Archive for the ‘Daily Life’ category

It Was A Very Good Year

August 1, 2012

RECEIPT FOR: MUSICIAN
LOCATION: AUSTIN, TX
DURATION: ~1 YEAR

 

LIVE MUSIC HEARD
13 live concerts/performances attended

  •          10 rock/funk/jazz shows
  •          1 musical theater
  •          2 “classical” performances

4 days of music festivals

  •          countless bands heard

1 SXSW week

  •          also countless bands heard

6 church services attended

  •          2 catholic
  •          3 presbyterian
  •          1 megachurch baptist

1 drumming workshop attended
+ every gig played usually had other bands performing too

 

STUFF MADE
4 music reviews written of bands at music festivals
1 website re-design
36 songs written/recorded*

  •          2 one-off songs
  •          2 albumlets of 4 songs each
  •          14 “song a day’s”
  •          1 album of 11 songs* (*the album is still under construction, counting it anyway)
  •          1 Will n William collaboration

25 videos made (almost all of the aforementioned songs)

  •          1 road-trip “documentary”
  •          2 one-off videosongs
  •          2 albumlets of four songs each
  •          14 “song a day’s”

Countless photos taken during a photo shoot with Viracochas

 

PERFORMANCES PERFORMED
1 solo “performance” of Idea at a composer’s forum
30 rock gigs at 14 different venues

  •          16 drumming with Viracochas
  •          13 drumming with Afro Taxi
  •          1 on accordion with Brian “Russell Brand Brandish Brand Bran Brandishing Brand Band” Oldham

15 organ gigs at 7 different churches

  •          13 sunday services
  •          1 ash wednesday service
  •          1 funeral

 

MONEY EARNED
no comment

 

SAVINGS USED UP
…not broke yet

 

OTHER NOTABLE (OR AT LEAST “NOTED”) ITEMS (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)
4 different bands jammed with without joining
1 container of 25 pairs of earplugs used up
1 vintage 1968 baldwin theater organ purchased
1 yamaha keyboard purchased
countless free beers at gigs
6 books read (3 novels, 3 history)
3 massive white board panels purchased
countless hours of practicing
0 days of below-freezing weather
2 meals out eating texas-signature brisket bbq
1 texas license plate and driver’s license acquired
~10 total number of cats seen in and around the house
~10 maximum number of cars seen parked in the driveway at once
1 (each) coyote, possum, raccoon sighting
2 scorpions found in bedroom (1 live, 1 deceased post extermination)
10 different friends/family who came to visit
1 (each) vice grips and metronome lost/stolen
too many movies watched
2 season of archer watched
5 movie theater trips
1 UT football game
2 visits to LBJ presidential library
1 visit to history of texas museum
3 visits to texas state capitol
1 homeless “occupier” living in the house (briefly)
5 drum sets in house at once (maximum)
~15 guitars, ~dozen amps, countless mics and cords in the house
bajillion cigarettes smokes by housemates/friends/people at bars
0 cigarettes smoked by me
~3 states that are not Maryland that people thought I was returning to (at least NJ, MA, SC)
~4 different dinners I prepared over and over and over and over
~1 type of lunch I ate almost every day
Friends made, memories created, music played, fun had, things learned: Indescribable. Uncountable. Unforgettable.

 

Behind every single tally is a story and the awesome people who were on the ride with me. To you all, cheers.

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Tryna Be A Rock Star, Part I – LIVIN

May 8, 2012

Dispatches from the front lines of the music industry.

I figured all you non-music folk out there might be interested to see what this life has been like before I go off and do other things. Beginning with a bit of background on how I got here: 

So you’re facing down your senior year of college and staring towards the void of post-graduation real life, wondering “what am I going to DO???”

Naturally, you decide to spurn your degree and pursue music.

“But where?” you wonder. Through a rather arbitrary decision process, you choose a city hundreds of miles away from everyone you’ve ever known because it’s cheap and has a reputation for live music.

