The Guitar Hero Has Left The Building

Hear My Train A Comin’

As I write this, a Jimi Hendrix documentary is playing in the background.  That got me thinking about the traditional guitar hero and realizing that we’re not going to see one again.

Regardless of what anyone thinks of Hendrix as a player, for me there can be no argument  that you basically have electric guitar before Hendrix and electric guitar after Hendrix.  Just like you essentially have Flamenco guitar before and after Paco De Lucia or classical guitar before and after Segovia.  These are the players who pushed the envelope and ended up building a foundation that everyone built on in one way or another.

After that, you have guitar heros who became major influencers.  For example Page, Beck, Clapton, and Townsend in the 60’s.  Ritchie Blackmore, Steve Howe, Frank Zappa, Johnny Ramone and Steve Jones and Holdsworth  in the 70’s. Eddie Van Halen brought hod rod guitar to the forefront and Yngwie Malmsteen brought the whole Neo-Classical and technical guitar trend to the forefront.   Or household guitar names like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Satriani or Steve Vai.

But I don’t think you’re every going to see anyone like that again.

I don’t think you’re going to see a major guitar figure again for a number of reasons and I’ll do my best to document some of them here.

1.  The landscape for popular music is different (and the same).  I realized this when I played in a live hip hop band years ago.  In the rock clubs, people were REALLY into the idea that a guitar/bass/drum trio with rappers could create a lot of those sounds, but at the rap shows – that didn’t matter to anyone.  It didn’t matter whether a DJ was spinning a disc or whether that sound was coming from the floor, it was all about the flow over top of it.  To be sure, there are still some diehard fans of certain genres (like metal or jazz) where technical ability is really respected, but for the most part, casual listeners of music don’t particularly care much about what is making the sound they’re hearing and they’re more concerned with how what they’re hearing makes them feel.  In that respect, it’s the same as it ever was but I think that…

2.  The tools have taken away the appreciation of the skill set.  For a long time, the only way to make a guitar sound good was to play it well. But now it’s easy to edit a near infinite number of performances into a useable take that doesn’t sound bad on your laptop.  A trained ear will generally know a live take from one that’s all edited together but even casual listeners understand the ability to edit something and in the back of their head it creates a little suspicion of a skill.

But when you see someone get up and move a crowd with a performance, then you realize what a skill set really is.   It’s one thing to see a table on a showroom floor that’s been computer routed and bolted together – but when you see a master craftsman build a table by hand it’s a radically different thing.

4.  The relationship is different.  When I got the Fixx’ Reach The Beach album I wore it thin with playback.  When I was learning the Rainbow in The Dark solo from a Dio album I listened to that track over and over until I could play along with the solo.  At that time you couldn’t listen to anything at any time so you could only listen to what you had on hand or what was playing on the radio.  It forced you to listen to things in a different (and deeper way).  Musicians still do this.  They still listen to tracks over and over again to learn a song or a solo, but the casual listener doesn’t develop the same relationship with the artist or the material.

5.  The demographic aged out.  This is related to #4.  There’s a reason you still see Joe Satriani or Eddie Van Halen or Vernon Reid on guitar magazine covers – the median age of people who read them is probably 40 or 45.   It’s people who grew up on guitar based music in the 60s/70’s or 80s.   They’re also the ones who are more likely to want to read a magazine instead of a digital version and more likely than not they’re reading it for the gear ads to address their G.A.S.

6 and 7.  The traffic is different and the mechanisms to promote those artists is different.  I think these are  really big factors.  It was just easier to get press and get attention before mp3s.  Yngwie Malmsteen went from being in a Mike Varney Spotlight column to recording with Steeler and Alcatrazz and releasing his own (best selling) instrumental album within a year or so.  Now, anyone can release an album – but getting Guitar Player to write about it i(or getting anyone to pay attention to it) is a whole different thing.  The major labels did a lot of things bass ackwards but they certainly knew how to let people know when new releases were coming out and how to build a buzz.  It was also a limited means of distribution and so when unlimited distribution came about though the web. they really didn’t know what to do.  (and largely still don’t).

So what you get now is you tube artists as opposed to old school artists.

You get Rodrigo y Gabriella instead of Al DiMeola and Paco DeLucia.
You get Joe Bonamossa instead of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
You get a stable of CandyRat guitarists instead of Michael Hedges.
You get a million people playing a million notes and none of them really grab you.

Having said all that, I don’t think the end of the singular guitar hero an entirely bad thing.

People forget that in the heyday of ’80’s guitar that there was a lot of crap with the cream.  There were a number of people who were basically trying to go as fast and as loud as they could to try to be the next big thing and it never came and it just broke so many of those people who were never heard from again.

