i am sitting on the starboard
of your only way
back home


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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rules of Engagement: The Merch Table

All right, so my oldest and dearest job title with what all I do nowadays is Merch Girl. I started this little escapade about a year and a half ago, and while I've stacked on more responsibility, this one remains an important part of the tour day.

Be present. When it's appropriate, like at a louder venue where people aren't just sitting and listening quietly, I stay at the merch table the whole time because people will come by immediately after particular songs and ask if they can buy that song. It's good to give people immediate gratification and it probably seals the deal a lot faster than forcing them to remember what song they wanted out of the 20 they heard.

They're all my favorite but try this one. People ask me my favorite all the time, and since all of the albums on the table are like unique little snowflakes full of goodness and wonder, I can't pick. But I always do for the sake of giving the buyer some direction. They don't really care what MY favorite is, they just want some decision-making help.

Know thy merch. It's not hard for me, because I love Susan's records. I came into the job already studied up on each album. It's been a big help when people will come up and say, "I like the tree song, where is it?" or "the one that goes something like, 'doo doo duh nuh dooooo,' I want that one." People get a kick out of an exuberant salesperson. I've had to sell merch for other artists that I've just met sometimes if it's a shared gig, and it's a LOT harder to even begin when I'm not familiar with their material.

Some nights, it pays the rent. Ideally, if I'm doing my other job as the booker well, this is not the case, but...some nights the merch sales are what make the difference between the artist walking away with zero profit after paying the band and buying the gas to get to the gig versus walking out with an ok payday. I try to make this a rare occurrence, but that's how the gig cookie crumbles sometimes. (So if you're ever on the fence about buying a CD at a show and the charming Merch Girl doesn't convince you, think about this paragraph).

Be part of the show. I find it always helps when people know me as "The Merch Girl." When I'm a character in this traveling road show that people come to see, it can be an extra bit of uniqueness to the concert-goer and potential merch buyer.

Be a good example. When I'm at the merch table, which is sometimes in the back and sometimes front and center in the room, I try to be a good spectator. It helps that I love listening anyway, but I'm always aware that I need to show the respect to the performer that I expect the audience to give the performer. Sometimes it can't be helped (see point number one, when someone wants to buy something in the middle of the show), but overall I'm sharing in the experience the crowd is having, and that makes things work smoothly. And I have been known to give death-stares to really loud and/or rude people who are getting in the way of people's listening.

There we go; some more notes from the road. I'm fortunate that my excitement and support for what I sell is 100% genuine. Your mileage may vary, but these things seem to work for us. I did get promoted to Super Merch Girl after all.


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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rules of Engagement: Booking

Tour Scheduling and Radii

I've spent exactly one year now in some sort of official booking capacity for Susan. We do it the homegrown way by doing it together, combining her years of touring and networking with my OCD emailing skills. It is a good mix, and I have learned a LOT.

Firstly, I learned that I enjoy it. I like the hunt, the follow ups, the satisfaction of inking something in on the calendar. It's like jumping your opponent twice and getting kinged in a game of checkers; that type of satisfying.

I've learned it's not easy. Sometimes I wish my brain worked like they do in the movies, when all of the sudden the special effects team takes us on a trip through some genius mind that has all kinds of neurons connecting to different areas at once and we see how a brilliant thought forms. Some days I feel that powerful, when I can coincide maps and calendars and money and mileage. Some days I need to check everything 4 times to make sure it all makes sense, and correct as I go.

I've learned how to steep in a town's music culture in a very short time from very far away. I think it really takes two years or so when you live in a place to really get the ins and outs of a community where you live. Unfortunately, touring musicians don't have that luxury, and a lot of the time, I'm educating myself on a region's culture from my desk in Wimberley. Where's the best place to play for our type of music? What's the best night? Can we do an off night in that town? When are the tourists there? Who else is in town that night? You learn short cuts and ways around things, so that sometimes it feels like I've been somewhere before even when I roll into town for the first time.

I've learned that booking requires backbone. This is my boss's JOB, at which she does exceptionally well. I would argue she has honed her craft into the top 1% of people in her field (meet me in the parking lot if you'd like to argue, but I don't think you do). Sure it's all about music and art and joy, but it's also about being compensated well for a unique craft. So I walk into a negotiation knowing this, and it helps.

