Friday, October 2, 2009

I Found My Soul

There are moments in my life when I realize something for the first time. I mean really realize it. Things that I always thought I understood, or things that I always thought I knew about, but didn’t really know or understand. Oprah calls them “aha!” moments….it’s when that little light bulb goes off over your head and your eyes get wide. I always thought I understood what it was like to be in love….until I met that someone special. I always thought I understood the bond between a mother and her child….until I had a child of my own. I thought I knew what it felt like to have a broken heart….until I lost someone who meant the world to me. I also was under the impression that time heals all wounds. But as time went by, I also realized that broken hearts never really heal. Sometimes these lessons come quickly, and sometimes they take years to learn. But eventually we all come to the realization that things and people aren’t always what they appear to be.

Over the past few months, I have been experiencing something that I can only describe as a “fullness”. I guess you could compare it to how you feel after a satisfying meal, although it has nothing at all to do with food. I have recently been able to realize a small piece of my life-long dream of being a singer/entertainer. When I say “life-long”, that’s exactly what I mean. I have never wanted to do or be anything else in my life. I never dreamed about how many kids I would have or what my wedding would be like….who I would marry or what kind of house I wanted to live in. I dreamt about being on stage and singing songs….about traveling around the country on a tour bus from show to show….about dressing up in sequins and glitter and entertaining the crowds….about people telling me how much they love to hear me sing. Obviously, after a while I began to notice that my dreams about the future and my friend’s dreams were very different. Even though they were my best friends (and we are still close to this day), I could feel a divide between us that I don’t think they noticed. An invisible wall, you might say, that put me in a world of my own. It was always a place I loved to be, but a place that I was sure no one else cared about. Because of this, I usually felt alone and isolated, even in a crowd. I was never one to follow the majority, even though there were times I did just because I didn’t want to feel that loneliness. It’s hard to be an individual. I sometimes felt as if my dreams were too far-fetched and unattainable. That maybe I should be thinking about the kinds of things that other people my age were thinking about. But I just couldn’t shake that inner feeling that I was meant for something different, something unique….something other than marriage, children and a house with a white picket fence.

So over the last couple of years, I have been piecing together everything I need to be able to put on a show. Even though the “show” was usually in my living room in front of an imaginary audience, it was still satisfying to me. When I am singing I am happy, even if there’s no one around to hear it. I don’t do it for the recognition or the accolades, although it’s nice to get that kind of feedback. I do it because I can’t not do it. I have to sing. It’s like oxygen to me, I can’t survive without it. I started a little fledgling music company that provides all sorts of entertainment--DJ, karaoke, background music, MC services, live vocalists for weddings--and I had business cards made up. I have been passing them out to anyone who will take one, and gave bunches of them to a few friends and family members who are passing them out as well. One of my cousins put me in touch with a lady who had recently acquired a bar where we all went for karaoke over the last few years, and she offered me a gig at the end of August to do one night of karaoke. We just finished a second show last Friday and have two more scheduled for the end of October.

Being in front of that audience as the host of my own show has changed my life. I knew I wanted to sing. I knew I wanted my own show. But I had forgotten just how much I wanted those things. It’s not the same as being in the audience waiting to sing. This time I am in control. This is my show. People are looking to me to entertain them. Knowing that everything hinges on my next move or my next word….seeing all those faces looking up at me expectantly….waiting for me to take them out of their everyday lives for a few hours….me….I suddenly felt “full”. It’s a rush I’ve never felt before. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest as if it’s going to burst out at any moment. I can feel a happiness in me that I haven’t felt for a very, very long time. I have found my soul and I feel alive again. Suddenly, I’m in the spotlight. I have no idea where the future may lead me, but one thing is for sure….I can never go back to where I was before this.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Fans....

