I’ve Been Giving Online Concerts for 16 Years. This Platform Is the Best I’ve Seen.

Sessions Live Brings Artists and Audience Together Online Like Never Before

The potential has long existed to combine the power of live musical performance with the distance-bridging possibilities of online chat. In 2004 I tried my hand at PalTalk, an online audio/text chat platform at the time. Here, an artist could stream audio of a performance while the audience could chat their appreciation. Generally, performances were in an online “open mic” format with performers taking turns. There was little regard for audio quality or musical competence in those forums.

My actual setup in my home studio as I livestream on Sessions Live.

Along the way, I’ve done my share of Facebook Live mini-concerts and Concert Window shows (the latter no longer exists). I’ve tried StageIt, which had my audience in fits with browser plug-in issues. Then we moved to Zoom, which has become a general-purpose staple for households and workplaces everywhere during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Ultimately, I learned that a friend of a friend was using Sessions Live. This new platform’s founder Tim Westergren, formerly of Pandora, sought to forge new connections between musicians and audience. My early impression is that he and his team are succeeding wildly. Sessions Live essentially combines online music performance with game elements that serve as icebreakers and build community in the virtual performance space.

A screen capture from my 80s Night livestream performance on Sessions Live in January 2021. My Sessions Live web address is sessionslive.com/jasondidner

Part 1: The Audience Experience

In Sessions Live, an audience member’s experience begins with visiting sessionslive.com and/or downloading the mobile app. One would then set up a user account, starting with entering an email address and creating a password. The new user is randomly assigned a “moji.” This is a cartoon character that will appear in the “party” section of a streaming concert alongside all the other concertgoers’ mojis.

To take things a level further, a new user on the mobile app can then upload a photo as part of his/her profile. If you created your profile in a browser, you’ll need to log in on the mobile app to upload a photo. If you don’t upload a photo, you’ll be represented by your moji in the chat section.

From Sessions’ home page you can browse artists to check out their concerts. Just scroll through the many artist photos; they all represent live shows happening now. Give one of them a try. You might also have the web address of a specific artist so you can jump right into their show without browsing. For example, my artist URL is sessionslive.com/jasondidner.

Given the global nature of Sessions, you’ll find plenty of live concerts 24 hours a day, since it’s always prime time somewhere! I’ve noticed that Sessions has really taken off in the Philippines. I’ve come to appreciate the level of musical talent in that country over the past few weeks.

If you’re in the audience, you interact with the artist and fellow audience members primarily two ways: chat and “Love.” Love is the currency with which the audience supports the performer. One unit of Love in Sessions is about one cent in US dollars. On the Shop tab in the concert space you can stock up on love to contribute to the artist.

Tip: When you buy love in a mobile app, Apple or Google (depending on your device) marks up the price of the love you’re purchasing. The same amount of Love will cost you less when purchased in a web browser.

Sessions Live #1-ranked artist Martyn Lucas (at the time of this writing) performing a duet with Brad Emanuel, as viewed in a web browser. A spinning star appears on the bottom of the party section of the page among all the audience’s “mojis.” Love sticker options are arrayed across the bottom of the page. Chat appears on the right side of the page. The Songs tab in the right panel will open a list of songs audience members can request.

From the Audience with Love

There are 3 ways to send the artist Love:

  • Click the Songs tab and request a song from the artist’s song list. The current minimum for requests is 10 Love. You can increase the amount if you like. The performer will not complain about this!
  • In the Party section, tap on a sticker across the bottom. Stickers are arranged in value order. Vote stickers are special because they’re counted toward an opportunity for top vote getting artists to perform in the occasional mini festival hosted by Sessions.
  • In the Chat section, you can attach any denomination of Love to a chat comment.

Catch a Spinning Star

At random intervals you’ll notice a spinning gold star appear in the Party section. When you tap that star, you let Sessions know that you’re actively engaged in the concert performance.

This innovation solves a problem that has long plagued streaming services that attempt to reward artists for number of viewers. The system is otherwise too easy to game. If you stream a playlist or performance with every device you own (or imagine a data center operated by shady programming), you can drive up play counts for artists who haven’t truly earned them. Worse, that opens up markets for artists to pay for fake streams.

Since it takes a real live human to catch those stars, Sessions gets a better measure of which artists are really drawing a crowd. The platform then rewards the artist accordingly.

Join the Crew

Joining your favorite artist’s crew produces perks for both you and that artist. As a crew member, the more you engage with Sessions – catching stars, requesting songs and giving Love, the more choices you unlock for the appearance of your moji in the Party section. You’ll also appear in your crew’s leaderboard, catching extra attention from the artist you champion.

The stars you catch and the Love you give that artist will count double toward his/her artist level assessment and place in the artist rankings, which opens up greater opportunities to perform in higher-profile settings. Also, as a crew member, you can give love to other artists and catch stars in those other artists’ shows. You and your artist will benefit from that engagement when you’re in a crew.

