Letter from Shawn

22 06 2012
To all my fans, friends, and Early Morning Hours members,


   It is with a very troubled heart that I must tell you all that there is a possibility that I may not be able tour any longer. The decision has been made for me, not by me.  This is because of the monetary obligations of the logistics of touring. Even when I have endeavored to tour as inexpensively as possible, and make it bearable, and comfortable for the amount of time required away from my family. It is pretty clear that further touring is not financially feasible in the foreseeable future.
 
I will warn you, this letter is long, and I want to be crystal clear. I do not wish any word of this to be construed as a “poor me, life is so unfair” load of crap. I intend it to be simply a listing of pertinent facts that has led me to this impasse. It’s difficult to explain why a career of almost half a century slows down dramatically, with a couple of paragraphs. So grab a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine, and read on. You might learn some things that will shock you. It’s hard to believe it’s been over 48 years since I first started the unpremeditated journey into the as yet unknown. To become famous in escalating stages throughout the world. Across this amazing journey there has been many times I thought it was over for me from the standpoint of making a living in music. From my own ignorance and stupidity, to people who betrayed my trust, boating accidents to record company snafus my road was certainly not a straight or an easy one. At one point I became so disillusioned I left the business entirely for more than 9 years to do public service as a certified Firefighter / EMT. Then, through my adviser Arlo,  you reminded me what my music meant to you and it motivated me to give it another go. The 201l tour consisted of (59) shows and is now wrapped up. I am extremely grateful to everyone who gave up their hard earned dollars in this terrible economy to come out and support me. I hadn’t had physical contact with my family for (7) months and while I was awaiting my 12,000 mile flight home I began reflecting on my life, past and future. I hope you’ll understand there is no way that I wish to stop coming to your countries and playing live concerts for you, but I have little means of reaching a larger audience any more to fund these tours. You have fed me spiritually in ways that you will never understand. How deeply felt it is by me. I cannot thank you enough for all your admiration and support. Many of you have written, and/or told me to my face how I changed or altered your paths in life for the better. Many of you have named your children after me. I have loved meeting you and them in person over the years. I am profoundly touched. Please do not lose your faith in me. I will continue to write, compose, and perform music, because it justifies my existence. I just can’t figure out how to get the music to you, and to those I know would appreciate it as you have, if they could hear it.
 
You have categorized me as a singularly unique Singer/Songwriter, in terms of musicality, and intelligent meaningful lyrics that do not rely on uniquely personal experiences that really only the writer of said lyric can identify with. I may have played my hand at trying to write, and produce a popular commercial tune every now and then, but I’ve found in those circumstances my writing, and creativity just got worse. Most of my songs do not have choruses. They interrupt the story you are trying to tell. Besides, choruses are for people who didn’t understand what you said the first time. LOL !! I write about what we all feel in terms of the evolution of our experiences, both tragic, and joyous in the brief moment of existence we have. The depths of the human soul are the same whether you are an urban individual, in the midst of a great society, a farmer in the rice paddies of Cambodia, a tribal member in the rain forests of the Amazon, or a nomadic family living on the great deserts of our world. We all have no choice but to follow Maslow’s hierarchy in our evolution. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs He started with 5 levels, those being physiological needs, safety needs, belonging and love necessities, esteem needs, and self actualization. Later in life, he added one more. Self transcendence. The latter two are what I write about for the most part. Every single human being on this planet will face these questions about their state of being as they evolve sooner or later. There are also moments in our existence that happen within us that are simply beyond articulation. These moments are what all religions are based upon. These are the singularly most important moments in our lives. But I try to articulate them anyway.
 
