Monday, July 21, 2008

Most Common Mistakes Made by Independent Musicians and How to Fix Them

By Guest Blogger: Producer, Greg Hansen

You’re a singer or songwriter. You have talent, but what do you do with it? Let’s assume you have managed to get funding for an independent recording-what pitfalls do you want to avoid?

Here are 6 tips to help you as you embark on your journey as an artist.

Mistake #1: Not listening to your audience when writing your material.

Solution: Think of THEM, not YOU. Know why you are writing, and to whom. Write to uplift people, and not for selfish-expression. If your work requires substantial explanation, you have missed the boat. Know your audience and take them where they (or you) want them to go with your talents. You are already unique, use that for other’s good.

Mistake #2: Making your recordings unperformable in a live setting.

Solution: It is possible to adapt even the most sequenced techno hip hop tune to a live setting, but making it absolutely unperformable will be like shooting yourself in the foot. Though this requirement should not limit you in taking advantage of the array of digital possibilities available, bear in mind that, if it is good, someday someone will want to perform it.

Mistake #3: Getting stuck in production. Endlessly tweaking vocals, changing arrangements, experimenting in the studio on the 5% that will only matter to you, and not your audience.

Solution: This is a huge problem. Is it better to spend extra money on special mastering instead of promotion? Not if your funds are limited. Have a budget and stick to it. Realize that 95% of what you do will work, and that extra 5% you spend diddling around will not matter to the audience.

Mistake #4: Bad cover art.

Solution: Your CD cover is the first line of advertising for your work. It should reflect tastefully what the album is, and why it should be bought, at a glance. It should be professional and compelling. Instead of using Aunt Jane’s cousin who draws well, get a designer with a track record in the music industry. A good starting point can be found by looking at the list of winning designers on

Mistake #5: Not getting distribution.

Solution: Distribution comes in two formats: digital downloads and physical cd’s in stores. You need both. For people to buy your album, it should be readily available. More outlets mean more sales. Get into as many outlets as you can. If you can’t get distribution, you may have one of two problems-your album is not marketable, or you haven’t found the right distributor for your work.

Mistake #6: Getting distribution but not budgeting for promotion.

Solution: Putting your music on iTunes and in stores is meaningless without promotion. Promotion and touring are the holy grail of music. It does no good to have your work in many outlets if you are not driving people to them.

Budget for promotion. Maintain an active e-mail list; buy promotion and advertising from reputable companies. Look for the most bang for the buck. Then perform, perform, perform-anywhere you can. Keep in touch with your fans. Get radio and internet presence if you can. Send your cd to media outlets and follow up. Most of all-don’t give up! Keep doing it long after the first release. Eventually, it will pay off.

Greg Hansen is an award-winning record producer and arranger. To learn more about Greg, visit Greg has endorsed as an excellent promotional tool for independent musicians.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fiddlesticks: From Sea to Shining Sea

Maybe you’re one of the unlucky people who’ve never heard of FiddleSticks. The amazing Award winning family Celtic band who’s performed all over the world, including the 2002 Olympics, and put out eight albums since 1998. Well let me tell you what…once you’ve seen them perform live you will never forget them!

You can catch a small sampling of their Award winning Celtic Style on the yourLDSNeighborhood Jukebox, in the country/folk and inspirational sections, or buy their albums online at (for the best deal) or at,, and

From their website we learn a little more about their background:
FiddleSticks is the Davis family folk group that performs folk songs and traditional tunes from the Celtic lands, from England, and from America. Our band is made up of three sisters, Rebecca, Kathryn, and Elizabeth, and their dad Marco Davis. Marco's wife is Andi. Featured instruments include fiddle, flutes, cello, bodhran (Irish drum), guitar, and vocals.

We've made eight recordings, "A FiddleSticks Sampler" (1998), "Playing Favorites" (1999) and a Christmas CD called "Cold Fusion" (2000), "Time and Again" (2001), "Cat and the Fiddle" (2002), "Return to Nauvoo" (2004), "Ampersand" (2006), and "Farewell to Nauvoo" (2006). Our music is a mix of traditional dance music, together with original pieces by the group's young composer (Kate), as well as plenty of "storytelling" songs of life, love, and laughter. A typical performance also includes a few set of Klezmer (Jewish), continental European, and Mormon Pioneer music.

