Well I guess I should write something

I haven’t scheduled anything… but If you like blogs, you’ll love podcasts! My Podcast ‘Hyper Local Celebrity’ is available wherever you get your podcasts.

https://open.spotify.com/show/5sQJIYHQCOR6o1WaWsHV5g

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Writing an Album! Helpful Tips

I rarely write my own music because I often feel as though I have nothing important worth saying… I will probably never be able to write a truly gorgeous tune that lives on long after I’m dead but for copy write reasons and to diversify my revenue stream I thought ‘well I might as well try!’

So here is a detailed breakdown of my ‘Song writing practice’ as well as my ideas to creating AAART in the form of musical expression.

  1. cry. a lot.
    Many people have never seen me cry… in fact, I have close friends that have never seen me cry and with the exception of my close family I doubt anyone has seen me cry more than once in the last 20 years.
    That being said, when I’m song writing I will look out my office window and weep! full on Weeping as if some disaster has struck the work place of my husband and it was ‘Take your child to work day’. I’m very dramatic, you didn’t come here to read the antics of a vanilla and rational woman, you came for DRAMA!
    I like to think of it as a great purging of emotions that I keep inside while I live my everyday life and that, by doing this all out weeping, I am in some way activating my muse so that I can create great art! I guess…
  2. Voice memos
    I am terrible at remembering things, names, places, people, mainly people…who? However, I have found that if I have a voice memo on my phone recording while I improvise and work things out I tend to capture a song or a motif much more fully than if I’m trying to remember it off the top of my head.
  3. Change the tune
    The best thing about ‘doing all the things’ (or playing and singing) is that you can easily change the tune whenever you feel like it… add some riffs, add some accidentals, you can do it all!!!!

Testing rep:

This is a lot like testing all your other repertoire but this time it’s not the good name of Rogers & Hammerstein on the line, its yours… and your sad little heart song! So, deep breath, here’s how you do it!

  1. Ignore the first instinct you have that says ‘This is stupid’
    For years I didn’t perform my own music because my first instinct is ‘This is stupid, no one wants to hear my stupid song about a boat or that guy who never text me back or even that song about your insomnia, stick to the classics! the tried and tested songs that people know and like!’ It’s also one of the reasons I don’t do pop songs, they don’t age well… But ignore that instinct and try them out anyway! Conviction is key!
  2. record it!
    If you can play it through and it sounds good enough to record, then stick it on a recording!
  3. get feedback
    After you’ve recorded it then you can put it up on social media and have people give you some feedback and criticism! My album is all up in rough drafts so I can get the opinions of people who know my style and will give me some feedback. It’s important that you ask people who are going to be brutally honest with you as well, because again… rule 1 may have given you too much confidence.
  4. Perform it live! No matter how rough
    I don’t go to open mic nights because I’m a busy professional with a giant instrument. If I’m bringing my clownishly large £10k instrument to play in a pub I am being well paid for it or I’m staying home! However, If you are doing an event where in they will let you do your own thing it’s always worth having a go at performing your pieces. I have done quite a few of my pieces at various gigs so far, mixed in with my regular repertoire, and people have really enjoyed them! Yesterday at an event where they wanted me to sing I went through about half of my new stuff while no one was listening and it was utterly terrifying, but it didn’t seem too silly…
  5. You can forget the words, no one else knows the piece!
    If I was Katy Perry and my songs were known word for word internationally and played on every major radio station all over the world I would have a teleprompter AND someone yelling in my ear what the words were at every concert! I have forgotten words constantly, for pieces I’ve been performing for years, and It’s fine! So when it’s your own piece then no one else knows what’s coming next (unless they are a super fan, and in that case they can be your teleprompter!)!
  6. It’s fine if it sucks!
    Just keep going… If you write 1 great thing that people love and 6 bad things that people hate then that’s pretty good, keep going and you’ll have at least 20 decent things people like! The key is to make sure you’re always growing… I feel like I’m slowly growing but I’m also 90% I may just go back to writing jingles for the cats in my neighbourhood.

That’s all I got.

Aesthetics are everything in this game.

I’ve said it a lot, but I honestly believe if I lost half my body weight and dyed my hair blonde I wouldn’t have to work as hard. And while I’m a little bit like ‘no… that’s not how the world works’, I’m also pretty sure that this would be the case.

My whole job is Aesthetics.

I am obsessed with Ambience and aesthetics, which is a good thing. If you’ve ever seen pictures of my house you’ll know how many god damn lamps I own… I am so obsessed with lighting that I have thought about taking spotlights to gigs just incase the concert venue didn’t have lighting, I haven’t done this yet but I am very sure I will if I ever get a bigger car!

In my house aesthetic is king. Every room has at least two lamps, all the down stairs lights are on timers and every room is layed out in a way that, if you were to film it, it would be visually pleasing (with some camera trickery so that you couldn’t see the piles of garbage lining some of the walls). I am into my mood-lighting!

When you are a musician your primary goal is your ‘ART!’ your ‘Craft’. When you work as a musician your primary goal is to not get fired, keep the money and pay the rent. Therefore, when you play at events your main job is just to set the tone. No one is listening to me when I play at fancy events, but they will hear the tone of the harp and the style that I’m playing with and subconsciously respond to that.

Similarly, the main component of playing the harp IS the harp. People don’t hire me for their wedding because they like the sound of the harp, they do it because they like the sound of the harp and the look of the instrument. If you like the sound just play a CD. Having a giant imposing instrument that’s taller than most people (and this is a country where I, a towering 5’6, am sometimes the tallest in the room) is a form of spectacle. But like a classy spectacle, like a dog wearing a tuxedo…

This is all to say that my job is mostly about appearances. Sure, I can play the hell out of a harp, but I have gotten far more work from having nice photos and good public image. How you present yourself in this industry is incredibly important.

I’ve sort of run out of things to say about this theory. But I’m sure I will be back later on to repeat myself and add more!

 

I’m terrified all the time and that’s ok.

The one, and probably most important, knowledge I will ever pass on to any aspiring young musician is this,

‘you will be scared and cripplingly unstable mentally, emotionally and also financially for your entire career’

That’s a lot to think about but honestly, after having some mornings where all I do is lie down on the floor of my office and stare at the ceiling for 5 minutes, I think it’s important to share to other musicians so that they know that that’s exactly how it feels most of the time.

