Monday, March 25, 2013

Meanwhile in Afghanistan World Tour: EUROPE

The Meanwhile In Afghanistan World Tour goes to Europe from April 16th through June 24th. My tour of Europe will start in Norway, then zigzag between Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, after which it will zigzag between England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. And possibly elsewhere -- dates are still being added! But most of the shows I'll be doing are confirmed by now and are listed below. (New gigs will be added here and at as they are confirmed!) Please spread the word!

I'll be doing material from my latest CD, Meanwhile In Afghanistan, songs from my upcoming CD, Everything Can Change, and lots of other stuff... Become a subscriber and get your laminated card granting you entry to any of the shows for free (not to mention lots of free CDs, and lots of my gratitude for your support)!


Tuesday, April 16th, 8 pm
House concert -- contact Gerd Berlev for more info if you'd like to attend!

Friday, April 19th, 8 pm
Internasjonal Senter & Biljard

Saturday, April 20th
Amalie Skramm Hall
Wergelandsveien 29
0167 Oslo

Monday, April 22nd, 8 pm
Baslerstr. 103

Wednesday, April 24th
Rössli Bar

Thursday, April 25th
Unterer Heuberg 21
4051 Basel

Friday, April 26th
Théâtre La Fourmi
Anker am Pilatusplatz
Obergrundstr. 5
CH 6003 Luzern

Saturday, April 27th
The Box

Sunday, April 28th, 8 pm
Richard-Wagner-Str. 6
69121 Heidelberg

Monday, April 29th, 7 pm
Theater Blauer Hirsch
Saargemünder Strasse 11

Wednesday, May 1st, 1 pm
1st of May event at Munke Mose

Wednesday, May 1st, 5 pm
1st of May event at Tangkroen

Friday, May 3rd, 6 pm
Melting Pot Festival

Saturday, May 4th, 8 pm
Heyden-Rynsch-Straße 2
44149 Dortmund

Sunday, May 5th
Grüner Zweig
Erlenstraße 31

Wednesday, May 8th, 8 pm
Me and Attila the Stockbroker!
Smedegade 17
8700 Horsens

Thursday, May 9th
Me and Attila the Stockbroker!

Friday, May 10th
Me and Attila the Stockbroker! -- details TBC

Saturday, May 11th
Me and Attila the Stockbroker! -- details TBC

Wednesday, May 15th
ACU -- double-bill with me and the great Armand!

Friday, May 17th, 10 pm

Saturday, May 25th
Glad Cafe
1006A Pollokshaws Rd
Glasgow, G41 2HG

Wednesday, May 29th
CB2 (basement)
5/7 Norfolk St
Cambridge CB1 2LD

Thursday, May 30th
Islington Folk Club
The Horseshoe
24 Clerkenwell Close
London EC1R 0AG

Saturday, June 1st, 5:15 pm
Glastonwick Festival 2013 (festival is all weekend, with lots of great acts!)
Church Farm
Coombes, West Sussex BN15 0RS

Sunday, June 2nd
The Grosvenor
17 Sidney Rd
London SW9 0TP

Tuesday, June 4th, 8 pm
The Globe
25 Albany Road
Cardiff CF24 3NS

Wednesday, June 5th
Ropetackle Studio
Little High Street
Shoreham-by-Sea BN43 5EG

Thursday, June 6th, 7:30 pm
The Garage Music Venue
47 Uplands Crescent
Swansea SA2 0NP

Friday, June 7th, 7:30 pm
"Building Bridges at The Studio"
Middlesbrough Little Theatre Club
Toft House
The Avenue
Middlesbrough TS5 6SA

Saturday, June 8th
The Queens Head
Chesterfield Road
Belper, Derbyshire

Sunday, June 9th
Brudenell Social Club

Monday, June 10th
The Kitchen Garden Cafe
17 York Road
Kings Heath
Birmingham B14 7SA

