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.

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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.

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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.

Putting the “Business” in the “Music Business”

It is said that if you do not make mistakes, then you are not trying hard enough.

I’ve made many mistakes over the years. The up-side of it is that I got to learn from them. The down-side is that valuable time got lost, as well as money.

Today, I’ll take you through some of my bigger mistakes, and share what I’ve learned. Hopefully, my errors can help you save valuable time, or even money, and help you to get where you want to be faster.

While some of these scenarios will sound negative, because they are bad situations, the positive side of this is giving a heads-up to those young musicians who are setting out to make something of themselves in the music business.

There can be no positive without negative, hot without cold, inside without outside, or light without darkness. Attempting to separate them would be a fool’s game, but that’s another blog for another time.

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Gig at Paladino’s, drumming for Casanova Jones [2008]
WHEN ARE YOU IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS?
Some might think that you’re not in the music business until you get signed by a major label. That’s really old thinking, but it’s also errant. The minute you achieve a level of proficiency on your instrument and set out to join or form a band with the goal of earning money, you are in the music business.

Yes, before you’ve booked one show and earned one dollar, you are in the music business.

AUDITIONING FOR THE BAND
Auditions are like job interviews. Sure, the band/boss wants to find out that you’re qualified. But at the same time, you want to know that you’re getting the pay, benefits, and other compensation package details in return.

With bands, it’s only pay.

Once the band knows what you can do, it is time to have a business discussion, so that you know what to expect in return for your efforts.

Is there rehearsal pay? Are room, board, and travel covered? Is there a stipend? Have this discussion, and be ready to say no if what they offer is not acceptable.

TALK ABOUT MONEY AND EXPECTATIONS UP-FRONT
Do not try to do this after you’ve participated in a bunch of rehearsals and have played a few gigs. By this point, it’s too late, because you’ve de-valued your services as a musician and band member by working for free.

Always discuss the business aspects BEFORE playing one note in a rehearsal or gig. Understand what they expect from you, and have them understand what you expect from them.

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Performing as a hired gun at the Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood [2009]
BAND MEMBER vs. HIRED GUN
The above applies to both band members and “hired guns.” A hired gun is not a band member, and they are usually paid a flat rate. So if the band sees a crazy amount of success, the band member still gets that flat rate. Renegotiation is recommended.

While a band member may be asked to share in expenses, the hired gun should not. So if you are a hired gun, and you are being asked to split the cost of a rehearsal space, recording studio time, or other expenses, then you are being ripped off.

Being a hired gun can pay off, if you work it right. When Pink Floyd was having issues and were dissolving before they were touring for “The Wall,” the camps were split between David Gilmour and Roger Waters.

Keyboardist Rick Wright showed little in the way of allegiance toward either side, and instead insisted that he get paid by whomever wanted him. He also demanded to be paid for The Wall tour. In doing this, he absolved himself of participation, should the tour make millions. However, he also absolved himself of incurring any of the expenses.

The tour ended up being very expensive, to the point that Rick Wright was the ONLY person to make money on the tour. He earned $700,000.

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Hired gun for comedian Fred Willard at Wilshire Ebell Theater [2009]
SET BOUNDARIES FOR PROFESSIONALISM
Being in a band is not like being in an office. There can be partying and good times. There can also be addiction and destruction. If you note behavior in rehearsals or touring that is unprofessional, make note of it and give consideration to moving on.

One band I was in had a 7:00pm rehearsal time. I got there at 6:00pm to get warmed up. Nobody showed up until almost 8:00pm. When everyone was there by 8:30pm, they decided that a beer run was in order before starting rehearsal, which ended up around 9:30pm.

This scenario is both unprofessional and unacceptable. It shows no respect toward anyone’s time. Even worse, it shows a disrespect toward the music. They’re not taking their own business seriously.

You’ll find that lots of people who want to be musicians engage in this behavior. If you want to be a musician because you don’t like working, then you will end up bagging groceries.

Treat it like a business.

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Drumming with Noodle Muffin at The Westwood Brewing Company [2002]
BEWARE OF LIES AND STICK TO THE PLAN
One band I was in briefly answered an ad that I had placed, saying they needed a drummer to fill in for a last-minute gig, or else they’d have to pay a $500 cancellation fee. I decided to step in and fill the spot for them. My offer was $300 for two rehearsals before the half-hour show.

My mistakes in this situation started when I allowed emotions to over-ride business. I liked their music, they seemed like good people, and they had a standing monthly gig listed on their Facebook page.

With all of this information, I re-negotiated with them, stating that I would not charge them for the rehearsals OR the gig, if I could be a band member and share in the money of these monthly gigs.

It would be a few months before they would finally admit that the standing monthly gigs were fake, and that they’d put it on their Facebook page in order to “look busy, and generate demand.”

Obviously, they lied to me by not telling me that these gigs were fake when I re-negotiated.

If I were smart, I would have first stuck to the original negotiation for that fill-in gig. Then, I would have not been friendly with them so quickly. Finally, I would have told them that I was interested in negotiating a rate for their standing monthly gigs.

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 On keyboard with Robin Baxter Band at Club 88 in Santa Monica [1987]
A WORD ABOUT FRIENDS, BEING FRIENDLY, AND BOUNDARIES
I have typically fallen into the trap, where a band or musician is friendly with me, I become friendly with them, and then I drop all boundaries and defenses.

This is a major flaw of mine that has caused me problems for my entire life. Only recently have I received the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. Before the diagnosis, I really had no idea that I was even doing this.

Now that I know, I can be more conscious and aware of it, and implement boundaries with the rule that I must stick to them, no matter how nice someone else might be.

I got this information about myself too late in life While it speaks volumes to my failures with setting and maintaining boundaries, it is also a testament to just how many people will take advantage of you if you get friendly with them and drop boundaries.

Always keep boundaries up for your own protection. People who are honest and who care about you will respect those boundaries. If someone is offended or upset by it, then it is time to move on, no matter how much you like the band or the music.

WHEN A BAND SETS BOUNDARIES
Now that you’ve joined a band as a member, or have formed a band of your own, you’ve got a new set of boundaries to keep in mind when doing business.

For those who are hired guns, your boundaries remain the same. What I’m talking about her would not apply to you, since you are being paid to be there.

