About GuitArchitecture

GuitArchitect and Sonic Hooligan: Having received his undergraduate degree in composition from the Berklee College of Music and a graduate degree in guitar performance from CalArts, Scott Collins is a guitarist who performs a wide range of improvised western and non-western music on fretted and fretless instruments, he is a featured baglama (Turkish lute) performer on the Sony Playstation, God of War 2 video game and a soloist on the track “Come Alive” from the RedLynx Trials Evolution game. In addition to numerous live performances, he has toured in both the U.S. and Germany, performed in the world premier of composer Glenn Branca’s “Hallucination City”, the U.S. premier of Composer Tim Brady’s, “Twenty Quarter Inch Jacks” and co-composed and performed the thematically improvised score for the About Productions stage adaptation of Norman Klein’s “Bleeding Through” with Vinny Golia. Scott is committed to an art of real time composition he calls GuitArchitecture. When not performing improvised loop based solo guitar performances, he can also be found collaborating with several projects including Duodenum, an improvising duo with Carmina Escobar that specializes in silent film accompaniment, OniBaba (with Daren Burns, Vinny Golia, George McMullin, Craig Bunch and visualist Kio Griffith), Rough Hewn Trio (with Warr Guitarist Chris Lavender and Craig Bunch) and Dumb and Drummer a guitar-drum duo with an ever changing line-up… Other highlights include performances with John French (“Drumbo” of Captain Beefheart), Vinny Golia, Wadada Leo Smith, Mia Mikela (Solu), (Butoh dancer) Don McLeod, Butch Morris, Sahba Motallebi, Ulrich Krieger, Susie Allen, Mike Reagan, Melissa Kaplan (Universal Hall Pass), Jeff Kaiser, The Bentmen, One of Us, Annette Farrington, Tubtime, Sleep Chamber and many more. He has performed and co-lead workshops on improvisation as part of the Imagniary Borders/Imaginarias Fronteras project at the Centro Nacional de las Artes in Mexicali, Mexico and performed/lead a workshop on “Structured Improvisation in Film Accompaniment” as part of the Cha’ak’ab Paaxil Festival at the Edificio de Artes Visuales – Escuela Superior de Artes de Yucatán in Mérida, Mexico. An active guitar teacher and performance coach, Scott is the author of Symmetrical Twelve-Tone Patterns for Improvisation and The GuitArchitect’s Guide: series which includes: The GuitArchitect’s Guide to Modes: Melodic Patterns The GuitArchitect’s Guide to Modes: Harmonic Combinatorics The GuitArchitect’s Positional Exploration and The GuitArchitect’s Guide to Chord Scales and is currently working on additional books in the GuitArchitecture series to be released over 2012-2013. Scott is endorsed by FnH Guitars. He uses D’Addario strings, Planet Waves accessories, Scuffham Amps and Line 6 gear. In addition to his posts on GuitArchitecture, he had a quick lick lesson in the 2010 Holiday issue of Guitar Player Magazine, and has also had articles posted on Guitar Salon International, Live4Guitar and has a regular interview series on Guitar-Muse.com.

Some Observations In The New Year

The Preface:

I haven’t been writing a lot lately.  In addition to playing, recording and working on a number of projects, I’ve been doubling down on my research in habit forming, short term skill acquisition, long term mastery, business development, entrepreneur vs. freelancer and thinking about THE BIG PICTURE.

This blog tends to focus more on the motivational / philosophical aspects of making music and playing guitar rather than how to play a specific lick or where to put one’s fingers on a guitar.

There’s a substantial amount of lesson material here, but write more about the WHY of guitar playing because for intermediate to advanced players, the WHY is much more problematic than the HOW or the WHAT.  Understanding the WHY is also what will keep you playing guitar (or whatever other endeavor you want to insert here) past a certain point instead of moving endlessly from one temporary obsession to another.

Reactive vs Proactive:

At the end of every year, I tend to take a few days and take general stock of where I am, of where I’ve been, of where I’m going.

The big surprise for me this year, is that much of my life has been spent with reactive action driving proactive movement with an underlying need to play guitar as the catalyst behind it.

In other words – stumbling into a long term career instead of planning a long-term career.

I think this is how it is for most musicians outside of the classical world and I think it’s a  mistake for anyone who wants to try to make this a career.

In the classical world, traditionally you were typically either a soloist or an orchestral player so your entire skill set development went into following those paths.  Building repertoire and resume’s and moving up the orchestral ladder to ultimately get a coveted spot in a well regarded orchestra.

In contrast, consider the previous band success model of playing in multiple bands to finally get into “the right” band that built larger and larger followings and finally gets to the point where they reach the end goal of signing to a major label.

But reality has changed both of these models forever.

Orchestras are in increasingly difficult positions and more and more people end up playing in part-time capacities in a number of different orchestras just to try to make ends meet.  The major labels are more selective than ever when it comes to artist signing and with most of them demanding 360 contracts with artists – they want a pound of flesh from artists with their signatures.

While some people will have the right combination of skills, contacts, timing and luck to be able to fall into a career –  for most artists, the path can no longer be an auto pilot. But requires a plan.

Start With The Vision

The most successful things I’ve ever done in my life came through Reverse Engineering.

  • Taking a desired outcome
  • Working backwards from that outcome to determine the steps needed to get there
  • Putting daily work in on those steps and moving forward on those goals.

