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goodbye, hello, new songs

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Today is my birthday.

My birthday falls on the first day of the year, the day when everyone is hopeful, bright-eyed, staring down the barrel of the future with a fire in their hearts and holding onto the thought that this year, they will do better.

They will be better.

The fact that my birthday falls on this day, I am filled with these sentiments a thousand-fold.  Every moment that passes on this day is some sort of symbolic portent of things to come, a tiny prayer for how I wish the following year to unfold.

It is usually partnered with the urge to flee to some different somewhere, far from anything familiar. 

To surround myself with things so foreign, the proximity itself invites change.

Tonight, I am ensconced in David Mack’s attic in Portland, after a day wandering this mostly alien tiny city.  Casting an eye to the future.

In the last few hours of today, I want to share with you the first song of the year, for me.  

It’s called Sirens, and was produced by Shipwrek. It is the first song I’ve ever recorded in a studio, and I think maybe the best thing I’ve ever done.  

You can listen to it here:

I started this song of February last year, and took it into the studio last June, and then again in November. It was worked and re-worked, written, destroyed, rearranged, and put back together. 

Most of me wants to do things faster, finish things faster, but I am probably prouder of this song than I am of anything I’ve done.  

I hope you like it as much as I do.

with all the love I have,

olga

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

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He was 56.

That was the first thing that stood out.
  
My friend Belinda called me, and I said I was sad. Sad without real reason, because ultimately, this is not a man I knew. She replied “Well. He’s your whole life!”
  
I’m surrounded by iPhones and Macbooks and iMacs.  I touch these tools every day for every single thing I do.

..but it’s not that.

It’s that there’s this person who was brave enough to go after what he cared about, who was ballsy enough to do it, to chase it, and literally change the world. In a million intimate ways.

There are so few people who name their dreams, and fewer still who, having named them, bend their entire life to realizing them.

Of those people?  A fraction do it more than once.

More than twice.

This is a man with a legacy that has reached into the way culture is disseminated in my own country, in many countries, with tendrils spreading through the world for years to come.

He is part of the democracy of media– of why it has become ever easier to be a person with an idea, and to make a film, or to make a song.

He built a product and changed the music industry.

But the constituent parts of his legacy are not, so much, what capture me.

This is one man who has built a bigger life for himself than most of us have ever dreamed. 

That tenacity, perseverance, and vision– having that light go from the world– that is where I feel the sting of sadness, for a man that I’ve never met.

Parting words from the man himself, advice on creating a life well lived:

“Remembering that you are going to die, is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking that you have something to lose.   You are already naked.  There is no reason not to follow your heart.” 

– Steve Jobs.

Turntable 101: For Musicians

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Olga Nunes is a singer and songwriter. Now that you’re here, why don’t you check out a music video of one of Olga’s songs? It’s here: A Dream of Gardens. (It has lyrics by Neil Gaiman. It was directed by Team Genius.) You can download this song for free over on the music page, along with songs funded by the Kickstarter-funded LAMP album. Thanks for stopping by!

* * * * * * * * 

You may have heard by now of a little site called Turntable.fm. It’s a site that lets you DJ your music picks to rooms full of avatars, and is ridiculously addictive. I’ve discovered a ton of great new music through the site, and have had fun sharing songs with rooms of strangers.

As a musician, however, the fascination around Turntable is centered on how it’s actually an amazing new tool for artists to share their work with fans, and to connect with new fans in the process.

I’ve been on the site since a couple weeks after it launched, and I sold music very early on simply by playing my own tracks in a room. I’ve gone on to run listening parties both for a local festival, and for other artists— the latter helping to launch an album to the top-selling position on Bandcamp.

Turntable is taking off, especially as a new medium for artists to intimately share their work.  In recent weeks, I’ve seen artists ranging from Sir Mix-A-Lot to ?uestlove, Manchester Orchestra to Ra Ra Riot run listening party rooms to great effect– where I usually stick around to answer helpful questions about the site’s inner workings.

In light of that, I wanted to throw together a few helpful tips for musicians starting out on Turntable: 

1. First: the basics.

You get a Turntable account by having a friend on Facebook who has access– it’s spreading pretty quickly, so the chances of that are high. Once you’re in, check out the FAQ, and this CNN article for tips on etiquette. Turntable is dead simple to use, but it doesn’t hurt to get an overview first.

2. Join the community!

If you’re a new user in a room on Turntable, start conversations, and engage people. Don’t come in and start posting links to your music in chat without getting a feel for what people like first– especially if you don’t already have a large fan base.