I don’t profess to have all the answers or understand what’s happened to the music business. My first major public foray was on A&M records, when the average releases in the States were about 300 albums per year. Today, there are over 73 million songs online. And there are only (4) major labels left hanging by a financial thread. Needless to say the entire music business has been turned upside down and a few would say for the better, but most would opt for the worse.
Many you have heard me perform a song called “Radio”. It is about the end of non-commercial mainstream radio. I know there are more important issues in the world than to focus on one complex segment of the music business, but this is really about artistic and cultural freedom. Trust me,  Arlo, (my advisor), reminds me of that every time I play it! I have written many songs about greed – for example, “Share The Wealth”, (Which MTV flatly refused to play), and “Mr. Blunt, & Mr. Frank”, which are not only relevant to the current situation on Occupy Wall Street, but were written years before this awareness arose in the public eye. Finally……… we wake up !!! I am reminded of a quote by Bodie Thoene, “Apathy is the glove into which evil slips it’s hand”. I’ve always said, the problem is not the greed, it’s the acceptance of it. I also wrote other songs that dealt with this extraordinarily unbalanced, unfair, self serving economic system we call Capitalism, like “Money Dance”, and “Most Of Us Don’t Understand At All”, in which I wrote about the 1980 Earthquake victims in Italy and dedicated it recently to Haiti. I recently read a quote from a Norwegian author named Jo Nesbo that for me really put things into perspective. He said, “Man’s ability to rationalize when self interest is at stake is inversely proportional to intelligence”. Nuff said.
 
I simply want to address the question that people ask me so often – “Why don’t I hear you on the radio? Your music is so much more beautiful, and different from what I constantly hear every day”.  I’ve written a song for just about everything so I thought why not write one about the radio? So I did. What I’m talking about is commercial mainstream/drivin’ on the freeway radio, not Internet Radio, not Satellite, and I beg to argue how community – some community radio is. I understand all radio one way or another is subject to paying it’s bills whether it’s done by donation or advertising. There was once a time when most commercial radio stations were independent and the DJs controlled what went out on the air based on the artistic integrity, and substance of the music. Unfortunately, as we all know, too many gave in to payola, so to get around that accusation, the record companies cooked up a legal way to get their songs played called underwriting. I’m fortunate that before giant corporations like Clear Channel bought up most of the stations in this country, my work was heard and appreciated by the people in radio who had the freedom to play what they personally liked, and as a result you know about me.
 
In case you’re not aware, Clear Channel is the largest owner of full-power AM, FM, and shortwave radio stations with twelve radio channels on XM Satellite Radio, and is also the largest pure-play radio station owner and operator. With some 850 stations, Clear Channel is the largest radio station group owner in the United States, both by number of stations and by revenue. According to BIA Financial Network, Clear Channel Radio recorded more than $3.5 billion in revenues as of 2005, $1 billion more than the number-two group owner, CBS Radio. They employ over 18,000 people. In addition to their Broadcast properties, was ownership of LIVE NATION, the largest owner of live venues in America. However, a legal ruling from Washington deemed this dangerously close to a monopoly so it became a spin off with independent ownership. Nevertheless, in this “Virtual non-monopoly”, LIVE NATION also owns TicketMaster, manages 250 of the top commercial selling major label acts and produces 20,000 shows annually. So, between the two media monsters, let’s face it – the popular music industry has never before been so manipulated, contrived, and controlled that you’re not going to get heard or seen by the masses unless you agree to pay a great deal of your income to these people. All major labels now insist on what are known as 360 deals. If you want to be on their label, and work within this contrived framework, you must give up a percentage of your income independent of what you might receive in record/CD royalties, (of which, recording artists have ever only received piddling amounts anyway), your publishing, touring income, (up to 50 % of both), and merchandising. Now, on top of all that, can you believe that you are only considered an “Employee” of that record label. They will insist on ALL RIGHTS to your work in perpetuity. You spent years creating all that music, record it with them, and it isn’t yours anymore.  That’s a whole other kettle of fish that’s about to go down. At least they don’t control You Tube or Face Book (yet).
 
“With every new technology comes new challenges and the Internet has certainly opened up a new world for the independent artist. The downside is that the musical consciousness of people around the entire planet has been self servingly manipulated by people whose bank accounts have been, and are currently fueled almost exclusively by the hormones of adolescents, and immature adults, yet they continue to shirk any responsibility of presenting a higher level of the art of music to the people who are the source of that income for those children.”
 
