A Few Connor McGregor Quotes To Consider

Right now some of you might be reading this and thinking,

“Oh Geez…what is up with this guy and MMA?  I just want to play guitar.”

But to me they’re related.  Completely utterly and totally.

Because what it takes to get on a stage and improvise is also what it takes to get in a ring with someone who wants nothing more than to knock or choke you out.

You have to prepare endlessly and ruthlessly and get yourself to the best possible place you can be in and even then, in your absolute prime, you might get caught and KO’d.

The fighters who quit at that point are the ones who look at the match and say, “All that work was for nothing.”  They’re wed to an outcome.

The fighters who stick it out are the ones who are wed to the process.  They know that sometimes you have a good night and sometimes you have a bad night but if your training and preparation is excellent, then there’s a likelihood that even on a bad night you might be better than your opponent is on a good night.

When asked, “Why would you post something about Connor McGregor after he just lost a fight?”  the above is the answer.  Everyone loses a fight.  Everyone gets knocked down but the question is what is it that motivates you to get back up again?

“There’s no talent here, this is hard work…This is an obsession. Talent does not exist, we are all equals as human beings. You could be anyone if you put in the time. You will reach the top, and that’s that. I am not talented, I am obsessed.”

and (Re: the Jose Aldo 13 second KO)

“To the naked eye it was 13 seconds, but to my team and my family it has been a lifetime of work to get to that 13 seconds.”

I’m going to be posting a lengthy description about what it really means to practice something as that relates to both short term skill acquisition and long term mastery.  It may provide you some solace that most people know nothing about practicing, because most people do the same thing over and over, make very little progress and assume that because they put in the time that they know how to do it.

And I know this because I’ve been there.  Heck, I spent most of my life there!  I’ve now been playing guitar for most of my life and I’m STILL confronting the differences between what I think and what I know.

A recent story from a recent gig

Last Friday, I played a gig with Korisoron.  It was our usual repeating gig with a big difference – we had a special flamenco trio playing with us and as my wife was the dancer, I wanted to make sure it went well.  (If you live in the capital region of New York and you’re looking for Flamenco dance lessons or someone to dance for your show you can find her here!)

So I was running around a lot.  There was a lot of pre show and packing and set up and I didn’t get to warm up before I played.

In the OLDE days, I would have an entire ritual that I’d go through running scales and whatnot trying to get my hands ready.  Eventually I figured out that those gigs never worked well.  The gigs I played the best were ones where I was very lightly wamed up and not thinking about it too much.

Instead of running scales, I’ll play parts of songs or, in this case, pick a slow tune to start of the set and warm up over a song or two.  By the second tune I was largely good to go.

Is that a strategy I’d recommend for other people?  Absolutely not.  It worked for me in that context because I’ve already put the work in.  The work happens in the shed.  If the prep is done then it’s just a matter of going out an executing the best you can.

In my experience there is no cookie cutter formula to gigs where you’re improvising a lot other than being able to gauge the situation, making yourself as comfortable as possible and working from there.  As a kid, i got frostbite in my hands and feet and now even on days with mild weather my hands need extra time to warm up.  If it’s a hot gig with a lot of sweat I have to make other adjustments for my hands.  If I’m in a room where I can’t hear that well – I have to adjust again.

That kind of self-awareness happens over years of playing and learning how you respond to things.  Of getting to the point where you know what works and what doesn’t for you.

If you put the work in, then 90% of what happens in the ring, on the stage, is mental.  IF YOU PUT THE WORK IN.  That’s an important clarifier I’ve seen a lot of people talk a good talk about the mental game and fall apart on stage because they thought something they didn’t know.

“To the naked eye it was 13 seconds, but to my team and my family it has been a lifetime of work to get to that 13 seconds.”

To the untrained ear, an improvised solo is just magic notes from some mystic place that flow out over a verse or a chorus.  To those in the know, it’s a lifetime of work to pull those notes from a very concrete place to then make that moment sing.

In the next post, I plan to outline a specific practice strategy for how I get something done on a deadline – but in the meantime I hope you’ll consider a few points.

