Friday, December 28, 2012

Zak & Kat's Neighborhood: Let's Get Coffee

Come with us to visit the Bean Counter on a Friday afternoon.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Loft (12.20.12)

Ask anyone who knows me, and they will verify that I really, really like performing at venues in Second Life where I'd never played before. I'd heard of The Loft many times over the years, but for whatever reason, I never had an opportunity to play there.

Here's an important lesson for your real life as well as whatever you do in the pixel world: things tend not to just happen by some cosmic force. You need to help them along. And in this case, I never bothered taking the simple step of saying, "Hey, this seems like a cool venue. Perhaps I'll find out if I could do a show there some time." No, I had to wait for the weird magic of an interconnected world to get a show at The Loft. That's not the best way to go about it, but sometimes things work out in ways that you wouldn't have expected.

It turns out that the person who runs The Loft, a lovely lady named Allegra Genira, discovered that she and I had a mutual friend on Facebook. No big surprise there. But this connection was made well outside of SL; I was friends with a person who plays in a band with her husband. As it turns out, we realized that I got into SL, then pulled this friend in, and that's how Allegra herself ended up discovering SL. Ah, how the spider of circumstance weaves its unpredictable web, or something.

Having fun with a cool crowd during my last show of 2012. Photo by Kat.

A good show to end another good year of rocking the virtual world. Photo by Kat.

Anyway, I enjoyed my Thursday night show at The Loft. It was my last SL performance of 2012, as I'm too busy for the next week or so to take any gigs in world, and I tried to make it a good one. DimiVan Ludwig (the SL persona of musician Chris Harlow), a long-term fixture in the SL musical community, was on before me, and I enjoyed his set as I got warmed up. We had a nice crowd, a good portion of which weren't my usual fans, and I liked the opportunity to introduce them to my stuff. Also, being less than a week before Christmas, I threw in some interpretations of a couple of holiday tunes.

The Loft Set List...
Radio Free Europe (R.E.M.)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Save It For Later (English Beat)
Thank You (Led Zeppelin)
Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy (Bing Crosby/David Bowie)
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Traditional)
River (Joni Mitchell)
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
*Take Me to the River (Al Green)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young)
Tribute (Tenacious D)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Huge thanks to everyone who made my debut at The Loft fun, including the following who helped support the show!
Triana Caldera, Beth Odets, TheaDee, Kat Claxton, Crap Mariner, my manager Maali Beck, and The Loft's queen of fun, Allegra Genira!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Key West (12.19.12)

Stress is a weird thing. It serves a purpose, or at least it used to. See, back in the time when it was much more likely that on a daily basis you could be eaten by tigers and such, it was a good thing to have what's called a "fight or flight response". That means your brain and body would get all primed up to either kick some ass, or run like hell, in order to survive. Survival is good for a species, so stress and anxiety is what allowed your distant ancestors to stay alive, and hence produce progeny such as yourself.

But in the modern era, even though there are plenty of dangers out there, it's actually pretty rare that something is going to eat you. So, the physical effects of stress itself, on a general basis, are worse than the perceived threat. These days, it's much more likely that less lethal things -- a work deadline, an argument with a friend, and so on -- will trigger that same deeply rooted response, and dump adrenaline into your bloodstream as if that tiger was still chasing you across the savannah. While stressed, your nervous system gets primed to survive in many ways, but most of the time, you're not really in need of that kind of physical response. You're left with those unfortunately familiar symptoms of stress itself. It's not fun.

Rockin' in a winter wonderland. Photo and top photo by Cicadetta Stillwater.

Why am I talking about this? I had a stress-packed day yesterday. Around the holidays, that's certainly not unusual for anyone. For me, I get a double-whammy every fall and early winter. The industry in which I work in real life -- the music/audio products business -- has its biggest event of the year every January, and preparation for it has taken up much of my mindshare every December in the past 20 years I've dealt with it. So, despite my usual easygoing and fun demeanor, I am every bit as susceptible to the effects of stress as the next person, and yesterday it sucker-punched me. I spent most of the day working like a fiend, and hardly felt like doing a fun-filled live music show that evening.

