A Late Lesson From Michael Jackson

It’s been a strange week in news. But one story over the weekend caught my attention in a large way.

Numerous news outlets covering the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial reported that  testimony from sleep expert Dr. Charles Czeisler described Jackson may be the only documented human who went 60 days without REM (Rapid Eye movement).

In order to combat insomnia (and a number of other related issues) Jackson’s tour physician put him on propofol, a powerful drug that gives a patient the sensation of feeling refreshed.

Unfortunately, it does this by usurping the sleep cycle and blocks REM which, it turns out, will kill you. In lab tests, rats who had no REM died within 5 weeks.  Had he not had a heart attack he probably would have died within a few days anyways.

“The symptoms that Mr. Jackson was exhibiting were consistent with what someone might expect to see of someone suffering from total sleep deprivation over a chronic period,”

According to a CNN piece, these symptoms included:

“…an inability to do standard dances or remember words to songs he sang for decades, paranoia, talking to himself and hearing voices, and severe weight loss.”

Sometimes a shortcut will kill you.

He took a shortcut, because the stakes were enormously high.  Even when he was no longer “the king of pop”, a concert tour ending would equate to losses of hundreds of millions of dollars.  That’s more than many nation’s GNP.

That shortcut cost him his life.

And this has what to do with guitar?

A lot actually.

One of the mantras I come back to repeatedly is that the more you invest yourself into any instrument, the more the instrument will give back to you.

The deeper you go into your instrument – the deeper you go into yourself.

There is no short cut for that.

It’s investing focused time and energy.

Once I had a student who was irritated that his fast licks weren’t coming out very clean.

“How come I can’t play this lick fast?”

“Because your body is trying to cash checks that your mind hasn’t deposited yet.”


So this is a reminder….it’s a mantra I keep coming back to.

Be wary of the short cut.

Be wary of the the fast pay out.

Don’t sell yourself short and deny the gains that can come from pursuing things on a deep level.

The payoffs will come flashes but each one of the usually has years of fuel behind it.  No matter how strong the spark is, without that fuel, you won’t get fire.


The best philosophies are simple and sustainable.  As familiar themes and messages are revisited here, I’m reminded of a W.A. Matthieu quote (that I’m reduced to paraphrasing unfortunately), “There are only 12 notes and they take forever to learn.”

More thoughts coming soon.  Thanks for reading.


p.s. – One last hidden lesson – Michael Jackson’s life ultimately became a cautionary tale.  Don’t let your life become one as well.

Guit-A-Grip Episode #8 Don’t Just Buy The App – Be The App

Hello everyone!

Guit-A-Grip podcast episode #8  is now out and available for download/streaming.  I’ve changed the order up a little bit and you’ll find the stream and links below.

The Guit-A-Grip Podcast Process

This podcast format (instead of just blogging) largely came about because discussions with friends of mine in any kind of creative field would result in my going off on some tangent covering the intersection of music business and personal motivation which sometimes people got something from.  I’ve tried to keep some of that flavor here (minus the manic expressions and cursing).  So when I go to do a show – I’ll have some talking points and then improvise around the notes and try to hit a few marks.

While this may work in a conversation, it’s a mixed bag for audio recording.

The plus side of this process is that you come to realizations about things that you weren’t planning on.  While I had been conceptualizing the area around the actionable differences between an answer and a solution – I never verbalized it before like I did in this podcast.

The down side is that you have to remove a lot of awkward pauses, “ummmms” and “uhssss” that come up in conversation getting to points like the one above.  I want to distill the audio experience and get it down to the essence of what the listener is looking for.

In addition to taking some time, this editing process occasionally leads to some stunted audio.   It also leaves some conversational holes for ideas that are half started and then need a resolution.  Hence the need for the show notes.


Subscription Notes:

  • You can subscribe through iTunes here:
  • You can use this link to subscribe with any other feed based service:
  • or you can right-click here to download it.
  • or you can stream this episode below.

Guit-A-Grip Episode #8 – Show Notes

“One thing I see more and more….”