The upshot is I think it’s safe to say is that this is due to greed and a lack of new CD sales, so the major labels are taking less risks on developing the new serious artists of tomorrow. That’s cutting off your nose to spite your face. In my day they called that “artist development,” which meant an artist like me or a band like Pink Floyd who had low record sales were kept on the label and given a chance to grow. Today, if you can’t sell a 100,000 CDs on your initial effort you’ll be dropped by the label. The main issue is that the major labels control commercial radio/media – which is still the main way an artist can get known. Being an indie can work up to a point e.g. discovered on You Tube and other social media sites and there are success stories but not very many. Now add the limits imposed by genre: Americana, Folk, Blues, Pop, Rock, Alternative, Adult Contemporary, Jazz, Rap, Hip Hop, Classical, Electronic, Country, Rap, Heavy Metal, Punk, Nu Jazz, Ambient, Reggae, and the sub genre of the sub genres. Not to mention the musical fields of other countries, and cultures. Can someone please explain what the hell “Adult Alternative” and “Americana” is supposed to mean? Who invented these channels? If I play a solo jazzy piano like Nora Jones I’m Adult Alternative, and if I pluck a banjo with a Blue Grass band I’m Americana. My publicist in Nashville said that I am a “Heritage Artist”. What does that mean? She said it was an honor. I searched GOOGLE for the answer: Quotation: The revival of ABBAmania again points to the power of visual media rather than radio to fuel a new generation’s discovery of what the industry politely calls “Heritage Artists”, which translates as singer-songwriters of a certain age with a decent catalog of hits. If you can’t be categorized your music isn’t going to get played. Several years ago, while living in Los Angeles, I was writing, and collaborating with a very dear friend, who is highly regarded in the music business. His name is Bob Ezrin. I cannot even begin to tell you the enormity of his contributions to the music business, and the art of music itself. Well, one little thing. He produced the “The Wall”, and “Dark Side Of The Moon”, by Pink Floyd. The material we were writing was extraordinary and he decided we should make an album/CD of this work. We went to (at the time) RCA records, and because of his stature spoke directly with the president of the label, and played him some of what we were doing. You know what he said? “I don’t know what to call this. We can’t sell it”. WHAT ?!! It was beautiful music. All you had to do was play it for people.They would have bought it. In 2002 I met a gentleman who is now a dear friend. His name is Bill Pursley. He gave me over $100,000 dollars simply because he wanted me to make a new CD. There were no attorneys involved, no paperwork, no nothing. I made him “No Category”. I used the most sought after session musicians available, and made this wonderful musical experience that I was sure would sell enough CD’s to recoup his gift. It was already too late. Not even one record company would even listen to it. How stupid is that?
 
For years now, no one has been able to categorize my work. One time my manager called a radio station to see if they’d play me and the DJ looked me up in Billboard magazine – it didn’t matter what the music was. I had that problem in Minneapolis on this last tour – no radio station support: no one would interview me or play my music because I didn’t fit their demographic. The closest station willing to do a ticket giveaway promotion was the NPR brand – Station KNOW who play Americana music. (remember them next time they need a donation). Those of you who have been around long enough know it wasn’t always that way.
 
The actions of the past/present music/media have left the world with acute musical indigestion. There are no priorities. Today, if a person (age 5 – 90) can learn to play a few chords and perform in front of a video camera, (or get a song played on the radio/YouTube), they are regarded as a “professional musician”. Hold on here a minute. Let’s think about the years required to achieve even a modicum of musicianship. Let’s get this straight. In my personal opinion, DJ’s, and Rappers, are not musicians. DJ’s just play records previously recorded by other artists, and rappers are storytellers. Brings to mind what my dear departed friend and fan the comedian Sam Kinison said. “Why are rappers always grabbing their crotches? Because they don’t play any f…..ing instruments”!!! Certainly some Rap is pure poetry. The rest is a soulful cry of pain, from years of oppression, poverty and an explicit expression of powerlessness, which is righteous, but has done nothing but keep three generations of children stupid, angry, and resentful. Stupidity is a choice, and the music/media industry has been telling them it’s the right choice for years. I have watched artists I greatly respected fall prey to that mindless, needless affectation that commercial/designer music requires, and have lost the chance/ability to evolve musically into innovative fields. The creativity of future Singer/Songwriters who want to be heard by the public has been put on the chopping block with the genre limitations imposed by the present music/media industry. If you want to be a truly creative musician, you must be a sponge, and absorb ideas from every musical idiom. Can you imagine what film scores would be like if those composers had to kowtow to what the producers of popular music have to do to get on the radio, and get CD sales? Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola would be appalled. These composers are the Bach, Mozart, and Wagner’s of today.
 