So there will never be another Hendrix.  Big Deal.  We already had Hendrix and he was awesome.  And guitar after him has largely been a really great thing.  More people are making more music and doing things that were never dreamed of before.  Financially it’s a difficult road, but artistically – we are so lucky to be living, and playing and experiencing things right now.  I don’t know what the future holds – but we need to realize that playing really well is less about playing every note “perfectly” and more about making a real connection to fans.

Kurt Cobain wasn’t a great guitar player – but there’s a reason people still learn his guitar parts – they dig the tunes they’re in.

Now let’s get Miroslav Tadic – for my money the best guitarist on the planet right now – on the cover of all the guitar magazines – selling out all of his albums and making a bid to prove me wrong.

Reconnecting by De-connecting

Back in the saddle again….

I’ve been off guitarchitecture for a while.  I posted a new podcast on guitagrip.com, and have taken on a few other projects (I’m the musical director/foley jockey for a new production at Siena College that starts in a few weeks, picked up new students, worked on some consultations for other projects, booked some new korisoron shows, worked with ZT amps for some videos we’ll be doing to promote their awesome acoustic amps and related material).  But more importantly related to my absence here, I’ve noticed some severe attention deficit for my interactions with various things.

In addition to trying to be mindful of the fact that multiple options typically leads to overwhelm and inactivity rather than making better choices – I still found myself struggling with finding time to work out or read a book.  These two activities in particular also happen to be things that are very grounding for me.

So clearly something wasn’t working.  In analyzing my actions, I realized that much of my day was spent working under the illusion of being proactive (checking e-mail repeatedly for example) with being reactive (now forcing myself to react to an email with an immediate urgency for something that wasn’t even an issue a minute earlier).

It’s the illusion of getting something done in a timely manner, but it sabotages short and long term goals.

Physician Heal Thyself

In a recent lesson, I gave a student the same advice that I needed for myself, namely to find the things that trigger a flow state and adapt that to practicing.

By a flow state, I mean events that you can loose yourself in without being aware of time passing.  This might mean playing, or reading or working on your car.  It’s whatever event you can fully immerse yourself in.

For me, that’s reading, and then that’s guitar playing.  As a kid, I would read books constantly not being aware of what time had passed.  Guitar playing came a lot later and had a lot of extra baggage associated with it that had to be overcome to be in a flow state. (such as editing and analyzing what you’re playing as you play it – even having worked on that a lot I still find myself falling into that mode once in a while).

So I got back into reading books.  Physical books picked up from the library.  Serious reading where skimming was avoided (I found myself skimming sections to get to the next part and then coming back and re-reading things in a deeper way) and every word that was on the page came into the internal narrative of what I was reading.  When I lived in Boston, it was easy because it took at least 30 minutes each way to get anywhere by train, so I always brought a book with me and read it on the train.  But now that I drive everywhere, it’s taken a while to get back into the habit of REALLY reading something of substance (just like it’s taken a while to get back into the habit of walking places when you find yourself driving everywhere).

It’s easy to be dismissive of this.  After all to read a three sentence synopsis is easier, faster and easier to act on yes?

The short answer is no.  The longer answer is, it’s completely missing the point.

The Filter bubble

I was thinking a lot about Eli Pariser’s filter bubble book.  In a filter bubble, uncommon data is eliminated so that the more common data rises to the top of the searches.  So when you do a google search for something, you’re only skimming the surface of the data out there.  This is great when you want to find specific data (like a water table for a county for a specific year), but not so great when you’re looking for specific topics.

Years ago, my friend Randy saw a Charles Manson shirt and commented that people used faces like Manson and Hitler to be provocative because they weren’t well informed enough to find more relevant contemporary people.  They went with what was easy or immediately accessible.

So a filter bubble is like handing someone a 6 string guitar with only 2 strings and saying, “ok here’s a guitar.  Now go play smoke on the water.”  You can play the main riff of the tune on 2-strings, but without the rest of the strings on the guitar you’re missing out on a lot.  Here, it’s reading to come to a deeper understanding of something, rather than developing a “hack” shortcut.

The 3-sentence synopsis in action

The reality of a three-sentence synopsis for most people is some variation of this process:

1.  Read the synopsis.

2.  Do an internal litmus test to see if it seems plausible.

3.  Google the term to see if there’s a common consensus on the topic.

4.  If it’s determined to be correct, then it’s added to the list of things that they learned today,  filed it into memory, and then transmitted to other people as knowledge.

In other words, it’s very rarely acted upon.  But this is what happens when you are reacting to data all the time.  You get overwhelmed and can’t really internalize things.

Another YouTube Rant

You want to know why there are SO MANY videos of technical guitar videos on YouTube?

Because (in the scheme of things) it’s not that hard to do.

You could train a monkey to play the version of “flight of the bumblebee” that so many guitarists post (btw – I blame a Guitar Player transcription/lesson of Jennifer Batten for this version being in existence because that seems to be the one everyone is referencing for fingerings).  It’s not about music, it’s about getting a few specific techniques under your belt to meet a specific goal.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a limited end unto itself.

