Our Hometown Paper Tells our Story While Shaping its Future
When I was in college I was the Associate News Editor of my twice-weekly college paper that had a circulation of over 12,000. I learned a lot about a journalist’s responsibility to inform the public. Later on I had some public relations experience where my responsibility was to highlight for journalists how covering a story that told our client’s story was good or interesting for the public. I’m aware that a free press doesn’t owe any company, organization, or kindie rock band, coverage.
But my hometown paper, The Montclair Times, has done a beautiful job telling our story, and by just doing that, influencing the direction of our story over the long run, for the past three years.
When I first sat down with Gwen Orel, The Times’ Arts Editor, in the winter of early 2013, another story was originally on both our minds. My parody song “You Can’t Get There from Here in Jersey,” an ode to our state’s jughandle highway turnaround woes, was getting coverage in The New York Times and Action News Philadelphia because the NJ State Senate was considering a bill that would forbid the construction of new jughandles on future highway projects. My YouTube video view count for this song had gone way up. This was going to be the story in my interview with The Montclair Times.
But something new was beginning to happen. Amy and I had written a batch of educational, funny and silly songs for our almost 2-year-old daughter and we even landed a gig performing at Family Garden Day at Montclair’s Iris Gardens. We were starting to put a band together for the occasion.
Amy suggested we talk about the children’s music project when Gwen came over for the interview and even reminded me of it halfway through the interview about driving in Jersey. I believe this shift in the story marked a shift in our own story becoming a family band that makes music for kids and families. That day, Montclair Times photographer Adam Anik captured a picture of me seranading Amy and young Holly on our living room sofa.
The story we interviewed for in the winter of 2013 was put on hold until May, the week before our official debut performance at Presby Memorial Iris Gardens, at which time it was updated with the progress we’d made putting a band together and adding more gigs to the schedule and building up our musical repertoire accordingly. Here’s that article.
Gwen later picked up on our story that fall as we were working to complete our debut album Everyone’s Invited! and preparing for a concert at Montclair Public Library’s auditorium that fall. By this point, we had grown more confident in our ability to entertain children and we discussed with Gwen the differences between entertaining an adults-only audience and entertaining families. I talked about “not being afraid to go big” with showmanship to make it interesting for little ones. Read the story here.
Just a few months later, the release of our first album and the release party event to go with it were just around the corner. I had sent Gwen a press release; she told me that it would take a bit more to make our album release story newsworthy. She expressed that if she could observe us performing for kids prior to the release party, there would be a story in the live performance. So I scrambled for a coffeehouse or yogurt shop that could host an impromptu concert. These venues had prior commitments and couldn’t open their space to our show, but we got a break in the form of unusually warm weather for mid-January. So we decided to give a pop-up performance on the playground in Edgemont Park and Gwen came out to observe the show. We handed out maracas and performed a few songs acoustically. Gwen wrote about that occurrence in the context of an album review and a preview of the upcoming launch concert at Just Jake’s. This was clearly a case where Gwen’s telling of our story shaped our story, leading us to put on that pop-up concert specifically as part of our outreach through the press. Here’s the article about the release of “Everyone’s Invited!”
In the year that followed, we began to expand our geographic area, traveling to New York, Delaware, Virginia and South Jersey. Hometown appearances became less frequent, creating fewer opportunities to reach out to The Times about newsworthy live performances. A major life-changing event for Amy and me put us back in touch with the paper. I had donated a kidney to Amy in the spring of 2015 when diabetic complications made her native kidneys unsustainable. I reached out to my friend Bob Cannon, who was now Community Editor with The Montclair Times. About a week after the surgery, Bob came to visit us in our home and interview us about our experience and how our marriage, our surgery and our endeavors to entertain kids together were all intertwined. You can read this touching human interest story here. Fun fact: Bob is a talented musician and, in fact, played mandolin on the record for our song “Mimi the Ladybug” on our first album.
Of course the impending need for the surgery slowed down our plans to release a summer album of Jersey Shore inspired beach music; we tabled that release for a full year, since it wouldn’t make sense to release the album in the fall. Just last week we followed through on our backup plan, releasing Lollipop Motel, again with the help of Gwen and The Times. To coincide with the worldwide launch of the album, we rented out the Old Mogul Theatre in Montclair and planned to bring the beach experience to the theatre, supplying boardwalk-style games and treats, as well as beach-themed crafts and face painting, to highlight our beachy new music.
Gwen came to meet us at the theatre a week before the show and interviewed not only Amy and me, but Kazim Mirza and Joann Smalls, the theatre’s co-owners, as well. In that interview, we discussed inspiration for the album and the way the kidney transplant affected our plans for the album. We talked about how we used the recovery time to get on with the songwriting. Joann and Kazim spoke of the Old Mogul Theatre’s role in Montclair’s history and how we put on a successful Family New Year’s Ball event to capture the spirit of what used to be First Night Montclair. You can read this latest story here.
Indeed, an artist’s relationship with the press has proven to affect his/her very artistry. After all, it was a music critic who wrote “I have seen rock-n-roll future and his name is Bruce Springsteen,” who went on to become his producer, coaxing the cinematic sounds of the Born to Run album out of The Boss. I’m not sure Gwen is going to drop everything she’s doing to become a record producer anytime soon, but she’s definitely had an impact on our music making for kids and families at several turns and we are the better for it.
Who tells your story? How does the very telling and sharing of your story impact your life’s story itself? Please comment below the article.