However, there's one advantage to having some age and experience under your belt, and it's that you know yourself pretty well after awhile. For me, performing is like going into the ocean. As you first feel the water hitting your toes and legs, you're thinking that it's way too cold to be getting in the water. When it first splashes your midsection, you start thinking you're insane for doing this at all. However, as soon as you fully submerge yourself, it feels terrific. And that's what getting onstage is like for me. No matter how bad my day has been, no matter how little I think I feel like being entertaining, as soon as I dive in with my first strum of the guitar, I am very happy to be there.

My view from the stage. Just life real life, it's not always easy to see when you're in the spotlight. I actually requested my audience to all come closer to the stage so I didn't feel like I was performing alone in a giant snowy meadow. They obliged. I have a thoughtful audience. Photo by Cicadetta.

Last night at Key West was a good example of this phenomenon. I arrived at the venue, and my buddy Taunter Goodnight was performing. Taunter, as they would say in her home state of Minnesota, is a hoot. She's a funny and fun-filled lady with a big voice and a great attitude, and just hearing her do her show while I got ready for mine had me feeling much more cheery than I had a few minutes earlier.

My show ended up being fine. I get to pull out some music during this season that I don't play often throughout the year, so that's always a cool thing for me. We had a nice crowd that was made up of a few hardcore Zaksters as well as the leftovers from Taunter's show, and the folks who were coming to see Savannah Coronet perform after me. All in all, it went really well, and I've been in a better mood ever since.

Key West Set List...
Long December (Counting Crows)
†Walk on the Wild Side (Lou Reed)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
The Needle and the Damage Done (Neil Young)
After the Goldrush (Neil Young)
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Traditional)
Wonderwall (Oasis)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)

†Only did this great Lou Reed tune once before. I should do it more often.

Big thanks to everyone who came out to Key West, especially those who helped support my show!
Kat Claxton, Savannah Coronet, Alexis Fairlady, Marissa Goodliffe, Wolf Overland, Cicadetta Stillwater, Gracie Hyland, mhickale Keneinan, Taunter Goodnight, Key West hostess Coreopsis Bluebird, and owner Liz Harley!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Triana's Music Trivia (12.16.12)

Playing a live show at Triana's Music Trivia is different than anywhere else in Second Life. First off, it's not a live music venue; it's the home turf of my best pal in SL, Triana Caldera, where she hosts a weekly music trivia game... the longest-running game of that nature in Second Life, having started in 2004. Second, it's full of the absolutely insane people who I call my closest friends in the virtual world. Having attended Triana's trivia event almost without fail on every Sunday night since late 2006, the folks who go there are fun and profane and irreverent, and therefore have much in common with Kat and me.

Every so often, Triana hosts a live music event there, often in June (when she commemorates the anniversary of TMT's founding and her own rezday), and around the holidays, which was the excuse for my show there last night. There are two things about last night's performance that I won't be showing you here, or anywhere else for that matter (at least for now). One is the graphic that I made for the event, which Triana put in a prominent place, and shows me completely naked with a strategically placed sign blocking the parts that probably shouldn't be waved around in public.

Second was a little less silly and more cool. Kat and I had spent a good portion of the weekend working on music for our new project along with Bunny Knutson, called They Stole My Crayon. Kat was particularly thrilled; it was a song for which she'd written lyrics, and then surprised me by coming up with a great backing vocal part on her own (not easy to do for someone who doesn't consider herself a musician). We recorded and mixed pretty much all day on Saturday and a good chunk of Sunday as well. When it was getting near time to perform, I had the idea that perhaps the TMT crowd would enjoy being the first public audience to hear the tune.

The TMT crowd boogies down while listening to the first-ever public playback of the most recent "Take the Ride" rough mix. Photo and top photo by Kat.

So, that's what we did. I started the show not by strumming my guitar, but by pressing 'play' on my iPad which was routed into my audio stream. The song -- which I promise you'll hear soon enough, but not just yet -- is an interesting dichotomy of sweet and sad, soft and hard, dream and nightmare, and goes on for eight minutes (including a punishing four-minute outro section that we came up with on Saturday morning). It's called "Take the Ride", and both Kat and I are proud of it so far. After we add some contributions by Bunny and some other refinements, it will be ready for prime time.

Our hostess, friend, and master of music trivia, Triana Caldera. She put that mistletoe to good use after the show ended. Photo by Kat.

