On Spotify
July 2, 2015 - 12:42pm

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.


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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

Ordinary Band Release!
June 12, 2015 - 9:31am

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).

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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. 

Bass Player's Blacksmith Shop on the Market!
March 5, 2013 - 3:51pm

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.

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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:

Poem for Election Day
November 5, 2012 - 8:36pm

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

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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.

Leaky Boats and Paper Birds Flying Out to Mailboxes!
July 6, 2012 - 4:23pm

"Leaky Boats and Paper Birds" is in! Here's the Kickstarter/advance orders assembly line in my living room!


Bumper Sticker Options!
June 6, 2012 - 5:44pm

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!

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Actual sizes: Hometown Tables, 10" x 3". Katharine Hepburn, 4" x 6"

Albuquerque: Productive, Despite Packers Loss
January 17, 2012 - 7:59pm

I've been in Albuquerque for the last ten days. I spent the first 3 visiting with wonderful college friends (picture at right), one of whom has created two of my favorite children on the planet. The baby's in Meg's little carrier, and her older son Boris is below wearing my knit Packer hat like it's a beret.

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And then I spent the last seven days with my dear friend Sonya, a fellow writer whom I've known since high school. She and I have been on a self-imposed, self-led, self-policed writing retreat in a little rental house in the northwest quarter of the city, complete with early morning rooster calls down the (relatively urban) road and a view of the Sandia Mountains out the window. I was pretty sure this trip would be a fun way to see my friends, less sure whether my "writing retreat" idea was just a roundabout way to write off my plane ticket--sometimes I'm good at buckling down and writing, sometimes I'm not. A whole week seemed like a gamble. But I'm going into the studio to record another album in less than a month and there weren't nearly enough songs to justify said studio time, so I decided to give it a shot.

It's been wonderful. I haven't worked so long and intently at a single creative task since college, and it's amazing the difference it makes just to spend so much uninterrupted time with words. You'd think you use words all the time, that they'd therefore be easy to pick out of the vast vocabularic pond. But really, songwriting often feels to me like panning for gold in a deep swamp; if the waters aren't regularly stirred up the gold seems to settle below the mud at the bottom. So I'm pleased with the five songs that I've finished this week--feels like some of the most satisfying writing I've done in a long time.

Plus, having someone else in the house really keeps you on track--we realized upon our arrival that there was no door between the bedroom (Sonya's work space) and the kitchen/living room (my work space), and that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Pretty hard to check our email and pretend it never happened when someone else is diligently working in the other room and totally saw your laptop open.

Plus, this little house is perfect. I wish I lived here all the time. Here's a picture. And the website is http://www.lacasitabb.com/main/

A quick recap of the songs I finished--two reclaiming-a-once-floundering-relationship songs, called "Enough" and "Ghosts of Sheboygan Town," a reclaiming-a-still-floundering-nation song called "Leaky Boats and Paper Birds," a lost love ballad called "Pier 33," and "Kathleen," a song based on a poem written by my friend and collaborator Emilie Coulson.

There was, of course, the minor creative setback of the Packers losing their playoff game to the Giants. I swore a lot at the dozens of screens in the sports bar and whichever muses had decided that this was a good week for us to hang out probably ran away. Whoever heard of a folksinging football fan, anyway? Luckily for me, they (unlike the Packers) decided to come back.

Here's a little video of our tiny writing house, which is delightful, affordable, and highly recommended if you're visiting Albuquerque.

Return to the Homeland...
May 16, 2011 - 6:44pm

...but not back to Door County--yet. First Rich and I divided our efforts for a little while--Rich back home to make pottery, me to the St. Paul/Minneapolis area, where I grew up, to spend time with my family and play a few last shows.

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I played a great house concert in White Bear Lake and a fun show at Park Square Theater, saw a bunch of my favorite relatives, and capped off the week playing at Carleton College, my alma mater, in Northfield. The weather in Minnesota couldn't have been nicer (given that it was the first week of April), and it was a great way to finish off the tour.

In case you didn't read the previous blog entry about Chicago, here's the deal: it's tricky to line up captions with photos in this blog format, so we're going to play a fun mix-and-match game with the captions (as in, you get to do it!). C'mon, I know you want to procrastinate on the Internet a little longer. Besides, they're mostly in order.

  1. I got to spend lots of time with my mom's two adorable dogs, Trek and Roxy.
  2. I also got to spend lots of time with my adorable mom herself!
  3. It was pretty cool to drive into Northfield and see several wind turbines. I'm pretty sure when I started school at Carleton, there were none.
  4. We had a great time at our Carleton gig, and it was especially fun to see this group of some of my favorite Carleton professors down at the Cave.
  5. We happened upon a peace rally in Bridge Square the morning after our gig--complete with banjos and "Union Maid"!
  6. Perhaps the acadmic rigor I valued at Carleton has slipped since my days as a student?
  7. Northfield definitely did not want us to go--this is the hail we encountered as we were leaving.
  8. After our time in Northfield, it was finally time to head home. But it's not all bad--here's the sunset we drove through on our way back up to Door County--
  9. --and eventually, we finally made it home!





