Thursday, May 15, 2014

Strong Happy Healthy Free

Welcome back to the Conversation!  Today I am joined by Aaron Trumm who is here to talk about his 4th rap/rock/fusion album, Strong Happy Healthy Free.  Thank you for joining us today Aaron!

Thanks for having me!  I’m honored.

This looks like it’s going to be a personal kind of interview so why don’t we start off by telling us a bit about yourself there Aaron?  When did you start singing and what got you into rap/rock fusion?

It’s a long road!  I was break-dancing and listening to hip-hop from day 1 of rap (well I was probably 6 months behind the curve since I lived in Taos, NM), as well as all the standard rock’n’roll of the time,  plus my dad was always playing old country and western swing stuff.  So the fusion of what I do is from how I grew up.  I started making pause loop tapes and bad rap around 1989 (when I was 14) and part of the reason I was rapping was because I was afraid to sing!  Singing was too intimate for me.  Like pulling my pants down in front of everyone.  It’s still like pulling my pants down, I just down care as much about being pantsed.  I got into slam poetry for similar reasons - rapping on stage with beats or a band seemed more difficult to pull off, whereas slam was “just talking”.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Just talking on stage with no help and no music, pouring your heart out - that’s not only like pulling your pants down, it’s like taking every stitch of clothes off, plus your skin, and revealing to everyone the color and size of your intestines.

Not only were you born with Cystic Fibrosis and all that entails, but you nearly died quite recently, yet you say these are good things?  Why is that?  What have you learned with your chat with the reaper that you’ve put into your music?  

Well first of all I’ve been chatting with the reaper for a long long time.  When I was a kid, life expectancy in CF was about 20 years.  I was very much not interested in that.  I have a song on my last record, “Bleed”, which I may even cover in a completely different way on this record (I like to do that), which in one part goes:

“but I guess it’s not too late to make amends, and maybe we can still be friends… Just as long as you understand I don’t wanna come with you where you’re going”

The point is, I tried to make a deal with death.  I wouldn’t bad mouth him or have a hatred for him, hell I might even stop running from him, but I had no intention of going with him yet.  Death seems to have been cool with that agreement so far.

In 2013, though, I thought maybe the term of our deal would be up - my lungs tanked hard and I spent six months in and out of hospitals, and quite a few evenings it was not certain I’d make the night.  Then I got this double lung transplant and almost as soon as I woke up I realized I had wanted it.  I was tired of living with the limitation of bad lungs.  I’d done a lot with that - played ice hockey at two colleges, martial arts all my life, 4 sport athlete in high school, and performing all over the country - but I wanted to be better.  Now I don’t have a limitation in my lungs.  I breathe as well as anyone.  Without even practicing for a year, I could do most of the raps on this new record without even trying, whereas before it was a real trick to get through them with any breath.

I could be pissed off that I had the limitation in the first place, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little, but there’s always multiple ways to see something.  The Christians say “God works in mysterious ways”, Zen has the story of the father who keeps having things happen and when someone says it’s good or bad he says “maybe”.  It’s even becoming a cliche Facebook trend now to say life doesn’t have its own meaning other than what we put on it.  It was not fun to have the reaper come and renegotiate our deal, I admit.  But now I feel lucky, grateful and frankly, I don’t think I could have learned certain things like how to deal with pain and how to relate beautifully to things and people and what it really means that we aren’t in this alone, without that experience.

Plus now I breathe BETTER than most people and I feel like a badass with a bunch of wicked scars!

Speaking a bit more about this particular album you mention that there is quite a lot of anger in your music, yet you plan on ending it with a positive note with the title track.  Do you think you’ll be using less anger in the future with your work or do you still see it as a good tool for your music?  

I think anger and angst will be so much less a part of my art from now on it’s not even funny.  I’m actually worried I’ll get too cheesy. :)  I won’t be shying away from darkness or anger, but now there’s such light around me that the character of things is already taking on such a different flavor it’s crazy.  I just wrote a new song the other day which is similar to Strong Happy Healthy Free.  Just for fun we’re calling it “Livin Is Bling” and the chorus is simple and I hope not cheesy:

“I’m alive I’m alive ready for anything sing it with me if you think that livin is bling!”

