The 4 Steps To Getting A Gig

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

The Gig

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

Step 1.  Have a skill set and Be seen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Step 3  – Work WITH people, Adapt and Do You

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

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

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

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

Step 4 – Do The Work

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

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

That’s it for now!

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

As always – Thanks for reading!


Detriment Versus Determination

I wanted to take a moment to talk about balance in terms of vision, execution and success.  And I’d like to do this because, in what has been a challenging transition moving to NY,  I’ve come across a number of posts with well-meaning advice that all seem to work on the universal formula of: following your vision = success.

“You will always be successful if you follow your vision.”

That’s just simply not true.

It’s not only a case of gleaning the wrong lesson from a given situation, it’s a case of giving advice to people that makes them think that they’ve failed when they followed their vision and it didn’t bring them the result that they planned on.


I’ve talked here before about the television show Shark Tank (and the much better BBC series Dragon’s Den that it’s based on), and one thing that happens consistently on the show(s) is people investing everything they have (and more) into a bad business.  They’ll present an idea that might seem novel, but when the investors get into the financials it becomes obvious that the business isn’t working.

It’s heartbreaking to watch because, as an outside observer, you can immediately see it’s a bad investment.  The people who have created it however are so passionate and have invested so much of themselves that they’re convinced turning the business around is merely a matter of determination.  They’re convinced that if they just keep at it and invest more money into it, it will succeed.  They’re convinced that it’s some shortage of resources, execution or acumen that’s causing the business to fail.

The Golem

The history of the Golem goes back much earlier in Jewish folklore than the story that I’m telling here,  but the most famous story of the Golem dates back to 16th century Prague.  Rabbi Loew, the chief Rabbi in the Prague ghetto, sculpted a figure out of mud (The Golem) and then (through a secret series of steps) brought him to life to protect the locals from antisemitic attacks.  The Golem went on a murderous rampage and to be stopped, Rabbi Loew erased the first letter of the word “emet” (truth or reality) on the Golem’s forehead leaving the Hebrew word “met” (dead).  The Golem turned back to lifeless mud and, legend has it, was taken to Rabbi Loew’s attic to be reactivated in the event that it was needed again.

Redefining “Success”

Now I don’t think that I’m telling tales out of school, but you can devote the rest of your life to carving anthropomorphic shapes out of the dirt and not make a golem.  Maybe you’ll prove me wrong!  But I don’t think that it’s a constructive use of time – if you’re trying to make a rampaging golem.

If, however, you like working with your hands and like sculpting golems you might find yourself getting good at it.  You might start creating something unique that gets the attention of other people, who ask if you could make a smaller version out of clay.  Or perhaps you document all of the golems that you create with photographs and release a photo book on The Golem project.

The point is, you can be successful in whatever you do but

  • it might not be the success that you planned on
  • any alternative success will only come out of hard, passionate work of high quality that connects with other people.
  • Finding alternate success requires being open to other possibilities.

Determination – A Guitar Story

When I went to Berklee, I had a couple of hometown awards for playing under my belt and had built up quite a bit of speed from practicing the same licks over and over again.

I also didn’t have any formal instruction.  I was practicing things with bad technique in a vacuum.  So while I could play quickly and energetically, I didn’t have anything to say and what I could say I could only express quickly and inarticulately.

I had inadvertently modeled my guitar playing after the way an auctioneer speaks at an auction.


When I got to Berklee, my first teacher Doug (a killin’ Jazz player – btw), really took me to task on my picking and my timing.  He told me that I’d have to start all over technically.

I was pretty resistant to this idea.  So I said, “to Hell with that” and just kept doing what I did.

And like the people on Shark Tank/Dragon’s Den – my work stagnated.

Sure I got faster, and a little cleaner.  But, as a player I wasn’t getting any better.

Fast forward to going to CalArts. I remember the first lesson with Miroslav Tadic well.  I barely slept the night before and when we met,  I talked about how I wanted to learn repertoire, how I wanted to be able to negotiate odd time signatures in a more fluent way and how I really wanted to work on ornamentation and stylistic elements of Baltic music.

He had me play for about 30 seconds and said, “Your hands are a mess.”  Your fret hand is completely compromised for your playing.”  He told me I’d have to put intensive work in to fix it.

Again, I was resistant to the idea but realizing where I went wrong at Berklee, I decided to give it a shot.  I also took some lessons with Jack Sanders and Jack reinforced everything that Miroslav told me. Then I started the real work.

I started relearning everything that used my pinky.  Ultimately, I had to re-learn everything.

That was a while ago… and I’m STILL working on it.

