July 15, 2003
The year 2002 is long past now, that “Piratical Tossed Salad”, as the year has been termed in the Lair’s Archive of 2002. It was the year of more intensive busking, the year of Jason Webley’s piracy of a state ferry, banning from the Seattle Center and ritual death in a sort of cocoon in subfreezing temperatures. It was the year the U.S. government decided to become an Imperial Power, and the year that a Star Wars-like Rebel Alliance took shape around the globe. I looked at my assortment of things that I wanted to accomplish, and decided to focus on my own music performance, while putting freelance writing on the back burner. Nonetheless, some of my old Themestream essays have been published outside the Lair, at least one of them for a small remuneration. They continue timely in 2003, as American and worldwide progressives continue to struggle for a paradigm shift based on true democracy, equality, political/social/economic justice and linkage of ordinary people around the world. In pushing an Imperial agenda, Darth Dubya and Company have rendered themselves irrelevant and enemies of freedom. It was also the year that I opened for Junoon’s Seattle concert, and unfortunately, most of my relatives reacted to the news of this event with seeming utter indifference. Doing an opening set for a visiting Pakistani/Sufi rock band was a big deal for me; despite the blinding white lights glaring into my face throughout my short set, it was very exciting and a great deal of fun. I kept telling myself, “If I can pull this off, open mics should be a snap from here on out!” And speaking of open mics, I really need to commit to doing more of them, especially when I can get sets recorded onto CD’s at little or no charge.
In the nationwide music scene, a remarkable process of syncretism is at work among independent musicians and music communities, and we are becoming increasingly involved in this process here in Seattle. Independent rock musicians, folk musicians, world musicians, punk bands, actors, dancers, guerrilla theater companies, drumming communities, political activists and visual artists are making connections and common cause in a large-scale and wide-ranging revolt against commercial and corporate-controlled entertainment. It is possible to record whole CD’s on computer and sell them mainly online, without any help from major labels and distributors, or even minor ones. It is critical that I master these processes, with my own website and online (Cafepress.com) stores to assist me. In the regional folk scene, the line between genres and cultures is becoming very blurred, with sharp distinctions between “folk”, “pop”, “indie rock”, etc. becoming ever more obsolete. The world music scene is very much alive worldwide, but it is still in trouble in many parts of our own country; WOMAD USA was cancelled both last year and this year by the King County Government, both (allegedly) for budgetary reasons and problems with INS regulations regarding international performers. Right-wing politicians have always been hostile to foreign artists performing in the U.S., and the time has come to take a firm stand on behalf of these artists. I want another qawwali concert here in Seattle as soon as it can be arranged-a qawwali/Sufi festival, in fact, with help from many sources in this area that are able and willing to help. There is still much need for musical and cultural exchange with artists from Islamic societies (especially and including Iraq, even in the midst of its current occupation by U.S. and U.K. military forces). The American people need increasing exposure to the cultural resources of societies that they are being programmed to disdain and distrust, and direct interaction between the American public and Middle Eastern musicians is a key element in this necessary exposure and bridge-building. To those ends, at least one branch of the World Music Institute is badly needed here in the Pacific Northwest.
In the meantime, I am currently going through a phase in which I am not listening much to recorded music these days, since there is so much good live music available in Seattle, and I am so busy polishing my own performance and learning to connect with passersby on the sidewalk and with listeners in open mic venues. The local scene is hopping and rocking, with a huge amount of both adult and all-ages musical events, even with the closing of the Paradox Theater in Seattle, and Kate Becker’s departure from the Old Fire House in Redmond. The Teen Dance Ordinance was thankfully killed off in 2002, and replaced with an imperfect but preferable All-Ages Dance Ordinance. Likewise, the Poster Ban was repealed at about the same time, and flyers of every possible stripe are again very much visible on poles and outdoor bulletin boards. Under the influence of Jason Webley and other all-ages-oriented performers, I am discovering how to connect with younger crowds, and to appreciate the creative work of young artists and musicians. In any case, I need to listen again to the folk and world music in my recording collection, and continue gathering song lyrics off the Internet and via other sources. My ability to memorize new lyrics is a bit slower now at age 38 than it was when I was 14 or so, but it still functions perfectly well, all things considered. Maybe a bit of gingko or human growth hormone enhancers would help out with that. Or maybe not.
Since Jason is touring outside western Washington for the bulk of his “Living” season this year, I am seeking reconnection with the folk, Celtic and world music scenes which I have neglected in the recent past. In my own performance, I am arranging traditional material with a kind of alt/indie-rock sensibility (while still using all acoustic instruments), in order to make my original songs and traditional and contemporary folk material more accessible to younger listeners and others who have hitherto been unfamiliar with the acoustic and topical music of my own background. I am becoming increasingly comfortable at street performing, and have developed a stronger voice and performing persona in the busker’s learning process (which now includes learning to sing over head and throat congestion while recovering from a cold). I am performing comfortably at several different locations now, in addition to a variety of festivals and street fairs that come along throughout the year in Seattle. I need to keep practicing to master singing over fiddle drones (though my fiddle is badly in need of a new bridge, and maybe a more comprehensive tune-up), and I am improving my guitar technique, especially in the area of playing traditional dance tunes on the guitar. With an improvement in my ability to connect with people through music, and allowing the songs to guide their own performance and the moods expressed therein, hopefully my busking revenues will also improve over time.
