Time to Find Your Zen Center… Again

Meaning Of Life.jpgThere is this misguided idea in the world that, once someone becomes a Zen Master, they’ve reached a destination where they no longer have to work at anything. It should all be relatively easy.

When I say “Zen Master,” I’m talking about becoming your best at whatever it is that you might do, and then being at peace with yourself and your own abilities.

Too often, we may compare ourselves to others. They have nicer gear, or they can play something faster, or they’ve sold more records, or whatever the case may be.

Coming to terms with who and where you are should not be a Pollyanna perspective, where maybe you really are not all that good, but you want to convince yourself that you are. Instead, this is about coming to terms with it all while working to improve.

This is often necessary because of your own self-perspective.

INTERNAL FORCES
For example, I have been studying guitar for a while now. Compared to how I was when I started playing, I have never been a better guitar player. However, in my own mind, I have also never been a worse guitar player.

The more I learn, the more I realize I do not know.

There is no destination where I will sit back and declare that I’ve “made it.”

My guitar mentor seems to be in the same position. He has been studying and playing for over 50 years. I honestly love everything that he’s ever recorded. And yet, he does not like ANYTHING that he has ever recorded.

This is because he writes a piece, records it, and continues to improve. By the time it’s mixed and released, he’s advanced beyond the point where he was when he wrote and recorded the piece. It’s old news, and it’s his old self.

EXTERNAL FORCES
This could be the person who thinks your guitar sucks, which is hilarious. But it could also be that person who asserts that you are no good at what you do because you can’t do X, with “X” being a parlor trick on the instrument.

For guitar, it could be playing fast, sweep picking, or general “shredding.”

All of it sounds stupid. But do not underestimate the power of it when someone says something like this, either to you or to someone else. It seeps into the subconscious. People who talk this way, or who treat music like a “who is the best” contest should be avoided.

FALSE SUMMITS OF ACHIEVEMENT
I used to think this way, and it became a disappointment. The idea here is that, once I can play that new riff, or once I can do X on my instrument, then I will have arrived. I will be a better player.

So I sit with the riff, the rudiment, the passage, or whatever the case may be, and I work on it until I achieve. Suddenly, I can now play this magical thing that I had once only dreamed of playing.

After that, I feel no better. The riff or rudiment has lots all of its magic. I can play it, so it’s no longer special. Lots of people can play it.

This issue can manifest in other ways. Once I get THIS guitar, or THOSE drums, or THAT setup, then I will suddenly have arrived. Once again, as the story goes, the gear is acquired, and nothing has changed.

Once my band gets signed, we’ll have made it!

Same thought, same outcome. Same false summit of achievement.

Yea, but once I sell one million copies of my album, I’ll…

…save it. Same issue, same idea. Same outcome.

OTHER FALSE MEASURES OF SUCCESS
But if shredding, and big record sales, and being a rock star, and expensive gear are not measures of success, then what are real measures of success?

In order to understand this, one must first understand why these measures will fail you.

I’ve already covered shredding and acquiring new skills, and why that does not work. Still, it has something in common with the other things noted above.

Record sales are nice, and it’s cool to have a number one. Much like being a rock star, it is fleeting. The more time passes by, the less people are impressed with it.

Money is also something that comes and goes. It’s an artificial concept, where a dollar is worth a dollar simply because we all agree that it’s worth a dollar, as the government asserts that it is worth a dollar.

REAL MEASURES OF SUCCESS
These measures are going to sound simple and unimpressive, because they are just that. These measures are not meant to impress anyone, and only serve as a tool for your own psychological health and safety.

Taking Steps: Are you taking steps in the right direction? Are you practicing every day? Have you noticed some results here and there? Include everything that is about your music-related goals. If you are moving forward, then you are succeeding.

Learning: Are you learning something new today? It can be a rudiment, a riff, a scale, or other music tools. It can also be learning more about your instrument, or listening to someone else and getting a spark of an idea of your own. If you are learning, then you are succeeding.

Positivity: Are you remaining positive about your lessons, your music, and your life’s ventures? This can be the most difficult, because people and circumstances can bring us down easily.

HOW TO FIND YOUR ZEN CENTER
It’s all about inventory. My music goals for today are to practice my guitar lessons, perform some luthier work on a few of my guitars, and record some new ideas.

At the end of the day, I can perform an inventory check. Did I do all of these things? If so, then I am making progress.

Of course, you may sometimes have to make allowances. Last Thursday, I had lots of music-related goals, and yet I could not achieve any of them because I had to get a tooth extracted. Sometimes life happens, and you have to give yourself a break. It also meant that I had to work just a little bit harder the next day.

Remember that this must be a daily occurrence. You should be practicing every day. At the end of every day, do your inventory.

IN THE END
Sometimes, the words of others can be positive and encouraging. Other times, they can be negative and cause harm. Daily work, with daily practice and daily inventories, is essential to maintain your Zen Center.

More important than what others say to you, is what you say to yourself. Be kind, be positive, and be honest. If you really are bad at your instrument, then figure out why and fix it. Either that, or you can quit and move on to other things. It depends on how important music is to you.

But if your self-perception gets skewed, then it’s best to acknowledge your behaviors and make adjustments, if necessary.

If adjustments are not necessary, and you’re doing fine, then be happy that you’ve found your Zen Center. You can sleep with the confidence that you will find this center tomorrow, by working on your goals and making a note of it.

Advertisements

Instruments for First-Time Musicians

Today, I’ll be discussing two elements regarding this topic. The first will involve the various instruments that a person can play, such as drums, guitar, etc. The second will involve the actual purchase of musical instruments for a beginner.

van halen brothers young.jpg
Alex and Edward Van Halen

INSTRUMENTS AND CHALLENGES
Pre-teens and adults can start anywhere, because they can understand the difficulty that comes with certain instruments. Guitar involves pressing strings down on frets and simultaneous picking the same string. It requires a level of coordination. Trumpet requires breath control and embouchure strength [mouth].

Effective instruction can help a child get started with these instruments. I started playing trumpet in first grade, so it’s not impossible.

Having an interest in the instrument most definitely helps. However, sometimes a child may not necessarily have an interest in a specific instrument. At the same time, you want them to learn about music.

LEAST CHALLENGING INSTRUMENTS FOR BEGINNERS
For a child who may not have an interest in music, I would recommend that they start on either drums or piano. A child can do something with both of these instruments that they cannot do with a guitar, trumpet, saxophone, etc.

They can get a sound that a pro player makes.

Take a stick and strike a drum once. Press down on one key on a piano.

Instant music.

I remember struggling in college with the upright double bass, the bow, the lack of frets on the fret board, among other things. It sounded horrible, felt horrible, and was demoralizing. A child is more likely to quit if they encounter such things.

Get them started here, and let them find their way.

Ed-Brian-Alex-Kevan-The-Broken-CombsVan_Halen_1964.jpg
“The Broken Combs” [1964] with Edward Van Halen on piano and Alex Van Halen on saxophone. The 1964 hit “Glad All Over” inspired the Van Halen we all know today.
BUYING OR ACQUIRING MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
Most of this section applies to both children and adults. Specific to children is school band instruments. Some schools provide some instruments, such as drums. Other instruments, such as horns and woodwinds, can be rented from a local music store.

We’ll also get into standard rock instruments.

SCHOOL BAND INSTRUMENTS
Rentals are a good option, especially if you or your child are not certain that they will be continuing. School band instruments include brass, woodwinds, and drums/percussion.