3. Let people know upfront you’re playing your own music.

If you’re joining an existing room, people tend to be more receptive and more willing to hear you out if the music you’re spinning is your own. Get a DJ seat, get comfortable, and set the stage for what you’re about to play.


4. Give away free music.

Have the track you play in Turntable available as a free download, either on your website or some place like Bandcamp –preferably in exchange for an email address. When you play your song and people respond positively, mention that the song can be downloaded for free, and give them the link. If you’re lucky, they’ll add your songs to their Turntable playlist, and spin your music on the site when you’re not around.


5. Have thick skin.

Playing your music in a Turntable room– especially a big one– is not like playing a gig. It’s more a cross between playing a gig, and reading a page full of YouTube comments. People are more or less anonymous, so sometimes the criticism can rain down. Expect that people will be honest, and be kind and receptive in return. It will work in your favor for the people in the room who DO like your music.


6. Have listening parties.

If you already have a good-sized, receptive fan base, create a room just for your music with as many DJ seats as there are members of your band– and then send out a message on Twitter that you’re DJing in a room. Turntable is more or less instant-gratification, so you don’t need to announce in advance– and additionally, the current room cap is 200, so rooms fill up pretty quickly. I’ve seen rooms with Sir Mix-A-Lot or Talib Kweli get flooded to capacity within minutes from a single tweet. While this may seem bad, it kind of works in your favor– having an intimate 200-person party with your fans lets them feel like they’re insiders, and you’ll be able to carry on more meaningful conversations about your music, as well as let them get to know you.


7. Play songs you’re comfortable sharing online.

While it’s a good idea to play new (or unreleased!) songs for your fans, be aware that currently, uploading songs to Turntable keeps the songs in the system for other users to add to their playlists. While this is a benefit– being able to upload your own tracks that are not in the Turntable database– be sure to only share songs you’re comfortable with people playing when you’re not around.


8. Check your stats.

 You can keep up with how many people are playing your songs with a nifty third-party site called TTDashboard created by Alain Gilbert. For example, clicking on a song in Turntable can tell you how many points it received in which room, and who played it. Points are the currency of Turntable, given when someone clicks “Awesome” on a played song– and a strong measure of how people are reacting to your music at any given time.

9. Have fun.
Turntable, ultimately, is about sharing music you love with people who love music. Don’t just share your own work, but share songs by other artists that move you as well. It’ll make for a more exciting experience for everyone, and allow people to connect with what we’re all here for anyway: the music.

I’m excited to see where Turntable might go next. Before the first large artist hit Turntable, I sketched out an idea of what their growth might look like— and since then I’ve seen only more and more interest around it, while artists large and small flock to the site. I can only imagine that it’s going to get bigger, more exciting, and more useful to artists as a way to connect with people.




FOOTNOTE: I’ve recently discovered that you can add your own music to Turntable’s native database by submitting it to Tunecore. Simply upload your album or single, and then select “MediaNet” as a vendor, and your music should be searchable within the Turntable database within a week or two!

Hit The Ground Running

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I like life best when it’s at zero or sixty: all introspection and huddled blankets and fireplaces in the middle of the woods, or motorcycles and sunrises from the wrong end and adventure and singing in alleyways.

Last weekend was nearer to sixty.

My best friend Jason and I drove down to Los Angeles in some sort of marathon endeavor last Friday, singing Banana Pancakes, eating shitty fast food and racing against the clock. We had less than forty-eight hours until we had to be back in San Francisco for an event Sunday morning.

We arrived at favorite human and wunderkind photographer Allan Amato’s studio early Friday, just in time to be random hands-on-deck to help with a shoot.

The model: Andy Dick.


(Taken on my iPhone. Click to see more.)


Mostly this involved hanging out, searching Los Angeles for random cigar props, and moving lights around when Allan said to. 
I didn’t really know who Andy was when I met him– I will say he has the capability to be quite charismatic. And he seems like a man with a whirlwind of a mad life

The next day, after a night of endless running around, Allan, Jason and I went back to the studio to build and decorate a set for the LAMP album cover.

This is the set, in a little corner of Allan’s studio, built from abandoned wood planks and random ephemera.  I was super proud of it:
 


(Click to embiggen.)


And this is the photo Allan took, which arrived in my inbox less than two days later:

blog_finallamp.jpg

(Click to embiggenify.)


The man is fucking brilliant. (He photographed Jason’s album cover too, but it’s still being magic-tricked out.) Allan just finished shooting and directing a music video with our friend Tas Limur, for lovely English songstress Sonja Kristina.

(It’s his first music video. I think they outdid themselves. See for yourself.)

