Monday, June 17, 2013

8 Reasons I Limit My Performances in Second Life

The number of shows an artist does in Second Life is much like the speed at which they choose to drive on the freeway. As George Carlin famously noted, anyone going slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac. Of course, the irony is that other people, from their perspective, think the same thing about you.

Therefore, the last thing I'll do is tell anyone else that they play too frequently, or not often enough. They have reasons for the numbers of shows they do, based on many factors, and I do as well. What I can do is tell you the specific reasons that I choose to perform live music in SL at the rate that is right for me.

How Often Does Zak Play?
Let's get this out of the way up front. I currently play about two shows per week, on average. There are occasional weeks with 3-4 shows, and occasional stretches of a couple of weeks with none at all. However, I try and maintain a pretty consistent schedule that has me do roughly two per week. Why does that amount work for me?

1. I have other musical activities.
I was a musician long before Second Life existed, and will remain one long after it's gone. At any given time, I am working on songwriting and recording (both for my own solo work and currently for my band They Stole My Crayon), and occasionally playing live in real life, both as a solo artist and with various bands. While I may only be performing live in SL a couple of times a week, there are many more hours I need to dedicate to my other musical adventures. But a much bigger time suck is...

Even when I'm not playing in SL, I usually am playing in some world. Here I am working on a song with Bunny.

2. I have responsibilities and activities beyond music.
I certainly love making and performing music. But only a tiny fraction of musicians have the luxury of devoting their lives to music full time, and I'm not one of them. I own a small business which could take up my entire day, every day, if I allow it to. I am the father of a teenage son, which is a much more important role than that of my being a musical performer. And I have a wonderful love life with Kat, and that does (and should) take up time as well. And, of course, there are all the other things that we all do in life... cooking, sleeping, housekeeping, and all that. Again, while I love being a musician, it doesn't take precedence over the other aspects of my life for which people rely on me. Speaking of responsibilities...

3. I only play fee-based shows.
This is a simple one: when an artist charges venues a fee to perform there, he or she should automatically stop performing for free (or for "tips-only") at other venues. Here's why: it is not fair at all to the venues who pay for your services to then have you give them away elsewhere. Imagine you walk up to a fruit stand, and pay $5 for a delicious bunch of bananas. While you're there, another customer walks up, and the seller gives them a bunch of bananas for free. Chances are, you'd feel like you got ripped off, and you'd be right. It's not that the bananas aren't worth five bucks; it's that the same price should be charged to everyone. All this having been said, I support the idea that all negotiations for artist appearances in SL are between the artist and the venue, and people can do whatever they want to. In my early days of SL, I'd play upwards of 6-7 times each week at tips-only places. However, once I got to a point that I started charging fees at all shows, I knew that it wasn't fair to the folks who paid me to play at places that don't. My ethics dictate my decision in this regard. There is an exception to this rule, though...

If I felt it was okay to charge some venues and not charge others, I could play five times a day. Instead, I prefer keeping it fair. Photo at The Islands of New England by Kat.

4. I play for many charities and benefits.
Over the course of a year, about 20% of my shows are done for various charitable causes. These are shows in which I do not accept a fee, and any tips go to the cause being supported. These causes have ranged from Relay for Life to the Kidney Foundation to diabetes to animal shelters to helping kids in Africa, and more. As far as I'm concerned, these are all shows of mine, and they require my fans to come and see me (and donate) for them to be successful. So, especially during the spring and early summer when these charity shows tend to be in full swing...

5. I don't want to burn out my audience.
Look, I have hundreds and hundreds of songs in my repertoire, and add new ones very often. I have original music; I have cover songs that people don't hear all the time. Despite all that, there are only so many times per week that I can expect the same group of people to take time out of their days to come see me perform live music. While I do strive to get new people to my shows, perchance to become fans, I care a lot about the people who've comprised my hardcore fan base over the last six-plus years. That's why real-life artists tour; they wouldn't expect the same people in the same city to come back to see them every night, and I don't expect that of my SL audience. There's another group of people who I always try and help, rather than be a burden for them...

