the other two technicians were all sitting in this room as well.

We did three takes of each track.  Everyone could hear the final product through the headphones or monitors.  Sophie and Darren made comments for stuff to work on between takes.

The main recording space. My hallway was through the window in the door.

It was past 9:30 by then.  I was having a blast (it was incredibly fun to record with this top-of-the-line equipment), but I was starting to worry about money and time.  After all, it costs $50 per hour to be in the studio, and we still had to mix and master everything at the same price.  Darren advised us to be careful though, and go through all the steps.  I agreed so we sat down to listen to just drums, bass, and keys.  We fixed a few parts on the keys quickly by dropping them in, and decided we were happy with the rhythm tracks.

Now we had to rerecord guitar and then vocals.  And finally Sophie’s harmonies and then Brendan’s cello part.  That meant, all going well, each song had to be rerecorded 4 more times, plus all the time between.  Woah, definitely a process.

Second takes of vocals and guitars, the window behind me leads to the computers, beer, and my friends.

When my parts were done I finally drank one of the best beers I have had in a while.  For some reason I always have 90 Shilling handy at the most important times.  The boys cuddled on the couch while we recorded Sophia and then cello.

Loving cuddles at 12:00AM

As the tracks consolidated and were burned onto a CD, we finished the beer, cleaned up, and hugged a lot.  Darren, bless his heart, had left as soon as the recording was done so he could bring his little one to school super early the next morning.  Seamus, a great friend and awesome engineer, took this picture of us just before we all drove to our respective homes.

Tired out after seven hours in the studio

The tracks still need to be mixed and mastered.  They will be ready for listening by the second week of January!

Less is More

less is more

I’ve just finished reading an article entitled “The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown.  McKeown explores the idea that, like our closets, our lives get cluttered by too many activities, opportunities, and passions to really pursue anything to the fullest.  The article argues that to be “successful” you must find the intersection of your talent, passions, and the needs of the world:

The ideas resonated with me, as I’m constantly reaching out to a million possibilities right now.  I’ve “committed to music” and yet I find myself spreading out in numerous directions.  Spending time and energy debating about other opportunities and applying to jobs that, while possibly good moves for some career… might not help in this career.  It is a huge challenge to focus my energy on regularly playing or putting as much time into this music as I would into a job.  There has been some progress to this end though…

As we gear up to record, I’ve finally found myself putting the “work” time into my music.  Analyzing and writing out my songs so people can join in, arranging, practicing to a metronome, updating my website, and networking in an effort to start setting up more performances.

How my room looks after I have a day to myself… musical tools end up spread about the space rather haphazardly.

Surrounded by Talented People

SURROUNDED BY TALENTED PEOPLE

Last night I drove down to Denver.  So exhausted from four late nights of work in a row, I would have tried to bail on almost anything else.  Tonight though, I was meeting with a few people to play in a band for a few legitimate recordings.  I was energized within a short time of being there.  Meet the group:

Ben Felson: Ben is an incredible drummer/percussionist who plays for quite a few bands in the Denver/Boulder area.

Chris Kolodey: Chris is not only an incredible keys player, but a musician who can pick up any instrument and make it sound great within a couple of minutes.  He’s adding some organ, some piano, and some keyboard to the pieces we’re recording.
 Brendan O’Donoghue is… well… probably a super hero (picture provided by Chris)
With his four arms he is managing to play both stand-up bass and cello in these recordings… at times simultaneously.  He plays often in the Colorado Springs/Denver area and is an incredible jazz musician.
 Sophia Herscu: a woman of many talents, Sophia is currently pursuing a professional degree in ariel dance.  Her history of musical theater and singing in bands throughout her life make her quick to come up with beautiful harmonies.  We have the opportunity to play together often in our treehouse apartment.
 Having four incredibly talented musicians to work with is a privilege indeed.  The amount of talent that’s at your fingertips when putting music together and writing is exponentially increased.  The first rehearsal was a huge success.  If we can book the studio time we’ll have three tracks recorded before Christmas.  I can’t wait to show everyone what we’ve come up with!

Achieving

ACHIEVING GOALS… MAYBE

So I set up my lofty goals… I even made a calendar showing me all the open mics/jams in the Boulder area so I could look one up every night I wasn’t working.  It was harder than I expected.  To get out to open mics alone once a week?  Finding people to jam with.  I couldn’t record because I was missing a mic stand.  I had to have dinner with so and so, or finish this or that, or I had a long day at work and couldn’t go out.

Every event I attended was a reminder of how far there was to go… how would I get a gig without press quotes?  How do you get press quotes without a gig?  How do I market myself?  Is it appropriate to just invite my friends?  Should I advertise more?  I need a website.  I need a real CD.  I need a band.  Hell, I need to sound better.  My confidence was collapsing.

In the end, though I did not complete my weekly goals necessarily, what I did do was keep making whatever progress I could since it was the only thing I had to work on (goodbye grad school apps!).  Since I had written down my goals music was always on my mind.  While this was intimidating at times it did get me to play out more often.  Things I have achieved in the 1.5 months since setting these goals:

1) Performed a 2 hour gig at a coffee house
2) Wrote a new song… started others
3) Connected with/jammed/busked with a touring musician I met at an open mic
4) Contacted a full band to record 3 professional tracks
5) Got a legitimate website up and running
6) Played at 5ish open mic nights
7) Made real money ($15) selling my demo album.

Alright, so it’s not quite what I had in mind.  But these baby steps are the necessary building blocks for the next step… performing consistently enough to start setting up real shows and build a fanbase outside of my friends.

 

It takes a plan

GOAL SETTING

So I made the decision.  What was this actually going to take?  Everyone said it was a long road… but where did the road actually start?

I set some goals, here they are, transcribed exactly from my notebook when I set them:
OCTOBER 7TH –> Musical Goals
1. PERFORM in public once/week
*Open mics or gigs or at least 1 hour of busking
2. JAM with people at least once/week
*Sophie doesn’t count, Dylan doesn’t count
*Exchanging songs doesn’t count
3. Set up a GIG at least once/month
*Gig here defined as “formal invitation to perform in public”
4. RECORD a song once/every 2 weeks
     *Includes editing and finishing
5. Learn OR WRITE a new song once/2 weeks
*Exceptions include consistent work on a difficult song that takes longer than 2 weeks or
consistent PROGRESS on a new song (revisiting a dead end doesn’t count)