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Oct 16, 2017

5 Ways Music Can Aid a Community

Music is a powerful force to bring people together. And like most such forces, it operates in a number of ways to unify people. Music can comfort people in despair. It can give of itself to save lives. It can bring many together under a common banner to better the world. Here are five ways music can aid a community.

Fundraising

Chances are you've either been to a fundraising concert or heard about one happening in your town. Concerts are organized for all manner of purposes, from helping to pay for a child's cancer treatment to paying for new water systems in townships. Whole music festivals are organized around charity for various causes, whether it's to improve the educational system or help a hospital improve their infrastructure.

Lifting Spirits

Music, among its many functions, has the ability to lift people up in times of distress or despair. A lot of studies have taken place on music's effect on the human psyche, and just about every study has found that music makes us feel better. It helps us process emotions, and it helps to comfort us when we are down, angry, depressed or grieving. This is among the reasons live music is so popular – experiencing that lifting of spirits around others experiencing the same thing intensifies it.

Spreading Awareness

Music has the power to create awareness of lots of things, from political and social issues to global health issues and food shortages. Helping to increase awareness of an issue, particularly on the local level, is one of the many things music can do to draw people together to solve a problem.

Motivation

Sometimes, music festivals and concerts are aimed at getting people fired up – they serve as calls to action. Whether it's directed at getting people out to vote or encouraging people to help clean up the city streets, music can motivate people to make their communities a better place.

Creating Bonds and Friendships

Almost everyone who goes to shows has friends that they've made through the power of music. Bonding together over something you really love can create intense friendships – ones that may last a lifetime. It can help musicians create professional connections, too – some of which can be life-changing. Music is a unifying force on a number of fronts, and that power shows in its communities.

Music represents one of the most potent ways in which people can come together for the common good. If you're a musician, you can help harness this power to better your community – and the world.

Oct 12, 2017

Beyond Performance: 5 Jobs for Musicians

Being a musician doesn't just mean jumping around a stage every night. The field of music is a vast and many-faceted one, and numerous opportunities exist for musicians of every stripe, skill set, and personality type. If performance isn't particularly your style, here are five jobs for musicians beyond performance.

Music Therapist

If you love the idea of healing with music, this may well be the profession for you. The field of music therapy is growing rapidly, and institutions from hospitals to schools for disabled children have music therapists on their payroll. This job requires a minimum of a master's degree in music therapy, but also represents one of the best-paid professions in music.

Session Producer

Session work is often the bread and butter of working musicians, and the role of the session producer can be an especially lucrative one. Session producers oversee the organizing of session musicians and scheduling of studio time, and frequently have more than just a hand in the creative aspect of managing instrumentation, writing, and producing. Session producers may have degrees in music with a variety of specializations including performance, audio production, or composition, but many also have risen through independent study.

Songwriter

If the idea of writing songs for some of the biggest names in music while sipping coffee in your pajamas out on the balcony appeals to you, this job might be for you. Songwriters are often commissioned by studios and record companies to write music for and with performing artists – and while they might be required to spend time in the office at least from time to time, a lot of that work can be done from home. If writing music is your first love – especially if you have a composition degree or music songwriting certificate – this may be a great path to stroll down.

Private Instructor

The role of the private instructor is perfect for those who have a passion for teaching, but are perhaps less enthusiastic about doing it in a classroom of thirty. Private instructors typically must have at least a bachelor's degree in music or music education, but not always – instructors may qualify to teach at a music studio or store with sufficient experience of one or more instruments. Private instructors are typically fairly well-paid, particularly if they remain with the same studio or shop for many years.

Promoter

Promoters are often working musicians or DJs themselves, and spend a lot of time behind the scenes helping to market other musicians, organizing shows and tours, or booking interviews. If show organization and marketing are passions of yours – especially if you did a music degree with a minor in marketing or business – the position of promoter may be one you'll want to chase, particularly with well-known music or media production companies.

Not all musicians are destined for arena tours – and not all musicians want the rock star life. Each of these jobs represent important roles within the music industry that the more introverted musician may find incredibly fulfilling.

Oct 07, 2017

It's Personal: Creating from Personal Trauma

Personal trauma can take a variety of forms. From mental illness to a history of abuse, trauma changes the very fabric of our brains, transforming the way we think, feel, and respond. In the wake of Chester Bennington's suicide, fans the world over came together to mourn his death – and to discuss how much his work had changed their lives and, in some cases, saved them. Bennington created whole albums rooted in trauma – and although his eventually claimed him, he was able to move millions with what he had created from that pain.

Musicians as a collective are disproportionately affected by mental illness and disorders. And yet, throughout history, they have used their pain and suffering as wood for the creative fire. Hector Berlioz, composer of “Symphony Fantastique,” was posthumously diagnosed with depression with psychotic features. But from the blackness of that mental state, from the hallucinations he experienced during psychotic episodes, he created some of the most brilliant symphonies that the world has ever heard. Tchaikovsky suffered from bipolar disorder, and worked through his episodes of mania by feverishly working to create incredible works of music. Kurt Cobain's signature guitar melodies and cynical lyrics inspired a new generation of rock music and musicians.

Musicians creating from personal trauma has given rise to extensive discussion of using that trauma to heal – and to help others. It has also generated a discussion about whether or not musicians should feel obligated to share their personal experiences with their fans outside of the context of their music, though the general (and entirely appropriate) consensus is that they should by no means feel obligated to share deeply personal issues with virtual strangers.

Music has a great ability to heal wounds and help people – whether they are writing music or listening to it – in coping with moving past truly dark experiences. From depression to schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder to schizotypal personality disorder, one of the greatest gifts of any musician is the ability to create beauty, redemption, and validation from intense pain and suffering. It goes without saying that the romanticization of mental illness and trauma is a thing to be devoutly avoided; however, the vast body of neurodivergent experience has given rise to some of the greatest works of music in history, and, in turn, has helped to save lives and alleviate suffering.

Whether you create from personal trauma or strongly relate to musicians who do, music created from the darkness of trauma gives rise to the triumph that all creation brings – and, very often, goes on to heal another generation.

