Making the EP 2: Clicking

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Pictured above is a performer’s view from inside the sound room at C.A.S. Music Productions. Seen on the other side of the glass is a young man by the name of Josh Bonanno. He is smiling. This is a rare photo.

Is the photo of a smiling Josh rare because he is a profoundly unhappy or otherwise perpetually grumpy person? Honestly, I couldn’t say although I don’t think that is the case. What I do think is the case is that he is an intelligent and talented engineer/producer who is passionate about his work and takes it very seriously. This is a good thing. What is also a good thing is that I get to relentlessly break his balls and vice versa.

In fact, I would feel comfortable in saying that when we’re not actually laying down a track or exchanging important information about a specific moment of performance, we are thinking of ways to unbalance one another. Disrupt the other’s chi, as it were. I know I am. He may say he is always focused on being a professional but I call bullshit. Josh likes Dave Matthews, so I know he’s always up to something that will unsettle me in the hopes that I will be “better” and therefore make his job easier. Outside of the Dave Matthews part, I can respect that.

Which is why I had him change the tempos of all of my songs save one when I went in last night. We had meticulously laid down guitar to carefully selected click tracks last week and this week I walked in and immediately told him we would be shifting four of them down about 3bpm (beats per minute) in order to keep them from sounding rushed. He hid his disgust well, and said he understood my reasoning, but I could tell it was killing him to do it. Nonetheless, Scott 1 – 0 Josh.

Anyone who has ever followed sports will tell you that an early lead is a sign of intent but it by no means guarantees a win. As it happens, Josh would tie it up moments later by putting me in the sound room and running me through a series of embarrassing vocal exercises involving making “siren” sounds and doing modulating “do-re-mi”s like I was one of the von Trapp children. So taken was I with his brazen volley that I calmly acquiesced and did as instructed. My favorite part was when he would correct my going off pitch by repeating the scale before I could complete the one I was doing. That was a tell, as it meant it probably physically hurt him to hear me sing off key so I made sure to add a few more clunkers here and there as we went. It didn’t extend the exercise that much longer but I did manage to restore my lead to 2-1.

The tone of the session set, we went song by song and in a few cases line by line until Josh “didn’t hate them”. Leads changed, there was some flagrant fouling, and at times Chris Orazi, owner of the facility, felt he needed to step in and I would say for the most part it was on my behalf. Chris is a long-time friend. In fact, we’ve been friends for about as long as Josh has been alive.

After a few hours of striving for what we termed “unprecedented mediocrity” I removed my headphones and we sat together for a pleasant chat. It was then that I made sure my victory was sealed by reminding Josh that I would be redoing a few guitar parts in a future session. Josh did his best to counter that haymaker by saying he felt he needed to clean up the mess in toto so we knew what we had, and I agreed. It was a small, sporting concession that I felt necessary for the interests of the project and after a few stories of how things were better before the Internet and, essentially, before Josh was born we bid our farewells and I departed.

As I drove away reviewing the work that had been done I received a call from Chris. Apparently, Josh had emerged from the studio with my sunglasses and thumb drive that he said I had left behind, forcing me to turn around and drive back to retrieve them.

Sly gamesmanship or considerate gesture? You decide.

 

 

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Making the EP 1: “Gods Came Down”

EP COVER IDEA 1 GODS BLOG POSTI thought I would start blogging about the recording of my first EP as Norton Scott Star Vehicle. So far I’ve decided on a working title, Once Human, and a length of approximately 20 minutes, or 5 songs, which have already been chosen. Going forward, I’m thinking of including breakdowns of excerpted lyrics and the sometimes several-fold meanings behind them, a little bio stuff that might explain my style and artistic choices, and pretty much anything of interest that happens throughout the process. It’s perhaps a more daunting task than the actual writing and recording of the music mostly because I’ll need to wear more than one hat at a time and that can get tricky if not cumbersome. I’ll try nonetheless, starting with this post.

