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Official Selection: 2024 Pasadena International Film Festival “Best Music Video” Category Screening April 9, 2024 at 3:40 PM

We won the 2023 Pasadena International Film Festival “Best Music Video” Category with “You Can't Hide the Light”

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Soundtracks and Big News on the Big Screen!  

I know people who could be described differently as being visually-oriented, kinetic, tactile. or, like me, auditory. Friends of mine who are excellent teachers understand these differences in the way people experience the world around them and strive to present information to reach different types of students. Some of my choral conductor friends are wonderful at instructing choirs to put their bodies into singing, and different gestures help communicate concepts that translate into the phrasing or nuance they want.

One thing I love about musical theater and opera, as well as musical films, is that they involve more of the senses. There’s singing, often dancing, visual art in the sets, lighting, and costumes, and there can be poetry and great literature in the dialogue. There are movie theaters now where they even pipe scents into the theater and spray you with mist and puffs of air to enhance the experience, and the film is in 3D. On a recent trip to Mexico, Paco and I experienced the Van Gogh virtual tour where we donned headsets that put us into some of the master’s paintings. We could look around in all directions and feel like we were in his world. It was spectacular! 

I know a lot of people weren’t fans of the dancing in the In Memoriam segment of the Oscars, but I thought it was lovely, being a lover of ritual, liturgy, and mixed media. It was interesting to me that, for the first time in my memory, there were no outbursts of applause when certain names came up and silence for others. Friends who were in the room said it definitely had an air of solemnity to it. 

Music videos are a way that I can take my songs to another level. We put a lot of thought into the images we marry with the music. Paco often cautions against being too literal. We really try not to impose meaning onto the song that might impede the listener’s ability to make their own connections. Part of the magic of art is the way it acts as a catalyst for people to set their own imaginations in motion and get in touch with their emotions. On the other hand, sometimes I really want the visual images to clarify what I am trying to communicate in the song. The balance that we reach is where the magic happens. 

Here's the Big News!

You may recall that my duet with Melissa Manchester, “You Can’t Hide the Light,” won numerous awards, both as a song and as a music video. I was honored that Melissa talked about it in this recent interview with Steve Ryan on Backstage Pass. I think one reason that video was so successful is that the dancers, and the way it was filmed, created just such a platform for the imaginations of the viewers. In addition to winning “Best Music in a Short Film” in the Paris International Short Film Festival, we won “Best Music Video” in the prestigious Pasadena International Film Festival (PIFF), which was named one of the top 100 festivals in the world out of more than 10,000 by Film Freeway. Well, we just got word that our music video for my song, “While You are Right in Front of Me” is an Official Selection in the PIFF this year! If you are in Southern California, I hope you will consider joining us at the Laemmle Theaters in North Hollywood on Tuesday, April 9 at 3:40 pm. We’re the first film in Block 23 so don’t be late. I know that it being in the afternoon on a weekday eliminates several of you from being able to attend, but if can make it it would be fantastic to share this experience with you. Tickets will be available via the Laemmle website in a few days. Do let me know if you will be there. 

“While You are Right in Front of Me” was written during the pandemic. People often talk of songs being part of the soundtrack of their lives and that is exactly what this song is for me. Coming after we cared for my Mom and Stepdad in their transition from this world and me getting laid off of a job after 11 years, it was an expression of the clarity those experiences brought me. Life is short and the more we can focus on what truly matters for us, the better. For me, that is love in all its forms and rich relationships with everyone in my life. Music is my way of making sense of everything and translating my complex thoughts into art that might resonate with others in some way. On a certain level, saying one piece of art is better than another is arbitrary and subjective. But, being recognized by my peers feels validating and lets me know I am succeeding in connecting with people through song. So, too, do the wonderful surprise donations I receive from time to time in the Tip Jar on my website. I’m grateful to Gwen Young and Foster Bertomen, Marge Walsh, Kris Lansing, Alex Ortega, Gabrielle Lynch, Dianne and Kenny Ramirez, Gayla Turner and Kim Lewis, Betsy Brown, Deb Blount, and a few people who wish to remain anonymous. Your kind contributions always seem to come at times when I am frustrated, or doubting whether all this time and expense is worth it. Thank you for allowing me to share my musical creations with you. Some will connect with you, and some may not. I am deeply grateful that you give them a listen. More is coming very soon. 

