Super tight harmonies, simplistic melodies, relatable lyrics, and exquisite virtuoso playing . . . this fiddle-playing, folk-singing duo is called Bettman & Halpin. They have produced truth with their lyrics, and I get every single one of their tunes! Stephanie Bettman and Luke Halpin have an interesting beginning and have been going strong for years as a music group who feature a series of stringed instruments, ranging from violin to mandolin. They can’t be accused of over-production. They keep their music clean, open, and very musical. All of their songs are based on realistic scenarios, if not just plain truths of the human condition, relating to love, heartbreak, human interaction, and even some uncomfortable misfortunes. As you can see, I could go on forever describing their music. What I love most about this duo is their knack to create a reality during their impressive performances.
I met Stephanie Bettman and Luke Halpin over three years ago when I manned a booth at Western Arts Alliance in Long Beach. They are independent artists who’ve managed to break through the barriers of the music industry, and are doing it their own way. (Western Arts Alliance [WAA] is an annual booking conference for the performing arts center world. Every year musicians, agents, managers, various acts, dancers, magicians, theater presentations, comedians, etc., attend this conference in pursuit of booking some performances in one of these coveted venues for the upcoming calendar year. WAA is held in the fall, usually toward the end of August or early September for one week. I have attended annually for four years.) One of the greatest qualities of Stephanie and Luke is their unrelenting spirit and honesty in their approach to this very difficult road of performing arts. I have heard them perform on three occasions now, and they continue to touch my heart with their wonderfully well-produced shows.
Interviewed by Kaylene Peoples
Responses by Bettman & Halpin (Mostly Stephanie)
How did you guys decide to do this whole independent artist thing on your own, because this is so daunting?
Well it’s not like we had booking agents and managers knocking down our door. It started with wanting to write some songs. We put a band together, and that’s sort of where it started; and that’s sort of where it is. We’re just doing it ourselves. Partly it’s finance and getting things, so it’s a real business. We’re open. We’re accepting offers!
It’s better to have no representation and do your own thing than to have representation that’s not doing anything for you.
I actually had a 4-piece blue grass band. I gave up being a movie star. I was living in Hollywood. And I had always been a singer and I wanted to write songs. I had written screenplays, poetry, and stuff like that. So I decided that’s it. I’m going to forget about the movie business and I’m just going to do music. So I started writing songs and I put together a 4-piece bluegrass band. And after about a year of musical players, I didn’t find anyone who was really committed to it or who was excited by it. After that time I finally found Luke. I hired him as my mandolin player at the time. And then he had this brilliant idea that we should get together every day for three hours a day, rehearse and really get tight. And so he suggested a month. We ended up going for three months, every day at least three hours of rehearsal, five days a week. And that’s how the duo was born. From that we could start touring.
You actually answered my next question. You guys are multi-instrumentalists, lyricists. What are some of the highs you’ve had in your career?
Never been asked that one before.
Well, you mentioned a documentary.
Yes, that was wild. Well, a guy that we met maybe five years ago, a guy by the name of Dan Blackburn, he used to be a news guy for CNBC, CBS, and covered all the big news stuff. He heard us play in a Border’s Books store and he decided at that moment that people needed to know who we were. So he decided to bring the people he knew to the show (and he brought a lot but couldn’t get the big time music people that he knew to come). So he decided he was going to make a movie about us and get people to know about us that way. So he started the project, got some friends in the video/film business on board. A guy by the name of Dave Carsons came on board, and he’s a major cinematographer; Chris Moskatello to record the sound. So that’s how it came together. Dan got it on PBS and is still pushing it for other PBS markets. It was pretty amazing to have somebody want to do that. When he first pitched the idea, Luke’s response was . . . “Wait, you know we’re not famous, right?” And he said, “Well, that’s the point.” It felt pretty amazing to have somebody on your team who’s so passionate and sees the viability in it.
We’ve won contests, and that always feels amazing when it’s happening. The most precious by-product of this project that we’re doing is when people come up to me after shows, or randomly I meet them somewhere and they say oh, my gosh, that song really helped me get through something, or that song changed my life, or that song “The Sound of Time,” somebody came up to me and said they listened to it last week and they walked, went home and had a long conversation and decided to retire early, take off and do what they want to do with our lives. And Luke and I were like, uh, I don’t know. Should I be responsible for this decision in your life? But it’s amazing when people get so much from the music that you’re writing.
Well, music is ministry in several ways. Do you have any lows that you want to share, or difficult hurdles?
One of the hardest things is you come out and you play a show and it feels great and people love you. Especially when you come out to Southern California. We have the best audience here. Sometimes we’ll go somewhere where people don’t know of us, play a show and we’re not getting the love we’re used to getting . . . it can be hard. The challenge is to just keep your center, and keep coming back to why we’re doing it in the first place. It’s easy to get off track and get distracted by things that look like success and goals we want to achieve. All that stuff. It’s important to come back to the reason we are doing this: that it feeds us and it feeds others. Some days are easier than others. Sometimes you just have to retreat and refuel.
I met you at Western Arts Alliance. Was it three years ago? How would you say your career has developed since then?
That was huge. We started playing performing arts centers. It has opened us up to larger audiences, playing to 200-500 people is a spectacular thing to do. This is not related, but the work we are doing with the children’s center is a new development within the last year, which feels pretty big and pretty deep, and like something that’s going to evolve; and we’ll see where it goes.
Those songs were very moving. I’m happy to see that you have that compassion within the philanthropic nature that’s within you guys to even do that. Because you are going to be touching a demographic that isn’t addressed that often on music. So that’s really amazing.
It requires a lot of the audience. It really does. I feel like, build it and people will come.
What advice would you give an independent musician trying to make it?
First of all, get your show. Practice, get it right; get it good. Have something you feel confident selling. Until you have something you feel you are confident selling, you‘re really paralyzed. It’s hard enough to sell yourself. You have to believe that what you have is worth buying or is worth experiencing for the audience. I think that’s the first thing. And after that, just work as hard as you can.
Luke’s Words of wisdom:
Practicing is more about being able to play. I think it relaxes the audience to make them comfortable. There’s nothing more stressful than watching an artist almost get it right. Adding to what Stephanie said, it’s not that difficult. I think early on in our path, we presented our show too soon before it was good enough. A few people showed up who might have been able to help, but they thought we weren’t there yet; and they never came back. Just lock yourself away for six months and create the thing you want to present and present it when it’s good. You only get a couple of shots sometimes. I think we get anxious, needy . . . maybe a little desperate.
Have you had issues with people pushing you to change things and suggest things related to your show?
We are so independent it’s not a big issue. Every once in a while, a fan will send an email unsolicited about some idea they have about what we did right or wrong; but we have to learn to ignore that a little bit. Sometimes things are said that make sense, so just glean the things that you think are right and go from there.
Ignore the things that rub you the wrong way because they might not understand what it’s like to stand up in front of a bunch of people, perform, and look calm.
Work hard and then have fun, not the other way around!
To learn more about Bettman & Halpin’s music visit their website at www.bettmanandhalpin.com. They have a full touring calendar and would love to see you sitting there in one of their audiences. Be sure to peruse their CDs. My recommendations are Stephanie Bettman – Get Close to Me, and Bettman & Halpin – LIVE in Los Angeles!