Archive for the ‘Music’ 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 Rockstar Part V – Playing The… Pipe Organ?

June 5, 2012

Dispatches from the front lines of the music industry.

In order to make a living, most musicians have to find a variety of types of work. Rarely does a single gig pay a full salary. In my situation, drumming and recording do not generate income. Instead I earn a modest wage by playing the pipe organ.

I have realized that people know very little about about pipe organs. Even those exposed to them in church almost never sit down even to just noodle around. So let me offer a window into the world of this underappreciated king of instruments…

(more…)

Tryna Be A Rockstar Part IV – Finding Your Voice in a Homebrew Studio

May 28, 2012

Dispatches from the front lines of the music industry.

Some people like to talk in grand terms about the history of music, how particular human advancements had certain types of effects on music. I am going to be one of those people (briefly). I would argue that the single most significant change to music since the development of sound recording has been the democratization of high-quality recording capabilities. For millennia, music had to be performed in person. Then the phonograph brought the symphony into your living room. But now, you can bring the recording studio into your living room – we masses can produce our own music now. “Composing” is no longer about putting notes on a page or needing to perform whatever is in your head. You can immortalize it. Carve out your own Hammurabi slab of sound. Sing for your great great great great great great grandchildren. Or sing for anyone anywhere in the world, right now.

If I were born fifteen years earlier, I have no doubt that I would not have decided to move to Austin and pursue music. The core of my musical journey has been my own composing, songwriting, and being able to record whatever I write. My music is not confined to the vacuum of my own brain. I can put it out, listen to it, reflect on it, share it, improve upon it, and put more out. Just fifteen years ago I would have had to struggle to find musicians willing to play exactly what I wanted them to play. Then it would have cost an absurd amount of money to go into the studio and spend the amount of time I do fiddling around with sounds. Instead, I have a magic music box two inches from my bed and everything else I need closer than the bathroom.

Technology opened up a universe of composition, but for the longest time it confounded me with too much possibility. Only recently have I found-……

Well, here’s the story:

(more…)

Tryna Be A Rockstar, Part III – SXSW As An Austinite

May 18, 2012

Dispatches from the front lines of the music industry.

South By Southwest, or SXSW as it is internetly known, has grown into a globally-renowned technology and arts conference that takes place each March in Austin, TX. For the thousands of tourists that descend upon Austin over those two weekends, it’s like going to any big sporting event. Tons of people, traffic is terrible, food is expensive.

If you live in Austin, you get all of that, except you have a job so instead everyone just gets in your way.

But if you’re in a BAND and you live in Austin. Well then. It is the busiest week of the year! Kind of like holy week for churches. Or finals week for students. Or having-a-baby-week for new parents.

Everywhere and anywhere becomes a music venue during the non-technology portion of SXSW. The official conference only has a fraction of the acts that perform during the week. And because so many people are visiting the city, every band wants to get as much exposure as possible. This means there is too much music for too many people and it is just like any other day in Austin where nobody remembers who you are. Except way more fun, because you actually have audiences.

Everybody’s SXSW is different, depending on which shows they went to, which streets they happened to walk down while some band set up on a sidewalk, how long they felt like waiting in lines to see established acts, or how stupid they were to spend money on music that week when so much of it is free.

But here are some tales from my own particular SXSW as I played 9 shows with three separate acts over 8 days. I could probably edit it down a bunch, but I’ll leave it long so you get a sense of how crazy of a week it is to live through.

(more…)

Tryna Be a Rock Star, Part II – Joining Bands

May 17, 2012

Dispatches from the front lines of the music industry.

Since I was thirteen, I have been a drummer in one band or another almost continuously, except for two 9-month droughts at the beginning of college and after I graduated. That’s over eight years of band practices and gigs.

As I’ve asked a few friends what they’d be interested in reading about, they’ve asked, “What’s it like to be in a band???” Right. Of course. Not everybody has been in bands for years and years, so I shouldn’t assume that they all know the routine of rehearsals and gigs…

So I’ll start with the tricky topic of joining bands.

There are two different ways to join a band. One begins with friendship: you and a couple buddies realize that you all play various instruments that would work together as a band, so you start one. The other way begins with music: you want to play in a certain kind of band, so you go find other musicians.

