Practicing Performing

As musicians, we spend a lot of time practicing things but a lot of us don’t ask WHY we’re practicing.  We have vague notions of things like, “to get better” but nothing concrete.

This leads to things like shred guitar groups on Facebook where it’s a constant one-upsmanship of technical skill.  And while that’s a natural phase of skill development, it often doesn’t have a whole lot to do with making music or being musical in a band context.  Paul Gilbert once talked about how he had to completely change the way he soloed when he toured with Mr. Big because the highly technical things that blew people’s socks off in 500 person clubs in LA were completely lost in arenas with cavernous reverbs washing everything out.

Why we do something can inform both what we’re doing and how we’re doing it as well.

Last night, I played a gig with KoriSoron, the band I play in with guitarist Farzad Golpayegani and percussionist Dean Mirabito.  The money was negligible and the audience was small but that gig was more informative that a month in the practice room because I had real time analysis of what worked and what didn’t work in a live setting.  Furthermore, when I looked back at my improvisations I could determine what I thought I was playing versus what I was really playing.

If you want to play live music, you should play live shows as often as possible and see live music as often as possible to see what works.  I’ll add much better clarification of this idea with a quote from what I would say is a must-read  interview I did with Miroslav Tadic:

Performing has both a physical and the mental aspect to it. They’re connected but people have different levels of reactivity to each of them that can only be tested in performance. The good news is, you don’t need to be in a club or a concert hall with a bunch of people who have paid for tickets to see you to develop that skill. All you need is for a couple of people to actually sit down, listen and pay attention to what you do.

Most people, including myself, have found that there is really no difference in playing for ten people in your living room or playing for 2,000 people in a concert hall you’ve never played before. Mentally it’s the same thing and in both situations you go through the same kind of reactions. Once you learn those reactions and observe yourself in that situation, those reactions are not going to surprise you when you’re on stage and this is the most important thing.

For example, lets say the physical reaction is that your hands are sweating, shaking or cold. These are all physical reactions to this mental state of performing for people. You don’t experience that in the practice room, but if you go in front of people and all the sudden your hands are sweaty and you’ve never played with sweaty hands, it’s a terrifying experience. But if you know that your hands sweat when you go in front of people and you know how that feels you will know that you’ll still be able to play. It’s not going to be as enjoyable as when your hands aren’t sweating, but you’re not going to be completely thrown off by that because you’ll have already had experience with that. Eventually they’re not going to sweat, because what’s making them sweat is going to go away. That terror of being in front of people will turn into inspiration.

Next time, I’ll talk about ear training, the one music book I would tell every musician interested in improvising to buy (no it’s not the Real Book) and how to save yourself tens of thousands of dollars in tuition by doing so.

As always, thanks for reading!

-SC

Owning What You Do

Getting Past “Jazz”

A friend of mine posted something about working on the changes to “Giant Steps” the other day, and all I could think of was, “man better him than me…”

There was a long time that I lived under this weird misconception that I had to like jazz. That if I just listened a little deeper and learned a little bit more that there would come a moment that “stella by starlight” was going to speak to me.

And so I listened to a lot of jazz and spent some time on II V’s and other related jazz theory items and I came to some realizations.

  • Informed Aesthetics are defined Aesthetics.  I credit Susan Allen at CalArts for really making me think about my aesthetics in a deeper way.  It’s not enough to simply be dismissive about things.  When students tell me that something “sucks”, I force them to explain to me 1.  What sucks means and how this sucks and 2.  what about it they don’t like 3.  what about it could be better?  Sometimes they can really articulate something substantial, but a lot of times it’s a knee jerk reaction and diving into what is aesthetically displeasing about that yields some deeper insights.
  • Related to that examination, I tend to follow musicians more than genres.  I don’t like a lot of shred guitar but I’ll stand behind Yngwie’s work with Alactrazz (or the first Rising Force record) until the end of time.  I don’t know that “autumn leaves” will ever be a song I want to listen to but I can always find a reason to seek out recordings or performances by players like Ornette, Trane, Bird, Monk, Frisell or a couple dozen other musicians that are lumped in that category.
  • A lot of the music that moves me is melodic and rhythmic rather than harmonic.  I find myself going back to the melodies of favorite works from traditional Arabic music or traditional music of Japan, Korea, Turkey or Iran.  I’m sure that it’s been done, but I have yet to hear one of those songs performed with ii V I’s superimposed over them that made them any “better”.

