Year in Review: My Journey with Music in 2019

This is the third and final part of my 2019 year in review. I’m nothing if not thorough. In case you missed them, you can go back and read about who I’ve been most thankful for this year and my 19 favorite releases of 2019.

In no particular order, here are some things I’ve accomplished this year or been proud of:

  • Favorite achievement of the year: playing the Nick Alexander Stage at Frank Turner’s Lost Evenings! Honestly couldn’t have asked for a better audience either.
  • Released a new album, Millennials Are Going Gray.
  • Played 80 performances at 37 different venues/locations (20 of which were new to me).
  • Got my first paid gigs in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
  • Posted 43 videos on my YouTube channel and performed 8 live stream shows from my Facebook page.
  • Gained 381 new followers or subscribers across various social media and streaming sites.
  • Made a lot more money from performances, merch, streaming, and royalties than I did in 2018, and my average income per gig went up significantly.
  • Personally sent out nearly 200 booking inquiries, 55 press or radio, and a handful of miscellaneous (e.g. contests or workshop applications).
  • Wrote my first blog promoting other musicians (in this case, female singer-songwriters), which has been viewed over 1500 times!

SONG PERFORMANCE STATISTICS (reported set lists, excludes DIY shows)

  • Top 10 artists covered:
    1. Frank Turner – 19 songs, 424 performances
    2. The Bouncing Souls – 4 songs, 104 performances
    3. The Beatles – 4 songs, 94 performances
    4. Beans on Toast – 2 songs, 42 performances
    5. Skinny Lister – 4 songs, 34 performances
    6. Tom Petty – 3 songs, 34 performances
    7. Flogging Molly – 2 songs, 34 performances
    8. Bruce Springsteen – 1 song, 30 performances
    9. Chris T-T – 2 songs, 28 performances
    10. Straylight Run – 1 song, 28 performances

GOALS FOR 2020

  • Finish writing, record in studio, and release another new 7-song album by May. Send at least 75 press and radio inquiries.
  • Send at least 200 booking inquiries, and perform live at least 100 times.
  • Busk and go to an open mic at least once a week (at least once a month in NYC).
  • Write every day, using lyrical and musical challenges to improve over time, and try to finish at least 100 songs in total. (They don’t have to be very long, or great!)
  • Cover a wider variety of artists I admire, and share them.
  • Upload my music to libraries for potential licensing (independent films and commercials, etc.)

My 19 Favorite Releases of 2019 (+ much longer playlist)

This is part 2 of my 3-part year in review series. (Part 1 was a gratitude blog, and part 3 will be an actual annual review of my music career.) I know January is almost over, but it’s not over yet, so these blogs are still valid!

This ended up being a cross between a music blog and a personal journal explaining why I like each artist/album and how I discovered them. Keep scrolling down for that, but first, here’s my larger Spotify playlist, which I personally think came out awesome. It includes my favorite music of the year as well as some music made by friends and peers. If you like indie, folk, acoustic, and alternative music it should keep you entertained for a good few hours!

(Note: list is roughly in order from smallest to largest artist, not qualitatively ranked)

1. Sammy Kay (Civil/War)

Bandcamp | Spotify

I’ve been hearing about Sammy Kay for ages since he’s been very active in the New Jersey music scene, but this month is literally the first time I listened to his music and I regret that because it’s the kind of great Americana music that I’d listen to when I need to get centered. I expect to get more into him now.

2. Dive Dive (The Waves Behind)

Website | Spotify

To be fair I wouldn’t know of Dive Dive if they hadn’t been “3/4 kidnapped by Frank Turner” (as it used to say in their Twitter bio) to be his band, the Sleeping Souls. (I have a particular appreciation for Nigel since he’s always going out of his way to be kind and supportive, for example, by learning my song after I simply asked!) BUT you will notice I put three songs from this album on the playlist because I couldn’t choose two. This was a musical judgment, not a personal one. It was their first album in 8 years and it’s cool, mellow, often catchy indie rock; check it out.

3. Trapper Schoepp (Primetime Illusion)

Website | Spotify

I learned about Trapper Schoepp when he got signed to my favorite record label, Xtra Mile (just like probably half of the artists on this list, but I mean really, if someone is curating music that perfectly suits your own tastes, you may as well roll with it). His songs are catchy folk rock/pop with well-written lyrics, and having seen him live a few times, I’ve also found that he’s also a solid performer. One interesting tidbit: the song “On, Wisconsin” started as an abandoned Bob Dylan lyric from 1961, and Trapper decided to finish it and ended up getting to release it and co-publish it with Dylan. I thought that was pretty cool.