Then we have incredibly evolved artists like Bobby McFerrin, but do we hear him on every day radio? Don’t think so. He lowered his capabilities and wrote a commercial and catchy pop ditty, to get heard with “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. In fact, he didn’t even sing it. He spoke it. His incredible vocal prowess with symphony orchestras, and extraordinary interaction with concert audiences will never be played on mainstream media. Too bad. Anyone with ears, and half a brain could really get into that, because it’s so beautiful and moving, but the powers that be in the music/media business don’t think their advertisers would support it, and that their audiences are not smart enough to appreciate it. This…….. is a big problem. Besides, it puts too much pressure on “Up and Coming Young Artists”, to aspire to that level of creativity. True artists scare the crap out of labels, because they know that artist is going to be very difficult to manipulate into “Taking direction”. The artists that can do without that are rare, and they should be making the money that many of the morons whose music consists solely of samples, and loops are touted by the industry/media as creative, but the people who choose what goes into the public ear will not undertake the risk of allowing artists with serious aspiration that avenue of exposure. Actually, I just thought of something. Just as there should be a separation of Church and State, there should be a separation of Artist and Business. I don’t think the music would suffer. I know that many years ago I realized that you could be an artist……. or you could be a businessman, but you cannot be both.   I would be very curious to know how many people agree with me.
 
I do intend to make another CD in 2012. For those of you who know my catalog, this is going to be difficult. In the making of this, I cannot, and will not make do with half ass measures in the quality of what I have presented to you in the past. I already have the assurances of both J. Peter Robinson, and Paul Buckmaster, my dearest friends, and colleagues that they will do whatever they can to help me. Are you kidding? I haven’t done too badly, but if I had half the talent those two have, I should consider myself very fortunate. These men are the top of the mountain as far as innovative musical creativity is concerned. Why is it so few people know their names? There is something inherently wrong in that.
Over all these years, I have striven to evolve as an unique artist, composer, and lyricist. I have produced what I heard and felt in my mind, and heart, and the secret of the magic in all those tracks, lies with the help of the finest musicians I could find that I knew that dabbled in every musical idiom there is. I have always allowed them to be as creative as they wished. I’ve never told a musician that has worked with me what notes to play. I intend to continue to  do so. I am no longer a folksinger, and haven’t been for decades. I create sonic compositions and lyrics that are movies for the mind, and stimulants for the  heart. I need to produce what I hear in my mind, and feel in my heart. A producer for me is the person that gets the best sound, but does not alter the content of the music, or the lyric for commercial purposes. If I do not manifest what I hear in my head, it will make me completely crazy every time I hear what could have been. I may be completely wrong, but I believe my visions are what you all have loved throughout the years. Then again, I could be starting a firestorm here. LOL !!!
 
I am 69 now. Some of you will understand that in our approaching dotage, we are not happily amenable to altering our lives’ rituals. I know that I cannot continue to disappoint my 5 year old son, or my wife, with my annual absence of touring for 6 to 7 months at a time any more. The time I have remaining with him is dubious at best. I am also certain that I will not be physically capable of continuing to tour as I do now. Many of you do not know that I do these tours alone.
 
