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7 Things I Learned in My First Year on Patreon

Dim Lights Thick Smoke

by Melody Walker

     It was May of 2014 when I first heard about a new crowdfunding platform called Patreon. It took some research to wrap my head around exactly how it worked (this video helps) but after talking with a friend who had successfully launched her own Patreon page I decided this would be a great way to test out new songs and connect with my closest fans (all while adding a bit of cushion to my tenuous monthly finances). I resolved that if I was going to do this, I would need to stick with it for at least a whole year. I'm now 15 months in, and I wanted to share a few things I learned in my first year as a Patreon "creator"…


1. Education of potential subscribers is the first (and ongoing) challenge.

   Most of the world is only just now (5 years in) starting to understand and trust Kickstarter and basic crowdfunding platforms. Patreon is 2 years old and is a new concept for a lot of people. Any time you are asking folks for money on the internets, you'll need to do a damn good job explaining how it's safe and awesome for them to do so. Patreon is a little confusing with it's "per-creation" or "per-month" subscriber styles and I found that people trusted the monthly subscription idea more than per-creation (perhaps fearing I might be short on rent and publish ten new songs in one month). I'm still not convinced that many of my fans know what the heck it is, but it's on me to keep informing them without coming across like a door-to-door salesman. 


2. Only a (very) small subset of your fans will be even remotely interested.

   When I think about how I interact with bands I like, I can see clearly that I have wildly different commitment levels to each group. Some artists I will drop everything to go see every time they come through town, some I actually follow and interact with on social media, and some of them, well, maybe I just kind of like that one song. Patreon is not for your looky-loo type fans. A lot of fans prefer only polished material. They like studio albums but not live ones, they like music videos but couldn't care less about your video tour diary. These types of fans will likely be uninterested in the idea of hearing totally raw, unfiltered new music you just dorkily sang into your webcam. And that's okay. Just don't expect everyone to fall all over themselves to sign up - only your handful of most devoted fans will want in. 


3. Even then… only some of your Patrons will actually check out the creations!

   This one really surprised me. If my stats are correct, only about 1/4 of my patrons actually watch a video of a new song. I'd be offended if I didn't realize that I end up doing the exact same thing with a friend of mine that I subscribe to on Patreon. I probably watch one in four of her videos, and I'll do it in spurts, almost never right when she releases a new video. (She has since corroborated that her total stats are about the same for her patron pool.) Maybe it's a little depressing, but it's also a reminder that it's the process here that counts. I've been doing Patreon for over a year and now I have over an album's worth of finished new songs to show for it. Plus people paid me to do it, because they believe in me and my songs. Turns out they don't even need to hear the songs to get a kick out of supporting what I'm doing, and hey, I guess I'm cool with that. 


4. It's incredibly intimate.

   I knew I wanted to challenge myself to stop being so precious about new songs and just share them as soon as I write them, but what I forgot is how raw a new song can be when it is fresh. None of those things are there yet that can carry a slightly mediocre song - great phrasing, dynamics, interesting instrumental backup, production, etc - so all that's left is the skeleton of a brand new song that doesn't quite know how it fits in the world just yet… coming through a musician that isn't quite sure yet how to play or sing it to it's full potential. Maybe it's sort of endearing to fans, but it's scary as hell for me. I usually try to lean into the things that scare me, so it has been a valuable exercise, I just wouldn't recommend it for the faint of heart. 


5. It's hard to deliver on deadline.

   I have my Patreon page set as a monthly subscription with the promise that I will finish and post at least one new song (either as a video or a multi-track recording) per month. I always do, but I've been a little late about half the months so far. Being a touring musician it is tough to get a few moments alone to start, finish, and learn to present a new song, and then get a good take of it on video and upload it to the internets. I like that having a Patreon is exactly the kind of accountability I need to finish things, but it's still a race to the deadline every time. Still, thank goodness for that deadline (even as it flies right by) since I might never say a song is done if it didn't exist. What's that saying? You never finish a song, you just decide to stop working on it? 


