Hustle Culture

Look… I’m a “busy” dude. I have a job, I have bands, I have the ocassional freelance project… I’ve got relationships and booking and practice to tend to. I also waste plenty of time on Netflix and bullshitting over a pint.

When I talk to people casually (like strangers or loose acqauintances), the subject inevitably comes up. They see me gigging and making stuff like this, lunchbreak videos and the day job… And at some point the topic turns to time, motivation, productivity, and all that zeitgeisty jazz.

Some folks ask for advice, other “hustlers” offer it, and everybody talks about how they just don’t have time to do all the things they want to. I commiserate.

Why do we do it?

In short, it’s because of hustle culture.

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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?

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The Truth About Gear

really like gear…

I already have some piles of it, and if money were no object, I’d surely have an awful lot more.

Every cymbal has its own personality, every snare drum plays just a little bit different… The brands, the finishes, the hammer marks… There’s an infinite amount of beauty in these percussive instruments while they’re just sitting still – and at the hands of a player, they come to life!

It’s a universe of its own, with history and nuance and drama. There are loyalists and eccentrics, innovators and traditionalists and downright hoarders.

To be an instrumentalist of any kind is to have some kind of relationship with the instruments themselves. There’s no wonder we place such value on these devices, that the objects of our music making become (to us, at least) more than mere tools. They become extensions of who we are, and identifiers of our heroes.

There’s a reason we know what a “Bonham kit” is… That Jimi played Strats and Jimmy played Les Pauls…

We know the names of iconic instruments we don’t even know how to play, and underneath it all, is the desire to accumulate these things – to get to know as many of them as we can.

There are hobbyists and collectors and historians, and worse – those misguided folks who think great gear is a substitute for skill or ideas… And that, friends, is where we get to the topic at hand.

Gear is fantastic and fascinating. There IS something to be said for using the best available tools… But the moment you put the equipment above the player, you’ve gone right off the rails.

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I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

So… I know a few things, but only kind of.

Broadly, though, I don’t have a god damn clue what I’m doing – on stage, at work, booking shows, teaching lessons, simply existing as a human being… It’s a work in progress at every single point, and likely always will be.

The good news is, depsite what anyone may tell you, it’s that way for everyone.

Total confidence is a spectre, and vague notion on the wind – and we should all embrace that.

Almost every day, I experience unfamiliarity, but with the right approach, it’s an adventure – a chance to refine what little information I have into something a little more actionable – or in some cases, the barely-informed actions present bits of wisdom I can add to my growing (but forever incomplete) body of knowledge.

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Giving The Gift – A Concept Worth Remembering At Each and Every Gig

Sometimes all it takes is hearing the right message. The right collection of words at the right time can coalesce with existing experiences and unarticulated thoughts…

This is the stuff real inspiration is made of.

Totally new ideas take time to sink in, have to contend with existing worldview, hurdle psychological barriers.

But the right statement in the right context can bring nebulous ideas close to a pinpoint – and I recently had one of those moments.

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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.

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Listening to Music You Don’t Like

Art is subjective, right?

We’re not all going to like every band, every song, even every style of music we hear… And that’s a good thing!

Our preferences are what determine our sound. Like it or not, we’re all the product of our combined influences – and in order to have favorites, it’s only logical that we have to have the opposite… Songs and styles we just don’t enjoy.

…But how we deal with the stuff we don’t like can be just as important – and educational – as the music that inspires us most.

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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