Bus Call: 2AM
In 2006 I co-founded a pop rock band called The Silver Heart Club. Until that point, being in a band was something I had no prior knowledge of. Like most people, I assumed it would consist of writing a few songs, practicing some instruments, playing a few shows, and waiting for that magical moment of being discovered. How hard could navigating the music industry be? Well, the challenges came swift and the lessons were endless. With hindsight it was clear that everything I had assumed about being in a band was completely underestimated.
The distance traveled from learning how to pick up a guitar and composing what would be my first tolerable song was roughly 8 months. I spent 6-8 hours every evening through early morning churning out some of the worst “music” that could have ever been played. I was carried through this initial phase by a heaping portion of self-denial and unjustified perseverance. With the belief that this was the sole obstacle in the way of obtaining a successful career in the music industry, I kept trudging onward.
For most musicians that I have personally come across, writing original music is one of the most rewarding experiences one can ever be a part of. There is something indescribable that happens during the creation of a new song. A vocal melody, guitar riff, or piano piece suddenly reveals itself from the depths of clumsy noise. The music springs to life and grows into a defining a part of yourself that you did not even know existed. And while the method of creating does not always happen the same way twice, the excitement and pride with finishing a new song is something to be cherished for a lifetime.
After creating enough songs to form a proper set list, and rehearsing to a point of tolerable consistency, there comes the option to start booking and performing shows. What every freshly formed musical group can tell you is, not every venue is enthusiastic about letting a group of amateurs come play at their establishment, even if you offer to play for free! Unless you play covers, have 4 hour set lists, draw a crowd of 100 people and have the voice of a classic rock idol, the options for available time slots to play becomes slim to none. A lot of local bands are able to get past this wall eventually, though. For my band it was personal acoustic sessions in college dorm rooms and a local skating rink that started hosting small shows every couple of months.
This is where a lot of the realities of what goes into being in a band starts to sink in. Business meets art. The show booked for the end of the month needs a poster for the promoter and no one has the budget for a graphic designer to create one. The job title of: songwriter, performer, and booking agent starts to also include graphic designer. With some more of that self-denial and perseverance it does not take long to find a copy of Photoshop and start producing some half-decent show posters.
At this stage things really can start to move quickly. After playing more shows, reading the latest advice column in Alternative Press Magazine, and talking with other bands, it becomes clear that having something fans can buy at shows will really help the promotion of your music. It is time for that junior graphic designer to jump into the role of product and brand identity developer. Shirts, buttons, stickers, wristbands and sunglasses are created, ordered, and shipped. Welcome to retail. The time available for songwriting and rehearsing gets cut short by the demands of business. Hopefully at this point shows are going well, the merchandise table is being frequently visited, and people will even start asking about release dates for an album.
What could it require to properly record an album? This is where things start to slow way down. A lot of independent bands do not have the capital to get into million dollar studios to compete with radio quality recordings. That means you now have the monumental jump from being a songwriter, performer, booking agent, graphic designer, product and brand identity developer… to becoming an audio engineer and producer. Creating an in-home studio has become more affordable with each passing year, but knowing what to do with the right tools takes time and practice. There are: acoustic treatments, microphone placements, tracking, editing, producing, mixing, and mastering. The distance between attempting to record my first take and independently releasing a full-length album was 4 years; your mileage may vary.
In August of 2012, The Silver Heart Club released their debut album “Rookie Card”. There was a release show, new merchandise, tour planning and a larger focus on online presence. Distributor, tour manager, web designer, social media marketing manager, and blogger moved front and center. Summer 2013 we made plans to follow Van’s Warped Tour. We heard stories and read articles about bands following the traveling festival to promote their music to the people waiting in line. After mapping out the route, drawing up a budget, and packing up the car we were ready for the 20,000-mile journey. If you have never spent 3 months driving and sleeping in a car with the same person, it is an understatement to say that it gets uncomfortable. Learning how to be courteous, patient, and understanding are necessities if you want to survive touring.
