Phone it in Friday XIV: TPP Self-Promotion Bonanza

It’s been another busy week for yours portly, and Labor Day Weekend has arrived just in time.  When I’m falling asleep at 8:30 PM after a day of non-stop teaching, it’s time to recuperate.

Also, when I went to check out my school’s football field sound system, the powered amplifier went up in smoke!  I spent all of my planning periods (and most of my lunch) jury-rigging a sound system from an ancient amplifier I found in a back closet.  It’ll get us through the first home game tonight, but it isn’t ideal.

As such, I figured I’d take today to give some blog updates, and to do a bit of shameless self-promotion.  Readers will know that the blog now has the new, spiffy, convenient URL, theportlypolitico.com.  That seems to have helped with traffic and search engine visibility, as I’ve been getting more hits since forking over $52 to WordPress.  On Wednesday evening—for no apparent reason!—I had a massive traffic spike:

2 September 2020 Stats Spike

I’m still planning on doing some “Five-Dollar Friday” posts for $5 and higher subs to my Subscribe Star page.  Those posts will include exclusive election season commentary.  As the 2020 election gets closer, be on the lookout for those posts.  Of course, I’ll continue with $1/month content on Saturdays.

On the music front, today is the first Friday of the month, so Bandcamp is once again waiving their commission on sales.  In other words, if you purchase any of my tunes TODAY (Friday, 4 September 2020), I get the full value of the purchase (minus PayPal’s transaction) fee.

Speaking of PayPal, WordPress has a nifty new PayPal block:

Donate to The Portly Politico

Support quality commentary on politics, education, culture, and the arts with your one-time donation.

$10.00

You can also send donations here, or you can subscribe to my SubscribeStar page.  If you send me a donation, I’ll e-mail you a bunch of my SubscribeStar posts in a PDF (just don’t forget to include an e-mail in the transaction process).

As for the blog, it’s been a blast to maintain lately.  The biggest thing you can do to support it is to share my posts far and wide.  If you read something and like it, please pass it along to someone else.

That’s all for this Friday.  I’ve got to head home, shower off the filth of sound guy troubleshooting, and get ready for tonight’s game.  Be praying for a running clock, as kickoff is at 8 PM (!).

Happy Friday!

—TPP

Support The Portly Politico

As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s been a tough year for musicians.  Fortunately, things are looking up on that end, at least for yours portly.  With school starting back this week, I’m hoping some of my old students will be comfortable with resuming one-on-one lessons, especially after sitting in class all day with other students (and with our new sanitation and safety protocols).  Still, 2020 will be a down year for lessons revenue, and especially for gigs.

In brighter news, The Portly Politico has more followers and subscribers than ever.  Currently, my SubscribeStar page has seven subscribers, three of whom are subscribed at the $5 tier.  Thanks to their support, the blog is bringing in $15.38 a month after SubscribeStar takes its cut.  That may seem like small potatoes, but that support means more than the dollar figure suggests.

If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to subscribe$1 a month is an easy lift, and considering the back catalog of posts is growing every week, the value of that investment continues to grow.  If you’re already a $1 a month sub, you may want to consider upgrading to a $5 a month subscription.

I’m also introducing more perks for $5 a month subs.  So far, the $5 tier has been the same as the $1 tier, just with Sunday Doodles tossed in.  Last week, I included some bonus doodles.  I’ll be doing that more frequently—not necessarily weekly, but often enough to make it a fun surprise.  I’m also going to be uploading more music, especially material that can’t currently be found on my Bandcamp page.

During distance learning, I amassed a treasure trove of history and government lectures.  I’ll be uploading some of those for $5 subs, probably starting with the Second World War lectures.

Finally, select Fridays this fall will be “Five Dollar Fridays,” posts that will be largely dedicated to 2020 election coverage and analysis.  As the name suggests, those posts will be exclusive to $5 and up subscribers.

