Advice Column - April, 1999:
||Advice from Former Reviewer, Ben Ohmart
Dear Ben, We have raccoons eating Our garbage and herds of deer nibbling the shrubbery daily. You might like Oregon. I'm a "not so lonely" singer songwriter in the Siskiyous, loving the whole process, who could use some advice and maybe a future review. I guess you'd call them "Specialty Songs" and I'm not sure how to market. Everything from "Samba Kitty" to "Chat Room Elvis" and the ultimate personal growth musical, "Finding Your Inner Cat." All together they would make up an interesting but somewhat wacky CD. Should I find an agent? Record a bunch? Enter a Songwriting Competition? Continue jumping up and down in my studio? Thanks for listening.
-- LinaRae Smith in Snowy Ashland
Thanks for writing. You're the first advice in my advice column!
First off, I say go for it. Whatever it is you want to do - go for it. If you don't go for your dream, whatever it is, you may wonder 'if' for a long time. Even if you fail, have fun. The whole point of music - and life - is to have fun. If you are always doubting, it's going to take up a lot of time and energy that won't be replaced. You only have a limited amount of time in this world. Do some thinking on how much you want to spend on what's going to make you happiest.
2nd, your titles sound damn funny, and I'd be pleased to review stuff like that. Being a mainly comedy writer myself, I love this genre. But be warned. It's damned difficult. Comedy in the States is still the bastard art. Comedy doesn't win awards; it isn't taken 'seriously'. There are exceptions.
But your best bet is study the music market and look for gaps. This is what Frank Zappa did. And he did it successfully. Find a dividing line between genres and see if there's anyone around who's filling the gap between them. For instance, there's a new band called Apologetix which does comedy Christian songs. They take tunes people already know and construct new, positive lyrics, and play the songs like the original artists. For instance, 'Hotel California' has become 'Hotel Can't Afford Ya' about Mary and Joseph's Christmas night sleeping arrangements.
There's an audience for everything. The trick is finding it. And finding an audience that isn't bogged down in competition. Think creatively. Ask friends. Finding your audience is the hardest - and the thing that takes time. But believing in yourself is the key. The lock is having fun with it.
Write up some of the cleaner songs, perform them at any local bookstore you've got. Put a RA or mp3 up on the internet, and spread the word for feedback. Join a few songwriter groups who'll tell you Honestly what they think rather than your mom who'll say 'that's nice'. (I have one of those.) If you're writing mainly for yourself, you might want to do all this Anyway. After all, you're going to pump time and money into this venture. Do you have the proper home recording equipment? If you're thinking about lashing out cash on studio sessions, don't. Not until you get some feedback on your material. It'll help shape it into better stuff. Because a studio's damn costly, my dear.
An agent? No no. Not yet. Just do a lot of home recordings. Don't enter any contests until you get a bit of feedback or until you're solidly happy with what you're coming up with. As some song MUST've said at some point - please yourself. Then go and try to please the rest.
And check around this site for leads on other tips, other people to ask. Advice is easy to give. Harder to take. It's easier to be a critic than to write a perfect song. After all, what is perfection? If it makes you feel all warm and gurgly, it is Your perfection. Some people like the Spice Girls. Some HATE them. So what?