Pursuing a career as a professional music group can be just as much work as starting any other business from scratch. Keep in mind this ambition is also usually squeezed between jobs on nights and weekends. There is no college degree available for starting and managing a band. The varieties of business strategies to consider are limitless as are the roads to failure. I hope to have brought to light some hidden struggles of successfully being in a band, and while the challenges and risks may be astronomical, it is, in my opinion, worthy of pursuit.
Thank You Very Mulch
The garden is planted. Early summer rain has been generous and all the buried seeds begin their ascent. Turned earth will soon transform into an oasis of farm fresh produce.
That is unless the summer rain is no longer generous, or if unwelcome weeds invade the turned earth. Ambitious ideas of a grand fall harvest can easily succumb to unforeseen neglect during the growing season. The weeds take over, the sun burns the crops, and the harvest produces a bouquet of disappointment. These are the worries of a traditional gardener. There is an alternative to the traditional gardening process though; it’s called the mulch system. This system offers relief from the many shortcomings of traditional gardening.
The best time to convert to a mulch garden is right now. It can take up to three years for mulch to replenish a traditional garden, but there are some benefits that can be seen immediately. Usually in the spring it is common to dust off the rototiller to bust up a dormant garden. This process can help remove unwanted plants that may have already taken root. It is also a time to mix in manure, and soften the soil allowing easier planting. With a mulch garden this process will no longer be needed. The idea is to spread about six to eight inches of mulch over the entire garden. As the mulch decomposes it will automatically keep the soil soft and fresh. The mulch garden is ready for planting straight away.
It is common during the summer for unwanted weeds to overtake a traditional garden when left unattended. With the mulch system, this worry becomes obsolete. The six to eight inches of mulch prevent weeds from getting the sunlight they need to grow. If a few weeds manage to break through, it is easily remedied by applying an armful of mulch right on top of the offender. It becomes a lot easier to control the weeds with mulch even if neglected for a few weeks at a time. The days of hoeing, raking, and pulling weeds are now free for other summer projects. Since a lot of the labor is greatly reduced, this is a great system for those who would like to keep gardening well into their old age.
Summer weather can be unpredictable. There may be times of heavy rain, or times of severe drought. With traditional gardens a drought can threaten to wipe out an entire crop. To be effectively proactive it is common to install some type of watering system that can be used during those periods without rain. This is where we can see another benefit to having a mulch garden. Mulch is effective at trapping water and also keeps the soil out of direct sunlight. This reduces the amount of evaporation that usually occurs in a traditional garden. Even during times of severe drought the soil will retain plenty of moisture, which allows the gardener to become more mindful of wasteful water consumption.
Traditional gardens may also become less fertile after years of growing. It is quite taxing on the soil, which is actually why most traditional gardeners require the regular spreading of manure. Mulch gardens keep the soil healthy. Good mulch usually consists of wood chips, leaves, grass clippings, spoiled hay, and any vegetable matter that rots. All the different forms of mulch break down over time providing a constant renewal of nutrients. This in turn keeps plants healthier, allowing them to produce more. Many gardeners will no longer need to spread manure after introducing the mulch system for a few years. They are also able to plant seeds closer since the soil is so rich.
Getting the mulch garden ready for winter is almost no work at all. In fact it is a great time to convert a traditional garden to the mulch system. The dead leaves are readily available for winter covering. Any dead organic matter from the end of the year will make for great winter mulch. The only thing left to do is say goodnight. Come time to plant in spring, the ground will be soft, moist, and weed-less.
The struggle to maintain a productive, fertile traditional garden can exhaust a gardener of any skill level. No longer worried by the numerous pitfalls and nuances of tending to a traditional garden, the mulch system allows the gardener to fully enjoy the entire process. Instead of fretting about keeping up with weeds and watering, the gardener is able to plot out the varieties of plants they would like to try growing for the season. Whether rain or drought, the gardener can count on a full harvest come fall. The mulch system of gardening has gained popularity over the years and for good reason. With the mulch system you can plant your produce and eat it too.