I pretty much stopped watching YouTube guitar videos because:

A:  I saw the filter bubble in action.  So many of the videos I saw were clearly guys who had watched the same video, or learned the same tune.

B:  I have my own thing to work on, so unless it’s really special, I really don’t care what other guitarists are doing.

So, I don’t care about shred videos on youtube.  I don’t care that an 8 year old can play Scarified not all that well at near the recorded tempo.  What DO I care about then?

This in contrast is a lot harder:

This is making music.  This is what happens when a master musician becomes a shaman and invokes the spirit behind the song.  It’s about being completely in the moment.  It’s about having something to say and speaking it directly to other people.

It’s being in the flow and taking other people with you.

It’s about being in the present.  Not checking your email every 15 minutes to see if you’re missing something.

It’s about the duende moment.  The moment the hair stands up on your arms and you feel more alive than before.

That doesn’t happen online.  That doesn’t happen in a text.  That happens with people in a room sharing an honest naked moment.

Creating that moment starts with you, the performer being in the moment and bringing people there.

Being in the moment is something that has to be practiced.  Now, possibly more than ever.

That’s why I started working on things that fell into my flow state more often.  The more I enter flow, the more easily I can enter in in other areas of my life.  The more I can bring that when I perform.  The more I can create something beyond the veneer of flash and get to touching people in a real way.

So, that’s where I’m at.  A work in progress moving towards reconciling an analog past with a digital present and doing it (for now) increasingly offline.

As always, thanks for reading!  I hope this helps you in some way!

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The 4 Steps To Getting A Gig

Recently I had an experience that may be of interest to beginning players out there.  Conversely, I think that these are the same steps that are taken in taking on any new project or endeavor so this can be adapted to getting a job, or any other collaborative process.

The Gig

I was asked if I’d participate in a local production of a new play.  I knew the director and knew that he did really great work and said I’d be happy to help out.

Step 1.  Have a skill set and Be seen.

People need to know who you are and know what you do in order to know to contact you.  This also means that you need to know people in your area.

The director asked me to show up and meet with himself and the playwright.  I did so.  He informed me that another musician was coming who would also be working on the production.

While we sat there drinking tea.  We talked about the project. I talked about how we could use sound and the roles of everyone there.  The other musician never showed.

Step 2.  Show Up / Follow Through / Don’t Flake

This is the biggest step.   I can’t tell you the number of people who loose gigs because they just don’t show up.

A lot of it is people psyching themselves out and thinking they don’t have the skills, so they won’t get the gig so why bother?

Here’s a tip – no one ever feels 100% ready.  Show up anyways as prepared as you can be and do what you do at the highest level you can.  Then at least you won’t spend years later living in regret wondering what could have happened.

This advise is closely followed by – show up on time.  Consider this quote from Anthony Bourdain:

Show up on time. I learned this from the mentor who I call Bigfoot in Kitchen Confidential. If you didn’t show up 15 minutes exactly before your shift, if you were 13 minutes early, you lost the shift, you were sent home. The second time you were fired. It is the basis of everything. I make all my major decisions on other people based on that. Give the people that you work with or deal with or have relationships with the respect to show up at the time you said you were going to. And by that I mean, every day, always and forever. Always be on time. It is a simple demonstration of discipline, good work habits and most importantly respect for other people.

(You can read the entire interview here and this is perhaps the only time in my life I will link to Men’s Journal magazine).

So while we were waiting and discussing the overview, the director suddenly said, “Ok it’s almost 6 o’clock – Did you bring a guitar?  Are you ready?”

“No I didn’t bring a guitar.  I thought we we’re just talking.  Am I ready for what?”

“Are you ready to meet with the cast?  I want you to meet with them before I cast them and have them all in a room for rehearsal”

“Uh…sure”

We walked downstairs to the studio and there was a group of 14 people there.  I was introduced to the cast and then given the floor.

Step 3  – Work WITH people, Adapt and Do You

When thrown into situations like this, I’ve found that you just have to adapt to the needs of the people you’re working with and then work with the skills you have.  Since the play was about a Liberian child soldier, I felt that percussion was going to be a key element in the production.  I moved out some tables and then had people step in time and perform interlocking rhythms based on some West African drum patterns that I learned and adapted them to the situation to see where the actor’s rhythmic skills were.

Then I had them hold pitches and move them around to a few different chords so se where their ears were.

The whole thing was over in about 15 minutes.  The atmosphere in the room was electric.  They were psyched about what we were doing.

A day later, I was listed as the musical director for the production.

Step 4 – Do The Work

This is what separates the professionals from the amateurs of the world.