Tuesday, June 11th
The Night & Day Cafe
26 Oldham St.
Northern Quarter
Manchester M1 1JN

Wednesday, June 12th
The Adelphi Club -- Jim Higo and McGarry Nelson opening!
89 De Grey St.
Hull HU5 2RU

Friday, June 14th
Belfast -- details TBC

Saturday, June 15th
Belfast -- details TBC

June 17th and 18th
Dublin Alternative G8

Friday, June 21st
Solas Festival

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tax Time: A Musician's Income

I more or less joined the hippie subculture by the age of seven or so, when my parents thankfully realized that me and normal public school weren't mixing well, and I needed to be among my own kind. By a freak coincidence, the New York City suburb we had moved to several years earlier because they had “good schools,” happened to actually have a good school in it, a product of the 1960's cultural renaissance called the Learning Community.

I consciously recognized my hippie nature when, you could say, I became a member of the opposition. Because upon graduating from the sixth grade, there were no more hippie school options for little David, and I went for the first time since my abortive attempt at first grade to a non-hippie school, in this case a public school full of the children of Republican businessmen, Middlebrook Junior High School, run entirely (or at least so it seemed) by pasty adult products of the 1950's.

Surrounded for the first time by children who were clearly not hippies, I realized I had a very different value system than the vast majority of these little consumers, and I started feeling very special and very isolated at the same time. Having grown up in the Learning Community, I thought that sharing, cooperating, enjoying and discovering were what it was all about. The positive was emphasized, and little time was spent dwelling on the negative. So it was only once I was completely surrounded by it that I understood that the converse of all this was that competition, hoarding, selfishness, proving that you're better, “winning” – make people miserable.

I have never adjusted well to mainstream society. Early in my adult life in the ranks of the workforce, I was employed as a typist at the age of 23. After being on the job for a couple months I learned that I was being paid better than any of the other typists because I was the fastest. The guy who sat in the cubicle next to me was a working class Republican, which is conceptually perhaps even more annoying than being a rich Republican, but nonetheless I liked him because he treated his coworkers with cordiality and respect, despite the fact that his boss was a female Democrat and the guy sitting next to him was a long-haired, pot-smoking, self-proclaimed Maoist at the time (me). Anyway, when I learned I was being paid more than anyone else ($12 an hour before taxes) I didn't feel at all good about it, and I wanted to ask my boss if she'd consider either giving the other typists a raise or lowering my wage and raising theirs so we were even. But no one would tell me how much they were being paid. So I felt fairly unequipped and unsupported in my idea, and never pursued it further.

Nobody in my immediate or extended family, none of my friends in public school or their parents talked about such things either. But the value system I learned to embrace in elementary school told me that how much money someone made didn't matter, in terms of their value as human beings, as friends, future spouses, etc.

Of course, if you don't value money beyond making what you need for you or your family to live a decent life, and if you're a basically not-very-well-organized hippie musician type, you may not know how much money you make. Taking me for example, when I used to make a living as a street musician I carried around what I called my wallet, which was a bag of coins that usually weighed about ten kilos. Eventually, in order not to embarrass my girlfriend at the time, I started going to the bank and changing the coins into bills, which is what the other street musicians generally did on a regular basis. If you watched another street musician in action for a half hour or so you could generally get the idea of what kind of money they were making, which always depended on various factors including how good they were, what kind of material they were doing, where they were playing, and at what time of day or night they were doing it. At the end of the day all the street performers would naturally count their earnings, whether they did that publicly or once they got home. For any of them it would be very easy to figure out how much you were making per hour on an average day, but there was only one other street performer in the Boston area aside from me who didn't mind talking about that.

I don't think it had to do with musicians not wanting to divulge information that might be helpful to the competition in terms of figuring out where and when to play what kind of material. Most of the performers were quite obviously just playing the kind of music they liked anyway, which was usually not the familiar pop songs that could have made them the most money. I think people didn't talk about it because of their training growing up; if you're not making much money you should be embarrassed, and if you might be making more than someone else you shouldn't want to risk making people feel jealous by talking about it, because of course money is what everybody wants.

