Monthly Archives: January 2018

Building a Community of Misfits

I sent this email to my fan list yesterday:

It was probably back in 2004 or 2005 that I started going to see the Denver band, The Railbenders.  I liked their electric guitar-based, old school style of country music, with original songs by bandleader Jim Dalton.  Soon after, Jim started a weekly series of acoustic music on Tuesday nights, which he named, oddly enough, Acoustic Tuesdays.  I began attending those on a regular basis, and got to know Jim as well as many of the hardcore Railbender fans.

By then, I was attending almost every Railbender gig not only for the music, but to hang out with the new friends I had made.  There was a sense of camaraderie among the core Railbender fans;  a sense of community.

Since then I have gone through various encarnations of my own bands.  However, I haven’t seen that same sense of community among fans developing when I play.  I want to change that.  I want to develop this community further, for both my acoustic band, Scupanon, and with Electric Poetry, my new electric band.  It struck me that I have friends from various sources who have never met.  They should.  I know they would like each other.  I would like to use my music as a way of bringing them together.

So from now on, I’m going to make a conscious effort to encourage my friends and fans to come to my shows not only for the music, but for the opportunity to hang out with friends, and make new friends.  Like I did with the Railbenders.  Ever since my friend Kurt Loken labeled me “the troubadour of the misfit” back in 2009, my mission has to create and perform music for misfits.  What better way to bring misfits together, than at my shows?

A community of misfits?  It seems like an oxymoron.  Afterall, misfits, by definition, don’t fit in.  But maybe it could be done, if the music served them.  What do you think?

The next gathering of the misfits will take place on February 8 at Herman’s Hideaway in Denver.  Electric Poetry is playing, along with 4 other bands.  Your new friends will be waiting there to meet you.

Your fellow misfit,


2017 Year-in-Review Addendum

I don’t only work on music during the year.  So here’s some other highlights of my 2017:

New great songwriter discovered in 2017:
Rachel Sermanni

Movies I enjoyed in 2017:
Eyes on the Prize:  America’s Civil Rights Years (documentary)
Maggie’s Plan
The Cotton Club
The Train
Merchant’s of Doubt (documentary)
A Most Wanted Man
The Wind that Shakes the Barley
Jimmy’s Hall
I am Sam
Muscle Shoals
The Lady in the Van
Steve Jobs:  The Man in the Machine (documentary)

Books I enjoyed in 2017:
Chrissie Hynde, Reckless: My Life as a Pretender
Johnny Marr, Set the Boy Free: The Autobiography
John Lydon, Anger is an Energy:  My Life Uncensored
Ryan White, Jimmy Buffett:  A Good Life all the Way
Willie Nelson, Willie:  An Autobiography
Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang
James C. Cobb, The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity
John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi
Charles Gati, Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest, and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt
Gary Webb, Dark Alliance: Movie Tie-In Edition: The CIA, the Contras, and the Cocaine Explosion
Fred Halstead, Out Now; A Participant’s Account of the American Movement Against the Vietnam War
Howard Weir III, A Paradise of Blood: The Creek War of 1813–14
James Howard Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape
Andres Duany et al, Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream 

Also I made some new friends, rediscovered an old friend from college, and further developed my friendship with people I met in 2016 or earlier.  I didn’t realize what a good year it was until I typed this up!


2017: A Year of Transition and my Goals for 2018

2017 was a year of transition for me.  I completed 2 years of formal music study at Metro State University in Denver.  My acoustic band took a break, and I started a new rock band, although not the one I intended.  I clarified my musical mission and goals, and made the decision to transition from a serious hobbyist to a semi-professional musician.

Formal Music Study
January-May 2017 was my fourth semester at Metro State University in Denver.  I took Music Theory 4, Piano Class 4 and Basic Techniques of Composition.  The introductory composition class was fantastic.  For our midterm and final, we had 3 weeks to compose something 2-5 minutes long, for piano, clarinet and flute.  I am especially proud of my final composition, which I named “The Journey.”  I named it that because it became clear to me that I was subconsciously writing music that summed up my last two years of going back to school for music.  It was a great experience, one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.  It made me a better musician, a better composer and songwriter, and will make me a better teacher and producer of other people’s music– two goals of mine.

My Bands
My acoustic band, Scupanon, played a gig in February, and then we took a break.  Paul Ermisch (violin) and I have been playing together for 7 years, and it just seemed like we needed a break.  Plus I wanted to form my psychedelic hard rock band, Total Flower Chaos.  I didn’t find the right musicians for that, but I started jamming with three excellent musicians– guitarist Paul Webb, bassist Sean Mullen, and drummer Jay Meikrantz.  They wanted to play my singer-songwriter songs.  So we started playing out at the end of August, and recently adopted the name of Electric Poetry, as suggested by my friend, Janet Lipson, who joined the band as a backing vocalist.  So Total Flower Chaos didn’t happen, but Electric Poetry did.  Life happens that way sometimes.  After playing my first few gigs with these guys, I realized that this band will help me realize my mission of serving the misfits.

My Mission
Serving the misfits– that’s my mission.  It has been ever since I decided to make the goofy “throwaway” song by that name the title song of my first big album in 2010.  The response to that song has made me realize how many people consider themselves misfits.  Even people who I would have considered “mainstream” don’t think of themselves that way.  They might have a mainstream haircut, wear mainstream clothes, have a mainstream job, a mainstream family, and live in a mainstream neighborhood, but they don’t feel like they fit in.  They relate to “Misfit.”  These are my people.  These are the people I want to serve with my music.

