Never Too Old To RockWhat’s Your Grandfather Doing in His Room
I am 64 years old and have been writing songs for over 40 years. But it’s only in the last few years that I’ve been able to live my teenage dream of being a recording artist. I’m hoping to be discovered — Lord knows not for the fame but a bit of the fortune would do — I want someone else to pay for me to record in a real studio, work with the best equipment and software, session players, engineers, and producers.
I have a:
- 1960’s vintage mashup electric guitar (Humbucker pickup, Strat neck, and Tele body);
- Early 70’s Martin D-18 with a cracked body (but still the sweetest sound);
- Borrowed Samick bass;
- Six-year old MacBook Pro;
- Pirated Logic Pro 9 recording program;
- M-Audio Keystation 88 MIDI keyboard and Fast Track audio interface;
- Two cheap mics, stand, and headphones;
- I-phone 4; and
- Student version of Adobe Creative Suites.
- Use Photoshop to create graphics, WordPress and Godaddy to make a website;
- Upload and distribute my songs through Distrokid;
- Sell my songs on Amazon and iTunes;
- Stream on the online music channels;
- Make and upload by videos to YouTube and Vimeo using footage shot with my phone camera or from the public domain collection from the Library of Congress; and
- Design, make and distribute my own CD’s (at least I could. Amazon’s Createspace, because they are “constantly evaluating our service catalog,” will no longer provide this service).
What I can’t do to get discovered is hit the road and tour. I’m just too old for that. But that doesn’t stop me from admiring and rooting for the bands that do.
I like to go to hear the young bands perform at Soho. There’s a Soho in most towns — a bar with a stage, a decent sound system and lights. The bands arrive road-weary but purposeful, unload their van, setup their equipment and merch table (better have some vinyl), and try to build a following. That long exhausting process is definitely for the young and optimistic who still have years ahead of them to try, fail, and try again. Occasionally, an old rocker, like Peter Wolfe or Chris Robinson, who once did or still does play on the big stage, will perform at Soho either because they can’t get it out of their system or they’ve written songs that they know will only grow if they play them before a live audience.
Sometimes, a band will arrive with a great buzz and you know that they very well might make it to the next level of playing on a big stage, lights, sound, tour bus, roadies. And every once in awhile you get to see a nascent act like Jack Johnson or Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros who does make it big.
I went to hear Cymbals Eat Guitars last week and there was hardly anyone in the club. Despite having been featured on NPR’s First Listen, being experienced pros who had produced and recorded a great record (definitely not recorded in a bedroom) — few turned out to hear them play on a Wednesday night. The band delayed coming out, letting the two opening acts take their time, but the crowd never grew. What must that do to your hopes? All that creativity, practice, money, great production, the buzz, transport all your gear to California from Staten Island, hiding out in a converted closet offstage, waiting, and nada.
The bands I admire are the ones who put it out there anyway. There were even less folks in the club for the Melismatics who’d driven out from Minnesota, and they tore it up. A paid rehearsal might be how they looked at the nearly empty room or maybe they’re true pros who always play hard.
What can an aging, unsigned recording artist do?
I could send my tunes to:
- College radio stations (practically the only terrestrial outlets where the DJ’s can play what they want); or
- National Public Radio who may use part of a song as a musical bed or feature me and my music on a radio show.
- Pay for a backup band, studio time, engineer, producer, mixing, and mastering ($20,000 for an album); or
- Crowdsource the funding for the album.
Or I can just stay in my room and let the creativity flow and hope that somebody might notice.