Booking also requires give and take. Venue owners are in business, too. We're all here to make a living, and there's a delicate balance to the relationship between the artist and the owner. We have met so many good people who want live music in their establishments, and on the good days everyone walks out happy. This is why it's important to support live music...it's small business, culture, musicians, and your community all wrapped up into a little ecosystem. We do our best and I love working with venues that do their best.

Lastly I've learned, being a songwriter myself, that this stuff has nothing to do with working on your music. But someone has to do it if you're the type who wants to get your music out there. The business brain and the time it takes to back and forth and plan and schedule is actually a huge detriment to working on one's art. I haven't really mastered the separation between the two yet, but it is possible. For now, my constant email checking will continue.

And now, I have some shows to book. 2010 is 12 months long!

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Monday, December 28, 2009

End O' The Year

I'm behind! I am in New Mexico for the holidays. I have been napping a lot. Thus is vacation.

The gig year ended nicely in Ben Wheeler, Texas...which I had never heard of until they booked Susan. Cute little town near Tyler...go check it out. Moore's Store is the venue there, and the SG Trio took the stage in fine form. I set up


Last Merch Table of the Year

Michael, Susan, and David
Michael O'Connor, Susan Gibson, David Carroll

Moore's Store in Ben Wheeler, TX
Christmas in Ben Wheeler!

Then we drove all night to get home, and I helped by waking up every so often and saying, "ARE YOU AWAKE?" and then Susan would say "Yes," and then I'd sleep again. I'm useful like that. She's prepping to record a new album, I'm prepping to finish mine, and I think she'll probably beat me at getting a product done. She's quick like that. We'll both have records out in the spring, which is fun. Maybe everyone who buys a Susan Gibson record will magically get a free Jana record because that's how I will market myself with stealth infiltration of folk fans' minds. Hehheh. Just kidding. BUY MY RECORD.

Anyway...green chile in some format awaits me. More later.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Another EP 2 Video

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EP 2...Progress and Fancy People

Yesterday was the day to bring in reinforcements. I've done all my work, and so I got to sit back and watch other people prettify and grittify my album. Very cool.

David Carroll added his bass skills with some electric on "Drive Around" and some upright on "Ritalin." So cool to hear how he makes notes become other notes and it all works out so well. That is why he is the pro.

David Carroll

Then Susan came in to sing on "Drive Around" and "Switzerland," which was fun to see and hear..."Drive Around" really got its wings yesterday between the bass part and the background vocals. You never know what it needs until you do it.

Susan and Dan chat

We ran over schedule yesterday so Katie and Emily still get to come in and sing a little...luckily they are the patient sort. THEN...then! I think we might be good!

Daniel Barrett

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Monday, December 14, 2009

2009 Recap: Interesting Shots

These are just interesting shots I took this year...some have no point to them other than I thought they looked cool. Enjoy!

The Lodge in Red River

I think this shot looks like it was taken straight out of a bar scene in Deadwood in 1862. It's actually from The Lodge in Red River, NM...close enough.

Three Faces

It's rare there are fancy mirrors in the green rooms at gigs, so Susan took advantage of it to prep for the show, and I took advantage of this neat shot.

Live Music

Beyond the Evil Cisum sign lies downtown Dallas, in all it's skyscraper glory. This was from a show at Opening Bell, where I opened for Susan and Dana Cooper in April.


It's weird but just about all of the people I spend copious amounts of time with have iPhones, so I'm used to a rectangle being held up to whatever is going on to record/video/photograph it. Here Emily shows off her tech skills on the set of Good Day Austin on FOX.

Sprinter Window Wall

I opened a show at the Luminarte Gallery in Dallas this summer...it was in an industrial part of town, but when you walked in the door you were surrounded with neat and wonderful things. Sculptures, lights, paintings. We parked right in front.

Martin OM-15

My Martin OM-15. I love this guitar. I bought it when I was 18 and just graduated from high school. It's simple, it has a simple pickup sysem in it, but everyone comments on how good the tone is. Simple is best sometimes.

Rearview Mountain

I took quite a few rearview shots this year because the van windows are so dang reflective, and this is one of my favorites. We were driving to a show in Winter Park, CO in June...and I was amazed at the amount of snow.

