Author: grahamsunrisereview

Extra, Extra!

by Graham

I got to #3 on my list of broad goals for my solar-powered music project before getting swept up in the Summer. As Fall sets in I have some updates on no’s 4 & 5.

#4 Media Recognition

Fun Story Time:

I attended an event earlier this year which included Bob Boilen, host of NPR’s All Songs Considered and Tiny Desk Concert. In it someone asked him how he picks music and his response was that he basically starts with the most interesting packaging first. I took that knowledge and sat on it for about 8 months. It proved useful a couple weeks ago at a conference in Washington D.C. called the Future of Music Summit which I participated in. Bob was hosting an artist panel and listening party and I hatched a plan to get my music into his hands in the most interesting way possible. I offer a combination curry powder/download code for folks who want a little personal dinner concert of my music. I was going to give this to him in person, bypassing the chain of folks who filter it before Bob gets to see it and (hopefully) making an impression in the process. Fatefully, on the second day of the conference I was crossing an empty courtyard to get some food and through the open doors on the other side strolls Bob. Seeing this opportunity, I engaged him. “Hi Bob. Say, I have a question for you.”


“Do you like curry?”

“Y-Yeah. W-Why?”

“I have a gift for you.”

“Wait, like is it curry powder or a container of curry” Using his hands to indicate a big or small container.

I explained the Middle Eastern and Indian connection to my music and that it was my own recipe I offered with downloads.

“That’s amazing!”

He asked me where the green room was and I offered to show him.

After getting my food I returned with the package, complete with an Indian themed box, wrapped in fabric (to up the packaging influence) and gave it to him. Mission Success! Well stage 1 at least. Ideally he would be so impressed that he would have me on a show.

This story doesn’t end here though. During the panel Bob was hosting, they got to talking about music and merchandise and Bob pulled my curry powder out and declared it “Genius!” on stage and webcast across the globe. He then looked for me in the audience to engage me on it. I was outside, eating my food, creating another fun story for this post. When I returned the crowd was literally finishing chuckling about my story from earlier. As I sat down a neighbor told me “They’re talking about you.”

At the end of the panel there were questions from the audience.  I took that opportunity to stand up and ask the panel of artists Bob had been interviewing the question of the day “Do you like Curry?” They all said yes. As I turned to return to my seat, Bob called me out and made me plug myself and my project to the whole conference. A definite plus!

Meanwhile. . .

As Bob Boilen was talking me up on stage inside, I was eating breakfast. It was 4pm and I was subsisting on cucumber water and some nibbles on an apple. I was fading. I had acquired a delicious looking salad of spinach, feta, cranberries and vinaigrette but had yet to find opportunity to eat it. I had been running around, hosting event spaces, brainstorming with conference attendees and volunteering in other ways since 10am. As I finished my hard earned salad I was approached by an individual I would come to find out is a correspondent for Radio France as well as manager of a group of well known musicians from Africa, Fela Kuti’s band. She would like to have me on her show for Radio France. I was also invited a few days prior to record in Bosnia. European tour anyone?

The more time I spend thinking and working on things like marketing and publicity for The Sunrise Review the more I realize I am not trying to reach music fans. I’ve come up with a few reasons why. First, “music fan” is not a unique identifiable market as a subset of humans. It’s everyone. Music is so ubiquitous it’s akin to saying “my target market is people who drink water.” Beyond that, birds involve music in their little birdie societies. I’m sure there is some form of appreciation in their bird minds. At least the swooning lady birds show it by their choice of mate. Are they included in “music fans”? As absurd as a notion as that is, it only serves to drive the point home. Secondly, trying to make a name for yourself as a celebrity musician is no different from trying to be popular in High School. It takes tons of narcissism, probably some compromised personal attributes, significant financial outlay and tons of time. I mean TONS of time. 10 years is a pretty accurate and “standard” timeline for breaking even as an independent artist. That popularity can also be fleeting without a long term plan. Add to that the fact that my music is more Avant-garde than mainstream pop (by a longshot) and I’m pretty convinced that I’m just not playing that game. In fact I’m beginning to think more and more that the folks that are best suited to appreciating what I do are environmentalists, outdoor enthusiasts, adventure athletes and sustainability advocates. The fact that I make music is a little bit secondary.

