Recording Prep, A Mini String Review And Why I Rarely Write About Gear Anymore

KoriSoron’s Recording!

KoriSoron is going into the studio next weekend to record 3-4 songs for release before the end of the year.

By “studio” I don’t mean tracking something at one of our homes and self mixing and releasing it (though there’s nothing wrong with that), I mean actually going to a distinct physical location where a professional has set up gear to mix and record and recording something, mixing it there and releasing it.

Now I hear a number of people saying, “Well that’s dumb – why would you do that when you can do it at home and save money?”  The answer is multi-faceted.

  1. Time is money and I want to save time.  If I’m working on a project with a budget and a deadline, it’s pretty easy for me to knuckle down and get things done.  But when I’m working on projects without a deadline…..it’s just too easy to go down the rabbit hole of distraction.  What’s the quote, Perfect is the enemy of done?  If you want it done, you need to have limitations and the external studio is an awesome limiter.
  2. A big part of our sound is the group playing together.  Doing something where Dean records a percussion part and Farzad and I overdub everything would ruin the sound.  It would be sterile.
  3. Live we improvise a great deal.  That requires getting it off the stage instead of making 100 passes at something and comping it together in a take.
  4. Recording acoustics at home – without an iso booth – is a nightmare.  Really.  It’s worth it to me to just let someone else do it.

So that means I’m spending time in pre-production so I’m not wasting time in the studio.  We use a Tascam DP-32SD to mix our shows and generally hit the record button which gives us valuable information on how things sound in reality (often very different than it sounds in memory and/or in our head at the time) and allow us to really prepare for things.

In a live setting everything I play for solos is improvised – but in the studio that ratio is probably more like 25-30%.   Live, I’m dealing with immediacy and in recording I’m dealing with posterity.  Recordings for me are sonic documentaries in that they’re a reflection of where I am in the moment.  Although I really like the work I did with Tubtime (and some of my other projects) I don’t go back and listen to them often as it’s like finding a picture of yourself in your high school year book and cringing a but while asking, “What was I thinking?”.

Since I relate all music to communication –  in a live context I try to have a moment of inspiration where I start to say something and come to a conclusion or observation that is engaging and surprises me as well.  A recording is more like a speech where I have have talking points and a general idea where I’m going to end up, but want to keep the transitions loose so I can engage the audience more.

Preparation in this case means really being aware of what the other guys in the group are doing and being aware of what I’m doing as well.  Sonically, that means really having my sounds down so I can be adaptable in that what might sound great in the practice room or on stage will not work for the studio.  I not only have to be dialed into the nuances of my tone to be able to adapt to what’s going on but I also need to be comfortable enough with what I’m playing to be able to play even if I don’t like the sound coming out of my headphones.

The Gear (and why I rarely write gear reviews here anymore)

My electro-acoustic rig is a Yamaha APX-1000 and a ZT Amps lunchbox acoustic amplifier with a boss volume pedal, a looper and (lately) a LR Baggs Session DI in the effects loop.  Everything is cabled with D’Addario/Planet Waves cables. Sometimes a Yamaha THR-5A is thrown into the mix as well.

For strings, I’ve used a bunch of them but keep coming back to D’Addario for my steel strings and electrics.  A while back D’Addario was looking for beta testers for their Acoustic Alloy N6 strings and I sent them my bio and they send me a pack of beta strings.

I really dig them, and they’ll be my go-to acoustic string once they’re commercially available.  They look more like electric guitar strings in that they don’t have that phospher bronze color.  D’Addario cites their use of hegagonal cores and High Carbon Steel in the construction.  All I know is the harmonics of the pitches seem to be clearer, and warmer.  They hold tone really well and also hold tuning really well.  It’s a great sounding string.  If you pick up the upcoming KoriSoron recording you’ll hear it on there.

Two other quick notes about my current rig.

1.  My electro-acoustic.  I really lucked out with this guitar.  I think Yamaha is doing really great work at a great price point.  Originally I played at APX 500’s as they were easier to get my hands on – but I like the nut spacing and construction better on my APX1000.  This is just a great acoustic-electric guitar and I hope to expand my relationship with Yamaha in the future.

2.  My amp.  The ZT Amplifier folks have been really supportive of KoriSoron and their amps have actually made me a better player in that they have a hi-fi quaility to them.  By that I mean, that they take whatever you are playing and reflecting that accurately at a higher volume.  In my case, it meant  some of the things  I was playing that I thought was “good enough” turned out to have technical issues and every biffed note and non articulated thing I played became apparent.  I had to go back to the drawing board for and really clean up some of the things I was playing to get them to sit in the live setting properly.  Those are things I might not have noticed with a mic – but it’s really re-focused how I play lead on acoustic in a good way.

Not all traffic is good traffic

When I write about gear on my blog, I only write about things that interest me or that I use (or have used) that I think would be of interest to other people.  There are a lot things that I’ve used that I don’t like and I don’t write about them because there’s enough other negativity on the web.  I’d rather be constructive about what I like and what could be made better about it, than trash something.

From a traffic standpoint that’s not a good idea.  I’d get much more traffic knocking something than writing about liking it – but it’s not the kind of traffic I’m looking for here.  Several years ago I write about a brand of tuners that I was using at the time.  I won’t mention them here because I don’t want additional traffic from them.  I found out that people were VERY opinionated about these tuners.  I started getting daily notifications from people who had technical questions about the tuners.  Requests for advice on installation or repair of the tuners.  Several people tried hijacking the blog and making it a marketplace for the tuners.  One person accused me of being a liar and fabricating my experience leading up to my use of the tuners.

I had posted my opinion about the tuners on the blog because I was using them and because I thought it would generate some traffic.  I thought that traffic might lead to people checking out other things I was doing and maybe buying a book or a cd.

But that’s not how the internet works.