Now you gotta find a place to live in that place you wanna live. ALL HAIL THE MIGHTY AND SUPREMELY USEFUL AND OCCASIONALLY SERENDIPITOUS CRAIGSLIST. You begin to worry that you haven’t been checking often enough for housing opportunities and you might have missed the ideal one. Most postings in your price range of less than $500/month for a rented room are hard to decipher from afar, with just a photo and a curt description…

But after a few weeks of checking daily, finally! You find a posting worth contacting! Of note: you are not yet anywhere near this city in which you will live. But this posting is cheap and says it will be a house of musicians! Huzzah! You can live with people your age who can introduce you to the music scene! You won’t have to take the extra room of some empty nesters who work all day! You don’t have to consider living with the hippie who has a kid and some very particular demands and who reposts almost daily!

You skype with these musician folk. They’re using a real real estate agent. It seems like if it were a scam, it would be an overly elaborate way of just getting a couple hundo from you. You cross your fingers and sign the lease before you’ve even packed the van.

After a few days of cross-country drivin, you arrive. It checks out. They are real people. There’s really a house. It’s raining as you pull up. Apparently it hasn’t rained in months. It won’t rain again for months. There is a band practice shaking the walls as you start carting your stuff to the room they have saved for you. Feels like you’ll fit in well enough.

Enough of using the second-person voice.

But that’s roughly how I got here.

Now, here is what here is:

It’s a large one-story house with five bedrooms plus a closet-room that we are also renting out. I share the main bathroom with three other people. The rest of the house is one verrry large space divided into a carpeted living room and a tiled kitchen-slash-dining-room area. One of my housemates went to town decorating before I even arrived, so there are large tapestries on some walls and posters on others. Everywhere you turn some other rock god is glaring at you. Pink Floyd wishes you were here while you do the dishes.

We keep carpets and couches in the dining room area because the living room is too full of instruments. Currently there are: at least four guitar amps, a serious mixing board, half a drum set, two electric organs, a cello, a couple PA cabinets, several guitars and pedals… That is in addition to two closets full of gear, plus all the stuff in our rooms. Musicmusicmusic.

The house is I think at least twenty years old, judging partly by the fact that the ground has started shifting beneath it. Some doors no longer align with their jambs and my room slopes slightly. Several gutters have fallen off the roof. The little wooden gazebo roof on the deck out back fell apart a couple months ago after a few hard rains egged on the rotting process. The exterior walls are brick, the interior walls are plaster painted a light brown in a weird spray pattern that looks sort of like orange puke under certain lighting conditions.

The house is about 10 minutes east of Austin, technically in Manor (pronounced “may-nor”, don’t ask why), on a country road where the houses all have big yards and at least a couple people have goats and chickens. But right around the corner is a big subdivision where every house is identical and where the streets wind around every which way and you get lost when you bike through. The general area is still pretty spread out and empty – a large tech company found the space nearby to build a sprawling campus. Plus the dump is down the street. Sometimes when the wind is right, you can smell it in our yard…

Our property is long and narrow and a little less than two acres. When I arrived, it was a parched brown field weathering day after day of 100+ degree heat. After some rain, suddenly it all was green green green. Our landlords mow it for us, but they don’t do it very often, so it gets a bit wild. One of my housemates tilled the dried-up patch of vegetable garden in our backyard and planted a ton of seeds, but through some miscommunication the landlord re-plowed it. I think at least some carrots survived. There are a couple sheds – one with a bunch of unused lumber, the other with an old washer and a bunch of paint cans. The back of the property is a barbed-wire fence in front of a bunch of bushes. We have a two-car garage we use for storage and weightlifting. If you park under certain trees in the summer, your car won’t be an oven when you get in, but your windshield will be covered in bird shit. A tricky tradeoff actually.

For the first month I lived here, we hadn’t set up our trash service, so we would pile up trash bags in the sun room. Raccoons came in a couple times and made a mess of all the trash. It was incredibly foul and a huge relief to finally get them all taken away. A bit eye-opening though to see how fast garbage can accumulate…

One housemate has a cute calico cat called Caligula (Callie for short) but everyone just calls it “KITTIE!” It lives outdoors, but it was never taken to get spayed so right now it lives in a closet with its five incredibly cute kittens.

