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Cutting the Crap

Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat!

Lately, I have found myself cutting things out of my life. Most of them were not bad, but I have realized that in order to get where I am trying to go, I need to focus. I think all my life I have said, “that would be cool” and did stuff or tried things. There is nothing wrong with that, but lately, things I would have considered before just do not interest me anymore. For instance, I was looking at an iOS programming book at a bookstore and I glazed over. I’ve done programming for years and often considered it when I thought about doing something other than music. This time, I just did not care.

Some non-musical work opportunities have come my way, but I realized I was not interested in doing them. While I would like that big paper rectangle with the numbers on it that comes at the end of the project, I just want to focus on music.

There are some other activities that I’m ending because I have lost interest, and I feel that they distract me from music.

We started studying Italian last year, but one of the reasons I am taking a break from it is because I want to focus my learning on music.

I have even ended piano lessons (at least for now) because I feel that I need to spend time implementing what I have learned over the years of lessons. There is still tons more for me to learn, but right now I just want to “catch up” to what I have learned.

I have seen and heard a few people lately talk about “the one thing.” Apparently it has to do with a line from City Slickers, which I have never seen. But the point is, to get good at doing something, the one thing you have to do is “the one thing.” I would love to play classical piano, and pop, and whatever, but if I am going to pick one style right now it is jazz piano (do not ask me why I picked the difficult one). In order to get good at jazz piano, I have to focus on jazz piano. That means not playing other stuff, not spending lots of time getting ready for an audition for a rock band, etc. So that is what I’ve been doing. It has not paid off yet, but it is still early days. I hope.

The other big thing I have been allowing myself is doing recording at home, along with songwriting. It is still behind the jazz piano thing, but it is something I definitely enjoy doing and want to spend more time doing.

Mon, 2015 08 31 at 10:28 AM |Permalink for this entry

My Logic Pro Tips Blog

You hardly keep this blog updated…

Yeah, I know. I haven’t done a good job writing posts for this blog. I think social media is a factor. Stupid Facebook. And Twitter. And Instagram. And…

I have started a blog for tips and tutorials for Logic Pro (X mostly, though some older versions get covered), MainStage, and even GarageBand. If you use any of those apps, I hope you check it out. The more visitors I get, the more likely it is that I’ll write new posts for it. Also, feedback and questions will help, too. I love exploring these apps and seeing what they can do.

Check it out at http://logicpro.tips - yes, that’s the correct URL. Neat, huh?

Tue, 2015 08 18 at 10:25 AM |Permalink for this entry

The Problem with Streaming Music

I gotta eat, y’know?

I like streaming music. I like it better than finding some homemade video on YouTube. As a musician, I’m often referred to YouTube but too often, there are a zillion cover versions by people and I need to hear the original (and perhaps a live version) by the original artist. Streaming sites let me find actual official releases. Usually.

But the problem for us artists is that streaming sites want to pay based on their revenue. Maybe that will end up paying us a boatload of cash, but I doubt it.

The way it works is they take all the money they make from ads and/or subscriptions, take their cut (usually around 30%), divide the rest by the total number of streams* played, and pay based on that. It seems fair on the surface, but so far, it isn’t. See some of the many articles musicians have posted that basically say, “my song got played a jillion times and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”

I can’t think of a single industry where the price paid for the product is solely determined by the revenue of the distributor. That being said, I don’t know what the answer is. We can’t expect the steaming sites to pay more than they make, not for long anyway. Or can we?

I don’t currently have a lot of stake in this, but I think we as artists should stand up together and say, “I’m not allowing my music on streaming sites until the payment is proper.” But, I don’t know what that number should be. Should I get a buck for every hundred streams of my song? Or every ten? I don’t know a good answer to that one.

* One stream is a single song played once. A song played ten times is ten streams. Another way to look at it is that popular songs will get paid proportionally more.

Wed, 2015 06 24 at 5:07 PM |Permalink for this entry

I Know What I Did Last Summer

Quite the opposite of horror

I was going to write this a few months ago but things have been going so well that I forgot about it. Truthfully, I’ve forgotten a bit about the details as well. I guess it’s like when you go to doctor and you feel better and can’t remember being sick.

I’m not saying things are perfect nor that I am so busy that I don’t have the time, just that I feel good and I have mostly forgotten the story.

(The stories we carry about things that have happened to us are another entry I should write.)

Over the past few years, I started getting pretty bad about playing with bands. When someone would call about a gig, I would say yes but inside I was screaming NO!!! Preparing for a first rehearsal or an audition was pretty unbearable for me and maybe worse for Lori. I would often look for an out and be extremely relieved when I got one. Even after a few rehearsals I’d be a mess, waiting for the other shoe to drop. (Interestingly, the gig itself would be no problem. That’s why I don’t like to call what I have ‘stage fright’ as I don’t have a problem with stages nor audiences.)