People find a blog based on searches.  If they are looking to have an opinion validated or disputed about their a piece of gear, they are not going to read other things on your site to find out your approaches to pedagogy or art and artistry.  I have always been upfront about my posts here.  I write about things that interest me and write from a standpoint of what will help other people on the same journey.  I also promote things that I create.

Not all things are going to be of service to all people. In the words of one would-be commentator on a post about paying dues;

“Hey Man, WTF? I subscribed to your list as a way to learn. Your explaining company policy? Ok, that’s your focus. Cool. Thanx, but I’m out.”

Think about this from my perspective.  Someone came to the website, got free information and then got offended because I didn’t post another free lesson?  That person will never buy a book, buy a cd or support me in anyway.  They came because they wanted something free and only because it was free and I’m supposed to be upset because they’re gone?

Oh well….

Not all traffic is good traffic.  You’re not going to please everyone with everything that you do.

  • My interests are music and the deeper developments that we make as people by going deeper into art (or deeper into any kind of interactive experience).
  • My interests are how musicians and artists can navigate the current economic landscape to allow them to devote the time and resources to their art that they wish to.
  • My interests are in how to communicate on a deeper level and reach people.

That’s why my posts are generally longer.  From a pure traffic standpoint it’s dumb to write a 3,000 word blog article.  My writing is improvisational as well so these posts typically take hours to write as it requires substantial editing to make it something readable – but I engage in this process because it makes the writing more immediate and, in my experience, makes it more engaging and thus more rewarding for the reader.  Again, not smart from a business perspective but necessary for my goals.

I don’t write the article for the reader who is looking for a quick hack to get 1% better at this thing to then move on to the next thing to get 1% better at.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the focus here.

I write for the person who wants more.  Who wants more deeply.  Who wants to engage with the world on a deeper level.

If you’re reading this and nodding your head.  I write for you and I’m grateful for the opportunity to reach you.

As always, thanks for reading.

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Some Lessons From A Boxing Match

Let’s start with the sweet science

My last post used a quote from boxing, and this post uses some lessons a friend of mine taught me about boxing.  The reason for this is that, in my head, there are a number of parallels between sports and guitar playing, the biggest one being that both require a seemingly endless amount of training and preparation to be able to pull of a performance at the best of your ability in front of an audience.

As I write this, UFC champion “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey just took her 12 straight win to remain undefeated with a knock out in 34 seconds.  This means that the sum total of her last three fights is under a minute.  Her detractors say this doesn’t mean anything.  They want to see her go the distance in a fight.  I disagree with them.  The fact that she can finish those fights so quickly says EVERYTHING about how much work and preparation she put into those fights.

I read Ronda’s biography and the thing that resonated with me (other than the endless grueling training – I thought back to a LOT of 12-hour days at Berklee while reading this) is how much she got up and kept going when she was knocked down in her life.  When she was back in the states after getting a bronze in the Olympics for judo with no gainful employment she tended bar, worked at an animal shelter and worked as a gym receptionist while living in a car, and managed to get her head in the game and turn herself around from that situation to become the most dominant athlete (male or female IMHO) on the planet.  (You have to have the mental and the physical skills to get to the top of your game.)

Back to the boxing

A good friend of mine (who just happens to be an unbelievable guitar player, musician, songwriter and guitar builder ) Chris Fitzpatrick, recently “celebrated” a milestone birthday in an unconventional way when he signed up to raise money by fighting in a Haymakers For Hope event.  (Haymakers for Hope is an organization that sponsors fights to raise money for cancer research).

It is impossible to understand the physical and mental demands that are required to walk into (and out of) a boxing match if you’ve never stepped foot in a ring.  Some people take a 1/2 hour boxing cardio class and think, “that’s not so hard – I could do 3 minute rounds” not understanding that it’s a whole other thing to try to throw punches when there’s another person there determined to knock you out.  If you haven’t prepped, even if you can avoid getting hit – you’re likely not going to make it out of the first round.

(Some language NSFW.  This excerpt is from the film Heckler, but I’d also recommend Raging Boll which shows more footage from this fight.)

My friend Fitz trained for months to get ready for his fight which required intensive diet and training, getting up at ungodly early hours and pushing his body to the absolute limit.  This was more remarkable given that this fight is something sane people 20-30 years younger might do on a dare.  He won the fight which you can see here.

While he was training, we talked a lot about the similarities between learning how to fight  and learning how to play guitar.  After the fight, there’s a whole post-fight period of introspection – kind of like a post gig introspection, and during that I asked him what lessons he learned.  The lessons he learned are a great guide for guitar playing, or any other venture you want to engage in.

With that – here’s a short sweet list of lessons courtesy of Chris Fitzpatrick.  Remember that the difference between thinking something and knowing something is that knowledge is experiential – so I hope you’ll learn these hard fought lessons of knowledge easier than Fitz had to learn them!   (Also, make sure to check out his Strange County Drifters project and keep an eye out for some forthcoming FnH guitars!)

Lessons:

  1. Don’t be outworked.
  2. Practice for perfection, understanding that perfection is a just a goal, not to be used as a judgement of success or failure.
  3. Push through your limits, you will be amazed at what you discover about yourself and what you can do.
  4. Your comfort zone is a place to rest, not a place to live.
  5. There will always be someone better, Always. learn from them.
  6. Ego is the most dangerous barrier to achievement.
  7. Your mind is so incredibly powerful that it can override your physical being. We all live this everyday and don’t even realize it. Use it.
  8. No one cares except for you. Don’t bother trying to make others care. Care for yourself.
  9. Breathe and relax.

All of these apply to everything, but my discipline is music and guitar.

To which I would add the famous Samurai maxim, “Seven times down – Eight times up.”

There are real limits in life.  If you haven’t ever done a bench press (and never done a similar physical activity) you’re not going to pop a heavy weight off your chest on a bench your first time- but that doesn’t mean that you won’t ever be able to do it.

