How to host a Dan Charness concert IN YOUR LIVING ROOM!

Hi there!

    If you’re reading this, you are probably wondering what a house concert is and how you might possibly host a Dan Charness show from the comfort of your living room. Allow me to explain:

A house concert is just as it sounds, a live concert in your home. If you agree to host, I will come to your home/apartment with my guitar and perform a full acoustic set in your living room. Of course you might ask, why would I do such a thing? There’s an answer for that too…

From an artists perspective, a house concert is a great way to play for new fans in a setting that is relaxed, comfortable, and a natural listening space. It provides a wonderful respite from noisy bars and crowded coffeeshops that may or may not have an attentive audience.

The best part about hosting a house concert is that it is TOTALLY COST FREE. All you need to provide is the space and the audience, (and perhaps a pizza), and I will bring everything else!

To inquire about hosting a Dan Charness house concert, email dan@dancharness.com or call 617.686.3190. I’m looking forward to it!

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An Ode to New Beginnings: Fall 2011

Phew! It has certainly been a long time since this blog has been updated, but with fall’s imminent arrival I thought it might be time to dust off the cobweb:

It has been a busy summer at the Dan Charness music factory: writing, performing, and preparing a new set list for the upcoming season. I performed my last full band show with the Treemeisters in May, at which point we decided that, upon our return as a full band in the fall, we needed some new material. The shows were fun, but seemed a wee bit doused in melancholy. That’s fine if you’re in the mood for it, but our audience deserved something more upbeat in these economically downtrodden times.

So I went back to the drawing board–you wouldn’t know it but they have those for songwriting (www.staples.com/thatsridiculous) –and came up with four new tunes to bolster our ever-growing set list. There’s some indie-rock (“Insomnia”), some delta blues (“Hiding in the Bottle”), some John Mayer angst-crooning (“Not For Love”), and even some Bon Jovi style 80s rock (“Long Way To Go”). They are fine songs, if I do so say so myself, and I can’t wait to play them in our upcoming full-band shows in New York.

Without the Treemeisters, the summer also gave rise to a few solo acoustic shows in New York, (Caffe Vivaldi, Bitter End, Rockwood), a nearly sold out show at Rockwood with Lora Faye, and even a mini-tour up to Canada, where I played along with Sarah Charness (violin) at the Free Times Cafe in Toronto. I could launch into a slew of Canada jokes right now, but the truth is that I am half-Canadian, and doing so would infuriate an entire side of my family. So I’ll just leave it at the fact that folks at this bar tipped me in “loonies.” Utterly ridiculous…

The fall is looking busy, with a touring schedule filling up (including a trip to the West Coast in December) and a new E.P. in the works! I’ll be making my first appearances in Burlington, Vermont (The Skinny Pancake 10/1) and Portland, Connecticut (The Portland Fair, 10/7), as well performing at my familiar haunts here in New York City. The next gig in New York is this Coming Saturday (9/17) at Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 1, at 7pm.

I hope to see you out there!

Upcoming Shows:

-Saturday, September 17th, 7pm: Rockwood Music Hall (New York, NY)

-Saturday, October 1st, 8pm: The Skinny Pancake (Burlington, VT)

-Thursday, October 6th, 8:30pm: Caffe Vivaldi (New York, NY)

-Friday, October 7th, 7pm: Portland Fair Mainstage (Portland, CT)

-Sunday, October 16th, 7pm: The Bitter End (New York, NY)

From start to finish: the production of a single.

“How do you write a song, and how does it turn into the final product that you hear on an album?”

This is a question that I have been answering quite often in the past few weeks, and so I thought I’d share my thoughts with a somewhat wider audience. Of course, I should preface this entire column by stating that no two songwriters really have the same exact method for creating a song; however, individuals often have methods that they swear by, and this is mine. To explain how the process works, I’ll use as an example the single off my new album–the song that the album is named for: “Brand New Day.”

Typically, a song of mine begins when I am lying around trying to pass the time with a guitar. Never in my life have I sat down with the express purpose of writing a song and actually come up with something good. Paul McCartney can do that. I can’t. Big deal. Anyway, the idea will begin as something small, a tiny melodic hook in the chorus or an interesting chord progression. In the case of “Brand New Day,” the chorus came as I was strumming a particular pattern on the guitar. There was a melody hidden in there, and while I played that chord progression again and again, I sang whatever came to mind using any words popped into my head, the only goal being to resolve that melody. Of course, to any passerby it must have sounded ridiculous…and lucky for you, I happened to have Garageband turned on, recording every second of this insane banter. Click the play button below to hear it!

It always feels good to come up with a hook or melody that seems promising, but that feeling goes away very quickly for most songwriters. The truth is, many songwriters write their worst songs even after they’ve found that initial hook. Out of laziness–or sometimes just writer’s block–the songwriter will find the quickest way to finish the song, if only to exploit that one good part. With “Brand New Day,” I was determined not to fall into that trap. So I spent the next few days messing around with different versions of the verses and the chorus, and after a while, a real song began to emerge.

