August News

Choose one:
A. I love you, Ezekiel and every word you mumble as you drool in your sleep is pure GOLD! …Cool, read on.
B. True Blood is on, you got 20 seconds to pitch me, kid! …Cool, skip to the Executive Summary below!

So… being an indie musician has been one of the most beautiful, fulfilling, expressive, yet difficult experiences of my life thus far. The music industry has been changing, as you know. The more I read, the more I see how the cards are stacked against me in going the traditional route of hoping for discovery by a record label or using the indie “play as much as possible and hope to make enough to survive” model. Articles like this one could be depressing, but remember, I’m an Aries. That’s astrology-talk for stubborn.

I am always going to play and record music. I will always have live shows. Other than that, I am already looking to climb out of the box that keeps talented people stuck. One revenue source that continues to heat up for musicians these days is song placement. I am now a member of TAXI, a broker for songwriters looking for film, TV and commercial placements. We’ll see if that pans out. I’ve had one song forwarded to an ad agency already, but my selection odds could still be lotto-sized, who knows. In the meantime I will be looking for ways I could partner with others to custom-produce original songs for placement. “Isn’t that selling out?” you ask. Well, if there is such a thing anymore, I can assure you that my taste line is still above jingle-writing. “Haaawt Pockets!”

So, whatup with the job search I heard about? Well, I had thought that a paying job in the music industry was the way to go, but after reading this blog I’m not as firm on that preference. However, my fun project of interviewing people working in music continues! Read the write-ups on my music blog here.

There is a big House of Blues show coming up on Friday, Sep. 7, as part of ListenlocalSD’s Local Brews Local Grooves festival featuring 12 bands. I am going to be on the Delta Stage downstairs at 9pm. Please contact me if you are interested in coming out and I will mail you tickets. They are free from me and are coded for Ezekiel Jay. More happy fans at the door means a better shot at opening for a big name act at HOB some time.

The ACTIVITY album is still free to download (here) in mp3 format for the months of August and September, maybe forever. It’s name your price and you can enter 0 and then put your email address to grab the full record, or any individual song, for free. Even with the amazing help from Kickstarter supporters, I may never make all my money back on the record. But what is most important to me is to get ears on the music, so people can connect with the songs and decide whether they want to support me for live shows or in some other way. If you’ve listened, you know a lot went into the lyrics, melodies, and arrangements. Please tell your friends to steal my record!

The Ezekiel Jay Band (featuring Ryan Irby on guitar and Brock Smith on bass) recently showed up at The Skybox Sports Grill in Clairemont to have fun and jam in an informal setting. Little did we know it would be videotaped and would serve as an audition for So-Cal Showcase. I think Joe and Jennifer of So-Cal Showcase did a great job on this vid. If enough of you view the video and like it on Youtube, SCS will give us a full show and video it with a pro setup. See it here.

As some of you know, my alter-ego in Danny and the Tramp, “4th Guy”, has been songwriting with Danny, The Tramp, and Brandon, and is proud of the new songs DnT have turned out. We are going to take the new material into the studio and have a Kickstarter recording fund drive set up that is happening NOW. If you would like to see a new record made featuring the creative input of “4th Guy” then please check out the site for donation options here.

Executive Summary for people who hate words:
-Still looking for that job. LinkedIn, anyone?
-The Activity record is pay any price (i.e. free) to download this month
-Check out our audition vid for So-Cal Showcase, help us get a show
-Danny and the Tramp are making a new record featuring me, 4th Guy!

Upcoming Shows:
House of Blues. Sep. 7, 2012. 9pm. 21+. Full band. Tix are $5 at the door or FREE from me. Contact me ASAP and I will mail them to you.
Hard Rock Cafe. Sep 29, 2012. 10pm. Solo acoustic, opening for Lenny Morris.
Hillcrest Hoedown. October 7, 2012. Full band. More info TBD

Happiness,
Ezekiel

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Musical Neighborhood blog series: producer-engineer Ben Moore

James Brown had the title of “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” I think it’s only appropriate, then, that The Hardest Working Man in San Diego Music is one of the founders of the best soul and funk band I’ve ever seen play live. The band is called The Styletones, and the man is producer/engineer/musician Ben Moore. Now I have to watch myself on this write-up, lest it turn into some sort of thousand-word butt kissing session because I am amazed by everything Ben does.

