Powerpuff, New(?) Music and TEDx Video Is Live

Hi Everyone,

A few quick updates.

  1.  Apparently, I missed an ultra-brief window that the episode of the (2016) Powerpuff girls I played on (“Electric Buttercup”) was up on the Cartoon Network site – but I have word that the episode will be broadcast TV on November 28th – so I should have a link to that soon.
  2. First “New Music” Item – Back in 2011 – I played on an Onibaba recording session for bassist Daren Burns that got me fired from John French’s recording / band (a topic for a whole other post).  Daren previously released one cd of that session (Disintegration of Secrets/Apparitions of Kings available on Bandcamp here.) but he just released the rest of the session this week.  That CD, Anesthesia is out now and you can purchase (or listen to) that here.  In addition to Daren and myself, you also get Vinny Golia, George McMullen and drummer Craig Bunch adding to the general disarray.
  3. Second “New Music” Item – Back in 2012 – right before I left sunny CA – I was playing in a project called the Rough Hewn Trio.  We recorded some tracks and then entered a bizarre black hole where the project was pronounced dead and resuscitated several times.  After MANY false starts – the mixes for the tracks with myself, drummer Craig Bunch and Chapman Stick / Warr guitarist Chris Lavender are finally signed off on and are in the mastering stages so we hope to have that out by the end of the year.
  4. Third New Music Item (This one actually IS new) – KoriSoron recorded some tracks for our second ep – featuring our most challenging material.  We’re in the process of mixing that now and anticipate having that mixed and mastered by the end of the year.
  5. Non-Music Item  – Festival Cinema Invisible – an organization dedicated to bringing invisible films from the Middle East to the Capital Region of New York – is having its 6th annual 2-day film Festival at Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady in April of 2017.  I’m the General and Artistic Director of the Festival and this year’s Festival will be culled from over 1200 submissions (on its way to 1300 by the deadline) sent to us from over 100 countries around the globe.  You can find out more about the festival (and FCI) here.

My TedX Schenectady Talk / Presentation

The video of my Ted X Schenectady talk (with a KoriSoron performance) Past Forward – which dealt with the intersection of art, commerce and scarcity was posted this week.

The video is embedded below (or linked here if you have a browser issue)

For those of you interested in the process  of developing the talk, I talk about that process (and some of the performance challenges like not having a lavalier or hand held mike or having the song form change unexpectedly while you’re soloing) here.  I wish I been able to just just do the performance OR the speech – I would have been in a better frame of mind to roll with the punches of changes that can happen in a performance.  But chalk it up to experience.

The talk is supposed to feel loose and conversational but the reality of delivering something like this in a specific time line means that you have to have it pretty structured (with some improvisation thrown in to keep it from feeling like a PowerPoint presentation).

I’ve included the last of the 15-20 drafts the talk went through below.  It’s not a transcription of the talk I did – but it covers the bulk of the points I made (and also some points I cut in the interest of time).

I hope you dig it!

As always – thanks for reading!

-SC

Scott Collins – TedX Schenectady Talk – 2016

Hi. I’m Scott Collins. I’m a guitarist in KoriSoron a Schenectady-based trio. We create original music based on traditions from across the globe.

The title of this presentation is Past Forward. Past forward, in its most simple definition, involves taking material from the past and revitalizing it by making it contemporary which is what we do in KoriSoron.

I’ll talk more about Past Forward and KoriSoron but to do that I need to put that in the broader context of scarcity.

For much of history the value of music has been based on scarcity.

By way of example let’s consider music in the time of Beethoven.  The only way you could hear music was to be in the presence of someone playing it live.

You might actually be able to perform the music yourself if you a.) owned an instrument, b.) had formal training and c.) were one of the few people that could actually get access to (and afford) sheet music.

Access to music was limited to exposure and modes of transportation. It was also limited in that only a handful of people had the tools to perform that music.

This remains unchanged until sometime after 1877. Since we’re in Schenectady I’ll give Thomas Edison a shout out by name for his invention that recorded sound to a wax cylinder as the first major change in this performance model.

Edison’s invention allowed people to collect live performances and listen to them over and over again. For the first time listening to music shifted from something that came from a live musician to something that came from a device like a radio or a record and a record player.

The equipment used to record music was prohibitively expensive and required substantial skills to use and maintain. Musicians couldn’t do this on their own as it was financially beyond their means. Companies looking to sell records provided an advance to musicians to record their music (and then produced records that they marketed and distributed). This gave tremendous power to the record labels who had a virtual monopoly on the funding, recording and distribution of their recordings.

A perfect storm came together in the form of a technological revolution that completely undermined the scarcity model.

  • The cost of the computers came down to the point where most people could afford them and the internet increased its depth and breadth and became a destination for people to actively go to.
  • Music recording software became powerful enough to replace physical recording components and musicians began to record at home. Additionally, the internet allowed them to distribute music on their own and the amount of available music expanded exponentially each year (and continues to do so).
  • Mp3s and file sharing allowed people to find music online instead of having to go to a retail store.

File sharing services like Napster allowed people to download music for free, but could be cumbersome to use. Companies like Pandora sensed the real desire in the market for people to listen to music on demand and paved the way for current streaming services like Spotify.

