About Me, The Long Version

So like I said before,  I’m Heather.  I LOVE music.  Listening to it, watching it performed live, sharing it, writing about it and even writing some of my own.  Wondering how I got here, a DJ, blogger and songwriter?  Read on for the looong version. :-)

Some people call me Hum.  When I do my radio show I go by DJ Hum.  The funny thing is, when I first got the nickname it had nothing to do with music.  At the time, I was more likely to be known as “The arts & craftsy one” than “the music junkie.”   My high school math teacher had this thing where she gave everyone in the class a nickname.  There were two Heathers in my class, so Mrs. E took each of our first and last initials and put a vowel in between to make a word – we were Hip and Hum.

As far as the music goes, I remember as a kid, wearing a cape and somewhere upwards of 17 crazy pigtails, bouncing around the bedroom of a small trailer in Iowa, changing the colors to “Yellow Submarine” for as long as my dad would play it.  I can still recall the smell  and texture of the covers of the songbooks  he had for Donovan and Pete Seeger tunes.

In High School I fell in with the theatre crowd, which probably saved me from dropping out.  Good, sweet, incredibly talented kids, who for the most part were probably as insanely insecure as I was but did a better job of covering it up.  One of the things they did was to viciously self-critique every note and action of their performances.  Looking back, this was probably done in an effort to preempt critiques from others, but to my admiring and untrained ears and eyes it seemed that they must know something mysteriously out of my reach – everything I heard and saw was golden.

So when these oh-so-knowledgeable teens passed judgment on other artists, I believed them.  I felt ashamed to enjoy some of the “pop drivel” that I heard on the radio, and was careful to collect music they introduced me to or would approve.

Somewhere in college I began to realize that it was OK to have my own taste in music.  I got turned on to Sarah McLachlan and heard about Lilith Fair.  I was shocked to find out and realize the truth to the fact that it was unusual to hear two female artists played back to back on the radio at that time.  In 1999 my mom took my brother’s on a family vacation that I couldn’t join due to my school schedule, so she said she’d make it up to me by taking me to one of the Lilith Fair stops later that summer.

We decided to go to the show in Atlanta – she had a business partner down there we could stay with and she  could check in on the warehouse, plus there were two dates with a slightly different line up for each, so she said if we were traveling that far we might as well go to both.

There were so many great artists over those two days they started to blur together.  Which was kind of too bad, because now there are several I wish I had paid more attention to at the time.  Hindsight is 20/20!  Out of the performances I did pay attention to, a few still stand out in my mind 10+ years later.

Sarah was amazing, both nights.  It was as if all the other performers were just a warm up to her.  And yet she seemed to be incredibly humble and gracious, genuinely thanking the audience after each song, fully knowing how lucky she was to be there.

The other two that made a big impression on me were actually side stage performers, Ginger Mackenzie and Doria Roberts.

Ginger told a story between some of her songs about how she’d worked behind a desk in a big music company for years and had finally decided to actually go after her dream of making her own music.  At the end of her performance she mentioned that she would be signing her CD’s at the merch tent on the other side of the main stage.  I nervously met her there and told her what an inspiration her story was, and she told me it was the best thing she’d ever done, and to follow my heart.

Doria Roberts had won the local contest to play the side stage, and after such an encouraging experience with Ginger, I hoped I’d be able to talk to Doria and buy her CD as well, but I don’t think she had one at the time because I never saw her at the merch tent.  Her song Perfect stayed with me for years though, prompting me to Google her every so often to see if she had a CD out yet.  So it was awesome to find Doria later on MySpace, a bold, confident indie artist who also had a proper website and a whole catalog of CDs.

Those two planted a seed of an idea in me, that I don’t think I even consciously realized at the time, that it was possible for a normal girl to have a career in music.  While I still regarded them as magical creatures, and wasn’t really even thinking about making music myself, they brought the whole idea down to a more reachable level than the super-stardom of Sarah.

It was towards the end of college that I picked up a friend’s guitar, learned some chords out of her Easy Beatles songbook and started trying to make some of my own music.  My last semester I switched from theatre classes to music classes. One of our assignments was to write a melody every day, and since I could only play chords on the guitar, mine were sung, and they quickly turned into simple songs.

I did a few open mics and participated in a couple concerts with friends that were well received by family and friends.  Then I graduated, moved to Boulder and started working in a juice bar.  I thought about performing in open mics out there, and even got together a few of my songs for a songwriting contest I found out there, and totally chickened out for both.  And then my hand to mouth existence seemed to dry up my songwriting inspiration.

I did however, get to go to concerts that provided more musical role models – Wendy Woo and Dar Williams, who had Catie Curtis open for her.  Dar’s music particularly hit a chord with me, here was someone who understood my inner turmoils, who made me feel valid and worthy and uplifted, all without even knowing my name!  What a powerful cause to be a part of!  If only my music could someday offer as much.

After about nine months in Boulder I came back home to see what it would be like to live in the same town as my boyfriend for more than two weeks at a time.  I also had built up a huge credit card debt on top of my student loans, and knew I could save a big chunk of money by living at home for a while.  I bounced around a bit for a few years, working for both of my parents at their businesses and doing a few part time jobs until I landed at an internet company that sold art online.

There I made new friends, moved up from filing poster and prints to help with product design, web usability and copy-writing.  I learned a lot about marketing, SEO and blogs.  It was a fun, young, creative, high-energy, dynamic company until it got sold to a bigger company and went public.  Suddenly it was all about the numbers and the stress piled on.

