Sunday, February 28, 2010

Grid Rock (02.27.10)

Photos courtesy of Triana Caldera and Kat Claxton

Continuing my "New to Me" tour of places I'd never played before in SL was my stop at Grid Rock.

A brief side note; people -- usually folks who are new to the SL live music scene -- sometimes ask me how I go about getting asked to play at various places. It's a two-way street, like most things. Sometimes I go see someone play at a venue, and I dig the vibe there, and I'll find out who the owner/booking manager is and drop them a line to let them know I'm interested in playing there. Other times (far more often these days, as I've spent a few years playing in SL and am at least fairly well known around the scene), I'll have folks get in touch with me and ask me to play. They'll usually contact me in SL, though I also get random notes on Facebook, in my email and so on. Either way, it's then a case-by-case basis as to whether it will seem to be worthwhile for the venue or for me. More often than not, though, I'm willing to give places a chance to see how it works out.

That brings us back to yesterday's show at Grid Rock. Ozzie Maggs was a person who'd I'd met rather randomly on Facebook, and then found out we had a mutual friend in Diana Renoir. She'd told me about a new club she was running, and for a couple of months we chatted every so often about the possibility of my playing there. My schedule was a little goofy for the first six weeks of the year, but then we finally set up a date for me to play at Grid Rock on February 27.

Each club in SL, if it's worth a shit, has its own vibe. It's hard to say what inspires that vibe. Some of it is obvious, like the decor of the build. Some of it is less apparent, and is based on the quality of the staff and the type of crowds that are involved at the venue. But as any of you Zaksters know, I like to mix things up. It would drive me nuts to do the same show at the same place for the same crowd year in, year out. I also like a variety of music to perform, so just having done a couple of extra mellow shows, I was looking forward to Grid Rock for the simple reason that at a rock club, one is expected to rock!

And rock I did. In fact, heh heh, I rocked a little too hard for my own good. By the end of the show, my voice was shot after screaming lyrics for a straight hour. But despite the fact that I was sucking wind and covered in sweat, it was pretty much just what I needed, like a good workout or an intense pick-up game of basketball. I was physically drained, but it felt good. As far as the music went, well... I liked it. It had its moments. One good thing in that regard was that my crowd there was mostly made up of my fans, so they had a frame of reference to know that I was purposefully grinding out the rock, and that I don't always sing like a chainsaw going through a chalkboard.

On the flip side of that, I would also say that the reason I like to play at new venues in SL is to attract new people who haven't heard me before, and I'd say with honesty that at Grid Rock, I only had a small number of folks there who weren't already Zak fans. Again, there's only so much a relatively new venue can do in that regard. Perhaps as time goes by and the place develops more of a regular crowd who hangs out there, this will improve. Ozzie Maggs is a cool lady who obviously wants the club to be cool and popular, and like anything else worthwhile, it takes time and effort to make it happen. But all in all, it's a great-looking build, and has all the elements needed to be a popular live music place in SL. I will say that the folks who I met there for the first time seemed cool, and I think they had fun, so the most important goal was accomplished.

Anyway, back to the show... as mentioned above, I focused on the rock, both original and covers, and shied away from the softer side of my set. As a result, I actually enjoyed playing a couple of songs that I hadn't done in a long time.

Grid Rock set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
I Am the Walrus (Beatles)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)
Tribute (Tenacious D)
Peace Song (Zak Claxton)
Big Bad Bill (Van Halen)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Behind Blue Eyes (The Who)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
†Rockin' in the Free World (Neil Young)
Lola (The Kinks)
Soul Kitchen (The Doors)
†Going Mobile (The Who)

†Last (and only previous) performance of "Rockin' in the Free World" was July 14, 2008. The last "Going Mobile" performance was August 18, 2008.

Thanks to everyone who supported my Grid Rock debut!
Madmax Huet, joel Telling, Gretchen Capalini, Triana Caldera, Gerald Crumb, Diana Renoir, Aurelie Chenaux, Kat Claxton, and the Grid Rocker herself, ozzie Maggs!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The BackPorch (02.24.10)

Pics courtesy of Triana Caldera and Kat Claxton

The start of my "New to Me" tour of venues I've never played before was last night's show at the BackPorch. I had a couple of minor concerns going into this show. First was the fact that the venue described itself as being into "country, southern rock, classic rock, soft rock" and so on. While I'm not far from that description, I like to think of myself as also being kind of a hip, sophisticated musician occasionally. Also, the gal that hired me, Kaleena Honi, had one request for me, and that was to keep it clean. Well, I can be clean, but I also tend to get a little risqué in my shows, and usually don't restrain myself from the occasional swear word or naughty topic when conversing between tunes.