These two ways can be mixed – maybe you start with a friend but then find other musicians to round out the group, or a friend joins onto a group you’ve had for a while. The best bands ultimately become both good friends and good musicians. One particularly sound piece of band advice I’ve heard is from the almighty ?uestlove who says for a band to work, you need to (at least) have one day a week that is Band Day. Everyone comes over, hangs out, eats food, watches movies, and plays music. A band doesn’t work if it’s an impersonal, professional experience. Music is too much of a human activity to be stripped of relationships and reduced to just sound. This is also why rock history is full of interpersonal drama…

Every band I’ve been in before I moved to Austin was based on friendship – I played with people I knew from school. Moving to Austin all of a sudden presented a new challenge: figuring out what kind of band I wanted to be in; I had no network to draw on anymore. I was alone in a new city.

So after a few months of making my own music in my room, it became painfully obvious that I needed to be in a group and play some gigs. What was I doing in Austin as a musician if I wasn’t playing with other musicians? I turned to Craigslist.

I had two basic approaches. Approach #1 was to see if there were bandless musicians out there who I could meet that might be interested in starting something from scratch. I like writing music, and with another one or two talented writers, we might come up with something kickass and new, possibly even genre-groundbreaking. Hopefully.

Approach #2 was to see if there were existing bands looking for a drummer or a keyboardist. Obviously, there would need to be a skill match; I can’t play at super speeds like a metal drummer for example.

Approach #1 meant posting to Craigslist for the first time ever. Approach #2 meant I was checking Craigslist regularly, so I got a sense of how people advertised. Some postings are very short and uninformative with several spelling errors. Some have a long list of other bands they “sound like”. So I linked to my own music and listed an eclectic set of artists I loved. At the very least, I thought I could find some people with similar taste in music to give us a starting point.

The result? I got a few requests to be in bands that already existed. I responded to the ones that seemed interesting. A rap-funk duo never replied back. A metal band was too metally for me. A couple people simply lacked talent or didn’t send me any recordings of themselves. I was not about to go to a random person’s house to play who-knows-what music…

One did lead to a rehearsal. One guy wanted me to play keyboard with his acoustic guitar and drummer duo. They were nice guys with music that wasn’t too difficult for me on piano. Since I have only ever been the drummer in a band, I very much wanted to try being a keyboardist for once. This group felt like it would be good training wheels for me on keyboard, but logistics got in the way, and their music didn’t grab me enough to persuade me otherwise.

Soo, approach #1 never really worked out. But Approach #2 did! On the very first day of thoroughly checking craigslist, I found a couple groups looking for a drummer that indicated they already had an album and were getting ready to tour.

This led to a mini crisis. I was sure that I would have a successful audition, but I didn’t know if I actually wanted to be in those bands – they played very generic alternative rock. It was oddly a new challenge for me. I had only ever fell into bands with friends before – the option of choosing what type of band I wanted to be in felt like a strange luxury. I waffled. I consternated. In the end, I decided to wait for postings that would excite me more. I didn’t contact them.

After some time though, I desperately needed to at least meet new musicians. So I did contact a DIY soft-rock group that also had a cello. I doubted that their music was really for me, but they seemed creative so I met with them. They were very enthusiastic about perfecting a set of songs and putting together a home-grown tour (of people’s backyards on the east coast?), making enough money off of it to pay for expenses. But ultimately, I told them no thanks, though I was happy to keep in touch. I figured maybe we could do a little collaboration at some point. We haven’t yet.

It was at this point that I finally had to confront and really decide what I wanted out of a band – being a tease of a drummer was not a long-term plan. I figured that if I was going to join an existing band, it would have to be music that I really enjoyed playing. To that point, one of my most favorite gigs ever was a christmas party gig with a funk band I had in high school. The place was packed with drunk revelers and there was a huuuge bass amp that thundered the place with our groovin lines. People were dancing everywhere. It was glorious.

So I wanted a funk band. Or… something unpredictable yet compelling, comparable to what I had hoped to get from Approach #1.

