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Gigs are Coming Back
July 11, 2021

Although my online schedule looks ominous by the way it says, "We have no public dates for the month of July," gigs have returned for many area bands, and many will be returning for mine. Just by the luck of the draw, almost all of the public dances and festivals my band would have played this summer happened to be the ones that decided earlier in the year to cancel or postpone. So, while many bands' schedules have been mostly or completely restored, my band's schedule is unfortunately looking like it will remain sparse for most of the remaining summer.

When the Oktoberfest season kicks into full swing around mid September, we'll be busy – perhaps not quite as busy as 2019, but we'll be grateful for the volume of work nonetheless. Most of the Oktoberfest events that annually hire my band will be taking place, plus we'll have some new venues to let you know about. I wouldn't rule out the possibility that this Oktoberfest season could turn out to be our busiest on record as post-COVID attendances at dances have been excellent. Anything could happen.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will continue helping me out through July and August, until it is discontinued on September 6th. Fortunately, the timing is perfect, because September 6 is around the time Oktoberfest kicks in. I'll once again be able to rely entirely on my self-employment income as a musician, and believe me, I'm looking forward to that!

My main concern, however, is what will happen after Oktoberfest. The Oktoberfest season ends around mid-October, and that's when things really slow down. Before COVID, public dances, performances at retirement communities, and a holiday party or two paid the bills during the off-season, but there's no way of knowing how or if those venues will rebound from the COVID shut-downs and current labor deficit. Come November, will those jobs even be there?

Let's all hope for a safe and speedy return to normalcy.

Major Surgery for Snickers?
July 9, 2021

Tonight, Snickers is in the hospital. Trips to the ER have unfortunately become a regular stint for him. He was diagnosed last year with a digestive disease, and every few weeks he gets blocked up and is unable to pass digested food. He becomes sick and has to be taken to the ER for treatment. These treatments can be expensive. His vet bill on Monday was $265. His vet bill tomorrow will be $965. To date, his lifetime healthcare bills total over $18,000.

I am planning to take him to a specialty clinic to see if surgery would be an option for him. If he is a good candidate for surgery, then I'm probably looking at a bill upwards of $6,000.

To many people, especially those who are not that close to animals, the obvious option would be euthanasia. After all, what cat – especially one that's 12 years old – is worth $24,000?

Snickers is not just any cat to me. When he first started encountering health problems a few years ago, that's when we started to bond, and to my surprise, he eventually became as close to me as my dear Kittling was many years ago. The photo above captures his adoration for his papa. That's how he looks at me when he's on my lap or in my arms. I can feel the depth of his dependence on me to take care of him. And I believe his guardian angel, Kittling, led him to me because she knew from experience that I was the one person who would make sure he got the care he deserved.

If Snickers is approved for surgery, I will most definitely hold a fundraiser dance. I did this once before to benefit a couple of local cat shelters. People will be able to freely attend the dance and donate whatever amount they'd want.

I'll be posting updates over the coming weeks.

If You're Booking an Oktoberfest...
June 25, 2021

I apologize for sounding like a broken record, but this bears repeating every year.

If you are a private party or public venue looking to hire a polka band on a Saturday from mid-September to early October, your odds of finding an available band, especially a good band, are slim. Experienced venues have learned to hold onto the same band every year for their Oktoberfest, but other venues often run out of luck as there are literally not enough polka musicians in the circuit to meet the demand.

I created this chart to show how the demand for polka bands exceeds the supply on three Saturdays every year. This chart is based on my 25 years experience as a bandleader. The green area represents the total number of polka bands available. The purple bars represent the number of venues seeking live polka music. Every weekend of the Oktoberfest season is shown.

Please consider booking your Oktoberfest event on any other day but those peak Saturdays. If you book your event on a peak Saturday and happen to find a band that's available, hang onto them for next year.

New Polka Album in the Works
June 18, 2021

I'm well into the production of a new Cleveland-style polka-variety album. To date, I have over a dozen new songs written and will be writing a few more yet. For this album, I'm doing something I've never done before — I am teaming up with another musician and splitting the billing with her. She will be taking center stage on the album cover. She's a vocalist who hails from the pop/rock side of the music business. This will be her first polka venture.

So why am I bringing a new vocalist into the fold? There are a couple of reasons:

I've worked with this singer before, so I am familiar with the breadth of her talent and impressive work ethic. Singing polka music professionally is not as easy as one might think. You can't take just any pop, rock, or country vocalist and expect them to deliver a polka, but she is unique. She has the chops. And I wouldn't disregard the notion that her ability to cross over to polka may be inconspicuously rooted somewhere in her Slovenian ancestry.

