vinceconaway: (Default)
I've wrapped up the Italy leg of the tour and I'm off to Croatia!

This means that it's a good time to do some evaluation of how things are going so far. When I booked this tour I had five goals:

1. To find out how profitable Italy busking is in June
2. To spend a significant amount of time in my grandmother's region of Umbria
3. To find out how well Croatian busking goes after several years away
4. To make my first foray into Bosnia
5. To answer how well I can handle three months of touring as I enter middle age

It's obviously too soon to evaluate the Balkans, but Italy has been very educational. In the past my main touring season has been February-April, with limited exposure in January, May, and July. I've known better than to try August, when half of Italians go on vacation and the cities empty, and my July jaunt in 2009 taught me that the other half goes on vacation for that month and the cities likewise empty out, but June was an open question.

It is open no longer! I've been a little disappointed by my grosses for June, but far from troubled. Tips have been very good, but CD sales are significantly down from previous tours and from May. Also, the weekly schedule has changed, when Sundays go from being one of my best days to one of my worst. I have plans to adapt in the future, and the overall dynamic matches spring in Greece and summer in South America, but such a break from the familiar came as a bit of a shock.

My decision to focus on Umbria was delightfully successful. I had suspected that the lure of the beach might impact June busking elsewhere, so an inland region made sense. I also wanted to spend more time in Terni and Foligno, cities I'd briefly visited in years past, and to explore Orvieto for the first time. And, while CD sales have been down, I've had an amazing time in this incredibly beautiful area that was already ancient before the Romans showed up.

As for my endurance into my early forties, I've been pleased so far. While I have three more weeks to go and I've had a few signs of crispy burn out around the edges, I feel pretty solid. I'm not sure three-month tours should be a regular part of my schedule, as they also weren't in my thirties, but it's nice to think I've still got it in me!
vinceconaway: (Default)
I'm a big believer in the power of luck. I've made many decisions over the years, creative and professional, but the biggest have often been leaps of opportunity. Last night I made another one.

I'm on a mailing list for bargain airfare, Scott's Cheap Flights, and when a winter/spring Europe sale was announced I jumped. I immediately scrapped my tentatively planned February southwestern US tour and brainstormed a southeastern Italy tour in its place. The cheapest airfare on the list was in Philadelphia, so I manically messaged a few friends inquiring about parking for the month and once I had a few viable options I booked the flight.

The whole process took almost exactly one hour, including the walk I took to clear my head.

This is me in a nutshell, making snap decisions to take advantage of opportunities. Also me, of course, will be seven months of second guessing until I'm in the seat of that plane, but I'm decisive in the moment. And this trip wasn't entirely out of the blue, it solves the conundrum I've been considering of how to return to the hottest part of Italy during the summers I have earmarked for European travel. Preparation meets opportunity and bam!

I'm not standing still I am lying in wait.

Daily Life

Feb. 21st, 2017 04:11 pm
vinceconaway: (Default)
Living on the road is very different than vacationing. This is true in general, but especially when I'm traveling abroad.

I typically eat out of grocery stores, for example, even if I'm not doing the sort of light cooking that I do in the States. Eating out every day is not only detrimental to the budget, but brutal for health. It was important to acquire, early in my travels, the skill to pick up affordable picnic basics and build a long-term diet from staples such as bread, fruit, and cheese.

And then there is my daily schedule. I tend to work for 4 hours a day on those days when I'm playing, with five hours or so between my first and second sets. This leaves me part of the morning, midday, and the early evening to myself. I take a lot of rambling walks as my main recreation, but often I'll hit a museum or other tourist attraction in the afternoon. However, because of my schedule, there's typically only room for one.

It's by routines such as these that I've built a life for myself on the road, where it doesn't matter how frequently the scenery changes because the basic elements of my day rarely do.
vinceconaway: (Default)
It's one of my greatest strengths. The world is full of brilliant artists and sharp business minds, but being competent at both is likely my greatest competitive advantage.

I just said "competitive advantage" in describing an artistic career. I rest my case.