I believe that the TMT crowd liked the song. I mean, they got to hear Kat singing, which is a rare treat for all of them, in and of itself. One thing about They Stole My Crayon is that we purposefully want the music to be challenging. Not for the musician, per se, but for the listener. Every time I feel I'm creating something sweet and poppy (like I often do for songs I write for my solo stuff), I make sure to take the tune in a more relentless direction for TSMC. Anyway, I think they all understood what we were going for, and I don't ask for more than that. After I played back the most recent mix of "Take the Ride", I did something I never do: had an "All Request" set of songs. I won't do that for the general public, but for my pals at TMT, it was great, as were their zany song selections.

Triana's Music Trivia Set List...
Take the Ride -- mix playback (They Stole My Crayon)
Afternoon Delight (Starland Vocal Band)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Take Me With U (Prince)
Borderline (Madonna)
Sour Girl (Stone Temple Pilots)
Triana (Zak Claxton)
Sex & Candy (Marcy Playground)
The Rainbow Connection (Kermit the Frog)
Shine (Zak Claxton)

Thanks so much to everyone who makes our Sunday evenings special at Triana's Music Trivia, with special thanks to those who supported the show last night!
Alchemy Epstein, Jordan Hazlitt, Nakira Tennen, Diana Renoir, MrNoCal Honey, Xerxes Ninetails, Kat Claxton, Samantha Poindexter, TheaDee, and the amazing lady who makes it all happen week after week, Triana Caldera! There's nothing trivial about you!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Serene Acoustic Lounge (12.13.12)

I'm having trouble typing right now. It's not because it's not quite seven AM, or that my hands themselves are malfunctioning in some way. No, it's because I played two songs using my fingers instead of a flatpick last night at Serene Acoustic Lounge in Second Life. Just two songs. And later in the evening, I noticed something I hadn't experienced since I was a very young guitarist: blisters on my fingers. I'm not talking about the tough callouses on my fretting hand, formed from playing guitar nearly every day since I was seven years old. No, I mean my right hand, my picking hand. It had been so long since I played fingerstyle (without a pick) that my fingers have turned into wussy little sausages that are incapable of repeated contact with metal strings at this point, apparently.

How humiliating! I used to play guitar using my fingers a lot... like, a whole lot. I took classical lessons for a number of years where I exclusively used my fingers. It's the equivalent of realizing you forgot how to ride a bike, or how to drive a stick shift, or something. The only way to toughen them back up, of course, is to play a lot more, so after these somewhat painful blisters heal, I will make a point to do just that.

Playing tunes and talking about songwriting. Good times. Photo and top photo by Triana.

Apart from this sad reminder of my complete reliance on a flatpick, it was a fantastic show at Serene. Barbie Horsely (known as Sassy Nitely in SL) has become a really good friend of mine. We share a manager (the amazing Maali Beck), we both do a mix of original music and cover tunes when we perform in SL, we both chose Music as our area of study in college, and we both have plenty of musical experience outside of virtual worlds. Barbie owns Serene, and from the get-go, she intended it to be a place where musicians could showcase their own stuff... kind of the virtual equivalent of the famous Bluebird Cafe in Nashville (where Barbie happens to live). There are plenty of places in SL to whoop it up and party and rock; Serene is more of a real listening environment for people who are truly fans of music.

She and I had decided to do a show there together some time back, but it wasn't until maybe a week ago that she asked me if we should have some kind of theme. It being mid-December, the obvious and easy thing to do would make it a holiday-themed event. But honestly, there are already so many of those happening in and out of SL that it hardly seemed like anything special. Instead, I suggested (and she agreed) that doing a show where we could focus on the songwriting we do and the musicians who have influenced our work would be both fun for us and interesting to our audience.

It worked well. Barbie (or Sassy, if you prefer) started the show and did a number of her own originals, and also tunes by artists like Jewel and Sarah McLachlan who had a big impact on her as a musician. I thought she did a great set; I listened as I got my own stuff set up (and my self warmed up) to play. She and I both did a lot more talking than usual, and I will tell you, despite knowing Sassy and her music well, I learned quite a bit while listening to her tell stories of her own musical background and her process in writing. It was cool.

Sassy performs and tells stories of her start as a musician and songwriter.

The crowd seemed to like this interesting show that went beyond just the music. They did so despite my knee jutting out of the middle of my guitar. Photo by Triana.