6. I want to help the venues.
Running a successful venue is Second Life is really hard! The amount of time that the good venue owners/managers/hosts spend on being physically present at shows, on booking artists, and promoting their shows is mind boggling. When I perform there, I want it to be like a special event that draws a good-sized crowd for them, increasing their venue donations, and making it worthwhile to have me there. You will find it rare that I play at any single place more than twice per month. That's also why I want each show to be as good as I can offer, because...

I always want to be sure that I'm giving something back to the venues where I perform, and making it a special event is one thing that brings in bigger crowds. Photo at Key West by Kat.

7. I like to offer quality over quantity.
Back in the day where I'd pretty often play multiple shows each day, I found something disconcerting happening: I didn't have the energy to give my very best at each show. My voice would get rough, and my guitar playing would get sloppy. By limiting my shows to 1-2 each week, I can really prepare well and make sure that each performance is something in which I can take pride. But no matter how good you are, there's an intangible aspect that also dictates the number of shows one plays in SL...

I put a lot of energy into my shows, and if I overdo them, I can become a burned-out mess quickly. Here's me, sweating and panting directly after a recent show.

8. Popularity matters.
The entertainment business isn't "fair". Life isn't either, but it's all the more obvious in the world of performing arts. You can be a good performer who just isn't capable of getting yourself noticed. You can be a mediocre-at-best performer who makes up for it in other ways and achieves popularity. I am extremely grateful for both the fans and the venues who've helped make me a pretty well respected performer in SL, but the fact is that there are X number of venues and Y number of performers, and at some point you need to acquiesce that just like in real life, performers who consistently bring in bigger crowds tend to get more shows. It's not a talent contest. It's not an indication that the less popular performers aren't as "good" (whatever that means in something as subjective as music). It does mean that for people who would otherwise play shows more often, they need to be able to offer venues a reason to book them, beyond the fact that perhaps they can play an instrument and sing well.

Anything else?
Yes, one more thing. For my first five years in SL, I booked my own shows and did all of my own promotions. Since 2011, though, I handed off those duties to my manager Maali Beck, and I have to highly commend her for one specific thing: she listens to me. I specifically told her from day one that I wasn't into playing too often in SL, and she has always respected that. Also, I should add that the services she provides actually frees me up to focus much more on the performance, and less on the business side of things, which is good for everyone. Hats off to her.

For the rest of you, as I mentioned above: this isn't the right way... it's just my way. For some people and certain kinds of performances, doing 2-3 shows (or more) every single day is right for them, and for others, doing a show every month or two works. As George inferred up top, everyone is either an idiot or a maniac... even me and you!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Key West (06.13.13)

It's Friday morning, but it's not just any Friday morning; it's the first day of my son's summer break from school. This only affects me in one small but important way: I get to "sleep in" until 7AM, and I don't have to jump up and make sure he's getting ready to go and then drive him down to the school, as I'd otherwise be doing this moment. That having been said, for some reason I feel even more tired than usual today, perhaps because of the energy I spent last night rocking hard at Key West in Second Life.

I knew last night's show would be a good one well before I arrived at the venue. My friend and fellow client of Maali Beck Entertainment, Sassy Nitely (aka Barbie Horsley) was performing directly before me. Barbie and I share a very similar approach to music performances in SL. Both of us do indeed put on a solid show of original and cover tunes; both of us do our shows as singer-instrumentalists, doing completely live performances while singing and accompanying ourselves on guitar. But what we seem to have most in common is making it a priority to make sure the audience is having fun. That means neither of us take ourselves too seriously, and the result is that there is a lot of fun interaction with the audience.

If it's not about having fun, I don't know what it is about. Photo and top photo by Kat.

The virtual sun sets on another terrific show at Key West. Photo by Triana.

So, last night at Key West was no exception. Sassy wrapped up her as-always great show, and then I went on. We had a pretty good-sized crowd, which is common at Key West. It's one of the standout venues in SL with a great owner (Liz Harley) and a very good hosting staff (primarily Coreopsis Bluebird). I always feel comfortable at Key West, knowing that the crowd there is comprised of people who appreciate the variety music that I play.

