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On Becoming a Full-Time Performing Artist.

On Becoming a Full-Time Performing Artist.

You might get to a point in your musical life where you have to make a decision – Will you take the Keep Growing path, or the Stay Put path?

Stay Put is nice. You learn about three hours worth of popular cover songs and work the local bar scene. You are the go-to band for local weddings and holiday events. You have a full repertoire of Christmas music at arms reach at any given time, and you’re a pro in the studio for the odd recording gig. You probably play for more than one band and you can make a comfortable, albeit hectic, living as a musician.

Once you’ve chosen Stay Put, touring sounds too difficult and you have a mortgage and a big dog that gets carsick, so you’re not taking that kind of risk. But hey, don’t feel bad about it; having a bed, a fridge, and a kitchen are really underrated these days.

Keep Growing is a dangerous path. How much will you abandon for your ambition as an artist? In Keep Growing, you become a gambler. An educated gambler, one who knows the odds are stacked heavily against you, but a gambler nonetheless. You know that less than 5% of bands and DJs actually make a living making music. You know that 91% of bands are considered undiscovered. And you know that, even if you sell out 6,000-cap rooms, you might still end up working a day job back home.

You will play countless empty houses and bars laden with apathetic patrons and gigs where you have to remind the bar owner how much they agreed to pay you. Keep Growing demands that you live out of a suitcase. It demands that you get creative with food and budgeting and performance. It demands that you learn all those cover songs, too, but instead of having a built-in audience, you’re risking your covers on totally new crowds every night.

Not deterred yet? Okay, let’s Keep Growing.

Master your local scene and move on as a Weekend Warrior.

Are people coming to your local shows? Are you the hot talk around town? Are local venues reaching out to you, and paying you for your work? You might be ready for Keep Growing.

It’s important to get solid at performing locally. Be well-known as a helpful, responsible, hard-working band around town. One thing my partner Wobbles and I try to do is provide as much set-up and tear-down help as we can with local groups that we play with. We also use this time to polish our marketing and promotion skills, to test out new merchandise, and to get really good at organizing events and shows locally.

When you start reaching out on a larger scale, you’ll need to be able to do all of these things. Venues might want you to build a bill, promote all on your own, and bring your own equipment. They have these expectations because other bands can do these things for them. Don’t be the one who has to turn down a gig because you don’t know how to set up a PA or you don’t know how to reach out to bands in those markets, especially if that gig pays.

There’s a big step between mastering your local scene and hitting the road for long tours. That step is the Weekend Warrior. Before you quit your entire life at home, start traveling shorter distances to scenes near your own. This is easier said than done in some states, but if you can take two days off of work in a row, you should be able to use that time to travel to a new city, play a show or two, and head back home. Do you live in Illinois and consider your local scene to be Chicago? Head north to Wisconsin and play in Milwaukee or Madison. Get to know bands in other cities. Connect with other performers. Make as many friends as you can – this is where the real enrichment of touring comes from, anyway – and offer to host them in your city for a show. These relationships are vital.

Weekend Warrior tours are very telling of your ability to stay on the Keep Growing path. If you find these shows exhausting or boring or can’t book gigs that will pay you, odds are, long-term touring isn’t going to do that for you, either. There are plenty of people discussing what recipes work best for Weekend Warriors, so make sure you do your homework.

By the way, this is also a great time to figure out how much you think your show should be worth, and a great time to enforce that rule with venues whenever possible. This varies from person to person and from bandmate to bandmate, and, in the end, it might come down to how much your scene is actually willing to pay. But remember – you’re providing a service to a venue. If you bring a big crowd, it’s time to negotiate payment. That will be another blog for another time.

Keep people drinking.

As a newbie touring artist, bars are by far your biggest supporters. They’re often willing to give you a percent of the door or a flat rate – if you can bring them what they want. What do bars want? Cover songs. Lots of ‘em. Sometimes as much as three hours worth. Get your three 45-minute sets tight and clean and full of cover songs. That doesn’t mean you can’t play originals – but you should stick to the ones that fit and sprinkle them in here and there within the set. The bar sees your job as keeping people drinking. If you can’t keep people at the bar, it’s likely they won’t ask to have you back.

You’ll start to learn tricks as a Keep Growing artist that encourage people to fill their drinks. A local favorite of ours, Casey Frazier, has mastered the skill of bringing repeat customers by learning the songs they want to hear and involving them in his set with sing-alongs, fun banter, and lots of cheers that keep the beer flowing. There is a science to interacting with your crowd that engages them; it’s a science I’m still learning every day. It becomes easier with practice. There are plenty of blog writers out there that have written about this at length; I might add my own two cents at some point. Suffice to say, read as much as you can and practice these skills. The bar will notice, and patrons will come back because they enjoy being a part of the show.

Get good at budgeting.

Look at all that sweet, sweet budget data.

If you don’t keep a strict budget now, you’re not ready for Keep Growing. There are resources out there to help you. The site that is solely responsible for my fiscal aptitude is Mint. It’s a fantastic resource for setting your financial goals, tracking incoming and outgoing funds, and making sure you’re not going over-budget on the items you spend money on. I imagine there are other, similar services out there to help you with this, too, if you prefer.

What I like most about Mint is seeing exactly where my bad spending habits were – $70 a month on clothes? $200 a month eating out? $150 a month on coffee?! – and being able to consciously decide to quit spending money in such a way by having an alert message on my phone whenever I got too close to my set budget. Doing this for half a year could leave you enough money for a down payment toward a tour van, or possibly even enough money to print your album.

