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Hi there.  For those of you who don't know me, my name's Tom Smith, and I've been a Kossack since Nov. 2003.

I'm an indie musician (mostly comedy, mostly folk-rock).  Over twenty albums since 1991; the official chantey for Talk Like A Pirate Day (and video with the Pirate Guys singing with me); Awards Banquet performances at Dragon*Con 2009 and 2010; numerous appearances on The Dr. Demento Show, and a few live appearances with the Doctor himself; charter member of The Funny Music Project.  Hundreds of performances from coast to coast over the past twenty-five years, including at EschaCon 08.

Basically, I've been making music half my life, and I'm pretty good at it.

And, though I am loath to ask for it, I could really, really use some financial help right now.  I'm up to my eyeballs in it, and I'm out of short-term resources, and the long-term ones are taking too long, and, and, and....

Let me explain.

I've been trying to make it financially as a musician, especially since I got a bad leg injury in 2008 and I'm physically handicapped.  But, right now, it isn't working, and it hasn't been working for about a year and a half since things got really bad out there, and it's all finally caught up with me.

[boring earlier job history part; you can skip if you want to]

I didn't used to be a musician.  (Insert lumberjack joke here.)  I had a job in the mortgage industry; said job went away in Feb. 2004.  We used to prepare documents for the signings.  Our customers, loan officers, would send us the data; we'd send 'em back a PDF of their docs.  Basically, it meant they didn't have to have a loan clerk on-site with a closet full of paperwork in triplicate (I did that earlier in my career).  It was stressful as hell, but it was a job, with benefits and everything.

And then came July 2003.

The signs of (as Atrios puts it) Great Shitpile were evident internally to many of the larger companies then; a lot of them started moving in-house for all their services, so as not to pay fees to outside contractors.  This included a lot of mortgage brokers... who were our customers.  Whole lot less work coming in from that end all of a sudden -- like, one-eight our previous numbers, and then it started dropping even faster.

We were also bludgeoned by companies who did the docs automatically, for about 15% of the fee we charged.

Our biggest strength was customer service, but we couldn't beat a plummeting customer base and we couldn't beat automation.  I was let go in the third wave of layoffs, when our company was already down from over 50 employees to about nine.

I got my six months of Michigan unemployment insurance and tried to get back into the rat race.  Problem was, so did about 150,000 other people who had been let go by various mortgage companies over the five-county Southeastern Michigan area.  I had one phone interview, one cattle call (fifteen other people applying at the same time for the same job), and basically no luck.  The worst thing I got a reply for was something to (paraphrase here) "help the elderly make choices about their health care coverage".  Turned out it was insurance sales.

When the unemployment ran out, I looked at my resources... and I was just making enough from the music online to take up the slack from the unemployment.

A number of friends had been telling me I should go pro for awhile.  Well, you don't have to hit me in the head more than seven or eight times.

It went really well for a few years.  I had a lot of fun, I made a lot of music, and I was able to pay the bills.  Hardly a grandiose living, but it worked, and I felt better about myself than I ever had in my life.

And then, in June 2008, I screwed up badly.  Took that literal one wrong step, and tore my left quad all to hell.  They had to go looking for it.  Between that and a couple of other medical conditions, I am pretty much permanently disabled.

My friends helped out, financially and otherwise.  I got myself as healed up as I could (which is not as much as you'd like, when you're a big fat guy).  And I threw myself back into it.

But, by this time, there was a very bad combination of things.  My leg and my weight severely limited how much I could do.  The economy was making selling music online a less promising proposition without increasing my fan base (which of course I've been trying to do).  And a couple of bills got behind and stayed there.

I have tried several times to get Social Security Disability.  (The second time, I was declined because they said I could get a job at Help Desk.  I'd tried that, and so had everybody else in Michigan, and the jobs were not and still are not there.  And I can only assume the judge at my hearing had never heard of outsourcing.)  My next hearing is scheduled for March 21, and it'll take up to six months for a decision after that, which doesn't help a lot now.

For two years I was on Medicaid and food assistance, but that ran out, and now they've cut them back severely in Michigan.  Thanks, Gov. Snyder.

I asked friends for help again.  I did not want to, but when the wolves are at the door there isn't a lot of choice.  And they came through.  But they have helped so much, given so much, I simply do not want to ask them again.  They haven't got it either.

I physically cannot work another job.  I can get around maybe a hundred feet without having to sit down and catch my breath for five minutes.  My back and legs are in constant pain (thank FSM for ibuprofen).  I have other conditions, manageable in the long term but not suitable for employment.  Even if I could, the jobs I held earlier basically no longer exist, and were based on proprietary software, so my skill set is hopelessly out of date, even for office work.

So.  Here I am.  February rent is unpaid (and I've got an eviction notice), electric bill is unpaid, phone/internet is unpaid, March rent is coming up, and I've got about fifteen bucks in unrolled coins and a similar amount in returnable bottles.  I am trying to, as they say, monetize my intellectual properties, but most of my plans are longer-term, and will start paying off in three or four months... or longer.  Same with waiting on the SocSecDis.

I need help now.

Now, I'm doing my best not to moan or whine, and I'm not just boldly asking for a handout.  I mean, I have a Virtual Open Guitar Case on my site, and if you want to drop money into that, that's wonderful and I appreciate it.  And I'll even send you some downloads for doing so.  But what I'm really asking is, if you're in the mood to help a brother out, check out my stuff and buy some of it.  Like, today or tomorrow.

There's lots of video of me performing on YouTube (as well as some fan-made videos), I have a Bandcamp site that has an excellent player program and music download formats besides MP3, I have a player on my own site called Death Sheep Radio... lots of ways to hear my stuff and decide if you like it.  And, if you do, it would be very nice if you could buy some of it.

I hope you enjoy my music, and thank you all so much for reading, and for listening.

ETA: Holy frijoles, the Rec list!  Wow.  Thanks so much.

ETA2: Oh my god.

Past due electric/heat -- paid.
Phone -- paid.
Auto insurance -- reinstated.
Car -- gassed up.
Feb. rent -- halfway there.

I cannot begin to tell you how awesome you all are.  Thank you so much.  Thank you.

ETA3: Yowzah.  Your kindness and generosity overwhelm me.  Feb. rent is covered, working on March, and all you silly, wonderful people who put something into the Virtual Open Guitar Case have some downloads in your e-mail (from "Pretzel Productions", which is me).  I'll respond to all the comments below in a little bit, but... I am truly humbled.  Thank you all again.

And, yeah, I think we can work up an online concert or two.  :D

Originally posted to Music To Save The World By on Thu Feb 23, 2012 at 09:33 AM PST.

Also republished by Income Inequality Kos, Community Fundraisers, ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement, DK Grants, and DKOMA.

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