We got our start playing at the Maryland Renaissance Fair in Annapolis under the direction of the girls' mother, Kira. We have performed for various festivals, concert series, civic organizations and private parties throughout throughout the Mountain West, California, Maryland and New England. We did a vacation/concert tour in Holland and Italy in summer 2000. In 2003 we did a reverse pioneer trek concert tour from Utah back across Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa, ending with a week long engagement in Nauvoo, Illinois. 2004 took us to Japan for concerts around Toyko and Nagoya, and to the Pacific Northwest. In spite of school and work we still manage to do over fifty public performances a year, including concerts and school programs for the 1998, 2000, and 2002 Utah Performing Arts Tour.

~ Fiddlesticks

FiddleSticks is the combined talents of Mark Davis (guitar and “Bodhran” (or Irish drum) and his three daughters Liz (cello), Katie (fiddle and vocals) and Rebecca (flute, whistle, recorder and vocals). From time to time the talents of Mark’s wife Andi, who plays the hammer dulcimer, and any one of the instrumental talents of Mark’s three son-in-laws can also be seen joining in when they perform.

It can be hard to catch them live anymore, since the four of them are living from “Sea to Shining Sea” quite literally, from Hawaii to Boston and in between. Their live shows are limited to one or two annual “reunion concerts” nowadays. But their recorded music remains as popular as ever, and they’re even planning some new records. Currently they are working on two very cool album concepts.

First though, it helps to know that since Liz is currently enrolled at the “Berklee (yes that’s spelled right) College of Music in Boston” she will be mixing the separate tracks submitted by each family member sent to her all recorded wherever they are currently living. I just love modern music making.

The group’s current recording project, being spearheaded by Liz, is to collect pioneer lullabies and other storytelling poems, and write and arrange music in FiddleSticks old-time and Celtic Style. Becca is collecting (or writing) the lyrics, Liz will write the tunes, and Katie’s in charge of arrangements… though they’ll probably all do some of each. They’re interested in any old favorite pioneer era poems or lullabies people might have – if you have any ideas, let them know!

Rebecca meanwhile has been talking about producing a FiddleSticks album that fuses their classic Celtic style with many of the traditional musical sounds reflecting where in the world they have lived including Hawaii, where Becca now lives, South Africa, where Katie recently served an LDS mission, Netherlands, where Liz was born, and possibly Appalachia, since Katie’s now living in Tennessee. I can’t wait for those albums to be made!

I remember the first time I ever heard them play live. It was at their home the day after Christmas for their annual “Boxing Day”. No, we didn’t spend the evening watching a boxing match between the likes of Tyson and Holyfield. “Boxing Day”, Mark taught me, is traditionally the day after Christmas when the English would “box up” the food from the night before and give to their servants along with the servant gifts. However, at the Davis home it’s when FiddleSticks shares their gift of music with their guests and where the guests can share their musical gifts as well. My favorite part of the evening was Katie singing “Devil Went Down to Georgia” in between her screamin’ Fiddle licks…AWESOME! Maybe not your traditional Holiday song but I’ve never had more fun the day after Christmas in my whole life. It sure beat fighting the crowds at the after Christmas sales.

I also remember when FiddleSticks, received their Pearl Award for “Best Contemporary Instrumental Recording” because I was a fan in the audience screaming with excitement. However, Mark remembers it, not just for the excitement of winning but since he hadn’t really planned on taking home an award…he wore flip flops with his Tuxedo! That meant of course a slightly embarrassing walk for him to the stage, but no worries…I didn’t notice and I seriously doubt he started a new grunge fashion trend.

So, make sure to check out their wonderful Celtic sound and consider adding their music to your growing collection. Do as Mark’s daughters do as soon as they get a new album…rip it onto I-Tunes, or do as Mark does and enjoy looking at the album cover to cover, but either way you won’t be disappointed.