After a sped-up rest of the weekend, I woke up Monday morning to Kevin Smith calling me an art chick.

Kevin has a new daily live podcast, called Smodcast, and launched an ad spot program that was cheap enough that I’d try giving it a shot. I actually can’t stop listening to Plus One Per Diem, the podcast he does with his wife, Jen Schwalbach. Their dynamic is fascinating to me, and really fun to hear, so taking out an ad on their show seemed like a fun experiment. You can listen to the result below:



  *       *       *      

Finally: I realized something important.

I’ve been burning out a little on music production for Sirens (the next song on LAMP) and it occurred to me that part of the problem is I haven’t written any music in ages. Lots of listening, tweaking, perfecting– but no writing.

So I’m launching a new section of the site, called Sketchbook. It is what it sounds like. I’ll throw works in progress, minute-song experiments, and random sketches in there in a sort of music-diary-pile. I’ll post links to new entries on Twitter as they go up, or if you like, you can follow me on Soundcloud.

The first entry is a minute song I wrote when listening to Sirens for the thousandth time was driving me bonkers. It may turn into a real song. Maybe. You can check it out on the Sketchbook here, or just hit play below.

Making The World Smaller

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It’s night time in the San Francisco Mission. Star St. Germain is pinned between myself and Kim Boekbinder in Kim’s tiny white pickup. We have just high-fived for making the world considerably smaller, after dining on beignets and ice cream while swapping stories.

I love making the world smaller.

At dinner, Star talked to us about this amazing project she worked on that is as captivating as she made it sound, called We Are Giving Up. Two musicians, two albums, each documenting the same road trip across America from different directions. The fascinating thing, is each album can be played simultaneously with the other, and the outcome magically, serendipitously just works.

Go here to listen: We Are Giving Up.

Click the star to hear both albums at the same time. Marvel.

Also take a gander at the music video that Kim’s lovely man Jim Batt is working on (with Molly Crabapple!): I Have Your Heart.

And. My friend Allan Amato, who was not at dinner, but who has coincidentally photographed Molly recently, should also be mentioned in this link-pile of art-love. He’s doing a brilliant Kickstarter project based around Parkinson’s, and has shot stunning photographs of Terry Gilliam, Neil Gaiman, Kevin Smith, Grant Morrison and more. Go, if only to ogle the pictures. Support, if only to get one of these pictures for your very own.



I love having such passionate, driven people in my life.

It means getting calls at midnight with someone wanting to read me a story, to see if it works.

It means photos sitting in my email, and music videos, and letters that might as well be poems, from friends scattered around the world.

It means my best friend playing me songs in his apartment at all hours of the day or night, each inching closer to being released in the world, and getting to witness them grow, like baby birds in the nest, right before they take off.

I’m infinitely grateful.

It’s inspiring.

In the meantime, I am slowly working in the background on LAMP songs, and soon the floodgates will burst open.

The hardest part is the most solitary, and maybe the least publicly interesting. It involves a lot of staring at a screen that looks a lot like this, clicking, listening, clicking, and listening some more. (A friend who is a recording engineer told me recently that he describes himself as a Professional Listener.) I’m teaching myself music production, which is a longer road than I’d hope for, but I’m definitely learning a lot as I go. The songwriting is not the hard part. Recording is the hard part.

Fortunately? It’s also ridiculously fun. The next song is called Sirens, and is dizzingly close to being done, with another hot on its heels.

Soon. So very soon.

(If you want to get a link to Sirens the moment it’s released, as ever, join the mailing list below– you’ll be sent infrequent and awesome surprises..)

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

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We’re all living in a storybook.

It’s a storybook of our own making, generally.  The stories we tell ourselves about who we are.  The shades of paint we color ourselves in with: we are the ones that make brave choices, the ones who honor the truth above all else, the ones who maybe know a little more what’s going on than the people around us.

Or: we’re the ones who could never learn to do ballet. We’re not the sort of people who move to France and write novels.  We would never know what to do with ourselves hitchhiking across Europe.

The stories serve to give us roadmaps to who we think we are.  When the next important decision comes up, we can refer to the map and say: “Yes, I can see that I’m meant to turn left just here, because I’m the sort of person who Makes Responsible Decisions.”

Stories.

It gets even more interesting when you account for all the people whose lives are intertwined with your own: the story of you and your mother, the story of you and your lover, the story of you and your rival.  When these people surface, you can pull the volume down from the shelf marked with your names and know what your story looks like. I love him very much. I could never forgive her for that. He will always let me down.

