On spotify, Taylor Swift and making a living as an independent musician in the digital age

I recently opened a royalty statement from BMI that flew into my email inbox. These emails are typically fun to open, even if the payment is only double digits. This time, the number $507.37 popped up and I shouted to my husband “Babe! We got $500 in royalties this quarter!” Obviously this is not a lottery win, but notably more than usual. I read the statement closely: $7.33 for one track with 71,911 spins on Pandora. Wow. That’s a lot of spins for an instrumental track from my first record that I wrote in 2002 while watching a Simpson’s episode. I was 20 and living in Portland renting the house my best friend grew up in. The song is called Evergreen House, Second Floor, named after a sign we found and placed on the front porch. I scrolled further down. The most-played track on Spotify had 493 plays, which garnered me a whopping $0.30. And then I found it: $446.18 for ONE song played on BBC radio. Thanks United Kingdom!  A figurative ocean could fit between those numbers. Why such a discrepancy?

The 20th century was the only time in the history of music where some musicians got very well paid for their work. Those days are over. I am not an economist. One might say a folksinger is opposite of an economist, but I have a reasonable grasp on supply & demand economics. Recorded music’s supply is far greater than the demand. Maybe this decline in payout is an easier pill to swallow for a musician of my generation who never had the opportunity to be paid well for their intellectual property?

Taylor Swift has pulled her entire catalog from Spotify, explaining that “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.” I agree with her sentiment that music has great value. In fact, music defines our lives. It is with us in our most dark and most euphoric moments. However, amazing recorded music is far from rare. As the only artist in 2014 to reach platinum, the lovely Ms. Swift has very little to lose from the lack of exposure that Spotify offers to someone like me. You can die from exposure. I wonder if iTunes offered her some sort bonus for this act of streaming treason? I doubt that this move by Taylor and her people has a lot to do with altruism or championing the struggling artist.

I would stand to lose quite a few new ears if I were to remove my songs from streaming services, and sharing music is my mission. There are new types of streaming services out there, like the Standing O Project who are offering a subscription streaming service where artists get 50% of the small monthly fee. Patreon offers fans the ability to subscribe to one particular artist and receive exclusive content. Another factor in all this mess is the amount of free content on the internet vying for our brainspace. Youtube has way more musical content than Spotify or Pandora, and I don’t hear anyone challenging them to pay up to the Performing Rights Organizations.

Yes, I very deeply wish that 71,991 plays on Pandora would pay my mortgage, as opposed to pay for 2 cups of coffee with a modest tip. However, my hope is that somebody heard that song and it defined the fuzzy borders of their life for just a moment, and made it more beautiful. That’s a pretty good consolation prize, just one that makes it clear that my husband and I need to look for jobs if we intend to keep our house and our two kiddos well fed. I most certainly wonder if I am devaluing music as a whole by keeping my songs on free streaming services, but at this point in the arc of music history I don’t feel like I have a choice. Rumi says “Why do you stay in jail when the door is wide open?” At this point the door is blocked by an avalanche of easily sharable mp3s. Until I can figure out how to get more songs on BBC radio, I am stuck here, broke and choosing every day anew to do the coolest job in the world, even when the pay sucks.

How we found Hopi Ophelia

I used to own a white 1998 Dodge Grand Caravan named Brenda Jo Stevens. Brenda had a plywood bed built in the back of her with locking compartments for gear, thanks to my daddy. I put about 150k miles on her before i sent her off with two Mexican dudes, who planned to fix her up and give her a new life south of the border.

I slept many incredibly cozy nights with Brenda Jo in Wallmart and Wafflehouse parking lots, as well as campgrounds and neighborhood streets. The sketchiest place we ever temporarily called home was in Yuma, AZ. I slept for about 5 hours before moving on. Yuma is not a city i would care to sleep in again.  I wish i had more photos of Brenda Jo and her entire set up, but my computer died after downloading a year’s worth of tour photos once. Such is life.