  • Professionals develop a set of skills and understand what those are.
  • Professionals show up.
  • If they know what they’re showing up to – they prepare for it as best they can as time allows.
  • If they don’t know what they’re showing up to – they adapt their strengths to the situation at hand.
  • Once professionals get the gig – they keep it by doing the work the gig requires.  If they need additional skills – they develop them to the point that they need to.  The professional  guitarist who plays well but needs to sing backup for the gig will shed those vocal parts as much as needed to keep that gig.

That’s it for now!

I have more shows with KoriSoron coming up in the area and we’re going to be doing some videos for our good friends at ZT Amps.  You can check out all of our comings and goings at KoriSoron.com.

As always – Thanks for reading!

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New Guit-A-Grip Post Music – Business Podcast and KoriSoron Shows

New Guit-A-Grip Post and Podcast

Kate Bush

Some music business material went up on the Guit-A-Grip site.  Did you know that 35 years after her last performance, that Kate Bush’s recent return to the stage was SO successful that it drove EIGHT of her albums into the top 40 charts?  You can read about that (and how you might be able to use that information here).

Developing Your Business Plan

(From the Guit-A-Grip site)

“This summer I had the opportunity to get involved with the BuckMoon Arts Festival which was held at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown, NY.  One of the ideas I had was to create workshops for artists in the area who were looking for ways to monetize their income.  The workshop idea was replaced with a panel discussion with the purpose of utilizing some of the artists and professionals we had access to.  This made for some great discussions and interactions throughout the day.

This podcast is from the “Developing Your Business Plan” panel with panelists Mike DiminYvonne Lieblein and Mark Swain.  The event description was “The business of art – Setting up your business, creating a business plan and building your team.” but it went into a lot of different areas.  If you’re interested in developing your art as a business, you might be interested to listen to hear how these people are already doing it!”

More Things KoriSoron Soft Launch

KoriSoron (my duo acoustic international instrumental project with Farzad Golpayegani) has a twitter feed, and a ReverbNation page and a YouTube page.

Upcoming shows:

We DO have more shows coming up as a direct result of this one:

  • Friday, September 12th 2014 – Moon and River Cafe, 115 S. Ferry St. Schenectady, NY – KoriSoron plays 2 sets of international instrumental music at 8PM and 9PM.  While most of our music is composed there’s a lot of improvisation in the set as well so
  • Thursday, September 18th 2014 – Proctor’s GE Theatre, Schenectady, NY Festival Cinema Invisible‘s kick off event for their 2014-2015 Invisible Film series is going to be fantastic night!  A $10 ticket gets you into a screening of a rarely seen film from Iran, “Common Plight”, a Q & A with the film’s producer Mahmood Karimi-Kakak Persian style tea and delicious sweets from Schenectady’s own Persian Bite restaurant, and a performance from KoriSoron!  Full information about the event is here.  Tickets can be purchased online here.
  • Thursday, September 25th 2014 – Bombers Burrito Bar, 2 King Street Troy, NY as part of the CUR518 local music showcase series.  We play with Groovestick and Dylan Storm and the whole night runs from 8-11!
  • Saturday, November 1st 2014 – Fundraiser for Amsterdam Public Library in Amsterdam, NY. Three sets of music!!!!  No information on the library website yet but the library link is here.

And more shows coming up in October and November while we prep for a new recording.

Mas Music:

Also more details as they become available, but Farzad and I are going to be composing and performing the score for a new theatrical work called Child Soldier this fall at Sienna College called.  More details as that emerges.

As always thanks for reading!

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KoriSoron Follow Up – Video – New Shows – And A Useful Audio Hack For Piezo Guitars

The KoriSoron Soft Launch

The soft launch went well and to answer the Craigslist Question raised in the previous post, yes we brought people and made money in tips (more than we would have made for the same number of people playing a club with three other people on the bill.

Farzad Golpayegani (the other guitarist in Korisoron) has been editing video and posting them (a thankless job the table he had the camera on had people talking the entire time so finding segments without conversation was difficult but he did manage to pull these together.

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Upcoming shows:

We DO have more shows coming up as a direct result of this one:

  • Friday, September 12 Moon and River Cafe – 8pm-10pm
  • Thursday, September 25th – Proctor’s GE Theatre (as part of Festival Cinema Invisible‘s kick off event) 7pm-10pm full information can be found here!

And more shows coming up in October and November while we prep for a new recording.

The Audio Hack

We have an extra ZT Lunchbox Acoustic coming to us but we weren’t able to coordinate with ZT in time for the Moon and River gig so rather than having one great sound – we ended up going direct to the PA. While that isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened in the history of the world, it was a drag to hear that piezo through a PA tone.  (BTW – We are SO excited about the ZT Acoustic amps because they sound simply AMAZING).  There was no Pie in that piezo….

