Posts Tagged 'Music/Musician'

Writing on the Wall


So much is contained in a picture – a thousand words, as said by acclaimed newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane.

Look at these guys. At the peak of success, among the most successful entertainers/artists in the history of mankind. Yet they were troubled. They had troubled lives that were not rescued by their success. Arguably the success was part of the problem. Even their feelings toward each other were in disrepair. They had been through so much together. The wonder of their youths replaced by cynicism and distrust. Here they are going through the motions, possibly hoping for better times ahead, possibly scheming for the same. Their great partnership, the one that took them so far, was at this point a farce. Purely a business relationship, and no more. Nothing like how it started out.

It’s not so hard to look back at this picture and see it in their eyes. To their credit, they didn’t push on too far after it was over. They might have left a lot of great work out of their (and our) lives. They might have even worked it all out. Who knows? But there’s a good chance it would have only gotten worse. This way, they left a real legacy they can be proud of, and though the intimacy of the relationships were severed, they managed to retain a civility and respect for each other that more genuinely spoke to the underlying care they felt, and that respected the history of what they accomplished as a team.


I remember once when I was a young musician in a young and inexperienced band playing one of a number of gigs that were over our heads at the time. This one was at a nightclub called Heartwood Tavern (long since gone — a parking lot now). None of us were old enough to be in there, even as performers. There was some stipulation that 18 year olds could be in the club so long as they were only on stage or in a dressing room away from other people. We weren’t 18 yet so it was really illegal for us to be there…but apparently someone thought we were good enough to risk it. We were opening for another band. A really good one. Seasoned players, etc. I knew a few of them distantly.

In situations like this (especially back then) it was common for the warm up band to get seriously short changed on things like access to production gear, time to properly sound check, etc. Just part of paying your dues I guess. We sat in the club that afternoon for what seemed like hours while the headlining band went through an exhaustive sound check. We became impatient and started making comments about everything from the songs they did to how they sounded, to pleas to hurry up.

Thankfully my good friend and mentor, Scott (R.I.P.), who happened to also be our sound guy, pulled me aside and schooled me on how inappropriate and uncool we were being before it got out of hand. In our defense, we were kids. We didn’t know. We felt entitled to fair treatment. That’s just not how it works.

The guitarist for that band ended up sitting down with me a little later while some technical concerns were being worked out. He asked me questions about our band, goals, dreams, etc. He was very cool, and had some good suggestions for some of the business side of things. He had to have heard some of the comments we had made earlier, but he didn’t mention it. He took an interest in us, if just for the moment. He was a kind, sweet guy.

As things played out over the years I ended up working with him quite a bit in some different bands, and even in a day job at a music store for a few years. We became pretty good friends. He was a great guitarist, and a better human being. He demonstrated to me that day what class is. I took the lesson and I’ll never forget it.

Another great one bites the dust. Rest in Peace, Rob.



Not Gettin’ Rich

JonathaCheckMy friend Jonatha is a pretty well known artist with around 10 albums released on major labels over the years. I have lots of other friends in the music business. Their stories are pretty consistent.

No money.

The difference between now and 20 years ago is that now, nobody is making any money.

Spotify, and [fill in the blank with your music delivery service of choice] have utterly commoditized it all. The commoditization would be one thing if they paid a serviceable amount for the work they use to drive their business, but…they don’t, in part because there isn’t much to go around. Every artist I know tells the same story. I have sat through endless debates about why this happens. Much of it is warranted. The undeniable reality of the marketplace is that people don’t value music enough to pay for it anymore. Still a shame to see talented people go unrewarded. Teachers, artists, therapists, and others who help us in more abstract yet profound ways seem to get the shaft a lot. Good for us they love what they do. God help us if they ever wise up.

Lost in Translation

SmokeSignalsI don’t know exactly how it is for everyone else, but what I write is never exactly what’s in my head. It seems impossible to get it just right. The skill of effectively painting the picture of what’s really going on in there, of all the subtle nuances to the point I’m trying to make, is something that as hard as I work I have not been able to master.

Then there is listening. Most people aren’t really good listeners. Learning to identify and accurately derive meaning from subtle clues in the use of words, tone of voice, body language, use of images, etc. is a skill that’s difficult for even the most in tune, empathetic and intuitive of us.

There is so much more to it than merely the words themselves. We intuitively know this. Yet it’s sometimes difficult to move past our own sense of meaning we derive from them. It’s hard to ignore years of programming.

Then, the hearer responds, and the initial speaker, who couldn’t effectively relay his own thoughts with precision, now has to interpret the response…

We’re really a lot farther away than we think we are most of the time. Introspection illusion tells us we think we know others better than we really do, and that they don’t know us as well as we think we know ourselves, or as well as they think they do. All assessments that are so prone to error they are generally accepted as false.

It’s a wonder we’re able to communicate at all. It’s often when we’re least aware of these fallacies we’re most prone to making mistakes of assumption. Be careful.

Art to Burden

B.B. King In Concert - San Rafael, CA

B.B. King has been out on tour. He is almost 90 years old. I had the pleasure of working with B.B. on some shows back in the early ’90s. He’s really a great guy with an awesome sense for music. He’s also a ‘hard core’ old skool blues man.

