Dear Gigging Musician: Pandemic Sucks, Right?

I was supposed to be in Ohio last week. I busted my ass for just four dates out of state with Flexadecibel and The Brandino Extravaganza… Now it’s a wash. The album release show tomorrow is canceled too…

And with longer stretches of mandated distancing, the whole calendar is under threat. We’re already out three festivals and the dominos are just beginning to fall.

It sucks bigtime.

BIG OL’ CANCELED

These are hard times for performers of all stripes, especially those that make the bulk of their living that way. And while I don’t purport to offer advice about dollars (beyond some unemployment or other hustles if you can get ‘em – maybe more on that later), I do want to talk about how we now gigless players can spend this trying time for good.

I intend to broach some of these topics as best I can, even though I don’t feel terribly qualified to do so, and to continue as time goes on. Still, if I can offer any insights, or just start some conversations, I’ll feel positive about my contributions. 

So, here are a few ideas for what to do with your newfound free time. 

Practice

You knew this one was coming. If your gigs are canceled, you can’t write or rehearse with your band, and there aren’t performances on the horizon to prep for, it’s time to dig back into PRACTICE. 

A lot of the people I know are pretty good about practicing, but even more of them are not. They make excuses, can’t find the time, build themselves mental roadblocks for why they can’t… But most of those have disintegrated right along with the gig schedule.

Real practice is ugly. It’s often repetitive, sounds bad, and comes with a tremendous amount of frustration. Great, that means it’s working. If you aren’t already a diligent practicer, start small… Just carve out a few minutes a day. Pick one thing to truly work at. It’ll occupy some time, provide a small sense of accomplishment, and add a few bricks to the tower of skill you already have. 

Try New Things

Being a creative person (and I believe that inherently, we all are – or can be) doesn’t necessarily have a singular medium. If you’re a drummer like me, maybe try your hand at some drawing or graphic design (Canva is a good way to dabble). If you’re a singer/songwriter, maybe it’s time to work on some leads on your normally accompanying instrument. Try to make some beats, experiment in the kitchen, write a story… The point is to do something with your brain that’s outside the norm.

Is it going to be great your first try? Doubtful!

But that too is part of the point. Let yourself suck at something new, tap into creative thinking that isn’t tied to your instrument or medium of choice, and pass the time exercising your imagination in a novel way. 

Get Your House In Order 

I mean this both literally and figuratively. I’m terribly guilty of letting myself live in a “messy” space, not spending the time to take care of it, and letting the physical clutter translate into mental clutter… Maybe you do this too. Now’s the time to clean, to organize, to tackle some of those backburner projects that never seem to be a priority in “normal” life.

This is true for things beyond your physical space as well. Maybe you need to take care of some accounting, update a website, fix a piece of gear… Maybe it’s time to change those heads or strings.

Not only will the sense of accomplishment make you feel nice, you’ll also build some momentum for anything else you may want to tackle. Maybe you don’t have a kit at home, but you still have hands and knees… You have YouTube for theory lessons… You can use Google’s metronome to ear-train for new groupings or subdivisions…

You can use this time to clean up just about anything.

No Seriously, Practice

We may not be able to get on stage, or even get together with our musical collaborators, but we can ALWAYS chip away at the lifelong pursuit of skill development, period.

Take Care of Yourself

Shit’s weird… And no matter who you are, that does something to your brain. We all handle things differently, and are going through all kinds of individual struggles. This isn’t necessarily an excuse to indulge in bad habits (though I’ve certainly been doing my fair share of that), but it is a reminder that feeling listless, lonely, afraid, unmotivated, and a litany of other emotions is okay… 

While these bizarre times are an opportunity to use quarantine for creativity and development, they’re also taking a toll on our collective psyche. Be good to yourself, and if you’re feeling fragile, don’t fret about a lack of productivity. 

Remote Collaborations

I plan to tackle this more deeply in a future post, but it’s worth mentioning here. If you have a smartphone, you can make digital content. It might not be fantastic quality, but it’s still something. You don’t have to be an expert to experiment, so hit up your friends and see what you can make together without being in the same room. 