In looking at this I discovered an emerging field of study. Ecomusicology. After investigating it, I fit right into it. It’s included as a branch of the Society for Ethnomusicology. I engaged the community through a list-serve they run and have been asked to contribute my story to their bi-annual newsletter. Perfectly targeted marketing.


$$$$$ to make the world go round

by Graham

As a musician, money is something that isn’t always part of the equation. Whether it’s by nature or happenstance that this occurs depends on the situation. There is no financial barrier to having a creative idea, and more and more artists are finding themselves in positions where once having had that free (as in speech and beer) idea there is little to no money available to actually create the concept in the physical world. This paradigm has led me to adopt, as a person, an attitude towards life which can best be summed up as “Money is no object”. Typically the fare of the wealthy, I use these words slightly differently. To understand how I use them, replace the word “money” with another word for something that doesn’t exist, say, a time machine for example. “A time machine is no object”. This makes sense, right? If I told you that to solve whatever problem you have (because that’s all creative work really is, self imposed problem solving) you just needed to use a time machine, how confident would you be of the successful resolution to the problem? It would most likely seem like a bad plan and any hope of successfully completing whatever task it was would appear to be lost. Not a great place to be emotionally.

It’s for this reason that when setting up my projects I do so in a manner which eliminates or minimizes exposure to financial expenses. Things seem more likely to succeed if there isn’t a financial cost to completion. Minimal finances is the reason I use solar-power and natural spaces as studios. It’s free. Mostly.

My latest project, however is a departure from this. When I sent in my proposal for fiscal sponsorship, it was because I figured I could use all the help I could get. That proposal came with a very rough estimate of a $25,000 project cost. Not exactly chump change, but not outlandish. It’s the cost of a modest automobile or boat, a home addition, small construction project or slightly more than half of the median US annual income. The last comparison is important here, because I don’t make the median income. Most musicians don’t, in fact. A recent survey found that the average income from music was around $32,000, not much more than the budget I dreamed up for this project. In reality though, this project is more than 5x my annual income. It remains to be seen if I was smart to push myself this hard/far, but so far I would call it working. I’ve travelled more miles than money I’ve spent and am doing most of the work myself. It’s come to a point, however, where I see a need for a bit of a cash outlay to continue in a timely manner. To make the American Heritage series a real success the respective World Heritage Sites need to be used as a studio as well as inspiration. To do so requires a permit from the respective National Park and that takes cash. Since I don’t have it just laying around I have to raise it somehow. In keeping with a previous post, I’m using the internet and the distributed patronage model, or as it’s come to be known, crowdfunding.

Here’s a short video describing the project.

I’m offering preorders of the music I record along with other delicious and delightful gifts for contributing to the project (just like PBS except no tote bags). My goal is $2,500 with 20 hours and 90% left to go. Erin contributed, can you?

A Herd of Cats

by Graham

Artists can be pretty emotionally flighty people. In some ways it’s a job requirement, and fostering the ability to embrace one emotional state or another at the drop of a hat is a useful skill in many creative fields. It’s not without it’s downside, though. As any musician will tell you, organizing a committed and reliable group of folks to form a band with is a significant hurdle. One which many times is never surmounted. Organizing artists for anything beyond personal interests is almost laughable most of the time. Yet, that is what I am trying to do with Fair Trade Music, organize musicians around the concept of equity in their business dealings for live performances as well as organizing their community around the idea and the musicians. It’s an idea which is met with general enthusiasm by most who encounter it yet little actual support in the way of action and engagement. It’s sort of passively accepted by musicians that they should be making more but they won’t stand up and say it out of fear of being labeled greedy or self-righteous. It’s a vicious cycle. Despite this, the idea is spreading. Seattle, Portland, and New Orleans have formal campaigns to recognize venues that treat musicians professionally and it’s in the works elsewhere. I’m personally working to establish a working group in Washington D.C. and may soon need to connect a few entities in NYC to solidify a campaign there.

In keeping with my theme for the year of being more intense, the next few months for this are going to require some big moves. The main issue facing the initiative is actually the support it receives from the American Federation of Musicians, the musicians union. The AFM is a group which exists solely to uphold musicians rights and equity, yet they have a slight handicap. They aren’t really setup to deal with situations where there isn’t an employee-employer relationship. Most (if not all) of the independent musicians out there fall outside this realm, we’re entrepeneurs and business owners by default (well really U.S. case law, but that’s another story). For ultimate success with Fair Trade Music it’s going to take me and a couple other folks to initiate at least a partial refocus of the AFM, a 120+ year old,  international organization with tens of thousands of members.  Yeesh!