I’ll start with ‘financially unstable’ as that is the main concern most of the time.



Work Like you don’t need the money

Work like money doesn’t exist and you are a self funded billionaire who got driven here in your private blimp.

As a free-lance musician, most of what you do is, putting it bluntly, ‘being middle class’. You basically come from a land where money doesn’t exist and you don’t have any bills to pay on your magic cloud above the rest of humanity. You make AAAAaaart, Dharling!

That is the standard mindset we put our young students into when they are in college or uni. The idea that you will occasionally sing with a full orchestra and people will come to your recitals of Leider and mélody is utter nonsense half the time! I can’t tell you how much Handel I have memorised that I couldn’t make a penny from! maybe that’s just my failed classical mezzo talking. But in the real world you have to do what is financially viable. So if we are telling our students ‘you will leave here and make art’, they will expect that, when in reality, you leave and have to play Bruno Mars and Coldplay. Or if you’re a harpist, Pachabel bloody Canon in bloody D.

One of the main components of this insecurity comes from the work. or lack of work, or work you have to go find.

I have to tell myself every month ‘the money will come’, because it does. At this point we’re almost 6 years into me finding money from music, so I’m not too worried about it. However, if I was at a large company or just a regular job, I would know where that money comes from.

You work in a shop, you sell things, that money then turns a profit, you get paid for your time out of that money. However, when you are the staff, product and Karen from Finance, there isn’t that nice distinction of ‘oh here is my salary, I worked this X amount and was paid my regular wage for that time’. You don’t get that in life. you get ‘this big company paid me a lot, this person paid me a little’ it’s all just a matter of luck and picking numbers out of a hat. And this is amplified by busking, some days I’ll do great and some weeks I’ll “struggle” through (it’s not a struggle I just will earn less and in my mind, because we’ve been taught to equate wealth to quality, I think I’ve done a bad job, even though most of it is random anyway).

So, every month, week, day, anytime you find yourself sitting on your office floor staring into the ceiling wondering how you’re paying for you life and what kind of a future you’ll have and when that horrible feeling of ‘never knowing when it’s all gunna sort itself out’ comes, just say ‘the money will come, the work will come’. I say this often to myself and it makes me feel better, and I hope it helps you too.

Mental

The Second most important thing they don’t tell you as a free-lance musician, is the loneliness and all the countless hours you will spend by yourself in a practice room or studio. This is pretty harp specific, but I think most people can relate unless they are in a band.

I have talked about this before in previous posts but it still stands. I spend a lot of the day by myself, talking to myself.

Emotional

I get angry and sad whenever I sing songs about having a different kind of life. Like ‘someone else’s story’, when the lyrics say ‘I could be in someone else’s story, in someone else’s life!’, that’s the bit that actually resonates with me. I’m pretty happy being single, it’s not something that bothers me or that I even think about in those terms. I tend to think of it as ‘I am an individual’, and I basically don’t think about it at all! However, I dooccasionally think about how different my life would be had things panned out differently. If I had started Harp younger, If I had gone to a music college for singing, if I had given up on this whole music nonsense and done English lit! If I had gone to a different university, or If I had moved to London after university.

For half, if not all, I can only imagine my life being worse. If I had started harp younger, I would hate the harp, as so many people I’ve met who played the harp at a young age and now can’t play it or don’t play it (it’s definitely a ‘later in life instrument’ for a lot of people). If I had gone to college for singing, I would know an awful lot about singing, but I would never have started busking, I wouldn’t have done any Student union stuff, and I would probably think I was ‘above’ a lot of work… (this is not a reflection on Music College kids, just, I’m kinda ‘above’ a lot of work now, imagine how insufferable I would if I had a Bmus from Royal Northern!). If I didn’t do Music I would have probably still played harp… I don’t think a whole lot would’ve changed there. If I’d have moved to London I would currently be the most exciting person in a recruitment firm, until I faked my own death in order to get away from that life and would probably still end up busking somewhere… honestly, all roads lead to Rome… or Cardiff… ‘The Rome of Wales’, as it’s never called by no one!

 

To conclude

This has probably been really depressing to read, here is a cat gif.

That’s exactly how I wrote this.

But if you want to go into the super fun world of free-lance musicians here are some positives.

1. You will always have something fun to talk about… yourself.

My favourite saying is, ‘I always talk about myself because that’s the only subject I know everything about’. If you play a non-typical instrument, in a non-typical genre, then you basically have the floor for at least 5 minutes. You don’t have to answer any questions directly and you basically can’t give any wrong answers. It’s a lot like being a politician.

2.  You can yell at people.

This one is fairly harp related, but if I’m taking a 6 foot instrument down the street and you don’t move, I will yell at you to move. What? You couldn’t see me?, yeah sure, course ya couldn’t… Also, if the staff don’t open doors… ok guys, I’m basically a monster and a prima donna and now I have a giant harp to suit my ego, what more do you want me to say?

3. At fancy venues, someone will park your car for free.

The best thing about being a musician is getting all the stuff rich people pay for for free. someone parks you car, someone brings you a drink, someone rubs your feet… I don’t think that man worked there…

4. You get to go to fancy venues and snoop around castles and museums in the dark and after hours.

This is honestly the best, you wanna run round Caerphilly Castle for free? bring a harp, you wanna private viewing of a Manet painting? just get your harp into Cardiff museum after hours. It’s pretty cool getting to go to places you wouldn’t pay to go into, but if it’s a work thing, SURE! (N.B. the Museum is free and everyone should go see it! It’s fantastic)

5. You don’t have to talk to anyone who isn’t paying you.

This is only partially true, I get a lot of random members of the public just coming to have a chat with me while I’m busking, and sometimes its nice… sometimes… other times they just wanted someone to talk at… which, in that case, talk to anyone else… the street is full of people no trying to work. go talk to a charity mugger maybe? But for the most part, I don’t have to deal with middle people, there isn’t a whole office full of people for me to have to chase for different things, it’s just me. doing me. by myself. God, I’m so alone.

 

The Sky In A Room: A performers diary.

 

 

 

Hello there again dear friends.