Chicago-Go-Go-Goin' Gone
May 16, 2011 - 6:19pm

Well, as you see from the date of this post, I am woefully behind on my blog entries. The whirlwind of the tour behind me, I came back to Door County and settled right back down to songwriting--another good use of time, if I do say so myself. And I hardly took any pictures in Chicago...but here are some highlights.

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First off, a video, from our oh-so-fun house concert at our friends Tim and Ellie's house. It's "Union Maid," which we played at every show on the tour and had been trying to capture live for a few weeks. It proved elusive--even this version has pretty funky sound--but at least you get the idea.


Now the photos!

When one has been traveling a long time, one learns to find beauty even in the ugliest of places--like this starry starry rest stop in Indiana.

For my birthday breakfast, my friend and host Nathan took us to the delightful Longman and Eagle for duck egg hash (those are sunnyside up duck eggs on top, with duck confit in the hash itself). Yum!

We visited my old employer, the Old Town School of Folk Music, which induced a big wash of nostalgia in yours truly, especially these guitar strings in their vending machine.

The night of my birthday, we played a private birthday party in Highland Park (birthday squared!). Here's Rich getting ready for the show.

On our last day in Chicago, we played a house concert at the apartment of my friends Emily and Jess, who had generously hosted a house concert for me last winter, too. Their apartment is pretty perfect for such an event. Here's their house concert setup empty...

...and full!

Candlepins and the Cantab
April 6, 2011 - 11:00am

During the length of this tour, I visited three cities I used to live in: Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis. I loved living in all of these cities--in fact, I loved living in cities in general. So as we pulled into Boston, I found myself feeling very nostalgic.

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As the week went on, I found very few reasons to rein in my nostalgia, helped along by any number of wonderful Boston-y activities, including the following:

1.Wonderful Shows

We played three different places in Boston, which was pretty cool in itself, since when I lived in Boston this whole "professional musician" idea was just a little twinkle in my eye. Carrying my guitar on the T, I remembered so many trips to open mics, lugging my guitar all the way from Jamaica Plain to whatever open mic was in Cambridge or Somerville that day. So it was nice to realize how far I've come since then, at the same time as I felt a little nostalgic for the adrenaline of those days.

At any rate, we played a concert at a church in Cambridge, MA, generously arranged by Rich's friend (and pastor at the church) Ute. The church (which is celebrating its 375th birthday this year) was literally about a block and a half away from our friends Sonya and Matt's apartment, where we were staying, which we didn't know until we looked up directions to get to the church (and having driven for the first time in Harvard Square, we were grateful not to have to brave the traffic and crazy cow path roads again!). Alas, I forgot to take a picture of the church, where we played in front of this magnificent tree mural. Trust me, it was great.

And then we played a house concert at Sonya and Matt's house (there's not a much better situation than playing about six feet from the bed where you're sleeping that night!), which was so much fun. A lot of friends came, plus a lot of wonderful people I hadn't met before, and Sonya and Matt put out an amazing assortment of "spreads and breads"--all homemade! Oh, and the music was fun, too. Here's a movie of us performing "Hometown Tables" as our final number (lucky you, you get all the preamble banter, too!).


And then I played at the Cantab, a great little neighborhood bar that just happens to have music seven nights of the week. Every Monday, they have an open mic and then a feature act (yours truly) at the end. It was the first gig on the tour I'd played by myself, and while I missed Rich on bass, it was fun in a whole different way to perform by myself after playing together for so long. Plus it was pretty much my first ever bar gig, and it went better than I could have imagined: (1) the drunk guy weaving his way straight toward me during my first song did not, as I feared, punch me, but instead put a $10 bill on my monitor; and (2) there's no one like a group of drinking Bostonians to sing along on "Union Maid." Here's a video of that night's "Katharine Hepburn Waltz." Aren't the Christmas lights cool?

2.Candlepin Bowling

I can't bowl because I've got bad wrists, so imagine my thrill when Sonya and Matt took us to a bowling alley where the balls are really light, I actually won a game, and you can bring your brownie sundae to the lane with you. Here's Rich bowling.


3.Hometown Tables!

More than any of the other cities we visited, I loved eating in Boston, partly because I have such fond memories of eating there, partly because of all the wonderful friends we got to visit over delicious meals, and partly because of Sonya and Matt's gourmet cooking skills. Here's a sampling of some of my favorites.



4.We Didn't Want to Leave...

...but at least it was easy to load out! I seriously considered pulling a Charlie-MTA-worker move and "riding forever 'neath the streets of Boston"--I'd be the folksinger who never returned. But alas, Chicago called. So we enacted our most clever load-out maneuver yet, loading out through the window. And then we drove off into the sunset...to a cold, wintry Chicago. More on that to come. Thanks, Boston--and thank you for reading!