Trying to find a segue (as opposed to a Segway) into the topic.  Yes, there are a lot of ads for apps.  There will be many more.  It’s not some kind of advertising menace.  Yet.


The Calculator.

The idea I’m rambling around in the early steps of the podcast is how the use of a calculator is completely divorced from both the math required to solve the problem and the mechanics of how the calculator arrives at the solution.

Conceptually, this goes hand in hand with the message behind my previous post, Don’t be afraid of the work.

In playing guitar, something can come out of the work that goes into really learning a piece at a deep level.  It’s why some music theorists go so gaga for analysis because they’re finding new connections and seeing things on a deeper level.

To be sure, I’m not a Luddite.  You’re not going to gain much doing long addition for EVERYTHING – but if you get used to using a calculator – you’ll be amazed at how quickly your math skills start to atrophy.


The App 

In the app story I used an app that addressed a specific issue with a limited answer base. Most apps don’t exclude other people BUT if you’re using YELP during a vegetarian conference to find a local vegetarian restaurant in the area – and there’s only one – guess who’s going to get a table?  The first person who finds out about the restaurant and gets there.

The main point is that other people’s solutions are often adaptable to your situation, but the better you get at finding your own solution, the better you will become at developing solutions in general.  Ditto for applying those solutions.

That’s a wrap.

As always, If you like the podcast please let me know. If you really like it -and listen to it on iTunes –  leaving a rating there would be really appreciated!

More posts and podcasts are on their way.

Thanks again!


Guit-A-Grip Episode #7 – Confessions Of A Former Music School “Failure”

Hello everyone!

Guit-A-Grip podcast episode #7 (Confessions of a former music school “failure”) is now out and available for download/streaming.

Subscription Notes:

  • You can subscribe through iTunes here:

(https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/guit-a-grip-podcast/id638383890 )

  • You can use this link to subscribe with any other feed based service:


  • or you can right click here to download it.


Guit-A-Grip Episode #7 – Show Notes

Several things got me thinking about this topic – but the key moment I knew I’d have to write about this came the last time I saw my mother in upstate New York and found a bunch of old scores from my Berklee composition days and sat there scratching my head.

They were really disjointed and amateurish.  It was like seeing myself go through puberty again and hearing my voice crack.  For a moment, it made me feel awful and then I remembered that I wasn’t that guy anymore.  Just as a 5 year old version of me tried to stick a fork in an electrical socket to see what would happen (I’m not doing that anymore btw) I’m not that same person.

I should know this but it’s either The Code of the Samurai or The Hagakure that has a philosophical maxim that I’ve held onto for much of my life,

“Seven times down – Eight times up.”

And it’s served me will.  You will hit walls and obstacles in whatever it is you do, but the actions  you take in resolving those things will ultimately be how you define yourself.

You are not your job (Unless you define yourself that way)

One of the first jobs I ever had was in a department store.  It was supposed to be a temp job during renovation, but I worked really hard, hustled and made myself an asset to the store so when the time came to keep a handful of employees – I was one of the ones they kept.

Perhaps there’s an alternate universe where I’m still working at that store, but I knew that there would be other things for me to do and so I moved on.  It’s not part of my self definition.

While my undergrad experience was a lopsided one  I don’t view myself as a failure (even though I have a few grades that argue that point!)

I had a bad experience and had to decide what was important and move on to the next thing.

I had to teach myself what I needed to know and transition from thinking to knowing.

I made myself a better musician, learned a lot of hard lessons and eventually transitioned to a place where I got into grad school (and no failing grades that time around).  That experience is a big part of what’s gone into making me who I am but, like the department store job, it’s not part of my self definition.

Things referenced in the Podcast

I mentioned that I’d link to some things in the Podcast so let’s try that.

First – some clarifiers

1. I remember the instance with the guidance office now.  We had to fill out the applications but the guidance office would not release transcripts to us – so we needed to give them our applications to submit so they could enclose transcripts.  I was told, “Our office does not make mistakes” when I got the letter back from Berklee even though I pointed to the requirement in print and noted that the transcript provided didn’t meet them.