Naturally, I’ll continue to offer free weekly content Sunday through Thursday, and some Fridays.  We’re closing in on 600 days of posts, and two years is about 134 posts away.  Of course, if you’re not subscribed, you’re missing out on 116 posts (as of this writing)!  That’s a ton of content (and doodles).

If you’re interested in a subscription, sign up here or here.  If you know of someone who might be interested in paying a small fee for quality content, please forward this blog post them, or send them here.

One final pot-sweetenerif we hit 10 subscribers—at any level—by the end of August 2020, I’ll upload some special, surprise content for all subscribers.

Thanks again for your support—and your patience with yet another sales pitch.  It is truly appreciated.

God Bless,

TPP

Special Election Day 2020

Last November, my little town held town council electionsNeither of the people I voted for won, and the two incumbents won reelection (there were two separate seats up, so we got to vote for two separate candidates).

In March, one of the Town Councillors resigned for reasons still unknown to me, which triggered a special election. I filed to run for Town Council on Friday, 13 March 2020—the Friday before all the schools in South Carolina shut down and went to distance learning.

With The Virus hitting, the special election was moved from its original date on Tuesday, 12 May to today, Tuesday, 14 July 2020.  My plan was to keep it simple, just talking to people and maybe going door-to-door, but quarantining—as well as a good bit of time on the road this summer—prevented that.  It also didn’t help that I was cooped up inside for two weeks with a gnarly virus (fortunately, I tested negative for The Virus, but I’m skeptical as to the accuracy of that test).

But that’s mostly me making excuses for myself.  I could have done more.  I did talk to my neighbor and a few other folks.  One older man approached me while I was loading my car up one morning and complained about a house with caged pit bulls in the backyard; he wanted me to introduce an ordinance banning pit bulls “when you get elected.”  I’ve actually given that a great deal of thought, and might explain my thinking on that proposal in a future post.  It will certainly become more relevant if I get elected.

As for the campaign, I resolved to spend $0 campaigning.  I didn’t do any fundraising, or even funded anything myself (other than spending $31 for the filing fee).  There’s no need to spend scads of money in a local election in a town of approximately 950 people.  Public office should be attainable to anyone, especially at the local level, and I want to see if that’s doable.

I did, however, create a small (free!) Facebook page eight days ago.  I wrote a short post explaining my vision for the town:

My basic pitch:  Lamar is centrally-located in a rapidly growing part of South Carolina.  Working families, especially young ones just starting out, are finding it more difficult to buy homes in the larger neighboring municipalities.  Lamar is well-positioned to welcome those young families with friendliness, affordable real estate, low taxes, and proximity to the three large towns in the area (not to mention two Interstates).

Read More »

SubscribeStar Saturday: Making Music

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.  NEW TIER: $3 a month gets one edition of Sunday Doodles every month!

The past few days I’ve really been pushing my music (see here and here), mainly because Bandcamp waived the commission it takes on sales of musicians’ work yesterday (1 May 2020).  They’re foregoing their cut again the first Friday of June 2020, so I’ll likely be pimping out my electronic ditties again in a month (although, of course, feel free to pick up tunes any time).

I’ve maintained that Bandcamp site the better part of a decade, and until this week, I hadn’t made a single sale.  Perhaps the poor-mouthing about the impact of The Virus on musicians opened hearts and wallets.  To those of you that did purchase my work—I sold seven copies of my full discography (seven releases available now for $15.75), with many buyers paying more than the minimum—I offer a big and hearty THANK YOU.  Seriously, you have no idea what a morale boost it is to have your support.

As for the poor-mouthing, one of the lessons I’ve learned about music is that fans aren’t buying the music, per se, although that does have to be good; rather, they’re buying you and your story.  It’s a frustration for many artistic types that they labor over their art, putting all of their heart, soul, sweat, and blood into it, only to see people more interested in their personal lives than their music.

To read the rest of this post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.

Support Indie Musicians

The TL;DR takeaway of today’s post:  times are tough for musicians, and you can help.  You can purchase my music on Bandcamp today (Friday, 1 May 2020) without Bandcamp taking their 15% commission.  You can also tip me directly via PayPal.  Finally, you can always support the blog—and enjoy exclusive weekly content—by subscribing to my SubscribeStar Page.