My set was good, but not because I played or sang particularly well. I didn't; I was marginally okay at best. But I really liked being able to go into depth on a wide range of subjects that relate to songs and songwriting. Also, in choosing my selections, I ended up pushing myself a bit into some areas outside of my top-level comfort zone. This is crucial to do from time to time as a performing musician. It helps ensure that you don't start doing your set by rote, playing only your most familiar stuff and running into inevitable burnout.

You've been a great audience. I love you! Peace!

Serene Set List...
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
The Worst (Rolling Stones)
Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
Across the Universe (Beatles)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Things Behind the Sun (nick Drake)
*Blackbird (Beatles)
A Case of You (Joni Mitchell)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Yes, that's only nine songs, which goes to show how much I was talking about the music as opposed to playing it. You can't do that at every show (I'd go nuts, as would the audience), but it was a really neat change of pace for everyone.

Massive thanks to everyone who came out to hear my "Songwriters & Influences" set, including those who helped support it!
Triana Caldera, Hells Lobo, Sabina Melnik, Zanne Boucher, Sesh Kamachi, Christine Haiku, and most of all, my friend and fellow performing songwriter Sassy Nitely!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Islands of New England (12.10.12)

It's so hard to say what changes the dynamic of each live music show in Second Life. I've never been a huge touring musician in the fleshy world, so I can only imagine that there are similar idiosyncrasies when a band plays Vancouver, then Seattle, then Portland, and so on. You might do the same material in each town with the same degree of proficiency, but the differences in the venue and the crowd make the vibe very unique at each respective show.

So, I suppose the same goes for SL. I don't know that my performance last night at the Islands of New England was particularly great, but when I finished my last note, it felt like one of the coolest shows I'd done in awhile. What made it that way? Not a huge crowd, but a good crowd. I've written about this phenomenon a number of times, but to reiterate: a group of people who are active amongst each other and engaging toward me inspires me to play better. No offense to any of those artists who prefer their crowd to be silent in rapt wonder and awe, but the more I see my crowd enjoying themselves and having a great time, the better I feel, and the more confidently and uninhibitedly I perform.

I always enjoy when I arrive at a venue during a particular season, and they've decked the place out to capture the vibe. New England's "winter wonderland" look was great. Photo and top photo by Kat.

Playing music: good. Playing music in front of people: better. Playing music in front of friends: the best. Photo by Kat.

One thing that helped make the show cool before I'd even picked up my guitar is the fact that entertainment events at the Islands of New England are managed by a woman who I really like and whose company I enjoy, Christine Haiku. When I feel like a personal friend of the folks who run a venue, there's one extra layer of pressure removed. I have nothing to prove to Christine; she's come to dozens of my shows all over the grid, and seems to enjoy herself. I like her cheery attitude and humor, and she's been beyond supportive over the several years that we've known each other.

Secondly, a good chunk of the crowd was made up of other people who I consider friends, and even those who I didn't know really seemed to dig both the serious and silly songs that I'd pulled out for the occasion.

IONE Set List...
Call Me Al (Paul Simon)
Afternoon Delight (Starland Vocal Band)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond)
Man on the Moon (R.E.M.)
Polly (Nirvana)
The Other Way (Zak Claxton)
Old Man (Neil Young)
People Are Strange (The Doors)
Blue Skies (Irving Berlin)
River (Joni Mitchell)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Behind Blue Eyes (The Who)

Many thanks to my good pals and new friends who came to my show at the Islands of New England (especially the following who helped support the show). You all rock.
Spirit Cleanslate, Triana Caldera, Leanna Chaffe, Straton Tigerpaw, TheaDee, Chili Lykin, Sesh Kamachi, Kat Claxton, Kunshi, Sassy Nitely, my manager Maali Beck, and IONE hostess with the mostess, Christine Haiku!

Monday, December 10, 2012

How New Songs Develop

Any time I write a post about songwriting, you have to keep in mind that what I'm describing to you is one of an infinite number of ways to accomplish the task of creating/capturing a new song. The same artist can end up using ten different ways to create ten songs on an album. Granted, that usually doesn't happen; many artists tend to fall into a formulaic approach, and once they hit on something that works for them, they just keep reusing it over and over. For me, the song itself is what dictates its path, and whatever direction it takes me, that's where I go. What the hell does that mean? Allow me to elucidate.