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Performing on fretless bass with Noodle Muffin at Universal Bar & Grill [2009]
WORKING FOR “EXPOSURE”
There are people out there who will try to get you to play their big party or event, with the promise of “exposure.” They’ll tell you how hundreds of people will see and hear you, and that it could potentially get you more business.

These are situations that you should always reject, without hesitation or question.

Best case scenario, you play a party in exchange for “exposure,” and a half dozen people think you’re great and want to hire you. They will probably talk to the person who got you to play for “exposure,” and ask them how much they paid you.

This will set the bar low for you in the future, and will make earning money nearly impossible.

Setting your price and then sticking to it adds value to what you do. Never de-value your own band.

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Drumming in WHIPLADS at The Riverbottom in Burbank [2003]
PAY-TO-PLAY
I have only experienced this in Los Angeles, but it could be happening in other cities. In a pay-to-play situation, the band pays the club up-front, and then they have to sell the tickets to first make their money back, and then profit.

At its worst, I once drummed for a band who paid a club on the Sunset Strip $700 so that they could play a 25-minute set.

If you are going to consider a venture such as this one, then you must be certain that you can get enough people to buy tickets to cover what you pay.

Generally speaking, I would recommend that bands avoid these situations.

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Performing with SECRET at The Gig West LA [2000]
DO NOT GIVE AWAY TICKETS FOR FREE
With one pay-to-play situation, the band was not doing a good job of selling the tickets. They decided to eat the money they spent and give away the tickets. The idea behind this was that they could get bodies in the door, impress club management, and more drinks would be purchased.

It did not work out this way. The club management saw how few people were there, panicked, yelled at the band leader, and had people on the sidewalk telling passers-by that a “free show” was in progress. It was embarrassing.

When you give away tickets, the person who receives the ticket has NO attachment to the ticket, the band, the show, or anything. There is no consequence for them if they throw it in the trash, or even decide last-minute that they’re not going.

But when a person pays ten bucks for a ticket, they’re more likely to show up.

Giving away tickets de-values your band.

I’m certain that you’re seeing a recurring theme here.

SAY “NO” TO PROMOTERS WHO ASK FOR FILL-INS
I had built up a relationship with a promoter in LA, with one of my bands. This promoter seemed like a really nice person who appreciated the professional efforts of others.

One night, the promoter called me in a panic, noting that a band that was scheduled to open for a headliner cancelled last-minute.

My flawed thinking behind this was that if I do this favor for them, then they will return the favor by booking us better gigs.

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Performing with Karma McCartney at The Good Hurt in Venice [2008]
As you can guess, it did not work out that way. Instead, the promoter viewed us as a reliable fill-in band. Ironically, the promoter would not book us for gigs because they wanted to keep us in their back-pocket as the reliable last-minute fill-in.

What you may not have guessed was that our relationship actually got rather ugly at the end. The promoter asked us to fill a last-minute spot on the weekend before Christmas, which was on a Monday.

The promoter told us the usual, that we did not have to have a head count. In other words, we did not have to promote, guarantee a crowd, or bring anyone.

Any musician who has ever played in Los Angeles knows that LA clubs become a ghost town from a week before Christmas, until the New Year. We took the gig merely out of fun in this case.

The promoter came to the venue, saw nobody there, and chewed us out for not getting people in the club. This was unreasonable, not only because the promoter told us that we did not need to bring people or promote, but also because NO BAND can get a crowd during this particular time of year. Everyone is out of town, doing other things.

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Drumming with The Average Joes at Hinano’s in Venice [2009]
Taking a fill-in gig is an act of… take a wild guess… de-valuing the band. As you set boundaries for your band with promoters, be ready to counter them. They will use emotional manipulation to try to get you to do what they want.

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Double gig with WHIPLADS and Falling Moon at The Gig Hollywood [2005]
They may even threaten you with the typical talk of, “you’ll never work in this town again.” In our case, bending to the will of the promoter ensured, at the very least, that we would never again work for that promoter.

It’s very counter-intuitive, which is why it is so important to lean on your boundaries. Things are not always as they appear.

Should a promoter as you to fill in for a last-minute slot, the best thing to do is to first apologize, and the tell them that you are already booked for another gig. Feel free to say that this gig is paying you, so you cannot cancel. This also shows them that you stick to your commitments.

While this is not honest, it is essential to protect your band by doing this. It is your business, and the alternative is to allow your business to be compromised. Being 100% honest at all times will destroy all of your hard work.

 

Approach this in a way where you are protecting your business, while not actively harming anyone else. You are not harming a promoter by not taking their spot and declaring that you are busy.

The cancellation by the other band is THEIR problem, and not yours.

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Playing fretless bass with Black Hole Bindhi at Good Hurt in Venice [2009]
OWE NO FAVORS AND ACCEPT NO PERSONAL GIFTS
This tip is very important, because you could end up in a bad situation. Best case, you could lose some gear or money. Worst case, you could lose your life.

FAVOR: LEAVING GEAR ELSEWHERE
I’ve made the mistake of wanting to leave drums where I might be rehearsing with a band, such as in the band leader’s garage, a lock-out, or jam room in their house.

There was one situation, where the bass player had a meth problem and I did not know it. When I got to the lock-out, all of the gear had been taken by him. He sold all of it, thousands of dollars worth of gear, at a pawn shop for $100 to get meth.

In another situation, I kept a great deal of gear in a garage owned by a “friend.” He one day changed the locks, threatened me, and refused to return it. That was a $5,000 mistake.

Suing him and getting it back would have made a point, but it also would have cost much more than replacing the gear with new upgrades. Knowing his violent behavior, not knowing the condition of the gear while it was in his charge, and wanting to steer clear of it all, I decided to not pursue it.

Hard lesson learned.

PERSONAL GIFTS ARE NOT WORTH IT
This is a lesson that I learned from someone else. It’s a scenario that is less likely to occur in California.

In my friend’s situation, he played a show where some serious gangsters were in attendance. One of the gangsters approached him, said he really liked his music, and put a $100 bill in his hand.

Had he put it in the tip jar anonymously, that would be acceptable. But this was personal.

He handed the bill back to the guy and told him it was not necessary. The guy proceeded to apply pressure to him. “Ah, c’mon! It’s just a hundred bucks. You’re worth it, right?”

This high-pressure sell would have probably worked on me, especially since I now understand how my Asperger’s contributes to my being easily manipulated.