Oct 03, 2017

Pay to Play: 5 Reasons to Say No

The pay-to-play model – in which bands are required to sell tickets, pay for venue space, or otherwise part with cash for opportunities to play or air their music – has becoming increasingly popular. Despite industry backlash from artists against this model, young and emerging artists are continually parting with money to play their music – or even get it heard on radio stations. But the pay-to-play model is not only unsustainable, it assigns all the risk to performing artists – rather than artists and venues or stations sharing the risk. Here are five reasons you should say no to pay-to-play.

Most Can't Afford It

In a great number of pay-to-play models, artists are required not only to sell tickets to their own performances, but may even be required to buy “leftover” tickets if they have not reached the ticket sales requirements by the date of their performance. This can add up to hundreds of dollars that many artists simply don't have. Some radio stations also require money from artists to submit music to be played on their station – and some charge exorbitant fees. While some artists are financially successful enough to be able to afford these fees, they need the promotion far less than the artists who can't afford it.

Advertisement Revenue, Not Artist Revenue

Venues and radio stations often benefit from advertiser revenue, particularly if they work with high-profile brands or companies. For example, a lot of venue owners will allow product demos to take place at their bar or club – product demos that the company running the demo will pay the venue generously for. Radio stations run principally off advertisement revenue as well, airing commercials between song sets. A well-managed club or radio station has no need to take money from artists; instead, they should be looking to generate revenue not only from their patrons, but from advertisers.

It Creates an Unfair Standard

Endless complaints have arisen from artists who went with a pay-to-play model about essentially playing to empty rooms after shelling out hard-earned cash to have the chance to perform – and then making no money back on the enterprise. Pay-to-play creates a standard in which the the artists assume all of the financial risk, while the venue takes on absolutely no risk at all. While some level of risk will always be present when it comes to booking talent – especially emerging talent – for the venue or promoter to require the artist to undertake one hundred percent of the risk with fewer assets on hand is desperately unfair.

It Allows Venues to Not Promote

If artists take on all the work selling and promoting tickets, the venue doesn't have to do anything – they don't have to put up flyers, do digital marketing, or anything else that involves marketing the show the artists are attempting to put on. This puts performing artists at a distinct disadvantage, particularly emerging or lesser-known artists – they don't necessarily have the connections that the venue may, and there is a tremendous number of people they won't be reaching for their performance if the venue does nothing to promote. Once again, it assigns all the risk to the artist – and none to the venue or promoter.

It Deprives Artists – and Venues - of Income

In addition to potentially having to shell out money, pay-to-play often deprives artists of income they might have earned from a show if the venue doesn't promote or help drive sales. An appropriate professional relationship between artists and venues or promoters will help to generate more income for both sides – so rather than simply having their costs covered, a venue will generally make more money if they don't opt for a pay-to-play model, as will the talent they've booked.

No matter what stage of your career you're in, each of these is a good reason to say no to pay-to-play – and to encourage other artists to do the same.

Sep 28, 2017

5 amazing guitarists you should know

The best guitarists aren't always the ones we most immediately think of. But from classic rock to symphonic metal, some of music's finest guitarists are reinventing guitar technique, applying old tricks to new and brilliant sounds, and touring stages the world over. Here are five amazing guitarists you should know.

Steven Archer

A brilliant songwriter and guitarist, Steven Archer of Baltimore-based Ego Likeness applies both traditional and unconventional guitar techniques to EL's darkwave industrial sound. Utilizing guitar as both a supportive instrument and equal partner to the vocals, Steven's technique with guitar playing hearkens back to the era of lieder – art songs – where instruments and voice are equal partners musically. With intensive energy and yet a sonorous quality rarely heard in guitar, Steven Archer and his wife, singer and writer Donna Lynch, tour regularly throughout the United States.

Rahb Eleven

Guitarist to industrial rock band Doomsday Virus, Rahb Eleven delivers an intensity with guitar that many guitarists lose to years of training. With more than two decades of experience in guitar, Rahb combines brilliant technique with a unique rawness rarely heard even in this driven genre of music. Rahb is the mastermind of the avant-garde industrial project Destroy Eleven, and additionally teaches and creates art in the Capital District of New York.

Tony Lechmanski

Longtime guitarist to goth rock band Bella Morte, Tony Lechmanski has a high level of skill in creating intense and yet incredibly melodic guitar strains to flow within the band's varying and yet cohesive sound. Tony has worked with a number of other artists, including synthpop performer Shawn Decker and singer Lauren Hoffman. Married to stage and circus performer Opal Lechmanski, Tony lives in Charlottesville, VA.

Nicole Maher

With a melancholy nostalgia and chordal precision, Nicole Maher is a quintessential example of the young singer-songwriter. Nicole studied audio engineering at SUNY Schenectady, and as a performing artist produces both original material as well as cover songs. In addition to guitar and voice, she plays violin, and lives and teaches in upstate New York.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Though she is no longer among the living, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was both mother and midwife to rock and roll. A lifelong recording and performing artist, Rosetta was described as “the original soul sister,” she was the progenitor of many guitar techniques we now recognize as standards in rock – and many of the performance techniques she pioneered are still studied by modern guitar students. She passed away in 1973 in Philadelphia.

Each of these guitarists represents a different styles, genres, and levels of technique – and each one presents a unique approach to the guitar that is well worth listening to.

Sep 23, 2017

5 Steps to Better Guitar Playing

There are lots of guitar players in the world, but becoming a great guitar player? That's a challenge. Dedication, hard work, and determination can make you a fantastic guitar player, and with a few good habits, you'll be solid as a rock when it comes to technique and performance. Here are five steps to better guitar playing.

Practice Daily

No matter what instrument you play, daily practice can't be overestimated. Whether you practice for half an hour or a full afternoon, practice scales, songs, and techniques on the daily. Don't feel like you have to practice for hours on end to become a good guitar player; focus on doing what you can with the time and energy you have.

Play Along

Whether you play along to your favorite pop tunes or some symphonic metal, spend some time now and again playing along with music that you already know and love. This is a great way to develop versatility in technique, so experiment with playing along with as many genres as you can, from jazz and folk to rock and metal.