But I really needn't have worried. The BackPorch turned out to be a pretty nice place, with a typically cool crowd, and a nice, supportive staff. In fact, my only complaint had nothing to do with the venue... it's that I had an atypically great show in terms of my vocals and guitar playing, and I found myself wishing the crowd of about 15 was instead about double that size. I don't perform that well all the time, and I'd liked it to go that well for my better-attended shows! But that's a silly thing to whine about; I had a great time and played well, and I think they enjoyed me there. Win! I hope to play there again sometime... I'm pretty sure I will.

Here's kind of a funny side note: due to the nature of the venue, I stuck to my softer, more conservative stuff (I'll save the harder tunes for Saturday's show at Grid Rock). When I was talking with Kat after the show, I said, "Oh my GOD! I just did my set from Crystal Sands circa 2007!"

Here's the set list... see for yourself:

Heart of Gold (Neil Young)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Behind Blue Eyes (The Who)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)
Rikki Don't Lose That Number (Steely Dan)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Old Man (Neil Young)

Big thanks to the folks who supported my show at the BackPorch!
Kat Claxton, Triana Caldera, Cy Loudwater, Jade Berry, Geos Copperfield, Aurelie Chenaux, and Kaleena Honi!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

This week's "New to Me" SL Tour

Every so often, I seem to forget everything I ever learned. Like, my son comes home from school and asks me about dividing fractions for his math homework, and I'm put in the position of telling him that ever since I was able to gain access to a calculator, I never bothered retaining this information.

Same thing with live music performances. Let it be known that I love all the venues in Second Life where I perform time and time again, such as the Notes Shack or Fibber Magees, and so on. They're great, and I have fun there. But when my goal is to continuously expose new audiences to my original music, and I've said time and time again that the only way to ensure this happens is to play at new venues in front of new crowds, I still manage to forget to make the effort to get booked at places I've never played before. D'OH!

Well, we're putting an end to that, and we're doing it now. Introducing the Zak Claxton "New to Me" SL tour, with three consecutive shows at venues that have never hosted me before now.

1. WEDNESDAY FEB. 24, 7:00PM SLT: THE BACK PORCH (Click here for SLURL)

I haven't been doing very many evening shows lately, and this one is a 7pm show. It seems like a nice enough place, and the person who booked me for the show was very sweet. She asked only that I keep the show clean, which contrary to popular belief, I am quite capable of doing. Remember, throughout my entire album, never is heard a discouraging word. It's true. Stop fucking laughing at me!

2. SATURDAY FEB. 27, 2:00PM SLT: GRID ROCK (Click here for SLURL)

Grid Rock calls itself the "Roughest club in SL", and I'm not sure what to think of that. Should I show up in leather? Should I come armed? In any case, it can't possibly be rougher than some of the clubs I've played in real life, where I once had to end a set early when a knife fight broke out in the parking lot. But I do believe it will be fun... the place is run by Ozzie Maggs, who seems to know how to have a good time. I'll be bringing the rock to Grid Rock, I promise.

3. MONDAY MAR. 1, 12PM SLT: BUY ME A ROSE (Click here for SLURL)

This place seems to be an outdoor mall kind of venue, which is fine with me. I'm probably the only person on the planet who gets claustrophobic from being inside a virtual room on my computer. Sigh. Anyway, this venue seems to be run by cool people, and I'll be doing my standard set of originals and covers as I see fit at the moment. And yes, it really is called Buy Me A Rose, but please don't ask me for any roses while I'm playing. Gotta keep both hands on the guitar, you see.

So, that's the plan for this week. Three venues that are new to me, over the next five days. Hope to see some of you there!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Working the album part 14,375: Radio

This post is a continuation of my on-again, off-again series about creating and selling music, a topic upon which I have much less expertise than I tend to give the impression of having, but it's fun to watch me try and figure it out, anyway.

See that pic up there? That's me, taken two minutes ago, holding a bunch of CD mailers. And in those mailers are CDs! So far, so good.

On those mailers are mailing labels (see? you knew I was a genius, right?), and those mailing labels are addressed to a select group of radio stations across the USA. Now, you probably have some experience with listening to the radio, and you know that there are different stations for different types of content. Talk radio, pop radio, hip hop radio, commercial rock radio... whatever you're into, it's out there on the airwaves. But as you'd discover, if you were an independent musician trying to get your music broadcast on the radio, not all stations are created equal, at least not for your purposes. Let's talk about why it's a good goal to be heard on the radio, and how one would go about accomplishing that goal.