Lightning in San Angelo

I took about 250 shots of the sky outside San Angelo, TX on our way there for a show and got exactly 2 shots of the awesome lightning storm lighting up the sky. It was worth it.

jpo in Taos

Outside the Old Blinking Light in Taos, which has become one of my favorite towns to land in when we travel. It's homey and inspiring and smells like only New Mexico can...chile and sage and pinion.

OBL = Old Blinking Light

We played a sunset show at the Old Blinking Light in August, and out behind the venue even the dumpsters are marked "OBL."

Beth Wood and Susan Gibson House Concert

Susan songswapped with Beth Wood at a house concert on Possum Kingdom Lake in September, in a gorgeous house that had, I swear to you, a BILLIARD ROOM. I felt like I was in a game of Clue, and that Professor Plum would show up any minute wielding a candle stick. I climbed the ornate staircase for this shot...look at all the feet and hands in this photo.

30th Street Station in Philadelphia

We had some time to kill at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, PA...so I took this shot of the stoic columns outside the building while we waited. I was itching to go see some of the historical sites in the city, but alas...no time for the gigging musicians to get educated. We did see some cool buildings just by picking up our busses and trains, though.

Luther in the guitar case

That's my buddy, Luther...he lives with my folks in Albuquerque, but whenever I return home with a guitar case he's eager to jump in.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

2009 Photo Recap: July - Now

Big Sky, CO

We played at the South Fork Music Festival in Colorado in August...there were a bunch of big jam bands playing and Susan played and then there was me, sandwiched between groups that had 6 or 7 band members in them. I did my best to hold my own, and the scenery and people were awesome.

Susan Gibson Band in Fort Worth

Every Susan show at the White Elephant Saloon in Fort Worth is a complete and utter blast...the band is always hoppin' and our friends show up in droves. I enjoy every gig, and each has its different nuances to appreciate, but for the hyperactive loud raucous music fan in me, the White Elephant gigs are it.

Thinking in Times Square

I got to experience New York City in a tourist and work capacity in October. It was my job to get us from gig to gig in NY, NJ, PA, and MA all week, which kept our schedule full...but one of my favorite moments was waking up early to trek down to Times Square and see the sights and gawk like a tourist.

Sound check in ABQ

Our annual house concert in Albuquerque went off without a hitch, and our special guest was (surprise!) Susan. It was very fitting, because we try to have this show catch up all my New Mexico peoples on what's going on in my life and music, and who better to be Exhibit A than one of my most important mentors? It was funny, it was poignant, we should all win Grammys and Oscars for that night.

Daniel Barrett in the Studio

Bass Line

I have had a blast recording EP 2 with Daniel Barrett this fall. We've had to chunk our recording days and spread them out due to our travel and work schedules, but we made some heft progress in November and we are getting there. Dan is one of my favorite people, but he's also one of my favorite musicians and guitarists, which is great because I get some of my favorite guitar solos ever on my own album. That's a wonderful thing to be able to say. We have had a working relationship for over 2.5 years and it just keeps getting easier and more fun. Plus we eat a lot of Vietnamese food and drink lots of caffeine on recording days. Win!

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Friday, December 11, 2009

2009 Photo Recap: January - June

Some of my favorite moments in photo form from this year...January through June.

Jana Pochop at Casbeer's

I got to open for Susan at Casbeer's a the Church twice this year, and this first gig was a "surprise" Valentine's Day show (in that it got booked but Susan wasn't informed of it until the day before)...so we hauled about 20 of our closest friends to San Antonio and had a great time, and I got to play on this much revered stage. (Tiny note: this was before I was doing the booking so um, the surprise wasn't my fault).


I started playing music with these two lovely ladies, Melissa and Emily. They are fantastic singers and musicians and people. I snag Emily for her bass skills as often as I can. We have plans for a project down the line, when all our lives settle down. Ha. But we'll do it!

Katie and Jana

Katie is also involved in the aforementioned project, and also volunteers to sing my songs for me at my gigs that involve wood carvings of Native Americans. Here she is doing a bang up job on "Ritalin." It was my first real experience hearing a song I wrote being sung by someone else, and now when I sing it myself, I hear Katie's version in my head. That's cool.

Crossroads Music Company in Winnsboro, TX

I had the chance to play with Kate Hearne a few times this year, and you mark my words she'll be backing up Dylan or someone sooner than later. She's an amazing guitarist. We kidnapped her and took her to Albuquerque in November.