Record Yourself

Recording yourself is a great way to hear how you're developing. Record a couple of sessions a week and regularly listen to the playback – it will help you to hear where you're doing better, and to identify which areas need improvement. Over time, if you're practicing regularly, you'll hear a big difference.

Take Lessons 

If you're serious about being a pro musician, lessons are an absolute must. In addition to an instructor helping you to develop solid and versatile technique, but can help you adapt those techniques to your unique style – as well as help you develop methods to work around any limitations you might have. 

Focus Up

If you're limited in how many hours you can practice per week, utilize your recordings to figure out where you need the most work – scale fingering, strumming technique, and the like. Spend most of your practice time working on the areas that need the most work until they're solid, and then just continue to cycle through what needs more of your attention. 

Good guitar players are important parts of any decent band, and these tips will help you diversify and solidify your technique – so you can riff your way to greater professional success.

Sep 21, 2017

5 Secondary Careers For Musicians

While most musicians have the ultimate goal of doing nothing but performing or composing for a living, most artists – at the very least when they're starting out – still have to have the proverbial dayjob to make sure the bills are paid while they're making their way to the top of the charts. But don't despair – you don't necessarily have to clerk at a shop or cashier at a bank while you're forging your career in music, and some of the jobs that musicians are best suited to wind up also being lifelong career choices within the industry. Here are five great secondary careers for musicians.

Private Instructor

One of the most popular options for practicing musicians – especially those who have a degree in music – private instruction is an excellent part or full-time job for musicians. Most major metropolitan areas – and even some suburban and rural areas – have a number of music studios or shops where you can ply your trade by training new artists to the rigors of music. Most studios allow you to set your own hours, and many have guaranteed payment agreements month to month – so you'll still get paid even if your students miss a few lessons.

Promoter

From organizing club nights to putting together shows, promoters handle the marketing aspect of live music making and Djing. Typically, promoters will take a cut of whatever the show or event grosses at the door, with the rest usually going to performing talent, audio techs, and security. While promoting isn't necessarily always a full-time job, it can certainly be a well-paying option for promoters who are professional and dedicated.

Industry Writer

If you're a seasoned musician who also happens to be a good writer, writing in and about the music industry can prove to be an excellent option, particularly for musicians who are all about making their own schedules. Whether you write for a popular music magazine or an online blog, industry writing can make for a fulfilling and interesting side career for musicians – and for writers who are particularly skillful, the paycheck can certainly be fulfilling, too.

Music Critic

If you've gone the industry writing route and you've proven your skill, consider approaching hard copy publications about critiquing music. Music critics are not only often well-paid, but they are frequently given comped tickets for everything from operas to rock shows. Not every newspaper has a music critic, but many of the major ones do – so if you've got a lot of experience writing about music and have a good ear for technique, the way of the music critic might be the one to take.

Stage Manager

Stage managers are found at work in almost every venue that hosts music, theatre, or comedy, from bars and clubs to theatres and speakeasies. If you've spent a lot of time on stage – and especially if you've done behind-the-scenes work like lights tech or stagehand work – stage manager can be an excellent side gig. This can be a tricky role to negotiate for performing artists, since a lot of stage managers work weekends – but it can be rewarding and well-paying if you work for a successful venue.

Musicians develop all kinds of ancillary skills during the course of their career. Each of these secondary careers caters to a different skill set – and can support you while you're working towards making music your full-time job.

Sep 19, 2017

5 Operas You Should Listen To

Ah, opera – the soaring vocalises, the rich (and sometimes wonderfully gaudy) stage sets, the costumes, the drama. Opera as a tradition is among the younger traditions of voice, but appreciation for opera is re-emerging in the twentieth century as a new generation of performers take old operas into a fresh century. Opera as a musical form has influenced a great number of genres, from symphonic metal to darkwave, and far from being boring, is a tradition well worth exploring. Here are five operas you should listen to.

Carmen

Depicting a fiery young woman who earns the love of a great many men – but gives very little of her own her would-be paramour, Don Jose – this famous opera by Georges Bizet is the very one that the famous “Habanera” aria is from. A classic tragedy, this opera in four acts depicts not only the struggles of love, but the struggles of the common man in a post-war scenario. The music of Carmen has been hailed as one of the greatest achievements of orchestration in opera, and boasts one of the most engaging scores of the French opera tradition. 

La Traviata 

Penned by the celebrated composer Verdi, La Traviata depicts a courtesan, Violetta, and her lover, Alfredo. La Traviata is another tragedy – it depicts the plight of many a working courtesan that contracted tuburculosis or another then-fatal disease, who eventually dies of it, to the sorrow of their lover (or lovers). La Traviata is among the most-performed operas of all time, and in a few instances has been performed in a contemporary twentieth-century setting, with according costuming. Considered a standard in vocal music, La Traviata is one of opera's most-mined scores for soprano and tenor repertoire. 

Il Trovatore

Another great by Verdi, Il Trovatore tells the story of a nobleman in love with a noblewoman – who is rivaled by a court performer or troubadour. The story also features many Romani characters, who have revenged themselves on the nobles for the death of one of their own, burnt at the stake as a witch, by stealing a baby. Host to the famous “Anvil Song,” Il Trovatore is a thrilling opera to listen to, with energetic music and emotive arias throughout.

Giulio Cesare

Composed by Handel, Guilio Cesare is based on the Roman Civil War that took place 49 – 45 BC, and the relationship between Julius Caesar and Egypt's great queen, Ptolemy Cleopatra VII. With soaring arias and an intense examination of the relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra, the story told by this opera is as much one of love as one of state.

The Magic Flute 

Easily the most famous of the twenty-two operas composed by Mozart, The Magic Flute depicts the Queen of the Night seeking to rescue her daughter, Pamina, from under the rule of the priest Sarastro. Pamina falls in love with her would-be rescuer, Tamino, and both undergo remarkable transitions throughout the opera. As much a story of the supernatural of love, the opera's most famous aria, “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen,” is one of the most widely sung among repertoire pieces for the coloratura soprano voice, and is often simply referred to as “The Queen of the Night aria.” 

