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The Curse of the Home Studio

I remember when I was a really little kid, probably around ten years old, and I saw one of these Teen Beat magazines with a story on the Keane Brothers (anyone even know who the heck that is anymore?), who were a pair of 13 and 15 year old kids the magazine was pimping as some kind of new teen music sensations. There was a photo of them sitting in front of a reel to reel multitrack machine with a caption that talked about them working in their home recording studio. Even at ten, a year into seriously pursuing playing my guitar, I turned a shade of Kelly green as jealousy fueled my prepubescent brain. A home studio? What? How could they afford that? That's so not fair. Why, if I had a home studio I'd be making records and being pimped by Teen Beat Magazine, too. If I had a home studio, I'd make album after album, masterpiece after masterpiece, the world would hear my genius and soon know my inner Sgt Pepper!

Having a home studio was a quest I was on from that day forward as a musician. It started with me shortly after seeing that after getting a pair of crappy old tape recorders out of the trash and surmising that if I could figure out how to start and stop them just right together, I could record guitar on one, and then come back and record guitar on the other, then play them together and create something I'd never heard of called sound-on-sound or multitrack recording, which little did I know Les Paul had invented decades before my ten year old brain fathomed this concept. Needless to say, the pair of trash-can-cassette recorders didn't produce my Sgt Pepper.

The first stop in any genuine effort at recording my amazing opus collection in my head was the purchase of a four track cassette recorder when I was 20 years old and could finally sort of afford to do this. But alas, I had no experience using it, couldn't really get a handle on the manual, had no money to buy these outboard effects and signal processors, only owned a couple of live microphones in the dark ages before China would produce everything known under the sun in a version affordable for a budding engineer and producer. 

So, flash forward two decades, and what has happened. My quest for a perfect home studio, well, as perfect as it will get, has been achieved. I have a crazy-fast Mac Pro tower, a 30" LCD monitor display, two sets of studio monitor speakers, a closet full of wonderful microphones, a Pro Tools 18-input LE system, every DAW software known to the Mac world for musicians, 400GB of loops, samples and a list of plugin effects that would make The Village Recorders in Los Angeles jealous. So where is my Sgt Pepper now?

Here we have "the curse of the home studio owner." I have every toy I could possibly need to achieve my goal, but no time to finish anything I start, because I am otherwise engaged working, being a husband and father, and too distracted to complete most of the projects I start. I have hard drives full of hall-started, unfinished compositions, 300 variations of a mix on a song, and at the end of the day, very little to show for what must be at least $30,000.00 or more worth of toys in here. I'm not alone in this. I tell this story to others in my circle, and I hear the same lament from them. It was once a fantasy that if only I had my own fully decked-out studio in my home, I'd never let it collect dust, I'd crank out hit after hit. But in the real world, it doesn't seem to work that way.

The sad truth is that before I had all of this stuff, I was much more productive as a songwriter and recording artist, because I had to focus on what I was doing, write it, rehearse it, and then spend real money watching the clock in a pay-by-the-hour recording studio where screwing around would cost me real money. When you own every toy you could ever want, you lose that motivation, well, at least I have, and often find myself struggling to go in and finish my own projects in this studio, though I would crank out somebody else's project with joy. 

So, if you're struggling with your own "if I only had all those toys" demon and think like I did that it would be used to produce amazing results and masterpiece after masterpiece, take my experience with a grain of salt while you consider what you might actually accomplish before you invest in the biggest money pit outside of boat ownership. I don't regret owning all this stuff, I wouldn't sell it and not have it around me for anything, because when I do actually sit down and focus, I get to do some amazing stuff, but its not as often as you might imagine when the real world invades and even Sgt Pepper himself can't fight off that attack.

Posted: 3/16/2009 9:23:29 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

In sickness and in health....

I rarely get sick. That is, I rarely get a nasty cold that knocks me on my bum for a week or so, but this year was different. I'm just coming up for air. As many of you know, I perform frequently in Second Life as Von Johin, doing a live two-hour concert performance from my home recording studio. Now, there are a lot of benefits to this as I've exhaustively discussed here on this blog, but one thing that doesn't change whether its a real live in-person gig, or a a virtual world gig, playing a show sick just plain sucks. 

I had a busy schedule of concerts, and tried to brave one of them to make sure the show went on, but it was a mistake. Fortunately the audience couldn't see how I looked in real life, and my avatar wasn't equipped with a runny nose or coughing and sneezing animations. What they could do was hear my usual Howlin' Wolf-esque growl turn into a pitiful whisper within 20 minutes of the show starting. I sit down when I play in Second Life, whereas in an in-person concert I tend to stand, or maybe use a stool. Hopped up on cold meds, even sitting to play was a dizzying challenge. Sweating a fever the entire time, losing my voice, all resulted in bed rest and gigs canceled for 10 days. Not good.

