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Thursday, November 3, 2011

From the Edge



     I just completed composing music for a short comedy sketch video titled “The Edge of the World.” It has been a long time dream of mine to compose, and record music for television, and movies. I certainly hope that this film is just the beginning for me. The video has been chosen to run at the Los Angeles Comedy Festival on November 19th at 8 p.m.. I was going to tell you about the recording process – it was a very unique, and rewarding experience for me. But, when I sat down at my Starbucks office, and began to type, my fingers, my soul, and my mind, had a completely different twist on the title of this blog. Don't worry, I am going to take a break from these heavier blogs, and write some funny, and interesting articles about my gigs, and recording sessions.
     Anyway, the first thing that came to my mind was a vision of me standing at the edge of the world looking for an opportunity to compose, and to record music for this video. I feel like I have walked, (figuratively of course), to the edge of the world many times – looking for this dream. My toes would dangle over the side, with the bulk of my energy focused on the back of my heels, so as not to fall forward. I would peer over the edge, with my glasses balancing on the end of my nose. After all, I was just peeking. The goal was always to look, observe, and not to fall.
     Chasing a dream can leave you vulnerable, scared, unsure, exhilarated, hopeful, persistent, passionate, and purposeful.  But, it has left me anxious about unknown events, people, travel, and commitments etc. The old saying, “Be careful what you wish for” keeps popping into my mind. I think that I have used that phrase, on occasion, to give me an out, or at least a reason why I should put my dream off for another day. I have been hesitant for a lot of years now, due to the fact that my wife and I, have been busy raising our kids. I know that we made the right choices for those circumstances, but our kids are grown, and it is time for me to pursue my dream.
     And so, I must return to the edge. I know, deep in my heart, that in order for me to really succeed, I need not merely peer over the edge, or sneak up on the edge. I need to take both feet, and gloriously jump off the edge!! I have been afraid to completely commit myself to my dream for many years. I have been hoping that someone would call me to the edge, take my hand, and guide me safely to my destination. That’s not exactly how it works. A lot of people are put in your path to help you. But, you have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone. In fact, you need to spend a lot of time outside of your comfort zone. Your comfort zone might entail a day where you sit on the couch with the fire going, you sip on hot chocolate, and watch a movie. That’s a great way to take a break, but not to chase a dream. Now is the time for me to wear a smile from ear to ear, and go for it.  I had some real disappointments in my life as a child, and I think that has kept me guarded, suspicious, and tentative. But, that was then, and now is now – time to jump!
     And so, I have embarked on my journey to return to the edge. Getting back to the edge of the world will take some time, it doesn't exit in my comfort zone, that's for sure! Here is an example of a small step that I took just last week. I was hired to play guitar in the pit orchestra for a show called Xanadu. I don't know anyone in the band. Oh, wait a minute, I was on a gig with the drummer a few years ago, but I don't know much about him. Anyway, I wasn't sure how long it would take to get to the rehearsal, so I headed out with plenty of time to spare. Geez, I ended up arriving almost an hour early. So, I stopped by the beach, and watched the waves crash against the sand, and rocks, I was parked just off the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. When I got to the rehearsal the director/keyboardist Robert told me that he and Paul, one of the other keyboardists, had met an hour before our first rehearsal for coffee. They were down by the beach, and it sounded like fun. Robert wished that I had called him when I was hanging out at the beach, he would have invited me to coffee. My comfort zone tells me to hang by myself for an hour, it's easier. But, jumping off the edge of the world requires me to get involved, live life, call Robert, and have some coffee already!!
      In the past, it was all about work for me. I would run from teaching, or performing, back to my house, to spend time with my family. I was always racing from place to place. I was worried about my skills, and my abilities to produce great music etc. I would spend a lot of time practicing, so as not to repeat mistakes. I was running scared sometimes, wanting everything to be perfect. I think that I probably felt vulnerable at times. I wasn't comfortable making mistakes, or just being me.    
     But now is now, and I need to change, and begin connecting with more people. It’s less about my ability to perform, and more about enjoying the day, being heartfelt, and compassionate. I think I am beginning to get the hang of this. I have completed all of my education, I have all the musical chops that I need, incredible support from my friends in the music industry, great guitars, foot pedals, and amplifiers. I have a loving family, confidence, and a lot of experience. I think that I can safely say, and announce, that I have officially Paid My Dues!
     So what’s left? Being more tuned into the people around me, and realizing that it’s not about me, it’s about community, and relationships. Acting on my new thoughts, I asked Robert to please invite me to their next coffee. It was just a few days later, just before the very next rehearsal, that I received a text from Robert. He invited me to join him, and Paul down by the beach, at the “Malibu Market.” It was so relaxing, and fun. I learned a lot about Paul, and Robert. We talked about everything from our families, to Seattle Coffee, to road biking, and surfing. We really connected. The rehearsal was a blast, and I have never been so relaxed, and focused. It wasn’t about me. I was focused on the people around me - it was about them.
     When the rehearsal was over, I had some college students ask if they could help me with my gear when it was time to go to my car. In the past I would have said that I didn’t need any help. I would have been focused on getting home to the family, or I might have been re-playing, in my mind, a mistake that I had made. I might have been wondering if the gig was worth the hassles. I definitely would have thrown my gear in my car, and gassed it home asap. Not this time! I decided to connect, be passionate, get to know the college students by asking what year of study they were in, and where their hometowns were. It was a wonderful evening. I never worried about myself. In the past I would have wondered if I was wearing the right clothes, or was my playing good, or did I make too many mistakes? I know, I know, it's exhausting, isn't it! 
     But, all of that went out the window during that rehearsal. I was focused on connecting with the musicians, and actors on a heartfelt level. I was celebrating life on a regular weekday, no special occasion, just a positive, grateful, and joyful evening just because I said so. The music took care of itself. I was playing from my heart, and thinking about how great the cast, and crew worked together. I focused on helping them, and making sure that my playing was the best that it could be for them, not me.  I didn't listen to myself play, I listened to them sing. That's what I did when I recorded music for "The Edge of the World" video. I was going to compose music, but that wasn't working. So, I closed my eyes, listened to the inflections, tones and rhythms of the actors voices, and interpreted their emotions, and stories through improvisation. I didn't listen to my guitar, I listened to their voices.
     So, there is a time, for all of us to go the edge. See if you can locate your edge. Remember, it's way beyond your comfort zone. Go ahead, take a peek. But, don’t jump until it's your time. My kids are raised, and I have no regrets about merely peeking over the edge while my wife and I were raising them. That was appropriate. But, now it is time to walk gloriously to that edge, and jump with my arms flailing, and my feet kicking with joy, and excitement. I feel like I have nothing to loose, and everything to gain. Have you been to the edge lately? Until next time - Surf it Mellow Brothers and Sisters - the MD