With just an acoustic guitar and my voice, the song, “Brand New Day” was now finished. However, the production of “Brand New Day” had only just begun. This song needed more than just an acoustic guitar to make it as exciting and fun as it needed to be, and the process of arranging it for a full band was the next step I had to take. A song like this needed drums, electric bass and guitar, and maybe even some keyboards, brass and a fiddle to take it to the next step. Fortunately for me, these elements were within my grasp, with musicians Spencer Hattendorf (Saxophones), Graham Richman (keyboards, guitars), Benjie Messenger-Barnes (Bass), Sarah Charness (Fiddle) and Ryan Hoyle (Drums) pitching in to provide those key instruments.

Over the next few weeks, I traveled to meet with these various musicians, arranging and recording these parts one at a time. (Ryan Hoyle’s drum parts were recorded in L.A. and sent via email.) With all the parts recorded, the song “Brand New Day” could then be mixed, mastered, and packaged as the first single and title track off the upcoming album, also called Brand New Day.

Follow this link to download the new single, “Brand New Day” for free!

CD Release Announcement! (10/30/10)

October 30, 2010

After nearly six straight months of work, I can finally announce the upcoming release of my new album, Brand New Day! Featuring eleven original songs, the album will be released on December 12th, both in hard copy and in online stores such as iTunes and Rhapsody. The album is a first for me in a number of ways, the most important of which is that I am not the only artist to perform on it. On Brand New Day, I am joined by some of the most talented musicians and performers I have ever had the pleasure to work with.

While the songs were all self-arranged and self-produced, I could have not have done anything without the help of Graham Richman (guitars and keyboards), Spencer Hattendorf (saxophone), and Nate Mondshein (drums), the musicians who comprised the core of the band. These players, all undergraduates at Wesleyan University, are phenomenally talented musicians, and I owe quite a bit to their dedicated work. I was also lucky to be joined by Sarah Charness (violin), Geoffrey Dana Hicks (piano), Louis Russo (bass), and L.A. based drummer Ryan Hoyle. The cast goes on and on.

The album’s release will be marked by a live performance–w/band (December 12th at 9pm)–at The Bitter End, a landmark venue in New York City that was once the home to artists such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Janis Joplin. Tickets to the show are $5, and all who attend will receive a FREE COPY OF THE ALBUM!!! Please contact dan@dancharness.com for limited advance tickets.

New York City Talent (from 9/30/10)

It has been two weeks since I moved to New York City, and already my brain is overwhelmed with thoughts and ponderences. Unlike so many others who came to this city seeking recognition, fame, or even something more, I was originally proud to say that I knew what was coming. I never once thought that it would be easy. But still, the overwhelming power of this place is often more than I can fully comprehend. It is the sheer size, that unruly grid of concrete and metal which has somehow grown from nothing into a living feat of human accomplishment. It is the incalculable mess of wealth, power and beauty that inhabits the shops and restaurants in an almost dizzying blur of glitz and decadence.

But more than anything, it is the raw talent, strewn about the city like the doughy flakes of a perfect croissant, that makes me wonder what it really takes to “make it” in this place. Why is it that the greatest artists and musicians I have ever heard in my life are so casually found underneath a tunnel overpass in Central Park, or crammed into the shadowy crevice of a subway staircase? (I have since been informed that it is because the underground talent in New York is actually hired through an audition process with the city’s transportation authorities: see www.mta.info/mta/aft/muny/auditions.html for details.) Just last night, I watched an elderly street artist mindlessly tearing up tissue paper to form the perfect likeness of a man standing in front of him. And every time I find myself waiting for a late night train out of Union Square, a saxophone player of unmatched talent plays his heart out for the few nickels and dimes that grace his open instrument case.

New York City was never designed for the weak of heart or the troubled of mind–though there are certainly enough psychiatrists in this town to cure each and every case. Rather, this city was built on the living foundation of the American Dream–that with enough know-how and persistence, one person can live out any one of his or her dreams. I am still proud to say that I am suffering neither from a weak heart nor a troubled mind. In fact, in the past month I have even made some steps towards my own American Dream, winning a songwriting contest (indieinternational.com), securing my first solo gig (at Caffe Vivaldi on Nov. 7th), and organising the release of my debut album. Of course, these are all but small steps in the long road to my dream as a songwriter, but its still a good start, and I remain confident that good things lie ahead.

 

 

To hear my music, please visit my website at www.dancharness.com

What’s a good song? (from 6/10/2010)

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to dine with my sister and her boyfriend, Jordan. My sister and I are both musicians, and Jordan–despite an interest in the inner workings of the music business–is not. For the majority of the meal, my sister and I carried on mindlessly about the latest tunes we had been listening to, comparing and contrasting the varying styles and genres in a conversation that, at least to me, seemed both genuine and highly intellectual. But at one point, Jordan, aware of my own aspirations as a songwriter, stopped me in mid-sentence and asked a very simple question: “How do you know what it is that makes music ‘good?’”