The music industry was thrown into chaos because their entire business model was based on the ability to limit people’s access to music and create a demand for CDs, LPs, DVDs etc. and those physical objects were no longer necessary to listen to music.

Three basic approaches emerged to deal with this.

  1. The major labels tried to fight this change and stay with a model that worked on attempting to create scarcity to create demand.  It was a dismal failure that (with several other factors) destroyed the industry and only left 3 major record labels standing.
  2. Some musicians, often those who used to be on major labels and were now independent, saw the changes that were occurring but didn’t understand the needs of the market. So they emulated the record company model and also attempted to create artificial scarcity for their own music. When well-meaning fans got excited about tracks and posted them online – they chastised the fans and attempted to browbeat the audience into caring about the music industry and how much money there were losing in the new business model.

Musicians being musicians began to undercut one another to get to competitive pricing and soon they were giving their music away with the hope of generating income live. Incidentally, many live venues started to succumb to cultural changes brought about by the internet (people who stayed home to stream movies on platforms like Netflix) and were unable to stay open making it even more challenging for musicians to derive an income.

3.  The third approach is a present day approach. Music is ubiquitous so let’s create opportunity by finding the real demands of the market and meeting those needs

People are not buying cds. Based on Apple’s latest iTunes stats, they’re not even buying single tracks online anymore. They’re paying for services that stream whatever they want, whenever they want it.

But people don’t really care about streaming. What they’re really paying for is access to songs. More specifically what they are paying for is a feeling. They want to pump their fist in the air and mouth the words to their favorite songs. The real demand is to be moved emotionally.

Several years ago, I wrote an ebook called An Indie Music Wake Up Call. I ended the book with this quote:

“’Popular’ music in the 21st century will not be marked by musicians who play at being business people, it will be marked by entrepreneurs who happen to play and write well and firmly understand where the bottom line is.”

The bottom line is doing what you do in an honest and sincere way and cultivating tribes of people who identify with what you do and are moved by it. That feeling is a scarce thing. It is something people nurture and support.

I started the presentation talking about music in the time of Beethoven and in many ways musicians are coming back to the business model where music is something that is experienced rather than a genie locked in a digital bottle for sale.

In contrast to the professional musicians in Beethoven’s time were the musicians who performed folk music. This was communal music that was passed down aurally to each subsequent generation. It is no small irony that this music is now often experienced by audiences in a non-communal setting through recordings or in a formal setting such as concert halls.

Music is a language. In KoriSoron we take inspiration from a variety of folk music from around the globe and create original music based on that vocabulary. I can pick up words, phrases and even grammar by listening to others speak, but expressing the poetry of a foreign language authentically requires a context that is outside of my experience. So what is a musician from upstate New York to do?     I write my own poetry. I use the music from other cultures that speaks to me and moves me as a platform for creating new music to move other people.

The true beauty of music is that while it can be created on an intellectual level, it communicates to others emotionally. You don’t need to speak our language to be moved by it, you only need to listen.

Finally I’d like to talk about Past forward – a term I got from Ellie Lee, an animator and film maker I knew in Boston who now works in LA. Past Forward was a phenomenal event that she curated in a loft in Boston’s Chinatown. On Past Forward nights, people would go through an lightly marked door and pay a small cover to see films she brought to screen (often with the film maker in tow), eat homemade baked goods, drink beer and watch bands play. And there was a real community of people who came out to those events.

That DIY ethos of creating a scene was SO influential to me. That idea of sharing things that move you to move other people as well. It is at the heart of what I do as a guitarist. As a human being. It is at the heart of KoriSoron.

If what you want in the world doesn’t exist, you either wait for someone to make it or you make it yourself.  

I seek to speak to people and move them and truly moving people is an uncommon thing. It is scarce. It has value. It is worth doing.

Thank you.

Assumption Junction What’s Your Function?

Guitar Playing is Littered With Assumptions

Many players assume that if they play the same thing over an over again (regardless of focus, analysis / assessment of what is being played and/or increases in difficulty) that somehow the sheer act of repetition will make them better.

My big rant about the 1-2-3-4 exercise is that:

  1. Practiced the way it’s typically taught (straight 16th notes with no phrasing or variation) it’s largely useless as a musical device.  If you play this:
    1234-1st-position
    on a club date for more than a bar or two you’re going to get an eye roll.  Throw it into every solo and regardless of how fast or clean you play it people will be pulling your name off their iPhone.
  2. As a technical development tool most people practice it with terrible fret hand technique and/or poor picking synchronization.  This merely ingrains bad habits that become harder to fix later.
  3. AND (THIS IS THE BIG ONE):  There is an unwritten assumption that practicing this will somehow make you “better” as a guitar player.

The only thing this prepares you for is the crappy Flight of The Bumblebee arrangement that never seems to die in circles of “No…really –  how fast can you play?” question asking.