When I was a kid I remember driving across the United States to visit extended family. The idea of traveling far from our home was an electrifying thought. We would wake up in the middle of the night to relocate our beds to the over-the-cab camper. My siblings and I would fall asleep to the sight of other travelers making their way through the darkness, never knowing what our surroundings would look like come daylight. I have since developed a need to move, connect, and explore. Staying in one setting for too long makes me feel stale and isolated. I think it is an important part of life for individuals to travel consistently throughout their lives. Embarking on a journey to a new place connects us to our neighbors around the world, and it strengthens the confidence we have in ourselves.
A few years ago my fiancée (then girlfriend) was studying abroad in London at the London College of Fashion. She left in August and had a return flight booked for the end of December. During this time I saved up and planned to meet her in London during the last 2 weeks of her semester abroad. I began to keep an eye on all the travel websites, scanning for the cheapest round trip tickets across the pond. I downloaded and tried out apps on my iPod for the London tube. I checked on hostels in the Notting Hill neighborhood, which was near where my fiancée was staying. I called my bank and let them know of my travel plans; “I will be traveling to London for 2 weeks.”
I ended up finding a cheap red eye flight out of Minneapolis, MN that was non-stop. It was estimated to be about an eight-hour flight. I had my suitcase packed and my allowed liquids in a one quart Ziploc bag. I arrived at the airport the recommended two hours early hoping that I did not forget something crucial for my flight: wallet, phone, charger, passport, suitcase, and boarding pass. The airport was fairly empty, so security was a breeze. I made it to my gate with plenty of time to spare, which I foolishly spent racking my brain for anything that I might have accidentally forgotten to pack. Once I was able to board the plane one of the best things I have ever heard while traveling was announced over the intercom, “There are lots of empty seats tonight, you may all move freely to an open row if you wish.” I found a middle row with 3 empty seats, put all the armrests up, and sprawled out into my newfound luxury. But even with the enhanced seating arrangements it was a restless trip over the Atlantic.
Arriving at Heathrow airport outside of London was a bit surreal. Up until this point everything on this side of the Atlantic could have been an elaborate myth drawn up by television and movies. The physical laws of nature still applied, the air was breathable, all my electronics were working… yet there I was, in just a little over 8 hours, experiencing a part of the world that has always existed in parallel to my own. My fiancée met me near the airport exit and brought an extra Oyster card to pay for my ticket for the tube. Another 45 minutes and we were at our stop in Notting Hill. The London streets leapt into view after hauling my suitcase up the subway stairs. My jet-lagged body tried to soak it all in, I was in London, England.
The next few days I woke around 6:30am and walked across Kensington Garden to meet up with my fiancée. The wet December air seeped through my American layers, as did the London culture. We walked the neighborhoods that my fiancée had become familiar with, stopping at mom and pop cafes for tea. We strolled down Portobello road on a Saturday to check out the local street vendors. Then mid-week we trekked across town to the National Gallery to view some timeless masterpieces by Van Gogh. We chatted about life while walking along the banks of the Thames River. We witnessed Big Ben. We dreamt of the future and the possibilities that come with growing older. My world became smaller, as did any problems that might have been taxing my thoughts.
When it was time to fly back to the states, I felt rejuvenated. London bonded with my conscious and encouraged me to maintain a broader perspective. I collected attitudes and social standards that were different from the town I spent most of my life growing up in. When I made it back home, I brought a piece of the U.K. with me. Whether it be overseas or the next town over, there is always something to be gained from reaching out. We owe it to ourselves to remain connected. We owe it to our minds to remain curious. If you are feeling detached, burned out, or collecting dust, I urge you to give attention to your inner wanderlust.