Alan Engelmann musician

“Imagine what it would be like to be a bird that could just fly away, go wherever it wants, and fly over any obstacles. It’s about those times you want to just get away from your problems and leave them behind.” – @aengel4321

Listen to the interview
Episode #295 : A.V.A Live Radio Behind The Music with Jacqueline Jax :

Jacqueline Jax logo photoGETTING TO KNOW AL ENGELMANN
by Jacqueline Jax host of A.V.A Live Radio

My personal definition of success is..
Success is being happy with how you spend your time, satisfied with what you have, and proud of what you’ve done. Name one success story that you are particularly proud of. Explain why you considered this a great success and how you achieved it. I have to say what I’m most proud of are my three sons who have all become extremely smart, talented, intelligent young men. My wife and I must have done something right, but I don’t know if I can explain what! I consider it a success that, for the most part, I’ve been able to balance my priorities between family, my job, and staying involved in music. Those three things are priorities, in that order.

My over all goal for my life & career is…
I want to keep making music with other people, and have opportunities to play music that is interesting and self-expressive in some way. I plan to keep writing songs, and hope to be able to make another album at some point. Music is not a full time thing for me (as much as I wish it could be!), but given that constraint I’d like to do as much as I’m able to with my music. If I can connect with people that enjoy my songs, I’ll feel I’ve accomplished something.
3 Ways that I challenge myself and how each one moves me forward towards my goal.

1) Keep writing songs. I have to keep working against the little voice in my head that wants to convince me I’m wasting my time! Completing the CD was a challenge at times; there were times my motivation really waned, and I had to push myself to keep it moving. I just have to keep reminding myself this is something special I need to keep doing.

2) Keep learning and improving, even if just a little at a time. I’ll check out interesting things I hear in other songs, try a new idea in my playing or songwriting, work on some aspect of guitar playing or singing. If I’m in the car, maybe I’ll work on some ear training or vocal exercises. With music, there’s always something more to learn.

3) Self-promotion. As I mentioned before, this isn’t in my nature at all, but I have to do it to some extent if I want anyone to listen to my music. Social media is helpful in this respect because I can type up a message, review it for a while, and then just muster up the courage to hit the “send” button! But anything face-to-face, like trying to book a show or asking someone to listen to my CD, is very hard. This is something I just need to keep chipping away at, and hopefully it will get easier with time.

Music Business…
I think it’s changed quite a bit over recent years. You probably have to be more resourceful and adaptable than ever to make a living with music.

The Pros & Cons…
The ability to distribute music digitally is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it provides nearly anyone with the ability to record their songs or make a record and make it available virtually anywhere in the world – that’s pretty incredible. One the other hand, music is so accessible on You Tube and streaming services, etc., it seems fewer people want to actually purchase music any more, let alone buy physical media like a CD. 
To overcome the pitfalls, I’ve decided to just be happy if someone is enjoying my music. I have that option because I’ve got a good day job, and I’m not depending on having to make a living from it. I think it’s unfortunate for someone who is trying to make a living with their music if they can’t sell their CDs any longer; I suppose they need to depend more on performing and things like teaching or recording to generate income.

Social media…
It obviously makes it so easy to connect with people and share things with them. You can put information out there about your music or performances, and people can find it without leaving their seat. It can be a very powerful communication tool.
 One of the biggest challenges, I think, is just being heard through all of the other chatter. There’s just so much information being pumped out into social media that it’s easy to just get lost in the noise.

Singles vs an album…
I grew up with music that was released on albums. I think there’s something special about a collection of music that is captured on a record album, being able to look at artwork and liner notes, and the experience of listening to an album all the way through, in sequence. I think that’s not a common thing to do anymore. I also like the idea of having some physical record of your music, whether on a CD, LP, or whatever. I have to wonder if digital music distribution will ultimately lead to music on physical media being obsolete. I hope not, but that seems to be where things are going.

I took a lot of time to decide on the songs and the appropriate ordering on the album, and I would like to think that people would enjoy listening to it that way. But if someone just likes one song, or wants to hear songs in a shuffle list, or some other order, I’m really not bothered by it.

When I was about 13…
my best friend got an electric guitar. I was at his house one day and he showed me how to play the melody for “Stairway to Heaven”. I was so excited just to be able to play that single-note melody, and the guitar sounded so cool through the amplifier, that I was hooked. I asked my parents for a guitar, and my brother and I each got one the next Christmas. I taught myself at first, took lessons, and eventually found some friends to start playing as a band. At some point I decided to start trying to write my own songs.

