Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gigs... gigs... GIGS!!!

This week marks two excellent gigs.  Friday we play at an original venue called the Logan House in Wilmington with another band opening for us.  Saturday we play at our home base, the Deer Park.  Having a back-to-back like this reminds me of the old days, when we played three gigs a week.  It was a bit nuts back then, but of course I was younger, with no family and a job I really wasn't interested in.

The band practiced Monday, and it was one of our better practices.  It was such in part because I came into it with a defined game plan, coupled with the added pressure of the upcoming gigs.  I knew I could drive them hard because they knew we weren't ready.  So in the first half we cranked through covers in our regular set that needed polish.  In the second half we reviewed originals recently added, and we added a new one.  I have so much new material that it is really becoming difficult for me to contain my anxiousness to work on them with the band.  But with looming big gigs I had to bite the bullet and do what was right for the gigs.  Adding one song was all I could expect to accomplish.  The rest will have to be saved for another day.

As I mentioned previously - gigs coming up are so important to adding some focus and a sense of urgency to a band's musical work. 

If you, dear readers, are interested, stop by this weekend, saddle up to the bar, have a beer, and listen to the band.  One thing about us is that we keep coming.  We keep trying, keep getting better, inch by inch.  We're the little engine that could.  I'm so happy that each band member has gotten better over time, and we are more in synch than ever.

There truly are few things in this world like a good band in sync with each other and with their audience.  It can bring a higher state of consciousness & connectedness.  The venue in which it has been easiest for this band to accomplish that feat is the Deer Park.  If you want to feel a great live environment, stop by there and see us.  A fine event with music to sooth the soul is guaranteed! 

One recommendation - bring earplugs.  We can tend to be loud.  But in a good way.  Really! 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How do I find balance?

OK so I just started a new job... and I'm lucky to have one at all these days.  That said, it has been kicking my arse.  I keep telling friends that the "garden of my life has been upset" and I'm "trying to figure out the new normal."

Let me tell you why the new job is good.

1. I didn't have to move.  In fact, my commute is exactly the same.  My office is on the riverfront, about 100 feet from where I was.  So everything I had going can remain intact - same home, same schools for kids, same church, same walk in the park.  This is HUGE.  For anyone out there looking for a job, you know how it is.  First you start looking within about a 20 mile radius, then that quickly turns into 50 miles, and so on until you find something.  I met a guy who told me how he commuted from Media, PA to NYC - for three years!  That is my worst nightmare.  I was preparing to commute a long way, then didn't have to.  This is important.

2. I got a raise.  This is really amazing because I was willing to leave without getting a raise.  My previous employer has been sold to a much larger institution that everybody hates.  Typically in a merger situation in the US, between 1/3 and 1/2 of the workforce is laid off within 18 months of the merger.  Given that fact, I wanted to quickly jump off the lily pad for what is called a "lateral move" (i.e. the same pay) without question.  Getting a raise is a blessing because the cost of food and gas has gone up, squeezing our budget.  Commodity inflation, courtesy of your friendly neighborhood FED, has crushed Americans' budgets.  We were living lean & mean anyway, and any extra $ that comes in will go into savings.  It's a jungle out there - only the fittest of the fittest will survive.  Have to continue to prepare for hard times. 

3. My boss is cool.  Anyone who gets up in the morning and works knows that you are happiest at work when you like your boss.  If you don't like your boss, you need to move or leave.  "Hating my boss" is the #1 reason why people leave their job.  My boss plays hockey, has a wife and two little kids who play soccer, lets me work from home if I want, is smart, and generally is really happy that I'm there because I'm helping him get home at a decent hour.

4. The company is growing.  This is important.  You want to work somewhere where things are looking up.  People are talking about how much work they have to do.  That is a good thing - it means job security!  So instead of talking about when can I leave work, or when will I take my next nap with my eyes open sitting at my desk, we are crushed with work.  Which for me at least is a good thing.  The best situation for me is to have interesting work to do.  Boredom is the playground of vice and depression.  Growth means excitement, energy, passion, and avoidance of boredom. 