I'm currently immersed in creating music for They Stole My Crayon, a collaborative project between myself, Kat, and Bunny Knutson. For this band, if you want to call it that, I am purposefully taking some new directions in the style, and that means I can't just take the easy road. Doing this music has required me to do a lot of listening to new music (which is great, by the way), and allowing the influence of the songwriting and the production of the recordings to wash over me.

It may seem obvious, but the most important skill you can have as a songwriter or recordist is the ability to listen. When musicians listen, they tend to do it on a different plane than most people. We analyze many aspects of a recording that normal folks might not even notice but are subconsciously aware of. It's our job to put those nebulus components of sound into tangible aspects and use them well.

A Little History
Back in the era of the 1970s and beforehand, you plenty of options for songwriting, but not so many for recording. Very few people outside of commercial recording studios had the equipment required for professional music production, so you'd write your little song using your guitar or piano and a sheet of paper, then go into the studio and record it. By the way, not just anyone could go into the studio; it cost a lot of money (and still does), so most of the people recording were those who were signed to record labels who would foot the bill for the studio sessions (and the session musicians and engineers and producer and tape and so on).

Today, you can download some software that turns your home computer in your bedroom into a multitrack recording studio cheaply and easily. At least that's the theory; the problem is that most people don't realize what an intricate art and science it is to creatively capture music, and they lack the listening and technical skills to do it well, but that's another story. For the sake of this post, let's assume that you have some recording gear at home, and have a pretty good idea how to use it.

There's nothing "fair" about the recording process. Some people have to bring in a bunch of musicians to record specific parts. I'm fortunate that over the course of my life, I've become proficient on a wide range of instruments, allowing me to do most of my own recorded music by overdubbing parts on top of each other. That having been said, I always welcome the opportunity to have other people make musical contributions when they can add something to the song that otherwise wouldn't be there with just me doing all the performances.

The Demo
As I've discussed here before, it's a really good idea to capture your new song as soon as you can. I do this as quickly and simply as possible. I grab whatever is handy that I can use to record -- a video camera, a computer app that's designed for voice memos, whatever -- and record the song, usually just playing guitar and singing. Don't have lyrics yet? No problem. Mumble some unintelligible sounds while you play. The words can come later.

Refine the Tune
Perhaps your song is absolutely perfect from that moment. It does happen. Chances are, though, you'll notice some aspects of your song that need tweaking. You'll make some adjustments in your lyrics when you try and sing and realize that a phrase is really awkward. You'll decide that the last chorus should be repeated twice. You'll realize the bridge is too long. Whatever the case may be, now is the perfect time to refine your song, because once you really get locked into the structure of the song, it's hard to imagine it any other way.

What Is Arranging?
The American Federation of Musicians defines arranging as "the art of preparing and adapting an already written composition for presentation in other than its original form. An arrangement may include reharmonization, paraphrasing, and/or development of a composition, so that it fully represents the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic structure"[1].

That's not really easy to understand for everyone, so let me give you an example. For our new song "Take the Ride", we'd created a demo per above the same day the song was written. I did it very fast, not trying very hard to think about the fine details. This weekend, I revisited that demo and found a few things I didn't fully like. I also started imagining some of the other sounds and musical motifs that I felt could better flesh out the idea as I imagined it. Remember, you have to have a good enough imagination to hear things that don't yet exist on a recording. That's part of being a music producer. More on that job title another time.

I can't deny that when trying to record stuff you're proud of, it's helpful to have choices in gear. However, don't fall into the trap of thinking that more/better gear will automatically make you a better recordist. It certainly won't make you a better songwriter, and having too many choices can actually end up paralyzing you while trying to get a new song done.

So, I could hear things that weren't yet part of the song. Strings, for instance. I imagined certain vocal lines that had yet to be recorded. I thought of additional guitar parts. You get the idea. Meanwhile, we also went through that refinement process. I changed the key of the original demo from E major up to G major; it just felt better to sing and more enjoyable to listen to. I also picked up the tempo considerably. I'd heard a tune that I liked and felt the tempo would be a better fit than what we'd chosen for the original demo version. Kat did some work on her original lyrics in places that didn't work well for phrasing. Also, the original demo had no drums at all, and I had what I thought might be a good plan for a drum beat. All stuff that would have a big impact on the next version of the song!