The one thing I have found that people sometimes feel OK about asking, though quietly, in private, and often in hushed tones, is “do you make a living at this?” It's usually pretty clear that this would be the first in a series of questions on the subject, if the person asking felt comfortable with follow-ups, but they almost never do. This is as far as they can go.

But if for no other reason than mutual aid and support between fellow musicians and other cultural workers, and more broadly for the millions of self-employed people out there (or at least people attempting to be self-employed), having regular, honest and open discussions of the actual numbers involved with making a living as a musician would seem very useful.

But I'm still gonna back up a little bit more and give a little more context for why I think this is the case. Chiefly, the largely self-imposed mystique of the arts. Maybe it's not a coincidence that “musician” and “magician” sound so similar in many languages. One thing most professional or aspiring professional musicians have learned along the way is that it benefits them, at least on one level, to maintain an air of mystery about what they do and how they do it. If people are under the impression that a) what you do is something that requires innate and rare talent which other people will never have, and b) even though you're not really famous yet, you are about to be -- then they're more likely to talk about you, which is what you want, because then more people will want to come to your shows so they can say “I was there back when he was playing for crowds of two dozen people in a noisy bar.” I know artists who have managed to maintain this almost-famous mystique for decades without ever getting the major label deal they were constantly rumored to be on the brink of.

But this air of mystery is a double-edged sword. By maintaining this almost-famous mystique, the idea of actually earning money as a cultural worker, having certain standards for remuneration, joining a union, or otherwise figuring out how to make a living on the assumption that you will never be signed by that major label (and if you do you'll probably starve under their auspices just as well) – all just seems passe and beneath anyone's attention. So what if the gig at the festival doesn't pay? There's an audience, and that A&R guy just might be in it this time. You'll get exposure! (But you won't die of it, hopefully...)

I played at a festival once where I was staying in the same cheap motel with most of the other performers. Many of the bands playing at the festival were ones I had heard of, what you might call second-tier celebrities. No hits or any of that, but bands with a solid national and international following, where many hundreds of people would regularly pay to hear them play a show, on their good days. So I was somewhat shocked to learn that among the musicians I interrogated, a consistent pattern emerged: because of the massive overhead expenses involved with touring as a band, rather than as a solo artist, none of these bands were making a living as a band. If anyone in the band was making a living as a musician, he or she was doing this because he or she had a solo career. When they tour as a band, the band members all have flexible day jobs that allow them to tour regularly, make a little bit of money if they're lucky to do better than break even on the tour, and then go back to work. The lead singer in the band usually would then continue to tour as a solo artist, and between touring as a solo artist and touring with the band, that person would often be making a living as a musician.

And then what does making a living mean? Different things to different people. In Portland, Oregon, where I live, the local musician's union is on a perpetual campaign to convince local musicians not to play for less than $25 per person for a gig. A very talented musician friend around here who usually does a bit better than that at his gigs claims to be making a living because he's paying his rent and eating, but he only has 17 teeth by his own count. (Normally you should have 32, give or take a couple.)

Of course, on the flip side of not wanting to talk about money out of embarrassment of one kind or another or because you want to maintain your almost-famous mystique, is not wanting to talk about money because you really just don't care about it as long as you're eating three meals a day and sleeping in a room with a roof and four walls on a fairly regular basis.

Early on in my musical career I was fairly deeply exposed to two very different models of how to go about attempting to be a full-time performer. I played backup for two brilliant artists on different tours around the US. One artist's mantra was “I'll drive eight hours for a $25 gig.” The other's was, “you need to make about $500 for most of your gigs or you won't be able to make a decent living.” I tried out both strategies over the years since then and found that the latter strategy, though ridiculously practical and way less sexy, is the one that works.