You might play what you practice but you perform what you know.

At Berklee, there was a lot of pressure to become a Jazz guitarist, and I felt like a failure for a long time because it seemed beyond me.  Eventually, I realized that the issue wasn’t that Jazz was some pursuit that was intellectually beyond me, it was that I had no interest in Real Book tunes so there was no fire inspiring me to learn the vocabulary or put the time in to developing those areas.

While classical music was interesting to me, I realized that I am never going to out perform the recorded works of Bach interpretations from the guys who lived breathed and ate that music 24 hours a day.

I doubt that I’ll ever have the passion necessary to be a traditional jazz guitarist any more than to be a traditional classical guitarist – but realized that there was a lot from both disciplines that I could integrate into what I’m doing.

As guitarists, we talk a lot about skill sets (both physical and mental) but we don’t talk a lot about passion and at the end of the day that’s the thing that really matters the most.  People don’t buy into your performance based on the number of notes that you play, they buy into how it makes them feel.  If you’re not passionate about it, they never will be either.

What are you doing to achieve your goals?

If you’re having trouble reaching your musical (or other) goals – take a moment and examine what you’re actually doing to achieve them. 

If you feel like you’ve hit a rut in your playing, take a hard look at what you’re actually doing to get out of it and readjust if necessary.  For example:

  • Did you just buy a book or did you actually read it?
  • Did you really sit down and work on your picking or did you just play the same thing that you always play?

Like I’ve said before, It’s easy to confuse doing something with getting something done, but if you don’t feel like you’re making progress taking a close look at what you’re doing an excellent place to start.

(A teacher can also help you get get on track to get where you need to go.  If you need help in this area, feel free to email me for in person lessons or Skype lesson information!)

As always, thanks for reading!

-SC

Teacher’s Circus And The Seeming Disconnect Of Events In TIme

Hello all!

It’s been a bit since I’ve posted anything.  KoriSoron has been more active and we’ve been playing more shows and working on new material and it’s been great for my acoustic playing.  Working with players like Farzad Golpayegani and Dean Mirabito lights a fire under my seat because if I’m coasting on something – they’ll run right over over me.

I find that pushing myself live and coming to gigs without preconceived licks or approaches and trying to make something happen in the moment brings out the best and worst moments in my playing.  Typically it either sounds great or I wipe out and have to try recover as quickly as possible.  It highlights the chasm between the things I can imagine and the things I can execute in a live setting and gives me a lot of things to add to my “to do” list of things to work on.

I found myself getting frustrated with one particular idea that wasn’t coming together this evening and I thought of a particular event from my wayward youth that reminded me of a lesson I learned about the perceived disconnect of events in time.

Teacher’s Circus

I went to a small town high school.  I think this happend whenI was a sophomore….maybe a junior.  We weren’t seniors so we had some status in school but we were pretty far down in the pecking order.  There was a lot of trying to look “cool” around the “cool” kids.

We had a small computer lab at the school.  I don’t remember the deal, but if you took a programming language or a class that involved the use of said computers, you could get a pass that would allow you to hand out in the computer lab with your friends rather than study hall, which was just a large room with everyone in it.

It was a status thing and, it’s worth mentioning that the administration hated the computer room.  They didn’t hate the room itself but they recognized that the people that were hanging out there were going to be the type of people that were smart enough to clean up after the mischief that they created and make it more difficult to catch them in their troublemaking.

So one day I, again wanting to be cool and being one of the people who thought he was funny, went on the computer and in about 10 minutes wrote up a little ditty called, “Teacher’s Circus”, which invited people to come out to an imaginary circus featuring several faculty members, the superintendent and a fellow student engaged in unnatural and illicit acts for public amusement.  One of the older students thought this was hilarious (as did my friends) so she asked me to print out a copy.  No problemIt’s funny right?  We all had a good laugh.

Fast forward to about 2 months later.