Yes, I have them. We all do in one form or another. We just don’t classify them as “fans” in most aspects of our lives. Some of us have one or two, others have hundreds, thousands….even millions. They can be anyone--relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, business associates, children, teachers, even total strangers. But they are, for the most part, the same type of people. They are the folks in our lives who believe in us, admire us for our different attributes or talents, desire to be like us in some way, and usually are extremely supportive of us in whatever we are trying to accomplish in our lives. They are the first ones to cheer for us and the first ones to defend us against any “bad press” that may come our way. They are the ones who show up at every event and every appearance, however big or small it may be. They are the ones who always light up when they see us enter the room. They are the ones who tell us how much we have changed their lives for the better, just by existing….that we have saved them in some phenomenal way….and that without us, they probably wouldn’t be here now.

That’s a lot for one person to grasp. Having someone--especially someone you’ve never met--tell you that you are the reason they are alive today, is enough to shake anyone to the very core of their being. Most of us never realize how many people we touch over the course of our lives. We have no idea how we have helped a fellow human being, or what damage we may have left behind. We don’t usually take the time to think about how our words and actions affect other people. But everyone, whether intentional or not, leaves a lasting impression in the minds of others and an indelible mark on the world we live in.

I remember the first time that I realized someone recognized me. I was in a department store and just walking up and down the aisles looking at things when I noticed out of the corner of my eye that there were two women a few feet away from me that were staring in my direction and pointing at me. They seemed to be having a small disagreement as to whether I was the person they thought I might be. I glanced around to see if there may be someone else that they could possibly be referring to, but I was alone in that area of the store. I must admit that I was a little freaked out. Granted, there were only two of them, but I had never experienced this kind of thing. I was extremely used to being someone no one noticed. As I tried desperately to act like I unaware of their stares, they tentatively walked over to me and asked me if I was the one they heard singing the other night at one of the local places. I said that I was and they smiled and one said to the other “See, I told you!”. Then they proceeded to tell me how much they liked it when I sang and what a great voice I have, and will I be singing there or anywhere else in the future, etc., etc., etc.… I can’t remember how many times I said “Thank you” during that 5-10 minute conversation….but I can tell you that I was blown away by the way they were fawning over me. After they left, I went back to perusing the shelves of merchandise, but I couldn’t really focus on anything in particular. I just kept thinking about these two ladies telling me how much they admired me and my singing. I stood there alone smiling and realized that I had just had my first “fan encounter”. It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time….much like bungee jumping, I would imagine.

I’ve had many more “fan encounters” since then, and it never seems to get old. I mean, who doesn’t like to be admired and complimented? There are always times when I really don’t want to be bothered or times when I just don’t feel well or I’m exhausted and want to go home and go straight to bed. But all it takes is one person coming up and telling me how they love it when I sing, or how they came that night hoping I would be there, to get me perked up again….and no matter how tired or cranky or sick I am feeling, I’ll still sing “just one more” for “my fans”. I do it because they want to hear it, and because of the charge it gives me to see them enjoying it. I guess that makes me a fan of “my fans”. What an interesting concept….

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Lessons Learned

We worked our first paying gig night before last. It was a karaoke show at a local bar called the 29th Street Bar and Grill. The manager, Ranell, is looking for new people to replace the one who was working there. Apparently, this woman had a bad attitude and faulty equipment and was actually driving customers away instead of pulling them in. Obviously, something had to change. I had given her our info a few months ago, so she contacted me and we made the arrangements. We had to wait until the end of the month because she had already booked other entertainment for the weeks prior to that. I was OK with that, though. I just wanted a chance to get out there and present myself and my talent to the public.

I would like to say that everything went off without a hitch, but in my world that never happens. There were several things that occurred that I can improve on, but that's all part of the process.