Why am I doing this? It could be I’m writing about myself because no one else is, but the real answer is “I don’t know”. I just feel it might be a worthwhile pursuit in a way that reveals itself later. That impulse is similar to what begins every single creative journey I’ve ever had. An idea hits – a single line that’s arrived in the night or a melody that’s carried over into waking – and a small rush of adrenaline fills my brain. Imagine a gleam far across a mountainous forest as if something shiny has momentarily reflected the sun. You’re not sure what it is but you know it must be found. Lured by the possibilities, you negotiate a challenging terrain until at last it’s at your feet, or hung high in a tree above you. It almost doesn’t matter what it is because the journey has imbued it with great personal significance. All that’s left to do is secure it for shining up later.

That’s what I’m doing with my songs: shining them up a bit. Two already exist in demo form and have been tested before both real and virtual audiences. They contributed towards a number of bookings and even helped me win first place in a fancy contest. Over the others in the demo set, I felt they best represent the two criteria that I believe are most important for a debut EP: commercial appeal and essence of style. In other words, for an unknown artist, song choice should be based on what will get you noticed and what best represents your point of view. At this moment in time, “Gods Came Down” and “A Few More Miles” do both of these things pretty well so they immediately made the cut. The remaining complement of tunes had to be drafted from a cache of 36. About a dozen have been performed live while others never quite squeezed into a set for various reasons, but each was judged using the same criteria and all were required to hold a kindred tone so as to give the record a cohesive vibe. Interestingly – and I learned this happened to Prince a lot which is why so much of his stuff went unreleased – three of my most recently written got the nod. His explanation was that they better represented how he felt at the time of recording, and that makes sense. Therefore, “Lip Reader”, “In Half” and the title track, “Once Human” round out the collection. I’ll get into each and what inspired them as we go, but for now let’s start with one of the two that presently exist in demo form.

“Gods Came Down” was written on a Takemine G-series defect that I got off eBay for about $200. It’s a light guitar that I’ve used for cover gigs because it’s easy to sling around and carry over the heads of tipsy revelers and you can do four hours on your feet without too much of a problem. A couple of years ago I carried it to the top floor of my double trinity in Philly and started messing around with a drop-D tuning. For those who don’t know, all that means is that you tune the low E string a little lower which changes the kinds of chords you tend to play. For the most part they become darker or more disquieting and since I was writing songs for my rock three-piece Darwin Candidate at the time, I was all set up to grumble and brood.

But instead of writing a dark rock riff, I began seeing how earthy and ethereal I could go, finding open chords that blended into something soothing yet introspective. While all that sounds very scholarly and deliberate, writing for me is anything but. I go entirely by feel, and tend to hum along with melodies that begin to form while hunting for progressions that fit and follow. It continues like this, sort of feeling around in the dark woods for a safe foothold as you seek an assured path and a clear direction appears. The folky sing-along nature of the verses where a short phrase is echoed came early, and images of floppy-haired, poncho-wearing bohemians sitting around a fire circle appeared in my mind’s eye. Other images of artists of the late 60s and early 70s – Woodstock, Baez and Dylan, Lennon, Guthrie – began flashing in and out and I sensed a war protest song brewing. Certainly there was enough violence in the news actively disturbing me, and what then followed were images of wounded warriors or American and Arab descent, breathing their last, talking to their gods, making their peace in the mud.

As is often the case, the song took on a sadness that I find easy to access. But I didn’t stay on the ground with the soldiers very long. Instead, led perhaps by my being on the top floor of my home or maybe my interest in science fiction, I rose high into the atmosphere and looked upon the destruction as if a member of an alien race that may have had a hand in creating humankind (ergo, the titular gods). Telling their story as they watched us kill one another added a dual focus and from there I began moving from ground to sky and back again. In doing so, I vacillated between the fruitless despair of violent conflict and its endless cycle, and a disappointing senselessness under the stars. In the song, the gods came down “to inspire” but instead “they cried”, and their tears “rained on fire”. I don’t always write myself into such a dark place, but on that day, with those images in my head, a foreboding sense of doom was difficult to shake.

Since recording the demo, I’ve been asked about the song and had others offer their stabs at its meaning. Among them I’ve gotten the dissolution of relationships and a cry for gun control. One thing I find so wonderful and fascinating about writing songs other than how they take on different meanings for different people is how they unintentionally reveal things about ourselves, and those themes weren’t far from my experience. I think many artists create from an unexpressed perspective whether they’re aware of it or not, which is why writing and playing can be so therapeutic. “Gods” definitely feels like an immersion into and subsequent shedding of existential heaviness when I play it, and it usually kicks off my sets. Some party, huh? Actually, I find it sets a somber mood but from its tiny fire struggling against the cold night I try to bring the room together. From there, if all goes to plan, we can “work to build a new day”.