By now you’ll know about my fascinating double life as an organist.

organ.jpg

https://museum.wales/cardiff/whatson/9865/Ragnar-Kjartansson-The-Sky-in-a-Room/

And I thought I should keep a diary of all the things I’ve learnt my thoughts and feelings about playing the same 3 minute Italian pop song over and over and over and over and over again 2 days a week for 5 weeks.

I’m currently at the start of week two so I will try and remember everything from week one and continue to keep updated after every set.

 

Week 1:

 

so after the two days of rehearsals and private viewing last week it was a little bit of a relief to be finally actually doing the project. The set times has shifted around quite a bit but it ended up being three 1 hour sets, which I think works well because there’s only 2 long breaks instead of a bunch of small breaks, and it also means you get to go home at 3:30 if you’re on the early shift and don’t have to come in until 11:30 if you’re on the later one.

The first day was tuesday 6, my first full day, foolishly I had bought an entire packet of fig rolls (I love fig rolls! and this comes in later on), so the first set was a little bit of a struggle, getting warmed up and comfortable after being told ‘Do it slower’ ‘do it quieter’ all throughout the rehearsals. But honestly, there’s 7 different performers with 7 very different voices and what is quiet for me is VERY loud for someone else, so my ‘piano’ is just what it is… so after that first set I went and watch two episodes of Bojack horseman and ate a whole packet of fig rolls… the second set was my favourite, warmed up and comfortable with enough energy to do the whole hour and feel pretty good about it. Second break I have a cup of tea and chat with the art dept women (as our green room is also the Art Dept break room), my third set was a little dry and I had to go to the loo really badly so that REALLY dragged on… because I had eaten an entire packet of fig rolls and it should be pretty obvious to any one reading why I needed to loo so badly…

 

Anyway, the day ends and I have to go play a conference drinks reception down the bay.

The next day I’m off to a music in Hospitals gig in Taunton which is a real culture shock after spending about two weeks just thinking about one piece and then having to play and whole concert full of different repertoire!

 

Friday comes along and I’m back, this is very much the same, a little rough to start off with, then a beautiful second set and a comfortable third set. I have to take a choir rehearsal right after so I was VERY warmed up for that!

 

A change of plans and a big arts magazine critic coming on Saturday means that I’m in on Saturday as well, although I hadn’t planned to be in! So on saturday I’m having my photo taken by the south wales echo about my lovely little Topaz Street Garden and then I have to grab my stuff and hurry in for 11:30. By this time our green room has moved. It’s no longer the windowless box that is the Art Dept break room but a gorgeous meeting room with front facing windows at the very front of the museum! It’s huge, it’s quiet and there’s excellent people watching!  so… naturally I spend my breaks practicing my cartwheels.

I’m not good at cartwheels.

As a result of the green room being moved we are now using the public loos (we were using the Art Dept toilets which are closed to the public) so on my pre-performance loo trip a woman stops me and says ‘Oh you’re the singer! That was just wonderful!’, which is the first of I’m sure will be MANY loo trip compliments. (‘Loo Trip Compliments’ is going to be a merch-shirt you can buy at Cardiffweddingharpist.com/merch )

So, Saturday I’m pretty tired but I make it through, it’s not too bad, more fig rolls (No I have not learned my lesson and I refuse to!).

Week 2

Tuesday 13th Feb: Today was an interesting one… in the sense that an old man snuck up behind me and really startled me! Which was a little terrifying. For the last week people have been a solid metre away, and usually off to the sides because I am very much like a horse, it is best to approach from the sides as to not spook me!

That was during the very end of my middle set and I did yell ‘That was terrifying!’ at the man because honestly, he was a foot away from me and directly behind me… also he was in a windbreaker and I did NOT hear him approach with is worrying! silent! like the wind!

I’ve started trying to make the other organists laugh when we swap places, because I feel as though whenever I’m replacing someone they always look very serious and if they haven’t played the piece 800 times already, and if no one can see your face I’m going to do a lot of eyebrows… I like to keep things interesting.

As far as the actual music, I’ve started adding parts, which I justify thusly:

So when we first got the score it was a transcription of an audio life, this was then simplified in the second draft and made easy enough for us non-organists (because none of us are really organists, however they did find two singing harpists, so that’s pretty impressive!). So when I play it I like to try and re-incorporate the complicated aspects of the first draft so that it’s more like an on going project where I try and make it a little harder for myself every week.

So I think I’m more than allowed to add bits. And also it’s FUN!

performance wise, I’m thinking of the piece more as a complete 1 hour work rather than one song repeated. And I’m working to the half hour every set. So I will play and say to myself ‘Oh Almost half way through’. It’s a lot like that Kimmy Schmidt bit where she says ‘You can do anything 10 seconds at a time and then by the end it just starts again’ and that is A LOT like this piece. I’m just working through it.

Vocally, I’m trying to do it in the healthiest and most artistic way I can, which is always a neat on going project.

Organally, I’m experimenting with speeding things up and slowing them down during the cadenza, which is alright.

My thesis statement about the project so far is this:

There is no tangible goal or outcome. You aren’t building anything or making anything. At the end of the project all you’ll have is the small amount of money they’re paying you and a nice photo your mother will probably frame in her dining room. You go back to your regular life as a busking harpist who occasionally plays posh gigs. So the only thing really happening is the gradual progression of time. Just like Life and Winter you’ve just gotta get through it.

Also today, LOO TRIP COMPLIMENTS! An Italian lady stopped me in the loos to tell me how wonderful my singing was and asked if I was Italian… clearly that language training day paid off!

For the Friday performance I had someone leave a note on my stool (upside-down so I couldn’t read it during) and when I got up to swap performers the note had disappeared. After an hour of wondering I returned for my final shift at the organ and the note has landed between the pedal board! That was the only exciting thing that happened.

 

Week 3

I keep bringing in ‘Green room snacks’ because the work is pretty tiering and bringing in some garbage food to eat during the break is the only thing keeping me going.

For Wednesday’s performance I may have eaten far too many cookies during my first break and spend the second break trying to hold them all in! Oh boy! that made life exciting.

For the Friday Performance my parents came down and my mother absolutely loved it! They came for the last performance and during the first hour I thought ‘I should use the swell pedal’. There is a small wooden pedal on the right hand side of the organ that effectively opens and closes a lid on the organ. It catches on latches was you push it down and you have to push the long catch away as you press the pedal so it can move…. Anyway, I had not used the swell pedal except for when I pressed it during the photoshoot and thought I had broken the whole thing.

