Preparation H(ome)

Hi everyone,

As I write this, I’m taking a quick pause from working on finishing up a few releases for the end of the year including tracking material for my solo acoustic debut which is happening in a few weeks.

People ask me why I use studios rather than tracking things at home – and it really depends on context.

  • In bands I like the live chemistry of people playing together at the same time.  It’s one thing if you have a separate room set up to actually track in – but my house is small enough that this option isn’t a possibility.
  • For this particular recording, I’m using my first guitar to track it.  It’s not electro-acoustic and the feasibility of making the home recording environment quiet enough to record it isn’t feasible.

If you ARE going into the studio – time is money so you need to have as many ducks in a row as you can.  This doesn’t mean that you need to spend a lot of money but you need to get as much prepped before hand as possible.

Here’s my low budget solution to prepping for an acoustic recording.

IMG_0173.JPG

(The coffee is optional for most people but completely necessary for me).

I set up a Zoom recorder I have with some headphones and play through / record the pieces.  That’s it.  You could use a laptop mike and listen on speakers.  You’re not listening for pristine audio quality.  SOME of the things I’m listening for are:

  • Timing
  • Note quality (is every note clear?)
  • Articulation
  • Mood / feel (is it capturing the mood the song is supposed to convey?)

 

The idea is that by the time you go and record the pieces you’ve already recorded them dozens of times at home and have a solid idea of how it’s going to sound from a performance perspective.  Trust me – there’s nothing worse than getting to a studio and realizing that you can’t pull off the thing you’ve been working on because what sounded okay to you at home sounds like merde now and fixing it will take more time.

One other important thing I’ll bring up here is that as you listen to the pieces try to imagine someone ELSE has recorded them.  This can help in dropping personal baggage that can get associated with art and instead allows you to focus on what’s really important (i.e. making the best work you can).

Whether it’s in the studio or the stage – the battle is generally won or lost based on the work you do at home in the shed.  Preparation is a key to performance.  Practice it the way you want to play it and the way you want it heard.  Most importantly, get your best work out into the world that represents what you do.

I hope this helps!

As always, thanks for reading!

-SC

And So…The Migration Begins…

First some “old” news:

I went to the CD Baby DIY conference in Nashville and had a really good time and came back with a lot of actionable information.  I also came back with a nasty cold that almost a week later I’m still getting over.

Nashville was a really cool town.  I went with zero expectations but was still surprised at the demographic, and just how much non-country  stuff was going on there (writing, art, film an TV production, music, etc.). There was definitely an interesting vibe going on there and it was all I could do to not leave Carter Vinatage Guitars with an empty credit card and full hands.  I’m definitely looking forward to getting to spend more time there.

Part of the reason I went there was to help solidify some things I’ve been working on for a while.  That was a resounding success but it also means that I will need to put a lot of work into EXECUTING this year.  With new KoriSoron and Rough Hewn Trio releases out (and new Embe Esti, I Come From the Mountains and a solo release still expected to be out before the end of the year) – this will definitely be a year of executing!

But the goal now is for 2017 to be a year to put a foundation in to build upon in 2018 onward.  And with that…

Here’s the actual news:

I’m going to be launching a new website.  Ok.  Full disclosure – Actually, I DID already launch a new website – there’s just very little stuff up on it.  You can check it out here:

scottcollinsguitar.com

It’ll focus more on my teaching, performances and composition and have direct links to purchasing more material of mine.  Right now – there’ nothing there but ultimately – it will serve a more specific function (and a more specific audience) than the material on this blog.

I will still be posting things here.  For example, I have a whole new series that I’m putting into production and that will start an aggressive You Tube campaign and the material there will benefit people who come here for playing tips.

Everything has a time and a place.  It’s time now to put on my entrepreneurial cap and, at a minimum, enter the late 20th century.

There’s going to be a lot of cool material there – I hope you’ll drop by!

As always – Thanks for reading!

Scott

[Reality] “..Check One Two What Is This?”

