Bobby Townsend chatted to Diane Cluck about her Song of The Week project, in which she will devote six months to writing, recording and digitally distributing a new song to subscribers each week:
Hello Diane. Tell us a little about how you came up with the idea of Song-of-the-Week project...
I was packing up to move from New York and had a moment of panic around leaving my day job. I literally sat down on a rolled-up rug and began thinking out ideas for Song-of-the-Week. Initially, I thought I'd write one song per week for an entire year. Then I scaled back to six months, because from my experience so much can happen and change over the course of a year. Song-of-the-Week was born out of wanting to do some of the things I most enjoy: writing songs, singing & playing music, drawing... communicating.
How is it going so far? Have you had a lot of interest? Have any fans come up with weird and wonderful subscription ideas?
It's going really well! It's amazing! The project is more than 80 percent funded at this point. There's an option for people to create their own subscription plan, but so far, no one's bitten. I do want them to; I'd be so interested! Just a few days ago, some folks in San Francisco pooled together to subscribe at the "house show"-level... they'll be flying me out for a show this summer during LGBT Pride.
How about the option for people to have a song written by you about whatever they like... What kind of things are people requesting?
Ten people have commissioned songs so far. One woman asked me to write about her dog who recently passed away. She said, "The song doesn't have to be about a dog; it could be about a loving, compassionate being who shared her life with me." Someone else wants me to write about education. I'm not yet sure what that means. Most people haven't told me what they want their song to be about. Initially, we were all waiting to see if there'd be enough interest in the project, but now it's clearly definitely happening.
As someone who has always had something of a DIY dynamic, do you see this project as a fun challenge, as something that was born out of necessity, or as a combination of the two?
The Song-of-the-Week project is both a challenge and a necessity... I'm not just boiling that down to mean 'financial necessity'. For a long time, I've wanted to have more integration between my working and creative lives. I got to a point where doing jobs that weren't directly related to my life wasn't okay with me anymore. I had a talk with myself, like, "What do you most want to be doing right now?" The responsibilities involved with Song-of-the-Week are a good mix of just what I need. There are some things I already do well (songwriting and performing ) and other things I have less experience with or don't feel are my natural strengths, but want to develop (working with others in collaborative and technical capacities, and interacting on a personal level with people who support what I do). I feel very fortunate and happy to be where I am.
In many ways, I'm taking more responsibility for the outcome of my life. A lot of conventional music business protocol didn't make sense to me, and I spent more time reacting against a system I didn't like rather than laying the groundwork for my own. That's what I'm doing now, with help, and I think the times we're in now are actually fostering that growth in me, making it easier. Song-of-the-Week is helping me commit to more follow-through with my creative ideas. I'm discovering how helpful organization can be... and how much I've needed it for a long time. I'm learning to schedule my own work days as well as time off. My previous patterns were very inspiration-based, often not grounded by my tangible, physical reality. I think that's why a lot of great art is made by people in their twenties who then die at that age. I've become aware of my limits and enjoy the beauty of working with them rather than against them. There is more here to explore than I'd originally thought.
With the music industry in the state it is in, do you think this kind of thing is something that more bands will do in the near future?
For sure, it's already happening! I have friends in all sorts of places: from hobbyists to musicians on major record labels, and it's easy enough to find discontent at every level. What I like about this transition is that more people are realizing no one's handing out golden keys. Music is way older than 'the music industry'. The people I know who are happiest are pursuing lives and careers on their own, unique terms. My Song-of-the-Week project and hubs like Kickstarter are outgrowths of that... people working together for what they desire to bring into the world. A couple of years ago, I began learning about music business. It was and is challenging for me; it's not what I'm naturally drawn to. After putting some time into learning about PRO's, mechanical licenses, etc., the landscape's become easier for me to navigate. Many artists don't realize that as soon as they release recordings, even just over the internet, there are royalties accruing for them in various places that they'll never receive unless they, or someone on their behalf, fills out the paperwork. Dealing with some of this for myself (with help from friends) has been financially beneficial and personally empowering. I'm beginning to see how I might be able to manage without being signed to a record label. I do feel that society does musicians a great disservice by filling their minds with phrases like 'starving artist' or 'you'll never make a living doing that'. Comparing notes with friends who went to school for the arts, we all agreed that business courses were completely lacking in the required curiculum. It's quite pathetic, and I hope that's changing. I'm discovering how enjoyable and creative managing one's own small business can be, and have been advocating and taking a real interest in this as it applies to the lives of those around me. Too many people are suffering in 'jobs', or accepting the perameters of what's handed to them.
I interviewed award-winning English folk singer Laura Marling recently and she told me she was a big fan of yours. It must be nice to know that you are influencing artists like her?
Absolutely ! Laura's a graceful and talented woman and I'm proud that she'd consider my work influential.
What bands/artists are you listening to at the moment? Can you give us any recommendations? Hmmm...there are a few artists I'm always tuned into: Little Wings, Amanda Jo Williams, Cocorosie... recently I've been listening to Joan As Police Woman and Devon Sproule. And oh yeah! Shovels & Rope! They're the greatest. They're a wife & husband team (Cary Ann Hearst & Michael Trent) that make really vital/vitalizing country music. Check out the YouTube video of them singing Gasoline in a swamp. They're hot.
What happens after this project has run its course? Do you have other ideas/projects up your sleeve?
I'll probably put touring on hold while I'm working on Song-of-the-Week, but eventually I'd like to do more touring in the US. I've mostly hopped between its two coasts, but I'd love to play more shows in the out-of-the-way middle regions that we musicians tend to skip. As the US becomes more troubled, I find myself wanting to invest more energy in being here. I want to continue working as a people's musician. It feels important, and it's what I have to offer. Along/under/through this, I want to continue developing methods of reaching out to others through my art. I'm getting more oriented to the internet than I used to be. I don't necessarily support people spending more time there, but the connections I'm able to make through it (the kind that become real, physical events) are amazing. I'm very much into preparing food as medicine. I'm currently working on a website with a friend, and I look forward to organizing my thoughts around food and herbs as they relate to health. The U.S. medical system is very fucked at the moment. I like being able to share ways we can take care of ourselves and each other without relying on the pharmaceutical and insurance corporations.
Interview by Bobby Townsend. Find out more about Diane's project here.