If you are buying used, then it is best to do as much research as possible before buying used. Getting the pads re-done on a saxophone may or may not be expensive, for example. Look into potential issues like this. Of course, buying new removes the need to become an expert in the instrument, but it’s still good to know something.

Also, be able to test the instrument properly. Maybe the seller can play it for you. Check for sticky keys or broken items on the instrument.

STANDARD ROCK INSTRUMENTS
Much like the school instruments, you’re going to want to learn as much as possible about the instrument you are buying.

Below is a high-level of some of the basics regarding these instruments.

1977 Bedroom
My first drum set in 1977. No ride, crash, or hi-hat cymbals. Just a splash.

DRUMS: A basic 4-piece kit is a good place to start, with hi-hat cymbals, one crash, and one ride. Other peripherals, such as a bass drum pedal and throne, will also be required.

When buying drums, many options are wide open. For example, you can get a single bass drum pedal or a double. There are various drum sizes to select. There is also different types of material, such as maple, birch, plexiglass, etc.

AD07 REMO 13-inch Marching Snare Head copy
A 13″ Kevlar snare drum head, for a high-tension marching snare drum. This is a BATTER head, which is the head that gets hit, and goes on the top of the drum. A RESONANT head is a thinner head that goes on the bottom of the drum.

The drum heads that are on the drums when you first buy them are not that good. They’re called “stock” heads, and they’re just barely good enough to pass for a set-up. There are different types of heads that produce different types of sounds. You can discuss this with your local drum store, or find more info online.

There are light-weight cymbal stands, as well as heavy-duty cymbal stands. Hardware comes in all shapes and sizes. Ask questions to find out what will work best for you.

If you are buying USED drums, then you want to look for obvious damage to the shells. Are there scratches or chips? Is this acceptable, given the price? Be aware of the condition of the lugs and other metal pieces, and make sure they don’t have lots of rust, or are pitted. Check the bearing edges of the drums, too. A bad bearing edge means a bad sounding drum.

PIANO/SYNTH/KEYBOARD
Acoustic pianos are expensive and require maintenance. There are lots of good digital options out there. Does it make the piano sounds you want? Does it have full-sized keys? Does it have weighted keys? Is it a full 88-key, or does it have less of a range?

If you are buying USED, check for sticky keys, broken keys, unresponsive keys, and overall performance.

GUITAR/BASS
With a guitar of any kid, you want to figure out what you’re seeking. Six, seven, or even eight-string electric guitars are out there. Electric or acoustic? A 12-string acoustic has a full sound. For a bass, you can have 4, 5, 6 or more strings. You can also go fretless.

What features does it have? Tremolo, piezo pickups? Humbuckers? Single coil? Lipstick pickups? Active or passive pickups? Bypass switch? In or out-of-phase? Kill switch? Locking tuners? 21 frets, or 24? What kind of nut and bridge? Is the fret board maple, ebony, rosewood, or Richlite?

Is the neck straight? Are the frets in good condition, or does it need to be re-fretted? What kind of neck shape does it have, and does it fit your hands well?

When I buy a guitar, I have a luthier inspect it first, to make sure there are not any issues.

A WORD ON AMPLIFIERS
I won’t be getting into amplifiers too much. There are solid state and tube amps, as well as amplifier clones and virtual amps. If you have an electric instrument, then you will need an amplifier, as well as cables. There are a variety of options out there, including portable amplifiers. Online research and talking to your local instrument sales rep can get you on the right path.

CHEAP vs. EXPENSIVE
There are lots of different instruments out there. Within each instrument, there are classes of instruments.

For example, there are “entry-level” instruments that are relatively cheap. PDP Drums are the entry-level gear made by Drum Workshop [DW]. DW Drums are very expensive. Gibson has Epiphone. Fender has the Squier line.

Cheaper instruments are obviously more affordable, although their quality may not be as great. More expensive instruments should be of higher quality, although companies like Gibson have been experiencing issues with quality in recent years.

SHOULD YOU BUY NEW OR USED?
Each avenue has its potential issues.

The problem with buying new: New instruments are like new cars. The minute you take them off the lot, they lose a great deal of value.

For example, the 2014 Gibson Les Paul Standard Premium Quilt retails for $4,249. My store sold it for $3,800. According to Austin of Trogly’s Guitars, he might pay $1,300 for it, list it on Reverb for $2,000, and then probably end up waiting for a while before accepting $1,800.

Nobody wants to lose $2,000 [best case] when selling a guitar. That’s the hard truth. Why would you buy that guitar? I’ll answer that later.

The problem with buying used: Obviously, you can save money. The problems come if you do not do your research before buying. There are sellers out there who sell junk and rip people off. There are other sellers who may not know that there is an issue when they are selling it, as they’ve also got a bit of ignorance about the details of the instrument.

Undisclosed damage, as well as damage during shipping can be an issue. Quality, wear-and-tear, or issues that may pop up shortly after purchase.

When you buy something used, you are potentially inheriting someone else’s problems. The cost of fixing these problems could be high. Even worse, it is possible that the problems cannot be fixed at all.

Buying used can save money. Buying new can mean that you get a warranty, or maybe they have a good return policy in case the instrument does not work out. My store offers free set-up with their luthier for new guitar purchases, for guitars over $1,000. This is nice, even though I can do my own set-up.

Now that we’ve touched upon the “new vs. used” debate, there is one more thing to consider.

SHOULD YOU BUY CHEAP OR EXPENSIVE?
No. An expensive instrument can lose its value, as most do. A cheap instrument may have almost no resale or trade-in value.

Buying expensive could mean that you end up with an instrument that you don’t play. Also, if it sustains any damage, then the low resale gets lowered even more.

Buying cheap could mean you get lower quality, or you end up with an instrument that does not inspire you.

Buying an instrument for the right reasons is best. It inspires you, it does what you want, and it lives within your budget.

A FINAL ANECDOTE: KID SHOPPING FOR HIS FIRST GUITAR
I was at my music shop, looking around. My regular salesman is talking with a young teenage boy and his mother. They have questions and are struggling with choice. The salesman leaves them to discuss it.

They wanted a second opinion, so they asked me what I thought about it all. I can understand not trusting a sales person, but my guitar sales guy is the most trustworthy of all. He has even gone so far as to not sell me a guitar because he knows my collection and feels it would not fit, or would be too redundant.

“What do you think? Should I buy this Squier?”

Even though I did not know their budget, did not know the boy’s skill level, or anything else, I gave them the best answer possible. Of course, the best answer involves at least one question.

“Do you like this guitar? Does it inspire you to pick it up?

The kid pointed out another guitar, which cost about $250 more than the Squier.

“If you buy the cheaper guitar, you’ll be happy for a short while, before you start thinking about the guitar that you actually like. Then you’ll have regret and won’t want to pick it up.”

His mother asked me a really smart question.

“What do you think about buying the Squier now, and then trading it in later for this other one?”

The answer to that was simple. You’ll lose too much on the trade-in to make this transaction worthwhile. It would be better to save up a bit longer and flat out get the one you want, instead of messing with a trade-in and losing money.

They seemed to be thinking a bit more about the one that he really wanted. This was when I asked if he was taking lessons. His mother said that he wanted to take lessons, and she was going to ask the store about it.

“The store offers a 10% discount on all purchases for students.”

