Friday, May 25, 2012

Get more gigs!

This post is inspired by an email from a friend asking what he can do to get more gigs. We're all in the same boat, for sure. Thanks, JC!

Last year I lost two very important (to me, at least) recording gigs to another local drummer. It wasn't underhanded or dirty, just an ease-of-use type decision in each case. He's a great player, and it wasn't the end of the world for me, but it really got me thinking.

How do I become 'the guy?' What can I do to get those calls and more of them?

Coincidentally, I had the opportunity to meet and hang with Tim Fagan at a Soundcheck Series event a couple of months later, and I asked him what he thought. Honestly, I was expecting, "Sorry, man. That's really too bad." I couldn't have been more wrong.

I'm paraphrasing here, but it went roughly like this:

Tim: "How many guys are there that are trying to get studio drummer work around here?"

Me: "I dunno, twenty, maybe?"

Tim: "And how many studio engineers and producers are there that hire drummers?"

Me: "At least twenty."

Tim: "And how many of those guys do you know personally?"

Me: *Gulp* "Three or four."

Tim: "Okay, so what are you doing to let the other guys know that you exist and that you're qualified to play in their studios?"

Me: *Double gulp* "I'm not really doing anything. I guess I'm just sitting around waiting for my reputation to generate phone calls."

He had made his point, and went on to tell me that in LA (where he lives and works) there are literally hundreds of studios and drummers, and that the guys who get calls are involved in the music ecosystem, are around a lot, and have reputations for being professional and reliable.

The best thing this discussion with Mr. Fagan did for me was get me to stop feeling sorry for myself. Beyond that, it's gotten me working on ways I can expand my reach and "visibility" in the music ecosystem in my area.

Here's my short list of ideas:

  • First and foremost: BE A SOLID PLAYER. Anytime you do have a gig, absolutely nail it. Consider that every time you play, you're "auditioning" for somebody who is hearing you. I've played literally hundreds of gigs for a band that saw me play with another band when I was having a particularly good night. 
  • BE A PRO. Develop a reputation for being on time, easygoing, professional and having decent gear. Let your behavior speak for itself, and let it tell people that you know what you're doing, and they're going to be happy they worked with you. I've heard it said that it's 20% how you play, and 80% how you act.
  • BE AVAILABLE. I'm not saying you should just sit by the phone every night, but when the right opportunity comes up, make sure you can take it. That being said....
  • KNOW THE LANDSCAPE. You should have a pretty good idea of the major players, bands, producers, engineers, etc. so that when you do get a call, you'll know if it's a good opportunity or not. 
  • KNOW WHAT YOU WANT. Even if it's a great (or well-paying) gig, it may not be the next step for you. For example, if you want to be a studio player and a touring band calls, you may need to decline. Being on the road for the next nine months won't exactly leave you available for sessions.
  • REACH OUT. Be extremely careful and thoughtful in this area, because nothing is worse than the 'music stalker.' But there are appropriate ways to make connections in person and online that can lead to playing and development opportunities. If you're doing all of the stuff above, it won't take long before the right people start to hear your name and your work. Get out and listen to other players and bands, go to workshops or clinics, volunteer (you heard me!) and be willing to make a sacrifice here and there to make a legitimate connection turn into a friendship. More than once I've gained opportunities by "saving" a project for cheap or free. 
  • BE PERSISTENT. In a lot of ways, too. Keep development your craft and refining your gear. Keep being involved. Keep playing. Keep up on music and technology trends. Keep yourself in good shape by eating right, sleeping enough and exercising. (Sounds weird, I know, but it's a critical piece.)

At the end of the day, we all want to make music. And we want to do it a lot, with great people and have it be profitable. Most importantly, we want music to be an honest expression of ourselves.

So, what did I leave off my list? Help us all out by leaving a comment below.

As always, happy drumming!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Deliberate practice: The difference between good and great

Just in case you're not following on Facebook or Twitter:

Maybe the most valuable thing I've read recently about being a better musician - and maybe a better human being!

"The best (musicians), they determined, addressed their mistakes immediately. They identified the precise location and source of each error, then rehearsed that part again and again until it was corrected. Only then would the best students proceed to the rest of the piece."

Read more here.

You absolutely need to read the entire article, but it basically puts forth the idea that if you're not practicing deliberately, you may as well not practice at all!

The recipe is not the cookie!