There is a spice factory next door. At least, we think it’s a spice factory: it smells quite fragrant when their doors are open and a breeze blows our way, but a car with “Playboy” painted on it in large letters is often parked outside…

My housemates range from ~19-28 years old. Nobody is a morning person. If you’re up before noon, you’re up early. I’m the only person who doesn’t smoke cigarettes, but thankfully everyone smokes outdoors (and each of them, at one point or another, have maintained that they were quitting). Nobody does enough dishes. The bathroom always needs to be cleaned. But everyone buys their own food, and for the most part leaves everyone else’s alone. Except that somebody will drink your beer. Always.

All in all, it’s about what you would expect from seven twenty-something musicians living together. The house is big enough that we aren’t getting in the way of each other too much. I generally don’t drum before 2 or 3, because somebody is probably sleeping. But you can usually make noise until about 1AM before someone will complain. Our landlord’s are happy enough with us that they are apparently willing to re-lease, but I won’t be here for the second year.

To conclude, here is a financial illustration of my life these days:

Weekly groceries: $30-$35
Earnings for playing the organ at a church on sunday: 1 service – $150, two services ~ $200
A full tank of gas: ~$65
Rent+bills (depending on which month it was): $320-$400
Baldwin HT2R 1967 electric organ bought from a church in Dallas and found off of Craigslist: $280
The first two beers when You’re In The Band: $0

Inflection Points

May 5, 2012

The other day I went biking. I have biked fewer than five times in the months I’ve lived in Austin. In college, I often biked at least five times a day. Unlocking my familiar two-wheeler brought back the incredibly vivid memories of campus. It felt as if I had zoomed to class only days before.

Yet it was more recently than that – just nine months ago – when I drove to Austin from Maryland. My memories of the trip feel relatively vivid, as much as endless stretches of highway can be. But several months of memories have piled on top of them and stripped them of their immediacy.

As it turns out, my travels are not yet over. Once August rolls around and my lease is up, my bike will go back in the car along with everything I own (except perhaps MY NEW ORGAN!!! – that will require organmovers) and I will point the compass back east.

Thus, my time in Texas will have been just one year. Aug ’11 – Aug ’12.

I did not intend for it to be a short stay. In moving here, I did not make any temporal plans, aside from forcing myself to at least stay one year by signing a lease before I turned on my van’s ignition in Annapolis. I was open to the possibility that Austin might have the right mix of music and government and warm weather that I might even make my life here… family, career, retirement.

Well, nope.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with Austin. Simply, it is not for me. Yes the city is overflowing with musicians. If you have a band and want to play a lot of live gigs, move to Austin. You could play shows several times a month easily. Stay here for a couple years, get a lot of gigging experience, record your stuff, make some videos, plan a tour. Great training grounds.

Except, I’ve realized, that path is not really for me. The easiest way to say it is that Austin has very little jazz (from what I can tell). There are a couple jazz joints, there is a symphony hall, and UT has a solid music program, but these sorts of things make up a minority of the city’s music. It would fit me better if this music city had a larger concentration musicians who were really stellar. Practiced professionals, virtuosos, people who would push me to great in whatever weird multi-instrumental way that I could be.

I’m also in a hybrid category. I didn’t go to music school, so I can’t quite play with the big guns at my current abilities. But I’ve learned enough that I get bored with your average rock band. It would take a few years of practicing and hunting around for the right musicians to work with to find my proper place.

That particular challenge aside, I’m actually not turned off by a musician’s life at all. I have a rough sense of what it would take to turn this into a career: lots of work, patience, and doing 100 different things to get by. I might get a lucky break here or there and enjoy some level of success for a brief time. If I could pay the bills and generally play the kinds of music I enjoy, I would be happy enough.

But I wouldn’t be satisfied.