In 2007, i went on one particular tour with John Elliott and Howard on support, from Texas through the Southwest, up through California, to Portland and back to Austin. It was April, or May if i do recall clearly. We played in Taos for $150 and a couple of green chili & turkey burritos (oh, green chili, how i love thee) and then left right after the gig because Howard had read about ancient ruins outside of Phoenix, Arizona, which was where our gig was the following evening. He offered to drive through the night, he wanted to visit them that badly. John and i slept in the back, bumped about by the New Mexican roads, in bad need of repair. Brenda Jo arrived at 6am. I awoke to Howard “Hey Raina, i found a dog”. I shot straight out of bed and said “THAT’S MY DOG”. The dreamiest pink and orange sunrise on the horizon of dusty Arizona mountains, saguaro cactus flowers all in bloom.

A few months prior to this, i had begged a puppy off a homeless dude at the old BouldiN Creek Cafe in Austin. The guy was pretty messed up and that puppy was precious. I grew up with dogs, and i desperately wanted a four-legged tour buddy. My Chinese astrology sign is the Dog. I am a dog person, deep down and through. I named the puppy Motown and carried him around for a few weeks in a makeshift baby carrier. Later, i ran into the homeless guy again at the Kerrville Family Tuesday night hang, the open mic at Trophy’s; a truly shitty dive bar that no longer exists. He had been bereft without the pup and needed the him back. I acquiesced. Years later, i was to find out that the puppy was hit by a car and killed mere weeks after i gave him back.

Hopi was tied to a tree behind the cultural center near the ruins, where one acquires a parking pass to visit the ancient city. She was covered in ticks, thirsty and starving. She was so much more than happy to see us. We gave her water and some granola, which was all we had in the van at that moment. We spent about 2 hours pulling ticks off of her, they were in her ears, all over her back and even between the pads on her paws. After her makeshift grooming session, we put her in the van and her life as a FolkHound began. In Phoenix, i took her to the Vet who gave her a few shots and a clean bill of health and then barely charged me after i promised to take care of her. How could i not make such an easy promise? This dog was my soul mate, my familiar, my new best friend.

Hopi Ophelia Desert Rose has seen more states than most people, she has enough self control as to refrain from eating a burrito sitting unwrapped in the cup holder of a van, she is the more patient than any of us with her new little brothers, she is kind with everyone except squirrels.  The best road find ever.

epic hopi in arches

Fam at home

I am attempting to write my first blog post in almost a year with a sleeping 4 week old Benny in my lap, and a 3 year old Emmett on the couch nearby, sick and watching Dumbo. I have spent almost all of this year gestating our second son, writing very little, singing occasionally, and mostly contemplating the idea of going on the road with two little people.

I found touring with one dude under 12 months old sublimely easy and fun. In his first year, Emmett was the perfect road buddy, and then once opinions, mobility and toddlerhood became our reality, the road seemed impossible. And unfair. I couldn’t ask him to sit in his car seat for 5 hours a day and then arrive at a strange location anymore. So, i figured it was time to have another baby! As the younger child i feel siblings are crucial, if my parents had thought otherwise, i may not have been born. When i first knew i was pregnant in January, Andrew (the lucky one) was at the Grammy’s… I was so much more annoyed than i had the right to be, i knew something was off. So i did a few shows this year, announcing i was pregnant on the early side so that people didn’t think i had just been eating too many burritos…

Benny was born on October 8th into the bathtub of our 1972 suburban ranch house in South Austin. He is a little dreamboat, looks like his brother, nurses like a champ, and has cemented my inability to go on the road for a while. I am fine with that, in fact i knew it was the reality of the choices i have made. It is sad that one has to choose between babies and career, and like many women before me, babies have won out at this point. It’s not like there’s a folk office in town i can go to when the baby is old enough, THE ROAD is  like white people dreads; they’re not for everyone and your parents shouldn’t force them on you.

So for a while, to appease my nostalgia, i am going to post a weekly memory from my 9 years as a traveling folk saleswoman. I am fully aware that my attempts to deliver songs to the masses, one person and one coffeehouse at a time, were not in vain, and shall continue to be a worthwhile pursuit. I believe in Songs and i always will. However, raising these two sweet boys to be kind and conscientious young men is the pursuit that has won out.

At least, until they have the mental prowess to choose THE ROAD. Then, watch out.

 

 

Holiday Blessings

May you be blessed with exactly the kind of chocolate you like.