While Farzad was editing the video he texted me and asked if I could check out the audio from the Zoom H2n recorder I had on site.  I had run a line off the Fender Passport PA into the recorder’s 1/8″ input.  The sound was what you expected by now but then I remembered something…

Didn’t I have a Yamaha AG Stomp, that’s specifically designed to handle piezo guitar signals?

A trip to GC to pick up a $50 Behringer mixer w. an FX send on clearance got me this:

AG Stomp

Here’s what’s going on here:

As I already transferred the WAV file to my laptop, I used Fission to break it the large file up into individual tracks and then ran the signal out the headphone jack of my Apogee Duet (to give the signal a little better sound) and into the Behringer mixer. The Behringer didn’t allow me to run the FX send off of the RCA inputs, so I used a stereo 1/4″ to 2 1/8″ cables to get the signal to the 5/6 channels of the mixer.  Since sends are typically mono on units in this price range and the return is stereo, I set up the gain staging of the unit and ran a single cable from the FX Send to the AG Stomp input then ran the stereo send back to the Mixer.

Funny thing though…..

I couldn’t get the return blend to sound right in the mixer, so I just ended up going direct from the headphone out of the AS Stomp back into the H2N.

I’m guessing that here in our story is where the questions will start.

Couldn’t you (I) have just done that in software?

Interestingly enough, I tried using the Positive Grid Jam Up Acoustic Sim with a Line 6 Sonic Port and it didn’t hold a candle to the AG Stomp.

and yes, I probably could have used a plug in like MonoMaker and just run a signal out of the laptop into the AG stomp – but honestly this was just a much easier solution for me.

How did it turn out?

Funny story…

Apparently I had the wrong setting on the Hn2 which recorded the line in AND anything coming through the PA on the mic. This means it was affecting a wierd mix of the direct signal AND a recorded room tone that was recorded BEHIND US sitting on the piano!

The short answer is it sounds better than the unaffected file bout would have sounded WAY WAY better if I read the manual and had the H2n on the right setting.  As I type this, the audio is still rendering, so I’ll have to post excerpts soon.

You may be thinking at this point,

Oh that might be useful for me later on.

Here’s the thing though….

This process started at 10am.  It’s 12 hours later and I’m still working on it.  Mind you, I DID get a few other things done in that time, but it took a number fo false starts to get it together.  Had I thought of it, I could have run it through the FX send of the PA and saved myself A LOT of editing and rendering time later.

So the lesson I’m really facing here is, do it right the first time because sometimes the cure is just as bad as the ailment!  The good news is that the idea is an interesting one, and I may use this approach for additional guitar processing for recording in the future.

More photos, clips and other miscellany to come!

In the meantime, our website and FB page are in a soft launch – but we’re putting content up pretty regularly now so you should see more things there each day from here on out.

http://facebook/korisoron

http://korisoron.com

As always thanks for reading!

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Due Versus Do

 

Sign-colored

Korisonon

As I mentioned in the last post, I’m playing in a new acoustic duo called KoriSoron with an incredibly talented guitarist and artist form Iran named Farzad Golpeyagani. If you happen to be in the Capital District of New York, we’re having a soft launch of the project tomorrow evening with 2 sets in Schenectady, NY on Saturday, August 23rd.

Flyer - August 23 Moon and River Cafe001

I’m the Michael Chicklis stunt double on the left.

 

We’ll have a fully realized site on KoriSoron.com and https://www.facebook.com/korisoron in the weeks ahead.   For now – here’s an event page with some information.  https://www.facebook.com/events/1538544056367629/

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But what do the people on Craigslist think?

 

As an interesting aside, someone posted a rather pointed question on the Albany Musicians Craigslist page about a venue owned by the same owner of the one that we’re doing the soft launch at.

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ArthursMarket; worth booking (Stockade Schenectady)

Have an offer to perform at Arthurs Market, the owner also runs Moon &River Cafe up the street.

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Anybody ever played at either? If so, how were tips? The owner does not pay so tips are the only compensation.

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Both places sort of worry me. Seem dingy, cluttered, unkept. Sort of like some hippy den instead of a real concert place. No phone, dim lights, no credit cards. Real dumps. But tips might be good anyway. Have you played there? Any advise?”

This was followed by a tirade of people weighing in on the necessity of musicians getting paid whenever they play a venue as a definition of professional.  Most of the following “re:” posts seemed to think it was a bar of some type (they’re both cafes with an emphasis on vegetarian food) and talked about how bars shouldn’t have bands if they don’t pay them directly.

I’ll come back to the professional aspect that was brought up but let me first answer this question with a question.

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Have you paid your dues?

Do you have a local or regional audience?

Will you bring people to a club because they are there to see you?

And the answer to this question is no.

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Paying Dues

I can say that, because if you have a local audience then you know how many people will show up at a gig in general and there should be little to no mystery in what you’d make in tips.  If you’re asking that question, it’s because you’re depending on the club to provide the audience or the other acts on the bill to provide an audience.