*laugh*  I’ve turned into a big dork and I love it.

This is your 4th album?  How did you produce the previous three records?  Were they all just local pressings or can we find you on iTunes or some other online shop?

This is my 4th in this vein - I actually do another act called Third Option which is techno/classical/poetry fusion and I have several under that name too.  Many of my things are on iTunes and all the other online retailers.  Some were even available in brick and morter retail catalogs, although that’s fading fast.  “Bleed” (Aaron J. Trumm) is on iTunes, as is most of the Third Option stuff (“Cult Of Nice”, “Still”), and a new Third Option joint, “The Four Hard Edges Of War” will hit the online stores sometime this year.

This is the first record I’ve attempted to fund well.  All the other stuff I’ve done I’ve MacGyvered together through late night sessions as studios I worked in, doing favors for mentors in studios, building humble home studios and running them at way beyond their capacity, and more recently, when I did my master’s at Stanford, I was REALLY lucky to have access to good studio facilities.  That’s probably been my luckiest break.  In fact while I was recovering from surgery last year in the Bay Area, I recorded a lot of the tracks that will appear on this record there at Stanford, since I still have access.

See how beautiful things can get?  Why would I focus on being mad about CF when so many blessings keep coming my way?

You thank a lot of people, many of them strangers at the time, who helped you through not only your medical ordeals but the creation of this album.  How much do you think creating this album is a way to give back to everyone who helped you along the way?

To me this is the hardest but most important question.  As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing worth doing that’s not for other people (it’s for us and it’s for me, too, but not JUST for us).

When it comes to the medical side, I don’t see how I could ever pay most people back for their generosity really.  The only thing to do, I think (other than getting to a place where we could make a financial difference in transplant or CF medicine), is go forward and live well, and keep in touch, letting people know how big a difference their work made.  I feel like if I can make them proud and do something great, they’ll feel good, and maybe other people going through medical hassle can be inspired or encouraged.  I also thought at some point I might put together something like a book with the idea of empowering people about to go through transplants.  Basically, let them know what’s coming, what to expect, and why it doesn’t have to be a bad scary thing.  I’d love to be able to make it easier for future transplant patients that way.  For me this record is the beginning of a career of making it clear that being happy and strong and free is possible, doable and even easy.

The music side is easier.  The bigger we make the record go, the better the funding and the wider the word gets spread, the more we can put into the music community by paying musicians for guest work, hiring studios, etc.  Even promotional people and graphic artists and the myriad other creative people that are in the industry all need work, and they all want to be involved in something good and big.  So I feel like I owe it to all my past and future collaborators to do things as well as possible, and take it as far as it can go.  That’s the other reason I want to raise funding; so I can hire and pay people for their work.  I believe in paying people for what they do.

One of the things I look for in any Kickstarter is the budget breakdown.  When asking for large sums of money like your $17,000 it is always nice to see where all the money is going and I thank you for giving a basic breakdown of budget items.  My only nitpick would be you don’t explain how much of the money is going where, did you think that was an unnecessary detail or did you think your current explanation was enough?  Will you be producing only copies purchased through this Kickstarter or will you be doing a full production run of CD’s and the like?  

I’m glad you mentioned this.  A couple of us debated a bit about how much detail to put in there. I think transparency is very powerful, but I also struggled with how to keep the page from having TOO much information to wade through.

That said, I certainly didn’t pull the number out of thin air.  I have a pretty detailed budget drawn up, and I’m actually perfectly happy to share it.  Clearly there’s room for change so it’s not like we can promise this exact money goes here or there, but the basic budget goes like this:

1500 - remaining tracking studio fees
1000 - remaining musician’s fees
3500 - mixdown
1500 - mastering
2000 - cd manufacturing (including digital distro and graphic layout)
1500 - vinyl manufacturing
200 - custom artwork
300 - photography
1000 - mailing costs for prizes
1500 - promotion
1000 - misc/unforseen

You’ll notice that comes to 15000 - the extra 2000 is to cover Kickstarter and Amazon fees.