The ‘grind’ of the road has been written about, but experienced by few. It really is a difficult life. I will spare you the gory details — plenty of places to read all about it online. Suffice to say it is really harsh physically, and more so mentally. Recently he had a fall in Chicago, which resulted in him having to cancel his next show in Fort Wayne, and then subsequent shows. He’s okay, and has intentions of resuming the tour.


Why does a 90 y.o. man want to be on tour? Does he? I worry that his people are continuing to prop him up and send him out on stage, not because he needs the money (he most certainly does not), but because they do. Or is it because he doesn’t know what else to do? Is his identity so wrapped up in being B.B. King that he can’t do anything else?

I don’t pretend to know him, but I have spent some time with him and know people in the close circle. He doesn’t need the money and doesn’t care about the adulation that much. The truth is some around him encourage him to stop touring. I believe B.B. wants to die on stage. That would be true to his hard core bluesman persona, and would in his mind be the right way to pay respects to the struggling artists who came before him. That’s not the half of it.

The rest is that he knows how many depend on him. I estimate there are roughly 300 people who pretty directly receive income from him and his operations. That doesn’t count all the peripheral monies made, nor the economic impact to all the small and medium sized towns where he plays, particularly the economy of the lower socioeconomic part of his demographic.

He truly feels the responsibility and doesn’t want to let people down. So he keeps doing it, show after show, town after town. The grind of a hard working man. And he will do it until he literally can’t anymore. That’s who he has defined himself as being. His identity with himself.

Dare I say the performances reveal that he is a shell of his former self, both in playing and singing. It’s still him — the essence of it is still there, and the audiences enjoy getting to hear a legend. But it is so far removed from the art, and even craft of it. It’s just the fulfillment of perceived obligations at this point. When he goes, people will admire him for this.

Far be it for me to tell B.B. what he should be doing with what little of his life remains. If he truly gets joy and purpose out of it, and it’s what he wants to do, that’s okay. I’m not sure if it’s dignified, but if he thinks it is, then that’s good enough for me. However, I assert he does it mainly out of obligation, which has become so much a part of his wiring he doesn’t seriously consider the alternatives. He is blind to it, though most around him — even casual observers — see it clearly.

We all tend to cling to the persona we believe we see in ourselves, usually far past the point of good sense and good (mental) health. What a waste this is as time passes. Yet it’s extremely difficult to separate the complex tapestry of what one is with respect to what one has invented.

So we keep singing the blues and propping ourselves up to go on.

B.B. — Whatever happens, you are a cool cat, and from what I experienced you treated everyone with respect. There will never be another like you.

Small, Powerful, Dumb Computer

GiantPhoneJust ordered the brand new iPhone 6 (the smaller sized one). Of course I have to have the latest and greatest thing, and in my opinion the industrial design and overall integration of Apple’s products are leaps and bounds above other systems out there, even though some of them may have one or two things they appear to do better on the surface.

The iPhone 6 is more powerful than the desktop computer I was using to create audio and video productions 10 years ago. It IS a great computer. Connect a nice keyboard and monitor and you have all you need.

But people don’t do that.

We fool ourselves into believing the marketing and technology promise. And thus people want to buy a phone that’s really a computer in tablet form. They don’t even care much about the phone. They want the power, but they don’t show signs of wanting to interface with it in a substantial way. It is very seductive: a magic device we can use to navigate our worlds with our fingers. But what can it really do in its form?

Sure…you can write a book or term paper on it…if you’re determined enough. You can code on it…if you’re willing to let the project take four times as long. Spread sheets, music projects, rocket trajectories, chemical compounds. It’s all possible, but the really great work isn’t going to be done that way. An Instagram photo is rarely going to be enough to change minds, or pave a new way. The great work requires more. We need to recognize what things are, and what their inherent utility truly is. We need to think about what we want to accomplish with the work we do, before we consider how. Be careful not to let the lack of capability and the seduction of convenience turn into a barrier to the nascent creativity within.

And it is the same with people. Better to understand who and what they really are before we bounce off the walls trying to shoehorn them into being what we need or wish they would be.

(Typed on a MacBook Pro)


CreativeFunnelWhat actually is creativity? Most of us think we have some, but how do we identify with it, and why do so many of us struggle to put it to practical use?

Many think creativity is the ability to come up with good ideas. That is part of it. Some are very good at the thinking required to generate ideas. They seem less inhibited by fear, and generally more wondrous and open to possibilities. This is the divergent thinking part of creativity. The ability to author ideas, no matter how wild, relating to a single subject. Kids are inherently great divergent thinkers…until the world beats it out of them in favor of conformity under the guise of obedience.

Great, so you have all these ideas around. What do you do with them? Many a songwriter has languished in the inability to pull it all together and finish.

We also need convergent thinking, which is the process of developing rules and applying judgement to enable the arrival at a single solution to a problem. This doesn’t feel like creativity to some, but it actually is a vital part of it.

