Nice Work If You Can Get It…

I recently completed a ten-day course via Zoom about how one can use Facebook ads to expand one’s circle of musical supporters.

 Photo by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay 

It was a very worthwhile AND affordable undertaking — only $100 for 25+ hours of instruction which included many opportunities to ask questions and get help.

I came away from the learning experience with many new ideas… and a few reservations.

The first thing I liked about this training course was the opportunity to spend time with a hundred other musicians from around the world who also wanted to learn how to expand THEIR listening audiences. 

I felt both reassured and inspired to see that I am not the only musician with challenges, questions, concerns, anxieties, insecurities, ambivalences and dreams.

 Photo by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

The man leading the ten-day course was himself a musician who had formed a band with several high school classmates and toured around the USA for several years.

They ended up working with very good producers, recording a bunch of powerful songs, selling tens of thousands of CDS, gaining millions of views on Youtube, and becoming successful without the services of a manager or a record label.

Then he got married (to someone he met as a result of his band’s performances), started having children, and realized that he didn’t want to tour any more.

 Photo by sarahbernier3140 from Pixabay 

He wanted to stay home with his burgeoning family.

So he began coaching other musicians on how to increase THEIR musical audiences and advance THEIR careers.

And he appears to be successful doing this as well…

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Photo of George and Ira Gershwin from the Library of Congress

This whole process reminded me of a classic song written by the Gershwin Brothers in 1927 — “Nice Work If You Can Get It” — which was one of nine songs Ira and George created for the movie A Damsel In Distress, which starred Fred Astaire, Joan Fontaine, George Burns and Gracie Allen. 

It was also one of the last songs George finished before he died — much too young at the age of 38 — in 1937 (as Hitler rose to power in Germany and opened the Buchenwald concentration camp near the city of Weimar…)

All of the the successful Jewish songwriters, performers, directors, producers, designers, movie moguls, etc. were very aware of what was unfolding in Europe in the 1930s…

Jewish composer Kurt Weill — one of the Gershwins’ peers — for example, had fled from Germany to Paris in 1933 and then moved to New York City in 1935.

Anti-Jewish German Newspaper courtesy of WIkimedia

I can only imagine how ambivalent the Gershwins, Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg, Irving Berlin, RIchard Rodgers, Larry Hart and their Jewish friends and co-workers must have felt about their extraordinary success in America while Europe was hurtling into war and genocide.

Fred Astaire (whom some biographers claim had partial Jewish ancestry which he chose not to share with the public during his lifetime) was the first person to perform “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

I wonder if Ira’s lyrics might have been inspired in part by the opulent lifestyle he and his brother and their family were enjoying in Hollywood at the time — living in big houses with swimming pools and tennis courts and huge lawns (perfect for fancy parties under rented tents) —  while much of the world was still struggling to dig its way out of the Great Depression.

Life is full of strange historical juxtapositions…

Yet another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Let’s return to my recent ten-day course in music marketing.

All of us participants wanted to learn how to share our musical gifts with more people.

And the guy leading the course was showing us how…while simultaneously grooming us to want to sign up for even more coaching.

Photo by Nattanan Kanchanaprat from Pixabay 

I became increasingly aware during the ten-day-process that he and his excellent support team were both educating us AND laying the groundwork to pitch us more intensive/expensive coaching opportunities at the end of our time together.

I found myself simultaneously admiring their marketing system AND being somewhat repulsed by it.

The first step involves reaching out to potential new fans using short (20-30 second) videos which one can make using one’s cell phone.

Photo by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Then for as little as $3 per day one pays Facebook to share these videos with Facebook users who have in some way indicated that they are fans of a particular genre of music (such as reggae, hip hop, pop, rock, R&B, folk, musical theater, etc) and/or a particular recording artist (such as Ella Fitzgerald, The Eurythmics, James Taylor, Coldplay, Earth, Wind & Fire, Rosemary Clooney, Bob Marley, etc.)

Then one begins interacting via FB Messenger with the folks who respond to one’s ads by sharing a link to one’s own songs — and if they like THAT, one continues interacting with them to get a better sense of their musical taste, if they have ever gone to a live concert, if they have ever bought merchandise (such as T-shirts, hoodies, a mug, a poster, a CD, a magnet), if they have ever supported the career of a favorite musical artist with monthly donations, etc.

Photo by unpetitvoyou from Pixabay 

All of this seems OK and possibly quite exciting — especially if total strangers from around the world respond favorably to one’s marketing outreach and genuinely like one’s music.

On the final day of the training, however, some of the woman musicians started sharing about interactions with new fans which had begun well and then turned into scary stalker situations.

One person in England, in fact, was in the midst of talking with lawyers and protective services while she was simultaneously participating in our ten-day training program.

Argh!!!

The shiny, happy, everyone-can-learn-how-to-increase-one’s-fanbase-using-these-simple-practices vibe of the training sessions became much more nuanced and grounded and real.