My method of trying out these strategies, however, was pretty much haphazard, because I never kept track of anything. I mainly gravitated towards the “try to get $500 to do a gig” methodology because, to my surprise, I found that wherever you go, you'll get better-organized and better-attended gigs if you ask for more money, and that includes among the Left. Since I had also discovered that although I had no interest in getting rich, having a certain amount of money was very useful for eating and such, it didn't seem like rocket science to take the risk of certain fringe elements of the anarchist scene calling me a sell-out, to start asking for more money to do gigs. (Which in itself requires having a following or making connections with student groups, unions, and other organizations with budgets, but that's another story for another blog post. Or you can just buy or borrow my booklet, Sing for Your Supper, for more on that subject.)

But until very recently I never truly understood the sense of my friend's $500 figure, or, to put it another way, I never understood fully why contractors like traveling musicians need to get paid so much more than your average hourly worker in order just to make ends meet. I can thank my wife, Reiko, for further developing this understanding, because several years ago she took on the unenviable task of sorting through the receipts and invoices that I now try to remember to save, and filing our taxes for us, with the help of the nice accountants whose office is a few blocks from our apartment.

Half of the accountants down the street have pink hair and are themselves musicians. I heard about them years ago from a message one of them sent to me on MySpace. I guess they noticed I was local, and figured I might need my taxes done, and some of them specialize in doing taxes for musicians. Having not paid taxes since the last time I had a normal job, circa 1990 or so, I would normally have ignored such a message. But Reiko was moving in with me from Japan, we were getting married, and in order for her to get her papers to stay in the US we had to start filing taxes (and even five years' worth of back taxes).

I just brought our 2012 tax filings – a stack of papers several inches tall that Reiko neatly divided into folders – to Anne the accountant this afternoon. The impression I get from her is that the vast majority of self-employed musicians don't file taxes – since, she said, any time musicians file taxes with her it's because they're doing something that requires them to have a record of having filed and paid taxes, such as their spouse is getting a Green Card or they're buying a house. So self-employed people who aren't marrying a foreign national or buying something really expensive often don't have much of a paper trail of any kind and basically don't need to file, so they don't.

(For those reading this who aren't from the US, a clarification: the only reason most people file taxes in the US if they're not self-employed is because they basically have to, since their employer has been taking lots of money out of their payroll all year, and if they file they get a little of it back. In other countries people file taxes so they can take advantage of government services. It generally doesn't work that way here – the government only takes from us so it can buy bombs, it doesn't offer services in return like in civilized countries. It wouldn't even occur to most people in the US who are filing taxes to think that way, unless they're approaching retirement age and will soon quality for their Social Security pittance.)

I asked Anne how many of her musician clients make a living entirely as performing artists. The answer took me by surprise. None.

When I had a kid seven years ago I decided to stop touring all the time, and to just tour as much as I needed to to make a living, spending the rest of the time at home with my family. Since we started collecting receipts, filing taxes and otherwise keeping track of things in a way that I have never bothered doing previously, the numbers are no longer something I need to wildly guess at, and it's all a bit more distressing than I thought.

I learned that for every two dollars I make touring, on average over the course of the year, I spend approximately one dollar on traveling expenses – and that's despite the fact that I'm only staying in hotels about 5% of the time I'm on tour. Maybe I eat too expensively, but if you want to stay healthy on the road long-term you can't live on gas station hot dogs or fast food, and you don't have time to cook for yourself. In 2012 I toured a bit less than I did in 2011 – I was away from home a total of 202 days (some of it with my family, most without). During the course of those 202 days I did 120 gigs. Practically speaking, when you take into account travel days and the fact that it's hard to do many good gigs on a Monday or Tuesday, that's about how many shows you can realistically do in 202 days of touring.