Better Demo or Master?
We then set about recording these new ideas. I started with the drums, and then added bass, and then guitar, and then some lead and backing vocals, getting mixing ideas as I went along. The question you have to ask at this phase: am I recording a better demo, or am I recording the version that will be released to the public? The answer is easy: if it's good enough, it's the final version. If not, you're going to go through part or the whole process all over again. My advice is to not assume either way. Try to get great sounds, if you can. Try and do your best on every track, because it really might be a "keeper".

It's still unknown at this stage whether what we worked on this weekend might be what ends up on the album. I will tell you this: when you don't record in a "real" studio, you almost always end up making compromises. Your home probably wasn't designed with music recording in mind, so there are noises that leak inside (so you just might have to be okay with car engine noises and the sound of playing kids invading your precious lead vocal track). Your recording gear, unless you've invested a whole lot of money, isn't as good as the equipment in a pro studio. But the good news is that even the less expensive gear we use at home has gotten a whole lot better over the years, and more importantly, if you're a good recordist and a creative person, you can figure out ways to make stuff work. Sometimes, those limitations end up challenging you into making even better stuff than you would with a wide open canvas.

What's Next?
It depends on what you're going for. In this case, we have a band member (Bunny) who lives about 30 miles away. Not very far, but far enough through LA traffic that dropping by to throw down some tracks isn't possible all the time. We want Bunny to make contributions, so what I'll do is take all the tracks we've done so far and send them to Bunny via the amazing Internet. Bunny will be able to load those tracks into his computer, and then add various sounds (probably more guitars and vocals in this case).

We sometimes are lucky enough to be in the same room while trying to write music. However, even in collaborations, I've found the act of writing music and lyrics to be a personal one best accomplished by an individual, and then the collaborative process happens while the song is being refined. Here's Bunny and I making silly noises, which is fun whether or not you're trying to write great music.

And then? More and more refinement. I'm still not fully happy with the vocals we did yesterday, so I already know I'll be doing those again. Once everything has been recorded satisfactorily, the process of mixing begins. You need everything to fit together nicely. That means the volumes of the individual tracks blend well. It means that the frequency content of the song (aka the amounts of treble, bass, and midrange sounds) has the right tone in each track so that the overall result isn't too muddy or too tinny (unless that's what you're after). It means that each effect is applied tastefully. It means that the song starts and ends in the way you'd planned, and much, much more. There's an amazing amount of creative work that goes into mixing, but we're not even close to that point yet.

What we do have at the moment is a song that's neither here nor there, but is headed in a very promising direction. I'm excited about its potential, but I've also seen songs get to this stage and get completely derailed by a number of factors. The only secret to seeing it through to its successful completion, if there is one, is to try and maintain the focus of the original vision and vibe, while also being open minded about where the song might go that you'd never planned in the first place. Sound like a mutually exclusive goal? It would seem that way, but it's all part of the magic of making music. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Warehouse at Grove Estates (12.06.12)

Every Second Life musician without fail will recognize the following scenario.

Musician: Hey, come to my show tonight!
Fan #1: I'd love to, but I have a bowling league semifinal.
Fan #2: I wish I could, but it's my son's school band's winter concert tonight.
Fan #3: Aw, I already promised Gooby McGoober that I'd go to his show.
Fan #4: Yay! Oh damn, I just remember it's my company's holiday party tonight.

And so on. This is just a fact of life: you compete with life itself when you do any kind of artistic performance, and quite often life wins. And it should; the fact is that every performer out there should be grateful that anyone at all ever comes to see them. It's way too easy to fall into the trap of taking your supporters for granted. The minute you start expecting people to be there time and time again (and getting disappointed when that's not the case), you've crossed over into the Douche Zone.

If I had a band, there might have been more people onstage than in the audience when we started the set. Photo by Kat.

But wait... there's more. Sometimes, as a live performer in any environment, you're not only in competition for folks' time versus their other life activities, but also up against other forms of entertainment as well. For example, you probably don't want to schedule a show during the Super Bowl. You're likely to lose that battle. But even under less severe cases, the fact is that there are a lot of choices in entertainment, and you can't expect to be the #1 draw every night. Actually, you can, but you're guaranteed to end up bitter and resentful when it inevitably doesn't work out that way all the time.