You can only belong to one crew at a time, but you can switch between crews at will.

Follow Up

You can follow as many artists as you like. Following a more established artist can result in you receiving messages from that artist in your Sessions Live inbox about when their next livestream will take place.

Undeniable Quality

Since every performer has to pass an audition to become a Sessions artist, you’ll find a consistent high quality no matter whose performance you choose to watch. Auditioners are looking for musical competence and suitable Internet bandwidth for streaming, so audience members get consistently entertaining experiences. When you browse the artists in Sessions, you’ll find Broadway quality singers accompanied by backing tracks, acoustic performers and some fully instrumental performers.

Here’s a YouTube playlist offering a sampling of these artists, leading off with yours truly:

Let me know what your experience is like as an audience member in Sessions Live, using the comment section below.

Continue to Part 2 of this story: The Artist Experience.

New Video: Salt and Sand

I put everything I love about the Jersey Shore sound into this one. It world premiered at Big Man’s Bash – a celebration of the life and music of Clarence Clemons, beloved member of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Lyrics: 
 
 Verse 1: 
 Windshield wipers are frozen and it's hard to see 
 If there's dangerous obstacles in front of me 
 It's a slippery turnpike and the left lane's out 
 These times can test your grip on what your life's about 
 

 In my engine the gremlins knock my self esteem 
 As they try to drive down the value of my dreams 
 As I struggle for traction up this icy hill 
 They make me think dark thoughts but they can't break my will 
 

 Chorus: 
 Let's move on forward, here's to making our way 
 To the dreams we work for coming into reach 
 Salt and sand on this icy highway 
 Will be salt and sand on a summer beach 
 Salt and sand on this icy highway 
 Will be salt and sand on a summer beach 
 

 Verse 2: 
 I can feel your frustration as you spin your wheels 
 I'm identifying big-time with the way you feel 
 You set your plan and watch it get pushed back 
 It takes a steady hand to get you back on track 
 

 Yeah the heat of anger may move us along 
 But it ain't no substitute for staying strong 
 Today we won't be quickly satisfied 
 But we've got dreams of a lifetime that won't be denied 
 

 Chorus 
 

 Bridge: 
 We can fade 
 Or we can shine 
 The way we choose to walk the line 
 

 Chorus 

Credits:

Lyrics and Music by Jason Didner (c) 2004, All Rights Reserved 
Vocals and all instruments: electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, alto sax and glockenspiel by Jason Didner 
Produced by Jason and Amy Didner

TAP Into Montclair covers New Year’s Eve Zoom Concert Benefitting Hackensack University Medical Center Transplant Team

Natalie Heard Hackett from TAP Into Montclair wrote a thoroughly researched piece on my New Year’s Eve Zoom concert to benefit Hackensack University Medial Center’s Transplant Team. In it, she chronicled both my history as a living donor, husband to a two-time transplant recipient and musician for kids and adults alike.

Amy and Jason decided to pay it forward by helping to raise money for the Hackensack University Medical Center’s Transplant Team, since due to the COVID-19 pandemic, research has been placed on hold and funds reallocated.

Natalie Heard Hackett, TAP Into Montclair

Read Natalie’s article here.

New Single: “Salt and Sand”

My most essential song about maintaining optimism in hard times is out today as we leave the chaotic year 2020 behind and look forward to a better 2021.

The video for this song is scheduled for public release as part of a special event I will announce soon.

Right now the video is viewable only to subscribers to my emails. If you’re not getting my emails yet, sign up below and the exclusive link to the video will be sent right to your inbox.

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I wrote this song in 2004 and have included it in many of my live performances. Back then I made a few demo recordings, but now the time was right to give it a complete multi-instrumentalist treatment. I was very much thinking of “Big Man” Clarence Clemons from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band when I decided to break out the saxophone for this arrangement. I also played a metal xylophone known as a glockenspiel, giving the piano and sax part an extra sparkle on top.

Salt and Sand single by Jason Didner

This is the title track for an upcoming album dedicated to supporting your best mental health. “Salt and Sand: A Rock-n-Roll Journey to Mental Health” is due out by summer 2021.

Enjoy! And have a happy and prosperous year 2021! I look forward to sharing the new year’s abundance of well-being with you.

New Video and Single: Battle

I’m pleased to present you with my latest musical creation: “Battle.” This is the home studio video – actual footage of my recording this track, along with Fred E. Jam, keeper of F-Jam Online Collaboration Studios, who played the electronic drum kit.

The song shares my revelation about how mental health or living with a chronic physical condition doesn’t have to be a battle. It can be a humanitarian mission.

At the same time the video is released, so is the single on BandCamp. You can play the track below.

