Pandemic sends folk singer Darren Senn to new frontiers

Clare Foster photo
Darren Senn will be playing in Staycation Fest. The online event starts at 6 p.m. Friday, April 10 and concludes at 6 p.m. Sunday, April 12.

Second in a series about music in the time of Covid-19.

It was New Year’s Day and the dawn of Y2K when Darren Senn picked up a guitar for the first time.

He replayed that moment: “I had a friend who played (guitar) … we thought the world was going to end, it was 2 or 3 a.m. that New Year’s morning, he taught me a couple chords and I didn’t stop playing, forever.”

Senn was 27 years old.

He shared the story of how he started playing music when we met in an online video conference. Darren was sitting in front of a window the back light muting his features and accentuating the edges of his thick beard. He was sheltering in place at his parents’ house in Arizona as he talked about what the downtime means to him.

Did you do a lot of recording or live streaming online before Covid-19?

“No, nothing live. I don’t have a ton of content as far as videos. This has all been new to me and I’m not tech savvy.”

“I just did release a professional video of one of my songs (“Gone Are The Days”) and it’s actually getting good traction. At this conference, all the heavy-hitter Nashville guys were saying, ‘All it takes is just one song. One song can change it all and if that thing gets traction and the right person hears it, it can change it all.’

“This one song (in the video) connects with the most people. I’ve never been good at marketing and promoting. I’ll tell you what, you can have the best shit in the world and if you don’t do anything about it besides just post it, it’s going nowhere, unless you’re fucking lucky, really lucky.”

Recently, Senn put time into learning about promoting on social media and live streaming video and with all the eyes online right now, it’s really starting to pay off.

“I’m running a second (national) ad on Facebook. I ran one ad that was pretty successful, but it was for the region, West and the Northwest. I said, you know what …”

Scratching his head, and leaving his hand there for a moment, he continued: “I want to keep pressing this thing while it’s still pretty fresh. So, I had Evangeline Elston (his agent) make a national ad and we’re targeting fans of folk music, Townes Van Zandt fans, Todd Snider fans.”

He was animated as he said each artists name.

“I just started another ad two days ago.”

Senn’s eyes get wide and he raises his eyebrows, “I’ll just tell you,” looking down toward the bottom of his screen, “it’s exciting to me that the last two days it’s been shared 105 times and I have almost 300 likes. And for me,” dragging out the “e” sound, Senn pauses, “being nobody, kinda, that’s pretty big and I have eight days left on the campaign.”

He said, “(Recently), I got together with Evangeline Elston and she handles songwriters. We have a cyber festival

coming up this weekend with her roster of artists, she has about eight of us. The festival goes from Friday to Sunday this weekend. Paste magazine plugged us and they actually mentioned my name.

“I’ll be broadcasting from my Facebook music page this Friday at 7, it’s a 45-minute set, two of us on Friday, three on Saturday, and I don’t know how many on Sunday.”

Larry Sabo / Tahoe Onstage

How do you feel about it?

“I guess I’m nervous. The thing is it’s still weird and different and it could be a very large audience.”

He raises his eyebrows again. “Technology and social media now, at this time, has proven to be a godsend to keep this shit going.”

Covid-19 has given Senn time to focus on promoting himself online. He expanded on some of the things he’s doing with live streaming, “It’s kinda tricky, I can see (comments) when I’m playing and it’ll distract me because I’ll start reading the comments when I’m trying to sing. I’ve probably played a couple of requests on the fly.

Mostly my performances have been where I have set lists, and about an hour is the longest you would want to do if it’s scheduled. If I just pop on and do a sneak attack, I’d take requests and play forever. It’s something I’d have to get more used to. If I see someone come online I’ll give them a shout out. I definitely make it personal, but I haven’t gotten completely engaged with people — I’ve been more concerned about performing the songs.”

Darren shared some of his frustrations with playing live in bars, “One of the things is that a lot of the time when I’m playing live people are talking and I’m kind of background entertainment… I find myself having to strain and sing louder than I’m comfortable with. Then, there’s the sound. You don’t always have control over the sound.

So, in this (online) format, I’ve been switching and playing more with just my fingers and not a pick. Because I’ve realized that when you don’t have a microphone and you’re just singing into your phone the guitar can be a bit overbearing and drowning out the voice a little.

I’m learning that I can play with my fingers then the guitar is a little subdued and I can let what I have of a singing voice come out and I can be more nuanced in the delivery of my vocals. It’s less of a strain and more ‘at the end of the day, my job is to make you feel something, that’s it.’ This is the most important thing, this is where my time needs to be spent and this is what I need to be focused on even in my free time when we’re back to the real world.”

“I’ve never gotten any feeling close to what I get when I connect with people through music.”

Darren’s voice lowers as he becomes more philosophical.

“You can only control your effort. Outcomes are independent of your effort. Detachment from outcomes is where it’s at, so therefore all your joy in life comes from your effort. Whether or not your song is going to go anywhere the fact that you’re doing it and you are showing up to that empty page and the guitar — that’s where the joy needs to come from. Anything else is a bonus.”

Senn had a lot to share both musically and philosophically. He explains his mission: “Serving the music, the way it’s meant to be, trying to make the world a better place. I had to get over my ego a bit. Kick that ego to the curb and make sure you’re doing shit for the right reasons.”

Music opened up something inside for Senn. He found his voice, then began sharing his stories through music. It was just 15 years ago when he joined the Tahoe music scene and this downtime from his “main gig” of being a dealer at Harvey’s has taught him that he wants to make music and writing more of a focus. He can’t imagine going back to his day job.

— Michelle Gartner

Related story: When Tahoe musicians go online during Covid-19 crisis.

ABOUT Michelle Gartner

Michelle Gartner
Michelle Gartner was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago where she discovered her love for blues and roots rock. After riding the wave of the digital revolution in motion picture film postproduction, she began pursuing the written word. She relocated to the northern Sierra more than 20 years ago and began writing about her passions.

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