My apologies to any regular readers of this blog as I haven’t posted in a while.  I’ve been continuing the research I’ve been doing and involved in a few new projects including forming and writing material for a new loosely Afro Beat / Mail / North African inspired project (tentatively called “Embe Esti”) and working really hard on the final steps of a Middle Eastern / North African film festival (Festival Cinema Invisible (FCI) that now, several years after starting being involved in it, I find myself the Artistic Director of. (For those of you in the Upstate New York area, you can find out more about our 2-day / 58 film festival at Proctor’s GE Theater in Schenectady NY April 22nd and 23rd here.)

But mostly, I haven’t posted anything because, frankly, while I’ve had a lot of thoughts over the last few months,  I haven’t had a pressing need to say anything.

With Allan Holdsworth’s passing I have a thought worth sharing, although perhaps not the most predictable one.

If you aren’t familiar with Holdsworth’s name I’d simply recommend Googling it and checking out any performance videos of him. It may even be understating it to say he’s the most important fusion guitarist in history.

The thing that immediately strikes me, on watching (or listening to) any of his playing again, is not his incredible harmonic mastery, or his other worldly fluidity, touch, phrasing or tone.

It’s the singularity of what he was doing.

No one really sounded like him.  Even now, there are a number of people that have copped elements of his style (like his legato technique, or his vibrato arm phrasing) but, like Shawn Lane (a player who said that his attending a U.K. concert as a kid and seeing Holdsworth was a watershed moment in developing his own singular guitar style), he developed a deeply personal voice that others could do impressions of, but never really master.

Like Lane, he also died with very real financial issues.  Consider for a moment a quote from this obituary:

“No official cause of death has been disclosed. In a Sunday afternoon email, Holdsworth’s publicist, Dan Perloff, told the Union-Tribune: ‘I talked to his daughter this morning and she told me that his roommate called her and her sister to tell them that Allan hadn’t come out of his room in a very long time, and when they knocked down the door they found him dead…’”

Holdsworth was 70 years old.  The most important fusion guitarist ever and also one of THE most important and influential electric guitarists in history with a career that spanned almost 50 years and saw 12 solo releases – was living with a roommate in what I’m purely and wholly speculating was necessity rather than choice – presumably to make ends meet.  Googling “Holdsworth Yamaha” in an attempt to remember what gear he was using turned up a whole series of gear sold for him on Reverb.com in the last two years. He made no bones about this in the past.  Many of his interviews over the last 30 years included at least some reference to the financial challenges he had in making a living by making his music.  (This article from 1986 seems to be no less accurate in 2016).

I mention this for several reasons: (Note: This is not in any way a judgement of Holdsworth as a person or as an artist.  Artistically, as a musician, I really think he’s untouchable and everything I’ve seen seems to indicate that he was a really good guy).

1.  Talent alone will not save you.  There are still people who believe that if they just do work hard that solely on the basis of excellence that they will rise to the top and receive popular acceptance.  While Holdsworth rose to the top of his playing, he never experienced the mainstream recognition that he deserved.

2.  (and this is the more controversial and likely the more important take away) There is sometimes a cost to being the first in anything substantial.

Holdsworth was so far ahead of the game that I don’t think that many people understood what he was doing.  (Also true to some extent of Shawn Lane).  Players after him copped elements of his style and were able to make it more accessible to listeners and received more mainstream (i.e. short term and financial) “success.”  Holdsworth made it into the history book, but that in and of itself doesn’t pay the bills.

The Citizen Kane example:

A friend of mine saw Citizen Kane for the first time in the last year and told me that it was the most over-rated movie in history and they didn’t see what the big deal was. That reaction makes sense to me watching it now.  To “get it” I think you’d need to watch it in context.  If you watch other movies made at the same time, you’ll see that this film was completely different from anything else released at the time.    There are film making and writing devices used that were never employed before that film.  What happened (eventually) was the film was so influential that what was the avante-garde became part of the regular film making vocabulary.  It’s easy to not get it now because so much of what you know as regular film making devices had its origins in that film. (And coincidentally, it’s the film that simultaneously launched his career and started it’s long decline).

