Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Seven Musician’s Virtues – Part One

This is the beginning of a seven-part series that I am starting on what I believe to be seven principles that most efficiently promote professional development. I wrote these focusing on a musician’s perspective, but keep in mind, these can all be tweaked to fit any line of work – and I think they can be adapted to anything you do, whether it be music, sports, writing, various labor jobs, etc. 

 

Virtue No. 1 – Diligence

 

“Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong.” – Unknown

 

First and foremost, a commitment to hard work is imperative to achieving any sort of musical goal. No matter how lofty your goal might seem, I believe that it’s possible, if you demonstrate strong work ethic. Check out the article on Wikipedia for the word “diligence” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diligence. In the introductory paragraph it states: “Expertise in a field such as music requires about 10,000 hours or 10 years of practice and so diligence is commonly required to achieve this.” Now, I’m aware that anyone can put anything on Wikipedia, but I agree with this statement completely. Whoever posted that was apparently an individual with a similar mind as myself. Always remember; you can’t expect to have anything handed to you. You might be a talented individual, but without supplementing your talent with skill, you’ll never see progress. Don’t be lazy. Work hard, and make it a point to continuously improve.

 A good technique for improving on musical ability is to write music of your own – and don’t just write whatever you feel like, make sure you push yourself just beyond your current abilities. Then, make it a point to master what you’ve written. With regular practice, you’ll have it perfected in no time. I’ve used this technique for years. Whenever I write a song, I push my boundaries just a little bit. This might be with actual playing dexterity, musical complexity, harmonic exploration, or even something like lyrical complexity (for example, making four lines rhyme instead of just two). If you have a musical idea, but you feel that your performance abilities aren’t quite up to par – make it your goal to practice until you can do it. Works like a charm. Before you know it, you’ll be surprising yourself.

 Success doesn’t just come by being good at your craft, though. If you’re serious about being successful, especially as a musician, you have to put in just as much work on the business side. The key word here is networking. You won’t get anything handed to you out of nowhere, and if you do, I’d be willing to bet it’s more than likely a scam. So what is networking? Simple – talking to people. Go out of your way to shake hands, introduce yourself, and ask questions. After you develop a professional relationship with other people in your industry, you’ll start hearing about more offers. 99% of the time when I get hired for a gig, it is a result of personally knowing someone who is directly involved with that gig. Sending your resumé out is a shot in the dark, and it will more thank likely end up a music contractor’s trash can. If you want work, get out there and establish yourself. Become a regular at local music venues. Be a familiar face. Importantly, make sure you are behaving in a way that represents you as a professional. When you’re out and about, see every chance to meet someone as an opportunity to expand your professional network. When you look at it that way, you’ll be a lot less likely to introduce yourself to a fellow musician by saying “Man, you guys RULED” and then vomiting on their shoes because you’ve drank one too many. Be smart, and don’t lose control. And once you’ve landed a gig, make sure you be in touch with the promoter or contractor by phone and/or e-mail. Communicate frequently, that way they will know what to expect of you, and you’ll know what to expect of them. Don’t be afraid to set a price well in advance, but be flexible. Sometimes compromising is the only way to get any sort of compensation for musical gigs. On the date of the gig, be prepared, on time, and behave professionally.

 The point I’ve been trying to make (and I think you should get it by now) is that hard work pays off. Put extra effort into improving your skills, expanding your style, and in making positive impressions. If you’re lazy, things just won’t happen for you. Put in the effort, and you can achieve anything.

 

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On the Value of Education (Not just in college!)

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been told “Oh man, you’re wasting your time in school. No one in the music industry cares about your diploma,” which is only partially true. While for the most part, most people who would hire me as a sideman (a.k.a. gun for hire, fill-in member) wouldn’t ask to see my credentials in education, however they would hire me based on my reputation as a well-rounded and skilled performer – which I owe largely to my musical education. If I could only play along with other players based solely on specifically what they showed me to play but didn’t have some sort of grasp on the musical structure, I would be essentially useless for many who would be interested in my services, especially considering the nature of freelance work, which often involves minimal rehearsal time before a gig.

For example, a couple years ago (when I was still just doing it for fun), a friend’s band asked if I could play lead guitar for their upcoming tour (they were going to be touring with my band, so that was awfully convenient). I drove two hours to their rehearsal space with my gear, not more than a week before the tour, and within a couple short hours, I knew their set front-to-back. I would have NEVER been able to do this sort of thing without taking several semesters of aural skills (ear training) courses in college. There you have it – my education made me the guy for the job.

College music education isn’t the only thing I’m talking about, though. Everything from private instrumental or vocal lessons, DVD’s, books, etc. can be vitally useful in your development as a musician. Dedicating time to learning your craft, and knowing all of the ins and outs of your instrument will make you indispensable to the industry. The greatest and most widely known musicians in the world have usually received countless hours of formal training in their area(s) of expertise.