I called it a career, which is also a strong argument in my accountancy. But I'm overselling my case. The key to my success has been knowing when to temper practicality with art, and vice versa.

For example, I just booked a completely frivolous trip to London while I'm busking Italy, since I could keep expenses under $300 including the concert tickets for the show I wanted to see (two back-to-back Frank Turner performances in his concert series "Lost Evenings"). I booked the plane seats now because I wanted to guarantee my attendance once I had my concert tickets, but I haven't yet booked my flight from Cleveland to Milan because it's a business expense I want to be deductible on my 2017 taxes instead of fiscal 2016. By flying out on Sunday morning and returning on Tuesday, I'll only lose a single day to busking, minimally impacting my work schedule.

And so I've put my accountant brain into action in an artistic goal. This is my career write small, from busking tours of amazing places to working festivals where other people go for vacation; I'm not here to make a buck, but to support my own happiness. I've been deeply lucky that it's still rolling along, and I consider the soul of an accountant to be another lucky break.

Many thanks to you all, without whom I could never have made it work!
vinceconaway: (Default)
A lot has changed as I've grown older, and my driving habits are a fascinating example.

When I was 24 I spent six weeks commuting between Cincinnati and Tampa, fourteen hours each way. I was in grad school, taking classes Tuesdays and Thursdays, performing at the Bay Area Renaissance Festival Saturdays and Sundays, and driving Mondays and Fridays. It was brutal, and the next year gas prices and creative problem solving encouraged me to switch to airplanes.

As my body has aged I've noticed that my capabilities for such drives aren't what they once were. More importantly, I no longer have the will to force myself to undertake such misery. I'm at a fortunate place where I can afford a few $50 hotel rooms throughout the year, and I schedule around that.

I rarely drive more than nine hours in a day, and never more than eleven. I'm more willing to take breaks than I was in my twenties, enjoying a stroll around a rest area and maybe indulging in a handstand for blood flow to wake me up. And I'm liberal with allowing myself the aforementioned hotel rooms.

Oddly, however, I noticed today that some of these changes don't seem to be one way. I only started drinking coffee in my early thirties, and recent bouts of TMJ-related jaw issues have caused me to quit caffeine entirely once again; apparently my thirties were the buzzing decade. Today I drove over eight hours and I reverted to form, with only a single gas/lunch/bathroom stop at midday. It seems there was a different variable at work.

Now I'm questioning other assumptions about my aging process. This could be fun!
vinceconaway: (Default)
I was recently approached by someone who wanted the story of how I got into renaissance festivals, since they are compiling such stories into a book. My imagination was fired by the idea, until I realized they were just asking for a detailed questionnaire. I'll still do that, but I wanted to share the details of how I got into this crazy business.

It all started when I was fourteen years old and my parents took me to the Baycrafters Renaissance Faire in Cleveland, over Labor Day weekend. My young mind was blown, and I knew I had found my tribe. I saw a lady play the lute, and I was shocked that such skills were still known and practiced. I saw my first SCA demo, where a group of fighters demonstrated the difference between Hollywood fight choreography and how massed medieval troops actually conducted themselves.

I went back over the next few years, and the memories blur. As a sixteen-year-old independent driver I was in line just as the parade was lining up. They offered free admission if I marched with them inside a giant puppet, and suddenly I was a performer.

The next year I name-dropped a booth name for free admission. Allen Drago's Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries was willing to vouch for us as employees in exchange for helping him take down the giant pavilion at the end of the show, and it was a small price to pay.

During these trips, one or two days a year over the course of my high school career, I made a lot of friends and became closer to ones I already had. I was involved in a lot of adult discussion it had previously been difficult for my teenaged self to engage. And I saw my first hammered dulcimer.

Matt Ableson was the player, who is now an acquaintance of mine. My family is from a dulcimer-playing region of Appalachia, and I later ran across dulcimers there, but my first experience was through what later became my primary venue: the Ren Faire. And I hate to admit it, but my first impression of the instrument was resentment that my girlfriend had a crush on the guy.