With all the improvements in my performing process, some struggles still remain. I still deal with the fact that I lost so much time in the past when I did little or no performing, due to being stuck in life-draining jobs, listening to naysayers and discouraging voices (both external and internal), and fighting depression and poverty. At a certain point, I decided that a “better time” to start performing in earnest was never going to arrive, and I had to get my ass out on the street, guitar in hand, right NOW. Likewise, as our old slogan puts it, Keep dreaming big, and fuck the naysayers! We must work on shrinking the influence of negative messages coming at us and from within us. I feel that I am in the right place professionally right now; this sphere simply needs to expand and to be fed with positive energy and personal commitment. In addition, last year I struggled mightily with an obsession that developed over my desire to work professionally with Jason Webley and his friends and bandmates. This got me in a bit of trouble partway through the year, which hopefully has been resolved in a positive and healthy manner. I still want to work with these guys, but I need to get to know them all better and on friendly terms, and prove myself to them musically, without being obsessive and intrusive and scaring them off. I am keeping my eyes open for any possible opportunities to show them what I’m capable of doing, and that it can fit in well with what they’re doing. I still miss Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan very deeply, and still see him very much as a role model for adapting traditional music to contemporary sensibilities, and for developing my own joik-oriented improvisational vocal style. He still shows up in dreams and meditations sometimes, and I remember feeling his presence the last time Rahat and Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan were here with their new group. More contact with Nusrat’s old collaborators might be helpful as well, especially if I still want to produce, compose and record Celtoqawwali compositions. He and his music are very badly needed today (though I have pointed out to some people that, had he been alive in 2001, 9/11 probably would have killed him for sure), with all the political and social turmoil that exists right now, and with a critical need worldwide for a positive portrayal of Islam and Sufism that Nusrat worked so hard to establish during his worldwide performing career.
For my own performing career, I need to do more networking, recording and shameless self-promotion (the latter is still rather stigmatized in our culture; but heck, if I could afford to hire a publicist to do the dirty work for me, I would!). To get indoor paying gigs, in Seattle or anywhere else, I need decent professional recordings. I need to make more money to do a recording. I need to get beyond my limited cash resources, and make money on every possible product of my creative abilities. I have two short CD’s of recorded open mic spots, and need to make more, as one way of producing at least a couple of decent demos, if not a couple of saleable EP’s. I also need to produce my own promo or media kits; but the expected wave of the future is for media/promo kits to be mostly, if not entirely, electric and downloadable in the not-too-distant future. Get a good look at samples of both print and electronic promos by various musicians and groups, and get the funds invested for photos, CD demos and packaging. The Lair has my Musician’s Vita and Musician’s Bio on separate pages, and I can make my own flyers and business cards; but I also need digital photos, black and white 8x10’s (or some acceptable size), and demos which I can turn into mp3 or .wav samples. At least send samples of what I’ve got to all venues at which I want to perform, as well as performing open mics at these venues, and work out arrangements to record as many of them as possible. Send samples of songs to local distributors and compilation CD production organizations. Connect with other musicians, music venues, distributors, music promoters, all-ages music organizations, music festival organizations, political activism organizations, religious social justice organizations, local record labels and music calendar websites for information on funding of recording and promotional material projects. There is a great scope for combining performing aspirations with political/social activism; send promotional materials to all local and regional activist organizations, and find out how to get on the program for performing at rallies, demonstrations and other indoor and outdoor events. Do the same for theatrical organizations, dancers and dance troupes, experimental and progressive musical associations, all-ages venues and music production organizations, religious organizations, folk, ethnic and world music communities, world beat drumming communities, local and regional festivals and street fairs, and an ever-expanding local and regional range of music clubs.
As for other ways to make money--busking revenues are increasing, but I’m not able to do that every day, especially not in exactly the same places; and I do need to make money steadily, like every other professional. It’s only been recently that my four Cafepress stores made a couple of sales outside my extended family. I have a couple of teeshirts from my own stores that may or may not prove useful in promoting these products as a whole. Promotional methods for these stores include both online and offline methods-flyers, word of mouth, hyperlinking, email (NOT spamming, of course), and promotion of the Lair itself, which links to all the stores from its front page. We can also create a demand and market for copies of the computer art from the LairShop products; thus we need startup capital to copy the artwork and photography, as well as scanning more photography and creating more computer art, both to sell and to exhibit. New computer art creations are not being prioritized at the moment, but what we have comprises a fairly good-sized and good-looking collection. I have been selling beadwork and ceramic ornaments privately; some people have suggested making smaller pendant-sized Neolithic ornaments on chains and cords, perhaps enhanced with glass and ceramic beads. Neolithic-inspired wall-hanging rounds have proven popular; we just need to produce more of them on a consistent basis. Some more research on Neolithic design motifs may also be in order. I still technically have an eBay account; but I lack a checking account to use with it. Thus my online and offline commerce in crafts needs to be done privately for now. Both old and new freelance writing projects are also marketable; but seeking new writing markets has been sidelined for now, though we are still working on LairWrit Links pages and researching information on online writing markets. The Themestream essays and completed short stories would make passable ebooks; if such were produced, more professional promotion efforts would be of key importance. Recordings and ebooks should also be sent to offline review sources for publicity purposes. Finally, creative ideas are also saleable and in demand; share ideas while also controlling them to artistic and musical communities in every corner of the world, online and off!
© 2003 by Karen I. Olsen