Budgeting like this is useful not just because Keep Growing demands that you spend less on things you don’t need – and believe me, it does – but it also tells you how much money you need to be making to cover your normal expenses, too. If you need $1200 a month to survive and you’re only pulling in four $200 gigs a month, you’re not ready for Keep Growing unless you have a lot of money in savings to spend or are willing to make some major cuts to things that make your life comfortable, like the more expensive toilet paper or your cat that always gets sick or your entire apartment.

Use these new financial skills to build a fake tour. If there’s a tour destination you have in mind, figure out how far you have to travel, how much gas you’ll need to purchase, how much a hotel room will cost, and how much you’ll spend on food. You’ll use these figures to find out if your gigs will cover your costs. Many bands tour at a loss. Will you be one of them?

Get into business.

I know the rebel artist inside of you says your Keep Growing path should never be hindered by bureaucracy, but if you don’t have any business sense about your music as a lifestyle, your band will die a slow, financially draining death and you’ll wake up on the other side of it a jaded nihilist. Your band needs to be a business. Are you the sole proprietor? Is your band a partnership? What members of your band are owners? Are you copy-writing everything you’re making? What contracts do you have written up with your co-members? If you haven’t thought about your band in these terms yet but you’ve started making money, it’s time.

The process of becoming a business isn’t too difficult, but it varies state to state. The benefits of doing this are great – you’ll be able to write off countless expenditures, you can sign up for a business checking account to keep everything kosher, and you’ll be able to start writing up bigger contracts for your performances for colleges and universities. (Performing for colleges is another story for another day.) The biggest benefit to our music business was by far the


addition of a business credit card, which gives us cash back on gas and food, thus adding another level of saving – but also a level of responsibility. (If you can’t manage your personal debt situation as it is, owning a business could be the mistake that destroys your credit, so tread carefully.)

Talk to a tax professional or CPA in your community and pay for their advice if necessary. Having someone who knows your local tax code will save you a lot of trouble down the line if you plan on making a living with music.

If you’re willing to put the work into starting a business, ask your librarian if they have any Nolo guides for starting your own business. These legal guides can help you navigate everything you need to know about getting your music business off the ground, from licensing to writing your business plan.

Create a SWOT report.

The Complete Marketing Process by DiscMakers is a must read for groups looking to go full time. One of the best things I took from this piece by Bobby Borg is that it pushed me to create a SWOT report for our group. According to the Complete Marketing Process, “SWOT is an acronym that stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. The idea is to identify external needs and opportunities that match your internal strengths while also considering your internal weaknesses and the external risks (e.g. competition) that could impact your ability to succeed.” While writing up my own SWOT report, I had to face a lot of information about what we were capable of and what skills we were lacking as a group. Knowing what you’re good at and what you’re bad at matters.

By the way, if you want to learn a ton about marketing and getting these business-minded pieces together, try and find books like this one in your local library, or buy a copy and get reading.

These are just starting line suggestions to help you figure out how far along you are on your path to going full time. If you haven’t mastered these skills, you’re probably not ready to leave your local scene. And that’s okay! You will get as good as you want to get at all of these things. Remember, you are in control of where your music takes you, and the only thing between you and the life you want is the level of sacrifice – and the amount of hard learning – you’re willing to take. As Victor Wooten says in the Music Lesson, “There is only one reason that you ever fail at anything… and that is because you eventually change your mind.”

A Story of Living in a Trailer.

A Story of Living in a Trailer.

Our Skamper's just a little bit dirty. #colorado #winter #VanLife

A photo posted by Lillie Lemon (@lillielemon) on

I awoke with a start to the rattle and bang at the door. I sat up and pulled the blanket around me. I was dreaming before, images quickly escaping to the rhythm of my jolted heart. Headlights infiltrated the covered windows and left unwelcome stains upon the bed. A voice penetrated our private cocoon.

“Hey! Hey, you can’t sleep here!” Bang, bang, bang. Flashlight. Security guard, cop?

Eric threw on a pair of jeans and went to the door, rubbing his face, already resigned. He opened the latch and a flashlight beam struck an exposed shelf loaded with pots and pans.

“There weren’t any signs.”

“You can’t sleep here.”

“We were waiting for them to open.”

“No overnight parking.”

“We’ll move,” he muttered, and closed the door.

I worked my body into some clothes, already feeling the chill of the night air from Eric’s brief interaction with the security guard. Those lights still stabbing into the trailer, we didn’t need to turn on any of our own. I half stumbled to the van and we drove to another spot. It’s hard to remember during those times how long a certain drive might take – a strange combination of fear and exhaustion set in and time got fuzzy. We might have found a rest stop far enough up the line, or a Walmart, or a casino.

Another time. We share a Planet Fitness membership and we found one nearby in a shopping center. It was late, though I couldn’t say just how late now – 12 a.m., 2 a.m.? When you’re a musician, it’s always late. The moment we pulled into the parking lot I saw the security car. It raced to catch up to us. He parked halfway across the lot, his vehicle facing us with its headlights pointing an accusatory beam in our direction. I went back to the trailer to change into my gym clothes. I knew what it all meant. I was seasoned.

Moments after we closed the door, we heard him pounding, fist heavy. Eric opened the door and I squeezed in front of him, waving my Planet Fitness ID in front of my face.

“We’re members,” I half shouted, aggressive with resentment. “We use this gym, okay? Were you going to wait even a minute?”

“You can’t park here.”

“We’re using the gym.”

“The moment you’re finished, you have to leave.”

“No shit.”

“I’m just doing my job.”