Most bands play for years without making a living wage.  That’s because building an audience takes nurturing and time.  It doesn’t happen overnight.

“But what about the unknown bands that play for thousands of people on bills with big bands?”

Did you know that many large bands that play outdoor sheds (i.e. large outdoor arenas) actually charge opening bands to play for them?  It’s because they don’t need an opening act.  The fans are coming there to see them and the opening act is just poaching their audience.

Do I agree with the ethics of charging an opening band and having them rely on whatever merch or tour support they have to keep them on the road?  No I don’t agree with it.  I think it’s disgusting.  But it’s also a power dynamic.  If you haven’t paid your dues by being on the circuit and having a draw then you need to pay your membership dues to the people who are allowing you to enter their club house and try to capitalize on their work.

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My Local / Regional Plan

When Farzad and I first talked about this.  I laid out my plan for this project with him and it’s a plan that might work for you if you’re looking to make a go of it in a regional market.  We plan on following through with everything, so as an experiment in accountability even you might find this interesting.  I’ll also tell you the secret about why this plan won’t work most people.

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1.  Play Open Mics (and/or play in front of people).

When you start a new venture (particularly when you’ve relocated) you can’t just pick up where you left off unless you’re a name recognized act on a major label (even then it’s still a step back.   For all of Audioslave’s hype – they never got to the level of success of either Soundgarden’s or Rage Against The Machine’s success and they still had to do all of the promotion that is associated with any new act on a major label.).  You have to build a local audience and start all over again.  That’s the bad news.

The good news is that once you’ve already put the work in, it takes much less time to build a following and get your platform built.  The fact that I’ve released eight books and that Farzad has six full lengths under his name and that we both have video game credits opens doors for us.  On a professional level, when people see our bios, they’re more likely to check out what we’re doing or take a meeting with us.

All that does on a fan level though is potentially get people through the door.  At the end of the day both the music and the performance need to be strong enough to get people to stay and, ideally, to come back again.

So why play open mics?

  • Because testing your material in front of a live audience is worth more than months in a rehearsal space.  It’s just a completely different thing and you find out IMMEDIATELY what works and what doesn’t and how well you really know something.
  • Because the stakes are low at an open mic.  It’s a good place to experiment and try things and if they blow up it’s not a big deal.  This is a much better place to potentially fail at something than in front of a large crowd of people who paid to see you.
  • Because a lot of times – you end up with fans.  Particularly for the music I play, a lot of times other musicians are the first to pick up on some of the challenges with performing that material.  Some of them will come to the gigs that I play and possibly bring people.

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“But open mics don’t pay!  Professionals get paid for what they do!”

Did you know that Robin Williams would frequently show up at comedy clubs well after midnight unannounced and get on the stage to test out new material?  Did he get paid for that?  Is he a hobbyist for doing so?

Professionals do things pretty regularly without getting paid but they do it for a pay off down the road.  Think of the contractor that comes to your house to give you a free estimate on work that’s going to be done.  That estimate is only free as there’s a payoff on the back end if it goes through.  The band that plays the local TV station morning show at 7am?  They might be paid later on if they own the copyright on the song they’re performing – but they don’t get paid for the show.  They do it because it exposes them to a larger audience.  There’s a payoff on the back end.

When people talk about bars paying bands – they’re talking about a decades old performance model that has no basis in the current economy – unless you already have an audience that is specifically there to see you (i.e. you have a real draw).

So let’s take the same person who asked the question an apply it to the rock band bar model.

Your band wants to play bar X.  You send materials to the booking agent and start a lengthy dance for a night to play.  Eventually you get on a bill with 3 other local bands (HA!  I played a CBGB’s gig once where there were 12 other bands on the bill!).  You each bring 10 people paying a $5 cover.  You get a dollar a head for each person who comes in.  So assuming they don’t make you pay for the sound or light guy, someone in the band waits until 2am when the venue closes to collect the $10.

Divided by, let’s say it’s a duo for simple math.  That’s $5 a person.  Let’s hope you didn’t buy a beer or you lost money!  Good thing you waited 5 extra hours for that pay out!

Now let’s say you play a small venue where there’s no cover and it’s pass the hat (or you play a house concert – where it can be an expensive ticket for the same thing).  Let’s say there’s 10 people there to see you but it’s pass the hat and you make $40.  No pay out.  No waiting.  You collect the money and go.

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The exception to the rule.

If you’re playing a dinner club gig where you’re the entertainment for the evening and playing human jukebox for the night you should be making more money.  You’re also playing longer and you’re doing a gig that I wouldn’t be comfortable doing, “I know you’re a jazz group but would you play ‘Piano Man’?  I love that song….”  As a side note, with alarming regularity I see people taking those gigs where they’re playing for 2-3 hours for no money and possibly getting  a meal during a break.  That is insane.  And that gig – or a gig where you’re a cover band in a bar and playing for 4 hours….that’s a completely valid criticism.  I’m talking about groups that play original music and do so in 30 – 45 minute sets.