Having said that, there are skills that you CAN gleen from working on this, if you’re doing it in the right manner.  (I even wrote a 254 page book with examples for how to actually use this idea to really get into the technical and melodic elements of DEEP positional work.)

positional-exploration

Enter a caption

If you’re practicing it verbatim above with a metronome and really paying attention to left and right hand technique it can, if nothing else, reinforce a 1/16th note tempo and give you some technical basis for playing 4-note per string scales.  It may even provide some small amount of ear training for hearing semi-chromatic passages.

So while you can, indirectly, get some hidden benefit from working on this there are simply much more direct and efficient ways to develop each of those areas.

It’s not classical piano

Guitar doesn’t have the benefit of a pedagogical history of something like classical piano which has a very rich history of technical development wed to ever challenging repertoire.  Outside of classical guitar, the history of guitar pedagogy in the 20th century is largely word of mouth.  It’s players who learned licks or ideas through their playing and taught those to other players – often without a real understanding of what’s going on.

We live in a world that’s obsessed with hacks, but you’re maximizing the efficiency of something erroneous you’re just getting someplace bad faster.

From Assumption to Adaptation

Recently, I had to track some solos.  “No problem”, I thought.  It’s a simple harmonic setup so it should be no issue.

However, the solo was based on a pentatonic raga idea using only the notes E, G#, A, B, D.  (E7 add 4).

Trying to create something interesting with a limited note choice really put me on my toes and the first thing that I found out was that some of the intervallic ideas I was going for were not things I was going to be able to improvise cleanly.

This idea was one that was immediately destined for the shed.

shakti-lick-jpeg

While I was initially frustrated, I realized I had a series of assumptions that I was working from.  Namely,

  • I’ve practiced sextuplets
  • I’ve practiced string skipping
  • I’ve practiced wide interval playing

Therefore I “should” somehow be able to roll out of bed and play this lick using all three (and a pentatonic scale I’m not used to) at tempo (about 130 bpm).

The fact is that having worked on all of those things will allow me to get the lick down much faster than otherwise possible now, but without practicing these things together specifically and in this particular context,  I’m not prepared to record them at tempo.

Guitarists in particular seem to work on these kinds of assumptions all of the time (and most of our assumptions are wrong).

If you come up against an obstacle in your playing, I recommend you take a pause and a deep breath or two and really assess what you’re trying to do and what you’ve really done to prepare for it.

This leaves you with 3 options.

  1. Adapt what you can already do
  2. Put the work in to get it under your fingers
  3. Play something else

I’ve used every one of these approaches to get through various road blocks that have come up in my playing and every one of them has been the right answer in one context or another.  The key concept here is to be aware of assumptions when you’re making them and then either discard them when they’re not true or making them part of your (experience based) knowledge if they are true.

Depending on where you are in your learning process a good teacher can really help you get past those obstacles.  If you don’t have one in your area I know one who is available via skype here.

Alright.  Back to the recording!

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

SC

…well…it was a strange weekend… pt 2

In part 1 of this saga, I talked about the lead up to (preparation for) and follow up to the TEDx Schenectady performance I did this past Saturday.  If you have interest in how I prepared for an intensive presentation (and thus how you can as well), you can read that here.

Here in part 2, I’ll talk about goals, perspective, food poisoning and infection with regards to last Sunday.

Oh what a difference a day makes!

Last Sunday I awoke to a perfect day.

A gorgeously stunning sun shiny day.

I was feeling motivated and looking forward to getting a lot done.

I fed the cats, read some things that had been on my to-do list for a while and planned out my to-do for the week over some coffee.  I went down to the local farmers market, got some groceries for the week, ate a spinach and cheese empanada from a local vendor that I’ve supported in the past, and headed back home to catalog and review the latest batch of films for the next FCI film festival.

Somewhere around noon, I paused to take a break from cataloging and got up to get a drink of water.  When I sat back down I felt a chill.

It wasn’t really cool enough for me to be cold.

Several minutes later, my whole body stated shaking.

I knew what this was.  This was food poisoning.

Sparing you the gory details but suffice to say that, as my wife was out of town, I did everything I could to just make it to the finish line on my own in the worst 28 hour endurance test I’ve ever had the misfortune to be subject to (as a reminder for long-time readers –  this is from a person who, to meet the requirements of a medical test he subjected himself to once for remuneration, had to stay awake for 63 hours straight in bed in an eight lux room (something darker than dusk but not night time), without any time cues or artificial stimulus, without moving, without caffeine or chemical stimulant, drinking water, eating 1/4 pieces of pb&j sandwiches at regular increments, and not knowing how long he would have to stay awake for).

The next morning after the fever broke, I noticed a large red rash that hurt to the touch, covering much of my lower left leg.  I assumed that I slept on the leg wrong and cut off the blood supply.  A trip to the doctor’s several days later provided the explanation that I had a substantial staph infection.  Additionally, due to the localization of the infection and the severity of the rash, I had probably been battling a staph infection for a while asymptomatically and that it was only when I got the food poisoning that the body couldn’t fight the initial infection anymore.

And this was interesting because for much of the last several months, I was just perpetually exhausted.  I would get home and just be wiped.  I would have to force myself to stay awake after 8pm.  It made no sense.  It does now.

Getting sick was a drag, but I had a number of things to be grateful for.