May you be blessed with a not-so-vicious fight with your sibling that reminds you of your childhood and how much you appreciate who they are and who you’ve become; how deep your love is.

May you be blessed with just enough health that you can achieve all the things you desire this holiday season and have a great excuse to get out of the activities you do not wish to attend.

May you be blessed with one gift that makes you wonder, even if for just a split second, if Santa might possibly exist.

May you be blessed with a profound, show-stopping gratitude for the true abundance in which you live. May you be blessed with someone with whom to share this abundance, or if not, the bravery to share it with strangers.

May you be blessed with a magical parking spot, a bit of blue sky through the clouds, a nip of Jack Daniels for your coffee, a sack of your favorite roasted nuts, your favorite movie on netflix, and the perfect piece of pie, be it vegan, gluten-free, or neither of those things.

May your children be blessed with the holiday spirit so that they experience no melt-downs, no squabbling fits, no food throwing and joy sparkling from their eyes like snowflakes glinting off your neighbor’s garish light display.

May you be blessed with a beautiful holiday that feeds the fire in your heart.

 

 

First days without baby

I am sitting in a parking lot in Ayer, MA. Maple, elderberry, nettle, and more are putting on their splendid autumn show. I love the leaves in the northeast. Emmett is with papa in California, this is the longest and farthest I have ever been from my baby. It is day 3 and there will be 12 days in all. It is quiet. I am sleeping well. I miss my little cyclone but I am very much enjoying this blessed stillness. The best part is, I don’t even feel guilty about enjoying this respite. Yes, I will admit to watching videos of Emmett for about a half hour last night, but I think this is good for everybody involved.

Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Strangers (-OR- Mamas, Tell Your Stories)

When i was a little girl, my Mama would tell my big sister and me stories about her childhood to help us go to sleep. They ranged from funny to slightly macabre. That time when she was gifted 2 new barrettes for her hair and her maid said to her “If you lose those, don’t bother to come home”. She promptly lost her shiny hair clips and stood in the bushes in their front yard for hours until her father came home around dinner time. Once at a family picnic, my Mother who was youngest of all the cousins, was trapped in an attic with hundreds of dead birds after a game of hide-and-seek gone awry. She pounded on the lone window and watched the picnic below unfold in mime until her mother realized she was gone. My Mother had a ticket to Woodstock and became violently ill the hour before her ride came, and was absolutely fine an hour after he left. I would listen, enraptured, and dream of her as a child, living through these moments. I always pictured her with her most beautiful grownup face on a little girl’s body. I thought i would never have such interesting and fantastic things to tell my children.

I could not be more grateful to my Mama for sharing these things with us. She does so now, in poem form and these books are like bibles to me. They are the chronicles of my most important female figure, the story of her life. I’m not sure she knew that these stories would imbue both her daughters with a love of words, but they did. More importantly, they showed us that our Mother was more than just a cooker of healthy dinners, a double-knotter of shoe laces, an editor of sloppy school work, and a keeper of house; she was a living breathing human being just like us. Not the annoying parental super hero figure, but a person with all the messy heartbreak and confusion that goes along with that incarnation. Upon the future time of her leaving us (which i hope is not any day soon), i revel in the fact i will have truly known my Mother.

In my work as a songwriter, I feel i am allowed to express myself in a way that is necessary to my health and wholly unusual in this climate of the self congratulatory 40 character long facade. I am writing broken cosmic letters in rhyme and melody that spew out my sadness/joy like dandelion florets. It doesn’t matter where they land. It doesn’t matter if they find purchase in some dark soil and germinate. It only matters that they are let go and fly away. My Father writes wonderful songs and he gave me the tools and the know-how, but my Mother gave me permission to tell my stories.

I am now a Mother to a cyclone of a boy. He is beautiful, runs faster than water falls, he is oak-strong and often kind. It has struck me how important it is to refer to myself as “I”. To say “It hurts me when you hit”, “I don’t like it when you scream”, “I love you” instead of in the third person, like “Mama” is some sort of character outside of our equation. Take away the humanity and “Mama” is just an invincible care-taking robot. “I” am a woman, a mother, a mistake-maker, a tired person who bruises when you throw choo-choos at her face. “I” have stories to tell you, young man. They may shock you and confuse you and awaken you to the fact that your Mother had a very complicated life before you came through her and made it even more so. Little boy, i want you to know who i am. I want you to see a woman with a strong sense of self and vocation. I want you to see all women as intricate novels, wrought out of lessons hard-won, triumphs and disappointments. I want you to see me and know me. I will never hide from this or shirk the responsibility of giving you my stories. In turn, i hope you listen.

