Posts from the ‘Music business’ Category

Covers vs Originals … ?

Many of us start life as creative, professional musicians with an absolute aversion to playing anyone else music ever at all. No way! We want to tell our own stories and have something original and unique to say that no-one else has. For others, it’s the opposite – not everyone is a natural at songwriting and composing and there is a fine career to be had just playing and interpreting what’s already been written.

 

I prioritise my own material 90%, confident to call myself in general terms a ‘jazz musician’ as the idiomatic jazz references in my work are unmistakable. Over the years I’ve found an increasingly interesting (and sometimes rocky) relationship between covers and original music and getting known for doing both.

 

Here’s my Top Ten (and somewhat random) Tips and crazy notions to navigate and have fun with the covers/originals balance.

 

  1. Never forget that what lies in your own brain, imagination and invention is your gift to the world. You have a duty to bring it forth. Original art is everything. You’ll know if you have something to say with your songs as they will write you – you won’t have a choice. Never block the flow, you will make yourself ill if you do. Trust that you have something to say and get out of the way of creation speaking through you!

  2. As a child, I was told off, (in a grudgingly admiring way) by my piano tutor for using our lessons to show her my own compositions. She wanted me to focus on the Purcell (yuk …) and Mozart (yawn …) that we had to study. In her head, this was clearly the concert pianist path. I was more interested in making up my own chord sequences, although I felt guilty for including a hooky progression from a current TV show…

  3.  It was at this point that she was more helpful and told me not to worry about little steals and derivations and that the famous composers quoted from each other all the time – both deliberately and unconsciously.

  4. One huge and obvious advantage of sticking to your own work is that the royalties and rights are yours. No need to negotiate or buy access or clear it with anyone before you record. If original work is your default process then you find yourself wanting to record a cover and then sell the resulting album, it can feel (and is) somewhat more complicated.

  5. An advantage of doing covers is that (for me) there is a blissful and much needed buffer zone of objectivity. What a relief to leave my own stories behind and put something less risky on the line! If the audience rejects it, (either the storyline or the melody) it’s so much less personal.

  6. Approaching and arranging  great popular standards can and will make you a better player and composer for your own stuff. Tackle John Coltranes ‘Giant Steps’ just for fun – it’s such a good theory lesson and can be treated and redone in endless ways. (A repertoire of classic covers also serves as ready teaching material.) Program your set so that you hit a new audience with 4 originals, then a really well known standard that shows off your skills but continues the theme. Like dominos, make sure they’re connected by something – subject matter/mood/tempo/key. If you can get your original songs mistaken for classics then this is a good thing and means you’re writing the standards of the future! I had a (not very pleasant but certainly interesting) post gig scenario once at the Isle of Wight jazz festival. A well known festival director accused me of plagiarising my own songs. He was drunk and out of order and quite aggressive. Horrible – but it was proof that my songs are strong!

  7. Unless the fee is really good, (weddings!) only choose covers that you genuinely love and will stand the test of time and endless repetition as part of your set. Be steadfast in refusing requests (to perform/arrange/prepare/record/deliver) popular songs that you honestly don’t like – it will erode your soul.

  8. Check out other musicians who’ve covered songs maybe more or less successfully than the original songwriter. What makes a great song? One that can be endlessly reinterpreted or one that is untouchable? I fell in love with Carmen McCraes version of ‘New York State of Mind’, then Oleta Adams version – long before I realised that Billy Joel wrote it. It’s a truly solid song, great melody, feel, structure and storytelling. Removed enough from the author that it can live an independent life. In my own set, I include a few K pop songs – which have been translated (into Japanese) for the (huge) Japanese market. One of these, ‘Juliette’ started off as ‘Deal With It’ released by ‘High School Musical’ singer, Corbin Bleu. Then K pop giants Seoul Media bought the rights and transformed it utterly for their top boy band ShinEE – but kept the melody and structure. (Geeks and enthusiasts, listen to the original HERE. The Korean cover/transformation HERE and the Japanese translation HERE.)

  9. Choose wisely – though if you fall on your face, that’s half the fun. I refuse to do Joni Mitchell covers, despite being asked. To ‘superfans’, she is an immortal (rightly so!) and only Joni can do Joni. Likewise Prince – if you attempt it, better do it right! When choosing a cover, have fun taking it as far away from its original incarnation as you can. Mess with the tempo and instrumentation. Strip everything back to the song. See if you can take an industrial metal number and redo it for acoustic jazz guitar. Check out Amy Winehouses version of The Beatles ‘All My Loving’ – which in my opinion is better than the original.

