Q&A with Vienna, December 2007

Chat and sip. Beret optional.

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asteroid
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Postby asteroid » Tue Jan 01, 2008 3:50 am

Happy New Year!

So all of Vienna, Eric Cheng and Eric Miller have been software engineers? Did you three meet in college or in Cisco?
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Postby echoingstreetsigns » Tue Jan 01, 2008 5:41 am

echeng wrote:Vienna Teng is at this very moment writing answers to some of the Q&A questions. (We're sitting at a Chinese restaurant in Oakland's Chinatown.)

If this isn't related enough to inline into this thread, one of the moderators can remove it. :)

Image
Vienna, working hard at answering Qs


i am so nerdily happy that vienna uses a mac! :lol:

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Postby Ang Mo » Tue Jan 01, 2008 5:46 am

Vienna, what is your New Year's resolution for this New Year?

I was kinda hoping for that "Vienna's going to perform in Hawaii this year resolution"............... :wink: I think Scot would give me a big amen on that one.
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Postby Scot » Tue Jan 01, 2008 10:38 am

or maybe even a wo0t! :>
But, I'm sure I'll see another show or two in '08 either way! ;)

s
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Postby fineazngod » Wed Jan 02, 2008 7:45 am

Don't know if anyone asked already but I was wondering if there will be a release to the revamped version of Gravity.

I need new music to accompany me on my long jogs around town and while snowboarding in Tahoe.

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Postby Vienna » Wed Jan 02, 2008 9:17 am

Happy 2008 everyone! I had hopes of finishing this before heading off to New Year's Eve celebrations, but that turned out to be incompatible with the goal of answering everyone's questions.

At least I got 'em sorted into categories. Starting with the easiest first, as usual...

MISCELLANEOUS

arcsol wrote:red pill or blue pill?


Red. My version of coin-toss decision making is "Which one haven't I done before?"

terraphim86 wrote:This is an odd question: what were your favorite kinds of books as a child? Do you have a specific favorite?


My brother came home one day with a brand new Scholastic Book Club order, and on top was Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. I opened it up to page 1 and didn't look up again until I'd reached the end. Later I picked up There's a Girl in My Hammerlock!, which was so much better than its silly title that I had to write the author. To my complete shock, he wrote back. We kept up a correspondence for a few years; his last letter described his early years as a writer, in response to a question about creative careers. I've been meaning to write him again, over a decade later. Stargirl was a pretty cool book.

cmooreNC wrote:I do want to know if you've heard Marc Cohn's "Join the Parade" yet? It only took the guy nine years between CD's, but it did finally come out in October. Since you have worked with him before and share the same booking agent, I'm guessing you've perhaps come across the new release and, if so, wonder what you think of it? Particularly the songs relating to Katrina and it's aftermath, since you dealt with the same topic in your own way on "Pontchartrain"?


It's been one of my great strokes of fortune to get to play shows with Marc year after year; like a lot of other people, I confess I only knew "Walking In Memphis" before I saw him live, but the man is a true artist when it comes to songwriting, and a riveting performer besides. I heard "Dance Back From The Grave" and other album songs when we did some shows together in 2006, and I've sung backup onstage for "Let Me Be Your Witness" and "Giving Up the Ghost." I remember thinking how much better his explorations of post-Katrina New Orleans captured the spirit of that place than my own attempt in "Pontchartrain." His music contains that mournful/joyful thing, the grit on the soles of high-polished shoes.

Thanks for the gentle prodding, Chris...just got the album on iTunes. So glad that it's got the same energy as the live performances I've heard.

echoingstreetsigns wrote:are you a harry potter fan?


I read The Sorcerer's Stone the night before my family went to see the movie; does that count? I did like 'em both.

Jessie_k4758 wrote:Maybe this question has been asked before, but have you learned or enjoy any kind of dance? (Ballroom, swing, salsa, etc.)


Dancing is one of those things that I absolutely love, even though I'm not much good at it. Mostly I do the freeform bopping-around thing at parties, but I did know a little about swing and waltz for a few years there. Samba would be a cool one to try next.

GEORGE wrote:if this type of forum was available to communicate with not only those who are still here, but those who have passed, who would you want to ask a question of and what would the question be?


There's the obvious one of Jesus, or Buddha, and asking how best to live my life in this current age. But I'd also want to ask Shakespeare: "So seriously...did you really write all those plays?"