After doing some research, I decided to get help. I went to the Anxiety Disorder Clinic (ADC) at the University of Houston. They use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which first educates you about what you’re doing (the cognitive part) and then exposes you to your fears gradually as you apply what you’ve learned to overcome them (the behavioral part). What’s nice about CBT is that it’s short-term treatment, and it’s a “cure.” This isn’t going to a therapist for the rest of your life talking about your problems. You are given the tools to deal with your problems and enough practice that you know how to use them.

I cannot tell you how glad I am that I did this. I am far from perfect, but I feel so much more under control now. I hardly even think about it, and most self-help stuff I see now seems rudimentary. I mean, I don’t have any problem with it if it works for you, but I don’t connect with it anymore, nor try to.

I have seen some say that a little bit of anxiety or nerves is good, it keeps you prepared. I understand what they mean by that. But where I disagree is that I’d MUCH rather be confident and prepared. I love that feeling. The next best thing is knowing that I’m probably close enough, I can pull it off and if I screw up no one will die. Feeling either of those ways is much better than any anxiety. That is where I am now for the most part. This is really much more fun.

I think it is important to share this because a lot of people won’t talk about it. It is really nothing to be ashamed of. I think most people have it to a degree. In fact, I see a lot of people manifest it in different ways. I also see a lot of people flounder around in various methods and self-help avenues. Those are fine if they work for you, but CBT really got to the root of my problem and seems like a long-term fix.

Unfortunately, the director of ADC at UH has moved on. He told me they would continue to treat patients there, so hopefully that’s the case. If so, I would highly recommend them to anyone looking for help with this. Life is much better this way.

Tue, 2014 11 11 at 11:58 AM |Permalink for this entry

Pushing a Rope, part III

Yesterday I spent most of the afternoon updating the blog software. It actually wasn’t too bad. The software update itself went pretty smoothly, but I had to update my web site to work with it. I also had to figure out why the new software wasn’t seeing my files. That’s where all the time went. It appears the new version of the software keeps the files in a slightly different location. Once I figured that out, it was all okay.

The big surprise for me was how I took it. It didn’t really bother me, and I didn’t end up sore and tired from it. That doesn’t mean I’m going back to web design, though.

Tue, 2014 11 11 at 6:30 AM |Permalink for this entry

Pushing a Rope, part II

“This tedious junk reminds me why I stopped doing web design.”

When I went to post the previous entry, I was reminded of another reason I stopped doing web design. I’ll try not to get too technical.

The software that I use to host this blog is a few years old, but it works. It runs on other software (PHP) on the server where this site is hosted. At some point, that PHP software got updated by the hosting service, and that broke a bunch of stuff in the blogging software. There’s a newer version of the blogging software, but since it would be a 1.x to a 2.x upgrade, I don’t know if it will work without messing up other aspects of the site.

This kind of thing happens constantly with web software. I don’t completely blame the hosting service. They have to keep the software current otherwise it’s vulnerable to attack. But instead of being able to “set it and forget it,” you have to keep everything updated and you end up chasing your tail all the time. Even when it’s your full time job, it sucks to spend your time doing that instead of getting actual work done. Or playing your piano.

Mon, 2014 11 10 at 7:10 AM |Permalink for this entry

Pushing a Rope

At the recording session last week, I also recorded some video. You may have seen the two clips I already posted. There has been a third I wanted to post, but I had to add audio for it to be any good. I got the raw audio for the sessions, but it drifts out of sync with the video. I’ve been trying some ways to fix it, but I only have basic video editing software. Worse yet, every time I try, I have to wait for the video to render.

This tedious junk reminds me why I stopped doing web design. I’m worn out, my back is sore, and I have little or nothing to show for it. It’s like pushing a rope. I would MUCH rather play my piano. I’m just glad that the process of audio editing that I have been doing isn’t that bad.

I don’t know if I’ll get that last video posted. I might have to fudge it to have it sync. It will depend on my patience.

Sat, 2014 11 08 at 10:46 PM |Permalink for this entry

Perfectionism, Music, and Me

I am a perfectionist.

Yes, I know it’s hard to tell from some of the things you’ve seen me do but it is true. Over the years, I think I have become much better at knowing how far to take it and when to let it go. I have seen this referred to as something like the 80/20 rule or some proportion like that. When you get to 80 or more percent complete that last little bit you are trying to get perfect can become consuming and you get much less return for your effort. I am not saying I have that mastered, but I am usually better at knowing when to stop than I used to be. Or as I am fond of saying, “good enough for government work!”