2.  Eugene’s trick bag is the Steve Vai guitar solo that Ralph Macchio is hand synching to for the film Crossroads.

3.  Self Educated man – was a reference to self-taught man in La Nausée – a novel a mischievous member of the faculty gave me to read as a book report.  In 7th grade.  Brought up unsuccessfully in an attempt to woo a weary admissions counselor.

4.  Books Berklee recommended – Robert Starter’s Rhythmic Training was one of them but the others evade me now.

5.  In finding the scores I actually found the letter kicking me out of the composition department and found the photocopy of the letter I got from the chair to get back in.  A series of correspondences (and conversations) that I had previously blocked from my memory.

6.  Juggernaut.  This was the composition I referenced in the Podcast.  Don’t ask.  My instructor didn’t use the term “stones” that I used in the podcast either.

7.  “They were torn apart” – specifically one faculty member with a real problem with me blocked my graduation and took no small pleasure in COVERING my scores with red writing.  Now I don’t blame him – but at the time my thought was, “I was already graded on these why are you grading them a second time?”  Other comments included weird personal observations on how he didn’t like my music.

8.  This podcast is for everyone who had a plan.  Tried to execute the plan.  Had the plan blow up in their face and continue on despite everything.

Second – some music links.

Comité de salut public

I mentioned that I had a group at Berklee that used some of the contemporary composition techniques and wrote tunes with them.  That group was called The Committee Of Public Safety and (to my knowledge) was the only avante garde-core French Revolution “tribute band” in Boston at the time.  I wrote all the tunes and some of them are below:

But you can hear (and download) all of the tracks (and read more info than you ever wanted to know about this group) here.

The Committee of Public Safety was:

Pat Aldous/Marko Djordjevic – drums

Caroline Dillon – cello

Mike Mallory – bass

Teresa Sienkiewicz / Pat Raymaker- voice

The Time with the Tub


Click for more info

Tubtime came out of a series of sessions I had with drum / recording guru Geoff Chase.  I dragged my friend Joe Rauen along to play bass and Geoff dragged the incomparable Patty Barkas along to sing.  Somehow we got the mighty Keichi Hashimoto to play with us as well.

We recorded another album’s worth of material that we’ll leak out eventually but for now here’s a soundcheck you might dig as well.


The Book

Ah, yes – I referenced the book I wrote to get into grad school.

First, there were two components to the application.   In addition to the Tubtime CD there was some audio:

and then the book.  Excerpts of the ORIGINAL (error plagued) version was on Google Books but I don’t see it now.

The New (VASTLY improved) book:

12 Tone Cover small

Is available on Lulu or Amazon.  (Amazon probably ships it easier – but the Lulu page has WAY more information and book excerpts).

Note: the cover is vintage 2013.  The original cover was a flat blue with a white title.


I promised a linked post that related more of this story and you can read that here .

Onward and Upward

I hope this helps (or is at least enjoyable or amusing to you)!

As always, If you like the podcast please let me know. If you really like it – leaving a rating on iTunes would be really appreciated!

More posts and podcasts are on their way.

Thanks again!



Guit-A-Grip Podcast #6: Lessons Learned From A Small Town Store

Hello everyone!

Guit-A-Grip podcast #6 is now out! (And the links should be working now!!)

Subscription Notes:

  • You can subscribe through iTunes here:

(https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/guit-a-grip-podcast/id638383890 )

  • You can use this link to subscribe with any other feed based service:


  • or you can right click here to download it.


Guit-A-Grip Episode #6 – Show Notes

Stewart’s is a family owned company that has convenience stores in upstate NY and Vermont.  The Drake brothers started by making ice cream at their farm in 1921.  In 1935 they start Saratoga Dairy out of their barn.  That same year pasteurization of milk is required by the state and many local farmers use Saratoga Dairy for this service.  1938 they expand into producing other milk and milk based by-products such as cheese, powdered whey and casein.