I've a luxury in playing gigs from home. Its not my main source of income or even a substantial portion of it, though it does pay pretty well all things considered. Even though these are "cartoon concerts" I still give them the same attention and respect I would an in-person, real world concert. Now that I am past the worst of this misery, I did five different performances of varying length on Saturday to celebrate Mardi Gras in the French Quarter here in Second Life, the "sim" that I own. I played there in the afternoon, then two other places that day, then closed the all-day blues festival that evening. And while I didn't lose my voice, I did discover I wasn't quite over the misery like I thought I was. 

All this leads me to the illness issue for the traveling musician. I've been on the road, in a van, in a bus, in a car, sickly and still driving to the next town because if I don't play, I don't get paid. Further, when I was with a band, if I didn't play, the band didn't get paid either. That's a lot of pressure on top of feeling like crap. To whit, I encourage you to do something you might not have thought about before when you book your out of town gigs, even if they are just one-nights. Come prepared. Bring along daytime cold medication, nighttime cold medication, throat spray, cough syrup, "musinex" to get rid of the loogies, some aspirin of choice (I'm an Extra-Strength Excedrin guy), some Pepto, some gas-ex, whatever else you can think of to treat symptoms ranging from cold and flu to nasty stomach bugs or minor food poisoning from that all-night diner you hit after the show at 4AM. In addition to the medication box you'll put together, also bring an ice-pack bag, and in general, assemble a first-aid kit for not only the normal kind of band-aid needs like nicks and cuts, but be ready for getting sick at the last moment or day of the show nasty bugs that might pop up. 

The truth is you can psych yourself up while laying there in the tour van or cheap hotel with the misery, and convince yourself that you'll get through this few short hours of the show, but you'll be able to convince yourself of it a lot more easily if you bring along all of the medicines you'll possibly need in case the worst happens out there. 

Posted: 2/22/2009 8:20:01 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

The Evolution of the Gear

 I'll admit it, sometimes I'm going to come off as the 40-year-old man that I am as I talk about how things are now vs. how things were then. Well, one of those areas I have to bring up is gear. We live in an amazing age when just about anything you'd want as a musician has a version of it made in an extremely affordable, entry-level price point. 

I spent some time at the Nashville Guitar Center during the weeks leading up to Christmas buying up things for my son, the budding guitarist and drummer. As I looked around, I marveled at the equipment in that store, its relative quality for the price, and the variety of choices. It was nothing short of astounding. I started playing guitar 30 years ago. It doesn't seem that long ago to me, but its probably longer ago then some of you reading this have been alive. When I was a kid, or even a teenager, getting a cheap, quality guitar was a real challenge. The music stores carried a lot of junk back then, really awful copies of Les Pauls, Stratocasters, P-Basses, etc., or high-end expensive stuff I couldn't dream of owning back then. I'm talking guitars made of plywood, necks that were are straight as a roller coaster, with hideous-sounding pickups.

And to make it worse, if you lived in a small town with only one or two music stores, your choices were whatever they sold at them or what you could get your parents to get you from the Sears or JC Penny mail order catalog. Many a night at 10 years old did I stare longingly at the guitars in the Sears catalog. They even had this amazing-looking (to my young and unschooled eyes) Les Paul model with effects built right into it. It was $169.00 in 1983. Bolt-neck, plywood body, bad Les Paul copy, but in the photos, it looked pretty good to me when I first saw it a couple of years earlier. Check it out here:

The guitars in that catalog page were junk, especially the lowest-end model, one I had the misfortune of owning. So I tell you what, when you look around Guitar Center or Sam Ash and see a pretty decent Squire Strat for $99, count yourself very lucky if you're a kid starting out playing. Nowadays you can show up with a nice Epiphone Les Paul that didn't break your parent's bank to get, and a decent amp as well, and not have to carry the shame of people knowing your gear came from Sears. 

I recall wanting a banjo really badly, and it was the very last time I ever asked my mom to buy something from one of those catalogs. I saw a five-string no-brand banjo in the catalog, it was cheap, and it looked good in the photo. Well, when it arrived, I had to screw the PLASTIC resonator into place myself with a screw that went through the middle into the pine dowel inside of the uh, "tone ring" if you could call it that. It wasn't even worth learning on, and I was not so happy to now own it, and sorry I'd asked my folks to spend their hard earned money on it. I wasn't about to carry it to the music store and ask for help, they'd laugh me out of the joint.

Now, juxtapose that experience to this past Christmas when my wife bought me a six-string banjo that I wanted to use for some tracks on an album I'm recording, and that $125.00 she spent on it, and the amazing quality instrument it is, especially for the money. I got this six-string banjo, which is identical to a b-brand national six-string banjo product, for half the money, with a flame-wood resonator that is bound, plus a bound neck, pearl inlays, the neck is string, it plays perfectly in tune. In 1982 dollars, this would have been $300 or so dollars but in 1982, the instrument would not have been nearly as nice.