Today I worked with some AWESOME junior high percussionists. They worked hard, and we had a lot of fun. They also put up with my crazy analogies and stories really well. (Thanks, guys!)

Along the way we discovered another great way to think about sheet music, or what we sometimes call, "the chart." Whatever you call it, it's the paper with ink on it that tells you what to play, be it tabs, standard notation, a lead sheet or head chart.

This comparison is really simple: the written music is the recipe, as if you were making a batch of cookies. The recipe may call for flour, sugar, eggs, chocolate chips, etc, just like the music calls for rhythm, pitch, dynamics, phrasing, etc.

Ultimately, the addition of the ingredients, the mixing, the tweaking and the baking? All up to you. That's why my version of cookies is very different from my mom's, even though we follow the exact same recipe. And that's why your version of a song may be very different from somebody else's.

One more thing: It's been said that you can tell when food is cooked with love, and the same can be said for music. When following the "recipe" for your next performance, cook it up with love and both you and your audience will appreciate it.

And remember, just like the recipe is not the cookie, the sheet of paper with all the ink on it is not the music.

Happy drumming!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Gig Log: Salt Lake Chamber's 125th Gala

I've always wondered what it would be like to play in a house band for Letterman or Leno, and the other night I got a taste of it. One of the bands I play with, Lokalgrown, was hired to sit in as the house band for a talk show themed gala for the Salt Lake Chamber's 125th Anniversary celebration.

As the drummer, I literally became a cast member. I was asked to "kick" jokes and generally respond appropriately to the conversation and banter between the host (Curt Doussett) and his guests.

As a band, we were about as well-choreographed as you can get. Tunes were started and stopped on a dime, commercial "bumps" and "fades" were timed exactly, and every song clip was specifically chosen for its mood, tempo, tonality and overall effect.

It was a lot of work, but it was very rewarding. I say this to my students all the time, but the harder you work for it, the better it feels when you perform it well.

And for all you drummers playing live TV, you have my respect.

Happy drumming!

Friday, May 18, 2012

"Spirit Houses"

Just a warning. I know I've written some pretty whack stuff before, but this might be the most whacked out yet. So, read with a grain of salt handy. 

Several years ago I attended a workshop by Wally "Gator" Watson. There's much more to it than this, but he talked about how all of our instruments - especially drums - were once living things. Since he's a drummer, he talked especially about drums being made from trees.

Wally believed strongly that all living things have spirits, trees included. And since they were once living, they retain the ability to "house" a spirit. Specifically, yours when you play. Wally talked about playing with your whole heart and soul, putting your spirit into the drums when you play them. He called his drums, "Spirit Houses."

Beyond the instrument, too, Wally talked a lot about putting your soul into your music. As an example, he brought a teenage girl up in front of the group and asked her to do a little singing. He quieted the audience while he spoke to the girl, and she sheepishly began to sing, "Happy Birthday" to the audience.

Honestly, it was pretty embarrassing for all of us. She turned red, giggled her way through it, and looked around awkwardly the entire time. The audience didn't do much better. It couldn't get over fast enough! Wally smiled kindly, quieted the audience again, and whispered something quickly in the girl's ear.

She closed her eyes and began to sing the same song again, but in a completely different way. As the first notes poured out, the entire room changed. The air itself seemed to be made of a heavier substance. The once giggling teenager stood calmly, eyes closed, beautiful voice clear and true. As she got to the third line of the tune (sing along, everybody), she choked slightly as she sang, "Happy birthday, dear Mom, happy birthday to you." It was breathtakingly beautiful, and I was completely stunned.

The young woman finished the song and opened her eyes, and the audience applauded, almost in awe. As she stood there, Wally asked her to repeat what he had asked her to do. The first time, she said, he just asked her to, "Sing 'Happy Birthday.'" The second time? "He told me to sing it to somebody that I love, so I sang to my mom. She died of cancer a few years ago."

I don't exactly know how to put into words just how much that experience changed me, but it did change me. Since then, no matter what I play, be it complex and crazy or simple backbeats, I try to play it with every ounce of my soul. I try to fill my drums with as much of my soul as I can.

Not gonna lie. It takes a great deal of effort to play like that, but it's immensely rewarding. It's that whole, "What can I give to my music, the other musicians and the audience?" mentality, and I've come to love it, depend on it, and expect it of myself.

