Friday, August 8, 2014

Albums Are Hard Work

In the last few weeks I've embarked on the long project of producing my first album.  From the get go this has been a hard work affair.  Kind of funny that all I wanted was a debut album and I'm spending tons of time trying to work out tiny details.

Luckily, I know a bunch of folks who have been there before and have given me a little nudge in the right direction.  That coupled with a few online resources (such as and I'm a little amazed that the complicated process is actually started to see some traction as it moves out of the planning phases.

Let me briefly outline the process as I've been working through it:

- This is the figuring out of almost every thematic detail of the album.
- The biggest parts of planning aren't actually in the artistic realm at all.
- You have to come up with a generally specific (oxymoron?) budget to get funding.
- You have to figure out how you are getting that funding (
- You have to figure up a timeline for music prep, recording, art, photos, and pressing.
- You have to figure out debut and release stuff.

Music Prep
- I'm not here officially yet, but I'm already working it.
- Picking tunes you are covering.
- Picking and writing original tunes.
- Arranging all of those tunes and picking your favorites.
- Hiring musicians to fill in the background.

- Home or in studio?
- How long do you need?
- Who is mixing?
- Who is mastering?

- Art
- How many CDs?
- Downloads? If so, how many?
- Licensing.  Even originals need to be copyrighted!
- Getting all the ducks in a row and to the pressing company.

- Who is getting a copy off the bat?
- Party?
- Local release?
- Online release?

Within all of that are little details too like putting youtube vids together to support crowdsourcing (I'm still working on that... It's been a long ass week!), brainstorming, throwing ideas at other people and having them handed back to you with a look of "really?" on their face, etc.

In the end, I'm hoping the first album is at least a small success.  If nothing else, the goal is to get a discography started for myself so that when people ask what I do, I can literally show them.

More to come as crowdsourcing and youtube videos go up.  Keep posted!


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Laying Some Ground Work

I found out recently that I'm being invited back to the Folk Alliance's Winter Music Camp this year.  It was one of the most awesome music experiences I have ever had last year and I am extremely excited to get to work with Mark Ruben and his team again.

During last year's event, I was encourage by Mark, Pops Bayless, Guy Forsyth, and countless others to take advantage of the conference that happens along side the camp.  The conference is basically a place where the artists and the industry can get together and make those crucial relationships that enable music to be what it is.

There is a trade show floor where everything from promotion companies and CD companies (like CD Maker) to string makers (like D'Addario) and instrument makers (like Nechville Banjos) can work directly with artists and novices.  There are jam sessions happening in every hallway or public (or private) space in the hotel.  There is a keynote speaker and tons of music industry info passed out.

But what makes the event special for the artists is the showcases.

Showcases are an opportunity for artists to play their music for a wide array of people including promoters, club owners, other musicians, and just plan fans.  The goal of which is to get yourself know as a performer and get more gigs.

Last year, the showcase was the single most suggested thing that everyone seemed to tell me I had to do.  As much as I trust that advice, I am extremely glad I didn't.  Why?  Because I would have been in way over my head.  I had no album, no promotional material, barely even a website.  Hell, I wasn't really even settling into a genre yet!

But this year... This year I'm going whole hog.

I've got a lot of goals I need to accomplish between now and then, but basically they boil down to one overarching goal to help get the most out of a showcase:  I need to release an album.

I won't go into everything that I need to do to make this happen just yet.  Lord knows I will be putting my experience out here for everyone to live along with.  But already without even laying down a single track I am getting the feeling that this may be one of the biggest projects I have ever undertaken.

Here is my short list of to-dos and dailies:
- Write music everyday
- Record something everyday
- Pick 10 songs (5 originals, 5 standards) to put on the album
- Get album art created
- Photo shoot (for website, showcase flyers, and album)
- License songs (copyright mine, get rights to standards)
- Record album (pro studio or home studio?)
- Produce the actual CDs (mix, master, buy)
- Merch, Merch, Merch

As you can see, there is a lot and within each of those is a whole ball of questions to be answered.  How do we eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Being Humbled by My Own Equipment

I know, the picture is flipped...
A very humbling moment today...  I had been having some troubles with my new Loar LH-200 (Cindy).  The "B" string had horrible intonation.  As a result, most chords that had a "D" fingered on that string sounded horrible.  I was making do, but I really was worried that the honeymoon had wore off and that I was going to be trying to get rid of this thing...

Then, I put it up on the bench for a different issue altogether (added a strap button; no big whoop). On the bench in the light, I noticed something looked wrong about the "B" and high "E" strings.  After putting the calipers to it, I figured out I had swapped those two in the last (first) restring... a month ago.