For all of the complaints some might have about Asian import market products in America, the undeniable truth is that they've made our lives, especially our musical lives, much better. The quality of Chinese instruments today, vs the Japanese or other imports from 30 years ago is night and day. The value for the quality is simply mind-boggling to anyone my age who remembers how hard it was to get a good guitar without much money when they were a kid.

Take a look around at the variety of products you can get to make music with, how relatively inexpensive they are, and how well many if not most of them are made when they are governed by reputable companies like Epiphone, etc., and you'll understand what I think today's generation is extremely blessed.

Posted: 2/9/2009 6:22:13 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Cover me, I'm going on stage...

 Its a funny world we musicians put ourselves into when we hang out the shingle to declare ourselves artists. Those of us who write songs and perform them live will either enter a phase and go through it, or enter it and never come out of it, wherein we declare that we are songwriters and don't do "covers." 

That's a slippery slope, folks, to use a term I can't stand to usually use. Here's the deal. I don't care if you're the next Bob Dylan, there is no reason not to perform cover songs as part of your concerts. Even Bob Dylan, perhaps the greatest single songwriter ever born on this earth, started out singing covers and continues to play covers to this day in his live concerts. 

Ok, so you're an AMAZING songwriter. I get it. And you might be able to put on an entire concert of riveting original songs that everyone in the room loves and leaves singing after you've planted the latest ear-worm into their unsuspecting heads. But in most circumstances, you'll never get the chance to book these concerts, club dates, frat parties or anything else you want to do without putting some covers into the mix. There is a psychological reason behind this, which I'll hopefully explain here to you.

People are less threatened by things they are familiar with, so you're more apt to get your shot at playing a blues club, for example, if you let on that you pay homage to the greats Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Willie Dixon while making those covers all your own. And that's what its all about. You get a gig at a blues club and open the show with Wang Dang Doodle (and knock it out of the park), and people are going to be more receptive to your original blues tune about your poor lost dog. 

Now, I'm not saying you have to become the dreaded "cover band" and learn songs note-for-note from album versions. I'd only advise that if you were a corporate party band (see earlier entries about that kind of gig). What I'm saying it, think about the entire show you are putting on and what your job is on that stage. Your job is to entertain the people in that room, and if its a club, make it result in beer and booze selling for the owners. Your job is to create a party for the people who show up. Make them excited, make them dance, get them off their seats and on their feets. And how can you shoe-in do that? Songs they already know and love. 

Back in the day, Mr. Crow's Garden, now known as the Black Crows, mixed it up with original songs and classic greats like Otis Redding. How many people do you know who might actually think that "Hard to Handle" was a Black Crows song, a cover song for the Black Crows, vs. a song from Redding? They made it their own. It was a huge hit for them. And I am willing to venture that had that band not had the good sense to select some appropriate covers to the groove their originals laid out, we would not have seen them signed and succeed. The public would not have given them the shot they had were it not for them making "Hard to Handle" an amazing cover of a classic Otis Redding tune. 

This is one example, and I'll expand on this thought in another upcoming post, but for today, the word is "cover." Learn some songs that fit with what you write. Make them your own. If your band is a new group and you want to go play clubs in popular party towns or college gigs, you need to create a party scene that people will want to be a part of, and you can do that by throwing down some cool covers.

Our rock music history is full of greats who played covers while mixing in their originals. You're not too good to play some covers. If it was OK for the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the King himself, its OK for you. So get off the high-horse and think about the "holding the crowd" entertainment experience of your concerts, and how to engage your audience's trust in your never-before-heard originals by giving them what they want. 

Posted: 2/4/2009 5:01:38 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Playing for the Door

Ok, by now you've read my rant on pay to play scam clubs. There is some reality here to deal with, outside of the pay to play world, of getting paid to perform but not getting a set fee, and that's the door gig.

First and foremost, always and I mean always, try to get a guaranteed fee for your work. Its usually best to just get a set fee for the performance. However, sometimes it is to your advantage to get a piece of the door as well, or have your fee based on a minimum you're certain to make for showing up and playing, and a bonus from the number of people coming into the place when you play. If by all accounts 100 people should come through the door and pay a $5 cover charge, then get the club to guarantee you $250-300, against 75% of the cover collected. This both covers your nut for a local gig and also rewards you more if you're creating a nice following for your act. Remember, you don't get a piece of the register, you get a piece of the door.

The club owner makes a lot of money selling that booze. A lot of money. Yeah, he's got hard costs, but entertainment has to be a part of that business model or else he can't sell booze to begin with, right? Let's remember, nobody wants to sit in a bar with no sound in it. Not for long. That's why jukeboxes are licensed, why BMI and ASCAP charge a license fee to bars, etc. Why? Because if it were not for people being entertained by music, they won't sit in a bar and drink for very long. Unless its some sports bar (and even many of them have music playing part of the day or hire live music), or a neighborhood dive where the all-day drunks hang out watching daytime television while they drink PBR with their disability checks, these clubs need music to sell booze.

