May 22, 2014

Me and the Mafia

I have performed and toured in a lot of places. Much of my travels have been in the United States. They have involved hopping into our trusty fifteen-passenger van (which hasn't always been so trusty); dodging bottles thrown by crazy people; accidentally hitting a turkey, hydro planing and fearing for our lives on our way into Denver during recent floods, and many more near misses that have left us feeling thankful for our lives and thinking, "I just want to play music!" I have also traveled to Asia and the UK and Europe for my music. Out of all the mishaps that could make for an interesting road story, nothing compares to the show where I met the mafia.

I lived in Italy for a while. I learned the language. I ate the food, walked the streets, rode the trains, loved its people. Connections I made there are still strong and to this day it is the second home of my heart. I met several musicians while I was there, and they invite me back from time to time to tour and perform with them. Having lived in Milan and visited a majority of northern Italy but never having gone much father south than Rome, I was thrilled to learn, on one such tour, that we would be performing in Naples. I knew all the horror stories of pickpockets and liars, but I also knew of the rich history, the best pizza in the land of pizza, and I was looking forward to seeing yet another new city in this country I adored.

I wasn't really told much about the venue before we arrived, other than that it was a "family owned business." I knew that could mean something vastly different in Italy than it does in the states, but I have never felt unsafe in Italy, despite knowing full well that while some people may think the mafia is no longer thriving in Italy, it very much so is. Upon our arrival, there was a huge table laid out for us before we even sound-checked. White linen, amazing pasta, flowing wine, and lots of jolly conversation - the kind of sudden intimacy to which I was accustomed. Italians absolutely adore a foreigner that takes the time to learn and use their language. I will admit, I wasn't quite so used to such "royal" treatment, especially as a working musician, but I was soon to find out why I was being treated so well.

The "family" explained to me that people had paid good money and were coming from far and near to see the "American artist"! They complimented my Italian speaking skills, but then proceeded to "request," (in retrospect, there was definitely an implied warning) that I speak no Italian from the stage or people may think the venue had lied about me being from America. I couldn't imagine that people would look at me and hear my accent and confuse me as being a native Italian or even from somewhere other than America, and speaking Italian in Italy was second nature to me. But I promised to do my best, even though I already had an uneasy feeling about being asked to do something that seemed so false and strange.

We had three sets to perform that night, and I was already fighting vocal fatigue due to having come down with a virus of some kind earlier in the week. My voice sounded great during the first two sets, and held up until nearly the end of the third. But strangely, when we had only two songs left, it completely vanished. I could only get out a croak. I felt so horrible, and also so foolish trying to let the audience know what had happened, that I immediately did what felt most natural: I apologized to them in Italian. You see, I am fluent in Italian, I dream in Italian, it actually feels very unnatural to me to speak English while I am there. My brain didn't recall what the venue owners had said, I just reacted instinctively.

Suddenly, my friends were yanking me off the stage, throwing instruments into cases, and hustling me out to the car. As we sped away, I tried to get some information as to what was happening. Despite being promised a nice paycheck that night, apparently the venue was not only withholding our money, but they had landed our manager in the nearest hospital by "roughing him up," let's just say.  I admit I was scared, never quite having believed it would go that far, and never having intended to make the mistake I quite naturally made.

I will never forget that night. My love of Italy and everything about it has not diminished one iota. It makes for a good story. But everyone loves a story with a happy ending. The happy ending to this story is that a few years after this incident, I entered one of my songs into the Festival Degli Autori songwriter competition that took place in Sanremo. They had an international section with songwriters represented from several different countries. I flew to Italy to perform my song live in several rounds of the competition, and ended up winning the International section. My prize was having my song produced by Euro Ferrari, who has worked with some amazing artists. Even better ending to the story? They let me speak Italian when I accepted my award.

April 17, 2014

Cancer is Evil but People are Angels

Last week, we were blown away by the kindness and selflessness displayed by friends and loved ones of a brave woman named Ann Pendley, who has been fighting cancer for over a decade.

We have toured in Colorado several times, and started building a nice fan base there. Many of our devoted listeners know my sister, who lives in Fort Collins and is a woman with many friends and a huge heart. For some time, people in the area have mentioned that I should try to share a show with local legend Liz Barnez, a fantastic performer who tours extensively and is quite well known. One day, Diana (also a friend of my sister) asked if we would consider flying to CO to play for a benefit for Ann, sharing the night with Liz Barnez. Although we knew it would be quite a financial investment for us, Diana sweetly offered us some help, we booked another show to make up some money, and saw it as a great chance to help someone out. Besides, we always love visiting family in Fort Collins and Denver (where we now have two more sisters living)!

We didn't know that we were about to walk into a room filled with the best examples of all humanity, and so much love. The crowd listened attentively as we played, interacting, appreciating, make US feel loved with two standing ovations. I had never met Ann, but I found myself tearing up as I listened to testimonies about how precious  and inspirational she is to so many people.