“Success” – A “Career” Story

One of the primary reasons I went to grad school was because the local music scene I lived in was in a death spiral (in terms of how things had always been done) and I didn’t see that changing in any other scene. I thought if I could get a teaching gig at the collegiate level that it would a.) be something that I could engage in passionately and do really well and b.) give me the financial stability to do what I wanted to do with my musical interests on the side.

When I got out in 2008, the job market was grim.  The following financial crisis made it even worse, and I realized that (in an ever shrinking pool of positions and downsized departments) that (for the few positions I was seeing open) no one was going to even look at my resume without a doctorate.  And a doctorate wasn’t in my future.

I realized that the only way I was going to get into that building was through the back door.  So I worked on books and tried to establish myself more as a player.  And then, I was informed that without a lengthy peer-reviewed process with a limited release on a “name” publisher that no one in academe was going to take my books seriously.

(This despite the fact that no one in academe has released 1200 pages of guitar reference texts, much less done so in the same academic year.  There’s an extended rant in my pocket about the whole outdated academe publishing scam that I’ll save for another post.)

It was the last reinforcement I needed.  For the foreseeable future, I was going to have to go it on my own.

If I viewed going to CalArts solely as a stepping stone to a university faculty position, it would (thus far) be a profound failure.

But I don’t look at it that way.

In addition to the incredible knowledge I got there, my books would never have been done if I didn’t go to CalArts.  I never would have gotten the video game credits I have if I wasn’t there. This blog wouldn’t exist and I wouldn’t be writing for Guitar-Muse.

Even more importantly, I never would have met (and played with) people like Miroslav Tadic, Vinny Golia, Randy Gloss, Susie Allen, Wadada Leo Smith, Butch Morris, Carmina Escobar, Daren Burns, Sahba Motallebi, Craig Bunch, Eric Klerks, Sarah Phillips, Andre LaFosse, George McMullin, Don McLeod, John French, Jonathan Wilson or the dozens of other people I was fortunate enough to meet and play with being there.  Some of these people will be lifelong friends and (while my creditors would disagree) you can’t put a price on that.


In other words, it paid off in different ways and was a success in other ways, but not in the way I initially planned for it to be.


And so…

Be determined and passionate and present in whatever you do, but be balanced enough to know when you’re making progress, and when you’re trying to make a Golem.

Like the first lesson that Miroslav gave me, putting that advice into practice might take a while to implement.  But trust me, it’s a good use of your time.


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


A Lesson In Improvisation And Jargon From A Cooking Show

Improv lessons from a cooking contest show

If you’ve ever watched a cooking competition show – you’ve probably seen some real world improvisation.


The Challenge

  • Contestants have an imposed time limit
  • They have an ingredient(s) they have to use
  • There is a mandated outcome – something that has to be done

How is this not improvisation?  You have a skill set that you need to employ to navigate a series of changes that may or may not be unfamiliar to you.

So how do they get through it?


The Approach

  • Emphasis on fundamentals.  The chefs have the confidence to execute because they have the basic skill set to do what they need to do.  They have a command of knife skills, cooking techniques and have a developed palate to work from.  These are basic things – using a music analogy – there’s no obscure chord scale or advanced reharmonization happening here – just using the fundamentals as a basis to establish an area of comfort and familiarity from.
  • Emphasis on repertoire.  They have a number of other dishes that they’ve mastered to serve as a template for what they want to do.  If you’ve cooked several thousand past dishes and someone says, “I need you to make me a pasta dish” you’re not going to freak out because it’s in a comfort zone.  If you quote tunes in your solos or comping – you quote tunes that you know so well that you can adapt elements of them at will.  Those trills you use on that klezmer tune you play every set – works their way into a phrase, etc.
  • Adaptability and creativity.  This is really a combination of the two points above.  There’s a constant stream of  plays on things, “This is my play on mac and cheese.”  Previous dishes that are mastered are used as launching points for new innovations.  From a guitar standpoint – maybe those string skips you developed to get that piano solo under your fingers you liked are now being used in a different context for your thrash solo.
  • Being in the moment.  They taste their food.  They monitor multiple components and adapt as necessary.  It may be the closest analogy to improvising a solo over a rhythm section for a tune you’re unfamiliar with.  You listen to the drummer, and the bassist and whoever else is playing and while you create music that enhances that.


What the unsuccessful chefs have taught me, is that an approach that works for one thing may not work for everything.   “Oh I want to wow the judges, I’d better use Truffle oil.”  which may or may not work in an ice cream.  I heard an mp3 of Eddie Van Halen jamming w. Holdsworth once and it was grim – because he was just doing the Eddie thing over Holdsworth’s comping and it didn’t work at all.  It sounded like the bleed through of two guys in adjoining practice rooms working on something different at the same time.