And what do YOU sell? You sell music. You sell entertainment that should make people want to stick around and drink more. And if you don't do that? You're not supposed to play bars. If your band performing in a bar doesn't get people to buy drinks and food, you shouldn't be playing bars. Got it?

So, first, go for a fee for the night. Then, if the club charges a cover charge, go for a fee (even if its slightly reduced) and a percentage of the bar. Some clubs will require that the first $150 that comes in from the door goes to pay the sound company if a real sound company is providing sound that night. If you bring your own, then don't accept a first amount coming in stipulation, go for a straight split after the guarantee. 

If your band is certain to bring in 300 people at $5 a head, you might be better off offering to play for the door only if you're 100% certain you're going to really rake it in, otherwise, get that guarantee and go for the 75/25 split in your favor.

If you have to work on a door percentage, have somebody working the door with their person to count heads. Yes, believe it or not, some club owners will skim a ten for every ten that comes in. Having your guy officially or unofficially by that door counting heads should help you make sure you get your pay.

Posted: 2/4/2009 1:30:06 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Pay to Play?

To quote Peter Griffin, "You know what really grinds my gears?" 

For musicians, its this hideous pay-to-play scam perpetrated on stardom-seeking musicians in major cities like Los Angeles and yes, even Nashville, Music City USA.

The scam basically goes like this: Shiftless nightclub owner (who secretly hates musicians) says its a privilege and honor to play in their fine establishment with your unknown band. After all, it costs him a lot of money to open his doors, why should he let YOU in on his good thing? Yes, its such a big deal and honor for you to play this fine club that instead of them hiring your band for a fee and making the money back with a cover charge, your band pay him. Yep, your band gets nothing in the way of pay and has to not only cover the costs for the sound guy that evening, but guarantee the bar owner than "X" amount of people are going to walk through those doors and buy a ticket or pay the cover charge.

If fewer people than the club owner demands come in that night, the musicians have to make up the difference. Yep, you read right. Now not only is the performance of the band worth nothing to the club owner whatsoever, but he thinks so little of your group that he's going to charge you money if he doesn't think enough people came into the club. I recently heard of one where the club owner wanted $1200.00 for the night in ticket sales, suggesting the band get two other bands to play with them that evening, surmising that it was a bargain then, only $400 per band, or about $100 per musician. They could earn it back by running around and selling their own tickets. OMG. I was floored. 

On top of that, some clubs even require you to pre-sell drink tickets with each ticket, assuring the club owner that none of your ticket-buying friends is going to just hang around and stink up the joint. They want you to sell their liquor for them, plus sell the tickets for them, promote the show date yourself with flyers and posters, spamming your fan list, etc., but you're also going to get charged for every Coke you drink that night, not to mention beer or other drinks. Selling merch at these shows? Some of these crooks want a piece of that, too.

Wow. There are so many things wrong with this picture I hardly know where to begin. I guess the club owner would have you mop up the joint and clean the johns after the gig as well. 

This is not how it SHOULD work, but unfortunately there are so many stupid and inexperienced musicians out there desperate for a gig they allow these club owners to pull this crap, and have allowed it for years and years now. This is NO WAY to get experience playing clubs. This was originally an LA thing, but it spread like a sickly virus across the country to other major markets, sucking in bands wanting to experience the thrill of playing some room, but getting none of the benefits of doing it for real, as it, being hired to do so. They can't get away with this crap in smaller markets where there is no chance of a record label person showing up, but some of these crooks will try it anyway. My theory is that if a club owner can't do the work of running a club, including hiring the right musicians to help sell booze, they should change careers.

How SHOULD it work? Well for starters, the club owner should know who his customers are, and then screen and HIRE bands to perform for that demographic. The club owner is not only in the business of selling booze and maybe food, but the experience and scene of their entertainment establishment. They are supposed to be mini-concert promoters, making money off the booze people buy when they choose the right kind of acts for their scene. People would go to that club because they knew the club had the sense to create a scene they were into, and they'd come in no matter who was playing.

The club owner should either pay a flat fee to the band or they should offer the band a guarantee against a majority percentage of what comes in at the door. There are hard costs to running a club and selling a drink, from electricity to run the coolers, lights, AC, etc. to the cost of the glasses, to the cost of the booze. I don't see the club owners telling the bartenders that they'll pay them to pour drinks if the bartender guarantees them they'll make the basic costs of serving the drinks, first. Believe me, if some of these crooks could, they frickin' would.