All this is a long lead up to saying that my debut at the Warehouse of Grove Country Club Estates in Second Life wasn't exactly a headline-inspiring event. My Zaksters superfans were nearly all preoccupied with other things, and the club (which is think is relatively new) apparently doesn't have a big draw on its own, at least for live performers. The upshot of that is that I began my show to a nearly empty house, which doesn't happen very often for me. Despite that, I did what I always do... play music and have fun. The manager/host there, Samantha Ohrberg, seems like a very nice person who understands that not every show at every venue will be a packed house. Many of the constantly successful venues in SL have taken months or even years to become a "go-to" destination that gets a good crowd at every event.

We actually ended up with a happy little crowd as the show went on. Life's too short to spend time whining instead of appreciating what you've got. Photo by Kat.

I think those who did come to the Warehouse ended up having a good time, as did I. I can't ask for more than that, and I don't. Photo by Kat.

We did end up getting enough people there to feel like the show was worthwhile for everyone involved, and I especially want to thank my friends Christine Haiku and Sesh Kamachi for showing up and immediately improving my woeful attitude. Musically, the show went fine, and my voice seemed to be behaving itself.

Warehouse/Grove Estates Set List...
Waterloo Sunset (The Kinks)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Caxton)
Rikki Don't Lose That Number (Steely Dan)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
California (Joni Mitchell)
1979 (Smashing Pumpkins)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
On The Way Home (Neil Young)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Tea in the Sahara (The Police)
Improvised Outro Tune (Zak Claxton)

Many thanks to those who made it out to support the show! You rule!
Sher Salmson, Sesh Kamachi, Christine Haiku, Christine Haiku, Christine Haiku, Christine Haiku, Christine Haiku, Christine Haiku, Christine Haiku, Christine Haiku, Christine Haiku, Christine Haiku (seriously Haiku, this is my revenge for your tip jar shenanigans), Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and the Warehouse's Samantha Ohrberg!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Lavender Field (12.01.12)

It's actually been a number of months since I had the pleasure of performing at a charitable benefit in Second Life, so I was quite pleased to get on a bill with my friends Sassy Nitely (aka Barbie Horsley) and Lyndon Heart at Lavender Field's Feed-A-Smile event on Saturday.

Sassy, Lyndon and I are all clients of Maali Beck Entertainment, and we're all good pals as well, so it was not only a terrific day of raising funds for a very worthy cause, but also fun as hell too. If you haven't read one of my previous reports from Brique Topaz's Lavender Field, let me fill you in. This Second Life location supports the Feed-a-Smile organization. Feed-a-Smile is a benefit that funds Live and Learn in Kenya, and they sponsor education for kids in Africa who otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to go to school, and to make sure those kids are fed well enough to be in a position to learn. Brique has worked it out so that every L$100 spent (less than $0.40 USD) in donations at the shows allow one kid to get one hot meal.

When artists perform at Lavender Field, they waive their performance fees and instead of tips, all funds raised go straight to the charity. Between Sassy, Lyndon, and myself, our generous fans kicked down 201 meals, in the form of L$20,100 donated while we played. That's about $75 USD, which isn't bad at all and will help make those kids' lives better for a short while. I also used the occasion to pull our a few covers that I hadn't done before.

A very rare smile on my avatar's face. Perhaps my digital self recognizes when I'm doing something good. Photo and top photo by Kat.

Superfan Thea Dee hangs out with Sassy Nitely, and Lyndon Heart boogies while I perform. Photo by Kat.

After my show, Kat and I hung out to listen to Lyndon's set. Poor Triana made it to the show while suffering with a bad stomach. She gets extra karma points for that. Photo by Kat.

Lavender Field Set List...
Pigs on the Wing -- Part 1 (Pink Floyd)
*Call Me Al (Paul Simon)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Teach Your Children (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Hunger Strike (Temple of the Dog)
The Sands of Redondo (Zak Claxton)
I Am A Child (Neil Young)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Frigid Spring (Chairlift)
*Strawberry Fields Forever (Beatles)
*Are You Experienced (Jimi Hendrix)
Long December (Counting Crows)
Pigs on the Wing -- Part 2 (Pink Floyd)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Thank you to everyone who made this day of fun and fundraising a big success! Special thanks to my friends Sassy, Lyndon, and Maali for doing what you do.