WintermoonSnow wrote:Do you listen to any foreign music?


Not a whole lot, but I'll definitely check out Chihiro Onitsuka!

WintermoonSnow wrote:When you actually get the chance to sit down and watch the TV, what shows are you usually watching?


I'm mostly a YouTuber these days. Can't remember the last time I turned on a TV...I've wandered into the room when others were watching Charlie Rose or Bill Moyers interviews on PBS, and episodes of Good Eats or Iron Chef America on The Food Network. I need to watch more documentaries. Why We Fight was quite thought-provoking.

asteroid wrote:So all of Vienna, Eric Cheng and Eric Miller have been software engineers? Did you three meet in college or in Cisco?


In school (well, sort of—I met Señor Cheng after he'd graduated but was still active in the chamber music program). I'm the only one who did a stint at Cisco, so far as I know.

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Postby Vienna » Wed Jan 02, 2008 10:48 am

SONGWRITING

terraphim86 wrote:Do you have any authors you would suggest to help get the lyrically creative jucies flowing?


Poets have to be both careful and inventive with language—the most of anyone, I think, because they usually have so much less wiggle room than prose writers, and can't lean on music or other distractions. I'm not an avid poetry reader by any stretch, but Billy Collins is very accessible, and Anne Sexton's Transformations (recommended by Noe Venable) is one of the creepiest, loveliest things I've ever encountered.

arcsol wrote: i can only write some lyrics or the melody itself, but never both i.e. i can't make a melody to fit the lyrics nor the lyrics to fit the melody. i've been stuck for years. i use a guitar - any tips on how to proceed from there?


Lyrics and melody have to do with the voice, so put down the guitar and just try singing things aloud. If you're starting with lyrics, it's easy to get stuck singing them more or less as you'd speak; try drawing syllables out, pausing a long time between phrases, mixing up slow and fast. Experiment with singing everything on the same note, or with big jumps between high and low, loud and aggressive, soft and reflective, etc. If you're starting with a melody, sing nonsense just to find out what feels comfortable (there's the famous story of the Beatles' "Yesterday" starting out as "Scrambled Eggs"). You may eventually find that you like singing "Eeeeeeeepor fiiiiiah uuuuurky" to your melody, which you can then tweak into "Keep your fire burning," or "It's a fine morning," or whatever.

I heard Pat Pattison give a workshop on this once, and he's got a lot of useful things to say on the subject.

echoingstreetsigns wrote:i don't know if you ever explain your song lyrics, but "recessional" fascinates me. is it named that because the story is told backwards?


Originally the idea was to chart the receding of intimacy: it begins in bed, then goes to incidental friendly contact, then mere small talk. As I wrote it I also thought it would be cool if it could work both ways chronologically—is it the end of a relationship? The beginning of one, viewed in reverse? I was also fascinated with the different modes that relationships have, how a deep connection between two people (past or present) can have so many layers of veils obscuring it.

Here's Johnny wrote:A number of your songs seem to be about internal struggles for inspiration. Do you come up with the lyrics for these songs on the spot, or is it usually an afterthought?


They're as much work as the lyrics for any other song. I cast around for a seed thought, and when I find it I can eke out the rest. Sometimes going meta is one way to dodge writer's block, is all. "Hey! I can write about how I can't seem to write anything!" (Hopefully I don't have too many of those, do I?)

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Postby Vienna » Wed Jan 02, 2008 12:05 pm

CAREER

arcsol wrote:good as your music is, why is it people rarely know about/of it?


My best theory is that its merits are subtle: it's not startlingly groundbreaking, or super-catchy in that pop-song-of-the-moment way, it's not particularly danceable, and it's not always obvious what I'm talking about in the lyrics. So some folks probably give it a 30-second listen and move on—there's no hook for them. It may also be that we haven't hit on that perfect savvy marketing strategy to generate a buzz of the sort you're talking about; I know I need to hear/see a band's name three or four times before I think "Oh yeah, I should check out what they're about." There's a certain element of right-place-right-time that comes into play with publicity, when an influential person happens to hear music that he or she likes, setting off a chain reaction of interest. I've had more luck with that than most, but still less than some.

There's also the possibility that I'm not doing anything all that great, anyway. But I'm glad you think so, and that a modest and growing number of people think so. :) It's already something to be very grateful for.

arcsol wrote:legally speaking, what is needed so that radio stations can play your songs and spread the music further?


