Writing

Victory Farm

Victory Farm Poster

Katie’s original musical, co-written with Emilie Coulson and James Valcq (Richard Rodgers Award winner, The Spitfire Grill), opened in 2012 to sold-out houses and great critical acclaim. Victory Farmtraces the story of German POWs who came to work on cherry orchards in Door County, Wisconsin during World War II.

02Jul 15

On Spotify

Hey friends: here are my two cents on Spotify. Speaking of two cents, I’ll point out to start with that it would take about 8 song streams for me to make 2 cents on Spotify. Ah, but I digress.

My new album, Ordinary Band, is two weeks old now. I’ve never had a human child to compare this infancy to, but as far as CDs are concerned, I’d say things are going well. I’ve been selling the CD out of my little blue merch suitcase at shows–2 or 3 or 10 copies at a time to nice people who like my songs. I’ve been driving from one end of this peninsula to another, delivering stacks of 5 CDs to Door County retailers who have kindly agreed to sell it. Friends and strangers have come up to me in the grocery store and pressed $15 into my hand, and I’ve run out to the car to grab them a copy of the CD. I’ve been slipping CDs into self-sealing white envelopes and shipping out Kickstarter packages to the 234 generous people who helped bring this album to life in the first place. Every one of these sales helps offset the $24,500 that I spent to create, crowdfund, and publicize the album. It’s not a multi-platinum record, to be sure, but who’d want that anyway when you get to experience this kind of supportive community? Thanks to the generosity of you guys, my friends and fans, I’ve already made back almost $19,000 of those costs.

Along the way, I’ve gotten a few questions about when the album will become available on Spotify.

So let’s say I put the album on Spotify, as I did with my other two albums. For those albums, I make—hang on, let me look it up—anywhere from one-tenth of a cent to 1 cent each time a song of mine is streamed. Read that again. $0.001 at the least. $0.01 at the most. Usually about $0.006. I know we musicians are supposed to try to get more zeroes in our income figures, but I don’t think that’s the side of the decimal point we’re going for.

Let’s do some math. At the upper end of that pay spectrum, it takes 1500 streams (150 times through the CD) to make up for the revenue of one CD sale. At the lower end, it takes 15,000 song streams (1500 times through the CD) to equal that one CD sale. Did I mention that making this CD cost over $24,000?

I’m no economics expert, but it doesn’t take a financial genius to figure out that if even a few people decide to download or buy my CD because they couldn’t stream it, I come out ahead—or at least, less behind than I was before.

So I’m not making this new CD available on Spotify or other streaming services. At some point, I may put 2 or 3 songs up, so that people trying to find out who I am before a show will hear my latest, best work. But for now, it’s a physical copy, or iTunes, or nothin’. (In case you’re wondering: iTunes compensates musicians pretty well: 64 cents for a single song download—or the equivalent of 640 streams of that same song via Spotify. Granted, that’s using the lower end of the Spotify pay scale, but really—does it make it much better if it’s 64 instead?)

I know these are changing times, and I don’t pretend to think this is the right choice for all independent musicians. My last two albums are available on Spotify. And I feel a certain pressure to take the Spotify plunge, get with the times—or I risk losing fans who won’t discover my music any other way. It’s a real risk. I don’t blame musicians who value the exposure of Spotify over the cash of a physical sale.

I’m not blaming consumers, either. A lot of people are supporting artists in different ways, like Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms, either instead of or in conjunction with streaming services. And I know most of us feel strapped for cash: financially speaking, why would anyone ever buy a single album for $15 when they can have the entire recorded Western musical canon for $10 a month?

My answer is: because the current streaming paradigm is not sustainable. In my perfect world, streaming services would begin acting with integrity, and government regulation of those streaming services would become more robust.

But in the meantime: if we as listeners don’t continue paying for the music we enjoy, musicians can’t keep making that music. Recording costs money, pure and simple. You pay for the microphones, for the studio, for the engineers’ time, for the graphic design, for the musicians who play on it, for the CDs themselves. And it takes time and energy, just like building a house does. I spent thousands of hours and thousands of dollars making this record. If we as listeners want to listen to the music we love, we have to pitch in somehow—not because it’s the right thing to do (though it is), but simply because otherwise musicians can’t record that music.

For my part, I feel nothing but supported in making this latest album. In fact, I can’t believe how supportive you all have been. I am deeply touched by the generosity of people I do and do not know who came together and make this CD possible.

And part of accepting that help means I have to make smart financial decisions and be a good steward of the funds with which those people have entrusted me. For me, this time around, that means no Spotify. And you know what? It takes me a long time to write enough songs to make a new album. Maybe by the next time around, we’ll have figured out a way to make the system better.

A couple of notes:

You can buy my new album, Ordinary Band, on iTunes, at my website at www.katiedahlmusic.com/music, or on the Waterbug Records website at http://waterbug.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=504. 

Also, Dar Williams​ said all this better than I ever could at her keynote address for the MN Music Coalition conference in April. If you’re interested in her intelligent, enlightening, hilarious perspective, check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAd–dZ0lVo

13Jun 15

Ordinary Band Release!