The world has some serious issues. Our energy system is altering our habitat in a drastic way that millions will be displaced by sea level rise. Hundreds of millions around the world live in poverty without proper nutrition or health care. Education, at the very least in our country and certainly in most other places, fails to reach and empower huge numbers of people, perpetuating poverty and disenfranchisement. Our civic systems have big structural problems; many nations still have dictators. Women around the world are sold as sex slaves. Many places treat women as second class citizens. The human race still wages war on itself all too often.

SHIT IS FUCKED UP AND BULLSHIT

and I want to make little ditties all day? Just because it’s fun? I couldn’t live with myself. I can’t live with myself even now.*

and that’s why I’m leaving.

Granted, many musicians give voice to the problems of the world and very artfully articulate the injustice of it all. But it is so difficult to see how that actually helps correct those injustices. Power isn’t relinquished because you sang about it…

Cynics ask: what effect can just one person have? Indeed, that is the next question, and I will have a lifetime of answering it.

Yes I could work on problems in Austin, but I’ve also learned this year that it’s hard being in a completely new place where you don’t know anyone. I’ve made some great friends here, but I have family back east and I think I’ll find a better community for myself in the DC area. Jobs and possibly grad school and eventually new family will probably have a say about where I ultimately wind up. But for now, that’s where I’m headed.

The best thing though – I will still play and write music the rest of my life. It won’t be full time, and I know I’ll miss the joy of playing and writing music any hour of the day. But life is long. I managed to find time for both school and music for at least ten years, I’m sure I can schedule some jams into my work week for the next sixty. And I’m honestly excited to find out how my music progresses over that time, even if it is just on the side (life goals include writing a musical and a symphony).

Yup, things are just getting started.

———————————–

[OTHER NEWS: I AM WORKING ON A FULL-LENGTH ALBUM. 10+ SONGS. GOING TO BE AWESOME. GET EXCITED. RELEASE DATE TBD, BUT HOPEFULLY BY AUGUST. BEST LWJ YET.]

[Also, I have been caught up in things and have been rather quiet online lately – I hope to write about different aspects of my time in Austin throughout the coming weeks, which should make for blogs that are more bloggy and less journaly. The album will also come with a flurry of web activity.]

*I do not intend to knock career musicians, this is about my own set of motivations.

Life In Austin Update, Six Months In

February 12, 2012

Well, world of readers, it’s been about six months since I began this music adventure. Memories of my drive across the country are still quite fresh, but it also feels like a long time ago that I finally bought a mattress* and a desk – my first furniture purchases post-college.

During the first few months, I wanted to get some creative work done without much distraction, so I lived like a hobo hermit musician, spending the bulk of my time practicing, songwriting, and recording (and hemorrhaging my savings). Come the new year, I fixed up my website to display the work with a shade of professionalism, and home-printed some simple business cards. Then I could finally get down to business meeting other musicians and finding substitute jobs playing the pipe organ for church services.

To which there has been some success! I am now in two bands, have jammed with a couple others, and have a handful of substitute jobs lined up, with the promise of more to come. Thus, I have staunched the outflow of money a bit and am developing a social life.

But that’s not all! I have plans to: develop a particular kind of music website (details TBD, but get excited), work on a piano-singing solo act, record at least another albumlet, and to write some solid essays on this blog. The tricky part will be in scheduling it all on top of my band rehearsals, shows, and pipe organ gigs.

ALL THE MUSIC ALL THE TIME!

“Well, thanks for the play-by-play,” you say, “But do you like the life as a musician?”

That is a complicated question. Employment and income feel fairly scattershot and insecure – even successful musicians I have spoken to say that you need a few different gigs going to adequately get by. Also, my life has been pretty abnormal so far, since I’ve been living off savings (and benefitting from the extreme good luck of having no student loans and, thanks to the health care law, no health insurance payments yet), so I can’t properly judge whether or not the financial situation bothers me yet. But I am cognizant of the difficulties that low income creates for the eventual realities of owning a home, having kids, paying their tuition, retirement savings, and health care.