  10. In these days of social media and Youtube – well placed (and non copyright infringing) cover versions and treatments of other artists songs can really work in your favour by drawing fans into your world, your website, your mailing list. The next generation of music lovers is always growing up in waves, discovering the great artists for the first time – they may be led to your version first – or next – through search engines, key words and hash tags.

No one has covered my work to my knowledge. How would I feel … I think I would hate it! I want to be the unique legend that non-one else can do! (But one day I guess it might happen.)

 

Here’s a clip of me singing ‘Feeling Good’ (Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newly) in Trafalgar Square, with my own pre-recorded piano arrangement. (I like this song so much, I later did a different version for guitar.)

Lastly, find out what you need to know to protect your work (copyright – there’s more than one way to do it) and tread respectfully and honestly around others. If your songs are out there, live, recorded or online – there are multiple royalty avenues that you can and should access. Be clear (onstage and everywhere else) about the intellectual ownership of your own work and seek advice before recording others.

 

Resources:

 

Musicians Union – Benefits, protection, legal advice, community.

 

BASCA – British Academy of Songwriters, composers and authors.

 

Performing Rights Society – Music copyright, royalties and licensing.

 


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Collaborate! Er…or not? …

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”If you want to travel fast, go alone. If you want to travel far, go together.”

(Generic truism attributed to just about everyone from Al Gore to Richard Branson. Likely to crop up in entrepreneurial self-help or business speak – oft quoted as traditional African folklore. But … is it true?)

 

I was inspired to think and write a bit about this when reading a random tweet from a jazz enthusiast. She said she sometimes felt tired of seeing musicians cropping up in each others bands all the time and felt the sound and vibe would be too samey and predictable. I thought about times in my life when collaborating felt like the right path and when it didn’t. I think both ways – solo artist and team member on others projects are great and necessary – at different times.

 

Here’s 5 advantages of each. Thoughts that might be of use to beginners and learners, (read it here my Middlesex students, since you never show up to class!) and seasoned (even jaded) semi or full professionals.

 

COLLABORATION PROS – Music is life, is communication. The more we live, breathe and play music, it becomes one more way of being. It should be as natural as breathing and creative projects should feel as organic as any other conversation. Our fellow musicians are closer than family and what we do is in some ways more intimate than partners. Even if we ARE partners. Creating art and community together, is pure strength and joy. It’s about the ‘we’ not just the ‘I’ and everyone benefits.

 

  1. Do something as a team and your other members get to shoulder some of the work. Putting on a night with a group of co-promoters? You can get to delegate roles and responsibilities and portion out tasks according to genuine areas of strength and enthusiasm.

  2. In these days of pressure to get bums on seats, a shared project means a shared demographic and shared crowd. In this way you can bring in a lot of audience through the door and hopefully keep them via a shared mailing list/data base. Funders seem to like group projects and collectives. And since funding applications are such hard work – a team environment can really help. You can pool your all your skills, labour and industry contacts and move forward as a whole.

  3. Doing things together is fun – less loneliness, more camaraderie, shared anecdotes and laughter. Including when things are going wrong or getting discouraging or where an extra viewpoint is needed. Writing songs together is joyful and playful and sharing dreams and ambitions for the future is energising. Approaching the industry together lessens some of the pressure provides a buffer – especially when the doors are slamming.

  4.  If you put in the hours, pay your dues and earn your keep as a session player or singer in other peoples bands, choirs, recordings or gigs, you will certainly improve. Nothing like instrumental session playing to get your chops (and your reputation) to the next level. Also it’s worth being that indispensably reliable person in someones teaching deputy Rolodex.

  5. Ever notice how playing other peoples music has that emotional distance that can be liberating? It’s the vulnerability of someone elses story and history on the line. All you have to do is enhance it and get the notes right. The session player can often appreciate something new and fresh that the songwriter can’t hear. Plus doing something for someone else (for wages or not) often behooves us to work in a way that it’s harder to do for ourselves.

And ….

 

COLLABORATION CONS – I’m a bandleader. I don’t share power easily and I get uncomfortable when someone mentions ‘co-creating’ or ‘community’. I don’t welcome suggestions or feedback on my songs. I can’t help the lone wolf tendency. I have a need for and a simultaneous fear of artistic intimacy. I don’t delegate well. I like defined roles. I’ll follow, (playing/composing/arranging – for a fee) or I’ll lead. Lead the band, write the songs, book the gigs, promote the gigs, pay my players, liaise with venues/media/competitions/festivals and deal with the endless run arounds and rejections. In return for shouldering those responsibilities, it’s my name on the poster and me who owns the copyright.

