Chances are you've heard all these songs before, but you haven't heard them like this! Songs The Brothers Warner Taught Me is a rejuvenating look back at the good ol' days of the Warner Brothers cartoons with a pop that's undeniable. I got the chance to ask Megan Lynch a few questions about her album to give a bit of an insight into the whole process as well as to see what's in store for the future.
Interview after the jump!
What's the basic premise of Songs for those late to the game?
My first exposure to jazz standards, Tin Pan Alley songs and classical was via Warner Brothers cartoons. That's the case for many other people I know. However, most of us only know about 10 seconds of these tunes. This album is full of songs used in WB cartoons but the entire (or close to the entire) song is performed.
What was the studio recording experience like?
It was not my first time in a studio but it was my first time in a studio doing an album and with session musicians I had hired. It was a big learning experience. I wish I had journaled it because while I tried to write up the things I learned after the fact, I'm sure there are many things I've forgotten about that I would have appreciated having a journal of. This album was done on the stringiest of shoestrings. So many people donated or heavily discounted their services, which I'm very grateful for. But there was still the awareness of money - time is money in a studio. So sometimes you don't do things over and over until you're utterly satisfied because you're running out of time/money and "good enough" will have to do. In fact, we had no real rehearsals as a band for this project because I couldn't afford to pay the musicians both for the studio time AND rehearsals. I would definitely try to change that next time. No matter how talented a session musician is - and these guys are very talented - a group of musicians benefits from a little time to gel together.
I think the #1 thing I'll try to change for the next time I do a proper studio album is to try to find a producer. It's very hard to manage a producer's duties when you're the artist making the album. I didn't know what a producer did. I have some idea now. I think it's important to have someone there who is a little more objective than you are, a little more removed from the actual music making.
What has gone into marketing and selling your album?
Marketing and selling was another big learning experience. While I've gotten better at it, I can't say I've mastered it. I've got a long way to go. It's been a number of years since I played weekly or monthly gigs. I became disabled in the mid-'90s and can no longer reliably play my own instruments. So I have to hire musicians every time I gig. That usually costs well over whatever I'd make on the gig and I just haven't got that kind of money lying around. As a result, the audience I have now is very different than the audience I had in the '90s when I was playing weekly and playing setlists that included my original tunes. If you're only playing publicly once a year and you're not already an established artist, people tend to forget about you. I guess I hadn't realized exactly how crucial live gigs are to retaining an audience. Honestly, so many of the artists who've really knocked my socks off weren't people that came from my local area. They were people I heard on the radio. And I didn't dismiss them if they weren't playing a live gig in my town sometime soon. I've been a huge fan of bands I've never seen live or bands that are studio bands only.
However, my impression is that live gigging is not only important for building your mailing list and fan base (which is obvious), but it's important to getting press and radio play at all. I've had magazines and radio DJs tell me that they would have covered me but I didn't have an upcoming gig so they skipped me and covered someone who did. That seems pretty bizarre to me. I naïvely thought that they'd cover what they thought was good based on listening to it. But it's hard to get anyone to even listen to your music. They're snowed in by CDs and MP3 emails from tons of bands that want press. So I guess having an upcoming gig allows them to tie something in to covering you and make it look like they're an important news source on nightlife in town.
Like most artists, I'm not particularly drawn to or good at the business side of it all. It's easier to plug a friend's work than it is to plug your own, even though you actually do believe in your work. So it was a constant struggle to force myself to be more assertive, to let other people say "no" to me instead of me saying "no" to myself. That means I sometimes did things I thought might be a waste of time, just on the off chance that it would help someone hear of the album.
I knew of CDBaby because a lot of indie artists distribute through it. I was in the process of putting my album out via CDBaby but things kept taking longer on their side than I'd anticipated and I was antsy to release the album after having spent nearly a year on it. I had spent several months trying to observe what other artists were doing, which services they were using. A friend of my brother's had put something out using Bandcamp.com and that was the first I'd heard of it. It must have been pretty early in Bandcamp's life. So I read the FAQ and ended up releasing my album digitally via Bandcamp while CDBaby was still struggling to get my files online, much less getting the hard copy album.
CDBaby is very useful, though, in getting your album distributed. At the time there wasn't anything else I knew of that allowed indie artists to self-distribute to iTunes, Amazon, Napster, and more sites. In the last year a couple others have gotten into that game, but CDBaby used to be the only one. So I was able to get my album onto Amazon via CDBaby. I also had to do a lot of emailing and phone calling on my own to follow up. Because it took a long time for the digital files to show there and even longer for the CD itself to be up for sale. It turns out there was some sort of paperwork mistake or something. So you have to push. You have to keep checking up on things.