I laugh at the joke, but mostly I laugh out of anger. One of this gym’s mottos is “No Intimidation.” I told the staff that we were harassed in the parking lot by security because of our vehicle. They seemed pretty surprised. I wish I could’ve said the same.

Walmart is often a safe bet, but never in California, where everyone shakes their fists at any sign of a camper. We scope out lots for other RVs or semis. Their presence is a good sign. If there are other shops in the shopping center, it’s more risky to park there. Is that a street sweeper I heard, or a security vehicle hired by the mall to kick us out? I’ve stayed up for hours in the grip of anxiety, checking and double-checking each passing headlamp.

RV parks run expensive for our budget. $45 a night to sleep in our own vehicle? It’s hard to justify the cost. Rest stops are free. So are Flying J, Loves, and other truck stops. Falling asleep to the idling hum of semis on either side of you, knowing you’re flanked by a world of weary travelers welcomed to these concrete camping universes, is hugely comforting. The idling of a truck is quick to ease me into sleep.

But imagine the hotel rooms. More expensive than RV parks, such questionable quality. I lifted the blanket and noticed the corner of the sheet, upside-down with the tag exposed. Were they on this way because the staff put them on incorrectly, or because they didn’t wash the sheets? A stranger’s hair clogged the drain during one shower. Stained curtains, mystery spots on the carpet. I would’ve hated to take a black light tour of some of those $85 rooms.

The alarm went off well before we wanted to be up. The blackout hotel curtains shielded us from daylight, but we knew it was close to 10 a.m. Early check-out times as an artist that works until the wee hours of the morning were nightmarish. I felt the sleep in my muscles for hours after. Sometimes, if we were lucky, the hotel would give us a late check-out. Most of them charged by the hour. How much is an extra hour or two of sleep worth? The night before, I might have said nothing.  In the morning, eyes lidded and still heavy with sleep, I would’ve paid my weight in gold for the alarm to disappear into a black hole somewhere.

We found our way to the lobby and drank bitter hotel coffee out of Styrofoam cups. We took a soppy red apple each from the hotel’s sparse continental breakfast options and lugged our bags out to the van.

Another time. We met up on the road with one of our favorite artists, David Paige. After sharing a bill, we found ourselves parked in a hotel parking lot. All of us – including David’s two bandmates and our merch girl, Meg – crammed into the full-sized bed and the bunk above. We laughed and talked while Eric made his world-famous tacos on the stove, passing the delicious and filling food down the line to each of us in the bed like a vegan Jesus feeding the multitudes at Bethsaida.

Welcome to the party RV. #PortamentoTour #VanLife #rvlife

A video posted by Lillie Lemon (@lillielemon) on

Another time. A flurry of March snows greeted us as we weaved our way down Colorado’s Highway 50 in the dark. The roads were icy and white with recent snows. Maps told us there was a river below, but we saw nothing but blackness. I slowed the van, searching for a pull-off that wouldn’t be plowed in if the snow got too deep. As the only Midwesterner in the van, I was glad to be the one driving in the black slush.

We crossed a bridge and found a rest stop, sign half obscured by snow. The stop backed up against a steep wall of rock, its color and features obscured in the dark. Two pitted toilets marked the space, but no other vehicles were to be found. The three of us hurried back to the trailer.

We were happy to have a working heater again. The December before, we hadn’t been so lucky. I laughed about this with Meg; she hadn’t been there for the last tour. The three of us crammed into the quickly-warming space of the trailer, brushing teeth and trading off sink time and talking about the success of the show earlier in the evening.

We crawled into our respective beds, Meg clambering onto the top bunk and Eric and I nesting below. We joked about freezing sheets, shivering as we allowed our body heat to warm our covers. Meg placed a few of her things on the wooden shelf Eric built for her beside her cozy bunk. The blower motor in the heater hummed along happily. I was pleased with the familiar lumpiness of my favorite pillow. During those nights, every side of the pillow was the cold side.

When I awoke, the warmth of the trailer was paired with the cold, clear light of a late spring morning. I pressed my hand against the glass of the window to check the temperature and was greeted by a bright chill. Eric was already brewing a fresh pot of coffee on the propane stove. We dressed in layers and stepped out, carrying our mugs of hot coffee made with beans from our favorite local roaster in Seaside, California.

We found ourselves backed up against an orange wall of steep rock. Stone and snow crunched beneath my shoes in an icy hello. We quickly discovered a hiking trail that led down to the Gunnison River, banks low and muddy before the seasonal melt of mountain ice. The altitude and bright sunlight kept most of the snow from sticking beyond the shadow of early morning. We breathed deep. We talked. We laughed. We sipped our hot coffee. Crisp, cold air filled our lungs and nipped our cheeks.

Thanks for the love, Wobbles. #PortamentoTour #colorado

A photo posted by Lillie Lemon (@lillielemon) on

That would be the last time our trailer would see snow during that tour. Its tires were muddy, eagerly camped behind our giant and damn-close-to-regal Sprinter. It was serendipitous that we woke up there, that we chose to park when we did, and that we weren’t holed up in an unfamiliar hotel room along the highway.

How lucky we are, to have our tiny house attached to us whenever we tour. These parking lot attendants will never know the 60 thousand miles this little rig has traveled, through snow and rain, sleet and hail and sunshine. They’ll never know about the parks we’ve visited, the countless delicious meals we’ve made on our stove-top, the hitchhikers we’ve transported, the show’s we’ve performed. They’ll never know the countless load-outs and load-ins, the endless work, the lack of sleep. They’ll never know the times we’ve invited other musicians or new friends to join us for Eric’s famous tacos or a bucket of popcorn or a beer. To them, the van and the trailer are an unwelcome stain on some parking lot somewhere; but inside, there’s a universe of life and experiences, warmth and comfort and food and friends. But if they ever wanted to join us for a bowl of home-made soup, they’d be more than welcome, so long as they don’t mind eating in the bed.