The other reason I'm bringing her in for this album is that new, young artists are always welcome in polka music. Polka people are notably kindhearted and welcoming toward new musicians. We love our current stars, but there's always room in the polka industry for fresh talent.

Speaking of current stars, this album will feature several A-list guest vocalists, including Mollie B and Steve Meisner. The instrumentation will feature some of the industry's top musicians as well.

Polka fans are going to be given a unique opportunity to contribute to the production of this album. I'll be posting more information about that later in the year.

My goal is to have the album finished by the end of the year and distributed in time for the Illinois Polka Fest in February, as that would be the perfect opportunity for everyone to come out and meet the new singer. I don't foresee anything delaying the project, but just to be safe, I'm not making any promises, either!

The album will be released on compact disc. Now I know what you're thinking... "Tom, you vowed that you were done with CDs and would only release music digitally from here on out!" Yes, I did say that, and if this were going to be a typical polka album created mainly to sell at gigs, that would most definitely be the case as CDs just don't sell locally like they used to. But this particular album with the new vocalist is going to be exceptionally marketable, and I'll be doing more advertising and distribution, taking the album well outside my local area and reaching as many people as possible through multiple retailers.

Recreating Vintage Music
June 2, 2021

Since the release of my Country Christmas Collection EP, I've frequently been asked how I go about recording vintage-sounding music. I've just released a new 1950s rock and roll single, so I thought this would be the perfect time to write and post an article explaining my process.
To replicate the sound of a particular era, you have to educate yourself on the instruments and gear that were available at the time as well as the instrumental/vocal stylings and recording techniques that were popular. Let's use "Cruisin' in My Crown Vic" as an example, because I created it to sound like it came from the 1950s. What instruments, amplifiers, and recording techniques were rock & roll musicians using back then? I listened to a lot of recorded music and followed up with some research about music, bands, and the recording industry in the 1950s.

For the instrumentation on my song, I chose to go with guitar, bass, piano, drums, sax, and vocals. Not just any instruments, however, would work, because musicians in the 1950s were not playing acrylic drum kits, digital pianos, Schecter guitars, or using solid state amplification. Those tools were either not yet invented or not yet popular.

I had to make sure the instruments and gear I used existed more than 60 years ago, so the guitar on "Cruisin in My Crown Vic" is a Les Paul with dual humbucker pickups run through a vintage tube amp. The drums are an early 1950's Gretsch Cadillac drum kit. The bass and piano are acoustic.

I also had to take into account the recording techniques and gear of the 1950s. Recording studios back then didn't have digital technology, so I had to restrict my choices of gear to what they had available at the time. My track only uses effects like plate and spring reverbs, tape echo, tube compression, and tape saturation.

Stereophonic sound did not become popular until the late 1950s. I chose to mix the song in mono to give it an earlier '50s sound.
So where on earth did I acquire these old instruments, amplifiers, and vintage recording gear? I didn't borrow or rent any of the gear I mentioned above, but I do own software-based versions of them. Over the years, I've invested thousands of dollars in virtual instrument libraries and plugins. I have such an extensive collection that I can create pretty much any style of music, from Renaissance music of the 1500s to contemporary pop music.

When creating a song to sound like it's coming from a past era, hiring the right musicians and vocalists can't be overlooked. An authentic-sounding song from the 1950s can't have a guitarist fingertapping like Eddie Van Halen or an Indie-girl vocalist butchering the pronunciation of words like Jessie Reyez.

Some of the software-based instruments and gear I used are shown below:

My "Country Christmas Collection" EP was especially fun to produce because after studying several eras of country music, I ended up using every kind of software-based tool I own — acoustic and electric guitars, vintage and modern amps, tape echos and digital delays, plate and digital algorithmic reverbs, electric pianos and modern synths, tube clipping and side-chain compression, and the list goes on.

One of the difficult aspects of recreating vintage music is that you have to train your mind to willingly wreck the audio. Unlike normal recording where you aim to get a pristine, full-bodied sound, you have to use techniques and tools to intentionally thin out, squash, and distort the sound. It's not very intuitive to, for example, roll bass frequencies off a bass instrument, make an acoustic guitar sound like it's playing over a phone, or add noise over the top of a mix, but in the quest for vintage sound, all of these ideas must be explored.

I enjoy recreating the sounds of bygone eras, because every song presents an opportunity to learn about the past and meet new sonic challenges.

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