Asking The Right Questions And Being Clear On What We Do

Asking the Right Questions

I read a lot of different material.  I believe that reading is, at least, as important to what I play as what I listen to – just as I would also say that what films, and television I engage in is equally important.  This goes back to some of the statments echoed in Swami Childvilasanda’s The Yoga of Discipline (yes I had to go to my book shelf and pull down my copy to get the spelling of the name correct, which talks about how important it is to be vigilant about what we expose ourselves to because it all influences (and ultimately becomes) a pat of us in some way.  The book is a collection of essays on discipline (discipline in Seeing, Listening, Eating, Speaking, Silence and Thinking) as a path towards spiritual liberation. It’s a very interesting book and one that had me take several lessons to heart.

With that in mind, I tend to do a lot of reading on a lot of different topics because I find that I’m able to implement ideas or strategies from a business book in a different way than, say learning a melodic minor lick to play over a chord progression.  In this case I was reading a 99U book, Make Your Mark The Creative’s guide to building a business with impact and came across a Tim O’Reily quote that engaged me.  I’m going to hijack that quote, bracket one term that can be replaced with practically anything and add bolded emphasis for what I think are the two critical takeways:

“I was in a brainstorm about the future of the US economy recently , and it was all about the decline of the middle class.  It reminded me of so many  conversations that I have had with [*major labels].  They ask, ‘How are we going to preserve our place in the ecosystem?’ and I say, ‘Nobody cares about that.  That’s the wrong question.’  The right question is, ‘What does the world need?  What do my customers need?  What can I do?’….So you have to clarify: Who is your actual target?  What are you trying to accomplish in the world?  Everything else should flow from that.”

* This was originally [publishers], but could also be [live music venues], [musicians], [artists] etc. etc.

(For what it’s worth, here’s a related quote from the same interview that you may find interesting:

“Aaron Levie of Box tweeted something great about Uber recently.  He said, ‘Uber is a $3.5 Billion lesson in building for how the world should work instead of optimizing for how the world does work.'”)

This is something that so many artists, including myself, frequently get wrong.

We make it about us.

When asked the question, “why” we (as in we musicians and artists) often focus on what we do. We set up a scenario that works on the idea that because we are doing good work that the nature of that good work will attract other people – like bees to a flower.

That’s nonsense and I’m occasionally guilty of that thinking as well. “Nobody cares about that.”  That’s what people don’t realize about getting internet traction.  People don’t care about what you’re doing until you give them a reason to care. That means engaging them and making it something they care about.

If you’re a musician – it’s not all about you.

“The right question is, ‘What does the world need?  What do my customers need?  What can I do?”

I don’t engage people because I play guitar.  I engage people because I have something to say that they want to hear.  What we do as musicians is tell stories.  We move people.

People come to see us because of how we help make them feel before, during and after a show.  That’s what our customers need.  That’s how they become fans and come back to our shows.

What I work on technically is in service to that goal.  I work on those things so that I can express myself in the most honest and direct way possible and not have that engagement with the audience interrupted with mistakes or other issues.

I was reminded of this because I played a show with KoriSoron on Friday and it took me about four songs to get into the groove.  The volume levels were mismatched and I was distracted and it took a while to get into the zone (and even then it was hard to stay in the zone – realizing that I had counted off one tune too fast and was not going to be able to execute the ending figure cleanly at that tempo I had to re adjust the form to make it work).  Part of me was really disappointed with my performance that evening but the audience liked the show and will be bringing even more people with them next time.

Is it about me or my perception of the show?

“I can’t believe I wasn’t playing better!!  The audience will tear apart my performance (assumes Piper Laurie voice from Carrie, “THEY’RE ALL GONNA LAUGH AT YOU!”)!

Or is it about communicating something honest with the audience, being genuine in the moment and giving them an experience that they can take with them?  The audience liked the show, warts and all.  That doesn’t mean that I can stop and sit on my laurels and just slide – it means that I should keep working to the best of my ability but rather than getting hung up on one particular aspect that it would behoove me to remember why I’m practicing the things I’m working on (to make an optimum performance for the audience and not stroke my ego and say, “look what I can do!” to no one in particular.)

If you’re not getting the results you want from what you’re doing you may not be answering the right questions.  Once thing you can do is to harness the voice of your inner 2 year old niece or nephew (the one who always asks “why” after everything you say.)  When you state something, ask “why?”  and when you answer it, again ask “why?” and keep challenging your beliefs and assumptions until you get down to the core of what it is you’re doing.

A quick note and a quick plug:

For those of you who are in a rut and/or interested in developing your lead and rhythm playing I’m developing an exciting new group program that will help take you to the next level in the shortest amount of time.  I’m pulling the material together now and looking to launch later this year or the beginning of next year.

Please be aware that about the only thing in the world i hate is hype.  This is no hype or no miracle cure that “works” on osmossis or some other ridiculous claim.  This is a hyper-focused, results driven process that combines effort and efficiency to get players who are willing to put the work, time and dedication in to get where they want to go.

I’ve been doing a lot of research and I haven’t been able to find anyone that’s using even a remotely similar pedagogical system.

I’ll have more information about this in the months ahead, but if you’re interested in the meantime – send me at email at guitarblueprint at gmail [dot] com.

A quick plug (for those of you in the capital region of New York)

KoriSoron frequently collaborates with FCI (Festival Cinema Invisible) on their film series (Korisoron’s Farzad Golpayegani does the poster designs and I help with the press releases and event planning).

FCI is kicking off a cool new bi-monthly series “Pathways to Iran” that explores Persian culture through film and dialog with “Food Stories – Uncommon Recipes, Common Humanity” a film screening and recipe tasting at Proctors GE Theatre on Sunday, September 13th at 4pm.

This cultural event features a rare screening of two films from Iran; “Five Pieces on Iranian Dishes” (a documentary directed by Sepideh Abtahi, 54 mins.), which looks at Iranian society of the past century through food, and “A Perfect Meal” (a short directed by Pooria Jahanshad, 8 mins.) which uses a formal meal setting to examine food and culture.

After the screening there will be a panel discussion on the role of food in Iranian culture with audience Q&A and a recipe demonstration and tasting of various dishes from Iran.

1. Abgoosht: A meat based traditional, middle/working class food that now is turned into an adventurous favorite. There will be a demo of the food on one of the films, and the panel will talk about its cultural connection. There will be a tasting of Goshte Koobideh, a part of this food that tastes good even cold.

2. Borani (vegetarian): a mixture of yogurt and spinach with variety of nuts, was used as food, but today it is mostly served as dip.

3. Salad Shirazi (vegan): A uniquely Iranian salad which is also claimed by Israelis and Arabs. The organizer calls it the “Peace Salad” because of the stories he will share about his travels to Israel and Palestine.

Additionally, there will be handouts with the recipes for guests to take home: Persian style tea is also included in the $10 admission. Tickets are available at the Proctors box office or online at proctors.org/events.

(The next event will be on Sunday November 22 and will feature a performance by KoriSoron (!!), two very cool documentaries on music in Iran and a panel discussion with some special guests! Future events include the topics of Women in Iran and Outsiders in Iran.)

That’s it for now!  As always I hope this helps and thanks for reading!

-SC

2 thoughts on “Asking The Right Questions And Being Clear On What We Do

  1. I had the marvelous pleasure of attending the KoriSoron performance last Friday night. I can promise you that all we saw, and heard, was a rare communion of gifts, not “distraction.” And now, all I can do is commend you for your mindfulness…

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