Bug&mom by schmidt

photo by Danny Schmidt

Concerning the Raina & Rebecca October Tour-nado:

As to where Rebecca Loebe and i are playing between Oct 16th-26th and things that have happened in these places on tours past:

*Oct 16th: Boston, MA at Club Passim. One time at a gig in Boston Becca ended up dancing drunk on the bar. I don’t think we are allowed back at Toad.

*Oct 17th: Folk In the Chapel in Norwich, CT. One time in CT at Steve & Jen’s house I dropped my tuner right off my headstock straight into a glass of water. Then Becca and i got in the hot tub and broke it. it was a cold tub. I also rode Jen’s horse the next and i broke that too, the horse turned out to be lame. Sorry Roland!

*Oct 18th: Fox Run House Concert near Boston. see Oct 16th for cute Boston anecdote.

*Oct 19th: Courthouse Concert, Merrick, NY (that’s Long Island). One time Becca and i played on Long Island, someone threw $100 in the tip jar and we ran to the ocean the next morning. it was beautiful. Thanks Mike Stein!

*Oct 20th: Slippers & Socks, Syracuse, NY (email: oldsolenergy@gmail.com). One time in Upstate we played at Bard College and laughed so hard we couldn’t stop in the middle of the show. And we made the gig really pay by taking all sorts of food from the cafeteria! It turns out that the Quality Inn in Kingston, NY is not appropriately named.

*Oct 21st: Rockwood Music Hall, NYC. We were in NYC the night before Halloween in 2010. We both got super drunk and walked around in the rain til 3am. Becca was dressed up as Octomom. She had uncontrollable hiccups. We got to Dina’s house and Becca fell down on the couch and went to sleep. Mike Meadows has video proof.

*Oct 22nd: Focus Concerts, Rockville, MD. Yet another instance where we were playing a bar in MD with the most delicious food ever, but the audience is only concerned with hooking up (lots of white baseball hats, short dresses and fake tans). We started laughing about 2 hours into our 3 hour set and laughed through the next hour. Could not stop. Tears flowed. The duck was incredible.

*Oct 23rd: Dapogny House Concert, Falls Church, VA (email: johndapogny@yahoo.com). One time in Virginia in West Virginia, i almost died in a snowstorm with Aj Roach. Becca was on tour with Robby Hecht. We met up a lot and played shows as a foursome. Becca and i missed eachother, even though we love those boys. We had less of our usual thrift store shopping and sushi.

*Oct 24th: Hamlin House Concert, Washington DC (email: lauerk@gmail.com). One time in DC Becca and i went to the Washington Monument. That thing is funny enough. There is video…

*Oct 25th: Godfrey Daniels, Bethlehem, PA. We once played a college booking conference in the middle of PA. The packet of information they gave us was covered in swirly 1960’s era graphics and it said “Peace Love & Programming”. FAIL. We Also spend a lot of time in my sister’s apartment eating her delicious foods and watching her giant TV.

*Oct 26th: Private Concert, Hopewell, NJ. One time in New Jersey Becca and i spent almost all our hard-earned tour money on yarn and needles. I knitted some hats. Becca knitted some socks. We felt very productive.

That is all i can remember at the moment, but we sure are excited to come up to the Northeast and play songs together for YOU. All dates and info are at www.rainarose.com & www.rebeccaloebe.com. Hopefully you can join us for one of these shows, they will inevitably include harmonies, embarrassing stories, and tons of laughter.
xo, rr

The Dream Is Over, You Just Have To Carry On

Tonight i cut the shit out of my thumb with a cheese grater. Not just any grater, but a fancy Microplane cheese grater that my foodie sister gave me. This thing is as sharp as the bored guy at a Mensa meeting. I nearly had a complete meltdown, but managed to steer myself back on the course of dinner making. It was either that or me and the almost-2-year-old start screaming and writhing on the floor. Papa was at a rehearsal, so i had no choice. My right hand has been covered in eczema for about 6 months. It came out of the clear blue and has made finger picking the guitar, doing the dishes & washing my hair incredibly painful. So this unfortunate (and totally minor) accident felt like 100 papercuts bathed in lemon juice.