  • Had it happened a day earlier – there’s NO way the TEDx speech would have happened.  So I’m glad that didn’t get ruined.
  • It revealed a real illness that had been lurking inside of me.  You can’t treat what you don’t know is here.
  • It got me focused.  While writhing around in agony from food poisoning there wasn’t a single thought that went through my head for any length of time that didn’t come back to my immediate well being.
  • At the end of the day, I play guitar.  I don’t take that for granted.

I see a lot of advice for musicians and guitar players that appears contradictory, but it’s often contradictory because the advice that you might need in your 10th year of playing guitar isn’t necessarily the advice you need in your first 3 months of playing guitar.

I had a LOT I wanted to get done this week.  It didn’t happen.  Life happened instead.  It’s inconvenient but it’s not a big deal.  I’m on this trip for the long haul.  I’ve seen peaks and valleys and will continue to visit both of them because the only way to not see them is to decide you’re not going to go anywhere further.  That’s a creative death sentence.

Now I’m going to go play some guitar.

As always, thanks for reading.

-SC

…well…it was a strange weekend… pt 1

Right now some of you are reading this guitar-ish related blog after getting an email with the above title and probably rolling your eyes.

I hope you’ll bear with me.

TEDx Schenectady

A while back I was asked to perform at TEDx Schenectady and coincidentally enough a TED Talk / performance was something I always wanted to do.

More specifically, I was asked to do a performance with KoriSoron and talk a little about the music we played but I was having difficulty with that proposal as what we do, as a technical / craftsman’s approach, in KoriSoron isn’t really interesting to people who don’t have a music degree.  (Having said that it DID take quite a few performances for me to figure out how much context I’d have to give an audience for the pieces we played.)

The theme of this TEDx was “The Future is Now”.   To me, a TED talk should demonstrate ideas or approaches that are actionable for the audience in some way.  Lecturing on the broad strokes of South Indian music and how a group of musicians in upstate New York adapted that to western instruments and a quasi funk tune form wasn’t going to give people a lot to take home and adapt for themselves.

As an alternative I decided to:

  • Contextualize our performance by examining the transition from music being solely a live experience, to music being something held on an object that was played to music being something that had no associated object or per-sale cost associated at all.
  • Examine the real needs of the market and then talk about simply trying to give people the product they’re willing to support (namely artists and songs who move them).
  • Tie that back into what we’re trying to do (namely that) in KoriSoron.  We were told that we had a strict 18-minute time allotment.  I knew our tune was just under 6 minutes long so IF I could get my talk down to 10 minutes we’d have enough time to do both.

How To Prepare for a TEDx Talk

  • Have a unique point of view (and an end point) and if you’re not sure it’s unique make sure it’s going though some filter of you where you can present it authentically.  In general I’ve found that the only people who don’t worry about the uniqueness of their ideas are EXACTLY the people who SHOULD pause for a moment and ask, “Hey is this REALLY my idea and if it’s NOT my idea which part of it can I really call mine?”  If necessary, that is the thing to extract, refine and build upon.
  • Research.  This might seem like an odd second step but I think doing a little research on everything I’m considering talking about gives me a number of different perspectives (and may even change the focus of the talk) and – more importantly – it leaves a presenter in a better place if there’s a Q&A.
  • Outline.  When outlining, spend a LOT of focus on the beginning and the end.  The whole thing needs to be good ’cause if it sucks in the middle people will zone out in the end.
  • Write the whole thing out like a paper.  The “trick” to most art is the unimaginable amount of work that goes into making something look effortless.  Write big, broad and clunky strokes if need be.  Just get it down with the end goal of delivering it like a story (keep reading).
  • Read it to other people who will challenge or ask for clarifications about what you have written.   When you do this, imagine that you are reading someone ELSE’S talk to them and do NOT take their criticisms personally.  That’s really important.  I struggled A LOT with this presentation and determining what I wanted to mold it into and my wife was the one who said, “You have 16 ideas in what’s supposed to be a 10 minute presentation.  Maybe you should try 1 or 2.”  I don’t always agree with her, and I struggle editing with her because I DO tend to take her criticisms personally, but my work is immeasurably stronger after it’s gone through those passes because it helps clarify what I’m trying to articulate and why I’m trying to articulate it.  **Quick shout outs here to John Harper who did a lot of leg work and went through multiple revisions, Caroline Dillon who did a couple of passes with me, Warren Senders who was kind enough to give me 45 minutes of his time to talk about music as language, Daren Burns, Jose Duque, Ellie Lee and everyone else who helped with a kind word or an open ear.
  • Edit based on what you find of value from those criticisms.  Never say in four words what you can say in two and speak it aloud as you edit it.  (It doesn’t matter how good it looks on the page, if it can’t be spoken it’s worthless).  Also start to anticipate Q&A questions and work out some rough answers for them.  This game is 90% preparation and 10% execution (although on game day it’s 100% execution).
  • Time yourself reading it – without interruption aloud.  Try reading once fast and once slow.  Get a sense of what the time is.
  • This step depends on where you’re at.  If you’re way over time – you have to go back to steps 5 and 4.  (If you get 2-3 people asking, “Hey what about that one thing you had in there?” you may want to pay attention.)  If you’re at (or near) time – stand in front of a mirror and watch your recitation.  When you do this, try to watch yourself like a third person and be observational and constructive.  (Look for random pacing, shoulder slumping or odd postures, weird ticks or other things and unless you do this a lot you will be shocked at how you come actually across in public.  Recording this and reviewing the recordings is a good idea as well.
  • One thing you’ll notice is that your hands are probably awkward holding a sheet of paper.  Trust me – you DON’T want to be holding a piece of paper on game day.  Make an outline of points of your presentation to remember the “bones” of your presentation as a “story” instead of a number of phrases to memorize verbatim.  A story is more natural and flowing than a presentation and can be embellished and edited on the fly.  Try to remember the specific details of the original presentation and gradually start moving towards progressively smaller notes and moving away from the original presentation entirely.
  • Practice telling the story like an actor or a story teller.  Get back in front of the mirror and in front of people.  Record both versions and don’t stop adding, cutting, editing and revising until the story version of your presentation is better than the original presentation. Make sure to be aware of time and transitions.  Two days before my presentation I was still over so I kept cutting anything I could to make time.
  • This one might only apply to me.  Don’t get frustrated with yourself.  Don’t beat yourself up.  This is a profoundly artificial and unnatural process.  If you take this seriously and try to do your best, you will likely be confronted with deeply ingrained habits and other issues that you will have to try to fix on the fly to get through the presentation.  For me, this is another story for another time.
  • Prepare for a worst case scenario.  That doesn’t mean expect the worst just don’t get thrown when unpredictable things happen.  Be prepared to project and enunciate if the sound requirements aren’t what’s expected. (Neither of the mikes at my TEDx appeared to work so they just had to put an ambient mic in the front of the room.  The video isn’t available.)
  • Practice smiling and making eye contact.  You don’t need to practice this in any “audience” of friends or family with more than 2-3 people.  You want to engage people.  People can hear when you’re smiling on the phone.  They know when you’re engaged in a presentation.  If you practice the presentation stressed you can guess how you’re going to perform it.