 

Most of this is pretty common sense, but because I’m also doing my best to stay creative, writing it out feels good – and maybe that’s the bigger point. With so many things on pause, our future uncertain, it’s seems necessary to partake in activities that both a: provide some normalcy, and b: help us fight back against the dread hanging in the air.

Make stuff. Learn stuff. It’s good for you. 

Fighting Through The Slumps

Perpetual positivity is a myth. The reality of humanity is steeped in peaks and valleys – good days and bad. This is as true for diets as it is conversations with your spouse… Dayjob performance or sleep cycles.

Sometimes the downs are brief, fleeting even. Other times they persist.

As artists and musicmakers, these pendulum swings can be even more extreme. Work you’re proud of; work you hate. Periods of fiery inspiration, and bouts of doubt so thick, you consider burning your instrument…

So, what can we do when the chips are down? When the gigs suck and we feel stuck and the whole thing feels like a chore?

Continue reading Fighting Through The Slumps

Grind With What You’ve Got

This is as much for me as it is for you (as usual)…

If you want to do something, anything really, you gotta go for it in whatever ways you can. This isn’t one of those “get out of town or you’ll never make it” posts, or advice about dropping everything else in your life to chase your passions (well maybe a little).

It is, however, a reminder to stay vigilant, to be aware of – and focused on – what you can be doing RIGHT NOW to get closer to where you want to be, wherever that may be.

There’s a big difference between excuses and legitimate reasons. We don’t always get to choose our lot in life. We do, however, get to choose what we do with it…

Continue reading Grind With What You’ve Got

Falling In Love: Reconnecting With Your Instrument

I love music, I love learning about it, I love digging into the craft, studying, challenging myself, practicing and performing as much as I can… I’m pretty certifiably obsessed.

Smitten.

I’m proud of it, honestly. I kind of relish the weird comments or disbelief that I try to do as much drumming as possible. It’s part of my identity, both internally and externally.

Plenty of people don’t have that, though… A relationship with music/an instrument that helps define them. Or maybe they did, and lost it somewhere along the road.

For those of us even a little serious about musicmaking, finding and honing our creative voices, I think we have to love what we do. We should be thinking about it waiting in line or sitting on the bus…

Infatuation with your instrument and the music it makes is (or at least should be) part of the process.

Balance is important of course, but I’m looking right at those folks who play… Who want to play… But always seem to find other things to occupy their attention.

If you don’t find yourself in my camp of “I want to do this ALL THE TIME” – how can you get there?

Or, a bit more practically, how can you stoke the fires of musical passion to make time to practice (which we all know is important), to put forth more effort than you currently are – because you want to.

How do you fall back in love with your instrument?

Continue reading Falling In Love: Reconnecting With Your Instrument

Lunch Break Groove Philosophy

If we’re Facebook friends, you may have seen my series of #Lunchbreak grooves. I’m up to like 42 of them now, and it has been a fun and interesting project…

In the spirit of connecting my various paths of creativity, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about why I’m doing them, what I’ve learned so far, and the value that we can all get out of “projects” like this.

First, these videos are rough and short form, done through Instagram and shared to Facebook. Even that has its purpose – while I have some IG followers, I currently have a much larger network on Facebook, and drum stuff seems to be less diluted there… Or rather, it’s where I’m connected to more people I know and care about, and that’s part of the impact I’m trying to make.

You can find the whole dang list right here.

Continue reading Lunch Break Groove Philosophy

GET OFF YOUR ASS!!!

Someone has to say it.

I see it way too much – up close and at a distance – the incompatible combination of wanting to do something… AND NOT ACTUALLY PURSUING IT.

Forgive me for ranting. This isn’t usually my style, and before I wander into too much lecturing, I’ll gladly concede that everyone is different. We don’t all have the same goals, energy levels, patience, and so on…

But with that said, if you really want to improve as a musician, if you want to play gigs, if you just want to have faster single strokes – you have to work for it.

