Coming Together – Be careful who you pick to be in the band

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I don’t think you should ever blame someone else for your own failures… except when talking about this subject. If you have unmotivated, talentless, selfish bandmates. It is their fault you are not getting to where you want to go. Although the argument could be made it is your fault for playing with this group

Cracking the industry is really, really, really (I cannot stress this enough) REALLY hard! But it doesn’t have to have that many “really’s” – we can make it easier by surrounding ourselves with people who are motivated, talented and have asolid vision of what they want. It takes time to find these people. It’s worth the wait.

I’ve played in enough groups who knew they were hot shit. But here’s the thing, we were not hot, we were cold shit. Our front man was arrogant, a one-note chump (one of the worst things you can be) who burned through most of our contacts with his pride. Our drummer was crazy and not the fun kind of crazy. Our bassist missed almost every practice, our rhythm guitarist practically lived in another state. Do yourself a favor, learn from us! Be honest with yourself about the guys you play with, if it looks anything like this, quit this group right NOW!

Now, everyone in the group could play. We didn’t sound half bad, but we also didn’t sound half good. That is a perilous place to be because you end up wasting a lot of time.

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Even if you’re a solo artist, you need others to help you get to where you want to go. Burning out creatively is a real thing, and it happens all the time. If you’re trying to solely pull your band through a tough unmotivated time, you might last a couple weeks. Hell, maybe even a good couple months (good god, you’d be a deity to last that long) but you will end up hating music for a while and you’ll remember this time with blue flame rage.

These folks you swore had your back will go to whatever job they had as a backup, and you will be right where you were a few months ago. Sure, maybe with a few new songs and if you’re lucky, some places to contact. That is if you didn’t turn them off with your old wishy-washy band and if those members don’t threaten to sue you for using the songs they “helped” collaborate on.

 

Apparently, I’ve had some bad experiences.

You’re going to meet some of these people pretending to be musicians on your path to your dreams. Nobody is perfect, especially not you or me. Let me given you a few tips on easing the road though.

1. Don’t be afraid to regularly change some members of the band. I’m not a fan of rotation, but MOST times it needs to be done. If you’re playing with someone who rarely shows up to practice, you know the one, always an excuse an hour before everyone gets there, just tell them it isn’t working out. If someone in your band is consistently a raging dick, they can and should be kicked out. You know how many people are out there that plays the drums? SO MANY PEOPLE. When changing people, It helps to get a recording of what you’re looking for and to write tabs (or chords) for the next person who comes into the group. It may seem time-consuming, but it’s not as slow as sounding out an instrument to the new musician trying to learn a part.

2. You’re not going to like everyone else’s ideas, and that’s ok. If you’re in a band, then you’re going to play a song that someone else wrote that you don’t like to play. We’ve all been there before, “you are my ocean, and you are my stars” what the hell is that Mikey? It’s a group though, and the sound of your band comes from that collaboration. Always be honest with your bandmates, but remember that if you are consistently shooting them down, they’ll be useless to you when you need help. Creativity is funny like that. You need to write some terrible songs to find the good ones.

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3. Many hands make light work. I am a firm believer in the jack of all trades when it comes to the work behind the scenes. Sure you might usually drift to booking shows, but that doesn’t mean it’s YOUR job. The others should help! The “assigned band job” is another thing that will quickly burn you out. Someone will always get the tough job of making a ridiculous amount of phone calls every week, and the other guy gets packing the truck or driving. Both have time, but the amount of work is drastically uneven. This is hard to fight, you will want to just drop into a role. Fight it! Have everyone do a little of everything. If you have five people in the group and everyone does two things, you’ve got ten things done, no one broke a sweat, you’re all fresh and creative. You can’t be burnt out and create. You will burn out if you have to do ten things by yourself on top of whatever else you have to do in life. That’s a full-time job on top of your full-time job. If you’re a solo artist, you still need to find others who will help you with the work behind the scenes! I know from personal experience that there are so many music lovers or just friends who will be willing to help you on your journey. PAY THEM!! Give them more than they think you should! If you’re serious about playing music, then you will not get far without rewarding those who help you. By giving them so much, they will be even more driven to help you.