(c) 2020, Lyrics and Music by Jason Didner 
Produced by Jason Didner, Amy Didner and Fred E. Jam 
Engineered by Jason Didner 
Jason Didner – vocals, keyboards, guitar, bass 
Fred E. Jam – drums, sound design

Lyrics: 

Verse 1: 
I thought this was a battle 
The kind that’s won or lost 
Where raging at the rival 
Brings a victory worth all costs 

But the prize is alienation 
Now that seems a hollow win 
Standing lonely in the ruins 
Of the war I fought within 

Verse 2: 
I thought this was a battle 
With troops on high alert 
Couldn’t trace the friendly fire 
From the part of me that hurt 

Oh, the rage destroys your allies 
In the same flames as your foes 
Your own weapon takes you over 
No matter how it goes 

Verse 3: 
I thought this was a battle 
I could win and earn my peace 
Then I saw myself in terror 
As hostilities increased 

And the anger gave an order 
Show no mercy in this fight 
I asked myself the question 
Could this order not be right 

Bridge: 
It can take all that you got 
To disobey an order that’s all wrong 
To take the heat for seeming weak 
That’s a different kind of strong 

When the rage calls loved ones enemies 
And declares we’re at code red 
And orders me to take them down 
I’ll lift them up instead 

Verse 4: 
I thought this was a battle 
Now I’m learning it’s much more 
It’s a mission to compassion 
For the pain down in my core 

It’s a journey toward forgiveness 
When the rage has had its say 
And the wisdom we discover 
We can’t fight these things away 
But we can live to love another day

I had shared this song with my email subscribers when just the vocal and piano were recorded. If you’d like to get exclusives like this before everyone else, go ahead and sign up below:

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You Can’t Get There from Here in Jersey quoted in New York Times story

In early 2013, the New Jersey State Senate debated whether to allow the inclusion of the state’s infamous jughandle turns in future highway designs. Since frustration with this unique driving feature of my homestate is the key to my song “You Can’t Get There from Here in Jersey,” I began to see interest in the tune take on a second life after the song made its debut on NPR’s Car Talk back in 2001.

As the great jughandle debate heated up in the State Senate, I got phone calls from Philadelphia’s Action News followed shortly by The New York Times’ reporter Matt Flegenheimer.

Here’s the resulting article, including my contribution and quotes:

Bill to Squelch Convoluted Left Turns Gains in New Jersey Senate

“But perhaps no New Jerseyan has weighed the jughandle’s merits as thoroughly as Jason Didner, 42, a singer and songwriter. Years before he took a job with a highway construction company, he wrote a tune about his driving experience for ‘Car Talk’ on National Public Radio.”

Matt Flegenheimer, NY Times

Here’s the definitive live performance video of me playing this song in front of an in-person audience (that sounds really nice right now, something to look forward to when we’re all vaccinated!)

Podcast Interview: My Handle is Johnathanblade

In this podcast interview I make a virtual trip to Richmond, VA to chat with cultural commentator and stand-up comic Thandi Woodard to have a thoroughly enjoyable conversation about family, music, mental health and the balance of it all. Press play and be part of it!

Or listen at Spotify, Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcasts.

Podcast series: My Handle is Johnathanblade

Click here for the full podcast series.

New Video: Because I’m Grateful-Home Studio Sessions

See me recording all the parts for my new song “Because I’m Grateful!” I let the cameras roll while recording the tracks of this new song – here’s the result!

This is my first time ever playing the drums! I was inspired by Wolfgang Van Halen (Mammoth WVH) who chose to play all the tracks on his much-anticipated upcoming debut album. So I watched the Drumeo channel on YouTube and got some pointers to start keeping a beat and playing some fills. I’ve heard drumbeats in my head all my musical life, but hadn’t really tried to physicalize it until now. It’s my “pandemic skill!”

released December 19, 2020 
Lyrics by Amy and Jason Didner, Music by Jason Didner 
Produced by Amy and Jason Didner 
Vocals, guitars, bass, drums, keyboards by Jason Didner 
Mastered with CloudBounce 
(c) 2020, All Rights Reserved

Verse 1: 
I’m grateful that I woke up this morning 
At least that’s what that TED talk said I’m supposed to say 
Still I’m sorry for myself and my brain’s all full of warnings 
I’ll try this attitude of gratitude on some other day 

But then, what if that day could come around this morning 
What could it hurt to thank a loved one or two? 
It might bring a little good to take stock of my blessings 
OK, let’s see what this gratitude thing can do 

Pre-chorus: 
I can feel my mood get a little bit lighter 
As my outlook grows just a little brighter 

Chorus: 
I’m not afraid today to show what I’m made of 
I’m grateful for my love, my child and my pets 
I’m thankful for the support I have 
And the strength I’ve found within 
Because I’m grateful 
Sadness isn’t all there is 

