Thursday, August 17, 2017

Music for Nothing? That's Called Stealing

Originally published in the Chestnut Hill Local.

There is a great store up the street from my apartment called Mango.  They sell this adorable "Philly Girl" shirt, one that can be bought elsewhere around the city but locally it is a Mango exclusive.  Imagine a man or woman who go into Mango and informing, not asking, but informing the staff that they needed the shirt yet have no funds in their budget for the shirt.  It's okay though because when people saw them wearing the shirt would know that it was from Mango. The person wearing would even keep some business cards from Mango handy to give out.

Sounds inappropriate, right?  It is something that I deal with multiple times a year as a full-time musician.  What is even more amazing is that these requests for free services always come from groups that have members whose yearly income is double what I make as an independent artist.

I am not sure if a monetary value can be put on the training I have had.  A couple hundred thousand dollars of higher education followed by years of performing six days a week in and around New Orleans honing my craft.  Add to that a few hours a day I currently spend practicing, composing or arranging new material.  Then there is the maintenance on equipment, upkeep on my physical appearance (you gotta look good if you want to get hired), hours - I mean hours - on the phone booking new venues, meeting with potential brides and grooms to help plan their big day, plus dealing with hotels, township offices (if the performance is outside and a variance is needed), the list goes on and on.

Did I mention that in order to stay competitive and be able to put bids in for jobs that I need to have the same liability insurance coverage that a caterer or general contractor has?  Places like the Highlands Historical in Ft Washington won't hire me without it, and it isn't cheap.

A study from 2015 found that the average yearly income of a full-time musician in the United States is around $20K.  I mentioned earlier that, in my experience, those looking for free music are wealthier than I am and always white.  When talking to older musicians I am told that $100/man was considered a fair paying gig in the early 1960's.  Why then am I fighting to get $150/man in 2017?  And remember: $150/man doesn't include what I need to put aside for my insurance.  And taxes.  Don't forget the tax man.  As I said: I am a full-time musician.  That also means Uncle Sam gets about 23% of what you are paying me.  Suddenly a $100 gig becomes $77, which becomes $50 or less once I take care of the insurance bill.  I need gas to get to the venue and that brings us down to $40.  Am I performing downtown?  If so: parking garages are about $25 or $30 for a weekend night, right?  So at the end of the night I may have $15.  $15 for three or four hours of work.

Why then, time and time again, am I approached with "Our group is hiring a few musicians to entertain but we don't have music in our budget"?  If this is the case then (1) you aren't hiring musicians at all and (2) you should focus on what actually is in your budget. 

When I am asked for something for free from people who make more in one week that I make in one month is insulting and borders on indentured servitude. What is amazing to me is that when I am asked to perform for groups from lower income areas (ie: West Parkside Business Assoc, various community groups in Germantown, Mt. Aity, etc) my price is never questioned and a generous tip is almost always included. Why does this issue seem to be native to Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia's “Garden District”?

Don't think I don't do "freebie" gigs.  I donate my time and talent to a number of good causes.  There are a few children's charities that I contribute a silent auction item of a performance in your home, and many time I will perform for free at the auction itself. Occasionally my band mates join me and the auction item becomes a jazz trio for a house party, etc.  It always comes back around in the end.  A child gets medical bills paid and you get some great music in your house.  But asking musicians to play for nothing more than "business card placement" is despicable.

I am a firm believer that live music makes any event more memorable.  If you feel the same and don't "have it in your budget" then ask your members/friends/neighbors for help.  If you have 25 members and they each contribute $20 then you have $500 for music, which - in 2017 - is a fair price for a duo to entertain for 3 or 4 hours.

Music for nothing?  That's called stealing.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Whole Wheat 3 Cheese White Pizza with Roasted Peppers & Arugula Pesto

for the pesto
2 cups arugula
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1 clove of garlic

for the roasted peppers
2 red bell peppers, seeded and taken apart

for the pizza
1 1/4 cup cold water
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup bread flour
2 teaspoons honey
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon yeast
8 oz skim mozzarella, grated
1/2 cup parmesan, grated
3/4 cup crumbled feta
Penzy's "Tuscan Sunset" herb blend
Penzy's "Dried Aleppo Pepper Flakes"

  1. In a bread machine set to the "dough" setting, combine the water, flours, honey, salt, oil and yeast.  As the saying goes: Set it and forget it.
  2. Plan to do the rest of these steps once your dough has finished.  Keep the dough in the bread machine until you are ready to use it.
  3. Combine all the pesto ingredients into your "Magic Bullet" and pulse until combines.  Place in fridge until you need to use it.
  4. Turn on your broiler and put the rack about 3 inches from it.  Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray.  Lay out your peppers, skin side up, and broil for 13 minutes, rotating halfway.  Remove from oven and - using tongs - pile the peppers in the center of the foil and then close the foil to make a pouch.  Let the peppers sit and steam for ten minutes.  Then open foil.  Once they are cool peel off the charred skin and then slice the peppers into thin strips.  Put aside.
  5. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.
  6. On a floured surface plop your dough out and, using flour coated hands, work the dough into a 10 inch round.  Then place the round on a greased 12-inch-round "crisper tray" and with those floured hands work the dough out into a 12-inch round.
  7. Top the pizza with the mozzarella, feta, parm and the two Penzy's herbs.  Bake for about 15-18 minutes, rotating it halfway and pulling it out before anything burns.  Place pizza on cooling rack so the bottom stays crispy.
  8. While pizza is cooling put your pesto into a bread bag (or pastry bag if you is fancy).  If using a bread bag: once you have loaded it up cut the corner off so there is tiny hole to squirt out the pesto.  If using a pastry bag use the smallest tip.
  9. Place the peppers and squirt the pesto on your pizza.  I like doing a lattice of horizontal red and vertical green (see picture above).
  10. ENJOY!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Eggs Pontchartrain