Stewart’s has come a long ways.  Their Wikipedia page sites 324 stores and 1.4 billion (!!) in sales of Stewart’s branded products such as coffee, soda, milk, chips and ice cream.  You can find out more about them here.

In contrast, Wemple and Edick’s is a small ice cream shop on the outer edge of Johnstown NY.  Run from an old-fashioned general store that’s been there since 1826, they make hard ice cream, and baked goods.  They’re only open seasonally.  They don’t have a web page – but you can find their Facebook page here.

Stewart’s makes a lot of money.  They do a lot of things.  Wemple and Edick’s basically does one thing, but even though they’re only open seasonally they make enough money to keep the doors open doing what they want to do.

In typical Guit-A-Grip fashion relating aspects of each of their merits to what you do as an artist/entrepreneur is at best a gross over simplification, but you might be able to get something out of the contrasts that are presented.  (Also, that part of the podcast apes the Seth Godin Start Up School presentation style in manner that was unintentional when I did it, but eye rolling on play back.)

If you travel anywhere in upstate NY – you’ll find a Stewart’s – but you have to seek out Wemple and Edick’s (and many’s a time I went and was crushed to find out that they weren’t open).

While on the surface this is a music business post, at its core the topic relates to both the how and the why of whatever it is you’re doing and I hope it helps in some way.

As always, If you like the podcast please let me know. If you really like it – leaving a rating on iTunes would be really appreciated!

More posts and podcasts are on their way.

Thanks again!



Podcast #2 – Should You Go To Music School? (Answered By Someone Who Did Go – Twice)

Hello everyone!  As promised, here’s a stream of the new Guit-A-Grip podcast:

[audio http://traffic.libsyn.com/guitagrip/01_Guit-A-Grip_Podcast_Episode_2.mp3]

(Once again – this podcast was recorded in the same marathon session as the first one and there’s some weird gain issues going on.  So it’s a little gritty sounding on headphones and only slightly more forgiving though speakers – this will be fixed by podcast #4 – but in the meantime my apologies for the crunchy vocals.)

Man O-man!

This was such a deep topic and deserving of way more detail than my little 1/2 hour exploration.  In light of this travesty of brevity and over simplification I need to add a few basic points that will hopefully fill in the spaces.


Guit-A-Grip Episode #2 – Show Notes


The Flippant Answer (and the lengthy explanation)

I don’t want to cop out by answering this question initially with a maybe, but it really is situational.  No matter how well designed the curriculum is and how well developed the facilities are, there is no “one size fits all” solution.  Some people are going to thrive in   settings that other people will be miserable in.  But I hope the podcast addresses some of the economic realities of what people are getting into when they go to school, the realities of the job prospects when they leave school and the real reason to go to school (it’s as much about the why of your development as it is about developing the skill set of how you’ll develop).


The Community College Oversight

At an early point in the podcast, I set aside the issue of public/community colleges for private ones but I misspoke my motivation why.  Private ones are not necessarily where everyone seems to go, but they are the ones that seem to get the most attention in the public eye.

The only questions behind going to any college are questions of intent/purpose and long term cost. Since the cost behind going to state schools (for in state residents) is often a fraction of what private schools cost – I set state schools aside as the issues for or against going to one are largely the same.  So while there are large differences, from a motivational standpoint the issues are largely the same.


The sideman / private teacher money breakdown

At the 12:00 mark or so is yet another moment of me misspeaking.  I said that working as a side man that you’d likely be viewed as an independent artist – but I meant to say, “independent contractor”.  Both may be true but the independent contractor will have much larger financial implications down the road.

I quoted 40% for Independent contractor taxes – which is higher than standard with holding for an independent contractor – but is not completely outrageous as in addition to sate and federal tax withholdings – the additional taxes on self-employment put you in a much different tax bracket if you’re not writing everything off.

For example, for a $15/Hour independent contractor vs a $12/Hour for payroll employee, the take home pay after taxes will be about $9.75/hour for the independent contractor and (depending on withholdings) just below $10/hour for the payroll employee.