When you’re in some kind of timed artificial event (i.e. they’re forced to improvise) – this approach makes sense.  When dealing with something unfamiliar you go with what you know.  You pull out the well-worn licks that have worked their way into your vocabulary. That’s also when you find out just how well you know something.

It’s not just about learning licks to play over ii-v->I’s – improvisation is a mindset as well – if you look for it in sources outside of music – you will find things to adapt and bring into your musical improvisations. It  brings something different to the table than someone who’s learned every Coltrane and Bird lick and nothing else.


And now as an example of what not to do: A drinking game

I don’t drink – but if you do and you’re looking for a drinking game here it goes.

  1. Turn on the Food Network.
  2. Take a drink whenever someone says , “Big Flavors” or “Flavor Profile”


You’ll probably be drunk in an hour.  It is basically impossible to watch the Food network and not have someone talk about the merits of “Big Flavors” or on some dish’s flavor profile.

And what do these terms mean?  Is there anyone out there trying to cook with small flavors?  And “Flavor profile”?  Really?  How about just calling it “taste” instead?

The thing is, this jargon has been hijacked by foodies and now it’s difficult to watch anything regarding cooking and not hear those terms.  My beef with jargon is that it should serve the function of simplifying a process through language and instead typically acts in an exclusionary manner.


Music and jargon

When I did my undergraduate degree I had to take several classes that dealt with post tonal theory.  As a starting point, what does “post tonal theory” mean to anyone other than a composer or an improviser?  Can you imagine seeing a CD cover with a label on it that says, “Now with Post tonal Theory!”?  In terms of accessibility to the layman, it goes radically downhill from there.  Where some of the music created with this mindset is vibrant and exciting, the language and jargon around it explains what’s going on only to those in the know.  It makes no attempt to make inroads to the causal listener, and statistically there are way more music listeners than post tonal theorists.

Music is a language and like any language if you break away the accessibility of it, you doom it to oblivion.  In the 1950’s people still actively studied Latin – it was even taught in high school until it was pushed further and further into the realms of academia (I know Chronicle of Higher EducationAcademe is the new preferred jargon – but academe is a poor shell of a word), and now is only taught in a increasingly fewer places.  It transitioned from a vibrant language to a patchwork of quoted phrases thrown out as part tricks.

The same thing happened to post tonal music.  Inside the hallowed halls of academia, there is a compositional indoctrination that occurs; a self-congratulatory high-five for music that is performed in student recitals to crowds of 10.  The theoretical language that is posted to describe these works often reads like a combination of a repair manual for a 1950s radio delivered with the melodramatic sincerity of an adolescent journal.  Taken on its own merits, it reads as intellectually aloof and emotionally underdeveloped and seems to be defensive before anything has even been sounded.

If the first thing people are exposed to is inaccessible, why would they take the effort to go on?  True, academia tends to support projects and approaches that reinforce the need for academia (i.e. peer reviewed journal entries that are so topic and jargon specific that only other academics will bother to read and understand (read: scrutinize) them); but this doesn’t help make the music more accessible.  It brings up the question of,


Is it music if no one hears it?

Sure it can sit in a drawer or live on a cd.  But if no one is listening to it being played is it music?


Music requires a performer and an audience.

Like any conversation it requires a speaker and a listener, and the magic is neither in the speaking or the listening – but in the communication itself.  If there’s no listener, there’s no communication, and no music.  This doesn’t mean that quantity equates with quality (it’s not a contest about how many listeners you have) iit’s about being inclusive rather than exclusive.

Just a thought…

Thanks for reading.


The Double Edged Sword Of “Fix It In The Mix”

Recently, while working on some mix downs of the Rough Hewn Trio improvisations we found a track that we all really liked had some nasty digital distortion on the take.

So as a workaround we decided to see if we could salvage it  by reamping the track through the Atomic Amp.  Craig and I sent the signal through the Duet out into the amp and then threw a 57 on it to see what happened. (From a technical standpoint there was a noticable difference. I’d like to think that the tubes smoothed it out a bit  but I don’t know if it was really a huge sonic improvement over just reamping it in POD Farm.  I’ll have an excerpt online soon.)

“Let’s fix it in the mix” in general is an act of desperation but it’s one that can be rooted in prgamatism (and one that is encouraged in recordings made by the music industry).

DIY Recording

When a new band records something they typically don’t have a lot of cash.  But they have a computer, some recording software (or worse warez) and some USB audio interfaces and think, “Oh hell I got all those great plug ins the pros use, we can record our cd here and it’s going to be amazing.” (and to be fair – sometimes it is and (in general) I’d say the overall quality of sounds people are getting at home is the highest it’s ever been largely due to the quality of samples and processing available –  but if you’re recording everything from scratch you’re usually in for a world of pain.