I recommended they talk to the salesman about the points I mentioned.

Not only did they walk out of the store with the guitar that they wanted, but they had booked the young man’s first lessons!

IN THE END
Do your homework and be knowledgeable on the instrument(s) you are looking to purchase. Set a budget. Weigh the options. Ask questions. Shop a bit. Take your time.

In the end, you should end up with an instrument that fits your budget, does what you want, sounds the way you want, and inspires you to pick it up and play it.

Then you can focus on learning, being creative, and having fun with it.

Motivations for Learning and Playing Music

I had read an interview that my guitar mentor did a while back, talking about his start in music. He had an interest in the the banjo and accordion, but switched to guitar. You don’t see the banjo or accordion players “getting chicks,” as he said.

When you combine the raging hormones of a teenager with a bunch of free time, this is what can happen. During that time, the concept of “getting chicks” is a very big motivator.

But then, growing up happens, and “getting chicks” gets replaced with “meeting women.” It becomes a more serious venture when deciding with whom you’ll be spending a significant amount of time. And when this happens, this particular motivation goes away.

This is what separates the men who become guitarists from those who put their guitar in a case, ignore it for ten years, and then sell it on Ebay. For the latter, the motivation goes away. Humans must have a motivation for the things they do.

What is the motivation for the former?

Interest: My motivations for making music have changed over the years. Before the hormones took over, I made music because I was interested in it. I found it fascinating that I could make sounds that had different effects on people.

OCD Relief: In early grade school, I discovered that I suffered from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD. I did not know that it was called this, but I did know that it was a problem. OCD is not a case of being overly-tidy. It’s crippling and interferes with life.

Having to touch a light switch 16 times, or in four sets of four, was debilitating enough. Speaking in this manner, or repeating words in my head four times to “even it out” was also getting in the way. People heard me mumble, and wondered what I was doing. Sometimes, I would even have prepared phrases that had a certain count of words, or even letters, that would come out to four sets of four.

American pop music brought me out of it. The average verse in the average song can have four measures in 4/4 time. “4/4 time” means that a song has four beats per measure, and the quarter note equals one beat. If you can count to 4, then you know where this is going.

There is also a concept in music known as “16 bars,” which is sometimes used in auditions. 16 bars, or 16 measures, has 64 beats (16 bars x 4 beats per measure.) That’s 4x4x4!

Before long, I was able to separate my verbal speech from my musical speech. Counting music satisfied this obsession, and I have not had a problem with it sense. As a drummer, I never lose the “1” in a performance.

Fame: When I was in early grade school, I did dream of being famous. This was my more childish view of music, and this concept died out and left my mind once I started putting real work into my musical abilities.

I also really wanted to be a musician when I grew up.

Emotional Support: Only recently have I learned that I have Asperger’s. Through most of my life, I did not know why I was different, or treated like the “weird guy.” Not having friends and not fitting in was very difficult growing up.

While other kids had sleep-overs, got invited to birthday parties, or rode bikes around, I sat with my drums, guitar, bass, and keyboard, and played. I’d learn things every day on each instrument.

My instruments and the music I made with them were my best friends, and only friends. If I could go back and do it over, I’d not change this.

Fitting In: Joining the high school band was a way to fit in. School band was the first time where I felt that I fit in with others.

Getting Chicks: Maybe all of us guys go through this when our hormones command every move we make. I can’t add much more to this than what I have already written in the introduction, except to say that I’m not even going to attempt to figure out if teen girls experience this. I’ve never been a teen girl, so I really cannot speak to their motivations with music in this regard.

Friends: When I got into college, I found that making music with others generated friendships, to varying degrees.

Fun: Making music in college, from writing to performance and recording, was really fun. I was also learning things along the way.

Business: My college band made a decent amount of money. We were playing parties before the money started to show up. Money was not my primary motivator, and I think that people who get into music only for the money are quite often met with disappointment.

I love to make music, and if I can get a few bucks along the way, then that’s fantastic. Treating it like a business felt strange at first, but I got used to it over time. At the very least, I would often ask that expenses be covered.

MY MOTIVATIONS TODAY
As you can see, motivations change as a person changes. I’m over 50, and lots of people my age who made music when they were younger end up abandoning their music.

One person said that music is a “money pit.” That is to say, he has declared it a waste of money. It is true, especially for drummers, that renting rehearsal space can cost money, and it adds up over time. Driving around to gigs takes up time and money. Lugging gear around can be physically more demanding.

But then, they’ll end up spending money and time on entertainment or hobbies. I’ll stick with what I know, because I suspect that I get more out of music than they do.

Brain Exercise: Making and learning music keeps my brain active. I’m learning new things and working to figure out how to implement these things.

Self-Esteem: Learning new things and acknowledging the small wins does give a boost to self-esteem.

Companionship: I do have some friends, and my fiance is a rather awesome person. Music is my old friend; a life-long pal. I cannot throw it away.

Creativity: I’m still active with a band. Even though we stopped playing live gigs in 2009, we still write and come up with some fun things.

Community: Playing at open jams, or jamming with friends, is a great way to be a part of a community. Filed under “F” for “fitting in.”

Money: Paying gigs, selling songs, or teaching students are some of the ways to make money. It’s last on my list because it’s not my primary motivator, and I have other ways to make money. A few extra bucks here and there is sometimes nice.

IN THE END
Finding your own motivation for making music, or other creative ventures, can serve as a reminder of why you are doing what you are doing in the first place. Music is my best friend, a useful tool, a mood enhancer, and so much more.

Whether it’s the kind of music where you actively listen, or the kind that runs in the background while you do other things, music is one of those things that makes life more enjoyable.

Feeling Demoralized About Music

This can happen to any musician. It has happened to me a few times, and I’m really surprised that it has not happened more.

Sometimes there’s a general sadness about it, such as when I hear generic EDM, and see how young people get excited about “the bass drop,” in a way that I used to be excited about a fascinating guitar solo. No two guitar solos are truly alike, but bass drops are pretty much the same.

Other times, it is a specific experience. For example, my first year in college as a Percussion Arts major was rough, because I had to get familiar with the double bass. Imagine being in a cold room, alone, with a giant instrument. You have to hold the bow in a way that makes your hands hurt.

Dan Upright Bass 170522
Still playing, mostly for fun, and on a few tracks here and there.

The first time I dragged the bow across the strings, it sounded like a dying cow. There was nothing musical about it. Learning a new instrument can be demoralizing. I really wanted to quit. The thought that almost did me in was, “When will I ever use this?”

 

In a way, it’s like the kid in Algebra class who tells the teacher that he will probably never use this in his real life. True, you might not, but some of the smart kids might.

MORE RECENT EXAMPLES
For a while, taking guitar lessons, and the music theory lessons that came with them, was very overwhelming. There was so much to learn! Again, when will I actually be using this? came up.

Eventually, I got past the Mathematics Anxiety and worries, and accepted it all. It is true that I may not use all of it. But at least I’ll be familiar with some of it enough that I can work on it if I need it.

AN UNEXPECTED LOW POINT YESTERDAY
I had to make another emergency run to the dentist for pain, just like I had done on March 15th. First I went to the doctor, thinking it was an ear ache. They found nothing, so I ran over to the dentist. Ah, another infection. The molar will get extracted later today, and it’s on the other side. I see lots of oatmeal in my future, but I digress.