  • You can’t get anything of long term value without putting in the work for it.
  • Focus on the process not just to the outcome.
  • It’s not just about mindless work.  Learn what works best for you and use that knowledge to make better gains in what you’re working on.
  • Talent is just practice in disguise.

Thanks for reading!

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For those of you in NYC this Friday (3/11/16) KoriSoron is opening for Persian Tar and Setar virtuoso Sahba Motallebi at le poisson rouge – 155 Bleecker Street.  Doors at 6:30.  Music at 7:30.  $15 in advance.  $20 day of show.  More information on the Facebook event page here!

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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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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A Lesson On The Lightbulb Moment From Andy Kaufman

What the heck does Gilbert Godfried have to do with playing guitar?

As many of you know, a key interest of mine involves exploring things that interest me and then adapting them to things that I do.

(I talk about how critical I think this is to developing an individual voice in this article (linked here) which manages to reference Ludwig Wittgenstein and my awkward exit from the guitar major program at my undergraduate institution all in same article.)

One thing I’ve been listening to every week has been the “Gilbert Godfried Amazing Colossal Podcast” (you can find it on iTunes or here).  Be forewarned while it is generally NSFW (the Danny Thomas stories alone are not suitable for any location outside of Gomorrah) – Gilbert and co-host Frank Santopadre’s encyclopedic knowledge of the golden age of television and film is endlessly fascinating and (to me at least) endlessly entertaining.

Recently the show featured Bob Zmuda, the comedian who started comic relief, was a writer for (and co-conspirator with) Andy Kaufman and often subbed for Andy as one of Andy’s most despised charaters – Tony Clifton.  On the show Zmuda talked a lot about the early days with Andy and revealed this story which sparked the fire for this blog post.

It appears that Andy was attending a two year college (“Grahm Junior in Boston – it’s not there anymore and it was the only one he could get into”) and was smitten with another student at the school.  She was in a bind and, having had another act back out at the last minute, asked Andy if he’d ever done stand up.  “Sure”, he said, “When I was like 11”. (Andy had been performing since he was 9 years old.)  She asked him to do it and at first he was resistant to the idea because he didn’t want to do the same set that he did as a kid.  Finally, he relented and was shocked that the audience loved the set.  It was the light bulb moment for Kaufman and Zmuda went so far to say, “Without that (moment) – you never would have had Andy Kaufman.”

So what’s the lesson here?

I think there are several.

1.  He had guts.  Not having been at the event, I can’t speak with certainty, but I think that it worked for Andy because he did everything all in and completely earnestly.  I think that Andy Kaufman was one of the few people who could pull off making an audience buy into the idea of an adult doing an infantile act without it being creepy.   What was great was that he had the guts to be willing to take a risk and look foolish but had the sincerity to (somehow pull it off).

2.  He saw opportunity.  It takes a person of vision to see beyond an audience reaction and see opportunity.  I think where he succeeded artistically was in recognizing how to leverage his delivery with material and ultimately create a completely unique voice artistically.

3.  He took it all the way.  I think Andy’s genius was in taking his ideas and pushing the boundary of them to the point of breaking.  Just as important,  every when he did break it he continued on and rolled with the punches.

You never know when or where a light bulb moment is going to come from but it’s never going to happen if you don’t step out of your comfort zone and leave yourself open to experience something new. 

It’s like the Tom Robbins quote,

“I show up in my writing room at approximately 10 A.M. every morning without fail. Sometimes my muse sees fit to join me there and sometimes she doesn’t, but she always knows where I’ll be.”

(The podcast also features a story about the lengths Jim Carey went to to get the Kaufman role in Man in the Moon which is pretty much a master class in what it takes to be competitive at that level in Hollywood (or anywhere).)

That’s it for now!  As always, thanks for reading!

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To Stay In For The Long Haul You Have To Play The Long Game

“It’s been a long long time”

Hi everyone,

As I write this I’m just getting over food poisoning that I got on Christmas day that has now kept me down for 3+ days.  The odd thing is that an experience like that can really get one centered.  When things are going bad and someone says, “Well you’ve always got your health!” it’s easy to be dismissive but there’s something about being doubled over in your bathroom for days on end trying to find any kind of relief that really makes a lot of the hubris of what really amounts to little more than obstacles and daily annoyances fall away.