I went a month with this issue and never once thought that I had done something wrong.  Now it all makes sense, but I was really getting unhappy with playing the guitar.  Boy am I embarrassed!

It just goes to show you that no matter how much experience we have, we still make really obvious mistakes and it might take a completely different perspective to understand what went wrong.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Brown Out, Light Bulb Comes On

Music accomplishments seem to come from nowhere.  Tonight (Tuesday night) I was sitting at my church waiting for the ukulele jam I host to start.  I was early, no one was around, and a brownout hits the church.  Dark, holding my uke, Mary (Kala Tenor), in the basement and I can't see.  After a minute of fumbling my way towards the light, I end up sitting on the steps in front of a door waiting a few minutes for the lights to decide to come back on.

Screw it, I'm here by myself, let's do something weird to practice.  I start playing "Exactly Like You", one of my favorite tunes, and working out a solo.  I've long noticed how I can sub in notes not in the regular key (I play ELY in C major) to create some cool tension in the solo.  However, some of the talk about modal improvisation was really lost on me.  I'd taken a couple workshops and woodshedded modes for hours, but I just never got it to click.

The lights came on...  About that time, I decided to play a solo over the A section using all seven of the modes of C one at a time.  This is going to sound abstract if you aren't familiar with the modal system, so here is a quick overview:

Modes are just the major scale starting in different places:

C Major/Ionian C D E F G A B
D Dorian D E F G A B C
Phrygian E F G A B C D
F Lydian F G A B C D E
G Mixolydian G A B C D E F
A Aeolian A B C D E F G
B Locrian B C D E F G A

You can also keep them all with the relative same starting note (they'll just be in a different major key):

C Major/Ionian C D E F G A B
C Dorian C D Eb F G A Bb
Phrygian C Db Eb F G Ab Bb
C Lydian C D E F# G A B
C Mixolydian C D E F G A Bb
C Aeolian C D Eb F G Ab Bb
C Locrian C Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb

That is the theory anyway, I have trouble thinking all of that nonsense, though when I play.  I learned long ago to think about it instead in terms of the numbers.  Basically, 1 is major, 2 is dorian, 3 is Phrygian, etc.  That and look at it on the fretboard in a certain way.  Let me show you what I mean:

If you are really paying attention, you will notice that there are only five different shapes/fingerings here.  That is the part of the point, you can go a long way only using those five shapes for soloing.

Now, back to the light coming on...

I played "ELY" while using each of these shapes (one at a time).  So, I only used notes from these shapes.  Some sounded great, others sounded good occasionally, some I just couldn't make it sound good.  But, the effect was tremendous to me.  Each of the different modes had it's own flavor and each left me feeling a different way about the mood of the tune (even when that wasn't the most pleasant sound throughout).

A next step for me was trying to play different shapes over different chords, but still thinking about it being a mode of C.

For instance, the A section of "ELY" is:

| C / / / | C / / /  | D7 / / /  | D7 / / /  | G7 / / /  | G7 / / / | C / / /  | C / / / |

(You could add a turn around at the end if you wanted...)

Over the C major chords, I played either a major/ionian shape or a dorian.  Over the D7 I played lydian and over the G7 I played mixolydian.  This is by no means a set in stone approach, but it gave me a new way of toying with the solos I was developing.

In swing, solos have to hint or reflect the melody.  If we get to far off of that, the listeners (and in many cases, the dancers) get lost and we don't want to loose them.  The idea I'm playing with above is a little departed from the basic melody, but when you look at the melody of "ELY", you find that in many points along the tune it follows much of the same ideas.  In fact, I kept finding myself resolving to melody notes as I worked through my newly crafted solos.

Now, I want to fast forward to around 8:00 as we were doing our jam.  My ukulele group is light on soloists.  Most of the players are strummers and they like to sing along if they know the words.  (And let me be absolutely clear that there is nothing wrong with that.)  So, I am often the one who gets called to take a solo when it comes around.  And when we played the great Hank Williams tune "You're Cheatin' Heart", I was chompin' at the bit to get my solo in.

It was rough at first as I started straight in on the new idea and didn't let the melody in.  Once I did, I started jumping off for just little fills on long holds.  Before I knew it, I was in and out of modes quick, using all of my fretboard, and generally playing one of the funnest solos I've improvised in a long time.  All in the key of A (which I hadn't tackled yet; remember "ELY" is in C)!

So here is the conclusion: Melodies are the hardy soup base for solos.  But the spices and hardy stuff comes from knowing how to use those scales.  So, practice both and do things that seem weird at first.  It will eventually turn on the light.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Public Displays of Music

A friend sent me this pic and I'm just a little scared that it looks a little like me (but I don't wear baseball caps in public anymore).  I don't want to be political about guns, so I'm changing the topic quick...