In the past, I would say no to someone, and they’d start with the hard press. Eventually, I would say yes just to get them to stop pressing me about it. But this would later open the door to additional manipulation, as well as abuse.

He had to work hard to get the guy to take the money back. Eventually, the guy took it back. The gangster told him, “Smart man. You know how to deal with guys like us.”

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF HE HAD ACCEPTED THE PERSONAL GIFT?
Accepting gifts makes a person beholden to the person who gives them the gift. This is why gifts are illegal for politicians. It’s also why accepting gifts from vendors and business associates at work will cost someone their job.

Had he accepted the $100 personal gift from this gangster, he would have been beholden to the gangster. Their next conversation probably would have involved the gangster asking him for a small favor that could involve delivering a package.

If you end up on this road, you may very well end up in prison, if you are lucky. Worst case, you can end up dead by being involved with them.

Never, ever, ever accept a gift. Tips are fine, but no gifts. Keep your integrity and your life.

A BRIEF SUMMARY
By now, you’re probably noticing a few patterns and themes here. With regard to business, here is a summary of my points:

  1. Be professional.
  2. Discuss business before playing one note at a rehearsal or gig.
  3. Have clarity regarding your position [band member or hired gun], and be sure that their expectations and yours match up.
  4. Set boundaries and stick to them.
  5. Be aware of lies, drug and alcohol abuse, and other indicators that the situation is not professional.
  6. Express your band’s value by not working for free or giving away free tickets.
  7. Do not do favors for anyone outside of the band.
  8. Avoid adopting the problems of others, such as promoters.
  9. Avoid pay-to-play.
  10. Remain professional and keep up boundaries, even if band members are friendly.
  11. Do your best to owe no one any favors.
  12. Do not accept gifts.

If I had to sum it up to one line, it would be this:

Be professional, talk business, put yourself and/or your band first, and keep an eye on your money.

IN THE END
Making music for fun is one thing. I have situations where I do this, and I truly enjoy it. However, when you’re approaching it from a business standpoint, be aware that there are lots of people who may not be so professional.

Bands typically come and go. Situations do not always work out. Be prepared to leave a project if you have concerns. You can bet that they would ditch you in a heartbeat, if it suited them.

Be safe out there, and best of luck.

Music, Backpacks, and Finding the Positive

“Everyone has rocks in their backpack.”

This is something my guitar mentor told me recently, after I had confided in him that I was experiencing some issue relevant to what we were doing. I may talk about those issue someday. More about these “rocks” later in this blog.

I wanted to write this as as follow-up to my previous blog entry, Anecdote: Sharks, Sour Grapes, and Fruit Baskets. Although the story is honest, and it reflects what could be expected of the old music industry model, I felt that it was too negative.

It was probably one of the most negative experiences that I’ve had on the inside. To put a more positive light on it, I did not let it destroy me, and I kept on. I’m still here!

There will always be negativity in the world, and in daily life when dealing with others. Various situations will arise, where you might get those feelings, or a sense of anxiety.

THE OLD MUSIC BUSINESS MODEL STINKS!
You can’t sell records. You won’t make big bucks with it. It’s not what it used to be.

These sentiments are very true, and that is one way of thinking about it. If you try to get somewhere with music in the same way that I tried in the mid-1980s, then you’re not only going to have a bad time, but you will probably get almost no traction at all.

It may still be possible, as a few dinosaur labels are kicking. There are other things to do.

YOU CAN STILL MAKE SOMETHING OF IT
If you write and record a song or album with the idea of moving units or having hits, then you might be taking the wrong approach. Second-guessing the audience or hip trends is always a fool’s errand.

By being true to yourself and doing what you want to do, you can create something and then push it out there as a representation of who you are.

YouTube, SoundCloud, Patreon, and other digital avenues are out there. Most do not cost very much, if anything, and you can reach more people. Get creative with it. Chances are that you will not sell one million albums, but you can make things happen with other avenues.

With Patreon, for example, you can have tiers and offer exclusive access to fans and social networking followers to participate in those tiers by donating a specific monthly amount. I don’t want to get into it too much, as I’d rather encourage you to check it out for yourself.

There has never been a better time in the history of music for independent musicians and songwriters than right now. It’s incredible.

MAKING THINGS BETTER
As you use today’s modern tools, think about how you can make them better, or how you can better utilize them to your advantage. Expensive hardware has been replaced with cheap or free plug-ins. Pricey interfaces are no long the only option, and other options are within almost anyone’s budget.

NoodleMuffinPromo-LowRes.jpg

Today, you can make your own album-ready music. I’ve been doing this with Noodle Muffin for the past 15 years, as we’ve self-recorded and self-produced everything we have ever released. The band was doing self-production long before I joined, as well. You can check out our albums on iTunes. It’s a fun band with some great songs, which is why I’m there.

ABOUT THOSE ROCKS IN MY BACKPACK
It is true that we all have rocks in our backpack. When he told me this, I initially took it as a simple way of being kind while rightfully suggesting that we’ve all got problems. However, I decided to dig a little deeper into what this statement means to me.

sisyphus camus.jpg
It’s not a separate thing you have to do. It’s a part of what you do.

I was in the middle of writing this, when the batteries in my keyboard died, and I had to change them.

That’s one way to look at it. Another way is that the need to change the batteries was a part of my writing of this blog.

I don’t view this as part of the rocks, so much as the dust that gets kicked up when I start running and the rocks start bouncing in my backpack. At least, that’s my perception of it.

If that’s just the dust, then how big are these rocks?

WHAT IS THE BACKPACK?
The backpack represents a person’s ego. The ego is a container that I call “me.” You call it “I.” It lives in a biological locker known as your brain.

The rocks represent life experiences. It could be a parent saying that you’re “stupid,” or school kids calling you “ugly,” or a teacher who says that you’ll never get anywhere. It can be what you like, or your expectations, or behaviors. These are all rocks that are put in your backpack for you.

You put your own rocks in there, too, with negative self-talk, or memory of moments where you tried something and failed. When you quit instead of persisting, that’s another rock. Adopting preferences, becoming a fan of something, being influenced by marketing, going with the crowd, your hopes and fears, and more, are all considered to be rocks.

Not only do we hang onto these, but we cling tightly to them and carry them around. This is “me.” The contents of the backpack is who I am.