Public Displays

Music, in performance, is a type of sculpture. The air in the performance is sculpted into something. -Frank Zappa

2.Performance Opportunities

The Sunrise Review is not your typical musical undertaking, and as such, some of the traditional methods to cultural relevancy and recognition just don’t fit. An ideal performance of the music involves a handful of individuals, professionals, who are trained in instruments from around the world, and able to perform what is admittedly rather technical music. I don’t know who these people are and whoever they are, they don’t know my music. That leaves me and my guitar, not exactly the typical Saturday night fare of nightclubs and concert venues. It’s an activity and experience more suited to fine restaurants, art galleries and tea houses (I don’t care for coffee, it is probably one of my least favorite substances). This confounds the financial aspects of the venerable cultural expectation of live music, touring. It’s expensive and no small undertaking to travel between cities, transporting equipment, finding a place to sleep, and food to eat. More often than not another business makes more money than you and you’re stuck far from home with no where to sleep. It’s pretty common for the businesses hosting to really be operating in a manner which takes advantage of musicians. Quite frankly it can suck, and I have avoided it on purpose because it will suck the energy out of you right quick.

This attitude is not particularly beneficial, however. Especially given my desire to expand my audience base. There is no easier way to effect the emotional attachment of an individual to music than by presenting it to them in person. I aim to capitalize on this while focusing on the target markets I have identified for my project.

One way I am looking to create performance opportunities is through House Concerts. This ensures that my audience is actually interested in me and my work because there is no other reason for them to be present. They’re also a great way to engage the communities around the locations for my American Heritage  project, which can be a pretty remote and rural. Are you interested in hosting a musician for an evening, or know someone who is? Get in touch!

Another idea I am developing is concerts in nature. It’s the best setting for this project and focuses on another of my desired markets, outdoor adventurers. This requires a bit more work than scheduling a traditional performance, but the payoff is pretty great. So far I have had good response for the idea and folks that have experienced it have really enjoyed it.

I’m also on the lookout for venues which aren’t too out of my way to begin developing anchors for setting up future tours.  I’m starting at a location which has been around since the Civil War, the Mecklenburg Inn in Shepherdstown, WV.

You and I and All of Our Friends

An audience is always warming but it must never be necessary to your work.

 – Gertrude Stein

. . .The music is nothing if the audience is deaf.

– Walter Lippmann

1.Audience Development

I chose these two quotes for a reason. They relate an internal conflict I have. I have experienced far too many musicians whose main impetus is narcissism. They desperately need others to pay attention to them. Their heart and mind are not in the right place, in my opinion. They make decisions based on sometimes temporary benefits and act without a long or even mid-term plan. In contrast I have focused my efforts on the development of my project concept and crafting music. Ultimately, however, without an audience (whatever form that may take) I’m just a guy in the woods with a guitar. If I fell a tree with my might and prowess on the guitar and nobody hears it, does it really matter? Developing an engaged and interested audience for The Sunrise Review is essential to the success of the other goals I outlined in my last post. It is key to the continued growth of the project. It’s also the area I have put the least amount of effort into and the one that may require the most effort.

The audience-performer relationship is an interesting one, even more so when it’s construed into a business scenario and that’s the goal of this year. So, what does that look like?

The Classic Patronage Model

A single individual supporting one or more artists. It is incredibly rare these days and I am not putting any effort into development in this area. Individuals just don’t have that kind of moolah laying around.

Distributed Patronage

This is the new paradigm, lots of folks giving a little bit to support the artist. For a while having an audience also meant being in close physical proximity to them if only temporarily.  That has also changed, thanks to the ol’ internet. As a result so has how you go about developing the relationship. There are a number of ways to engage fans and listeners as a musician using the world wide web. It’s actually a multi-billion dollar a year industry. There are so many methods that it can be somewhat mind-numbing to choose the best ones for a particular endeavor.

A Digital Game Plan

Here is my focus in 2013 for developing the audience for The Sunrise Review

  • A Dedicated Website:

I had this already, and have spent the past few months updating, upgrading and generally improving it.(it took 3, really!) I’m pretty pleased with it and am equally glad that I am able to be  in complete control of it. It’s the official source of info on The Sunrise Review. It’s got all the music, videos and photos in one spot as well as blog posts and project updates. An area that could improve is SEO. Right now if you search, solar power music or sunrise review, it takes a couple pages to get to this site. Something I aim to change.