Plenty of people these days are wearing flannel, raising chickens, trying to live a more rural lifestyle. But Wisconsin singer-songwriter Katie Dahl truly embodies that kind of rustic life, spending hard northern winters and hot Midwestern summers alike in her small cottage in Baileys Harbor, Door County, Wisconsin (population: 257). She’s recorded all three of her acclaimed albums in the county where she lives, in a studio just down the road from the hand-hewn house where her great-grandfather was born. As a songwriter, Katie Dahl ranks among the best in the country–but her songs themselves are tethered to Wisconsin by a strong sense of place and love of home.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “Katie Dahl . . . combine[s] old-fashioned populism, an abiding love of the land and wickedly smart love songs, all delivered in a rich and expressive alto.”

The ten original songs on “Ordinary Band” ramble through the Wisconsin countryside, passing through scenes of late summer farm fields, choppy Lake Michigan waves, and a roaring crowd at Green Bay’s iconic Lambeau Field. As part of her vivid picture of small-town life, Dahl examines the ways in which her life intersects with her “ordinary band” of friends, family, and compatriots. From stones to diamonds, betrayal to true love, Lake Michigan to the Jordan River, Dahl tells the story of her everyday life with a sharp eye and a compassionate heart. Never too precious to have a little fun, Dahl also considers what love might be like between kitchen implements and closes the album with a bluegrass cover of “MmmBop”–yes, that “MmmBop,” the 1995 megahit by boy band Hanson.

To create the organic, wood-soaked soundscape of “Ordinary Band,” Dahl enlisted a band that’s anything but ordinary. The album was produced by Memphis flatpicking wizard Eric Lewis. With Lewis, Dahl and her husband, Rich Higdon (upright bass, washboard), recorded the bulk of the album one snowy February week in Door County. A wealth of other musicians lent their talents to the album from seven other studios in six different states, including renowned folk fiddler Tracy Grammer, sought-after Nashville multi-instrumentalist Rory Hoffman, Chicago drummer Mike August (JT and the Clouds/Birds of Chicago), California singer-songwriter Claudia Russell, and Wisconsin singer Amanda Rigell (of Madison band Count this Penny). The album was mixed in part by Grammy-nominated engineer Kevin Houston (Patty Griffin); additional mixing assistance came from acclaimed songwriter Jonathan Byrd.

Most recording centered on David Alley’s Utopia Soundwurks studio in Sister Bay, where Dahl has recorded both her other studio albums.

Dahl raised funds for the album in true down-home bake-sale fashion: a successful Kickstarter campaign launched one Saturday night in her small community eventually raised over $17,000 toward the album’s completion.

“Ordinary Band” is Dahl’s first album to be released on an external label—Chicago-based folk outfit Waterbug Records.

Waterbug’s Andrew Calhoun says of Dahl: “Smart, tough-minded and positive, Katie Dahl’s work is grounded in a place–Door County, Wisconsin–and its community. But her songs are for everyone. A rock-solid musician and rigorous poet, her songs unfold with equal measures of inevitability and surprise–compassion’s welcome dart to the heart.”

The official release date of Ordinary Band is June 14. Dahl will celebrate the album’s release with a CD release concert at Door Community Auditorium in Fish Creek, WI featuring Eric Lewis and Rich Higdon.

05Mar 13

Bass Player’s Blacksmith Shop on the Market!

Well, this blog has been sorely neglected in recent months, and this hardly counts–but I wanted to let you know that my buddy and frequent sideman Rich Higdon is selling his house in Door County. It’s a wonderful old grocery store/blacksmith shop, converted to a house/straw bale pottery studio, located in bustling (ha!) West Jacksonport, WI. Rich got a chance to talk about the house on Michael Feldman’s radio show Whad’ya Know, the taping of which Rich and I happened to attend this past Saturday. If you are interested in such a house, check out the listing at True North Real Estate’s website:
http://www.usamls.net/doorcountyrealestate/default.asp?content=expanded&…

05Nov 12

Poem for Election Day

I wrote this poem a little less than four years ago, and I felt like sharing it today.

For Sasha and Malia Obama, 11/7/08

Little girls out late
in the evening feel
the privilege of turning
darkness into a waking hour:
The free swish of a dress
around legs just released
from the school day’s jeans;
the pride of curls in hair
usually flat by noon,
the clean snap of tights
that usually sag at the ankles.
And lights, never this bright
in the daylight, colors
never this sharp.

The order of their day
is confused, their father’s
shirt sleeves crisp now like
they should be mornings, straight
from the ironing board, the
school buses asleep now
while their children the cabs
have the run of the city.

This is how they know
the day is old and
they are young, the youngest
of those now welcomed
by the brightness in Chicago, the only
two who touch the sloping
shoulder of the man
to whom the night has fallen,
to whom the crowd is calling,
from whom a morning
is expected, the only two
who know the kind of
morning he will provide.

17Oct 12

Bumper Sticker Options!

Hi, everyone. The following are the two bumper sticker designs between which Kickstarter backers can choose as a reward for all their Kickstarting generosity! If you are not a Kickstarter backer but would like to order a bumper sticker anyway, please contact me at katie@katiedahlmusic.com. We’ll get you set up! Actual sizes: Hometown Tables, 10″ x 3″. Katharine Hepburn, 4″ x 6″

  • 1
  • 2