Make the Most of Your Merchandise.

Make the Most of Your Merchandise.

Sometimes, you won’t make any money from your performance. Lots of venues have overhead that they take out of your ticket sales. Sometimes, you’ll hit a city where you just don’t have a big enough draw, or sales at the bar were slim. No big deal, because you sold loads of CDs and t-shirts, right? …Right?

Manning – erm, womanning – the merch table back in our early days. Photo by RDS Photo Design.

Merch is important. Merch is how you can afford a low-cut night, and it puts you over the top on a night with a great turnout. It gives you an opportunity to connect with your fans after the show when they come to the table looking for something to take home with them. Making and selling merch can be a lot of fun for that reason. It’s another way of giving your fans what they want.

I know there are plenty of groups out there that never get around to making merchandise, but these aren’t the same bands I see grinding it out on the road. Still others limit themselves to CD sales, which is great until you start running into crowds of people who don’t even have CD players anymore. (I make that observation from personal experience. I once performed for a crowd of about 50 high school kids, and at least a half dozen told me they don’t have a way to play CDs.) That lost revenue is no fun.

Merchandise has really pulled its weight for us. We’ve been so successful selling CDs and shirts that we’ve had to re-supply on a bunch of these items on the road. This is good and bad – our tour was so long that we just didn’t properly anticipate how much inventory we’d need, which is a good sign that you’re doing something right; but, had we ordered more items the first time around, we would’ve saved a lot of money on shipping and bulk discounts.

If you can’t sell teddy bears, maybe you should get out of the music business. #truth #tooreal

Figure out what merchandise best suits your brand. You might have an audience that’s really into the bar scene, which means custom beer koozies, coasters, or shot glasses might be big-ticket items for you. Maybe you play with a lot of college students, so custom notebooks and pens could be a great investment. Go through a website that sells custom merchandise and get an idea of the kinds of items that are cheap to customize and match up with your envisioned audience.

But I’m way too broke to buy merchandise! Then you’re probably too broke to go on tour. You need to prove that you can successfully sling rad material in your local market waaaaay before you hit the road.

Even so, there are lots of merch ideas that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. When we first got started performing and selling merch, we didn’t have CDs yet, but we made a killing on other cool stuff in the meantime! Here’s my list of cheap-o options.

  • Stickers. Stickers are super cheap to get in bulk, especially if they’re one-color. I like to use Stickermule but there are lots of options out there. If you get 200 4”x2” rectangular stickers for $100 and sell them for $2 each, you’ve made a $300 profit.
  • Buttons. Again, buttons are another item that is great in bulk and likes to fly off the table. You can get 200 1.25” buttons for $65 at Stickermule, making them 32 cents apiece. Sell those guys for $1 each and you’ve made a profit of $136 bucks.
  • Keychains. Specifically, bottle-opener keychains have seen some success with bands playing a lot of bar gigs. At Discountmugs, you can get 100 for $1.28 each, and you could probably sell them for $3 – $5.
  • Download Cards. The company that distributes your music will usually offer these at a discounted rate. If you don’t have a distributor, you can get custom download cards from places like Dropcards for less than 50 cents each. Offer your album for $5 on a download card and it’s easy to sell your music even if your fans don’t buy CDs anymore.

Every band should try to have these common staples you see at shows. There are plenty of tried-and-true merchandise ideas out there, but our absolute best sellers are always tee shirts and CDs. These items both have the highest upfront cost, however, so ordering smart is essential.

When ordering shirts, knowing your primary fan base is vital. I could do a whole blog on tee shirts alone, but I’ll try and keep this somewhat concise. When we first started printing shirts, I thought it was really important that we have both men’s and women’s tee shirts on hand. Although I got a lot of positive feedback from women about our lady’s tee shirts online, our sales on those items were pretty stagnant. Turns out, our biggest fan base for sales is men. We unloaded our men’s tee shirts so quickly we had to re-order, but our lady’s tees clung on forever. In fact, I still have some women’s shirts that I ordered two years ago. (Ladies, if you’re out there, please buy these. They’re on sale!)

Super fan killing it in her Lillie Lemon tee.

Figure out the right sizing for your audience, too. When we first ordered tee shirts, we bought too many large shirts and not enough smalls. We added 2XL shirts to our inventory at one point and bought far too many of those, too.

One way to test out what people will buy is to set up pre-orders for certain designs of tee-shirts on your website and advertise pre-orders to your fans. If your audience is more grass-roots, you can even take pre-orders or polls for orders at shows. This should give you a good idea of what kind of inventory you’ll want on hand. Plus, it’ll get people hyped up about your new merch and help offset the upfront cost. Recently, Eric and I had a lot of success on pre-orders for this tee shirt, and we’ve made lots of online sales since we launched them once people who pre-ordered started posting pictures of them.

Get unisex shirts instead of men’s shirts. Unisex is generally somewhat fitted, which looks better on everyone. If you can afford it, get blended tees instead of 100% cotton – soft tee shirts sell much faster than rough ones.

Try and make your design as simple as possible. Full-color designs will cost a lot more to produce, and you can do a lot with 1-3 color designs. They also wear better, and for longer.