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2.  Play traditional and non-traditional venues.

One of the gigs were playing is a library.  I’ve done entire regional tours at libraries where I sold merch and added names to my e-mail list.  You capitalize on existing opportunities and create new ones where possible.

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3.  Develop marketing materials.

Promo shots.  Websites.  Social Media.  Performance videos.  Audio recordings.

Two words here: GET VISIBLE!  People can only support what they know about.

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4.  Network.

I’ve written a lot about this.  You need to develop legitimate friendships and relationships with other artists, musicians, movers and shakers in whatever community you’re in.  You do this by going to shows, and playing out locally.  You can do this online by reaching out to FB groups, forums, meet-up groups, etc., but without a local support network anything you do on a larger scale will fall apart.  This is what happens when you play some shows in Europe (to large audiences) and then come back and play to 2 people in a bar in Brooklyn that are there to see another band.

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5.  Record material.

With all that rehearsing and playing out playing out you should have some tunes very much under your belt.  Personally I’ve been saying the LP was dead since we did the Visible Inc. Ep’s back in 2000 or so – so the goal here is multiple short releases over the year so that you have something to promote.

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5.  Build everything bigger and better.

So the basic steps here are:

  • Build an audience
  • develop your product
  • develop your support network
  • build off of the foundation you built and make everything better than it was.  Constant improvement.  Better performances.  Better songs.  Better venues.  Better connection to fans.  Possibly adding more player to the project to increase the sound produced.

This goes back to the pay issue.

Yes – I’ll do a soft launch for no pay.

Yes – I’m a professional guitarist.

Yes – this is a good idea because I’m executing a plan that ultimately benefits me.

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Here’s the secret I’ve learned

It’s a big one.  It’s why outlining something like this won’t matter for most people.

Most people aren’t willing to do the work.

They’re not willing to put the time in and invest in themselves for the pay off later.

They’re too caught up in their own egos and thinking about what’s owed to them rather than what they work for.

What’s due to them rather than what they do.

So they sit at home not playing because they model that worked for them 20 years ago is not making them any money and they can’t get out of their comfort zone to start over, and complain about how the scene sucks, and people suck, and the venues suck….

An open mic is beneath some of these people.  They want the money now.  They want the audience now but they don’t want to put the work in to build one.  That takes a long time and a lot of playing.

You gotta put in the work.

I had to re-teach myself to play three separate times.  From scratch.  It sucked.  The last time almost killed me.

It built character.  It taught me how to keep my eye on the prize over the long haul.

So when I sit there and say, “All we have to do is play to the best of our ability over and over again, build an audience and expand our visibility.”  That’s an easy plan to conceptualize and a hard plan to actualize because it requires endurance.

Endurance and Vision are symbiotic for long term execution.  Without both of them you don’t have anything.

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So why do a soft launch at that venue?

Because people listen there.

The thing that really struck me about the open mics there is that people seemed to really listen to what musicians were saying with their music.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve played bars and the bartender balked at the idea of turning the sound off on the TV so we could play.  I get it.  The people sitting at that bar are the ones tipping him.  They certainly didn’t come to see any of the bands I play in.

If people are listening, it’s the first step to making a fan.  If they’re not listening (or if they stop listening), it’s really hard to get their attention again.

So the possibility of getting people who come to that show to come to another show is high,  Perhaps those people will bring other people with them.

Years ago – I got some great advice from someone who basically said, “Don’t bet on the lottery.  Bet on yourself instead.”

The work you do today sows the seeds for tomorrow.  Pay your dues through what you do, not what you’ve done.

I hope this helps and, as always, thanks for reading.

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New Music, New Shows, Gear News and Guit-A-Grip Posts

Hi Everyone,

This is just a brief update of new gear, news and music with some things that may be of interest to you.

New Project

I’m playing in a new project that’s currently an acoustic duo with an incredibly talented guitarist and artist form Iran named Farzad Golpeyagani who recently relocated to the capital district.   He has an extensive discography and portfolio of projects and you can see his website here.

For those of you starting new projects or developing new things, there may be several aspects of this that might be of interest to you.

  • I met Farzad at the Festival Cinema Invisible Film Fest back in June of this year.  People that I met at that event have since opened a series of friendships which has lead to other doors, opportunities and gigs for me.   What’s interesting about this to me is that I almost didn’t end up making it to the festival and if I didn’t have full passes for the festival – I might have missed it entirely.  So (for me) it’s yet another reminder that opportunities are made more than they are found.
  • While there are several reasons for playing as an acoustic duo (rather than starting an electric band) the primary reason is flexibility.  Years ago, I played in a live hip hop band, which I loved, but trying to schedule regular rehearsals and gigs with 6 people was a perpetual mess.  Our thinking behind starting as an acoustic duo is we can make a soft launch of the project, develop material and cultivate an audience in the short term and then expand the lineup out over time.  This will eventually give us the flexibility to be able to perform small shows as a duo or larger shows as a larger ensemble.