However, what I have realized recently is that perfectionism is a big issue with my playing music. It is all over it. For instance, I spend too much effort trying to get a riff down in one key before trying to learn it in all keys. More generally, I think “I suck” because I don’t have something nailed, and I spend too much time trying to nail it. I tend to beat myself up over mistakes, weak performances, and not getting a part down right away.

The worst place this turns up is playing for other people. When I am playing for someone new, whether auditioning or joining them, I don’t know what they expect from me. I think my reaction is that I have to be perfect in order to cover whatever they are looking for. There are several problems with this. The biggest is that perfection in music is impossible. We are all human and there are differences in what each of us play. I can only play like me, and like any relationship, if I’m not being myself it won’t work in the long run. Even if I can play exactly like someone wants, if that’s not me, in the end I’ll get tired of pretending. It is a little different than a personal relationship in that I might want to play more like this person or that person anyway and it’s not all the time. But if the other person is always looking for me to be like someone else that just won’t work.

What this does is make me worry about trying to play to some vague goal of perfection, instead of accepting the fact that I can only play like I can play, and if they don’t like it, that’s just the way it is. Ideally, everyone will like me and want me to play for them, but that’s not realistic. That’s not a judgement on me nor them, that’s just life.

It’s funny in that this is a lesson I learned thirty years ago in another performance area. I was part of a ceremony where I had several poems to recite. I was struggling with remembering my lines and I wasn’t too happy about it. An older person saw what I was going through and talked to me about it. He recognized that I was being a perfectionist because he was one as well. He pointed out that what was important was to tell the story of the poems, not the exact words. He also suggested that if I did forget what to say that I could make it look intentional, throw another log on the campfire, and resume when I was ready. I was in control. I did what I could to take his advice, and it worked. In fact, I’m pretty sure that for the most part, I did nail the lines because I was relaxed about them. There might have been a time or two where I didn’t recite them word-for-word, but I was close enough and glided through them if I recall correctly. I’m sure you can see how this applies to playing music, too. I literally only did yesterday.

Here I am, some thirty years later wishing I had realized the applications of this lesson a bit better. There is nothing I can do about that now. I am glad it took in other parts of my life, though.

Thu, 2014 05 22 at 12:20 PM |Permalink for this entry

A Good Week

Overall, I think last week was a good week for me musically. I didn't get done nearly as much as I would have liked, but that list is so long I can't get too caught up in it.

I wanted to do some recording which is something I have not done in a while. Because I wanted to make sure it sounded good and my time didn't drift, I used the metronome. I quickly realized two things. First, my playing was sloppy and my articulation was a mess. Chords that should have sounded clean and tight weren't, and my playing of repeated parts was inconsistent. Second, I have the dreaded "red light syndrome." This is where you know the part you have to play, but when the red record light comes on, you mess it up because you're trying too hard.

Believe it or not, I am really happy this happened. Both of these problems are very curable. For the first, just knowing the problem exists helps a lot. I wouldn't have known had I not recorded myself and listened to the playback. This is something my piano teacher has suggested for a while, but I haven't tried until now. Also, counting while playing the part instead of winging it made the playing fall where it should have. Being conscious of the poorly articulated parts made me play them tighter. As far as red light syndrome, it's a matter of letting go when recording and not being too concerned about the outcome (this subject is something that I've been learning a lot about lately and its own blog post for another time).

Saturday I played a gig. We didn't have a bass player, and I needed to help prop up the bottom end with my left hand (playing, not literally). I was surprised to find I didn't do a terrible job of this, even though I hadn't done anything to prepare for it. In fact, there was a time or two during the set when I didn't play anything down low at first, and things in the band almost came apart. But once I played some bass stuff, it brought everything together. We don't need no stinkin' bassist.

On one tune, the bandleader decided at the last moment to play it on guitar instead of keys like he usually does. Normally, I play my part on organ, but with this arrangement I wasn't feeling it. So I said to myself, "F**k it" and played it on piano instead. I haven't listened to the recording, but I felt like I played a very cool part. It was fun.

Both those things made it a fun and rewarding gig for me.

Yeah, I had a good week.

Sun, 2013 04 07 at 9:30 AM |Permalink for this entry

A Theory About Confidence

When you think that you don’t know what you’re doing, seeing someone else do it makes you realize that it’s okay or that you’re doing it right.

When a musician sees another musician play, they’re almost always doing it differently. This can make the first musician think or wonder if they’re doing it wrong or not well enough.

It can really be a perception problem because sometimes a musician will think that they can do what the other one is doing. It can just depend on what aspect they’re looking at.

If the way other people play holds you back, it’s just a matter of letting go of what other people are doing or how they’re doing it and finding your own way of doing it. Influence and inspiration are great, inhibitions and insecurities are not.

Tue, 2013 01 15 at 6:58 AM |Permalink for this entry

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