At one point, not only was my backpack full, but a stone quarry was dropped on my head a few years ago, when I was publicly scammed. Without getting into the re-telling or re-living of this horrible event, I will talk about how I dealt with it.

HOW WAS YOUR DAY?
Ah, you wouldn’t believe it. I was writing a blog, when my keyboard batteries died. So I went to my battery stash and did not have any of the proper size. This meant that I had to get pants, drive to the store, get the batteries, and stand in line. By the time I got back, I felt so uninspired. It just ruined my entire day, you know? [insert bad attitude and negative feelings here.]

Can you imagine letting batteries ruin your day? Batteries!

The attitude about it would be the first problem, and the re-hash of it would be the second problem.

This is why accepting it as being part of the process is so important, when compared to adopting it as a problem. This is also why I won’t write about the details of what happened. That information is for the investigating authorities. It’s not for my daily life.

THE REALLY BIG ROCKS
Getting scammed was one of the biggest rocks in my backpack. It’s easier to blow off dead batteries, than it is to cope with a life-changing event such as this. With the really big rocks, you have to chip away at them. This can take years.

This one took me four years, and I had to find ways to cope with the weight of it all, while trying to live a regular everyday life. This rock was so tremendously big that it obscured my vision.

After years of chopping away, it has been turned to sand. This has been pouring out through a hole in my backpack, like sand through an hour glass. Time healing wounds.

TAKING THE ROCKS OUT
Therapy is valuable. When discussing these rocks with a professional, their responses can sometimes result in the removal of some of the rocks. Trying to cover it up or going into denial might provide temporary relief, but this does not deal with them.

The rocks are still there. You’re just pretending they are not there.

Rocks are intimidating and overwhelming. Big rocks can be crippling.

DUMPING OUT THE ROCKS
Treatments involving therapy with psilocybin have been mentioned in the news recently, as a way of treating Veterans who suffer PTSD. The purpose of this treatment it to reset and normalize activity in the Amygdala.

The PTSD, or “triggering,” arises when statements or events result in an “Amygdala hijack.” This is an immediate and over-the-top reaction to something that is typically not meant to be all that bad. It’s making a boulder out of a piece of gravel.

For a while, I had a fear of going outdoors, and was lacking in confidence. These rocks have weight and power.

artworkUSING MUSIC TO COPE
I had addressed some of the major rocks in my life by spending 2017 writing and recording a series of songs related to people and events of my life that were of concern to me.

Some of the people mentioned in the songs had a hand in making the giant boulder in my backpack more difficult.

The result was “The Year of My Birth [2017],” which is a collection of those songs.

Putting these people and events into songs was a way of taking them out of my backpack, looking at them, and tossing them aside. I don’t have to think about them anymore.

People who do not write music often do something similar, when they write these things down on a piece of paper and then burn it.

GETTING A NEW BACKPACK
This may be done with a great level of psilocybin or other psychedelics, and the resulting effect is known as an “ego death.” I am not recommending this approach, and have not done this. I still have the same backpack. It’s just significantly lighter now.

What I have done involves the employment of meditation, as well as forgiveness. The forgiveness is not about excusing what they did, or letting them know that it did not hurt you.

MORE ABOUT FORGIVENESS
The forgiveness surrounding my biggest rock involved letting go of what happened by accepting that it is now part of the past. It is not who I am, and is not my future.

It means not holding bad feelings or grudges against the many people in this incident. These grudges will make a person sick. That’s a guarantee. Concepts, such as hating them or wanting to get revenge, get thrown out the window.

This is not to suggest that I would be friends with them. The similarities between loving someone and hating someone is that it’s an act of caring about them. By not caring about them, it is as if they no longer exist in my world. These negative people are now completely inconsequential in my mind.

I do not have the space, time, or energy for hating anyone.

THERE IS NO BACKPACK
Now we’re getting into the realm of intense spiritualists who become Elements of Heatless Light.

Do not think that you can never achieve it, for this is not about achievement, a goal, or a destination. When you dance, there is no spot on the dance floor where you try to end up. When you write a song, it’s not about the ending.

It’s about what you’re doing right now. After that, it’s not about what you did just then, and is about what you’re doing right now.

The only problem is that if you think you’ve attained it, then this act means that you have not. It is not a destination.

Turn left.

HOW ALL OF THIS APPLIES TO MUSIC
It is said that art comes from pain, and it really can. But when a person is angry, depressed, or otherwise injured, the last thing they want to do is create music. Anything that can get in the way of a person’s ability to get out of bed or to pick up an instrument is not conducive to the creative process.

Whether you’re a new student who is just learning, or a seasoned player who is working on new things, being able to play your instrument with a clear mind is essential to progress and creativity. At the very least, it is more difficult to focus and do what one wants to do with a heavy backpack.

A PROMISE TO MYSELF
I will be leaving the previous blog up, as a reminder of what I would prefer to avoid. While I will not avoid the negative aspects or challenges associated with music, I will take the time and care to address these things in a positive light, in a way that is productive and educational.

The promise I make to myself is a promise that I make to you, the reader. This blog will not turn into a dumping ground of negativity.

TODAY
Today, there is practice to be done, lessons to be written, floors to be swept, dishes to be washed, and garbage to be taken out. I will not think of these items as things that I have to do, like chores. Instead, I will approach these items as things that are a part of my life.

 

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The endless river… forever and ever…

Today, I get the opportunity to live. I can sweep the floors, wash the dishes, take the garbage out, do my lesson work, and practice my own music lessons. I might even get to write a song, and maybe record it, too.

 

I will have no expectations regarding any of it. What gets done will get done. What does not will not.

Should the winds blow, I will set my sails. Should the air be still, I will row my oars. Should my arms grow tired, I will rest in my boat and enjoy the scenery. And should I catch a fish, I will consider it a bonus.

I have no destination.

What I do have is right now. My attitude toward and about “right now” is for me, and I will give myself what I deserve.

I will not waste “right now” with negativity, hatred, or fear. And I will not fear Death, for Life is an illusion caused by Death.

Aging Musicians and the Music Business

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The last known sighting of my 90s ponytail.

I was only 32 years old when I was writing and recording with Filipina recording artist Ruby Cassidy [aka “Mystika”] in Hollywood. The engineer, producer, and owner of the studio was [and is] famed drummer Jimmy Hunter.