4. Billy Liar (Some Legacy)

Bandcamp | Spotify

I only recently discovered Billy Liar from Frank Turner’s playlist of what he listens to. I rarely fall in love with something I found on a playlist because I tend to listen to them as background music, but I felt compelled to check out the whole album and I loved it. I like his punky Scottish voice, and I like the combination of high-energy songs that get my heart pumping with more stripped down, intimate songs that often have a poignant effect. Those are my two favorite kinds of songs!

5. Seán McGowan (Curate Calm, Create Chaos)

Website | Spotify

I met Seán McGowan once in 2018 and got a kick out of his humility. He has at least 10x more followers than I have and is decidedly on much firmer footing, but the first thing he said to me when I introduced myself was that he recognized me from my YouTube video singing for Frank Turner on the Flogging Molly Cruise and that he’d been jealous of it. Anyway, in my opinion his music is undeniable. His accent and his expressive voice lend authenticity to his passionate acoustic music, and his lyrics flow brilliantly. I think this is the only EP that made my list because I just couldn’t leave it out.

6. Micah Schnabel (The Teenage Years of the 21st Century)

Bandcamp | Spotify

This is quite possibly my favorite album of the year. It’s timely, relevant, and unapologetically honest and personal, and I love the emotional expressiveness and inflections of Micah’s voice. Musically, it’s an understated folk rock that’s driven by lyrics, emotions, storytelling and acoustic guitar. It’s self-released and not a huge production, which allows the message to shine through unfiltered. I’ve felt deeply inspired by this album because musically and conceptually it’s very similar to the kind of music I want (and try) to make.

7. Skinny Lister (The Story Is…)

Website | Spotify

I ADORE Skinny Lister’s “shanty punk”; they are probably my second favorite band, which happened immediately after I saw them open for Frank Turner in 2015, never having heard of them before. Their contagious energy and carefully crafted singalongs had the entire crowd enrapt and I never wanted their set to end, not even for Frank to come on. I’ve made excuses to travel to London for their big headline shows at least twice and wouldn’t be surprised if I did it again. Their latest album didn’t disappoint. There are so many catchy hooks to sing along to, and the way the energy flows through the album holds my attention despite my surprisingly short attention span.

8. Tim Barry (The Roads to Richmond)

Website | Spotify

I’ve been following this acoustic punker (seemingly getting more country over time, but that’s okay by me) for a long time, probably for more than 10 years. I first got into Tim Barry by seeing him open for the Bouncing Souls a bunch of times. In my opinion, his recordings don’t do his live performances justice. He’s a passionate, emotionally expressive performer; seems to put everything he has into it, and that’s really what hooks people onto him. It’s what inspires me and makes me want to be like him. However, I’m still happy to listen to all of his albums (how else would I learn the words to sing along at shows?) and they are always enjoyable. This one is no exception — it might not be as good as hearing it live, but it’s certainly good enough to make my list.

9. Beans on Toast (The Inevitable Train Wreck)

Website | Spotify

Like a lot of these artists, the first time I heard of Beans on Toast was when I saw him live, opening for Frank Turner in 2013. He uses standard chords and melodies, which should be boring, but I (like many people) found it impossible not to get hooked into his widely varying stories — ranging from the political to the personal and everything in between — told through his raspy folk songs. I look forward to his new album every year (he always releases them on his birthday, December 1) to hear what new stories and insights on life he has to share. I find his open-hearted, unflinching storytelling inspiring. Unlike me, he seems to just write the songs he wants to write without worrying whether anyone will think he’s silly or disagree with him, and I like that.

10. Dave Hause (Kick)

Website | Spotify

Dave Hause is another artist I discovered through Bouncing Souls shows years ago, as he has opened for them many times both solo and previously with The Loved Ones. He has a great live energy and passion, his lyrics contain lots of lines you’ll want to shout out loud with him, and I often find his recordings to be the perfect kind of upbeat rock songs to put on my motivational playlists.

11. Jeffrey Lewis (Bad Wiring)

Bandcamp | Spotify

My discovery story here is that when my friend Billie was visiting New York from England, she insisted on checking out the Sidewalk Cafe (RIP by the way) open mic because she loved Jeffrey Lewis, he had started out there and she’d heard that he would occasionally show up randomly. Alas, he didn’t show up that night, but I did end up checking out his music later and liking it. The music is anti-folk (with its characteristic vocal and lyrical style) with rock instrumentation, which of course appeals to me.

12. The Menzingers (Hello Exile)

Website | Spotify

I think I must have discovered the Menzingers opening for the Bouncing Souls years ago as well. For some reason I don’t particularly seek them out, but frequently end up at their shows anyway (even in London) and I always have a good time. Their mellow rock sound is my absolute favorite kind of music to have on in the background. Whether it’s in my bedroom while I’m journaling, or at a show where I’m seeking respite from my worries, it just always puts me in a calm, reflective mood.