 

 

  1. Writing music ‘together’ can tie you together more surely than marriage and for longer, if a dispute occurs. Personally I avoid it. It’s my song or it’s your song. I don’t share. It can get too delicate with copyright and royalty issues.

  2. Time is a factor. Just as it’s a good thing to want to do your best contributing to someone elses event – imagine if you put that great, selfless, unconditional energy into your own work and creativity. Food for thought. When is it going to be time for you? Especially if the group project starts to gain momentum. You could be tied up for a while. Which is the whole point, but don’t get spread too thin with conflicting interests.

  3. Some people are just loners. We emerge and submerge and re-emerge but do most of our creative work privately. If you’re the kind of artist who doesn’t like to share the process or keeps things secret until they’re finished – group collaborations can feel weird and forming collectives can feel too much like commitment.

  4. Even in an ideal world, it’s hard to get reciprocity and know that your fellow collaborators are truly as reliable as you. Is their definition of hard work the same as yours? Is their concept of an ‘early start’ or a ‘thorough’ job, the same as yours? Do they take too long to do stuff and are you just carrying them because they’re scared (and unable) to work alone?

  5. The necessary evil that is money and that weird boundary between work and play. If I’m being paid, then I have the energy (literally the fuel) and therefore the liberty to do the job. If I’m paying someone I can expect that they’ll deliver. It comes down again to rock solid roles and responsibilities. If something is freeform play and maybe it’s professional maybe it isn’t, then the boundary is elastic – literally. Exciting and creative for sure. Potentially draining and dissipating too.

My final analysis is that creative intimacy (like other kinds of  love relationships) has an on/off rhythm to it. Too far into ‘solo artist mode’ and it’s time to play on someone elses tunes, or work as an accompanist. Time spent giving ones all in another band inevitably has to give way to going back and prioritising the individual career. The one helps the other, for sure. I come out of ‘session player’ mode burning to get back into my own stuff and often with better technique and faster memorisation. But if I don’t have my time alone in the woodshed, (days, months, years) I have nothing to give. The magic happens in the dance between the two.

 


 

 

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Social media – Ruining Your Life?

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In the last few years I’ve noticed something very concerning in my life. It crept up on me and surprised me even more given that I’m not of the iphone generation. I grew up with radio, then black and white TV, (rationed, regulated viewing) books, music practice, drawing, cassette tape, creative writing, sports and board games.

 

I noticed recently, that I had become addicted to my computer – that I was logging into my social media stream as a comfort blanket (despite the anxiety generated by seeing news and current events) and was checking messages and micro managing all my music business related communications in a way that I never associated with myself. In the cold weather, I even liked the warmth of the laptop and the cheery screen saver! I have a long attention span, single-minded focus, an ability to really enter the zone – or so I thought. But I have found my mind wandering whilst doing things that I usually concentrate on fully and have found myself breaking up the day with social media check-ins. For obvious reasons this has been heightened at the time of Brexit and now the current emergencies in the USA which do require than one stays informed. It’s also a side effect of having  to promote and self-publicise my work as a musician. Sometimes it feels like 90% online promotion/admin and 10% rehearsing/ performance energy. A problematic equation!

 

I fully appreciate all the amazing things that super fast computers and interactive media platforms give us. Free education, endless archives, search engines, alternative news reports, social activism, (‘clicktivism’) international messenger services, entertainment at the drop of a hat. Used wisely, all these things can make us more informed, more intelligent, and more empathetic.

 

Or they can make us more and more passive and unable to distinguish reality from fantasy.

 

Let’s take back our lives!

 

Top Ten Tips to master social media/computer addiction:

 

1. Make a commitment to watch and ration the time you spend on your computer – which these days probably means your smart phone. When you log or switch on, know where you are going and why. Do your errands (emails, research, skype call, Facebook message to transatlantic friend, or promotional twitter fest for your forthcoming gig) then put it away.

 

2. For every hour spent on a computer, looking at that screen – spend 2 hours doing something organic, such as playing a musical instrument, interacting with children, animals, or a meaningful conversation with a friend, exercise out-of-doors, reading or just being. Try writing a letter (made your hand ache did it?) or drawing or painting as a way to relax, process information or think up new ideas.

 

3. Time is an artificial concept anyway – so whilst you time the necessary evil of your computer tasks – when you are away from it – don’t look at the clock and experiment with discarding clocks and watches. Let your time be elastic – there is so much more of it than you think. Modern physics has shown us that the physical, phenomenal natural world is mostly empty space. Enjoy this miracle and focus on the content of what you do in your time – not the time itself. That means not checking your phone clock.