You don’t know what you can’t do today until you try.
You don’t know what you can’t do tomorrow when you put the work in today.
You don’t know what you can’t do a year from now when you put the work in everyday.

A limit you have today doesn’t necessarily have to be a life long limit if it’s something you can change with consistent, focused work.

I hope this helps!  Thanks again to Chris Fitzpatrick for sharing!

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Reconnecting by De-connecting

Back in the saddle again….

I’ve been off guitarchitecture for a while.  I posted a new podcast on guitagrip.com, and have taken on a few other projects (I’m the musical director/foley jockey for a new production at Siena College that starts in a few weeks, picked up new students, worked on some consultations for other projects, booked some new korisoron shows, worked with ZT amps for some videos we’ll be doing to promote their awesome acoustic amps and related material).  But more importantly related to my absence here, I’ve noticed some severe attention deficit for my interactions with various things.

In addition to trying to be mindful of the fact that multiple options typically leads to overwhelm and inactivity rather than making better choices – I still found myself struggling with finding time to work out or read a book.  These two activities in particular also happen to be things that are very grounding for me.

So clearly something wasn’t working.  In analyzing my actions, I realized that much of my day was spent working under the illusion of being proactive (checking e-mail repeatedly for example) with being reactive (now forcing myself to react to an email with an immediate urgency for something that wasn’t even an issue a minute earlier).

It’s the illusion of getting something done in a timely manner, but it sabotages short and long term goals.

Physician Heal Thyself

In a recent lesson, I gave a student the same advice that I needed for myself, namely to find the things that trigger a flow state and adapt that to practicing.

By a flow state, I mean events that you can loose yourself in without being aware of time passing.  This might mean playing, or reading or working on your car.  It’s whatever event you can fully immerse yourself in.

For me, that’s reading, and then that’s guitar playing.  As a kid, I would read books constantly not being aware of what time had passed.  Guitar playing came a lot later and had a lot of extra baggage associated with it that had to be overcome to be in a flow state. (such as editing and analyzing what you’re playing as you play it – even having worked on that a lot I still find myself falling into that mode once in a while).

So I got back into reading books.  Physical books picked up from the library.  Serious reading where skimming was avoided (I found myself skimming sections to get to the next part and then coming back and re-reading things in a deeper way) and every word that was on the page came into the internal narrative of what I was reading.  When I lived in Boston, it was easy because it took at least 30 minutes each way to get anywhere by train, so I always brought a book with me and read it on the train.  But now that I drive everywhere, it’s taken a while to get back into the habit of REALLY reading something of substance (just like it’s taken a while to get back into the habit of walking places when you find yourself driving everywhere).

It’s easy to be dismissive of this.  After all to read a two to three sentence synopsis of a much deeper topic is easier, faster and easier to act on yes?

The short answer is no.  The longer answer is, it’s completely missing the point.

The Filter bubble

I was thinking a lot about Eli Pariser’s filter bubble book.  In a filter bubble, uncommon data is eliminated so that the more common data rises to the top of the searches.  So when you do a google search for something, you’re only skimming the surface of the data out there.  This is great when you want to find specific data (like a water table for a county for a specific year), but not so great when you’re looking for specific topics.

Years ago, my friend Randy saw a Charles Manson shirt and commented that people used faces like Manson and Hitler to be provocative because they weren’t well informed enough to find more relevant contemporary people.  They went with what was easy or immediately accessible.

So a filter bubble is like handing someone a 6-string guitar with only 2 strings and saying, “ok here’s a guitar.  Now go play “smoke on the water.”  You can play the main riff of the tune on 2 strings, but without the rest of the strings on the guitar you’re missing out on a lot.  In my case, it’s engaging in reading as a process to come to a deeper understanding of something, rather than developing a “hack” shortcut.

The synopsis approach in action

The reality of the above mentioned two to three-sentence synopsis for most people is some variation of this process:

1.  Read the synopsis.

2.  Do an internal litmus test to see if it seems plausible.

3.  Google the term to see if there’s a common consensus on the topic.

4.  If it’s determined to be correct, then it’s added to the list of things that they learned today,  filed it into memory and then transmitted to other people as knowledge.

In other words, it’s very rarely acted upon.  This is what happens when you are reacting to data all the time.  You get overwhelmed and can’t really internalize things.

Another YouTube Rant

It seems like every day someone is sending me some new YouTube link to some playalong or performance. You want to know why there are SO MANY videos of technical guitar videos on YouTube?

Because (in the scheme of things) it’s not that hard to do.

You could train a monkey to play the version of “flight of the bumblebee” that so many guitarists post (btw – I blame a Guitar Player transcription/lesson of Jennifer Batten for this version being in existence because that seems to be the one everyone is referencing for fingerings).  It’s not about music, it’s about getting a few specific techniques under your belt to meet a specific goal.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a limited end unto itself.

I pretty much stopped watching YouTube guitar videos because:

A:  I saw the filter bubble in action.  So many of the videos I saw were clearly guys who had watched the same video, or learned the same tune.

B:  I have my own thing to work on, so unless it’s really special, I really don’t care what other guitarists are doing.

So, I don’t care about shred videos on YouTube.  I don’t care that an 8 year old can play “Scarified” not all that well at near the recorded tempo.  What DO I care about then?

This in contrast is a lot harder:

This is making music.  This is what happens when a master musician becomes a shaman and invokes the spirit behind the song.  It’s about being completely in the moment.  It’s about having something to say and speaking it directly to other people.

It’s being in the flow and taking other people with you.

It’s about being in the present.  Not checking your email every 15 minutes to see if you’re missing something.

It’s about the duende moment.  The moment the hair stands up on your arms and you feel more alive than before.

That doesn’t happen online.  That doesn’t happen in a text.  That happens with people in a room sharing an honest naked moment.

Creating that moment starts with you, the performer being in the moment and bringing people there.

Being in the moment is something that has to be practiced.  Now, possibly more than ever.