Tomorrow, I begin laying the first tracks, so wish me luck. There are some technical considerations involving how to put down the various layers and utilize the harmonizer but I’ll leave those to another post. Instead, enjoy if you will a sample of where it all began. In every song I write lives my father who taught me how to play guitar when I was 5 years-old (5 songs on the EP – coincidence?), starting with the ukulele. He was a fan of 60s and 70s folk music and there was always a James Taylor or Joan Baez record playing throughout the house. I created this for his birthday this past March and it barely covers how much I appreciate what he did for me.

Until later…

– Norton

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Norton Scott Star Vehicle

SCOTT STORIES NSSV PIC

It’s been awhile since I’ve updated this blog with information about a new or previous project. I never know who is reading although my stats show periods of explosive activity, usually around an ancient Imagecave post from April of 2009 about losing all of my blog photos that sought to warn others against using the service. People are still pissed. Perhaps it’s a testament to how enduring Internet phenomena can be. The echoes grow fainter but they never fully disappear.

The same might be said for Internet ventures of which I’ve had a few. From screenplays to novels to feature films to various musical acts; I’ve never stopped. I can’t exist without a project going, one I truly believe in. It would be true to say this “belief” involves launching a legitimate career, but it would also be true that it refers to the simple need to bring something about. Some things just need to be. If I’ve received a message from my muse telling me to build it, I build it. It doesn’t always follow that they have to come.

But sometimes the do. Shortly after putting Darwin Candidate on hiatus due to scheduling difficulties and lack of enough exposure opportunities, I minimized my approach to just me, a guitar, and some songs I had been writing between writing for the band. I added a harmonizer pedal running from a second mic clamped near the main mic so that it could be switched on permanently, recorded some scratch demos from my couch, and called the whole thing Norton Scott Star Vehicle – a reverse-play on my name which is already out there representing a pro bowler and a part time professional wrestler and traveling into the inspirational ether to which I often dream of escaping and from which I believe inspiration hits. A “star vehicle” is also something that launches a career, so why not overtly tempt fate? There also seemed to be some cachet building within the industry for difficult names that referred to single persons like Father John Misty (Joshua Tilman). I figured if I got someone asking a question about it, at least they were talking. Finally, I have a 70s-flavored affinity for outer space which clues one to my sound: pining vocals full of room and otherworldly accompaniment.

I’ve been at this long enough to know that the universe is less interested in my opinion than I had originally hoped, but I liked what I was doing and grew evermore comfortable with the material. I tend to fall out of love with my stuff pretty quickly, but these tunes lasted well beyond the honeymoon phase. And after a new round of submissions, much to my surprise I started finding a little daylight in the crowded bills around town, from a small supporting spot to a slot in a songwriter showcase to actually winning a competition at a world-renowned venue (see photo above). I think the word that describes what is happening is traction. It would appear I’m getting some, and beating over 130 local and regional submissions to win the World Cafe Live beta hi-fi Emerging Music Festival means I have an upstairs headlining gig and an opening slot for a major act on the main stage at the same venue waiting in my future. Crazier yet, the need for an actual record and video is, in hilarious fact, real.

I don’t have a label or anything, or even an agent. Outside of to maybe a couple hundred more people I’m still pretty much “nobody”. But I no longer feel that way. I have a great deal more validation under my tongue seeping into my bloodstream and building my confidence. My art is finally connecting. And for a project defined at least in part by escaping the world, that’s kind of a gas.

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DC Make it a Double with Two New Singles

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Yes, yes…the beret-wearing one stares yet into the distance, this time from the end of what could be a lonely, purple alleyway, stoically seeking any possible way back for mankind’s devolving future. Or perhaps he’s eyeing a too-long occupied toilet at a Goth rave. Hard to say, for as is true with NATIVE, despair and delight often travel as a twosie.