Lesson #1: Be Prepared

I have spent the last month or so trying to get everything ready so that on the day of the show we weren't running around like crazy trying to finish things. Of course, there's always one or two things that just don't seem to get done until the last minute. I had one person printing something out for me while the rest of us loaded the equipment. Somehow we managed to get everything in the car except for the TV (which, by the way, is an essential piece of equipment for a karaoke show). We have a Plymouth Neon, so I was actually amazed by this feat. Unfortunately, a second trip had to be made to retrieve the TV, and that slowed things down just a bit. But somehow we still managed to get the music started on time, even though the TV and my help arrived a few minutes late. They had an extra TV at the bar so we could still start on time.

Lesson #2: Be As Organized As Possible

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am not the most organized person in the world. I am not sure how, but I manage to find the things I need. I usually keep everything related to my music in one place so that I know where it is when I need it. I always seem to forget one or two writing the directions down but forgetting to bring them with me, or leaving my keys on the table inside the locked house. Well, if you have CD's of music that are unmarked, it might be a good idea to bring along the book that lists the songs that are on those CD's. When playing the CD that I had marked "Line Dances", no one knew which track was which. The first track was played and everyone heard "Happy Birthday". (I put just random songs on that disc that didn't really go anywhere else.) I had to take a minute while someone sang to listen to the disc tracks and write down what songs they were. I also forgot to show my helpers how my discs were organized, so they had a little trouble finding some of the songs. Things like that always slow down the pace of the show. For this reason, I am developing a checklist for future events. I also forgot to bring a notebook to keep track of the singers.

Lesson #3: When In Doubt, Bring It

We weren't sure if we would need our TV or if the bar had extras for us to use. That (and the space issue) is why we didn't bring it. Also, they did provide tables for us to use, but they were small and a little wobbly. We really didn't have enough room for everything, especially since we had to use one of the three tables for the TV. I have my own tables that I purchased that I feel more comfortable using, so we will be bringing those along next time, too. One more thing I will not forget in the future is a small footstool. The stage was at least two feet high. Since I am only 5'3", it made for a big step. They brought the stool back with the TV, but until it arrived I spent about an hour climbing up and down (and almost falling off of) the stage.

Lesson #4: Pay Attention

It's real easy to make stupid mistakes when you are nervous, so you should always pay attention to what's going on around you and in front of you. During one person's song, I didn't pay attention to which disc was playing. When I started to put in the next person's song, I hit the wrong button and turned off the one that was running. I could have prevented the interruption by just taking a moment to look at the displays....after all, that's why they are there.

Lesson #5: Set Up Early

Being there an hour before showtime is not necessarily early, especially if you have no idea where the electrical outlets are located in the building. Three hours gives you more time....four is even better. It also gives you the opportunity to park as close to the front entrance as possible for loading/unloading purposes.

Lesson #6: Neatness Counts

I'm not talking about keeping your area clean, although that does kind of play into it. I'm talking about making packing and unpacking equipment easier. With all of this equipment comes many types of cables and cords and several small pieces that connect all the bigger pieces together. I have a couple of large backpack/duffle type bags to tote all this stuff around in, but while in the bags the cables tend to get tangled around each other somewhat. When we take them out, we have to spend a few minutes unraveling them....a very annoying process if you're running late. I am going to seek out a reusable way of keeping them separated while in the bags.

Even with all the little stalls and hang-ups we experienced, the manager commented that she loved our show and booked two more dates with us for the coming months (Sept. 25th and Oct. 23rd). I hope to have all of these kinks worked out by then. We are also looking into renting a small U-Haul trailer for the next shows to move all the equipment with. It's a minimal expense that will allow us to bring what we need for the shows. It's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

When I woke up Saturday, I was totally exhausted and my muscles ached from all the climbing and lifting. But I still felt good. Waiting tables makes me exhausted and achy, too, but I don't feel good about it the next day. I just feel exhausted and achy. I don't mind being tired and achy from doing what I love to do. I am really looking forward to what the future may bring me.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Let There Be Light