Left side of the dial
Like all broadcast media, radio is a big deal, and like all big deals, there's some big money behind the scenes. If you're an artist on a major label, those labels have existing relationships with radio program directors, DJs and other influential people. In those cases, your label (if it's doing what it's supposed to be doing for you) has staff whose entire job is to promote your music to radio station decision makers who can put your music on the air.

But indie musicians like me don't have anyone to do that for us. We have to do it ourselves. And the first thing you learn as an indie musician is that all those stations that are well known in your area are exactly the ones that will NOT be playing your music. I mean, if it makes you feel good, go ahead and send them a disc. Or, you could save the postage and just light the disc on fire, and then pee on the burnt plastic. The same result will happen. Those stations have specific rules about whose music they will and won't play, and unless they happen to have a special show that features local and unsigned artists (usually running between 2am-4am on a Thursday or something similar), you will not be hearing your stuff there.

Instead, the stations you want to focus on are those on the left side of the dial, as we used to say before radios were tuned in using digital readouts. The frequencies of these stations are way down low... usually like 88.1, 89.9, 91.3 and so on. Why? Because that's where the public stations, the college stations, and the other independent and non-profit community radio stations are. And those, my friends, are the ones that are hungry for new music.

Being no one is good!
There's a huge variety of radio stations across the USA that fall into this group. Not all are appropriate for your music. Many are mostly dedicated to news and talk. Others only play classical and/or jazz music. Once you get into the list of those stations that do play other music types, there's a common bond within all the variety: almost none of them want to play music that can be heard on the mainstream stations! For once, you actually have an advantage by being a relatively unknown indie artist. It's about time, eh?

Another piece of good news: many of these stations will play almost anything that their staff feels is cool in any way. It doesn't matter if you play rock, pop, hip hop, electronica, experimental music, or damn near any sub-genre of the above. The good public, college, and indie stations will likely have a show where your music will fit.

What do I send?
Kat and I (partners in our tiny indie label Frothy Music) did a ton of research on this topic, and now I'm going to tell you about it so you don't have to go through the same process. Many of you probably know that when you send out a press kit to try and get your album reviewed, you include a bunch of stuff: pages of bio info and photos, clips from other press, and so on. Do NOT send all that crap to the radio station! These people get deluged with music, and guess what? You don't want to make their job more difficult for them! Allow them to easily get to the music, and keep the info you include short and sweet. What I put in my mailer was simple.

• The CD. Oh, and since my disc is shrink-wrapped, I also removed the wrapping so that they wouldn't have to spend ten minutes wrestling with it before they could get to the music.

• A "One Sheet". Like it sounds, it's a single sheet of paper that includes a short bio paragraph, a list of songs with a one-line description of what kind of song it is so they're able to tell what program it's appropriate for, and some contact info in case they have any reason to get in touch with me.

THAT'S ALL. Don't send the radio people a bunch of superfluous crap. First, they don't want it. Second, it gets thrown away immediately, so it's a waste of money and resources to include it.

To whom do I send It?
This is actually a two-part topic. First, you need to choose which radio stations might be the best fit with your music. Second, you need to find the right contact person so that your music has the best chance of being aired.

In terms of choosing the right stations, it's often said that nothing worthwhile is easy, and this is one of those cases. You can start by looking for lists of NPR (National Public Radio) and campus radio stations. You can find them everywhere; Google and Wikipedia are your friends. My advice, if you want it, is to narrow the list down by choosing stations in larger markets (i.e., New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Seattle, Atlanta, San Francisco, and so on). However, there's a huge caveat here in that some of the top rated college radio stations, for example, are in smaller places like Ithaca, NY, or St. Paul, MN. Again, do your homework, and look around the web for info in this regard. You'll find it.

Second, get ready to do some listening. Nearly every single one of these stations have an Internet broadcast stream, so we're lucky to live in a time where you don't have to physically be in these cities. Just find the station and click a "Listen Now" link, and you can actually hear each station. Look at their web sites for a programming schedule and find the show that seems right for your tunes.

That brings us to the second part: who do I send the disc to? Great news in this regard: almost every station has a specific address you can find on their site for music submissions. But I also want to make another recommendation in this regard: try and find the specific DJ for the show you want to be on, and send it to them directly if possible. If you don't have a name available, the best bet is to send it to the attention of the program director or music director. There's usually a staff list on the station's web site. Use it.

Can't I just email them an MP3?
In 99% of cases, no, you can't. Here's why: imagine you are a program director, and you get into work on a Monday morning, and it takes you an hour and a half to open your email since it is filled to the brim with 150 MP3 files that are each 5MB. You get the idea. Not cool. The other thing is that as we know, not all MP3s are created equal, and the stations really don't want crappy quality music, usually. Finally, and this part is just my opinion: sending them a tangible medium like a Compact Disc lets them know that you're serious about your music, and what they're getting isn't the product of some guy in his bedroom doing music for his hobby. Most stations specify the format that they want for their submissions. Again, pay attention to what they tell you on their web sites.