And if that's not weird enough for you, I've got one more. One night after a particularly amazing and enjoyable gig, I started doing something I've made a habit of - I put my hand on one of my drums and just said, "Thank you." I know it sounds really crazy, but I thank my instruments for allowing me to make music with them. It's humbling, and it reminds me that playing is a privilege, a team effort, and that I should never take it for granted.

Weirder yet? About a week ago, walking out of the gym, I looked up at the basketball hoop and softly said, "Thank you," and hoped nobody heard me. Because without the hoop, you can't, you know, uh.......never mind.

Happy drumming!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Lyric Translation: Fun's "We Are Young"

As promised, here's my take on a current pop hit.

Unless you have literally been living under a rock (or listening exclusively to NPR) you've heard the song, "We Are Young," by the band Fun. It is super catchy, and I caught myself singing the chorus at full voice the very first time I heard it.

I didn't give the song much thought until I was at a family event a few weeks ago and somebody had put "We Are Young" on repeat. (Crazy thing is that I didn't notice it was repeating until at least the fourth time through.) It wasn't until a 14-year-old girl was singing the lyrics that I actually listened to what I was hearing.

Yes, I realize that I'm about to offend some of you. And I'm not sorry about it.

We won't look at all of the lyrics, but I've taken the liberty of interpreting the first few lines of the song below. You're welcome to disagree!

Give me a second, I need to get my story straight.

Translation: I'm lying. And I haven't quite figured out what I'm going to tell you yet, so chill.

My friends are in the bathroom getting higher than the Empire State.

Translation: The people that I associate with, whom I'm like and whose behavior I emulate, are in the back doing illegal drugs. And not a little. They're doing a lot of them. They're getting absolutely, completely wasted. Did I mention that I'm like them, and that I like them?

My lover, she's waiting for me just across the bar.

Translation: I've abandoned the person I came here with, presumably my,, to talk to you.

My seat's been taken by some sunglasses asking about a scar.

Translation: Presumably, you won't let me sit by you, and you're making reference to an injury that you received.

And I know I gave it to you months ago, I know you're trying to forget.

Translation: I'm the one who caused your injury. I might have abused you, or caused an accident or something, and now you're trying not to let it bother you.

But between the drinks and subtle things - the holes in my apologies - you know I'm trying hard to take it back.

Translation: We're drinking alcohol, and I'm hoping that my behavior and the environment will distract you, because I'm not really sincere about apologizing to you, but I really want you to tell me that it's okay and that you forgive me.

So if by the time the bar closes, and you feel like falling down, I'll carry you home. Tonight...

Translation: We're going to be here all night because we have nothing better to do than sit in a bar and drink, and you're going to drink so much that you pass out. Then I'll literally pick you up and take you home, presumably my home, and then we'll, some more. Right....

Do we need to go on? I'd rather not, because this is just too much "Fun" for me.

Again, I don't care what you're listening to, but you have a responsibility to yourself to know what your music is saying, and what you're saying when you sing along.

Happy listening!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Music: The Language of Expression

From my earliest memories, I've been totally drawn in by music. There was always a lot of music around my house, from my mother singing church hymns to my older brother practicing with his metal band in the basement, and everything in between, and I took it all in.

The thing I have always loved most about music is the way it makes me feel, from happy to sad, and from excited to relaxed. I think most of us have favorite tunes we listen to when we're in a certain mood, either to enhance the mood or to change it. And music has always been used to accompany messages of religious belief, patriotism, politics, advertising, and good old fashioned love. In short, music is powerful.

But why is it so powerful? In my view, it's because it communicates to us on more levels - and in a totally different way - than the spoken or written word alone. Music entertains, expresses emotion, tells stories, persuades and enhances all kinds of communication.

So, from the time I began to play, as an ambitious 11-year-old, not only have I wanted to be an expressive musician, I've wanted to play with and listen to musicians who could get me to feel, not just hear.

It's easy to tell when a musician (or almost anybody, for that matter) is just doing something to get a paycheck, or because they feel like they have to for some reason other than the "love of the game." You can just as easily tell when someone is sincere and doing things because their heart is truly in it.

You can find passionate musicians in every genre, but I have a special respect for those who are using their music to try and make the world a better place. And while there are many mainstream examples of this, I've been noticing more of the religious/spiritual genres lately. There really is something special about this type of worship/expression, even if you don't share their beliefs.

But no matter what you play, you'll find that real musicians respect you if you play it sincerely, from the heart, and with passion.