Mostly though, I find that music is not enough. Sure it is a lot of fun to play shows, it is satisfying to record music that people enjoy, I can get lost exploring infinite sonic possibilities, and I do meet a lot of interesting people by playing in a variety of settings.

But it neglects the whole other side of me that is passionate about policy. I voraciously read the news every day, so much that I have trouble tearing myself away to practice. Even during the Super Bowl, I was constantly switching between a livestream of the game and a policy paper from NIST about innovation and manufacturing policy. Plus, when I imagine myself as an old man looking back, a life of simply making people smile (and rock out, of course) won’t be as fulfilling as changing the world in some concrete way. Sure, musicians talk about peace and enlightenment, but rarely do they pack a effectual punch (Bono being the most obvious exception).

But! It is still somewhat early in this story. As I get more involved in various projects, we will see if I find some way to satisfy my policy side. At least, I know that I will always at last play music on the side like I’ve done for most of my life already anyways.

As I’ve said from the beginning, I’m giving music a full shot. I know for sure that I’m in Austin until August. And if things are cookin’ and hoppin’ and bumpin’ I could easily see myself staying longer.

We shall see.

*For the record, when the salesman says he slept on a $90 mattress for ten years and then asks you to move your (not very heavy) mattress around because he has back problems, take note to buy a nicer mattress within a year or two.

A Brief Journal

October 8, 2011

When I was little, I once titled a journal entry “Journel.” Then I learned to spell a little better (also wrote “Oberlin and Stanford” when prompted to create a collage). </aside>

Whatever the future holds, musical or nonmusical, I am very glad I am doing what I am doing. Living a life where my only obligation besides self-maintenance is music means I can move through things quicker. I can learn more details about instrumental technique in a day than I normally would in a month; I can expand my harmonic and arranging toolkit faster.

But most of all, I can work through the emotional steps. This last week featured a battle with my addiction to news and the internet, some “god that really sucks!” moments of depression as I listened to my singing trying to figure out what I (want to) sound like. Then it swung back the other way with a discovery that I was focusing on the wrong thing (my computer) instead of the right thing (having fun playing music) and realizing that the singing isn’t thaaat bad (I think).

I am nearly 3/4 done with this first albumlet, and with a friend visiting late this next week I have motivation to finish recording it asap. Plan to release it for download via bandcamp, followed by videos as I get around to editing them. There are some tropes I am trying out, but this will also very much be a chunk of music that I spent time crafting.

In some readings and watchings recently, I have honed in on three words to look to. Grit. Greatness. Fun.

Stick with it. Strive to make it really awesome. Most of all, don’t forget that this is what you enjoy doing and have a good time with it.

In practice, this means to just sit down and start practicing/recording those songs/parts/exercises each day, remembering that things happen over months and years, not minutes. It means to keep pushing for new ways to put the music together that are interesting and new. And it means that if you spend the whole day worrying about how much time you’re going to spend on the computer, you’re approaching it all wrong – it’s actually radbox to rock out, so rock out, damnit.

Here’s a teaser:

Albumlet title: Fermenting

Track listing:

Nothing Better
Keep It Asleep
ImPatient
Stuck

Initial Reflections

September 13, 2011

First, some brief updates. Been to two local-band-shows, saw a performance on the world’s largest tracker organ, attended a UT football game, saw a DeLorean around the corner from my house, recorded two videosongs, practiced a lot, shopped for groceries a mattress a desk silly clothes and a piano, visited the unchanged LBJ presidential suite in a federal building (still has that green/blue/yellow 60’s color scheme), and evaded the fires that enveloped much of the state.

After four weeks, I’m staring down the day when I will have been here a month. That means I will have only 10.5 months left on this first lease and the first point of “do I stay or do I go.” Deadlines are a big motivator. The biggest challenge so far has been getting myself to work the amount of time I want to, especially when it’s so easy to waste time online.

