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Stuart Benbow / Blog

A year in review

Wow, talk about a long time since my last update. So much has happened since the last post, and so much has changed, while other things are still the same.

First off, musically, I spent a lot of time gigging last summer, both as a soloist, and in my family band, Sentimental Value. Cafe's, Farmer's Markets, special events, a festival, and with a ton of friends, my own birthday bash ... no party like a pile of musicians, a P.A., and a grill.

During the summer season, I tend to focus on group rehearsals, shows, and marketing, with only the occasional solo stint here and there. Once school resumes, I jump back into my solo stuff and have had a great first quarter, playing places like Trinity House Theater, sharing the stage with some truly spectacular musicians.

Outside of music, we've moved to a larger, though still very modest home, and joined the ranks of home owners, leaving renting behind at long last. Our kids finally have their own rooms, and we have a place large enough to record and rehearse in.

Transportation issues have abounded, especially in recent weeks and months. The term 'money pit' comes to mind, and we're finally about to resolve that issue. Through the kindness of extremely gifted mechanics, a car in great condition with a lousy engine is being merged with an engine with far lower miles. Some new parts thrown in to make sure it stays trouble free, and some time next week, we'll be able to drive farther than the corner store without the need of a huge repair bill once again. That should do a few things for us. We can start booking gigs a bit further away, and we can spend some time with friends and family that are long overdue for a visit. Oh, and the new wheels are a small wagon, so in theory, we'll be able to fit the gear in the car without packing the kids in like luggage when we all play.

Other stuff ... hmm, well, I participated in, and completed FAWM (February Album Writing Month) for the second year in a row. 14 songs in 28 days is no small feat, and they're not all what I'd like to have folks hear, but some of them are geared towards a purpose. Last year, I had a notion for a themed album. With all the news coverage about school violence, bullying, cyber-bullying, and all that goes along with it, I wrote a song, 'Quit Throwing Stones Now' late last year. The song sparked an idea, and during FAWM, many of the songs I wrote were along the same lines. I've got enough for an EP written, now I'm trying to decide what to do about it. I could do a solo EP, or I could use them for Sentimental Value. From time to time, both of our children have been bullied, though thankfully, not to the level of many. Having them included in the project would be special. I'm still in the polishing and arranging stage, but hope to be recording later this summer.

Other than that, pretty much doing my best to get by, working at a day job while on the hunt for something better. On that note, I'm off to a job fair today, then rehearsing for a show on Wednesday, at the Wayne Farmer's Market, in Goudy Park, Wayne, MI. Bye for now.

-Stuart

International moves against freedom

America barely kept PIPA and SOPA at bay, for a time at least, while Google begins gathering all the data they can about everybody. Canada woud have lost their online freedom without even knowing the change was coming were it not for whistleblowers in the press. Their announcement has turned a quiet bill passing into law into a major media blitz.

Now, Austrlia is moving to restrict the freedom of the press - in print, online, even blogger freedoms, taking on punishment to those who balk the oversite. I can't help but wonder if Australia has a similar online spying bill on the books and is moving to keep the press from spoiling their plan to pass it into law.

I may be paranoid (mentioned that in an earlier post), but it seems that each nation is doing their part to restrict online freedom, and with each attempt, lessons are learned, and revisions are made so that the next go around may run more smoothly.

If the trend continues, eventually, global online freedoms are destined to be restricted, and Big Brother will be omnipresent.

As an independent singer-songwriter, I act as my own label and recording studio when recording my own music. I utilize the Internet for research, marketing, networking, self-improvement, competitions, seeking opportunities and venues, and communicating with fans. Government stepping in with heavy hands could devastate these tools for me and the countless thousands of musicians like me.

What are the world's governments so afraid of that they would stifle economies, invention, progress, continued aquisition of knowledge, etc. I can only surmise that the phrase "Knowledge is Power" is far too true, and they're tired of us all catching wind of their screw-ups.

The First Gig

Being my first gig, I wanted to be extra prepared, bring extra cables, batteries, etc, and make sure that I had everything I needed to put on a great sbow. I knew the house had a P.A. Sysem that they let performers use, but I brought my own mixer along as I really wanted to multi-track record the show to my wife's Mac, figuring I could use the house speakers.

I got there extra early, inloaded, prepared the stage, hooked everything up, and with about a half hour to spare began the sound check. With the volumes off on mu mixer, I dialed in the individual channel gains, then brought up the monitor volume and that's when the problems began. No sound to the unpowred house speakers, even maxed out. Alright, tested the main channel, again, no sound. At home, sitting right where I left them, my POWERED spekers would have solved this problem. Having never tried unpowered speakers before, I had no idea that they would 't work on my board.

