The Gig As A Teaching Tool And Evading The Black Hole

My relationship to gigging has changed a lot over the years.

For many years, a gig to me was only as good as what I played.   If I didn’t feel I played well, then the gig was bad and if I played well then the gig was good.   During that time, at best, I didn’t feel that I played any gig particularly well.

Mostly I would just beat myself up after a gig and disparage what I did as a musician and as a human being.  Because (the faulty logic went) if the gig sucked then I sucked at the gig and if I sucked at a gig then I must suck as a guitarist – and how could that be after all the time put into it to not suck?

That’s an amateur view of gigging.  It took me a while to realize  I was using bad logic and taking the wrong lesson away from what I was doing.  (You can read another post of mine here that goes into much more depth about the amateur mindset and how to discard it.)

All guitarists still play mediocre gigs….it’s just that great guitarists play them less often, and a great guitarist’s mediocre gig is still at a higher level than a great gig played by an okay guitarist.   Additionally, professional guitarists disconnect from gigs when they’re done.  They might struggle after the gig, but they let things go because there’s another gig on the horizon to focus on.

But mostly what changed my relationship to gigging was the audience.

I started realizing that my own self assessment was really secondary to what the audience got out of it.  If I didn’t care about what the audience got out of it, then there was no point in playing to an audience.

The weird thing is that the audience got VERY different takes on the gigs than I typically did.  The gigs I hated were gigs the audience members often dug… and he gigs I liked?  By and large the audience was apathetic.  Eventually – between the audiences assessment and my assessment – I learned how to really gauge the temperature of the gig and how it really went.

The real question here is – Why does that matter?

If you’re asking yourself that question to puff yourself up and convince yourself how great you are, being able to gauge the success of the gig is not helpful at all.

For me, the importance is that being able to gauge what happened more objectively is an opportunity to learn.  What worked?  What didn’t work?  What should I do again?  For the things that didn’t work, how can I prepare myself better to get a better result?  As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Case in Point:

Last night I played a benefit gig at a place called the Linda in Albany, NY.  It’s the performance arts studio for WAMC radio and a very cool venue with a great staff and cool eclectic booking.  We were playing a benefit for WAMC with three other bands.  Our soundcheck was scheduled for 5.  Doors were at 7.  We got there early but assumed we’d probably soundcheck at 5:30.

The Linda had put a new sound system in that day that they were trying out so the staff had already been on hand for most of the day.  Two of the groups were going to use a backline (i.e. have guitar and bass amps and a common drum kit for use by multiple bands) to save time both in sound checking and switching between bands.  We got there around 4:45 and soundcheck was running behind.  The two bands before us had a number of things that had to be checked and we ended up loading our stuff onstage to soundcheck at about 6:45.

So the event began with a little stress but, truth be told, most events work on a “Wait – wait – now Hurry UP!” cycle.  We got our things on stage and worked out a few things with percussion mics and ended up running a few bars of a few tunes.  The house sound is LOUD and the monitors in front of me are on the brink of feeding back.  The tone I hear coming back at me is MEGA treble so I try to adjust with my own eq but its still jarring to me and LOUD.    I ask to be pulled out of the monitor directly in front of me as  I figured I could just use the house sound as a monitor if need be.

We left the stage around 7:10 – feeling really bad that this essentially screwed Bryan Thomas, the opening act, out of any kind of a proper soundcheck.  We talked to him as he was setting up and he said he can work around it (and he certainly did – Bryan pulled off a really cool loop based solo singer set)!  We then walked over to Van’s (a great Vietnamese restaurant in Albany) to get some pho before the set, and literally get back for the last tune of Bryan’s set and then have to load on.

While we were gone, unbeknownst to me, the overall house sound system volume dropped.  We got on stage, said a quick introduction and launched into the first tune.

At this point I couldn’t really hear myself so I started picking harder.  A lot harder.  Like bluegrass hard.  It was way too much excess tension and my hands were not responding the way I wanted them to.  We get through the piece.

