Karen Hudson: Roots, Rock, Roscoe and This Year’s (business) Model
I just love this shot of singer-songwriter Karen Hudson sitting in Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s studio in Brooklyn…Cowboy Technical Services Recording Rig…listening to the final mix of her third and latest album Sonic Bloom that he produced. A man of many hats and talents, a Del-Lord and a former collaborator of Steve Earle to name just one of seemingly an endless parade of artists who come knocking at his door for some of his magic dust, I reached out to Roscoe after Karen reached out to me to introduce herself. He being an occasional No Depression blogger and commenter, I complimented him on a great production but he threw it right back to the artist: “Karen had plenty of good songs and good ideas and also brought a lot of great people to the project. I’m glad you like it. Hope more people get to hear her. Thanks.”
And I hope so too. I dig this album.
Growing up out on Long Island, the youngest of five children raised by a single mom, Karen Hudson had her ears to the radio, listening to Motown, Philly soul and Top 40….and chased the dream singing Linda Ronstadt covers at acting auditions. As she got older and moved into the city, her sound matured and grew, she released two albums, and opened for artists as diverse as Walter Salas Humara (Silos), Madeleine Peyroux, and Pete Seeger. Her bio describes her music like this: “The musical roots go deep and broad — it’s ‘Americana’ for people who like to mix The Rolling Stones with their Patsy Cline.”
I’ve read the comparison to Roseanne Cash in the Village Voice, and admit that on first listen I could hear that too. And maybe a little Carlene Carter mixed in. But especially with Roscoe’s in your face mix, Sonic Bloom is an apt title because while on some songs she sings softer and sweeter, it’s the ones with the harder edge that grab me. While her name is on the cover, and its her songs that she’s singin’, this sounds like a team effort to my ears. Hudson drew on familiar faces from NYC’s Roots Music scene, including longtime collaborators Stephen B. Antonakos (Five Chinese Brothers/The Blue Chieftains) on guitar, bass player Skip Ward (whose credits include Steve Martin’s Grammy-winning “The Crow”), drummer Tom Curiano (Garland Jeffreys), and Skip Krevens on pedal steel. Ambel also brought in drummer Kenny Soule, and contributed some of his own trademark gritty guitar vibe.
As you can see and hear, I’ve uploaded and embedded some of my favorite tracks to share.
So there’s an interesting back story to this record that I felt might be a bit more compelling rather than a straight review. Hudson first conceived Sonic Bloom’s song cycle as part of an art project she funded with grants. Financing the recording through a New York Foundation for the Arts fiscal sponsorship gave her the creative freedom that helped her to “think about how my work affects people and continues a legacy—whether by being an activist in song, or interpreting old folk songs, or, like me, being just another struggling artist who sings about her dead alcoholic dad.”
Huh. I felt I needed to learn more about this non-profit funding idea, so I fired away at Karen and asked some questions.
“The fundraising process in itself was interesting because, while many artists use Kickstarter, I went the non-profit route. A filmmaker friend of mine suggested that I try to get a fiscal sponsorship first, then apply for foundation grants. I applied and received a fiscal sponsorship from The New York Foundation for the Arts. NYFA’s fiscal sponsorship program, “Artspire” enabled me to apply for foundation grants, one of which I was awarded by the Sparkplug Foundation. Plus, fans could make a tax-deductible donation via my Artpsire web page. Later on, Artspire partnered with Rockethub, and I was able to ask fans to pre-order the CD, which helped me to finish the recording.”
So how does one begin this process?
“I had to create a budget (whereas normally i would just not pay much attention to that), ask for letters of support from the parties involved in recording, then apply for the sponsorship. After I became an Artspire artist, I saw there was a lot of funding sources that were not available anymore due to budget reductions. I spent hours in the Foundation Center Library (foundationcenter.org/). And many hours applying for grants. The staff at NYFA was helpful in honing my grant proposals. For their service they receive a percentage of my funds, and write the checks to vendors (musicians, producer, etc).”
Many artists today complain about the lack of record label money floating around, hate the crowd funding method and say they need to be focused on the creative and not the business side of their craft.
“The grant proposal writing process made me think about my work and the thread that ties my songs together, and helped me see that it is important to bring your work out into the world for people to enjoy, and relate to. Oftentimes, my thread is the death of a loved one, overcoming fears, and trying my best to cope. Who can’t relate to that? ” And this thought: “When in the process of songwriting, you are focused on that song. But when I had to break it down, and explain to a foundation or a funding source why I write what I write, it enabled me to see that what I do is more than dwelling on my own emotions. I am creating something that other people value as well. So, rather than feeling like I was begging for a hand out, this new reframing of my mindset helped me to see that I was offering something of value to the world.”
While most funding out there is for jazz, classical and “new music”, Karen sees it a wave of the future for other genres as well. Obviously, visual artists have been going down this road forever. But to just be a bit more precise, let’s define non-profit funding again.
“When you say non-profit, it’s not like they expect you to NOT make any profit. The whole point of it is to help you advance your career in some way, and actually make a living as an artist. So yes, there are expectations. When you apply for a grant you have to show the results of your efforts to support your project in a final report, once you finish the project and let them know how it went. I will have to implement a percentage of my support plan (marketing, performing, etc) before I have anything to report. Gimme a few weeks!”
I hope you like her new tunes as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you. Click here for Karen’s website where you can get free downloads to some of her older tracks, and find links to iTunes and CDBaby where you can buy Sonic Bloom and more.
Karen says she will will be hanging at the Americana Music Association conference in Nashville in September, and asks that if you see her say “Hi”.
So far this year, Eric Roscoe Ambel has produced 6 albums in 6 months.