Maybe it was the pain of the infection, or the pain of the X-ray thing you have to bite on. You know, the thing that feels like it’s cutting your mouth open while you’re gagging on it and “hanging on for a minute” while the technician runs to push a button.

The 90 minutes I spent waiting in that room as X-rays got sent, files got discussed, and options got figured out, contributed to my music demoralization.

That’s the one element that I’ve not mentioned yet: The music.

During my 90 minutes there, they were broadcasting a country pop radio station over their sound system. Every single song had the exact same music progressions, the same slide guitar, the same tempo, and the same horrible, pandering lyrics.

I’m not the only one who notices this [NSFW]:

Every song had the same formula of intro, verse, chorus, etc. Every lyric was about a flat-bed truck, polishin’ boots, cowboy hats, tight blue jeans, and other things that are really not song-worthy in the first place.

Maybe worst for me, since I’m studying guitar, is that I could play every single song. The solos were mindless, pentatonic, and highly uncreative.

When everything was figured out, I went up front to reception to pay in advance for today’s procedure. I was going to mention how depressingly horrible the music was, until I noticed the receptionist singing along. Oh, how she loved this “music.”

HOW PEOPLE LISTEN
As a musician, I think it might be too difficult for me to relate to how non-musicians listen to music. Maybe they need to hear what amounts to a list of relatable topics.

“I heard he’s got a Prius, ’cause he’s into bein’ green 
My buddies said he saw ya’ll, eatin’ that sushi stuff 
Baby that don’t sound like you, that don’t sound like love, sounds like it sucks…”
“Bait A Hook” by Justin Moore [2011]

Maybe they need to crap on others in order to feel better about themselves. Some of the lyrics I heard generated an “us vs. them” sensation that does nothing to unite people.

I won’t suggest that my position makes me better than others, because I am certain that I have flaws. It makes me different, and different does not equate to better. This paragraph feels like I’m explaining every single word, but it’s necessary in our current state, where everyone gets offended.

I wasn’t offended by the music. I was demoralized by it. Just a reminder.

Not only were the lyrics pandering, the music the same, and the guitar solos nothing more than pentatonic exercises, but it had other things at play. The stereotypical slide guitar, and the fake twangy Southern accent.

“Larry the Cable Guy” is a good non-musical example of pandering. He uses the fake accent and pretends to be trailer trash, in order to make money by pandering to trailer trash. Some would suggest they’re not smart enough to understand the concept of pandering, but that idea ventures into an area I’d prefer to avoid.

Kid Rock, an artist who seems to mix genres, pretends to be poor and from the trailer park, when he actually grew up as a millionaire. This act is known as “poverty tourism.”

IN THE END
I’m certain that it’s the combination of all of these attributes that makes it so depressing for me. I left the dentist’s office actually feeling more depressed about music than the fact that I have a painful infected tooth that is going to get violently yanked out of my face later today.

When the music is worse than an infected tooth, you know it’s bad.

Also, regardless of the genre, catering to the lowest common denominator is what sells more records than anything else.

I had to do something, so when I got home, I sought out some fast inspiration. Truth be told, I almost felt like I didn’t want to listen to music at all. There were several options for me, since I have a collection of music that is nothing like this. It doesn’t pander or sound stereotypical in any way.

Ultimately, I decided to go with the man; a guitarist who has inspired me for a long time. He plays Country, as well as Rock and Metal. He’s written and performed for the likes of k.d. lang, Marilyn Manson, and Rob Zombie.

Here’s John 5, with John 5 and The Creatures, performing [NSFW] for the comedy/music skit HELL HAW, a spoof on [and respectful tribute to] his own inspirations, Roy Clark and Buck Owens, and other music greats who performed on the television show HEE-HAW.

On a related note, I think that HEE-HAW was not pandering to simple country folks. Rather, they were poking fun at themselves.

Hard Work and Re-Inventing Myself, For Myself

Dan Baby Drum Trash Can 2px - Spring 1966
Trash can drumming: Spring of 1966

Music has always played a major role in my life. I started showing an interest in drumming at around 18 months. In grade school, I played trumpet and later switched to drums when I moved to a new school that had school-owned drums. I bought a guitar with my lunch money and painfully taught myself.

And since we did not have a piano at home, I would leave a window unlocked in the school band room so that I could break in after-hours and teach myself piano, as my flashlight shone upon the keyboard.

That was just a sample of my dedication.

I marched in State Fair the summer after graduation, before going to college. After all of the state competitions and various bands in school, I ventured to LA in 1986 to become a pro musician. Drumming in a rock band was what I had wanted to do since I was old enough to speak the words.

1987 Home
On my own: My first apartment, and finally, my own drums [1987].
For a while, I did not even own any instruments. I’d still get gigs, by using drums at rehearsal halls. For gigs, I would rent drums from the band before or after us, giving them my pay. Later, I would ask the club owner if I could sweep floors for a few bucks or  a sandwich.

 

I relied on the kindness of others, which did not always work out. Sometimes I was homeless and would have to sleep behind dumpsters.

On the toughest of nights, I would be sleeping behind a dumpster, crying myself to sleep because I was hungry and the pain was unbearable. People who are not driven do not put themselves through this.

I was in a strange city that was not welcoming, two thousand miles from what used to be “home.” That was the power of the pull my dreams had.

I had prepared for my entire life to do this. I took every chance I could. I worked hard. I struggled and made things happen. After giving it my all, I would push to give a bit more.

steel panther.jpg
The expectations of 80s rock stars were so bad that making fun of it is now big business.

I almost got signed once. For every band in which I played, there were dozens of bands that rejected me, for reasons that had nothing to do with music.

 

I didn’t have the right “look,” which was often times things like not having “metal hair,” or not having a buff physique.

These attributes eventually became more important than the music itself, which had become generic, homogenized, and lame. There was nothing rebellious or driving about it.

In order to survive, I adapted my outlook.

My original goal was to make a living with music. I didn’t need fame, and had no interest in being a rock star. I just wanted to make music.

Adapting meant joining the work force, which did not really pay all that well. I was working 40 hours per week, my roommate was working 40 hours per week as well. We had nothing, and sometimes found ourselves being so hungry that we’d to go McDonald’s to eat out of trash cans. Other times, we’d ask for ketchup packets and take it home.

ADDING INSULT TO INJURY
On occasion, I would tell my story to someone who claimed to be interested. The most common responses that I got were upsetting, as well as insulting. When they said these things, they did not realize that they were declaring me a loser to my face. With most other scenarios, this would never happen. Somehow, when discussing music career pursuits, it’s a different story.

“Obviously, you did not try hard enough.” My experience tells a different story. There’s really not much else that I can add to this, beyond what I’ve already written.

“You weren’t good enough.” I actually did believe this for a while, until I met other incredible musicians who also did not get anywhere in the music business, or who got ripped off, exploited, or unceremoniously dumped into the cultural garbage bin.

Today, many of the acts that are a big deal in the industry involve those who have no musical talent, which is another discussion.

“You’re making excuses.” This usually comes from people who buy into the junk psychology that self-help motivational speakers spew out. “If you work hard enough, then you can achieve anything.” What this phrase does not tell you is that it is very possible to work really hard and then NOT get anywhere.

I could point to the vast array of great musicians who have also gotten nowhere, as well as those who were once celebrated and are now forgotten. To get ridiculous about it, I could ask how well Beethoven or Vivaldi are selling these days.