For the first commercial LP of Darwin Candidate’s young tenure (following their playfully disdainful debut EP released last April) it was time to more closely explore what exactly that monkey might be thinking. The results are a mixture of consistency through variation that recycles their earlier record’s subtle stab at evolved social leadership while more willfully extending it to the subject of perpetual and ubiquitous conflict, both within and without. CheChimpy asks, at last, “Dafuq is your problem, people?”.

Not an easy question to answer, if indeed answering it is even the point. With the release of two singles – one on this New Year’s Evening, the other on tomorrow’s New Year’s Day – this century’s DC3 continues exploring the culture of self as it relates to widespread tension and conflict. In “Going Native”, a shape-shifting she-devil lures a man into a primitive state by tapping into his overprotective instincts and heroic self-image. Or, it’s about becoming a werewolf. Either way, its central conceit is clear and announces the record’s core business: the disastrous yet often disturbingly pleasurable fallout of indulging our basest desires on both a personal and social scale.

Sonically, “Going Native” feels like it was forged in the sunny 80s and left to rust in the rainy 90s in that it adheres to a rock-pop format that’s been dropped on the street and made to fail the five-second rule. Which is to say it sounds slick but soiled, both in a good way. Like sex in the woods or a cozy picnic in the mud, each filthy with savory delights. The unholy trio gets their heaviest to date here but always remembers to lift things up before they get too sodden. There’s plenty of subversive humor to be found as well, but much of it is sung so earnestly as to be missed as such. “…I’m drowning in rain/I’m buried in wood” sings front-person Norton, never quite making it clear as to what kind of wood he refers. Catchy, cheeky, and a little crass; that might best describe this come-hither Side A.

With Side B, we’re reminded that abject narcissism is an evergreen rock and roll tradition, and “Long Blink” is certainly not its first “to whom it may concern” diss track. It may, however, be the first to illustrate a direct causal relationship between wallowing in the commercial gain begotten from artistic appropriation and losing one’s very soul. The song rides the thermal wind of a repeating guitar line that alternately rises and gives out, sending the listener climbing and falling in tight, squealing fits, while dangling them over a jagged, mountainous void where crashing brings the kind of hangover one gets from dining out on “…luck and weak champagne/only serves to ease your shame”. It does all of this while sounding like a spicy soup of influences with individual ingredients one can’t quite place, perhaps mined from a lurid moment when the ’70s did it with the’8os thus conceiving the ’90s, and then wafted the smell tauntingly at their peers. Do Darwin Candidate have peers? Perhaps not, which is not the same thing as saying they’re peerless. It’s more to say that they don’t recall a crowd one can easily recognize despite somehow belonging to them all.

Darwin Candidate are rock and roll’s hairy new bastards.

So if it feels good you’ll probably do it, regardless of what hell your short-term decisions with long-term implications reap upon your soul and the souls of others. Sometimes it feels so right, so superhuman, that our lizard brains can’t help but give the order. DC gets that. Still, feeling superhuman isn’t always a good thing, and sometimes it’s fucking awful. Singing about it might even be worse, but damn if it doesn’t sound good.

Listen to “Going Native” later today at the Darwin Candidate bandcamp page, and tune back in tomorrow to hear “Long Blink’. Both releases will be announced on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

 

 

 

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DARWIN CANDIDATE

OFFICIAL DC CHECHIMP LOGOThe image at the head of this post is a slightly altered version of one that has existed in the deeper Internet for some time. If you’re not sure what you’re looking at, it’s a royalty free graphic showing a Planet of the Apes-looking character passed through the charismatic filter of Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara. Variations of it exist, some more faithful to the typical visage of a chimpanzee, but all carry the tagline “Viva La Evolución” (Long Live the Evolution) which is a humorous Darwinian take on the rebel cry of “Viva La Revolución” (Long Live the Revolution).

You see what’s happening here. Among the millions of species subject to the principles of the theory of evolution, homo sapiens emerged as gene-mutated adaptations of the primate family. By incorporating the idea into this famous photo, we get a punny chuckle. It’s what attracted me to the image initially, along with something possibly unintended by its original creator yet suited to a band concept I had been kicking around.