I have to criticize myself for one thing in 2017:  I did not spend enough time on songwriting.  I was not disciplined.  In the past, I found that if I scheduled songwriting sessions, I would get songs written.  But I didn’t do that.  I guess I figured that, not having a day job, I didn’t need to schedule sessions;  I could just write when I felt like it.  But that didn’t happen.  Sure, I started a lot of songs, and completed a few, but I should have gotten a lot more songs finished.  So scheduling songwriting sessions, and putting more time into songwriting, will be my #1 priority in 2018.

Teaching Songwriting
I can, however, celebrate achievements in my goal of teaching the art of songwriting to others.  Last summer I developed a songwriting class, and tested it on a few songwriters I know.  I was a success, and so I pitched one portion of my class to the Rocky Mountain Song School, which I’ve been attending most years since 2004.  It was accepted, so now I get to attend the school as a teacher next year.  I will be teaching a class on how to generate new music ideas for songs.  And I want to start giving private songwriting lessons or mentoring in 2018.

Composing Music for Film and TV
Another one of my goals has been to explore the possiblity of writing songs and composing music for the movie and TV industry.  I joined Taxi in 2016, an organization that connects songwriters and composers to people in the film and TV industry.  I attended their annual conference in November, where I learned a lot and made contacts.  Before beginning to compose music for their listings, however, I am working to improve my recording engineering skills, which is essential to working in this business today.

Work:  A 4-letter Word
2017 brings to an end my 3 1/2 year period of doing music full-time.  When I volunteered for a layoff from my IT job 4 years ago, I had no illusions that I would be able to make a living from music.  For the previous 5 years, I had cut my expenses and saved my overtime money so I could do this.  I knew that, barring some big break, I would have to take a day job again at some point.  Well, that point is now.  My savings lasted longer than I expected (call me a savvy investor) but have almost run out.  So at the beginning of 2018 I took a new day job.

From Hobbyist to Semi-Professional Musician
All the money that I make from the new job above my living expenses will go into my retirement fund, so so I can hopefully retire for good at 66 and just do music full-time until I die.  Music will have to pay for itself from now on.  Music expenses will have to equal music income.  I call this being a semi-professional musician.

New Recordings
When I say music must pay for itself from now on, that includes new recordings.  That will be difficult, given the current trends in the music industry.  In the “old days”– that is, just 10 years ago– you could sell CDs and downloads and recover your recording costs, and– heaven forbid– maybe even make a little more.  But now, when streaming is the prevailing way of listening to music, that is impossible for all but the biggest pop artists.  Big corportate streaming services such as Youtube, Apple and Spotify only pay a small fraction of a penny per stream, so it is impossible for small independent artists such as myself to recoup the recording costs.

The problem is compounded by the fact that live music venues are paying less and less.  In the Denver area, for example, I am finding it difficult to find gigs that pay more that $150– for the entire band– and many don’t pay anything at all.

So independent artists such as myself have to find new ways of raising revenue if we want to record new songs.  Towards that goal, about a year ago, I became an artist in the Standing O Project.  The Standing O Project is a small company of people– musicians and songwriters themselves– who think songwriters and musicians should be able to make a living at music.  They have changed the way artists are compensated when their music is streamed so that artists get a much larger percentage of your subscription fee.

The Misfit Club
So one of my goals for 2018 is to get more of my fans to subscribe to the Standing O Project.  I see this as part of a larger goal of building a community of supporters that I call The Misfit Club.  The details of that remain to be worked out, but that is a significant component of my goal of becoming a semi-professional musician where music income covers music expenses.

More and Better Gigs
I also plan to play more– and better paying– gigs in 2018.  This is another part of completing the transition from a music hobbyist to a semi-professional musician.  If music income music cover music expenses, then gigs must provide income.  I will now focus on venues that pay better, and forego some of the venues I’ve played in the past that don’t pay well– or at all.

Building Community
I also want to start promoting my gigs as a way of building community.  I want to encourage my friends and fans to come to my bands’ gigs not only for the music, but as a way of meeting new friends.  I want Scupanon and Electric Poetry shows to be a gathering of friends.  A community of misfits– although that sounds like an oxymoron– and perhaps an impossible goal.  But I say it’s worth trying!

I also want to apply the community concept to other bands and individual performers.  I want to find people who share my cooperative spirit by helping each other get gigs, and inviting their friends to open for them at gigs.  I have done this for many people and bands over the years, and some have returned the favor.  So I want to network more in 2018 and find people and bands who share my attitude.

As I mentioned I will schedule songwriting sessions in 2018, and get more of the dozens of songs I’ve started finished.  And if I succeed in recruiting more members of the Misfit Club, I might be able to think about my next album.

So there you have it.  The transition year is over, and I’m moving forward in 2018.  More songwriting, more composing, more gigs, and the start of my songwriting teaching career.  Build community, income covers expenses, and start raising funds for a new album.

As Timbuk III said way back when, “the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”

-Rob  January 22, 2018

New Song “Empty”

by Rob Roper  2nd Draft  Jan 20, 2018

A thousand friends
no one to talk to, so I
sit and stare
at a plastic rectangle, four by three

I make some calls
hoping for conversation
No reply.
No escape from isolation.


How can we feel so empty in
a city of a million people?
How can we pretend
nothing’s wrong?

Sit with me and talk for awhile
I want to see your smile
’cause all too soon this moment
will be gone

We started out, in a
garden of Eden, but now we live
most of our lives
under a ceiling

It all builds up, so we
look for ways to vent our rage, we roll
down the street, in a
climate-controlled, metal cage