Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Jeremy Blake, Winchester 2000

Installation Clip from new Nerman Museum at JCCC in overland park kansas

Jeremy BLAKE ,video for Beck's

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Big Plan

One of the hardest things that I've had to wrap my head around as far as managing my career as musician is the whole process of planning. A lot of things about being a musician I felt couldn't be planned. I had gotten to the point where I was pretty proficient at my instrument, gone to college and university, had been in a couple of bands and toured yet never sat down to make any sort of plan. I figured that if I had made it this far without a plan, why should I start now? I also felt that planning might take away some opportunities that I might miss or would take away all of the spontaneity and fun of being a musician. Most of all I really felt like being a musician was nothing that you could plan and I might turn the corner tomorrow with a new opportunity that I could have never planned in my wildest dreams. I really felt like as a musician, you basically had to ride by the seat of your pants.

No Plan At All
I'm sure that you've heard the story; a young band starts out, does a couple of shows, and in no time at all end up getting signed and selling a ton of records. It's the stuff that Hollywood movies are made of. It almost seems like some people seem to do much better without putting too much thought into it. I read an article by one of the members of the Grateful Dead who said that anytime they made a conscious effort to do anything and sat down to make some concrete plans, it would usually fail. Whereas when they just went ahead and did what they felt like, without much planning and forethought, they were successful. Some people, not just musicians, also seem to get far with this mindset; succeeding in life without taking any time out to make specific plans. The fact is that most successful people plan. Studies have shown that a critical factor in highly successful people is that they write down their goals.They focus on one thing and make the effort to get that one thing done.They do things intuitively that most of use have to learn and take time out to do. We are usually unsure about what it is that we want to accomplish how to go about making our dreams a reality. You simply have to write down what it is that you want to accomplish and then take action everyday to realize those goals. With music, art and life, there are also things that you could never predict; you can only prepare and plan and see how things turn out. The Grateful Dead were an incredibly successful group that sold millions of records and were one of the most popular touring groups of all time. Ultimately, you could never plan that. You may find that you can still get a lot done if you are motivated to get out there and do it.
Highly successful people write down their goals; the key here is the word 'write'.

The Problem With Problems
So can't I just take things as they come up? Why do I need a plan ? The problem arises when problems arise. Let me explain that. Anytime you take on any endeavor, you are inevitably going to come across some problems. You are also going to get to the point where you don't know what to do next. You may also be at the point where you realize that what you're doing isn't working and you either need a new plan of attack or a completely new plan. The point is that it becomes necessary at this point to make some sort of plan and make some decisions. Even though the Grateful Dead were never successful at making any grand business plans, they were successful in creating one of the most successful live bands of all time. You're going to come across a situation where you're going to have to sit down and make some decisions and figure out what the best things for you to do next. We all know the value of making plans. So how do we apply this to being a musician and mapping out the best way to become a success?

Looking at the Big Picture
There a couple of ways that you can create a plan that will ultimately help you get where you want to go. The key here is figuring out where it is that you want to go. Sitting down and making plans makes you start to look at the big picture and makes you ask yourself some serious questions. You want to sit down and figure out where it is that you are right now and where it is that you want to go. It's a good idea to be specific here. Saying that you want to be a superstar in the next 2 years just doesn't cut it. If you can describe exactly what you want to accomplish, you will be much better off in making those goals a reality. If you are a singer, you want to describe the style of music that you'd like to do, if you're going to write the material or get other writers, if you're going to have a band, etc. Some people start off and they have no idea what it is that they want to do; they just go in every direction hoping that something will click. Some people don't even care; they just want to be a star. I'm putting it to you here that if you want to take control of your career and have a greater chance for success, then you should have an idea of what you want and how to get there. You'll find that as soon as you get out there and start getting things done, you'll learn more about what to do next and you may find things happening as a result of your efforts.

The basic formula:
1) Figure out who you are
2) Figure out what is it you want to do
3) Create a plan to achieve your goals
4) Put that plan in action

Simple yet tough.