A few years back, me and my first (and still best) friend (we met at the age of four) decided to embark on a musical journey. He plays the drums and I play a few instruments (piano/keyboards, guitar) and we’d written music together in the past with the idea to take it into the world come what may. For various reasons, and despite garnering some interest from a major music publishing company, we never achieved our goal. This time we thought we might try something different. Which is to say, we thought we’d scrape together a couple of songs for a two-piece (think The Black Keys, Royal Blood) and play a show for old time’s sake. Maybe we’d even incorporate some cool lights or a video screen. However we chose to present it, it would be a stab at playing together one more time while we were still at the top of our game, and I found the idea most welcome after having spent a few grueling years producing a film/web series. My life had begun with dreams of making music, having been taught to play the ukelele by my father at the age of five. The passing years saw my writing and singing for a few bands and even playing acoustic cover shows in various venues, but this would be different. We never spoke these words in anger, but somewhere deep inside it sort of felt like we were giving it one last shot.

trees2A few months after our discussion, as life continued to interrupt as it does, I found myself walking the steep hills of a densely fogged Seattle, WA, a city that had given the world so much in terms of music, and in particular, rock music. It was October and the towering leafy trees were turning colors amidst the even more imposing pines. Dew hung from green needles and everything as I made my way to an emotionally delicate destination, one that meant a great deal to me personally as it did millions of other music fans around the world. It was a small bench covered in graffiti that paid homage to the late grunge god Kurt Cobain, located on a sloping, grassy clearing across the street from Lake Washington and adjacent to the beautiful lakeview property he once owned and on which he took his life. DewWebThe death of Cobain hurt me when it happened, and in a very real way it stopped my writing. I would compose songs with others after but I avoided doing it entirely on my own. In the odd way these things often go, I had gone from losing the desire to write to eventually running out of the belief that I could. After my visit to the bench, all of that changed.

I returned full of a need to write. Where in the past I would spend hours wondering about which direction my sound and style should take, this time I simply stopped caring and let everything rip. And rip, it did. One very long winter later I had nearly forty songs, with almost a third recorded as surprisingly listenable demos. In fact, I only stopped because I had worn myself out. I also discovered that stopping was exponentially harder than starting had been, marking a complete reversal to any previous writing experiences. The rest unfolded very quickly. I emailed my friend the demos and he began recording drum parts and emailing them back. Soon, our idea to be a two-piece expanded into a trio. The stuff I was giving him, he said, seemed to ask for it. So we added another more-family-than-friend member, picked our name, and the expanded recording process began in earnest in January of this year. Flash forward to April and we had our very own Bandcamp link to share. Flash forward to this month, and we’re hot off our first performance that by all accounts (somewhat unavoidable technical difficulties notwithstanding) went as solidly as we could have hoped. We are also in daily rotation on a half-dozen Internet radio stations including Boston Rock Radio and Rock Invasion Radio. Darwin Candidate is now a thing.

So what’s this thing all about? To start, I’m incapable of creating anything without multiple layers of meaning, and this band is no exception. The three of us often talk about those important bands that influenced us with perfect records from front to back, and in these discussions we developed some rules. For one, we wince at any suggestion of striving for approval. To do so would be to court imitation and miss the point entirely. You must create for yourself and your ideas, and let the accolades fall where they may. Also, we keep it simple, cutting all filler, and serve the song above all else. Every note counts, as does every moment of space. And while my lyrics may at times be considered vaguely impressionistic and mysteriously evocative they are laid in with purpose, avoiding any over-indulgence that might direct them too inward. We aim to connect, as the bands we revered connected to us, but above all we reject forcing that connection. There is a belief that if the meaning and delivery is true, it will find a way to stick.