To be continued...
vinceconaway: (Default)
After a few weeks of research and the examples of several dear friends, I'm putting together a Patreon crowdfunding campaign. I'm shooting video this week and hope to take it live next week. Thank you all so much for all of your support over the years, and for keeping independant art alive!
vinceconaway: (Default)
The hardest part, for me, of being self-employed, is that expenses are front-loaded and grosses are on the back end. In the past three months I've put almost $5000 on a credit card with the hope that it will pay off, but with no guarantees.

Every day is a leap of faith, but some of them are more stressful than others.
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
I always had a weakness for VH1 Behind the Music: almost all bands have similar beginnings, and I've always been fascinated to see myself in the early lives of legends. I'm happy with my career and have no desire for fame, but it's a thrill to see my story reflected in the origins of bands that I love; I've found this also extends to music written about the music business.

The best of the lot is Creeque Alley, also arguably the best thing ever done by The Mamas and the Papas (my father and I agree on this point, a rare occasion when it comes to culture). I can see my friends and I in its lyrics, and I want to let you know what I hear in this song.

"John and Mitchy were gettin' kind of itchy / Just to leave the folk music behind"

Almost every band hits this point eventually, whether it's a folk band who wants to expand or a cover band that wants to write original music.

"Zol and Denny workin' for a penny / Tryin' to get a fish on the line"

I'm very fortunate in my career that I've moved beyond this point, but I remember well the days of making 50 cold calls to try and get a "maybe".

"In a coffee house Sebastian sat / And after every number they'd pass the hat"

This is a bit of an inside reference to anyone who hasn't performed for tips. Frequent hat passing will maximize giving, but at the expense of audience goodwill. People will give more but resent you for it, and is usually a sign that you're hurting for money.

"Zolly said 'Denny, you know there aren't many / Who can sing a song the way that you do, let's go south' / Denny said 'Zolly, golly, don't you think that I wish / I could play guitar like you'"

This is common in show business, and is one reason performers are famously insecure. We wouldn't be on stage if we didn't seek external validation, and it's easy to get intimidated by the strengths of our friends and colleagues.

"When Denny met Cass he gave her love bumps"

This is everywhere: show business is a very incestuous little dating pool. People tend to crush on people they work with, in general, and there's even a word for it: "showmance"

"Make up, break up, everything is shake up
Guess it had to be that way"

I've lived this: when a bandmate calls and says "we have to talk" it's just as scary and portentous as when a lover says it.

"Broke, busted, disgusted, agents can't be trusted"

There's an entire genre of breakup songs written about agents, from Queen's Death On Two Legs to Sara Bareilles' Love Song.

"Duffy's good vibrations and our imaginations
Can't go on indefinitely
And California dreamin' is becomin' a reality"

And there's always a point near the end of a project when it seems simultaneously that there's nothing more to give at the same time that it's surreal to have made it to the final push.
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
Let's talk about money: I'm a self-employed artist, which means I haven't got much. I pride myself on my ability to get the most from what I do have, but I worry about my finances on a daily basis.

Still, the core realization that led me to this life was that security is an illusion, and I can't say that I worry much more than when I had a more conventional career path. In a way, I owe my anxiety issues a debt of gratitude: I decided early on that I might as well worry interestingly if worry is inevitable. Not to mention that I have millionaire friends who don't worry any less, suggesting that a mythical "comfort level" is a chimera that can never be caught.

And so I make the choices I make, dig the holes that I dig, and scramble out only to dig and dive into the next hole. I took the leap of faith that this path would work and it has done so for over fifteen years, but there are no promises for tomorrow except to keep jumping into the void with a hope, a prayer, and gratitude that I've been given so much already.
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
I'm a lucky guy.

I certainly won't discount the fact that I've put in my 10,000 hours of practice, but I don't feel I can take credit for being the type of person who enjoys practicing. My career has been a series of "right place, right time, right preparation", but I know a lot of people who've worked as hard who never got nearly as far.

But this post isn't about me, it's about my dad. The man whose favorite word is "fortuitous" and who often quotes Lefty Gomez "I'd rather be lucky than good".

