Well, it has been more than a few weeks since I've written my last blog and I apologize for that to anyone who was looking forward to them. This has happened for a couple of reasons which I'll explain first...
Pre-face, skip the next 2 paragraphs if you want to get right to business...
1) Mary Kup, my grandmother, whom of my 30 years of age I probably collectively spent 12 years in total with, passed away quite suddenly at the end of May. I spent years in their house in Haliburton, Ontario. Many a Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and birthdays were all spent in that large wooden home with my grandparents and even in my home in Mississauga with them attending and helping. Despite everyone's best efforts, the Christmas fudge, chocolate chip cookies and pumpkin pies that she made were never duplicated, or even rivaled. The impact of this on my family and especially my grandfather, who shared a marriage with her for 60 years, has been profound and surreal. It's always amazing how you never realize how important and impactful a person is in yours and others lives until they're gone. While I can gladly say that she knew how appreciated she was while she was with us, I cannot however say that her lack of presence, chipper soft spoken voice, tender advice and words won't go unmissed. My immediate family, our vast family tree and community that were all constantly reminded of just how wonderful she was, will miss her with all our hearts.
2) On a more positive note, The Guitar Workshop Plus (http://GuitarWorkshopPlus.com), which I have attended each and every year since the age of 12 (with the exception of 2008 while I was on tour with See Spot Run) was running the last two weeks and kept me extraordinarily busy. Despite the lack of sleep, stressful 'hurry up and wait' situations, and long exhausting days, I can honestly say this is the most fun I have all year, and every year. Its an opportunity to see my peers and collegues all together in one place and I learn from each one of them at every possible moment. They're all fantastic players and the students especially are fantastic, enthusiastic, and extremely motivated.
I consider myself part of a lucky few who are able to teach and be influential at this workshop and the performance opportunities are extremely unique and challenging. I'm glad I had that opportunity again this year and saw some phenominal musicians perform and educate including Johnny Hiland, Tommy Emmanuel, Guthrie Govan, and in my class last week, Ian Thornley of Big Wreck. If, by chance, you have never heard of these names or have had the opportunity to listen to them play I HIGHLY recommend you immediately go to YouTube or iTunes and listen to their music. For musicians and non-musicians alike, these people are all one of a kind and rare gems in the current world of music.
And now, on to business...
The workshop offers each night a 'clinic' or two taught by a different instructor every night. This gives the students an opportunity to learn and benefit from the experiences of each instructor without them being in their personal class all week and gives them a chance to learn different styles and techniques. A few years ago I came up with the idea of hosting a clinic called "The Gigging Musician" that would cover everything from apparel, to professionality, to appropriate gear for the gig, radio, writing music, agents, managers, contracts, blah blah blah blah blah. You get the idea. The purpose of this was to prepare the students (should they choose to accept this mission) for what its like to actually play a show/gig in the real world. This was to avoid two things:
1) Being unprepared, and
2) Being screwed in the process of being unprepared
For example, one of the interesting questions I got was:
Student: "I got an email over myspace from a guy who says he is a manager. He says he can help us and only requires a bit of money up front and a contract for one year to get things started. Do you think this is a good idea?"
Me: "Has your band played any shows? Recorded anything? Can your music be found and listened to online? Have you met him before? Have you done your research to figure out who he is and if he has any experience working with bands doing this sort of thing?"
Student: "No to everything."
Me: "Then no. Its not a good idea. He's going to take your money and run most likely. If he's never heard your music, never seen you play, never met you, doesn't know you from Adam and seemingly has no industry connections at all then how did he even find you other than just trolling through Myspace for unsigned bands? He's taking advantage of your youth."
Every single year I get a new batch of questions in this clinic. There are about 30 to 60+ people sometimes and they all play different styles, are different age levels and have different experiences when diving into the world of being a 'professional' musician, at what ever level that is. One of the observations I've made over the years from seeing young bands trying to "<em>make it</em>" and trying to be successful is that the world is, of course, quite different than it used to be. There's no real market for a band to be successful anymore without them having a family member throw oodles of money at them to pursue their dream. Young people are being told that "<em>you need to have a degree to be successful</em>", "<em>there's no money in the music industry</em>", "<em>it's a waste of time</em>" and so on. These are all statements that detour a young musician, or artist, from pursuing their dream. Now, I'm sure this is no different than it was about 30 to 40 years ago, but the difference is that the parents are RIGHT!!!
In the 80's a young pup band could get a crappy van, throw a bunch of gear in it and with a lot of persistance go on the road and find gigs that would pay them 6 to 7 nights a week. Might not pay well, but enough to get by. With the exception of the major cities (Toronto, Montreal, and even then its tough) there really are NO gigs during the week anymore. Only Thursday to Saturday and Sunday to Wednesday might as well be national 'Stay at Home and watch Primtime television' night. We'll make it a holiday and setup community activites around planning for your favorite tv shows! WOO! Seriously though, who goes out during the week anymore? I know I do, but I'm apparently a rare oddity outside of the Toronto hipster crowd because unless you're going to see Maroon 5 on Wednesday night, its a ghost town when it comes to paying patrons going to see live music.