Somewhere in those years Cafe Paradiso opened in town, and a folk musician named Matt McLeod started an open mic there.  He also started inviting some of his musician friends from out of town to come do concerts.  One of them was Rachel Ries, who had won second runner-up to a Lilith Fair side stage competition and so had just missed out on performing there.

She liked performing at the cafe so much she has since come back many times. Rachel was amazingly talented and also approachable, telling me about the gear she used to record her demos, sharing her doubts about her skills.  This also planted a seed that perhaps people have a hard time judging for themselves, and you have to just get out there and do it.

Also somewhere in those years I started making mix CD’s for my friends as Christmas presents, I married my boyfriend, paid off my credit card and some guys in town started the low-power, non-profit, community radio station KRUU-LP 100.1 FM.

I wanted to have a show on KRUU so badly.  I knew exactly what I would play – music by female singer-songwriters.  Not only did I have a lot of it, the station seemed pretty guy heavy, both DJ and music-wise.  I was scared though.  Did I have enough music to do an hour show every week?  Maybe every month… Could I just do a half hour?  Would I be able to talk about the musicians on the air properly?  The high school voices even crept in, saying my music taste was stupid and who would want to listen to my collection anyway?  I sent in a suggestion for the show to the contact page on the station but never got a reply one way or the other.  I figured they were probably just swamped with the madness of starting up a new station but on the chance they thought my idea was lame, I didn’t follow up.

I thought about it a lot though.  Came up with the name Lyrical Venus.  Started making themed playlists on my iTunes.  Checked out podcasting books from the library hoping to get hints about how to structure a show.  (Not all that helpful honestly…).  I decided to start this blog.  That way I could research for more music and get a feel for the scene, share with people about the great musicians I knew and discovered and I didn’t need anyone’s approval to do it.

Lauryn of Truckstop Souvenir started a show called Crooked Sisters Radio Hour and I excitedly sent her ideas for musicians to play.  She politely told me that her show was going to probably be more on the twangy side of the spectrum than some of the artists I’d mentioned but welcomed my suggestions.  I started listening to her show to get ideas for how to do a show myself.

I found out in September of 2007 that my job was going to be “restructured” at the end of the year – in other words they were moving our entire department down to Florida, and we were welcome to apply to our jobs again down there.  Those of us who decided to stay and help the company transition would get a severance bonus at the end of the year.  I opted to stay in the town where I’d grown up, where my family members still lived and my husband had good work in IT jobs.

At some point in October, one of the guys at the radio station saw one of my blog posts through Facebook and asked me why I didn’t have a radio show.  I said, well, now that you mention it…

A couple months and fits and starts later and I had my first show as a guest on Billy Bob’s Kitch in Sync, Tuesday morning January 1st 2008.  At the time I write this, it has been over three years of Tuesday mornings hosting the Lyrical Venus Radio Hour, and not only do I have plenty of music to play each week, I keep getting more, and I’ve even done 26 on-air interviews with all manner of artists, from up-and-coming to established, plus a few purely text ones on the blog for people who’s schedules wouldn’t allow for calling in.

Those interviews have helped give me more confidence that there is no one right way to be a performing singer-songwriter or write a song.  There are young geniuses of 17 who just seem to have the touch, there are mothers with children who burnt out on corporate life and turned to music.  There are performers who don’t play instruments but write and sing their own songs, there are bands, there are solo artists, people who are self taught and people who went to music school.  None of it really matters when you hear the music, if it’s good music.  And even the “not as good music” sometimes has a certain something that touches the heart or teaches something.  There is a place for all of it.

So 2008 was a wild and unpredictable year full of many adventures, but the majority of them seemed to point the way to music in some fashion or another.  I started writing more, hanging out with local musicians, went to the Rocky Mountain Song School in August and took some other music classes as well.  I’ve survived without a full time job for a year as well, and while juggling lots of little part-time projects is a balancing act I’m still learning, I’m not sure I could go back to full-time in an office.  The difference in my happiness levels and creativity is highly apparent.

I’ve also gotten sucked into the world of music business and online marketing.  As a voracious reader, I now have all sorts of knowledge and ideas, but not having my own quality recordings (or indeed, enough confidence in any of my songs to record them – yet) to try the ideas out on, I’m eager to share the ideas with other artists who DO tour and have albums.  These are the people who are so busy both living and being creative, they don’t have time to be up to speed on the latest trends and ideas that are out there. Or they don’t know where to look.

When I start talking about some of the ideas I have for people they tell me things like I should write a book, or start a service to help artists.  I’ve already started a tiny bit with a couple local artists, but I’m sure with a little more focus I could do something more powerful and productive with all these ideas and really help connect people with the right tools for them.  And hopefully balance that out with my own musical growth.

I’m excited to see where 2009 takes me.

One Response to “About Me, The Long Version”

  1. fran says:

    Hi Hum!

    You just found me on Twitter so I checked out your blog, and feel like I need to connect with you. Our site promotes house concerts, and in the process introduces me to sooooooo much great talent – many of whom are female.

    I often am compelled to write them up in our blog, but I simply don’t have the time to do it.

    At minimum, I’d love to introduce some of our best members to you. However, if you find yourself inspired to contribute more by blogging or playing them, that would be fantastic. I’d happily link to your blog if you want to make it a habit.

    Best, Fran

    By way of intro:
    What’ we’re doing…http://www.concertsinyourhome.com/
    My recent reviews…http://www.concertsinyourhome.com/blog/archives/325
    Some of my favorites…

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