Get CDs but don’t jump the gun on vinyl. CDs are our best sellers, but they obviously have the greatest upfront cost if you include the entire process of tracking, mixing, mastering, artwork, printing, and marketing. That shouldn’t give you pause when making an album, though – people want to hear your music, and you should strive to get it to them. That doesn’t mean you have to carry big-ticket items like vinyl, though.

I know vinyl is super trendy right now, but let me explain. Minimum orders for vinyl run from 200 – 500 items, and the pricing is at least three times that of CDs. $4.60 is typically the minimum you’ll pay per unit when you order 300 copies of vinyl – that’s for black and white labels and a plain sleeve. You can sell vinyl for more than you’d sell CDs (and you’ll have to in order to make up for the price), but can you really move vinyl? Only your audience can determine that answer. If you have tons of fans begging for vinyl, it would be worth it to get it pressed. If you occasionally have someone here or there asking about it, I’d shy away from printing vinyl copies. Let the demand dictate your supply.

Keep good records of your inventory and take cards as a form of payment. It’s the future! That means everyone uses credit cards. Do yourself a favor and get connected via Squareup or some other card-reading service. They send you a card reader for free and offer you an account in which to track every sale.

Take credit cards, yo.

It’s absolutely the best way to keep track of inventory, helps you figure out when you should be re-ordering items, and, more importantly, provides your audience another way to get ahold of your swag. There’s a small fee when you use a service like this for card transactions, but most audiences are totally fine paying that fee. Don’t limit your audience’s ability to give you money.

As an added bonus, sites like Squareup give you a free online store. Selling stuff online has been really helpful for us, and if you’re good at marketing your items from on the road, it’ll be good for you, too.

Stage your stuff in a cool way. I’ve seen lots of bands with vintage suitcases displaying their stuff. A simple card table with a cool tablecloth and a lamp works just as well, even if it’s not quite as compact. Make sure you have lights on your swag for all those dark rooms you’ll be playing in, too. We run around with a big modified steamer trunk that draws a lot of attention to itself.

Our swag game is on point.

Talk about your merch from the stage. Make sure you tell your audience that you’ve got lots of rad merchandise for sale, and point to it from the audience so they know where it is. Do this MANY times throughout the show. We’ve had people approach us after announcing that we have CDs for sale, and they still act surprised that we have CDs.

Bring a merch person to your shows if you can afford one. Have someone who is competent at handling your sales system in exchange for tickets and swag, or offer to pay them if you can. This way, you can send people to the merch booth while you’re still on stage and you won’t lose on sales when people have to leave before your set ends.

If you can’t afford a merch person, determine which band member will be in charge of selling merch after your set ends. That person should bounce off stage immediately and hit the table while the other band members tear down your set. Typically, the front man or woman should do this job because they’ve already created a repertoire with the audience, but you can all switch off throughout the tour as well.

Give people a reason to buy the bigger ticket items. “If you buy a CD and a tee shirt, you get a free button!” Encourage people to visit the merch table for selfies. Do your socializing with the audience from your merch table as frequently as you can.

Is there anything about merchandise you’d like me to elaborate on? I could probably do entire posts dedicated to each of these items, and I think I might go into detail about using Squareup and other card processing services down the road. Let me know your thoughts and ideas!

Eating Well on Tour.

Eating Well on Tour.

You’re broke. You finish a grueling gig, and your cut of sales is $15. You and your three bandmates have rumbling stomachs, morale is low, and the only thing open is Taco Bell. You order as much as you can and chow down, only to be greeted with that terrible bloated feeling that is the embodiment of fast food regret… And tomorrow night, you’ll do it all over again.

I hope this blog reaches you before you get to that point, because once you go down the rabbit hole of fast-food-diet on tour, it’s hard to come back from it. Eating like this is discouraged by healthy people everywhere for good reason – because it’s horrible for your stamina and a nightmare for your general well-being. I’m thoroughly convinced that unhealthy food habits on the road are one of the top five reasons why bands get so sick of touring.

Quit eating your budget and start saving the piles of cash you’re making on the road for the important things, like that vintage Gibson tube amp we all saw you drooling over. I swear to god if the rest of the band has to hear you talk about how much you want that warm tube tone again we might add you to the crock pot.

Eating out is expensive. Calorie for calorie, groceries are cheap, so even if health isn’t a huge motivator, your budget should be. Of course, you will often get food comps from venues where you perform, but when that comp is really just a discount and the only food available is deep fried, you’ll be able to fall back on something fresh, filling, and affordable.

I know it’s hard to imagine how we can eat better when all we have in our arsenal is a small food stipend and nowhere to cook. I want to offer some tips for preparing your own meals on the road, especially if you don’t transport a kitchenette with you and you’re on a tight budget.

Please note that I’m not a doctor. If you’ve been given medical advice about what to eat, follow it. Your doctor knows your dietary needs best, and I’m just a stranger on the internet. This is not medical advice.

Get a cooler. The best way to transport fresh fruits and veggies is with a little ice and some water-tight Ziploc bags. Depending on how many people you have in your group, you’ll need to adjust the size of your cooler and how much food you bring along.

Below is my list of fresh foods that transport easily, are cost effective, can be stored without too much fuss, and don’t necessarily require cooking.


  • Apples
  • Oranges / tangerines / cuties
  • Bananas
  • Grapes


  • Carrots
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Fresh spinach
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
    • Pro-tip: bring some salad dressing to dip the veggies.