More recently, my brother John (who also plays guitar and writes songs) had been attending songwriting workshops at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. He ended up making a really great CD with some of his songs, and that eventually sparked my interest in checking out the Old Town School myself. Over the last few years my brother and I have taken several songwriting workshops with Steve Dawson, who is an incredibly good musician and songwriter in the Chicago area. Steve’s approach and the camaraderie of the other songwriters we’ve met at the school have been very motivating.

I have my own personal concept of what I want to sound like…
and base my decisions on what sounds right to me. I suppose my concept of what sounds “right” is influenced by other things I hear, but I don’t really make any conscious effort to sound “current and trendy” – I’d probably fail at that anyway!

I am most afraid of…
Promoting myself. I have an introverted personality, and I’m extremely self-critical. It’s not in my nature at all to promote myself or to draw attention to myself, which tends to be pretty counterproductive when you’re a musician!

If I Could Fly Away…
It’s pretty simple, really – Imagine what it would be like to be a bird that could just fly away, go wherever it wants, and fly over any obstacles. It’s about those times you want to just get away from your problems and leave them behind.

I was going to college in Valparaiso, Indiana, when I wrote it. Valparaiso is in northwestern Indiana, pretty close to the Lake Michigan lakeshore and the Indiana Dunes. I drove up to the lake one day with my guitar. I went up to the top of a big sand dune and sat there, looking over the water and watching the seagulls fly around. I was probably stressed out at the time about some class or something, and I guess the moment sort of came together and gave me the idea for the song.

Did anything sad or funny happen during the process. (Be sure to include the MP3 of the song for the show along with your answers.) Nothing really sad or funny happened, but I was pretty happy with how the recording turned out. I had done a number of home-recorded demos of the song, but I was never really happy with them. I recorded my album with Steve Dawson at his studio. When we got to this song, he came up with some guitar and drum parts that fit well with what I had in mind. I also wanted to add vocal harmonies and thought it would be nice to have a female voice in the mix. A fellow songwriter I had met at the Old Town School, Eugenia Elliot, was nice enough to sing on some of the songs, including this one. She has such a great voice, and her singing just added a whole other dimension to the sound. Buy the music:

The Music…
First of all, it’s just a great sense of accomplishment to have the album completed. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure it would ever happen.

I don’t write songs for the purpose of trying to sell them, or to sound like anyone in particular, I just try to express my thoughts or feelings in a way that I think sounds right. I like to think my songs have something of value, and they just feel like something that should be shared – otherwise, what’s the point? If I can make a connection, even with a few people, and they get some happiness or inspiration out of some of my songs, I think I’ll feel I’ve accomplished something.

The songs on the album all have some particular meaning to me, or come from specific memories, but I hope they’re written so they can be interpreted openly by the listener. I like to try to keep at least a hint of hope or inspiration in my songs if I can. Sad songs can be very expressive, but I’d rather leave a listener (and myself!) feeling positive, rather than sad.

With respect to marketing, at the moment I’m just trying to build awareness through social media and sending it out to selected radio stations and reviewers.

I live in a suburb southwest of Chicago…
maybe a 45 minute drive from the downtown area. In the city itself, there are a number of places that will host original bands, songwriters, etc. Outside the city in the suburbs it can be hard to find a place to play original music except for open stages and such. Cover bands seems to predominate the music scene, at least as far as “popular” music genres go. There are, of course, a lot of great places to see blues and jazz in and around Chicago.

Almost anything you want to do can be found somewhere in the Chicago area – entertainment, food, museums, the lakefront, etc.

I really enjoy taking classes at the Old Town School, in particular the songwriting workshop I mentioned. Each week everyone shows up with a new song and plays it for the group. People give suggestions and feedback and it’s a very open, supportive, non-judgmental environment. From all the people that have taken these classes, there’s a big, supportive community of other songwriters that know each other, come out to see each-others shows, and keep in touch over social media.

I would love to have 5 minutes alone with…
John Hiatt. I really admire the way he writes and records his songs. His songs always have a great feel; and he can get people like Ry Cooder and Sonny Landreth to play on his records! I think he conveys a lot of feeling with his lyrics, and comes across as really down to earth and sincere.

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