July was a very lucrative month at work, so about two weeks ago I went to the local music store that I have been dealing with and purchased the headset mic that I have had my eyes on for the last year or so. Then, a couple days ago I went back and paid off my lights. I must say, it’s the coolest thing. My living room looks and sounds like a night club. That may sound strange to most folks, but to me it’s extremely exciting. Every time I get a new piece of equipment, it’s like a child with a new toy. It’s like Christmas morning, seriously. I probably could have waited, but I really wanted to have the chance to try them out and find out how they work. We are doing a karaoke show at a local bar on August 28th and I want to be ready. I don’t want to do this half-ass, I want to be as professional as I can be. People can tell if you don’t know what you are doing. I had a college professor who said “You can teach a monkey to turn knobs and push buttons. The difference between you and the monkey is that you know WHY you are turning the knobs and pushing the buttons.“ I have been to many shows where it was obvious that the performers didn’t put a lot of thought behind what they were doing. They were unsure of how to talk to the audience, they had no idea of what to say in between songs, they didn’t make eye contact with the people in the audience, there was too much time or “dead air” between songs, they didn’t give any thought at all to their wardrobe (I hate paying a lot of money to see a show where the performer is wearing ripped jeans and a t-shirt), and, one of my personal pet peeves, they introduce each song with “My next song is….”. Performing live isn’t the same as a chef in a restaurant making dinner for someone. If they don’t like what you cooked for them, you can always make them something else. But being on a stage live is a one-time deal. You either get it right or you don’t, and either way, you will leave a lasting impression on all in attendance. I want the impression I leave to be the best that it can be. Even if it’s just a karaoke show. Anyone can spin a disc and announce the name of the next singer. But what if it’s a slow night? What if there are only five singers? It’s hard to fill four hours with the same five people singing over and over, especially when most folks only have two or three songs in their repertoire. You have to know how to keep the crowd interested and make it a fun night. I remember a few years ago when I hosted a show for a friend. It was September and the show was at a marina at an outdoor bar on the banks of a river. It was a bit cold and it was drizzling now and then, and I think there might have been one person who wanted to sing. We spent the entire night singing songs ourselves. We had an audience of three or four people, maybe five. But, as they say, the show must go on. This show is no different, except that this time my name is on the product and how I present myself determines the reputation I leave behind. If you give the client a sub-standard product, then your reputation will be sub-standard. I’m a professional and I want my “product” to say that I'm a professional. A friend told me once, “Do what you can do”. So I have put everything I have into making it the best it can be….money, time, energy….whatever I can do. I may never get another chance to this, so I’m gonna do whatever I can to get it right the first time.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Means To An End

I hate working in a restaurant. I absolutely hate it. The hours are long, the work is back-breaking and the customers are demanding and rude. Most nights I come home wearing and/or smelling like the entire menu. It’s really a surprise to me that stray cats don’t follow me home every night. So why do it? A means to an end….that’s what I call it. Right now it pays the bills and gives me the money to buy the things I need. I’m not talking about food and clothes, I’m talking about lights and music and speakers and microphones. I’m talking about business cards and advertising and a website. I’ve invested a lot of time, money and effort into getting started in music, and I know it’s going to take a lot more….a hell of a lot more, which means waiting on a hell of a lot more tables. Right now, that’s where the money is, but I still hate it. I’m grateful that I have it, but I still hate it. I’m not one of those people who lead a charmed life, but I know of people who do. It seems from the moment they were born the pieces of their lives just fell perfectly in place in the puzzle and a beautiful picture emerged, leaving them sitting pretty on top of the world. That has definitely not been the case for me. I realized early that nothing is going to come easy. I can get what I want, but I’m going to have to work my ass off for it. I have to work twice as hard as the next guy to convince people that I have the talent to do the job. I have to work twice as hard to convince them to at least give me a chance to prove myself, and it seems that I have to work at least three times as hard to convince others to look past what’s on the outside and see the real me on the inside. I used to be afraid of what they would think when they finally saw the real me, but I’m not anymore. It used to bother me when they doubted my abilities. Now it annoys me more than anything else. I know I have something that they don’t have. Something deep inside of my soul that I was born with. You can call it talent, you can call it ability, you can call it passion….you can call it whatever you want, but it’s there. I know it’s there because I can feel it stirring inside me, like a geyser trying to rise to the surface. It drives me and pushes me to do things that aren’t “normal” or “practical”….like giving away my coffee table so there would be enough clear floor space in my living room to dance. Anyway, I have to keep doing what I’m doing to get where I’m going. I’ll keep waiting tables and collecting tips. I may have to do everything piece by piece, but you have to start with baby steps….like they say, you have to learn to crawl before you learn to walk. Just do me (and all those other hard-working servers out there) a BIG favor….the next time you eat out at a restaurant where someone is trying to cater to your every little whim, make sure you recognize them for it. Leave a tip that shows them you appreciate the time and effort they’ve put into making your experience a pleasant and enjoyable one. Remember, there may be someone like me on the receiving end of that tip….someone who is working even harder to make their dreams come true.