Nuts and dried goods:

  • Peanuts
  • Almonds
  • Trail mix
  • Popcorn
  • Granola bars
  • Peanut butter
  • Crackers


  • Bottled water
  • V8 juices
  • La Croix or other low-sugar sodas
  • Bottled coffees or sugar free Red Bull if necessary

What to avoid:

  • Sugary sodas: grab a sparkling water instead
  • Jerky: high sodium and fat content will make you feel bloated
  • Candy bars: avoid excess processed sugars whenever you can
  • Cup of noodles and other ramen cups: these high-calorie, low-nutrient foods fill you up, but they really take a toll on your body.
  • Fresh meat, eggs, and tofu: coolers are great for veggies and fruits, but temperature fluctuations inside a tour van means you run the risk of spoilage. Canned meats like tuna are probably fine, but I wouldn’t bring along anything that requires consistently cold temperatures.
This bad boy can cook almost anything.

Get a multi-use cooker. On our first tour, we brought along an Aroma 20 Cup Digital Cooker.

This incredibly versatile little rice cooker can be used to slow cook, steam, and sauté rice and vegetables. Although you’ll get a lot of protein from nuts and broccoli, with a cooker you can include other high iron and protein items like beans and brown rice.

You’ll need a pretty hearty inverter to run a multi-use cooker like the Aroma 20 Cup, but there are also crock pots that are designed to run on your van’s 12V plug, which means you can cook your food as you drive to the gig. Check out this list of one-pot meals that are perfect for a latching crock pot. You can also set up any of these cookers on a hotel room outlet without the fire hazard of an exposed heating element.

Look at this adorable thing.

Camping stoves are a great alternative to multi-use cookers. Any camping supply store will have little portable propane stoves you can use to cook. You’ll need to supply pots and cooking utensils, but having a freshly prepared meal on a portable gas stove is worth the trouble if you have space. Just don’t use this indoors.

Below is my list of cost-effective foods you can add to the above groceries if you plan on cooking meals on the road.

Canned foods:

  • Black, pinto, garbanzo, green, and kidney beans
  • Hominy or corn
  • Coconut milk
  • Tomatoes (diced, stewed, etc.)
  • Soups and stews

Dry goods:

  • Rice (brown and white)
  • Oatmeal
  • Gallon container of water for cooking
  • Potatoes / sweet potatoes
  • Onions
  • Your favorite cooking oil (olive oil, peanut oil)

Utensils for cooking:

  • Cutting board
  • Knives
  • Soap and sponges
  • Tongs
  • Spatula

Pro-tip: bring a variety of spices, including salt and pepper, to add flavor to your road meals. Many of the slow cooker recipes above can also be made on a camping stove with a pot given patience.

Also good for dissolving bodies with lye if you’re a meth Kingpin.

Of course, bringing along all of these supplies requires space, which means you might have to get crafty with your road setup. Most bands should be able to fit a week’s worth of ingredients in a Rubbermaid Tote pretty easily. These totes are about the size of a kick drum but are much more conveniently shaped for stacking. Plop one of these on top of a bass amp and you should be good to go.

Refueling is simple when you’re getting groceries instead of take-out, too. Most cities in the US have 24-hour Walmart stores on the outskirts of town, perfect for those of us living most of our lives after dark. I’ve also visited a variety of farmer’s markets across the country, vegetable stands on roadside stops, and other local grocery stores at normal hours. Whatever your go-to is for getting hold of fresh ingredients, you should be able to find them wherever you go.

I could go into a lot of detail about preparing specific meals and breaking down ingredients for their nutritional value, but I feel like this gives you a good idea of how healthy eating on the road is probably more accessible than you’d think.

As a side note, don’t let the up-front cost of a multi cooker or camp stove deter you from getting one. Someone in the band should consider getting these things just because they’re so useful, both at home and on the road, which means these items pay for themselves over time. When you eat out, you don’t get any return on your investment. If you’re able to get a slow-cooker up front, the return comes back many times over. If no one in the band can supply a slow cooker or camp stove, see if you can borrow one from a parent or a friend.

Did I miss anything? Are there any points you’d like me to cover in the future? Did you find this blog useful? Let me know in the comments!

The Unrealities of Reality TV.

The Unrealities of Reality TV.

You’re a great singer! Have you ever thought about trying out for the Voice?

I’m pretty sure the judges of the voice pilot Voltron as a side job.

I think most singers and artists probably get this question at some point. Even with the death of American Idol and the falling popularity of shows like the Voice, I’m asked this question a couple of times a year.

Before I get too far into this blog, I want to say that I know the question is meant as a compliment, which I appreciate immensely! But this way of thinking about artists troubles me, and I’m always tempted to pass on my opinion to people who ask. I never get too far into it – usually I thank them and move on – but every once and a while, I’ll let a little bit of what I think about these shows slip out.

Long before I learned about contracting issues and other problems regarding reality TV talent shows, my instinct has always been that I’m not what they’re looking for. I’m an okay singer, by which I mean I have my thing, and it’s kind of a unique thing, but my voice is not exceptionally good in terms of range or pitch (being partially deaf in one ear probably has something to do with this). I’m working on it with exercises and my pitch is much better than it was even a year ago, but I wouldn’t say I’m Kelly Clarkson level of quality and consistency and range. These are all things that winners of these shows have in common.

They’re usually looking for a very specific brand of pop, which is also beyond my strength as a vocalist. Occasionally they’ll pick a winner that isn’t a pop singer, but even they don’t sound anything like me. They all seem to fit squarely in a vocal genre. They want people who can do crazy runs and/or are extremely marketable, inoffensive, and apolitical. That’s a whole list of things that don’t apply to me.

