Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pedal to the Metal...

I've been running on all cylinders lately. I've had something going on most every minute of every day for the past couple weeks...and I'm exhausted!!! Days are filled with work or household chores, nights are filled with rehearsals, gigs, or working on these learning tracks. Last week, abut the only 'Me' time I managed to grab was 2 hours to sit and watch Undercover Brother on Comedy Central on Saturday afternoon. Even most of that was spent helping (or trying to help, anyway) a friend through a difficult time via IM. Oh, how I long for some time to just sit and do nothing for a while.

Not that It's been entirely unpleasant, mind you. I love rehearsals and gigs with my quartet. Doing learning tracks can be a lot of fun, especially when I'm proud of the end result (and paycheck). I just wish I could find some time that isn't scheduled or where I could look around the house and say, "that can wait".

Work's looking up lately. The summer slump seems to be waning and my long-dormant clients seem to be warming up to me nicely. I know I needed an adjustment period to get things flowing, but the past month has been a bit scary. Couple more obstacles to overcome, but they're only temporary (I hope). The economy still sucks and it's still tough to sell musical instruments when folks are wondering how they'll fill their tanks to get to work, but I believe the worst is over (in my little sector of the business world, anyway). Gonna need to do some financial planning for next summer, though.

Meanwhile, I'm getting a lot of nice compliments on my learning tracks lately. The quartet that hired me seems impressed with my work. That last arrangement was a REAL buggar and took me about twice the time I expected it to, but they liked the result and sent a nice first installment of my fee. 2 down, 9 to go, and the rest seem like cake in comparison to the last one (a 4-minute medley with 2 standard key changes and one that was a bitch). While I love that my tracks are appreciated, I only wish I didn't have to rely so heavily on my software to fix things. I love how adept I'm getting at using it (which is a talent in itself), but I wish I had better control and intonation without it. I shouldn't get down on myself too much, though. Even Van Gogh didn't create in just fingerpaint - he had tools, too.

Sonya and the kids are running every bit as much as I lately. Between camps, vacation Bible school, trips to the in-laws' cottage in Canada, and other summer activities, they don't sit still for very long, either. They've been out of the house more than I lately, but most of that is by choice. Seems everything I do these days is in pursuit of the Almighty Dollar in one way or another.

This week:
Monday - 9-6 work, 7-7:30 Loving Memory quartet rehearsal, 7:30-10 chorus rehearsal
Tuesday - 9-6 work, 6:30 make & consume dinner, 7:30-11 work on learning tracks
Wednesday - 9-6 work, 7-10:30 quartet rehearsal
Thursday - 9-6 work, 6:30 make & consume dinner, 7:30-11 work on learning tracks
Friday - 9-6 work, 6:30-10:30 work video store, 11-2 work on learning tracks
Saturday - 9-12 chores, 1:30-5:30 benefit gig w/Coda Honor, 6-10:30 work video store
Sunday - Likely chores, grocery shopping, and lots of work on learning tracks.

Monday should be fun, though. I plan to head out with my sister and her boyfriend to a DCI show in Toledo. This is against my better judgment, as after the last DCI Big Screen event, I vowed not to give ANY money to DCI again. However, the prospect of hanging with my sister and several old drum corps buddies was too much to turn down. There will be at least half a dozen folks I KNOW will be there, and likely a dozen more I haven't seen in a long time that I'm fairly sure will be there, and the inevitable handful of folks I haven't even though of in years.
It's been a good 5 years since I've been to a live drum corps show. Barbershop as pretty much replaced my drum corps addiction. LOTS of similarities: music, competition, lots of "WOW" moments, similar planning and pacing of competition sets, internal bickering between the "old guard" and "progressives", lots of inside jokes and history. The big difference is that I don't tend to carry a bell-front baritone in my pocket to whip out and play an arrangement with other drum corps vets when 4 of us happen to convene. Getting older, the other nice difference is that you don't "age out" of barbershop, you actually more often "age INTO" it.
Anyway, better close the 'ol laptop and get to work. I'll see you at the checkerd flag...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Summer so full....