So now that I’m at a stage where I can focus for 2-3 hour blocks on things I thought I’d get this long overdue post out.  First some overdue clean up:

GuitArchitecture cross polenation

Readers of this blog may dig a few posts that have gone up on my other site, GuitArchitecture more recently.

This post – talks about a musical director gig I got this fall and how it illustrates the 4 steps that need to be taken to to get any gig.

This post talks about being in the moment in life and performance.

This post – talks about how you’re not going to see another Jimi Hendrix (and why that’s not a bad thing).

And finally, I have a yearly post on GuitArchitecture I post on how now to repeat the mistakes of the past that you can find here, but I wanted to talk about a new project I’m working on and about the thinking behind it may help you.

LRAN

LRAN Test

This is a tentative logo for LRAN (Local-Regional Arts Networking), a Facebook page and podcast series that I’ll be doing a soft launch for in 2015 with a specific focus on interviewing artists, and small businesses associated with any kind of arts affiliation (promotion, grant funding,  business development, etc.)

There are several reasons I chose the name I did:

1. While I’ll be interviewing primarily people in my own region, my hope is that the information will be applicable to artists working in any scene.  So, for example, a podcast name like “518 arts networking” limits the audience at the get go because people outside my area code either will have no idea what that means or will never listen because they assume that the podcast isn’t for them.

2. It’s Local-Regional because I really believe that any kind of long term survival requires local and regional support.

3.  It’s Arts for two reasons.  A.  because I don’t want to limit it to any one type of artist (or arts business) as say a gallery owner might have an insight or perspective that could help a local band book better shows and B. because music is really in a funding ghetto in the arts world.  To see what I mean if you look at any arts grant page or residency page you’ll see the percentage of grants and residencies for visual artists versus performing musicians.  Usually, musicians have to sneak in under the guise of a title like “composer” to even qualify for funding.

4.  Networking.  Because I think it’s important to view networking as a verb instead of a static noun.  (I have some related posts about this idea “How not to Network” part 1 and part 2)

Get the focus off the small-small

When I told a friend of mine about the idea he said, “So wait a second.  You’re going to do a podcast that essentially gives free advertising to different people.  What do you get out of it?”

And here’s a paradox.  “What’s in it for me?” is both the small and the large world view.

In the small world view, “What’s in it for me?” means passing up opportunities because you’re more concerned with what you believe you’re due versus what you’re willing to do (Check out my post Due Versus Do for a step by step analysis how I’m applying this to my project with Farzad Golpeygani –  KoriSoron)

Yes, everyone is self serving on some level.  In the case of this blog (and the GuitArchitecture blog), I spend a LOT of time writing posts (hence my long break here for a while) about my own process to help people with their own learning curve.  I do this to give back, but I also do this to establish myself as someone who knows what he’s doing so that when I release a book, (like An Indie Music Wake Up Call) people are more likely to read it.  On GuitArchitecture, I wrote a lot of lesson columns to help people but it also promotes my books that I sell there.

“What’s in it for me?” can also be long term thinking as well.  Because for the audience or for any kind of collaboration – that’s their question to you.  “I already have too many things competing for my attention why should I give it to you.”

“Because I have a pretty song” will fail.  “Because I have a song that’s going to become your go to song for the next year” is going to get more people to invest time in what you’re doing.

It’s about what you do and how it affects other people.

It’s about becoming the “go-to” for someone.

So getting back to the new podcast, I help promote the scene and people in the scene but I also start making contacts and building a (virtual) rolodex of “go-to” people to call when I need that thing.

We are trained to look for immediacy.

But immediacy is a short term game that we have to endure to play for the long game.

Players in the long game look to the horizon.  How does what I’m doing fit into my 5-10-20 year plan?

Long term players work in the now for results later.  Mind you, it’s a balance.  You can’t look too far into the future if you don’t have a roof over your head now, but don’t lose the forest in the tree.