But aside from the fact that I don’t think I’d ever be X-Factor material, these shows are known for having some of the shadiest contracts in the business. Clauses often include their sole ownership of everything you ever create, past and future – even if you don’t win, which is a terrifying thought as an independent artist. Shows that rely on votes often manipulate polls at the producer’s whim. In other words, the ‘reality’ part of the show is a bit fuzzy.

I’ve met people who have actually made appearances on these shows and have been dropped because they won’t or can’t follow the script. They manipulate the editing of an event to make you look great or terrible – whichever they think will get better ratings. They decide what the audience thinks of you. Viewers are spoon-fed stories and perspectives. Everyone involved in the show, from the cast to the viewers, are manipulated to a disturbing degree. But hey, that’s show business, right?

I’m also just a huge fan of being able to create my own work, and I take great pleasure from the process of writing, editing, and tracking my music with Eric. Maybe I don’t have the best producers in the world to workshop the hell out of my songs, but I do have the benefit of avoiding a system of creation that’s been described by its members as modern slavery. I love making my own art, and owning what I make. I love choosing who I work with. For example, we had a great time recording with our friend Steve on Aether, which you can see below:

Not having financial backing is the price you pay for independence, but these days, it’s more than worth it – and viable if you can manage yourself and your finances independently.

I also just hate waiting in line, almost as much as I hate being given a script that is not sincerely my own. If I want something in life, I’m not going to tack a number to my chest and beg people to judge me and find me worthy. I’m going to perform, and people will like what we do, or they won’t – but I won’t fade back into another life regardless, because being an artist isn’t just a dream for me. It’s a job, one that I do with great pride, careful planning, practicality, and realism. Reality TV is many things, but real and practical are, funny enough, not among its qualities.

So no, I don’t think I’ll be trying out for the Voice or any other reality show any time soon. But I’m happy to take the compliment, and keep my freedom.

Another Social Media Post.

Another Social Media Post.

Everywhere you look, there’s another marketing guru telling you that you need to have a social media presence. They use terms like ‘fan engagement’ and ‘target audience’ and tell you that you need to get into marketing yourself via social media, and if you haven’t yet, you’re doomed to death by obscurity.

I don’t want to be that person. For one thing, I was never involved in marketing on anything but an amateur level, so I’d never call myself an expert or pretend that I know all the best tricks. I’ve got a lot to learn myself, and I like to think that I can keep growing that way.

For another thing, I don’t think social media is the be-all, end-all of appealing to your fans. But, if done right, it’s one of the easiest, cheapest ways to promote yourself and your shows, so it’s more than worth the effort it takes to get into it.

Later on, I plan on doing in-depth posts about each social media platform that I use extensively, including mailing lists. This post is going to be more of a primer that I hope you’ll find useful as a launching pad.

Why does social media matter so much? It’s pretty common knowledge these days that the world spends much of its time interacting on the internet. But the actual numbers, when put to paper, are staggering. More than one and a half billion people are active on Facebook every month, and YouTube has a solid billion users. More than 400 million people use Instagram. Twitter, which boasts users that tweet in over 35 languages, has 320 million users. Even Soundcloud, a relatively lesser used platform designed specifically for audio files, has 175 million users. These are huge audiences that you could be sharing your music with.

More and more, people are discovering new music almost entirely online, which means being disconnected can be a serious detriment to your potential as an artist.

If you’re still hesitant about diving into the social media sphere, or feel like you might be selling out by doing so, do yourself a favor and look up your favorite artists who do music for a living on Facebook, YouTube, etc. If they have a presence on these platforms, so should you.

Finally, even if you don’t like using social media, your fans do. They want to be able to connect with you there and check out your art, especially if they don’t live near you. Why deprive the very people who support your endeavors?

Our current theme is cohesive across platforms.
Our current theme is cohesive across platforms.

Branding matters. Social media is all about branding. What’s your image? One of the best things you can do to up your professional game is to hire an artist to create several social media related items for your band: a logo, a banner image (for your Facebook page and event pages as well as twitter and other platforms that have a rectangular banner), and a square image for Instagram and Facebook posts. These items are a part of a category of items called assets, and by definition assets are valuable indeed.

These assets can come from a photo shoot or some other image that represents your band, but whatever you do, make sure there’s a sense of cohesion and quality involved. The maturity of a group is often judged by the amount of effort they put into their online appearance, and unity goes a long way.

Being consistent also makes it easier for your fans to find you, especially if there are other bands out there with similar names. They’ll recognize you on Twitter because they know what your Facebook image is and vice/versa.

Obviously, these assets should speak to the art you create and say something about you. Sunshine and unicorns might not be an appropriate logo for a classic rock cover band.

Build your fanbase by starting with your friends and family, but don’t stop there. No one cares about what you do more than the people who know you, so be sure to invite them to like your page or follow your various platforms. Even as our following grows, our moms are still our biggest supporters, and they always share our music with anyone who will listen. (Love you, mom!) It’s important to invite as many people as you can to your pages because targeted marketing works best when you include your fans and their friends, which I’ll be getting into in later posts.

Tell people about your social media presence at shows, and give people incentives to follow you and sign up on your mailing list. It seems kind of lame to announce your Facebook page at a show, but it works to build an audience of people who are engaged in what you’re doing and already appreciate you. Have them tag you in their posts.

One of the best things we did as a band was offer stickers or buttons to people who took pictures of us on their phones and tagged us in them on Instagram. It makes people feel like they’re a more intimate part of your band, especially if you comment on their pictures later. This is especially true of younger fans. Once they start following you and engaging with you online, they’re more likely to come out to shows the next time you play. When you become a part of their online community, you’re showing them that you care about them outside of what they can do for you as a fan, which is pretty cool.