Let me take you on an adventure………………. The glamour of the professional touring musician. It is 5:17 PM. You are 8 Ft. above the ground looking out of the panoramic windshield of an $350,000 40 Ft. Motor Home that isn’t yours, weighs 23,000 pounds GVW, and is 6 1/2 Ft. wide, and 12 Ft. 8 inches high. In front of you is a line of traffic as far as your eye can see, enclosed by a canyon of grey concrete topped by towering skyscrapers the tops of which are beyond your vision. On both sides of you for 6 lanes are other bumper to bumper streams of traffic. It is starting to rain. All of you are moving at 70 miles an hour. The speed limit is 55, but who cares about that? If you go that speed, you actually become a mortal danger to the flow of traffic. You might want to pay attention here. You are scheduled to do a soundcheck at 6:00 PM, and it is still 60 miles away. The evening is sold out. 400 people have paid their money to see you. You are in the middle of Chicago rush hour. Sound like fun? OK, you arrive at the venue. First, you have to park the beast you’re driving in an alley that’s barely bigger than the vehicle itself, without mishap. There is one person to help you take about 1,000 pounds of musical equipment out of the motor home, and onto the stage. Better eat your Wheaties !!! Then because you are the person who has created this morass of technology, you are the one to set it up. As usual, the sound man is late, so you sit there twiddling your thumbs. Finally he arrives, and you go through the procedure to ensure that those 400 people hear what you are doing like it was in a multi-million dollar studio. Which, in fact, is what they have paid for. Then you have about 45 minutes to prepare yourself, and go through your before-show ritual. Right !! Showtime !! Your senses are acute. There is this extraordinary escalation of awareness. You have to remember the words, and guitar chords to 22 songs that are lyrically, and musically extremely complex. This ain’t country music we playin’ here ya know. You also have to remember about 85 real time technology prompts that need split second timing that are part of the overall aspect of the sonic landscape you are trying to create. Whoop ti doo!!! We havin’ fun now !!! Whew !! 2 1/2 hours later. All done.
 
You do the second thing that’s fun during the evening. You get to meet the people that are the reason you are there. You learn personal things about themselves they tell you. You find out if they were elated, or disappointed. These are always the sincerest, wonderful, warmest moments throughout the tour. These really are the people who are helping to feed your family. You say goodbye for now. It’s close to 1:00 AM. Time to go. The guy that helped you load the gear in…….. has gone home. You get the gear back in the bus. Have a little rest first. Then you pull the folder that has the info for the next concert. Oh Joy !!! It’s the same day, and 315 miles away. Figure hmmmmmm, if I get 200 miles in tonight, I’ll sleep from 6:00 AM to 12:30 PM, and do the last 115 miles, to get to sound check. Still having fun? Good. You get to do this almost every night for 7 more months. Last year, I drove 51,365 miles in 6 months. That beats 70% of professional truck drivers.  This year was easy……. only 28,000 miles in 7 months. Regardless of the aforementioned rigors, and the realistic decision that any further actions in pursuit of this career would be futile, I would love to continue to tour, and play for appreciative audiences in Class A theaters but only when I can afford to have my family with me, and at least one person as co-driver / road crew.
 
Here’s the bottom line. Even if I made the greatest new CD on Earth it is extremely unlikely it would get played to the public enough where it would make a difference in my popularity due to the present music/media business policies. I have thought of trying a co-bill like the James Taylor/ Carol King thing, (the times are tough on them too), but Arlo, my advisor, dedicated as he has been for me over the past 18 years does not have the connections to call people like Bono, Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Saturday Night Live, and get me in front of millions of listeners. I’m afraid it’s come down to one thing: the proverbial “Farewell Tour”. If you can’t move forward or afford to maintain the presence of your work, the options are limited. Well, you know what? I don’t want to hear that nonsense. Please forgive me if I sound like I’m just a tired, over the hill bitter old man who can’t find a space in the present music business world.  I have enough energy to tour for at least 10 more years, and I intend to do everything in my power to make that happen, and the presence of my work in the music business can only make it better.
 