Review: Melissa Manchester's You Gotta Love the Life 


Melissa Manchester and Johnny SchaeferI often read reviews of musicians, films, books or plays that I love and quickly become aware that the critic is not even a fan of the genre or artist he or she is reviewing. That isn’t really helpful to me. I want to know if someone like me is likely to appreciate it. Sometimes I can figure out whether I might like it, even if it’s a bad review, by what they say. 

If you’ve followed me much, or know me, you are aware that Grammy Award winner Melissa Manchester is a huge musical force in my life. I even included a mashup of two of her songs on my Acoustic Remedy album. Whether or not you are a fan, I think you will find this review to be helpful because I can talk about why I am so enamored of her and why her new album, You Gotta Love the Life is so splendid.

Abe Sylvia’s delightful recent film Dirty Girl starring Juno Temple and featuring William H. Macy, Jeremy Dozier, Tim McGraw, Mary Steenburgen (who co-wrote a song with Melissa for the film), Mila Jovovich and Dwight Yoakam, shows a gay kid who is comforted, inspired and enriched by Melissa’s music. She is his muse and his obsession. Like many lgbt individuals my age, I was that kid. As a confused, scared,  closeted gay son of a Lutheran minister growing up in homophobic Porterville, CA in the 1970s, Melissa was my beacon of light in frightening darkness. Her songs have an empowering quality, a self-assurance that transfers to the listener. Her sonorous voice touches places in the soul that few others can.  She once told students at USC, where she teaches songwriting and singing, “We make the music that inspires lovers to make a baby or talks someone down from a ledge.” Indeed, I was on a ledge and Melissa strengthened me with the reassuring quality in her voice until I had wings to fly from the ledge instead of jumping off of it. This quality has only improved with time. Melissa continues to impart her sweet wisdom and astute insight into this journey we call life with commanding artistry and ageless style.

The good thing about the music industry today is that it is being wrested away from callous businessmen who see music purely as a product to profit from. Independent musicians like me can circumvent the big machine and share our music with the world. I understand that there is a place for youthful energy and all that comes with it in our culture. But for me, artists ranging from Melissa Manchester to Annie Lennox to Rickie Lee Jones and even Alanis Morrissette are doing some of their best work now, just when many people seem to have stopped listening. A lifetime of experiences and lessons learned, of broken and mended hearts, of songs sung, heard, and absorbed, informs their work and their voices, too. Because the industry has moved on to the next shiny thing, more and more artists are turning to crowd funding by their fans to empower them to make the music they’ve always wanted to make, free of the constraints and whims of music executives, and it’s a beautiful thing. Melissa is one of us now, independent, fierce and free. You Gotta Love the Life is a shining celebration of that.

This is Melissa’s 20th album, and she wove some of her favorite musicians into the fabric of the project. You’ll hear a delightful duet with her muse, Dionne Warwick on Other End of the Phone, a gentle tune she wrote with the late Hal David (which turned out to be his last) featuring the jazz keyboard mastery of the late Joe Sample (his last recording, as well). A friend joked “maybe it’s not a good idea to sing with Melissa”, but, of course, the reality is that one comes away from any encounter with her, whether in person or through her music, richer, wiser, and more alive.

With artists like Melissa, I always feel like they sat down and had a cup of coffee with me to catch up on what was going on in my life, then they went out and wrote songs that spoke specifically to me. Melissa’s songs have always been woven into my journey, my soundtrack as I engage life. She took a decade or so off to raise her kids, so it’s wonderful to have a new set of songs to add to the mix. And what a set! Melissa has been touring with phenomenal musician Stephan Oberhoff and all around talent Sue Holder for years. The intimate, efficient dynamic of the performances and Oberhoff’s jazz prowess have had a refining impact on her music. Everything has jazz flavoring stirred in and the rich harmonic colors and Melissa’s soaring melodies are wonderful vehicles for the powerful lyrics she has penned with an impressive collection of outstanding songwriters. My favorite track on the album is No There There, a smart, sexy tune that, for me, is like the Sade song we’ve never really gotten. I enjoy Sade, but the songs I’ve heard are harmonically and lyrically REALLY simple. This is like a grown up Sade song with meatier vocals. “I was tricked by the horizon, I was fooled by something slick, love’s a crazy back of tricks.” The intelligent release in the repetition of the phrase “I let it go” in the chorus is healing. Such a lovely track.