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Having had a few days to reflect upon the training session, I have concluded that sharing authentic interactions with people who like one’s music seems do-able and not-too-morally-bankrupt (although the astounding and somewhat terrifying amount of data that Facebook collects about each one of us in order to be able to sell these specifically-targeted ads is something that deserves much more discussion and regulation…)

However, if one is successful in jumpstarting these authentic conversations with new fans (with whom one is careful not to share too much personal information such as street addresses or phone numbers so that they are less likely to become stalkers…) via FB Messenger and continues to run ads, eventually one becomes unable to keep up with all of these human interactions…

So the next step — not taught in our ten-day workshop but available as a much-more-expensive coaching opportunity — is how to automate one’s responses using chatbot programs.

This is where my reservations really kick in…

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay 

Would new fans understand that they are interacting with very sophisticated, well-programmed chatbots?

Or would they think they are actually interacting with me?

And does this transform an authentic interaction with another human being into yet another cynical marketing campaign/ploy?

I am currently thinking a lot about this potential developmental step in my career.

And I am also realizing how many of the music industry people whose free videos I have watched on YouTube are using a similar chatbot-powered system to interact with me in a seemingly authentic way when I leave grateful comments on their websites.

Hmmm.

How misled have I felt after realizing that I have been getting auto-generated “thank you” messages from them after giving them my email address?

A little…

And then how disappointed/exploited have I felt when I have started to receive a chatty barrage of pre-programmed email messages from them inviting me to continue to interact with them (and eventually sign up for some sort of in-depth, paid, educational experience they are offering)?

Somewhat…

Photo by Larisa Koshkina from Pixabay 

But it doesn’t stop me from continuing to learn from them via their free YouTube videos.

So maybe potential new music fans (who have only interacted with a chatbot version of me) would be remain similarly engaged with my music if they found some authentic value from it?

My final misgiving about this generous ten-day training program was that it never mentioned climate change and the environmental impact of using email and Facebook and Spotify/Pandora/YouTube/Amazon/Apple/Etc to share one’s music with the rest of the world.

The training session existed in a bubble of denial untouched by the increasing reverberations of climate change.

And it was being led by a late twenty-something (or early thirty-something?) father of two small children whom I hope is giving SOME thought to the future on behalf of his daughter and son…

One final deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Photo by Ronny Overhate from Pixabay 

What have your experiences been with marketing to other human beings… and with being the target of marketing by other human beings (and/or their chatbots)?

What are your thoughts and feelings about the environmental impact of our amazing digital communications?

Thank you to the photographers at Pixabay for their lovely images.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for his wonderful piano accompaniment AND his significant production/engineering skills.

Thank you to the Gershwin Brothers for their terrific, timeless songs.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.

Photo by Arek Socha from Pixabay 

You are always welcome to visit my website, and you can find me singing (with Doug Hammer playing his Schimmel grand piano) on Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music and other digital music platforms.

Grateful

As 2015 comes to a close, I find myself singing John Bucchino’s wise song, “Grateful,” a lot.

I love the entire song from start to finish (and you are welcome to listen to a version I recorded during a rehearsal with Doug Hammer a few years ago by activating the player at the beginning of this post).

I think my favorite lyric may be, “It’s not that I don’t want a lot, or hope for more…or dream of more — but giving thanks for what I’ve got, makes me so much happier than keeping score.”

It is very easy to fall into the trap of “keeping score” and comparing one’s accomplishments to one’s peers, to people on TV, to celebrities, etc. etc. etc.

But that path tends to be a dead end — and a recipe for dissatisfaction, unhappiness, depression and discouragement.

So here is a list of things (in no particular order) for which I am grateful.

Health…and health insurance.

A devoted and supportive life partner.

Dr. Charles Cassidy and his surgical team at Tufts Medical Center, who successfully pieced together the shattered bits of bone in my left elbow using several titanium screws of various sizes at the beginning of March.

WillXRaysElbow

Opiate drugs — which were a daily blessing during my elbow recovery.

Jazz pianist and composer Steve Sweeting, who invited me to record a CD of his tremendous original songs with him and then did two performances to celebrate “Blame Those Gershwins” in Manhattan and Somerville.

All of the families who have chosen to make Music Together with me in Belmont and Arlington — as well as my MT bosses.

Doug Hammer — for his engineering wizardry at Dreamworld Studio AND astoundingly collaborative spirit at the piano.

Jinny Sagorin for lending her voice and heart and diplomatic feedback to “The Beauty All Around” performance.

Jazz pianist Joe Reid, with whom I put together programs of music about Jule Styne, Hoagy Carmichael, and Jerome Kern — and with whom I also performed programs of music about Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, and the Gershwin brothers at retirement communities, libraries and synagogues around the greater Boston area.