The key to doing anything in life, be it taking apart an alarm clock, fixing a car or playing an organ is to always remember who it was before you started messing with it. Unfortunately, I only now know this bit of wisdom… because I decided to press the level anyway…. there is a part in the piece where there is a long organ solo in which nothing happens… there’s not stops to pull, no pedal notes to change, nothing. So I decided to put a small swell during this section to make it ‘more musical’…. and of course by ‘more musical’ I mean ‘I was bored and like to challenge myself’. So, without thinking about where the pedal was on it’s latch I went and engaged with the swell pedal… it didn’t go poorly, and in fact, someone came up and said that it was the ‘Most magical hour of their life’ so, I can only assume my desperate right leg dancing up and down seemed like part of the plan… same to say when you know there is a change coming up and you will have to move your feet and body you tend to be far more willing to find a solution. I bravely (because, let’s be honest, I’m writing this blog and I am the hero in my own narrative), found a latch and clicked it in place! ‘PHEW!’ I thought, ‘Old Sammie did it again! safe!’

It wasn’t on the right latch… for the next 15 minutes I spent my time between wondering how many latches there were and where the bottom was, I eventually go up the nerve to click it down another run and I thought I’d call it a day.

Would I try it again? Absolutely, it was thrilling and made the time fly by.

What did I learn? You’re asking the wrong person…. because I got out of there pretty quickly after and didn’t look back! Pedal, You’ve been swell!

Week 4:

I only did Sunday this week and oh boy was that a struggle!! We were hit by heavy snow and the humidity dropped a lot (that’s what happens when it gets cold and snows) so singing in an already pretty dry room that just got dryer was a living hell…

I spent the first set just concentrating on breathing and trying to get a good sound! It was quite a shock coming from last week’s nice and controlled singing to this week’s train wreck.

The second set was, of course, much better, and I was slowly starting to warm up, I had 5 gigs cancel on me because of the snow so this was my first time properly singing all week as well!

The final gig I decided to have another play with the swell pedal and It went… well… swell! surprisingly I did pretty well! A museum assistant came and stood next to me for like 10 minutes at 4pm and I turned to her and said ‘you ok’ and she gestured back the universal signal for ‘Don’t mind me’… always 15 minutes later she was still stood there and I said ‘Is there a reason you’re stood here?’ and she did the hand gesture again and said ‘We’re closing early so if you could finish up’… the action of waving your hands in a low X across your body does not indicate ‘If you could just finish so I can go home, that’d be great’, it’s a ‘Don’t mind me’ gesture… anyway, I did one more because I had gone round again by the time she said something and we got to leave 15 minutes early, but it was really odd that she just stood there instead of just saying ‘we’re closing at X time so finish at X time please’, which is what other MA’s have done in the past 4 weeks… anyway, it was just a weird thing that happened… as you can probably imagine, when you’re singing the same song over and over again in a dark room staring into an organ keyboard there is very little going on….

I think I’m still watching the clock in a way that I don’t do at any other time. sometimes I do it if I’m playing a long wedding breakfast if I’ve come to the end of the set that I like and have to do music I’m not that much of a fan of, but mostly this is just doing an action and watching the time go by… it’s basically a skilled version of shelf stacking in tesco… except I get hour long breaks every hour and get to practice my cartwheels and am also being paid a lot for the 5 hour day so I really should stop complaining and get better at cartwheels.

Week 5

I made the mistake of bringing four chocolate chip muffins into the green room and then I spent the whole day wondering if my performing partner was gunna judge me for eating all four of the muffins (that’s important to this story)

So, I actually fully warmed up before this performance on Wednesday and that may have been the trick all along. I went to 7am yoga and then did a full and long vocal warm up at home… so my first set was really comfortable and easy… and so was the rest of the day… I think the main reason it was so easy was because I put the swell pedal (clearly the cause of all the drama and interest throughout this second act) to a notch below ‘fully open’ during the first half of my first set, this meant that the organ was a little quieter and a little easier to sing over when you’re just starting out the day.

The day went well and I did a couple plays with the swell pedal that were actually very successful. My Cartwheel was not.

Sarah also came to see me and enjoyed it.

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Today’s tip: ART! A.R.T.

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FINAL DAY!

well gang, we’ve come to the end. Does it feel like the end of an era… not really… am I full of emotions… no….

Today went fine…exactly fine. I got to eat muffin number 3 (I ate two of the muffins yesterday…) and during my last set I heard a dog barking…. ‘Who lets a dog into an art gallery??!?! how did a dog get in here!?’ I thought for a second, then I remembered the seeing-eye-dogs (Is that what they’re called) that I saw in the foyer and thought ‘Wouldn’t it have been hilarious if I hadn’t seen them’. you can’t turn around or see behind you while playing so it would’ve been completely out of the blue. This really made me laugh during my final go round of the piece.

all in all, a pretty good day. My performance partner at the other muffin and tweeted that he was ‘Saving me from myself’… which is very true.

 

Final Thoughts

Throughout the performance I have had a lot of time to think and I would say I divided my time between two things:

Firstly, I spent a large amount of my time and energy on the piece. Playing and singing it to the best of my ability. Once the first set had happened the whole thing became a sort of ‘Marathon vocal exercise’ where the only real goal is doing the piece in a confortable and artistic manner…. which is basically the whole root of my work as a musician and essentially what I do when I busk or play at weddings/events… It’s basically what being a musician is all about. It is, what I have described in pervious posts, ‘Being an artist’, spending hours and hours on the same piece. I have written about how I rarely rehearse the same piece for a long time because that’s not economical for my style of work. If I’m spending 8 hours a week on some Bach that only lasts 3 minutes then I have to spend an insane amount of my time rehearsing to get a 3 hour program. However, when put in a position where you are basically being paid to rehearse one piece over and over you get to play with different aspects and features of the music.