During a stretch where we were in the control center together, while the artist was recording vocal tracks, Jimmy told me, “You’re an old guy now. You should get out of the way of the young kids and do something else.” His suggestion was that I be his assistant, or at least I took it that way.

That never happened, although I did help him a bit. My conversation with Jimmy did not bother me, because I was 32 and was not feeling my age yet. But if we’d had this conversation just a few years earlier, I probably would have been destroyed.

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Youthanasia sticker, from Captiol Records gift set given to guests. (October 31, 1994)

 

A MEGAFRIEND IN A BIG CRISIS
Then Megadeth drummer Nick Menza and I were introduced by his mother back when “Countdown to Extinction” was released. I figured it would be cool to meet him, and had no idea that we would become friends.

On Halloween 1994, Megadeth was having an album release party for their new album, “Youthanasia.”

The party was in a castle in Hollywood, and a ton of people were there. Kennedy from MTV was conducting interviews. Famed photographer Richard Avedon was taking photographs of the event. He was also the photographer for the album, as well as promo photos.

There was a mote around the castle, snake handlers, an incredible catering spread, and a phenomenal atmosphere that was fitting for a Halloween release of a metal album of this nature. It would be fair to say that it was an ideal evening.

That is, ideal for everyone except me.

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With Dave Mustaine at the Hollywood Youthanasia album release party, October 31, 1994.

I was there with my on-and-off girlfriend, who was pregnant at the time. Even worse, in less than five weeks I would be thirty years old. This may not sound like a big deal. Turning 50 was a cakewalk for me, and 40 was easy.

But there was something horrific about 30. Here I was, 30 years old, with a toxic relationship being cemented with a baby, and a job where I worked for an abusive boss. Not only had I not achieved anything that I wanted to achieve within the context of the music industry [another long story], but now I was going to be… old!

There was no going back. There were no do-overs. Life had passed me by, I felt that I had failed miserably, and everything was over. At least I was celebrating the accomplishments of a friend who was only six months older than me.

I did my best to keep my depression in check. I tried to not think about what was happening with my life, and what was going to happen. So far as I was concerned, my life was over. Destroyed. Wasted. When I thought about it, anxiety would come up and make sure that I was not going to enjoy this celebration.

At one point, I hid behind a tree on the edge of the property, because I felt that my issues were too visible. Once I had gathered myself, or so I thought, I see that Nick Menza is heading my direction.

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With Nick Menza at the Hollywood Youthanasia album release party, October 31, 1994.

He starts the conversation with a pleasantry. “Did I autograph your promo poster yet?” He then gave me an autograph, which was cool.

 

Then he gets to the real reason why he came over. “Dude, are you okay?” I said that I was fine, but he wasn’t buying it. “What’s wrong? I can tell something is up.”

There was nothing else I could do but be honest. I let him know exactly what was on my mind. I told him about my impending “thirty-ness,” stress about my future son’s arrival, and how I had failed as a musician because I had not ended up where I thought I would be by age 30.

Being a drummer who was only six months older than me, I figured that Nick would understand my situation. Fortunately, I figured correctly, as he had some wise words to say to me about all of it. What he said will stay with me forever.

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Nick’s words did not negate the attitude of the music business toward older people who had not yet gained entry. Had these words come from anyone else, they would have meant nothing. Because it was Nick saying this to me, as a friend, it meant the world.

Nick Menza
“Cryptic Writings” after-party in Vegas

On May 21, 2018, it will be the second anniversary of the passing of my friend, Nick. He died while drumming, which seems rather fitting for him, since he loved drumming so much. Here I am, almost half a lifetime later, still feeling the impact of Nick’s words, his kindness, and his friendship.

 

I’ll always remember what he said, as well as the encouragement that he provided. There were many times where I would play drums at his house while he riffed on the guitar. Fame comes and goes, but friendship is forever.

WHAT OLDER MUSICIANS DO
Nick left this world behind a drum set, passing away during a gig with Ohm at The Baked Potato in Studio City, CA.

Most older musicians who are performing professionally are doing so because they had built a name for themselves when they were younger. People want to see where they are now, how they are now, and they want to re-live their youth.

The only difference between me and Nick is that I never did build a household name. I did build a reputation among people who were playing shows, back in the day. Those days are gone, and so are most of those people.

What do older musicians in my shoes do?

My friend Jimmy had suggested that I become a producer, or get involved in the control booth of a studio. This advice was more solid in 1997, when he gave it to me. Unfortunately, this advice did not age very well, as recording studios are taking a major hit. People are recording at home now.

BECOME A PRODUCER?
Even I record at home most of the time. While I may record live drums for Noodle Muffin on occasion, I do not even record live drums for myself. I do not have a facility or the gear, and it is too expensive. I use Addictive Drums in Reaper, with an AKAI MPD18 pad controller. The songs and the situation do not warrant such an effort or expense.

It’s an expensive proposition that may not show much of a return.

SONGWRITER
I have done some songwriting in the past, and have put some songs up for sale using various services. This is a case of industry focus, meaning these songs are for sale to bands or artists who are in the music industry.

With this approach, I can still say what I want to say with music. I just get a younger, more palatable face to say it for me. Checks get cashed, with no hassle that comes with fame.

PRIVATE MUSIC TEACHER
This is one avenue I am actually pursuing. I’ve taught lessons before, on a casual basis, and I liked it. Music has always brought me happiness, which is why it’s still a part of my life. If I can teach someone, get them on a path, and give them encouragement, then I will be passing along Nick’s gifts to me.

COVER BAND/PARTY BAND
When I was younger, this had a limited amount of appeal to me, because my focus was having an original band and getting attention on our own songs.

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On bass with The Beertonez, Halloween 1984

When I was almost 20, I observed the power of the cover song with my college band, The Beertonez. We played a decent mix of covers and originals.

 

People loved our rendition of the covers we played, and it turned out to be really fun, as well as a money-maker. One gig would produce enough to pay rent for six months. My cut from our last gig paid for my entire college year.

In 2018, the money goes not go nearly so far. But the way I see it, if I can get paid to make music, then it’s a win-win for me. Plus, people seem to have a lot of fun with covers.

OPEN JAM
This is not a money-maker, but it sure is fun. Getting together with older musicians and making music is what keeps me feeling young.

Music isn’t always about money.

