Cover gigs and guitar lessons? Why not!

tl;dr: I’m going to try my hand at doing musical activities full time over the next several months! I’m primarily looking for paid performing opportunities from music venues to restaurants to parties (and happy to do cover sets, which I’m working hard at developing). I’m also starting to teach guitar, songwriting, and music theory lessons, both online and in northern NJ. Contact me if interested. My original music career/dream is not dead, it’s more alive than ever (just starting to test out some new songs, still writing more, new album in the not-too-distant future!), but I’ve reached a crossroads, and I felt it was time to at least attempt to make a decent income from music in some capacity.

For the past three years or so (although that wasn’t the absolute beginning of my story), I’ve been taking deliberate steps nearly every single day towards building a career in music. But honestly, most of that has been holed up in my room writing songs, working on the craft, filming covers and miscellaneous other videos for YouTube, and attending lots and lots and lots of open mics (from here to England). I love every minute of that, just like I love everything else that has to do with music, but I do constantly wish I were performing a lot more (not including open mics) and, especially, taking more risks. I’ve tried almost everything to force myself to get out more and take more risks, but my anxiety and my endless capacity for rationalizing that anxiety usually makes these things difficult.

The one thing I haven’t tried? Not working a non-music job on the side that sucks up significant time, energy and consideration that could have otherwise been spent on music. Now, this is not something everyone can try, obviously, but: I’m free of ties and dependents that would cost me money and freedom (and intend to stay that way); I have the absolute cheapest tastes and lifestyle you can imagine (my obsession with traveling to London regularly notwithstanding — but I’m willing to sacrifice that for the time being); I have a small cushion of savings built up; and unlike many people my age, I can mentally afford to live with my mom for at least a little while longer (we get along swimmingly, I pay my own bills, our living situation is mutually beneficial, and I couldn’t care less what people think about it).

That said, my current part-time day job was definitely in my long-term plan for my music career up till now. I get to work from home, so the hours are extremely flexible and I can take it on the road with me, and even though it wasn’t enough money for me to live on my own, having a certain amount coming in every month gave me some sense of security and allowed me (in theory) to seize important but money-losing opportunities with my music career while still being able to afford necessities, a few luxuries (mostly the aforementioned biannual traveling and the occasional precooked frozen dinner — livin’ large!) and any necessary expenses to move forward with my music. I figured it was essential, but in a way I think that’s been part of the problem.

The other part of it is that, of course I know that plenty of people make a living from cover gigs at restaurants or weddings, or giving guitar lessons or any other musical job that’s not quite what I want to be doing, which is traveling the world singing my own songs every night of the year (yes, every night, that’s what I said) for people who love them. Dare to dream! Some people who share this dream do cover gigs as their “day job.” Other people do a completely unrelated day job in an office, bar or restaurant or wherever. For some reason, something in me inexplicably always thought the latter was smarter, more likely to pan out in the end, and almost more glamorous (?!). I suppose that’s mainly because it seems easier to get counterproductively complacent and comfortable with a job that’s kinda sorta what you want to be doing with your life, but not really, than with a job that decidedly isn’t (although, in that case, people often get emotionally attached to the pay and the sense of security anyway, and the effect is the same). But really, whether or not you get stuck in a day job and never make it in your original music career is less about the type of job it is and more about talent, motivation, smart risk-taking, and a little bit of luck. And if fail, I like to think it will be based on the luck part. (Or perhaps just based on my social anxiety and awkwardness. But that’s a subject for another blog post.) At any rate, in terms of what I’d rather be doing with my day between covering great songs or doing office work, I can tell you right now it’s the cover gigs (and unlike a non-music job, it could potentially help with my musicianship and network), so why am I still going for the other option?

Anyway, these thoughts weren’t the actual impetus for my decision. They’ve just been swimming around in my head for a long time, unresolved. In fact, just a few short weeks ago I rewrote my long-term plan like the nerd that I am, and in it, I estimated that I should stay at my current job for another three years based on a timeline of what I thought I could achieve by then. But then last week, my employer unexpectedly informed me of their decision (for fair reasons and unrelated to the quality of my work) that my role has to be expanded within the next several months, and they gave me the option of becoming full-time again with a lot more responsibility, or gradually transitioning out. I was actually somewhat relieved and excited about being faced with that choice, because in a way it was a chance to save me from my years-long self-sabotage of sticking to the easier road, full of excuses, even though I’m very ambitious and lord knows you can’t possibly achieve anything great without taking some equally great risks. I thought about my goals and my desires, and I decided to make the more courageous, genuine decision and take a leap in the dark. As they say, you can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.