4. Your first band will not make it. Hell, the first few bands will not make it. Just think about the odds of it. You know why we love groups like “Kings of Leon” (maybe you don’t, that’s a shame) because they’re the exception. They just happen to all be related! But even for them, Caleb and Nathan were in a group before the other two joined. If you are going to do anything in life, you need to stop hoping you are the exception. Much like your first love, it’s a learning experience! You’re not meant to end up with your first song as a hit. The sweetness, the joy of life comes from the missed and mistaken. I get that I sound like an old man now. But I’ve watched it happen to me and let me tell you. It would have been the worst thing that could have ever happened to me to have gotten to the next level with my first group and our stupid songs! The point is, don’t put too much pressure on it and if it’s your first group, just have fun! Play lots of shows and learn as much as you can!

 

5. Consistently talk about your goals with others. Make sure you are all on the same page. You’d be surprised how often plans are when expressed aloud. If they don’t meet up, that’s ok! Something might be categorically necessary for one member and feel like a waste of time to another. You are creative people and should be able to figure a way to compromise. If someone is unwilling to compromise to even a tiny level. It is time to find a new group (seriously, there are so many out there). You know what you’re deal breakers are, stick to your guns! That being said, if someone what’s a photo shoot in all plaid, it’d not going to kill your music. Go through with it with the stipulation that the next photo shoot will be something anyone one with eyes would actually enjoy.

6. Stop playing with people that play a radically different genre than yours. I was once recruited to play in a grunge band. I like grunge, but I don’t love it. It would have been a terrible fit. Sure, I could have played a couple songs the way they wanted me to play them. But with time, I just revert back to my sissy rock (meaning soft dad rock) roots. The group will all hate me, and I’d hate myself. That’s not to say that even in the little I did play with them I didn’t learn something. You should play with others outside your group often! But for heaven’s sake don’t join them. Think of it as a community! The best music thrives that way. Look at Seattle back in the 90s or LA back in the 80s! Just because you play with someone doesn’t mean you’re stuck for life, or even anything passed that night.

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7. Money. You have to spend money to make money. I heard this great talk given at the DIY convention from ——– Where the speaker talked about the 50/50 rule. Meaning that if you spend three thousand dollars on recording your songs, you should spend three thousand dollars on marketing. Maybe you don’t agree, (you’d be wrong) but that is a HUGE point for collaboration! It’s ok to disagree with getting sleeves versus a CD jewel case (my question is, who buys CDs anymore) but if you fundamentally disagree with any lack of spending or excessive spending. Quit.

The point is just to stop wasting your time by giving others YOUR time. I’m a firm believer that each of us knows when we’re doing something we shouldn’t be doing. Just because this guy plays the drums doesn’t mean he should be your drummer. Instead, take the time to cultivate a functional group of musicians or business partners who come close to sharing the same vision you have of your music and how it’s presented.

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A special thanks and photo credit to Jay Wenning, Juan Di Nella, Tom Rogerson, Markus Spiske, Zachrie Friesen, Matthew Lejune and Eszter Biro. I am blown away by your talent! Thank you for letting me spruce up the page with your touch.

Staying Motivated

After your 15th show on the tour, after the new single drops. It’s 3 am, and you are writing that second verse, this is where you’ve got to dig deep and find your love for it. Since The Beatles played on Sullivan, I don’t think anyone has picked up the guitar and not had the passing thought, “I want to play for the world!” I’ve seen a lot of them come and a lot of them go, and ten years into it I still have to ask myself all the time. Do I love this?

My answer proves to me that I do…the answer being, If I do not love it, I’m banging my head against the wall because I hate it.

Haha! Take it in kids, cause no one loves this game 100% of the time. I remember Hemingway saying “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

God, I love that quote. Couldn’t have said it any better, Papa.

So how do we keep motivated when we’re running on empty, how do we love this even when we hate it?

1. Do the part that you love.

You are feeling burnt out from booking shows or tired of working on scales, learning a new cover, touring for weeks on end. Just stop and think to yourself, “what’s my favorite part of this whole thing?” Then do that! Music is a vehicle we use to escape. It can be kind of demoralizing to have that place feel like just another job. Fortunately and unfortunately, there are many aspects of music. What’s your favorite thing to do in this realm? Find the answer, then do that for a few hours, it usually fixes me right up and has this odd mixture of nostalgia and being brand new to me.