Many mornings when one of us walk the dog the other one makes breakfast.  This morning while Wifey was out with the Pupster I came up with this idea.  I don't know why calling it Pontchartrain popped into my head but I couldn't shake it.  As Wifey aptly put it, "It's a beautiful lumpy mess... Just like that entire region."  This ended up being incredibly easy and may end up one of my favorite morning recipes.

serves 2

1 English muffin, halved and toasted and topped with your favorite spread/jam/etc
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning (or more if you love it)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 red or golden potato (larger than a golf ball, smaller than a tennis ball), quarter-inch dice
2 large eggs
Crystal Hot Sauce

  1. Heat a 12 inch non-stick skillet over medium heat and after a few minutes of pre-heating add the butter and oil.  Swirl it around.
  2. Toss the potato with the creole seasoning and garlic.
  3. Add the potato mixture to the skillet - spreading out to a single layer - and turn up the heat.  After a couple minutes stir the potatoes and again spread to a single layer and cover for a few more minutes.
  4. Once the potatoes are looking crispy separate them into two piles.  Increase heat to medium high.  Crack an egg onto each pile. Cover and after one minute turn heat off and let sit (still covered) for about 5-7 min until eggs are cooked and yolk still runny.
  5. Each potato egg pile should easily be picked up with a thin spatula and plated with half an English muffin.
  6. Add a squirt of hot sauce and ENJOY!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Chicko Pinto Salad

It's getting warmer so finding hearty side for dinner that doesn't involve turning the oven on is always a good idea.  I woke up craving my Mom's "3 Bean Salad" to have with our veggie burgers.  I combined a few different recipes that I have done in the past and then added my own twist with the Feta.  Full disclosure:  After a few months of disappointing "jalapeno heat" I didn't taste test the one I brought home today.  It ended up being a little spicier than expected - but not too spicy that the salad couldn't be enjoyed.  I found some left-over Feta from something I made over the weekend and realized that adding it would balance out the heat.

1 can chick peas, rinsed and drained
1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
2 ribs celery, chopped to size of beans
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped to size of beans
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped to size of beans
1/2 of a red onion, diced
juice of half a lime
4 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 jalapeno, diced
1/3 cup crumbled Feta cheese

  1. Mix everything in a bowl then season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Let it sit in the fridge for, at least, 4 hours.
  3. Give the salad a good stir and add more salt and pepper or lime juice, if needed, before serving.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Quick Dip #1: White Bean & Garlic

We love dips!  Any kind of dip.  Red, green, white, taupe, purple - if you dip something in it: bring it on!  We especially love the ones that can be made in under 5 minutes.  Homemade hummus is great - and not hard at all to make - but I end up spending 15 minutes wrestling with a half-empty jar of Tahini plus I get oily fingerprints EVERYWHERE.  So I am always on the lookout for quick and flavorful dips - with minimal cleanup.  A snack so fast you can start and finish it during a commercial break during the game.

Many weeks either my wife or myself will cut up A LOT of veggies and put them in a large Tupperware container in the fridge.  Having "dippers" pre-prepared encourages us to make a quick dip and skip the chips and Cheez-Its.


1 15 oz can Cannellini Bean, drained and rinsed
3 cloves garlic, chopped or not chopped - it's going into a food processor regardless
juice of half a lemon (or more to taste)
1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 or more teaspoons of whatever fresh herb you have on hand, finely chopped*
3 tablespoons water (or more)
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of white pepper

  1. For this I used 1 teaspoon each of fresh sage and fresh summer savory.  Chop your herbs now!
  2. Put all ingredients into a food processor and WHIP it up.
  3. If it is too thick for your taste add another tablespoon of water and WHIP it again.
  4. Serve with a platter of cut veggies or pita or tortillas.
You can also use this as a spread on a baguette and then top with freshly grilled veggies for a great summery open-faced style sandwich.

Try this using roasted garlic!

* I like using two different herbs.  One teaspoon of each.  It really doesn't matter what the combo.  Experiment.  You'd be surprised that there is no wrong combination.  Mint and dill never bonded so gracefully!