6. It's like having a part-time job.

   There are Patreon creators easily making their entire rent each month by making new art. I'm not one of them (I bring home about $180 a month after Patreon's cut). More importantly, though, my goal in starting this whole Patreon thing was to get me writing and finishing songs like it's my job, and it is totally working. One song a month may not sound like much, but that's the fruit of me starting several new songs, working on ongoing ideas, and trying to find just one each month that is ready to be finished. It has absolutely increased my productivity overall and I feel a sense of personal obligation to this intimate group of fans that lights a cozy little fire under my ass.


7. It's kind of liberating.

   Having a small, exclusive outlet for my songwriting is sort of freeing because it creates this safe, middle zone in which to share my new work publicly - but not officially and not to everyone. I can try things that are all over the map, writing electropop, world-fusion or pop country songs without risking looking like a schizophrenic mess to the whole wide world. I can also experiment with learning new audio and video production skills in a low-pressure setting. The reality of making these videos and tracks every single month, regardless of where I am on the road, or whether i got to take a shower or put on makeup, or whether i got to warm up my voice, gives most of the videos an "#iwokeuplikethis" realness that ultimately, bit by bit, nurtures my self-acceptance.


   So, in conclusion, I'll say this. Patreon can be a lot of things for artists: a paycheck, a time clock, a focus group, an attentive fan club, an accountability system, a self-esteem engine, a think tank, a tribe and even a primary outlet for your art - but none of those are a sure thing - and setting up a fancy newfangled crowdfunding profile doesn't entitle you to a damn thing. The only guarantee is that making art is its own reward. At its heart, Patreon is a simply a tool that facilitates this practice. I'm sticking with it. :)

50 Shades of Smart-Ass: the misadventures of a shameless songstress

Dim Lights Thick Smoke

 Emily Yates is a satirical songwriter and Iraq War veteran. She combines performing and activism in every tour, and is a leader with Iraq Veterans Against the War. After essentially working as an army propagandist, running internal PR for the war, she has dedicated her post-military life to truth and music... with a sense of humor. 

50 Shades of Smart-Ass: the misadventures of a shameless songstress

by Emily Yates

If I was a man, I'm pretty sure my lyrics would be unlikely to take anyone by surprise. Men are generally expected to sing about sex, drugs and things they're angry about. Women are expected to sing about love and things that make us sad. When men sing about love and sadness, they're seen as sensitive. When women sing about sex, drugs, bodily functions, etc., we're labeled as "naughty" or "offensive," or "punk rock" (if we're lucky). Remember that whole "Angry Young Women" genre that sprang up in the '90s? You won't recall the accompanying "Angry Young Men" genre, because it was just called "Music." It's a double standard that's been in place for ages, but is slowly loosening, as I've been discovering firsthand.

For whatever reason, the ability to shut the hell up is one that's always eluded me. Throughout my adult life, I've consistently encountered delicate social situations and smashed them into tiny conversation shards, simply by sharing my honest opinion. Until my sweet new musician husband taught me how to play the ukulele, I was always piquing someone's annoyance by shamelessly sharing my thoughts with them, willy-nilly. But when I learned to set my ideas to music, something shifted. I wrote my first song, "I Don't Want To Have A Baby," while absentmindedly practicing chords, and it was as though I'd just stumbled into Narnia – a magical world had opened up to me! My opinions could now be transformed into Art. As we all know, when people reject our  opinions, it can seem so personal, but when people reject our art, we can simply blame it on their taste.