But you can also look to other industries. A former co-worker started a restaurant with his husband in West Hollywood about ten years ago. We would cross paths from time to time, and he would talk about how difficult it was.

He had no idea how hard it would be to get a restaurant off the ground. And I know how much passion he puts into his work, because we worked together for a few years.

Close to 60% of restaurants fail within their first year. The popular sentiment is that 90-95% fail. 60% is the correction in publications, so I’m putting my bet on it being somewhere between these two numbers.

A WORD ON FAILURE
Of course, I did fail in some instances. There were some auditions where I did not live up to expectations. No excuses there! In fact, I am still very capable of failing today, and I expect that I will be failing a lot more in the future.

The point is to do it, and to find out.

Putting all of the blame on other things, other people, or situations, would be unreasonable, unrealistic, and immature. While I accepted my failures and learned from them, I also had to accept the hard reality of the overall situation.

ACCEPTING REALITY
Hindsight is 20/20 in this case. MTV had changed what people expected in music. It is romantic to think that if I had started my pursuits ten years earlier [were I born ten years earlier], that I would have had a better time of it. However, reading about musicians from the late 60s and early 70s has me convinced that this would probably not have been the case.

Making excuses involves complaining or being down about it. That’s not what I’m doing here, in case anyone is not getting my point. I wouldn’t blame you for not getting it, because you cannot see me while I’m writing, and cannot hear my voice.

I’m not complaining. I’m accepting the reality of the situation.

If I had to find one thing to complain about, it’s the people who tell me to my face that I didn’t work hard enough, or that I didn’t want it enough. Their ignorance of the big picture is staggering, which is why their negativity does not stick with me. I forgive them, for they know not of which they speak.

WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LIMES
This is when you take those limes and search for some tequila. That is exactly what I did, after one band rejected me, citing that I “looked too much like Pee-Wee Herman.”

IMG_0250I then spent six months studying the character, learning the voice, mannerisms, and behaviors. I learned to think like the characters so that I could improvise. I learned magic tricks and made up games. And with that, I started working for myself as a professional Pee-Wee Herman impersonator.

Like most other entertainment ventures, it was a seasonal thing. Nobody would be hiring me around Christmas. But when spring and summer birthdays were happening, I was in demand.

I got so popular that a business used a photo of me in their pizza shop, which was posted in a story in The Israeli Shelanu, with a caption that roughly translates to “Pee-Wee loves Picasso Pizza.”

This resulted in my receiving an angry call from his lawyers. That’s how you know when you’ve made a name for yourself. I let them know that I was there for a party, I had no idea what they were doing, and I did not read that paper. Still, they gave me a big list of things that I was not allowed to do.

peewee-shelanu.jpg
I see why Mr. Reubens’ lawyers were not happy about this. I had no idea this was happening.

Their list would turn out to be rather ironic, because my business came to a crashing halt due to the scandal, where Mr. Reubens was caught masturbating in an adult movie theatre. Really, what do they expect people do in these venues? But I digress.

After this happened, I called his lawyers back, and let them know that I was put out of business by their client. It was a brief call. I closed with, “Maybe you should have given your own client a list, too.”

The business died, and it was not because I was not working hard. In this case, I worked very hard, and got some reward, for a little bit. Sometimes things sort of work out.

A RETURN TO MUSIC
After that went away, I returned to music as a songwriter. I had co-written a musical in 1987, which is still in production today [2018], so why not?

Viewing myself not as a star, but as a support player, I found a singer and wrote an album for her. Below is a clip of us having our first run-through of the flagship song from that album. Half-way through the two-minute clip, the audio switches from first-run demo to finished product.

This did not get anywhere, even though we had incredible financial backing. Ultimately, the singer ran off with the master tapes, returning to The Philippines. Lesson learned. At least it didn’t fail because I did not work hard.

I did get some solid studio experience from it, working with a great producer and solid studio musicians. There is always something to learn in the studio, even if you’ve done it before. The experience was not a total loss. More about that idea later.

Sosband1BACK TO DRUMMING
I made a return to drumming with a band in the late 1990s, and kept on through today. Almost all of the bands I was involved with worked hard. The ones that did not work hard were unable to keep me around for long.

However, something was different this time around. I wasn’t struggling to “make it” in the music business anymore. I wasn’t relying on music for money.

Instead, I was back to a place where I had once started, where my love for music, and what music gave me in return, was in play.

It felt great.

labrum tearMY LATEST ACTS OF RE-INVENTION
In March of 2014, I had a labrum tear in my right shoulder. The pain was unbearable, so much that I could not lay down to sleep for a month. Thanks to physical therapy and lots of work, I was able to mostly recover within a few years.

Of course, this meant that I could not play drums for quite some time. Being a drummer, lugging lots of gear is required. I could not even do this.

The band I joined in 2003, Noodle Muffin, had stopped gigging in 2009. I kept playing drums, fretless bass, guitar, keyboard, and any other instrument they wanted me to play on their recordings. This inspired me to beef up my own home recording studio, so that I could do more.

MD02 AKAI Professional MPD18I found value in the art of finger drumming, using the AKAI MPD18 with Addictive Drums [in Reaper] as a way of getting drums that sound more played than programmed.

When I got my home studio to a certain point, I started taking guitar lessons with my guitar consultant. He had sold me almost all of my guitars. He knew what I had and what might be a good addition to my collection.

He also knew what kind of music I liked. We worked on the basics for a while, until I hit a wall. It was through no fault of his, and ended up being an issue that I did not even know that I had.

A LATE DIAGNOSIS OF ASPERGER’S
I stopped taking lessons from him, while recommending to others that they study with him, since he’s a really good teacher.

I did not yet know if the problem was with him or me.

I had to find out what was wrong, so I went to get help. I agreed to a battery of intelligence and psychological tests. At the same time, I had started studying with another guitar instructor.

The IQ test results were very good. But the other tests concluded that I had Asperger’s, which is on the Autism spectrum and is classified as an Autism Spectrum Disorder [ASD]. While there is no cure for this, there are ways to work around at least some of the issues.

I let my new instructor know about this. So far, we have been able to work around or through some of my issues. He has a better understanding of my issues than most people, which has turned out to be helpful.

WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?
Someone close to me, whom I will not name, asked me why I was taking guitar lessons, and what I was going to do with my guitar lessons. In their mode of literal thought, the natural progression is to get paid to play guitar in a band, or something along these lines. As someone with Asperger’s, I can relate to literal thought.

Through these lessons, I’m learning lots of new things. I’m taking on some difficult challenges as well.

Learning new things keeps a person’s brain active and engaged. It sparks creativity, opening the mind up to new ideas. It’s a way to keep growing. It’s making me a better musician overall. It’s making me a better guitar player, for nobody else but me.

I’m doing it for me, and I cannot think of a better person or a better reason.

MORE ABOUT MY ASPERGER’S DIAGNOSIS
It was hard to accept at first, especially when I learned that there is no cure for it. What made it difficult was seeing the horrible attitudes that others have about Asperger’s, as well as Autism in general.

Autistic Guitar Reddit.jpg
This message courtesy of the sensitive people on Reddit.

Looking back, I could see the impact that this had on my life. There were things that would happen, and I would always wonder why.

Sure, one cannot change the past. The good news was that parts of my past made sense. The bad news was that I was unclear about what this would mean about my future. Was there anything I could do about this?