Around the time I was raising money for my record and searching for a producer and recording engineer, Ben was suggested to me by my drum teacher, Toby Ahrens, who had worked with him previously. Then I saw Ben’s name on the back of a couple of local records, so I decided to look him up. I saw that he had worked with some big-name bands and I was afraid he wouldn’t want to record with a greenhorn like me. But it turns out he enjoys working with greenhorns, as well as studio pros. I told him that I wanted to make a professional sounding recording that I would be proud to send to any radio station in the country. And, by the end of my time working with Ben, that’s what we had done.

Ben grew up surrounded by music. His dad, Matthew Moore, and his uncle, Daniel Moore, are both professional singer-songwriters and have written songs recorded by well-known artists (Joe Cocker, Herbie Hancock, Barbra Streisand, Brooks & Dunn, etc…). Ben started playing piano at a young age. By fifteen he was playing in bands with adults that were of the same age as his parents and making recordings with 4-track tape. In high school he would hitch rides with friends to MiraCosta College in order to take classes in recording. He remembers how just being around all the latest equipment was exciting to him.

With experienced gained from working part-time in studios in his teens and early twenties, Ben eventually got a job at Golden Track Recording Studio as a recording engineer. He mastered not only the soundboards and software, but learned to tune the musicians’ instruments to achieve the best possible sound for guitars, horns, drums and so on. He says the thing he is really known for is his ability to get great drum sound by properly tuning and mic-ing them to come out clear in the mixes. After his days at Golden Track, Ben transitioned to freelance work, partnering with a few local studios where he is intimately familiar with the rooms and available equipment (which, as I have seen, is sometimes hidden 4 cases deep).

Ben’s day starts out handling “business stuff.” This means coordinating logistics with the studios and bands, sending out mixes for evaluation, working out financial arrangements, and doing management work for The Styletones. Then he packs all the gear he will need for the day and starts in the recording studio with a client. Rather than explain everything a recording engineer does, it may be best to direct you to the videos I shot last year while recording my album with Ben:

1. Recording the rhythm section
2. I get pushed to the limit on guitar
3. Ben lays down the Hammond organ
4. Tracking the vocals

Before all of the takes and re-takes and re-re-takes in tracking, we spent a lot of time getting those drums and amps and mics set up right, and the result can definitely be heard on the record. I also spent a lot of time re-tuning my guitar because Ben can hear when something is the slightest bit off pitch. He says, “It’s a great asset in the studio but my sensitivity can ruin my enjoyment of live music. I get sea sick when exposed to a long show with out-of-tune guitars.”

Ben has esoteric knowledge of all kinds of gear, from a 40-year-old tape-delay box all the way to the latest plug-ins for Pro Tools. He has a mobile studio that allowed all of my vocals to be done at my house (after putting up a few blankets to make a reverb-free sound booth). He either owns or can get any piece of equipment you can dream up. But he also knows what makes for good songs.

As my producer, Ben helped to give the Activity record a consistent sound. I remember how we initially sat down and cleaned up and condensed my demo versions. In the studio he gave me a lot of pointers on what kind of guitar leads worked for each track, and came up with some great harmony ideas on the fly. Ben has a network of session players and knew which ones would be right for the project. He connected me with a stellar session bass player in Jason Littlefield of The Heavy Guilt. With Toby (who also drums for SD icon Robin Henkel) on the kit, the two of them took only a handful of hours to crank out 11 tracks of rock-solid rhythm.

While Ben was working on my project, he also had several others underway. He says, “It’s never the same day twice. When I have five projects going at once, it can feel like chaos. I might go from playing organ at Jeff Berkley’s to recording opera/German poetry to mixing Pinback tracks, all in one day.”

But that diversity is what Ben enjoys most. He says he gets bored easily and needs projects in different genres to sustain a high level of enthusiasm for recording. Conversely, what frustrates him the most is that, because there is so much going on, sometimes the logistics can get you. Forgetting one small thing, like a software key or a cable, may mean having to run back to get it from across town (if you ever played in a band you probably know this mad dash well). Another frustration is that there may be third parties providing payment, and when the money doesn’t come through a project must be shelved.