When I started writing songs, I didn't think about being a woman as anything remarkably important to my art, and I didn't have any grand plans for my "music career." I just realized it was a whole lot of liberating to stand in front of a group of people and express my often-controversial self in a socially acceptable way, and I wanted to keep doing it. So without thinking too deeply about my "image," I continued writing tunes about my random thoughts and playing them for my friends, and then for my friends' friends, and for their friends' friends. The journey from "Hey, I play the ukulele now" to my first official gig was about four months long, largely because it turns out that my inhibitions were profoundly impaired. Inevitably, this lack of shame has led to some uncomfortable situations. Not only am I a woman who's not singing about  love or sadness, but I also use both sexual humor and political humor in my repertoire. As a result, I've had to learn that if I want to continue to use my music to express my opinions, I have to expect a wide spectrum of reactions – and grow a thick skin.

The first time I was heckled, it took me by surprise. There I was, at an outdoor festival, playing my set at the acoustic side stage, when a loud, baritone growl came wafting through the warm breeze toward the stage. I had just finished singing the first line of the chorus in my new ditty about menstruation, "Aunt Flo's Waltz," and the angry bellow from fifty feet away almost made me mess up my lyrics.

"YOUR SONG IS RUDE AND OFFENSIVE!" the man had shouted at me. Smiling in his general direction, I finished the song with all the women in the audience happily singing along, but before I could spot the heckler, he had disappeared into the crowd. 

Well, Emily, what were you expecting, singing a song about women's periods in broad daylight, where there were FAMILIES around? I can hear you asking. I know, I know. Normally, I'd never be so bold as to pull this particular tune out of my pocket at a daytime festival, but I'd been emboldened by the performer who'd played right before me. He was a friend and fellow songwriter, known for passionately crooning racy lyrics while suggestively strumming his guitar. His thirty-minute set had included catchy songs about falling in love with a prostitute while undercover with the FBI, hooking up with his date's roommate while the date is passed out drunk, a ballad about a woman and her inability to orgasm without a vibrator, and a fun little number about a dog who pees money (yes, you read that right). This was all before noon, mind you, and there'd been nary a heckler in sight. In other words, I figured the ice had been broken, social-appropriateness-wise. To balance out the testosterone still glistening on the microphone, I'd decided to choose some of my brightest girl-power gems and bestow them upon the audience.

Now, I'm not going to say with any certainty that I was heckled by a man because I was a woman singing about her monthly cycle, but I will say that if a person fails to be offended by songs like those my male colleague had just graced us with, but draws the line at my menstruation waltz, that person is probably a man. The offending lyric was my synopsis of men's attitude toward a woman who dares to speak freely about her time of the month – namely, "Shut up and shove some cotton up your twat." Graphic? Maybe. Gratuitous? Not intentionally. But hilariously, by interrupting the song in an attempt to shut me up, the heckler proved my point: when it comes to the beautiful, natural, procreation-enabling bodily process that causes us such exquisite pain each month, we ladies are expected to shut up about it already, even if it's in a song. If a man wants to sing about his sexual exploits, though – game on.

Prior to the heckler, I'd been met with resistance more than a few times in my relatively new journey as a publicly-performing folk songstress. I've had bookers say they'll hire me if I could just play a "clean" set – at which point I remind them that my most popular song is titled, "Try Not To Be A Dick," and then I never hear from them again. A couple different restaurant managers have told me that although the staff loved my performance, I wasn't going to be the right fit for this establishment in the future. But for every round of "You'll have to take that elsewhere," I've been met with even more appreciation for the honesty I try to bring to each of my songs. At one memorable gig, the booker hired me to play a set of my children's songs (an avenue I've recently been jogging down), and after I finished my first set, he told me to go ahead and play my other material. By the end of the show, he was singing along to the menstruation waltz, employing a lovely falsetto for the final "twaaaaat." It was a singular experience.

The thing is, I can't always predict how an audience is going to react to my lyrics or prepare them properly for what they're about to hear, because usually when they see a petite woman with an ukulele on a stage, they don't expect her to try leading them in, let's say, a curse-along, or a "Foreign Policy Folk Song" with a chorus of "just bomb their country, just bomb their fucking country." If the crowd has had a beer or three, they aren't too shocked when I ever-so-gently crack their preconceptions. If they're completely sober, chances are good that somebody is going to get their expectations in a bundle. I try to avoid this by giving my songs substantial introductions and encouraging drinking, but when someone's offended, my only defense is to smile bigger. "It's a joke, see? Fun! Please don't follow me to my car!"