Happy drumming!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Gear Up: Custom Kick Head Art

Growing up watching drummers, I've developed a subconscious urge to always know which brand of drums a certain player is using. Where's the first place you look? Of course, it's the front head on the kick drum. My first kit said "CB 700" in bold letters across the front, and I absolutely couldn't wait until it said, "DW" or "Yamaha."

By and large, most drummers are using simple, single-logo heads, or going with no logos at all. But these days, that front head - the biggest visible flat space on most kits - has become a pretty valuable piece of real estate,  and there is a growing trend to use that big ol' circle to advertise.

What do drummers advertise, you ask? Well, mostly it's still the brands they play and/or endorse, or the band they're in, or themselves. And, increasingly, they don't just tell you their name. You'll also see their web address, or even a QR code. Crazy, right?

Maybe not. Given the prevalence of smart phones, a picture of the band or drummer becomes a serious serving of free advertising. We've all seen the pics that get posted on Facebook or Twitter that read, "At the show. R U jealous?" Suddenly, all 2,364 "Friends" and 5,741 "Followers" just got an ad that you, your band, and/or your sponsors didn't pay for. AWESOME.

What do you think? Is it worth all the hype and money? For most of us, it's probably not a good investment, given design and manufacturing cost. That being said, I'm working on a few designs right now for a head that will go on my new kit.

Why do it? For me, there are a few reasons. First, I want my kit to look unique. Aside from set up, factory finish and cymbals, what sets a kit apart? The front of your kick drum can give you an immediately recognizable logo, just like Coca-Cola or Apple.

Second, I'm just like every other business, and I want to grow my client list. This includes gigs, students, etc., and if my web address, QR or other contact info are sitting in front of my potential clients for a two hour set, chances are good that somebody will pull up my site on their phone while they're listening to me play. 

I'll only say this one more time (for now, at least): AWESOME.

Alright, so you've decided to look into it. Where do you get one? There are many good places to start, but before I highlight a few of them, try a Google search on, "custom bass drum heads." You'll get a ton of good info.

Here's the company I'm using, Woodshed Percussion. Check out their client gallery, and you'll know why I made them my choice. There's also Evans' "Inked By Evans," tool, which is pretty cool and unique among retailers.

And, lastly, what can you expect to pay? On the Evans site, where you do your own design work, heads start at around $80, and at a custom place like Woodshed, my project will be around $150. Honestly, that price range is ridiculously cheap given the potential benefits.

The bottom line - do it or don't do it - is ultimately up to you. For me, I look forward to having my kits be truly mine, in look and feel. And I hope to continue to build a quality brand around all of my music and drumming activities. Hope that's not too mercenary for you.

Happy branding!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Weight Room: Get Left

This post is for @danikamercier. Thanks for being awesome!

It is said that any team is only as good as the weakest member, and in drumming, the left hand is usually the weaker teammate, sometimes even if you're left-handed. So, what can we do to bring Ol' Lefty up to speed?

Before we get started, here's a basic concept that has helped me develop consistent technique between the hands. Whenever you play any exercise or excerpt, focus on making the two hands sound, feel, look and move the same. This includes grip, where on the stick you're holding, path and travel, stick height, velocity, etc.

Some of what I'm going to suggest will push your endurance, so be very careful not to overdo your practicing. Listen to your body, take breaks, stretch, etc. Remember that there's a difference between the "burn" of pushing yourself to develop endurance and strength and the pain of damage or injury.

Stop at the first sign of pain! Don't risk an injury by trying to play through! And if it hurts, reexamine your technique to make sure that you are relaxed and holding/moving the stick properly. Good technique shouldn't ever hurt.

Now, on to a few good exercises.

First, good old "Eight On A Hand." Honestly, this is one of THE best exercises to work on basic stick technique. Again, work on getting the hands the same in terms of technique, then vary your stick height, dynamic and tempo. Beyond that, go for at least a few minutes at a time. I do mine to a favorite track or two (Foo Fighters are my current flava!), and really try to stay focused on getting the technique and sound consistent.

Second, take Eight On A Hand to the next level. Make it "Sixteen On A Hand," and play it as a measure of 16th notes on each hand. Again, try to make each note sound the same and carry the same "weight." If someone were to be in the next room and only hear you (not see you switching hands), they should hear it as if it were just the same hand forever. Same sound. You get the idea.