Verse 2: 
Depression can’t have the upper hand this morning 
‘Cause I’ve got a new move that villain has never seen 
When you see what it can do, you won’t call it corny or boring 
See, I’m getting in touch with the grateful part of me 

I’m gonna do it again tomorrow morning 
‘Cause feeling better is feeling pretty sweet 
I’m letting go of the rope - Depression, here’s your warning 
I ain’t fighting today and that don’t feel like defeat 

Pre-chorus: 
I can feel my mood get a little bit lighter 
As my outlook grows just a little brighter 

Chorus: 
I’m not afraid today to show what I’m made of 
I’m grateful for my love, my child and my pets 
I’m thankful for the support I have 
And the strength I’ve got within 
Because I’m grateful 
Sadness isn’t all there is

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New Single: “Because I’m Grateful”

I’m proud to introduce my new single, “Because I’m Grateful!” This is your mantra for daily gratitude. Let this song into your heart and mind. It will give you some space from your depression or anxiety.

This is my debut playing a drum kit! All my musical life, I’ve heard drumbeats in my head, but have always handled drums by either programming drum machines or better, teaming up with my drummer friends. Wolfgang Van Halen’s new solo project Mammoth WVH inspired me to complete my multi-instrumental abilities. Interesting note: Eddie Van Halen got me to play guitar when I was 16. Now at 50, his son has gotten me to take up drums and record entire arrangements myself! Thank you Wolf!

Amy and I co-wrote the lyrics and co-produced the record. When I was a little shy about the tempo (first take was pretty slow), Amy encouraged me to pick up the pace. The result you’re hearing now is much more lively than the original.

Lyrics: 

Verse 1: 
I’m grateful that I woke up this morning 
At least that’s what that TED talk said I’m supposed to say 
Still I’m sorry for myself and my brain’s all full of warnings 
I’ll try this attitude of gratitude on some other day 

But then, what if that day could come around this morning 
What could it hurt to thank a loved one or two? 
It might bring a little good to take stock of my blessings 
OK, let’s see what this gratitude thing can do 

Pre-chorus: 
I can feel my mood get a little bit lighter 
As my outlook grows just a little brighter 

Chorus: 
I’m not afraid today to show what I’m made of 
I’m grateful for my love, my child and my pets 
I’m thankful for the support I have 
And the strength I’ve found within 
Because I’m grateful 
Sadness isn’t all there is 

Verse 2: 
Depression can’t have the upper hand this morning 
‘Cause I’ve got a new move that villain has never seen 
When you see what it can do, you won’t call it corny or boring 
See, I’m getting in touch with the grateful part of me 

I’m gonna do it again tomorrow morning 
‘Cause feeling better is feeling pretty sweet 
I’m letting go of the rope - Depression, here’s your warning 
I ain’t fighting today and that don’t feel like defeat 

Pre-chorus: 
I can feel my mood get a little bit lighter 
As my outlook grows just a little brighter 

Chorus: 
I’m not afraid today to show what I’m made of 
I’m grateful for my love, my child and my pets 
I’m thankful for the support I have 
And the strength I’ve got within 
Because I’m grateful 
Sadness isn’t all there is

Single: Quit While You’re Ahead

Here’s a throwback to an online collab I did in 2004 with Fred E. Jam, a great drummer and producer in Michigan who’s been highly dedicated to collaborating online. We also got Mike Mililo to lay down some killer sax riffs and Dennis Wieand to add some great texture with his Hammond organ. And of course, my wife Amy gave the song its character with her spoken parts at the beginning and end.

This song is the true story of that time I was in Atlantic City and blew all my available money for gambling within the first 15 minutes there! I was left with the rest of the day to wait and think about the quick losses while my family managed to nurse their money over the course of the day – ultimately I won, because I came up with this song!

Lyrics:
There’s no clock in this gambling house
No window on the fading light of day
My better judgment says “Get up, get out!”
But greed is standing in the way, yeah

My lucky hands they held the winning cards
I felt the ride would never end
Who thought saying no would be so hard
When you think a win’s around the bend, yeah
So have you got a couple bucks to lend?

Chorus:
Green light, go for the money
Now I’m running through the red
I’ve had my run on the table
Now I’m in above my head

I was sitting pretty
But now I’m broke instead
I’m telling you I should have quit while I was ahead

My next big win is on the credit card
I’ve got to make back everything I lost
This ain’t no foolin’ now, I’m playing hard
I will break even at all costs, yeah

I was the highest roller in the place
I pushed my luck a little bit too far
I’ve got to get myself back in the race
And play the chips on one more lucky star, yeah
So how much would you pay to buy my car?

Chorus

Outro:
Better quit, better quit while you’re ahead
Better quit, better quit while you’re ahead
Better quit, better quit while you’re ahead
Better quit, better quit…
(spoken) Coffee, soda, juice?
Quit While You're Ahead by Jason Didner