All in all, I'm happy making the music I make, as challenging as it can be to find the most appreciative audiences. Not everybody wants unapologetic honesty from a woman with an ukulele, and I can't say that I blame them. I can be scary sometimes, I suppose. The bright side is that those who love what I'm doing are not shy in showing their support, probably because they know I need it in order to keep doing what I do. As society's double standard loosens and it becomes equally as common to hear women singing about our periods and politics as it is to hear men singing about the "blurred lines" of consensual sex, I imagine I'll find less and less pushback against my songs. I won't be considered controversial for much longer. And one glorious day, when Disney needs a song for its new character, Aunt Flo the Menstruation Fairy, I'll be ready.


Check out Emily's music, including her new kids album at her website:


Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and loud loud ladies - Mission Statement

Dim Lights Thick Smoke


Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and loud, loud music  
Is the only kind of life you’ll ever understand  
Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and loud, loud music  
You’ll never make a wife to a home-lovin’ man 

The song symbolizes the sometimes isolating experience of being a “woman on the road”, the stigma of our alternative lifestyle, and the gendered expectations of us from the people we encounter in our career. This blog is meant to be a place to share our stories, pro-tips, projects, and creative journeys with one another to strengthen our ties across so many miles, even as we pass one another like ships in the night. The times we get to chat and hang with other female musicians / industry gals on the road are some of the most affirming and healing connections we have found, and this blog is meant to facilitate more of that good stuff. It’s like a slumber party for your internets!

The idea is a radically open, collaborative space for female musicians and music supporters to share their experiences on the road and foster connection, awareness and creativity in our nomadic existence. The emphasis is on "roots" music, but could certainly expand in the future, and no one will be turned away for lack of twang. ;)

Here's the iconic version sung by Flatt & Scruggs, though it was originally written by Joe & Rose Lee Maphis and Max Fidler. This song's got it all: slut-shaming, reinforcement of traditional gender roles, and a judgey tone that would make even Dana Carvey's "Church Lady" blush. 


Top 10 Healthy Van Snacks

Dim Lights Thick Smoke

        As touring artists, we spend a lot of time in the vast expanses between big cities, driving along those major interstates that completely bypass any small towns and the trade routes they once served. Truck stops and travel plazas are the norm, and even a grocery store feels like a luxury. It's hard to make good choices out there, so here are the top 10 better road snacks for the health-conscious touring musician:



10. Sugar Snap Peas - a crunchy, fiberful alternative to chips. Plus, they can usually be found pre-washed in bags at any supermarket, even Target and Walmart. They don't keep too well, so you might have to get others on board to help finish before the day is done. Best served cold. 10x tastier than baby carrots, and 1/4 the choking hazard. 


9. Kale Chips - greens that won't wilt and require no refrigeration. Granted, they ain't cheap, but they are delicious and nutritious when you can find them. If you're touring close to home, you can make a baked version yourself (though they'll never compare to the hippie crack dehydrated raw vegan ones you can buy at fancy natural food stores, and they know this, so they charge you $7 - $10 for a tiny bag.)

8. An Apple - apples keep well in the van, have lots of fiber, and are ergonomically designed for eating easily while driving. Bananas are ergonomic too, but do not keep so well in the van and have a pesky quick-rotting, smelly peel, so apples win. 

7. Oatmeal - obviously, oatmeal packets are dirt cheap and hot water can be found at any gas station, but even Starbucks and Panera have started offering steel cut oats now (vastly more healthy than instant or rolled oats), with fruit and nuts to mix in. Hot cereal is a great fiberful breakfast option if your body is just not excited about another breakfast sandwich or burrito this morning. 

