Friday, January 17, 2020

Why musicians should watch the big game (Seriously!)

Photo by Ameer Basheer on Unsplash
Here we are, about to watch another televised wrestling match over who puts a football on one end of the field or the other, and all I can think of is how similar the big game is to the big gig. For elite athletes and musicians alike, here are five lessons I can't ignore.

Preparation isn't everything.
Seriously, does anyone think anyone on either team isn't fully prepared? Or that they don't take the game or their opponent seriously enough? At this level, everyone is an elite athlete, anyone is good enough to make a play and everyone wants to win. Sometimes you just get lucky. That said...

Preparation is everything. 
If you aren't ready to play on the big stage, you will get exposed - nay, obliterated - by somebody else. Your reputation, your legacy and your future are shaped by every opportunity that you get, so you need to be ready to do your best at any time. When the moment is upon you, it's too late to practice. So practice today, tomorrow and every day after that with the intent to be ready today, tomorrow and every day after that for whatever may come.

At the moment when it counts, it comes down to taking chances.
Miles Davis famously said, "Do not fear mistakes - there are none." Sports coaches might disagree with me, but if you're going to impact the game, you're taking chances. Every time the quarterback throws the ball, he's taking chances. If you play safe, you play to lose.

In no way am I advocating that you perform recklessly or without care for your fellow musicians, the setting and the music. But I'm saying that sometimes - at the right moments - you reach just a little bit beyond yourself to grow and become a little bit more than what you were.

The players that come out of a title game are on a higher level for the rest of their careers, win or lose. Musicians have the opportunity to take those steps forward at every performance. 

You don't have to be perfect to win.
Even when you win by a lot, and it looks easy, you haven't played a perfect game. I believe that no musician has ever played a perfect performance. Some of the most passionate and relatable musicians in the world are also famously imperfect. That vocalist that absolutely owns the audience, but occasionally cracks a note. Or the drummer who lights the band on fire but also has a problem with rushing (don't we all, tbh?). Be aware of your weaknesses, be mindful about improvement, but don't qualify a good or bad gig just because it wasn't perfect. There's a lot more to art than right notes and staying at 96 bpm. 

Even when you lose, there's another game coming up.
Especially in the music world, no gig is the last one - or at least it shouldn't be. There will always be another chance to make music, and you can take the results from every performance you have as data to help you learn. Where are your weaknesses, and what are your strengths? If we are thoughtful and observant, each experience - good or bad - gives us fuel to improve and get closer to where we want to be as musicians and as human beings.

Happy playing!

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Hanging by a thread - literally!

Sometimes I'm an idiot. And not just in the normal, open-mouth-and-insert-foot sort of way. I have the ability to be an idiot in the grandest, highest-stakes, end-your-life sort of ways. Let me tell you a story.

I may have mentioned a time or two that I've been an adventurer in my life. Climbing, rappelling, mountaineering, and subbing in a heavy metal band are just a few examples. Well, I've also spent a fair amount of time caving - also called spelunking.

On one such adventure, two friends and I decided to explore a pit cave, literally a vertical shaft into the earth. The opening to this particular cave was about twelve feet across and - we had been told - about 160 feet straight down. We secured the rope to a nearby tree, tossed it down the hole, and said, "Who's going first?"

Yep. It was me. I got on the rope with a rappelling device and a headlamp and started down the hole. The mistake we had made was that the rope was brand new. We had literally cut it out of its bindings less than five minutes before putting it down the shaft. Any experienced mountaineer will tell you that the rope needs breaking in before actually trusting it with your life.

Photo by Ivana Cajina on Unsplash
Well, about eighty feet down the shaft, the rope had tangled into a massive knot, and I was stuck. I couldn't go down, and I didn't have the necessary gear at hand to go back up. I was also out of hearing range of my companions. I had to do something fast.

It sounds a little MacGyver, but I ended up wrapping the rope around my leg to lock off my belay device, then I turned myself upside down and started untangling the rope. I'd get two feet at a time, then five feet, then another two. Each time I'd get upright, rappel down the length of rope I'd freed, then lock off and do it again.

It was painstaking, but eventually I reached the floor of the cavern with about fifteen feet of rope to spare, gave the signal on the rope, and my friends joined me.

"Dude! What took so long?"

My relief was immense. And I learned a valuable lesson about rappelling down into a cave on a new rope!

In the movie, "The Martian," the main character gets marooned on Mars and has to figure out a way to survive. If you haven't seen it yet, you may want to skip this next part. #spoileralert

The closing scene of the movie shows the main character talking to a class of would-be astronauts, and he explains one of the most powerful concepts about succeeding in life.