2015 is going to be all about the “we”.  This quote from a post Do you want to be right or do you want to be paid?

Sometimes you have to move past who is right and who is wrong and get to the central idea of weas in coming up with an answer to how do we both get what we need out of this?

Don’t worry if you can’t answer that question right now.  The industry can’t either.  It’s about having a game plan and adapting (i.e. figuring it out) as you go along.

I hope 2015 is your best year yet and I hope this helps (or at least entertains you) in some way.

As always, thanks for reading.

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PS – if you’re in the Capital Region of NY, KoriSoron has a bunch of shows coming up in the weeks ahead!  (you can check those dates out here.)

9 Things Kate Bush’s Recent Record Setting Album Sales Can Teach You About The Music Industry

Kate Bush is on a roll.

Her recent 22 date sold out series (which marked her first return to performing her music live in 35 years!) is by all accounts and artistic and financial triumph.  But it did something even more remarkable:

Last Sunday she was the first woman to have EIGHT albums chart at the same time.

(You can read the full story here).

Even more impressive give that all of the charted discography was more than 25 years old (with the exception of 2011’s 50 Words for Snow)!

#6 – The Whole Story (1986)

#9 – The Hounds of Love (1985)

#20 – 50 Words For Snow (2011)

#24 – The Kick Inside (1978)

#26 – The Sensual World (1989)

#37 – The Dreaming (1982)
#38 – Never For Ever (1980)

#40 – Lionheart (1978)

The Take Aways

This story has everything you need to know about the music business, book business and any other business where you are creating something that other people buy.

1. Real fans take a LONG time to cultivate.  

2. Fans support artists not products.  

3.  People buy recordings (and go to shows) because of how they make them feel.

4. There is value in scarcity.

5. If you exceed fan’s expectations, those fans will become acolytes who will try to convert everyone around them.

6. Word of mouth marketing is the most powerful force on the planet.

7. There will never be another Kate Bush – Kate Bush was a unique combination of talent, songwriting and Major Label resources to market her product.

8. There will never be another YOU. Do YOU to the best of your ability. Be honest in your art. Make great art. Make great fans. Show the cavalcade of mediocre crap hiding on the charts how it’s really done.

9. Sometimes the good people do come out on top.

As I write this – every major label in the world is trying to reach Kate Bush. I hope she’s enjoying a fine wine and laughing as she says no.

Here’s a classic track of hers that is a great reminder to keep running up that hill and chasing whatever it is you need to do.

As always, thanks for reading!

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Strong Opinions Are Like Strong Odors Or Speak Softly And Carry A Thick Skin

Hi everyone! In keping up with a semi-regular output, I thought I’d share another excerpt from my Amazon Kindle book, Selling it Versus Selling Out which may have a perspective that’s helpful for you.
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If you’re a musician, it’s easy to forget that you probably listen to music differently than non-musicians (i.e. most people).  That’s not to say that other people don’t listen to music passionately. It’s more about the fact that the number of times you need to listen to a piece of music to learn it is substantially more than it takes to merely appreciate it.  Learning parts to a song (guitar parts, vocal parts, etc) and getting those parts right requires a learned type of obsessive attention to detail that is alien to many casual listeners.

Consequently, you may find that you have a number of strong opinions as a result of familiarity with the subject matter.  You might know why you like a particular act or musician that your friends can’t articulate.  If you’re the type of person to strongly focus on one thing, you may be prone to carrying that focus over into other areas.

  • If you do something a lot that you care about, you’re likely to have a strong opinion about it.
  • If you’ve studied something intensely, you might have a strong opinion about it.
  • If you have a certain code of conduct that you adhere to and other people tell you to chill out; you might have some terse words for them.

Strong opinions are like strong odors.  Your friends won’t tell you that you’re rank, but your phone won’t ring either.

People generally meet strong odors and opinions with strong reactions rather than indifference (particularly in regards to opinions as they often feel threatened by strong opinions that aren’t their own).

My advice is to start building some calluses.

The difference between strong opinions and odors is that getting rid of an odor is much easier than getting rid of your opinion.