13. The Mountain Goats (In League with Dragons)

Website | Spotify

Apparently this album was inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, which I don’t know or care about, so I can tell you that won’t impede your enjoyment of it. It’s a lovely, chilled out, somewhat quirky indie folk album with a sort of musical and lyrical fantasy feel to it. I’m only just getting into the Mountain Goats, but I like them so far.

14. Frank Turner (No Man’s Land)

Website | Spotify

As everyone who knows me will already know, Frank Turner is my favorite songwriter. (I can’t get into all of that now or I’ll never shut up, but here, have a blog about my experiences with him.) So I might be slightly biased, although I don’t like everything he does. But I do like this. It’s a concept album about interesting, often forgotten women in history. A lot of people had a problem with a man writing stories about women and attempting to take on a female perspective, but personally I find that kind of empathy to be a positive effort. I liked the stories, I liked the mainly simple acoustic folk style he revisited for it, and I liked that he went out of his way to trade in his usual all-male backing band for a full crew of female musicians and producer for this album. For me, it’s worth listening to, and of course worth looking deeper into the featured women. (The associated podcast he did is a good start.)

15. Shovels & Rope (By Blood)

Website | Spotify

I stumbled on this album and only happened to know their name because they did a tour with Frank Turner (which I did not attend, but did see promo for!). This album was my first introduction to their music, and I wasn’t disappointed. Before I listened, I actually didn’t even know what genre they were but just went for it. They are in fact a male/female indie folk duo who seem to pull inspiration from a wide variety of genres including blues, country, rock, and even a little bit of pop — great for holding interest all the way through.

16. Jenny Lewis (On the Line)

Website | Spotify

I’ve been listening to Jenny Lewis casually for a while, and I quite liked this album. It’s another one that I find pleasant to have on in the background when I want to feel calm and centered. Solid, mellow indie pop/rock.

17. Damien Jurado (In the Shape of a Storm)

Website | Spotify

It’s not how I usually discover music, but I discovered Damien Jurado this year in a playlist and enjoyed this album. It’s just really good acoustic indie folk. Apparently most of his music has not been all acoustic, but this is all I’ve listened to so far. He’s definitely on my list to check out more.

18. Tegan and Sara (Hey, I’m Just Like You)

Website | Spotify

So I guess Tegan and Sara is probably the poppiest sounding artist on this list, though still a decidedly indie/alternative sound. I don’t care, it’s fantastic indie pop that hooks me right in. I remember the first time I heard of them was six years ago when I was looking to start a band, and some guitarist reached out and said he wanted to make music that sounded like Tegan and Sara. I never did even jam with that guy, but I do listen to Tegan and Sara now, so I guess that interaction had some positive impact on me.

19. Bruce Springsteen (Western Stars)

Website | Spotify

For someone from New Jersey who loves most 21st century musicians who have been inspired by Springsteen, it took me way too long even to listen to his music, much less to get into it, but at some point I did. To be honest I’m not sure if it’s hip to listen to his new albums, or only to his early ones (I haven’t asked anyone or googled it), but I don’t care if it is or not. I have to say for myself that his songwriting is still solid as ever, and consistently inspires me to get better at it as well as he does with performing, storytelling, and entertaining. (I mean, that Springsteen on Broadway? I only got to watch it on Netflix, but he was amazing!)

2019 Wrap-Up Part 1: Acknowledgements

I have a habit of doing a personal year-in-review each year, and this year I’ve decided to add in a career one. Later I will have some stats and other observations to share, but this first post is simply to acknowledge everyone who has helped me this past year.

I do want to say there is obviously no way I could make this list exhaustive, so please don’t be upset if I forgot you! I really am grateful for every single person who bought my merch or music, put one of my stickers up somewhere, came to see me, watched my videos, streamed my music on Spotify, or even just liked or commented on one of my posts about my music. It all matters.

On the other hand, some of you in this list might feel like you only played a very small role, but they add up – without all those small acts of support I’d barely have anything, so the little things matter a lot more than you might think.

