Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Listening Rooms

Over the years, I've played in some real shit holes. Actually, I think most live music played here in the US is played in rooms bereft of any sound design. Yeah sure, there's a sound guy there but often there's not a whole lot that can be done about a room that sounds like a gymnasium.
Obviously most music venues in the US are places where people buy food and or booze.  In such places, the band is expected to bring folks in. "Come on down for the music and stay for the chalupas."

Captive audience.

I think every artist craves a captive audience.  Bars and coffee shops are not this at all.  The old wisdom tells us we must "stick it out" in bars and restaurants and that if we are truly good musicians, the rest will fall in place.  There's definitely some truth in this, but if you're playing in a sports bar on a Monday night with 20 flat screen TVs everywhere, you have no chance. You are fucked from the get-go.

When I used to do Kindie Rock we often had a captive audience- a luxury really. I'm not against doing frank lloyd rock gigs in bars, but I surely want a captive audience again.

As I sift out what this new project will be like, I keep coming back to two concepts:

1. Stories
2. Music as an Escape

Stories- Each song tells a story and I especially love it when artists talk a bit about this in-between songs. What if the storytelling were expanded a bit more to create a theatre experience. Imagine Spalding Gray meets pretty much any band. How much better would the show be if you were taken even deeper into to the world of the song and the singer?

Music as an Escape- When people get home from work, believe me, they are usually pretty sick of their own lives. How much power do we have at work? How great is my life? They can have my body but they can't have my soul. Art inflates the soul. When people come to your show you should give them some relief from their own bullshit.

frank lloyd rock will be music and stories.

This will certainly require a captive audience. Spalding Gray reminds me that even the smallest of theatre spaces would be perfect for this. Thanks Spalding.

Monday, March 5, 2012

common problems with bands (part 3)

3. No Space- In music, space = silence.  Almost all musicians are fully unaware of the space in between the notes they're playing. How many local bands have you seen where everyone in the band is playing all the time? The drummer is busy filling every possible gap with dazzling fills and unnecessary flourishes. The guitarist is strumming non-stop like he's trying to break out of jail with a nail file. The bassist is showing off every Jaco Pastorius riff he ever learned. The singer is just trying to get a word in edgewise.
Learning to play an instrument can take years. Learning when not to play takes a lifetime.  Here is a great example of a song with lots of space:

Simple acoustic guitar part. Very basic drums with no cymbals, just kick and snare. The beginning of the song consists of a vocal, drums, guitar and hand claps. That's it. No bass until later. This song is full of space, yet it sounds full.

Here's another example of space:

The great Bootsy Collins with a 12 piece band!! 12 people are onstage and nobody is stepping on each others toes. Every time someone solos, the band backs off a bit and creates a "hole" for the soloist. These guys are listening to each other. 

I tried to find examples of bands that are stepping all over each other, but so far I haven't. I know those videos are out there but here's the thing: they're super hard to find because almost all the successful bands out there respect and understand space.

Less is ALWAYS more.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

common problems with bands (part 2)

2. No Real Goals-If you really just play in a band for fun or stress relief and have absolutely no aspirations to anything larger, this post is not for you.

OK guys. Here's the deal. Just because it's art doesn't mean it all just magically happens. Playing at parties is awesome and it may get you laid here and there but how do you get to the next level? In order to succeed, you have to be able to at least see it in your mind first. In order to play the kinds of shows you really want to play you have to actually believe you can do this.  Some people call it Law of Attraction. Others call it manifesting.

10 years ago, I started this band.

Before I had even written most of the songs for the first album, I filled several notebooks full of ideas about the band. Who was our audience? Where would we play? What would our artwork look like? At the time, I had no idea I was manifesting anything. I was just obsessed with a new idea. I was astonished, as time went on, to see almost all of my dreams come true. It really freaked me out.

This blog is just a more public way to manifest what frank lloyd rock will be like.