I have no idea if this is the action that’s going to turn things around for me and lead me right to where I want to be, but it’s definitely a move in the direction I want to go in, so that’s enough for me right now. I need to get more comfortable with taking persistent, large steps in the right direction even when I can’t see the entire path lit up ahead of me like an emergency exit path. It makes me anxious, but it’s just never going to be that clear (or else there wouldn’t be so many talented, driven people who never make it), but if it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing and the uncertainty simply has to be accepted. I’ll try to take the intense physical symptoms of my anxiety as sheer excitement, as something positive that makes life worth living, until I expand my comfort zone and I’m no longer uncomfortable, at which point I’ll naturally come up with some even bigger ambitions to make me uncomfortable again. (For someone who complains about her anxiety so much, I’m weirdly uncomfortable with actually feeling comfortable.)

My main focus (as I’ve tried to make it for a while now, but never really seemed to conquer properly) is getting more gigs. If I work hard enough at promoting myself and doing them very frequently, I should be able to replace my income doing cover sets. At the same time, I’m hoping this new necessity will also motivate me to take more risks when it comes to pursuing the less financially helpful gigs and opening slots at destination venues that will actually introduce me to fans of my genre who might want to support my music. Like I said, having a stable (if small) non-music income was supposed to allow me do this, but somehow, psychologically, it seems to work in the opposite direction: that the more risks you take, the more you’ll say “fuck it” and take even more risks; whereas the more you seek out some stability and make yourself comfortable, the more attached you’ll get to that stability and comfort and become totally risk averse.

I want to promise myself right now that no matter how into the “cover gig” thing I get, I’m never going to give up on writing and attempting to sell and tour my own music as my primary goal in life. I work on some aspect of it every single day and incorporate it into everything else I do. And I mean, I have earned a hugely impressive several handfuls of $20 bills this year from merch, streaming, ASCAP performance money, and yes, paid (largely original) gigs here and there since releasing my studio album in March, so I’m well on my way to being as rich as Taylor Swift. Kidding; I know the amount I’ve made so far doesn’t inspire much confidence, and not having much mass appeal potential means my chances of ever doing more than just scraping by are pretty slim. But, I know I could be putting 10 times more effort into all of those income streams, and like I said my tastes are cheap as hell, so I really do think that in time I can at least make my definition of a decent living off my own music! Whether I’ll ever be able to afford my dream of a nicely situated flat and legal permanent settlement in London is much more debatable, but I’m pretty satisfied with just dreaming and doing my best for now and we will see what happens. Take that, anxiety!

So to sum up, if you have a wedding, party, or venue you want me to play at, let me know. Also, if you like my style and want me to teach you (or help you improve at) guitar or songwriting, also let me know. Otherwise, just keep an eye out. I’ll really be doing a lot more in the next year than I’ve ever done before; I’m on a mission!

#1: “Secrets I Told to a Sound Hole” (Top Underrated Songs from the Album)

And the winner for the TOP underrated track (in my clearly humble opinion) off of Secrets I Told to a Sound Hole is… “Secrets I Told to a Sound Hole”!!

I chose this song as the title track for my album with good reason.

Actually, as soon as this single phrase came into my head, months before I was even thinking of releasing an album, it felt very special to me. The internal rhyme and alliteration made it catchy, it was unique, and it was such a striking representation – both literally and figuratively – of what I do and who I am, at least at the moment. The most literal way I think of the image is writing your deepest thoughts and feelings into a song and singing it into a guitar. The merch logo for the album (as seen in my website banner and my T-shirts) depicts this directly.

More deeply, I saw it as an indictment of myself for keeping a lot of those deepest thoughts and feelings only as secrets told to a sound hole, bottling them up due to my own anxieties, and not giving anyone the chance to accept them. For the purposes of the album, I was really thinking specifically of my passion for music and my dreams surrounding it, since that’s what the album is about. It’s not like I never talk about that, of course — actually, some people are exhausted by my talk of it! But as I wrote more songs and mulled over my relationship with music, I realized that I kept some of the darker, more pathological, or in some cases more embarrassing parts of my dreams and my passion for music a secret, but they were probably the most interesting. And how did I know there weren’t others just like me if I had never put my true self out there?

“If this guitar could serve my every human need, then it would be the sole companion that I would ever seek.” Being kinda romantically attracted to guitars is one of many secrets I told to a sound hole that come spilling out obscenely in this song/album.