For me, it’s the something similar with Holdsworth except that, as guitarists, we still haven’t caught up to fully integrating that into the guitar vocabulary.

When you’re at the start of something truly new – you get to blaze a path but the reality is that it may be a path that others find success on.

Holdsworth made the music he wanted but paid a terrible economic price for much of his career (by other means of example see some thoughts from Holdsworth himself on how far south a crowdsoucing campaign for a recent release went behind the scenes here (and/or as an alternative view, Gary Husband’s perception of the same events here)).

But there’s also a tremendous psychological toll being truly first takes as well because as Charlie Sexton once put it, “The beats so lonely – I’ll bet it’s lonely at the top.”

With each attempt to move forward can come crippling self doubt about the quality and/or validity of what you’re doing.  It’s Nikolai Tesla being right when the rest of the world is wrong, and you need unbelievable callouses and self driven habits to overcome those obstacles to maintain any kind of inertia.

Earlier I spoke of Holdsworth’s voice on his instrument – a magnificent, nuanced and soulful voice that could move listeners with anything from expansive ethereal chording to angry snarling cries that seemed to burrow into, rub up against and burst out of the chords weaving around him.  But the irony was where everyone else heard magnificent beauty –  he heard potential mixed with self doubt.  He heard music that was almost good enough….playing that was almost good enough….  Perhaps it was what drove him to push himself harder, to write new music.  It’s a sign of other issues (fear, self doubt, etc.) and those things can tear you apart.  And yet that is what many people face when they scale the mountain forging their own path – the tools that allow then to ascend the mountain are the same ones that can cause them to fall.

So what does that mean for the rest of us?

There’s a top NYC player I know of who splits a small apartment for his own little corner to practice and see students and create. He has name recognition, cover in trade publications etc – but is cash poor.  That lack of creature comfort is the trade off for living in the city he feels he needs to be in doing what he wants and how he wants to do it.

Increasingly, this is what it means to be a professional musician for most people. Whose couch are you sleeping on?  Is it more important to tour or to eat?

With this in mind I ask the following:

  • What are your priorities?
  • What is important to you? (Hint – the important things in life are the things you do.)
  • What are you willing to do or give up to make the thing that means the most to you in the world happen?

What Holdsworth faced financially was simply ahead of the curve on many other musicians who, in the current gig economy, find themselves making all manner of compromises to make their music free of compromise itself.

If you’re willing to blaze a path, can you do it for the love of following what you feel you absolutely need to do or will you going to get bitter when (or if) others build on your groundbreaking efforts and move themselves forward?

Coda:

As of this writing there’s a Go Fund Me page to help cover Allan’s funeral (and other expenses).  The irony of which is that only two days in has already passed its $20,000 goal and reached over $100,000 (and counting) with 2,570 people contributing.  This is very likely more money that he ever made in any one year (much less in two days) of his career).

I wish he had that kind of financial support consistently throughout his career but I also hope that if he knew that so many people were moved by his music and contributed money it might make Allan happy.  Or at least crack a telling smile.

To one of the greatest guitarists of all time – thank you for blazing the path for the rest of us!

Here’s a clip from 1974 to send you back to the shed:

(Check it out from about 28:00 – or so and trust me – his playing gets more ferocious as he gets older!)

As always, thanks for reading.

-SC

New KoriSoron Release “Triad” Now Available on Band Camp

TRIAD
triad-cd-cover

Just a quick post for readers.  I’m pleased to announce that the new KoriSoron release, Triad, is now available on bandcamp.  (you can find it here.)

The EP has 5 tracks – which include some of the most challenging material that we play.  I don’t like talking up my playing but I’m actually really happy with my playing on a few of the tracks (like Cadineasca (9/16)).