  • Newsletter Subscribers

This is my primary form of communication with my audience. So far I have about 750 folks who get the email. About 20% of them actually read it and significantly fewer click on the links. I would like to get the subscribers above 1,000 and more folks participating in the calls to action I include in them. One of the ways of enticing folks into joining is free music, so I have some tunes set aside for that purpose.

Are you signed up? I promise you won’t get spam. It’ll be just the opposite. Great music and interesting stories.

  • Social Media

Like any responsible independent musician these days, I have social media accounts for The Sunrise Review.

Follow me on Twitter or Like my Facebook Page

You can also gorge yourself on actual media at Soundcloud, Youtube, and Flickr.

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t use these as much as I could. Partly due to my aversion to the narcissistic nature of them and partly because I’m not really sure what to do with them. I’ve made an effort to begin working on creating a “social media strategy” but it’s full of fits and starts in trying to remember to follow it along with the hours of research and web design I have been doing. Not to mention actually writing and rehearsing music, the point of it all.

This is the basic 1, 2, 3 plan for building the general awareness around The Sunrise Review in 2013. I have also identified some target demographic markets for the project: Americana and Arabian Music Enthusiasts, Outdoor Adventurers and Renewable Energy/Sustainability Advocates. I will be working on creating different materials for engaging each of them.

Early to Rise

by Graham
“The artist is not a special kind of person; rather each person is a special kind of artist.”
Ananda Coomaraswamy

I’m a musician. I have been since I was 9 and took up the violin in my school symphony and the youth symphony in my hometown. That’s not the real story though. There is no point at which you really start or stop being a musician. There are milestones of individual fluency or skill with the language and the tools which are externally identifiable. There are even more internal milestones for which there are no words to describe. There are also many ways to “be a musician”. To some it is a vocation, others a lifestyle, a world view, a social activity or a past time. The first category is the focus of my energy this year; Making a living from my musical output.This is going to take a handful of things which I’m not exactly an expert at and a plan to execute them. They all involve writing in one way or another. At the top level these are:

  1. Audience Development – I need more folks to be interested in The Sunrise Review
  2. Performance Opportunities – This is related to #’s 1&3 on both sides of their respective equations. 
  3. Funding Development – It’s going to take an influx of money to achieve my goals for the year
  4. Media Recognition -Radio interviews, blog posts, music reviews, etc. . 
  5. Team Growth – Doing everything by myself is technically possible, trained professionals are probably better and quicker for some tasks, though.

To accomplish these goals I have a framework to apply them to, American Heritage. I am traveling to World Heritage Sites throughout the US writing and recording music. It’s the focus of my activities and something I conceived of to provide a diverse range of opportunities for myself. It also presents some new challenges, not the least of which is the sheer scale of the project,  21 sites in over a dozen states (and one territory) some of them only accessible by air or sea (one only by sea). I started the project at the top of a volcano in Hawaii 14,000ft above sealevel. I’ve since visited Olympic National Park and Yosemite. I am currently on the East Coast where I intend to start recording the music I have written so far. I’ve started by contacting Independence Hall to arrange for a permit to record in the birthplace of America. They were less than enthusiastic, independent musicians are clearly of the unsavory ilk. If that doesn’t work out I will see about Mammoth Cave, or the Everglades. I hear Florida is nice this time of year. . .

The BIG Picture

by Graham

My interest in contributing to this blog comes from a desire to develop my writing skills. I’ve always had a weird phenomenon in my life where I have to communicate things 3 times for them to be “heard” or taken seriously. As a result I am considered quiet besause I generally won’t say something unless I want to say it 3 times. Alot of everyday conversation isn’t worth repeating and it’s socially awkward to have to repeat yourself every time you add to a conversation. It just becomes tedious. This means most of the things I want to say are not small talk, they are legititmate intellectual conversation material in situations where that’s not what is happening. Many times they too go unsaid. It would stand to reason that written communication would make up for my short comings in the spoken realm but for reasons I can’t identify it hasn’t ever really happened. I actually hadn’t given it much thought before writing this paragraph.

The driving force behind this personal skill development is my activities as an independent musician. I’ve taken a rather non-traditional approach to a non-traditional career in a time of great change in the field, which I’ll explain later. It’s been an interesting experience to say the least.

In keeping with the theme of my New Years Resolution “Be more intense” one of the keys to accomplishing this goal is focus. Much like a laser, a focused energy and effort can have significant effects. For this year I have 2 things I am focusing on with my intensity. They are outlined below.

The Sunrise Review

The Sunrise Review is the title I have given a project that came about as a result of a number of events/experiences.