Following up (and don't bite off more than you can chew)
There are some 900 NPR affiliate stations in the USA. You can eliminate a bunch of them off the bat who don't play pop music at all. Then you can narrow down others by the markets they serve and the types of music on which they focus. But that will still leave a lot. First, as an indie musician, you probably don't have the budget to send out hundreds and hundreds of CDs that you paid to have replicated. But more importantly, there's another aspect to this: you will likely want to follow up your submission of the music with a contact at the station. Once again, listen to what the stations tell you! Most have info on their web sites as to how they prefer to be contacted. Some like to be emailed; others accept phone calls on a particular day/time. In either case, you should wait a short while after the disc has been sent, and then get in touch with them to find out if they received the disc, and if they might be interested in airing your music.

Obviously, it's more possible to manage this process with a reasonable number of stations. For my first radio mailer, I only sent a couple dozen discs out to very targeted stations across the country. Will I send more eventually? You bet. But hopefully by then, I'll have received plays on the first batch of stations, possibly making it even easier to get subsequent stations to play my stuff.

Why bother doing all this?
Ultimately, there's only one reason for this effort you put in on radio promo. You want people who would have otherwise never heard of you or your music to become familiar with it. And, given the nature of these stations and their listeners, you will find people who are receptive to new and different artists than what they get shoved at them on commercial radio and MTV. Those people might actually track you down and buy your stuff, if they like it. And besides all that, presumably you are proud of your music and feel it deserves to be heard by a wider audience. I know I feel that way.

Whew! Well, that's all I have to say about that, for now anyway. As you might recall if you're a regular reader of this blog, we've already been very successful with being played on several Internet radio stations, and one NPR affiliate (89.9 WJCT in Jacksonville, FL) has already played some Zak Claxton music on a couple of occasions. Assuming I'm successful with this expanded outreach to radio, I'll let you know about any other station where I end up getting played. As to how I'll go about finding out whether I got played or not at each of the stations is still unknown to me, so hopefully I'll learn more about that as I progress down this road.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ustream Report: ZCHFS Episode 2

Despite the fact that I was really looking forward to doing Episode 2 of the Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show on Ustream, I came very close to canceling the show within 24 hours of its airing. Why? I actually had a very unexpected medical problem hit me on Friday morning, and while it wouldn't have significantly impacted the show itself, it had left me feeling pretty anxious, and I like to be in my most entertaining form when doing a live TV broadcast. Basically, I was concerned that I would be too busy obsessing on my medical issue (as I tend to do) to really put on a good show.

But then, something great happened: I realized that I could work the fact that I'd had this minor but perplexing health scare into the show itself, and suddenly everything clicked into place. All that preamble is my explanation (and excuse) for having spent the first ten minutes of the ZCHFS Episode 2 talking about my penis having fallen off. Just to clarify, my penis did not fall off. I may be a good entertainer and "the show must go on" as they say, but even I wouldn't have the wherewithal to sing and dance and be humorous had that actually happened, I freely admit. But doing that little schtick did allow me to forget about my actual issue and have fun and play some music. We entertainers are strange beings, and most people have no idea what's actually going on in our heads that allows us to do what we do. Enough on that topic for now; perhaps we'll explore that tangent in another post someday.

So, ZCHFS Ep. 2 went fine. Unlike the premiere, I was more comfortable with the technical end of things, and though I still had one restart of my broadcast software (as opposed to like six restarts in the first show), it all went pretty smoothly. I kept it more simple this time, only doing two main sections (a news update and the music portion). I rather enjoyed myself throughout the show, and we had a small but lively audience comprised of fans from SL, friends from places like the Harmony Central forums, and other random passersby. I also devoted more of the hour to performing music, which (let's face it) is what I do. But the overall format of the show -- maybe 15-20 minutes of news and views followed by 40-45 minutes of music -- seems to be working, and it's likely that I'll be sticking with that for subsequent episodes.

There is one point I'm still debating, which is the level of adult-oriented commentary in the show. With the music, this is generally not a problem; none of my songs use profanity and have themes that are unsuitable for kids. However, my between-song banter has always tended to be oriented toward adults, since most of my shows are in Second Life (which is only open to people over 18). I realized that after spending awhile doing a routine about my dick having fallen off that perhaps a notice at the start of the show telling people that objectionable language and adult themes might come up would be a good idea. Another thing to file in the "live and learn" folder.

The music itself went well. In case you're wondering, here's what I played...

Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
I've Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (Crosby, Still & Nash)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)

Huge thanks to the folks who dropped by the show! See you in a couple of weeks for Episode 3!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Live Ustream video show, ep. 2 (Sat 2/20, 12pm PST)

I don't have any cutesy names planned for Episode 2 of the Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show. "ZCHFS 2: Electric Boogaloo" just isn't working for me. Nor is "Zak 2: The Empire Strikes Back" or anything like that. So I'll just call it "Episode 2: The One Where I Do That Voodoo That I Do". Hey, that works.

Anyway, as you may recall from two weeks ago, I've started doing a new kind of show that anyone -- not just my Second Life friends but anyone with a computer and some decent bandwidth -- can see. It's called the Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show, and it's mostly about my playing live music and singing at you. You view the show on Ustream, which is kind of like YouTube but for live video broadcasts. Simple enough.

The direct link to the show is easy to find. In fact, you can find it online in two places...


Just click either of those links on Saturday at 12 noon Pacific Time, and there I will be, live on your desktop. Feel free to check it out, and join the live online chat if you so desire. It's fun, it's free, and it's me. What's not to like? See you this weekend (or, rather, you'll see me this weekend, heh heh... heh... look, I promise the show will be funnier than this blog post,okay?).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Fibber Magees (02.17.10)

I always have fun when I play at Fibber Magees. Always. Today, I began my show under the false impression that it might not be as fun as usual. And, of course, I was wrong, and everything turned out great as always.

I guess some details are in order. I arrived at Fibber Magees at about 20 before the hour, which is my standard time to get to a venue before one of my shows. It allows for three simple things:

1. I can set up my tip jar and stage props, and strap on my virtual guitar.
2. I can write/send out notices to various music-oriented groups in SL.
3. I can make absolutely sure the audio broadcast stream I'm supposed to use is working as planned.

Well, I got there and greeted the only other person present... my hostess, Phooka Heron. No big deal, since that early before a show, it's rare that people are hanging around waiting for my grand entrance. Steps 1 and 2 above went without a hitch. But then, Phooka asked me to make sure the main stream was working. There was a tone of doubt in her writing (I'm not sure how that works, but it does), and sure enough, when I tried out the stream, it was apparently already in use. Not good. So after awhile of trying to figure out why that was the case, Phooka asked if we could switch over to the backup stream. No problem. I entered the info in my Nicecast broadcast software, hit the "on air" button, and... still nothing! Uh-oh!

By that point, uh-oh number two was becoming apparent: there was no one there but Phooka and I! This, of course, was a blessing in disguise, since we were still screwing around with the stream issues. Finally, I restarted Nicecast and hoped for the best when I hit the broadcast button, and bang zoom! I was on the air. Problem #1 solved.

But that didn't help the second issue... that of "no people". But after having spent a few years and hundreds of shows in SL, there's one thing I've learned. Don't panic! Actually, and more specifically, I learned that if you stop whining and play music, people will magically show up. Well, it took a little while. After one song, I had three people there. After a few more songs, maybe ten. By the time I was 40 minutes into the show, we had a nice-sized and fun crowd of about 17. Not a huge audience, no, but like I always say, it's better than I would have had in the middle of the day in a real life coffeehouse or bookstore.

Anyway, the short of it is that we ended up having a great time, and I'm happy with the performance. After my last show (which was a Valentine-themed gig of nearly all covers), I got back to playing more of my original stuff today, and it was good to do a regular Zak show in SL.

Fibber Magees set list...
What I Got (Sublime)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Day After Day (Badfinger)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
I've Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young)

Huge thanks to the folks who supported today's show!
Teiki Aya, Ginger Marseille, Isobela Capalini, Tycho Beresford, maria Paneer, and my great hostess Phooka Heron!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tunes inSL

Crap Mariner is a pretty unique individual. It's not often that the words "incredibly abrasive" and "big hearted" get combined in the same person, in equal measure. Crap can say things that, coming from anyone else's mouth, might get him punched in the nose. But it's the fact that there's no doubt that Crap has the best interest of the community at heart when he goes off on a rant that makes it not only okay, but you actually find yourself nodding in agreement. And besides, he's a guy who named himself Crap. You have to know there's some dichotomy of personality going on there.

One indication of Crap's positive energy is his willingness to step up and put time and effort into projects from which he gets no direct personal benefit. I've seen this time and time again with him. One such project which he began about a year ago and is really starting to coalesce is called Tunes inSL. The long story short is that as we approached the holiday season of 2009, Crap had the realization that many people were getting gift cards for iTunes and similar retail download services, but that few of them were aware that a good number of Second Life artists had music for sale. Even in the cases where people knew the artists had music for sale, there was certainly no centralized place where people could peruse SL artists and find something cool.