6. String Cheese - can be hit or miss depending on the brand (I mean, is it really too much to ask that string cheese actually STRINGS?!) but a little protein, fat and calcium never hurt. If you are looking for a convenience store snack that is low carb, and ergonomic for driving, most gas stations have single sticks of string cheese in the fridge.

5. Bars - some are healthier than others. Here's a basic guide for what to look for in a better bar choice.  Low-sugar and high-protein are the two main things and high-fiber is a plus (but watch out for added fiber bars - like Fiber One - as they can cause, eh hem, unintentional discomfort.)

4. Yogurt - single-serving yogurt is usually loaded with added sugar, but luckily, less sweet Greek varieties have started popping up in truck stops everywhere (still, make sure you check the date). Bonus, probiotics can correct imbalances of bacteria in our bodies and aid in digesting all the other bad things we eat on the road. Pro-tip: if you like it less sweet, get the fruit-on-the-bottom kind and only mix halfway. 

3. Fruit Juices / Smoothie Drinks - We're talking gas station variety, not health food store fresh-squeezed. These are a secret sugar bomb of an option (FYI most Odwalla and Naked juice products contain more sugar than a Coke!) , but as a treat they are maaaybe somewhat better for you than candy (at least they have vitamins and some fiber). Consume in moderation, and get the real stuff when you can. 

2. Chocolate - the darker the better. Higher than 80% dark chocolate has very little sugar, and also melts a lot less easily when left in the van. The mood elevating properties of chocolate are the most important thing here - but it also has antioxidants, so, that's kind of like health food, right?

1. ALMONDS! - a handful of these sweet little protein and healthyfat-rich energy bombs can magically hold off the "hanger" until the next available meal. #1 Lifesaver, and they take many months to ever spoil or go stale. Best if you can get them raw and unsalted. Mix with chocolate chips in a mason jar for even more energy boost. 

0. Water - plain old water is the best thing you can drink on the road. It is a vocalist's best friend, and is tied to better body function overall. It's hard to hydrate like a hoss when it means more pee stops, but it's worth it. Remember - 8 glasses a day!

Did we miss anything? What's your favorite healthy van snack? Comment below and contribute to the list! 

Teaching a Rank Stranger some Bluegrass Jam Etiquette

Dim Lights Thick Smoke


by Bonnie Sims 

I host a weekly Sunday afternoon bluegrass jam in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I usually host this jam with my husband and partner-in-all-things-music, but alas, he had gone to his grandmother's eightieth birthday in Texas. So this Sunday, I was flying solo. Think how excited I must have been when the first person to turn up is a good girlfriend, Cindy, who sings and kicks ass on bass and guitar, so she and I together begin the sweet dance that is Bluegrass.

Enter a small, pretty unremarkable stranger dude. He's in his twenties and dressed in normal earth-toned Colorado clothes, complete with a beanie and a beard. Then he begins... Shitty guitar: check. Tuning by ear: check. Smells like feet: check. Introduces himself as Elvis: check. He’s not off to a good start. After I offer him a chair, he grabs a bar stool and says “Do you allow stools here?” to which I jokingly replied, (my first mistake) “Hey, you do whatever you want as long as you keep your pants on.” At this point a kind of drunk, arrogant look washes over his face as he muses, “Girls are always trying to get me to take my clothes off.” NOPE. Newsflash, I told you to keep your pants on. How did that not compute? This is the first red flag, and then he just started literally throwing red flags at me. Right in the face. Which, coincidentally, is also where his OPEN FLY is positioned because he’s sitting next to me on a bar stool while I am in a normal chair. Thanks for the crotch shot, new guy! 

He sings some songs. Some drunken, barely-audible songs. He plays some solos. The jam continues as usual, except that now I have moved over a chair (I’m literally scooting away from you DUDE!!) and Cindy and I are having deep and intense conversation with only our eyes. She decides to sing a tune, ‘Banks of the Ohio’. Right before we start this song, Elvis lets us know that he “plays this one all the time with Tony Rice.” Ok. That’s probably not true. Now, we all know how creepy and misogynistic of a tune ‘Banks of the Ohio’ is. For those not familiar, the story goes: Man likes Girl, Man takes Girl for walk, Man asks Girl to marry him, Girl says No, Man stabs Girl and throws her in the river to drown. That shit is a modern day Law and Order SVU episode. So after my girlfriend sings the line “I killed the girl I loved, you see, because she would not marry me” Elvis yells out, “It’s her own damn fault!”