Till next time,
Julie Keyser

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Barry Hansen: Writing the Songs of Life

Most know Barry Hansen, for his wonderful voice, which is featured on numerous albums as well as his own album “My Soul Hungered”, but few know him as “Barry the songwriter”. Yup . . . just like me, he is in the class of slightly sanity deprived human beings who thrive on . . . not just the written word . . . BUT putting together words that rhyme just to tell a story in four and half minutes or less while set to music.

So, other than the fact that Barry has a wonderful voice and is a Pearl-award nominated recording artist…and I’m NOT, we have a lot in common…when it comes to songwriting anyway.

Here's what I pulled from his website about him:
"Barry Hansen grew up in Northwest Washington and studied voice at Brigham Young University, also singing with BYU's Vocal Jazz Ensemble. As a studio vocalist, Barry is featured on several inspirational albums, mostly from the Inspirational Music Showcase record label. As a songwriter, he has recorded two songs co-written with his brother, record producer Greg Hansen. A member of the Faith Centered Music Association, Barry was a 2004 FCMA Pearl Award nominee for Studio Vocalist, and a 2006 nominee for Male Vocalist of the Year. He performed in the televised 2003 and 2004 Pearl Awards broadcasts. As a freelance graphic designer, he is also a four-time Pearl Award nominee for Album Design, winning the award in 2004. Barry recorded his first solo album, My Soul Hungered, in 2004. He hopes to release a follow up album in the summer of 2007. Barry frequently performs locally and around the country, singing both inspirational and contemporary ballads. He has traveled throughout the United States both as a singer and a public speaker. "
Both of us, I found out, began to take seriously the craft of songwriting in our 30’s while raising our kids…he has eight! We grew up in the same era, so we were both inspired by the great songwriters of the 70’s. Going back to college was not an option for either of us and so learning through other mediums, outside the walls of higher academia, became a must. But as Barry told me, even though it’s the longer way of learning the craft we have “a lot more life experience to draw from in writing songs!”

You can listen to one of my favorite Barry Hansen songs, co-written with his brother Greg, called One Step Closer in the country section of the yourLDSNeighborhood Jukebox. He’s got other great songs you can listen to and vote on as well in the jukebox.

So now, without further adieu, please read below the enlightened answers to a few questions I asked this truly gifted songwriter.

Tell me, what it is that has drawn you to songwriting?

Well, I've always appreciated memorable songs. I listened to John Denver, the Carpenters, Simon and Garfunkel, Bread and others when I was young. I had a companion on my mission who wrote music and I wrote lyrics to a few of his songs. I took a poetry class at BYU and enjoyed the way words could have double and triple meanings and nuances. I was attracted to advertising while at BYU partly because I enjoyed great headlines that were clever and had multiple levels of meaning. Writing songs was always in the back of my mind, but I didn't start until around 1999.

When I moved to Utah and started singing professionally in 2001, I was around a lot of great songwriters and began to think more in terms of "that would make a great hook" when I'd hear or think of a catchy phrase. Five or six years ago I was designing an album cover for Let Us Go Forth, a missionary-themed album for Sounds of Zion. As the designer I was privy to the song requests that went out to songwriters.

One day while driving on I-15 a chorus started coming to me, both words and music at the same time. I wrote it out and took it to my brother, Greg, who added his magic and made it a real song. We recorded a demo and it ended up as the title track on the album.

Since then I've started dozens of songs and even finished a few of them! I've read books, listened carefully to great songs, attended classes and followed the advice of my more-experienced co-writer (Greg) to try to learn the art of songwriting. Something that really motivates me to write is the desire to be more than a singer; to create something that is uniquely mine, not just my interpretation. My first album had only one original song on it; half or more on my next album will be original.

How do you go about the process for yourself? Are you the 'plunk a tune down and write to it' type or 'lyrics first tune second' (more my style) type?

I haven't yet settled into a certain pattern. I've written both ways, and sometimes come up with both lyrics and tune at the same time. The chorus comes first, starting with the main hook idea and building out from there. Most often the lyrics come before the tune, although I do have a tune to which I haven't written lyrics yet. I'm stronger at lyrics than tunes, which works well because Greg's the other way around. Sometimes I only write lyrics and Greg writes the music, but usually we both work on both. I find it easier to come up with verses if I have a tune in mind, even if Greg changes it later.