It seems there's never enough hours in the day to do all the stuff I want to, but summers especially are particularly full. Inevitably, there are scads of concerts, events, gatherings and such that I want to go to, but I end up having to pick and choose.

This week's a perfect example. I entered a drawing at Comics & More for free tickets to see the new Batman movie, but the date landed on the same night as a performance with my quartet and chorus. I didn't win anyway, which was a bit of a relief, but still... Tonight, Weird Al is at Meadowbrook and I had access to $10 tickets. Nope, gotta work the video store so I can have Saturday off to go to the annual Harmony Hideaway barbershop picnic. I hate having to rank and prioritize the fun stuff.

The task is even more difficult this summer as I am now TRIPLE employed again. There's the video store and the new job, of course, but this freelance job doing the learning tracks is taking up more time than I had expected. Well okay, not necessarily the gig as a whole, but one song in particular. The first one, "In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning" was simple enough and I was able to knock that out in a few hours last week. The next song they want done is a medley of "Flying Sinatra" songs ("Come Fly With Me" and "Fly Me To The Moon"). A very cool arrangement, but the Finale file I got had some errors with lyric notation, is replete with awkwardly notated syncopation that doesn't follow exactly what I'm used to doing at the karaoke bar, and the lead is in my horribly awkward break range. I'm getting through it, but being the detail-oriented nit-picker I am, I've re-recorded the lead and bass lines about a billion times to get it to a point I feel is at least 'okay' to my standards. I haven't even gotten to the oddly chromatic bari part or the tenor yet. So that's adding about an extra 8-10 hours minimum to my 55 hour work week. That's not including chorus and quartet rehearsals and performances at 3-10 hours a week on average, so you'll understand why I haven't blogged much lately. This leaves little time for other extra-curricular activities - even those I would LOVE to do.

Wednesday night was a performance with the chorus and quartet at Nardin Park UMC. We go there about every other years and do our full Annual Show to a completely packed house (being a free concert, as opposed to $17 a ticket). The chorus did okay, as did my quartet. Not our best, but good enough for the price. We have a bunch of performances coming up, so we need to get some more rehearsal in and tighten things up, not to mention get our contest set together for October's contest.

Still, I'm not overly stressed or unhappy. The learning track thing is something I love to do (despite having to turn off the fan & AC to avoid ambient noise during the hottest part of the year), and I'm able to fit in a few fun things now and again. The few nights a week I'm home, I get to spend some quality time with my family, barbecuing in the back yard and talking over dinner under the gazebo, watching cartoons with the kids, and last night I was in our 12' inflatable pool with them for about an hour playing games, splashing, and just having a TON of fun with my 2 wonderful children. True summer fun with my kids and some great Kodak moments. I needed that.

Tomorrow is the Harmony Hideaway barbershop picnic at the Slamka's in Riley Twp (that's about as BFE as you can get in SE Michigan). I always take the kids with me. Liam has a blast playing with other kids and participating in the games and the talent show. Courtney is a bit more withdrawn from the crowd and kinda clingy, but she usually has fun and as she's getting bigger, I think she'll have more fun this year. The weather report isn't terribly promising, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed (and the umbrella in the car, just in case).

Sunday, the kids head to the cottage, Sonya and I may go to see Sugar Ray & Spin Doctors at Freedom Hill, courtesty of a couple free tix from a coworker, so it's gonna be a fun-filled weekend, if a bit hectic.

...oh yea, and a TON of work on these learning tracks every spare minute inbetween.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Not a bad weekend…

My 4th wasn't too bad. Had the day off the new job, but had to work Blockbuster in the evening. In the morning, Sonya and Liam had a parade to do in Huntington Woods (big houses, winding roads, for you non-Detroiters) with the Unicycle group. I packed up Courtney after they left and headed to find a spot to watch the festivities. The parade winded down the residential streets of the tiny community. Nice shade and lots of room to find a spot, given the small nature of the parade. Courtney and I had a lot of fun. Being the picture of the adorable, toe-headed baby-doll, she got a HUGE haul of candy from the passing groups, which she split with her brother. Sonya and Liam did great and Liam impressed the crowd, as usual.