Melissa rocked the house in two sold out shows at Spaghettini and Dave Koz Lounge in Beverly Hills for her album release party. Koz himself was on hand to play Claudia, a touching tribute to Melissa's sister Cluadia Cagan written by Claudia's husband, Steven Cagan.  Melissa's confident vocals and Koz's well-constructed sax solo make for a memorable song that feels timeless.

Stevie Wonder shares his unmatched harmonica skills on Your Love is Where I Live and the timelessness of his lilting licks throughout the song compliment the sweetness of its message and Melissa’s expression of it.

The first single, Feelin’ for You, is a smoldering vamp featuring Keb’ Mo’ on some smokin’ guitar licks. Melissa and Keb’ dance and play with each other, answering one another’s licks. The song is already heading up the charts and it’s no wonder. It is reminiscent of some of Bonnie Raitt’s best stuff.

The opening title track You Gotta Love the Life features kickass horns and the frenetic energy of life on the road.  Rickie Lee Jones also has a song that talks about not knowing what city she’s in when traveling as a musician. Each lady tells that story in her own uniquely satisfying way. Rickie’s is loose and playful. Melissa’s captures the sophistication, glamour and high energy I have always associated with New York. It’s a fun ride and a great way to begin the album.

In Big Light, Melissa reunites with Al Jarreau and their seamless collaboration perfectly drives home the song’s uplifting, timely message. Two big lights coming together is a brilliant beacon, indeed.

Dear to me personally is You Are My Heart, a song Melissa composed for two gay friends who were finally able to marry.  I married the love of my life, Paco, in July of 2014 and sang a song I wrote to him which said “We see the angels finally found us”. Melissa sings that “the angels fill the air with love, love, love”. I absolutely did have that feeling that day of being surrounded by angels in my family, friends and some literal angels as well. Melissa’s joyful song is a beautiful new connection to the gay community that has always returned her lovely embrace.

A song that epitomizes the fostering of a healthy self image prevalent in Melissa’s music is I Know Who I am, written for Tyler Perry’s film For Colored Girls. Melissa’s piano and vocals on this song are nothing short of stunning. She smartly begins with acoustic piano and builds instrumentation until the passionate climax. It’s a spectacular anthem for anyone looking to get their mojo back, or find it for the first time.

I am also very happy she chose to include her mesmerizing a cappella arrangement of Something Wonderful from The King and I on this collection.  In her shows, Holder and Oberhoff have been providing a magic carpet of delicious harmony on which Melissa’s thoughtful and heartfelt rendition of this classic rides, and it is such a treat to have a recording of it to listen to whenever I want to be transported to its beautiful destination.

Some of my favorite instrumentation on the album comes with Open My Heart, a happy song in 6/8 time that brilliantly utilizes accordion and terrific mandolin (I think) in a way that sounds fresh and jubilant. Where in this song she sings “Now that I know you’re the one”, in another selection she says “I’m the one, you’re the other one.” That those two sentiments can both reside on the same album is not contradictory, though. Melissa’s music has always taught us to love ourselves, which makes us capable of opening our hearts to others. We can’t do one without the other, and I think we’re in a process of learning to do both at the same time. Melissa helped me learn that.

For fans of intimate, aching Melissa, your appetite will be satisfied with The Other One, a hauntingly beautiful song of strong self-realization bourne of pain and reflection. “My tears have turned to icicles, guess they’ll forever spring, if I can just hold on, who knows what life may bring”. Those lines voice the hope I have always found in Melissa’s music. Real, tangible, transformative, reassuring hope. Lucky for us, her life is bringing a new chapter of composing, singing and sharing. And we get to receive it any time we want by playing this music.

You’ve gotta love that, and you’ve gotta get this album! (You can do so here) Find out more about Melissa Manchester at   Melissa’s Twitter name is @MelissaShares. Her Facebook page is

 Johnny Schaefer is a Los Angeles based singer-songwiter. His album, Acoustic Remedy, is available at his website as well as places like Amazon and iTunes,Spotify and more.