You can watch it here. 

Just solve one problem. Whatever's right in front of you, just tackle that.

When I was hanging on that rope with a huge knot below me, that wasn't the time to worry about anything but that knot. There would be other problems and challenges on that trip, but they absolutely had to wait. I couldn't do anything about the next problem until I'd tackled the one holding me back right then. I solved two feet, then five, then another two - and on until I reached safety.

So, in your music career, but also in your life, what's holding you back? What's the one thing that's right in front of you?

This year, I challenge you to take on the relevant, immediate things in your life so that you can get where you really want to be.

Happy drumming!

Saturday, January 4, 2020

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

"Everything you want is on the other side of fear. " - Jack Canfield

One of my favorite sports is rock climbing. I started climbing in college and spent as much time as I could possibly justify in the local canyons and gyms while getting my music degree. It proved to be a great mental and emotional exercise, in addition to the physical challenge, stress relief and lifelong connections made with other climbers.

Photo by Brook Anderson on Unsplash
When a friend's younger brother graduated from high school, we decided to take him on a multi-day climbing trip to celebrate. The brother was a natural from the start. He was bold, trusted the rope and his belay, and successfully lead a climb on his first day. It's worth noting that he later enlisted in the Marines. Fearless dude. 

Midway through the trip the older brother was tackling a very tough route. When he got to the crux (the toughest section or combination of moves), he asked me to brake the rope so he could take a quick breather and study the rock. While he was working on the route, little brother had hiked up around the route, and was looking down on him while he climbed. 

There's quite a bit of banter that happens on the rock wall, nearly all of it friendly and encouraging. This particular conversation was short and went something like this. 

Brother: Can't you just grab that hold, put your foot there, pull up this and then go there? 

Climber: Yeah, I can see what I should do, but I'm just afraid...

Brother: Well, what would you do if you weren't afraid? 

That was it. End of conversation. My friend looked down at me, shouted, "Climbing!" and nailed the crux. Just like that, the climb was over, the fear and struggle gone. All that was left was the victory of the moment, the sense of accomplishment at pitting your will and strength against gravity and stone and coming off victorious. It was one of those times where all of the clouds of life seem to dissipate, and the significance of the moment is clear, mind-altering and freeing in an instant. 

Think of the power of that one question: What would you do if you weren't afraid? 

I know it's not always simple, and it definitely isn't easy, but I'll bet it wouldn't take you thirty seconds to think of a few ways your life would be better if you'd simply do something that you're afraid to do. Even as I'm sitting here writing this, I can think of plenty!

Now, I'm not suggesting that you throw caution to the wind and do something insane just because you're afraid of it. In my climbing scenario above, my friend was already a skilled climber and had the protection of the rope, other climbing equipment, and a belay. He was in a situation that provided opportunity along with the possibility of failure, and was being held back by indecision due to fear. He did take a moment to study the wall and choose the best course of action, and then decided to act.

So, what is it that you know you need to do? Take the audition? Register for the competition? Study with that teacher? Move to that city? Change career paths? Make a major purchase, like a marimba? 

When you finally do decide to act, you'll realize that, in most cases, the fear was totally unfounded and all that you really needed to do was take the jump. There is much freedom in acknowledging your fear and moving forward anyway. 

"Courage is not the absence of fear, it is acting in spite of it." - Mark Twain

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Gigs: quality or quantity?

Photo by Nainoa Shizuru on Unsplash
A friend of mine tells the story of opening for a major, world-renowned rock band. The audience was huge, the venue was amazing - it was a great opportunity for exposure for him and his band.

The problem, it turns out, was that the audience was rabid in their anticipation for the main event, and the opening act was endured instead of appreciated. They added a handful of names to their email list and sold about half a dozen CDs.

By contrast, the next night they played a house concert for an audience of about forty. They sold thirty-eight CDs and added all forty names to their mailing list. More importantly, most of the new fans are still fans who attend performances, purchase merchandise, and consistently bring their friends to shows.

Sometimes as musicians we worry too much about how many new people we can get in front of rather than developing a relationship with those fans we've already got.

Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash
The people in the major venue came to see the other band, but the people in the house concert came to see my friend. More than that, the smaller, more intimate venue was exponentially more enjoyable.

I'm not saying you should turn down a great opportunity to play in front of thousands of potential new fans. I am saying that you shouldn't pass up an opportunity to develop a meaningful, lasting relationship with people who like you, who support what you're doing and want to help you grow your art.

Happy playing!

Why musicians should watch the big game (Seriously!)

Photo by  Ameer Basheer  on  Unsplash Here we are, about to watch another televised wrestling match over who puts a football on one en...