Now, there’s no benchmark for “success” that applies to everyone. Maybe you can’t (or don’t want to) dedicate massive amounts of time to the practice room or hustle for gigs every day – but if you want even a fraction of whatever success means to you, it absolutely requires effort.

There is no getting around it.

If you don’t care, or are perfectly content with your playing, your musical career (whatever that may be), etc., this isn’t for you.

If, however, you want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes (like I do), you have to break out your metaphorical shovel and get to digging.

Continue reading GET OFF YOUR ASS!!!

The Confidence/Knowledge Paradox

Confidence is a strange beast. Some seem to possess it inherently, others seem to fight to find it their entire lives. Musicians are notorious for this dichotomy, many acting as their “own worst critics” or constantly chasing some sense of artistic achievement that’s always out of reach.

The mighty Beethoven, a true master by all accounts, once wrote in a letter to a young admirer:

“The true artist is not proud, he unfortunately sees that art has no limits; he feels darkly how far he is from the goal; and though he may be admired by others, he is sad not to have reached that point to which his better genius only appears as a distant, guiding sun.”

Even a man of his tremendous achievement is plagued by doubt, disheartened by some goal that always seems just over the horizon. Maybe it’s just part of being an artist…

But it’s also just part of being a human.

Continue reading The Confidence/Knowledge Paradox

Midwest Rhythm Summit: Grassroots and Beautiful

I recently had the pleasure of attending the first ever Midwest Rhythm Summit, hosted by Terra State Community College in Fremont, Ohio.

After a late night playing with Flexadecibel, I got up at the crack of dawn, scooped my buddy Kameron in Lansing, and high-tailed it to Ohio to catch the 2nd day of events. We made it just in time to get settled and start going to clinics.

Before I get into the specifics, I want to reiterate the importance of these types of events. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that the drumming community is vast, that we never stop learning, and that human beings all over the world can be brought together simply through the love of music.

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My Rough Approach to Gear Review (so far…)

I’m not an expert, but I’m working on it.

The business and blogging gurus of the world might tell me not to mention that, to present what I know with confidence, and avoid acknowledging gaps by way of intentional omission… But I’m not going to do that.

The entire point of this blog is exploration. I aim to chronicle the things I learn while I’m learning them, to share experiences and ideas and insights in whatever forms they come, however imperfect they might be – and by doing so, encourage you to do the same. Not for the sake of reputation, clout, or anything of the sort – but rather for the noble pursuit of knowledge, and owning the roughshod, meandering path that such pursuit includes.

As I wander my way into doing more “gear review” type posts, I’m met with a fair amount of imposter syndrome. I don’t run a studio. I don’t work for a drum company. I’ve had a relatively cool collection over my life, but there’s a TON I don’t know… But this is my place to explore and share, right?

With that in mind, I wanted to address the how and why of these “reviews,” partly to explain myself, but mostly to answer my own question: “why write reviews when I feel underqualified?”

Continue reading My Rough Approach to Gear Review (so far…)

The Power of Simplicity

I just had the distinct pleasure of seeing the Charlie Hunter Trio at Tip Top Deluxe in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Despite the title here, the music was by no means “simple” – and if you’re at all familiar with Charlie’s playing, you know just how technical and impressive it can be, aside from it’s mega tastiness.

The trio consisted of Charlie on his magical seven-string guitar, a singer (Dara Tucker), and a percussionist (Damon Grant)… And for the purposes of this discussion, I want to focus on the “drums.”

With a cajon, a few cymbals, some shakers, and a pedals for a tambourine and low boy, Damon’s parts were eloquently sparse and waaaay deep in the pocket…

We hear about it often: the licks that will get you fired, the importance of the groove, fills don’t pay the bills, keep it simple, and on and on – but this was a masterclass in the raw power and straight funkiness of minimal, beautifully played time and TONS of space.

Continue reading The Power of Simplicity