What Next?
If you're one of these people who isn't sure of exactly what it is that they want to do or are confused about what it is that they should be doing don't worry, make the plans anyway. The biggest point here about making plans for a career in music is that these plans aren't written in stone and they will change. We do want to sit down though and figure out what it is that we want to do and have some sort of direction. Just grabbing anything that comes your way may result in some success but you're really just playing the lottery and we all know what those odds are. Once you sit down and start making plans and getting things done, even if you're not sure of exactly what to do, it will become a little clearer of what it is you should be doing. You're usually much better off deciding on some sort of direction and making plans to see that plan to completion. Your plans may change but once you've accomplished something by planning and making it happen, it becomes easier the second time around. It's also helps in keeping focused on achieving what you want to do and not just reaching for anything that comes your way. That way, you are in control of the direction of your career and when something unexpected does come up (as they usually do) you'll be better equipped to deal with it more effectively.
Zemanta Pixie

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Practice Time

Whenever it came to practicing I would usually pick up my guitar and just start working on whatever I felt like at the time. I would spend a lot of time working on separate styles and songs until I had enough. I would then put my guitar away until I felt like practicing again. I loved the guitar so picking it up at least a couple of times a day wasn't a stretch. There were times when I would work on specific lessons and songs but most of the time it was whatever goes. I spent a lot of the time just 'noodling around' without much focus. After a while, I realized that I could probably accomplish a lot more and improve a lot quicker if I was more disciplined about my practice time. I then read up and researched all that I could about practicing and how the great players practiced.


I found out that not only did the greatest players practice a lot, but they were also very disciplined about what they practiced. If you've ever read about John Coltrane's practice regimen you can see that he was not only hard working but thorough. He worked through everything in all twelve keys, working on every variation imaginable; a method well known among jazz players. I also learned that not only does this apply to the greatest players; it was also true of the great composers, songwriters and pretty much anybody else in an artistic discipline. It's not enough to practice; you must be disciplined in figuring out what it is that you have to know and then working through all of the necessary exercises to gain the required knowledge and ability.

There are a lot of ways to find out what it is that you need to learn and it's just a matter of asking the right questions and you'll find the right answers.

Most of the players mentioned had minimal education and some were completely self-taught. The point is that they figured out what it is that they had to learn then spent the necessary time to master those techniques. They were focused about what they had to do. You'll also find that although a lot of these players were self taught and had a style of their own, the method by which they went about learning their craft is very similar. For example, most jazz players go through the same method of learning scales to improvise over complex chord changes. This includes systematically going through all of the different variations of progressions in all keys, in different tempos, with different variations. No small feat that takes a considerable amount of time and focus. The same can be said of composers who learn the necessary theory and then go about working through all of the different ways that the theory can be applied to their craft. Ask Quincy Jones about some of the things he went through when learning his craft.


When I teach guitar, I usually treat the lesson like an actual practice session. In other words, I go through all of the things that you should be going through every time you practice. The following is a general list that I start with and then adjust according to the level of the student and their goals. For everybody the basic list is like this:

    • WARM UP - 2 minutes
    • READING - 5
    • EAR TRAINING - 5
    • CHORDS - 10
    • SCALE - 10

Within each general heading there is a few things included that isn't listed in the title. For example chords and scales also include rhythms and theory. I always try to apply the theory to real world examples and songs that they're working on. The picking exercise includes arpeggios and finger-picking. The warm ups are to be done slowly to focus on the left hand and develop independence. This of course is the short list and depending on the student and genre, other headings would be added. For a jazz student, more time would be spent on scales and chords because this would include improvisation and comping. The times are a general indication of how much time to spend on each discipline within a 45 minute practice period. You would spend more time on specific areas when needed; before a big performance for example, the majority of the time would be spent on learning the pieces.


I'll be going into more detail about this in the weeks ahead but for now this is a basic outline to give you an idea of how you should approach your time practicing. For every different type of student the list will be slightly different but the idea is the same. Work in the areas that are the most important everyday. Take time out to evaluate what it is that you want to accomplish and then find all the material you can about it. Above is a list for learning a musical instrument; a songwriter's list would be slightly different. By having discipline and working everyday on the things that you know you should (generally your weakest areas) you will learn more and become better in a much shorter time. You will probably surprise yourself.

Zemanta Pixie

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Optimizing Studio Time

So you’ve decided to go into the studio and get some tracks done. This could be a commercial studio, your friend’s studio, or your own home studio. These days there doesn’t seem to be much difference between some home studios and some of the commercial places. There are a few things that you should think about when taking this step.

The Plan

You would think that if you were going to do some work in your own studio that there wouldn’t be the need for any planning or preparation. It’s not like going into a commercial facility where you were paying by the hour and time was of the essence. The problem with thinking that you have all the time in the world to get things done is that you usually take all the time in the world. With this mindset, you may spend a lot of time playing around thinking that since it’s your home studio, it doesn’t have the urgency or even is as serious as something done at a professional facility. The problem arises when you go into the studio and spend a lot of time playing with the gear and experimenting without setting any goals or doing what you set out to do in the first place.