Monday, February 27, 2012

common problems with bands (part 1)

I've been playing in bands for over 20 years. I've been in bands in which all decisions were democratically executed. I've been in bands where I was a side man, following directions. I've also been the bandleader. When you're in a band you notice things that work and things that don't work. Here are some of the main difficulties I've encountered along the way:

1. No Structure- Most bands just kinda fall together through mutual friends or they start a project because they keep running into each other at shows. These are great ways to get together but often, because "we're all friends," making decisions (musical or otherwise) becomes incredibly difficult and eventually impossible. I've been in tons of bands like this. I'm not saying consensus-based leadership is bound to fail but it usually does. Orchestras have conductors. Films have Directors. For some reason, the world of non-classical music (I.E. most bands out there) bristles at the idea of leadership. Bandleaders are often seen as ego-fueled dicks.
Why is this so taboo? I think leadership often emerges over time. You've done some recordings with your band. You've played some gigs. Things are becoming clearer. If you, or someone else in your band makes suggestions on how things should be done it is often seen by the others as a kind of "fuck you." I think this happens because most of us don't like change and are suspicious of bandmates who appear to be taking over the band.

Consider the alternative. You form or join a band with a structure. You actually have something written down that everyone signs. Like it or not, this is a contract. Contracts built America. As long as everyone agrees to it, a contract can solve many problems and help a band to stay focused. Band contracts can sort out everything that goes on in a band and answer some of the following questions:

What happens if someone is always late to rehearsal and gigs?
Who is considered the songwriter in the band?
Who handles the PR?
Who books shows?
What happens if, heaven forbid, we actually start making money?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Musical Apprenticeship

So I've been in lots of bands over the years and I have always been saddled with this nagging itch to create something new.

I took a break from the full-time music gig for a while and found myself employed as an Apprentice Electrician. I'm nearly halfway through the program and I really love it. I took this break because music became work to me. I burned out.

A couple of years ago I discovered this book.

With the help of Hugh MacLeod's tips on how to live a creative life, I decided I needed a day job, preferably one with no connection to music whatsoever. Electrician. Perfect.

True to MacLeod's observations, the Muse has come back to me and I want to be In A Band again! This band will be called frank lloyd rock.

As an electrical apprentice, I deal with architectural drawings now.  It became clear to me that there are many parallels between building a structure and writing a song. As I looked back on what I've learned about the music business it seemed natural to integrate my life as an apprentice with my new band. The idea of a Musical Apprenticeship was born.

I'm looking to start a band with a new leadership model. I want apprentices. I have a clear idea of what I'm doing musically and I want to share it with my apprentices. I used to be a music teacher. I used to be a bandleader. The apprenticeship model will be a hybrid of the two.  I'm looking for musicians who want to learn how to be in a band and all that it entails. I'll go into more detail about this later.


Monday, October 5, 2009

notes on a page

Music is not notes on a page. Over the years, I've met so many people who had that evil piano teacher. You've heard of her. She's German with blue hair and she insists her students learn to READ before they do anything. It says so in the piano book, so it must be right! Right?


Don't get ME wrong. Reading is important in some situations but it's only one small piece of an enormous pie. I just read The Music Lesson by virtuoso Bassist Victor Wooten. In his book he says that there are 10 elements of music:


Nowhere in this list does he mention reading. Reading is discussed in the book, but it's not the book's main focus. Wooten compares learning music to learning one's native tongue. When we learn our native language do we learn to read before we can speak? Of course not. So why is it that so many music teachers and method books still want to teach students to read at the very beginning? At this time I have no idea. I'll be exploring it later.

I've also met so many musicians who can't really play anything unless they have a page of printed music in front of them. Ask them to improvise over a chord progression and most of them can't do it. Have you ever met someone who can't offer anything to a conversation that isn't written down on a page?

When we speak, most of the time we're improvising or jamming. Victor Wooten says that we learn how to speak by "jamming" with all the language masters around us. We make tons of mistakes, but the masters gently correct us while making us feel comfortable. We learn to read later when it's appropriate.

Most musicians I've met fall into 2 categories: Those Who Can Jam and can't read so well (if at all) and Those Who Can't Jam and can read well. It's much easier to teach a student how to read if they already can jam. It's very difficult to teach someone how to Jam who has had years of reading drilled into them.

As music teachers we must realize that music is a language and as such mirrors our spoken languages. Why not teach them in the same way?