VARIATION #1: Rosemary-Roasted Garlic White Bean Dip

Use four or five cloves of roasted garlic, a tablespoon of fresh (minced) rosemary and a few tablespoons of grated parmesan.  This variation is NOT vegan.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Roasted Garlic Vegetarian Lasagna

For about a week I have been waiting impatiently to use the quart of leftover red sauce I found in the back of the freezer.  The sauce was labeled "Extra Chunky Red Gravy" and I instantly remembered this AWESOME concoction that was the result of me cleaning out the fridge and utilizing a lot of great veggies that were on their "last leg".  Most vegetarian lasagnas have eggplant in them.  I like eggplant.  I don't love eggplant, but I do like it.  So when I woke up today after coming home late and drunkenly promising my wife a homemade lasagna when she got home from work I realized that we have eaten a LOT of eggplant over the past few days.  Much more eggplant than I normally consume.  I decided that I didn't want any eggplant in this.  I thought about the flavors I did want and settled on yellow squash and zucchini.  I like sautéed spinach in my lasagna but since I was making something new I decided to try kale instead.  I also wanted to sub the ricotta with cottage cheese - something I had recently read in an article that bragged that the cottage cheese actually ends up making the final product creamier than ricotta does.  The fact it is healthier is one of those bonuses that I will ignore if you do too.

1 head garlic
2 zucchini sliced to half inch thickness
2 yellow squash sliced to half inch thickness
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 head of garlic
16 oz kale, stemmed and chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/3 cup of vegetable stock (or water)
16 oz low-fat (or non-fat) cottage cheese
16 oz mozzarella, grated and separated in two halves.
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice*
1 box of no boil lasagna noodles
5-6 cups of left over homemade red gravy (chunkier the better)
Extra virgin olive oil

  1. Preheat oven to 350.  Arrange the slices of squash and zucchini on two parchment lined cookie sheet.  Sprinkle the slices with salt and oregano.  Add the head of garlic and bake for about 30 minutes.  Put aside and allow garlic to cool enough to handle.
  2. Meanwhile, add tablespoon of oil in a Dutch oven on medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add the red pepper flakes and the kale.  Reduce heat to medium-low, add the stock (or water, if using) and cover.  Cook 15-20 minutes.
  3. Squeeze out the roasted garlic from it's skin and add to a large mixing bowl with the cottage cheese, parsley, lemon juice and half the mozzarella.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Add a small amount of red gravy to a lasagna pan treated with spray oil (I like the coconut spray oil).  Add a layer of noodles, then cheese mix, kale, noodles, vegetable slices, red gravy then repeat the noodles, cheese, kale, noodles, slices, red gravy, repeat, etc.
  5. Finish with a layer of noodles.  Top with the remaining mozzarella that wasn't mixed in with the cottage cheese.
  6. Bake as instructed on the box of your no-boil noodles.  Let cool for about 10-15 minutes before slicing.
Serve with a salad and/or garlic bread.

If you are making this for only two people you can half the entire recipe and bake in a loaf (bread) tin.  (Don't half the number of layers - just the ingredients). I like doing this because although I can't get enough lasagna it isn't my wife's favorite so I avoid having too much left over.  However for this maiden voyage of a recipe I decided to go all out and share the love and pack up some slices of this for friends, family and neighbors.

* Believe it or not: I truly think that the lemon juice is the secret weapon of this recipe.  It makes the cheese mixture come alive and become three dimensional.

Monday, February 20, 2017

CDBaby has been offline for over 85 hours

I  use for most of my online sales and distribution. Their website has been offline since before Friday, February 17th at 10am when I first noticed it was down for maintenance. Every week I download my sales reports and streaming info so I can keep track of royalties that I owe and that are owed to me. It's how I pay my rent. This week I get a maintenance pop-up. It's happened before in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep and decided to check when my ...mind drifted and I was curious which of my Christmas songs was getting the most Spotify play that month.

Back to 2017... On Friday I - along with what I assume were many others - were told it was routine maintenance and it would be back up soon (exact wording: ASAP). On Saturday we were told it was taking longer than expected. On Sunday we were told a database issue occurred but it will be fixed by tomorrow. On Monday we were told it would be up in 3 hours. It is now almost Tuesday and we are back to routine maintenance is taking longer than expected and it will be up ASAP.

Like other full-time musicians I have scheduled and targeted e-mail blasts, radio promotional spots, paid for ads in print media that utilize a QR code to point to online retail, internet ads and much more that all must be now cancelled (if possible) or altered to now point to alternative retail outlets. It's not impossible but it's something I could have spent Saturday and Sunday and Monday doing instead of sitting in a limbo being told to "give it a few".

Come on, CDBABY... WTactualF?! I have paid you flat rates for your services and turned over a percentage of what I have made in royalties and sales for 10 years. All that adds up to a pretty nice chuck of change that I fork over. I need some transparency from you here. If something got fucked up just relay that info to us. Things gets fucked up all the time! It's life. I would gladly accept being told that something got royally fucked up. But passing something off as nothing but routine when in actuality it is significant and may result in loss of business for the thousands who use you as a subcontractor for music distribution in both physical and digital product is a BIG DEAL.

Thank you. I never rant and I think I got it out of my system.

But, seriously, you better have an easy out for those of us who want out if this doesn't get fixed in the next 24 hours.

To those of you who have tried to purchase music: I am truly sorry. I have responded to those of your who have emailed me and hopefully my offer for an email of mp3s or a snail-mailed CD will suffice.