I hate cancer. I hate what it does to people's bodies  and lives and families. But if there is one sliver of hope that comes from this disease, it is that it brings people together and brings out the best in them. I believe the total raised that night with the show, dinner and auction was over $12,000. It brought to mind a recent benefit we did for my dear longtime friend Debra Hardin at The Blue Note in Columbia, MO. There was a performance and auction that night as well and the total raised was over $10,000. We can't erase the pain and hardship cancer brings these beloved people, but we can make a difference and help let them know they are not alone.

I am lucky beyond measure to get to do this with my music.

Crazy Story of Me "Going Viral"!

A couple of weeks ago, my mom tags me in a post on Facebook. She says my music is used in the soundtrack to this video she randomly watched on a popular site that collects good news, Animal stories, science articles, etc. She explains that as she started watching this video of the rescue of an abandoned pit bull, she thought the piano sounded familiar. Then she thought the voice sounded familiar. Then she realized: "this is Hilary!"

At first, I was thinking no biggie, as many people on You Tube have stolen my music as the soundtrack to their home videos or whatnot and never asked permission, paid me, or even given me name credit. It completely sucks when this is how I am trying to make my living - ! - but it is unfortunately nothing new. However, that complacent feeling turned to angst when I was informed that the video had already gotten over 750,000 views! I started thinking about how if even only a percentage of those viewers had known it was my song and decided to download it from iTunes that I would make a decent chunk of change and gain some exposure. The song was my version of John Hiatt's "Have a Little Faith in Me." My covers tend to get a lot of hits on iTunes, and then they lead people to discover my original music, so covering other peoples' work is an important piece in the songwriter's arsenal. I made some noise on my Facebook pages and immediately my loyal family, friends and fans started reposting the video and then mentioning that I was one of the uncredited musicians on the soundtrack. A photographer friend of mine, who has had her intellectual property stolen and knows how hurtful and frustrating it can be, sent me a link to the Facebook page of the video's creator. At this point, I had no clue that this is one of the most esteemed and reputable dog rescue organizations in existence: The Bill Foundation. My friend told me she was posting on the creator's page and encouraged me and others who knew me to do the same.

I posted something to the effect of: I am touched and honored that you chose my song as part of the soundtrack for something so important as the cause of pit bull rescue. I think music is definitely an important aspect of how effective this video is in getting views and donations, and as an independent artist, credit for my work is very important to me as well. I said it differently, but you get the gist. ;)

Well, within minutes, Annie Hart - the video's creator - had friended me, messaged me, asked for my phone number, and personally called me. The amazing story unfolded:

Annie loves music. Annie also loves dogs. When Annie got involved in filming the dog rescues she is involved in and sharing them with the world, she said music was always the most vital part of The editing process for her, because music sets the mood and brings the stories to life. Most of her videos had major label artists' music in them. Major label artists are easy to track down and gain permission from if the they support your cause, and luckily most people are for animal rescue and adoption. One day Annie was watching a You Tube video of a young girl doing ballet, and someone had set it to my version of "Have a Little Faith in Me". She said the song greatly affected her and stayed with her. She knew she would likely want to  use it in a rescue video one day, but there was no credit given to the performer of the song. She started to search, enlisted the help of friends, but searching for one recorded version of a very popular song of which there are hundred of versions, is not that simple. Add into the mix that the internet doesn't help with the Hillary Scott/Hilary Scott spelling differential between me and Lady Antebellum's lead singer, and always shuffles people towards her rather than me, and it gets more convoluted. (But Annie knew this wasn't her voice, yet she couldn't find me). She saved the song for 18 months, but she knew when Gideon's story was being made that my song had to be part of it. She could have gotten permission to use many other artists' versions of this song, but she wanted mine.

We chatted for about 20 minutes, and Annie immediately edited the video to include my name and website and purchase points for my song. Since the video was still going strong (and we now have over 1,000,000 views) it was on Huffington Post, had write-ups in the L.A. Times and many
international news sites, was on the front page of Yahoo and so much more, her quick action really helped get some awareness of my music out to some more people. We have talked about future collaboration, which I hope we get to do, because I believe so strongly in educating the public about pit bulls and making the world a better place for these loving animals that are too often abused and abandoned. How fortune smiled on me and paired me with this great cause through one woman's love of my music is just phenomenal. For the past several weeks, we have been running a campaign to
donate a portion of proceeds from downloads of song and my album Indigo to The Bill Foundation. Amazing things have come out of this, and I think more wonderful things are to come.