That’s what this song is about. It’s about coming clean on all the most unseemly aspects of my relationship with music. How the emotional intensity of certain songs makes me physically sick in my gut, but that sick feeling from those songs is one of the most important comforts in my life. How music is probably the only thing that ever really draws me to a person, and to be honest, if I could have a relationship with music itself and cut out the flesh-and-blood middleman, I probably would! Just how much I need this to work, how hungry and desperate I am…

The latter part of the song is all about my ambitions and how they permeate my lifestyle above everything. I’m someone who has spent a lot of time in bars and clubs since I was 15 or 16, even though I don’t really like drinking or being around lots of people, because that’s where the music is and I was always drawn to the music. Now, older, with many music-loving and musician friends and peers, I’m still usually the one person who’s the least party-hearty and the most serious about music. And for just one moment in this one song, I finally allow myself to embrace that combination rather than feel socially inferior. My love for music is pure and my ambitions are grand, and tough as it is sometimes, I would never let a little bit of social anxiety or awkwardness ruin that.

For the record, the second person from “hoping that you will notice” mainly refers to record labels and other potential partners, and the idea that maybe they could help boost up and vindicate me if only they would notice and care. (Of course, I’m not naïve, I’m actually very well-educated about the music business, so this is not the whole of my feelings about the music industry. For a more comprehensive picture, you’ll just have to go back and listen to the rest of the album!)

What I’m most proud of regarding this song is how well I feel it captured the all-consuming nature of my passion for music, and the desperation that I often feel about it. I thought that my word choices did a good job of capturing that emotional intensity.

Suffice it to say, this song contains a LOT of my most important sound hole secrets. That said, the reason I chose it as the title track is that it’s also intended to be a microcosm of the whole album. I like to think that each song is its own self-contained, music-related secret that I previously kept between me and my guitar, and am now bravely sharing with the world. Think about some of these titles: “I Don’t Want to Play Sudoku Anymore,” “I Want to Marry Music,” “Live Music Makes All My Decisions” [a CD bonus track previously released separately], etc. If you really want to know all my secrets about music, you’ll have to listen to the full album, but this is a pretty good overview.

LYRICS

Just once I want to get drunk and tell the truth
Just once for you to stumble on my unlocked diary
Or maybe they’ll all just come out and announce themselves
The secrets I told to a sound hole

If you could catch a glimpse of just how I feel about music
You would say that it was sick, and perhaps it is
Because when the music brings that hollow pang, that’s how I know I’m all right
Try to understand, but how could you understand?
It’s not just shitty job savings that I can’t help but invest
It’s my blood and my body and my very will to live
I’m taking bets on myself and keeping all of the risk
Because I know the well-trodden one’s a fruitful path
But all that I can see is hopeless, empty black

Just once I want to get drunk and tell the truth
Just once for you to stumble on my unlocked diary
Or maybe they’ll all just come out and announce themselves
The secrets I told to a sound hole

I used to ask myself when I was young,
Do you really think you’d be one of the lucky ones?
Is this a means to being cool, or is it true love?
But it made no sense to question
Because music was my only definition of cool, whether a dorky music teacher or a rock star
Try to understand, but how could you understand?
I want to talk shop with my heroes, I don’t care about their clout
Long as they know what I’m talking about
I’m just looking for the people who can make a worthy sound
Because if this guitar could serve my every human need
Then it would be the sole companion that I would ever seek

Just once I want to get drunk and tell the truth
Just once for you to stumble on my unlocked diary
Or maybe they’ll all just come out and announce themselves
The secrets I told to a sound hole

I’ve made it just onto the edges of the inside, where I just might stay
It’s hard to break through dressed in baggy jeans and dated, faded tees
But I never looked good in those stupid hipster clothes
I’m not the life of the party because I didn’t come here for the party
I came here for the music
Try to understand…

Sitting in the corner alone
The only one here who isn’t staring at a phone
Hoping someone will notice that I’m so serious
Because what you realize when you grow up
Is that it’s not about who’s the dork and who’s the punk
It’s about how you’re living your life
And I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m trying
I’m trying to be the one who lives it right

Sitting in the corner all alone
The only one here who isn’t staring at a phone
Hoping that you will notice
Because all I want to do is just to sing one song for you
And if I should fail, I’ve got no problem just getting back up
And getting back in line

Just once I want to get drunk and tell the truth
Just once for you to stumble on my unlocked diary
Or maybe they’ll all just come out and announce themselves
The secrets I told to a sound hole

I’m not the life of the party because I didn’t come here for the party
I came here for the music.