 

4. Still using a relatively old fashioned non-smart phone? Good! Well meaning friends or colleagues still trying to give you phones so you can stay in touch/not miss opportunities etc? Don’t apologise for not having a mobile phone or for not using social media much. Think about where coltan, the mineral in all our devices comes from and the human cost of mining it. With this in mind, think twice about upgrading and buying new devices all the time.

 

5. Try going for 2 days at a time without logging on. Deal with that initial feeling of panic. Especially in these recent times, we want daily news immediately – just to know the likely level of catastrophe, as things change rapidly. But deal with it. Ever consider that the real catastrophe is that speed for speeds sake is taking over our lives?

 

6. Invest in and experiment with some protective devices or practices that balance the radiation coming off your computer and phone. I wear and recommend sacred geometry devices from The Template.

 

7. No phones in bed at night. Ever. Best way to ruin your relationship.

 

8. Enjoy all the silly fun clips, memes, mash-ups, twitter trends and entertainment that is on offer – but regulate yourself. If you catch yourself surfing, idly, late at night, make a plan to go to bed and get proper sleep and proper dreams before that threshold. We only do that when we are too tired to resist – and if that makes you worried – it should.

 

9. Following on from that, be very discerning as to what images you let in. Some things can’t be unseen or unknown once encountered, and if you view stuff late at night, it will go into your dreams. Nothing wrong with that, so long as you are choosing what.

 

10. Without getting into a paranoid mess – please consider the fact that your computer may be watching you. Those ads are popping up because someone, somewhere tracks your internet searches and your status and value as a consumer. Doesn’t that worry you?

 

Still reading? Stop it! Go away. Log off and go and do something that matters. Create the life of your dreams in actual reality! So many worthwhile things: friendship, sex, cooking, being in nature, laughing and joking with others, writing a song, perfecting a martial arts sequence, traveling, walking, watching, listening, thinking, dreaming or shouting in the streets at the injustices of the world. You, yourself, your mind, body and spirit – this is the most miraculous of technologies. Let the computer be your servant – not your master.

 

Resources:

 

The Template Sacred geometry and more.

 

Minerals for computer processors and how we get them. Who really pays for our ‘free’ technologies.

 

Cell phone addiction amongst the youth in South Korea.

 

Possible solution! South Korean Space out contests!

 


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A Woman’s Worth…

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(The picture is of Norma Jean Wofford, also known as ‘The Duchess’ – lead guitarist with Bo Diddley from ’62-’66. She doesn’t appear in the book I’m talking about here, but this image goes very well with my blog post title. There were dozens of artists that I could have envisaged in the project. Would I like to see Giving Birth to Sound volume II and III and beyond? Yes.  Also a CD compilation and a dedicated music festival? You bet. I’m dreaming big…)

This post is about the worth and significance of musicians – female ones in particular – our capacity as story-tellers, mediums, healers, visionaries, agitators, collaborators entertainers and communicators. Every week, I am still riding the wave of momentum generated by ‘Giving Birth To Sound’ – the new book by Cologne jazz publisher Buddy’s Knife. With a foreword by legendary jazz pianist Amina Claudine Myers and featuring 48 female musicians – including myself. Over a year ago, I was approached by the editor, Renate da Rin. Would I like to be interviewed for a book about female musicians in jazz and creative music? I was up for it of course, and now suddenly the book has arrived and it’s an absolute dream. I am honoured and happy to be sitting side by side with some of my influences and industry legends. A rich collection of personal histories and records of incredible achievement. The contributions have all been translated into English but each artist tells of a very personal relationship to sound, with a diverse range of nationalities, cultures, languages and instrumentation.

All the artists in the book are receiving our copies at different times and reading the final creation at different paces. Needless to say, with a sense of unfolding wonder and high hopes for further contact and projects. This feels unstoppable! For my part, I feel determined to draw attention to what has been achieved here and why it’s important. Despite distinct differences in age, race, language, education and geography, attitude to music, society and concepts of ‘womanhood’, there are common themes amongst the participants – which speak volumes about the times we are living in. An awareness of injustice, a recognition of global inequality and an economic climate where poverty is being demonised and money worshipped, the natural world being destroyed. A recognition that things are in some ways worse not better. A proud, fearless independence, but love of collaboration. An almost mystical, ecstatic reverie that comes from the creative process. Early exposure not just to musical stimulus, but to the worlds of the imagination. A generous passion and hope for the music above all – often expressed in words that are non-linear, poetic, idiomatic and rhapsodic. The book actually reads like a piece of music itself.