Monday, September 12, 2011

Your Parts


     The thousands of hours of music lessons that you might take throughout your life, and all of the crazy gigs, and tours that you embark on, will eventually add up to one incredible body of work, full of entertaining stories, funky compositions, recordings, and a truly interesting personality. Oh no, it’s not easy to stay on the guitarist, composer, and educator train, but hopping off, is not an option. One of the biggest challenges that I ever faced was taking private guitar lessons at the colleges, and universities that I attended. You are not just taking lessons, but your entire degree is incumbent upon your being successful in the relationships between you, and your private lesson professors.  
      You are the sum of your parts – not just some of them – all of them! Remember that, when you attend your private lessons, and your classes. Consider your professors to be helping you, not hurting you. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard my students, and my peers (back when I was a university student) complain about their private lesson instructors, and the seemingly endless institutional requirements for applied music students. So, believe me, I know where that frustration comes from, and I can identify with it. Many students suffer from the grass is greener on the other side syndrome. Yeah, Yeah, I did it myself.  But, I have a very different perspective now that I have been a student, a teacher, a performer, and an educator. Enjoy the grass that you are sitting on – don’t kill it. You might be able to get rid of a some of the weeds, but nurture, and feed that grass. Don't stomp on it.
     Instead of complaining, or belittling your private lesson instructors, teachers, and professors, take the time to find out what they are really good at, and learn, and embrace their passions, and ideas. All of that knowledge, and hard work will contribute to the sum of your parts. The more knowledge, and experience that you have, the better off you will be. The whining and resistance takes place when you don’t love the knowledge, or the experience that you are engaged in. Most people want to control their environment. Students are no different. You won’t be choosing a lot of your repertoire, exercises, hand positions, or even musical interpretations. But rather, your professor will strongly suggest, if not require you, to adhere to his, or her ideas. Embrace those ideas, and throw yourself into your lessons. Make your professors proud!
     Maybe you really wanted to play rock guitar, but you are attending a college where classical guitar is taught. You, or maybe your parents chose that college, so stop whining - get with the program! It will make you a fantastic player in the end. There will be plenty of time to get your rock chops together, even it it’s after you graduate. Part of the college experience is to build a platform of knowledge that is deeply rooted in the basics, and in a wide variety of disciplines. You may not learn a lot about one subject, but you will learn something about a lot of different subjects. Enjoy learning outside of your comfort zone. Every lesson, and class doesn't have to directly relate to your specific style of guitar playing - c'mon man! Life is long - don’t rush your learning.
     It was always a dream of mine to learn the pentatonic scales inside and out. That’s a little tricky on the guitar. There are five different positions to learn. It’s confusing for a while. It’s one thing to get good at playing the scales note for note, but quite another to become fast, and furious while playing, and interpreting the scales in a wide variety of musical styles, grooves, and tempos. My life was really busy for many years. I learned many different musical techniques, and lot about music history, and theory. But, I never had the opportunity to put my undivided attention into those scales. My wife and I were raising kids. I was either rehearsing music for gigs and performances, or working on schoolwork. I was writing academic papers, and playing a lot of classical guitar. My wife would remind me not to get frustrated. The day would come when I could play whatever I felt like. Besides, she reminded me of the fact that I would have an incredible body of knowledge, and many years of lessons, and studies to draw from.
     That was exactly what happened, and it feels great. I had to wait until I was almost out of school to really dig into those pentatonic scales, but I can smoke those notes now! Having a Doctorate Degree in Classical Guitar, and being able to spend my time rocking like Hendrix is a blast – right on brother! Remember – you can do a lot of cool things in your life, you just can’t do them all at the same time. It would have been a disaster in the long run for me to have jeopardized my education, and shirked some of my responsibilities around the house for those pentatonic scales which weren't necessary for my career at the time.   
     If you have young kids at home, then play music that will help you pay the bills. Maybe you are teaching a lot of lessons. But, if your kids are gone, then play your ass off all day long!!  Don’t just prioritize your life, prioritize your guitar studies. If you are in a university program then embrace it. Get every last piece of knowledge out of your professors. You are the sum of your parts, not just some of your parts. Until next time - Surf it Mellow Brothers and Sisters - the MD

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sip It!


     Sip life like a fine wine. Stop chugging like a college freshman at your first kegger. You miss out on so many cool things in life when you are constantly in a hurry. I’m not insinuating that you work less, or lower your standards, or your goals, not at all. It’s just a matter of being in the moment, and enjoying yourself along the way. I find myself dreaming about the future so much that it takes away from the present. I have a lot of goals to achieve over the next couple of years. But, I spend too much time thinking about where I am going, not where I am. I already have a great plan. It’s just a matter of executing, and letting it unfold.  I have thoughts like “when I get a bigger studio then everything will be great,” or when I perform at some really big venues then I’ll be stoked. Well, that’s just not a healthy way to think. Plan, and work for your future, but don’t live in it.
     I need be thankful for the studio that I do have, work hard to improve it, and get more work done. Besides, if I focus 100% on my current studio, then I am sure that I will be surprised at it’s potential. I need to focus on what I can do, not what I can’t do. I have gotten a lot better at enjoying each day, and everything that it brings. We do so much multi-tasking. We live on the surface of so many projects and day-to-day events that it keeps us from real passion and joy. Try doing one task really well. Tune in, and concentrate 100%. Put your entire mind, body, and soul into it. If you are doing an enjoyable task then you will reap many benefits including a reduction in stress, a sense of accomplishment, you will learn something about yourself, and the task, and time will absolutely fly by. I think that you will be surprised at the depths that you can reach. It will be a more rewarding life for sure. Until next time - Surf it Mellow Brothers and Sisters - the MD

Monday, August 15, 2011

It's Opposite Day!


