Life concept on conversation style:
I vaguely remember meeting a lady at the grocery store and having some kind of conversation. I think we were both reaching for tomatoes and I asked her how she was doing. She proceeded to tell me everything that was going on in her life including a recent surgery she had, and how many dogs she had, the dog’s names, personality traits of each dog, all kinds of detail. It went on for 10 minutes or so as I listened. She never asked me anything, she had too much she wanted to say. In one way it is refreshing that some people feel things so deeply and want to share. I also get the feeling they are being authentic and honest. I like that. But I soon found myself wanting out of the conversation and feeling trapped. I’ve also been around people who hardly say a word. I worked a day job with a guy once who would go for hours without saying a word to me. He spent a lot of time surfing on his phone and every now and then he’d giggle. He never shared with me what he was giggling about. We all have different conversation styles. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. We talk a little, we listen a little. And it may change depending on whom you are talking to. But if you are too far out on one end of the spectrum or the other, you may be missing out on a lot of great relationships. It can isolate you and you may be lonely.
How piano addresses conversation style:
When playing with a band, feel everything deeply, but don’t play everything you feel. You have to feel the groove, but don’t play every note you can to express that groove. Pick your spots. If you don’t believe me, put a simple country song on the radio and play along while recording yourself. Listen back. Chances are you are overplaying. And at times you might not even be in pocket. You are talking too much and not feeling the groove deep enough yet to have anything worth saying. Step one is to get in the pocket. Stomp your foot, sing along, whatever it takes to find that pocket! It IS in you! You don’t have anything to contribute to the band until you find that pocket. Once you find it, it’s normal to overplay. You are so excited you found it you play every lick you can in that groove and experiment with new ones. This is an important part. Don’t skip it. But when you are playing with a band you’ve got to dial it back a bunch. Now it’s a conversation. The simplest playing, while in the pocket, will go a long way. Listen to the other guys playing and almost try NOT to notice yourself. For one song at least, don’t play in such a way that you are trying to be noticed as a great player. If you focus on that pocket and feel, and step out for a simple fill or solo every now and then, the overall groove will be cleaner and deeper. Playing every note you can is like being around someone who talks too much and never listens. Listen for a while and feel that groove and then, when there is a space, say a little something.
As musicians, we want more than anything to be regarded as great players. Especially by our peers. I’ve spent a lot of time practicing out of fear of sucking. That’s fine, it got me down the road. But it also showed up in my playing. I was playing in such a way as to convince a listener I was good. Busy, busy, busy. And sometimes, not in the pocket. I wish now I had put more emphasis on my love of music and why it feels soooo good to play and listen to music. Communicating THAT feeling is so much sweeter than communicating my assertion that I am a great player. Through piano, and playing in a band, I have learned that a lot of conversations I hear, and have had myself, are based on insecurities and wanting to be heard. Wanting to be accepted and loved. Wanting my opinion to be valued. Piano has shown me a better motivation for a conversation is to get outside of myself a bit and be engaged in what I am hearing. What ends up happening is my relationships improve and I get the love and acceptance I wanted anyway. Every once in a great while, I even get asked my opinion.
Meet Ben Guidry. A great bass player. I suppose everyone has their own thoughts on what great bass playing is. But I have a few things I always notice makes for a positive playing experience when I'm playing with a full band. I suppose it's a little selfish, but one thing I notice is, I sound better. Yes that's right. My own playing sounds better to me when I have a great bass player like Ben. Is it some kind of mojo he has that others don't? Probably. But if I break it down I notice 3 things I love about his playing. First, I love the sound of his bass. It's full, round, just enough punch to blend with the kick, and it has definition while also blending into the band. Bass players, please have a great sounding bass rig. Second, he understands his role in this band (Tracy Lawrence band) is to lay down the best notes, with the best feel he can. Note choice and time, plus a little magic, is where it's all at. He's not over there trying to get noticed for some fancy licks and runs. Third, he picks his moments to step out and shine. Towards the end of sections, or sometimes at the beginning of a tune, he gets up on the neck and makes his presence known. But he's not being flashy for flashy's sake, he's always playing for the song and for the overall sound of the band. There are styles of music where you do need bass solos and slapping and all that stuff, If you can do that, great! Just be aware of the style you are playing in and play your role. With all your technique and slapping skills, you may be making me and the rest of the band sound not so good. Focus on 3 things: great tone, great notes, play for the song. One more note to piano players, be aware of your left hand and don't step all over what your bass player is playing. He'll love you for it.