Key West set list...
Are You Experienced? (Jimi Hendrix)
Go Easy On Me (Zak Claxton)
Everlong (Foo Fighters)
Every Day I Write the Book (Elvis Costello)
Drive (Incubus)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Beyond the Blue (Martina McBride)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Court and Spark (Joni Mitchell)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Down (311)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young)

Thank you, thank you, thank you, all who attended and helped support the show at Key West!
Syd Baddingham, Triana Caldera, TheaDee, Sesh Kamachi, Alexis Fairlady, Virgo Delicioso, Christine Haiku, Kat Claxton, JennaPiper, Sassy Nitely, my great manager Maali Beck, and Key West owner Liz Harley!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Islands of New England (06.05.13)

I performed Wednesday night at the Islands of New England in Second Life. I usually post a blog about each show on the following day if I can, but I have two rather reasonable excuses for my tardiness: first, I had a ridiculously long work day on Thursday, and second, it was my birthday. But wait! It was also my darling Kat's birthday. Yes, we share a birthday. Yes, it's awesome.

So, due to the aforementioned workday from hell (and the fact that our birthdays fell on a mundane Thursday this year), we didn't do much celebrating. We're going to instead go out for a nice dinner tomorrow night. Meanwhile, since I have roughly three seconds to spare, we'll make this a quick post about my show at the IONE.

Getting down with my bad self at the Islands of New England. Photo and top photo by Kat.

As I've mentioned many times, the venue is run by my great friend Christine Haiku, and every time I perform there, the crowd mostly consists of the many crazy and wonderful people I call friends in the virtual world. I got onstage after my buddy Taunter Goodnight, whose shows always put me in a good mood. However, it wasn't a list of happy songs I'd prepared for the night. Instead, my musical theme was "weird", so my tunes leaned toward the odd side of my repertoire, and included a song I'd nevr played before as well as some that are pretty rare for me.

Islands of New England Set List...
Psycho Killer (Talking Heads)
Six Underground (Sneaker Pimps)
Time Never Waits for You (Zak Claxton)
*Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden)
Heat (David Bowie)
Starman (David Bowie)
People Are Strange (The Doors)
Sour Girl (Stone Temple Pilots)
Waiting for This (Zak Claxton)
The Loner (Neil Young)
Loser (Beck)

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

Big thanks to everyone who attended my show at IONE, especially the following who helped support the show!

Diana Renoir, Triana Caldera, Stacy Mosely, TheaDee, Monkey Martian, Sassy Nitely, Sesh Kamachi, Rod Hyx, Kat Claxton, Tommy Cult, Taunter Goodnight, my manager Maali Beck, and the hostess with the mostess, Christine Haiku!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Home & Garden Expo -- Relay for Life (06.02.13)

Yeah, you're not seeing double. I did two benefit events for Relay for Life in less than 24 hours. Yes, go ahead and saint me now, if you want. But as I've mentioned many times to my crowds at RFL events, I actually have completely selfish reasons for doing these charitable events.

1. If I help raise money that goes to cancer research, it just might help when I (or a close friend or relative) eventually end up getting it.

2. I feel good about myself knowing that I'm helping other people. I like feeling good.

3. I almost inevitably end up getting seen by people who might never have caught my show otherwise, and some of those people become long-term fans of mine.

So, note to all you musicians out there: THERE IS NO DOWNSIDE TO DOING LEGITIMATE CHARITY SHOWS! Yes, I screamed that in all caps. It's important to realize. And one more point, as long as I have my soapbox out... under no circumstances should any musician ask to be compensated in ANY way for getting involved in charity events. No factors such as "But we'll bring in a big crowd!" matter. Anyone who attempts this is lower than pond scum in my book, and should be avoided at all costs. Just say "no" to greedy motherfuckers.

All that having been said, after a pretty amazing show on Saturday night for the Synthesis event with Guerilla Burlesque, I wasn't sure what to expect on Sunday's RFL event for the long-running Home & Garden Expo. However, I'd done many, many Relay shows with Joonie Jatho organizing the event, and they all seem to be well run. What I didn't know until about halfway through my show was that I was the closing act for the entire multi-day event! My ego floweth over! I spent a good amount of time congratulating myself as the "headliner" for the entire H&G Expo, which was only half in jest.