My career is full of lucky breaks, but my dad's ought to be legendary. Lorain, Ohio was an industrial hub when he moved there in 1969, with the steel mill, shipyard, GM, and Ford plants. My dad hired in at Ford, which was the only one of the four still in business when he retired 35 years later. Even more interesting, he transferred to Avon Lake just a few years before the closing of the Lorain plant, in a multifaceted back story that comes down to another lucky break.

His worst luck coincides with his best: his first day at Ford was a Tuesday, and on Thursday his draft number was called. After getting back from Vietnam he was in a much better position than many of his compatriots, with a job waiting and two years of union seniority he'd accrued in the meantime.

And then, of course, his luck only improved when I turned up :D
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
Nothing makes me feel more stupid than learning new music: I'm clumsy, hesitant, and incompetent. Every time I rehearse a new piece I wonder why I don't just coast on the 110+ I already know, upon which I could probably build the next 20 years of my career.

And then I remember the deal I made with myself in 2011: I can allow myself to appreciate my career arc and schedule as long as I challenge myself creatively. When everything is stagnant I get bored and burn out and, as painful as this process is, there's no better way of keeping myself in love with my job.

Besides, once I learn the piece I feel like a god. At least until I start the next...
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
It happens. I may have gotten complacent because it hadn't happened in awhile, but it happens.

I got shifted. "Shifted" is a delightful busker colloquialism I picked up in Sicily from a banjo-playing Englishman, his way of describing the process of being told by the authorities to move along (or, in my case, to get a permit).

It started as it usually does, although with friendlier cops than normal. I'd been passed by several flavors of law enforcement to no effect (each one with strictly non-overlapping jurisdictions) so I'd assumed I was golden, but the right two came along just as I was starting up yesterday morning. They directed me to the office for a permit, and I went even though my history suggests it would be pointless.

That history now has another data point in its favor.

I wouldn't have bothered if my evening sets in Sardinia hadn't been so lackluster, but I wasn't sure that a ticket to play another city would be a good investment. So I stuck around and waited in line and was told to come back at 4 to speak with the lieutenant.

And I did. We had a jocular debate, where he said there was no law to support busking and I argued that there was therefore no law to prohibit it. He insisted I go through regular channels for an "occupation of public space" license, which would take at least until Monday (the day I leave town).

It's easier just to commute for a few days.

There are bright sides to the story. My argument with the Lieutenant showed a surprising fluency on my part, and I was surprised at my persuasiveness in my second tongue (albeit ineffectual). The cops who got the ball rolling were really cool and curious about the instrument. And Oristano is likely the best city to be a commuting busker, centrally located with excellent transit links to other cities.

Still, the situation triggered all sorts of anxieties. Iglesias went well, but now I'm paranoid about my chances in Sassari, my next city. I'm also nervous about my budget, which was already fairly tenuous and which is taking the hit of a Thursday completely lost with possible weekend weather.

It's a game of averages, and I've already made up some of the difference by finding some amazing housing deals for the last leg of the tour in cities I know well. The risk was not unexpected: Sardinia was always intended to be the experimental center between a familiar beginning in Genoa and hopes for a strong finish in Romagna. My career involves taking successive leaps of faith, but sometimes it's a hard faith to maintain.

And the adventures continue.
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
I'm playing a game of averages.

Some days are down, but the leap of faith is that others will be up. And, even after fifteen years, you would think I'd find it an easier leap to make. I have spreadsheets full of data that show highs matching the lows (and vice versa, though it's depressing to dwell on), but sometimes it's still a challenge.

Friday was a slow day for busking, then Saturday morning was the same. Saturday afternoon came around and made up for the rest of the week, what a night!

And I keep leaping on.
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
I have no idea what went wrong today.

It's a Friday, which is typically a pretty good day for me, and the weather was quite nice. Sunny, if a little chilly by local standards, but nothing worse than the last few weeks. Still, my four hours of playing netted me about half of what yesterday did. It's a little frustrating, but encouraging to realize that it's mainly foot traffic rather than something wrong with me or my playing. As a performer much of my self-esteem is tied up in what I do, so there's a lot of comfort in that. There just hasn't been as many people out today, for whatever reason.