Bands should get paid. They are working when they play and that work means the club sells booze. In some cases, they should also be fed if the club serves food and the gig is several hours long. They should at the least get a discount on the food if the club serves it. If the band is from out of town, the club should spring for a couple of cheap motel rooms, or even have a band apartment rented for traveling acts to use as they come in and out of town. Musicians should be paid for their work, just like the doorman, the bartender, the bar backs and everyone else who works there. Somewhere along the way, musicians forget that the music BUSINESS involved commerce, income that is, and that they should be earning money for their work if they want to be called professionals. 

I used to play a place called Paddy O'Tooles in Mobile, AL three nights a week, about once a month, back in the 90s. They only paid a solo act $75 for the Thursday night, but $125 a night for Friday and Saturday. They made it up by giving me a free meal and drinks each night. And it worked out just fine for me, it kept my calendar full, and the place was always packed no matter who played there because it was a cool scene. It was an 80 miles drive for me to go there to play, so I stayed with friends or got a cheap room rather than drive home. I brought my own little PA to the gig. Even though I usually charged $150 a night for a solo gig, I played Paddy O'Tooles because they treated me with respect, fed me, and knew that the lower paying night should be made up somehow, so they threw in some chow. It was good food, too. So what's my point?

Professional musicians get paid to perform, they don't pay money to be allowed to perform. Got it? Does this club suck so badly that it can't sell even $250 worth of booze to offer a band a paltry $50 a man for a show one night? Really? They should shut that place down and start selling vacuum cleaners door to door instead of trying to manage an entertainment establishment. A band should get paid some amount of money, even if its small if the club owner is afraid of the risk of a newer band. They should also get a discount on drinks and food, or free food and soft drinks or some other form of compensation for their WORK at that club that night.

Putting on concert is work. Where did this part escape both the club owner and the musician? Not only is it work, but its work you've invested thousand of dollars into gear to do, and thousands of hours into learning the work to be able to do it. I guess the difference is that the bartender isn't hoping some A&R guy for bartenders is going to magically show up and take them away from all this, signing them to a big bar tending deal somewhere. Oh, and that pesky labor law thing would stop club owners from treating a working bartender that way, but musicians, they have zero protection from the government like that. Goes to show you how bartenders and other employees would be treated by unscrupulous club owners if they could treat them like musicians. 

Yes, it SHOULD work that way, but stupid starry-eyed musicians keep it from working that way by allowing these crooked club owners to scam them into paying money to play their club under some delusion that if they do this, out of nowhere an A&R guy from a record label is going to step forward from the shadows and sign them, making them big stars and this pay-to-play an awesome investment. Sometimes they call these "showcase clubs." 

Remember something important about these "showcase clubs" where you have to pay to play: Its not going to get you a return on your investment. Its only going to cost you money, and money better spent buying a tank of gas to go three hours away to a real club with a real scene where real potential fans will be made and you'll get paid "something" to show up and work that night. 

These pay to play clubs don't exactly share the revenues with the band from their sales at the bar or from the kitchen if they serve food. They want musicians to do all the work, from their club marketing to putting on the show, just to hedge their own bets and keep from having to do their job, which is to create a club somebody would want to patronize based on its ability to bring in excellent music.

Wow, I used to get insulted when a club owner want us to play for 75% of the door with no guarantee. I never ever once considered doing a pay-to-play show, and I'll tell you why. That A&R guy bigwig you're dreaming is going to show up and sign you, well, he KNOWS its a pay-to-play gig. He knows because these clubs that bring in groups to do this are notorious. Pay-to-play gigs makes you look desperate. They'll don't fool anyone, especially an A&R guy. They don't fool the local music critic who might write about you in the weekly or daily newspaper. They don't fool anyone in the business. 

Do yourself a favor. Don't play these places. Let the desperate bands do these gigs, the bands with no talent who have no shot at making it, so these crooked club owners have the business model blow up in their faces after a while. Take a stand and just say NO. Then get on the phone and start calling clubs that will treat you with some dignity and pay you for your work, or at the very least not try to get you to pay them for the night of playing rock star. If one of your band mates is trying to talk your band into doing one of these gigs, tell them to get stuffed. Tell them you're a pro and you're not going to pay money to do your profession. By definition, you can't be a professional if you're paying somebody for the privilege of working. Got it? If after all that your band mate still tries to get you to do this, shut him down. Don't do it.

Listen, these clubs can't sell an ounce of liquor, a product which they mark up 500-1000% and sell, without music. Get it? They need you, you don't need them. If musicians would just stop doing these stupid things that make them look like posing loser wannabes, it would do everyone a world of good. If you have to go on the road to get paid, then don't play Los Angeles or Nashville clubs. If you're not going to get paid, then figure out how to perform where you don't have to pay for the privilege. I got news for you, a major news flash here.... you can rent a rehearsal hall fully equipped with gear and somebody to run it and have your own private party, invite all your pals and industry people you want and give liquor away there for less than these clubs want you to pay them to use their stage. Put together a benefit concert with a charity, or play for free somewhere, but never, EVER pay money to play a club.