THE MUSIC BUSINESS GOT OLD, TOO
Not only did the music business get old, but the original path of getting discovered, signed by a major label, and putting out records is almost dead. Back then, this was almost the only way to get anywhere substantial. There were a few bands who were doing their own thing, but they weren’t raking in the dough like it seemed the signed bands were doing.

RIDE THE WRINKLES
The once smooth, Botox-injected face of the music business is now showing its wrinkles. The good news is that these wrinkles result in alternative revenue streams becoming available.

At one time, YouTube was one of these alternative avenues, although they are starting to die out as a result of their penchant for de-monetizing videos. By the time they review and monetize your videos, the maximum views have been had, and the excitement has worn off a bit.

One might suggest that YouTube is dying, although it would be more accurate to suggest that YouTube is committing suicide. The bad things that are happening to YouTube are things that they are doing to themselves. They are lacking in adequate customer support, but are also very lacking in self-awareness. They are on the fast-track that MySpace was on, except they are bigger. YouTube is too big to survive, but that’s another topic.

Patreon is another good way to get financial support from fans, and it can be used in conjunction with YouTube or other social networking sites. I do not have a Patreon site myself, but I know many other artists who do, and they seem to like it.

Online Sales can be good, too, depending on the exposure your band gets on social networking. Noodle Muffin uses sites like iTunes and CD Baby.

In summary, when I first started pursuing work in the music business on a more official level in 1986, getting signed was the best thing that could happen to a band. In fact, it was almost the ONLY thing that could happen. As for today, getting signed might be the worst thing that can happen to a band.

IN THE END
Whether it’s playing smaller crowds, playing covers, teaching, or writing songs for others, older musicians still have things to say. Thanks to our modern times, the industry cannot stop them, as they are no longer the only entity that dictates what the people will hear, and when they will hear it.

I have something to say, as do my older contemporaries. The number of ways we have to say it now is incredible.

Get out there and say something with your music.

The “No True Scotsman” of Music

INTRODUCTION TO THE “NO TRUE SCOTSMAN FALLACY”
To understand my point, one must first understand what is known as The No True Scotsman Fallacy. An example of this “circular” type of argument from the link is below.

(1) Angus puts sugar on his porridge.
(2) No (true) Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
Therefore:
(3) Angus is not a (true) Scotsman.
Therefore:
(4) Angus is not a counter-example to the claim that no Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.

This fallacy can be employed and served as an attempt to refute someone’s point in an argument.

WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH MUSIC?
I have met many, many musicians over the course of my lifetime. Some of them are good at what they do, and they have a good deal of confidence in what they do.

But then there are others who have been sold a bill of goods, typically by other people, regardless of whether or not they’re a musician. I consider it to be psychological abuse, because it can be paralyzing to a person who is maybe lacking in confidence.

In keeping with the format of the example above:

(1) Joe is a guitarist, but cannot sweep pick.
(2) No (true) guitarist is lacking in sweep pick abilities.
Therefore:
(3) Joe is not a (true) guitarist.
Therefore:
(4) Joe is not a counter-example to the claim that no guitarist is lacking in sweep pick abilities.

In other words: Steve Vai shreds on guitar, and you’re not a real guitarist until you can play like him.

This can be done with any instrument. Just take someone who is highly-talented, use them as the benchmark, and then proceed to insult and belittle.

If you’re feeling like your not a real musician, then please read on, because I do have some good news for you.

WHAT IS THE BENCHMARK?
Is Steve Vai the benchmark of guitar? What about Andres Segovia? Certainly, they are masters at what they do. But they are not the benchmark for what makes a musician, even though they are/were highly incredible players. Declaring them to be the benchmark is dishonest, discouraging, and ignorant.

It’s also not a healthy way to think about it.

What is fair to say about the likes of Vai or Segovia, is that they are inspirations. Also, they are aspirations. It is healthy and realistic to say that you’d like to play like them one day, or to be as good as them one day.

The fact that you might not yet be there does not mean that you are not a musician.

A POPULAR DRUMMER ARGUMENT
One I’ve encountered is that “Ringo is a horrible drummer, because of how simple he plays.” The idea here is that Ringo stinks as a drummer, or may not even be a “true drummer,” because he’s not shredding the kit like Buddy Rich.

The video is a clue into why this argument is fallacious.

Indeed, playing for the song and the genre is what makes Ringo a great musician. Now, if he wanted to play drums for a speed metal band, then he’d have a complete host of problems, as well as a ton of work ahead of him. He’d have to dedicate years, or maybe even a decade or more, to be able to do this.

Does Ringo suck because he cannot play speed metal? Of course not.

THAT’S NOT WHAT I PLAY
This is the best response to give to someone who has this type of criticism about your playing. It’s one thing for them to note that you need work on timing, or maybe you need to be more smooth. But it’s another to say that you “suck” or are not a “real musician” because you can’t do a certain trick on the instrument.

That’s not what I play.

WHO SAYS THESE THINGS
You can encounter them at a music store, or maybe at a club. It’s usually someone who cannot yet do the things they’re laying at your feet. In that case, they’re trying to compensate for their own bad feelings about themselves.

If they can play like that, and have this attitude, then they’re just being a jerk about it.

WHO DOES NOT SAY THESE THINGS
I used to go to this open jam, where you sign up on the list, and then get called up to play a few songs when it’s your turn. Sometimes I’d sign up for drums. On a few occasions, when lots of drummers showed up, I’d sign up to play fretless bass.

These people are world-class musicians who are confident in their abilities. Sometimes they make mistakes. But they are always having fun. That’s why they do it.

It’s a community activity, and not a competition. Nobody there ever talked about how they were better than this other guy. Ever.

WHEN DID I BECOME A MUSICIAN?
This is something that I’ve thought about while writing this. Did I become a musician when I moved to LA to play on historic stages in the mid-1980s? Did I become a musician when I recorded my first tracks in 1978? Did I become a musician when I joined the school band in 1971?

We can go deeper. Did I become a musician when I could sight-read? Did I become a musician when I was first introduced to Music Theory in 1983? Did I become a musician when I could finally play my first song?

Have I not yet become a real musician??

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Me, drumming on a trash can at 18 months old [Summer 1966]
One might suggest that I became a musician when I first showed interest in playing music.

 

THE ANSWER REVEALED
Since I first showed interest when I was 18 months old, I would say that at this stage I was emulating my uncle’s band drummer, while showing a high level of interest and aptitude.