I froze, not entirely sure how to answer his question while still maintaining my now questionable façade of musical knowledge. Thankfully, he took my hesitation to mean that he had phrased the question poorly, and I quickly assured him that he had. But then he rephrased it: “How do you define ‘good music’ if everyone has different tastes in music?” He wondered, in particular, why certain popular songs seem to have a nearly universal appeal. In short: what makes one song better than another?

Some might say that a song’s worth is found in its ability to be remembered and re-sung, how “catchy” it is. Certainly in pop music, a song’s worth is often measured by a memorable line, or “hook,” to use the industry lingo. Lady Gaga, for instance, has mastered the art of writing choruses that can be easily remembered and sung along to. But there are many other genres of music for which the word “catchy” could hardly be used to define what is or is not “good.” The genres of hard rock, gangsta rap, alternative rock, or just plain Jethro Tull, rarely produce songs that could be described as catchy. But yet we listen to them anyway. So if “catchiness” is not the correct measure, what is?

Some might argue that complexity is the answer. These folks would suggest that humans naturally seek out music that challenges them as listeners, music that engages them. But oddly enough, some of popular music’s most recent hits have been the simplest of songs. Maino’s “All The Above” featured a simple chorus built on three repetitive chords. The verses themselves are mostly forgettable. Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” featured a charming melody on top of a simple yet timeless chord progression. Nothing too complicated, but somehow it has exploded in popularity. Perhaps it is just catchy?

So with complication and catchiness on the fence, we are left with a very loose gauge, indeed. If a song does not need to be catchy or complicated to be “good,” what does it need? The truth, unfortunately, is that there really is no answer to this question. And even if there were, for every argument posed there would be an equally persuasive counter-argument. The appeal of music is ultimately subjective, and there is no way to gauge what people will go for. Certainly there are trends: from the recent singer-songwriter/cello/mandolin combo to the agonizing auto-tuning crisis, trends continue to evolve. Yet it is still impossible to know why one song succeeds and another does not.

And so my honest answer to you, Jordan, is that I have no idea. I cannot fake an answer to this one. Even as a songwriter, I can barely tell when I have written something that others will enjoy. Sometimes I write a song that I love, and no one else seems to care for it very much. And then I’ll write another that I believe to be of lesser value, and yet it becomes a favourite for many. I am currently working on three songs, to be released soon, and I have absolutely no idea whether they are good or not. I like them, but it seems that only time and youtube hits can tell if you will.

Deciding To Be a Musician (from 5/31/10)

Monday, May 31, 2010

Either by calling or by some strange, generational destiny, I have decided to become a musician: a classical cellist by day, and a struggling singer-songwriter by night. A Batman of the profession. It took four years of liberal arts education in history and Italian to realise it, but I have finally reached that odd and curiously satisfying conclusion: that nothing else but music really makes sense.

There are some artists and performers who might find fault in the manner in which I arrived at this conclusion. They would argue that a true musician does not choose his or her path, but rather follows it from birth like a migrating bird. But they are wrong, and history can prove it. In fact, I happen to come from a long line of musicians (and performers) who struggled to make the seemingly suicidal leap into the profession.

Oscar Hammerstein, of the famous Broadway writing duo, Rogers and Hammerstein, did not initially choose music as a profession. Rather, Hammerstein completed a B.A. at Columbia University in 1916 and was a year into Columbia’s law school when he finally quit his schooling to explore theatre on a full-time basis. Once his mind was made up, Hammerstein became a renowned songwriter, responsible for many of the Broadway show tunes that are now fixtures on the average living room piano.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, of the folk-rock duo Simon and Garfunkel, also teetered on the edge of careers in academia and law before arriving at their musical destiny. Simon studied English literature at Queens College, and later began studying for a law degree at the Brooklyn Law School. Garfunkel, meanwhile, studied at Columbia, where he earned both a B.A. in Art History as well as a Masters degree in Mathematics before settling into his musical partnership with Simon. Simon and Garfunkel, well trained in the liberal arts, went on to become one of the most iconic folk duos in popular music history.

Steve Martin is the last figure to come to mind. While it was not a career in music that Martin eventually pursued, he still teetered on the brink of indecision before finding his calling in film and stand up comedy. In his autobiography, Born Standing Up (a great read for anyone interested), Martin recalls the brief period in which he was studying philosophy at Long Beach College while simultaneously performing magic shows. At one point, Martin describes the defining moment when realised that the regret he might later experience as a 40-year old with an ordinary office job would far outweigh the small sacrifice of giving his comedy act a whirl. And we thank Steve for his sacrifice.

The stories of these artists reaffirm my belief that a career in music does not necessarily have to follow a path of inevitability. These artists could just as easily have pursued their various callings in law, mathematics, or academia if not for their nagging interests in music–not to mention a fair bit of talent on the side. I suppose you could say that this natural pairing of interest and talent was just a part of the inevitable; still, it took a conscious decision on all of their parts to forego the path of predictability and instead pursue something musical, artistic and different. I have now faced the same decision, and I dearly hope that I have chosen wisely.

 

To hear some of my music, visit my webpage at www.dancharness.com