In dealing with the egos (mine included) of those really hearing themselves under a “sound microscope” for the first time, I have found Ben to be incredibly patient and understanding. He says it’s because he is also a long-time musician. He understands that, in general, indie musicians are already working extremely hard for a shot at success. He knows that people who have not recorded before may need to be taught a lot. He knows that crap sometimes happens and he can be flexible. As a musician, however, Ben keeps his work in the Styletones as separate as possible from his recording projects so as not to create the impression that he will push the music to be similar to what his band does. His only real preference is for well-written songs, in any genre.

At one point I asked Ben the golden question: What would you say to me if I were thinking of starting a career in recording? “My advice? Don’t,” he said. He wasn’t joking. “Music schools are turning out far too many students and there just isn’t that much work. This business is saturated with interns trying to get their foot in the door.” Ben says that although he is sometimes inundated with projects, there are dry spells and the only way he is able to make up for it is through incidental work. He has arcane knowledge of vintage gear and does small consulting jobs, sometimes in trade, setting up and fixing equipment for others. And he is the go-to guy in town if you need Hammond B3 organ on your record. Like I told you, Ben is one hard-working man.

I asked Ben about some of the people he has worked with. He says he recently recorded folk artist Joel Rafael, utilizing Jackson Browne’s rhythm section and backing vocals by David Crosby and Graham Nash. He has also worked with Switchfoot, Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka, Burt Bacharach, Berkley Hart, Pinback, and a long list of high profile San Diego-based artists. He’s also done albums for Hot Snakes front man and radio host “Swami” John Reis, for whom he has a lot of praise. Ben says, “I count his record collection as one of my biggest musical influences.”

So, allow me to tie this whole butt-kissing deal back to my job search. I have to say I am completely unsurprised to hear that making it as a professional recording engineer is as rough as making it as a songwriter. As interesting as the recording process is to me, I’m not sure I want to combine two completely unstable careers at this point (hats off to you, Ben!) Although I do think that teaching myself to run a pro mixing console couldn’t hurt. I’m getting pretty good with Garageband in my home studio, but anything with more than 20 knobs and faders intimidates the hell out of me.

What I do know is that when I am ready for another studio record, I will know who to go to. And when I need a groove fix, I go see Ben, Steve Harris and the dapper crew of The Styletones. Congratulations on getting your song on Showtime’s Weeds and keep the successes rolling! And now, I’m ready to get up and do MY thing. What’s my thing? Avoiding homelessness.

Musical Neighborhood blog series: entertainment coordinator Cathryn Beeks

Monday night at the San Diego Music Awards, I was so happy to see Cathryn Beeks on stage as a presenter, looking right at home at the center of the San Diego music community. It’s a sure thing that many of you reading this have attended or performed at a Cathryn Beeks event. I know that I have benefitted tremendously from her help, and I immediately had her in mind when I started my project to interview people working in music. I asked Cathryn to tell me her story because of my own curiosity about all that she does and how she started out, and also just because I wanted to personally recognize her for her dedication to supporting San Diego musicians.

Cathryn is an entertainment coordinator and owner/creator of ListenLocalsd.com, a website that serves as an event calendar, music venue resource, blog, merchandise store, and more. Cathryn makes local music events happen, from start to finish. She is involved in the creation, planning, promotion, and hosting of regular and special events at a variety of music venues in the San Diego area. She’s also a singer-songwriter herself!

Cathryn: “My days consist of dreaming up events and then spending hours on the computer making them happen. Inviting bands, firming up details, making flyers, posting on all the social media sites, etc. Every other evening or so I am out hosting an event somewhere and when I’m not doing that I’m writing or rehearsing with my own band, Garbo.”

I think the really special thing about what Cathryn does is that she gives unknown artists in the beginning stages of their career a platform to begin performing in a show setting. Granted, many veteran San Diego songwriters (and winners of San Diego Music Awards!) can be seen playing at her events, but it is her discernment of when a new performer is ready for her showcases that has helped transition hundreds of local musicians from playing at the open mic level to playing as featured entertainment for an invited audience.