So far as I know, if they report their playlists to a performing rights organization and pay royalties accordingly, that's all they need. Nonprofit stations like community radio may not even have to do that. It depends on the country, I think.

disneyphish wrote:Do you ever read the fan reviews on Amazon and such? How do you feel/react when you see your songs analyzed, interpreted, judged, and graded in any forum?


Once in a while. I like reading thoughtful reviews, whether they're positive or negative; something like "Her voice is pleasant enough, but doesn't convey the full range of emotion that the subject matter requires" is much more interesting than "She's so great! I love this CD!" Of course it hurts when people dislike my music (and enough to write a review saying so!), and reading through a string of praise is a fun way to spend five minutes. But mainly it's about being understood. The reviews that hurt the most are the ones where the reviewer clearly didn't get it, and didn't bother to try. The best compliments are the ones where I know there was a connection: we're sharing an emotional, intellectual, maybe spiritual wavelength. I keep those in my mind's back pocket, and pull them out whenever I get discouraged.

disneyphish wrote:Have you ever seen something published about you, such as an interview, in which you felt that the journalist didn't represent you accurately?


Most of them have been pretty accurate, though they do leave me thinking I should try to speak more in sound bites—when I ramble in interviews, the resulting article tends to have dumb quotes like "'It's been interesting,' says Teng" because they can't fit much more of my answer in there. And Keyboard Magazine transcribed my interview answers so faithfully that I came off sounding about sixteen years old.

Once in a while a journalist actually gets something wrong, but that tends to be a mis-analysis of my songs, or as a result of lazy fact-checking. It is enough to remind me not to believe everything I read.

cambiare wrote:can you see yourself doing what you do for over a decade? Two decades, even? It sounds like a strange prospect now, but did it ever cross your mind that music would become a part of your life for such a long period of time?


A decade isn't too farfetched...I've got another 4-5 years in me, I think. The practical aspects of being a performing songwriter for longer than that are rather daunting. There's no health insurance, no matching employer contributions to 401(k)s in this business. There's no good way of estimating income from year to year; the odds of it going steadily upward, like in most other lines of work, are minuscule. Raising kids with an active touring schedule, short of the separate-bus-for-the-nanny model, is devilishly tricky at best. Musicians deal with all of this anyway, of course, for the sake of art. It'll come down to whether I still have something I want to say, I guess. And whether it has to be said through music. And whether I marry rich, I suppose. ;)

CandaceC wrote:what have been your parents' expectations with you and music, especially taking your success into mind? Have their views changed since you were a child? How do they feel about it now?


A lot of my answer to the previous question came out of conversations with Mom & Dad. I didn't immigrate to a foreign country like they did, with the imperative of establishing myself so I could support my parents and siblings, so I've had the luxury of putting practical matters on the back burner—for better or worse. I did throw them for a bit of a loop when I went into music; they weren't against it, they just found it puzzling that someone with so many career options and interests would go for the one with the least security and the worst long-term prospects. "So...why does this have to be your job? We know you love music, you should definitely pursue your passions, and it's great that so many people like what you do. Is there any way you could rely on something else to make money?" My answers to that made sense to them, though, so these days they just try to look out for me in the financial literacy department. Plus Mom still submits wholesale orders for CDs, and leaves checks on the bookcase once they're sold to her co-workers. :)

WintermoonSnow wrote:I was wondering...was there ever a time when you had doubts about where you were going in life and the things that you needed to do in order to reach that place, and how you resolved the issue?


I'd research the various paths I could take, lay out rough plans for each, talk it over with my parents and close friends. (I should've sought out more people who were already doing what I wanted to do. I'm still a little shy and stubborn about that.) And then, if I was still torn, I'd sit quietly until I felt, somewhere in my head, the choice forming. I'd visualize a compass, the needle swinging, then slowly settling into a particular direction. And then I would trust that, as best I could. It's my convenient trick of combining fate and free will: it's all up to you, but if you listen carefully, you'll find that the decision is already there. And that's where you're supposed to go.

WintermoonSnow wrote:are you aware that you are on wikipedia?


I've even edited my own entry (just for factual accuracy; I co-headlined with Duncan, dammit!). It cracks me up that my photo on Wikipedia has me in one of Dina's knit hats—which I think I've worn onstage exactly once, the night that picture was taken.