     All right - it’s opposite day. I have talked about the fact that if you fail to make a plan, then, you plan to fail. Well, forget about that for this blog! I once heard Willard Scott (from the Today Show) say, “if you want to make God laugh, then make a plan.” I remember being struck by that statement. It made me laugh, it was thought provoking, and it was incredibly liberating for me - all at the same time. It made me consider the fact that maybe I wasn't God, and I didn't have the last word on whether or not my plans would work out, regardless of how meticulous I was in the planning and execution phases. Then I thought, what a great life it would be if I could relinquish that responsibility - after all I'm not God. I would just be the best Dave Reynolds that I could be and leave it at that. Just do your best and forget the rest.Yeah, that's the ticket.
     So now I like to do some things in my life without having a plan. Sometimes you have to just say “what the hell.” Dive right into your project. Do your best and forget the rest. Do something just because you enjoy it. It might be a passion, or a curiosity. Who knows, you might stumble onto a career path that you have never even considered, or imagined for yourself. I have always enjoyed writing. Well, okay I did struggle with my Doctoral paper just a bit (actually, a lot, if the truth be told). But, I enjoy writing from my heart – life’s research. I did some journal writing when my mother was dying of cancer. I was in high school at the time. The process of putting my feelings and stories to paper was very therapeutic. This is an example of something that I don’t want to plan. I just want to let the words flow, and leave it at that. If this journey turns into something larger someday, then I will make a plan. But, I am just going with the flow for now. As they say in So Cal, no worries bro. Until next time - Surf it Mellow Brothers and Sisters - the MD

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Book It!!