Women and girls have been told so many times that we can’t do stuff – either that we’re weak, incompetent and decorative … or in other periods of history and geography, that we are only good for sex, childcare, menial labour and social scapegoating, physical/emotional punchbags, with no access to self-improvement. I don’t say that lightly. In some areas, women have lower status than a domestic animal. Though happily, neither extreme is my own personal experience – the reality of worldwide abuse of women and girls is now so widely known about, that the concept of  female emancipation can no longer be ridiculed as some special interest feminist minority issue. It’s affecting the gender which is actually the majority. So it brings me joy when I see initiatives that really celebrate women. Our stories need to be heard. Some of them are shocking.

 (Here’s what I wrote to the editors:)

”The more I read of the book, the more I am blown away, with love and inspiration, heart quakes and shakes, tears of solidarity and empathy and also a fair bit of socio-political outrage. Today, reading the story of the musician who was accused as a child of being a liar – (TWICE) as her work was so advanced they didn’t believe it was hers… (this happened to me at school, with a play I wrote.)”  * I remember too, after a performance at the Isle of Wight Jazz festival, being approached by the (drunk) director of another prominent UK jazz festival. He accused me of not being the author of my own songs, which he threatened to  research and expose as classic standards which I had in fact plagiarised. Talk about a compliment and insult at the same time. I later received an apology …

 (I also wrote this to the editors:)

”I have to say, a book, (so much more than just a ‘book’) of this nature could not have happened at this time in the UK. We’re beset here with a governmental drive towards austerity that is unbelievable. But there are valiant pockets of rebellion and creativity resourcefulness, generosity and people-power all the more amazing, as we are operating against the odds here. A common theme amongst some of the contributors seems to be the increasing punishment of the poor and of poverty by government and media, affecting all artists – so maybe this economic trend is worldwide. BUT I am so thankful to you creative jazz loving folks at Buddys Knife – for your intellectual courage, determination and artistic integrity in doing this project.
Each one of these 48 contributors is not just a musical creator, but leader, visionary and dare I say it – shaman/sorcerer/witch/wizard/world-bridger and changer of epic proportions. Each with her own networks of international creativity. There are some global possibilities here. As with all creations – a mixture of strong desire/intent and a trust and ALLOWING… the inevitability and momentum of dreams coming to fruit : ) Thinking big. Loving large. Powering the imagination. Women are rising again.”

Here is the intro on the back cover, which says it beautifully. Here’s why you need to read this book! Please order it and buy copies for your friends, libraries, schools, jazz cafes. By doing so you will be helping to support the next stage of our journey – you too will be ‘giving birth to sound!’

”Giving Birth to Sound is about Her-story as told by some of the most brilliant and creative women musicians in the world. Individual thinkers and movers who have been brave enough to devote their lives to the making of music the way they hear it. They were not afraid to sing and speak in the name of sound, showing us that they are a family of unique individuals, separate but united. Read their words and listen to their music whenever you can – it will take you even closer to the great mystery called life.”
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   How to buy the book:
   http://www.buddysknife.de/our-titles/
   info@buddysknife.de
   Available on amazon.com and amazon.de.
Thank you for reading!

 

 

 

Giving Birth To Sound

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This month I am pleased and proud to announce that I am featured in this amazing book, Giving Birth To Sound. Created by specialist Cologne jazz publisher Buddys Knife and a host of contributors working in the field of music – not just jazz, but uniquely personal interpretations of jazz, improvisation and creative sound. The line-up includes some major artists of the 20th century, some of which have influenced and inspired me greatly. What an honour – and I can’t wait to see what happens next! Here is some background from the website:

”Renate Da Rin and William Parker have invited 48 creative women sound artists to share their experiences in the process of creating music and living as an artist. These women come from North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.”giving birth to sound” is about Her-story as told by some of the most brilliant and creative women musicians in the world. Individual thinkers and movers who have been brave enough to devote their lives to the making of music the way they hear it. They were not afraid to sing and speak in the name of sound, showing us that they are a family of unique individuals, separate but united.

Read their words and listen to their music whenever you can – it will take you even closer to the great mystery called life. Foreword by Amina Claudine Myers.

Among the great musicians we find Jay Clayton, Marilyn Crispell, Claudine François, Terry Jenoure, Joëlle Léandre, Marilyn Mazur, Nicole Mitchell, Maggie Nicols, Angelika Niescier, Lisa Sokolov, Ijeoma Chinue Thomas, Fay Victor, Jessica Williams … ”

Excited? Like a copy of the book? CLICK HERE  to order.

