music biz

Limericks!

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It was Mike’s 40th birthday and the surprise party invitation specified NO GIFTS – instead we were requested to write a dirty limerick in honor of the birthday boy – “the filthier, the better”. What fun! We anticipated hearing everyone else’s poetry at the party, then got inspired and couldn’t seem to stop writing our own – no less than 14 smutty gems, which we printed up into a little pamphlet just for the occasion!

My husband had met Mike while working one summer at Disneyland and they’d become best friends. When I met Mike 6 years later, I immediately adored him – in all regards, he was terrific; a great sense of humor, a superb musician, friendly, confident, ambitious, upbeat – he radiated warmth and positivity like the sun! He was a swinging drummer and played percussion equally well – his license plate read “MR TIMPS” and he’d been making real headway in his career in the studio scene. He was also VERY popular with the ladies and always a blast to hang out with since he enjoyed so many things, like the L.A. Dodgers, burgers and malts, listening to new music…  so it was easy to come up with line after line singing his praises.

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When Mike had initially brought his bride-to-be over to our midtown apartment, it was obvious she didn’t like us very much – she sort of sneered at everything and, as a sales rep for a book publisher, told us in no uncertain terms how poorly we were running our jingle company. Well, if Mike loved her, that was good enough for us! And we DID make every effort to engender her friendship, though it was an uphill battle.

We were especially intrigued by this party invitation since five years previous we had received a Dear John letter out-of-nowhere, informing us that Mike and his wife would no longer be friends with us because we were so fat, they were afraid we would soon die and they didn’t want to be around to watch anything like that, so… Sayonara, baby!  The timing of this letter couldn’t have been worse, since we were going through a regrouping period of our lives, having just lost a cherished father as well as our jingle company dreams and were reeling from grief on both the personal and professional fronts. We had never contacted Mike and his wife after receiving that letter and so we wondered if perhaps they had reconsidered their decision to kick us to the curb and now might want to be friendly again?

When we got to the party, we saw a HUGE pile of gifts from all of the other guests on a table… and somewhat sheepishly added our nicely printed booklet of limericks to the pile. After the candles had been blown out, it was presents-opening time and we watched Mike open his lavish gifts (none of which contained limericks, of course!)… until he got to ours! He was speechless. WE were speechless. Everyone was speechless. Then “they all moved away from us on the Group W bench”, as Arlo Guthrie said in his song “Alice’s Restaurant”.

We’d been set up, and the limericks were the final nails in the coffin of this friendship. We beat a hasty retreat and drove home, and that was that.

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But here, for your delectation, 20 years after the fact, are a few of the less smutty birthday limericks created for the occasion:

Rome  AllegNonTrop

piatti     PiattiLim

Perc.   drumsticks_by_crystalcracker-d3lc5di

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music biz

Getting OUT of the Jingle Business

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I can’t remember when I didn’t want to make my living in the music business.  After struggling to read my illegible scores with their atrocious hen-scratchings, professor Hale Smith encouraged me to learn music copying as a survival skill, so that’s one thing I made sure to study under his tutelage. My plan for after-graduation: become a music copyist in NYC while working on finding gigs as a composer/arranger/songwriter/piano player/singer.  It might not be possible now, but it was possible in 1972, and that’s what I did.

In addition to playing piano bars and off-off-Broadway shows, transcribing lead sheets for publishers, singing demos (while writing my original songs in my off-hours), I began copying for jingle writers and was struck by how rich they were and how much fun they appeared to be having. In no other professional setting did I see grown men dancing with each other during recorded playbacks! I already LOVED the studio, but add the fast-pace of jingle production, the variety of styles and genres from session to session, and how incredibly versatile and expert the musicians and singers were, nailing their parts on the first run thru? It was heaven as far as I was concerned.

Though it took a little while to break into it, the jingle business was very good to me; I got to work with the creme-de-la-creme musicians in state-of-the-art recording studios, earning decent union wages and residuals (plus pensions, thank you AFofM, AFTRA and SAG!). My fast, legible hand and accuracy were valued and rewarded. I got spoiled – I had to trade in my upright piano for a grand because I could hear the difference and had gotten used to a better-sounding instrument. I made unforgettable friends among the musicians, singers, engineers and clients, and had the thrill of hearing my scores come to life. Sure, not every ad campaign was artistically a gem, but it was SO gratifying to see a spot I’d worked on running on TV or to hear myself singing one of my jingles while waiting in the dentist’s chair.