That’s why I started working on things that fell into my flow state more often.  The more I enter flow, the more easily I can enter in in other areas of my life.  The more I can bring that when I perform.  The more I can create something beyond the veneer of flash and get to touching people in a real way.

So, that’s where I’m at.  A work in progress moving towards reconciling an analog past with a digital present and doing it (for now) increasingly offline.

As always, thanks for reading!  I hope this helps you in some way!

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False Victories, Paying Dues and Being The Bigger Person

Please note: this post started on Facebook.

Which is fine, some of my most popular posts start there but almost all of my friends of FB are people that I know professionally, and this perception is one that might help people in various stages of their musical journey and not just people who are professional musicians.

“Awesome!  That’s Telling Them!”

This email exchange has gotten a lot of traffic for the Dangerous Minds website.

http://dangerousminds.net/comments/how_to_say_no_whiteys_perfect_reply_to_a_tv_company_who_wanted

If you haven’t read it, a UK recording artist Whitey was apparently asked by a company called Betty TV to use his music for free and, in reply, Whitey wrote an angry screed, that had a lot of truths in it (such as the fact that companies should allocate money for budgets for music if they want to use it.).

So Whitey yelled at the man (that sounds strange but I’m sure you don’t choose a name like Whitey without wanting to be confrontational) and this act resonated with a number of artists – understandably so as it’s perceived as spitting truth to power and I only know a handful of artists who are fairly compensated for what they do.

On the other hand, just like the  high-fiving reactions to the Amanda Palmer crowdfunding success (later on to be known as the railroad spike in the coffin of Amanda Palmer’s career), the reaction to this bothered me as well.  On FB, along with the link to the article, I wrote the following:

This has made the rounds lately. Loads of attaboys and that’s tellin’ ’em.

Yawn.

Here’s what companies do when they get a long winded screed. They read the first sentence or two, discard it and go to musical act #3,184 who are more than happy to give their tracks away for free for exposure.

Musicians have been taken advantage of long before Col. Tom Parker ever met Elvis. You can write your ex a long letter telling them that you’re great and they’re awful and get identical emotional satisfaction.

It’s a hollow victory.

I felt a little bad for the ranting so commented on it about a 1/2 minute later:

Sorry, I’m just so weary of false congratulations. It’s being psyched that someone didn’t pry the quarter out of your hand and not realizing that your wallet was already stolen before you ever left home.

In response, a man I truly perceive to be a brother from another mother, wrote this:

I’ve worked in enough ad agencies to know that’s true. So what will it take to get more fair compensation for the creative class?

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Perception of economic success.

That’s what it will take.

No one expects Sean Combs or Jay Z to give tracks away for free because they know that both people are already wealthy.

This tells us several things:

  1. Those artists can afford to say no to any business dealings because they are perceived as self sufficient.
  2. Those artists have money because they have large fan-bases and are perceived to be successful.

The other factor

There’s a third factor in this as well. Because people who work in mid-level jobs in ad agencies or the Film/ TV/ Music or Book industries either go big to try to claw their way up the ladder or do everything they can do to not get fired.  Expect most people to reside in category B 95% of the time and leaping over to category A when they think it’s a sure thing.

These people want to get artists with name recognition when possible because if the project tanks someone will have to get sacrificed to the god of client accountability.  If they have someone with a proven track record they can fall back on, “I don’t know what to tell you.  We used this person who they used for (insert successful movie/ad/etc here).

At the production level, you generally have people who have unimaginably tight deadlines. Those people want content that will fit the scene (or at least not draw attention away from the scene) and then move on to the next edit in the infinite number of edits for that project and future projects to come.

This is why placement companies are always looking for music.  I did some of this in college, working for a company where I’d listen to a huge number of tracks in their music library and then categorize each track in as many pre-defined parameters that it fit (“Happy”, “Uplifting”, “Major”, “Light”, etc).  This all got attached to a database, and then when a project came in and the director or the editor said, “I need something sad” or “minor” or “slow”, they’d have a hundred tracks ready to slip in.

Putting The Danger Back In Dangerous Minds

Production work is all about speed and efficiency and minimizing expenses where ever possible.

It’s somewhat odd to me that the Dangerous Minds page has gotten traction as the only dangers present are ones that neither the e-mail author or the website author have addressed.

The main hidden danger is tipping your hand in a weak negotiating position in the face of decreased sources of viable economic revenue.  A couple of other posts from DigitalMusicNews.com have also made the rounds in musician’s circles on FB.  This one talks about 5 companies that won’t be here 5 years from now (Pandora, one of the remaining 3 major labels, Spotify, Live Nation and MySpace music).  This one, talks about “the 13 most pervasive insidious lies of the music industry” and while it’s pretty dean on for it’s not pretty).

Realize that people in positions of power do not write long screeds about why they won’t do something.  They say no.  They may explain that answer (politely) in a sentence or two, but generally they’ll make a counter offer and they move to the next thing.

Why do they do that?

Because what comes up, invariably comes down at some point.

Because this is  an industry that is completely fueled by perception and networking.

Because there is no advantage to burning bridges.

So when you go off on someone in self righteous indignation, you just tip your hand let people know that you have no negotiating power and that you’re likely to be difficult in the future.

I’ve never heard of Whitey.  I doubt I’ll ever hear of him again.

So how do you get perceived economic success?

You pay dues.

I wrote about this in my e-book Selling It Versus Selling Out, but let me offer up a few things that augment that material well.

When one entrepreneur started her PR company from scratch, she knew that she would have to establish a track record to get paid.  Her plan then was to contact local businesses with bad advertising and PR campaigns and offer an initial service for free.  If they got better results, they could pay her for their next campaign.

She gutted it out and two things happened.

Many of the businesses that had increased revenue came back to her for their next campaign.

With a proven track record of success, she could go to other businesses and promote her services.