Woah. I take this opportunity to tell him that this is in fact THE creepiest thing anyone has ever said at my bluegrass jam. He tells me he was trying to make me laugh. Just, no. Everything, no.

The jam continues. I start to notice a funny trend, when I play a lead, Mr. Elvis starts to as well. Seems like he is having trouble playing music with a woman that takes solos. Since his guitar is barely audible, and I like to spank it out on my mando, I ignore him and let it slide. I also play chords for his actual solos. Because I know how to behave at a bluegrass jam. It’s Elvis’ turn once more, and he informs us that he wants to play a Fleetwood Mac song, but also that he lost his pick. He starts to get pretty upset about it actually.

“Did you take my pick? Why did you take my pick?”

“I didn't take your pick, I don’t take people’s things. I’m not five.”

“Oh you think you’re so good. North Carolina wannabes. Why don’t you learn to play the fucking mandolin?”

“Excuse me?”

“Listen babe---”

“My name is not babe. My name is Bonnie Sims and I get paid to be here. This is my job. This isn't some game to me where I pretend to be something I'm not. If you can't treat me with respect, you can get the fuck out of here. Now. Leave.”

Then, Elvis replies with the craziest thing of all:

“You know I respect you.” (as if this was obvious all along)

And I just laughed and laughed and laughed. He left the jam and went to the bar, pulled his hat over his face and proceeded to pout. Then they cut him off, proceeded to kick him out, and called him a cab, because Oskar Blues Longmont is a classy joint. And I am a classy lady. 

Now this was, no doubt, an extreme situation. I've hosted this jam for five years, and played bluegrass all my life, and have never seen anything like this at an open jam. This guy was acting the fool in bright neon colors. I have, however, seen shades of this my whole life: from being the only female in a jam circle and, for some reason, you're the only one who doesn't get a nod for a solo, to being called "Darlin" by the same men for years, who I'm pretty sure never learned my name. (For the record, "Darlin" bothers me a LOT less than not getting a solo.) Also, being complemented by other male musicians, people I respect, as being a "girl who will jam & solo", like that's surprising. I look forward to the day that this is the expectation, instead of a mind-blowing exception. Get ready boys, and be sure to make some room for the ladies. Please and Thank You.


Bonnie “Yes, I would like a solo” Sims



Lady-Songwriter Video Cover Challenge! - Dolly Parton

Dim Lights Thick Smoke

Calling all you roots-performin' women - it's a cover challenge! Every three months we will pick a prolific female songwriter in the bluegrass / old time / country / americana genres, and call on all of you to submit videos of yourself covering one of your favorite songs by the selected artist. After the end of the cycle, we will feature all of your awesome video covers in a post, and get it out there into the world.

So, here's challenge #1 - an artist I think we can all agree is prolific and super badass (having written hundreds of songs and a several major hits). It's Dolly!

Go for it. There are only a couple of guidelines:

1. Do your research, take it as an invitation to go deep and find some more obscure tunes, and most importantly: try to make sure the song was actually written by Dolly Parton. It may take a little bit of digging, but that info is out there.

2. Title your YouTube video thusly: "Your Name - Song Title (Dolly Parton cover)". example: 

Pistol Annies - Jolene (Dolly Parton cover)

3. Make it, do it, share it. This is simply meant to inspire us all to learn more about our favorite female songwriters, and to celebrate them by continuing to play their music. You own your own videos completely. We just want to aggregate them here for our mutual enjoyment. :) 

ProTip: consider collaborating - this could be a great excuse to make a video backstage with a buddy! 