Each of these wonderful productions has something different to offer the listener – from gods and demons to ordinary everyday people, each tells a remarkable story – with equally remarkable music.

Sep 19, 2017

5 Instruments You've Never Thought About Playing

As much as we focus on the standard instrumentation of the western world – whether those found in a standard rock outfit or a philharmonic orchestra – the world of instrumentation is huge, and includes a tremendous variety of instruments that have incredible character and sound. Whether you're a strings player or a percussionist, here are five instruments that you might never have thought about playing. 

Hurdy-gurdy

The hurdy-gurdy is a haunting, spooky string instrument that can also take on a tremendously comical quality. The hurdy-gurdy is operated by cranking a lever that gives power to the instrument while simultaneously pressing different buttons that produce different tones. Hard to master but beautiful to hear, the hurdy-gurdy is starting to make a comeback in modern classical and folk music. If you want to hear an example, check out Stephan Groth, the hurdy-gurdy player in German medieval folk band Faun.

Koto

The Japanese koto, sometimes referred to as the Japanese table harp, is a plucked string instrument that produces elegant, stirring, and graceful music. The koto is a standard in many Japanese orchestras, and is frequently given solo parts, particular in music that reflects romance or is meant for relaxation. The koto can be played with a variety of string types, depending upon the preference of the player. While few koto instructors are to be found in the west, those with a passion for eastern music may find it well worth the effort to study it in an exchange program or during a sabbatical. To hear this beautiful instrument, have a listen to koto player Michio Miyagi.

Kantele

A Finnish string instrument, the kantele is taught as a standard in Finland to young students in much the same way American children are taught the recorder. Centuries old, the kantele has a clear, high, and yet melancholy tone that suits folk music exceptionally well. The kantele has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, with Finnish musicians delving deeper into their musical roots in order to reconnect with the ancient traditions of their forebears. Want to hear more? Check out kantele player Ulla Katajavuori.

Oud

The oud is a centuries-old lute-style instrument originating in the Middle East. It is played in nations across the Middle Eastern region, North Africa and the Mediterranean basin, including Persia, Turkey, Somalia and Armenia. Don't let its appearance fool you, though – the oud hosts eleven to thirteen strings grouped typically in pairs, and takes many years to master. To hear this soulful, beautiful instrument, have a listen to master oud player Naseer Shamma.

Pipa 

If you've ever seen the film “The Forbidden Kingdom,” you'll be familiar with this plucked string instrument that Golden Sparrow is occasionally heard and seen playing throughout the film's journey. The pipa originates in China, and has a bright and yet fraught tone to it. Held upright, the pipa is usually plucked with either long nails or finger plucks that players attach to their fingers. To hear an example of the pipa, check out pipa player Liu Fang.

 

All of these instruments represent innovation and rich history from all over the world. Whether you fancy studying world music intensively or want a unique instrument to accentuate what you already produce, consider one of these!

Sep 15, 2017

10 Tips for Auditions

Going on an audition, whether it's for a conservatory or a band, is one of the most stressful experiences of any musician's career. The jittery nerves, the clenched muscles, the sweating hands and brow – most musicians have experienced them before heading into an audition. But the key to managing the stress of auditions is to be well prepared, so here are ten tips for auditions.

Get Plenty of Rest

Make sure to get a good night's sleep the night before. If you have trouble falling asleep, do some soothing activities like reading, taking a hot bath, some yoga, and so on. Don't let yourself stay up until all hours the night before an audition – you'll regret it!

Remember to Eat

While some musicians may become stressed enough that eating is difficult, don't skip out on nutrition. If necessary, eat small and easily digestible meals to keep you sustained throughout the day. While you shouldn't eat immediately before an audition, try having a snack an hour or two before your audition time.

Hydrate

No matter what your instrument is, make sure to drink lots of water. Water helps your brain stay sharp and functioning at peak capacity. Keep a reusable bottle handy and hydrate throughout the day so you'll bring your A-game.

Start Early

Whatever you're planning to play for your audition, start preparing your material early. Know your pieces intimately – the lyrics, the melody line, the dynamics. The earlier you start, the more confident you'll be – and the less stressed out you'll be, too.

Ask for Feedback

If you study with an instructor, ask them consistently for feedback when you're preparing your audition material. Ask other musicians as well. After the audition, make it a point to thank the auditioners for their time and for feedback on your performance. This kind of feedback will help your future auditions go more smoothly if you know what you need to work on.

Be Prepared to Talk

A lot of people you'll audition for will ask you questions about yourself, like what your personal interests are, where you grew up, and other information of note. Be prepared to talk about yourself – it's a great way for both sides to see how you'll integrate into a new department or band.

Come With Questions

Don't go into an audition room, play your piece, and then just leave without asking anything. Ask what the goals of the act or department are. Ask what they are seeking in terms of contribution. Cook up a few questions you'd like to ask prior to the audition and remember them.

Be Prepared to Play More than Pieces

For music school auditions or auditions for large or prestigious ensembles, you'll have to play more than just the pieces you've memorized. Scales, arpeggios, and sight singing exercises are often part and parcel to an audition, so prepare those skills accordingly.

Know Something About the Organization

If you go to an audition knowing nothing about the school or act you're auditioning for, you'll come off as lackadaisical and disinterested. Know a little bit of its history and achievements before you attend your audition, and if it comes up, remark on what you know.

Treat It As a Performance

Every audition is a performance, and it's okay to have fun with it. Go into every audition with the intent of putting on the best performance you can – treat it like a miniature concert. Thinking of it this way will make it an opportunity to have fun and show off your best stuff.

Most musicians will go on hundreds of auditions during their lifetime, whether for music degree programs or ensembles they want to join. These tips will help you audition successfully – whether it's your first or your hundredth.

