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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!
Once upon a time.
It should come as no big surprise to anyone reading this blog that I play the tuba, but to this day I still find myself quite surprised to be doing so.
- My father was a professional drummer for a while in the ’60s. By the time I came along, it was just a hobby he pursued in our den, playing along to records or just pounding out some solo Samba or Jazz or Rock rhythms. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him perform with any kind of group.
- My older brother (3.5 years my senior) tried learning the clarinet in middle school for a year—and seemed to hate every second of it, though nowadays he says otherwise. I’m certain it was a very harrowing year. It was for my ears, at the very least.
- My musical interests were mostly rooted in the top forty ’80s tunes played on the radio: The Human League, The Police, Thomas Dolby, and scores of synthy hits like “The Safety Dance” and “Mr. Roboto.”