With both Eight and Sixteen, try to play for at least a few minutes at a time. Then, you can move around the drum kit, with and without foot patterns, to increase not only your speed, endurance and strength vertically, but laterally (around the kit) as well. Pick a pattern or improvise, but don't sacrifice your technique or sound quality for anything!

Next, take the Stick Control book and get serious about it. Even if you just practice the first section, get serious about making each stroke the same and work up to insane levels of speed. I also use these exercises around the kit with jazz, samba and other foot patterns. Not only do you get great hand workouts, you start to develop linear fills, grooves and solo ideas, not to mention filling your tool bag with great, rhythmically sound improvisation ideas.

Lastly, let musical integrity guide all that you do practice-wise. Don't ever sacrifice quality of sound, clarity or clean playing for speed or anything else.

Happy drumming!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Did you just sing that out loud?

When I was younger, I never thought too much about the lyrics to songs I liked, but things have changed since having kids, performing for certain audiences, and being a teacher, among other things.

I've used this example a couple of times already, but when I taught guitar at a high school, I gave my students an assignment to bring in one of their favorite songs and present it to the class. Among other things, they had to print off the lyrics and explain the meaning of the song.

More than once I was astounded at how naive these students were. (That or they thought I was.) We constantly dug into the lyrics, discussed symbolism and sort of translated them into clear, concise speech.

For some, this was shocking. Even though I prefaced the assignment with a mandate that the lyrics be PG or better,  occasionally I had to intervene, "Okay, that's enough for now. If you have questions, ask your parents about these lyrics, and please ask them not to get me fired."

Try this sometime: Print off the lyrics to your favorite song, and read them out loud, poetry-style, clearly and slowly, to someone you trust. Then talk about what you think each line means, and what the overall message of the song might be.

I tell you, though, if you do this exercise with most of what's on pop radio today, you need to make sure there are no children in the room. 

This all started when I was the director of a summer "School of Rock" program for KSM Music's SoundFactory. Interested students were grouped together based on relative skill levels and their expressed interests.

Each group of students - or band - was to perform four tunes from different genres. Three would be chosen by the instructor, and the students would choose the fourth. The course went very well, and we anticipated that the final concert would be a great experience.

But I will never forget one moment during that concert. In fact, it's the only thing I remember about that night. One of the bands was fronted by a nine-year-old girl, the daughter of an associate of mine. There she was on stage, jamming on her guitar, having the time of her life with a real, live band, and screaming, "KILL ALL THE ONES WHO DON'T A-GREE!"

I looked over at her mother just in time to see the video camera fall and her jaw drop to the floor. Then she looked at me, and her eyes said it all. "How could you?" I wondered the same thing. How could we have overlooked the lyrics? Why didn't we screen them to make sure they were appropriate?

These days we're pretty careful what gets played at our house, especially around the kids. We've already had the embarrassment of our three-year-old belting Kelly Clarkson's, "You don't know a thiiiiiiing about me!" And occasionally my wife will say, "Hey, will you look up the lyrics to this song? I want to know if I can like it or not." 

Back in the guitar class, I also gave a warning to my students. Roughly translated, it was this: "If you get in front of this class with your song and you 'just like the song for the beat,' or 'I don't really know what it means, I just like the music,' I WILL DESTROY YOU. AND I WILL DO IT IN FRONT OF YOUR FRIENDS."

My friends, I don't really care which music you like or don't. What I care about is that you have an awareness for the message you're hearing. Like it or not, on some level your brain is acutely aware of - and processing - the lyrics and they DO affect you, even if you're not consciously processing them.

Again, listen to whatever you want, but don't tell me the lyrics don't matter. You need to be aware of what is being said - and what is meant - by the lyrics. 

Lastly, I apologize in advance: I'm going to be posting my interpretation of some popular music lyrics, and you may not like it. Knowledge, as they say, is not all it's cracked up to be. 

Until then, happy listening!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Creating a reference point

In life, we all need a reference point or two. Because we can only judge circumstances and events by our own history and knowledge, the experiences that we have and observe are critical to our day-to-day mindset. That probably sounds a little clunky, so let me explain what I mean.

Before I started rock climbing and caving in early 2000, the extent of my outdoor experience was some hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. That's it, nothing serious. But that year I became roommates with Matt, an outdoorsman extraordinaire.

The Story

Before I started rooming with Matt, my interest in climbing was absolutely zero. Somehow he convinced me to go with him one spring afternoon. He seemed to have a good time, and while I was an adequate belayer, I had very limited success with actual climbing. I just couldn't seem to get the hang of it.