In no particular order:

  • My family members who have repeatedly come to see me, especially my mom, who attended at least 20 performances, but my dad, grandmother (90 years old!), and other family members attended many as well.
  • My sister, Nicole, for also helping with photos and regularly being my cheerleader on Facebook.
  • Matthew Corrales for helping with design and video multiple times throughout the year.
  • Lucas Swank who, according to his Spotify Wrapped, listened to my songs for 33 hours in 2019 after discovering me on the playlist for Lost Evenings. I myself only spent 22 hours listening to Frank Turner on Spotify, so this was quite impressive to me! (If I featured in your Spotify Wrapped, I would love to see it, although I doubt you can beat Lucas!)
  • Jordan Grant, a lovely songwriter from the UK, for always being supportive of me and other people through Facebook posts (and surely would be supportive in person if we didn’t live in stupid different parts of the world).
  • Kate Sharp and Chris Luxford for probably being my biggest, mostly long-distance supporters, sharing/recommending my music in online comments and similar stuff. I don’t want to take away from anyone else, but they really make me feel appreciated!
  • Chris Campbell, my friend from Frank Turner’s Campfire Punkrock, who found me inspiring enough to be a positive example for his niece who recently started learning guitar, and so he gifted her some of my music and merch. I hope she likes it and that maybe someday we’ll meet or even perform together!
  • Steve Merkel (another camp friend) who I think has gone out of his way to see me more than anyone else has (and once was lucky enough to run into me while I was busking during his commute, but I don’t count that one).
  • Everyone who came to see me at Lost Evenings (especially my camp friends!) and made it the best performance ever, packed out and complete with an unprompted singalong.
  • My Flogging Molly Cruise friends: Pauline and Derek for letting me host a gig in their balcony cabin on the Salty Dog Cruise (with Pauline going out of her way to promote it with DIY napkin flyers), and everyone who listened to me – Heather, Darlene, my jam buddy Kevin (even though we only jammed for like one song this year, but there’s always next year!), the self-dubbed “Fucking Germans” who I’m pretty sure adopted me as an honorary German, and all the other new friends I made.
  • George Gadd for getting me to meet him at an open mic while he was visiting Brooklyn all the way from Nottingham, England. I had been wanting to go to this open mic for years, and this was what it took for me to finally get my lazy ass out of bed to make the trek from NJ on a Sunday afternoon.
  • Everyone who covered me in blogs, radio and playlists, including:
    • Lazlo from BlowUpRadio.com who’s the absolute best, working extremely hard to curate the best NJ and independent music both online and in person, and helping lots of great causes along the way — I played twice in his studio, twice at his curated local shows, featured in two compilations and got a bunch of airplay!
    • Dan Thompson from Expatriate Radio (Radio Free Pensacola) who is also a cruise buddy
    • Chris T-T (or, the man formerly known as the artist Chris T-T?) for including me on his awesome, highly recommended New Folk Friday playlist in July
    • Jim Testa from Jersey Beat
    • Bob Makin of Makin Waves
    • Readifolk and Acoustic Routes online radio shows in the UK.
  • Everyone who booked me any number of times, including:
    • Jade and Rhonda at my favorite cozy hometown(ish) café venue, The Fine Grind
    • Janet and the volunteers at the Café Artiste showcase, which I would adopt as my hometown venue if it wasn’t so far away
    • Dave Vargo with Musicians on a Mission (which also raises money for good causes)
    • Daniella Galati, who steps outside of her normal role at NJ Transit to manage “Music in Motion,” which allows musicians to perform at train stations (the tips from this have actually provided a large percentage of my income over the past six months, believe it or not)
    • Rick Barth and his Acoustic Singer-Songwriter Series
    • Greg Pason with Montclair Make Music Day
    • the Clash Bar, which is sadly now closed (though, I’ve heard, possibly not permanently!)
    • Neil Sabatino of Mint 400 Records for adding me to a songwriter showcase and offering/helping me get some honest and balanced feedback (which is surprisingly hard to come by)
    • the good people of Musikfest (which I hope to play again!)
    • Craig at Krogh’s for an awesome acoustic night that I definitely hope to do again sometime soon
  • And last (in an effort to spare the less devoted readers) but certainly not least… my musical raison d’etre, Frank Turner! From the start he has been so important for my music, whether through inspiration, direct support/encouragement, or exposure to his very open-minded and supportive fan base. When I got to play the Nick Alexander (emerging artist) stage at his Lost Evenings festival in May, it felt like a bucket list achievement for me. He’s not in a position to say yes to every ambitious opportunity I ask him for, but I’m grateful just to have him in my life to answer questions or check out my new releases even though he’s so busy. He never makes me feel bad or stupid for asking — or for gushing, which despite my genuine best efforts I can’t seem to stop doing. He always makes me feel like greatness is possible with his example and his positive, encouraging, collaborative energy in everything he does.

***

Well, I feel amazing now! I’ve done a lot in the past year, and I’m so lucky to have so many people in my life who believe in me and go out of their way to support me. It’s especially gratifying because the whole reason I want to succeed at music is to connect with others through it. I want my songs to touch people, inspire them, comfort them, and otherwise improve their lives. I want to be surrounded by other songwriters who inspire me and they feel the same way and we can collaborate and perform together.

Thank you to everyone who helped make it an amazing year for me, and I hope that together we can achieve even greater things and have an even better time this year!