Bands – the disadvantage of DIaY (Doing it ALL Yourself)

diyI’d like to offer up the idea that original bands largely are fighting a losing battle because they DON’T do all of the things that huge nationals do – and often get hated on for doing. In film and music it is extremely rare that you ever have someone who does it all. Division of labor exists in all creative industries. When original artists try to write their own material, record it themselves, promote it, develop stage presence and instrument proficiency all at the same time – they are trying to do something only a tiny handful of individuals have ever been able to do.

Why is it at a local level you never see bands buying/borrowing songs from local songwriters, or see dedicated songwriters and dedicated performers at all? Why are they handling all of their own marketing material creation and artwork? Doing their own bookings? Money usually is the answer, but that is no excuse. You wouldn’t open a business and then just neglect parts of it because you can’t afford to do it right. There is a cost of doing business and every industry including music has a financial barrier to entry.

Trying to do all of these things is like trying to open a restaurant with no experience, and then hiring no one to fill the key roles. The only way this can ever work for a band is if you happen to be formed around a group of guys who all happen to have perfectly overlapping skills… but few people ask during the band formation process “How are your cold calling skills? How are your web design and photo editing skills? How are your accounting skills? Can you write a hit song? Do you have the ‘it’ factor on stage? Are you a great studio engineer? Live sound engineer? Luthier? Amp technician? Costume designer? Facebook expert?”

No one asks any of these things when forming bands, so it ends up being a crap shoot of whether or not you just created a hapless jam band with no means of creating hit songs, packing shows, or even growing a following at all.

I submit what local music scenes need are better personal assessments by the people involved (we all suck at nearly every aspect of music production and have to admit it) and some kind of marketplace for assisting one another in the areas we are deficient (which again is nearly every area).

Haley Johnsen at The Horse Radish


Growing up obsessed with finding the perfect harmonies, but shy and fearful about her ability to sing when a child, describes a significant conflict Haley Johnsen needed to resolve. You see, being the center of attention was both her worst nightmae and greatest dream. It was performing as a gymnast that gave her the confidence she needed to put herself out there. How fortunate we are she found that outlet. Since then, she made it all the way through to the top 24 of American Idol Season 11, and has written and recorded over 100 songs.

Haley-Johnsen-at-The-Horse-Radish-on-01-23-16-03Haley played an acoustic show previously at The Horse Radish in Carlton, Oregon, but this time brought her four-piece band with her. Three of those band members are also singer-songwriters, so for the first hour we heard a couple of songs from each of them. During the second hour Haley took to the stage by herself to play an acoustic set. (Consumer alert – Hearing her do “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” can cause spontaneous tearing.) The third hour, everyone was on stage and they pulled out all the stops.

Haley-Johnsen-at-The-Horse-Radish-on-01-23-16-07Haley Johnsen is passionate, powerful and humble. She recently released a 7-track EP “Through the Blue“, written by her and produced by Rob Daiker. This video is a live version of one of those tracks. Also, check out the other photos taken that evening.

Chris Robley – The Great Make-Believer

Chris-Robley-at-McMenamin's-Al's-Den-on-01-20-16-08It’s the name of his soon-to-be-released album, but it’s also an idea that Chris Robley expresses through music. A musical artist is a Make-Believer, a pretender if you will…playing a part in order to communicate emotion and experience through lyrics, melody, instrumentation, and performance. Chris, in his week-long residency at McMenamin’s Al’s Den, became very “real” to Portland, as he shared more than his music with the audience. He shared his story and his life, even his friends with a very enthusiastic and energetic group of devoted fans.

Chris-Robley-at-McMenamin's-Al's-Den-on-01-20-16-04Chris’ work with his band The Fear of Heights is well-known and appreciated for the many layers of instruments with an eerie, haunting sound that accompanies some of the purest vocals I’ve ever heard. His new project is more of an intimate conversation with listeners – each new song has a personal message. He’s a poet, intensely metaphorical, so the songs are not autobiographical – but they are overflowing with situational wisdom. I am always drawn to songs that expose the truth that “love is difficult” and “relationships are important.” I heard this message repeated in Robley’s lyrics and his stories. He is striving to let the message come through in the music, unhindered by anything extra that might distract or take away from the melodic conversation he is having with a listener. His acoustic presentation was enchanting, as he alternated his original songs with some very familiar and traditional tunes.