The answer to this riddle certainly seemed bigger than sprouting an impressive mane of hair or turning into Pee-Wee Herman.

A BIG DECISION TO MAKE
At first, I felt devastated, as if my life was over. I’d been dealt a bad hand, and now I have to suffer it until I die. Maybe I should re-invent myself again, but this time do it for me.

The big trick to re-inventing one’s self is that it gets more difficult as you get older. Society expects people in their 50s to know what they’re doing, to be established, and to be settled. This is not how my life worked out. I know why, and I have accepted it.

EMBRACING THE NEWS
I could easily get depressed about this news, feel badly about it, or even use it as an excuse. For me, it’s more of an explanation than an excuse, even though it is the reason for some of the things that have happened to me in the past. Viewing it as an explanation was a good start.

Then I decided to not feel badly about it, and instead try to figure out how it worked for me. I have since learned that this is how I am able to memorize music and retain it. It’s how I can learn and memorize songs that are linear, and not modular. It’s also how I can do the same thing over and over and over again without getting bored by it. Instrument rehearsal involves a great deal of repetition.

As for those who are derogatory toward those who have Asperger’s or other types of Autism, I had to deal with that. The first thing is to understand that they’re ill-informed, and are broadcasting their ignorance the world. This allows me to have a laugh at their ignorance; an issue that can actually be fixed.

Dan Fender Autistic Telecaster.jpg

In a symbolic act of acceptance, I went out and got myself one of those “Autistic” guitars: A 2015 Fender Limited Edition American Standard Butterscotch Blonde Double-Cut Telecaster.

Only 500 of these were manufactured during the Fender “10 for ’15” campaign, so they’re actually difficult to find. Out of the ten different guitars that Fender made for this promotion, Vice President of Fender Product Marketing Justin Norvell said this particular model is, “quirky,” as well as “off-beat” and “a guaranteed collector’s item.”

It sounds and plays like a dream. I suspect that I love this guitar because of this, but also because it gets made fun of online. I’ve been made fun of online in the past. We relate to each other.

COPING WITH BAD ATTITUDES
You can stay positive about yourself all the live-long day. But when others take a bad attitude toward you, then simply staying positive is not enough.

You have to also be able to cope with people who have bad attitudes and what they have to say about you. Whether it’s indirect, such as the Reddit post, or pointed directly at me, it can have an impact.

Whether a person speaks in a hurtful way out of ignorance, or out of malice, I cannot control what they say. What I can do is control whether or not I will react to it. Reacting is emotional. Sometimes reactions can be overly-inflated in proportion to what is being said and who is saying it.

I have the power to respond to it, when appropriate, and to ignore it when it is not important. Who is the person saying these things? Are they important to me? Are they making a good, useful point? As my grandmother said, “Consider the source, and then ignore it.”

Refusing to let others ruin my day is the best thing for me to do.

TO SUMMARIZE
I could have ended up bitter about my lack of commercial and financial success in my attempts to get into the mainstream industrial music business in the mid-1980s. Instead, I accepted the reality of the situation. I also accepted my own failures, learned from them, and grew as a person.

I could have given up, put away my instruments, and moved on. Instead, I made adjustments to my life and my goals after accepting the reality of it all. In the chaos, I remembered that music was always an important part of my life. I am fortunate to not have lost that.

I could have quit when I had my labrum tear in early 2014. Instead, I modified my focus and adjusted what I was doing, so that I could keep music in my life.

I could have become stagnant with my music. Instead, I sought out instruction and knowledge, and worked to improve for myself.

Life is work. It’s a struggle. It will always be difficult for almost everyone. Re-inventing one’s own self after age 50 is a daunting task. The way I see it, I’m here, and I get the opportunity to do this.

I got to give my dreams a shot. I can look in the mirror and say that I did my best. I also learned how important music is to me, and I’ve learned a lot about myself.

As a result, I still have music in my life, and I have no regrets about what happened or how it all ended up.

IN THE END
Not only do I accept the hard work that I put into life, as well as into re-inventing myself, but I am proud of it.

Just as there are those who will say that I did not work hard enough, there are also those who will suggest that “the universe has a plan” for me. I do not buy this, for if the universe had a plan for me, then I’d not have to work hard or re-invent myself. Instead, I could sit back and enjoy the plan. At the very least, it would be good if the universe would tell me about this plan. That’s why I do not buy into this idea.

But if the universe were an actual being that was focusing its intelligence and plans for me, I would tell the universe to not waste its time. I would ask it to instead focus on the other people in the world who have very difficult lives. People who are sick, injured, or in really bad situations that are bleak.

Do not help me, universe. I’m doing fine and I have a good life. There is a long list of others who need the help way more than I do.

Now let’s go see what today has in store for us.

The Psychology of Music and Self-Perception

“Hey, great show! Love seeing your band, and I really enjoy your drumming.”

If you have ever played a show at a club, and then had someone say something like this to you after, then you know the feeling. You have to smile and say “thank you” to this person. Meanwhile, in your head you are re-playing all of the mistakes that you made during the show. Your opinion is that the show sucked.

This situation highlights the difficult psychological issues that come up for musicians. Others might view us as being great, while we have a different perspective of ourselves.

A FEW MORE EXAMPLES
When I told my band that I was taking guitar lessons, one of them had an interesting reply.

“Why would you do that? You’re already a great guitarist.”

My initial reaction to this was that maybe I should no longer trust his judgment, and that he’s lost all credibility with me. This is not because I have a judgment to pass on him, but because of judgments I pass on myself. I do not see myself in this light.

Later, I was on the other end of this transaction with my guitar mentor. I wrote him an email about where I want to go in my studies. I talked about artists whose work I wanted to investigate deeper. He was one of those artists. I said, “I really like your style and approach, which is why I’m here.”

When we had our latest lesson, he said that he’d read my email. He thanked me for the kind words, and then asked that we be “done with” the compliments. He did add that we may disagree about certain things in the future, as well.

I think that he approached it this way in order to intercept a potential issue that he may have had in the past with fans. Maybe he and the student had a disagreement, and some hard feelings resulted.

I have a respect for what he does, and do not approach anyone as if I’m a fan. Still, respect is an attribute that fans have, and expressing this can come off as if I’m a fan. I view fans as being blinded by celebrity, which is something I’ve done away with decades ago. Still, better safe than sorry.

In the end, my respect is understood, and now we’re going to move forward. I do not need to express this again.

UNDERSTANDING BOTH SIDES
If someone says they like what I do, then I take it at face value. They mean it. My perspective of myself or how my show went does not factor into their perspective of me or how their experience went.

I had to see both sides of this before I understood the dynamics of it.

A STRANGE THING THAT HAPPENS OVER TIME
When I was young, I learned, and then I did. Music came easily for me at the time. I felt that I had my genre of interest “mastered” to a degree that was sufficient for my artistic expression.

The older I got, the more  my perspective shifted. I would become unsatisfied with what I could do and what I knew. As a result, I would observe other players and try to teach myself elements of what they could do. I would also take lessons.

This resulted in a paradox, wherein the more I knew, the more I realized I did not know.

It’s like running on a football field, where you are certain that there is 300 yards of field in front of you. You start running toward to goal post on the other side, only to see it getting smaller. You keep running, and it gets bigger for a brief period, but then shrinks once again, rather quickly.

Suddenly, the other goal post appears to be many miles away. When you turn around to see your own progress, you realize that you’re only ten feet away from your original starting point.