So why the name Darwin Candidate? If we return to our image of the “CheChimp”, it might be easy to assume that we’re simply poking fun at those unfortunate souls who have perished whilst performing impossibly stupid deeds of malicious and/or self-serving intent, thereby receiving the dubious honor of a “Darwin Award“. Indeed, I have always loathed all things ignorant and arrogant, and more generally I’m sure I speak for many when I say we could all use a little less stupid in our lives. However, as you may have expected, there’s a bit more to it than that. Che Guevara – all socio-politicking aside – fought for the poor and the oppressed of South America, leading his men into battle and risking his own life. Unlike most world leaders of today, he didn’t simply recruit the hopelessly desperate or honorably patriotic to do his dirty. So, on that level, one could say he had cajónes the size of white wall tires and one has to respect that. As importantly, while most would see him as a great military theorist, Guevara made education just as important to his guerrilla cause as battlefield bravery. He was well-versed in the poetry of Keats, Frost, Whitman and Kipling, as well as the prose of Faulkner, Verne, Camus and Sartre. He filled notebooks with handwritten thoughts on Buddha and Aristotle, Nietzsche and Freud. In school he studied philosophy, engineering, political scieence, sociology, history and archeology. In short, he was the rarest of bad-asses who, in his younger days, looked like a lost Sheen son, one more likely to star in Apocalypse Repo Man Now than Major Wall Street League. To say this man was an “evolved” human being, I think would be fair debate. To say he was an evolved leader – one who prized intellect over imperialism – is to state an irrefutable fact.

Then there’s the monkey. Well, I like monkeys, and that could well be enough. Of course, it isn’t. For me, the chimp face suggests something beyond a gag about “evolution”. It also tells me that we shouldn’t fall fool to what appears to be evolved. It opens the boundaries of race and the conventional ideas of beauty so that we might, at last, listen. Far too much weight and power is given to what we see on the outside without also engaging in critical thought about what lies within, and in that idea I found the essence of punk rock, and more to the point, our classic/post-punk/new wave/grunge version of it. We call it “evolution rock”, and while the term may sound like we’re having fun with the idea – and make no mistake, we are – there’s also some substance in there that we hope cuts through.

More deep than heavy, more determined than hard; that’s DC. And like our logo (recruited for a time and, like everything in life, subject to change) there’s as much to get from the surface as there is underneath. So, as Henry Rollins once said, “No such thing as spare time. No such thing as free time. No such thing as down time. All you got is life time. Go.”

Here we go.

Darwin Candidate on Facebook
Darwin Candidate on Twitter

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the mystery of episode nine

ElizaDragged2-GLOWLet’s quickly review the particulars regarding the Every. Drop Counts. web series inaugural screening, and then we’ll get to some hard numbers regarding our viewers. This, my friends, is going to get interesting – especially after a certain shocking episode.

E.D.C. began its life as a web series in concept which morphed into a feature film in production before morphing back into a web series in post. It was divided into thirteen episodes, a number that was not only spookily well-matched to the subject matter but that also matched an industry standard number of episodes per season. The format seemed a better fit to the dialog-heavy, character rich story, as well. What’s more, the shocking finale would fall on Halloween. To say we were eager to roll it out after having begun production a full four years prior would be a ridiculous understatement.

The series began on Tuesday, August 5th with a short “slide show” teaser presentation that was designed to foreshadow, if you will, certain production aspects of the coming episode that we found remarkable for one reason or another. We felt some carefully curated background details regarding our indie production shot primarily in live, public settings would be almost as interesting as the narrative itself. We also wanted to “prime” the viewer with something to tide them over until the next week’s episode, and at times included series-related tidbits such as Internet radio and blog reviews with myself and our cast in our rotation. Since our episode run times ran an average of 9:39, we thought that a little too short a number to keep the attention line taut enough for the interim six days. This was uncharted territory we were sailing, and since the very idea of soft-releasing a web series was still very new, we expected to hit a few rocks along the way. At the very least we would learn a few things, and figured our feedback would serve to counsel future ventures.

After a weekend-long booth presence at the very horror convention in which we shot our footage and another weekend of passing out some sweet promotional flyers, the series kicked off. In short, things ran as scheduled between 8/5/14 and 10/31/14, with each Tuesday teaser and corresponding Friday episode advertised on our Twitter account (3,000 + followers) and on both the series Facebook page (700 + likes) and my personal Facebook page (600 + friends) with occasional posts on two Facebook group pages representing those interested in web series. Times of posting varied, but most were broadcast between 9 am and 2 pm. In conjunction, we ran a Facebook ad campaign to hone in a demographic of horror, film, TV and drama fans. The amounts and reach targets varied as well so we could best discern what worked and what might be a waste of money. Our feeling was that between our Facebook reach, our Twitter reach, and our organic Vimeo channel reach we would generate enough of a sample set to learn something. To account for late-comers and fluctuating viewings, we recorded the numbers up to 12/10/14. Let’s take a look:

VIMEO LOADS (# times a post appeared on someone’s screen) = 3,399
VIMEO PLAYS (# of times posts received play interaction) = 2,116
VIMEO LIKES = 21
VIMEO COMMENTS = 6
FACEBOOK REACH (# of times a post appeared on someone’s wall) = 67, 824
FACEBOOK POST ENGAGEMENTS (# of times a post was played, Liked, etc.) = 98
FACEBOOK LIKES = 333
FACEBOOK COMMENTS = 62
TWITTER REACH = n/a
TWITTER PLAYS = n/a
TWITTER RETWEETS = like, 1
TWITTER FAVORITES = like, 2

Let’s start with the Twitter numbers, or lack thereof. Twitter doesn’t provide much in terms of metrics so we can only deduce that, since posts there involved connected Facebook links, any draw from the application informed our Facebook numbers and/or sent them to our Vimeo channel which was advertised in our description. Would we have done better by posting Vimeo links instead of Facebook links into the tweets? Hard to say. Twitterers are a unique bunch, and they prefer words to images or videos. They also seek celebrity, both personal and otherwise. I had never seen anyone try what we were trying, so maybe they weren’t really sure what they were seeing. Still, there had to be a connection to our Facebook page, so with such a large following, that must have made a significant difference, right?

Well, by looking at our Facebook stats we do see a fairly large reach, but also a very small number of engagements (.01%). The amount spent for our reach is only interesting in terms of gauging the price point of Facebook ads for web series with no established stars, so for $245.88 and whatever Twitter/convention overlap we managed we got a whopping 98 plays. That’s 2.5 cents a view (not counting booth and flyer costs). Even for an indie soft release, a mere 98 plays over 13 episodes casts a skeptical eye over the application for our purposes. Facebook is sketchy in terms of reach, as well. Organically, your posts are only seen by a small percentage of your friend list based on previous interaction and post interaction (likes and comments). As for paid reach, the more narrow you set your target specifics, the smaller your reach. So, in essence, you reached the most amount of people for your dollar the more general you set your specifics. That means for each post you had to decide to preach to the choir – and our choir wasn’t exactly well defined beyond TV, web series, horror and drama interests – or spread your postage stamp-sized ad like unmarked Halloween candy to any and all tastes. When one looks over the results and realizes that the amount spent per episode didn’t at all effect the number of plays, one can only conclude that advertising a web series on Facebook probably isn’t the most assured way to get eyes on your stuff. Yet.

But it’s in our discussions within Vimeo where things get interesting. Vimeo was chosen as our core platform because, unlike YouTube, it boasts an entertainment-driven community that actively seeks out quality, independent productions. It’s also more popular for its content than its comments, so we felt hosting our channel there gave us a better chance of finding the right audience. Judging by the numbers above, we may have been correct. That said, we were unable to determine if a load or play corresponded to a link posted into another application or only the one inside the Vimeo platform itself. So all of these numbers could be overlapping, which is fine if they’re working together to get you your feedback. Obviously, the Likes and comments weren’t exactly forthcoming with information (despite all being complimentary and positive earning our deep appreciation) but in breaking down the stats there was one particular piece of statistical information that blew us away. Check ’em out:

EPISODE PLAYS THROUGH EPISODE NINE = 1,925
AVERAGE PLAYS PER EPISODE = 214
TEASER PLAYS THROUGH TEASER NINE = 504
AVERAGE PLAYS PER TEASER = 56

Those numbers include a big start, with 311 plays for Episode One and 152 plays for Teaser One. Then there was something of a sharp decline which sort of makes sense. People finally got a taste and some of them probably lost interest due to budget constraints or failed expectations. That was to be expected. But after that initial drop things held fairly steady, with very little play fluctuation. We’d found our audience and they were coming back.