Sounds great, right?  Well these are not necessarily the days of wine and roses.  Let's review why this job is rough.

1. I'm working longer hours.  There is so much work, and we are so behind on everything, that the only way to keep all the plates spinning is to work longer & harder.  I have no problem with that, but it is cutting into my time dedicated to playing with my kids, meditation, composition, prayer, reading, and writing. I'm composing this post in 5 minute spurts between work assignments where my boss comes around my desk behind me.  It's totally nuts.

2. The company I work for is disorganized.  There are all these opportunities, people are coming and going, there is a lack of leadership, and it's barely holding together.  Imagine a stick of chewed gum holding the O-rings on the Space Shuttle... there's chewed gum all over the place.  There are lots of critical functions outsourced to India, like IT & technology functions, and it would be real helpful to have those people right here in the trenches.  What a mess! 

3. The job is occupying more of my brain than usual.  This is important because the dream of creating an album seems farther away.  I have to learn a lot of new stuff - which is good.  I enjoy learning.  But the issue is that it is occupying larger amounts of my bandwidth as I get up to speed.  So songwriting, reading, meditation, and creative energy in general are all being pushed back farther until I can get a grip on this job. 

I have to figure out a way to get everything back into balance in my life.  BALANCE is the key to a happy & fulfilling life.  I've always been able to figure out a good balance.  This job may help me improve my ability to multi-task and to compartmentalize different roles & responsibilities. 

For me, the band has always brought balance to my life.  Work has always been on the intense side, because of my chosen day job.  Music has been, from the moment I left college, my counterweight to the stress of work.  I get this opportunity every week to blow off steam in an extraordinary way.  It has kept me young, creative, fresh... happy.  My wife, thankfully, knows that. 

Work affects everything else.  If you spend 50 hours per week somewhere, that is bound to happen.  Perhaps due to the impatient rush of my new work life, I'm growing impatient with the band because I have so much new material, and I can't seem to get them to engage.  Especially since the Queen show, I know the material is really solid.  I have strong ideas about how to arrange it & record it.  I'm chomping at the bit to take a weekend and demo the songs. 

In past cycles, I have driven to NYC to demo my songs with Kieran at his studio.  But it is really difficult now to go up there.  Plus Kieran is so good at it now, I can't afford him anymore.  I'm thinking I may demo the songs with someone more local - Brian Fitzgerald, known as Fitzy.  He accompanied me at the Queen show and he really liked the songs.  In fact, he offered to help me record the songs at his home studio, where he has recorded three of his own full albums. 

My thinking is that Fitzy and I could bang out 8 songs in one weekend - that's how he works, and that's how I have to work now, given all my other responsibilities.  And I'm at a stage in my music life where I believe I'm capable of bringing all my talent & experience to bear in one intense weekend of recording.  Once that is done, I can give the demo to the band and they can just interpret what we have done.  This will be so much quicker than trying to get them to write their parts.  Thinking back, this has always been the approach we took.  Tom Demos the Songs, then The Band Plays the Songs. 

OK, back to work... talk amongst yourselves...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Do unto others

Tonight the band is playing for an event called "Relay for Life" which is a cancer charity.  The deal is that cancer survivors and their families camp out all night and walk in shifts, as a symbol of their perseverance in the face of the fatal disease.

This will be our third year participating, sharing our time and talent, and celebrating together with these fine people.  I can not say enough that if you want to be happy, do nice things for other people.  It's "good karma" as they say.  But of course it's more than that. 

As Paul McCartney once said to Chris Farley, "In my experience, the more you give, the more you get."  I am here to tell you that is true!  Giving your time to a charitable cause connects you with people in the community; keeps things in their proper perspective; reminds you how blessed and good your life really is; and brings you happiness and a warm heart. 