There is so much more I want to do before I die. I want to sing with Bobby McFerrin, I want to play music with Yo Yo Ma. I want the sequel to my ballet “Events In The Life Of A Prince”, that was performed by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra in 2006 to be played with my friend Ben Lloyd, and then finish the current ballet I’m working on based on Emmanuel Velikovsky’s book “Worlds In Collision”……. have that performed, and continue to compose more songs and works. Too many great artists have thrown in the towel when they reach this impasse and I’m not going to be one of them. Forward movement will only happen if I can get into a position to raise my command fee, and this is dependent on a greater exposure to a public that has never heard my music.
 
So I will ask you this. The people in the EMH group and my listeners are scattered all over the world. I have no idea what fields you all work in, how much money you have, what connections you have, if any, in the Music/Media industry, but I am going to ask you all for the next 6 months after you’ve read this request, whenever you have a free moment, to send out this letter to anyone you feel may be interested, and start an email / phone / any possible communications means / blitz to get the attention of three individuals that could change everything. I have chosen these three specific people because if you attract their attention, they have the capability of putting you in front of millions of people who love great music, but never get to hear it because of all the limitations imposed by the music industry listed above. Just tell them what you have been telling me for years about my work, and how it has affected your lives. They are 1. Ellen DeGeneres. 2. Piers Morgan on CNN. 3. Get me in front of Simon Cowell. He’s looking for the X Factor. That’s easy. I’ve had that for years. Then I’ll do the rest.
 
There used to be a saying…….”Power To The People”. It was always wrong. “People Are The Power”, is correct. I don’t think I’m asking you for any big thing, other than to start a grass roots movement to say, “We want people other than ourselves to hear what this artist has to offer, because we believe it’s valid”. Otherwise, even with the extraordinary help of my dear friend and adviser Arlo Hennings, and the support of Suz Croutwater, the U.S. webmaster, Jean Boissoneault, the webmaster of this Web site, people like Scott Rhode and continuous challenge from my wonderful wife Juliette, I am afeared we have pretty much reached the end of the road folks. I’m sorry. Again, I do want you all to know that I am extremely aware of the loyalty and longevity of your support, My family and I are so grateful to you for that.
 
I wish you Health, Love, and Clarity,
Shawn

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7 responses

22 07 2012
22 07 2012
Jean Boissonneault

Thanx Patti to share this great picture.

20 09 2012
Karen Anderson

Dont ever give up! I have been a fan since the beginning when I first saw you in Montreal! When I moved to the US, I was so surprised that not one American I met had heard of you! After reading this letter, it clarifies the reasons behind that! I am a nurse married to an engineer, so sadly, no connections in the industry, but will get this letter out somehow!

24 10 2012
lcromwell

Shawn,I had no idea the corruption was so bad in the music industry.
God bless you and your family. Keep the music coming……
Your friend,
Lee Cromwell

5 03 2013
NERA JAKSIC

Are you kidding Shawn? your music beats everything out there today you are our angel of music. You should be filthy rich, are U kidding. look at John Meyer, Ed Sheerin, Gordon Lightfoot. why are you not in their league. Why are U not on Pierce Morgan? call him up. send him your music. Luv U from 1970 Nera Jaksic.

5 03 2013
NERA JAKSIC

Hey shawn, I found you through a friend over 30 years ago. Then suddenly one day on my computer your name came to me. I looked U up. Could not believe I found U. Still can’t believe U are not one of the biggest on the planet. Are U kidding. If I find a way to get U on Pierce or Ellen I will. U saved my life. Want to write to you but how? U are unreachable which means yes U are a huge star. Will try. Looking at 2nd Contribution and finally found what A & M years means from your own letter. . I am aquarious Feb. 12th 57. I will never give up trying to reach U.

6 03 2013
NERA JAKSIC

nera.jaksic@gmail.com this is the e-mail address any shawn fans should immediately contact, We must help this angel. I have a story about shawn phillips myself and want all fans to unite and let’s bring this man out to the world. He wants Pierce Morgan and Ellen Degenerious to put him on. Let’s
do it who’s with me? E-mail me nera jaksic @gmal.com and what the hell does your comment is waiting moderation mean? Is anybody out there? Come on Shawn fans write me!

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