In a chapter about paying dues from that book, I stated that:

As an artist, you will very likely experience a long road of strange requests and expectations known in the business as “paying dues”.  Even your rock star idols have to do it.  Trust me, no one wants to get up at 4 am to play a 7 am set for morning television to promote their new release/concert/tour.

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The thing to remember is that paying dues is a reciprocal relationship.

 

When you get to the TV or radio studio at 4 or 5 am to try to be ready to rock out by 7 or 8 am, you are doing so to promote yourself.  You are doing so to generate interest and to try to get people to follow what you are doing.  When you are starting a band, you will have to play a lot of venues for (in a best case scenario) little if any money.  This is done to get the band some exposure, to get some word of mouth promotion happening and to get the band’s live show together.  All valid points.  You aren’t getting paid, but you are getting something for your time.

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A number of people will attempt to capitalize on this mindset to exploit you whenever possible.

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Often this is not the Machiavellian plotting that the above statement would initially imply but is instead, merely misguided expectation. People are so used to seeing musicians willing to jump through hoops to play for free that it creates an expectation that is status quo.

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This mindset is unique to music. If you work at an office and people find out that you play guitar, expect that they will ask you to play birthday parties or other events for free.  To contrast this idea, next time you have a plumbing problem, try calling a plumber and asking if he or she would be willing to show up and fix the problem for free and see what happens.

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…This is an old challenge in business put in a new wrapper. 

As an [emerging] artist you’re probably going to have to convince people that they should pay for your services….You should expect to get your hands dirty and put in work if you want to adjust some people’s mindset.

 

Again, this is an industry that is fueled by product and largely driven by perception.

The Catch-22

I read an interview with James Hetfield once where he said that if he goes to Guitar Center and someone sees him playing an amp that by the time he gets home that the amp company has contacted him about a possible endorsement deal.  He went on to say something to the effect of, “Where were these people when I was using the same set of guitar strings for moths at a time because I couldn’t afford to change them?  Now that I actually have the money to buy whatever amp I want – they want to give them to me for free.”

By the time that you have the clout to be in the alpha negotiating position, you won’t need to make the deal.  The person who can walk away is always the one with more power.

Understand the landscape

If you’re an unknown or emerging artist starting a new band and you are playing your own music in a bar/club/non-traditional venue, you might not get paid.  If there is no audience, and no guarantee for the venue – this is a reasonable expectation. (And most pro musicians would avoid this scenario like the plague unless they wanted to rehearse their set in a live context).  There’s a difference between making no money to pay dues and making no money to pay the bar owner.  As a professional, you should know what you are getting into and make an informed decision and roll the dice that playing out will pay dividends somewhere down the road.

There’s a recent guit-a-grip post that addresses an important aspect of this:

If you’re currently making six figures a year in your day job, you are sorely mistaken (or outright delusional) if you’re taking on something new at the ground level and assuming that your time in your new venture will initially have the same value as what you’re currently making.

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This also applies to many established artists as well.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a master musician who was releasing his first solo cd after having lived the shadows of being a member of a well known band.  His music was really good, challenging and a lot of fun to play.  I pulled a group together for him and we rehearsed for the better part of a year to promote an upcoming tour.

He got an offer to play at REDCAT in Los Angeles and turned it down because the pay was only $800.  The cd has been out for about a year at that point, and sales were low.  It had recouped none of the money that was advanced.  The band was solid and a gig like that would have gotten a lot of press and he would have sold whatever CDs he brought with him.  It could have been something that kickstarted other opportunities.

Instead, we played an outdoor memorial gig for free in a park with a backline that was largely non-functional.  That project faded and now he’s touring with an incarnation of the same group that he was trying to break free from because that group can demand a higher premium for shows.

Getting back to the initial subject.

Am I saying Whitey has to give his music away?  Absolutely not.  He has some clout but what he should have done is used the moment to discuss the point calmly and maturely.

There’s an old expression about relieving yourself where you eat.

  • In the entertainment industry, you’re likely to find your meals as scattered scraps initially so be very careful what you say to who and how you say it.  The intern today might be the music director tomorrow.
  • Be the bigger person and try to treat everyone well, whether their behavior deserves it or not.
  • Be prepared to educate people and to have to demonstrate your value to increase your negotiating position.
  • Rome wasn’t built in a day, this industry is as much about people who can do high quality work quickly and consistently as it is about being able to endure in the meantime.
  • UItimately, this is about understanding your value, increasing your visibility and aligning other people’s perception with your own.  It hinges then, on a belief in yourself or in an oft-quoted paraphrased I stole from Daren Burns,

“If you place no value on yourself – no one else will either.”

So know who and where you are, and don’t tip your hand when you’re not in the best position to negotiate.

As always, thanks for reading!

-SC

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Notes From A Lecture

“What’s with all these words and where’s the shred stuff?”

I know I’ve been veering away form strictly guitar stuff lately on this blog.  (Don’t worry though, the pure guitar thing is never too far away. A number of new (strictly guitar related) posts have made their way to Guitar-Muse and there’s some new material that will be released either in Kindle or e-book format.)  A large part of the shift in content here is due to a move from focusing on working through the how (how do you play modes on guitar) and shifting the focus more to the why (i.e. my philosophy).  I’ve talked about this before but without a strong sense of why you do what you do, progressing and improving in the long term will fall apart as you face the numerous challenges and obstacles that you’ll be faced with on the long haul.

As someone who plays and teaches, I’m often asked, “How long does it take to learn to play guitar?” It’s a surprisingly easy question to answer.  It depends on what you want to do on the instrument.  If you want to learn to play a few chords to serenade someone on a tune you can get some basic chord forms and strum patterns down in as little as a few weeks.

If you want to really say something unique to you on the instrument, it will take years or decades of hard work and those before you who have already been on the path for decades will tell you that they’re still working on defining and articulating what they say on the instrument. This leads directly into my first point.

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The heretic’s statement

While I love the guitar dearly, it’s just a tool of expression.