Folk Alliance and Steve Poltz

AJ and I have recently entered the world of music conferences. We attended the Americana Music Association conference in Nashville last fall, and this spring we went to the international Folk Alliance conference in Kansas City. Both were great, but they could not be more different. Where the AMAs were geared toward labels, lawyers and listening to famous people offsite from the conference  - smile - the FAI Conference was jam-packed with real people making real music in just about every room of three floors of two hotels, and the famous people were a bit more accessible, just wandering about, doing their thing too. It was a focused, jam packed and intense experience. It was a great networking opportunity and we had some wonderful showcases as well. But the experience I am going to relate here is my chance encounter with Steve Poltz. Steve may be best known for co-writing  with and dating, Jewel. He is, however, an inspirational speaker, weaves a great 12-minute story in the middle of a live set, and he led a conference called, "Letting Your Freak Flag Fly". Afterwards, since we are friends with another friend of Steve's and they were all grabbing dinner, we had the chance to eat with him, and the conversations was fun: Performing musicians everywhere are dealing with the same trials and tribulations at every level. Later that night, we went to Steve's showcase and as he performed "You Were Meant For Me" (yeah, that one he wrote with Jewel), and told he most hilarious story I have ever heard, I piped up at one point and started singing harmonies. A new friend, Rob Hanning, caught it on video. So now I can say I sang with Steve Poltz. That is the kind of conference Folk Alliance international is. I do believe we will be returning.

February 4, 2014

My Real Identity, My Lost Brother, My Story

My name is not really Hilary Scott. I thought that might catch your
attention. You see, back in 1998, my older brother Scott died of
complications due to epilepsy. It was the most devastating thing to happen
in my life to date. Scott (and also my sister, Heather) shaped a huge part
of my involvement in, and appreciation of, music. It was part of his every
day life, as it was for my entire family, and Scott introduced me to the
more "rebellious" side of music, which I think ultimately helped lead to my
desire to create my own songs. When Scott died 16 years ago, I adopted his
first name as my performance name, because then he would be with me, and my
music, wherever we went. It was the best personal tribute I could think of.

I had no idea that around 2005 or so, when I had already been Hilary Scott
for 7 years, had a web presence, and a large Midwest following, and was
gaining exposure everywhere with 4 or 5 albums to my name...that Hillary
Scott with "2 L's" would start cropping up in a soon-to-be quite popular
country group called Lady Antebellum. I had no idea people would ever
confuse us, but happens. Our music and styles are completely
different, but whether the public and/or industry's confusion over the "two
Hilary Scotts" has ultimately been a help or a hindrance to my career, is
quite frankly, irrelevant. Because my name was chosen to honor someone I
love nearly two decades ago.

The path my music has led me on has been winding and hilly and always
exciting. Europe and Asia and the UK and the US, songwriting competition
wins, opening for some amazing legends like Tanya Tucker, Chuck Berry and
Little Feat, developing a fan base of some of the most wonderful and loyal
listeners ever...these are a few highlights so far.

And now...what now? Being the "indie" Hilary Scott has been costly. It has
been a labor of love and has often meant sacrificing other things people
take for granted. But this is not a complaint-far from it! With the help of
my independent label, Belltown Records, some amazing musicians that have
propelled me, challenged me, and inspired me, family and friends and fans
that give me the energy to carry on...I have done SO much without millions
of dollars and a major label. And now this "team" behind me has increased
the monetary investment with a recording project in Los Angeles with
grammy-winning players. You cannot just make a record and expect it to move
mountains. The independent artist has to push the sometimes seemingly
immovable mountain by getting press, reviews, radio play, tours, sales...and
that all takes money.

I sincerely tell you I have never taken your belief in me for granted. Every
face at every show is like a small miracle to me. Every time someone tells me
how much a song of mine means to them, my heart flutters. Every dollar you
may ever have spent to go to one of my shows or purchase my merchandise
literally went back into improving my craft, recording more songs, buying
another tank of gas on tour, and making more music for you.

I thought now was the right time to open up and share my personal story with
you, because I think you deserve to know that part of the impetus that keeps
me onstage and in the studio is honoring my brother. In all honesty, I never
thought I would be a performer (stage fright!) or get to do the amazing
things I have done. When I think back on the faraway and seemingly
impossible dreams I had as a little girl, I realize I am to a large degree,
living that dream. Every little success I have gives me the satisfaction of
knowing it would have brought a smile to Scott's face. And with my latest
record, I plan to invest as much time and energy as possible into getting my
music out there, reaching more people, taking Scott with me just a little
further on down this road.

Soon, AJ and I will launch an Indie Go Go campaign to help raise
funds to get this record into more people's ears. A comprehensive publicity
campaign, help with targeted radio and reviews, and maybe even a small
coffer for touring expenses, will really help us do more.

Thank you so much for being on this journey with me. If you took the time to
read this, you have already given me a wonderful gift.

And...I love you Scott

The Hilary Scott "with one L".