As far as production, we’ll do 1000 cds and 500 vinyl copies, most of which will be given out as prizes.  We’ll also do download packages and those of course are unlimited and will be available.  The digital product will be distributed to the major digital retailers.  Whether we do a second (or third or fourth or fifth) run of CDs (or vinyl) will depend on how well we do with the record.  I secretely (not so secret now! :) ) hope that we can get picked up by a bigger label than mine, so some of the decisions and resources are taken off my hands (like manufacturing more CDs and such).

How did you discover Kickstarter?

Good question.  I have no idea! I’m sure I just started hearing about projects since I know so many people who are artists, filmmakers and such.  I got really inspired by Amanda Palmer, who raised over a million dollars for her record, and after needing to fundraise for expenses involved in my transplant, I realized how many people are out there that DO want to get involved in things, so I decided we should go for it.

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

This is something I’m always looking for advice about!  So far there’s some simple things I’m doing or about to do:

- Have conversations with all of my friends and family, and ask them to be involved by facebooking or giving away cards I made.
- Make a backer avatar image that backers can use as Kickstarter avatars or profile pics on social media
- Many updates via the update page with rough mixes (or even live raw solo performances) of the songs that are trying to make the cut, asking for feedback and giving people a chance to see what the record’s like.  I’m giving anybody (not just backers) an opportunity to get involved by shooting us ideas about the songs.
- As I go around to open mics and various things locally, I’ll probably do some simple video where I ask people to talk to me about the project a little.
- At the suggestion of a friend, when I post a new song possibility, I’ll say a little about the people that have already recorded tracks for it or helped with it, and a little about the emotional space and intent of the song.
- If it’s alright with my collaborators, I might send updates with a little blurb about them, how we know each other and what makes them awesome.
- There’s still some room for more musical contribution, so I’m encouraging musicians to send links to their playing and I’m further encouraging my existing collaborators to spread the word, because if the campaign succeeds, they’ll benefit.

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?  

I’m still working on the media attention part!  You’re my first interview (so thank you!).  I of course have my social media presence and websites so I’ve shared on there (I focus on reverbnation, twitter and facebook), as well as on F.B. groups, google+ groups (where you found me), and I’m asking every one of my Facebook friends if they’d share.  A bunch of people have already posted the Kickstarter and said some really nice things that are quite humbling.  I am indeed using Kicktraq, although I have to admit, I don’t know yet how to really make use of the data there.

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

I’m not an expert yet, this is my first campaign, but I have learned some things so far:

- You only have a limited window after you launch, so it’s best to prepare as much as possible first.  For example if you know you’re going to write a press release, get that ready first.  Any imagery or videos or audio that you can produce ahead of time, that’s good.  

- The real world is always more compelling than the online world.  Go face to face, and if you can, book shows or events during the campaign window and be out there.  I made 1000 business cards with a URL and QR Code to hand out.

- Set up one backer (in my case my mom) who doesn’t put in until the end.  That way if you have anybody who doesn’t want to deal with Kickstarter but wants to help by handing you money, you can just gather that up and use it at the end, along with anything you can contribute out of pocket, to make sure your campaign reaches goal.

- Do not even ask the question of whether you will deliver the prizes.  Make SURE the budget WILL deliver the project.

- Build up as much following beforehand as possible.  I think my biggest disadvantage is that because of the health adventure I was off stage and off the scene for a year and a half. I spent 3 months ahead of the campaign trying to make up for that by building up my social media presence as much as possible but it would have been better to be performing for that year.  The more presence and following you have already built up the better.

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

Thank you!  I think I have two final thoughts.

1 - Hey!  Go see my page and spread the word!  I couldn’t be more grateful for your help and participation. :)

2 - Anything is possible!  I really do hope for y’all to get Strong Happy Healthy Free!  As the chorus in the song chorus goes “I am strong I am happy I am healthy I am free and if you wanna do it to you just say it with me!”

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

Thank you a million for the opportunity and help!

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