Singer-songwriter Ken Bierschbach has embraced the value of connecting — in small and big ways — with musicians, producers, fans, venues and more in navigating a career in music. It’s a lesson worth learning for all of us.
EDITOR’S NOTE:This Spins on Music guest column is one of a series of essays giving a voice to West Michigan musicians on topics dear to their hearts — assessing the highs and lows of the music scene, in their own words.
Support our coverage of
West Michigan's music scene
We’re All Connected.
In 2002, my friend Jim Bizer won the Great American Song Contest with a song carrying that title. Inspired by the tragedy of 2001, it’s also a reminder to all of us that we share a common thread of humanity and we should never forget that. When I hear that song, I think of the connections I have to so many who have helped me so much as a musician and performer.
I entered the Grand Rapids music scene very late in the ’90s, which was well into my own late 30s, not exactly “pop star” territory. I had a good job, two kids in high school and a recently discovered love for writing my own songs.
Joining a local songwriting group, I met others who not only inspired me, but in some cases became friends, co-writers and resources I can count on to this day. Even then, I don’t think I fully understood the importance of the connections I was making, still figuring I could do this on my own and succeed.
As a rabid music fan, I was consumed with the desire to “make a record.” But when I set out to record my very first album, I had no idea how to begin. A member of that songwriting group, local musician Cherie Hagen, offered me her husband Tom’s services in producing the record. I don’t know how Tom felt about this at the time, but this versatile musician and studio engineer was so gracious with his time and talent in putting together my first effort.
This connection grew into a friendship with both Tom and Cherie that lasts to this day, and both have contributed their formidable talents to every one of my subsequent recordings, which would certainly be lesser efforts without them.
SEEING THE LIGHT
From that moment on, I started to see how important our connections to others are.
I first started playing out primarily as a solo act, performing perhaps 10 gigs a year. But I had heard of guitarist Mark Swanson from a co-worker (who also happened to be his niece), and one day just called him out of the blue to introduce myself a bit more and chat.
That one phone call began a musical partnership now in its 13th year – a connection that not only changed my musical path for the better, but has provided me many opportunities I might not have had otherwise.
And then there’s a connection as simple but inspiring as this. In the spring of 2010, Chris Olsen and I took a trip to London with our wives. Visiting the infamous Beatles’ Abbey Road zebra crossing was the No. 1 priority on my to-do list. The crossing is a 10-minute walk from the underground station, and when we arrived, I was literally overcome.
We didn’t speak much, allowing this powerful connection to each other and millions of fans worldwide sink in. It’s one that can be felt physically, and as we did the obligatory four-person walk across the road, you couldn’t get the smiles off of our faces … nor off of the faces of a few dozen other people who were there, all watching, waiting, walking, connecting.
A LONG LIST OF LIFE-CHANGING LINKS
So on this day in 2013, I feel an incredible sense of gratitude to those who have given me a hand in so many different ways and I’m sure every musician and songwriter has experienced similar emotions in reflecting on their own careers.
Without naming names that would eat up several pages (though you might recognize yourself in this list), allow me to use this opportunity to simply say thank you for:
- Producing my records and always making them better than I’d ever envisioned;
- Lending your instrumental and vocal talent to my recordings;
- Providing me candid feedback on songs I played for you;
- Trusting me enough to book shows for you;
- Trusting me enough to ask me to play gigs with you;
- Enjoying my recordings enough that you agreed to pitch them for me;
- Giving me a contract that kept me writing;
- Asking me to be in your band;
- Booking me regularly for your seasonal shows;
- Walking across Abbey Road with me;
- Always being an encouraging word at your retreats;
- Your friendship in band life and personal life;
- Plugging me and my band in your columns and articles;
- Hiring me to play in your establishment;
- Asking for my autograph (what WERE you thinking?);
- Introducing me to other talented folks I might never have met without you;
- Listening to my demos, even when you said “no”;
- Coming to the shows;
- Reviewing my records;
- Giving me advice;
- Requesting the original songs;
- Being part of my musical life.
Here’s hoping 2013 and beyond finds us all in happy states of connectedness.
Ken Bierschbach is a writer whose music speaks to all of us, with a down-to-earth and personal quality revealing life’s joys and daily struggles. As he puts it, his music is found at the place where pop, rock, folk and country meet, displayed on four solo CDs: “The Bold Type” (1998), “Somewhere Out There” (2001), “Voyeur Constant” (2004) and “Brand New Clothes” (2010). Since 2001, he’s partnered with local luthier Mark Swanson, first performing as a duo, then adding bass player Ron Hovingh to form the popular band Party Of Three. Sadly, Ron passed away in late 2006, but the music dubbed “the soundtrack of your lives” has continued under the band name 13th Hour, with Jay Round on bass and Tom Davis on drums. Listen to Ken’s music and purchase CDs at his official website.
Bierschbach and 13th Hour perform live this month at these venues:
7 p.m. Feb. 22: Spectators Bar & Grill, Saugatuck
8 p.m. Feb. 28: One Trick Pony, Grand Rapids
Copyright 2013, Spins on Music