I don’t think I did it right or ‘how the artist intended it’ once… I did it how Sam Hickman thought it should sound, and I think people liked that… I didn’t come in and play the same piece over and over again exactly the same each time, I changed it up… a lot…. and I think that was the intention of the work… but also, I added a lot of stuff… big sections of rubato, runs, trills, other trills, melismas, humming… I feel like I basically stuck to these philosophies ‘I’m getting paid either way’ and ‘If the artist wanted it a certain way, he would have stayed and baby sat or he would’ve been more specific’. It’s a real ‘While the cat’s away’ situation and this mouse is gunna at an organ solo that no one expected.

My Second thoughts were mainly regret. Mainly I thought ‘I’m not being paid enough for this’…. and while that sounds like I’m a complacent and stuck up diva who is, honestly, just the worst. I think it’s pretty true…

My expectation of the piece was that it would be 3-4 days a week as a minimum, we would be a small group of musicians coming in frequently and being paid a lot as a consequence… however, it turned out to be much more like a light work load that I originally thought… I had this impression that I would be slowly driven mad by the song… playing it over and over again for weeks on end… the studio manager in an email said ‘We’ve like the performers to play of the song so much that they hear it when falling asleep at night’… that was a little laughable for me because the thought of me being able to get to sleep that easily seem as ridiculous. But also, it was only 2 days a week… a the very most… and only 3 hours a day… with hour long breaks in between… so I didn’t ever get the song stuck in my head… in fact for the first two weeks I had ‘Always something there to remind me’ by Burt Bacharach, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56m63bsQvB8

and then for the last two days I’ve had ‘I can’t help falling in love with you’ by Elvis Presley, but not the Elvis version the arrangement from the jut box musical ‘All Shook Up’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eSt7qVdRgI  which is actually a delight and you should listen to it.

My other regrets were about the art itself… ‘this is kinda bullshit’, I would think… ‘how is this ‘ART”…?!’ like, It is art in the sense that that is the term you would use to describe it… but it’s not particularly timely or relevant… like 2018, Trump is president, Grenfell tower, NHS cults, The Me Too movement… and I’m sat in a dark room playing a song Gino Paoli wrote to a sex worker he ‘fell in love with’ after paying her for sex… sure… I guess that’s relevant and says something about our culture…

The main think I found it said about our society was about our economy. (and what do you know the Times beat me to it https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/how-to-spend-money-on-performance-art-w78bhhbch) In the tv show ‘Adams Ruins everything’ he does an episode of the economy, and why your Iphone costs far less and the company makes far less than App developers. He states that ‘Services are more valuable that Goods’, and this is very true in the music industry, Adele will make X amount from Music sales but will make a lot more from tours, that’s why so many musicians tour and their tours are huge and long and they all get vocal injuries because none of the them are bloody trained. But the Same must be true about art… a painting for a museum might cost (let’s say) £1000 to commission, but having 7 people on staff 6 days a week, and paying for the idea of having them play the same song over and over again costs well £30,000. And if you want to do the piece again…? well that’s more money for the artist… it’s the equivalent of licensing a song for a TV advert but having a live band play the song for you every time they want to use it. I don’t know if this theory is right… but honestly, after playing the same piece on repeat for five weeks my new moto is ‘Does it even matter?!’

So those were my thoughts… I had other work around this gig because it paid just under my weekly financial target (which basically meant I had to keep working, teaching and booking gigs just to keep everything running) and they aren’t paying us until the 25th of March, which would’ve been nice to know going into the project because I did not budget on having no money for 2 months.

so quick fire summary section:

What did I set out to do?

Get a gig for the dead period between Christmas and the start of wedding season.

Did I achieve that?

Yes.

Did I enjoy it?

Meh… it happened. I don’t really remember it.

Would I do it again?

double the salary and yes, sure, why not.

What did I learn?

how to play one piece on an organ… after playing it over and over again and also singing an Italian over and over again, I am now 90% certain that I can play organ professionally and speak fluent Italian….

I also learnt that I am bad at cartwheels.

Preparing to die in Relative Obscurity: My Theory.

I have a theory. Now, it is much like my theory that my parents were funding my residency at the hilton (which has yet to be confirmed or denied!!!!) but it’s that level of paranoid.

My theory is that there is some secret cabal of the press that doesn’t like me. Like once I spilled wine on a Wales online reporter and they were like ‘oh boy! Sam Hickman will NEVER get featured in our publication!!!’.

I have this theory because I am never mentioned in the press… or on any local or public platform, despite having working for years. My main example of this is this article from wales online:

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/music-nightlife-news/best-buskers-cardiff-12033336

Not only do I busk more frequently than half of these men (and they are all men… what a surprise…) but I have been doing it for far longer than a lot of them as well….

I also shared a buzzfeed article recently that had ‘harps’ playing in the hayes… as if there are just a hole gang of us…

Anyway, I went to an event yesterday and one of the women I was talking to said ‘Why has no one does a story on your work yet?!’ and I said ‘I don’t know’ and I’ve been saying ‘I don’t know’ for the last 3 years!!!! Honestly, I just want someone to notice me so I can go places… and by ‘go places’ I mean, ‘maybe tour’… who knows!?

But i think it happens when I put on concerts and try to get traction on things. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a lady, harpist or just terrible at everything but I can never NEVER get any damn attention when I’m trying to do things!

What a mess.

 

Anyway, I’ll stop complaining and get back to work I guess.

 

Go Big or Go Home! (OR) What happens when there’s no one in charge and an unlimited budget!

I did a wedding this week that was ‘big’ and by ‘big’, I don’t been 250 guests and a horse and carriage. I mean: 300 guests, horse and carriage, string quartet, big band, singing waiters, harpist, stilt walkers, magician, face painter, kabab stall, ice sculpture, castle venue, party bus, elvis impersonator, EVERYTHING!

the trouble with booking everything is that everything has to work together, unfortunately if you don’t tell the ‘master of ceremonies’ what’s happening you can’t work out a schedule…

So, the ceremony was in St Mary’s in Tenby, which is lovely but HONESTLY either pedestrianise the whole town centre or sort out your roads because driving, dropping off the harp and then having to park and walk a mile away, was a nightmare!

I was only playing for the first 30 minutes of the ceremony, there was a full choir and a trumpeter for the rest of the ceremony. ‘This was a big wedding’ I thought as I ran back to my car to pick up my harp from the church to head to Pembroke castle for the reception.

I saw three wedding cars (which is normal for a large wedding) and thought ‘oh that’s nice’.