Cathryn is also a radio host. For several years she has produced and hosted the Homegrown Hour broadcast on 102.1 KPRI every Sunday evening at 8pm. Co-hosted by musician/producer/engineer Jeff Berkley, Homegrown plays recordings submitted exclusively from local bands and singer-songwriters. I must say that hearing my own song on Homegrown has felt like a major milestone. It says to me that my music has enough value that it is worth being broadcast to all of San Diego and confirms my own belief in my songwriting ability. I’m sure other artists can relate – that’s how important I think the Homegrown show is.

The path she has taken in building her business originates with Cathryn’s own love of singing.

Cathryn: “I began working 9-to-5 in the real estate industry in the mid 1980’s, about the same time I discovered my love of music and performing. Over the next 10 years I struggled to maintain my increasingly successful career in the business world while endeavoring to follow my heart and dreams of becoming a famous singer or, at least, somehow making a living in the music industry. That journey kept me on the move from California to Wyoming to Florida to Ohio and finally, back to California (San Diego!) in 1999 where I continued living the double life most musicians know so well…business professional by day, rock star by night.”

About 10 years ago Cathryn began hosting an open mic to supplement her income. With her business background, she soon realized that there would be a bigger benefit to the artists and venues if the performances were scheduled, i.e. in a showcase format featuring half hour to hour sets. She began to book showcases at any venue that would have her, charging to haul around a PA if necessary. At one point she was hosting five nights a week and running a printer repair business by day all at once!

Cathryn: “Around 2005 I was able to cut the ties to the day job completely. In an effort to define ListenLocalsd.com, I called myself an ‘entertainment coordinator’ because it didn’t make sense to call myself a booking agent or promoter. I wasn’t trying to do that. I just wanted to provide opportunities for bands to play (and audition for) new venues, meet each other, make new fans, sell some merch and have a good time. That’s still my mission all these years later.”

Cathryn stressed to me the importance of figuring out my strengths and turning them into a way to do what I love for a living. She also suggested utilizing the helpful perspectives of friends and mentors, and accepting help when starting out. Cathryn credits the people who helped her in the early years: “Hotrod Harris gave me $500 to start the website, Matt Silvia loaned me $1500 to buy a PA, Tim Flack’s photos created a buzz and Erica Mantone taught me about trade and how to ask people for things. These are just a few of the people who were important in helping ListenLocalsd.com get started but without them I wouldn’t have made it.”

Cathryn says she is very proud of what she has accomplished in the last 10 years, and is excited about what lies ahead, as I think she very well should be! It is so apparent that she loves what she does every day. She is often thanked for providing opportunities to artists, but what they may not know is that it is Cathryn who is truly grateful to every single musician who plays a showcase: “Besides the joy they get/give when entertaining, their support and donation of live music keeps ListenLocalsd.com alive. In return, I promise to keep doing everything I can to share San Diego’s musical gifts with the world.”

In addition to running a business and a band, Cathryn also has an interest in stop motion animation video production (view one of her music videos here) and this winter Cathryn’s Closet, a second-hand clothing store geared towards musicians, will debut online. “I am of the belief that you should always have a lot of irons in the fire,” she says.

Cathryn has definitely forged her own career path, building her expertise and partnerships over many years. I am inspired by the idea of making one’s own niche career by filling a need that’s out there. However, right now I don’t think the niche I am seeking will be something along the lines of what Cathryn does. The two things that immediately come to mind are, first, why would I want to compete with Cathryn, and second, where am I going to get a Rolodex of several thousand musicians and industry people? However, I do think there may be an opportunity to partner with her one day should an idea for my own event arise. In the meantime, the job search continues… I do know that her husband, Jon Edwards, is a professional live sound engineer. Maybe I would like to try running a sound board?

Listen Local SD:
http://www.listenlocalsd.com/

Cathryn’s band, Garbo:
http://www.facebook.com/theBandGARBO

Musical Neighborhood blog series: attorney Michael Hoisington

Remember the song from Sesame Street that goes “Who are the people in your neighborhood? The people that you meet each day…”

Well, I am currently looking for employment somewhere in the music industry and I don’t really know how to go about finding such a job. Ever since I was 16 I have only worked in areas of IT or computer programming, so my career guru/coach Michael Porcelli and I hatched a scheme to make this difficult job search fun and educational, with a little bit of cross-promotion thrown in. We decided I should go ask some of the folks already working in my musical neighborhood what their careers entail.