 


 

 

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Guy Kawasaki – those ’12 tips’ reframed…

 

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In this post, I thought I’d revisit some ideas I picked up (and am still processing) from author, entrepreneur, public speaker and self-styled business ‘evangelist’ Guy Kawasaki. Kawasaki worked at Apple with the late Steve Jobs. He now has dozens of free videos online, books, a blog, courses and classes. (His recent book, ‘Enchantment – The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions’, is available through his website. )


 

As a musician, I am still getting to grips with this new business model of the 360 degree DIY artist/’solo-preneur’. No matter how many times I hear that the industry is now better for us – a global, open playing field where we can sell our wares directly to our customers via the internet and social media – I still find business speak difficult. At times I think artists are more vulnerable than ever to marketing gurus willing to take our money, in return for a kind of bogus access to the wider world via ‘tweets’ and Facebook ‘likes’.

Most of us weren’t taught this at school, and the learning curve can be steep. The myth of the rock star is etched into our modern culture. Traditionally, musicians are supposed to be volatile, semi-nocturnal, booze-addled egomaniacs with little thought for routine, pre-planning or self-analysis – at least not the business side of what we do. That was left that to managers, fixers, agents and record companies – with positive and negative results. But what does come naturally is: flights of inspiration, ‘blue sky thinking’, spiritual reverie, spontaneity and lateral thinking. Creative people already live in that space. That’s why I like this inventive and irreverent list – based on broad, sometimes random, cross-disciplinary principles. I’m going to unpack it from a musicians point of view.  The original film is full of humour and some great anecdotes – well worth a look.

Here we go with:

Guy Kawasakis 12 tips learnt from Steve Jobs:

1. Experts are Clueless. In other words, beware the aura of respectability that goes with traditional education. True knowledge comes from the bones, the body, the years and years of doing it. Trial and error. Experience. The humility of knowing that as we perceive something – it changes and so do we. The more we think we know, the less we know. There is everything to learn and nothing is ever quite what it seems. I’d like to expand this point to say that true experts can be found away from the self-appointed gurus or motivational speakers, scholars or graduates of any field. The best speakers and educators teach through the power of story, anecdote, humour, proven success, spectacular failure, exceptions to every rule, last minute turn arounds, luck and co-incidence.

2. Customers Cannot Tell You What Whey Want.  Most people do not know what they want and are highly suggestible. However, generally we all want to feel these things: prosperous, attractive, sexually desirable, powerful, youthful, respected, inspired, hopeful, loved, comforted and connected – to belong. Part of the whole, yet, special.  Advertisers know this and exploit it to the hilt, whether they’re selling beer, movie tickets, cars, razors, depilatory cream, ready meals, extreme sports holidays, condoms, clothes, weddings, perfume, luxury flats or organic produce. For artists, remember, the power is  in your hands. Despite what others may tell you, you do not have to conform to the latest trend. Write your music the way you hear it and speak your truth. Know yourself and stick to you plan. Bring the audience round, win them over, reel them in. The vast majority of potential customers quite like to be told what to do, what to wear, what to listen to, what products to buy, relieved of the burden of choosing, in a busy fast paced world. Every weekend people buy sunday papers with a colour section filled with explicit consumer directives, lists, selections, reviews and surveys. Literally, ‘Buy this. Eat this’ etc. That’s in addition to the adverts.  You can manipulate this too, to a degree. I believe artists make art primarily for ourselves – our sanity depends on it. If we can sell enough to keep doing it that’s a bonus and if we discover some sort of spiritual mandate about raising the collective vibration in the process, so much the better. Remember your art comes from you, or at least through you. You are the boss. believe it. Embody it. Love it. Then let your natural persuasion flow.

3. Biggest Challenges Beget the Best Work.  If something scares you – do it. If you feel the urge to resurrect  an aspect of your skill set that you neglected, but which your soul is crying out to express – do it. Bite off more than you can chew, feel the terror and watch as your entire career grows and expands. This is hard for artists – every day already feels like a challenge, in terms of money, time, sleep, energy levels and the ongoing search for recognition. It’s worth reaching for the impossible and expanding beyond your limits. However it’s also worth saying that you have to balance this with adequate self-care and nurturance of yourself as the art-producing organism. Give yourself a time frame for your challenges and take yourself seriously enough that when you leap for the stars you have some support in place. Victory loves preparation and I think that fortune favours those who are ready.

4. Design Counts. There is an initial moment in every encounter where style does trump substance. It’s the first impression and it’s usually visual. People respond on this level in a way that’s instinctive and emotional. Something that looks and feels visually coherent and harmonious invites further engagement. Past this point, the non-visual qualities take over, but if you want to hook people in from the get-go, visuals matter. For musicians, decent photos are a must – so are clear graphics, text and pleasing colours for websites, posters, album covers etc.