So there’s the prep.  Now in contrast, the day before I had done a highly technical talk on FERPA policy that was just as awkward and stiff as trying to plow through 21 slides in 8 1/2 minutes would allow.  Let’s just say that that presentation needs some revision. ; )

How did this one some 22 hours later go?

Events like these are always challenging as there’s a LOT going on.   We picked the tune that best represented what we do with the least amount of gear.  I got there around 11 and the other guys got there at 11:15 and just before 11:30.  The event started at noon, but it turned out we had doors at 11:30 so we literally had 15 seconds to soundcheck and then had to strike the stage.

There was a first 1/2 then we kicked off the second half.  A few of the speakers had gone over so we were about a 1/2 hour behind so we had to set up quickly and go with what we had for the soundcheck.  I did my presentation and performed it the best I could.  I guessed it was going well because I saw a handful of cell phones start to go up as I was speaking so I guess I was saying something interesting.

I got to reference Hershell Gordon Lewis by name (I believe a TED first and a moral victory for me) and did a brief introduction before we played Ganamurti Melakarta.

I adjusted my sound based on the amp being on the floor (carpeted – the room in my house has wood floors and is reflective).  I made a bunch of quick adjustments before we packed up.  I made the semi intelligent observation to just put the amp on a flat wooden chair for a more reflective surface for the performance but forgot to adjust it when we played.  (3 hours later – “Why is it so nasally?  OH YEAH!…”).  So that got sorted out.  Midway through something happened where the form got changed just enough that it threw me off a little during my solo.  I got back onto it and rode it out until the end of the tune.  People seemed to like it.  We got applause.

We ran over so unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any questions.

The remaining presenters then presented and the event was over.

Managing Expectations

There is always a lot of built up stress followed quickly by an “Is that all there is?” reminder with events like this and that feeling is about managing expectations.  With any type of local event you should expect some variation on the following:

  • Don’t expect that the event is going to be a network event unless it’s billed that way.  A lot of presenters are volunteers.  They want to do what they said they’d do and split.  You’re going to be disappointed if you expect to speak to everyone.
  • Unless your name is on the marquee, the audience didn’t come there to see you.  I remember playing a gig once where no one said a word or had any reaction while I played and I thought people hated it. I packed up in silence and just tried to get out as quick as possible.   For months afterwards I’d run into people who were at that show who were really complimentary about my playing.  People don’t come to gigs to talk to musicians so if you want to speak to them (engage them and potentially start to build fans) you’ll need to introduce yourself and make yourself available to people as they mill about.  Every once in a while people will be moved enough to talk to you but openness is a two-way street.  Note – this is incredibly difficult at the END of a gig when people want to go home.  This is the challenge of a working musician.
  • That the event staff will be profoundly earnest and hard working – but will also not be people who do this every day and will generally not be able to anticipate every need.  When I’m working at Festival Cinema Invisible (FCI – a local Middle Eastern film festival that I’m the Artistic and General Director of) events at Proctors GE Theater in Schenectady, the people who work a lot of those events begin to anticipate any of the general commonalities.  You can’t do that when you run one local event in your first couple of years.  Managing the venue, tickets, and people and food and speakers.  It’s just too much.  (From personal experience a NOTABLE EXCEPTION to this rule is Maria Zemantauski and everyone associated with the HVCC Guitar Festival who put together an event that was one of the most musician friendly I ever attended.)  So plan on having your needs worked out (and their solutions if need be) in advance.    Ex: “No power?  No problem? I have a 50′ lead cord here!”
  • Gigs are always what you make them.  I find you do these events, just like you take the opportunities that you can, because it’s never known what person or situation you may cross paths with attending one but it’s certainly known what the opportunities are in not attending one.