Pay to play? Just say NO! Now you know what really "grinds my gears." 

Posted: 2/1/2009 12:14:42 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

And the Grammy goes to....

 The Grammy Awards. The topic brings up a range of emotional answers from all types of musicians, fans, critics and more. To some they seem an outdated, antiquated waste of time, to others they are a relevant peer organization that exists to honor excellence among their own members. Love or hate the awards show for whatever reasons you personally can muster, there are some very important reasons why the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences are relevant to you and your music, even if you could care less if you ever are nominated for or win a Grammy Award.

I'm about to lay a bunch of stuff on you that most of you never knew about the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, aka the Recording Academy. Many of you might hear me say "you should join NARAS" and wonder how the heck that might be of benefit to you as a guy playing bass in a local cover band. Well, I'm going to tell you why.

1. Musicares - First and foremost my support for the work of the Recording Academy has to do with this amazing organization that deserves your support as a working musician, even a small-town local club working musician who might not ever release an album. I could write pages and pages about the good work I've seen Musicares do first-hand for friends in personal times of need, from battling substance abuse to getting their rent paid when tragedy strikes, to getting really affordable medical and dental services in chapter-city day clinics. Additionally, their website is a clearing house of information on where to get more help when you as a working stiff musician need a hand up in your time of need. I've seen them handle several cases that I've referred to them, and each time it was done with the utmost amount of concern for the privacy of those seeking the help, with amazing results.

I've seen victims of Katrina overnighted a check for $2000.00 to go buy clothing, food and cover temporary shelter. I've seen a friend who spent his life working in the music business be pulled from foreclosure and given help paying for much-needed blood pressure and other medication. I've seen friends with no hope of paying for substance abuse treatment (let along the ability to get the help immediately) suddenly vanish from a bad scene for a month or so while they checked in a rehab clinic that finally turned them around. That's just a small sampling of the kind of help I've seen people get first-hand from personal referrals to Musicares. All of them got help quickly, in a dignified manner.

If the Recording Academy did nothing more than support this safety net for musicians, that would be reason enough for me to lend my support. I have only scratched the surface of what good this organization started by the Recording Academy has done, please visit their website and prepare to be amazed. And no, you don't have to be a musician on a major label, you can be a regular joe-sixpack working club musician and qualify for help from Musicares. As long as it has been the primary source of your income for a set period of time according to their requirements to qualify for aid, you can and will get help. 

From the Musicares Website - "MusiCares provides a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need. MusiCares' services and resources cover a wide range of financial, medical and personal emergencies, and each case is treated with integrity and confidentiality. MusiCares also focuses the resources and attention of the music industry on human service issues that directly impact the health and welfare of the music community."

2. Advocacy on Capital Hill for Issues that Impact YOU! - The Recording Academy has an office in Washington, DC, not because its a hotbed of music like Nashville, LA or New York, but because it gives them access to the lawmakers that pass legislation that can have a direct impact on your ability to earn a living from your intellectual property. Visit that link. Read what they do for YOU whether you are a member or not, and you'll have another reason why you should be a member of The Recording Academy. If you as a working musician can't get behind the Recording Academy on these two reasons alone, I don't know what to tell you. Yeah, when you watch the Grammy Awards, its easy to miss this work that they do and why it should be something you'd want to support. But read on, there is much more to this organization......

3.The Producers and Engineers Wing - This sub-set of NARAS membership, about 5500 strong, make up the "P&E Wing"and I know them to work tirelessly to help bring together the best minds in today's music production world to do these things they spell out on that web page, which are to "work on the development and adoption of new technologies; make recommendations for best practices in recording, master delivery, archiving and preservation; and support for both music education and education in the recording arts." Where would we be without standards for production and master delivery to insure that we all have a guide to measure our work by in sonic fidelity?

4. 12 Chapters across the USA You Can Join and Be an Active Part of in Your Music Community - I spent some time talking about peer networking in another post. Much of what I posted there already has a regularly schedule forum of one kind or another to do pretty much exactly what I was advising you to do with your peers, and its organized and presented by a regional Grammy chapter. You'll find them representing all of the major music cities, with some cities serving other further away smaller but important markets. If you happen to live in or a reasonable drive away from Atlanta, New York City, Chicago, Nashville, Memphis, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami or Austin, your $100 annual dues to be a member of NARAS is an amazingly good investment in your career. 

