Hello, friends. This is a fairly exhaustive blog on my project, but it’s my way of documenting for myself the creative decisions and thought processes that I made along the way. I beg your patience.
I initiated this project in the very early days of the pandemic. I vowed to put up a song a day on Facebook for one year, and, as it happened I rolled through 500 daily posts. Not all were new posts, but, for the most part, all were fresh. More on that later.
I was inspired by a Teaching Artist gathering at The Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ, one of the many opportunities I have through Young Audiences of NJ to meet up with other TA’s in my field and share philosophies, teaching techniques and basically re-energize ourselves in our craft. Several years ago a photographer did a keynote presentation on his book and project called 365. He outlined his effort to post a piece of art daily on social media, picking out of the blue the subject of skulls. Over the year, he developed a vast international following while gaining a strong skill set, as well.
I figured, since I was going to be locked down for the foreseeable future, now was the time to attempt this process for myself. The mutation of the posts was interesting as I learned new production skills, refined my work habits and expanded my repertoire.
Initially, I worked in front of my computer in my bedroom, quickly became dissatisfied with the left-handed aspect of the camera, the scenery in my room, but started out with some positive songs from my repertoire to help me and my audience cope with the new situation. I quickly turned to carving out a space in my small kitchen, purchasing a stand for my phone (good ole Amazon), finding a simple desk lamp for lighting and a simple movie-making app to create my videos. It turned out that I really enjoy the creative aspects of designing a video and seeing it posted in the morning.
The production began a process of developing a opening scene Dave Fry Kitchen Sessions (with seasonal flowers), ending credits (with paypal info – hah!), as well as some Google images of old record labels, Godfrey’s photos and other arcania that linked to the subject. I also made deep dives into who wrote the songs, who covered them, and generally found some back stories on the song in order to share them with my audience. I learned a whole lot.
I opened myself up to pulling songs from the ether, often song ideas perculating up from nowhere during the day. I picked out songs I’ve always wanted to do from favorite performers over the years: Flying Burrito Brothers, Utah Phillips, Dylan, Sandy Denny, old hokum songs, The Beatles and more. I would find the lyrics on Google, find a video as well and then sit down and figure out the chords and a key I could sing them in (damn Beatles…). I used my capo constantly. I really developed considerable skills in developing arrangements, interesting guitar parts and working on my singing, still not one of my strengths. I’d put the song in my head to record the next day.
It was now time to record the sucker, with a brief rehearsal in front of the computer. I’d set up my phone in the stand, turn on the lava lamp and desk lamp and try to get a reasonable take on the song. Early on, I sang to the room but found my vocals weren’t as good as I would like. I then set up my small amp to my left, plugged in my guitar and a vocal mike. This turned out to be crucial. I now had a vocal monitor for my voice and could also give my guitar a physical presence in the video. Big difference! I was able to get my instrument collection back into shape and, oh, wardrobe… pick out a hat.
I would set in trying to get a decent version of the song. I would plow through mistake after mistake, occasional street sirens going by, clearing my throat and other stumbling blocks along the was. I got to the point where I would simply stop midstream and begin again, muttering a few epithets along the way. (I’m glad I don’t have a blooper tape,) Eventually, I would make it through a version that I could live with, turn off the phone and head back to the computer for post-production.
Ideally, the best cut would be at the end of the file and I could quickly cut the chaff from the beginning. I would edit the ending, add the ending credits and epilogue, and final script. I found it necessary to log the date and the instrument for posterity. I’d then find a good beginning, snip the dross, add the opening scene, beginning credits (date) and song and songwriter credits, create a photo for You Tube, save and create the movie file. I would then post to You Tube.
I found that simply posting the movie file itself wasn’t enough. I had troubles with Facebook screwing up the file, with a time lag between the audio and video. I also found people were “liking” the video but I had no way if they had actually watched it. I gave up on the immediacy of FB posting for the extra step of linking to You Tube in order to quantify the number of people actually committing to watching the video. This was a good move.
As I was dealing with some sleepless nights, I began a ritual of posting the video at 2, 3 or 4 am, doing my daily exercise, meditate and then read the NY Times on line. I had the sense that I had been productive early on that day and could let the rest of the day unfold, record a new tune and deal with my solitude. This ritual served me well for over a year.
December proved to be a good time to post my library of Christmas tunes. January gave me the chance to do ‘cold’ songs, Saturday’s became ‘Family Songs’ and a breakup with a good friend became ‘Friendship Week’.
I wanted to do a concert celebrating the 365 Project, and the IceHouse provided me that opportunity. Ara Bartlieb had be producing a series of virtual shows, so we lined up a session for mid March. I enlisted my good friend Craig Thatcher to accompany me. I picked out tunes that helped display the process and Craig covered a few that I had done during the series. It was the first time we had played outside our homes and the electricity was palpable. We came up with a very nice show that was put online and I am particularly proud of.
After the passing of one year – 365 – I decided to post earlier videos in order to cut back on my workload, especially since a few gigs started coming back in the late spring and summer. I usually would record at least three or four new ones a week, and I found that the old ones held up over time, and the audience didn’t seem to mind. I’ve kept a log of all the tunes and dates, and, as I was approaching 490 or so, I gave thought to wrapping the series up. I had developed a group of loyal followers, but, with more and more gigs, I decided to end the streak and post occasional new videos just to maintain a presence online.
I decided early on that online shows didn’t work for me. I had trouble with the technology and prefered being able to have a well-produced, clean and short post, under my control and post on a daily basis rather than longer sets in a live situation. Others have done it differently.
What did I learn? Personally, I kept my sanity by staying creatively active inspite of living a solitary life on the Southside of Bethlehem. I could quickly learn a song, arrange it and perform it in 24 hours. My performance skills became adept in front of that little white light on the camera, and was comfortable in projecting my persona onto tape. I became appreciative of the songwriting skills of many artists, especially The Beatles (at such a young age, too.) I was able to pick out the essence of tunes for the brief introductions, find something interesting to say and then deliver the song and a crisp ending.
I found I had tremendous support from a small group of daily listeners as I was able to guage interactions on You Tube and Facebook. I found some satisfaction in that I was part of many people’s morning ritual as we all dealt with these strange times. I was part of a community.
I finished up the series with Hank Snow’s I’m Moving On. It seemed to be an appropriate way to wrap things up. Here’s some feedback from the 500th post:
“Thanks for brightening my mornings – I will miss you!”
“Good morning Brother Dave!! Thanks for sharing your Music my friend!! Yeah Buddy, it’s been a Great run!!”
“Thank YOU for helping us get through the pandemic with your daily ray of musical sunshine!!”
“Thank you, Dave, for lifting our spirits and reinforcing for us the power of music.”
“I enjoyed and learned a lot, and you inspired me to play more. Thank you!”
“Thank you for the morning cheer!”
“You got me through the pandemic.”
“I’ve enjoyed every single one of them. Thank you so much !!”
“Thank you, Dave, for the best music to start the day with. I’ve learned a lot and have enjoyed them all.”
For me, I come away knowing I am a better artist and person for the experience, and I have a library of songs to show for it. And, I’m not done yet.
Here’s the 365 link: https://www.youtube.com/user/davefrymusic/videos?view=0&sort=dd&shelf_id=0
Dave Fry’s Campfire link: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLsYWH4p-yiE_ETpzR7nxlmuR7S0Hj3sIZ