Whether it’s having a goal to play like your favorite player or having a goal to be a full-time musician or desiring to be retired by age x – if you don’t have a vision of where you want to go then you will simply drift around aimlessly moving from one thing to the next.

That’s fine if you want to explore and see what happens.  It’s not so great if you have things you want to get done.

Be Clear On Your Brand (and Re-brand when necessary)

I’m going through the process of updating social media, consolidating and getting ready to launch my new lesson approach / series and what cracks me up is how positively schizophrenic my CV is. It cracks me up because it makes the job of getting my name out and getting calls for various things almost infinitely harder than it needs to be.

For example I’ve played in Trip-hop, Hip hop, Metal, Rock, Pop, Country, Rockabilly, Jazz, Industrial, Art-Pop, Theatrical, Fusion, world music and a host of other genres.  That makes me a generalist.

The difficulty in being a side person, for example, is that people look for people with specific skills in a specific genre.  The guy who was a side man in a dozen metal bands is more likely going to the the person who gets a call from the band who needs a metal player unless they’re looking for something specific.

I have a very distinctive sound.  If I’m playing something, you’ll know it’s me regardless of the effects or context.  I’m typically the guy who plays with a lot of passion and can play a lot of notes.  In teaching, I’m the guy who can identify blocks that students have and can help them overcome them.  I have a specific voice for communicating things both in presentation and writing style.  But when people are unclear on your brand, they’re unclear on what you have to offer and (here’s the important thing to being in demand forever) how you can help them.

After I spoke at TedX I was leaving the venue and one of the organizers came up to me and said,

“You know, when I saw that you were going to be speaking my first thought was, ‘Oh no!  Why is he speaking?  I don’t want to hear him speak!  I just want to hear him play music.’  But then I saw your talk and it was really great.”

That’s what happens when people don’t understand your brand.  People who saw KoriSoron might see me play electric and say, “I didn’t know you played electric guitar!” and people who see me play electric are surprised to find out that I play acoustic.  Or fretless or saz or bass or any of the other things I pick up.

That’s why I now realize that it’s important to have projects that serve a long term goal, rather than have an expectation that people will be able (or even willing) to follow a narrative of what I’m creating.

There’s a business adage that, “It’s not who you know – it’s who know you”.  An adaptation of that might be, “People can’t call you / see you / support you if they don’t know what you do.”

The new KoriSoron release will be out in February and I have some new things in the works.  There will be some posts related to this year as the journey continues.

A lot of my teaching and a lot of my posts center on mistakes I’ve made and documenting them to help other people avoid the mistakes I made and (hopefully) shortening their own learning curve.  With that in mind, I hope that this helps you in some way.

As always thanks for reading.

SC

PS – I’ve mentioned it before but my new instrumental release with the Rough Hewn Trio is out now and you can purchase it in a pay-what you want model here.

“This Is The Rough Hewn Trio – Now Available On Bandcamp

Happy New Year.  It’s been a bit since there was a post.  This won’t really count as one either.  It’s just a short update with a few announcements.

1.  This (my instrumental trio project with Drummer Craig Bunch and Chapman Stick / Warr Guitarist Chris Lavender)

rough-hewn-cover-web

is out now on Bandcamp (https://roughhewntrio.bandcamp.com/releases).  You can pay what you want to purchase it.   I don’t think my friend Andre would mind me stealing his FB description, “proggy, fusiony, ambient-tinged deliciousness in a Holdsworth / Zappa / Crimson vein”.  It’s got all sorts of influences floating through it, and it’s fun for the whole family.  You can stream it for free (up to 3 times) or pay what you want to purchase it.  I hope you’ll check it out!

guitarchitect_back-web

2.  I LOVE Vimeo, but it’s a little too restrictive for SOME (good) people – so I’ll have a YOUTUBE channel up soon.  I’ll put some never before seen (and heard) things up there.  Maybe I’ll even put up a clip of my “Salt Licks” guitar instructional video I shot with my good friend Randy Bird at Berklee. : )  Maybe not.  We’ll see….I’ll announce specifics here once I get some content up.

3.  The second KoriSoron 5-track EP  is done in terms of music.  Big thanks to John Chiara at Albany Audio Associates for going above and beyond!  Farzad from KoriSoron is working on the CD graphics and I expect that we’ll have that out by the end of the month or February.

4.  I’ll have some of my back catalog up online in the weeks ahead as well.

5.  I’m just finishing up pre-production for my solo acoustic release tenatively titled, “Eel – Ecch – Trick – A – Coup – Stick”  It’s a WIDE swath of music and might cover 2 CDs.  I’m hoping to release it in the Spring or Summer depending on whether it becomes a full length or 2 EPs.

6.  I’m back into electric playing these days and pulling something together along the lines of Hassan Hakmoun’s Zahar performance on Night Flight with Hahn Rowe and Yuval Gabay and mixed in with some of the Balkan & Middle Eastern music I don’t suspect I’ll ever get away from.  Right now the goal is Ass Shakin’ music with burning guitar and vocals.

7.  I’ve been thinking a LOT about this website and the purposes (and people) it is supposed to serve.  In a re-branding initiative this year, I suspect that this blog will remain and another site may come up in its place, but completely re-working this may be an option as well.  File that under “Summer Project”.

Some other things afoot too tentative to mention here, so that’s it for now.  I really hope you’ll check out the Rough Hewn EP!

As always – thanks for reading!

-SC

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