Having a hard copy CD up on Amazon is one of the pre-reqs for getting your album on Pandora so once that happened I could submit for Pandora. And I submitted to Last.fm and thesixtyone.com and others. Basically, I just kept trying to read up on where other artists were and where people were finding out about music and then I'd read the FAQs to see that I had all my ducks in a row before applying. This is one place where doing a cover album made my life harder. I licensed the mechanical rights to the songs before I published the album. But if I were doing all my original tunes I wouldn't have as hard a time reading these contracts and TOSes to make sure I had the exact rights I was being asked for. I'd know I had the rights.
What's your favorite song from your album and why?
My favorite song from almost any album will change over time. It's the same with my own. My favorite changed as I was working on the album because I would usually become enamored of something I was working on at the time. There's a difference, too, between my favorite song as written and my favorite song as I've performed it, as we performed it. I think when you talk about the essence of the song, "Blues in the Night" is my favorite. It's been in my repertoire for years. And it was so obviously a hit that the film it was written for - Hot Nocturne - had its title changed to "Blues in the Night" mid-production.
As far as my favorite as we performed it, I think it's "I Love to Sing". I didn't have enough funds to hire as many musicians as I would have liked on each track although I was blessed to have such talented multi-instrumentalists working with me. The album leans heavily on the astounding swing rhythm guitar skills of Tony Marcus. He can not only anchor a group of musicians, he can make a song sound very full and swinging all by himself. However, because I was relying so heavily on him and his rhythm guitar track was the first recorded on every song on the album, I worried that there'd be too much sameness in the sound of the album.
Like many people, I have very fond memories of the short "I Love to Singa" that featured Owl Jolson. I had that version in my head as well as a Cab Calloway solo version and the Cab/Al Jolson duet that appeared in "The Singing Kid", the film the song was written for. All of those versions were recorded with large swing bands. And as hard as Tony can swing - and he can swing seismically hard - he can't sound like a huge jazz band. There's a certain amount of instrumental interplay that needs to happen. I wasn't sure how I was going to achieve that on my budget and with my resources. I called up Steven Strauss, a talented multi-instrumentalist who has played in many SF Bay Area bands, and he was available to come in and lay down some bass. And he offered to lay in some ukulele as well. And even when my hands weren't compromised by my disability, I was never the player Steven is. So first the bass and then the uke went on and it completely transformed that skeletal version of the song to something fully-formed yet different from other recorded versions. It has a sort of Hawaiian swing feel to me. It's very happy and jaunty and that's exactly how it should be. So it's my favorite because of the huge metamorphosis it made while we were working on it.
What are you currently working on, and what are your plans for the future?
I'm currently working on repriming my songwriting pump. I've written about 30 or so original songs but I did the bulk of them back when I was a solo performer, before I became disabled. I've rarely approached songwriting as a craft - I've usually written when I feel "inspired". I allowed myself to think that was a more authentic way to do it. But it also meant that I tended to write songs when I was upset and that gives them a particular sound.
It's really easy to believe myths about creative pursuits. You wouldn't expect someone to be Olympic level at throwing a javelin on their first try. Their first throws probably skittered along the grass rather than landing point-in. You'd think they probably had to spend years at it, starting in junior high and continuing on from there. They had to get the bad throws out of the way before they got to the good throws. If they allowed a bad throw to discourage them such that they quit, they never would have gotten to the good throws, much less to Olympic level. But with writing, performing, making visual art, etc. many of us have this idea that if we have any talent, it'll spring fully-grown like Athena from the head of Zeus. If you think about it, that really does a disservice to creative people. If they work at it, it's thought less authentic - real talent is something you're supposed to be born with and is supposed to just flow out of you. But if it was really just in-born talent, it would just be an accident of genetics or fate…nothing people had earned themselves. Yet I somehow had this idea that if I worked at a song, if I wrote a "potboiler" as I heard a songwriter once call them, that it would automatically be inferior.
I'd like to record my original tunes even though they're very different from what people associate me with. Most of them have never been recorded beyond a home demo version. However, I would also like to write more tunes and work harder on just about every aspect of songwriting. I'd like to improve at arranging as well. So I hope one day to record an album of my originals but I'm not certain when. This album isn't even in the black yet so there would likely need to be a round of fundraising or a lottery win to enable me to record a studio album again.
I also have several ideas for additional theme albums. Some folks have already asked whether there will be a "Songs the Brothers Warner Taught Me, Vol. 2". There are certainly enough fun songs I didn't yet do that I could fill up another album. I suppose there's a chance it could get gimmicky doing themes but I feel like it gives an album a strong cohesiveness. And it gives a lot of people who may not know me or my original songs an easy way in to what I do.
WHERE TO FIND MEGAN LYNCH!
WHERE TO GET HER STUFF!