When I started taking a look at these narratives, they began to pop up more and more frequently around me.  I’d be listening to Radiolab, and they’d make some stray comment about how the story you tell yourself about an injury can decrease pain, or how some people think the soul is just the story of yourself told back to you.  

A friend sent me a story from NPR about a man who had literally lost the plot of his life.  His story had gone off the rails.

And it kept hitting me, this idea that we’re all stories. 

Which is kind of powerful.  Because you can change your story at any time. 

I stumbled on an article tonight with words that landed heavy:

“People associate themselves very strongly with the decisions they make (even something as simple as enjoying coffee or going to bed late), but they don’t realize that they would be just as happy being the opposite kind of person, and be just a much “themselves.”
But no, there is no risk in changing. The real risk in staying the same.
I plan to be unrecognizable in 5 years. I plan to surprise everyone.
You should too.
Now, tell me how.”

People become so desperately attached to the shape of their story that it becomes terrifying to change.  I relate to that, I think– not always consciously.  But I’ve had more than one conversation in the last few months making light of the fact that I believe, on a deep level, that things can and will never change in my life.

It’s not a defeatist thought.  It’s not even a sad one.  It’s just this notion that that, maybe, somewhere along the way, a person decided what kind of story they were going to be, and never thought they’d be anything different.  Not good, nor bad. It just is what it is.

A friend of mine sent me an email on New Year’s Day, on my birthday. She’d pretended to write a letter as her eighty-year old self, back in time to her present self.  That list was full of advice, and full of things she knew her future self would tell her to do.

Can you imagine standing at the very end of your story, and looking back?  What would you say, from that precipice, to yourself now? To chase, to change, to give up or to give in to?

For myself… I’m not sure how to answer that.  

But here’s what I hope.  They say that every seven years, all the cells in your body die and are replaced by entirely new cells.  It doesn’t happen all at once, of course. But if you take a snapshot of yourself and one seven years later, every cell that occupies your body is completely different.

It’s madness to think of.  Because, then, what is the “self” we speak of– the soul, for the spiritual.  If every physical fiber of ourselves is different, what is the connective tissue that we identify as the “I”?

I like to think it’s the story holding us together.

And if every cell in our body can die away and replace itself, slowly, in the night, without our noticing… there’s no reason why one day, just as gradually and stealthily, we might find ourselves characters in a story that looks exactly like we’d hoped.

Lamp, Kickstarter & Theme Parks in Venezuela

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Olga Nunes is a singer and songwriter. Now that you’re here, why don’t you check out a music video of one of Olga’s songs? It’s here: A Dream of Gardens. (It has lyrics by Neil Gaiman. It was directed by Team Genius.) You can download this song for free over on the music page, along with songs funded by the Kickstarter-funded LAMP album. Thanks for stopping by!

* * * * * * * * 

I just launched the LAMP website, the house that will hold LAMP now that the Kickstarter campaign is over. (You can see it here.) Winter and the holidays are falling off the gears and things are starting to turn in earnest now.

But! While it’s fresh in my mind, I’ve been meaning to do a post on Kickstarter itself. What’s Kickstarter, you ask? Well, it’s the really fantastic site that lets you crowd-source fundraising for projects, and is how I funded my upcoming album. During the campaign, lots of friends and strangers wrote asking how it worked and if it was good fit for them, or how to make their current project better. I mainlined Kickstarter projects & related blog entries for four months before launching my own project, with lots of friendly help from the folks at Kickstarter itself (I’m looking at you, Cindy Au!) so I have a small country’s worth of thoughts on the subject.

For the friends who asked and the strangers who might be wondering, here’s a tiny map that might help you get started funding your own forays into awesomeness.

1.

FOCUS ON THE PROJECT

Kickstarter is excellent for launching your play, book, product, album, or whimsical Nintendo-scarf knitting project. What it’s less excellent for is subsidizing general, non-specific ideas.  

Bad example: “Help me pursue more art in my life!”

Good example: “Help foot the costs to build an eight-foot tall lego replica of Diagon Alley!”

Think concrete, and finite– something with a beginning and an end goal, that you can define easily.

Take these two examples by Polly Law. In this one, Polly focuses on how she doesn’t have enough time and energy to be an artist, and how she wants to be able to cover her bills for four months while she pursues her career. And in THIS one, Polly focuses instead on what she’s trying to accomplish with her actual art, The Word Project. Project A = Unsuccessful. Project B = Successful, with Polly reaching 147% of her goal.

It is much easier to be able to say: “Yes, THIS project, I want to help make it exist!” as opposed to “support you as an artist, wha…? What does that mean?” The latter is amorphous, while the former gives people something concrete to attach to.