Enter Tunes inSL. Not only can you scroll through dozens of SL artists and find links to their music for sale, but Crap has expanded the listings to include complete bios, links to the artists' websites, social networks, and more. A typical listing, such as that for musician Grace McDunnough, includes a link to her in-world group as well as links to her profiles on, Avatars United, two blogs, a Google calendar for her show schedule, Facebook, Flickr, MySpace, an SLURL to her home base in world, a Twitter feed, two web sites, and a YouTube channel. Whew!

In any case, as Crap certainly recognized by seeing the need to create Tunes inSL, there is a vibrant music scene in Second Life, and it's one of the only aspects of SL that makes it unique among virtual worlds. If you've spent any time hopping around live music shows in world and are interested in what these artists have to offer beyond what you've heard in their live shows, do check out Tunes inSL. I mean, it's also got the world's best URL at, so that's enough reason to click right there, don'tcha think?

Oh, one more thing: if you're an SL artist and haven't sent Crap an updated listing for your information on Tunes in SL, what the hell are you waiting for? It's free, it's a place where you can be recognized among your SL peers, and maybe you can even sell a few songs to folks who love the SL music scene. And besides, other than filling out your bio info, Crap does all the work. What's not to like? Drop him an email at tunesinsl (at), and include as much of the the following info as you can:

SL Name
RL Name (optional)

SL Group Name
Subscribeomatic RSS
Mailing List

Direct order URL

Flickr user/groups
Google calendar
SLURL to home/info center
Youtube channel

250 word bio
Manager/Booking agent
Genres of music
Instruments (or vocal only)
Three musicians that people say your music is like

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day at the Notes Shack (02.14.10)

When Krakov Letov messaged me a couple of weeks ago to find out if I could play at the Notes Shack on February 14, I'm pretty sure he wasn't remotely aware that it was going to be Valentine's Day. But I certainly was -- no man who's involved in a serious relationship and wants to remain in one should forget this important holiday. So, it was a great reason to whip out some songs that I don't play very often, as well as to break a couple of covers I'd never played before today.

Speaking of covers... holy hell! Look at the list below, and then ask me if I lost my mind for playing only two original Zak Claxton songs out of 13 tunes in the set. Well, like I said above, I was trying to work with a love theme of sorts, and not many of my tunes are obviously love oriented. And second, both my audience and myself can use a break now and then, and get a little variety into our Zak experience. I think it was fun.

V-Day Setlist at the Notes Shack
*Waterloo Sunset (The Kinks)
Help Me (Joni MItchell)
Thank You (Led Zeppelin)
†The Worst (Rolling Stones)
She's Always a Woman (Billy Joel)
*I've Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Our House (CSNY)
Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Queen)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
Just Like Starting Over (John Lennon)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)

*Indicates first time I've performed this song in SL.
†As far as I can tell, I hadn't played "The Worst" since November 2008, nor "Our House" since October 2008.

Thanks to all the lovers, musical and otherwise, who were out in force at today's show!
Jeaninne Mathilde, Triana Caldera, Obeloinkment Wrigglesworth, Moondoggirl Moomintoog, Vanity Sugarplum, Kat Claxton, Crap Mariner, Aurelie Chenaux, and Mr. Notes Shack himself, Krakov Letov!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My alternative guitar tunings

Some people guard their special guitar tunings like they were freaking state secrets. Jimmy Page is notorious for this, as an example. Let's be real here: I want people to be able to play my songs, if they can figure them out. No, I'm not going to write tablature for my stuff... if you really want to learn it, the process of figuring out how to play it will be good for you. But I can at least give you a fighting chance, which you probably won't have unless you at least know how to tune the guitar appropriately.

Therefore, I'm happy to tell you, song by song, what tunings were used in the making of my album. Song sample links below are to the USA iTunes store, but you can find the samples in plenty of other places.

TRACK 1: "Lines on your Eyes"
HEAR IT NOW: iTunes Link
NOTE: I borrowed this tuning from Joni Mitchell, who is one of the undisputed world leaders of alternative tunings. Joni had no choice, since a childhood bout with polio left her unable to play certain chords in a standard manner, and even if she could, some of her tunings allow for clusters and inversions and suspensions that would be really hard to do otherwise, if not impossible. She uses similar tunings on songs like "Edith and the Kingpin", "Furry Sings the Blues", and other tunes.

TRACK 2: "Come Around"
TUNING: E-A-D-G-B-E (standard), with capo on 2nd fret
HEAR IT NOW: iTunes Link
NOTE: You can play this without the capo if absolutely necessary. I just like playing it with.