Why You Should Still Buy Music (Even if you don't "have" to) 

Johnny SchaeferI get it. Times are tight and we need to stretch our money as far as we can. That's why people flock to Walmart even if they often express discomfort with the reasons those prices are so low. We work hard for our money. We want to get as much out of it as we can. Therein lies the rub. Musicians, artists, authors and many others work really hard, too. Yet more often than not, people don't think twice about downloading music from pirate sites, burning music off of CDs friends have purchased, and streaming from sites that don't fairly compensate artists. I've lost track of how many (usually younger) people look me in the eye and say incredulously, "I never pay for music. Why would I?"

Years ago I was on a tour with a school choir and we were at a rest stop with a row of vending machines. Someone discovered that the ice cream machine was broken and that you could just take items from it. Ice cream sandwiches, drumsticks, popsicles, all your favorites were there. I watched for about twenty minutes as some people brazenly walked up to the machine and grabbed extras for their more sheepish friends who took the contraband with a shrug, as if to say, "Well, didn't take it. But, now that I have it it will melt if I don't eat it. It's not nice to waste food." Others shook their heads and said things like "You guys, that's not really right." People began to rationalize taking the ice cream. Some blamed the owner of the machine for poor maintenance. even though they had no way of knowing what kind of maintenance was done on the machine. Others said that they would understand if they were the owners and people took ice cream from the machine. "It's part of doing business." "One of those things". I even heard one person say that things like that are a gift from God or Karma, something like that, at the same time they were a lesson for the owner. I saw two people walk up to the machine and put money in even though they didn't need to, getting scoffed at by guilty onlookers as they paid for their treats. A couple of people were troubled by it and continued to discuss it on the bus on and off into the evening as we rode on to our next destination. The fact is, someone had to pay for that ice cream, and it wasn't those who got to eat it (with a couple of exceptions). 

I resurrect this story from memory because it speaks to the same sense of entitlement that I get from people who don't see a need to pay for music. They profess a true admiration for the artists that make music which moves them, inspires them, delights them and maybe even turns them on. But they don't see a need to compensate them. I heard on the radio recently that more and more artists are making their money off of T-Shirts, touring, synch licensing and and other souveniers than they are off of the music itself. I've heard people say that the recordings are more like promotional giveaways now to promote the other stuff. 

One thing that really hits me is when I see people fork over $5.00 for a latte at Starbucks or fail to bat an eye at paying $15 to park their car for a few hours but they wouldn't dream of paying 79 cents to download a song they supposedly love. They tell you they can't wait for the artist to release more music, but don't seem to understand that it takes time, energy, sacrifice and a whole lot of money to produce those recordings. Even with the new technologies that make it much easier to produce awesome recordings just about anywhere, it still costs a lot. Once I had a friend tell me that they loved my music so much that they made copies for all their friends. I was supposed to be excited about that. Sure, it is nice to know that people are hearing my music, But it would be nce to be paid for my efforts. Personally, I would rather have the musicians I love spend all their time getting better at music and creating more of it than having to work "day jobs" to make ends meet. When a musician I love comes out with an album or an author I like releases a book, I not only buy my copy, but I enthusiastically buy copies for people around me as a way of supporting and thanking the artist or author for their creation. I want more music from them and I want them to be rewarded just as I would tip a server in a restaurant or gladly pay my mechanic. The steady exchange of money is what keeps us all going! I also want to be part of the artist I love rising up the charts! 

A friend pointed out that there are a lot of sites on the web where music is ripped off of YouTube and offered for for free downloads as mp3s. One of my songs was in the Top Ten and had been downloaded thousands of times on such a site. Sure, I love it that people are hearing my music. But I worry about the quality when it is ripped off of YouTube and I wonder how I will be able to afford to make more music when it's so easy to get it for free, 

I'm not necessarily trying to make anyone feel guilty here. I guess I'm appealing to your sense of fairness. I do believe that when we freely give to others we are comong from a place of abundance and receive more. Comversely, when we withhold from others we are sending a message of lack and the universe replies by creating more lack. 

Try compensating the musicians, artists, authors and others who give you so much. You'll feel good about it. And by all means, if they crowd fund a project, help them out. You just might be contributing to a masterpiece. 

Johnny Schaefer is a Los Angeles based singer-songwiter. His album, Acoustic Remedy, is available at his website as well as places like Amazon and iTunes,Spotify and more. And, apparently, on pirate sites, too. Your choice.