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Postby asteroid » Wed Jan 02, 2008 2:00 pm

Vienna wrote:Lyrics and melody have to do with the voice, so put down the guitar and just try singing things aloud. If you're starting with lyrics, it's easy to get stuck singing them more or less as you'd speak; try drawing syllables out, pausing a long time between phrases, mixing up slow and fast. Experiment with singing everything on the same note, or with big jumps between high and low, loud and aggressive, soft and reflective, etc. If you're starting with a melody, sing nonsense just to find out what feels comfortable (there's the famous story of the Beatles' "Yesterday" starting out as "Scrambled Eggs"). You may eventually find that you like singing "Eeeeeeeepor fiiiiiah uuuuurky" to your melody, which you can then tweak into "Keep your fire burning," or "It's a fine morning," or whatever.


This is really instructive. Thank you for sharing with us the essence of the world that you were gifted!
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Postby My_Name_Is_Daniel » Fri Jan 04, 2008 12:37 am

Hi Vienna, thanks for doing some pimpin' shows in and around Raleigh lately (not really lately, but fresh in my head). Thanks for doing this Q&A session too, cool stuff.

*what is your ideal size of venue?
*do you mind if other musicians (ie, me) play covers of your songs in our own small shows?

Here's Johnny
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faith

Postby Here's Johnny » Sun Jan 06, 2008 7:24 am

I realize that you bring some faith-based elements out in your lyrics occasionally. What are your current thoughts on spiritual issues? How do they impact the way you do music? I'll understand if these questions are overstepping.

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Vienna imitation

Postby Here's Johnny » Sun Jan 06, 2008 7:35 am

Daniel mentioned playing covers of Vienna's music, and it reminded me of something. There's a video on youtube of a guy playing the album version of Gravity (instrumental only).

Check it out, Vienna. It's a nice tribute, with a bit of improv interspersed.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=CeeFwCd3X0E

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Postby arcsol » Sun Jan 06, 2008 4:23 pm

Vienna wrote:SONGWRITING

Lyrics and melody have to do with the voice, so put down the guitar and just try singing things aloud. If you're starting with lyrics, it's easy to get stuck singing them more or less as you'd speak; [...] If you're starting with a melody, sing nonsense just to find out what feels comfortable (there's the famous story of the Beatles' "Yesterday" starting out as "Scrambled Eggs").


very interesting. that quite explains why i find it so hard to attach lyrics to any of the riffs i manage to eke out from my muse. I. CAN'T. SING. seriously. in the land where videoke is king, that disability (i view it as such) can either brand you as a killjoy for life at the least or can get you killed at worst, especially if you sing Frank Sinatra's 'My Way' in a way unsatisfactory for some drunk (a little trivia tidbit - i think it's only in the Philippines where people get killed because of singing 'My Way' badly)

thanks for the tips. time to hunt for that muse of mine

Vienna wrote:CAREER

My best theory is that its merits are subtle: it's not startlingly groundbreaking, or super-catchy in that pop-song-of-the-moment way, it's not particularly danceable, and it's not always obvious what I'm talking about in the lyrics.


come to think of it - your own (rather harsh but has a clear ring of truth) description of your music is more or less the direct opposite of what the media giants is force-feeding the masses thru MTV and its ilk - over-used lyrics with grammar fit for (but not content) grade-school (or lower) kids, stock riffs, looping bass beats so loud that you'd think they were put there to help the listeners disregard the abovementioned lyrics... i don't mean to diss anyone's taste in music but jeez, where is the music heard by the masses headed?

and i beg to differ miss vienna - your songs have nasty hooks on them. we should know.


Vienna wrote:There's also the possibility that I'm not doing anything all that great, anyway. But I'm glad you think so, and that a modest and growing number of people think so. :) It's already something to be very grateful for.


i think you're doing great stuff through your music. a lot of other people do too (not necessarily members of this forum). so by proof of existence you are doing great stuff </geek>

Vienna wrote:It depends on the country, I think.


i just had to ask the question - because other than word-of-mouth through forums, blogs and others (not that efficient, depends on a lot of stuff going your way), giving original CDs or bootlegs of the stuff from archive.org as gifts (hella expensive if you think about it) and pointing people to archive.org, i can't think of any (LEGAL) means of pimping vienna and her music here in a land of covers and flash-in-the-pans and *gasp!* bands whose only assets (if you can call them that) are trying-hard-to-be-bishie band members among others.

(in case the QnA session with vienna is still on going)

how do you find us (your overly adoring fans)? i.e. if you were to describe the people in this forum using single words ONLY, what words would you use?