The good news for artists is that people are looking for strong opinions.  Audiences are moved by people who have a need to express something so strong that they need to physically manifest it.  I have collected music for years.  I have 122 gigabytes of mp3s from CDs I converted.  The last I checked, this is about 3 months of continual music without repeats…and  I still look for new music.  Even though I could never mark out the time to continually listen to all the music I already have!  I still look to be excited by what other people are doing, and many other people do as well.

People searching for something new is generally the market you want to reach as an emerging artist.

One problem many symphonies face is the demographic that had traditionally supported them is older and shrinking.  On one hand, showcasing new music (like the video game live tours) brings symphonic textures to a new audience.  The problem is that audience doesn’t want to pay $100 to hear Bach in a concert hall (which is something the people who are willing to pay that kind of money often want to hear at a symphony).  The people with money who go to the symphony generally want to hear the tried and true pieces that moved them in that (or a very similar) symphonic hall years ago.

Symphonies have a real battle in balancing contemporary programs with safe gentle pieces that won’t rattle the dentures of anyone sitting in the expensive seats.  Given the astounding production costs of maintaining an orchestra and performance hall outside financing (underwriting, etc) becomes increasingly important.  Even with fundraising, many orchestras have to tighten the belt and turn to alternative revenue streams and more diverse programming to try to get the bodies in the seats.

And now a word from Mr. Ives

You’llll have to search to find a non-vhs copy, but I highly recommend that you see a film called, A good dissonance like a man, which is a biopic about Charles Ives.  In addition to some excellent acting, the script is based on accurate historical research and comes across as a telling view into the life of a true maverick (Before people scoff at the term “maverick” – real mavericks almost never refer to themselves that way and instead let history make that distinction for them. Charles Ives was a true maverick.)

Ives also had a lot to say both as an artist and as a human being.  His comments below regarding consonance (versus dissonance) predate some sentiments expressed in this essay.

“… Consonance is a relative thing (just a nice name for a nice habit). It is a natural enough part of music, but not the whole, or only one. The simplest ratios, often called perfect consonances, have been used so long and so constantly that not only music, but musicians and audiences, have become more or less soft. If they hear anything but doh-me-soh or a near cousin, they have to be carried out on a stretcher.” from Charles E. Ives: Memos

Artistically, there’s no value in being all things to all people

Everyone wants to be accepted, and some opinions and ideas are confrontational and polarizing by their very nature, but by watering down your opinion, you also water down your message.

Watering down your message

(to paraphrase another Ives quote);

disappoints the artist, it disappoints the art and ultimately it disappoints the audience.

This isn’t to say that you should never compromise.  While some amount of compromise is necessary just to be human (much less an artist) you should recognize the difference between compromising and selling out.

When that little voice in your head says that people are uncomfortable with what you’re doing, you should take a long look to see if you’re doing something wrong or if other people just need thicker skin.

That’s a really difficult conclusion to come to objectively, but it’s certainly one worth investigating.

If you like this post, you may like two of the Kindle e-books I currently have out, An Indie Musician Wake Up Call and Selling It Versus Selling Out.

Is Music Dying?

[Please note: This is a re-post from guitarchitecture.org]

(Before we start – a quick plug for the BuckMoon Arts Festival)

As a reminder to anyone who happens to be in the upstate NY area, I’ll be performing live accompaniment for a staged reading of The Exonerated as part of the BuckMoon Arts Festival on July 12-13, and leading a series of panel discussions with working artists and industry experts on how artists can monetize their art.  You can read about both of those here.

In doing some research for the panel discussions I was listening to the CD Baby podcasts this week and I caught up on two interesting, and somewhat related stories to the panel.

1.  Apple’s Eddie Cue announced that Apple bought Beats because “Music Is Dying”

2.  Indie artist Shannon Curtis came on to promote her new book, “No Booker, No Bouncer, No Bartender: How I Made $25K On A 2-Month House Concert Tour (And How You Can Too)”

Is Music Dying?