Creativity isn’t just an ability to come up with ideas. That’s way underselling it, and spins it as too much of a gift only select few are born with. Creativity is actually the process of coming up with good ideas. That process includes all of the brainstorming, culling, problem solving, testing, vetting and reworking required to actually manifest the complete idea. Not to be confused with the actual implementation of the idea (like the painter who actually executes the paining), creativity can stop at the idea being compelling in some way, even if not feasible.

These skills can be developed through discipline and practice. For a writer, it takes writing and reading and experiencing and seeing in a way that others might not intuitively see. It often takes years of shitty or incomplete work to finally begin to be able to put the skills together. And in some cases one skill or the other never quite develops. That’s where partnerships work wonders.

4 Parameters for Communication


Few know, and fewer care about the complexities and challenges of your job or cause. From afar nobody inherently cares much about what you have to say about anything. If you want or need them to, then the burden is on you to find a way to communicate effectively. To inspire. And that is arguably one of the more error riddled and problematic aspects of modern society, which belies how important it is.

At its core the basics aren’t that complicated. Have a look at the four basic elements.

Amplitude — What you say must be spoken loud enough to be heard, but it goes far beyond that. We want to use our amplitude to be noticed. Maybe you need to speak louder, but maybe you could whisper. Of course we often communicate best with our actions.

Medium — The conduit through which you choose to reach out makes a difference in how it is perceived. For a dramatic example, consider the power of merely the words “I love you” compared to combining them with a sensitive touch. This area gets a lot of play today with new platforms for communicating emerging regularly. The number of options is large, and therefore offers us many opportunities – from whatever role and to whatever audience we are communicating. Open yourself to them and the applicability of any particular one or two in some context will become more clear to you.

Frequency — For a communication to be heard and remembered, you will likely have to say it more than once. Why? There is lots of noise and distractions in our lives. There is lots of competition for our ideas. And, as you’ve probably heard before, “repetition is the mother of learning.” If you want to be an effective communicator, you must be willing to share your points over and over. BUT, you can’t continually just parrot yourself. If the repetition is too apparent or frequent to your intended audience you move your cause backwards. You instead have to find different ways to move your message forward. Different contexts where it applies and looks different. But one way or the other some repetition is generally necessary. (By the way, that last sentence was repetition!)

Message — Want your message to be heard and remembered? Then make the message memorable. Think slogans (Just Do It) and alliteration (“Perfect practice makes perfect.”). Think metaphor and analogy (how is your point or situation like something else that is unrelated?). Think acronym or acrostic (where the first letters of the message spell out a real word). Stories are great at cementing a point. Graphics, videos, pretty much anything that effectively appeals to emotions works. These devices provide a shorthand for and a touchstone to your message. And they work because they take into account how our brains work.

Another, more powerful way, is if the message is personal to the recipient. If it strikes some nerve, or appeals to something we perceive as important. You usually have to know your audience to do that, but if you do it’s very effective.

Saying isn’t enough; you must be heard. Rather than lamenting the lack of listening by others, remarkable leaders take responsibility for communicating more powerfully and more effectively.

Personal Note — Why Publish it?


I love provocative questions. They invariably trigger growth and better self awareness. I am fortunate to have a few friends who can lay one on me from time to time.

Why publish a blog or photographs I take? Why release music I work on? Not, why do I write it, but why publish it? The intrinsic value in most creative outlets is what makes them worth doing…isn’t it? So why publish?

It has to be for some type of validation, no? But I don’t get much validation on these things. Hardly anyone reads this blog, or cares to listen to any music I work on, or anything else. That doesn’t detract from it, and in some ways can be an advantage.

Why tell someone how you really feel when it can complicate things?

The reason is because when you hold it all inside you rob yourself of any chance to connect. You’re safer that way in most respects, because not as much can happen. In fact very little can happen. When you put it out there the possibilities are virtually endless. One genuine connection, or one instance of giving someone something that helps them makes it all worth it.

All that work; all that emotional energy to maybe make one little dent in the world. It hardly seems worth it…until you see that light come on somewhere.

Besides, artists are suffering anyway. There’s no way to not create it. It’s just a matter of whether one wants to go it all alone.




Suffering Through Art


Many of the most iconic stories and songs of all time have been inspired by gut-wrenching pain and heartbreak — and the silver lining of these challenges is that they may have been the catalyst to create great art. There’s often angst of one type or another behind any great art.

The rest of us get to benefit from their suffering.

There can be some intrinsic value to suffering. The psychology of post-traumatic growth suggests that many people are able to use their hardships and early-life trauma for substantial creative growth. Specifically, researchers have found that trauma can help people to grow in the areas of interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and — most importantly for creativity — seeing new possibilities in life.

Then there is the art.

Check out this link. It’s a less than three minute interview snip with Phil Collins from 2007 about a song he wrote circa 1979 in the band Genesis (listen all the way to the end) around the time his marriage was breaking up. The ad hoc performance is a little raw, but that only goes to further illustrate the point. The song was nearly 20 years old at this time and the pain is still evident. Guilt and regret hanging over someone who has been staggeringly successful by nearly any measure one can put on it. Phil and others have made careers out of suffering through their art.

But sometimes there is just the art. And sometimes there is just the suffering.


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