After a nice afternoon barbecue with Sonya, the kids, Leigh, and Sonya's brother Jeremy, I head to work. It was INCREDIBLY slow. Sonya and the kids headed to her parents' cottage in Canada that night, so once again, having to work Friday & Saturday at the video store, I had to stay home all by my lonesome.

You’d think this would either lead to a weekend of boredom or debauchery, but it was a happy balance. Friday, I spent much of the day cleaning the living room and digging into the often ignored corners of the room putting away the lost treasures of the past several months. Sonya had me cancel her debit card Friday night because she couldn’t find it. The next day, I found it safely wrapped inside a receipt on the hutch. (Sigh).

Saturday, I did some more cleaning, hit the comic store, had a nice conversation with the kid Chris hired so he wouldn’t have to work 6 days a week, and visited my mother and grandfather. It was nice to be able to catch up with them. They only live about 15 minutes away, but somehow, I only get to visit them about once a month. After that, I went to work.

About 20 minutes before my shift ended, I notice my friend, Paulie B., wandering the aisles. We chat for a few and after work I head to hang with him, Sarah Bradley, and a few others at Sara’s place to watch Clerks II (which I had almost started while I was cleaning earlier).

Sunday, more cleaning, only now the stuff I despise: laundry, dishes, toilet, bathroom sink, etc.. After I come to a stopping point, I head to my sisters to drop off a volcanic rock from my grandfather’s garden that she wants to use in her own garden. I play with her dog, water her plants (as she was away with her boyfriend for the weekend), grab some Taco Bell, and head home to start on a new assignment.

The past week, I’ve been corresponding with a fellow barbershopper from Nevada that my chorus director put me in touch with. He has a quartet called the Rat Paq, and is in need of some learning tracks for the Rat Pack-esque songs his quartet will be doing. I found out that he doesn’t just need a couple, but ELEVEN! After exchanging e-mails, sending a sample of my work, and haggling the price – a LOT – we finally strike a deal. I’m giving him a HELL of a deal compared to the $150-$200 going rate for learning tracks from the pros. Being my first real gig doing such, and being that between the members of his quartet, they’re connected with 3 choruses with 9 other registered quartets between them to suggest my service to, it’ll likely bring in a LOT more business. Call it a promotional deal.

I have been contemplating trying to make a few extra bucks by doing learning tracks for quartets for a while, after doing a few gratis ones for my chorus. This will be my first REAL paid gig as such. Over the weekend we exchange e-mails and on Sunday morning I found all the songs he needed in Finale files in my e-mail box. I’m hired! I spent much of Sunday evening recording “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning”, and I must say, I’m pretty damned proud of how it turned out.

I e-mailed it out to him last night. I think he’ll be impressed with a 1-day turnaround. I may not see the money for a while, but I trust barbershoppers. We’re an absent-minded lot, sure, but not crooks.

By the way, if you could all send happy thoughts and prayers to my buddy, Chuck May and his darling wife, Molly, they could use it about now. Chuck & Molly are kindred spirits to me on many levels. Both are barbershoppers, music educators, and 10th level geeks in their own right, and they’re raising their 10-month old son, David the same way (bless them!).

David was diagnosed a couple weeks ago with a Wilkes tumor. He had one of his kidneys removed and is undergoing chemo for the next 23 weeks to treat the remaining tumor on his other kidney. The prognosis is good so far and David is starting to act like his bubbly, happy, precocious self, but 24 weeks of chemo won’t be fun. Any positive thoughts and prayers would be greatly appreciated.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A New Professional Direction for my Creativity

I've always wanted to do something creative for a living that utilizes my talents, strengths, and passions. I suppose that goes without saying and is something everyone strives for. I've dabbled in it a bit from time to time, even succeeding to some degree. I've been a professional (by that definition, I mean getting paid at least once for my services) drill designer, singer, trombonist, web designer, arranger, and music teacher. Unfortunately, none of these endeavors have stuck to a point where I can make any reliable money out of it.