Fortunately, my mother was in town and my son was with her. A quick emergency call home had the speakers loaded upand on the way. I quiickly laid out audio and power cables for where the speakers would be, then tried to remain calm as the clock ticked ever closer to go time, and the audience began filing in. With a nearly full house, my equipment arrived, got hooked up, and the fastest (and not exactly accurate sound check) was performed while I played my first few songs.

Oh, and that intended recording, I was so frazzled, and concentrating so much on not messing up the music that I forgot to hit the record button until nearly half way through the show.

So, all things being what they were, Murphy reared its head and there were glitches. That being said, once the music rolled and the sound was dialed in, things went smoothly, and the show went on, with only a minor second sound check mid-show when Steve Kovich took to the stage.

The need for a sound check has always been clear, but after last night, I would rather do the rest of mine before the show starts, thank you very much. :)

For all those who attended, thank you so very much. A special thank you to Mentobe Cafe for being my first gig, and making it such a warm and wonderful evening. Steve Kovich and my daughter, Bridget, thank you for joining me on stage, and most importantly, my mother, both for coming four hours just to see my show and support me, and for saving my bacon by bringing my spare equipment. Without you, the show would have been much later, and I would have had a lot of egg on my face.

Have a great week everyone,

-Stuart

Final preparations

With final preparations under way for my upcoming show, with a revision in the musician list, which was revised to include Steve Kovich, while Sarah Moore remains a conditional performer.

Having recently spent a few evenings at Mentobe Cafe, I can say that even without the music, their establishment is a joy, with wondrous beverages, both warm, or cold, caffeinated or not.

As for the music, Steve has played estensively throughout the local area, and hosts open mic nights at least once a week, while attending others. It is largery a result of Steve that I am playing Mentobe at all. I am honored to be sharing the stage with him, and look forward to the evening. His music is acoustic, and tends toward a folk style, mixing his own original songs with arranements of cover music.

If Sarah is able to make it, you are in for a treat. She is new to performing acoustic music in public, but has taken to it remarkably well. Where Steve plays in a folk style, Sarah has a plays modern music typically found on 89x, using her remarkable voice to full effect.

Rounding out the acoustic performers, I play a wide variety of music, ranging from covers spanning the past 30 years or so through and include my own original songs. As a singer-songwriter, with songs spanning topics and genres, I play with a mix of percussive guitar, or strumming.

This collaboration brings a wide variety of styles and sounds to the stage, and provide for a wonderfully entertaining evening. Sit back, have a snack or a tasty beverage, and enjoy the music. Show from 7 - 9 pm at: Mentobe Cafe: Address: 33336 Grand River Ave Farmington, MI 48336 Phone: 248-987-6481 Directions: on Grand River Ave. just east of Farmington Road. Parking available in the rear.

Privacy in the Google age

Alright, so call me paranoid. I do my best to be logged out of things when I search the web or view content, I don't save passwords or have pages remember me, and I clear my cache and history after almost every use in order to be safe online. Now Google has announced that they will be building a complete profile of all users of ANY of their combined services to create one clear picture of you. Your online activity, your location, your traveling habbits, who you instant message and about what, even your gMail account. Heck, my TV is Google powered, they'll even know if I miss an episode of Glee.

As a musician, I already put a lot of personal information out to be found, but it is carefully controlled. Fans have to know where I will be performing, and I have to connect with them on some level or they just won't be as interested in my music. It's all part of doing business in the digital age. By putting myself out there, I accept some level of risk, and do my best to limit it.

Certain services are vital to musicians. These services include a place to host videos, audio streaming, downloads, email, Facebook, GooglePlus, Twitter, a blog, merchandise, an RSS feed etc. A band or artist website is considered a must but as I am still in my infancy as an artist, I am still in the design phase, and haven't gone live yet.

With this list, Google has a big hand in many of the essentials. YouTube is THE video hosting site, what else do we have that will be accessible, get viewers, and will tie in to other services such as ReverbNation. GooglePlus is a social media tool competing with Facebook and MySpace, can an artist afford to ignore it? Until I get my website complete and live! gMail is one service that I have been using. Then we get into the linking aspects. All my social sites are tied together with permissions.

It's time I took a serious look at just how much information I am giving to Google on a daily basis. Things to do: Get a new browser for phone, computer and tv, cancel gmail account, find alternate video host, disconnect permissions with google, cancel google plus, etc, etc, etc.

Big brother doesn't scare me half as much as a corporation deciding to go all out and in public, while nobody stands up to say hell no. It makes me wonder if the Government gets a copy if they look the other way. Like I said, call me paranoid, but information is power, and Google already has enough.

Preparing for the show

I am pretty green when it comes to playing live, so my show at Mentobe Cafe in February is kind of a big deal to me. I really want to do well, both so that I can be invited back or booked at similar venues, but more importantly, to provide solid entertainment for those who make it out to my show.