Exceeding my (modest) financial goals for 2015 — thanks in part to two well-paid musical projects at the beginning of the year.

Kyra and Briony and Jill for a heartful musical adventure in honor of an old friend.

Bobbi Carrey, who is embracing new (although not very musical) challenges in Kuala Lumpur.

A grant from the Bob Jolly Charitable Trust to support my work on “The Beauty All Around.”

An ecstatic first performance of “The Beauty All Around” at Third Life Studio in Union Square.

Very supportive friends and family.

Very devoted and enthusiastic fans.

All the folks who have hired me and Joe to bring music to their retirement community, their library, their condo complex, their synagogue, etc.

Visits to Lime Rock, Connecticut; Ithaca, New York; Toronto, Ontario; and the upper west side of Manhattan.

Susan Robbins, who invited me to perform at Third Life Studio and maintains a very sweet Steinway grand piano there!

Photo by Anton Kuskin

Photo by Anton Kuskin

All the people (most of whom I will never meet) who planted, cultivated, harvested, sorted, packaged, shipped, unpacked, displayed, sold (and sometimes cooked and served) me the food I ate in 2015.

That our planet orbits a modest star at the perfect distance for life to unfold in astounding cycles of expansion and contraction over the course of millions of years.

North of Highland campground.

The Atlantic ocean.

Cayuga lake and the Rice Heritage cottage.

A wonderful web of cousins.

The Boston Association of Cabaret Artists community.

The Ukulele Union of Boston Meetup groups with a welcoming spirit and humble open mic section (during which I dare to share new songs…)

A new ukulele handmade — and given to me! — by Patrick Collins, a gifted musician, inspired woodworker, and dedicated teacher who lives in Toronto.

Megan Henderson, who has become my newest musical ally.

Rain and sun and dirt which create the conditions for plants to grow and flourish here on planet earth.

My trusty, slightly rusty, bicycle.

Electricity.

My two, increasingly aged, lap top computers which continue to function with grace and reliability.

Apple’s Garageband program.

The freshly paved, extremely smooth — with bike lanes! — stretch of Massachusetts Avenue from the Cambridge border to Arlington Center.

And, of course, music, music and more music — new songs or beloved standards, live or pre-recorded, spontaneous or well-rehearsed, solo or ensemble — it’s all a blessing.

Thank you for reading and listening to yet another blog post.

If I have forgotten to mention you in this list, please accept my heartfelt apologies…

A happy, healthy, and musical new year to you and yours!

Photo by Joe Turner

Photo by Joe Turner

Who Could Ask For Anything More?

 

Today I sit on our back porch, savoring a gentle breeze and warm, spring-like weather.

Ahhh….

A careful reader might notice that I haven’t posted anything since December.

We had a long, snowy winter here in the Boston area — and at the end of February I managed to fracture the bottom surface of my left humerus (upper arm bone) by tripping over a very enthusiastic 18-month-old student who got behind me (without my realizing it) during one of my Music Together classes.

Six titanium screws later, my left elbow is mostly functional — and a few more months of painful therapy may, in frustratingly small increments, restore full functionality.

We shall see…

One of the blessings of my recent encounter with the world of Western medicine is that I found a great surgeon — the head of orthopedic medicine at Tufts Medical Center! — who was willing to screw the various chunks of my humerus back together again. He is also a terrific listener who makes unwavering eye contact during conversation.

And the anesthesiologists who took care of me during my surgery were also willing to listen to my request that they NOT intubate me. Instead they used an alternative device which didn’t poke through my larynx, bless them.

So I experienced no inadvertent bumps or scratches on my vocal cords while I was under anesthesia.

Now a very patient and sweet-tempered occupational therapist is helping me persist in my quest for a fully functional left elbow.

Through this entire process I have been blessed with music — healing tracks by Libana, Bobby McFerrin, Annie Bethancourt, and Bill Glassco (to name a few) — as well as a very soothing guided meditation by Peggy Huddleston to help prepare for and recover from surgery.

Although my left arm aches 24/7 — especially after I have done my stretching exercises — listening to music, practicing music, learning new songs, performing music, jotting down new musical ideas, and leading my Music Together classes all, thankfully, distract me from the sensations in my arm.

I have included a fun version of the Gershwin Brothers’ song “I Got Rhythm” (originally debuted by a very young Ethel Merman in her star-making performance as part of the Gershwin Brothers’ musical Girl Crazy) at the beginning of this blog post.

I recorded it with Doug Hammer on piano at his studio on the North Shore. You can hear him laughing at the end of the take because he didn’t know I was going to hold a particular note as long as I did in a spontaneous homage to Ms. Merman…

It sums up my outlook during this recovery period, and it certainly fits the mood of today, as birds swoop through our back yard and bees of all sizes diligently gather pollen from the flowers blooming around town.

Thank you, as always, for reading my blog entries!

Very gratefully yours,

will