Oh the marching band instructor gig was a long-term thing, with 14 consecutive years working for at least one band a season, but that was only for 3 months of the year and the money was not exactly stellar or reliable. Professionally, if not financially rewarding. The quartet gets paying gigs now and again, but usually just enough to justify the hobby itself. Personally rewarding, but not lucrative by any means. Drill designing is something I've always wanted to do for a living, but to be honest, I haven't really marketed myself much or broken through to the "big time" as a noteworthy designer. Chicken and the egg: break through to make a name, or make a name to break through.

With no marching band gigs, designing OR teaching, for the past 2 years, I haven't had much opportunity to make a little extra scratch with my talents (aside from the occasional quartet gig). Now, however, it seems I have found a new outlet along similar lines to pull in a bit of extra cash now and again: part recordings.

For you non-barbershoppers out there, most barbershoppers can't read music (at least not well), and those who do can usually use a crutch of having the part sung correctly in their ear to help learn and memorize it. I have been recording multi-tracks of myself for years - ever since high school on my double deck tape recorder. I found it fun to play around with chords, learn multiple parts of any given song, and even try my hand at arranging with it. Most would turn out fairly decent after a few tries. Over the past couple years, I've refined my techniques a bit at a time, adding more high-tech equipment, utilizing the computer, getting better software and equipment, etc. Now, I finally have a set up that - while not ideal or particularly professional - works very well. I'll spend a while on each part, recording each attempt with my recording software until I learn it and get something I can work with. Then I do the same on each successive part, remove the noise with some of the nifty tools, refine the tuning with a cool plug-in I found for my program, move the balance around for a stereo sound, add reverb, and VOILA! I have a decent sounding track that - though not something I'd put on a CD and sell as an artist - sounds pretty cool and gives me a giggle. Meanwhile, I've expanded my own repertoire and made mself more effective to teach parts or fill in quartets on multiple parts.

Eventually, I started using this technique to help my own quartet to learn songs, starting with ones that I arranged. I shift the balance of one part to one side with the three remaining parts on the other side, allowing the listener to adjust the balance according to how much help they want. I later found that these kind of recordings are used frequently in choruses and quartets to learn songs. Once I got my tuning software, I offered my services to my chorus, noting that the learning tracks they did were often of poor sound quality, lacked precision at times, and were just plain time-consuming and difficult to coordinate with 4 different guys' schedules. The director was happy to not have to worry about the hassle and was pleased with the results.

I did this for free as a favor to the chorus, since we're always financially struggling as a chapter and I have fun with it anyway. Now as a form of compensation, the director and a couple other chorus members have been dropping my name whenever the need is mentioned for learning tracks!. I have a friend or two that do this for a living and make some decent money at it - like $200 per song sometimes. I don't plan to charge THAT much, as my stuff isn't quite as polished as theirs, though it's every bit as effective for the purposes. However, I've already been contacted by a couple guys who want my services in the past month! One was a chorus member I did 1 song on the cheap for. The other is a guy on the west coast who wants about 10 songs! I'm waiting on word from him as to how much I'll do and for what money.

This should be a LOT easier to break into than drill design, and may even lead to some arranging gigs! Regardless, it's a chance to use my knowledge of and talent for barbershop as well as my skills with my computer and be appreciated for it. Even if it only brings in a little extra cash for lunch money now and again, it's nice to be doing something I love, have it appreciated, and (being paid even NOMINALLY) be called a professional at it.

Guess it's time to add another service to my Keiser Pageantry website and maybe take it a bit of a different direction. There may be a bit more money in this "hobby" than I thought...

If you want a sample of what I do, you can contact me through Keiser Pageantry Productions. I'll be adding the learning tracks to my services on that site soon!