With that in mind, I've been refining and rehearsing a set list that is both enjoyable and appropriate for all ages. There is a lot of swapping out a song here or changing the order of a few songs there so that it flows well.

Then there is the logistics, or what I will need to bring. I may be joined on stage for a part of the show by a talented friend, which adds another guitar, a mic, and a cajon to the mix, along with the requisite cables and spares. The venue provides their own mixer, mics, speakers, stands and cables, which is amazing for such a small stage. That being said, I am not famliar wirh their mixer, and didn't like the sound on the monitor at an open mic back in December. I will be bringing my mixer and laptop, which can record the show's audio as a backup, Along with spare cables, stands, strings, batteries, etc, I'll have y fill set n my iPad, and a paper backup with a music stand just in case.

For this show, my biggest hurdle by far is going tio be my health. At present, I can barely see out of ly left eye, my right eye isn' much better, and both eyes are extremely light sensitive. With this limit in place, I can't drive myself, and will need to play wearing shades, and won't be able to see my lyric sheets too well if I stumble. That being said, practice and rehearsal is key.

Between medical appointments and moping about all the work I'm missing while I heal, preparing for the show is actually therapeutic. My wife was pushing me not to cancel, and I'm glad she has. It gives me something to focus on and work towards, something that I can still do well. One way or another, this is going to be a great show.

Hope to see you there.

Nasty Christmas surprises

Seems the saying "these things come in threes" has some merit, at least in my neck of the woods. Aside from a few atypical hobbies (some for my age, some just atypical), I'm a pretty normal guy, good health, decent kids, a good wife, and a great dog ... alright, the dog's my wife's, and he's extremely well trained as a guide. I'm way off on a tangent already, but if I claim him as mine, I hear about it. ;) Anyway back to my thought ... average guy.

So, middle of last week, I develop what looks to be another migraine, no biggie, I get them, I cope. This one starts out normal, but quickly diverts from the normal path, throwing in a pain within my left eye. Pain pills didn't work this time, sometimes happens, ".. no biggie, I'll sleep it off and be fine tomorrow." is my final thought as I crash.

Thursday, I wake up, pain's worse not better, and now my right side's starting up. My left eye is throbbing and driving is going to be rough. Forget work, this needed looked at. Off to the doc for a first thing appointment, things look normal, off to the opthomologist, things all check out, no eye damage, but the throbbing sensation suggests vascular issuess. After a few hours of phone tag between doctors, and by which time I'm now way to pain impaired to drive, it's off to the local ER on Doctors orders. Fast forward through the weekend, the "migraine"'s still going for all its worth. A rash begins to develop across the left side of the face, and up into the scalp, and by Tuesday, my eye swells shut. All this time, the hospital has no idea what's wrong with me, and is pumping me full of ineffective pain meds and wondering why nothing's working and nothing's showing up on any tests.

My white knight in shining armor rescued me, getting me discharged and re-admitted to U of M hospital in Ann Arbor, I get admitted, and within minutes I have an actual diagnosis, a treatment plan, and by the following morning, I'll be darned if it doesn't actually start to work.

Turns out I got the shingles virus across the left eye and face.

So by now your probobly wondering, well, sucks to be you, glad you're on the mend, but you mentioned something about coming in threes? Patience, I'm still on meds so my mind wanders a little.

So, I'm in the hospital, my mother drives down from Ontario to help take care of things while I'm down and out. No sooner does she leave than my brother has another medical issue that's equally disfiguring and painful. Not sure how much he wants made public, so suffice to say he's had better weeks too.

Now that I'm home I start to reconnect, catch up on various communcation tools, and while I'm in the hospital, my brother is bouncing between doctors as an outpatient, and turns out my fellow songwriter and band-mate, Sarah, featured on some of my youtube videos, has also been in the hospital for a few days. I'm still not sure what happened to her but she's out and recovering like the rest of us.

Everybody else all safe and sound, after a week like that, I feel like I need to check all my friends and be sure you're all still there.

Oh, and my window of doing Christmas cards ..... between the hospital stay and the inability to drive for a while during recovery, I'm afraid I missed the window of opportunity. When I'm not so likely to crack the camera, I'll be posting a christmas update, and perhaps a song or two ... fingers crossed, that's all based on recovery. Clock's tickin. G'night all.

Christmas and the Public Domain

Each year, I think to myself, self, it would be great if you would record a Christmas or Holiay album and give that to friends and family. A personal gift full of creativity, time and effort, showing personality rather than some stale off the rack item that will be forgotten all too soon. Of course, what I should do is have those thoughts around July so that I have time to actually get it done and done right, but that's beside the point. The really important part of deciding to do a Christmas album is checking copyright vs. public domain status of songs and a given arrangement of that song.

