Showcasing Songs Online
This article is posted in connection with Musical Writerzine issue 29.
Many writers share pieces of their new musical directly through the internet, using YouTube or websites to showcase selections of their work. Songwriters might post a few songs in hopes of being discovered by a producer, or as an aid in marketing a show to theaters. For Charlie Gilbert, a Philadelphia songwriter and musical theater composer, posting songs is about reaching out at a turning point in his life. Here is his story.
Starting on January 1, 2015, Gilbert began posting songs he’s written – one every day – on his blog, chasgilbert.com, and he’s not going to stop until he’s reached his sixtieth birthday this summer. By that time, he’ll have posted 194 songs, which explains why he’s calling his initiative Project 194. Each song is accompanied by commentary in which Charlie reflects on the craft of songwriting, the particular challenges he confronted in the song, and how it reflects his way of looking at the world, in ways that fellow songwriters and song-lovers are sure to find meaningful.
Even though he’s only in the ninth week of the endeavor, Gilbert says the response has already been gratifying. A few days ago, his website passed the 700-visitor mark, and has hosted over a thousand unique sessions. “Every week, hundreds of people are coming to the site and listening to the songs,” he notes, and many have subscribed to receive a song a day via email. “It’s like a virtual concert attended not just by friends but total strangers too. It’s way better than having these songs languish in obscurity,” says Gilbert.
Gilbert is not exactly a household name in the music industry. He’s written a handful of shows, and he’s best known for one that inspired a musical of the same name by more famous authors: his 1979 musical Assassins, which became the source of the idea for the Tony Award-winning musical of the same name by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman. Gemini the Musical, an adaptation of Albert Innaurato’s award-winning comedy, was commissioned by the Prince Music Theater, received a Barrymore nomination for best original music in 2004, and appeared in the New York Musical Theater Festival in 2007. His most extensive exposure has come from his score for Harold and the Purple Crayon, an Enchantment Theatre Company production now in its third year of touring the US; “because of that production,” notes Gilbert, “thousands and thousands of people all over the country have heard my original music.”
That’s the main reason that motivated Gilbert to undertake Project 194. “I’ve written way too much good music that remains unheard,” he observes, and cites Austin Kleon’s recent book Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered
as a big influence in making the decision to share his work online. “Getting rich and famous couldn’t be farther from my mind, but if I can connect with responsive listeners, that’s all the reward I’m looking for.”
When he’s not busy posting songs on the internet, Gilbert teaches on the faculty at The University of the Arts, whose musical theater program he helped to establish twenty-five years ago. He introduces students to a wide range of songs in his Musical Theater History and Song Analysis classes (though his own tunes are not on the syllabus).
When the day of the Big Six-Oh arrives, Gilbert is planning a concert which will feature the best of the 194 songs he’s posted on his blog. Visitors to the site have a chance to contribute to the concert by participating in “Hear My Song,” an interactive composition that Gilbert has conceived. Participants are asked to make a video of themselves singing along with a short theme that Gilbert has posted, and the composer will to digitally weave the submissions into a contrapuntal canvas. It’s just one more unique idea from the composer who first conceived of a musical starring presidential assassins.
You can discover this musical, and his other creations, by visiting chasgilbert.com.
To hear the Assassins numbers specifically go to chasgilbert.com/?tag=assassins