Bandcamp is waiving the commission it takes on sales of musicians’ work TODAY, Friday, 1 May 2020You can pick up my entire discography for $15.75 (or more, if you feel so inclined).  To purchase the full discographyseven releases in total—you can view any of my albums (like Electrock EP: The Four Unicorns of the Apocalypse) and find a button/link that reads “Buy Digital Discography” (unfortunately, there’s no way to supply that link directly).

You can also send a digital tip to me directly, if you’re so inclined, via PayPal.

You can also purchase albums individually, either at their listed price or higher.  Here are my seven releases, in chronological order:

So, again, today Bandcamp is waiving the commission it takes on sales of musicians’ work.  That means every purchase made on the site from midnight to midnight Pacific Standard Time TODAY goes completely to the musicians (other than PayPal processing fees)—another 15% in our pockets.

The Age of the Virus has really taken its toll on musicians.  As I wrote last Thursday, a substantial portion of my income in 2019 came from music lessons and gigs—nearly 17% of my gross income for the year.  And as I wrote yesterday, we can’t really gig anymore, at least not in the traditional sense, due to shutdowns.

With The Virus holding full sway over us, shutting everything down, there are far fewer opportunities for musicians to earn a living—except by way of online album sales.

As such, Bandcamp sacrificing that 15% commission is a huge act of charity for its users.  It also means that it’s the best time to support musicians you lovelike me!

Bandcamp gives musicians the opportunity to sell their music in high-quality digital formats directly to fans.  One nifty feature is that artists can offer their entire discography in one go, often at a discount.

To that end, my discography—seven albums, EPs, and retrospectives, spanning fourteen years of artistic development—is on sale for $15.75.  All of it.

Another fun feature is that Bandcamp allows fans to pay more if they so choose.  Indeed, when I announced on my Facebook artist page that the full discography was up for grabs, two fans paid $20 for it.  Some artists have reported fans paying as much as $100 for a single album.  I don’t expect that kind of generosity, but, hey—dig deep.

Regardless, there’s never been a better—or more necessary–time to support indie musicians.  We can’t play gigs.  We can barely teach lessons (some folks are doing so online, but it’s just not the same).

So, any support you can offer is always welcome.  To purchase the full discography, you can view any of my albums (like The Lo-Fi Hymanl) and find a button/link that reads “Buy Digital Discography” (unfortunately, there’s no way to supply that link directly).

Of course, you don’t have to buy all seven albums—it’s just a good deal.  You can also buy individual releases, like 2006’s Electrock Music (ludicrously cheap at $1 for twelve tracks!) or 2007’s Electrock II: Space Rock (just $5!).

To recap, here is my full discography, which is only $15.75 if you buy it together:

And, remember, you can always tip me directly, or via my SubscribeStar page.

Thank you for your support!

—TPP

TBT: Gig Day II

Tomorrow—Friday, 1 May 2020—Bandcamp is waiving the commission it takes on sales of musicians’ work.  That means every purchase made on the site from midnight to midnight Pacific Standard Time tomorrow goes completely to the musicians (other than PayPal processing fees)—another 15% in our pockets.

The Age of the Virus has really taken its toll on musicians.  As I wrote last Thursday, a substantial portion of my income in 2019 came from music lessons and gigs—nearly 17% of my gross income for the year.

With The Virus holding full sway over us, shutting everything down, there are far fewer opportunities for musicians to earn a living—except by way of online album sales.

As such, Bandcamp sacrificing that 15% commission is a huge act of charity for its users.  It also means that it’s the best time to support musicians you lovelike me!

Bandcamp gives musicians the opportunity to sell their music in high-quality digital formats directly to fans.  One nifty feature is that artists can offer their entire discography in one go, often at a discount.

To that end, my discography—seven albums, EPs, and retrospectives, spanning fourteen years of artistic development—is on sale for $15.75.  All of it.  That includes my tour de forceContest Winner EP and its hit single, “Hipster Girl Next Door.”