Two hours later, after a 20 minute drive to Pembroke and an hour and a half waiting for the horse and carriage to do a tour of Pembroke and then arrive at the castle, I went into Pembroke Castle and though ‘oh this is huge’. They had a horse with a horn on it’s head… just wandering about (A REAL LIFE HORSE! just sitting there in the castle)!

So I went to set up and the big band came into and said ‘what part are you playing?’. ‘Oh the wedding breakfast’ I said, ‘so are we’… so we decided (after they wouldn’t let me just join the band… which, honestly, rude. If you’re at an event and you’ve been double booked with another incredibly competent musician like myself and you’re just doing kinda straight forward rep that everyone knows, you should OF COURSE play together, it’s more fun and you’re getting paid either way!). Anyway, so they said ‘we’ll do a set then you do a short set’, so they did a 40 minute set and I did a 20 minute set. I went to wander around during the second band set and talking to the master of ceremonies, who was also being surprised at every turn by the new performers arriving hourly. The DJ’s said, ‘well, we’re starting at 7pm and the first dance is at 7:30’. Baring in mind that this is already 2 hours behind schedule and they haven’t got enough wait staff to work the wedding.

So at this point (6:45), I clapped my hands together and said ‘I’m done here.’ packed up my harp and went home.

turns out they had triple booked us with the string quartet as well but they had had the good sense to go home!

It looked like a fun and great wedding! This is not a read on the wedding itself, they all were lovely. This is just a warning to other brides, if you’re having a BIG wedding with lots of extras, get someone in charge. a wedding coordinator would’ve been cheaper than paying a harpist, an 8 piece brass band and a string quartet for the wedding breakfast and it means that things run smoothly and you don’t have to worry about anything else but getting married.

If you’re having a normal and small wedding this isn’t important, a harpist is usually the only ‘extra’ you need. Although, I would say a harpist is an ‘essential’, why have a dress when you could have a harpist? but I’m very bias. And you don’t need a coordinator so a small or normal size wedding because usually the venue will sort out things and you just need to do flowers, clothes and registar, and that’s about it! and get a harpist, maybe a local harpist, if you’re in Cardiff I know a gal! (she’s swell)! (she’s me).

Gardening Update: The Last Rose Of Summer

Hello friends,

I realised the last time I did an update was August and, like any new garden, mine is constantly changing and things are moving. Except for the hard landscaping, which Sarah says I’m not allowed to change. 😦

So lets get into it.

Here is where we left off:

https://samhickmanharpist.wordpress.com/2017/08/03/gardening-update-where-do-i-start/

Right,

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Lol, just kidding, that’s next door! (We’re planning on sewing a wild meadow there so it takes little upkeep and is great for nature) We also have a cherry tree, silver birch and some hydrangeas to plant out there next spring!

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This is my garden.

It’s still SO GREEN! December 5th and I have cosmos blooming, Hydrangeas, I would still probably have dahlias going if I hadn’t put them to bed for winter.

 

There’s a lot to unpack here so I will start at the front and work my way back.

I started composting, I took the panels from the fence and made a small compost bin, so hopefully by summer I will never have to buy compost again. It always seemed really weird to me that I had to buy dirt, the thing the ground is made of. So now I’m making now own! the leafy green on the top of the pile is the peacock orchids which have been half put away and half mulched.

So, the peacock orchid is a lot like Dahlias and Gladioli in that it is not hardy whatsoever and needs to be dug up. However, as you can see by my December garden, it doesn’t really get that cold here. So I’m experimenting. Half of my dahlias and peacock orchids (Pictured below) are in the shed ready for planting out after the last frost and half of them are mulched over and still in the ground! We will have to see what survives and what doesn’t!

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I’ve been changing out pots for winter and basically every single pot has some sort of bulb in it, daffodil, hyacinth and tulip! I also planting some in the lawn for a little bit of an early spring surprise! there’s a whole bunch of crocuses and a few mystery daffodils in there!

The only edible still going is all the salad I planted which is still going very strong, I’m planning on getting some lettuce in there as it’s all basically rocket at this point (I ate the last lettuce).

The trellises have all moved as well, I will tell you why as we move around the garden, and There is a willow structure now over the patio.

The willow came from the community garden, and although it doesn’t look like much now, it should grow out and I will weave it into a lovely little living pergola. It’s quite vigorous but we all know how brutal I am with my clippers so I’m not worried about it.

The green house hut is where I’m propagating hydrangeas for next door. I will move it over one of the beds in the spring to act as a cloche before the weather gets nice again.

Next photo!

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A VERY sad looking wild flower garden.

The cosmos REALLY took off this year and were almost 7 foot! They are huge. I’ve cleared out this bed for winter and mulched it with compost. I’ve planted daffodils for spring as well as anemones. But the most exciting thing (Which you can’t really make out) is the apple tree in the centre of the bed. I went to Coed Hill Rural art space in November on a VERY cold Thursday and picked out a ‘Scrumptious’ apple tree (That’s the variety we shall see if it lives up to it’s name!). The bay bush is going well and I will divide that in the spring and make it into a small hedge at the back where the cosmos is I think. I also moved a rather twiggy acer into this bed late summer so keep an eye out to see if that makes it through winter!

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So, because the cosmos are HUGE, This is the best angle I could get of the long boarder. From left to right, there’s a pot with some lovely oregano I propagated from the plant in the north bed, and some parsley Sarah planted out in the summer. Then there’s the mystery plant I’m not sure what it is! You an see the willow beams that should turn into small trunks as the years go by. There’s the rose, a new little evergreen topiary, Maxine, who should look better come spring. More parsley, that Sarah planted and I’m now worried will never die and will live there until the sun explodes. My lovely lavender, at the back theres a hebe and one of those bushes that flower yellow in the spring. There’s also a fig tree that I will be planting next door because figs don’t ripen in this country apparently and I don’t want to give space for something that’s not going to do very well.

Then, Now here’s the exciting bit, a new plum tree!

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It’s a stick now, but next year it should grow out a bit and I plan to espalier it to the fence. It should take up a small amount of space and give us tasty tasty Victoria Plums!

Then there’s a wisteria and the rest is salad.

The obelisk is there just so it has somewhere to go. It’s a small garden so I just popped something in the ground where there was space.