WHAT YOU DO NOT KNOW
That feeling is daunting, and can cause someone to give up. As horrible as this feeling may be, let’s make it way worse.

If there is something you do not know, and you don’t know that you do not know it, then how can you know?

When I started with my guitar lessons, I had certain goals. Some of these goals ended up being modified, while others ended up going away completely. The more I learned, the more I realized I did not know.

Learning tends to go down this path. The guitar is an infinite instrument that can never truly be mastered. However, I can get better at what I want to do and what I want to get out of the instrument by practicing accordingly.

MY VIEW ON MY OWN ABILITIES
When I was young, I was a bad ass who could play any rock song I heard, to varying degrees. But as I got older, my musical interests got more complicated. Also, I wanted to be able to play beyond where I had been before.

I have confidence that I am not a beginner. However, the goal posts have moved so far that I cannot see the end. I can gain some ground, or so I think, by learning new things and implementing them into my tool box.

But will I ever be awesome? Will I ever be the best? Will I ever be a guitar god?

No. In fact, I may not ever think that I’m all that great. Not only do I acknowledged all of the musicians in the world who are beyond my ability, but these days I end up listening to music that I know I can never play.

As a musician, I have never been so good, and have never felt so not good.

DUNNING-KRUGER EFFECT
The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a form of cognitive bias, where a person who has relatively low ability holds the illusion of superiority.

Everyone has witnessed this at one time or another. A good, generic example is the person who parrots all of the talking points of their favorite talk show host. As they speak, you can tell that they believe that they are smarter than you. When you ask them to clarify their position, they tell you to “Google it.”

HOW TO TELL IF YOU SUFFER THE DUNNING-KRUGER EFFECT
A person who believes themselves to be the best, the smartest, the fastest, etc., suffer this effect if their abilities do not match their claims.

What most of the great musicians I know have in common is that they do not assert themselves to be in some kind of category. They are constantly learning.

I may enjoy some of my own music, but I don’t see any of it as some kind of stellar accomplishment, or something that will change the world. Regardless of where one puts my current skill level, I am open to learning more, I am actively learning, and I am actively practicing what I am learning.

Will I reach a level of greatness one day? Probably not. I’m enjoying learning, and I am also enjoying the results of my hard work.

I will not be writing the next great symphony, but I will be having fun with what I do.

CLIMBING A SUMMIT AND WHAT IS AT THE TOP
Every musician has had thoughts like this at one point in their lives, most probably when they were young.

“If only I can learn how to do [insert instrument trick here], I will have finally made it.”

On the surface, this sounds silly. To a degree, it is silly. But it’s also positive.

I had this belief long ago, that if I can learn how to play something, or build up speed, then I will have “arrived.” But then something strange happens when I actually work and acquire the ability to play this desired “thing.” That is, it’s no longer special. It no longer has meaning. It becomes something that “anybody can do.”

I’ve just learned something, and I don’t feel any better about it. I don’t feel that I’ve arrived.

As I stand on the summit of that “thing,” I look around and see one million other summits that need to be climbed. I see other people standing on those summits, and I know that it took them 50 years to get there.

I’m now at the base of a new summit, ready to take the first step toward getting to the top, with the realization that I won’t feel any differently when I get there. Taking those steps suddenly gets more difficult.

IMPOSTOR SYNDROME
People who suffer Impostor Syndrome have horrible thoughts about how they’re really no good at all. They’re a fraud, and everyone is going to find out.

This is the polar opposite of Dunning-Kruger. To summarize:

  1. Dunning-Kruger: Believing you’re the best, when you’re the worst.
  2. Impostor Syndrome: Believing you’re the worst, when you have ability.

I’ve had these feelings on many occasions, especially when I’m in the presence of someone who has incredible talent. If you work with someone who is way better than you, then you’ve felt this before.

Writing down your accomplishments and then working to internalize them can help with this issue.

SPLITTING THE DIFFERENCE WITH HONESTY
I have never walked off a stage and thought to myself that I’d had a perfect performance. It just does not happen. However, I have left the stage after a show and declared, “That felt great!”

Indeed, the show did feel that way. The audience was fantastic. Sure, everyone in the band screwed up here and there, but nobody seemed to notice or care. Everyone had fun, and that is the ultimate point of it all.

DO NOT TRUST YOUR SELF-PERCEPTION
Your self-perception is about as reliable and possible as your ability for your eyeball to see itself without a mirror.

If you think you can, then you are correct. If you think you cannot, then you are correct.

While you may know yourself better than anyone else, you’re also an expert on how to fool yourself.

THE DANGERS OF YOUR SELF-PERCEPTION
If you believe that you are really good, then you have no motivation to learn more or to practice. This path leads to a place where you are no longer trying. Dunning-Kruger has just been invited to your house.

But if you believe that you are really bad, then you run the risk of giving up.

Either way, your opinion of yourself is not reliable.

HABITS OF THE BEST
One’s perception of others has a better likelihood of being honest.

Pick the best players you can think of, on any instrument, in any genre. What they all have in common is that they do not rest on their laurels [accomplishments] while declaring themselves to be the best.

They’re still running toward that goal post, working to improve, trying new things, implementing new abilities, and so on.

HOW TO COPE WITH IT ALL
As you read through this, you might be thinking that all of this sounds horrible. Why try to be a musician in the first place, when you cannot be the best? Many other questions like this one will rise up.

I do have some ways to cope with these perils, which I will share.

Abolish your opinion of yourself: Don’t think of yourself as good or bad.

Take the opinions of others with a grain of salt: They might have bias. Grandma said you have a beautiful singing voice. This may not be true. They could also be jealous. You will never know the truth, so keep some perspective on it.

Know when to add weight to opinions: A drunk in the bar who says you suck is meaningless. A judge in a competition who says you need work in areas has something valuable to say. A teacher who has a critique should be taken more seriously, and their claim must be investigated.

Set SMALL goals and keep notes: Playing a riff or rudiment at 50bpm might be your baseline. Once you have that clean, then set your metronome closer to a goal. Maybe you’re trying to slow down, or speed up. Whatever your goal may be, document your work toward that goal.

Celebrate your wins: Once you hit a goal, acknowledge it. Document it. Be proud of it. Generate a feeling about it. Understand that this feeling will go away quickly and become meaningless.

Forget about reaching a destination: Remember the goal post I mentioned earlier? The one that keeps moving? The point of it all has nothing to do with a destination.

THEN WHAT IS THE POINT?
When you dance, the point is not to start on one side of the room, and end up in a specific place in the room by the end.

The point is the dance.

The point of learning music is to learn. The point of making music is to make it.

I practice every day. Then, I play music every day. Sometimes I write and record music. Other times I make music with others. Some days I make music for a future record with my band. Other days, I make music that I suspect nobody will ever hear, and nobody will like.

If you want to learn music, then learn it.

If you want to make music, then make it.

If you want to do something else, then go do it.

Should you be looking forward to your destination, then understand that you will be met with disappointment. Instead, look at the grass under your feet. Smell the fresh air. Look at the animals moving about. Take in the sunset. It’s all you’ve got.

brucelee.jpg“Just be ordinary and nothing special. Eat your food, move your bowels, pass water, and when you’re tired, go and lie down. The ignorant will laugh at me, but the wise will understand” –Bruce Lee

Music and Fear

As I’m gathering my thoughts for today’s blog, I cannot help but think of an episode of The Jackie Thomas Show from the early 90s, where Jackie [Tom Arnold] decides that he is going to pursue his life-long dream of being a rodeo clown.