Each chapter holds numerous events throughout the year that are designed to help you move forward in your music career. Most of them are free to members. I've seen and participated in some really awesome events in my service to NARAS as a long time governor of the San Francisco Chapter, former National Trustee and current member of the Awards and Nominations Committee (the group that helps make suggestions to the Trustees on which categories stay or go, among other issues). Seriously, follow that link, take a look at the nearest chapter city to where you live, then look at their scheduled event calendar and you'll be blown away by the education you can get, the opportunities to network directly with other peers in the professional music business, and you should get another reason to join right there. Heck, if you do nothing other than take a buddy and chow down at one or two of the annual parties your chapter hosts, you'll get your money's worth from the grub alone! Money CAN buy these kind of networking chances for you. You never know who you'll find yourself being introduced to at a NARAS event, and if you're not obnoxiously shoving your latest demo or CD into the hand of everyone you meet, you can really make some great connections. 

5. The Awards Process - Got a complaint about the Grammy Awards? You know the old saying, if you don't vote, you can't complain. Well, these are the industry's only peer awards for musicians. Voting members vote for these winners. If you're not a voting member, you're not going to get to vote. If you are a voting member, you have the option to vote every year, and are on your honor to vote in categories where you have enough experience and expertise to vote responsibly for works you really feel represent the peer groups best efforts during that time period. I don't vote in certain categories, when I vote. I vote in categories I feel like I know enough about to listen critically and subject my vote on, then hope my peers agreed with me. I'd like to hope that most voters do this, but I have no way of knowing that. I tend to always want to believe the best about people rather than assume the worst.

And listen, all of the wonderful reasons above that I listed to join, none of them would be possible without the awards show and process, because its what drives the income to the Recording Academy to begin with, which allows it to pass along millions of dollars to those in need, advocate for you whether you are a member or not on Capital Hill, and create all manner of great educational programs, events, networking opportunities and more.

So even if you aren't a great fan of the show or the awards, take into consideration all of the amazing things that its existence means to you and your world as a musician, even if you never thought about it like that before. Yeah, I got my own complaints about it even as an insider but you know what? I've tried hard to honestly put my money where my mouth was with the organization and speak up for better or for worse when I felt the need to, and often I've found a group of people willing to listen and make important changes when I did so. Sure, your mileage may vary. I find it is what you decide to make of it. In spite of differences at times with the Recording Academy leadership, I always find myself coming back to these reasons to be a member, pretty much in this order. 

Just as I advised not to create a MySpace page then not properly use it to build your fan network, don't go joining the Recording Academy and fail to make proper use of your membership. Even if you have to drive a few hours to make some of these events, do it. Go to them. Shake hands. Run for mayor. Find out how you can do things to elevate your career, meet others trying the same things, network with your professional peers in a professional peer group organization. Take part in their seminars on financial health, personal health, career growth, recording topics, songwriting and more. Get a cheap flu shot or dental x-rays, or make a donation to help others get those things. Don't try to stuff a CD in the hand of everyone you meet. Don't be overly obvious about trying to weasel into some immediate thing at an event. Take your time. Make friends. Build relationships and thus, the trust of those you meet. Never give them anything that you have to make ANY kind of apology for (well, this is rough mix/we changed guitar players right after we recorded this, etc). 

There you go. My top five reasons why I have been a longtime member of NARAS and supporter of the organization, through thick and thin, for better or for worse, and intend to remain one as long as these reasons all hold true. If you're really serious about working as a musician or in the music industry, I invite you to join with me. Visit the membership page to learn more.

Posted: 1/9/2009 10:00:00 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Professional Networking for Musicians

 I've talked about fan networking. I've talked about peer networking, now I'm going to cover professional associations, conferences and other professional networking opportunities you should be taking advantage of as a working musician, even if it means you have to get in the car and drive three hours each way or fly across the country to attend the events.

Just how serious about being a professional, working musician are you? If you have any aspirations outside of playing the local coffee shop or corner beer joint, you've got to start acting like it in your associations. It will help shape your mindset and direct your determination, possibly even shape your destiny as a working, professional musician. 

Posted: 1/8/2009 10:00:00 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Peer Networking for Musicians

 Your peers. Who are they? Where do they congregate? Where do you meet up with them, formally or informally? When you do meet up with them in either setting, how do you take advantage of the opportunity to advance your music career? Good questions, and questions that deserve some well-thought-out answers. 

On the local music scene, no matter how large or small, your peers are other musicians who do what you do, pretend to do, or aspire to do. You may have a small town scene, with one, maybe two local music stores. You may be in a large metro area with multiple music stores, clubs, studios and even more at your disposal. Either way, its the same basic concept. You need to meet the others in your community that do what you're doing. You need to talk to them, get them familiar with your music, and get yourself familiar with their music. In doing so, you're going to begin to exchange valuable information that's going to help all of you advance your careers. 

One local peer networking opportunity lies in the Musician posting section of your nearest Craigslist town. Fair warning, they can be full of the most caustic, soured, rude and downright unfriendly "peers" you'd ever hope to encounter, but also often equally full of others in your same situation eager to meet others who share their goals, club scene, struggles and passions. If nothing else, you can do some stealthy peer reconnaissance just by daily reading of that section of the local Craigslist musicians section. 