     So it's time to book a gig. Maybe this is your first gig, maybe you haven't played a gig since high school or college, or maybe you have always been in a band, but you haven't been the businessperson. Well let's get started. First and foremost, have a solid product. Make sure that you have a show, or a production that demonstrates your compelling talent, your abilities, your gear, your appearance, and your repertoire. Be sure to demonstrate compassion, and commitment. Exhibit a strong sense of reliability, drive, and be flawless in the overall delivery of your product. If you need to test your material in front of people for a while, before you book your band, then look for a coffee shop to play for free, or volunteer at local community events. Of course, you should be charging money once your show is ready for prime time, but it makes sense to charge a small amount of money, or no money at all, while you are putting your show together.
     One thing that I did when I was working on my Doctorate Degree in Classical Guitar was to hold house concerts. That's a great way to get exposure. It's is a lot of fun for the people that are attending. You can ask them for advice and constructive criticism.  It's great for everyone. Of course my wife and I provided food and beverages for our guests. If you do not have much money, then keep your house concert very informal. You could offer to play at a friends house - let them put on the house party and you provide the entertainment. I have even heard of people doing house concert tours. You can eventually charge good money for your house concerts once you are in demand.
     Learn everything possible about your prospective clients. You need to study the venues and the booking agents of the places where you would like to perform. Make sure that you are offering the correct product for the correct client. Your product should be attractive, exciting and financially competitive. Study your competition. If you have a rock/pop band, then solicit all of the venues that specialize in your music. Once you have gone through all of those venues, then begin to think outside of the box by approaching theaters and stages that rarely feature your style of music - they might be ready for it!
      Let's talk about your product a little bit. If you are looking to perform on concert stages where people are paying specifically to see bands and stage acts, then you need to specialize and have a unique show that will draw attention and get people talking and buzzing. If you play an instrument in a unique way, or with a lot of speed, then focus on that. If you are more of a smooth jazz guy, then showcase that. Just make sure that you present your music with a modern, and relevant twist.  Specializing might mean being really outrageous in your clothes like Lady Gaga. It might mean a sexy look like Madonna. Then again, it might be as simple as adding a banjo, an accordion, or a harp to your band for variety and spice. It is up to you. Figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are; figure out how to be innovative and fresh, and go for it.
     You might form a band and notice that you have a unique sound and look from day one. Some bands will require extensive work. You might go through a number of musicians before you find the right combination of people. Pay close attention to your compositions, the music, and the lyrics - make them relevant. Focus on your clothing, stage presence, order of songs and solos etc. You might want to add some video screens, or a light show. Find a need in the music world and fill it! People don't know what they need until someone like you comes along with something new and exciting that they realize that they can't live without.
      If you don't have the time, or the desire to pursue concert gigs, then you might consider playing in a small group, or as a solo act at a local restaurant, or hotel. If you play at a rock, or dance club, then you can follow the same format as mentioned above. But, if you play at an upscale restaurant, or hotel, then you will have to tone it down a bit. Make sure that you fit the atmosphere and ambiance of the room that you are playing. You will get hired because of the way you look, because of the way that you interact with people, how you play, what you play, the fact that you are always on time, and the fact that you spend most of your time playing, and not eating or drinking. Believe me, you will be considered unique if you achieve an A rating in all of those categories, You will work all the time. But, you need to be versatile in your repertoire, have the ability to function in the background when necessary, and in the forefront when called upon. You are really close to your audience so you need to have a warm and happy personality. You will have to act on the nights that you feel really cranky, cynical, and jaded. Everybody has to be an actor to be successful at work, so learn how to do it, and get used to it.