TRACK 3: "Falling Down"
TUNING: E-A-D-G-B-E (standard)
HEAR IT NOW: iTunes Link
NOTE: Not much to say here. To play some of my songs, you'll need to learn to fret an Fsus9 chord using your thumb on the low string, allowing you to keep the open 3rd string ringing. This is one of those cases.

TRACK 4: "This Afternoon"
TUNING: E-A-D-G-B-E (standard)
HEAR IT NOW: iTunes Link
NOTE: Again, no tricks up my sleeve. It's standard tuning, and a simple song. A few nuances: you'll need some practice to play the main Em11 to Gsus9 pattern, but you'll get it.

TRACK 5: "Thanks Anyway"
TUNING: E-A-D-G-B-E (standard), with capo on 4th fret
HEAR IT NOW: iTunes Link
NOTE: Again, I feel this song is very straightforward. Be prepared to use the same thumb-based fretting as you did on the F chord above (now becoming an Asus9 with the use of the capo).

TRACK 6: "The Sands of Redondo"
HEAR IT NOW: iTunes Link
NOTE: I referenced jimmy Page above, and perhaps there's a good reason for that: this song is one of my personal favs on the album, and it uses a tuning I took straight from Zeppelin's "The Rain Song". It's in a different key for the most part, and has its own vibe, but I did indeed get inspired to write this after picking up my acoustic guitar one day after I'd been playing some Zeppelin, and let my hands wander around the fretboard a bit on their own.

TRACK 7: "Fade Away"
TUNING: E-A-D-G-B-E (standard)
HEAR IT NOW: iTunes Link
NOTE: This is the second most simple song on the album (see below for the even simpler one). What you hear is what you get. Be sure to do both of the suspensions... sus2 and sus4... on the G chord. Play them on the 2nd and 3rd strings simultaneously.

TRACK 8: "Always Tomorrow"
TUNING: E-A-D-G-B-E (standard)
HEAR IT NOW: iTunes Link
NOTE: And here's the easiest song on the album. Standard tuning, and everything you hear is what it is. The song is simple and honest and I didn't want to get into any trickery with the way it's played. The only thing that borders complexity is the harmonic progression of the solo, which are just varieties of D, Bb and C played on the top three strings, with the D string droning a pedal tone underneath.

TRACK 9: "You're Like a Cloud"
TUNING: E-A-D-G-B-E (standard)
HEAR IT NOW: iTunes Link
NOTE: Deceptively easy. I mean, it's easy, but there are some details you don't want to blow off.

TRACK 10: "Waxing Gibbous"
HEAR IT NOW: iTunes Link
NOTE: DADGAD is one of the most famous alternative tunings... possibly the most famous. Again, this is something that Page would use in Zeppelin pretty often. You can hear it on songs like "Black Mountain Side" and "Kashmir". I've long had a fascination with the Lydian mode, and you can hear the #4 tritone happening from the very first strum here.

TRACK 11: "Waiting for This"
TUNING: D-A-D-G-B-D (aka "D Modal" or "Double Drop D")
HEAR IT NOW: iTunes Link
NOTE: Ah, my love for Neil Young shines through here. Neil used his "D Modal" tuning on a huge range of great songs, including "Cinnamon Girl", "The Loner", "Ohio", "When You Dance" and many more. All you do is take your standard tuning, and move both the high E and the low E string down a full step to a D. Then, start playing around, forming chord shapes as usual. You will find some different depth and dimension to the sounds, and some things will work well and others won't. But it's a fun tuning to screw around in, and it might inspire you. In "Waiting for This", most of the stuff is pretty simple once you get in tune.

So, there it is! My guitar tunings, straight from the horse's ass- er, mouth, preserved for posterity. If you have questions about this stuff, or more specific queries about playing my songs, just ask. I promise not to bite.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ustream Report: ZCHFS Episode 1

On Saturday 2/6/10, we had the premiere episode of the Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show (which will henceforth be abbreviated as "ZCHFS" to avoid typing fatigue). If you don't feel like reading whatever else I'm about to write, I'll cut to the chase: it was good, we had fun, we ran into technical trouble exactly as I'd expected, and we've already scheduled Episode 2 for 2/20/10. Okay, if you're in a hurry or something, you're hereby excused.

Weekend Wetness
I started Saturday in an, uh, interesting way. I was asleep, as I prefer to be at 8am on a lovely weekend day. But Kat had gotten out of bed, perchance to make coffee, and noticed that both the floor of my master bathroom and much of the desk in my office/studio seemed to have accumulated large puddles. We're in the midst of a very rainy storm season in the LA area, and my poor old flat roof wasn't ready for three inches of precipitation in 24 hours. After getting out of bed and making sure my MacBook Pro was still functional despite its dampness, we put out some buckets to catch the interior drizzle and used various assortments of towels to sop up the excess water, then carried on with the day.

