So how’s that music thing working out?

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You might remember that we had devised a plan to play music as a means to make money while cruising. The idea of sailing town to town and rocking the tiki bars to pay our way around the Caribbean was romantic and enticing.

So will it work?!!!

We’d been taking part in marina jams and playing songs with our friends at open mics on a weekly basis for a while, but the question remained, could we actually book a “gig.”

We got started in March with a St. Patrick’s Day show playing as a 4-piece band.

Then a small wedding followed soon after, which was an eye opener to how rough it is to play in 90+ degree heat and extremely high humidity. We played that one as a three-piece.

I managed to book a few solo acoustic shows, which isn’t really what I was looking for since Mary and I wanted to play together, but it was a good test to see how things went over when we stripped out the guitar solos and vocal harmonies provided by our friends.

Then we got invited to play a police fund raiser as a four-piece band, which was a fun experience.

Then we actually grew to a five-piece band for another show at our favorite bar before finishing off the year as a four-piece at a corporate Christmas party.

The gross income from our seven paying shows  in 2016 was $2050 (not counting about $200 in tips and $200 in bar tabs.) However, we had to pay out $750 to our other players. That puts us at about $1300 for the year.

So what did we learn?

Four hours is a long time: If you want to get paid in the Houston market, you have to play four-hour cover shows. When you’re playing by yourself with no instrumental solos or jamming, that is a lot of songs. I ran through more than 60 songs per night, and by the end of several shows I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel for any song left to play. As we add more and more songs to the repertoire that won’t be as much of a problem, but working full time there is only so much time in the day to rehearse old songs and memorize new ones.

Equipment does make a difference: We started the year trying to mic the cajon with a Shure SM57. While it worked ok at the house when rehearsing, we could never get it loud enough at the bar without feedback. After a long debate, we finally spent the $239 to get a Shure Beta 91A that fits inside the cajon, and it solved all of our drum volume issues. This was a tough decision because the drum itself was only $175. It seemed absurb to invest more than the drum on a microphone for the drum, but in the end, it made a huge difference. I also retired my 20-year-old Shure SM58 vocal mic and replaced it with a $200 Sennheiser e945.

Good performances require rest: I currently have a wrist brace on my left arm. Practice makes perfect, but it turns out that too much practice makes for a pretty intense case of tendonitis. 12 hours a week seems to be my limit on guitar. Mary’s hands get quite swollen by the end of a show after slapping the cajon for hours. My voice also needs rest. Back in September I played four-hour shows two nights in a row, and my voice was already rough at the beginning of night two. By the end, it was really rough, which brings up the next thing I learned.

Not every performance is going to be good: Some nights nothing goes right. We’ve only had one show where things got really bad. It started ok. We had a nice group of friends come out to support us. The crowd was singing along. Unfortunately, I started losing my voice, and I ran out of songs. I thought I had a thick skin from my years in news and public relations, but getting a bad review and not being asked back to play a venue again really crushes the ego. There’s nothing to do except treat it as a learning experience and double down on the rehearsals, so that it doesn’t happen again.

We’re not going to make a living doing this: Yes, the dream is still to play live music as we cruise the Caribbean, but I have a hunch those bars pay even less than Houston bars. I think we were counting on competing against a smaller available talent pool in the islands, but that assumption may be wrong.

I’m not sure what our focus for 2017 will be. When we purchased our PA system we wanted something portable enough to fit in a dinghy to accomodate vocals, guitar and drums playing a restaurant or small bar. We’ve now got it maxed out with multiple vocalists, guitars, violin, bass, etc. While it’s a great portable rig, it’s not the right set up for a full band in large sports bars.

Hopefully we’ll get our foot in the door at some bars in Kemah closer to all of our marina friends.

Last but not least, we’ll be working on some new original music. Songwriting got put on the back burner while we crammed to learn enough cover songs to be able to fulfill our 2016 bookings. With that backlog of music under our belts, we’re ready to move forward with new songs in 2017.

If you have any song requests, please post them in the comments!

The Houston 48-Hour Film Project

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I was out sailing one Sunday afternoon when I got a call from my friend Will LeBlanc at Casablanca Productions. He had decided to sponsor a team for the Houston 48 Hour Film Festival and wanted to know if I’d be interested in writing/directing the project.

Mary was already occupied skippering Antares in the GBCA Women’s Regatta that weekend, and it sounded like a fun challenge. I recruited our marina neighbor TJ, the captain of Folie a Deux, and we both signed on for the project.

The way the 48 Hour Film Festival works is that on a given Friday at 7 p.m. your team captain draws two film genres out of a hat. Whether it be western, musical, mystery or comedy, your film must be one of the two genres drawn. We ended up with the choices “superhero movie” or “coming of age story.”

After the genre drawing, all of the teams are then given three mandatory elements to be included in the film. Houston’s 2016 mandatory elements were a character named either Elena or Ethan Shell employed as a landscape designer, a flashlight, and the line of dialogue, “What time is it?”

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To be eligible for an award in the competition, you have to write, cast, shoot, edit and score your 4-7 minute film and have it turned in with all signed releases for actors, locations and music by 7 p.m. Sunday night — exactly 48 hours later.

As soon as we had the requirements, we set to work imagining our characters, outlining a plot, and then filling in actions and dialogue. With printed scripts in hand, we called it quits around midnight Friday.

Saturday started early as we met all of our actors and began rehearsal readings. We started filming around 10 a.m.

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There were a few stressful moments throughout the day. We couldn’t find a child actor for a scene that we absolutely couldn’t write out. Then TJ set his entire head on fire the first time he shot a fireball out of his hand. However, it all worked out. By 9 p.m. we were wrapped.

Special thanks to Jive Bar & Lounge who let us film both inside and outside the bar on extremely short notice.

Once we were wrapped, I grabbed the video files and headed back to my house to start editing. I worked from about 10 p.m. – 2 a.m., slept for a while, then continued editing from 6 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. I made it back to the Casablanca studio by 10 a.m. with a complete rough cut for Will to review. The rest of the day was spent adding music, sound effects, tweaking edits, and trying to fix our audio.

Around 6 p.m. Will took the final video and all the paperwork into town to submit our entry before the 7 p.m. deadline.

I’m very proud to present you with “Supers Anon,” co-written and directed by yours truly.

Supers Anon from Wilfred LeBlanc on Vimeo.

We made it to the August 16 “Best of Houston” showing where we were presented with an honorable mention for Best Newcomer to the festival.

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Although Will and I both make corporate videos and conduct video interviews on a regular basis, there were many lessons learned in making a “movie” with so many actors in such a constrained time. If you ever get the chance to participate in a local 48 Hour Film Festival, I highly recommend it. The weekend was exhausting, but I learned so much, met a bunch of great people, and I had a blast.

A big thank you to Will for inviting me to be a part of the project, and thank you to everyone who participated in our film.