I’ve never seen anyone at Apple make any kind of negative statement about the music industry, which is why iTunes Eddie Cue’s quote is somewhat telling:

“Music is dying,” said Cue. “It hasn’t been growing. You see it in the number of artists. This past year in iTunes, it’s the smallest number of new releases we’ve had in years.”

As quoted from  http://readwrite.com/2014/05/28/apple-beats-eddy-cue-jimmy-iovine#awesm=~oHLbiOYNIxpYCB

My guess is that he’s talking about the smallest number of major label releases, as there is no shortage of independent music being released.  and that might be true. A recent Variety article entitled, Music Sales Continue to Plummet for Albums and Digital Downloads, brought up the following statistics comparing sales for the first 1/2 year of 2014 with sales from 2013.

  • Total album sales (any format) dropped nearly 15%.
  • Sales of individual digital tracks were down by 13%
  • Streaming was up 42% (but streaming revenues for music are almost nothing)
  • Vinyl sales were up 40%, with Jack White’s Lazaretto selling over 48,000 units.
  • The year’s best seller is the Frozen soundtrack which has sold over 2.6 million units.

As the article’s author, Christopher Morris put it:

“To put the steepness of the decline in perspective: Just 18 months ago, Adele’s Grammy-winning “21” – the bestselling album of 2011 and 2012 — finished the latter year with sales in excess of 10 million. It is conceivable that such a phenomenon will not be seen in the industry again.”

In contrast, check out the story about Indie Artist Shannon Curtis who went from playing clubs to making $25,000 on a 2-month tour of house concerts.

So, is music dying?

Well….music itself isn’t dying (that quote is just silly) but music making is being altered in a way that professional musicians are not able to make a living at it with traditional means. The traditional major label model has moved from a terminal status to life support and musicians are having to find ways to try to make money with more revenue streams than ever, that pay less money than ever, with more people competing in the market forever.

Shannon Curtis was able to bring in some money doing house concert shows to audiences who wanted to see her in a non-traditional venue (but I’m guessing she’ll make more money from her e-book from musicians looking for a new angle than she ever did from her concert tour!)  But the real problem most new artists face is that culturally we’ve created a Vine audience with a short attention span.  One that demands immediate gratification and doesn’t want to have to wait to experience something.

Having said that, people still want to connect with things on a deeper level, and the artists that can weather the storm and actually touch people – consistently in an honest emotional way, are the ones who will be building a career and those artists are going to face even bigger challenges over the next 10 years.  Perhaps that struggle will make some great art.

Back to the panel prep!  As always, thanks for reading!

Be Yourself And Become The Curve

Some Advice from Marty Friedman

Marty Friedman (ex-Cacophony, ex-Megadeth, current full time Guitar Hero) has a new album out (and a new signature PRS guitar) and so he’s making the promotional rounds with a number of interviews in American publications.  He had a great response to a question that really resonated with me.  When asked about advice he had for players who want to develop chops, he answered the question at a much deeper level

“The best piece of advice is this: Once you find something in your playing that sounds good to you, go head over heels in that direction.  Developing enough chops to play like me or Jeff Beck or anybody is not the goal.  The goal is to acquire chops to develop yourself to a point where you’re going in a direction that you like.  Once you do that, you’re halfway home because if you have your own unique direction than no one can touch you.  Ever since I started playing, I’ve gone completely in my own direction.  The flip side is, I could never be in a Led Zeppelin cover band or something because I would suck at copying Jimmy Page or anyone else.  The point is, if you really want to grow as a guitarist, find something that you dig about yourself, exploit the living hell out of it and continue developing that forever.”

– July 2014 Guitar Player interview

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Don’t Follow The Curve – Adapt To The Curve

One mistake I see some businesses (this includes musicians and any other entrepreneurs so yes – this applies to you dear reader) make is to try to capitalize on a popular trend.  Here’s the cycle (and thus the dilemma) with this approach.