     I am doing a solo guitar gig at a local restaurant right now. I use it to keep my chops up, and it's nice to have a place where my friends and family can hear me play. That's the only way most of them would be able to see me perform. My gear includes an FBT full range powered speaker, a Line 6 HD 500 pedal board, a Line 6 JM4 Looper pedal, a Line 6 expression pedal, a James Tyler Variax 59 guitar, a Gibson ES-335, and an Ibanez Classical Guitar.  I loop chord changes and use drum beat grooves with the JM4. I use the 335 for the fat Wes Montgomery jazz guitar sounds, and I use the variax for blues and rock. I am able to perform music from the romantic and baroque eras as well as neuvo flamenco, pop and jazz standards, blues, and rock. I can play loud, or really soft. Another really cool thing is the fact that I can easily add live musicians to my show if someone wants a trio or quartet. We play the same tunes that I play on my solo gig minus the looper. You can view pictures of some of my gear and as well as my solo and band gigs on my website at www.ilexstudios.com
     Last, but not least, I would like to tell you how I got my solo guitar and band gigs over this past year. I finished my Doctorate Degree in the spring of 2010. I had spent almost four years on my research paper and the final lecture recital. My jazz chops were all but gone. So, I set out that summer to find a local restaurant that was low key and out of the way. The point for me was to get in front of people to put a little pressure on myself to sharpen my chops and learn some tunes. I did cold calls and left business cards with restaurant owners. That seemed like a dead end. It seems like you always have to know someone, or someone that knows someone. It is tough, but not impossible to find a gig without a reference. So, I did a little brainstorming and remembered that one of my neighbors who I hung out with periodically is super tied into the social scene in our area. He and his wife eat out quite a bit, and they knew a lot of people. Plus, my neighbor Lou, really digs my guitar playing.
     You have to let people know what your goals and aspirations are so they can help you. So, I tracked down Lou and told him that I was looking for a steady solo guitar gig at a local restaurant. Lou got a look of interest on his face, then, he told me that he had some ideas. Lou said that he would scout out a number of restaurants and let me know where my guitar playing and personality would best fit. He was going to attempt to match me with the correct venue and management - brilliant! Lou came back a few weeks later with a particular restaurant. He had done some business with the owner of this restaurant so they were already friends. In addition, Lou found out that the restaurant had only been open for a few months and they were looking for live music. 
     So, my wife and I went to the restaurant to meet the owner. We ordered dinner to get a feel for the atmosphere and the customer base. We wanted to make sure that I would be a good match. Everything was a thumbs up for us. I opened up discussions with the restaurant owner to see if we could settle on a deal. I offered to play one night for free. It wasn't really free. I got a killer dinner and some fantastic wine. My wife ate for free. They hired me on the spot. I performed there for almost a year every Wednesday night from 6:30-9:30.
     My latest solo guitar gig came through my daughter who is a waitress at a great little restaurant that we can see from our house. The owner has been there for thirty years. They have a lot of regulars. They have never had live music. The owner knew that I was a professional musician. My wife and I eat at the restaurant two or three times a month. I decided that it would be cool to play there on Friday nights so my daughter and I could work together. Besides, I could take a break and my wife and I could eat dinner. We have a very social neighborhood. I knew that a number of our friends would walk down the street and see me play - it was a great idea. So, I approached Phil and asked him if I could play on a Friday nights - he said yes with enthusiasm. It is great to work side by side with my daughter and my wife loves to come down after work on Fridays. Neighbors come down and hoot and holler - it's great.
     In conclusion, find out what works for you and your stage of life. Do you want a full blown band gig, a regular restaurant gig that pays, or a place to play for food and beverages where you can come and go as your schedule permits? Research what the pay is for local clubs and restaurants and negotiate a deal that works for you and the management. My highest paying gig was at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC. I was there five nights a week for three years. The money that you can get for gigs usually increases the closer you get to major cities. You might be able to barter as a band, as a soloist, or even as a music teacher. I need a new website, but I have no idea how to build one. I met a painter who worked for a video game company for a few years. He is great at building web sites and he has a great eye for design. He needs guitar lessons. So, we are trading lessons for web site design. Consider using twitter, youtube, and facebook to set up a national house concert tour. Maybe you can sleep in the houses where you perform and have them feed you. Sell recordings and t-shirts, and charge enough money to pay for gas and maintenance on your vehicle. Think outside the box! There are so many ways to navigate gigs and to make them fit into your life style, needs, and desires. Remember, if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.
- Until next time - Surf it Mellow Brothers and Sisters - the MD