Let me tell you a story about Page, our keyboardist.  Yesterday he was laid off by a company he worked for over a decade.  For 10 years he had worked with his boss, who had to fire him.  His boss cried when he gave Page the news.  But my friend told him not to worry, he will be all right.  There are people all around us who are going through this - people who always did the right thing, studied in school, worked hard.  People who did what they were told to do to succeed.  They are losing their jobs their homes, their lives, their happiness.  For what?  Who took this American Dream away from them? 

I have a good idea who it is... and none of the people who did this to us are rotting in a jail, or even mildly humiliated.  They didn't even lose their jobs.  They are laughing while counting their piles of gold while We The People wither on the vine.  I ask again, for what?

Some day the cream will once again rise to the top.  The chickens will come home to roost.  Those who have taken from us will be called to the witness stand.  Until that day comes, we are all, as John Mayer says, "waiting for the world to change."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dealing with Bars...and their booking guys

Anyone who has ever played in a band and dealt with booking gigs has encountered issues with their intermediaries (bar managers, owners, etc) in the booking and confirmation of gigs.

There is a certain bar in West Chester.  I contacted their booking guy, Rob.  We agreed back in July on a show Friday, September 9th.  To confirm the start time & end time, I emailed him last Wednesday to say we were looking forward to the gig, and when do you want us to start?  He comes back... "Oh, I had you on the calendar for Thursday night.  Call me ASAP."  Unbelievable!  I dig up the old email where he confirmed the date with me.  Check.

I call him... he goes on this long story about how the owner has established a "piano man" scene on Friday nights, with bands on Thursdays and Saturdays.  Which is fine in itself.  But why had he not called me and let me know?  Is that too much to ask?  Had I not emailed him Wednesday, we would have showed up Friday night with all our gear (including PA) for a jam session with Piano Man, and not gotten paid.  
Sing us a song, you're the piano man.
This kind of thing goes on all the time.  It's par for the course.  That is why it is so important to find good people and work with them - to build relationships with bars where the people are cool and the bartenders treat you well.  I have a personal relationship with a certain individual in our area, Jim Miller, who books two of the best live venues in the state - Deer Park and Logan House.  We have a relationship going way back.  He takes care of us, and we take care of him.  This is exactly the type of situation you must create as a band in order to succeed for any length of time.

Because the simple fact is, if you do not have a relationship like that, it will be very difficult to keep your band together.  When all else fails - when you are fighting inside the band, when other members play in other bands, when you are tired - it's the gigs that pull you back together.  It's the gigs that make all the work and the sacrifice worth it.  It's the gigs that focus the minds of the members and get guys off their horse to practice.  The gigs are the big payoff.  That's why you pick up a guitar and play.  To play your music for people to enjoy.

The man who invented the phonograph, and therefore the music industry.  Thomas Edison.
I have never understood this fantasy of selling records and making millions... if it were ever true it isn't any more because music is free now.  Anyone can download any song without paying for it.  So we are back where we were before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, before large corporations controlled the distribution of music, before these same corporations forced people to buy entire albums of lousy music just to get that one song you really like (it was a place called the '90s).  I have a Case Logic CD case full of albums like that - Blind Melon, Black Crowes, albums with one good song and the rest suck. 

One-hit-wonder: Blind Melon
I think it is hilarious when bands try to sell their CDs for $10 now.  I wonder how many they have sold?  There is a new paradigm in music now, and the sooner everyone adjusts, the sooner bands will be the better for it.  
The man who blew up the world of popular music - Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs is a genius for a reason.  He not only invented the personal computer; he re-invented the music business.  He removed the middle man - the big mean music corporation - using technology (iPod, iTunes) and common sense.  99 cents per song is very easy for everyone to understand. Except many musicians who still try to get $10 for their CD. 

So, Will, what's your point? Well, the reason to play music now is the same reason that men played music 1,000 years ago.  To entertain the locals with your talent; to give the young a reason to move their feet and meet a mate on the dance floor; to grease the wheels of commerce at your local saloon; to find yourself in the company of a woman you have no business being with otherwise; to have a darn good time making people happy.  That's why.