If the average gig among those 120 gigs paid $500, that would be $60,000 total, so half of that would be $30,000, which is what I would then have for paying rent, feeding, clothing and healthcare for my family, and everything else – car insurance, the car loan, taxes... But when the average gig comes out to more like $350, as was the case in 2012, then I basically earned a total of $20,000, which, after rent is paid, comes out to just over $200 a week for the three of us to cover all our expenses. And we spend quite a bit more than that on an average week (partially thanks to my very expensive, aging teeth), thus the $10,000 or so in credit card debt.

So basically unless we're going to forgo dentistry, live on cat food, or some other popular American cost-cutting measure, if I'm to make a living as a musician I have three basic choices: a) spend 202 (or so) days on the road, do 120 gigs, and get paid an average of $500 per gig, b) tour more than that and get paid less on average per gig, or c) tour less and get paid more. Given that option B would result in absentee fatherhood and the sure death of any normal relationship, and option C starts becoming financially unrealistic unless you have a bigger following than me, it seems like option A is the only way to go.

So if you find yourself touring incessantly and working your ass off but you just can't make ends meet, (like most musicians), consider the possibility that this is because you're not making $500 per gig on average, and there are only 365 days in a year, or you don't eat enough cat food. And the next time you're thinking of organizing a benefit concert and asking a touring musician to play at it for free, think about that!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

RIP Commandante Hugo Chavez

Friends and comrades,

I don't know about you, but I feel a somewhat surprisingly personal sense of loss at the death of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Anything else aside, this man and the popular social movement he has played a huge role in, not only within Venezuela but around the world, has been a massive, positive influence for untold millions of people. He and the many positive aspects of the transformational process that has been underway in Venezuela and most of Latin America, really, especially since 1998, have changed the lives in a very physical way for millions of our sisters and brothers, and have been an inspiration for those struggling to make the world a better place in every corner of the Earth, very much including within the belly of the imperial beast, here in the USA.

For those of us who have spent much of the past 15 years protesting in one form or another at gatherings of the global elite -- meetings of the World Trade Organization, the World Economic Forum, and other such spectacles -- there was always one consistent voice within those meetings that denounced these elitist proceedings as eloquently and as firmly as his friends in the streets outside the halls of power.

And as the years have passed since his first landslide election victory in 1998, one after another Latin American country has seen the left come to power, with people like Evo Morales go from leading a union to leading a nation. I don't have any idea what those of us in places like the USA would have done over the past 15 years without the example of the Bolivarian Revolution shining its light in what often seems like an otherwise fairly dark room. An imperfect light, to be sure -- I can already imagine some of the emails I'll be getting by tomorrow from some of my favorite anarchists -- but a powerful light nonetheless, and Hugo Chavez has been at the center of it.

One of the most memorable experiences of my life will probably always be December 17th, 2009, on a very cold, cloudy day in Copenhagen, when I had the privilege of being one of the performers to warm up for Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and other speakers at a large hall a short walk from the house I usually stay at when I'm in town.

Here's a video someone took of me singing my "Song for Hugo Chavez" at that event, which was broadcast soon thereafter on Venezuelan television. (I know this because I got emails from both supporters and detractors of the Commandante after it aired, which made reference to this song on the TV.) The picture to the upper right was taken from the door to my bedroom here in Portland, Oregon. It's a tattered poster from that event 4 years ago.

And here is a video from the great Uruguayan songwriter, Daniel Viglietti, which I think sums up the spirit of the Bolivarian Revolution brilliantly, his song, "A desalambrar" (with English subtitles on this video).

I'm sure I'll have more to say on this subject later, but for now, signing off. La lucha continua!


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Thoughts on PMN – past, present and future

I thought I'd post this "open letter" to the People's Music Network for Songs of Freedom and Struggle just so PMN members who may want to easily refer to my suggestions on expanding and broadening the organization can do so.  The letter follows!