Sep 13, 2017

5 Reasons to take Music Lessons

Musicians come in every stripe and flavor, from conservatory-trained opera singers to guitarists who learned their craft by watching YouTube videos. The age of information has offered hundreds of ways for budding musicians to learn how to sing, play, and perform. But the value of taking music lessons with university or conservatory-trained professionals – for any instrument or voice type – is unmatched when it comes to the professional, personal, and physical development of musicians. Whether you're a veteran or brand-new to the music scene, taking music lessons is a great investment for your career – not to mention your health. Here are five reasons to take music lessons.

Learning Great Technique

While there's zero shame in being a self-taught musician, self-teaching means imperfect technique. Over time, this can pose some serious problems – not only will you not be able to fully master your instrument or voice without quality technical training, but imperfect technique can cause a number of health problems, from arthritis and bone spurs in instrumentalists to vocal nodes in singers (an especially expensive condition to treat, since insurance doesn't cover node removal unless the nodes are cancerous). Taking lesson will help you perfect your technique – and keep yourself safer from health issues associated with poor technique.

Becoming a Master of Your Craft

It's certainly true that you can learn a great deal on your own as a musician without benefit of a formal instructor – from blogs to YouTube, tons of information and instruction on all things music are available as learning resources. However, music lessons not only help to address unlearning bad habits and mastering technique, but having a one-on-one instructor that you personally work with helps to adapt technique to the individual musician – something you just can't get with books or digital resources.

Networking

Having a music instructor can definitely help to boost your networking as a musician, particularly if you impress your instructor with your dedication. They may know other musicians, promoters, or agencies you don't, and can help you connect with them – boosting your career opportunities. They may know of competitions, open mics, and other performance-focused events that can help you show your best in front of brand-new audiences of thousands. Either way, most music instructors know the lay of the land when it comes to their local music scenes, and it's worth your time to work and connect with them.

Increased Employability

Getting better at what you do almost always results in better and more frequent work opportunities, and this is especially true in music. Taking lessons will absolutely help you get better at what you do, and this ultimately will help you find and land work opportunities that less skilled musicians may not have access to, like select or juried shows or session work.

Becoming a Music Instructor

While most music instructors have degrees or credentials in music, this isn't always the case. Some have simply studied independently and taken music lessons for years – and become just as qualified to teach as those with university degrees. If you think teaching might be a route you want to pursue in music but don't want to attend university or conservatory for a degree, start taking lessons – and if you study long enough, you may find yourself being approached by new musicians who want to learn from you, or job opportunities at local studios (maybe even the one you've studied at all those years!).

Regardless of what genre you work in or instrument you play, music lessons are a vital investment to any dedicated musician – and taking lessons will help you advance and expand your career.

 

Sep 11, 2017

Straight to the Top: 5 Traits Every Successful Musician Has

No matter how skilled a musician you are, personal temperament has a lot to do with the success of every musician. Even if you have a degree in music – or have taken lessons for years – certain ingredients combine in the individual to generate a path to success in this extremely demanding instrument. Here are five traits every successful musician has. 

Work Ethic

Above all else, musicians must have a strong work ethic in order to succeed. The music industry is a taxing one, and the path to financial and creative success is a longer and harder one to furrow than it often is in other industries. It goes without saying that you don't have to be a workaholic to be a successful musician, but without a strong work ethic and dedication to what you're producing – long-term – you won't be successful.

Determination 

Determination means that you continue doing what you do regardless of what other people say or do to discourage, embarrass, or shame you. Determined people continue to live the way they choose in the face of adversity. During your career, there will always be people who criticize you, from family members who chastise you for not choosing something more lucrative to the critic who totally pans your album in that magazine you submitted to. Determination means you won't bow down to their negativity – and that you'll eventually rise above.

Approachability 

Even if you're a tremendously successful musician already, your continued success depends on you being approachable. This doesn't mean having no boundaries – because after all, everyone should maintain them – but it does mean being receptive to people who approach you with opportunities or questions, from reporters to fans. It's perfectly acceptable to draw the line at dealing with people who openly harass you, but being approachable will gain you a good reputation in the music industry, particularly among your fans.

Resilience 

Emotional resilience is a must-have in the music world. The disappointments of the industry will sometimes outweigh the victories, and dedicated musicians must be able to endure those disappointments with grace – and without it destroying them or their goals for their career. Resilience doesn't mean ignoring the negatives – it means processing them and moving on from them while still knowing your worth and ability.

Creativity

Of course creativity is essential to music-making, but creativity is a quality that's applicable to absolutely everything, from marketing your music to packing your tour van properly. Creative people are often able to find solutions to problems that others may not have thought of, and subsequently is a quality essential to every area of your music career.

From performers to music educators, these five qualities are must-haves to the success of every musician.

 

Sep 07, 2017

Politics and Music

In times of crisis, music isn't just entertainment – it's inherently political. Music both shapes and is shaped by sociopolitical occurrences, whether it is to mark events that have already occurred or to inspire people to action.

These days, we hear a lot of talk about musicians needing to “stay in their lane,” “mind their own business,” or “stick to entertaining.” But what some of these naysayers forget is that musicians are not just entertainers; they are people. Musicians are citizens, taxpayers, voters. They are students, parents, teachers, businesspeople, and so much more. And since so much of our public identities are linked with what we believe politically, it stands to reason that music and politics are inextricably linked.

This isn't a new tradition. We have music hundreds of years old that speaks on political issues and occurrences, from lays sung of great battles to bawdy songs about the misdoings of kings and queens. And it does not stop there – plays, books, epic poems, paintings, and every other art form has served as political commentary or as a call to action. For this reason, in times of political crisis, the arts have sometimes been strictly censored – even to the point of executing artists for what they produced.

And yet the arts have served to call attention to important events and people that the citizenry may not have been aware of, or a perspective that they may not have previously considered. The arts have great power; they are both a hallmark and cornerstone of civilization. The arts have made and unseated rulers, have incited rebellions against injustice, and comforted the oppressed. They have irritated and even incensed the powerful, and infused the people with strength and determination.