Friday, July 10, 2009

One Voice

I can’t turn it off….I don’t know how. I’ve never known how. I look out the window and I can think of a hundred reasons to go out into the warm sunshine. I can think of so many things I could accomplish….all the things I could get done in one twenty-four hour period. I see cars as they pass through the intersection in front of my house. All kinds of people going in all different directions for all different reasons….most of them oblivious to the others. I should be out there doing things….going places….doing all those things that normal people do. I should, but I won’t. I won’t because something here is calling to me….calling with a voice that only my heart can hear….a voice that I have never been able to ignore. As I turn from the window, I know what is waiting for me. I know it’s only a matter of time before we are together again.

I walk silently to the other side of the room. Reaching over, I flip a switch on the back of the console. As the small windows light up, I feel a tingle pass through me. I push the power button on the board to my right. More lights glow. Opening the drawer, I insert a disc….as the drawer closes, I feel the console vibrate lightly and hear a whirring sound as the disc spins. In seconds, I see the numbers on the LED display. I choose a track and then look to the right as I adjust the controls on the board. Reaching up, I wrap my hand around the microphone and pull it from the stand. I push the button and the power light shines green. I tap lightly on the top and hear a low thump, thump. I feel a stirring in my soul as a smile spreads across my face in anticipation. As the music begins to pulsate through the speakers standing to each side of me, I inhale deeply and turn as my heart and soul are transported to a place deep in the recesses of my mind. A place I have always longed to be….a place where I feel I belong. The words of the song flow effortlessly from my lips. I have sung these words before and will no doubt sing them again. They are words that speak to me and inspire me. I stop singing and listen as the measures of an instrumental take over the middle of the song, then I start again just as effortlessly as before. As the song draws to an end, the music becomes quiet and subdued. I sing the last lines slowly with passion and longing. The heartbreak is inevitable. The music fades to silence as I close my eyes. Soon reality overtakes me and reminds me where I am….here, alone, in my living room. The voice calls to me again….more, it pleads, more….I give in to it as I choose another track and raise the microphone to my lips. Before I realize it, hours have passed and another day is gone.

Some may say I should have done something more constructive….others might say I wasted my time away dreaming….still others may call me foolish….and I guess to some extent, they may be right. But that one voice I hear calling to me tells me “it doesn’t matter what they think….it doesn’t matter what they say….it doesn’t even matter if they like you. It only matters what you think, what you say, and if YOU like you.” As I stand staring at the console, my one voice asks again, “more, please?” I change the disc, choose a new track and listen as the music begins again. Just like the voice that speaks to my heart, I can’t turn the music off. I hear it everywhere, begging me to sing along….it never leaves me….it never turns me away….it never lets me down. The thrills, the emotions, the excitement….they are always there waiting to be experienced, and I can never say no. This is my drug of choice. This is my passion….