I had a really good time at the PMN gathering last weekend. I think PMN is a wonderful event in a whole variety of ways – a great social space for sharing songs and hanging out with a wide variety of people, mostly acoustically-oriented musicians representing the whole spectrum from great to not-so-great and lots in between. The workshops also involved all sorts of useful content for those looking to improve their crafts, and for those preferring to do a song swap instead, a variety of them were conveniently running concurrently to all the workshops.

With no qualification needed, I enjoyed the weekend a lot. During the course of the weekend a lot of different people, mostly long-time PMN participants, brought up the subject with me of how to improve PMN gatherings in such a way that they might attract more youth, more accomplished young musicians interested in topical songwriting and such in particular, as well as more people of color.

Although I'm now solidly middle-aged, and no longer particularly care how old anybody is anymore (even if I do still notice these things), I was once a fresh young kid who discovered PMN for the first time. I was profoundly affected by the experience of going to many PMN gatherings over many years, and then, still more or less a youth (under 30) I stopped going for many years. Since then I became a fairly accomplished professional musician with a significant youth following in many different countries, along with a following among those of older generations. I think all of this makes my story and my thoughts on attracting youth to PMN potentially relevant, so I thought I'd share them with you. (Feedback of any kind most welcome!)

When I first got to PMN in the winter of 1990 or thereabouts, I was a budding songwriter. I wasn't very good, but I was very enthusiastic. My friend Chris Chandler had convinced me to come. He and I were both flat broke – Chris a professional street musician back then, and I a barely-employed office worker. I was already a big fan of Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, and Fred Small, so I was appropriately blown away to be spending an entire weekend in the presence of Pete, Fred, as well as Phil's big sister. I don't think I had yet heard the music of any of the other folks there, but I quickly became a huge fan of Charlie King, Pat Humphies and others I discovered there, and have been ever since.

Aside from satisfying my need for advice and affirmation from these iconic figures, I also enjoyed hearing new songs of varying quality from everybody else, being part of the song swaps and the Round Robin, etc. But what I enjoyed the most at those PMN gatherings was hanging out with the other young musicians who were there. Back in my twenties, it was important to me to have other people my age to hang out with. I identified more strongly with people closer to my age, and this is very normal for young people.

Then sometimes I'd show up at a gathering and the little group of 4 or 5 young musicians I was hoping to see weren't there at all, or only one of them showed up. I had basically got the affirmation I needed from the icons I had discovered at PMN after a few gatherings, and after that there just wasn't enough to keep an ambitious, budding young songwriter interested in coming back much, because it's just no fun to be the token youth in a gathering of people mostly old enough to be my parents or grandparents.

Again, I'm 45 now and I don't feel this way anymore at all, but I recount this because I know what I was feeling was totally normal and that other young people who came to PMN back then, as now, feel the same way as I did. I think PMN gatherings do have a lot to offer young musicians, though, and I like to hear from people who think it would be nice if PMN could attract more youth. I think I know how this could potentially happen, so I thought I'd share some ideas in case anybody thinks they're useful ones to pursue. I should say perhaps now that I have no interest in being on the steering committee or any of that, but if those of you running the organization would be interested in pursuing any of these ideas, most of them are ideas I would personally love to be involved with implementing if I had backing to do so.

The overview not to lose sight of here, I think, is the main thing that's necessary to attract more youth is to attract more youth... If there are a critical mass of 20 or 30 people under the age of 30 coming to PMN on a regular basis, they will keep coming, I think. If the number gets too low, the youth may just drop out completely until that changes. So a “jump start” is what's needed as far as I can tell.

I'd say the biggest single way to do jump start youth participation is to address the issue of cost. $140 is way too much for most youth to contemplate spending, especially young people who are struggling to pay their bills by playing music. This element of society – young musicians – are some of the poorest in the USA, along with youth generally, and youth of color in particular. There needs to be a subsidy through a grant or something like that, so that the website can clearly state that the cost for youth is something like $40 for the weekend, rather than $140. The young people don't want to feel like they're coming as beggars when they see there's a sliding scale, or when they see that youth are encouraged but “youth” is not defined. I would suggest that “youth” be clearly defined as 30 or under, and the youth price be something like $40 for the weekend, and that the money necessary to subsidize this be found somehow. (I realize money doesn't grow on trees, but...)

