Saturday, September 27, 2008

What key is this mood in?

We're throwing two new songs into our set list, which means it's time to tweak the song order a bit. There are a couple of rules to creating a good set list:
  1. Variation. It's good to change things up a little. You don't want a whole lot of fast loud songs in a row, or a bunch of slow thoughtful songs all together. Two adjacent songs shouldn't be in the same key if you can help it.

  2. Key compatibility. This one is a little harder to explain to nonmusicians without an audio demonstration, but certain keys work together better than others. If you've just played a song in G major, and your next song is in C major or F# minor, it will flow well. From C major to F# minor, on the other hand, is a little jarring.
The trick, when putting two or three hours' worth of music in order, is to follow the first rule without breaking the second -- easier said than done.

I've been aware of this on some level before, but as I construct our latest set list, it srikes me that I tend to write certain kinds of songs in certain kinds of keys. If it conveys, I don't know ... a softer emotion like contentment or wistfulness or melancholy, it's more likely to be in a key with sharps, like G, D, or A. If it's kick-ass angry or angsty, it's more likely in a key with flats, like B flat or A flat. (And if you've ever learned to read music, you know that flats and sharps are relative -- F sharp is the same as G flat -- so none of this makes any real sense.)

Do other musicians have different keys for different moods, or is it just me? And does the key a song is in make any difference whatsoever for listeners?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Does music generate votes?

Last week I was interviewed for an Arizona Daily Star article about musicians who "[use] their talents and celebrity to encourage others to vote." The article came out today. It did not, alas, include any of my quotes or mention Cinder Bridge. Gotta spend less time rehearsing, more time perfecting those soundbites.

Anyhow, when we spoke, interviewer Gerald Gay asked me a very perceptive question: did I feel that political events featuring live music actually produced results?

The article touched on this issue briefly.
David Slutes, entertainment director for Hotel Congress ... has always seen music as an effective way to draw people in, especially younger people, to look at the issues. But the jury is still out on whether the tactic actually generates votes, he said.

"What I found last time is that many of these people just didn't vote," he added ...

"They came to the events, did a lot of 'rah rah' and just didn't vote. It was interesting and great to motivate and get the message out. But to actually have them make it into the voting booths this time — the proof will be in the pudding."
That sounds about right to me. What I told Gerald was, bands like ours help draw people to the events, give them something cool to listen to for their donation dollars. The point is not to convince them to vote for a particular candidate. Everyone at Barack 'n' Roll was already rooting for Obama, right? Why else would they be there?

Ron the Drummer didn't entirely agree with my assessment. He pointed out that a few people went to Barack 'n' Roll not to support Obama, but to support us. I see his point. Still, I just can't imagine someone thinking, "Gosh, I was kinda leaning toward McCain, but Cinder Bridge played so well. Maybe Barack Obama IS right about health care and the war in Iraq."

Cynicism aside, we'll be doing an Obama party/silent auction next Wednesday and a half-hour set for another Obama event at Old Town Artisans in late October. Should be fun ... even if our totally apolitical songs don't persuade anyone to change their vote.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Invisible, but not inaudible

"It's not so much what you don't know that can hurt you, it's what you think you know that ain't so."
-- Will Rogers

September 8–14 is National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week. Its aim is to help healthy people understand what it's like to live with serious "invisible" diseases such as myalgic encephalomyelitis, fibromyalgia, multiple chemical sensitivities, lyme disease, Gulf War syndrome, and many, many others.

What makes an illness or disability invisible? Two things. First, the people suffering with it often drop out of sight. Your friends don't hear from you for a while, figure you've lost touch for the usual reasons friends do, and have no idea that your chronic pain or crushing fatigue prevents you from leaving the house most days. Second, if they do happen to see you again, you probably appear perfectly normal. Your disease hasn't caused you to break out in scary hives or turn blue. The very fact that you're out in public probably means you're feeling/functioning better than usual.

Chances are you've tried to explain what's really going on with you. But not everyone believes it: You could go back to work if you were willing to tough it out. You don't LOOK sick, so it must be all in your head ... or worse, you must be making it all up to get attention and a free disability check. So now you're not only stuck with constant pain, but you don't receive the support you'd get if you had diabetes, or multiple sclerosis, or some other "legitimate" disorder.

Want to combat this kind of prejudice? Here's something to try. Go to and download our song "Everybody Knows About Me." It's inspired by somebody who lived for many years with undiagnosed myalgic encephalomyelitis (also known as CFIDS, also known as "chronic fatigue syndrome"), but it could just as easily apply to many other invisible illnesses.

If you like the song, send the link to someone suffering from an invisible illness to let them know they aren't alone. Send it to someone who believes people with invisible illnesses are whining hypochondriacs. Send it to someone who doesn't quite get how it feels ... but would like to.

Finding cures for these devastating diseases will cost billions. In the meantime, compassion is free.

Friday, September 5, 2008

When you're out of touch, everything is underground

A year or so ago, I left a couple of Highways and Hiking Shoes CDs at CD City, a mom-and-pop record store in Highland Park, Illinois, my hometown. Owner Steve Kessler said he'd play our album in the store, see what happened.

Today I stopped in to see if anything had happened with those CDs. Not surprisingly, the answer was no -- brick-and-mortar stores aren't the likeliest places for unknown artists to sell their stuff. Steve wasn't sure where his copies of H&HS had gotten to, so he offered to write me a check for them. I took home a couple of free CDs instead: Tender Moments by McCoy Tyner, and We Were Here by Joshua Radin.

I'd never heard of Radin. Steve played him for me after I asked for recommendations, and what I heard was good enough to take a chance on. I thought maybe he was some obscure underground artist. But no, I looked him up on Wikipedia and found out he's been on a bunch of TV and movie soundtracks.

This is what I get for not watching TV.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Another Obama gig

Our 20-minute performance at Club Congress's Obama extravaganza has scored us another Obama gig.

Celebrate Our Candidate

Wednesday, October 1, 5:30–7:30 p.m.

Marty and Doug Elliott's
986 W. Dancing Rain Ct.
Oro Valley, AZ 85755

Contact phone: 520-395-0628

There will be a happy hour, silent auction, and live music by Cinder Bridge (that's us). Suggested minimum donation is $25 per person, $40 per couple.

It won't be the first time we've played a party, and with "Barack 'N' Roll" under our belt, it won't be the first time we've done a political event either. It will be a first for this combination of things, though, so it will be interesting to see how it goes.