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2. Set apart some quality time for yourself

Take a week off. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind! It’s crucial to take time to realize we need to take some time and enjoy what we do! Burning out is a real thing, and it happens to everyone. Prevent this from happening weekly by scheduling some time where you can work on other aspects of your life, some time to relax, some time to be you as a person, instead of you as an artist.

3. Get a hobby that doesn’t involve music

Like the last tip, this one encourages us to embrace our lives! Music is a great thing, its one of my favorite things. It can’t be the only thing. Whiplash was a movie, and Hollywood tells lies. You can still be great and have a life. I adore reading. I notice that if I don’t consume a book often, I start to feel a hole in my life. It’s important to me to practice guitar, and it is just as important to step away from it for a couple of hours and learn more about something (ANYTHING) else. Hell, I can usually come back from my hobby and have some new material to work. Maybe a new view on that chord. So just like that, we’re becoming a more well-rounded person! What the hell is this blog teaching?

4. Listen to your favorite albums

Take a trip back to what inspired you to start down this path! Every time I pop in Continuum by John Mayer, I think to myself. Man, I love this stuff. I can’t wait to record the next song, and it inspires me all over again. Your favorite album has this weird creative hold on you. You’ll always remember your first. 😉

5. Compile a list of three reasons you usually love what you do.

If you can’t come up with three, you may want to take a hard look at why you’re doing this. Honestly, I did this the other day, and I felt stupid at first. However, after I realized these simple reasons were the foundation for most of my decisions in life, it was oddly comforting. It’s always bothered me when someone asks me “what makes you want to be a musician?” and I kind of mumble out some answers. KNOW why you do what you do. In the end, if you’ve walked down a path and you’ve found that you just got caught up in it because others around you bled enthusiasm, or maybe your reasoning has changed, there’s nothing wrong with changing your path. Be honest with yourself, and you will always find peace.

Don’t be down on yourself for not feeling it 100% of the time. It is a tough racket, and as in all things in life, it comes in waves.

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Click, Click Boom

For all practicing musicians — this is one of the most important things you should be doing, whether you’re a beginner or tenured in the world of music.

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Click, Click Boom — The Metronome

Come closer my friend and I will tell you the most well-known secret in improving your musical skills – practicing with the metronome.

I was twelve years old and I remember Pat Dossett (my saintly piano teacher) telling me that if I wanted to get better at playing the piano, I needed to use a metronome. The problem was that I was twelve and I knew better than her and that I didn’t need that stupid, ticking thing. (Nice one little ‘Legs, we could have been the best, you scrub).

The only thing Pat ever did wrong was she undersold just how important the metronome was…and still is! I will make the comical mistake of making a weightlifting analogy in a music blog and say, “Practicing with a metronome is like running with a weighted vest on.” When you practice with a metronome you are getting twice as good twice as fast. If you’re bad at math that’s four times as good in very little time!

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With all this said, why is it we are not using this thing more? Probably because it’s hard to get into at first. It feels like you’re fighting with it for a while. But let me tell you, this will pass and before you know it you won’t even notice the darn thing.

I cannot stress the importance of this little clicking sound. If you’re recording, you’ll have the metronome going. If you’re playing with a group, you’ll have to be solid at keeping time. It needs to be going when you practice. Even those with outstanding natural rhythm need to work with the metronome.

There are creative ways around the “knock” or “tick” sounds. Most apps have variations to the sound. You can also get a digital drum-kit metronome to prevent you from going slowly insane from the monotony. However, I still highly recommend playing with the click sound enough to be comfortable with it since it is universally used. This will be invaluable in recording situations.

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When searching for an app, I highly recommend Pulse. It’s really easy to use and it’s easy on the eyes with its visual cues. It’s also free! (Ahh, now I’ve sold you on it). Another option is through GarageBand – it’s a super easy and free way to have an in-tempo drum loop set on repeat.

If you feel that you’ve plateaued with your skill, this is what you’re missing. I’ve always seen accelerated improvement in my students who actually use this God-given invention. Just simply use it when you’re playing that old song you know or when you’re burning through scales. I promise you that if you start putting in more time practicing with a metronome you will see vast and very fast improvement in your playing.

A Musician’s Guide for Buying Guitar Pedals

For a new musician, and even for the more experienced musician, buying guitar pedals can be needlessly complicated. Here’s a quick guide for navigating the sonic maze of pedal purchasing. Continue reading “A Musician’s Guide for Buying Guitar Pedals”