One Tuba in a Sea of Guitars: DSE California 2011

Just returned last week from attending the Durango Songwriter’s Expo in Santa Ynez Valley, California (just N of Santa Barbara). At this expo, 150-200 songwriters gather together to mingle with each other, network with industry professionals and get direct feedback on material, write more songs, jam endlessly into the wee hours, and perform in front of the group if chosen for a showcase slot.

The DSE is held twice annually, once in California during February and again outside of Denver in October. This was the fourth in a row that Melissa Axel and I have attended, and it was the best one yet.

What exactly does a tuba player do at a songwriter’s expo? Well, play tuba, of course!

Apart from playing the kick-off party open mic the night before the expo began, Melissa was also chosen for a showcase performance during the opening night festivities. We played her song “The Worth Of Things,” which went over quite well—happy to have had the opportunity! It’s always an interesting experience for me when I play into a mic, but the sound in the room was great. (For lack of a piano, she was relegated to playing on a weighted keyboard. If only they’d move the lobby piano into the hall and onto the stage!)

The second night, singer-songwriter Andy Ard asked fellow musician Tage Plantell and me to sit in for his showcase performance, and the three of us had a hoot playing Andy’s “Here Comes Another Good Time” to the audience. He’s also asked me to play on this song when he records it later this year.


After the showcases there’s an open mic which we’d wander in and out of. In addition, there were plenty of impromptu jams in the resort lobby, as well as packed song circles in crowded hotel rooms. The advantage to being the only tuba player at an expo overrun by guitarist singer/songwriters is that they are usually more than happy to have a tubist sit in and play with them. (Special props to Ron Gozzo who brought out his sax!)


Ultimately, the driving force of the expo is the listening session: basically, twenty or so songwriters sit in a room, each plays a demo or finished recording of a song for a couple of industry professionals, and everyone takes note of their feedback and suggestions (pictured below). Pros come in all shapes and sizes, but many of them are music supervisors, label execs, successful hit songwriters, publishers, and management. This time, we were sharing nearly completed recordings from Melissa Axel’s debut album, and it was exciting to see a lot of these folks really impressed with the songs. There are also panel discussions on various music industry topics, and we attended the ones on Film & TV Placement (pictured below) and DIY.


Overall, we had a great time seeing old friends and making new ones. Can’t wait for the next one this October!



ModernTuba Video of the Week! 030611

Back by popular demand (and over a week's worth of travel), it's time for the ModernTuba Video of the Week!

This week we feature a clip from The Price Is Right during which host Drew Carey proudly declares, "If you want to start the party up with some models … play some tuba music!"

I hereby submit the following as the ModernTuba video of the week!

Travelin’ Tuba part one?the case.


Traveling with an instrument this size can be interesting and ? challenging.

Take my Yamaha YBB-103 for example. It’s ideal for my travel because its 3/4 size makes it easier to lug around. The tough part was finding a hard travel-ready case so I could flight check it as luggage.

As you can tell, it doesn’t quite fit.

After an exhaustive search for the appropriate model, I had to settle for something built for a larger instrument and compensate with bubble wrap and more to keep it secure.

There’s even a small Scooby Doo beach ball in the bell to keep it from lurching forward and striking the front of the case.

Once I’ve locked it shut, it’s quite sturdy and safe. It weighs approximately 45 lbs, so it can usually get through baggage check without paying abnormally large fees?just the normally large ones. Thankfully it has wheels.

But, friends, it’s always a crap shoot. It usually takes some negotiation because of its unusual and bulky size.

Tomorrow I fly out with Melissa Axel for the Durango Songwriters Expo in beautiful Santa Ynez Valley in California, with some gigs along the way. It’s my first time flying this case United, and I’m nervous.

Keep your fingers crossed, and stay tuned!

Vinyl vs. CD

There was an ongoing debate about the merits of CD sound vs. vinyl over at a Tangerine Dream mailing list. There were valid points on both sides, but no one seemed to bring up the elephant in the room: does CD even have any life-span left?

So I fashioned this response, partly to squeeze in my predictions about CD’s future, partly to give my take on why vinyl might be here to stay, and partly to respond to the idea people liked of including a CD copy of an album with the vinyl so the consumer can get the best of both worlds:

CDs are quickly becoming irrelevant as the digital era moves ever closer to figuring itself out. In our case, the next CD we release (scheduled for April or May) might possibly be the last. Future releases will likely be digital and vinyl with download codes included. (We will be releasing vinyl with download codes this year, as well as CDs.) At this point, CDs are mostly useful as musical business cards and handy merch at live shows. Throwing a CD in with the record is a waste of a manufacturing investment.

The slow media movement is gaining popularity right now, as people increasingly appreciate the tactile experience of playing a record—few of them are motivated by the fidelity argument—but they also want a quick and easy way to store and listen to music. The #1 reason people purchase CDs is to listen to it in their vehicle, but as more and more cars adopt ways to play digitally from a device (or otherwise), that reason will be going away.

Most consumers do not understand there’s a loss in quality from ripping/downloading music as low quality MP3s, so they will notice the difference when they listen to the same album on vinyl in comparison. Also, they appreciate album art on a whole new level with vinyl, so don’t be surprised if there’s a return to more iconic artwork on album covers as a result.

My two cents, at least.

Please continue reading the comments for some additional thoughts!


(Just a fraction of my vinyl TD collection shown above)

Some videos from the recording process!

For the last nine months, I have been deep into recording Melissa Axel‘s debut record. I’ve participated as a tuba player, as a co-writer on a song (for which I also sang background vocals), as a production assistant, as an executive producer, and [very briefly] as an assistant engineer.

It has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.

On Friday we finally wrapped up the recording, and this week it is being mixed. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited about it! We are just weeks away from the final product (and vinyl will be on its way). The album has gorgeous vocals and beautiful piano, sweeping strings, rockin’ tunes, intimate songs, epic productions, delicate cello and tuba, and many other amazingly creative arrangements.

I thought it would be fun to post a few videos from the sessions to whet the appetites of anyone following this tublog, so enjoy!

Here’s video of our strings recording, featuring Kailin Yong (Kailin Yong Peace Project) on first fiddle, Tom Hagerman (DeVotchKa) on second violin, Mackenzie Gault (Flobots) on viola, Beth Rosbach (Fort Collins Symphony Orchestra) on cello, and Mike Fitzmaurice (Colcannon) on double bass.

This video starts out as a silly tour of Macy Sound Studios in Denver where piano and rhythm section were tracked, and it ends with Melissa rehearsing the instrumental track “Sharper Side” while producer Justin Peacock of The Hook Factory adjusts microphones.

And finally, here’s footage of us recording the song “Every Place Is Home” at Evergroove Studios in Evergreen, CO. The bloke on 12-strings is Irish songwriter Andy White—an incredible writer and performer who has written with such greats as Peter Gabriel, Tim Finn, and Sinead O’ Connor. Andy co-wrote this song with Melissa and me at the WOMAD summer school in Bath, England a couple of summers ago.

More to come, so stay tuned!