Chris-Robley-at-McMenamin's-Al's-Den-on-01-20-16-15The new album, available to the public very soon, was produced at a friend’s beach house – completely live and in the  moment. Chris was looking for the emotional intensity that comes from a group of mates experiencing music together, and syncing as they work. It’s a completely new approach for Chris, for this, his first album release in over five years. From the reaction of the audience, which was extremely positive and encouraging, he is reaching people with the new material.

In this interview, Chris touches on his move “from Portland to Portland”, his upcoming album release, and the bandmates he is so thrilled to see again – big thanks to Chris Robley and his Wednesday night guest, Little Professor, for allowing us to share the experience!

A notable conversation with Chris Robley featuring “Tonight You Belong To Me” recorded live at Al’s Den, and “Eden” from the album “The Great Make Believer”

Tyler Stenson at 45th Street Pub

Tyler-Stenson-at-45th-Street-Pub-on-01-20-16-01Tyler Stenson has enjoyed a Wednesday night residency at the 45th Street Pub, which is coming to a close on January 27th. These are very intimate sessions where he encourages requests, questions and comments. He likes it when a concert can be two-way communication. As you can tell from the video clip below, he is very open about his temper sometmes getting the best of him, especially with those he loves the most.

Tyler-Stenson-at-45th-Street-Pub-on-01-20-16-02One of Tyler’s greatest influences is Counting Crows. So much so that he’s assembled a 7-piece band for a Counting Crows Tribute, Saturday, January 30 at 8 PM at the Star Theater. After each member worked independently for a while, they had their first group rehearsal the night before. There were some kinks, but they easily worked themselves out. Tyler vowed not pick up an instrument all evening, opting instead to concentrate on delivering top-notch vocals. Get your tickets soon!

Sarah Vitort at Crush Bar

Sarah-Vittort-at-Crush-Bar-on-01-17-16-01I was blessed last night to share some very vulnerable and intimate moments with local singer-songwriters in a special showcase at Crush Bar. Hosted by Maria Webster, the showcase featured original music by Michela Miller, Adam Goldthwaite, and Sarah Vitort. Having met Sarah once before, I had been impressed by her ability to share so openly while speaking with strangers, with a visible desire to help people learn from her past experiences. Her lovely spirit shines through even more in her musical performance.

Sarah-Vittort-at-Crush-Bar-on-01-17-16-06Sarah is not afraid to share her weakness and vulnerability. Her stories, both in song and in the transitions between, draw the audience in – helping us to walk in her shoes for a night, hear her struggles, and share in the relief that comes from expressing her emotions so clearly. She strives to help her audience interpret painful situations in positive, yet realistic ways. Using clever humor and being willing to expose specific and extremely delicate details of her life, Sarah invites us to listen with our hearts and look at some of the negative experiences in life as opportunities to learn and grow.

Sarah-Vittort-at-Crush-Bar-on-01-17-16-11This artist is always growing. With a “Wild Heart and a Gypsy Soul”, Sarah is in transition right now, in almost every way. What a great time to meet this inspiring woman! Following is an interview with Sarah Vitort, a few pictures, and a sample of her music. You can find Sarah on iTunes,  Spotify, Reverbnation and YouTube.

You sang some new songs tonight, is there a new album coming? – The theme seems to be “things one can learn from all the stages of a relationship gone wrong.” Am I close?

I’ve been playing my newer songs because I’m going through a big rebrand, we are updating my music style (I used to be straight pop country. Now I’m less country and a little edgier, bluesier, darker but still mainstream), my look, even my name! We have started recording here and there, but nothing set in stone yet for the next album.

My first album, Wild Heart Gypsy Soul, was written during my first major transformation in my life. I quit my corporate job to travel solo in South America, and my life was never the same. So that album was all about breaking out of your shell and seeing the world with new eyes. It was very upbeat, bubbly, and mostly positive, but still real for who I was at the time.