The audience applauds and I introduce the next tune.  We only have a 1/2 hour and have already cut one tune from the set to get in under the time limit so (in a bad judgement call) I’m more focused on trying to get through the gig than taking the 30 seconds it would take to fix the problem.  Tune 2 – my hands are not responding at all the way I want them to.  I’m playing and they’re losing synchronization.  At this point, I become mindful of the fact that in addition to being too tense that I also have some adrenaline going and that’s pushing me beyond what I should be doing – hence the lack of synchronization.  I take micro breaks where I can to make sure I can pull off the unison line at the end.  We get through it.  The audience applauds again.  I take a breath and address the issues.

I try to joke with the audience to build rapport and keep them engaged.  I ask for some of myself back into the monitor.  Tune 3 is a slower tune.  I scale back and try to play less and continue to rest my hands where I can.  I try to balance being engaged with the music with doing what I need to do to technically get through the gig.  We get through the rest of the set.  It’s not one of my better performances – but it’s the best I can do in the situation.

I’m bummed because I know that this performance is being recorded for a future broadcast and I’m not super psyched about all of my mistakes being experienced over and over again but on the plus side, the audience is awesome.  They’re kind and super receptive, really giving us something back and really digging what what we’re doing.  The Linda staff is great and super supportive and John Chiara did a great job We make some new fans and some new friends.

I don’t play particularly well – but it’s a good gig for us.

This is one of those situations where my problem easily could have easily trainwrecked the gig.  You ever have that moment where you wake up and something bad happens when you get out of bed and that sets off a whole series of chain reactions in place (like tripping over a laundry hamper, cutting yourself shaving and/or burning yourself with spilled coffee)?  I call that entering the black hole.  Once you get sucked into a bad moment, it’s easy to get caught in the inertia of that energy (the  gravitational pull of the black hole) and just have compounding errors that spiral out of control.

There are two ways out of the black hole – and both involve mindfulness.

1.  Don’t go into the black hole.  If things go wrong, be aware of what’s happening and make mild adjustments and try to stay on course.

2.  If mistakes are compounding – take a breath.  Observe what is going on and make necessary corrections to get back on track.

This doesn’t come naturally.  You can’t learn it in a practice room by yourself.  The only way to be able to do this mid-gig is through a lot of practice and (un)fortunately, I’ve had numerous opportunities to practice this in a live setting.

Gigs are valuable opportunities to gain insights about what you do and the best ways to do it and (without getting to wu-wu here) no matter how many gigs you play, you will always learn something if you’re ready for the lesson.

As always, I hope this helps!

Thanks for reading.

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The 4 Steps To Getting A Gig

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

The Gig

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

Step 1.  Have a skill set and Be seen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh…sure”

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

Step 3  – Work WITH people, Adapt and Do You

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

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

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

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

Step 4 – Do The Work

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

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

That’s it for now!

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

As always – Thanks for reading!

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

New Guit-A-Grip Post and Podcast

Kate Bush

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

Developing Your Business Plan

(From the Guit-A-Grip site)

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

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

More Things KoriSoron Soft Launch

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

Upcoming shows:

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

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

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

Mas Music:

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

As always thanks for reading!

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Danke Berlin Atonal And Thanks To LCMF

The Glenn Branca shows are done and was highlighted by great venues, crowds and staff.    If you happened to be there, thank you so much for attending!  Every experience like this is an introspective one for me, so I just wanted to offer some thanks.

Berlin Atonal

Back Picture

All photos from Berlin Atonal FB Page

What a venue!
Venue Interior

And what a crowd!

Berlin Atonal Crowd

Much thanks to the staff for all their assistance and patience!

London Contemporary Music Festival

Special thanks to the LCMF curators (the incomparable Aisha Orazbayeva, Lucy Railton, Sam Mackay and Igor Toronyi-Lalic) and all of the staff and volunteers who went out of their way to make the show memorable. Also I have to thank the audience for, really, just being incredible.  I felt like we were playing a 1992 Fugazi show in the best way possible.  It was a tough show and a great show simultaneously and hopefully it was a memorable one for everyone there.  Best wishes to everyone at LCMF for the rest of the festival! 