Merch Girl

I've added about 50 new tags to my job description over at Susan Gibson Inc., but one of my favorites is still Merch Girl. Yes, it's nice to add to the gig income overall, but I truly do believe everyone should own these albums. And therefore I have no problems telling people about them.

Puppy face

This is Dub, the new dog. We picked him up in April in Winnsboro, and I claim aunthood because I'm not that disciplined at...disciplining. But I am learning by watching Suz the Dog Whisperer at work, and I have picked up a lot. Dub is a sweetheart and likes to lean on people. He also likes to dig through trash cans. Hm.


I was selected as a featured regional performer at the Ballad Tree by the Kerrville Folk Festival in May, which has been the highlight of my songwriting career up to now. The next step up is New Folk...one day!

Lake shore jam time

We got to hang out at a cabin on the shore of Flathead Lake in Montana in June. I wore a hoodie a bunch of the time, and it was divine knowing that it was 106 back in Texas. It was my first time in Montana and it's just as scenic as all the calendars and coffee table books say it is.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Ceramic Pig Collection

Ceramic Pig Collection

The rules: pig must be collected by me in the state I am in. Does not count if I get a Jersey pig in New York. Does not count if my aunt sends me a pig she buys me, even if I have been in the state. I do not collect pigs, ceramic things, banks, or state items. I collect ceramic piggy banks from states I have traveled to. It's complicated, I know.

From the back to the front:

1. Alabama
2. South Carolina
3. Louisiana
4. Texas
5. Colorado
6. New Mexico
7. Mississippi
8. Wyoming
9. Arkansas
10. Idaho
12. New York
13. Boston
14. Connecticut
15. Delaware
16. Maryland
17. Pennsylvania

Not pictured: about 3 other Texas varieties and Oklahoma.

Couldn't find a pig in: Montana and New Jersey.


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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

2009 Recapment Part 1


So to start, I did the lamest thing ever and put in each trip I took for musical purposes this year on Google maps and then added up everything...this includes mileage from my place of residence to the gig(s) and back. This is mostly touring with Susan, but some on my own, and I didn't always go with Susan on her tours, so she's logged a ridiculous amount more. She's a road dawg like that.

Anyway, my grand total of miles traveled (car and plane) is...drum roll please...


That's a lot. It's as accurate as it can be...sometimes we took alternate routes or drove around a lot once we were in the gig town and I don't keep track of that stuff, but in general - from point A to point Z...29k miles.

The most miles in one month goes to October for about 6700 miles, when we flew to New York and back and then drove to Nashville. The least was February, when I didn't leave Texas and went about 600 miles from home.

It's been a super fun year...I plan to ponder some of it more in blog form in the next couple of weeks. But after looking at that 29,803 number for a bit, all I really want to do now is take a nap. Hm.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winter Wonder- oh, it melted.

Greetings from rainy Austin. We spent the weekend in snowy Houston and wet Fort Worth. There was a precipitation theme throughout. When we left Wimberley on Friday it was snowing a little and pretty. As we neared Houston it got sunny, but it was still pretty cold. Since our gig was kinda outdoors, we thought we'd stop at a CVS and get some of those handwarmer things. Except CVS stores in Houston doesn't seem to sell them, because IT NEVER GETS BELOW 80 DEGREES IN HOUSTON. Makes sense.

So we went to Autozone. Surely when you are stranded along the side of a Houston road in 80-degree weather you would need a...oh, no luck there either.

So then we went to Academy Sports, to the hunting section, where I saw way too much camoflauge for my taste and were told they were out. Because of COURSE when it actually is going to be 26 degrees in Houston, people run out and buy that stuff. Luckily we found some in the shoe section. Toe warmers, not hand warmers. They saved the day, and they don't just have to stick on your toes.

I stole this photo from Susan because apparently
I DIDN'T TAKE ANY. Dang. (c) suSANG! 2009.

This was all that was left the next morning when we walked around a park in downtown Houston. That snowman's got impressive core freezing technology, or something.

Then there was a show in Fort Worth and I played a little and truly enjoyed playing my tunes, which is always nice because I'm about to put them on a record so I'll be kinda stuck with them.

Very excited for next week when we do the last bit of tracking on EP 2...it's getting closer! Now I'm gonna go find a furnace vent because I'm out of toe warmers.

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