KoriSoron is:

Scott Collins:  Acoustic guitar, loops, effects, ebow

Farzad Golpayegani:  Acoustic guitar and violin

Dean Mirabito:  Percussion

  • The EP was recorded, mixed and mastered  by John Chiara at Albany Audio Associates.
  • Farzad did an original drawing for the release and did all of the graphics and layout.
  • I wrote the tunes on the release except for 75 (Farzad Golpayegani) and Cadineasca (traditional – arranged by Scott Collins and KoriSoron).  All tunes arranged by the band.

We’ll have the release available on other outlets (iTunes, Amazon, etc.) as well.  I’ll put an update in when that happens.

In other news – I have a new electric project that I’m excited about and have more acoustic material coming out this year as well.

(And I mentioned it before but if you like the electric guitar lessons on the blog – you might dig the This Is The Rough Hewn Trio release –

rough-hewn-cover-web

also on Bandcamp.  I’ve plugged it before but I’m psyched to get it out into the world!)

As always, thanks for reading!

-SC

Assumption Junction What’s Your Function?

Guitar Playing is Littered With Assumptions

Many players assume that if they play the same thing over an over again (regardless of focus, analysis / assessment of what is being played and/or increases in difficulty) that somehow the sheer act of repetition will make them better.

My big rant about the 1-2-3-4 exercise is that:

  1. Practiced the way it’s typically taught (straight 16th notes with no phrasing or variation) it’s largely useless as a musical device.  If you play this:
    1234-1st-position
    on a club date for more than a bar or two you’re going to get an eye roll.  Throw it into every solo and regardless of how fast or clean you play it people will be pulling your name off their iPhone.
  2. As a technical development tool most people practice it with terrible fret hand technique and/or poor picking synchronization.  This merely ingrains bad habits that become harder to fix later.
  3. AND (THIS IS THE BIG ONE):  There is an unwritten assumption that practicing this will somehow make you “better” as a guitar player.

The only thing this prepares you for is the crappy Flight of The Bumblebee arrangement that never seems to die in circles of “No…really –  how fast can you play?” question asking.

Having said that, there are skills that you CAN gleen from working on this, if you’re doing it in the right manner.  (I even wrote a 254 page book with examples for how to actually use this idea to really get into the technical and melodic elements of DEEP positional work.)

positional-exploration

Enter a caption

If you’re practicing it verbatim above with a metronome and really paying attention to left and right hand technique it can, if nothing else, reinforce a 1/16th note tempo and give you some technical basis for playing 4-note per string scales.  It may even provide some small amount of ear training for hearing semi-chromatic passages.

So while you can, indirectly, get some hidden benefit from working on this there are simply much more direct and efficient ways to develop each of those areas.

It’s not classical piano

Guitar doesn’t have the benefit of a pedagogical history of something like classical piano which has a very rich history of technical development wed to ever challenging repertoire.  Outside of classical guitar, the history of guitar pedagogy in the 20th century is largely word of mouth.  It’s players who learned licks or ideas through their playing and taught those to other players – often without a real understanding of what’s going on.

We live in a world that’s obsessed with hacks, but you’re maximizing the efficiency of something erroneous you’re just getting someplace bad faster.

From Assumption to Adaptation

Recently, I had to track some solos.  “No problem”, I thought.  It’s a simple harmonic setup so it should be no issue.

However, the solo was based on a pentatonic raga idea using only the notes E, G#, A, B, D.  (E7 add 4).

Trying to create something interesting with a limited note choice really put me on my toes and the first thing that I found out was that some of the intervallic ideas I was going for were not things I was going to be able to improvise cleanly.

This idea was one that was immediately destined for the shed.

shakti-lick-jpeg

While I was initially frustrated, I realized I had a series of assumptions that I was working from.  Namely,

  • I’ve practiced sextuplets
  • I’ve practiced string skipping
  • I’ve practiced wide interval playing

Therefore I “should” somehow be able to roll out of bed and play this lick using all three (and a pentatonic scale I’m not used to) at tempo (about 130 bpm).