(what a looonnggg post ><)
A VT fan from the Philippines?

Do check out the 2014 Vienna Teng PHILIPPINES tour thread!

Drop a line and say hi! Post on the thread, leave a PM if you want, or send an email at marc dot a dot public at gmail dot com so we can make this happen!

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Postby sheeba » Sun Jan 06, 2008 5:19 pm

But I do wonder about the viability of a model like that in the YouTube/BitTorrent age; there's an entire generation that's growing up with the idea that you can always get media for free. Would they really pay for it voluntarily?


I'm pretty sure Jane Siberry (now known as Issa) pioneered self-determined pricing on her website in 2005.


NPR just aired an interesting story,Issa Reinvents More Than Music Sales, on Jane Siberry, digital distribution/self determined and creative pricing.

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Postby Erik » Sun Jan 06, 2008 8:15 pm

sheeba wrote:
But I do wonder about the viability of a model like that in the YouTube/BitTorrent age; there's an entire generation that's growing up with the idea that you can always get media for free. Would they really pay for it voluntarily?


I'm pretty sure Jane Siberry (now known as Issa) pioneered self-determined pricing on her website in 2005.


NPR just aired an interesting story,Issa Reinvents More Than Music Sales, on Jane Siberry, digital distribution/self determined and creative pricing.


I felt uncomfortable posting this here because it is probably way off topic, but since the topic of digital distribution has come up, Trent Reznor recently released the "sales" figures and "freeloading" figures for the Saul Williams digital only release "The Rise and Inevitable Liberation of Niggy Tardust."

Here's a quote:
"...A quick history: Saul makes a great record that I produce. We can't find the right home at a major label. We decide to release it ourselves, digitally. Saul does not have limitless financial resources so we shop around for a company that can fulfill our needs. We choose Musicane because they are competent and are willing to adapt to what we want. The results are here: niggytardust.com

We offer the entire record free (as in totally free to the visitor - we pay bandwidth costs) as 192 MP3s, or for $5 you can choose higher fidelity versions and feel good about supporting the artist directly. We offer all major CCs and PayPal as payment options.
Here's what I was thinking: Fans are interested in music as soon as it's available (that's a good thing, remember) and usually that's a leak from the label's manufacturing plants. Offering the record digitally as its first appearance in the marketplace eliminates that problem. I thought if you offered the whole record free at reasonable quality - no strings attached - and offered a hassle free way to show support that clearly goes straight to the artists who made it at an unquestionably low price people would "do the right thing". I know, I know...
Well, now I DO know and you will too.

Saul's previous record was released in 2004 and has sold 33,897 copies.

As of 1/2/08,
154,449 people chose to download Saul's new record.
28,322 of those people chose to pay $5 for it, meaning:
18.3% chose to pay.

Of those paying,

3220 chose 192kbps MP3
19,764 chose 320kbps MP3
5338 chose FLAC

Keep in mind not one cent was spent on marketing this record. The only marketing was Saul and myself talking as loudly as we could to anybody that would listen.
If 33,897 people went out and bought Saul's last record 3 years ago (when more people bought CDs) and over 150K - five times as many - sought out this new record, that's great - right?
I have to assume the people knowing about this project must either be primarily Saul or NIN fans, as there was very little media coverage outside our direct influence. If that assumption is correct - that most of the people that chose to download Saul's record came from his or my own fan-base - is it good news that less than one in five feel it was worth $5? I'm not sure what I was expecting but that percentage - primarily from fans - seems disheartening.
Add to that: we spent too much (correction, I spent too much) making the record utilizing an A-list team and studio, Musicane fees, an old publishing deal, sample clearance fees, paying to give the record away (bandwidth costs), and nobody's getting rich off this project.

But...
Saul's music is in more peoples' iPods than ever before and people are interested in him. He'll be touring throughout the year and we will continue to get the word out however we can.

So - if you're an artist looking to utilize this method of distribution, make of these figures what you will and hopefully this info is enlightening.

Best,
TR"

That means they made $141,610 on the album, which probably cost a bit more than that to make, considering bandwidth and production costs. But Saul is a relatively unknown artist, and those same music pirates would have downloaded the record without it making a cent. Those that chose to pay for it obviously liked what they'd heard and felt it was worth $5. I'm not sure I'd want to let people have a try before you buy method for an entire release, but it could work.


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