Networking is just another term for making acquaintances that have opportunities to help you further your own career. It feels opportunistic and a little dirty at times. Maybe even a little selfish. But it really doesn't have to be that way. I think of it more as just making friends with other musicians. I have gotten recommendations from unexpected people. I think the only pitfall here is you have to remember, people change jobs all the time. Don't write-off someone as "not being able to help me" just because they don't happen to have a gig at the moment. If they can play, they'll probably have a gig soon. Make contact with anyone who you dig their playing. I have mixed feelings about gig-finder apps and websites along those lines. I think any avenue to get called is worth exploring. But word-of-mouth seems to be key. I don't think you can really point and click your way to a great player. Maybe you can. Comments welcome.
I think there is a certain stigma/shame in Nashville (and maybe elsewhere too) if you have to get a day job. That's unfortunate because if you are doing what you need to to do to support yourself and your family, that is honorable. Plus, it builds character. Following dreams is not enough. You need to have a solid plan to follow and part of that plan is to make some money to live on. You can do both, follow your dreams and keep writing/practicing/networking etc. and do the day job until your opportunity comes. Then seize your opportunity!
So you can play piano or guitar or drums or some musical instrument pretty darn well so it’s time for a gig. Boom! You get a gig of some kind and it actually pays. You and your band of buddies are off and running and so it begins. It starts off really well. Everyone gets along and the music is awesome. People come to the shows and clap and scream for you.
But as time goes on things begin to change. Very subtly, things start to bother you about the very band you loved just a few months ago. The guitar player annoys you with his bare feet in the porta-jons. The drummer has decided it’s okay to eat your burrito you brought from home. The singer has decided you are doing a new Elvis medley and you think that’s a crappy idea. Management has hired a new sound guy that wants the band to go to in-ear monitors which you believe will kill your tone and your on-stage vibe. The only thing you still liked is that hour on the stage and now that is in jeopardy. You still believe you are special and your opinion on matters should, well, matter. But no one seems to listen to you. You start drinking more and smoking more. Then one day, you realize, you are miserable and you want to quit.
But you can't quit, this is your dream job right? The reason for this post is to let you know it's okay to hate your gig sometimes. I know lots of pros who have gone through this and come out the other side loving the gig again. You'll have to find your own way to do this, but you are not alone. My approach as outlined in another post (Wearing more than one hat) is to de-emphasize the gig and go outside of it and find other things to do. i.e.: be a product rep, write a book etc... Comments welcome.
Probably the most important way to get to be a better player is to do transcriptions. Or, not quite as good in my opinion: order a transcription and learn it. Dr. John has influenced the way I play. His grooves and licks are just plain cool. He's got a series you can order and incorporate his playing into yours. It's very blues-based and has a lot of New Orleans sounds to it. However you can use these licks in country and rock and they work great. You may have to adjust the notes a bit to a more major, pentatonic sound rather than blues, but the rhythms and ideas still work great. Harry Connick Jr. talks about Dr. John and Professor Longhair as major influences in his playing. You should check them all out and give them a listen. I bet you'll find something you just gotta know how to play!
Being a pro musician means a lot of things. Number one, study the record and be able to play your parts well. Show up early and have a great attitude. Maintain and constantly improve your equipment and sound. Always try to get along with others, especially the ones that are hard to get along with.. Humor is gold. Take care of yourself as best you can. If you do these things you will work a lot and people will recommend you all the time. Being a musician is a very challenging but rewarding career.
Do I want a keyboard that feels good? Or would I rather have one that I can carry by myself and sounds good? These days they come in all varieties. However, it's impossible to get one that is exactly what I want... so far anyway. There's always a trade off of some kind. Ultimately I decided to sacrifice a good feeling keyboard for one that I can carry and sounds great. I have a Nord Stage. It has served well for many years and I like it. But I don't love it. It just doesn't feel good to play and that's too bad. The Kawai VPC1 gets rave reviews on how it feels, but it's 65 pounds! (And it has no internal sounds) It's always a personal choice. I think it's important to decide what is most important to you before you go shopping. Ultimately, what will you enjoy playing the most? Try and get that straight in your mind, then go try a few out. Good luck!
I've used several DAWs over the years. I started on Garageband and then I got Pro Tools and used that for several years. Now I use Presonus Studio One. For an interface, I use a Presonus AudioBox 22VSL and that is connected to a Mac. I also have some KRK monitors and Shure headphones. For piano I use a Nord Stage and for organ, strings and most other sounds I use a Nord Electro 4D.
It's always entertaining to see people's reactions to awards shows. We just had the CMAs last night and FaceBook is all abuzz with opinions. I have mine for sure. But overall I think it's pretty cool and good for all of us to have the shows. At least people are talking about the music. Any successful artist needs a band and that is more work for musicians. I like that. Sometimes the integrity of the music isn't what we'd like as songwriters/musicians I know. But other times it is. The end result of these shows is more exposure of artists and music to more people. That generates more buzz and more concerts, more work for us musicians.