Best of all, through working in the jingle business, I met and married the love of my life. Soon after the wedding we started our own company – http://www.harriswolframmusic.com/index.html

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– and made hundreds of sales calls every day, trying to develop a clientele at advertising agencies.  It was challenging and also a lot of fun at times. Other times were frustrating as we learned the compromises of running a business; how hiring a sales rep who has only had experience in the non-profit sector doesn’t work, how hiring an experienced advertising guy who refuses to USE his connections that he’d promised doesn’t work, how offering a coupon for “$1,000 off your next jingle” does NOT work!

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In the middle of our 3rd year in business, we were getting a lot of phone calls from students at Eastman and other music conservatories, wanting to know how THEY could break into the field. After one especially long call, when I should have been cold-calling to generate more work for our company, my husband asked, “why are you spending so much time telling people how to do it? Why are you giving it away for free? Say, why don’t we write a book and get PAID for sharing what we’ve learned the hard way?”  So we wrote and self-published GETTING INTO THE JINGLE BUSINESS.

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We had 500 copies printed at the offset printers downstairs from our office/apartment/studio, collated the pages and staple-bound them ourselves, then had the offset guys trim our books. We took out an ad in the union paper and after we’d sold half of them via mail order, we began handing them to potential clients at meetings, saying, “See? You think you don’t know us, but we wrote the book on the jingle business!” – a winning sales pitch if there ever was one.  (well, less embarrassing than that $1,000 off coupon!)

When our client list began to thin out, we took a couple “geographical cures” before facing the fact that our company was in serious trouble. We scheduled an appointment at S.C.O.R.E. to get advice from a retired business professional. Because we were driven and rewarded by the actual creation of music more than the bottom-line, it was difficult to explain our situation. When we showed him our business plan, financials, demo reel, full-color poster, ads we’d taken out in trade magazines and then described our then 7 year odyssey in the jingle jungle, he literally laughed us out of his office, saying, “you’re not in business!  You’re PLAYING AT being in business!”

We took a hiatus to regroup and after a couple years got back into jingles – my husband freelancing as an arranger/producer for other music houses while I extracted parts from his scores and played piano bar gigs around town. We had some profitable years again and, looking back on our beginnings, I penned one of the short MUSIC HORROR STORIES about those compromises I referred to earlier.

Music Horror

It really was fun while it lasted. The advertising music industry began to fall apart when agencies chose to ignore the unions and started licensing “hot” and sometimes cheap library tracks willy-nilly in lieu of creating custom underscores and jingles for their clients. In the 1970s-80s there had been at least 150 jingle companies in NYC and between 45 – 70 jingle companies in Chicago, not to mention other cities around the country. Some were one-man or mom-&-pop operations like ours, while others had large staffs of writers, producers and support personnel. These days there’s barely a handful of production companies devoted solely to creating jingles, which is a shame, because advertising music can be fun – for both the creators and the audience!

I count myself blessed to have worked on jingles in the mid-70s thru the 90s – there was some terrific advertising being created and aired, and I learned so much about music, myself, people and life.

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growing up, music biz

You’re FIRED!

You'reFired!

I lied about my age to get my first job as candy girl at the Allyn movie theater in Hartford. My mother changed my birth certificate and at 14, I was already 5’8″, so I didn’t have any trouble convincing anyone I was 2 years older. I worked part time after school in the spring of 1966 and more hours through the summer until I was unceremoniously dismissed. I was never given a reason – just all of a sudden, my name was conspicuously absent from the schedule. When I asked about it, there was no answer and I puzzled over it for a long time.

Allyn

After giving notice at my first post-college job at E.B. Marks Music as librarian, I accepted a new job as music editor at Belwin-Mills, only to find out that the job had been eliminated. I was kept on for a month, however, which enabled me to look for other work and qualify for unemployment insurance. I wasn’t exactly FIRED and it turned out to be one of the best things to happen in my beginning career, since I met songwriter Jack Perricone, copyist Arnold Arnstein, some men who wanted to produce an album with me and I got to work on some interesting projects before my departure for freelance life.

Fairwind

In July 1975 I was hired as a last minute replacement to play piano bar on the T.S.S. Fairwind, cruising the Caribbean for 11 weeks.  I lasted five.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the job, but I had a bit of an attitude.  I wanted to play and sing the songs that I wanted to do, not endless requests for “Tie A Yellow Ribbon”!  I was notified right before our return to Ft. Lauderdale that my services were no longer required – and I puzzled over losing that gig for a couple years – until I figured out that I hadn’t really performed as expected – you can’t be lamenting how your man done you wrong when all the audience wants to hear is “Tie A Yellow Ribbon”!