The fact is that having worked on all of those things will allow me to get the lick down much faster than otherwise possible now, but without practicing these things together specifically and in this particular context,  I’m not prepared to record them at tempo.

Guitarists in particular seem to work on these kinds of assumptions all of the time (and most of our assumptions are wrong).

If you come up against an obstacle in your playing, I recommend you take a pause and a deep breath or two and really assess what you’re trying to do and what you’ve really done to prepare for it.

This leaves you with 3 options.

  1. Adapt what you can already do
  2. Put the work in to get it under your fingers
  3. Play something else

I’ve used every one of these approaches to get through various road blocks that have come up in my playing and every one of them has been the right answer in one context or another.  The key concept here is to be aware of assumptions when you’re making them and then either discard them when they’re not true or making them part of your (experience based) knowledge if they are true.

Depending on where you are in your learning process a good teacher can really help you get past those obstacles.  If you don’t have one in your area I know one who is available via skype here.

Alright.  Back to the recording!

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

SC

…well…it was a strange weekend… pt 2

In part 1 of this saga, I talked about the lead up to (preparation for) and follow up to the TEDx Schenectady performance I did this past Saturday.  If you have interest in how I prepared for an intensive presentation (and thus how you can as well), you can read that here.

Here in part 2, I’ll talk about goals, perspective, food poisoning and infection with regards to last Sunday.

Oh what a difference a day makes!

Last Sunday I awoke to a perfect day.

A gorgeously stunning sun shiny day.

I was feeling motivated and looking forward to getting a lot done.

I fed the cats, read some things that had been on my to-do list for a while and planned out my to-do for the week over some coffee.  I went down to the local farmers market, got some groceries for the week, ate a spinach and cheese empanada from a local vendor that I’ve supported in the past, and headed back home to catalog and review the latest batch of films for the next FCI film festival.

Somewhere around noon, I paused to take a break from cataloging and got up to get a drink of water.  When I sat back down I felt a chill.

It wasn’t really cool enough for me to be cold.

Several minutes later, my whole body stated shaking.

I knew what this was.  This was food poisoning.

Sparing you the gory details but suffice to say that, as my wife was out of town, I did everything I could to just make it to the finish line on my own in the worst 28 hour endurance test I’ve ever had the misfortune to be subject to (as a reminder for long-time readers –  this is from a person who, to meet the requirements of a medical test he subjected himself to once for remuneration, had to stay awake for 63 hours straight in bed in an eight lux room (something darker than dusk but not night time), without any time cues or artificial stimulus, without moving, without caffeine or chemical stimulant, drinking water, eating 1/4 pieces of pb&j sandwiches at regular increments, and not knowing how long he would have to stay awake for).

The next morning after the fever broke, I noticed a large red rash that hurt to the touch, covering much of my lower left leg.  I assumed that I slept on the leg wrong and cut off the blood supply.  A trip to the doctor’s several days later provided the explanation that I had a substantial staph infection.  Additionally, due to the localization of the infection and the severity of the rash, I had probably been battling a staph infection for a while asymptomatically and that it was only when I got the food poisoning that the body couldn’t fight the initial infection anymore.

And this was interesting because for much of the last several months, I was just perpetually exhausted.  I would get home and just be wiped.  I would have to force myself to stay awake after 8pm.  It made no sense.  It does now.

Getting sick was a drag, but I had a number of things to be grateful for.

  • Had it happened a day earlier – there’s NO way the TEDx speech would have happened.  So I’m glad that didn’t get ruined.
  • It revealed a real illness that had been lurking inside of me.  You can’t treat what you don’t know is here.
  • It got me focused.  While writhing around in agony from food poisoning there wasn’t a single thought that went through my head for any length of time that didn’t come back to my immediate well being.
  • At the end of the day, I play guitar.  I don’t take that for granted.

I see a lot of advice for musicians and guitar players that appears contradictory, but it’s often contradictory because the advice that you might need in your 10th year of playing guitar isn’t necessarily the advice you need in your first 3 months of playing guitar.