But with or without making that change, I'm certain there are other things that can be done to attract youth. From my experience, though, there's no single magical solution. But just as with organizing a well-attended concert, the best promotion is lots of different kinds of promotion. Each kind might bring in a few more people. Together, it amounts to a big crowd. If I had to make a prediction, I'd predict that each one of the following suggestions could bring in a few more youth to future gatherings, and taken together, the effect could potentially multiply. But I don't like making predictions, because whether a promotional strategy goes viral and really works is very hard to predict. These sorts of things have worked for me, though, to increase my audience, and I think they should all apply to increasing attendance of PMN gatherings, and certainly they will help increase awareness of PMN.


There's a lot of activity on the PMN Facebook pages, and it's being very well-used, which is great. The PMN group has over 1,000 members, but the organization's page that people can “like” only has 246 “likes.” For those who may not know, when someone “likes” your page on Facebook, they then get on the page's “news feed.” They see (or might see) the things people post that way. So it's a very good thing to have lots of people “liking” your page.

One successful way I've found to increase “likes” is to set up my Facebook page ( so that anytime someone “likes” the page, they are offered a free download of my latest CD. “Likes” can be further increased by advertising on Facebook that people who “like” a page will be able to download a free CD. Advertising can be targeted according to geography, so the advertising budget is well-spent on people who live in, for example, the northeastern US, and might be most likely to come to a PMN gathering if they're the sort of person who would want to click on the PMN free CD offer. (They're unlikely to bother “liking” the page or downloading the CD unless they're already into leftwing folk music, or think they might be.)

Twitter and YouTube

On PMN's main website the link to the Twitter account doesn't work, and the link to the YouTube account takes people to a page with two YouTube videos on it. The Twitter account should be set up and linked to the Facebook account, so updates can be sent through both of the most relevant forms of social media on the landscape today. The YouTube page could feature dozens or even hundreds of videos of PMN artists, and could be updated regularly when PMN artists write a new topical song. This would drive lots of traffic to the YouTube channel, including people who would then subscribe to the updates and thus get sucked in to the PMN fold that way (hopefully). To further amplify this effect, every time a new video is uploaded to the YouTube channel, this can be announced on Twitter and Facebook. Each time this is done, there will be more Twitter followers signing up and more people “liking” the Facebook page, from my experience.

PMN Livestream

For those millions of people out there who might like to come to a PMN gathering if they knew PMN existed, if they had the money, and if they lived in the northeastern US, but they lack one of these essential qualities, I think livestreaming parts of PMN gatherings would be tremendous. The effect of doing this wouldn't be immediate, but it would have an impact down the road, I'm pretty sure.

Livestreaming on the web would of course allow people to see parts of what's happening at PMN remotely. Given the drawbacks of watching something on the web as opposed to being there, I think it's extremely unlikely that many people would just stay home and watch it on the web rather than coming in person. Rather, people will watch who would otherwise not be there, but might want to come in the future after seeing stuff on the web. The livestreamed event would then be archived on the livestream channel for some time, and would be there for people to check out in the future as well. Livestreaming is something that can be done essentially for free, it's just a matter of someone taking their iPhone (or whatever they're using for this) to workshops, plenaries, concerts, etc., and filming. This could be done by volunteers, whether it's something that one or two people take on for the whole weekend, or something that's divided among a bunch of people.