So, invest in some training! If you don’t want to go to college, that’s ok – but be sure to get some lessons from a professional, or buy a few books. They’ll be worthwhile investments.

Here are some other ways that education is helpful:

1. Connections – why do you think your instructor/teacher is in their position? Because they have experience in the real world, which means they are connected to the industry. If you work hard and strive to be a good student, your instructor might suggest some opportunities to you! And never be afraid to ask questions. If you’re trying to make a living as a working musician, ask around. Don’t be afraid to leave your ego at the door admit that you don’t know something.

2. Skills – this one is obvious. Being in an educational setting forces you to develop skills in your area. You will get graded on it. You will receive criticism that pushes you to do better next time. Before you know it, your rate of improvement will multiply right before your eyes. Implementing a structured plan is a surefire way to hone your skills and push the boundaries of your abilities.

3. Working with groups – while you’re learning, you will be occasionally placed with other students so that you can perform together. This isn’t to make you nervous and uncomfortable, it’s actually to develop your skills with other musicians. As you can imagine, this is valuable for anyone. Learning to be patient, adaptable, and communicate well with other players will get you hired, plain and simple. If you DO get nervous, just remember, everyone else there is, too. Take a deep breath and do your best.

4. Learning the language – communication is one of the most vital aspects of being able to play well with others. If a band leader says “Ok, the whole second verse is syncopated until the five-of-five chord before the dominant that leads to the chorus,” you’d better know what that means. Otherwise, you’re going to waste their time by making them explain, and that can be very frustrating, especially if there’s only one hour until you’re taking the stage. Not only do you need to understand what’s being asked of you, you need to know how to communicate back to them. Of course, many times, you’ll be working with people who don’t know the language at all – and they’ll say something like “and we do this little thing right here, I think that’s a minor or something, but yeah, do that,” and you also should be able to decipher what they’re saying and convert that to accurate playing.

5. Reading music – sometimes, you’ll get a chord chart, a Nashville-style number chart, or (the most dreaded) sheet music thrown in front of you and be expected to play it. It’s obvious how an education can be helpful in this scenario. Not only that, but if you’re in a group who doesn’t give you anything to read off of, it’s infinitely helpful to be able to grab a pen and paper, and write down the rhythm for that really tricky part in the bridge, that way you just won’t forget it. It’s immortalized on paper before your eyes, and all you’ll have to do later is look down and play it right. (I basically do this every weekend for the drum parts at the church gig I’ve been playing). Writing down little notes to help you play more accurately, circling dynamic marks, etc. are all great ways to play more accurately.

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There are plenty of other ways that being a dedicated, active learner can get you opportunities. These are just a few that I’ve experienced directly in my own life. Please comment and share other ideas!

And as always, I will remind you all, I’m a newbie. I don’t know anything. I’m sure I’m wrong about a lot, so don’t be afraid to tell me when I’m screwing up. I love receiving constructive criticism!

Oh, and one more thing – looking/acting cool won’t get you anything. This business is about skills and experience, not hype.

So you’re a blogger, now?

Well yes, as a matter of fact I am. But more importantly, I am a musician (if you haven’t figured that out by now), and the truth is, I’m really not “starving,” either. I just thought the title had a nice ring to it. Simply stated, the purpose of this blog is to share some of the experiences and important things I’ve learned throughout my development as what I loosely refer to as a “professional musician.” It is meant to provide insight to those who share a similar lifestyle, or simply to just provide an interesting read for those of you who often wonder what real life is like for people like me. I, of course, am not an expert. I do truly believe that sharing experiences as I have them will be a great way to chronologically document my growth as a person and musician.

Let’s start with some information about me.

Name: Tyler Addison James
Sex: Male
Location: Erie, PA (Subject to change)
Age: 25 (For now, of course)
Brief background: I have lived in the Erie, PA area my whole life. I am a graduate of Edinboro University where I studied Music Performance (particularly vocal performance). I started playing music when I was 8 years old, and since then have pursued nothing else with the same level of passion. I am a classically trained vocalist who is also experienced as a drummer, guitarist, and bassist. (I’ve also been known to occasionally dabble in piano and a few other areas). I’ve been part of several bands of various styles, and have participated in numerous U.S. tours (which is really the only time the “starving” part came into the picture, but we’ll get into that later) and have written and released several studio albums (with the help of band members, or as a solo recording artist).

Goals: To continue to grow as a musician, improve on my skills, continue having exciting and worthwhile experiences, and develop a fulfilling career that will be rewarding for me and inspiring for others.

That’s all for now, folks. Please follow my blog and keep checking back for updates. In the meantime, you can connect with me on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn. If you are interested in e-mailing me, my address is HelloTJames@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading. Please comment, share, and spread the word!

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