Now there are a lot of jobs related to bands and music, from retail sales to band management, legal and financial services to promotions to music production. Thus I am going for breadth first in this search (Computer Science pun intended). This is my first in a series of blogs, which are essentially write-ups of interviews with friends and acquaintances already sustaining themselves in music-related careers.

First up, I interviewed Michael Hoisington. He and I met when his band, the Mike Michaels Program, was playing on St. Patrick’s day at Winston’s along with Danny and the Tramp, also known as “the band that hasn’t kicked Ezekiel out yet.” Michael and I started talking and we’ve been going to each other’s gigs ever since.

Michael works as an intellectual property (IP) attorney with the law firm of Higgs, Fletcher & Mack, one of the most established firms in San Diego with about 70 attorneys. Under the umbrella of IP, Michael deals with trademarks, copyrights, Internet domain names, and “entertainment law”, which is the application of the aforementioned services to the entertainment industry, plus the drafting and negotiation of artist contracts.

Michael’s day typically consists of a lot of multi-tasking. He has about 100 emails a day coming in, many of which deal with the trademark matters that make up about 70% of his business. He and his assistants conduct international trademark searches for individuals and companies, looking for prior “blocking applications” by other parties. He works with international partner firms to dig deep on the legal specifics relating to a particular country. This results in a decision on whether or not to file the trademark for each country of interest to the client.

Another portion of Michael’s work is conducting litigation if there is a complaint by his client regarding trademark violations (such as the copying of product names in the case of a current client who makes audio equipment). He also oversees settlements, deciding on the fair amount for someone to be compensated for the unauthorized use of their original written or recorded material (copyright violations). You know, I think I would actually be flattered if somebody stole my music for financial gain. Once that passed, though, I would definitely call Michael and stick it to them.

I asked Michael how he got started in law. He told me that in the 1980s he was full time in a hard rock band, Nightwings, along with his brother. They were signed with a booking agent out of Los Angeles and toured in the US and Canada. With a strong desire to compose and teach, Michael eventually went on to earn a degree from UCSD in music composition. However, he became disenchanted with the idea of teaching at the UC because of the amount of politics involved in higher education.

Michael also had an interest in law and wanted to combine it with his love of music, so he began law school, taking any class that could overlap somehow with the music industry. I asked what it takes to become a lawyer and he stressed that law school is very intense (which I already know, as one of my friends is in the thick of it now). Someone must score very well on the LSAT–Law School Admissions Test–to even be considered. Just from talking with him in person, I know that Michael must have scored very well indeed. I trust both his aptitude and his sense of ethics and genuine care for people. He’s been an attorney for over 11 years now and still loves his work, especially the international component of what he does. He is even currently learning Mandarin Chinese!

The Mike Michaels Program came about following the death of Michael’s brother in 2006. He said they were very close, like twins, and with the loss of his brother he felt compelled to start writing and performing again. Though he didn’t say it directly, I inferred that the songwriting helped him to work through the loss and to honor his brother’s memory.

During this time he joined a band as a guitar player and was performing solo shows as well. Wanting to play his own songs with the power of a full band (I know that feeling), Michael found a bass player, Will, who coincidentally lived right near him in Jamul. They picked up their drummer, Brad, from Craigslist and have been playing shows featuring their original music ever since. TMMP recently competed in the KPRI Battle of the Fans at Casino Pauma and I am excited to see where they are going next!

You can find more information on the band here:
http://themikemichaelsprogram.com/
http://www.facebook.com/themikemichaelsprogram

Michael’s profile at Higgs, Fletcher & Mack can be found here:
http://www.higgslaw.com/apg_a32_Michael_J_Hoisington.html

So since I am supposed to be doing a job search, I did take a moment to check in with myself on whether I am inspired to research more on a career in entertainment law. Although my Briggs-Myers personality type says I’d be perfect for it, and I do have the requisite ability to work with people of all dispositions and to be patient with details, for some reason I still just don’t feel the pull. But it’s good to know I have someone I can go to if I ever need legal services for Ezekiel Jay.

Coming up in the next few days, interviews with event coordinator Cathryn Beeks and producer/engineer Ben Moore