I actually became a musician when I was four years old, because this was when I became a student.

My uncle, who played guitar in his band, sat me down and wrote out how to play an F Major scale on the guitar. He did this when the band was on break. After he wrote this, he left me with his guitar and the paper, while he went outside to hang with the band.

I looked at the paper, looked at the guitar, and started trying to play it. It was pain-stakingly horrible. My fingers were too little. I did not yet have technique of any kind.

However, I was trying, and I was learning. This is what music students do.

Once you are a student of music, you have become a musician.

WHO IS A STUDENT?
In the past, I’ve studied with many music teachers. Since that day with my uncle, and subsequent days with him, I studied with various grade school and high school band directors. I studied drums with John W. McMahan, author of “Readin’, Ritin’, and Rudiments: A Collection of Studies for the Beginning Snare Drummer.” I continued drum studies in junior high with Richard Paul, who would later be my professor at Ball State University.

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Kindergarten report card from 1970-71. The “S-” grade in Music was due to my difficult with the social aspects of music. Kindergarten was my introduction to doing things with other kids.

After that, I kept on taking lessons whenever I could. I took some private drum lessons with Chad Wackerman, and also paid attention and learned from every musician I have ever met.

Lately, I have been taking guitar lessons from a professional guitarist. While I keep his name private for security reasons, and out of respect for his privacy, he has made a name in the music industry, and has contributed to albums that will truly stand the test of time.

He has been playing guitar for over 50 years, and yet [according to him], he has not yet mastered the guitar. Adding to this, he says that he never will master the guitar, as there is not enough time in anyone’s life to actually do this. The guitar is an Infinite Instrument, because you have a complete small orchestra at your fingertips.

Imagine how things would be if he could not call himself a musician until he’s mastered his instrument. There would be no point to any of it.

He got good at his genre-of-focus [and others], at songwriting, and other abilities. Then, he started branching out to discover other aspects of guitar, such as classical playing. While there are still things that he does not know [because knowing it all would be impossible], or has not yet conquered, he is farther along than I can ever get, even if I practiced 5 hours per day every day for the rest of my life.

A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE
My perspective of his playing is that he’s a genius and a major talent. To himself, it’s a different story. He’s never happy with anything that he’s ever done. He writes something and records it. Then, by the time it is mixed, mastered, and released, he’s already moved on. He’s already moved forward. That song he recorded in the past is now “old hat,” and not representative of what he can do now.

Dan Lapel Talent Show late 80s
High school talent show, playing Ozzy’s new hit, “Goodbye To Romance” [late 1981]
Some of that could be real. Some of it could be psychological. I think that GREAT musicians are never satisfied with where they are. This is how they become great.

When I told the guys in my band that I was taking guitar lessons, they were curious. “Why are you taking lessons? You’re already a great guitarist.”

From my perspective, I am not, which is why I am taking lessons and learning. I will be learning until the day I die, or the day that I move on. I haven’t moved on from music in 53 years, so I have doubts that it will happen.

When I was young, I was in awe of punk rockers who painfully pushed out three chords on the guitar, with each chord the result of a down-stroke in 8th notes.

Players like that sold more guitars than shredders, because what they played was more accessible. But I digress. The point is, I’m not going to say that this is NOT music, because it’s too simple or easy, or any other reason. Even if I did not like it at all, saying it stinks does not mean that it’s not music, or that they are not musicians.

They’re a different type of musician.

GET ON A PATH
What you have to do is choose a path.

In my guitar lessons, I’ve been diving into music theory and various concepts that apply specifically to the guitar. I could easily get drowned in music theory. It did happen once, and I actually panicked.

Now that I have these concepts in my lap, I have to work on them every day for years to get to a point where I can effective utilize them in my playing and songwriting.

Now, I have to decide where I want to go with it. I’m thinking of tasty blues-style lead playing. This is a good example of where I’d like to go.

I’m choosing this style, not because it’s easy. In fact, it’s far from easy. However, it is spacious and open. I do not feel the need to fill every single beat of the music with as many notes as humanly possible.

My first goal is to get to a place where I can improvise something interesting and musical. Should I happen to build speed, which could happen since I work with a click track or backing tracks, then that will be a bonus.

The reason why I have to choose a path is simply because life is too short. If I try to learn as much as possible about guitar, and I don’t make music, then there might be little point to it all, beyond accomplishing things for my own growth.

Supposing that I go with the path of a tasty blues-style lead player, I can focus on the aspects of that particular style. I don’t have to sit and spend time on Classical playing, or metal shredding, and similar things. There are an infinite amount of paths to take.

That’s not to say that I could not later wish to focus on those and add aspects of it to my own path and style.

The point is to get good at what you want to play.

HOW TO BE A GOOD STUDENT
Communicate with your teacher/mentor about your goals and challenges. Do your homework. Practice every single day. 20 minutes per day, every day, is by far better than a few hours during the weekend. Building synaptic connections in your brain, and having those work in conjunction with your muscles, is the goal with daily practice.

Ask questions. Talk about what’s not yet working for you, and why. Be open to critiques about your playing, as well as your technique.

Being interested, curious, and willing to learn, are good attributes for any student.

1977 Bedroom
Making do with what I had [1977]
Remember to have fun and enjoy it.

For me, outside of a brief period in my relatively recent past, where I had some anxiety related to learning music theory, I’ve truly enjoyed every minute that I’ve ever spent with an instrument.

That difficulty I had there is not the first time that I’ve encountered difficulty. It’s also not the first time that I’ve had some anxiety. Sometimes it can happen.

When it does happen, it’s important to stop, breathe, and put it all into perspective.

You’re learning how to do something that will ultimately be fun. Try to relax, and enjoy the learning process, as well as the horrible sounds that you’ll make at first. There is work to be done, but the results are worth it all.

NOW ACCEPTING STUDENTS
I am in a place where I am accepting entry-level music students. If you are interested, then please consider visiting my website for more info, and then contacting me if you have any questions. You can also leave comment questions on this blog.

So whenever someone says that you’re “not a musician” because you can’t do something, remember that they might be a jerk, or they could be insecure. “You’re right. I cannot play that. Yet.”

For almost 50 years, I have enjoyed being a student of music. I am looking forward to the continuation of this journey. I’m excited to find out what will happen next.