So how is a band SUPPOSED to make money now? You know what the number one question I get asked is? "What's your day job?". Seriously? Its come to this? Every local musician I know (with the exception of a rare few) have day jobs of some type. Some other way of financing their hopes and dreams. Bands used to get by having a day job and saving up money to go on tour. Now it's so freakin' expensive TO tour that there is almost no way to save up that much money without giving up your rent money to pay for the gas to get to Winnipeg. Living in Toronto you end up working 4 days during the week to fund your music <em>habit</em>. It can't be a job because you get paid so little that it would be illegal as a normal wage. You work at Starbucks Sunday to Wednesday and at the grocery store moving boxes during the night just to rehearse and get to your gig Thursday through Saturday nights. Its not a living, its a hobby, and not by choice. Then the girlfriend/boyfriend, the family life, responsibility, and bills start to knock at your door and they all turn and look at you and say "no, this isn't going to work". The old joke is that musicians live with their girlfriends who make tons of money in their day jobs and loaf around their houses doing nothing, but mooching off them. I wonder if that joke would still exist if people actually PAID musicians well enough to survive on what they've spent more years training for than doctors?
So the question becomes, how do you survive? Well here's how. Be the best. At all times. Guthrie Govan (remarkably talented guitarist from the UK) was asked a question at the workshop. "How much do you practice?" and his answer was unfortunate, but true.
"Not as much as I would like to. I end up being so busy now that practice becomes an after thought to everything else. I'm on the road traveling, playing shows and attending workshops like this that it leaves me little time to practice anymore. Really, I got the majority of my practice in from the ages of 12 until about 24 or 25 and that built the majority of my skill and technique. So, I really don't practice at all anymore."
This answer really stuck with me. If you're Guthrie, who's accolades list is as long as your arm, then yes I can see how you have no time to practice. If you're my age and want to be the best then you FIND time to practice because that is what you do. You're a guitar player. Not a stock boy, not a Starbucks coffee server, not a pencil pusher, a guitarist. And until you're at Guthrie's level where the amount of guitar playing you do and get paid for takes over your life then you MUST practice. Constantly. Your competition does and so should you. And this goes for bands too. If you're not regularly playing gigs each week then you must be practicing each week to get those gigs and constantly perfecting your art and your show. That's how you'll get noticed.
Another thing you can do is look the part, sound the part, act the part, BE the musician you see others being because that's who you want to be. That's what you're working towards. Don't half ass it. Get the clothes, do your hair (should you have any *cough*), learn your lyrics, your parts, work on your vocals, and hang out with the right people because networking is as important as practice is. If you're not meeting people than you better have lots of friends willing to give you money. Now this doesn't mean to 'copy' or 'steal' someones thing, but try to borrow and make it your own. If you're being yourself and just curtailing yourself towards that thing, that image, then you'll fit right in without seeming too unoriginal or posing as someone else. Unless you have no personality and creativity at all its pretty hard to steal something directly without putting your own spin on it naturally. Work with it and figure out who you are within the thing you want to be. You'll find your place.
Lastly, I HIGHLY suggest figuring out what kind of value you put on what you do. Do you steal movies? Generally, everyone steals something now a days. The technology is there so why not? I kinda look at it this way. If you're only ever going to listen to that song once, watch that movie once, read that book once, or see that live DVD once then ok. Maybe you can steal it once and be done with it. However, if you're stealing it and watching it over and over and over and over and over and over again ... then what value does this thing really have to you? Probably more than free. If you had NO other choice then what would you be willing to pay for it? Keep in mind that you're expecting others to pay for what you do too. If you value someone else's work as 'free' then the rest of the world will value what you do the same way. You write music for a living and perform and want people to give you $5 for the hours of work you've put in preparing and finally recording and performing that work. It's not much, but maybe you could do the same? Don't under sell yourself either. Just because you don't think your music is something special doesn't necessarily mean that someone else isn't willing to pay a good $20 for that art you've created. As a business and sales person it should be your number one priority to find and show your customers how valuable your work actually is and, by proxy, how other peoples work can also improve their lives without the need to steal it. Remember, if there's no money to go around for those wanting to make art and survive on their art then the quality goes down overall. Those who are fantastic at their art need to eat too and by stealing their work you simply ensure that the young band looking to take that chance and 'be' somebody, some day, will think that much harder about touring, taking that chance and being the band you crave to hear on the radio. For those who don't listen to radio anymore, ask yourself if you've paid enough money back to the industry to hear the music you really want to hear and if you deserve to hear it or not. Is watching an ad on YouTube really THAT annoying when it comes to getting something, sorta, for free? I think not.
If you haven't already please check out the June-July edition of Canadian Musician to find my article entitled "Dealing with Gear Mutiny on Stage", found on page 25.