With my new music, I’m really going deeper into the dark side. I have realized that one cannot simply be positive all the time, it’s unrealistic. Life is messy and we are messy. But if you get really honest with yourself, if you really look within and take the dark in stride, your light becomes that much stronger. Relationships do that for me. They force me to see myself in less flattering light, and I really do a lot of my best processing through other people. So this new music is more raw, more honest, and I hold nothing back. I want to show people it’s ok to be vulnerable and sensitive and there is no weakness in being truthful and authentic to who you are and how you feel in the moment. We live in a society where we are so afraid to feel, and I was a victim of that mentality for so long. So this is me breaking out of that.

The reason I ask is that you seem to be very honest about wanting to use your music to help people who may be walking along a path that you have already traveled. You have some experience and wisdom to share. Are people responding to your music? I know I could identify very closely with many of your songs.

Yes! The best thing about my career so far as been people’s responses to my music, so I love playing in intimate environments like house concerts so I can connect with my audience. It’s not uncommon to have people in tears at a show, I have discovered that I have a talent for really getting past the bullshit we surround ourselves with and going right for the heart. People really seem to relate to my music, I think my writing is very universal and that’s part of why pop music appeals to me so much, I can sneak a deeper message into a catchy song and reach so many more people.

Your music seems to have country and blues influences – any other styles that you love to listen to? Who are your musical heroes?

I grew up on classic pop and rock, and mainstream pop music. My dad works for a pop radio station, so I was deeply ingrained in pop music from day one. But my parents era of music was very prevalent too, that’s where the blues comes from. I love 70s music of all kinds, soul, funk, rock, all of it. I remember my dad listening to it on full blast outside in the summers doing yard work and cleaning the garage. It’s nostalgic for me and that era is so attractive to me for so many reasons.

I also love really sexy loungy stuff, Motown, soul, and big band, those are elements I’d like to bring more into my music as I continue to write. I also love any artist doing something a little wild, my new brand will allow me to show all sides of me, and I have many! My major influences now are ZZ ward and Zac Brown Band, other influences include Taylor Swift, Joni Mitchell, Katy Perry, the Eagles, Janis Joplin, Elle King, to name a few.

You mentioned writing songs with your sister when you were teenagers. I always love to hear that music has been a driving force in someone’s life since childhood. What’s the first song you remember singing for people? Either one you wrote, or one you “covered.”

When I was 4, I was incredibly shy. I barely said a word in preschool, I had decided early on that I preferred acting like a dog to acting like a human, and I really committed to that lifestyle ;). So my preschool teachers were shocked when one day, out of nowhere I raised my hand and asked if I could sing for the class. I sang “Somewhere Out There” from Fivel Goes West, a Capella, start to finish, then sat back down in silence. I wish someone would have filmed it.

You have an event coming up with Metts, Ryan & Collins – it seems like a very good choice by Jason Fellman to put you all together. Are you excited?

This is the most excited I’ve ever been for a show, and that is saying something because performing is like breathing to me. I love the Doug Fir, and I’ll be playing with a full band which allows me so much more expressive freedom onstage. And not to mention Redwood Son and Metts, Ryan & Collins are both incredibly badass bands, I’m honored to share the stage with them and I think the lineup couldn’t be more brilliant. Jason Fellman knows his stuff!

Where are you going from here? How can we find your music and your concert schedule?

The next big step is this rebrand, which will be rolling out over the next few months. We are also starting to work on recording demos of my new stuff and booking as many gigs as possible! I’m trying to do a house concert tour this summer, so I’m looking for hosts! Spotify and iTunes are the best places to listen to my music, I also have a few songs on ReverbNation. The best place to find my show schedule is my website,, and I’m the most active on Facebook at Sarah Vitort Music, Instagram at @sarahvitort and on Snapchat: sbvitort.

Though I can deeply identify with the place Sarah speaks from right at this very moment, I am looking forward with great anticipation to seeing what she has planned next with her rebrand. Look for her to appear in an upcoming “Local Women in Music” series on Portland Notes.

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