2.

REWARDS, REWARDS, REWARDS

If you’re thinking about putting up a project, you also have to consider what you’re giving people for their money. Each project has backer tiers from a dollar to a squillion dollars, and each should come with a reward appropriate to that level.

Kickstarter has a lot to say about this in terms of how to make your rewards fun, but personally, I think Kickstarter works best as a pre-order model– take, for example, TikTok, a campaign to produce iPod Nano/watch conversion kits. Of the 13,512 people who chose to back the TikTok campaign, nearly all of those humans were pre-ordering a TikTok. Which is to say, they while they were funding a dream, they were also buying something they wanted.

So think about what that looks like. If you’re making an album, that’s easy– you offer pre-orders for the album. If you’re choreographing an interactive dance event in the middle of a zoo, maybe you make dvds of the event, or photo-books, and offer those as rewards. There should be a concrete something that people can take away that is a piece of your project. Be creative, but more importantly, find rewards that get people to feel involved in your project. 

3.

GIVE PROOF OF WHAT YOU’VE DONE BEFORE

You have a project idea! Awesome! But before you put up your project about building a giant bee-powered flying machine to the moon, a few things… whatever your project is, it’s best if you give proof that you’ve done this sort of thing before– or something like it. (In this example, perhaps, you have a long resume of building medium-sized bee-powered flying machines.)

I’ve seen lots of negative feedback against Kickstarter projects that ask for money without demonstrating some background in their field. It’s not always needed, but it’s hard to get people to back you without seeing some of the effort you’ve put towards your particular expertise, especially since backers get no guarantee their money will be used towards the project itself. Kickstarter is pretty good about remaining scot-free by telling backers: any money you donate is effectively forfeited. And for that reason, backers need to be sufficiently inspired and have faith in your demonstrated abilities before they’ll financially support you.

4.

GIVE PROOF OF WHAT YOU’RE DOING NOW

So you’re planning a theme park in Venezuela built entirely around the adventures of sea monkeys? First of all, ridiculously awesome. Second of all, it might be a good idea to show off some of the legwork you’ve spent on getting this idea off the ground. Theme park blueprints. Miniature models of El SeaMonkeyLandia. Building permits, prototypes for working rides, that sort of thing.

It’s best to already have some of your ducks in a row when you hit Kickstarter so people know you’re serious, and so you know what you’re getting into.

5.

USE VIDEO

 Have a video on your actual Kickstarter page. It seems in lots of cases, videos on the project page make or break a project getting funded. People want to see who you are, and very specifically they want to know in a short amount of time why they should be excited about your project. Specifics about the project are really good. Specifics about rewards that people receive from funding you are also good. Demonstrate your passion for what you’re working on, and let people get excited with you.

6.

LOOK AT OTHER PROJECTS 

 Look at successful projects on Kickstarter– those that have made 100% of funding to those that have made 1000% of funding. Also look at the projects that have failed. Figure out what’s different in the presentation from one to another that makes the successful ones successes, and the failures fail. (Some things are different from project to project, but may give you an idea as how to present your project in such a way that it’ll garner more attention.)

7.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE 

Generally, Kickstarter doesn’t have a built-in audience. Which is to say, if you hit the launch button on your project (in which you attempt to make toy unicorn versions of all the American presidents) it is unlikely that with no further work you’ll get a ton of backers. It’s POSSIBLE (I mean, toy unicorns! of presidents!) but chances are slim.

The way to look at it is this: Kickstarter operates off of your existing friend, family, and fan-base. Once you launch your project, your job is to tell everyone you know. It’s those existing connections you lean on, as well as their belief in your project to share your work via word-of-mouth with their own friends.  

8.

EXPERIMENT 

 Kickstarter is still a new platform, and people are coming with new and interesting ways of using it all the time. Take risks, both in how you present the project and what you use it for. A few random things I’ve found helpful: it helps to aim lower than what’s needed for your funding goal. You’ll be more likely to get the money that is donated since it’s all-or-nothing funding, and people will be more excited for you for making funding so quickly, leading them to support you even more. Also? Try to start with no more than 5 or 6 backer tiers– the more tiers you have the more potential you have to overwhelm and confuse people.

9.

DON’T GET DEJECTED 

Kickstarter isn’t a guarantee; it’s a rallying point. It is for better or worse, a testing ground for ideas. Which means some things catch people’s attention and some things don’t, and since it’s all-or-nothing funding it’s possible you won’t hit your goal. That’s okay. This is a way for you to flesh out your ideas and a way to determine interest. If the first try doesn’t work, like they say, try, try again.