For me, I tend to go my own way and interpret a song, so that last requirement isn't that important, but knowing if a song is public domain or not, well that is vital. After all, while your friend may not care if the music should have royalties paid, lets say the friend loves your music sooooo much, and posts it to his myspace or facebook page so his/her friends can all hear it too, and suddenly the whole world can hear your version of Rudolph, Frosty or any number of other songs that, while popular at Christmas, are still protected by copyright.

If, like me, you can't afford to pay royalties, but still want to proceed, then do a quick search for a list of public domain christmas songs. There are quite a few that have stood the test of time, including Silent Night, Deck the Halls, and Jingle Bells, which are public domain, and free to use, so long as the version you are using isn't protected.

As an example of how this could be confusing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is public domain, but a couple of years ago, the Bare Naked Ladies and Sarah McLaughlin did a killer mash-up with We Three Kings. Both songs were, and still are public domain, but that arrangement is protected under copyright law. If you want to use that particular version, you will need to secure the rights to do so, or risk financial reprecussions later.

Of course, while working out your own version of a classic, feel free to write your own Holiday songs. You never know, a hundred years from now, your song may appear on a public domain list, with people eager to record their own versions.

Have a happy holiday season,

Stuart

Let the music Flow

This week, circumstances have conspired to limit my ability to play music. Life as a parent requires attendance at various activities and parent-teacher meetings, while life as an employee requires the occasional panic schedule change. These things are normal enough, and everyone has to deal with them at some point in their lives. I imagine, regardless of occupation, whether janitor at a local school, corporate CEO, or megastar, at some point, something is going to come up and the things you want are going to be pushed aside in favor of the things needed by those around you. Some people in my line of work travel all over the world, rushing here and there to make corporate moments happen, and I’ve been asked by newer employees if I’ve ever been, and why I hadn’t and didn’t want to. It's all about balance, rewards and trade-offs, and the value gained by a given experience over the experience given up. I have a great family, and I love music. If I spent time focused on traveling on a corporate agenda, I would miss out on too many dreams, memories and special moments of my own. For instance,I have taken to performing at some of the local open mic nights. In and of themselves, I enjoy listening to others, and playing. It gives me an opportunity to hone my skills, and make connections, branch out and gain opportunities to perform. As an added value, my daughter has taken to singing a song with me each time I perform. For her, it's a fun moment in a rush of other activities, but for me, it's a bonding time that I can look back on with fondness. I was fortunate enough to be able to have a friend perform with me the other week. Given her tight schedule, that experience was very special as well. That week was full of music, fun, friends, and good memories. This week, I missed all the open mic nights due to other obligations. As a parent, a husband, and an employee, I was spoken for. While I missed singing with my daughter, I was able to have a nice dinner that honored the local high school marching band, and watch my son receive various certificates and awards. We watched and listened as the kids collectively hummed, sung, and stomped their various parts to a video of their final competition performance, which, due to technical difficulties, had no sound. I was blessed by arriving home in the evenings and finding that my son, who already plays trumpet, french horn and bugle, has started playing my acoustic bass. Hearing him going through the exercises, learning notes, and building calluses without complaint was priceless, especially since it was without the need to inquire, “hey, have you practiced your instrument yet?” I may have missed open mic nights and performances this week, but music has still blessed my life. Last night, I returned home from my first out of town company trip in years and had an absolute need to grab a guitar and play. Tonight, I am headed out to Mentobe Café, in Farmington to listen to a very talented local musician and new friend, Darwin Mamassian. I have my own show there early next year, and I can’t wait for February 18th to come. Everyone has to make decisions about what they want out of life and what they’re willing to sacrifice to get it. For me, it’s all about good memories, good music, and good people.

Life imitating art, imitating life ...

Earlier this week, it dawned on me that I was missing something ... Glee. Love it or hate it, it's one of the few TV programs that I set aside time for to watch. As I pondered the absense of my one show for this time of the year, I realized the obvious, that it was pushed back for various sports events. I'll admit it, I didn't mind so much when the tigers were still in the thick of it, but now, with a bit more separation, I find myself looking at the show, and what the networks did.

Basically, they've got a show about a group of high school artsy, musical types which sit on the bottom rung of the social ladder, constantly harassed by the athletes of the school. This show is a reflection of the reality of high school life for many of the music program teens throughout the country. Some have an easier time than the glee kids, others have it far worse, but it still rings true with many. So, the TV network takes this show about these artsy music kids and replaces them with athletes for several weeks, reinforcing the feeling that sports are more important than the arts. After all, what are the gleeks going to do about it, right?

All the couch quarterbacks, coaches and referees at home would be far more irate if their sports were postponed. It's the way it's always been, and likely the way things are going to remain for some time.

Such is life, Stuart

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