Glenn Branca Ensemble

Finally, special thanks to the fine men and women of the Glenn Branca ensemble (Glenn, Branca, Reg Bloor, Eric Hubel, Greg McMullen, Arad Evans and Libby Fab) who really went as far out of their way to help me acclimate to the freight train that is the GBE experience.

Thanks for reading!

-Scott

Guitar-Muse Interview With Steve Vai And Gig, Post And Kindle Updates

Hey everyone!

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Steve Vai Interview

My interview with Steve Vai is now up on Guitar-Muse.  You can read it here.  I’ve also posted a short lesson on rhythmic ear training that uses one of the new tracks as the basis for the lesson (copyright prohibits me from posting the actual notes – but it’s a good primer on how to figure out syncopated rhythms).  You can read that post here

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Today’s Children of Mu Gig Is Rescheduled

The gig with Justin Wierbonski’s “Miles Davis Bitches-Brew era” group Children of Mu next Thursday is still happening but since today’s gig at the Shrine was double booked, it’s now been postponed until next Saturday evening.  

The rest of the band can’t make it so next Saturday’s show is going to be a drum guitar duo – but it’s going to be more free-form Jazz Sabbath (HA!)  and not at all “The Girl from Ipanema”!!

Forecast for next Saturday evening in Harlem –  high note density mixed with sporadic ambient textures with a chance of attendance.  Here are the dates for next week.

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BAR4 

THURSDAY, JULY 12, 2012 – 9PM

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THE SHRINE WORLD MUSIC VENUE 

Saturday, JULY 14, 2012 (time is evening TBA)

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An Immodest Proposal Part II…

will be up on Monday and some people are likely to find it provocative.

In other post news, I do have some lessons to go up on the site over the next few weeks and I’ve been working on the Kindle book which I hope to have done by the end of the month.

Player profiles are on tap for Guitar-Muse in July and August and some cool interviewees in the pipeline in a “guitars of the underground series.”

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Ah “Hot Town, summer in the city!”

Stay cool and thanks for reading.

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Rough Hewn Trio Live In Echo Park October 14th

Pasadena, CA:

The Rough Hewn Trio will be performing on Friday, October 14th at the Tribal Cafe in Echo Park/LA, CA.

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Tribal Café October 14th Poster


Coming off of a recent recording stint,  we’ll be bringing rough-hewn originals and raspy renditions of fine European craftsmanship.

Other guests – TBA – You may see a short Dumb and Drummer set and a solo acoustic set by me is a strong possibility as well.

If you’re in the LA area, and like improvised dreamlike textures, cartoon music or odd time Balkan tunes churned through an instrumental trio drop on by.

As my imaginary cousin Gary used to say, “It don’t cost no cover and the band is good too.”

If you’re in the area it should be a lot of fun!

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The 2 for 1: Rough Hewn Trio and Dumb and Drummer Live in Echo Park

Hello Everyone,

Just a final plug for a show that’s happening  tonight Friday, July 15th at the Tribal Cafe in Echo Park/LA, CA.

Dumb and Drummer is a duo I have with Rough Hewn Trio drummer Craig Bunch that’s been playing off and on for the last couple of years.  We keep threatening to record something and will finally be doing so this summer.  Typically the sets are 100% improvised, but tonight we’ll be playing tunes – so it’ll be a 50-50 mix.  There’s a country-ish tune, a hindi inspired jam and an Enigmatic freak out in the works.  We start at 8pm.

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Rough Hewn Trio is also slated to record some things this summer.  Tonight we’ll be bringing some Balkan music, a Hungarian fusion workout, a new Malian guitar inspired re-working of Bloodsucker, Lavender’s 232 and a Zappa-ish original, Jerry goes to Frankiewood.  If there’s time we may get an encore in. This starts at 9:45 ish.

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And of course, King Courtney will be putting up her dukes and playing with them as well – so expect her band to come out swinging at 1/4 to 9.

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Yes – Carmageddon starts at midnight tonight – but we’ll be all tucked away by then and hopefully so will everyone else there.

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This is the last show on the books for the next month or two while we get into the studio and knock out some tracks.  Hope to see you there!

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