Move to your left, Move to your right
Tighten it up now
Everything will be outta sight
Come on and tighten it up
Tighten it up now
Written by Archie Bell & Billy Buttier
“Tighten Up” is a 1968 song by Houston, Texas–based R&B vocal group Archie Bell & the Drells. It reached #1 on both the Billboard R&B and pop charts in the spring of 1968. It is ranked #265 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and is one of the earliest funk hits in music history. This was back when there were no genre lines on the radio and stations would play most anything they liked. The song was quite infectious though lyrically it was pretty lame. If you haven’t heard it you really should. Here is a Spotify link to it:
I know you are wondering what in the heck this has to do with the business of music. Please be patient and I will explain.
Here it is November and the holidays are upon us. My gig schedule slows up some with summer past, the yard doesn’t need mowing as often and somehow feel I inclined to dig in and clean up, clear out and generally tighten up my little music world. I like to take songs I have written since my last recording and really put them through the wringer. Fixing clumsy lines, weak melodies and in general focusing or tightening up everything about them. If I am smart, (not always the case) I record a demo so I can remember the melody (I can’t read music) and print out chord charts and lyric sheets that I keep in a master songbook I have compiled over the years. I find it useful when going to a new area to play to review what I have and pull out old songs that might have some relationship to where I am going. An good example is; I am headed to Portland & Seattle the first week of November and in my search I found a song I had written about the Oregon Trail probably 10 years ago and I am now relearning it to perform there. I also try to categorize my songs by season. I don’t normally want to spring songs in the fall or winter songs in the summer. You get my drift. I make notes about songs that might relate to certain dates; 9/11, autumn, that kind of thing. While I am organizing I like to plan what songs I am going to do videos for (Youtube is the number one way music is discovered these days) and set up deadlines for them on my calendar.
Speaking of my calendar. My calendar needs to be weeded and cleaned so I can see what inquiries have turned into shows and which ones need to be revisited or forgotten. I go through all the business cards I have picked up from venues, DJs (yep, the niche world of folk/Americana still programs itself), fans, other artists and then the big category of miscellaneous. Whatever I have goes in my contacts or in the trash along with notes about where we met and any special stuff I need to keep, if I can remember it or wrote it on the card that is. This really should be done at least weekly but hey, I am an artist and not a organizational expert.
Next I try to assemble receipts for taxes and organize them as much as possible. A big thing in the last few years is that plane ticket receipts, online mail order receipts as well as a lot of others are in my email bucket. I go through my email folders printing out what I need for taxes and other important stuff. I change passwords on most of accounts and save those in an encrypted file so I only have to remember one password. I sure hope I don’t forget that one.
I find throughout the year I am often too scattered, hurried or just plain lazy to test the various cords I use such as microphone cords, patch cords, guitar chords and wallwarts to name a few, to make sure everything is working. A frayed cord or loose connection can cause you a lot of problems at show. I find I perform better when everything works. Other stuff that I tighten up includes my PA, speakers, microphone, stands and anything else I haul around. A huge thing in my world are batteries. My guitar, preamp, tuner and foot pedals all have them. I change them all out at least once a year. Put fresh spares for everything in my gig case along with extra strings, picks and anything else that has been used up or disappeared.
So I have combed through my stuff and I at least feel a little more organized. Now please don’t get me wrong, you can ask Barbara, my wife of 40 years, I certainly don’t always manage to do this even once a year. But, I try and I know what I need to do. I will admit this the first time all the stuff I do has been written down even in a half organized form. I can thank writing this column for that.
So, we are almost finished doing the “tighten up” except for the most important part, in my opinion anyway. This part requires only thinking unless you just want to write it down formally but I promise it will have the biggest impact on your career in the end of anything else you can do. That would be to take stock of where you are relative to where you wanted to be with your career goals. Career goals, you ask. Well, you do have some don’t you? You know, stuff like getting that new CD released, new videos made, getting booked into that dream gig, or cowriting more with others. Those are just a few examples but goals can be anything. What makes this such an important step is that it lets you know if you are on the journey you dreamed of or just muddling along. Now if muddling is the goal then by all means forget about any of this I have talked about and muddle away. That leaves the better venues, higher paying gigs and more recognition to the rest of us.
I don’t expect to be famous and besides I am old, but I do want to be respected by my peers and appreciated for my talent. Isn’t that what we all want in the end. How can you know where you are going career wise if you don’t plan and set goals. Furthermore, this independent artist stuff is time consuming. By setting goals and reviewing where you are relative to them helps you figure out where to spend your time and conversely where not to waste your time. I personally want a little bit of time left over to create and expand on those creations. A little planning and goal setting can keep you from wasting a lot of time chasing things that don’t serve your goals. So take Arche Bell’s advice and do the “tighten up”. It sure can’t hurt and I bet it helps you be a better artist.
So, you have wasted another five minutes reading this drivel. Trust me, it helps me way more than it does you. But if you get any benefits from it or have a beef with any of it, I would really love to hear about it. I enjoy your feedback both good and bad, as well as your topic suggestions. So shoot me your thoughts and/or complaints at firstname.lastname@example.org . I promise to read it and respond within a decade. Just kidding, remember the “Communication Breakdown” column in September? I will get back with you very quickly and who knows, you may find yourself in a column. As always, Thanks so much for reading and I’ll see you next issue.
Randy Brown is a full-time singer/songwriter living in East Texas and has been involved with many sides of the music business over the years, from being a sideman, a sound man, touring songwriter, operating a venue, and a recording studio owner/engineer. At his age even tightened up he is still pretty loose.