After a couple weeks, I found a funk band. Afro Taxi. I’ve listened to wayyy too much Red Hot Chili Peppers in my life, and these dudes idolized the chilis, so it was an instant fit. They are awesome people and I’ve had a ton of fun playing with them the last few months. So it was then pretty painful when I told them recently that I was going to leave Austin because they are some of the better friends I’ve made this year. [And to the confused: none of us have afros nor drive taxis, though they have a trailer which some graffiti artists covered with awesome Afro Taxi designs. During SXSW, when every other downtown parking space contained a Band Van or Band Trailer, none come anywhere close to being as awesome as Afro Taxi’s trailer.]

I suppose there was an Approach #3 too. It was sort of like the “being in a band with friends” arrangement. My housemates have a psych rock band. It’s not really my style of music, but they needed a drummer and I really wanted to play shows. I also figured it might be interesting to see another side of the Austin music scene, since funk bands don’t always play the same places as psych rock bands. And they rehearse in the living room.

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I apologize that this account has been rather dry and logistical so far. A more flowery account would be a narrative of emails, text messages, and conversations over smoke breaks…

It starts with something like, “Hey, thanks for the message. I checked out your music and it seems cool. I play drums and here’s some of my music. I’d be interested in jamming. Let me know what works for you.” That is followed by an exchange of addresses and aligning schedules.

You arrive at a house of people you’ve never met with drums in your car. You go to the door and say hi to people you’ve never laid eyes on before. Will they become your new best friend and musical partner for life? Will this just be a one-evening jam and you never see them again? Or are they serial killers? Craigslist is always a bit iffy… They have some instruments set up already. You check out their gear the way a car enthusiast eyes a new ride. They offer you a beer and help you bring in your drums. As you unload your van you make the same old joke about how you drive the green soccer-mom van of the ’90s, “But it’s perfect for carting around drums!” You set up somewhere in the room while the rest of the band shows up. You tell everyone you’re terrible at remembering names.

Then the band practice begins. They start playing a song and you get a feel for it and start drumming along. Occasionally they might stop and point out some aspect of the arrangement that isn’t obvious, or they have a drum part in mind already. Afterwards, you all hang out a little bit and talk about first impressions of Austin because they just moved here too – everyone just moved here! It’s the city of misfit musicians! Then you pack up and either talk about how they want you in the band or how you don’t want to be in the band. Either way, you head home feeling accomplished because you successfully jammed with other musicians and, y’know, the world didn’t end. You feel slightly more confident that you could navigate the music industry if you kept at it…

If you join the band, then you go back to their house regularly for practice. It’s basically like going to a friend’s house, but you bring instruments. Band practice involves playing through songs. If it’s a good band practice, then you regularly stop and hone the riffs or transitions or parts that aren’t strong enough. If it’s a bad band practice you just play straight through, repeating whatever mistakes you always make. Upon joining a new band, the first few rehearsals are all about you learning their songs. You might record the practice and take notes so you can listen and study them on your own time. Some bands rehearse really loud so you wear decibel-reducing headphones like a construction worker. If the band has a website, they might update it to include you as a new band member. At some point, you exchange phone numbers with everyone.

And you look forward to the first gig.

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.

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[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.

Purchasing Organs and Poetry

February 24, 2012

After a couple weeks of trollingly refreshing craigslistings every day for organs in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston, I think I’ve found something awesome. I haven’t fully lined up the purchase yet, but it is very promising, and I am very very excited. It’s not a Hammond, but it’s a step toward owning one someday.

In light of that (and inspired somewhat by the poetry textbook my friend Tiffany gave me – for lyric writing help) I drafted* a poem this evening:

Hammond, My Hammond

I clicked to tell them yes, “confirm my order” several days ago.
I too should note I stared at screens for months to make sure I would know
that I would have not one regret-
a certainty and not a bet-
as soon as it arrived,
for I will play this Hammond organ till the day I die.

But once I clicked to say “I do” and paid a dowry to the store,
it’s like they took me to the trenches and I’m writing home from war.
My mind can think of only she;
each second is eternity
for I have waited years
to make myself a virtuoso who could hold her dear.

But do you think that over time I might grow weary of her sound?
The toys I wanted as a kid soon gathered dust and lay around…
With her, I don’t think that’s the case-
I’m older! With developed taste…
Whatever does unfold,
I know that she will give to me a music filled with soul.