 

This post is already two times longer than I intended.  I have a part 2  so I hope you’ll come back and read day two of the Cinderella story!

As always thanks for reading!

-SC

A Music Business Lesson From A Film Festival

Hi Everyone,

It’s been a while since I posted anything there’s been quite a bit going on including:

  • Getting some of the Rough Hewn trio tracks ready for fall
  • Working on the new KoriSoron release
  • Performing the guitar parts for a guitar battle for an episode of a well known animated series (I can’t divulge information yet – but all I can say is that it’s on a network that specializes in cartoons)
  • Pulling together material for a TEDx Schenectady presentation I’m doing on September 10th
  • Putting a front porch on my house
  • Reviewing material for a Film Festival

 

This last point is one I wanted to bring up here as seeing the other side of what’s essentially a competition, is very different from actually submitting something to a competition.

FCI

This will be my third year as a volunteer artistic director for the Festival Cinema Invisible (FCI) a film festival that’s devoted to screening films from the Middle East that are invisible for one reason or another (censorship in one’s home country might be a reason – or perhaps films that sit in the margins for one reason or another and simply won’t be screened in movie theaters or available on demand. We partnered with Proctors Theater in Schenectady to screen the films on the largest screen outside of NYC and as I love films and have some ties to the music and culture of the Middle East it’s generally really rewarding for me to be involved in.

In any event planning like this – a nearly insurmountable amount of work is required behind the scenes to make sure that the Festival runs at a minimum and runs smoothly at an optimum.  One of the things that occurs is the film review process.  To put on 2 days of films this year (Approximately 40-50 feature lengths and shorts) I’ll have to review an exponentially larger number of films.  (Currently we’re at almost 300 submissions and 11 DAYS of view time required to get through them.  The final will probably be closer to 1,000 films).

Some of you are reading this and likely thinking, “Oh that sounds sweet!!”  and when you find a great film it certainly is.  It’s like going out to a live show and getting bowled over by a band you’ve never seen before (which happened to me last week seeing DhakaBraka just devastate a crowd that was largely there to see a free show and didn’t know what to expect from the band.)  but finding those great shows requires wading through a LOT of bad films.  Think about the time you went to see your friend’s band and had to sit through an opening act (or 2…or 3) you didn’t like.  Looking at phone to see the time), “Is this almost over?”  There are definitely a lot of those films, but the biggest drag is that there are a lot of really good films that I’ll never be able to see and that’s the topic of this post.

Unfortunately, we have to reject some really good films outright because they don’t meet the requirements of the festival.  More than 1/2 of the films that we’ve rejected have fallen into this category.  And that made me think of musicians.

How many times in my noob past did I send something out to someone for consideration or review that wasn’t what someone was asking for because I thought the merits of what I was doing would supersede their requirements?

“I know this says they want a pop tune – but when they hear the chorus they’re going to be bowled away.”

“I know this says contact them first – but when they see my cool packaging they’ll open it anyways.”

If you’re submitting something to someone it’s very important to make sure you’re doing it in within the submission guidelines and in the proper manner.  If the guidelines or the proper manner is not known, it’s important to ask if you want it to have any chance of being considered.

That’s what I’m dealing with now.  Films with breathtaking cinematography, great acting, and or amazing ideas that I’ll simply fast forward through because I know that I’ll just have to reject them to try to get to the overwhelming number of films that MIGHT make it into the competition.

This advice is particularly important if you’re:

  • Contacting a new venue for booking
  • Contacting an entertainment lawyer
  • Submitting something to a Festival or competition of some kind
  • Trying to get signed to a label

That’s it for now.  I have a LOT of films to get though and a lot of prep for the TEDx talk.

As always, thanks for reading!

-SC

Invoking The Power Of Asking

Questions can open doors.

Every gig I ever got was the result of someone asking a question.

 

These are either gigs I got because:

  • someone asked, “Is there a guitarist who can play this stuff?” and they were directed towards me (for example the video game soundtracks I played on, John French, Glenn Branca, The Bentmen and gigs I had to turn down (like the Grandemothers of Invention.))
  • OR gigs I created (asking people to play and creating gig opportunities with people like Don McLeod, Butch Morris or Sahba Motallebi)

This second category is one that bears more investigation.


In retrospect, one HUGE advantage to growing up pre-internet in a small town is that the responsibility of discovery was put squarely on you. There were no venues to play shows – so if you wanted to play shows you had to create your own opportunities. 