If said band is a live act with a live drummer then they either buy a bunch of mikes and stands and track it home OR go to a studio and track it there.  If they do it at home – they probably don’t have very good quality microphones, headphones or monitors – and will go to the studio to try to try to fix the problem.  This is the tip of the sonic iceberg.  There will often be a lot of other mix problems and it will either be a sub par recording OR at the bite the bullet point – they will get a professional to come in to fix it.

This is typically expensive (to get it fixed properly) or unsatisfying (if heavily compromised).  Fixing something that has gone horribly wrong is usually very time consuming and therefore very expensive.  With solutions of either have to spend money trying to fix what exists or re-record parts of it, at a certain point new bands simply run out of money and then make the most of what they have.  Again – usually with mixed results.

Let’s look at a major release for a moment.

Another Story Time With Scott

Again, the following has been altered to protect the guilty.

A very good friend of mine is a world class engineer/producer.  Super cool guy.  He was telling me once about a major label session that he did when he first went to NYC with a well known band.  The recording he worked on with them was a multi-platinum release.

“I can’t listen to that cd”, he once told me, “there’s not 4 bars of anyone playing at the same time on it.”

See (it used to be that) when you’re signed to a major label – you got the sweet sweet advance.  On the surface, it’s an intoxicating dollar number and the band is thinking they’re going to be able to live off of it for years!

But then the manager gets a cut, and the agent, and the producer (picked by the label and either working a flat rate or percentage or both), and then there’s the studio with the sweet sweet gear.  Even with the block book rate it’s still costing a pretty penny and it’s all recoupable against media sales.

So the gear gets all set up.  And scratch tracks are recorded and the first track is played down.

Repeat 30 times.

Move to next song

Repeat as necessary

Then the producer and the engineer go through the recording of the drums – meticulously for a LONG time (think days, or weeks versus hours) .  The producer starts making notes like – “Okay for track 1.  I like the intro from take 6.  The first verse from take 10, the chorus from take 2,” etc. and frankenstein a drum track together.  Then beats are corrected.  Drop fills, etc.  Until they have the perfect drum track.

For a moment – think about how long that would take someone to do.  Even if they knew Pro Tools really really well.

Now imagine this process repeated with bass, guitars, vocals, etc.

Now imagine mixing it.  With this same attention to detail.  With mutiple mixes run by multiple people.  Until (finally) everyone signs off on the mix and it gets sent for mastering.

If you’re imagining time as money, you can see why a new release might cost $250,000 or more.  Since this money is all advanced  based on sales you can imagine how long it takes for a band to get their money back.

It is essentially  a brilliant type of loan sharking.  Money is loaned to an act at an impossible point of payback with the full knowledge that they will never be able to pay the money back to get paid for their work – BUT in the meantime -the actual work they’ve done (said recording) would still be raking in money for the label that they weren’t entitled to.

It’s kind of like if a loan shark had you paying money back – but somehow was able to deposit 90% of your paycheck before it got to you.  As you were getting full taxes deducted on that amount and drowning in debt – you ask when you’re going to see some money and are met with a response of , “What do you mean get paid?  You’re still paying the interest.  We’ll let you know when you get some money.  I understand it’s hard.  Why don’t you borrow some more money and go on tour?That will bring in money.”  The touring expenses are also recoupable, and so it continues like indentured servitude.

As a contrast – Poison’s debut was done in a weekend.  Not a brilliant sonic document – but I heard that they spent something like 30k on the recording and actually made money off it.  (think about that as a cost for a weekend record for a second next time you budget going into the studio).

For a more musically satisfying example – Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Texas Flood was recorded in an afternoon.  They set up their PA in the studio.  Played their set.  Went to lunch.  Came back and played the set again.  Then John Hammond took the best takes and mixed it down.

It’s important to be able to perform at a high level without having to rely on digital editing to get a useable take.

Because there’s no second take when you’re playing in front of an audience.

The double edged sword of “fix it in he mix” – is that it’s also important to know when to stop.

When you’re on take 100 of the verse vocal and it’s not working – you may have to call it a day and edit it together later.  Metalocalypse, has a brilliant moment involving this idea with  “One Take Willy” that, unfortunately, is truer than it is comfortable.

When spending time in a studio tracking, there’s a constant balance of the cost/performance/time ratio. (i.e. getting the recording with a minimal number of takes). If you’re (insert major label super over produced auto tune vocal act here), this is not really an issue – but if you’re not rolling in money – “fix it in the mix” always has a certain degree of uncertainty to it and a general loss of money.

I’m not saying, “don’t be experimental” but it’s important to realize that ‘experimental” usually has a high cost either economically in a studio or in time if done at home.  And it’s important to keep your eye on the bill so you don’t get stuck with the full tab.

Thanks for reading!