#2: “Scuffed Up Boots” (Top Underrated Songs from “Secrets I Told to a Sound Hole”)

Cover of my 3-song acoustic punk single, “It’s About the Mosh,” and in general just a photo where I show just how extremely badass I really am. Taken by Shared Tokens Photography.

This is a deep, deep, deep song about posers. Okay, maybe I just like the acoustic punk sound – it’s one of the rare times one of my songs has actually sounded like something I might go out of my way to listen to! (Ha, is that bad to say about my own work? Probably!)

As with many songs I write, the seed for it was planted a long time before I actually wrote it. It began with an image that popped into my head of a 30-something man with, yes, scuffed up boots that he didn’t scuff up himself, because he got them from the thrift store and had actually never physically worked hard in his entire life. I let myself have my negative, critical daydream about this guy. He was on the NYC subway, on his way to a big protest, I think. He was dressed like a punk and paid lip service to loving punk bands (only the cool ones, of course), but didn’t listen to them when no one was watching and didn’t know the words to the songs. He constantly spoke and tweeted about politics, but he’d never actually read a single full-length political work – he only read ideological manifestos and persuasive pamphlets and regurgitated the talking points back.

He made me think of all the fake, holier-than-thou posers I’ve ever met at punk shows or had online arguments with. And eventually I daydreamed about him so much that I had enough material for a whole song! The light bulb moment when I knew I was ready to write it (I love those moments!) was when I thought of the line, “What did you mean when you said that you wanted to be free?” It tied the entire song together. Freedom is a common political ideal that punk types (and others) of many different persuasions like to toss around, but what does it really mean to them? If you let the scene make your decisions for you and you feel obligated to say and do things you don’t really mean in order to score points or just to fit in, are you really free at that point?

The best-loved quote of the album (according to a highly scientific poll of 10 people on Facebook) comes toward the end of the song: “For the love of all that’s good in the world… start something.” (I actually put that on the back of my T-shirts to give the people what they wanted!) And after that line, I may have fancied myself the hero just a little bit. After all, I wear basic, uncool clothing and I scuff up my sneakers myself, so I’m obviously exponentially better than scuffed-up-boots poser man.

My favorite aspect of this song is that, to me, I did a good job of painting a vivid picture of precisely the man I wanted to portray. My hope is that you, too, can close your eyes and see him sitting there on the subway with his scuffed up boots, denim jacket, and smug face, looking all punk and intelligent, but you’re in on the secret that it’s all for show.

[Fun fact, especially for anyone who’s been paying attention since the beginning of my journey (thanks, by the way!): I consider this to be a 1000000x improved reworking of another song I attempted to write on a similar topic during my Throwaway Song of the Week project, which I will NEVER name or share because it’s crap and you don’t need to hear it; you’ve got this one now. Just trust me on that. But I’d be happy to give a prize if anyone can tell me the name of that song!]

LYRICS

He wears scuffed up boots of the most honorable kind
But he found them that way at the thrift store
He speaks fresh insights as if they came from his own mind
But they came from manifesto pamphlets on his floor

And to go with his boots, he wears a denim jacket
With Crass, Propagandhi, and Black Flag patches
When you see him, you think he must create a lot of art
When you see him, you think he must work so hard
But he never created a thing but for derivative work
He works hard at his image, makes creative friends, and claims what they earn
But man, what did you mean, what did you mean,
What did you mean when you said that you wanted to be free?

He wears scuffed up boots of the most honorable kind
But he found them that way at the thrift store
He speaks fresh insights as if they came from his own mind
But they came from manifesto pamphlets on his floor

And to go with his boots he’s got some shiny doctrines
Always retweeting quotes from nineteenth century authors
When you see him, you think that he must read a lot of books
When you see him, you think he must do so much good
But he never seems to show up when he’s called on for support by his friends
And he only shares his views in rooms where everybody agrees with him
But man, what did you mean, what did you mean,
What did you mean when you said that you wanted to be free?

He wears scuffed up boots of the most honorable kind
And yeah, boots may lack the memory of the lives they leave behind
But how can you just pick up where someone else leaves off?
For the love of all that’s good in the world… start something

Because the world doesn’t need another hero
Who thinks he can buy the appearance of merit
It needs someone sporting sneakers that she scuffed up herself
And a wardrobe consisting of jeans and a T-shirt

Because I think what’s cool is being relentlessly you
And I think what’s punk is letting yourself be the judge
And I think that free means having no one to please but yourself
What did you mean, what did you mean, what did you mean?
If you want to be free, if you want to be free, if you want to be free…