However, these four weeks have been productive. I recorded a couple songs and realized it took up a lot of time, so I stopped to practice for a bit and evaluate what I’m really up to. Realizing that I’ve been in ‘experiment’ mode, I decided to try out ‘deliberate’ mode. That means I’m going to record some mini-albums of about four songs each where I stick with certain concepts (instrumentation, harmony, arrangement, etc) and delve into them more deeply, rather than flitting about through styles too quickly.

But suffice to say that there is the difficulty of fitting everything in. Drums, keyboards, guitars, singing, composing, sound engineering, video editing. Each can take a lifetime to really master, and I’m trying to be either professional, very good, or not embarrassing at all of them. There are only 16 waking hours of the day. Going to start blocking my schedule and using my time efficiently.

Otherwise, life is good. I live in a cool house with cool people and have a cool studio. This next month holds: recording an “albumlet,” attending Austin City Limits, participating in the local organist guild chapter’s composer’s forum, and whatever else comes along. I’ll probably update on a monthly basis, unless you really want to read “practiced on accordion for a half hour today and worried about my left hand technique – is there a better way to not feel so much pressure on the forearm? will it affect the way I play the other instruments?” and other technical minutiae of this endeavor, which I don’t have time to chronicle anyway.

Road Trip to a New Life Part VI – Arrival

August 15, 2011

–from my new digs in Manor, TX–

How has this road trip been? Let me count the ways: five days of travel, two motels, 1741.0 miles, 82 gallons of gas, four nights, two subway sandwiches, six blog posts, one sturdy van, zero thefts, 97 photos of varying quality, two explorations of major cities, hours of listening to music and radio, one and a half bags of wint-o-green life savers, a hundred more things I didn’t tabulate, and one great one-way trip.

From the green Appalachian Mountains through Virginia and into east Tennessee to the lower rolling hills of central Tennessee and northern Alabama to the flatter and straighter journey of freshly-mowed medians from Alabama into Mississippi to the long low bridges over bayous in Louisiana to the undulating prairie ranches in Texas, with large urban interchanges scattered throughout that interrupt the long stretches of two-lane-to-a-side interstates… I took few stops and they were usually brief to avoid being on the road forever, which meant a lot of what I saw was just pavement and gas stations. But the scenery all along was wonderful.

I’ve given my green van a hard time because it’s not the old red van I had when I was little (and totaled in high school – not my fault). But at the end of the trip I felt like it was time to fully embrace this car out of respect for all it has done for me in the six years I have been driving it. Disliking it purely because it is not the older van has been petty, childish treatment of a respectable machine. We’re really in it together now, van.

Today, the drive was the most spectacular so far. The bayous were very cool to see in real life for miles and miles in a way one can’t describe, and as I eventually got further into Texas it started getting stormy and poured rain so hard that I had the windshield wipers on high for a long stretch there. One particularly cool moment happened when I was crossing a high bridge over a river in Texas and saw right in front of me a skyline of oil refineries amidst the trees backdropped by a dark gray-blue sky that was all suddenly rent by a bolt of lightning.

Other notable tidbits: one gas station I stopped at had a real live tiger in a cage; upon instruction from a friend I stopped at an awesome little local supermarket called “The Best Stop Supermarket” and got a boudin and some cracklins; I decided I like zydeco music; and I found a radio station in the US in french.

With all of that, here I am at the end of the journey. I’m living in a big one-story house with four other people aged ranging from 18-25. The living room is already full of musical instruments that aren’t mine, so it will only get fuller. I have no furniture of my own, which means I will be sleeping on the floor for the time being, but my room is huge. The car is only partly unloaded and nothing is unpacked – tasks I have plenty of time for.

Now the real journey begins. To the family and friends who have followed along, I won’t be putting down my life in nearly as much detail from now on. But I will try to put up some stories when interesting things happen, in addition to the blogging I’ve been up to already.

Mainly, I came to Austin (or, um, Manor?) to play music 8 hours a day, 6 days a week at least. The trip was fun, but now it will be time to work.

So let’s get crackin.