And yes: previously made videos are fine, just send along the link! If you can re-label it for uniformity's sake, that's great, but if not, don't sweat it. The more the merrier! 

So go, get your Dolly on!


♥  Here's a YouTube playlist of 86 Dolly songs to give you some inspiration!   

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

Dim Lights Thick Smoke

  ♥  Raina Rose is an accomplished songwriter who also blogs about being an indie-musician and mom. This piece was recently featured in the Huffington Post, and we are reblogging it because Raina inspires the heck out of us! Her blog is called Fam on the Road ♥

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

by Raina Rose

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

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

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

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

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

This post originally appeared on Raina's brilliant blog: Fam on the Road. <--- Check it out!

What Is Feminism?

Dim Lights Thick Smoke

  ♥   Vickye Fisher runs the blog For The Country Record, writing about mainstream country music and more with a feminist bent. In the wake of country artists like Taylor Swift waffling on identifying as feminists, and the internet "manosphere" advocating to abolish the word, this piece was a breath of fresh air. A big part of this blog will be reposting the work of ladybloggers that inspire us. Feel free to send some posts our way, or create your own original content.  

What Is Feminism?

by Vickye Fisher

Okay, I don’t pretend to be the expert here. These days, the idea of feminism can be a tad confusing, with some thinking it refers to man haters, with others feeling like it’s a subject you need to study before you can profess to being a part of it. Feminism and its ideals have long been a part of country music, but it’s very rarely been referred to explicitly using that exact terminology, and that’s an interesting phenomenon in itself. So what gives me the right to tell you what feminism is? Well, not a lot. But, I am a woman, and I describe myself as a feminist, and I follow the goings on of a few feminists and feminist publications, and do a hell of a lot of thinking about it, and really that’s as much expertise as most people have.

My waking up to feminism came when I read British journalist /comedienne Caitlin Moran’s semi-memoir ‘How To Be A Woman’. In it she describes various instances growing up that are specific to womanhood, all done so in a very honest, funny and relatable manner, with a feminist narrative running alongside. I read it because I liked her tweets; she made me laugh, and I was interested to read something specifically aimed at my own gender from my own gender. As a woman, that’s rarer than you might think. Caitlin knows her stuff when it comes to a lot of things, and as a self-described strident feminist, I learned a lot from her. But the one thing that was the most Earth-shattering to me, was that anybody can be a feminist. You don’t have to have read The Female Eunich by Germaine Greer (I still haven’t), you don’t have to be full of stats about the women’s movement and you don’t have to go on protest marches or burn your underwear. Some women (and men) have done those things, and that was their prerogative and it should be celebrated, but it doesn’t suit everyone, and it shouldn’t. It doesn’t mean you’re a “bad feminist”, or that you’re not one at all, but that everyone fights their battle in different ways.

Second of all, she taught me that feminism does not mean man hating, or female dominance, or anything like that. It just means wanting and striving for gender equality, and that’s a key term. A feminist doesn’t want to turn the patriarchy into a matriarchy, but get rid of the societal power and connotations associated with gender altogether. A feminist wants to remove sexism from the playing field, for both men and women, so that people can be paid the same, be treated the same, get the same opportunities, regardless of whether they have a penis or a vagina. Of course, that doesn’t mean that men and women have to dress the same, or like the same things, and post-feminism, in simplistic terms, believes that people should do what they want because they can. If a woman wants to wear a dress and high heels because that’s what she enjoys, she should. If she wants to wear trousers because it makes her feel more comfortable, she should. If a man wants to wear nail polish or eyeliner, because it’s a part of his self-expression, he should. For some people these ideas are pushing the boundaries; for others, they believed in them without even realizing.