As I’ve mentioned in prior stories, we’d organize our own battle of the bands (which got other people to organize their own battle of the bands) and talent shows to have the opportunity to play.  This didn’t mean much at the time but proved invaluable years later when I’d have to hustle to make things happen.

When I tell people that when I was growing up that buying ANY kind of music beyond top-40 (which I could usually find at Ames department store) required a minimum 45 minute drive each way, they typically don’t believe me – but it was true.  There were a handful of specialty music shops and going there to get music became an event.  It also gave each music acquisition it’s own tale and solidified my attachment to it.

It’s easy to loose that ability to ask as a call to action as you continue to play.

You get comfortable.  You find players you like and use them on every project.

Another secret advantage I have, is that I moved – A LOT – as an adult.  This eliminated the ability to play with the same people consistently and forced me out of anything resembling a comfort zone.

I realized the other day that I had approximately 20 different residences in Boston.  Then I moved to LA and had 3 different residences there followed by a move to New York City (1 residence there) and then a move to upstate New York.

When I left Boston to go to CalArts – all the people I played with in Boston were either gone themselves or still there entrenched in their own projects there and not able to work on something via email.  This meant I had to find all new people to play with.

When no one knows who you are – that (typically) means you need to be the one asking to create playing situations for yourself (unless its a Craigslist ad for a cover band or something similar). 

When I got upstate, I was looking for people to play with.  I had advertised for a percussion player but didn’t get any responses.  I went to a Persian Film festival in The Electric City – Schenectady, NY (that I’m now an artistic director for) and saw Farzad Golpayegani playing and saw enough of a thread in what he was doing that I thought we could work together.  I asked him if he wanted to do something and I think initially he wasn’t that interested but then he saw some videos of me playing and got interested.

We played as a duo for a while and I found a business card for a tabla teacher in a local Persian Restaurant and the player turned out to be the same town as me (it turned out that he lived 4 blocks away from me! 2 years of looking and there was a guy in walking distance!).  I lost the card and then found it again and finally contacted Dino Mirabito and asked if he wanted to play with us.  He checked out a show and was playing a gig with us a month later.

Had I not asked those 2 questions – KoriSoron never would have happened.

80 – 90% of the gigs in my life came from opportunities that I created by asking a question.  I think that unless you’re a successful sideman that goes on the road with different acts all the time this will generally be the case (and even in those cases those players hustle A LOT to create opportunities for them to play).

For example, the gig Carmina Escobar and I did with Mia Mikela (Solu) at USC’s Vision and Voices lecture/concert series.  For those of you who are not familiar with her work, one of Mia’s many art endeavors  invokes film editing as ritual and edits short films in real time in front of an audience (See some of her amazing work here!).

Some live audio captured on a ZOOM H4 for posterity’s sake:

How did I get us on that bill? 

I asked her.

I saw she was playing a show and was familiar with her work.  I did some research and saw that she was doing student workshops at USC and that a performance was part of her her overall event there.  I sent her an email and asked if she needed any music to accompany of the student films.  I explained that Carmina and I did live improvised music and that that style of accompaniment might be engaging for the audience and for the films.  I sent her some links and she really liked the music and suggested that we do something together live.


So asking questions can help but there are a few “hidden” rules to asking the questions  that can help create you own opportunities.

  • You have to know that asking a question is an option.  This was my single biggest failure at Berklee.  I didn’t know I could ask for things and I didn’t know I could ask for help when I really needed it.  It turned out that there were resources for me that I could never utilize because I didn’t know they were there (or then how to ask for them – Shades of Kafka’s “Before The Law”!).
  • Asking is location based.  You have to be in a situation where you can ask.  This is a BIG lesson for me that I’m still learning with regards to booking.  Up here – people need to know who you are to book shows.  That means they need to put a name to a face and most of those deals are worked out in person.  I sent a lot of feelers out to people via email and never heard back from anyone.  To get a gig up here people have to know you.  That means going to shows and events.  The catalyst for KoriSoron thing only happened because I went to the Festival Cinema Invisible (FCI) event and saw Farzad playing.  If I just sat at home, that never would have happened.  This is a difficult one for me because I spend a fair amount of evenings teaching or practicing which makes getting to shows difficult – but that’s MY thing to continue working on.
  • Before you ask ANY question – you must ask the question from the stand point of, “What’s in it for them?”  That’s not a Robert Green / Machiavellian angle of deliberate sleight of hand (As in “appear to address their interests but serve yours”) you need to REALLY be looking for how what you’re asking can benefit other people.  (Check out this old post on altrustic action and selfish motivation!)  With Mia, I was fully willing to go to USC and accompany films for free.  I figured that if nothing else, I might find someone who liked what we did and was willing to work together in the future.  That was what was in it for me.  It turned out that there was something in it for her as well. (some past articles of mine (see this or this ) address this topic more specifically from the standpoint of networking).
  • Never ask something that you are reluctant or not willing to do.  See the previous point.  Don’t offer something if you aren’t willing to do it gladly with a smile on your face. If you feel like you’re being put-upon that will show in every interaction you have with other people and spoil whatever good will you are building.
  • You have to have a skill set to provide something valuable to other people and provide that thing without drama or inconvenience to others. 

