A Reflection on Numbers: 1,000 plays on Sound Cloud!


This week my Sound Cloud website page crested the 1,000 mark!

That’s over 1,000 plays of the songs and compositions I have there! I’m pretty excited about it. I want to first thank you, if you are reading this and you have ever listened to something I put up at Sound Cloud. Thank you! I also want to thank Jamie Weems for telling me about Sound Cloud several years ago. It’s a great way to get music into the world. To have my music heard.

Sound Cloud allows me, via analytics, to track the source of the people listening to my music. For instance, one week last year, I had 26 plays of my music tracks from someone in India. Pretty amazing! The website allows me to tag each music track with words like “folk,” or “guitar,” or “violins,” so that users around the world who search for those terms can find my music and give it a listen.

While I’m on the subject of numbers, I have a few more for you:

Amount of money I still have to recoup to pay back the investment in my 2005 CD Nona Mae’s Wishes: $1200
Amount of money I get paid when someone buys one of my tracks digitally on iTunes: $0.637
Amount of money I get paid for one song stream on Spotify: $0.00780000 (that’s not a typo!)

That’s the thing. Numbers can boost you up, and numbers can bring you down. And while I’ve had three successful small businesses in my life, there is one small business that I can’t ever seem to make money on and that is the business of recording and selling music. With such dismal prospects you might think that I’d give up. You know, let go of the dream. Try knitting or hockey, or cake decorating or something.

The truth is, I’ve tried! Twice in the past decade I came to the point of giving up. Once in 2008 I had a gig where I did the exact same amount of publicity (a lot) I always did, only – this is embarrassing – a total of 4 people turned up. Four people. Nice people, yes, very nice people.

Number of CDs sold that night: 0.

After that show, I felt so down that as I was driving to work the next day, I thought to myself – enough! Why put yourself through this anymore! Screw it, we’re giving up! And just at that moment, I heard my own voice coming out of the radio!

You see, I was listening to WLEZ, a local Jackson, MS radio station, and a year or so prior I had gone there to make a promo bit. You know, the, “This is singer-songwriter Laurel Isbister and you are listening to WLEZ” type promo. Edward St. Pe, who at the time was running that place, had invited me in to do the promo. The coincidence of this timing was not lost on me. It reminded me of how much fun I’d had at WLEZ, and also how far I’ve come, whether or not the financial numbers add up.

In 2014 I had another of these “giving up” moments. I started a new day job last year, one with pretty intense hours. I was feeling tired, very tired. I was in a bookstore, gazing longingly at some fiction. I thought, what if I gave up trying to always have two careers – a day job and music. What if I just had one? I’d have so much more time to read…maybe to wander in the woods and read a book all day. Oooh, yeah that sounded so good. And just at that moment, I received a text message from my friend, a web designer, letting me know she had just finished up with the new website we had been building!

By the way, the website, http://www.laurelirby.com, is up and you are most welcome to visit!

Once again, I felt the mystic pull of music tugging at me…reminding me to look beyond the typical numbers of “success.” I have a gift that not everyone gets…and I have 30+ years of training, learning, writing, gigging, scoring, arranging, tracking, mixing, you name it! I have had total strangers stop me as I was singing randomly in the airport and say, “You sing like an angel!” or “I thought I was listening to the radio – but that was you!” I can honestly say I feel thankful and blessed beyond belief to have this gift.

At the end of the day,  I measure life, music, and success by more than numbers. Can I live with myself if I don’t make music? Nope. Can I look back at projects I’ve done, whether or not they made money, and feel proud and fulfilled? Yep. That I can.

Enjoy life, my friends. And celebrate today, with me, for topping that 1,000 milestone! Hell, I didn’t even get paid for those Sound Cloud listens, but they make me feel good – people all over this country and all over the world get to hear what I make, what I create! And do me a favor – encourage the people in your life who create music.

For without music, how much would we enjoy life? The answer for many of us: zilch!


My Father’s Ashes

Before last week, I’d always thought funerary ashes were something to scatter – at a beloved place – not something to ever keep. The very idea of having someone’s ashes nearby, or in my home seemed, well, unpleasant. Beyond the obvious, there was a sort of ‘out of fashion” feeling to the idea. In fact I got a lot of laughs out of the scene from the film “Meet the Parents” where the uptight character played by Robert DiNiro reads an ode to his mother. As the family gazes up to the mantel, her ashes ensconced in an urn, there is a shade of the misguided or even perverse in the moment of filial intimacy. (What happens next is really taboo, and will probably either offend you or amuse you).

Still, the message came last week and hit me quick – I was being shipped a portion of my father’s ashes. My sisters already knew what they would do with their packets of ash, arriving via USPS in a cardboard mailer. They would take them to special places…Colorado…California…places of beauty and places of good memories with him. I loved it. Yet I felt anxious and uneasy about my own decision. My Dad traveled far and wide, for business and for fun. He tried everything he wanted to do – from piloting a glider alongside a hawk, to teaching and mentoring business school students, to living fully and completely until complications from Alzheimer’s took his mortal life.

I clenched my fists and tried to fathom it. Ashes. How weird.

As I contemplated what place I’d been the happiest with my Dad, it wasn’t in my home state of North Carolina. I knew the best moment of my time with my Dad – hands down. Though, as it was considered, it turns out there were many to think over and choose from. The best memory was a ski lift, and a powdery breeze on a sunny day, pines and the cleanest air in our lungs, runs that smoothed and bounced us a little and made us wide and peaceful; silent and peaceful and happy. Together.

That run called “Harriet’s Hollow” was the place our finest daughter and father connection lived. Yet as I contemplated going there, or maybe paying a pilot to fly there, I knew I was on the wrong track. What if it rained the day I went? How could I trust a pilot if I wasn’t going to be there? I knew that even when we try and go back we cannot, as the river is never the same twice. Add to that the pace of modern change, and the way that newness brings intensity and at times anxiety to our world. How could I make a day in 2015 compare to that one fine day possibly a decade ago? The day I had with my Dad and skied the best ever, no worries or bumps or spills. Just smooth sailing. I knew trying to recreate that was not possible and possibly could disappoint me.

As it turns out, after some thinking, I understand now that I want to be nearer to the ashes. Nearer! Surprise. Now they are something more personal, something not abstract. And, they are a sacred substance to me. And now I get it – I understand that they are not him. As my partner Daniel put it, that is not him, it is the ashes of a fire that consumed him. What a beautiful way to say it. My father’s ashes.

My father’s ashes are here now in my home, in a special box that stands on end and looks like an old fashioned, fascinating book. I put a picture of it up at the top of the blog. On the book shelf where this book sits, I have my journal, and my daily reader,  and a box he once received that had his name inscribed. It’s a way of remembering this month of my life in 2015, when the ashes came, and where I came to know and understand even more what it means to me to be my father’s daughter.

God bless my Dad, may he rest in peace.