Musicians can be their own worst enemies when it comes to peer networking. There is a reason why there are musician jokes about arrogance. They are funny because they are true.

Q: "How many lead guitarists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: "Seven. One to screw in the lightbulb, and six to stand in the back of the club and think to themselves, I can play that better than him."

Snarky bunch, we can be. We're all guilty to some degree. And its this very behavior that keeps us from networking among each other as effectively as we should be doing, using it to further each of our careers. There are some mighty powerful egos at play in the music world. It takes a big ego to walk onto a stage and demand that everyone look at you and hear what you have to say/play, to begin with, doesn't it?

Change has to start somewhere, it may as well be with you. Make amends, throw an informal gathering for local working musicians, get it sponsored by a local music store, get some beer, cokes, pizza, pick a time when you're not all gigging and the most folks are awake and likely to attend. Maybe you can get a local music store to offer a drawing prize of something cool, or a studio to offer some time, anything that might help up the odds of getting your peers together in the same room. 

From there, whoever takes the initiative to get this together should set the agenda with a bull session. Throw some topics out, set some basic time guidelines for discussion if there are a lot of people turning up, and get started sharing information with each other. Problem club owners? Get it on the table. Hard season to book shows for everyone? Get it on the table. Things that have or have not worked for you in finding other band mates, keeping band mates, finding gigs, keeping gigs. competing with each other in town and on the road, sharing gigs, subbing for each other when needed, marketing techniques, anything you can think of that comes to mind. Ask everyone to participate in "Five Minutes on _______" and fill in the blank with the topic, give everyone a go at their two cent on the topic, move it around the room. Take notes, get phone numbers, get email addresses, website and MySpace/Facebook URLs. Following me?

Why do all this? Because you're all in this together to a large degree. Because music is a big enough for any ego, for any sized town, and for all of the fans of it, large, small, local, regional, national. These are just some ideas for DYI networking with your peers where no other real opportunities exist because of professional organizations not being in your community or serving you how they should. We'll talk about those in another post. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

Posted: 1/7/2009 9:03:42 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Its all about Networking

 If there is one theme that is underlying to everything I've posted in this blog so far, its the need for creative networking and using those networks you create to advance your career as a musician. I'm going to start focusing for a few days now on hardcore ways to network, online, in-person, and with important organizations critical to your long-term professional success as a musician. We're going to talk about a lot of different networking opportunities, but initially we'll cover online ones, because they are at your disposal no matter where you are in the world, as long as you have a computer and Internet access.

These days the buzz is all about social networking, and make no mistake, when these online social networking sites are used aggressively and correctly they become powerful assets to your success. It should go without saying that MySpace, Facebook, etc. are must-haves for any musician at any level of success. Creating a good MySpace or Facebook page exposes your music, photos, videos and bio, not to mention provides an extraordinary way to alert your audience to your live performances. These tools are legions beyond what I could have dreamed of having at my disposal back when I had the youthful energy to pursue a life on the road and a career as a performer. That said, no matter where I am in my own personal career as a musician, its never too late to start one of these sites, and they play a critical role in your success.

The primary function of online social networking sites are for the building of your fan network. In the bad old days, the way you built a fan network was really a lot of hard and expensive, time-consuming work. The advice of that era was to get a pad and pen on a clipboard and set it up at the gig where your tapes were for sale, and hope you could get your fans to give you their mailing address so you could send a postcard, newsletter or other item in the US mail. It doesn't take long for you to figure out what an arduous process it was then to garner a fan base, let alone utilize it to promote your career. It was a bit of a nightmare compared to the power at your fingertips now available. And, it was one-way marketing, too. You could get their address, if you were lucky it didn't change, and you could spend money to send them something to promote an upcoming date or release, but you could not find them communicating with other fans on the list, sharing their thoughts with you and the other fans with comments, or any of the other things we take for granted now with a MySpace or Facebook kind of opportunity. Couple that power with the fact that its available to you for FREE, and this is a no-brainer, isn't it?

As some of you know, my "avatar" Von Johin, was signed to a record deal last summer with (the ironically named) Reality Entertainment, also home to Marcey Playground, KC & the Sunshine Band, Krokus and other acts. With a pending album being released this coming spring, it was time for Von Johin to get his own MySpace page to promote the record, and begin to build a fan network. And that's what we're talking about today, fan-based networking, as opposed to peer networking, or industry networking. 

Fan-based networking will always be the crown-jewel of your success, whether starting out or at the peak of your career. Fans are who buy the tickets, pay the cover charges, buy the drinks to keep the club owner happy, buy the merchandise like t-shirts, CDs, downloads, trucker caps, posters or whatever else you create to sell that emphasizes the coolness of listening to your music. 

Posted: 1/6/2009 10:00:00 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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