If you’re just starting out and are using the studio as a learning tool, then you can use that time to fool around and see how things work. But even this has its limits. There comes a time in the learning process when you have to get down to business and do things on a ‘need to do’ basis. That means doing projects as well as taking time out to learn specific disciplines and working on your craft. There is a huge learning curve when it comes to recording, mixing and professional audio that takes time and concentrated effort. To learn your craft, there is going to come a time when you’re going to have to stop experimenting and get down to getting things done.
There is always a level of experimentation in music that never goes away; the difference here is getting the essentials down so you can use time to experiment when you have it.
So let’s look at a couple of scenarios:

The Band

You’re in a band and decided that you’ve written a couple of songs that you’re really happy with and are ready to record. If you’re a band that has spent some time rehearsing, it’s a good idea to rehearse the songs that you are going to record until you all have a pretty good idea of what you want to accomplish when you go into the studio. Some bands just go right into the studio without even working on the material at all and figure that that’ll come later. It’s usually a better idea to work over the tunes in rehearsal because you end up getting really familiar with the songs and can work through a lot of ideas until you come up with something that you really love. After working through the song in rehearsal for a while, you may find that the song takes on a life of its own. Things may start to gel in a way that they can't when you're just laying down tracks quickly. Just jumping into the studio, you may get the entire recording done, and then realize later that you don’t like the sound or even the song. If you can, write a couple of songs together and see if you come up with a general sound that way. When you rehearse with the band, the sound will further be developed. The basic point here is to work through the songs until you come up with something that you really feel excited about instead of jumping into the studio and spending a lot of time creating recordings that you may not like or doesn’t really represent your sound.

Working on one thing at a time makes you focus on the songs first.

The Lone Gunman

What about if you’re a lone songwriter and are just working on material to demo or songs that you might want to play with a band at a later date? The same basic principle applies as far as working through the material and trying to find that sound that is yours. Too often, since we have the recording studio at our disposal, we’re all to eager to just write anything and get in there and start recording. If your main goal is to write great songs, this usually isn’t a good idea. Some guys will write a song and then start recording right away and work on the song that way. This may work for some people but the problems lies when you get caught up in the recording and arranging processes and lose sight of the song. How many times have you heard industry people complain that there very few great songs out there even though there are millions being recorded? The point is that if you’re determined to write great songs, then focus on that and make sure you have a great song before you spend tons of time and money making a demo, or even worse, a finished product. I’m not suggesting that you forgo the recording process entirely, just the opposite. I always write on the computer. The difference is that I always keep the arrangements bare bones until I have the song to where it can sit on it’s own without any fancy arrangements.


If you’re an instrumentalist or you’re working on writing better arrangements, or trying to write in different styles, then this takes a different approach. Yes, you’ll want to go into the studio right away and get going on recording but you’ll still have to take some time and decide what it is that you want to accomplish. You want to make sure that you’re working toward something and not just messing around with your gear. Messing around with your gear isn’t a bad thing; in fact it’s a really good idea. You do want to limit this to a certain amount of time or you’ll be messing around with your gear for years…without really getting anything done. For this approach you will want to decide which style and what kind of song you’re going to work with in the first place. Is an original, or is an arrangement of a standard, or a remix? You get the idea. The thing about doing exercises like this is it’s close to what happens in the real world. You get a call to write something in a specific style, like so-in-so artist with strings added, for example. Of course there are always deadlines and you should include this in your exercise. You’ll need some examples from the different artists mentioned or something in the general style and then work from there. The good thing about exercises like this is that you can take the results and add them to your portfolio that you can include in a demo reel or play to perspective clients.

Studio Wonderland

The studio itself can be a huge distraction to you actually getting to work. I know quite a few guys that have an impressive amount of great gear but never seem to get any work done. They preoccupy most of their time getting the gear and then messing around with the gear. These are the type of guys that make great techies and engineers but unless that’s your goal, you may not want to spend all of your time on this. The best thing to do when it comes to gear is to be really selective about the gear you get and then learn that piece of gear inside and out. There is a learning curve with any piece of new gear that’s going to take time away from your current project. Some pieces of gear are worth the effort to take time out and learn properly but be selective about this. In the end, the point is to make your results better and more professional; and that’s what this article is about…results.

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