For now, this is our acoustic guitar duo project with heavy note density – expect tunes from and/or inspired by the musics of Iran, Turkey, Spain, Romania, Northern India, Japan and other parts of the world all rolled up into some kind of Kati roll / Sushi roll / Gumbo / Goulash. 

We’re working on a name and a logo (I’ve penciled in a name of KoriSoron for the time being).  Farzad and I have been been testing out some material with soft launches at open mics in the area that have gone over very well and now we have some actual shows coming up.

  • “The birthday show” – Saturday, August 23rd – The Moon and River Cafe in Schenectady 8pm – 10pm.  Several short sets to herald in some new material which also happens to mark my birthday on the following day.   As my gift to anyone there, the show has no cover, but supporting the venue with food or beverage purchases is encouraged.
  • Thursday, September 18th – Kickoff screening for Festival Cinema Invisible‘s monthly film series at Proctor’s Theatre. FCI will be showing an Iranian Film, “Common Plight”, serving tea from the fantastic Persian Bite on Jay Street in Schenectady and have a performance by the two of us.
  • Saturday, November 1st – Amsterdam Library Fundraiser. 6pm-9pm.  No information yet but you can check back with the Amsterdam Public Library website for details.

We should have a name, website, Audio/Video and other information soon….

New Gear

For this acoustic based project, I’ve gone back to the shed for getting the tunes together and back to basics for getting the sound I want.  This required some new tools and (for anyone interested) I’ve settled on a few items for live use.

Amps – Amps might seem like a strange place to start, but given that this is an acoustic-electric project, it’s the lynchpin that holds things together.  I’ve tried a bunch of amps and none of them touch the ZT Lunchbox Acoustic.

Lunchbox_Acoustic

I’ll have a full review up in the weeks ahead but for quality of sound, features, portability and price point, nothing else even comes close.  It’s the only acoustic amp I’ll use live now.  Farzad will be using a lunchbox acoustic for our project and he’s using the regular Lunchbox  for his live electric guitar performances as well.

Guitars – I think of all the time I spent trying to get my other acoustics to work in a live setting and now laugh that I didn’t just look at guitars that are designed for electro-acoustic applications and for my money the best in the field for that is Yamaha. I’m using an APX500 II and and APX700 12-string and they both work great for live use and I’m using Yamaha acoustic electric guitars exclusively moving forward.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Years ago (as in about 6 or so), FnH guitar’s John Harper took in my custom double neck fretted/fretless that he and I designed in for some work.  The problem was that as the guitar was designed to replicate a Mosrite – the necks were too narrow for standard bridges.  So the solution was either to custom build replacement bridges or to make new necks.

New necks were made and the guitar (now forever dubbed “The Harper Albatross”) was delivered last Thursday.  Some features of this beast include:

  • The Albatross weights about 14 lbs and is about 20″ wide.  It’s HUGE!
  • It has one fretted and one fretless neck (both with a 25 1/2″ scale).
  • Both necks have bone nuts and locking Sperzel tuners. (The tuners are a major contributor to the overall weight so those may be going soon).
  • The fretless has a Fernandes Sustainer circuit and pickups in it.
  • The fretted has a gold foil in the neck position and a Lace Alumitone DeathBucker in the bridge position.
  • The fretless has a stop bridge the fretted has a floating Wilkinson bridge
  • Mouradian in Boston custom-made the gig bag for this guitar by modifying a keyboard bag design to fit it.  I love my Mono bags as well but my Mouradian bags are second to none for design, comfort and durability.  Here’s the guitar with the bag.

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Here’s another photo with more of a close up of the controls.

2014-08-10 09.13.27Look for some new material featuring this and the Yamaha guitars this Fall!

New Guit-A-Grip Posts

It’s been a while since I’ve announced any of these here so there may be some topics below that may be of interest to you.

  • In this post, I dissect the “$1.7 million” figure that was quoted for a former student of mine whose band signed to a major label.
  • In this post, I’ve posted an excerpt from one of my e-books that talks about the necessity for strong opinions in the arts.
  • In this post, I talk about the disadvantages of burning bridges to your career.
  • And in this post, I talk about how opportunities are sometimes wasted before they ever come to fruition.

In the weeks ahead, I’ll have the full audio for the panel discussions for artists from the Buckmoon Arts Festival and there’s a lot of GREAT insight and information for those of you who are trying to build your carer or get you business project off the ground.

In the meantime, that’s it for now!  As always, thanks for reading!

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