On the third climbing trip, we worked on a route called Dream Realized, and I finished the route. Even though I had finally reached the top of a climb, I was bruised, scraped, tired and sore. As I lay in bed that night, I thought to myself, "I'm done. I've gotta tell Matt I don't want to go anymore. Climbing is hard and scary, and I'm not having any fun."

So, that was it. I was done. But as I lay there, my mind had a short, intense battle. Another, different voice - a voice I'd never "heard" before - spoke up. Not loud, but clear, concise and convincing.

Here's what it said:

"You're not climbing because it's fun. You're doing it because it's hard. You will keep climbing because it challenges you, because it is forcing you to grow, and because - in many ways - it is making you a better person. You will keep climbing, you will keep digging down inside yourself for strength, and you will refuse to quit."

I lay in bed for over an hour thinking about what I'd just heard. Immediately it rang true to me, and over the years I've been witness to the truth that I realized that night in bed. Rock climbing has become a sort of mental chess match with myself. And those who have the climbing bug will tell you that the sport is much more mental than physical. While you certainly develop physical strength, endurance and flexibility, you also develop the ability to think under pressure, stay calm when everything in your body is telling you to panic, and attempt the impossible while believing you'll succeed.

Most importantly, climbing forces you to eliminate all other thoughts. Oddly enough, your brain doesn't really care about a physics exam or a girl who flirted with you when it perceives that you're hanging by your fingertips, toes and teeth to the side of a sheer cliff with nothing but air underneath you.

That level of focus yields a clarity of thought, calm and relaxation - after the fact, of course - that I have come to expect and love.

In short, I have come to view rock climbing - as well as many other challenges in my life - as an opportunity for growth, and for practice, if you will. In my view, the harder I work right now, on the current challenge, the more strength, endurance and confidence I will have for the next challenge. And if I don't give up, I'll gain the reward of conquering the mountain, or whatever the challenge is.

Climbing can be extremely emotional. Even though you must maintain control of yourself to perform the movements and finish the climb, your emotions can certainly push you to work harder and keep from giving up.

One of my favorite moments: After a particularly tough climb, I got back to the ground, raised both fists in the air and let out a primal scream, followed by pointing at the top of the climb and yelling, "I own you!" The mountain had given me everything it had, and I had prevailed.

The Point
Life is hard. And you have choices. You can always take the path of least resistance - you can do what's easy, avoid challenges, and complain that it's not fair. (It isn't, by the way.) Or, you can challenge yourself to do what you, and only you, can do on this planet while you're here.

While music is rarely a life-threatening or hair-raising endeavor, it takes courage, tenacity, strength, endurance and focus to achieve greatness. Those who create great music are almost always those who have chosen to embrace the possibility of failure, to pursue the art with single-mindedness and continue to try and try and try.

Finally, let me leave you with this:

“Don’t die with your music still inside you. Listen to your intuitive inner voice and find what passion stirs your soul. Listen to that inner voice, and don’t get to the end of your life and say, ‘What if my whole life has been wrong?” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

In all sincerity, friends: Happy drumming!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Like it or not, you ARE a business

For the best financial advice on the planet, click here. And no, I'm not getting anything out of it. I legitimately feel that he speaks financial truth, and that it's valuable information for anyone who is breathing. 

Are you running a business?

The answer, no matter how you slice it, is yes. And if you're in denial, it doesn't mean you actually aren't in business, it just means that your business is being run poorly.

In an earlier post, I mentioned a masterclass I attended with Evelyn Glennie. At one point the discussion turned to the matter of running her tour schedule and finances. With her was an assistant who handled a large portion of those duties. Everyone thought she was joking when she finally said that if she had it to do all over again, she'd get a business degree and minor in music!

But she was very serious.

No, I'm not suggesting that you give up your aspirations of majoring in music (nor was she), but it's a lesson well taken that you need to be able to run your career and life in a profitable, organized manner in order to achieve meaningful success.

Courtesy of Dave Ramsey, here's the question: If you viewed your life like a business, and you hired you to manage things, would you fire yourself? What are your goals? Are you accomplishing them? Why or why not? How do you know?

If you haven't ever asked yourself these questions, take some time when you can think about it thoroughly, discuss it with a friend/parent/spouse/etc. and write down the answers. It may surprise you to find out that you aren't as focused or efficient as you think.