I’m in a choir rehearsal on a Friday afternoon just waiting for the day to end as I have some friends coming over later to watch horror movies.  In the middle of the rehearsal, the superintendent comes in and says he needs to see me.  I walk out with him and ask what’s wrong.  I didn’t do anything wrong that Friday, so I figured whatever the issue was –  it wasn’t something I did so it would get resolved.  He doesn’t say a word until we get to the office.  He closes the door and pulls out a well worn and wrinkled  piece of computer paper and starts to read, “Come one come all to the Teacher’s Circus….” and I feel my heart sink to the floor because I’m busted.

I try to interrupt him (and avoid further humiliation) by saying, “You don’t need to read anymore – I know what it says.”  but he reads the entire page and concludes by saying, “We know you wrote this.”

I should mention a few small facts here:

1.  My school size was something like 800 students K-12.  Our graduating class had over 90 people and some of the staff were freaking out and wondering how they were going to graduate a group that size.

2.  The town I grew up in had about 2,000 people.  Everyone knew everyone else’s business.

3.  My father was a teacher in this microscopic public school system.

4.  My love of books had, at this point in my life, extended to philosophy.  In particular, I was reading what I could about Stoicism and somehow (probably through a comic book) got very interested in the code of ethics surrounding the Samurai.  I had read the Book of 5 Rings and the Hagakure and there were a lot of thoughts in my head at the time about concepts like honor.

So, I didn’t deny it.

“We know you wrote this.”

“Yes I did.  I wrote it.”

At that point my dad was brought in.  He wasn’t sure why he was summoned to another building in the middle of the working school day but when he head the thing I wrote he slapped the glasses off of my face.  Then he backhanded me and I saw the superintendent smile, and I was enraged that he was taking delight in my misfortune.

The rest of the story I’ll leave out here.  Let’s just say that the situation deteriorated from there and after I got home, certain disciplinary methods were employed that he’d likely be arrested for employing today.

In the recovery period from said discipline, it was then revealed to me that my punishment would be my dad driving me to each one of his co-worker’s houses that weekend where I would then apologize to all of them in person.  That was done on Saturday.  We spent about 4-6 hours driving in the car over that day and not talking.  Finally, at one point he said (in complete seriousness), “Well I guess it could have been worse…you could have murdered someone.”  In his mind, that was the enormity of the crime that I committed. I was embarrassed and felt dumb and was also well aware that if this was anyone else – they would have been suspended and that would be the end of it – but as my dad taught there – well – we had to make a Federal case out of it.

Now let me tell you something.  That experience really screwed me up for a while.

The big lesson that I learned at the moment was that I needed to be paranoid   because there was a complete disconnect in my head from the thing I did and when I got busted for it.  Whenever someone asked me a question after that day, the first thought that went through my head was, “What did I do now?” and then a running inventory of any real or imagined thing I did would cause extreme nervousness.  This went on for decades…

Now perhaps I’m just rationalizing a pretty horrific memory with my dad, but this event may have been one of the first things that got me to start to think about long term implications of things.

So what does this have to do with guitar playing?

As the thing I was practicing this evening was getting frustrating I thought about this story and my perception of disconnect of events in time.  You don’t always get rewarded now (or punished now) for the things you’re doing right now (unless you post them on YouTube).  Those things generally happen later.  Sometime, much later.

The things you play live don’t just magically happen.  They come from years of concentrated work to develop the skill set to a level where the execution is innate.  The gigs that people get generally start with connections that have been developed over time and are kept based on the well honed skills that have also been developed over time.  Yes – sometimes there’s luck – but the purely lucky fade almost instantly.  The overnight success is a myth that usually built on a foundation of years of work that seems fruitless and unfair at the time.

So the reminder to myself?  Don’t get frustrated.  It’s a temporary setback.  Show up.  Put the work in now and see the benefits later.

It’s good advice.  (I’d also recommend not saying or putting anything in print that you wouldn’t want to be quoted on later. If something you say can be taken out of context and used against you – be prepared to address it later on.)

Back to the shed.  More things coming soon and, as always, thanks for reading!

-SC

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.

.

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!

-SC

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/

.
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.

.

ArthursMarket; worth booking (Stockade Schenectady)

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

.

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

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

“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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

-SC

Paco De Lucia has left the building

Paco De Lucia died today.

 

In public, I remain stoic.  I reflect on the fact that the nature of life is terminal and that even though losing Paco is painful that it is a much better alternative to him never having been here at all.