  • The trend creator starts off with a disadvantage.  They have to get people to buy into something new.  Even if it’s something familiar, getting it in the hands of people (and getting the money out of those people’s hands) is time consuming and/or expensive.
  • If the trend creator becomes the trend setter, then the trend creator has a potential slam dunk because they’re in the position to fully capitalize on it.  But what often happens is that a previous trend creator (who is now an established trend setter) sees a new trend and is in a better position to capitalize on it than the trend creator.  If you ever watch Shark Tank, you’ll see investors wrestle with this idea with entrepreneurs fairly consistently, “There’s nothing proprietary about this.  What would stop (insert major industry player here) from taking this idea, mass producing it and crushing you?  Nothing.”
  • Years ago I heard a great piece of advice that I took to heart, “By the time you read about a hot new trend in any print publication – it’s no longer a hot trend.”   That was true 20 years ago – and it’s even more true now.

Trying to capitalize on a trend is a dead end because you are rarely in the position to make  it work for you.  In the 1980’s, Yngwie Malmsteen was a trend setter for neo-classical guitar.  There were a bajillion guitarists who tried to ape that style.  The ones that just played that style recorded one or two records and were never heard from again.

The one’s who took those technical ideas and applied them to other areas are among those who kept making music and developed audiences for what they did.  They adapted to the curve instead of following it and in doing so, became their own curves.

(Incidentally, the one neo-classical player from the 80’s who’s still consistently recording and on tour as a solo artist is Yngwie Malmsteen and people are still copying him.)

Trend creation is hard but trying to capitalize on someone else’s trend and make a living from it on the ground level is infinitely harder.  You may want to remember that the next time your fellow band mate comes to rehearsal and says, “Maybe we should write a Black Keys (or whoever else comes to mind) type of song.” ; )

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

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Differentiating Between Action and Change

Physician Heal Thyself

I was reading an e-book on my iPhone the other day and hit the library tab by mistake which revealed every book in my account.

Since a lot of authors will give books away to try to get reviews (a profoundly unsuccessful tactic that I tried myself once) – there are a number of titles there.  Skimming through them  I thought about the difference between taking action and making changes.

Taking Action is often a cycle that is more of a stationary bike than anyone would care to admit.  For many of us, the cycle works like this:

  • You realize that something is wrong and needs fixing.  Perhaps you’re in a dead-end job, or you need to lose weight or you need to figure out how to get your product out in the world.
  • Realizing that you have a problem – you decide to take action to fix that problem.  You do research and find that someone else also had this problem and came up with a solution – and their book is only $3.99!  You pick it up, and (if you’re really motivated) you read a chapter and perhaps have a few “a-ha!” moments and start to carve out your plan.
  • More likely you pick it up and go make yourself a coffee or a tea to sit down and read it and then get distracted by what someone posted on Facebook and then never get back to it.

I saw (what I may have mistakenly remembered was a) TED Talk that advised people to not discuss projects at the preliminary level with other people because their likelihood to complete them would diminish.  The speaker cited a study that showed that discussing future projects with other people created the same chemical reaction in the brain as actually completing them.  It’s why some people get super psyched about a plan they’re going to enact, have their friends tell them it’s brilliant and then there’s no fire the following day to complete it.

From personal experience, I can tell you that it’s easy to confuse buying something with doing something because by buying something you’re taking action – which is what you said you’d do.

Taking action doesn’t necessarily mean making change.

Change comes from consistency.

  • Consistency means working on something repeatedly (and often daily) until it becomes an integrated part of you.

Change comes from focus.

  • Focus is a skill.  It has to be developed and nurtured.
  • Focus is easier to maintain when options are limited.
  • It is much easier to sit down and focus on a book if it’s the only book in the queue and not have a full queue and have your energy divided between which other books there you should read.

Some people are autodidactic.  They can read a book, assimilate and integrate the material and take immediate action.

Not everyone works that way though and the irony is that people who are not naturally autodidactic will often read a book, not take action on the book, assume that something must be wrong with them because they can see that the material book is working for other people and then solve the problem by buying another book.

Your book will not solve your problem on it’s own.

The actions you take from doing the things talked about in the book however, may.

So please, stop reading this post and start making the change you want to be.

But also please come back – I’ll have a lot more material up to help stay whatever course you happen to be on.

As always, thanks for reading!

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