If you have a manager, agent or lawyer (and if you’re making $1500 a week as a side man it’s very likely that you have at least one of those people) – your expenses will have you holding back closer to 40% (if not more).  People filing Section C on their 1040’s are more likely to get audited and hopefully you’re paying quarterlies so you don’t get NAILED at the end of the year.

In other words 40% isn’t completely outrageous as a figure but it is high.  (FYI – When I paid taxes and penalties early on as an independent contractor for teaching at a music store my take home percentage of original income was closer to 50% all in.)


Networking – or emphasizing a big reason to go

In a speech I used to give entering art students I used to say something like this on orientation,

“Look around at the people around you – because these are the people you are going to rely on for the rest of your career.  These are the people who are going to throw gigs and referrals your way.  These are the people who are going to give you a couch to crash on when you’re in town and will lead you to the other connections that you need to make to succeed as an entrepreneur.  So get to know these people.  Make introductions, get to know what people do an work with the best people you can.”

The irony is that the value of this lesson is generally only learned years later and it’s the one that (generally) no one will teach you.


Expanding your aesthetic

This is one thing I largely skipped in this podcast.  One huge thing that I got out of college was exposure to a lot of things that I didn’t know about before.  I didn’t like everything I was exposed to, but the process of understanding why I didn’t like those things completely evolved my aesthetic.  You don’t have to go to a formalized school setting to have that happen – but when you have the right teacher to guide you and help you understand what to look for you’re going to get access to insights that would have ben much more difficult on your own.

The Faculty

I skipped this in the podcast entirely as I think it’s a given that you’re going to get access to professional faculty – but realize that you are going to probably find a few amazing teachers, some so-so teachers and some people who are just uninspired.  I had a few faculty members in my undergrad who made the material so listless that I couldn’t engage it either.  Having said that, there were some faculty in my undergrad were so amazing that it made up for the bad experiences (I should mention that almost all of the music faculty at CalArts I came into contact with at CalArts fall into the inspired category.)  But teachers can only teach if the student is willing to learn, and while every student may be present, without having a vested interest in the lesson and/or the subject matter – they may not be ready to learn.

Nothing says you have to do it at 18.

Boy, that was the biggest lesson I learned (and thanks to Reg Bloor for reminding me about that lesson!) I really was not in the headspace for my undergrad experience.  I’m really happy I did it for a number of reasons, but academically it was a wash for me.

Again, I was someone who read a lot – but knew very little.  I might have come across as mature and articulate on a good day, but none of it was based on knowledge of anything (and certainly not anything musical).  I got so much more out of my graduate experience years later just because I had a little living under my belt and knew what I wanted to get out of it (although that didn’t work out exactly as planned – more on that later).

Get the dumb stuff out of your system and then if you want to go to school – you’ll have a more solid reason for doing so (and a better chance of getting a deeper return on your investment).  Some people get the dumb stuff out of their system before they’re 16.  It didn’t happen for me until well after my college days.

A quote sometimes attributed to Mark Twain:

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

When I was 18, an older version of myself traveling back in time to counsel me could not have talked me out of going to music school.  I would have done anything to go there.

A real key is to have passion and determination so take any positive or negative aspects of the experience with a grain of salt.  If you look at the downsides and say, “I don’t care.  I’m going to do what I have to do.” then you’re ready to go.  There’s a lot to be said for sheer determination and while that can get you somewhere – it generally won’t get you to your final destination on it’s own.

The secret agenda

This podcast has as much to do with the current state of the industry, as it does the current economics of going to school but really, it’s just another examination of understanding the why behind taking any course of action to work in harmony with the how.

As always, thanks for reading and listening!  A much shorter podcast is on the way next week!

Part three next week is the last of the weird initial edit/recording sessions so better sounding audio is on it’s way!

Finally, If you like the podcast please let me know. If you really like it – leaving a rating on iTunes would be really appreciated.

Thanks again!


Subscription Notes:

  • You can subscribe through iTunes here:

(https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/guit-a-grip-podcast/id638383890 )

  • You can use this link to subscribe with any other feed based service:


  • or you can right click here to download it.