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Over the years I had a number of jobs that became so untenable, I was forced to quit – sometimes under scary circumstances; stuck in Altoona, PA with a drunken abusive boss, I lasted less than one night of a 2-week engagement, taking the 5 AM train back to New York, and had to borrow money from a friend to pay my bills.  One of my heroes growing up refused to pay me union scale for copying work, got really ugly about it and I had to stop working for him, even though I’d always dreamed that he would produce my records, as he had for Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck. Other clients made things so uncomfortable that I knew I had to leave or something bad would happen such that I wouldn’t be able to work at all.

But that’s not the same as being fired – it still feels crummy, like you’re being forced out – but it’s not the same as being kicked to the curb.

Most recently I was fired from another piano bar gig in Tucson – and  not for not taking requests!  I’ve wised up and I’m okay with playing whatever song the audience wants to hear, providing I know how it goes!  But I had the temerity to ask for compensation equal to what other musicians were getting and… WHOOSH!  Kiss that gig goodbye!

What I’ve learned from my sketchy job history is to stay flexible and remember that it’s not the end of the world if you lose a job. Something else will come along and you’ll survive.

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self-acceptance

The Best of Us

“We are all failures – at least the best of us are.” – J.M. Barrie

“When the life you dreamed of and expected does not materialize, it isn’t over and your existence is not a failure. It is simply a different life.” – Alexander Khenkin

I really like this post re. rewriting our story as a Hero’s Quest – by Rev. Gerry – kinda turns “failure” into “success” without too much fuss and DEFINITELY without any dishonesty – thanks, Gerry!

https://revgerry.wordpress.com/2015/08/16/a-re-blog-rewrite-your-story-as-a-heros-quest-by-gerry-straatemeier/

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growing up, music biz

Dreamland

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DREAMLAND

I rented a room in Gloria’s apartment on the upper West Side, near Grant’s tomb

I knew I was talented, whatever that means

I knew I had songs to write, music to sing

Once, the night after I’d performed a short set in a Village club (Reno Sweeney’s on 13th St.?) a complete stranger recognized me on the subway and I thought “well, for sure, I’m on my way now! Fame and fortune are right around the corner!”

That was over 40 years ago

Then we went from town to town, finding beauty, looking for acceptance,

Looking for fame, settling for making a living of sorts. There was always one Dream or another to be fulfilled – until we could finally land in Dreamville.

Always just out of reach, our dreams eluded us – hell, they HAD to exist – hadn’t we been schooled to believe

Keep on trying – there’s got to be a pony in here SOMEWHERE

So we kept looking, living beyond our means, living on dreams in Dreamland.

We bought a house in the suburbs – within earshot of the Dream

surrounded by friends, also addicted to the Dream, we all convinced ourselves and each other that success was just around the corner.

Around the corner – past the 7-11, where robberies happened on a regular basis, the police helicopters buzzing overhead

I’ll keep believing if you’ll keep believing

With intermittent reinforcement, like a lovesick lady hung up on a married man

But he says he’ll leave her for me – I just KNOW it’s gonna happen.

Hanging on by a thread of a thread, wrapped up in the tapestry of Dreamland

Tonight is the Super Moon.  We’ll look up at the desert sky and see it shine, among the stars

We moved away from Dreamland a long time ago, tho it took a while to get it out of our system

We left our still-dreaming friends, too, or they left us

Some had found a way to survive, to afford the high price of oil, of food, to feed the Dream, no matter what the cost

I miss them, sometimes

I miss who we all were back then, believing we would fly

In a way, I’m glad they still believe – I’m glad they still subscribe – their children still aspire to something beautiful, something gauzy, to keep the Dream alive

Even tho I woke up years ago, I’m glad to see them still striving to stay asleep

in Dreamland

June 2013

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religion

Our family bible

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As we were raised by two atheists, formal religious education in our family was meager. I recall a few visits to various churches (to appease grandparents, most likely) and a few months of Sundays with the Unitarians – my chief memories of which entail singing Die Gedanken Sind Frei and gobbling donuts following every service.  ART was our sole family religion – that is, until the appearance of the family bible, AKA “The Beecher Book”.

Beyond Success & Failure

My father originally came upon this book in 1969 and was so impressed that he got a copy for each of us children AND my mother, who was in the process of divorcing him. My dad totally bought into the book, which encourages taking responsibility for one’s own thoughts, words and actions. The Beechers’ exhortations to “put no one’s head above your own” and “live life on the grazing principle” were apparently comforting to my father, and we were expected to pretty much memorize the Adlerian psychology that inspired their writings.