Another fun feature is that Bandcamp allows fans to pay more if they so choose.  Indeed, when I announced on my Facebook artist page that the full discography was up for grabs, two fans paid $20 for it.  Some artists have reported fans paying as much as $100 for a single album.  I don’t expect that kind of generosity, but, hey—dig deep.

Regardless, there’s never been a better—or more necessary–time to support indie musicians.  We can’t play gigs.  We can barely teach lessons (some folks are doing so online, but it’s just not the same).

So, any support you can offer is always welcome.  To purchase the full discography, you can view any of my albums (like Electrock EP: The Four Unicorns of the Apocalypse) and find a button/link that reads “Buy Digital Discography” (unfortunately, there’s no way to supply that link directly).

Of course, you don’t have to buy all seven albums—it’s just a good deal.  You can also buy individual releases, like 2006’s Electrock Music (ludicrously cheap at $1 for twelve tracks!) or 2007’s Electrock II: Space Rock (just $5!).

But enough soliciting for now—there will be more of that tomorrow.  Let’s get to the ostensible purpose of today’s post—TBT.

Read More »

The Lo-Fi Hymnal

Pick up my latest release, The Lo-Fi Hymnal, for just $4 (or name your own price).

Last October, I wrote a piece call “The Joy of Hymnals,” in which I waxed rhapsodic about, well, the joy of playing hymns!  They are fun, singable, and challenging, but not so difficult that they can’t be figured out with some judicious plunking at the keys.

Sometime earlier this year, I began making very short recordings of myself playing hymns on the piano at church, mainly during offertory or the invitational—or occasionally during what I call the “walk-off,” the time when the choir members walk back to their seats—as I can usually get through one verse and chorus without (too many) mistakes.  These were mainly to send to friends (you’d also be surprised how much Christian girls like a man who plays piano at church) and for my own edification.

It occurred to me that, albeit the qualities of the recordings were fairly low, I could package them together into a short little EP release.  So I set about compiling my meager collection of four cellphone recordings into The Lo-Fi Hymnal.

Read More »

Yet Another Monday Morning Appeal

If you don’t want to read all of this post and just want to get the point where you give me your money via my SubscribeStar Page, here is the TL;DR pre-summary of the post below:

  • For $1/month, you get exclusive posts every Saturday.
  • For $3/month, you get the exclusive Saturday posts, and one edition of Sunday Doodles each month.
  • For $5/month, you get exclusive Saturday posts and Sunday Doodles every Sunday, as well as random exclusive content.
  • You can also subscribe at $10/month or, if you’re just looking to give me money, $50/month.  I’ll probably come wash your car (or call you and talk politics and culture) for that much.  Yeesh!

Last week I made another appeal for subscribers to my SubscribeStar Page.  Not wanting to write about the coronavirusagain—I decided to break my self-imposed “once-every-six-months” rule to bring you another shameless appeal for your support, because it didn’t work last week.

To sweeten the pot, I’m going to include some of the whimsical doodles that, up to this point, only $5 or higher subscribers can view.  These are my Sunday Doodle posts, of which there are currently twenty-two editions.

Here is a sample of the instantly classic artwork you’re missing:

To make it even more compelling, I’ve introduced a new $3 tier, “Fried Bologna.”  At that level, you’ll get all the great SubscribeStar Saturday posts of the $1 level, plus one monthly edition of Sunday Doodles (along with the $5 subscribers).

To recap:

  • For $1/month, you get exclusive posts every Saturday.
  • For $3/month, you get the exclusive Saturday posts, and one edition of Sunday Doodles each month.
  • For $5/month, you get exclusive Saturday posts and Sunday Doodles every Sunday, as well as random exclusive content.
  • You can also subscribe at $10/month or, if you’re just looking to give me money, $50/month.

These are tough times, so any support you can muster is appreciated.  If you are already a subscriber, thank you so much, and please send forward this post to friends and family that might be interested.  If not, please consider subscribing—even $1/month helps immensely.