Looking over my grosses for the last few days, however, I'm not far from my weekly goal. I have high hopes going into the weekend!
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
Today I'm looking ahead to my Italy tour next month: I'm going to have a slightly smaller dulcimer, which limits me compared to the one I've been playing. I'm adjusting some of my newer repertoire so that I'll still be able to practice it and not need to relearn it before recording next December, and I'm looking back through past repertoire to dig up gems I haven't played in a while.

Specifically, the Italians have responded very well to my original material, but Renaissance Faire audiences prefer the Celtic stuff. Because of that, I've whittled my originals down to a dozen tunes fresh in my head and allowed the rest to get rusty. Now I'm dusting off a lot of that music and letting the jigs and reels atrophy a bit.

I honestly think that one reason I remain so invigorated in my performance career is because of this annual repertoire shift. It keeps me from getting bored, and on my toes!
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
The Best of 2014 lists are coming out and sometimes it gets depressing to notice so little progress in my own life, so I thought I'd name the things I accomplished this year.

I street performed in South America for the first time. I haven't made a profit yet, and I have future plans and ideas to try, but I've broken the ice.

I learned my third Bach tune, Allemande in Em. Similarly, I've expanded my early baroque repertoire with five 17th century Italian tunes. I also continue to grow as a Renaissance performer, with three new tunes learned.

I played my first busking tour of the American southwest, focusing on San Diego. I expanded my Minneapolis busking to include the farmers market, which was a big addition to my schedule.

I successfully weathered some big changes in my personal life. I try to keep that offline, but if you see me I'll be happy to chat over a beer. Even better, I didn't let the change get out of control and demolish the good along with the bad.

To sum up, it hasn't been an easy year but neither was it a bad one, and it held its share of triumphs. I think I'm in a pretty good position for the new year, and excited for what I can see taking shape!
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
I have a degree in computers, but I hate working with them. I find them to be valuable tools when it comes to writing, composing, and social media, but I've never been much of a programmer and I despise troubleshooting: it's the main reason I exclusively use Apple products.

Because of this, I wanted to outsource my next website upgrade, but it turns out that the estimates have been a lot more than I have available in my budget. It's probably for the best, since in the winter I have more free time than money, but it may be a long and annoying January. At least my current plans mean I'll be doing the coding on the new computer…
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
This is the time of year when I make a number of purchases and financial decisions that are going to slowly happen over the next few months. I need to get it all done now, however, because this coming weekend represents my last scheduled work for awhile.

I've been having a very productive year and I'm feeling fairly well off, but as soon as the festival closes on Sunday my financial anxieties will kick in. Every day is a leap of faith, but January is a particularly difficult month for leaping.

This sort of thing is why I'm considering a tattoo that reads "know yourself" in ancient Greek.
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
Being self-employed in a creative field, I often suffer from a tug-of-war between my inner accountant and my inner artist. Years ago, I made the conscious decision that the artist would win any argument, and that the role of the accountant was to figure out how to do any given endeavor rather than tell me why I couldn't. In effect, I took a tool from my superego and gave it to my ego, and the three years since have proven good to me.

I pride myself on the ability to give myself permission. I struggled with the timing to quit my last day job until my at-the-time wife told me to go for it, and I will forever owe her a debt of gratitude. In the years since, I've grown to the point where encouragement is still extremely helpful, from those who encouraged me to make my first leap into European busking, discussed my CD repricing (to which I ascribe a much lower decline than my colleagues), to my ideas for South American tours, but the ultimate permission comes from inside myself.

It's deeply liberating, and I'm extraordinarily thankful.

That's the high-level, meta stuff. The reason I was inspired to write this post, aside from a very invigorating conversation yesterday, is because right now I'm looking at a specific way the accountant enables the artist.

Whenever I set my budgets, I take a very conservative approach to profit projections: I look at the lowest of my last three years, take off 10%, and then round down. If I'm trying something new, I use this process by analogy (modeling San Diego busking off of Seattle, for example, or extrapolating Argentina tips from Italy). Once I can tailor my expenses to meet that projection, the artist off and running!
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