If you don’t think women should be second-class citizens, you’re a feminist. If you get annoyed when a woman automatically gets custody of their child and a man has to fight for it, you’re a feminist. If you want people not to be discriminated against because of how they look, or whether they bleed once a month, then you’re a feminist. The fact that feminist has “fem” in the name of course creates confusion, and I can understand how it could be misinterpreted. Hell, I was one of those people once. But it’s named that way because no matter which way you look at it we live in an overwhelmingly patriarchal society, and more often than not it’s women’s rights that have to be fought for. But that doesn’t mean it looks to exclusively raise the social standing of women above all others, and it doesn’t look to categorize men as misogynist or lesser beings.

So how does this apply to country music? Well, there’s a lot of misconceptions I’ve found within the genre and the industry. People are afraid of the word. I asked Ashley Monroe earlier this year if she would said the Pistol Annies’ album ‘Annie Up’ covered feminist topics or wrote from a feminist perspective and she replied, “Oh, no no no. I feel like it’s my duty to show women it’s okay to talk about things that would normally make other people uncomfortable. Myself or the Annies didn’t set out and say let’s write songs about hating men, or that women are better. We never did it intentionally… I’ve seen a lot of life and I can do a lot of things that men can do, so I’m sure somewhere downrooted in me, I root for my girls, because I know it can be a little bit hard on us… I write more for that, than saying I’m a feminist or that I’m on this big campaign to stir up stuff, I’m not that smart!”

I loved her response, because she was being diplomatic while remaining strongly in favor of women’s music, but I nearly laughed at the time because what she described was feminist, she just didn’t know it. That’s in no way confined to Ashley and I’m not having a go at her for that at all, but I think it’s a more general thing because people are not really taught about feminism other than bold statements such as women not shaving and abstaining from sex, burning their underwear and becoming a butch lesbian. As ludicrous as that may sound to some, to others those are the connotations that feminism provides, and it’s sad that there isn’t more discussion and empowerment going on. Miranda Lambert is a feminist, Carrie Underwood is a feminist, Kacey Musgraves is a feminist, Brandy Clark is a feminist, Ashley Monroe is a feminist even if she doesn’t think she is. It’s rooting for everyone and being proud of who they are, regardless of gender, and rooting for a more equal society where no-one gets the rough end of the deal. Hell, even Taylor Swift is a feminist despite a lot of people saying she’s not. In her own way, she’s encouraging women (and girls) to rise up and take charge of their lives, and encouraging them to be who they want to be. And, whether she intends to or not, her high-profile relationships promote the idea of female sexual empowerment, a notion that has long been controversial through the ideals of purity attached to women.

Everyone has their own version of feminism. Some are stronger on certain aspects than others, and many feminists will have different views to each other. The point is it’s all-inclusive, and anything I can do to help promote that community and the use of the word is another good deed I’ve done.

This article originally appeared on Vickye's fantastic music blog: For The Country Record. <--- Def check it out!

Ladygrass meetup at Folk Alliance 2014... where it all started

Dim Lights Thick Smoke

Badgirls of Bluegrass meetup at Folk Alliance International Conference, Kansas City, MO Feb 2014

The impetus for this blog was a casual meetup at the Folk Alliance International Conference in February of 2014, with wine, whiskey, chocolate and clementines. I got excited when I noticed that Kansas City was going to see a critical mass of female bluegrass, old-time, country and americana musicians, and so I started spreading the word for friends and friends-of-friends to meet up for a couple of hours on Thursday and just rap about issues facing women on the road and in the industry.

Folk Alliance is a busy place, and I had no idea who would be able to show up for a completely impromptu, unproven ladygroup (kind of like this blog!) To my delight, over 30 female folk musicians from all over the US and Canada ended up turning out for the meeting, new connections were made, and new conversations started. This blog is meant to be a continuation of those conversations and connections, to reach out and build an alliance of touring female musicians to lift one another up and inspire each other in the world. 

“Badgirls of Bluegrass” didn’t quite include everyone in this amazing community, so “Dim Lights / Thick Smoke” is the title Lindsay Lou and I came up with to capture the vibe…. hardcore, touring women, dealing with shit on the road and rocking out with twang.


- Melody Walker, editor