If I could sum up this year's practice theme on a post it note for myself, it would read: "get good at playing on the beat, stupid". I'd probably leave off the stupid, but you get the point- everybody could learn to be better at being on the beat. Here's what I'm doing to build my chops:
I heard about the Song Exploder podcast while on a weekend show run this week, and started listening on Monday morning to it. In every episode, various artists break down how and why they wrote a specific song, and the story behind it. They have artists as varied as Metallica to Norah Jones interviewed, and I found myself completely engrossed by hearing how each artist thought about building a song.
If you’re a producer, musician, or songwriter, this is an absolute must-listen. I learned more about producing by listening to this than I have in the last 3 years of reading on the topic. Check it out here: http://songexploder.net/
It’s so hard to quit, and we’ve been conditioned since we were little not to give up (quitters never win, etc). There’s some amazing books about the importance of quitting, and many of the top musicians I have worked with spend more time quitting than sticking with things that aren’t working. But how to choose? Here are 7 questions I use to see what I should stick with, and what I should ditch:
1. Is there an upward trend, even if it’s subtle?
If there’s been a general trend upward for a consistent period of time, there’s a good chance that might happen in the future with a few tweaks.
2. Am I enjoying it, even if I’m not seeing progress?
If it’s relaxing and enjoyable, that will make me deal with a lot more crap than a less fun task would allow me. Conversely, if I hate something, there should be no amount of “progress” that should keep me doing it.
3. What could I do instead of what I’m doing right now?
When we think of quitting, we think of an empty space instead of something else perhaps equally as good or better. We’ve got to remember the opportunities that might appear because of the extra time/energy could be amazing.
4. What would it look like if I kept up at this pace in 10 years? Could I live with that result?
If I can’t see myself being happy with the worst possible outcome of what I’m doing right now in 10 years, I definitely need to bail.
5. Is this something that is important, or is it necessary?
If it’s not important but necessary, I should figure out a way to outsource or eliminate it.
6. What would happen if I quit, not just to me, but the people that are involved?
If someone would get really hurt by me bailing on something, I have the responsibility of gracefully handing off my responsibilities.
7. What would my life look like without this in my life? How would I adjust?
Again, I need to rely on my imagination to think of not just an “empty space” in my life, but picture how I might compensate for the newfound time and energy.
The answer might be you’re doing great, just be patient. You’re just in a rut, in the doldrums. Keep plugging away for a few days/weeks/months/years, and everything is going to be fine. And sometimes that’s the truth.
The other answer is you need to jump ship. You need to reexamine everything you do, slash what isn’t working, amp up what produces good results, and relaunch your career.
The choice seems binary, but it doesn’t have to be. Instead of making a massive change, why not start small and see where it leads? Why not sub in one activity a week with another activity and see if it helps or hurts?
There’s something epic about burning bridges, but smart pivots usually happen gradually and with one foot firmly planted on the ground.
There are a ton of amazing plugins out there for making music, and I thought you’d get a kick out of hearing about some of my favorites. Here are 5 of my favorite plugins that have me excited right now:
These guys are beasts when it comes to strings, and I find myself using the samples on sessions constantly. These samples have so much presence in a mix, it’s hard to go to anything else once you’ve heard them. If you can’t afford the full version, check out the “lite” version.
This is a little known plugin that I’ve grown to really enjoy playing. It offers lots of modern FM-style synthesis sounds, and has some interesting hands on control. While limited, I find it to be really inspiring in the studio when I need to get a certain kind of sound.
In my opinion this is the best recreation of a classic Juno 106 synth currently on the market, and I use it anytime I need that cutting pure sound that made the original synth famous. If you can’t afford the full version, grab the free chorus plugin- it gives a lot of the same vibes as the original when you put it on any sound source.
I spent the last weekend on a run with a Nashville-based group called the Downtown Band. We played a show in Cincinnati that wrapped up late- 2:30 AM.
As we tore down, it struck me that even after an insanely long 20 hour day, everybody was still busting tail to get packed up. Every person of the 10-man band wasn’t just going through the motions of doing the hard work of getting around 2,000 lbs of gear packed, down two stories in a freight elevator, and into the trailer. They were doing it fast and really well.
Everyone in the group is a successful Nashville musician (many of them touring with the top artists in Nashville), and this 2:30 AM vignette perfectly sums up why they are successful: these people know how to work really, really hard.
Each member has spent their lifetimes practicing the art that is busting butt when you’re absolutely exhausted, running on short sleep, hungry, under tremendous pressure, and when you just don’t feel like working any more. This isn’t something you’re born with, it’s an earned skill set that takes years of dedication to develop.
Talent is important, and skill matters. But grit is what keeps you in the game long enough to be successful.
1. They are positive under pressure.
My friend and drummer Derek who plays with a large classic country group showed this last night: we were playing a set with a difficult funk beat. He aced it, but back in the dressing room he said he’d been nervous about it for the week coming up to the gig. He’d practiced his butt off, then put on his game face and did an amazing job.
If you are an music artist, your original music is your loss leader. Unless you’ve either been insanely lucky or worked hard for 20+ years, you can literally make more money doing almost anything other than selling your music to fans and companies
So you’ve gone to your local music meet up. Things are going good, so you decide to screw it up a bit, but how? Fortunately I’ve been there, and I’ve figured out how to screw things up for you. Here are my 10 favorite ways to be a complete pain in the butt when connecting with other musicians and artists:
Here’s a note I got from a reader this week:
How do you find balance with family, career, and of course just fun time playing music? I saw the one post where you talked about work/life balance, but I guess I’m wondering if you are able to get in some “me” time as well?