It has been argued that “…we LEARN from failure. Failure is no reason to be ashamed. Failure shows leadership, innovation, and risk-taking in pushing the boundaries of what is possible… There is great value in examining our mistakes as we go beyond the easy and the simple.”  FailFaire

And that ALL of life is worth celebrating regardless of circumstances…

“Celebrate Victory: Celebrating victory is something that is pretty straight forward and it’s not something you need much advice for. But, one thing we sometimes forget to do is celebrate the smallest success..

Celebrate Defeat: There is a certain scene in the movie The School of Life… As a junior high basketball team is losing, the main character encourages the team to cheer and be happy even as they are getting their as@#$$# kicked. Then something interesting happens. The team actually starts winning. I realized yesterday that what causes this is the mind set of celebrating. Like attracts like and if you come from the mind set of celebrating, eventually you’ll have plenty to celebrate about.
Celebrate Success: Success is something that should be celebrated even when it occurs in small doses.

Celebrate Failure: There is no such thing as failure, just feedback. So, what you celebrate is the fact that you have learned something new.” Skool of Life

This blog is an attempt to make sense of the myriad adventures – including failures – in my life – and to somehow do justice to the family bible after all these years.

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self-acceptance

Times I’ve Played The Fool

TIMES I’VE PLAYED THE FOOL

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This is a phrase my father would use to let us know when things hadn’t gone as he’d intended – when he’d stuck his foot in his mouth or goofed up some way or another.  As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and we all have to handle it when life doesn’t go as we’d planned.

In the 80s, after Reaganomics had decimated us financially and Mark and I felt like failures, my father took the time to write down a number of these TIMES HE’D PLAYED THE FOOL – he put them in a collection he called “Celebrations Of Failure” – but after living with them for a while, he truncated the title to “Celebrations” – somehow, looking back at those times from a distance of 20 or 30 years had softened the blow and he didn’t mind remembering how he’d taken the family out shopping, gotten a flat tire, started jacking up the car IN THE SNOW, with all his daughters laughing at him because HE WAS CHANGING THE WRONG TIRE! , for example.

Well, I’ve had a few best-laid plans of my own go awry over the years.  8 years ago we sold our house in California and moved here – to Oro Valley, actually, since our house in Vail hadn’t been built yet.  One day shortly after we’d moved, I read in the newspaper about a woman who had trained for 3 months to walk a half-marathon in the Tucson marathon in December – and in the process, she’d dropped 80 pounds!  Well, that sounded wonderful to me – so I investigated, talked Mark into joining me and together we signed up to do the same!  There was a shoe store sponsoring the training only a mile from the house we were renting, so we went, got fancy walking shoes and began training!

This being the desert, we took our water bottles, to stay hydrated – left the dogs behind and started off!  It was September, so it was still pretty warm during the day, and we both BURN rather than TAN in the sun, so we decided to do our training at night.  One mile – no problem!  Two miles…  piece o’ cake!  Three miles… now we’re getting somewhere!

It gets pretty dark after the sun goes down, and Rancho Vistoso was still under construction, but we made our way – adding a half-mile every few days to our training schedule.  We were out later and later – and there wasn’t ANY commercial place open at the hours when we were walking.

The longer our walks, the more I would REALLY need to pee by the time we got home!!  6 miles… 6-and-a-half miles…. 7 miles….  We were starting to make real progress, but it was killing my bladder!    Every night we’d be out there, though!

7-and-a-half-miles…. we just pushed on through.

Then there was the night we had scheduled to walk 8 miles.  8 miles around the Rancho Vistoso loop.  In the dark.  With nowhere to GO!!!

We were headed home and I just couldn’t hold it any longer.  We desperately looked around for a bush, a tree, ANYTHING….

Then we saw the bench.  It was out in the open, under a streetlight, but I needed a place to SIT to relieve my poor bladder – and there was no one around – no cars going by – nothing.  Mark said he’d stand guard so… I did it.  I pulled down my drawers, sat on the bench and began to pee.

IMMEDIATELY two cars appeared!  Mark said, “whoops!”  I started laughing.  And then I lost my balance and fell backwards onto the spot where I had just let loose – only it was covered in brambles and twigs, so in addition to getting my behind all wet, I got scraped up, too!

There’s no way you can prepare for something like that.  Especially when you still have another 2 miles to walk to get home!

Times I’ve played the fool.

May 2012

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