NMBar

How to Become a Better Drummer

vatos.jpgI was watching Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez, of Oingo Boingo, on a drumming channel, when he said something about how drummers who are “only drummers” are annoying.

To take this a step further, I would suggest that a drummer who only plays drums might very well be lacking in the musical language required to develop creative drum parts that serve a song.

Whether you’re a person who plays drums, or someone who creates beats with drum samples, having an ear for the music is key. Today, I’m going to be focusing solely on the live and studio drummer; a person who actually swings sticks.

In today’s blog, I will give you some pointers on what you can do to become a more interesting and effective drummer, and what will increase your chances of getting hired over someone else. This won’t be about auditions, or how to behave [be personable!], or how to dress, but rather about talents and abilities that YOU can bring to the table in order to be a more valuable player.

 

Dan Noodle Muffin Banjo 150808
Laying down a banjo track for Noodle Muffin’s upcoming 2018 release, “Meatbowl and His Donut Throne.”

LEARN HOW TO PLAY ANOTHER INSTRUMENT
Yes, that’s me playing the banjo on a recording. I’m not a great banjo player. We were recording, and during playback I heard a part in my head. So I picked up a banjo, found some notes, and practiced playing them in a way that I felt would sound good. After five minutes of practice, I got on the microphone and performed the part.

 

With Noodle Muffin, I started out as being their gig drummer in 2002. Since then, I’ve laid down tracks in Noodle Muffin sessions for drums, fretless bass, guitar, keyboard, trombone, banjo, percussion, vocals, voice acting, foley art, and more.

When I went to Ball State University to study Percussion Arts, my musical world has to be expanded beyond drums, and included music theory, ear training, and composition. It also involved developing a level of proficiency and understanding of other instruments, such as piano, marimba, and string bass.

If you are a drummer, and do not play another instrument, then I would encourage you to pick up another instrument and start learning. You DO NOT have to become a great player, or even a virtuoso. What you DO need to do is play the instrument, get comfortable with it, and then gain an understanding of the sounds that this instrument makes, and how they fit with the landscape and mix of the song.

This understanding will be followed by an internal question: How do my drums fit within the landscape and mix of the song?

This is where you figure out how to make others sound good in the song, which in turn makes you look fantastic.

 

tabb
The Andrea Ballard Band [TABB]
LEARN HOW TO PLAY FOR THE SONG
During my years in The Andrea Ballard Band, I found myself stepping outside of my pop/rock comfort zone, into a world that had more jazz and funk elements.

 

In this world, I knew that it would not be acceptable to simply lay down a 2-4 pattern.

Unfortunately, this band never recorded an album, at least not in this configuration, because the music was very interesting. There was an open element about it, where you’d have to let certain vocals “breathe” a bit. This was achieved by laying back on the snare and toms, releasing flourishes on the hi-hats, and providing some groove with the bass drum.

Each song got its own special treatment, which is how it should be, regardless of the style you are playing. Some songs may require a driving drum beat, and that’s fine. Other songs may require something different. That “something different” can be found within the context of the song.

AverageJoes02LEARN HOW TO SING WHILE PLAYING
This may seem like an impossible feat. You might be wondering how you add singing on top of your playing, because you perceive the situation to be a case where you are employing “limb independence.”

The truth is that drumming is all about rhythmic interdependence, or note relationships. For example, you can be playing 8th notes on your hi-hat. When you strike a snare or kick the bass, this is not accomplished by independently moving your wrist or foot. Instead, your snare or bass notes have a relationship with your hi-hat notes.

The best way to get started is to start singing! Learn how to sing a song that you know how to play on drums. Then, start putting the two together. It might be rough at first, and it could be rough for a while.

In the end, you’ll have two things on your mind. One is the rhythm/time/drum parts, and the other is the pitch and tone of your voice.

INTEGRATE MIDI, SEQUENCERS, AND SAMPLERS
Sometimes, having two things on your mind just isn’t enough. When I was drumming live with Noodle Muffin, I couldn’t just play drums. I also had electronic triggers on the drums. These were set up in a way where each acoustic drum also produced a unique electronic sound, depending on what was needed for the song.

A live Noodle Muffin show in the early 2000s was something to behold. With the exception of the bass player, everyone else had at least one other instrument. The violinist had a keyboard and sampler, the second guitarist had a keyboard and sampler and sang backups. The front man played guitar and sang, and sometimes moved to keyboards. My responsibilities were no exception.

My pads were set up in an interesting way. One of the brains was a Roland SPD-20. One of the guys also provided a sampler, as well as a sequencer. The brand names escape me, since this was around 2002-2003. There was also a Roland TMC-6, which could serve as a station to re-direct signals delivered from certain triggers or pads.

With them, there were moments on stage where I was drumming, setting off the sampler, setting off the sequencer, playing melodic notes on the SPD-20, and singing backup vocals.

Obviously, drumming and singing were part of rehearsals. But so was striking trigger pads and changing programs for each song, which called for its own set of unique instruments, voices, samples, and loops.

Rehearsal also involved practicing set-up and tear-down of the gear, which took significantly longer.

The more you can bring to the table, the higher your value becomes.

EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS
Do you have a tight focus on a specific genre? There is nothing wrong with this, except that it will limit your possibilities and opportunities.

When you have some solo time to play your instrument, as part of your practice routine, try integrating one song that is outside of your norm, and play that song for 15 minutes. Loop it 4-5 times, and play it. If it feels weird and uncomfortable, then keep it in your practice routine until it feels more natural.

When it feels more natural, replace it.

Do you play a shuffle beat? I rarely do. But when it comes up, I have to put additional focus on the act of simply playing a shuffle for a while and getting re-acquainted with it.

SET SOME GOALS
Take some of these suggestions and set goals for yourself, based on what you want to do. Don’t try to achieve all of it at once. It takes a long time to build your abilities to the point where you can do some of these things seamlessly.

Some things, like singing while drumming, is easy. You can sit at your desk and tap your hands while singing the song in your head. Doing this can help you find the rhythmic relationships of the notes that you’ll need to sing.

Other aspects, such as integrating samplers and sequencers, can take more time and technical experimentation.

Don’t be that drummer who only knows drums, and who can only keep a beat. Be something more. Be a musician!

If you need consultation on anything noted here, including gear tips, set-up tips, and more, then please consider contacting me via my website. I offer a variety of services, and fees can be set based on need, time, and budget considerations. First email is free.