And before we talk specifically about money, I want to clarify my position. I believe, no - I know - that life is not about money. Life is about making a difference, being happy, having great relationships, caring about people, family, spirituality, and enjoying the precious time that you have here. Life is about making music, for crying out loud! 

But while money can't buy any of those things, and it certainly can't buy happiness, it can provide you with a certain amount of security and freedom of choice. For example, imagine that you get called for the gig of your life, but it requires a certain dress code, or drum finish, or whatever - and you're broke! If you can't come up with the money, you must turn down the gig. And that leads to making less money, and so on.

Having a little cash also means greater choice in how you live - what kind of house, car, clothes, food and DRUMS you can afford to use.

So, life's not about money, but you need some. Clear? Okay....

Allow me to offer a few simple (but not easy) suggestions that should make your music and drumming career pay off for both your soul and your pocketbook.

  1. Give some of your money away. Many religions advocate giving a tithe, or tenth, of your income away. Pick your church or a worthy charity, and give them some of your hard-earned dough. Even if you're an atheist, trust me on this one. The universe will give you back more than you've given away.
  2. After giving, pay yourself first. Some of your money should go in the bank - or even better, a retirement fund - and not come out until you're ready to retire. I know, I know - musicians don't retire. But at some point, you're going to want to have the choice whether to work or not, and you can only do that by having a decent sized nest egg stored away.
  3. Let your music pay for your music. If I had a dollar for every time I've given this piece of advice, I'd have......probably about fifty bucks. (Hey, it'd be better than no bucks!) Take a percentage (I take about 15%) of the pay from every gig you play and every lesson you teach - anything music related that earns a little money - and save it for music related purchases. Want a new drum kit? Fine. Need cymbals, a snare drum, or even sticks or heads? New mics, cases or bags? Great! Pay for them by saving up money from gigs, lessons, lectures, clinics, etc. and pay in cash.
Sorry if this feels like a lecture, but I'm getting tired of seeing musicians who give their souls for the art and live in rags, ratholes and relative squalor. Even if you don't make a lot, you owe it to yourself to make your future as bright as it can be. 

Make a difference, make some money, and make it count!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Weight Room: Practicing for consistency

The philosophy behind this one is simple: If you want to do it well in performance, you've got to do it really, really, really well in practice.

Before you start, you need to determine a couple of things. First, choose a small chunk of music - a measure, phrase or fill, etc. Clearly define how/where it starts and ends. Then set up your parameters. What are you practicing for? Rhythms or pitches? Dynamics, articulation or phrasing? All of the above?

In short, you need to know how to determine if you got it "right" after each repetition or attempt. It's an oversimplification, but I use basketball as an example. If it went through the hoop, it's a make. If it didn't, it's not. So you've got to know what the "hoop" is before you start. Once you've decided what that is, don't back down. Hold yourself to that standard each time, with no slacking off. Remember, the harder you push yourself in practice, the easier the performance will be.

Okay, done with the preliminaries. Here are two ways I help myself develop consistency.

Get it right a total number of times.
With this technique, you don't worry about how many attempts you make, or how many mistakes for that matter, but the total number of times you can play it right. Using the free throw example, don't worry if it takes you 283 attempts. As long as the ball goes through the hoop a total of 10 times (or whatever you've determined the magic number to be) you're done!

Get right a number of times consecutively, or "in a row." This one's a little more demanding, because every time you make a mistake, you start back over at zero. Again, with free throws, it doesn't matter how many total makes you have, you have to make 10 (or whatever number) consecutively, with no misses in between.

Honestly, when I'm learning a new concept I usually start out with the total number of times idea, and progress to the consecutive times technique as I get better. Pretty soon, you're developing the sense of what it takes to get it right each time. And, as you do it over a period of several days (or weeks, months, whatever) you will train your brain and body to do the motion(s) correctly by default. You will, in essence, "program" yourself to perform whatever it is correctly, almost without thinking about it.

This is one of the reasons teachers ask you to perform basic exercises (think 8 On A Hand) every day. Not because you need work on your eighth notes, but because you'll reinforce correct grip, path, travel, etc. about a thousand times in the first five minutes of your practice session.

And finally, remember that developing skills and technique that will last is sort of like watching your hair grow. You won't notice the progress day by day, but if you keep at it, after a few weeks, months and years, you've gone from a buzz cut to Rapunzel.

Happy drumming!

Drummer's Weight Room: Tap Timing Exercise

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