For all these reasons, musicians – and all artists – should feel free to ignore statements that they should not use their art to call attention to political issues, whether in their own nations or in countries abroad. Nightwish's “Creek Mary's Blood” was written about the oppression and genocide of the Native American peoples, in spite of the fact that the band is Finnish. Serj Tankian's “Yes, It's Genocide” was written about the Armenian genocide by the Turkish, also referred to as “The Great Wrong” and rarely taught in American schools. Music connects peoples worldwide – in both shared suffering and shared power.

Music as a political force cannot be denied. So musicians, the next time someone tells you to “stay in your lane,” remind them that you're not only in your lane – you're participating in a millennia-old tradition of helping to shape and inform history.

Aug 31, 2017

Five Ways to Manage Your Health on Tour

For a lot of musicians, touring is the experience of a lifetime – whether it's your first or your twentieth. But touring takes its toll, from organizing dates with promoters and band managers to the long flights and the longer drives.

Being on tour presents unique challenges to musicians in terms of managing their health – many, if not most, tours are fraught with bad food, little sleep, and loads of stress. But a little planning can go a long way in staying healthy and rested while you're on tour, making future tours much more likely. Here are five ways to manage your health on tour.

Schedule Downtime

One of the biggest keys to good health is getting enough sleep, and on tour, getting enough rest is even more critical. For musicians with incredible stamina, touring for a month straight with little sleep might not tax them as much; but no matter how strong, fit, and healthy you already are, you'll want to make sure to schedule downtime during your tour. Think of your tour the way you'd think about your job – working too many days in a row with no days off at all wears you down and, eventually, can make you sick. Schedule days off throughout your tour where you can sleep in, relax, and prepare to move on to your next tour location. It will make all the difference to your energy levels – and help keep your immune system strong.

Don't Overdo It

All dedicated musicians care about putting on a fantastic show, but a lot of musicians totally overwork their bodies onstage, resulting in both short-term injury and long-term mobility issues. Many a musician has had to see a doctor or visit a hospital following a show because they absolutely shredded their bodies during the gig – and over time, doing this too much can result in a number of long-term physical maladies like arthritis, bursitis, and shin splints. It's normal to be a little sore after a show, but don't work so hard that you're in real pain.

Skip the Booze and the Energy Drinks

Both alcohol and caffeine heavily dehydrate the body, and dehydration interferes with everything from cognition and memory function to restful sleep and muscle responsiveness. Sure, having a drink here and there is fine, but don't booze up before and after your shows, and take it easy on the caffeine. If you  really need a boost, try an espresso over an energy drink – or try foods or supplements that slow-release big amounts of energy over time, like granola, protein bars, or power green smoothies.

Eat Real Food

This is one area of touring where planning is especially careful, because while a lot of touring musicians live off fast food and Waffle House while they're touring, not eating real food seriously depletes your energy, leading to sickness and exhaustion. When you're making your tour schedule, look at where you might really need to stop off for food rather than making something – like if you have two locations far enough apart where you have to drive hard and fast to make it in time. The rest of the time, though, make time to hit the stores and farmers' markets to get real food. Eat whole and nutritious foods – including lots of produce, lean proteins, and whole grains – and it will make all the difference to both your overall health and your energy levels throughout the tour. Even if you can't cook, a sandwich and a piece of fruit are still a way better bet than just stopping off at Taco Bell.

Don't Overextend

It's tempting to pack in as many dates as you possibly can into a tour – but the biggest temptation is to extend the tour if you get a lot of gig offers. Even if you're taking care of yourself, touring is exhausting, and more than one musician in the annals of touring history has had to spend months recuperating from a lengthy tour once they got home. Generally, you'll want to limit your tour to four to six weeks, max – and that's if everyone in your act is in relatively good condition with few or no chronic health conditions to manage. If you're getting a ton of gig offers, take the ones that make the most sense, and take a rain check on the others for your next tour.

Managing your health on tour isn't the easiest of tasks. The heavy amounts of travel, the late nights, and the constant on- and off-stage activity can be grueling even to the most seasoned musicians. However, taking the time to ensure you're getting enough rest, enough nutrition, and enough relaxation will make for not only a better tour, but better performances – for the tour you're on and the tours to come.

Aug 29, 2017

5 Ways to Write Better Lyrics

From operas to pop ditties, writing good lyrics is a keystone skill of any good musician. Whether you write ska or punk, art songs or song cycles, here are five ways to write better lyrics.

Read Poetry

Lyricism is a form of poetry, and so it stands to reason that reading (and writing) poetry can make you a better lyricist. Read all forms you can get your hands on, from pantoums to iambic pentameter, by poets from all over the world. You'll eventually land on a few forms and poets you really love – and will inform your lyrics writing.

Listen to (a LOT) of Music

Of course, almost all musicians are total music junkies, and we waltz through the word to our own eternal playlists. But listening thoughtfully is a whole other level. Listening thoughtfully means mentally recognizing themes – like love, death, humor, or sadness – rhyme schemes, word flow, vocabulary, and everything else that we see and hear in the use of language. Pay close attention to vocal music that really moves you, both melodically and linguistically. Figure out why you love it, and if you want to model your own work after those styles.

Practice

No one ever became a brilliant lyricist overnight, so make sure you practice! Writing lyrics frequently – even if you wind up not using them on that next album – will help you develop your chops and really flesh out your personal style. Sing or speak them aloud – how do they sound? Do they have the impact you're looking for? Try sharing them with other musicians as well to see what they have to say – constructive feedback can help you grow.

Explore Themes

Themes are incredibly important in good writing. Some writers make thematic lists that they consult before they sit down to write, and if you're the kind of person who likes to take things in steps, this might be a great method for you. Whether you want to write about death and zombies or love and romance, read material that features those themes and their offshoots.

Don't Regurgitate

While that old saw “nothing's original” certainly has something to it, rehashing old work over and over – whether yours or someone else's – is never the way to go. If all your lyrics sound the same – or sound too much like someone else's – consider what you might need to do to develop. Maybe you need more practice, more study, or more feedback; maybe you need to expand your subject matter. It's impossible to be influenced by other writers without some similarities cropping up, but make sure you're not just regurgitating.