In private though, I am heartbroken and this is a devastating loss to me.

When I was growing up, I saw a transcription for Al DiMeloa’s Mediterranean Sundance that included Al’s (and part of Paco’s) solo.  When I finally heard the Friday Night in San Francisco recording, I was knocked out.  Much of my senior year was spent getting DiMeola’s wicked picking together but the stuff that really grabbed me was Paco’s playing.  It had all the speed and fire of DiMeola and a depth to it that was other worldly.

Years later when DiMeola, McLaughlin and De Lucia toured again I got to see them at Boston’s Symphony Hall.  I was six rows back and the tickets cost me a small fortune, but, in retrospect it was a moment I was waiting my whole life for.

DiMeola sat on the left hand side of the stage with his Ovation guitar plugged into a mini-refrigerator sized rack mount unit.  McLaughlin sat on a piano bench on the right going into a small Sony digital unit.  De Lucia sat in the middle with a mike on the guitar.  I understand that privately the men did not speak to each other on tour and I do not know if there was an argument before the show, but Paco came to the stage that day as a matador.  He played circles around two world class players and then drove it home.  People may have had opinions about who did what before the show, but the only name I heard after the show was Paco (except for my friend Scott Crosby who was on a McLaughlin kick at the time but he can certainly be forgiven ; ) )

In Flamenco, there is a concept called Duende.  In its simplest possible description – it’s basically the goosebump moment.  The moment that the hair stands up on the back of your neck and all of your attention gets dragged into the moment.  Paco could summon duende, and it was always lurking behind every nuance of his playing.

He used flamenco for a vehicle for self-expression and had such a unique voice that, starting with his work with Camarón, he created new forms and new definitions of Flamenco.  He is also the guy who brought the cajón to Flamenco.

Paco used technique as a means to an end, “I have always found that the more technique you have the easier it is to express yourself. If you lack technique you lose the freedom to create.”  He combined a number of existing techniques in a manner and accuracy that had never been done before.   He set a standard by which all other players would be judged.  He inspired legions of other guitarists and musicians who all strove for that power.

There is basically Flamenco before Paco and Flamenco after Paco.

There will be many players in his wake who will technically dominate the instrument but there will never be another Paco.

For my money, the greatest player that ever walked the Earth.

Paco De Lucia has left the building.  And the building is much smaller than before.

A Public Service Announcement – Stuart Adamson – Holidays – And Seasonal Affective Disorder

Stuart Adamson

I’ve been thinking a lot about Stuart Adamson (guitarist and founder of Big Country) lately as I knew that the anniversary (not the term I’d like to use here – but the only one that comes to mind) of his death is in December (it turns out it was December 16th.).

The first time I heard, “In a big country” and heard the way the the guitars were imitating bagpipes, I was blown away.  It never occurred to me that a guitar could imitate other instruments and in a lot of ways – the explorations I’ve made in adapting techniques and approaches from other cultures to guitar all stem from that initial door being opened for me.

It is incredibly awful to realize that the man who wrote these lyrics:

“…I’m not expecting to grow flowers in the desert,
But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime..

And in a big country, dreams stay with you,
Like a lover’s voice, fires the mountainside..
Stay alive..”

would be found dead by his own hand in a hotel.

I don’t know anything about Stuart Adamson.  I don’t know anything about the pressures that drove him to such a desperate act so his particular situation isn’t something I feel comfortable discussing.

will say that coming into this season reminds me again of those I know with Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) and the winter holidays are always particularly difficult (and sometimes very desperate) times for them.

If you or someone you know is prone to depression around the holidays – please seek out (or encourage them to seek out) professional help (if you or they are not doing so already).

Even if professional help is not available at the hour you might need it if you are feeling desperate at a minimum try to reach out to other people.

And if other people need help, please make yourself available to them.  Sometimes a caring friend is just enough to get people past a dark moment long enough that they don’t do something rash.

No matter how physically or emotionally isolated you might perceive yourself to be – there are people who care about you.  We are all interconnected.  We all affect other people.

.

In the U.S. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

.

Again, I don’t know anything about Stuart Adamson.  But in listening to The Crossing, I can’t help but think the world is a smaller place without him.