You should play in public more often.  I don't care the venue, but grab your acoustic (or electric if you want) instrument and go to a public space and play.  In fact, don't even busk, just play.

By the way, busking means playing publicly for money. Think of the guy a the local shopping plaza who brought his guitar and opens his case to accept money and tips.  Panhandling is asking for money without any performance (aside from the made up story about your car breaking down and needing to get uptown to go to court). There is a lot of feud between cities and musicians about the difference between busking and panhandling.  I've been on the wrong side of that a time or two.  Personally, I believe all city laws limiting the scope of acoustic busking inhibit my constitutional rights to free speech and freedom to assemble.  But, again, I'm not trying to get too political here.

Why should you play in public?  Because you need the experience of feeling like every eye is on you while you play music.  It can be a rush, but it is usually intimidating.  It is much better to get this out of the way in an informal situation than to be forced into confronting it first time on a paying gig.

Secondly, the world needs more good music. I understand that many of us are not confident in our abilities and that there are probably some "musicians" who wouldn't qualify for the adjective "good".  But still, most musicians are pretty good.  If you can play an hours worth of a set without stopping, then go for it.

Lastly, you just need to be outside more.  Being outside does a lot for your mood and health.  We are just now figuring this out in modern medicine, but we are designed to live outside.  Aside form that, music is great medicine too.

So, go have a public display of music.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Your Own Style

At a certain point, you go from trying to learn to play a genre to learning to play tunes. Really, this is the true way of it. If you want to play Wes Montgomery, start playing his tunes. If you want to be Bob Wills, learn Bob Wills' music.

But style is everything. These players that came before you who defined a genre or sub genre have their own influences, but ultimately at one point stopped covering their heros and started playing like themselves. This is where so many get lost. Either they jump too  late onto their own style or they never do it at all. 

Almost never do we jump too early onto our own style. Because we are constantly influence by our surroundings, developing our own way of speaking through our music is never something we can start too early on.

To use the bandwagon analogy again, if you get on the wagon early, you are still on the wagon. Too late, you've missed.

Conclusion: Stop covering. Play tunes they way you play them. Add all your experience and influences up and give the sum over to your instrument.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The 13 People you meet in the Community Musical's Pit Orchestra:

This is a response to a Facebook post I saw about this blog:

As you may know, I work every year in the pit orchestra at my local community theater (notice where I put the 'r' there; that's the way it's spelled!).  Enjoy.

1. Director (who isn't in charge of music): She would like to have a say in the 90 cuts that litter the rehearsal room floor, but the "Music" Director just doesn't need another dance number to prepare for.

2. The Pianist: She's the one who goes to every audition, rehearsal, and staging. She also has played more notes by the end of the show than many of the actors will ever sing.

3. The Veteran: This person has played in every single production since the theater group started. His/Her notes are likely still etched on the music from the first run of Oliver.

4. The New Family: This is the young couple with possibly one on the way that swear up and down both of them will still participate when the baby comes... We'll see...

5. The Bass Player: He's a high schooler who's mother knows the director and the director was desperate. He can read music, but prefers it if some just tells him what key and style to play.

6. The Handle Bar: He is either a trombone player or a tuba player. Somehow, out of every bit of improbability, he looks good. Like the star of a cigarette commercial from the '80s good.

7. Mr./Mrs. Infinite Wisdom: Sometimes this is the same as the Handle Bar. No matter what is happening in the music or in politics of the musical, they have an overly wise and insightful comment that makes everyone stop and think...awkwardly.

8. The I-Play-Everything: This person usually is a woodwind player. They play flute, clarinet, some clarinet no one has heard of, and anything else they can lug into the pit.

9. The Guitar Player: They never played a single bit of jazz music before the picked up the guitar part for "Anything Goes". Also, they think they set the tempo. Silly guitarists...

10. The Percussionist: This is not the trap set player. They bring as a minimum three large timpani, at least one xylophone, and four bags stuffed full of noisemakers.

11. The Setup/Teardown Guy: This person, regardless of any personal life, comes two hours early, setups up everyone's chair and stand (somehow correctly), lays out the cables for mic'ing and stand lights, and then after the show stays two more hours to make sure everything is put back correctly. We love this person. We pick up their check at the after party.

12. The High Schooler: She (and it always is a she) is the flute player (and it always is a flute player) who came because she wanted the extra line on her college application. Now, she might be looking at how much her flute will go for on craigslist.

13. The Tuba Player: He plays the bass book. Even though there is a bass player. He is also why almost every song has that om-pa feeling.