Lyrics writing isn't just for performing artists – whole teams of lyricists work for record companies and studios, contributing their talents to some of the most famous voices of the day. Whether you write for yourself or for other musicians, becoming a good lyricist is yet another key to success in the music industry.

Aug 17, 2017

Bang, Bang: Guide to Better Drumming

Drumming is more than just providing the beat. Good drumming guides the entire band – the backbone of its rhythm section. It both supports and enhances good music, and for that reason, the drummer is arguably one of the most important members of any solid band. If you're a beginning drummer and want to be the bee's knees when it comes to holding down rhythm, check out this guide to better drumming.

Practice Daily

To get better at any instrument, daily practice is absolutely. Daily practice doesn't mean you have to spend hours in a practice room, though – whether you do twenty minutes or two hours, do what you can in the time that you have available. Whether you spend that time learning new time signatures or improving your snare roll, you'll learn something every time you practice.

Study Other Drummers

Studying the technique of other instrumentalists can help you not only get better, but can help you to diversify your technique. If you see a drummer who really rocks at weird time sigs or shows off a killer solo, pay close attention to what they're doing and how they're doing it. Even better? Talk to them about their work and find out what resources they've used to become a great drummer.

Take Lessons

A lot of drummers are self-taught, and even some of the greatest drummers alive didn't start taking lessons until well into their careers – but lessons will help you perfect and advance great drumming technique. Even if you only take a couple of lessons a month, having a private instructor will help you get better faster – and will help you adapt your drumming to your personality and physiology.

Do Drills

If you've been letting all those tech books collect dust on your bookshelf or under your bed, now's the time to dust them off and put them to use. Doing drills isn't the most fun activity (at least for most), but doing them will help you to master foundational techniques of drumming and develop speed, accuracy, and mastery of dynamics. Incorporate drills into your practice sessions a few times a week, and marvel at how your precision develops.

Good or great drummers are not a dime a dozen, and a skilled drummer can find themselves much in demand for everything from live shows to session work. If drumming is your greatest love, following these steps to better drumming will help you advance your technique – and your career.

Aug 16, 2017

Versatility Equals Employability: Why You Should Play More Than One Instrument

Naturally, every musician has an instrument they're best at – their primary instrument. But your primary instrument shouldn't be all you play – you should have secondary instruments, too. Whether you're a singer that plays viola and keys or a guitarist that plays percussion and bass, expanding your versatility as a musician is a major key to employability.

Most serious musicians want to make music their only career. And regardless of what shape that career takes – from performing and composing to teaching and tutoring – knowing how to play more than one instrument will only add to your credibility as a musician. Here are three reasons why you should play more than one instrument.

More Session Work

Session work has been called the bread and butter of performing artists, and that's the hard truth of it. Musicians who do session work successfully are often paid excellent wages for what they do, and they'll frequently work with the same studios and recording companies for years at a time. Playing more than one instrument – particularly if you're a singer – will open up a lot more opportunities for you to do session work, especially if you play instruments that aren't super common.

More Performance Work

If you're down to work with more than one musical act at a time, knowing multiple instruments can help you land multiple work offers – sometimes with prestigious groups. Some groups will only hire musicians that play two or more instruments, in light of the fact that they want to keep the lineup small but still have versatility of sound.

More Educational Work

Some musicians go the educational route, but even if you have an advanced degree in a specific instrument, educational institutions also value versatility. If you've studied a variety of instruments and can play several with proficiency, you're more likely to be able to effectively teach students outside the area of your main instrument.

If you plan to teach or coach, take the time to study multiple instrument groups while you're in university or conservatory – like one from strings, one from brass, several from percussion, and so on.

Versatility is a valuable commodity in the music industry no matter what you do. Versatility also often demonstrates commitment to excellence in music – and that commitment will impress your seriousness about music on everyone you work with. No matter what secondary instruments you decide to take up, know that doing so will enhance your career in music as well as help to ensure greater creative and financial success.

 

 

Dec 20, 2016

How To Build A Solid Home Recording Studio

Home (or “project”) studios have become so common in today's music industry, that even well known artists with access to commercial studios have been known to do tracking and production from the comfort of their home. Whether you're looking for a place to explore your hobby and master your craft or you plan to build your career as an artist, producer or recording engineer, having a proper studio at your fingertips is of utmost importance. With the right space, materials, tools and budget, almost anyone can build a project studio.

Finding The Right Space

The first and most important aspect of building a studio is handling the acoustic space. If you just moved into a new home and have the option of choosing a room for your studio, you'll want to choose one that isn't a perfect square shape so as to avoid common reflection and frequency issues. Other ideal room characteristics may include odd and larger dimensions, a walk-in closet that could be used for a vocal/instrument booth, and room dimensions that are not divisible by each other or the same number as Home Studio Corner advises. Once you decide on a room, grab a tape measure and get ready to have some architectural fun!

Analyzing Acoustics

Now you'll want to measure the dimensions of the walls and ceiling to determine what type of acoustical treatment will work best for your studio. Every room is different, so don't make the mistake of just buying a foam kit at a music shop without determining the proper set up. The RealTraps and Auralex websites provide great resources for the science of where to place acoustical treatment and what kind might be needed for your listening space and iso booth based on the room dimensions. There are also room measurement kits such as Room EQ Wizard, as well as special microphones that can record the frequencies of your room for honing in on specifics as to how to arrange your listening position.

Absorption and Diffusion Materials

As AudioRecording.me explains, sound absorption refers to removing sound from a room, while diffusion means to distribute the sound waves throughout the room. In a properly balanced studio, there should be a combination of both processes occurring. Perhaps one of the most important elements of absorption in your control room is reducing the buildup of low frequencies. You can either build or purchase bass traps that are typically placed in the corners of the room that will reduce the excess of these powerful low frequencies. Bass traps are most effective (and affordable) when you take the DIY route. Along with absorption panels for your walls, bass traps can be created using rock wool insulation (which you can purchase for cheap at Home Depot or Lowe's), wood slabs and linen. Absorption panels and foam wedges for walls and ceilings are also very important as they will reduce more mid-range and higher frequencies. Taking an extra step by installing plastic or wooden diffusors to evenly spread the sound waves also can't do you wrong.