Friday, July 29, 2011

You Got Grandma Hair

     Yep, that's what they said to me in Vegas - "you got grandma hair." I have to post a picture of my new hairdo soon. Actually, my hair is rather shaggy on one on of my youtube videos under ilexstudios. I lived on the east coast for most of my life - up until five years ago when we moved to the Los Angeles area. I knew something had to change when I walked up to the guitar player at church and asked if I could sub in the band sometime. By the way, this band was completely off the chain! They were all heavy weight pro players that were paid to be there. Libby and I called them the "Saturday Night Live Band." They were hip with pony tails and ear rings. As I would learn later - you do not tuck your shirt in if you want to be hip - let it hang!! Anyway, the guitar player asked me if I was a politician. I was like "Huh?" It was probably not more than a week or two later, that another guy came up to me and asked if I was in the military. He was a fighter pilot down at Point Mugu.
     Okay, I gotta change something if I am going to work as a guitar player in LA. I had to change my look. So, I got some new threads and shoes that were hip, but I did not change my hair. I always asked for a number two razor on the sides of my head leaving it a little longer on top. Yeah, that was a military cut. All of a sudden out of the blue Linda, who has been cutting my hair for almost five years, told me that I needed to look like a guitar player once and for all!! She meant business. So, I have been letting my hair grow for about eight months and it is getting a bit wild. They called me Peter Frampton in high school so that gives you and idea of how curly it is. Somebody said that I had a Sammy Hagar look the other day. Then my aunt, who is up in years and doesn't see very well, thought that there was an old lady sitting on the couch in the living room of the house that I was visiting - it was her daughter, my cousins house in Vegas. My aunt came into the room laughing so hard - it was hilarious. We asked her what was so funny and she told us that she thought that there was an old lady sitting on the couch. It wasn't an old lady - it was me!!  Hopefully my hair will get longer on the sides soon so I don't look like an old lady with a perm. Anyway, old lady or not, my hair will grow on!!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What Ails You Brother?

Drop me a note and I will see if I can help you out. I am going to blog about the struggles of a performing artists in hopes that it will help you with your career, even if it's not in music. There will be some funny stories about going on tour, playing gigs, looking for work, going back to school, and raising kids etc. I might even throw in a few stories about characters that I meet at the beach - I like to surf. I will talk about some of my interests on the subject of music industry, performance, as well as guitars and gear that I own, or want to own. I will be out on an east coast tour of a Christmas show in December. I will do some tweeting (@ilexstudios) and some video streaming. I need to get another facebook account. I will get that address to you in one of my next blogs. There will be some book reviews and pointers on getting your career in music launched.  Until next time - Surf it Mellow Brothers and Sisters - the MD