PMN Podcast

Another medium to take advantage of is the podcast. What people tend to respond to on the web these days are not static websites, but media that changes and updates regularly, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. Same with podcasts. Most people will look at a post, a new video, or a new podcast soon after it's put up on the web. After that the numbers will tend to trail off. So the new stuff has to be put out there regularly, in drips. My idea with a PMN podcast is to hype the upcoming gathering each month in the form of a podcast, which could be an hour-long interview with one or more of the musicians who have been booked to perform at the next gathering's Friday night concert, to interview organizers of the gathering, folks who have played at PMN in the past, etc. This would be yet another way of generating buzz, which is something performers as well as organizations all need, very much including PMN.


Among DIY-minded youth these days, the “skillshare” is a popular phenomenon. People come together somewhere and lead workshops on subjects they're familiar with. I think it'd be good if there were more emphasis on the skillshare aspect of PMN, and perhaps to expand that aspect of the gatherings somewhat, perhaps with more panel discussions along with the workshops and song swaps that already happen.

Other Website Updates

Although the social media presence will generally attract more attention than the less dynamic home page, which doesn't get regularly updated the way social media does, it's still important to keep the website up to date, especially for those who might be thinking of actually attending a gathering. The music history section should include something on forms of politically-oriented music that have blossomed since the 1970's, such as punk rock and hip hop. Also the section with links to the websites of members could be dramatically expanded, which could also make the page a bit more of a real resource for people looking for this kind of music. It's currently too limited to attract the kind of attention I suspect it would attract if it were a more expansive list of artists.

Thoughts On Bringing In Different Artists

Over the years PMN has always featured artists that don't fit into the typical acoustic guitar-slinging folk revival tradition, which is a fine thing. However, pretty much every time I recall organizers and others at PMN talking afterwards about how they wished that bringing in different sorts of performers would attract different sorts of audiences. As someone who has participated in lots of multiple-bill events, I would just say this: it's unrealistic to expect fans of a hip-hop artist to want to spend money to hear their favorite hip-hop artist play a 20-minute set that's couched in between a bunch of acoustic folky stuff they don't think they're going to like. Fans of the artist in question will go hear them do a full-length show instead, or they'll go hear them when they're playing with other artists with which they are familiar. Also, the hip-hop artist in question is unlikely to want to promote their appearance in the PMN show, because a) they suspect much of their audience wouldn't like the show overall and b) if they're not getting paid to perform, there is a strong financial incentive for them not to promote the show, especially if they have paying gigs happening in the same area around the same time which they would like to have an audience come to. Remember, we're talking about some of the poorest members of our society here – musicians. These are not people who are always able to ignore their financial needs and promote a show which they're not making money at – even if they might want to do that (if they think their audience would like to hear the other acts on the bill).

Additionally – even if the artists on the bill for a Friday night show are actively promoting the show to their people, here's the thing: most audiences for any show for what we could call “third-tier celebrities” like me, Charlie King, Emma's Revolution, etc., are going to be coming because of the efforts of the local people promoting the shows. Our own email lists by themselves won't do much. Although I may have a hundred fans in every major city in the US, most of them aren't on my email list. By my estimate, my own promotional efforts may have brought 5 people to the Friday night concert who might not have come otherwise.

The idea has been mentioned of trying to interest more well-known artists to participate in PMN in order to try to attract more youth. One thing worth mentioning is that many of the more well-known artists we might think of inviting do not actually have much of a youth following, even though they're famous. You can see this at their shows and on their YouTube stats. But it seems possible that involving a more well-known artist could attract more people, if not more youth. I suspect it would mainly attract more people to the Friday night concert, but not to the rest of the weekend. I don't have enough direct experience with working with rock stars to know this with any certainty, but to the limited extent I've worked with them at different events, this is my suspicion. I would also say that until PMN does have a bigger youth element, it's premature to invite such people to participate, and would be better to wait until there's a bit more momentum in that direction happening first.

OK, I'll stop there, and look forward to hearing from anybody who's interested in talking about or implementing any of these ideas in the future.

Onward people's music!