Don’t buy popularity. Buying likes and shares is pretty shady from a moral standpoint, but there are other reasons to save your money for something better.

There are lots of websites that promote their ability to bring millions of new fans to your page, but don’t buy into these scams. These likes might make you look good at first glance, but these bought likes and follows are almost always fake accounts, and they will never interact with you. Having thousands of likes and no interactive fans on a page is a sure sign the artist has bought fans, and venues notice the difference.

Also, once you get into buying ads (which we’ll talk about in later posts), selling ads to bots is a complete waste of money. You want your ads to hit audiences that are interested in what you do, and narrowing it down becomes impossible when these audiences aren’t real.

Make sure your posts are written thoughtfully. A lot of social media involves being able to communicate to people clearly, so having good grammar is helpful, but there’s more to it than just being able to string together a sentence. You also want to make sure you’re not sticking your foot in your mouth with posts that are aggressive, violent, or alienating to your fanbase.

I love to link this image, by Jo B on

I use my personal Facebook account for all kinds of opinionated posts, but I actively make sure those things don’t leak over to my professional page. There are always exceptions to this, of course – maybe you’re performing for a fundraiser of some kind or creating music that is already political in nature, in which case it suits your brand to further these agendas. Typically, however, sparking a debate on your band’s Twitter about who is the best presidential candidate is rarely an effective way to build an audience and might alienate more people than you draw in as fans.

It’s also important to not get too feisty with people who make negative comments about your music on social media. There are times when you’ll be deleting comments for being spam, but let your fans take care of the real haters. If you must respond, do so with good humor. For example, our Ms. New Booty video has a bunch of comments from folks because it was made as an April Fools joke, so I try to respond with the same humor the video was intended to exhibit.

Post regularly. If you’re anything like me, you’re doing all kinds of things relating to your art every day. Even the most mundane events can be interesting to fans who are trying to get a glimpse of your daily life, so take a moment to get a quick snapshot for your socials.  This can be in the form of text, video, audio, or images. I find that I get the best engagement on photos that we take, but your audience might prefer to read what you’ve written or just listen to your songs. Make sure you’re sharing these things with your fans when you can, and that you’re not waiting weeks or months between posts.

Regular posts are great for your fans, and they’re also great for venues who want to book you. It shows them that you’re not neglecting to share events with your fans. If your audience is active on these platforms and they like, comment on, and share your posts, venues know your fans aren’t fake and are more likely to come out to see you.


Hopefully this will help you get your feet wet a bit! I’ll be sure to dive into more specifics when it comes to advertising and the various social media platforms. Is there anything specifically you want me to cover? Anything I missed? Leave a comment below!

Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome.

I find myself afflicted with imposter syndrome every time I try to write this blog. I feel like my experiences are so specific, and each tour so different, that I couldn’t possibly offer any words of wisdom that would be applicable to a wider audience when it comes to suggestions for making life on the road easier. I’ve sat down and tried on several occasions with no luck.

Here’s how this usually goes: I search for a coffee shop with good wifi. I order my coffee and find a seat. While my computer boots up, I glance around at the other patrons on their laptops, and I’m immediately struck with a sense of being out of place – these folks probably live in this town, they might be doing real work, and they’re dressed like they belong. Meanwhile, here I am with this crazy lopsided hair that I probably forgot to brush this morning, it’s been a while since I’ve visited a shower, my shoes are all messed up because they were soaked in gasoline from the generator, and besides all that I’m wearing these crazy garish tights and I have nothing resembling a ‘real’ job and suddenly I can’t bring myself to write because it seems so glaringly obvious that I probably couldn’t communicate with someone if I wanted to, let alone about something so personal and so specific. I can imagine what they’d say: Why would anyone want to read what you wrote, you weird vagrant hipster?

Coffee shop work day. Photo by our wonderful merch girl @petrichorest. #coffeebuddies

A photo posted by Lillie Lemon (@lillielemon) on

Just the simple fact that I’ve ditched a stable life in a beautiful coastal town for a semi-permanent life as an artist living in a van has come as a bit of a shock to a lot of people, myself especially, which furthers these feelings of being something of a fraud (what makes her think she can just up and leave life behind while the rest of us take responsibility for ourselves?).

I’d like to recognize that there’s some truth in this: in a lot of ways, I am a weird vagrant hipster. Much of what I understand about being a touring artist has less to do with music and more to do with thousands and thousands of miles and hundreds of hours behind the wheel of a 38 foot rig.

A photo posted by Lillie Lemon (@lillielemon) on

We’ve performed in nearly every state in America including Alaska, in every kind of weather you can imagine, down buttery smooth roads and down miles and miles of gravel and dirt and dust. There are so many things involved with this kind of mileage that I didn’t expect to be learning, and I hope I can pass at least some of that on to you.

I’ll also take a moment to point out that the way we travel as a band is very unconventional, and we are blessed with support from our families that allows us to be on the road for so long and still have a place to call home when we take a break.

I don’t want to pretend that there’s some intensely deep, philosophical thing I’ll be providing to the world here that you can’t get somewhere else from a better writer. I imagine I might have entire posts dedicated to specific topics, while others might be descriptions of certain personal experiences that I found poignant on one of our tours. I’ll also have a series of how-to posts that I hope other musicians might find helpful as they traverse the country. If there’s anything in particular you’d like me to write about, please leave a comment and I’d be glad to consider it. I do welcome feedback on these entries, and I’d be especially interested in hearing solutions when I mention issues we’ve had while exploring the USA.

Thank you for reading this far, and for taking this little journey with us. I’m looking forward to sharing more with you.

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