Now, look what happened after Episode Nine:

EPISODE PLAYS FROM EPISODE TEN THROUGH THIRTEEN = 123
AVERAGE PLAYS PER EPISODE = 31
TEASER PLAYS FROM EPISODE TEN THROUGH THIRTEEN = 60
AVERAGE PLAYS PER TEASER = 15

That’s an 86% drop in average plays. And while there was a little jump back for Episode Eleven, the series never recovered beyond 20% of our original average. What happened in Episode Nine, you may be asking? Well, it’s a flashback to the central traumatic event of the story and it’s available for viewing here. But I urge you to watch the previous eight episodes before viewing it so that what transpires on screen is put in proper context. However, I will show you the warning that was written on its Facebook post:

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Did we scare them away? Did they just refuse to go any further, or was it the actual viewing of the episode that turned them off? Our main character does attempt to recount her clouded memory of what happened in the previous episode so it couldn’t be considered a sudden narrative shock. In fact, there were many instances that alluded to her traumatic experience from the very first scene. And I can tell you we were careful not to be exploitative with our dramatization, so what exactly accounts for the drop? All we’re left with are questions.

Did the warning scare them off?
Did we miscalculate our audience given the subject matter and the manner of release?
Was our marketing of the genre-mixed series misleading?
Is there something to be learned about episodic entertainment versus feature length?
Do we need to learn more about various online platforms and their respective audiences?
How do you decide 70% of the way into a series to simply stop watching.

We may never get the answers to those questions. In fact, all that’s guaranteed is that we’ll find more. In a way it’s funny how everything changed after that episode in much the same way everything changes for our main characters. The main scene involves hypnosis and regression therapy, so perhaps there’s a small population of viewers out there walking around in a daze. We’re re-releasing the series with recap clips on another platform so that each episode is given a short refresher in the form of the “previously on” clips one sees in series these days, so maybe that will allow us to set up events with more impact. But if there are people out there losing their minds, is more impact what we want?

If you’re reading this and you’re intrigued enough to either check out the series for the first time or finish what you started, we would love to hear your thoughts. We believed in this story and the way we rolled it out. We still do.

Do you?

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the internally displaced

ChrisCrushed2It starts innocently enough; we are not all born the same. The world that greets us, however, is. It is one that has always fought to retain its shape. If you fail to fight your way into its established borders, it will, by design, edit you out.

The matter then becomes what to do about the scraps on the cutting room floor.

The story of every. drop. counts. involves itself, centrally, with two very different “scraps”. One, a young woman, a victim of violence, struggles to put one foot in front of the other. The other, a man of mature age, struggles to reconcile his success with his past.  Both find themselves displaced from their natural environment into one sustained by a population of similarly displaced that offers, in theory, a refuge. But it is one that they cannot accept. It might be said that they are “internally displaced”: refugees that cannot flee. It is not a survivable place to be for long.

Through means that appear supernatural, our main characters unite. Nature, come to find, known or unknown, in creating or editing mode, never takes a moment off. It is by its own design seeking to combine elements to generate energy, and it is that dark, volatile energy that fuels their relationship.

But something has to give. Our scraps must find their way back in or be swept away. And that is our real story. How they do it is the plot. And in every plot there are conflicts, only these conflicts come from within, like so many that go unseen around us. We find ourselves surprised when someone chooses to take their own life, as if living is our divine right. It is not. It is preciously and precariously balanced. How successfully we are able to negotiate that balance is often determined the moment we are born, before we’re even aware we’re in a fight.

There is an exploration of the displacement similarities between suicide and genocide woven into the fabric of the series. Both involve the strange, proto-Darwinian psychology of guilt gone awry, where one commits an act to survive that their conscience cannot accept. The resultant torment is exacerbated within a psychopathic social construct stuck in edit mode, characterized by an institutionalized primitivism where it becomes essential to destroy in order to thrive. And to thrive, we seek power. Often within this construct, what is perceived as an appropriation of power is simply an act of senseless violence, driven by a fundamental fear of powerlessness. In simple terms, in a society that institutionally promotes violence to survive, acts that involve bullying, sexual aggression, and on a larger scale, ethnic cleansing can be seen as natural. If every. drop. counts. is a horror story, it is within these parameters that it is.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and Episode 8 on Friday, September 26th, is dedicated to raising awareness about what we see as a horrible and senseless consequence to a flawed system of humanity. If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression – and we encourage you to learn about the symptoms – we ask that you reach out. Use whatever means you can to lend support or seek support for yourself. No soul should be a victim of violence, institutional or otherwise.

No soul should become a scrap on the floor.

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