Thank you again, and have a wonderful Monday!

—TPP

TBT: April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective

Last year marked the tenth anniversary of my unceremonious lay-off/non-renewal of my teaching contract.  It was the height of the Great Recession, and jobs were lean on the ground.  “Entry-level” positions called four a four-year degree and two-year’s (minimum) experience, yet holding an advanced degree was considered “overeducated” and could potentially disqualify an applicant for work.

It was the worst of all situations for a young man barely out of graduate school and just one year into his teaching career.  I was lucky, though, to have a good dad with a background in human resources and local government, who helped me find a decent job with the City of Sumter.  I was only out of work maybe three months, and had parents who were able and willing to support me during that period.

Even then, I was anxious to get out on my own again, not because I was chafing under my parents, but because I was keenly aware I was not being a man.  Instead of earning my own way in the world at twenty-four, I was living off the generosity of my parents.  That’s one of the myriad ways in which an economic downturn can take a spiritual toll on a young man.

Now it appears we’re on the precipice of another major economic catastrophe, this time thanks to the coronavirus and the stringent public health measures taken to slow its inexorable spread.  Things were really started to rev up again.  Even though the economic recovery began even as early as 2009, it didn’t feel like we were in a recovery until around 2017.  Trump’s election didn’t just buoy the stock market; it brought a sense of renewal, hope, and optimism to the United States.

Americans, especially younger Americans, don’t remember how bad the Great Recession was.  I feel for young college students who are just about to enter the workforce—I was there, too, not long ago.  I wish you could have enjoyed at least a few years of the good life.

On the plus side, we will get through this downturn, although I suspect it’s going to be far worse than the Great Recession.  We’ve never tried shutting off the entire economy before, then plugging it back in two weeks—or maybe a month, or three months—later.  Two weeks we may have seen things roaring back; maybe we will after a month.

But I can’t conceive of a rapid return to normality if it stretches much longer than that.  Small businesses are going to go under once they burn through their cash reserves.  The restaurant industry, along with the hundreds of thousands of waiters, cooks, busboys, hostesses, etc., it employs, is going to be changed for a long time.  That’s just one example among many.

I’m already feeling the effects on my private lesson business, which was booming before The Virus (although it was down a bit from its 2019 peak).  Right before The Virus hit, I had six consistent students at $30 per lesson, per week.  That’s not bad for supplemental income (at my peak, I had ten students, one for a $45 lesson, though I was only charging $25/lesson at that point).  Most of those cancellations are for the duration of The Virus, but once the plague has passed, the damaged economy will remain.  Some of those students will resume, but belt-tightening budgets are going to eliminate piano lessons fairly quickly, if I had to guess.

That said, I am blessed to have a steady job now, and will hopefully avoid any repeats of 1 April 2019.  The Great Recession left a mark on me, and it’s made me more prepared for this next downturn.

With that, here is 2019’s “April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective“:

Today is April 1, 2019, popularly known as April Fool’s Day.  It’s a day for good-natured pranking and mirthful fun, a bit like a poor man’s Halloween.

This April Fool’s Day holds a particular resonance for me, however.  It was ten years ago today that, in the midst of the Great Recession, I lost my job.

Technically, my teaching contract was not renewed.  I still had an obligation to finish out the year, which I did as best I could, but I would not be coming back.

I remember it vividly:  my school’s former headmaster told me he wanted to speak with me.  I went into his office, and he told me a few things:  the school was consolidating my classes into fewer sections; the school desperately needed money (the enrollment was around ninety-five kids, and things were so tight they needed the $28,000 going towards my salary); and the economy was not conducive to private school fundraising and tuition.

He told me that, as I’d studied history (he, too, was a history teacher), I knew how these kinds of economic downturns went.  I thought he was mentioning this as a bit of cold comfort, a sort of, “don’t worry, it won’t last long, a[nd] you’ll be okay.”  Instead, he continued, saying, “this thing could last an entire decade!”  Yikes!  Way to kick a man when he’s down.

