Last winter I took a close look at my expenses and income as a performer when I prepared my taxes. That’s when I realized that I couldn’t afford to ignore my hourly wage as a musician anymore. I want to preface the rest of my thoughts by owning up to my identity as an artist, which I’ve been diving into and uncovering this year. At the heart of it, I make music to process and heal experience and emotion. I am deeply connected to the small rural Sebastopol property I was raised on. I am a mother who values family, home, and balance.
I made a stab at climbing the ladder in the traditional industry. I had incredible, gifted, hard-working partners in the dream along the way. I had some bright victories and beautiful, transcendent moments. I had some fall-flat-on-my-face failures. I put countless hours and thousands of dollars that I didn’t have into creating and sharing my music. I’ve felt the pressure of acting like “one of the boys” and all that entails. It takes a lot of mettle to take on the challenges of rejection, as well as the terrifying tedium of cold calling strangers repeatedly to peddle your art, to climb the ladder of exposure and “success” in the music industry. To be honest, I really sucked at that part of the job. And maybe that’s not a bad thing.
When I was in my 20s, walking away from a gig with $50 or $100 bucks in my pockets was great. It’s awesome to walk away with cash in your pocket while also getting to share your art, make meaningful connections with people, and feeling the rush of adreneline and release of performing.
Now I’m 36. I’ve invested in my creative music education business, and I have bills to pay. Most importantly, I have an 8 year old daughter and right now feels like a CRUCIAL time to foster a positive relationship with her as she approaches the tween/teen years. She brings me incredible joy with her bright, curious, and loving spirit. Being her mama has taught me so much that I can’t imagine learning outside of the realm of parenting. I separated from her Dad when she was five and we split custody 50/50. Because of the nature of his line of work, my time with my daughter is mostly over the weekend, when most performing opportunities arise. So at this point, putting 10 hours and thousands of dollars of musical gear into a gig where I’ll walk away with a crisp big ben doesn’t pencil out. Here’s the breakdown of the 10 hours, based on the year I performed every weekend as well as what I’d put into a gig with a band today:
2 Hours personal prep/practice (music, booking, press kit, sound plot, etc.)
3 Hours rehearsal with the band
2 Hours set up/break down/ transportation (if it’s local) on site
3 hours performance/on site time
The long and short of it is- I don’t have those extra hours to dedicate to the traditional model of performing anymore. My daughter needs them. I need them so I can build a new dream.
I’ve been in HEAVY mourning for that extra free time for years now. At this point, I’m ready to let it go to make room for a new model. One that is based in art, education, community, love, and balance.
It’s a dream that’s knocking loudly at the edge of my tangible reality, and I’m feeling all the feels. Fear, Resistance, Excitment, Bliss, Grief, Anxiety, Fear. Yep, I know I said that twice. It’s terrifying to release such a huge part of my identity as I move into something new, something that holds unknown challenges and rewards.
I imagine that I’m walking barefoot on a path, and each time my foot makes contact with the earth I feel a pulse of excitment, joy, resonance, alignment. I’m even more excited to connect with other women who share in a vision of a sustainable career rooted in creating and teaching art in balance with a nurtured home, self, and family.
This is my daughter in the 2002 Dodge conversion van I bought last year from my friend Dave Mulligan with a dream that my daughter and I can hit the road and play community based shows in California, see some beautiful places, connect with friends, and adventure together. It was love at first sight with this van, which I went on my only tour on in 2008 when I released my debut record, Smoke Rings in the Sky. Good times were had by all. We drove Ron DMC from Joshua Tree to Bellingham in 20 days, playing every night in a different town. Steve Poltz even came out to our show in San Diego. Ron needs a new transmission and some love. Part of the dream that's knocking at the edge of tangible reality. . .
Some funny things come to mind as I watch this. I’m on day 5 of daily shares, and it’s not easy. If I wasn’t committed to sharing with an open heart from my creative and educational music path, I wouldn’t share this. That ego voice is just too loud in my head saying- well, you know! You’ve got your own. But the voice is kind of funny. It makes me feel the need to assure you that I am not stoned even though I was born on 4/20. To explain that the reason I am moving that way is because I am sitting on an exercise ball that I bought for my daughter to play with, but now use as a desk chair. So many things.
I’m sharing this one for my student Vikki, a fifth generation farmer from the Philippines who is taking voice lessons for the first time after a life long love affair with singing. She has a natural huge soprano voice and we are working on getting her in touch with her low range so she can sing contemporary songs that she loves like “Can’t Help Falling In Love”. She is on a serious healing path with music, and has the bug BAD. Bad like she owns 8 Ukuleles bad. Which is actually great. Which is what this song is about.
As I got into the unexpected and seemingly miraculous process of making a record with Tim Bluhm last year (a collection Mother Hips songs that I arranged for female voice and piano), I had many moments of - Oh s**t, I’m making a record. I know exactly what it costs. No I don’t have that kind of money laying around. But this is what I do! Mellotron arrangements by Pat Sansone of Wilco- yes, absolutely! String arrangements from Nashville!? Hell yes!
How could I say no to such beauty and the opportunity to make art that’s exactly aligned with the pace of my soul?
I wrote this song as I was grappling with these questions and the illogical/inspired yes. I’ll be asking for support with a crowdfunding campaign for the first time so I can get my music out to you. But this kind of share is free. Straight from me to you, with all the beauty and realness which is sometimes just freaking awkward and makes me cringe a little, at least if I listen to that old ego. But again- the sharing is more important than the fear. So here you go.
PS. I’ve posted a snippet of this song before on my blog, right after I wrote it. But I was afraid to share it, because it felt too close to my heart, too vulnerable, too new. The funny thing is that I usually find it really awkward to look into the camera, but as I recorded it felt very natural for the same reason I was afraid to share this song with you before- because it is straight from the heart. Funny how that works!
Gambler Song- Alison Harris 2017
Am F C G (vi IV I V)
You’ll be the death of me, strip my skin right from the bones
Lead me on a wild goose chase, ’til there’s no place left to call my home
‘Cause I’m a gambler baby, lay it all down
I might go on singing ’til there is no sound
When you come a knockin’, open every door
I will cross each threshold, always wanting more
Feed me on fantasy, ’til you make me moan
I’ll live on song along, ’til I’m only skin and bones
‘Cause this is all I have, this is all I love
This is all I live for, I can’t get enough
If you wonder, baby, why I’d rather be lost
If I can’t keep singing- nothing’s worth that cost
So leave me by the wayside in a field of wild flowers
My song and I, we’ll whittle down the hours
You might see me standing like I am all alone
But I’ve got song beside me, and she is my home
Many can’t conceive it, most don’t understand
I’d rather be with music than touched by any hand
Even in the darkness, I'll shine in the light
Deep down in the dark, my spirit's shining bright
Alison is a Musician, Writer, Teacher and Mother. She lives in rural Sonoma County with her daughter, Ella.