Day 41: Interstate Tour 2018
So, this schedule-yourself-silly lifestyle change is paying off.
Longtime readers of this blog will know that I have ADHD and have long struggled with juggling the myriad shiny spheres of my life, though I'm blessedly focusing on that which I dearly love, music, so it's not been an unpleasant struggle, just frustrating at times.
When I joined Patreon in August of 2014, it was with the same unabashed golly-gee-whiz this'll be GREAT! fervor that consumed me when first signing on to the Prodigy Service for the first time on July 22nd, 1994. Why do I remember that date? Because, for the first time, I owned a computer and it was going to be my portal to connect with the great "Out There." Not only that, but I vowed on that first day that I'd make back the $2200 that I'd spent on the PC by excelling at whatever it was that lie in wait behind the blue and yellow start-up screen. Once I became a member of Prodigy, and had time to look around the bulletin boards, I sent an e-mail (my first!) to Jenny Ambrozek, who was Community Development Director for Prodigy at the time, and gave her an enthusiastic run-down on why she should hire me to work for her. Her polite response was something like, "thrilled that you're excited, let's see how you contribute to the community as a member and then we'll have a look at the possibilities."
Nicely done, encouraging-yet-challenging.
Not long after that, I became a Special Contributor on the boards (free ID - whoo-hoo!), and was briefly a board leader for the Disney Fans BB, getting paid $500 per month, before a couple of years rolled by and, suddenly, it was the dawning of The Age Of The Internet. A number of board leaders were tapped to create something called "a web site" on something called "The World Wide Web", which was going commercial in 1996 and Prodigy would be one of the few first, true gateways. They wanted moderators to curate material, funneling them into Interest Groups so that new explorers on the Web would have a sort of expert that could provide them with links scavenged from online (and this was in the days before Alta Vista - searching sucked!) There were groups for everything from cooking and Christianity to Egyptology and Sewing.
Mine was the Theme Parks Interest Group, or T-PIG for short.
They flew all of us up to Prodigy HQ in White Plains, New York, threw a big bash in Soho and then we trained and listened and crammed for three days on this new thing, the World Wide Web. We had to understand it, get to know it, learn how to code HTML and then, somehow, pitch it to people who have never heard of such a thing before. It was exciting and intense and I was smack in the middle of it, making $2,500 a month. When I met Jenny face-to-face, I asked her if she remembered that first e-mail that I'd sent two years earlier, not really expecting her to say yes. Not only did she remember, she also said, "you were right."
Prodigy Internet debuted in 1996 and was in direct competition with America Online, Compuserve, Delphi and a few other online communities. I rode with them all the way through 1999 when that whole scene started falling to pieces right before the Dot Com Crash. Viacom had purchased Prodigy Internet and the re-branded Prodigy Classic, had spent a shit-ton of money on building community content, hiring moderators and interest group leaders, and as front-line employees, we actually made out pretty good. But when it became apparent that speculation was "irrationally exuberant" in the fledgling internet sector, the cuts came quicker than a speeding ticket. Contracts came up for renewal and it was suddenly "no pay - just a free ID."
So, I flashed-back for a reason, none the least of which is observing 24 years since I first got online.
I never envisioned anything like Patreon back in those first few years of surfing the web and I certainly never anticipated how it would literally help shape my life for the better. With a growing number of patrons who were pledging each of the first few months, it was on the forefront of my mind each morning, "there are people out there waiting for good stuff from you." That's been the case since I first began performing and teaching, people always want your best, sure, but these are people who virtually came to you, queued up, paid admission and are there every day in the audience looking for the next bit.
A daily reminder to stay focused.
As patronage grew and I began to actively campaign outside of the mountain dulcimer and Americana scene, I became aware of the similarities between growing a community like Prodigy and growing a community like Patreon. Instead of merely curating information, I'm creating information. There's a little more work involved and a whole lot more competition when it comes to where people cast their dollars. Still, how fun is that? And like the challenge of holding an audience's attention, I consider the challenge of maintaining quality content that appeals on a wide number of levels.
So, my Patreon definitely appeals to mountain dulcimer players, it also appeals to folks who are just fans of my music and video, but I'm also reaching out to people who simply like interesting content. From the line-up of recurring video progams that I've been producing (Mailbag Monday, In-Studio w/ Bing Futch, Patreon Moments, Tour Eats, Disney Overload and Coaster-2-Coaster) to the presentation of behind-the-scenes looks at the daily operations of a production company, some folks are pledging just because there's a nice variety of stuff to explore, and it's consistent - no days or weeks without any posts. If anything, some patrons opt to turn off e-mail notifications because it's going ding! fries are done every couple of hours.
I approach Patreon like Netflix, only it's not just video, but also audio, sheet music, photos, etc., and it's a full-time effort to both create new content while also linking to the vast amount of albums, books, tablature, Dulcimerica episodes, full-length concert and instructional videos that are available to patrons in The Vault. New Dulcimerica episodes need to debut every Friday, new Mailbag Monday episodes need to hit every Monday. I've set a daily schedule of production and there are over 350 patrons that are counting on me to deliver good stuff.
It's inspiring, it's liberating, it's satisfying - really, the best thing I've ever found on the internet.
While touring, performing and teaching can be a lot of work on the road, I add to that this daily routine of production and administrative stuff, processing store orders, shipping, re-ordering items, returning e-mails, and it just keeps me on a laser track, which is fabulous. It helps me be mindful of getting good sleep, eating better, staying active and spending far less time sort of drifting in between gigs. As a result, I feel like I'm working more effectively, living more purposefully and creating more abundantly. And I'm healthier.
Daily goals, that's good directive for the ADHD adult musician!
Today, before and after my fourth period workshop in Little Baker Chapel, I took advantage of the excellent acoustics to record two new tracks for The Improv Files, the monthly 4-song EP that goes out to patrons starting at the Turquoise Level ($12+) and, as I was wrapping the second piece (a F# Locrian mode improv that I've called "Locrian Of Asgard"), Common Ground On The Hill executive director Walt Michael walked in to give me the concert order and, as someone who has recorded many a track himself, respectfully waited until I had finished and allowed enough decay at the end of the tune. This festival is kind of big and crazy, so getting any facetime with The Guy is super-cool.
Tonight's concert theme was Folk, and I wore a kilt just to set up the joke, "they told me it was Celtic Night." It was also the hottest day of the week, so, yay for being comfortable. I performed "That's What You Done To Me" and "Only A Northwest Song", two glaringly different styles and moods between deep blues and perky pop. "I didn't know you could do that on a mountain dulcimer," is the sweetest kind of music to my ears.
I hung out at the Celtic jam for a bit before heading back to Imua and continuing work on The Expanding Dulcimer Project as well as composing a Phrygian mode demonstration tune called "Phrygian Cold" (ha-ha.)
Better still, I had room left in my daily points budget to chow down on 2 ounces of Beanitos Mac and Cheese Puffs and wash them down with a Bud Light Orange. I know that sounds all kinds of disgusting, but, trust me, you'll want to go down that slippery slope at least once.