I had a LOT I wanted to get done this week.  It didn’t happen.  Life happened instead.  It’s inconvenient but it’s not a big deal.  I’m on this trip for the long haul.  I’ve seen peaks and valleys and will continue to visit both of them because the only way to not see them is to decide you’re not going to go anywhere further.  That’s a creative death sentence.

Now I’m going to go play some guitar.

As always, thanks for reading.

-SC

A Music Business Lesson From A Film Festival

Hi Everyone,

It’s been a while since I posted anything there’s been quite a bit going on including:

  • Getting some of the Rough Hewn trio tracks ready for fall
  • Working on the new KoriSoron release
  • Performing the guitar parts for a guitar battle for an episode of a well known animated series (I can’t divulge information yet – but all I can say is that it’s on a network that specializes in cartoons)
  • Pulling together material for a TEDx Schenectady presentation I’m doing on September 10th
  • Putting a front porch on my house
  • Reviewing material for a Film Festival

 

This last point is one I wanted to bring up here as seeing the other side of what’s essentially a competition, is very different from actually submitting something to a competition.

FCI

This will be my third year as a volunteer artistic director for the Festival Cinema Invisible (FCI) a film festival that’s devoted to screening films from the Middle East that are invisible for one reason or another (censorship in one’s home country might be a reason – or perhaps films that sit in the margins for one reason or another and simply won’t be screened in movie theaters or available on demand. We partnered with Proctors Theater in Schenectady to screen the films on the largest screen outside of NYC and as I love films and have some ties to the music and culture of the Middle East it’s generally really rewarding for me to be involved in.

In any event planning like this – a nearly insurmountable amount of work is required behind the scenes to make sure that the Festival runs at a minimum and runs smoothly at an optimum.  One of the things that occurs is the film review process.  To put on 2 days of films this year (Approximately 40-50 feature lengths and shorts) I’ll have to review an exponentially larger number of films.  (Currently we’re at almost 300 submissions and 11 DAYS of view time required to get through them.  The final will probably be closer to 1,000 films).

Some of you are reading this and likely thinking, “Oh that sounds sweet!!”  and when you find a great film it certainly is.  It’s like going out to a live show and getting bowled over by a band you’ve never seen before (which happened to me last week seeing DhakaBraka just devastate a crowd that was largely there to see a free show and didn’t know what to expect from the band.)  but finding those great shows requires wading through a LOT of bad films.  Think about the time you went to see your friend’s band and had to sit through an opening act (or 2…or 3) you didn’t like.  Looking at phone to see the time), “Is this almost over?”  There are definitely a lot of those films, but the biggest drag is that there are a lot of really good films that I’ll never be able to see and that’s the topic of this post.

Unfortunately, we have to reject some really good films outright because they don’t meet the requirements of the festival.  More than 1/2 of the films that we’ve rejected have fallen into this category.  And that made me think of musicians.

How many times in my noob past did I send something out to someone for consideration or review that wasn’t what someone was asking for because I thought the merits of what I was doing would supersede their requirements?

“I know this says they want a pop tune – but when they hear the chorus they’re going to be bowled away.”

“I know this says contact them first – but when they see my cool packaging they’ll open it anyways.”

If you’re submitting something to someone it’s very important to make sure you’re doing it in within the submission guidelines and in the proper manner.  If the guidelines or the proper manner is not known, it’s important to ask if you want it to have any chance of being considered.

That’s what I’m dealing with now.  Films with breathtaking cinematography, great acting, and or amazing ideas that I’ll simply fast forward through because I know that I’ll just have to reject them to try to get to the overwhelming number of films that MIGHT make it into the competition.

This advice is particularly important if you’re:

  • Contacting a new venue for booking
  • Contacting an entertainment lawyer
  • Submitting something to a Festival or competition of some kind
  • Trying to get signed to a label

That’s it for now.  I have a LOT of films to get though and a lot of prep for the TEDx talk.

As always, thanks for reading!

-SC