Monitoring, DAWs and Recording Interfaces

The world of recording equipment can be overwhelming, as there is an endless supply of hardware and software options at your fingertips. Fortunately, sites like Sweetwater, Sound On Sound and Gearslutz provide great resources for reviews,ratings, how-to's and specs on a range of products. Studio beginners might start with basic but trusted studio monitors such as KRKs. However, if you have a heftier budget, opt for more professional caliber monitors, such as Adams or Dynaudios. When choosing a recording interface, you'll want to make sure you find one with the right amount of inputs and outputs for your tracking and routing needs. Focusrite, RME, Apogee and Digidesign all make solid quality interfaces. Your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is your recording and production software. There are many resources that will help you weigh the costs and benefits of DAW options, but the main contenders are Protools, Logic, Cubase and Ableton. There are versions of each DAW ranging in price depending on how deep your usage will be, so be sure to read the descriptions thoroughly.

Building a home studio is a learning process that involves everything from the science of sound waves to computer software knowledge. The learning will never stop as you will find yourself updating and maintaining your space and equipment to reflect the evolution of your craft and skill. However, once you have your initial studio set up, you can finally focus on what motivated you to build it in the the first place—the music!

Dec 14, 2016

How to Write Songs with a Band — Without Wanting to Break Up

While it's true some bands have a principle songwriter or source from an independent professional, some bands tackle songwriting as a team.
If you've ever endeavored such a feat, you're likely all too aware of the unique challenges posed by writing songs with a band. Between conflicting personalities to nailing down the most efficient songwriting process, it's not necessarily for the faint of heart.
But if you find your stride, writing songs together can help bolster your band in a big way. The following are a few sound strategies for approaching the process.


1. Establish a "leader"


If there are only two people in your band participating in the songwriting process, you can probably get away with approaching from a co-writing perspective. But if you have three or more members working on songwriting together, you're going to want to have a designated "lead." This person would be responsible for mediating in the event of creative disputes and, ultimately, making executive decisions should the group as a whole come to an impasse.


2. Be humble


Particularly if you're the quote-unquote leader or the person in the band who is considered the head songwriter, be humble. If you come at your band mates from a place of condescension or superiority, the process will be over before it ever really begins. For songwriting as a band to be successful, it has to be collaborative — and people are much less likely to communicate openly if they feel alienated.


3. Don't get defensive


When defenses go up, momentum goes down. Nobody likes to hear their work critiqued, but in a group setting it's highly unlikely everyone is always going to be on the same page. Besides, sometimes a suggestion or edit to an original idea leads to something even better. When bands write songs together, everyone has to be open to suggestion or you'll just end up butting heads non-stop.


4. Set aside the time


Songwriting is a creative process, sure, but it should also be treated like a job. If you commit to writing songs as a band, you should schedule time to devote your attention fully to doing so — your group isn't going to write the next lyrical masterpiece if half the band is too busy playing Titanfall 2. When you come together for a writing session, writing should be your top (read: only) priority.


5. Talk about logistics


Once your band's brainstorming yields some solid lyric and you've set those to music, you're probably going to be ready to hit the ground running. However, if it isn't a conversation you haven't already had, you need to talk about the technical and/or legal logistics. How much does a band member need to contribute to the songwriting process to get a byline? Will non-writing members of the band share any credit or income? How will revenue be divvied up? These are all crucial questions you'll need to answer before you ever begin recording or marketing the music you've just written. Decide as a group, and then put it in writing.

Nov 30, 2016

5 Ways to Keep Dead Air from Killing Your Live Shows

Imagine you're in the middle of an engaging conversation and the person you're speaking with simply stops talking or puts you on hold. Sure, it happens — we've all experienced awkward silences at some point — but that doesn't make them any less annoying.
For fans, that's essentially sums up what it's like when dead air strikes at a live show. And while audiences are willing to forgive minor inconveniences, we all know they can turn on you if you let dead air become the star of the show.
Onstage, silence isn't golden. If it does happen to befall you mid-show, don't beat yourself up for too long (it's likely a lot more common than you think). Instead, shift your focus to the following tips and tricks for avoiding dead air onstage.

1. Don't lead with silence.

Have you ever been to a show where there is no music playing as the stage is being set up? It can be painfully awkward for everyone to stand around in the venue making small talk while waiting for the talent to appear — not to mention the collective letdown every time a PA enters the stage from peripheral view and the audience realizes the show isn't about to start. Since a show can't happen without the setting up process, you can't avoid it. However, you can set the mood with pre-show music that'll take the audiences mind off of the fact they're waiting.

2. Keep the audience informed.

If you need an extra minute between songs, give the audience a heads up. If there's a miscommunication about your set list between band members and you need a second to sort it out, just be honest. The more authentic a musician or band is, the more relatable they are to their audience. Plus, it's far better than the alternative of letting fans sit in silence wondering what's going on.

3. Come prepared.

And not just to play . . . that much should be a given. Come prepared for as many contingencies as possible. Plan for the worst case scenarios. What if someone forgets the lyrics mid-song? What if the mic stops working? What if someone breaks a guitar string? Knowing what you'd do in the event these things happen will keep you level-headed when they actually do, and being level-headed will help you avoid the dreaded dead air that often accompanies stage disasters.

4. Don't underestimate the power of small talk.

Granted, you don't want to talk through half your set. However, strategic small talk can act as social camouflage when something goes wrong. If you hit a glitch and need a few minutes to get it squared away, engage the audience. For the most part, fans only get to see the performance version of musicians. When they feel like they're getting to see a more personal side of you onstage, it makes you more memorable. The more memorable you are, the more likely they'll look you up again.

5. Be on the same page before you start.

Chatter between band members should be minimal once you hit the stage. Why? Because you've already had the big discussions beforehand: exactly what songs are on your set list, what order you plan to play them, how you'll handle transitions, etc. When a lead singer covers the mic and turns away from the audience to discuss something at length with a band mate, it's a segue straight into dead air. Plus, it comes off as amateur, which is never a good message to send to your audience.

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