He goes through rodeo clown school, and even ends up in the ring during a bull fight.

This is when he has the horrible realization that he is afraid of bulls.

Over the decades, I have set foot on some intimidating stages. I have also been in some intense recording situations with people who have more knowledge and experience than me. This is how one learns, but you have to get over the fear first and jump in.

I have never been afraid of these types of situations, for a variety of reasons, which I will get into later. But I have met some people who suffer a great deal of fear when it comes to being a musician. This fear would manifest itself in a few different ways. Sometimes it can be almost impossible to detect, or it can be confused for something else.

This fear can paralyze them, which has a rippling effect on the band.

THE PRE-SHOW PANIC
This is probably the worst type of panic for a band, because you’ve made a commitment to a venue and a promoter. People are in the audience and paid to get in. The club owners have expectations. Your band’s reputation is on the line.

And then, someone in the band freaks out. “I can’t go on the stage! I just can’t!”

This happened more than a few times. On one occasion, it was the drummer who panicked. My work-around for this was to present ourselves as being “unplugged.” It did not fit what we had prepared, it did not fit the evening, and it was a semi-disaster.

On another occasion, I had to flat-out tell the promoter that we could not go on because we had a band member just not show up. I covered for him, and for us, by saying that he was “on his way to the hospital” after a car accident on the way. After that, I dismantled the band.

There was also a time when a band member tried to hide it by getting wasted before the show. He had tried to drink enough that his fear would go away. Unfortunately, he also drank enough to fall face-first onto the stage half-way through the second song in our set.

All of these people were really good on their instruments and had other things going for them. This makes it all the more tragic. New bands typically start out on small stages, so I’m not certain how to avoid this potential disaster.

My stories above may provide some work-arounds. Sometimes you have to take the hit. Depending on the situation, taking this hit can mean losing your big chance.

AVOIDING REHEARSAL
Other instances of fear had less of an impact, although they did hinder progress.

On about half a dozen occasions, I had met musicians who had gone through a lot to get where they were. They’d gotten their instruments, maybe took lessons, and became good at what they did. They eve relocated to Los Angeles in order to take their shot.

In a few of these instances, I was the person renting the lock-out facility, where the band would rehearse. Everyone would leave their gear in there, for convenience.

Then, things would get strange. They would suddenly have excuses for why they could not rehearse. The most bizarre one was a guy who said to my face, “Every second that we do not rehearse is a second that all the other bands get an edge over us.” I told him that was good to hear, and that we should go rehearse now.

“Nah. The game’s on. We’ll do it later.”

THIS IS WHERE IT GETS CONFUSING
Was he lazy? That was my first thought. He was talking a big game, but then wasn’t backing up his own words. The conflict in what he said and did was obvious.

I made plans with him to meet at the lockout the next day in the afternoon. He agreed, and I left him to his game while I went to the room and rehearsed on my own.

THEN THINGS GET WEIRD
The next day, I show up an hour early to warm up and get ready. I’m so into my own playing that I suddenly realize that our meeting time had passed, and he had not shown up.

I go to a payphone and call the house. No answer. I work for a few more hours, then call again. Someone answered, and they told me that he had decided to “go back home.” He did not explain why.

I asked what should be done with his guitar, amp, and pedals. They did not know, as he did not mention it. I kept his gear in the lockout for six months, waiting for him to get back to me, before I came to the conclusion that he had abandoned his gear. I sold it.

Music and Fear.jpg

HOW I KNEW IT WAS FEAR
He did not seem like a lazy person, as he had put a lot of time into his instrument, as well as lots of effort to relocate to Los Angeles.

HOW TO SPOT THIS FEAR
Over time, I took on a few different techniques for band member auditions that help weed out some potential issues.

Musician History: Has this person performed on a stage before? They can potentially lie about this, but it is worth asking [bonus for photos]. Also, do they have any recordings under their belt? Finally, do they have any references? References can be tricky, because nobody will give you a reference who will say bad things about you. Information can be helpful.

Two-Phase Audition: Break your auditions into two sections. For the first phase, it’s a night spent at a bar having drinks. What do they drink? How much? This helps you to learn more about them on a personal level, before they set foot in the audition room.

During the second phase, which is where they play music with the band, have a dozen or so friends show up. Make sure they understand that this is not a fun social gathering. No drinking or partying. You want them to give the audition a serious listen and be writing down notes. Let the person auditioning know that there will be notes and critiques.

This will put some real-life stage pressure on them. How they handle this, and if they can handle it, can determine whether or not a future fear-driven issue will arise.

HOW TO COPE WITH THIS FEAR
Maybe you are the person who wants to be a musician, but also has issues with fear. Adequately addressing this fear before things get serious is a good idea. It keeps you from wasting your own time, as well as the band’s time. It also makes sure that fear does not get in the way of what you would like to achieve.

Being Well-Rehearsed: This can help, although it did not help my old guitar player who ran away so fast that he abandoned his own gear. I think his case was rather extreme. This definitely helps me.

Run The Show: Having the songs down is one thing. Rehearsing the show will give you more confidence. This means EVERYTHING, including when songs will be back-to-back, when there will be breaks between songs, and even when the singer will address the crowd. Yes, he should even rehearse what he is going to say.

Running the show is a something that I took away from my experiences in marching band. When the show is second-nature, you don’t even have to think about it. That is a relief!

Get Professional Help: Do not believe that you will grow out of it, or that it will magically go away once you get to the big-time. If big enough, this issue will actually get in your way, which would be tragic. Truly crippling fear never helped anyone.

Do Away With Negative Thoughts: Thinking about all of the possible things that could go wrong will only spin you down into that dark spiral faster. Accepting the fact that both good AND bad things will happen, and that these things do not matter, can go a long way toward dealing with this.

Let Go of Perfection: Not only are you going to make mistakes, but most likely nobody will notice or remember.

Do Not Take It Too Seriously, and Be Entertaining: Being a musician on a stage should be more than just playing the music. Performance and presentation are everything. Be goofy sometimes. Practice having fun.

Invent a Persona or Character: This helps to remove the ego, which can be fragile and can drive that fear. What if people don’t like me? What if this or that? These are the thoughts that push you down into that hole.

The truth is that, no matter how good you are, there will be people who do not like you, or who do not like what you do. It’s a fact of life. When you have a persona in the mix, you can separate it from yourself.

So if some people do not like it, then they’re having an issue with your persona, and not you as a human being. Of course, the truth is that they do not really know you as a human being. This fact means nothing to a person who is entrenched in fear. Logic is not soothing.

IN THE END
Being a prepared musician, running the show, building a persona, ending negative thoughts, and having fun with it all will go a long way. You’re a musician on a stage, not a heart surgeon in a hospital struggling to save someone’s life.

When you have fun with it, the audience will join along.

OH, AND ABOUT THAT PESKY RECORD BUTTON
Recording can be scary. Just remember that you will get a chance for second takes, third takes, and beyond. Even if you give a solid performance, a second take might be required as a “safety.”

YOU get to decide when it’s ready to ship.

Sometimes mistakes get to stay because they bring a human element to the fold, or maybe because the listener may never notice.

There is a mistake in this recording. There are also a good number of mistakes on this iconic album. Try to find it. Trust yourself. Don’t worry about it.