Glitches from the Get-Go
Like most things I do, I started the ZCHFS over-ambitiously, perhaps. I'd put together some fun video clips, some slide shows with picture-in-picture voiceovers, and more. And, of course, it all seemed to be working fine until the moment of the actual broadcast. I will say, though, that if the show had gone off without a hitch, it would have been like two hours long and I would have sacrificed way more time than I'd realized for the news/commentary sections of the show, leaving not nearly enough time to do what I really wanted, which was to play some live music. So now we know for next time. In a way, the tech glitches were good that way; the old adage K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) will always apply to projects like this. We still did manage to keep our show logo displayed in an overlay graphic, and did manage to switch back and forth seamlessly between our news and live music performance setups. I can't complain (though sometimes I still do).

On with the Show
Once I blew off some of the planned material and just had fun with the show, I think it went really well. We had about 20 people as viewers, and played a nice set of ZC original songs. Here's what we did, by the way...

This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Waiting for This (Zak Claxton)

Don't Touch That Dial
Episode 1 of the ZCHFS went well enough that we're going to try another show, in two weeks. Visit us at 12pm PST on Saturday 2/20/10, when Episode 2 strikes back! To see the live show, simply click this link on the day/time of the next broadcast:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sat 2/6: The real Zak, live on your computer

I don't often have the chance to announce something really new here on the Zak Blog, but today I do. Let's start with the basics, and then I'll explain more.


Now, some details.

1. What is Ustream?
It's a live online video streaming service. Think of it like YouTube, but for live broadcasts instead of pre-recorded videos.

2. Do I need special hardware or software to see it?
Nope. If you can watch YouTube videos, you should be able to watch Ustream via your web browser.

3. Why are you doing this?
Sigh... I'm not very good at explaining why I do what I do, but the long story short is that doing live video shows of my music is just another way for folks to become aware of me as a musician.

4. Don't you use SL to perform live? Why change over to this?
Well, I'm not stopping doing Second Life performances. I really enjoy playing live in SL. As most of you reading this blog are well aware that in the last three years, I've done almost all of of my live musical performances in SL, and feel it's been great for me and my music. At the same time, musicians who are interested in promoting their original music can't put all their eggs in one basket. You wouldn't, for example, play at one bar night after night for years on end. You'd cruise around, playing to different people in different places. This is why musicians tour. So, hopefully by expanding to this whole other platform, I'll be able to gain some new fans and allow more folks to get a new perspective on me as a musician. In any case, this type of thing won't replace SL for me... just supplement it, if it works out well. I'll still continue doing plenty of SL shows regardless.

5. Aren't you concerned about mixing up your real life and virtual identities?
For some people, that might be a problem. But on a personal basis, I've never attempted to have any separation between my virtual and real selves. As I've explained before, "Zak Claxton" may have started as a name I got when I joined SL in 2006, but almost immediately also became the name I use whenever I do music of any kind. Zak and I are the same guy in every way.

6. But people will see what you really look like!
Good. I'm a devilishly handsome bastard. This can't be a bad thing.

7. Okay, what's this "Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show" all about?
Ah, here's where it gets cool. There are things I can do in a video format that I simply can't do as an avatar in SL. In fact, without giving the whole show away, I'm actually doing more than just live music. There will be some news, some video, some fun stuff. Think of it like a variety show... just one that's not very professionally produced.

8. How do I see this thing again?
Simple. Probably the best way is to go here on Saturday 2/6 at 12 noon PST: I also have the same show embedded on my site at Either link will give you the same show, though I'd say the most stable of the two will likely be the Ustream site.

9. Is the show going to be any good?
Answer: I do not know. This is the very first time I'm trying anything like this in my life. I think I have some good ideas, but I will be shocked if there's not some technical screw-ups. At some point, I find it highly likely that something will crash, or that I will hit the wrong button and things will get wacky. But guess what? It's live TV, folks, and I'm a full-on noob. Part of the fun might be watching me figure out what the hell I'm doing. As far as the show's content, I think it will be pretty cool, and there will be more than just me strumming a guitar and staring back at you through your monitor, so hopefully it all works out.

10. Is this going to cost me any money?
Oh, hell no. It's free as could be. Anyone and everyone can tune in and watch via the links I listed above. I believe that if you want to participate in the chat, you need to be registered on Ustream, but that's free too. Do it if you wanna, as they say.

So, that's everything you ever wanted to know about the Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show. I look forward to you seeing the real me on Saturday!