This is a BIG deal. 

You can get the gig by asking but you will only keep the gig if you can follow through.   

  1. Do NOT oversell what you can do. 
  2. Eliminate any barriers that people may have to work with you. 
  3. The indispensable player who adds more to the show than is needed is the last one to get let go (and usually the first one on retainer).
  • Get to the point in a sincere way.  It’s good to build a little rapport (“I got your name from so and so”, “I’ve been following what you’ve been doing with x”) before your ask but don’t go into some ten minute “this is all the awesome sh*t I do” rant.  Make a polite and concise introduction, ask for what you want, explain how it can help both of you and what you can bring to the table.  Be clear on what you want, what you are asking for and what they can expect from you.
  • You have to let people know that you are looking.  I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day who said (about himself and paraphrased here),  “If you don’t let people know that you are looking to gig and available to gig you can’t complain about not having the gig.”

People will only refer gigs to you if:

  1. they know that you’re available
  2. if they know your playing will fit in what other people will work for
  3. if they know that you are easy to work with.
  • You have to be willing to have people say no to you and not be bitter.  I have seen people ask for things not get a response (or get a no response) and then fly off the handle.  (“F@ck that guy!  He’s dead to me!”)  If he wasn’t before – he certainly is now.   Bridges are easily burned.  Don’t make it easy for other people to do so.
  • You have to be willing to follow up.  People are busy.  If this opportunity doesn’t work out – keep moving forward and present them with other opportunities in the future.  Sometimes you just need to be in a better position for people to realize that they want to work with you on something.

So don’t be afraid to ask other people to create opportunities – just make sure to make it a win-win for both of you before doing so.

Okay!  That’s it for now.   I hope this helps and, as always, thanks for reading!

-SC

.

“New” Recordings Announced for 2016

Hi Everyone!

Hapy pre-4th of July for those of you who live in the states.  This is just a quick update of recent developments for projects I’m working on.  I should have a new post up within the week.

Rough Hewn Trio (!!)

File deeply under “The power of perseverance” following an intensive several days of digital intervention with Craig Bunch – the Rough Hewn trio tracks recorded at Chez Bunch’s with Stick / Warr guitar player Chris Lavender and myself back in 2011 will FINALLY see the light of day.

The 3-song ep will include a new Malian guitar inspired re-working of Bloodsucker, Chris Lavender’s 232 and a Zappa-inspired original I penned, Jerry goes to Frankiewood, aka When Hollywood went to Frankie. 

We had a version of Carl Stalling’s Powerhouse that we tracked but the file got corrupted (along with some of the other tracks we revisited).  I MAY have a demo version that we can put up online as a hidden track (the danger of not finishing something immediately is that it takes FOREVER to get done) – but nevertheless – man am I psyched for some of this stuff to get out into the world.

In the meantime, here’s a video of the Rough Hewn Trio playing Bloodsucker live (it is unbelievable to me just how much footage of us exists ALL with Craig Bunch front and center and no one else in camera shot!)

I’ll have ordering information up once this is released (Initial mixing is done.  We have another revision and then mastering and duplication – I expect it’ll be out in August or September 2016).


Onibaba

Bassist and Composer Daren Burns released the first part of this session (Consisting of several short individual pieces) several years ago but the second half of the session (one continuous take of several different pieces) just got mastered and will get released this Fall.

From Daren Burns’ description on Vimeo:

“Onibaba exists between composition and improvisation and is described as being somewhere between the light and the dark, the ethereal and the earthly – Creative Music. Created by Daren Burns in 2006, the band synthesizes its sound by using elements of the Chicago avant-garde, jazz, rock, world, techno, noise, and classical, to create a new type of fusion that is definitely not the smooth, funky jazz of the 80’s and 90’s, but a new living music.

Here are some videos from a performance in 2010


Onibaba is:

Daren Burns – bass

Craig Bunch – drums (in the videos Joe Berardi – drums)

Scott Collins – guitar

Vinny Golia – woodwinds

Kio Griffith – live video

Geroge McMullen – trombone

© Urban Nerds 2010″


KoriSoron

We’ve completed initial tracking for Five tunes for our second EP with John Chiara recording.  Our first Ep was a live EP but for this one we wanted to incorporate more production (while still maintaining live energy).  The most intensive material in our set will be on this one!  We’ll be continuing to record and mix this summer.  We hope to have the EP out by September / October of this year.

We have shows booked for September (including a TEDx Schenectady event) and October and expect to have additional shows booked soon for later this fall.


Solo Acoustic

“Eel-Ech!-trick-a-coup-stick” – is the tentative title of a solo acoustic instrumental recording I’ve been working on.  Tracking in August and released this Fall.  Right now there’s a Celtic / Bluegrass flatpicking piece, a Mali-inspired fingerstyle piece, a 2-handed piece, a loop / improv based work and possibly – an obscure instrumental cover.


Mas!

There are some other REALLY COOL things in the pipeline!  I’ll fill you in as soon as I can.

Thanks for your patience and thanks for reading  I’m really excited about all of the things coming out this year and I look forward to sharing it with you!

-SC