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The north bed is still looking pretty fresh. We got a ‘Cola plant’ which smells and tastes like coke-a-cola!

The pear is nicely budded up to give us some lovely fruit next year and hopefully the honeysuckle will cover up more of this horrible fence by then as well!

 

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Also, here is a rose still blooming. In December.

Next year I’m not deadheading this rose as it looked terrible in late summer but great in June/July. I think it’s an older variety of rose because our neighbour has the exact same type and he doesn’t know how old it is. It was here when we bought the house.

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Planty is doing well, he’s mulched and we are planting him up in a bigger pot next spring when he starts to re-grow.

He’s an elder tree and they grow like weeds and will take over any garden they are in, so we’re keeping him in his own little pot so the rest of the garden can survive without having to be really really watered well in the summer months!

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The Shade Garden is doing well, I will be expanding that trellis in the spring so the Passion flower covers the whole wall.

and Here is my small crab apple tree and my little blackberry, which I am hoping to train on to the wall.

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I mulched with compost and also fallen leaves this year so we will have to see what happens next year with all that goodness in the soil!

I’m tending towards a no-dig style of gardening where the mulch is just chucked on top and is worked down by all the insects that live in the soil. It’s a very easy and simple way of doing it!

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And that’s it from my little garden, I will post again in spring when all the bulbs are out!

See you in the new year!

I Just accompanied an [Reality-TV show] contestant and I have a few things I need to say.

It is winter 2016 and I just got home from an event…

By the time you read this the [event thing] will probably have folded and the “singer” in question will have probably been long forgotten in the collective consciousness of our nation… or she won and now have a christmas number one and a record contract.

I have written before about why I’m not going on the X factor/britians got talent/some other rehash of this idea. But I would like to share this experience because it was so beautifully fulfilling of everything I now know to be true about the “singers” these “talent” competitions attract.

So, I was booked to play at this launch for an hour set during their drinks reception, which was lovely, I played they did some talking and I did some networking and mingling (because I’m a social butterfly business woman).

Anyway, I got approached by the photographer at the event who said ‘[suchandsuch] from the x factor is hear and wants to sing, would you mind accompanying her?’ (I’m not omitting a name because of legal reasons I just can’t remember…)

Anyway, I agree because I’m a sadistic masochist who loves watching people and I’m also always game for accompanying others because I like to practice that skill. So I’m introduced to this girl, I’m guessing 18 years old, blonde, thin (honestly, the only difference between me and taylor swift right now is dress size), and we are ‘talking’ which is basically me shouting at her in this loud room and her whispering back… like she was literally whispering…I would later find out that she’s not even on the show anymore… so she was just whispering to be annoying or cute (honestly, probably both she was about 12 years old)… so, I’m suggesting pieces she might like to sing like that ed sherran song ‘Thinking out loud’ and she whispers some nonsense back, then she suggests ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’.

Now, I do this completely straight normally, with the occasional embellishment on the second time round, I do it in a sensible key that is not too high or too low and is actually perfect for belting… This girl was a ‘pop’ singer, and by that I mean a ‘crap’ singer. When you aren’t warmed up to sing and you’re a singer then you aren’t ready to work. Unfortunately this girl was about 10 years old and hadn’t developed a ‘showbiz backbone’ to be able to say ‘no, I’m not doing that’ or ‘I need to rehearsal real quick and warm up’ like a real musician would have, or at the very VERY least had a great sense of humour about not being warmed up… or prepared to sing a C… it’s not a hard song, my 9 year old student manages it with a million times more grace than this gal.

I had rushed to put my harp in key and had acidentally put my D lever up in my bass instead of my Eb lever… that was the only issue with my performance, which I realised 3 seconds in and corrected… That poor girl just had to keep going… she was apparently ‘shy’ or something.. she kept sort of clasping her hands together at her chest like she was shielding them from the cold…

There are two things I do not accept from performers:

  1. Unprepared (if you’re not warmed up and practiced, don’t do it! winging it is not a good idea in front of a room full of people…) if you’re warmed up then wing it, if you’re unrehearsed and cold you will probably fail… that’s why I start most sets with ‘Blue skies’ because it’s an easy enough warm up even when I’ve been sat in a car for an hour
  2. Not selling it. If you are a performer, and that is your job, you can not afford to be shy or coy. If you aren’t there belting your face off to nonsense words in a completely different key then you AREN’T. DOING. IT. RIGHT! It’s so simple, just bluff your way through! Especially if you only have to sing… if you don’t have to worry about anything else and you are free to walk about and stretch out your hands you can distract people from your great ineptitude of talent and they will say things like ‘weren’t her hands enthusiastic’

So this poor girl had been roped into this and seemed fairly optimistic about it. I started the introduction and said ‘I will just follow you’. She started in the wrong key.

I do it in C, you start on a C and do the octave up C, it is suitable for all voice types because it is not high or difficult. This girl pitched an A from that…. I even played a C to make sure she knew what note she was starting on….

She was not warmed up at all. It was almost 9pm, if you’re just talking, you’re ready to sing because your voice has naturally warmed up throughout the day. try it. try pitching a C and singing the opening, if it’s past around 1pm you should be able to do it quite easily giving it enough ‘umph’. Now remember, you’re not a professional singer, you’re job isn’t ‘Being a singer’ the description of your job isn’t ‘TO SING’, this girls job was TO SING!

I am warmed up everyday because I sing everyday, I might not go to work but I sing everyday, even if it is just warming up in the morning and then not doing anything for the rest of the day I can’t start my day without being just a little warmed up… if you’re a singer chances are you sing every day, that’s your job, unless you are on vocal rest you are probably singing. This girl was a ‘Singer’.

However, this girl was not a ‘trained singer’. The reason you spend money on your child learning to sing is so that they know how their voice works. They know that if they over sing it hurts, they know what good singing ‘feels’ like, they know how to properly phrase things and most importantly they know how to pitch things and sing in key even given adverse circumstances… like singing as the cruise ship you’re on sinks for example…. This girl was not trained, it was like listening to Christina Aguilera giving birth to a whale. Why a whale? well, she was not expecting it to be in a normal key, she was expecting a pop-star A to A ‘somewhere Over the rainbow’ not a C-C ‘Somewhere Over the rainbow’. She had not been taught how to sing properly and it showed, it painfully showed. It was wailing and then faux belting (because, again, this girl had not been taught how to belt properly) she tried to ad-lib during the B section but didn’t sell it enough to make it more than a one second phrase. And at the end everyone cheered, and I got lots of lovely compliments on my voice and harp because I am a professional and it is my job to be good at those things.