I knew (or, at least, I hoped—the day isn’t over yet!) that I’d never have the opportunity, grim as it was, again, so I said, “Wait a minute—this isn’t just some elaborate April Fool’s joke, is it?”  He said, stone-faced, “I wish it were.”

So, there I was, facing imminent unemployment in the worst job market since the Great Depression, with only one year of teaching under my belt and a Master’s degree in United States Trivia.

We forget, living in the wonderful Trump economy, how hard it was back then.  Jobs were not to be found.  Remember going to gas stations, and people would start polishing your hubcaps against your will so they could sell you the cleaner?  That’s how bad it was—people were hawking hubcap polisher at rural gas stations to try to make ends meet.  “Entry level” jobs required two years of experience, at minimum, which no one fresh out of college plausibly had (unless they’d wisely done some kind of internship or work study).

Fortunately, with some help and coaching from my dad, I landed a job at the City of Sumter, after only three months of formal joblessness.  I was quite fortunate.  I managed the Sumter Opera House, where I learned to run live lights and sound.  I also met some interesting people, including the comedian Gallagher (that used to be an impressive anecdote, but now few people under thirty know who Gallagher is; it’s a shame).  He was an odd bird, which isn’t that surprising, given he made a career out of smashing fruits with a sledgehammer.

That job turned into a grind—remember, if you had a job, you had to do pretty much anything your employer demanded, lest you face termination—but I learned a great deal, and it landed me back at my old teaching gig, under a new headmaster, in 2011.

That experience—being jobless in the Great Recession—left an enduring mark on me.  My first year teaching, I definitely phoned it in.  I worked hard on lectures, of course, but beyond a little club for musicians, I didn’t do much extra.

My first year back in the classroom, in 2011, was completely different.  I was teaching World History, Government, Economics, History of American Popular Music (a course I created), and AP US History.  I had to do prep for all of them.

I was astonished how much American history I’d forgotten since high school and college (a pro-tip:  studying American history in graduate school is more about reading overly-detailed monographs about obscure bits of the story of America; when I took my exams to finish my Master’s, I essentially used information I learned in my eleventh-grade AP US History class).  I would spend hours on Sunday afternoons at the Thomas Cooper Library at the University of South Carolina writing up lesson plans.

Then, I became the de facto sound guy for school events after a talented tech kid graduated (I named an award after him, which I give to students who assist with our concerts and plays on the tech end).  It’s the ultimate in job security—no one else knows how to do it—but it’s also a major obligation—no one else knows how to do it.

Since then, I’ve grown a decent side hustle teaching private music lessons.  I also teach courses at a local technical college, mostly online, but some face-to-face.  In 2014, I taught Monday-Wednesday evenings, first from 6-7:15, then from 9-10:15 PM.  I’d come home, exhausted, and fall asleep in my recliner.  Thursdays felt like Saturdays because, even though I still had two days at the high school, it was the longest possible point before a grueling sixteen hour Monday rolled around.

I save constantly for retirement—I make the legal annual maximum contributions to my IRA, 403(b), and HSA—and spend very little money.  I still drive the same Dodge Caravan that I’ve had since 2006.  I will occasionally splurge and buy digital piano, but my saxophones are falling apart (literally—my pawn shop alto sax has a key falling off).  I occasionally worry that, on that glorious day when I do retire, I won’t know what to do with myself if I’m not working.

All that said, I have done everything possible to position myself against another recession, bad labor market, etc.  April 1, 2009, seems now like a distant memory, but it could all come back.  I’m reminded of The Simpsons episode where some repo men are repossessing property from a failed Dot Com start-up.  One of them says, “It’s a golden age for the repo business—one which will never end!” as he lights a cigar with a $100 bill.

It’s easy to fall into that mindset.  I’m optimistic for the future, but I’ll never take prosperity or security for granted again.  Constant hustling—booking new gigs, picking up more students, getting more classes, working maintenance on the weekends, leading summer camps, collecting songwriter and publishing royalties—is what it takes.