Guitar playing is only a reflection of who I am at the time I’m playing.  It’s a sonic documentary.  It’s a voice that I control with my fingers.

I need a pen to write ideas down on a piece of paper, but ultimately the ideas behind the writing are a lot more important than some scribbles on a page.

It’s a symbiotic relationship.  As I play guitar, I develop as a person as well.  As a person I take a number of influences that inspire me (like literature, film and other people’s music) and use those as spring boards for expression.

While I work at being a better guitarist, I’m also working at being a better person and vice-versa.

To me – it’s all guitar playing.

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The How and Albert Ellis

For those of you unfamiliar with the man, Albert Ellis is not some brilliant up and coming underground shredder that will show you how to stuff 15 notes in a 5 note bag.  Mr. Ellis was a particularly brilliant psychologist who had taken some cues from Stoicism, and Levi-Strauss and created a new form of therapy known as REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy). I had first discovered Ellis’ work in college and while I found his books to be somewhat bizarre in their tone (the writing style seemed to be mired in the 1950’s with references to things like “Pollyannaish thinking”) his approach of using rational thought to break people out of emotional traps they had fallen into was particularly insightful to me and spoke to my own approach to removing emotions from problems and tackling them for what they are.

In the 1990’s I saw that an Adult Education division was going to bring Albert Ellis to speak at the lecture.  To say that Ellis was a brusque man is stating it mildly.  Throughout the lecture he swore like a sailor, called b-s on any number of things and took anonymous audience questions about problems they were having on stage and then talked through how to approach the problem.

When the lecture was over.  People were congregating around to talk to him and he yelled “Excuse me” and “Get out of my way” as he bolted out the door and went to his car.  I believe his logic was, he was paid to speak for two hours, people could ask him whatever they wanted during that time and he wasn’t going to hang out for another hour or two afterwards.  The audience hated this but I saw it as a man who practiced what he preached.  (If you read below, you’ll see that this wasn’t solely about the money – The Ellis Institutecontinues to offer the Friday Night public workshop that Ellis discusses below for the inflation adjusted price of $15 per person.  It’s about not getting entangled in things you don’t wish to).

I made a number of notes at the lecture and I’ve posted them below.  In terms of content, its a little rough and tumble and should act as little more than a “Cliff notes” version of his approach – but you might find it to be an interesting overview in how to remove emotions from problems and attack them in a systematic process.

If you find feelings of anger, depression or inadequacy acting as obstacles in your practicing, playing or goals, you might find Ellis’ approach helpful. I’ll include any new notes in brackets [ ].

Notes on an Albert Ellis lecture in Boston.  December 8, 1994.

Albert Ellis, Ph.D. is the head of the Institute for Rational-Emotive Therapy (RET). [Ellis used the terms RET and REBT in the lecture interchangeably] He conducts interviews every Friday night at the Institute for $5.

Ellis’ methodology is borne out of a philosophical tradition rather than a psychological one. Of primary influence to his methodology were the Greeks and their focus on the analytical.

You are a talented screwball.

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The RET observations:

1.  All people want to be loved and accepted.

2. People meet conflicts with this goal.  The experience rejection/frustration /disappointment.

3.  People refuse to change

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Three causes for Neurosis

1. EGO – I am the center fo the universe

2.  Anger / Rage

3. A perception that there has to be environmental control.

#2 and #3 –> refusal to accept (rationalize)

The two words that cure all neurosis?:  Tough shit.

Past events are not the causes for present conditions.

Humans are born with two tendencies

1.  Posessing goals, values, desires, etc and demanding what you want.  Ellis seems to view people generally as babies where immediate needs are the primary focus.  That egocentricity makes people very upsettable.

2.  People have a constructive self-actualizing tendency.  You are born to think.

The net effect of these two statements is that while you can disturb yourself, you can also undisturb yourself.

You balance the rational and the unrational. The Universe is ambivalent.

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Three Insights of RET

1.  No one (or nothing) ever upset you.  You choose to upset yourself.

2.  When it [the depression/anxiety/problematic emotion] started is irrelevant.  It lasts because you believe it.  You can’t change people or situations – only perception.

3.  There is no magic. No one’s going to come down from the sky to save you. There is only work and practice.

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How to change:

Cognitive thinking

1. Dispute the “musts”  “I must be this…I must do this.” Why must you? [Ellis refers to this in some of his writing as ‘musterbation”]

2. Along similar lines…”I can’t bear it (rejection, etc)” or  “I can’t stand it.” The implication is –   “I can’t stand it and be happy at all.”

3.  “When I fail, I am worthless” in reality – “I acted badly – but I screwed up and I am human.”

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There are two solutions to a poor sense of self-worth

1.  I’m okay because I am alive. (I’m okay because I choose to be okay.)

2.  I’m neither good or bad as good implies perfection and bad implies damnable [The terms are all or nothings propositions for Ellis].  I am a human who behaves well and when I agree to reach/perform certain moral ethical deeds, I am behaving well but good deeds do not make me good.  (preferred method). I am not my acts/behaviours.

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Self Esteem is an illness

When I am doing okay, I am okay – otherwise I’m a worm and even when I am okay – I worry about being a worm.

Low self-esteem: Because people don’t love me enough and because I act well I am okay.

High Self-Esteem I’m okay when I’m beautiful.

Self esteem is conditional.  The goal is unconditional self-acceptance.  Unconditional acceptance must be taught.

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Coping methods

Referencing:  When you do something compulsively bad –  you write down all of the disadvantages of the act and review often.

Rational coping self-statement:  Effective view philosophy [Also written – also reviewed often]

“I don’t need – but I would like.”

There is nothing awful – only inconvenient. “Mind you getting slowly tortured to death is inconvenient but it is not a worse case scenario.  You could always be tortured more slowly.”  [What was implied by Ellis is that you can not be faced with the most awful thing or situation.]