To that girl, I know/hope you’re reading this and thinking ‘What can I do to avoid another embarrassment like this’ here are some tips:

  1. It’s ok to say ‘No’, ‘No’ is a full sentence. You do not need to put on a strapless ballgown (yes she was wearing a strapless ballgown to a semi/casual ‘everyone came from the office’ event).You do not need to sing when you are not warmed up (she wasn’t sick she was just crap)
  2. get some training. It just works.
  3. You don’t have to be shy. You’re a god damn performer, act like it.
  4. Fake it, till you convince others you’re good at your job. easy, I did it with my career and look at me now! I’ve practiced enough to be really good at it!
  5. Loose the PA.

Afterwards, her PA came to basically excuse her for being bad at her job… he said ‘oh there wasn’t a microphone and she was singing accapella which is really hard’, I looked at a woman who was stood next to me at this point and we both rolled our eyes. I sing un-amplified every day, If you can’t belt over a crowded room you’re not worth listening to amplified. Making the sound louder doesn’t make the noise any better it just makes it louder.

If I ever have a small man following me around making excuses for why I’m bad at my job (which is what this man did) please slap me. better yet, slap him and tell him to leave. Because if you worked in an office job and your assistant was going into meetings after you  and saying ‘Oh, you know this room and this conference table, they aren’t glass, we’re used to glass conference tables’, then you are bad at your job and you need to either work harder or quit. honestly, think about that for a second. This man was literally apologising for a singer being bad at singing… sure it was a spur of the moment thing with no rehearsal but I’m not doing anything crazy, it’s very easy to follow if you know the tune!

Ham it up! If you are a performer you LOVE to perform that’s the point! Beyonce doesn’t play with her hands and panic when she’s unprepared she’s BEYONCÉ! she runs the world!

 

And so, I will leave you with this. If you can’t do your job, get out the way and let someone better do it instead.

 

Follow up, She is in fact 25. She should know better.

I missed a gig last Friday and just spent an hour crying under my piano.

being a 24 year old free-lance musician is tough. At any age I’m sure it’s difficult, but especially when you’re just starting out and expecting the world.

It’s tough, it’s lonely, it’s boring and you get very complacent and angry. But you can’t really do any other job, anything else would seem like a waste of your talents, but more importantly, your time.

I have nothing happening next month.

During the lusty month of May I have no bookings… and it’s May.. and I’m a harpist, and it’s wedding season. I know that when we get into May I will get bookings and work will come (it’s the same as every month) but I’ve been doing this dance for almost 4 years now and I’m still not used to it.

Back when I was first starting out it was fine, I was playing it by ear, I had just let uni and busking on the street seemed way better than getting a minimum wage job in a coffee shop somewhere. It still is, and I would hate to have to do any kind of non-musical job, I don’t think I would survive. When I first left uni I got my residency, I had a little bit of stability and at the very least, I had work every weekend. Now I’m lucky if I have a Saturday gig. Sure, even when I don’t have a gig I only have to busk 3 days to meet my targets, but it’s the infrequency and the insecurity that I wish someone had told me about when I was starting out.

The one thing I wish someone had said to me was:

‘You will have to pay your rent with money you don’t yet have’

You don’t have that money yet. It’s not like an office job where you’ll get X amount of money every month, you will struggle and you will do really well and that’s fine! That’s the job! I just wish someone had said, ‘At some point you will panic about everything and just need to lay down on the floor on your office just because you feel too overwhelmed with your chosen career path’. I hope that if you are a young musician starting out and looking for tips you realise this is reality. unless you luck into a great gig or regular work, your life will be this.

I missed a gig.

I only realised it today, but last Friday I missed playing an event. or did I? I could argue that firstly, they only sent 2 emails, one of which was enquiring, the follow up telling me about a change of venue. And secondly, that they never actually confirmed payment, or even sent a ‘Great see you there’ email to reply.

So, it was a retirement event for a lecturer at Cardiff met uni, held at Cardiff university. Now, usually with booking through a university or a college, they take an invoice so they can pay me. This woman didn’t do that, or confirm that the quote I sent her was what she was willing to pay.

So the initial email was sent on the 6th, to which I replied to that day. She then replied on the 11th to tell me the date change. It was clear and there was a question in it, to confirm that times. I then replied but for some reason I didn’t put it in the diary… and so I didn’t remember it was happening and I didn’t do it!

This is the first time that this has ever happened… and I just panicked. What if I’ve done this with other events and not realised? what if I’ve missed loads of events that I’ve just completely forgotten about?!?! This is my constant waking nightmare that I have to live with. I already have horrible anxiety when driving to events, ‘What if I’ve got the wrong venue/date/time/my car runs out of gas/my tyres burst and I’m late and I don’t get paid and I have to refund these people and they write a bad yelp review and I never work again?!?!?!?!’ So, naturally this sent me well over the edge when I realised that I’d completely missed this without so much of a thought. And therefore, I did what any rational adult would do and got underneath my upright piano, got in the fetal position and started crying about how writing things in my dairy and going to gigs is literally most of what my job is and how if I’ve managed to fail at this then I’ve obviously failed at my job and should give up and get a boring office job with the same repetitive hours so I couldn’t screw that up.

No, it’s fine. You’re ok. One of the main reasons I completely forgot about this event is because I had a wedding on Sunday with a little bit of a nervous bride who phoned me practically every three days before the wedding. So I naturally must have been distracted from checking this email, maybe calling her office and confirming the booking.

4 emails is usually what it takes to confirm a booking, at the very minimum. If it’s someone I’ve worked for before then it’s only 2 ‘Can you do this date, time?’ ‘Yes, I’ll see you there’, that’s when I’ve worked at the venue and there isn’t any issue with the system of payment. So, there is a number of reasons why I missed this one. We’re human, we make mistakes, the point is not to beat yourself up about it, take a deep breath and try to make sure that you do better in the future. and exhale.

 

Next month, ‘You have to make your own work’