I started writing music in the ocean off the coast of Australia during 2005 and 2006. I would spend most mornings in the sea waiting for waves to surf. The rest of my days were spent honing my skills as a recording engineer at the school I was attending. During these outings I would spend my down time between sets gathering my thoughts, keeping myself on track with projects small and large. It became an almost daily ritual, my Sunrise Review.

I found myself building on an idea I had in the forests south of Nashville, Tennessee – using natural spaces for their acoustics. The key to this was solar power as a quiet, renewable power source. I had watched first hand as multi-million dollar studios in Nashville went bankrupt as a result of a business model that was rapidly growing outdated. It became clear to me that overhead (rent, utilities, etc. . .) was the culprit. By using nature as a studio I eliminated most of these expenses.

There in the water, surrounded by dolphins, whales, rays and the occasional shark, I discovered that the world around me was an inspiration which was changing my view and experience of music. It was a moment of providence for me. I set about learning how photovoltaics worked and in the process learned about energy conservation. That information has been invaluable in this project and my everyday life.

The project came together with a focus on 3 concepts: Sustainability, Inspiration and Conservation. I’ve since released a handful of tracks which are inspired by the Pacific Ocean (an ongoing project) and am working on a project which is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, American Heritage.

Fair Trade Music

Fair Trade Music is a grassroots community organizing initiative. In the same way that Coffee, Cocoa and other producers were organized and supported with ethical purchasing campaigns, the goal of Fair Trade Music is to create a system of support for local musicians, enabling them to earn a living from their craft. The idea is simple; if you want to see live music, go to an Fair Trade Music venue to support the local musicians.

The initiative began in Portland, OR about 5 years ago. I have been involved for 4 of that. It developed out of a concern in the music community there that the financial support fans and concert goers were providing wasn’t making it to the musicians. The venues were taking a cut of tickets to cover their expenses and giving the performers what ever was left. Generally, well below minimum wage for their time. Part education, part advocacy, Fair Trade Music is a loose coalition of local interested parties and centers around the Musicians’ Union, The American Federation of Musicians.

As an international organization, the AFM has chapters all over the US and Canada. The goals of the organization also fit very closely with the changes that needed to be made. In fact, without their involvement the conversations that identified the needs and possible solutions would probably have never happened. This institutional support has enabled the idea of active, focused participation in the development of the local music community to spread to other cities around the US. At the moment there are campaigns underway in Seattle, San Francisco, and developing groups in Washington D.C., New Orleans and New York as well as signatory venues along the eastern seaboard and southwest.

Bright and Shiny

by Graham

I’ll admit, New Years Resolutions aren’t necessarily my thing. I’m all for self awareness and personal goals. I just find a once a year approach to them to be wholly inadequate. It is best, in my opinion, to adopt a regular approach to conscious and intentional growth, development and boundary pushing. Incorporating it into your life fully and integrally, rather than piecemeal and arbitrarily, is how real change happens in my experience. That said, life presents many opportunities which offer extra effect for our actions. Relating your personal intentions to the cultural celebration of a new calendar year is one of those. It’s certainly not a new phenomenon either. Throughout history, all the way back to the Babylonians, humans have been making commitments of personal improvement for various reasons (personal, religious, social, etc. . ).

At the point I find myself in this life I have adopted an approach which is not entirely functional. About 5 years ago I was given advice by someone very close and dear to me with regard to my approach to life. I took it. It has ultimately been the worst advice I have ever received.

“Be less intense”

I’m a pretty easy going fellow. I live a relatively stress free life by design. I’m also, as someone recently put it, “a smarty”. I have been my whole life. My High School ran out of math to teach me and I have continually been at the top of classes with relatively little effort on my behalf. Consequently, I have to challenge myself. When I stepped my intensity back, that is primarily how I achieved it. By taking less risks, smaller projects and accepting things I wouldn’t normally. As a result my happiness, wallet and personal relationships have suffered. I have put aside my passions for more mundane things to create a more easily socially acceptable persona. This is changing in 2013.

My New Years Resolution is easily put

“Be more intense

There is no list of individual things I would like to accomplish. Just the one behavior/mindset/mantra. I like to think big. Big thoughts become big goals. Big goals require big actions. As someone who rarely has partners on my projects those big actions become my responsibility and mine alone. It takes intense, direct actions to accomplish these goals. These accomplishments are a by product of my resolve.

Watch your face, it’s about to get bright!