5. Big Graphics/Big Font. Obvious and yet sometimes overlooked in attempts to be overly artistic and clever, especially in publicity and marketing. Make sure the information you want to convey is coming across. It can make the difference between customers buying your music, or proceeding to the next new face on iTunes whose biog and links they can actually decipher. There are people who willing to go the extra mile to read smaller text and rules can be broken in the name of artistic license. I write this blog with pale text on a brown background – which is not to everyones liking – but the overall impression reflects my style better than a more conventional black on white format.

6. Jump Curves not ‘Better Sameness’.  I like this – and also find it scary. It strikes a chord which applies to all learning. Jazz musicians know that true improvisation is not about playing your known scales as competently as possible. It’s about leaping into the ocean and letting intuition take over. Musicians need to respond to the changing times. What worked for the last year might suddenly not be relevant anymore. There’s no point in doggedly finding better, more persuasive ways to get record label execs to listen to your CD. These days, you’d best get your YouTube channel up and running, because that’s what they’ll expect to see. As an artist, you may have a trademark –  a good line in sad, bluesy love songs, or an affinity with an instrumental sound for which you are known. One day, be prepared that you may never write on that theme again, it’s time for a make-over and having previously been a guitarist you now only want to play the trumpet. Or ditch your backing band, shave your head and release a solo unplugged album. Which your existing fans may hate – but which your expanding audience is ready for. Embrace these quantum transformations wholeheartedly! The emergent butterfly no longer needs to excel at being the best caterpillar. Things move on. Respond. There’s enormous freedom in editing, speeding and cleaning your flow – be it songwriting, recording, networking or marketing. Minimum effort, maximum result is a mantra that works for me.

7. Something Works or Doesn’t Work. The best songs? Nice hooky melodic flow, not too long, beginning, middle and end. The best singing? From the heart, keeping it real on a subject you know about. The best breathing technique? Get it in, get it out. Best customer/fan PR? Draw the people in, give them something real, communicate your message, honour the time spent together, give thanks, let them choose whether to deepen their relationship with you. Be excited about what you do – desire is the rocket fuel that drives any project and pulls people in, making them feel part of a wider community all buzzing on a compatible vibe. Lack of desire for your own art will repel people. All artists go through ’empty shell’ periods where their marketing speak or concert patter becomes reactive, repetitive. Times like this, it’s worth stepping back from the public eye and rekindling the passion.

8. Value is Different from Price. Very important when a musician is negotiating for  session/gig/consultancy/teaching wages. If new instrumental students baulk at my fee, I remind them that the expertise I will bring to them is literally priceless. An investment that will give them hours and hours of potentially infinite satisfaction and empowerment beyond the initial lesson. Same for a gig or function. I’m confident that my value far exceeds the amount of money paid – which is really only an offering of energy in return for the raw material of my soul. Knowing your worth is hugely important these days, more so now that music has been devalued by a saturated marketplace where entertainment is free and ubiquitous. It’s hard not to be affected by this, lowering your prices and standards and also saying ‘yes’ to engagements which are exploitative. When there is a lot of genuine talent out there, how do you price yourself above or below the next person? Only you know if you have something that makes you truly special. Know your value. Then be bold and communicate that value through your actions and words.

9. ‘A’ Players Hire ‘A’ Players. A difficult one, as we’ve all hired staff who are functioning at a sort of intern level and whom we have to train on the job. This is ok for secretarial staff. It’s not so good for band members, session players, business consultants, photographers, engineers or publicity and marketing assistants who are going to be making crucial  phone calls to industry figures. How do you know at interview stage, if you are dealing with an equal and potential peer? They will not be awed by you, they will come across as genuinely self-possessed. They’ll be honest about their experience level and able to negotiate and discuss their own wages and value with an air of confidence. They’ll know your industry and the people in it and have shared reference points, gained through experience. They’ll be able to challenge you in a constructive way and have the right strengths to compliment your weak spots.

10. Real CEOS can Demo. The classic application of this is the music teacher who can play the piece, who knows the landscape inside out, has travelled the territory that the map indicates. Not all music teachers can! The practitioner who is immersed, body and soul in their craft. Not just the musicianship, but the realities of the industry coal face. Taken to a more metaphysical level – like Thomas Dorsey, if you are ‘living the life you sing about in your song’  if there is a congruence between your walk and your talk – this will translate to the punters. So many of whom are looking for something authentic and soulful with which to resonate.