I have a generally sunny disposition. I am a glass-is-half-full-but-let’s-just-go-get-something-delicious-to-fill-it-with kind of lady. I can see the blessing and meaning in most ship wreck situations, but lately i’ve been up every night worried about The Ominous Future. Climate change, GMO, the bees, the Koch Brothers, Nuclear Weaponry, Natural Disasters, the plastic island in the middle of the Pacific, the list goes on and on. I carry the weight of these things like birds nesting in my hair and i feel completely powerless as to the job of their untanglement. Is there some higher purpose to these dead end roads? “God is a concept by which we measure our pain”. What is the point in eating 5 servings of organic vegetables a day if the beautiful glaciers are melting and the ozone is thinning and there will be no clean water left in 2 years anyway? Is this all an exercise in futility? AHHHHH!!!

Is it all about the minute moments of love? Is it about the new tenants in our birdhouse? The success of our small victory garden? a new song, an evening of laughter with friends, the scent of the baby’s skin, your lover’s kiss. This is the house that love built whicc fear will shake down to the very foundation if you simply open the door and let it in. Is God a concept by which measure not only our formidable pain and confusion, but also our staggering joy? “The dream is over, what can I say? the Dream is Over, yesterday”. Most days on which i wake up breathing, in a safe home, with plenty to eat, i think these moments are enough to keep the grateful train on it’s tracks. Enough to keep the hungry sharks of pointlessness from dragging me into an apathetic watery grave. Enough to keep the baby fed and think about making him a sibling. Maybe my blessing is that i have the affluent luxury of worrying about the big picture stuff, while some people worry every day about how they will feed themselves. Not to say we are exempt from the economic struggle, but if we ran out of food tomorrow, our community would feed us. They have in the past.

So am i left with on this day where i feel frustrated and small, David with a slingshot against a most gargantuan foe? I hold on to my hopes like a life preserver. I cling to the notion that humanity is mostly good at the core. You clear past the brush and garbage and the sadness and there is a red heart beating inside every chest that wants to love and be loved. My dearest held hope is that my great-grandchildren will lead long healthy lives on this Eden of a planet. That the governments of the world will somehow un-corrupt themselves. That we realize the great volcano of love from which we all sprang and start behaving like family. “You may say i’m a dreamer, but i’m not the only one”.

Happy Birthday John Lennon.

Trampampoline

I sat and bounced and lounged on a trampoline for about an hour and a half with Emmett and his lovely friends today. They chased in circles, tumbled, tripped, wrestled, belly laughed and no one shed a tear. That’s a win in my book. Happy 2nd birthday Willy!

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Just another day

What an incredible thing. My open letter to three beautiful musicians has been shared over 200 times on the Facebook. When I was composing that letter (in the shower with a toddler, trying to get us both as clean as possible and make sure nobody drowns) I had no idea it would be seen by so many eyes. I am humbled by the support.
Today Emmett and I went and had coffee at our favorite shop. We played in the dirt and drank a cappuccino, he and I respectively. We watched Sesame Street. We played in the backyard and watered the plants. We ate casserole. We read Yertle The Turtle and now here I am, appreciating the first moment of solitude. Andrew is in New York until Monday playing with our dear friend Carrie Elkin. I’ve been really hoping to write a song this weekend, but my hands have been too full with groceries, dishes, vacuuming, dog, and whatnot. When I was touring full time I had fantasies about how wonderful it might be to have a home and a baby and sit still. It’s, of course, not the Sally Homemaker dream that I worked over in my brain. But nothing is. Reality doesn’t run like a movie script. It’s dirtier, more annoying, and slower. It’s got more moments of joyous motes of light than I had ever imagined. It’s got less sleep, more sickness and too many cookies. It’s got yelling and laughter.
I am so grateful for where the days have taken me. For the two sides of the globe I get to be, mother and musician.