The Cat in the Hats
Jazz players love their lids. You know what I’m talking about: from Prez’s porkpie to Dizzy’s beret to Monk’s trilby to Zawinul’s skullcap, the denizens of improvised music have long been recognizable by their trademark headgear. Most of time women eschew a hat for some sort of floral hair ornamentation (or nothing at all), but hats have been the sartorial hallmark of jazz instrumentalists since time immemorial. As a vocalist, it’s just not my style to pin a flower in my hair, nor would it suit me to don a hyper-masculine fedora or a fussy, church-ready crown. But I am here to tell you that as producer, composer, arranger, bandleader, and manager of the production, distribution, promotion, and marketing of my new album, over the past year+ I have been wearing every metaphorical hat in a milliner’s arsenal.
Compose the music; write the arrangements; book all instrumentalists; schedule rehearsals and recording sessions for maximum productivity within the parameters of each arrangement’s individual instrumentation; produce the recording sessions (while singing); listen, listen again, then listen some more, select the best takes; edit and mix the music with the sound engineer; engage mastering engineer (what the heck are ISRC numbers?). Think I’m wearing enough hats? Think again, my friend! Compose endless email correspondence in an attempt to secure derivative work rights to a never-ending chain of “not my job/can’t answer that” recipients who shove the request ever further up the ladder at publishing houses; deal with an arrogant, patronizing, insulting, self-important blow-hard at one of them (can’t remember the last time I exercised so much self-control when being treated with such blatant disrespect). Clear compulsory mechanical licenses and pay royalties on covers (take your best guess at how many units to clear at the outset). MORE HATS! Re-build website and all social media platforms to reflect a unified aesthetic from the album. Oops – almost forgot! Book professional photo shoot for album; engage designer to create album art. Obsess on album art and design. Write liner notes! Engage distribution entity, upload all digital music/art files, and provide information which never seems to dovetail with the fill-in-the-blank programmed responses on their website, leading to hours spent on hold (and in conversation) with actual humans at distribution entity explaining my particular situation, which does not fit neatly into any of their pre-conceived categories (“is the album covers or originals?” “both” “oh, that makes it more complicated” – ya think??) MY HEAD IS ABOUT TO EXPLODE UNDER ALL THIS FELT! Register all original works with ASCAP, but not before obtaining special permission to include my original lyrics in the derivative works with the composer, who may or may not need me to separate music publishing administration from lyric publishing administration (yes, that happened). Wind up engaging legal counsel because I’m going to put my head through a brick wall if I don’t. Write bio; build EPK; engage PR rep and radio promoter; send out HUNDREDS of CDs to stations all over the country (and world). Book concerts, both locally and nationally, and cultivate media attention surrounding release date. Am I forgetting anything? Probably.
But you get the idea.
This is the life of an independent artist putting out an album. I’m not trying to be self-aggrandizing or asking for a pity party - it is what it is; many artists have done this before me and many more will come after, and each of us will work our behinds off without complaint because we have chosen this life. The most difficult part, to my mind, is how little time this left me in the past year to devote to making music. Wearing a multitude of hats is all good if it continues to allow time to wear the most important hat of all, that of musician sitting at the piano, playing and singing whatever comes to mind, allowing creativity to flow, recharging my batteries with sonic inspiration. It’s the real reason we wear all these lids, and it’s what we are blessed to find our way back to once the chaos of album production and release recedes – if I can just make my way through the stacks of raggedy felt strewn all over the living room floor.