11. Real Entrepreneurs ‘Ship’. Unless I’ve hilariously misunderstood this – this does not mean ‘shipping in the US slang sense, meaning relationship (like customer PR in this context.) This means get your product flying off the shelves  – let go of it and send it into the marketplace even though it may not be flawless and may have elements that could be improved. In other words, ‘done is better than perfect’. Be careful with this one. If it’s your musical product, it’s you that has to live with it being out there in the public domain and it’s counter-intuitive to plug and promote stuff that you feel is not your best. Still, I like the concept of not being too precious and embracing that moment when our art has to live independently.

12. Some Things Need to be Believed to be Seen. Popular books about the ‘Law of Attraction’ talk about this a lot. Have a vision. Everything that has ever existed, existed first, in the mind. See it. Make it real. I’d extend the definition of believed to also mean ‘felt’, in a vibrational sense. If you only work with what you know to be possible, or what you previously thought to be doable, you are not open to the unique path that is your very own. The future isn’t written, nor are the tools for writing it fixed, nor is the vocabulary set in stone. This is very true right now in music and entertainment, concerning media technologies and consumer habits. On an economic, ecological, global and galactic level, all is subject to change. So let your music career truly become a vision quest, holistic and grounded, right from creative inception to the online music store, to the movie sync deal, to the world tour, to the guest appearance at the protest march. Live your dream whilst creating the kind of world, you want to create music in and for. Let your ethical values shine through. If you don’t have some kind of  spiritual practice in your life, now is the time to explore that and to start working in a deliberate way with the tools of visualisation and manifestation. Guide your life from the inside out, design your own path and enjoy the journey.

 I hope you enjoyed this journey!

 


 

Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online, graphics-design service, trustee of the Wikimedia Foundation, and executive fellow at the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley. Formerly, he was an advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple. He is the author of The Art of the Start 2.0, The Art of Social Media, Enchantment, and ten other books.

Here is the original film from Silicon Valley Banks CEO Summit in 2011: 12 Lessons Steve Jobs Taught Guy Kawasaki.

 


 

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The ‘Woodshed’

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(Image from The Girls in The Band.)

The ‘woodshed’. That place where jazzers go to practice. How to explain to friends, family, loved ones and significant others, (and even some fellow musicians), the sovereignty, the absolute non-negotiable sanctity of the woodshed? How to really convey this?

I spend hours and hours and hours alone, in a room with myself and my instrument (s). And I love it. I think I love it more than anything or anyone. Only the pure ecstasy of performing – of going to the other end of the scale, of  extrovert, gregarious all out curtain-up showtime beats it. Very little else. Anyone who has had to fight for this sacred chunk of devoted artistic time can recognise its true value. Painters and writers know. Also nuns, monks, hermits, ascetics, celibates and renunciates.

Things I might do in the ‘woodshed’ might include the following: composition/arrangement, then drilling through and memorising guitar parts for various solo or collaborative projects. Or, maybe the world has literally DISAPPEARED because a song is coming through, coaxing, teasing or exploding its way through the veil. For me, new music comes unbidden, uninvited and with extravagant pomp and splendour. An idea grabs onto a random hook or scale that I was practising anyway, then not just one song but 4, then a surrounding concept album are suddenly THERE, all at once, demanding refinement. It’s a visceral experience of birthing something that will have its way and just HAS to come through. A feeling both ravenous and ravening. Or I might be just in a hypnotic grip of scales and arpeggios, diminished  and major 7ths all up and down the fretboard. Stamina for hands and fingers. For ages. Or the geeky joy of 2 handed tapping in kind of Nu metal/classical way that is frank and pure indulgence. People might fairly observe that playing guitar or indeed anything on your own for hours is kind of wanky. Well, maybe, but we all need that too. For myself, I feel an intense kind of dialogue  with music as a companion and the instrument as a partner that gives back exactly what I give out.

But yes, it’s a love affair.

The woodshed is about more than practice and preparation. (These are of course, essential, but as we know, can be overdone at the expense of spontaneity and creativity onstage, in the moment.) It’s about maintaining a bedrock of physical and technical ease. Being good to go. It’s about knowing the material backwards. Being able to tap into that wellspring of  energy. I cannot feel good about stepping onstage, unless I know I have taken care of my practice. I have to connect with that source every day, if possible. It’s nothing less than a spiritual discipline. Even though I also do a fair bit of staring into space, dreaming and scratching my head…

I could rhapsodise further but…the woodshed calls…’bye for now.

 

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(Trombone player, Melba Liston featured in The Girls in The Band.) 

 The Girls in the Band is a documentary by director Judy Chaikin. Contains glorious archive footage of the great female jazz bands of the ’40’s as well as interviews and music from contemporary musicians. Enjoy this trailer and track down the full film if you can!

 


 

 

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