Sometimes a song will come quickly, especially if it's based on real experience. I have a lot of stories I share when I present to youth and other groups, and I've been taking those stories and turning them into songs. But sometimes songs are really hard to crank out. It requires a lot of time and that's hard to come by with a full-time business and eight children. So my process is usually too slow for my liking. But I'm getting faster.

Your brother obviously has had opportunities to work with some pretty big names in the industry, are there any people in the commercial music world that you've enjoyed working with and why?

I've enjoyed working with all of them. A whole new group of friends opened up to me when I got into the business. I'm constantly in awe of those who started much earlier in life than I did and whose talents and skills far exceed mine. I've especially enjoyed traveling and performing with the artists from Sounds of Zion's Inspirational Music Showcase. Steve & Johanne Perry, Tammy Robinson, Tanya Barkdull, Dave & LaRene Tinney, Michael Dowdle, Jessie Clark Funk, Todd McCabe, April Moriarty, and Rebecca Lopez have all been great to work with. I've also enjoyed working with songwriters and new artists both in the role of studio vocalist and as album designer. Engineers such as Steve Lerud and Guy Randle have been great to work with, as well as Earl Madsen and Doyl Peck at Sounds of Zion, and of course my own relatives, Greg and Bev Hansen. The FCMA has been wonderful to be a part of. I've never met more friendly, generous, down-to-earth people than those in our area's music business. They've all been helpful and kind to me as I've tried to learn the ropes in the music business, and their level of talent is amazing.

Who is your "songwriting Idol"? Mine is John Denver because he could paint such a wonderful picture both lyrically and musically. I have about a third of his talent though...if that.

He's great. I don't have one single idol. I really like some of the songs Michael Bublé and his co-writers are putting out lately. I like Brad Paisley. I've admired Steven K. Jones' work for the CES program (he wrote the lyrics for the title track of my first album, My Soul Hungered). Sam Payne, Cherie Call, Kenneth Cope and Hilary Weeks have influenced me a lot. Of course, I feel silly naming great songwriters because I'm such a newbie at it. But I hope to be closer to their level someday.

Since school is not an option right now for you, in what ways are you gaining more education for yourself when it comes to songwriting? And finally, what would you suggest for those who are in similar shoes as yours when it comes to increasing their skills as both a writer and musician without formal schooling?

In my late thirties, when my wife told me to stop dreaming, move to Utah and get serious about music, I knew I had a lot to learn. I'd visited Greg and accompanied him on a few recording sessions, so I had an idea of the skills real professionals have. I considered going back to college to study MDT (Music Dance Theatre) or Media Music, but that wasn't a realistic option. One major weakness was theory, something my voice teachers at BYU had always tried to teach me, but I was only interested in singing then. So I started with theory/piano lessons for a year before we moved to Utah, and then when we were here I took voice lessons from teachers who taught BYU's MDT students. I studied theory from the big book that all Tabernacle Choir hopefuls use to pass the theory test that's part of the audition process. I listened to the radio and analyzed what made songs great. I interviewed a songwriter and listened to or read interviews of other songwriters. I've attended FCMA (Faith Centered Music Assoc.) workshops by Rob Honey and Lowell Alexander. And of course, I've tried to write as often as I can. I've written for album song requests, a songwriting contest, and for my own album. Having a record producer/composer/arranger for a brother has been a big help. I pay attention to his feedback. I'm interested in looking into songwriting associations such as NSAI (Nashville Songwriter Association Int.) I can only squeeze in so much, which is frustrating when I think of the progress I could make if I had the luxury of being a full-time student again. But now I've got two kids of my own at college and several still at home, so I have many demands on my time and resources and I have to be careful with both.

At the end of the day, I've found that much of what can be learned in college can be learned privately. The same teachers, the same books and the same workshops are available to anyone. It just takes longer.

And there endeth the interview with Barry Hansen. Take Care 'til we meet on this blog again!

~ Julie Keyser