Psycho-educational techniques:  Good books, video, etc prosleytize and teach so that you can learn.

Modeling:  find good role models

Role Playing: stop at anxious (or appropriate sensation) moments and analyze.  What am I thinking right now?

Positive thinking is okay but does have it’s limitations.  Its achilles heel is that it can reinforce the “must” syndrome.

If you’re afraid of something. Do it.  repeatedly.  Rewards afterwards and “punish” if you fall through. [Ellis used a couple of examples here but he said to a woman trying to lose weight, “Okay.  You want to loose weight.  And you eat cookies all the time so as one step of this, you’re going to stop eating cookies.  What do you hate to do in the world more than anything? ‘Call my mother-in-law.’ Okay then.  So from now on if you eat a cookie, you’ll have to call your mother-in-law and talk to her.  But you really have to do it!  It only works if you follow through.” In more extreme cases, Ellis recommends people burn money as a punishment.  “After someone burns their second $20 bill, they stop doing what they’re doing pretty quickly”]

You let other people affect you but not disturb you.

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Grief vs depression.

Grief is okay.

Grief:  I’ve lost something and that is bad

Depression: Isn’t it too bad that I’ve lost something?

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Problematic Solutions

When a situation is bad – do not leave when you are upset because you’ll take those emotions with you into every other situation.

1.  Analyze how upset you are

2.  Act rationally.

The approach seems to have several steps.

1.  Problem identification

2.  Statement and picturing of the worst thing that could happen.

3.  Identifying feelings with that scenario.

4.  Changing feelings/perceptions of the worse case scenario used rational coping self statements repeatedly and setting up small reward/punishment systems to work on those statements daily.

This last step implies a lot of time.  There is no quick panacea for your problems.

Dr. Ellis has a hard methodology.  It makes the individual fully responsible for his/her actions, works within a closed system and puts emphasis on the body’s cognitive powers. He is violently opposed to most forms of therapy which he feels puts too much emphasis on past actions and events and not enough on present responsibility.  While he isn’t opposed to all forms of psychotherapy, his motto certainly seems to be, let the buyer beware.

His lecture was filled with cursing.  It seems to be a part of his shtick, but one of the things that it did was keep the audience laughing – and laughter (along with responsibility, work and perception) seems to be a very important part of the RET methodology.

*Those are all the notes I had from the lecture.

I hope you found this interesting, insightful, or helpful in some way and, as always, thanks for reading.

-SC

On Education: Learning And Knowing

I’ve talked at length about thinking versus knowing,  (Even though the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, the difference between the two is that while you can read something and think it, knowing something requires experience with it and implies the ability to utilize it.  Knowing something at a deep level means that you can adapt it and manipulate it to serve you.) but I wanted to expand out from that basic idea in this post.

Having said that, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that knowledge is the summit of education.  As important as knowledge is however, I believe that knowing something is actually far less important than learning and/or discovering something.

Learning something means bridging the chasm between unfamiliar and familiar.  It usually means making mistakes and requires you to make some kind of leap to get to the thing you’re striving for.

“It’s the journey not the destination.”  Right?  You might have read that as a caption to a professionally taken photo right off someone’s cubicle wall so it has to be true.  But plenty of people meander through life and don’t change for the better.  I watched a junkie on the street the other day digging infected scabs from his arm and popping them in his mouth while begging for change.  I doubt that he’s going to tell you that it’s all been about the journey.

I don’t believe that it’s enough to just take a journey,  The  journey taken should be a mindful one.  It’s about paying attention to things on the journey and learning from them and not the journey itself.

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It’s about seeing the world in a different way and becoming a different person than you started off being.

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Guac-a-mole!

Consider this for a moment if you will.  An avocado is a fruit with a large nut in the middle.

As a plant, the primary purpose of the avocado is to eventually become another tree by falling from the tree and releasing the nut to become another tree.

To a person, the avocado nut is inedible,  You pop it out of the center (if you’re eating the whole thing) and savor remaining the fruit.

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If education is an avocado, knowledge is the nut and learning is the fruit.

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Knowledge has a deeper purpose.  It has implications that can go well beyond what you or I can imagine.  It provides sustenance in the long-term and allows you do use things (outside of their original purpose when necessary) to reach a bigger goal.

Learning provides daily sustenance.  It feeds you and gives you energy to both be in the preset and look to the future.

They’re part of the same fruit.  And you can’t have one without the other.

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And now, a big-ticket item about knowledge versus learning.

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Knowledge allows you to succeed but learning allows you to mess up, screw up and (in a best/worse case scenario) to fail.

Being able to fail in a constructive (and safe way) is important.

First off, to fail at something means you tried something.  You took action of some kind.  If you don’t try you never succeed right?

(and if you never fail then you probably aren’t trying too hard.)

To succeed, means you’ll have to try again.

Secondly, you can’t have success unless you have something to measure success against.  To succeed means to successfully accomplish something… to overcome something.  If you succeed at everything you stay at the same mediocre level because you’re never challenged to go further.

Failing implies that something went wrong, and in working to overcome that result – it means you’ll have to learn.

And learning something means you can begin to know something.

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No one wants to “fail” at anything – but I don’t think failing is always a bad thing.  It’s a tried and true path to success and it’s one of the greatest (and most thorough) teachers you’ll ever find.

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In a related note, if you take a moment to reminisce about things you know versus things that you’re learning (or have learned recently), you might notice that you have a different reaction or feeling to what you’re learning (exciting) versus what you know (yawn).

In guitar, you practice what you’re learning but you play what you know.  And that’s a big reason why you want to be learning whenever you can, so you can increase what you really know.

That’s it for now.

As always thanks for reading!

-SC

All Opinions Are Not Equal

[Edit:  To clarify; as of this writing, there is a substantive amount of press being generated by Amanda Palmer’s decision to solicit local volunteer musicians to accompany her live shows for free (as in beer, merch and good vibes). Having read Ms. Palmer’s reply, I have reconsidered some of my earlier comments and updated them below.]

