If I could get a show at Border Books & Music (because corporate coffeehouses did guarantees for musicians back then), then I could walk away with $100 in cash and another $40–70 if the patrons liked what they heard and bought my CD.
Back then, I would silk-screen a bunch of blank-top Taiyo Yuden CD-Rs and then burn my albums onto them. Before a tour the floor of my little house would be covered in hand-screened CDs, and as I waited for them to dry, I’d have to hop over them to get to the bathroom or kitchen. Each of those CDs would bring in $10 if I could find someone to buy them.
I didn’t know what a music publisher was and I thought vaguely that my music publisher might be BMI, the PRO I had chosen to affiliate with largely because my friend and personal hero Edie Carey was a member.
I had a hazy idea of what a record label was, but I had no idea how to go about getting the attention of a record label in a way that would actually make a label want to sign me. I really, really wanted a label to sign me. This is how I once showed up on the doorstep of Misra Records, which turned out to be the home address of the founder. Yes, I really did ring his doorbell on a Saturday morning clutching a demo and a press kit. Sorry Phil Waldorf!
I kept my gig contracts and my copyright registrations in one of those expandable file folders that you typically associate with attorneys. The funny thing is that I have never once used an expanding file folder since crossing over to the business side of entertainment and actually becoming an attorney.
Those live shows in my 20s turned my life upside down, and from these tours and gigs I am grateful to have collected enough memories and crazy stories to last me a lifetime. If I could go back in time, I would most certainly do it again, but I would like to do it with a better understanding of the business end of things.
For most, the shows eventually come to an end or come to be less frequent. What persists are the songs we write and the things we record. These intangible things — our creative copyrights — are what people can still discover on Spotify or hear in the background of a TV show long after we’ve stopped silk screening Taiyo Yuden CDs in the living room, long after we’ve stopped touring and long after we’re dead. They are the big picture, and I wish I had understood this when I was making music, playing show after show.