Why am I not standing on the stage? Well, I was having some lag issues, and ended up crossing back and forth across the stage for the first three minutes of my show, then falling off, and finally deciding that my show would be good enough from where I landed. Photo and top photo by Kat.

Here I am, the headliner of the whole H&G Expo event. Yes, it's true. I rule. Photo by Kat.

For being a casual little Sunday evening event with little fanfare, we had a fun and enthusiastic audience. Photo and top photo by Kat.

We somehow pulled together a really good-sized crowd, and from what I hear, folks were being generous with their contributions toward the cause, which is all that really matters. Secondarily, I seem to be playing and singing well recently, perhaps due to a) an abundance of recent shows, and b) at the same time, working on tracks for my band They Stole My Crayon. Between the two, I've had a guitar in my hand and a mic in front of my mouth pretty much every day, and that, too, makes me a happy Zak.

Home & Garden Expo RFL Set List...
Save It For Later (English Beat)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Comes a Time (Neil Young)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Carey (Joni Mitchell)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Blue Skies (Irving Berlin)
She's Always a Woman (Billy Joel)
After the Gold Rush (Neil Young)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Call Me Al (Paul Simon)

Many thanks to everyone who helped make this year's RFL events a big success with their generosity and kindness!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Synthesis (06.01.13)

Well, Sunday morning is turning out really good so far. For one thing, we're making wonderful progress on new songwriting and recording/production for our band They Stole My Crayon. But there's still a smile on my face left over from last night's special event in Second Life to support Relay for Life. It was called Synthesis... a good name for an event that combined live original music and amazing dance performances.

To be frank, I wasn't sure what could be so great about a dance performance in SL. I mean, what's the big deal? Someone clicks a little ball in SL and boom... they're a great dancer, right? Well, let me tell you: I had no clue as to how amazing and intricate the sets and performances would be. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me step back here and tell you what actually happened.

The event, which was put together and coordinated by Thea Dee, featured four musicians, each paired with one dancer from the Guerilla Burlesque crew in SL. The musician would play a few of his or her original songs live, and then a dancer would do an interpretive dance to a studio recording on one of the artist's songs. The musician/dancer pairings (in order of appearance) were myself and Bonnie Revnik, Lacey Lohner and Chewie Quixote, Mulder Watts and Thea Dee, and Joel Eilde (Dragonfly) and Zahra Ethaniel. The whole event took only 90 minutes, and was run very well. I was super impressed; anyone who's dealt with events in SL where many performers have to flip back and forth on the same stream and entire acts/sets have to be switched in seconds knows that it's not always an easy task to do smoothly.

The other thing that needs mentioning: the set designs! It was like a little theatrical performance each time the curtain rolled up and one of the dancers started their song. The presentations were dynamic, with amazing props and lighting. I was completely blown away. Hopefully some of the pictures below give you an idea of cool this was.

The audience takes their seats at the start of the event. Photo and top photo by Kat.

The theater build itself (at Idle Rogue) was spectacular. Photo by Kat.

Bonnie Revnik did a great job interpreting my song "Fade Away" in dance. Photo by Kat.

Bonnie fades away during her dance. Loved it! Photo by Kat.

This bears mentioning... SL was unfortunately not being cooperative right at the start of the show, with the sim crashing twice. Despite that, the maximum avatar limit of 60 people was maintained through much of the show, which means people wanted to see this so much that they made a huge effort to keep re-logging and returning. That was very, very cool.

I also have to give massive kudos to musicians Lacey Lohner, Mulder Watts, and Joel Eilde. All of them did shows of their own tunes that were astonishingly good, and a fine reminder that SL has some musical talent that's on par with any community of musicians in the world. It was great to be able to share our mutual respect for one another as we chatted between performances.

Synthesis Set List...
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
†Fade Away (Zak Claxton)

†Fade Away was the song to which Bonnie danced, and was performed along with the studio recording.

Huge thanks to everyone who attended and supported Relay for Life via their generous donations!