Well… I might as well get this out of the way.

I think the whole Amanda Palmer trip about not paying musicians who play with her is silly.

There’s also no real story here.

Hiring a regional back up band is nothing new.  Chuck Berry did it for most of his carer, and I understand that Robert from Williard Grant Conspiracy did it as well. Though they (and other people I’ve heard of who hired regional back up bands as well) actually paid those players money.

Getting people to play for free is nothing new.  Promoter’s and labels who don’t want to spend money have been doing it to professional and amateur musicians forever.

(The irony of an independent musician (who was formerly on a big label) that made a big stink about labels taking advantage of artists, then turning around and doing the same to other artists is not lost on me however.)

Again, there’s really no news here.

Musicians that weren’t going to see her before, still aren’t going.

Fans that love her continue to love her.

Players (and non-players) who think it would be awesome to get up on stage with Amanda will do so.

I had different views about this when I posted it initially, but outside of the rancor this has raised,  it’s just a decision that will become a vehicle that promotes Amanda Palmer by getting people to talk about her.  (By the way, I do have a much more in-depth essay about this in my new book, Selling It Versus Selling Out – it’s worth checking out if you haven’t done so already!)

What I do find to be incredibly eye-opening, is the number of forum posts from non-musicians who all have strong opinions about musicians who want to get paid, and asking why those musicians are being so uptight, entitled and/or needy.  Or posts from people who don’t play an instrument and don’t make any kind of art, who somehow have a lot of say about art, and those trying to make a living doing it.

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For the record, all opinions are not equal.

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The internet will give you the impression that they are, but they aren’t.

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There are basically informed opinions, wrongly informed opinions and uninformed opinions and while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, they do not (and should not) equate in terms of validity.

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Informed vs Uninformed Opinions

Let’s say I’m hiking with my friends and we come across a snake.  One of my friends, who knows nothing at all about snakes and is more than a little immature, says to me that it would make a great gag to pick up the harmless small snake crawling near us off the ground and throw it at someone.  At the same time, another one of my friends, who happens to be a zoologist, tells me that he recognizes the snake as a highly poisonous one and advises me to stay away from it.

Which opinion do you think I’m going to listen to about handling the snake?

Yes both people are entitled to their opinions, but for me there is more validity in the opinion of the person who knows what the Hell they’re talking about.

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Wrongly informed opinions

The internet is full of people who dispense data guised as wisdom.

People who have “informed” opinions because they read or heard something somewhere.

Forums are filled with these people.  Jokers who fill up pages of forum space talking about the merits and detriments of various products only to find that they don’t own any of them, but are just speculating based on ad copy and product specifications.

Wrongly informed opinions are even more detrimental to making an informed decision, because, like most conspiracy theories, they have at least a grain of truth that their logical architecture is based on.  That truth is what typically passes the smell test, “does it smell like bs to you?” and leads to the, “if a is to be and b is to c then a is to z” logic that often comes about from this.

Opinions aren’t facts and shouldn’t be treated the same way.

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The Lesson Story

I believe that I’ve related this story once before, but I relate it again as I didn’t find it right away and it’s relevant to this idea.

I once had a person respond in a really combative way to a teaching ad I put up on Craigslist.

(BTW – I know CL works like gang busters for some people, but it never worked out for me.  I think this is largely because while my lessons are a bargain in terms of what a student can learn, they’re not cheap.  And CL guitar lessons seem to be ALL about the cheap.)

Getting back to the story, he demanded to know how much of my time was spent teaching, and whether I was a real full-time musician.  I responded to his e-mail as tactfully as I could, addressing my credentials and trying to determine what I wanted to learn.  He responded with a lengthy e-mail that included demands for justifying my price because, “I only want to study with the best.”  and he needed to figure out if I am “the best”.

Now the “best” anything, in terms of artistic expression, is a term that makes me uncomfortable.  I do happen to be the best teacher in the Scott Collins teaching method and style.  In that style and method of teaching, you wont find anyone who teaches better than me. Now, am I the best teacher for you?  I don’t know.  I have been for some students, but I can’t line up 30 people and say, “I’m better than all those people” because I am only the best at what I do and conveying information to people in my manner.

Despite being really put off by his approach,  I pushed the topic a bit and asked about his current skill set and what he was trying to do.  He explained that he was not a guitarist, but that he was planning on buying a guitar soon. While he didn’t play any other instruments, he was going to play guitar because he had really long fingers and knew that he could play it very well in a short period of time. Hence his need for the best teacher, because he needed someone who would help him unleash the awesome untapped divine talent that had been bestowed to him in his teens.

In other words, I spent 45 minutes writing thoughtful carefully worded responses intended to clarify, but ultimately justifying my skill set to a completely ignorant person who knew nothing about guitar and didn’t even play, but had a LOT of strong opinions about what I did.

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Save yourself some time and energy.

As musicians, it’s common to get worked up over people’s opinions about what we do.

I’m not saying that all listeners are uninformed.  I’ve had people who happened to have listened to a lot of music deeply offer really insightful observations to me about what they liked or didn’t like about various things.  They didn’t know jargon, but they knew what they were talking about in terms of conveying their aesthetic.

What I am saying is that if the opinion you’re listening to (or more likely reading) is uninformed, that engaging that opinion is generally a time-suck.  You can try to inform the  person expressing the opinion, which takes time (and the right person willing to listen to other opinions) or you can walk away.

It’s easy to get entangled into flamed threads or comment sections to contribute an opinion, but if you’re trying to explain to a non-musician why musicians should be compensated.  You’re wasting time that’s better spent making a good piece of art to sell to them instead.

Thanks for reading!

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p.s. I’ve mentioned it before, but that Indie Musician Wake Up Call Kindle book is a cheap $1.99 insight into some of the issues covered here ; )