About Me

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Atlanta, GA, United States
When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995 and have been music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation since 2011.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Press Kit

Music is a challenging endeavor. When I was a trombone player, I put in countless hours in the practice room, playing scales, orchestral excerpts, solos, and etudes. As a guitar player, I practice 3-4 hours a day, not including the evenings I spend rehearsing or gigging. If I didn't have to work as a music engraver to support myself, I would spend another couple hours practicing.

For those of us who have decided to turn music into a profession, there are challenges outside the scope of music. The main hurdle for many, including me, is reaching out to others and finding good gigs. We spend so much time focusing on music, and we should, but very few of us learn how to properly search for good paying gigs.

In my own quest to find paying jobs, I've decided to find a booking agent. The downside to an agent is that he gets a percentage of your gig money. The upside is that he can find you jobs that may have eluded you if you had been looking on your own.

I recently contacted an agency to see how to go about being a part of their company. The person I contacted told me that they have several inquiries each day, so in their submissions process, they require that a press kit be mailed to them. What's a press kit you ask? I asked myself the same thing. I didn't learn about press kits when I was coming up as a classical trombonist! I learned that a press kit contains:

  • A CD. For some musicians, this is a full CD. For someone like me who is just starting out, it's a demo CD. My press kit includes On the Cool Side's demo CD.
  • Glossy photos.
  • Business cards.
  • A fact sheet. The fact sheet for On the Cool side includes the names of the band members, my contact info, websites, a description of our musical style, and recent and upcoming performance dates, all laid out in bullet points. If this were for print or broadcast media, I would include some more personal information, such as my home town and where I went to school.
  • Song list. If my other materials didn't already make it obvious, anyone could see from the song list that On the Cool Side specializes in jazz.
  • Bios and quotes. I included two bios, one for On the Cool Side, and one for me. I included one for myself because a) I'm the band leader, and b) I give On the Cool Side clients the option of hiring me as a soloist if they're on a budget or the occasion calls for quieter, more intimate music.
  • Reprints of press clippings. Since On the Cool Side is a new band and we're focused on background music, our total number of press clippings is exactly zero. That's OK, though. If I included a bunch of manufactured press clippings in my press kit, an agent would easily see through my bullshit. It's better to have no press clippings than to fake some. In lieu of press clippings, I included some nice quotes on my bio page.
  • A cover letter. My cover letter is brief and to the point. I explain who we are (On the Cool Side, jazz group that can provide a quartet, duo or soloist) and what we want (background music gigs for receptions, cocktail parties, etc.). Aside from that, there doesn't seem to be any sense telling everything there is to know about the group, because it's all covered in the rest of the press kit.
Assembling this press kit took a lot of time and money, especially the CD and the photos. It'll be something that I constantly update and improve. Aside from creating a useful tool for finding an agent, this was an important personal step. Narrowing all my information down to a few sheets of paper helped me focus on what kind of group On the Cool Side is and where we can find our niche. 

As far as the agency is concerned, I imagine they ask for a physical press kit partially to weed out pretenders. Anyone can send a link to their website or email a photo. I think the agency wants to see who will go the extra mile by physically assembling a press kit and getting off their duff to mail it. Of course, there are many others like me who are also willing to put in the work, so then it's a matter of hoping that my press kit catches their attention and that my style of music fits in with their company.

I finally completed my first press kit about an hour ago. It's ready to be dropped in the mail. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Famine

A while ago, I described my unusual day job as a freelance music engraver. (See "What the Bleep Is Music Engraving?") One of the perks of being a freelancer is having a flexible schedule. One of the scarier things about being a freelancer is that you experience dry spells. Freelancing is a feast or famine way of life. I just feasted, but now comes the famine.

During the past few months, my two main clients have clobbered me with work. I recently engraved around 25 choral octavos for Santa Barbara Music Publishing and several concert band pieces for the Neil A. Kjos Music Company, including a handful of large, complicated scores. It's been interesting trying to juggle music engraving, practicing, rehearsing, and performing. There are times when I resent music engraving, but then I get a check in the mail and it's all better. It's not that I dislike music engraving; I enjoy it very much. I just like playing guitar and singing more!

The only thing a freelancer hates more than having too much work is having no work at all, and that's where I stand this morning. I go through this every time I run out of projects. Even though I know there will be more work ahead, there is a part of me that wonders if I'll ever work again.

On the bright side, my mornings are now free. I haven't taken a break in a while, so tomorrow I may take some time to see a movie. After that breather, I'll be doing a thousand little things that will eventually lead to more performance opportunities: hunting for gigs, writing more music, reaching out to event planners, finding an agent, and much more. One of my goals is to earn at least as much money from performing as I earn from music engraving, and so I'll be devoting my down time to moving my new performance career forward.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Background Music

Fame! Stardom! Celebrity! Crazy money! Mansions! Summer vacation homes! Groupies! Roadies! VIP access! Lucrative endorsements! An entourage of bootlickers and ass kissers! Your own reality show! If you're a background musician, none of this and more can be yours. Fortunately, I don't need any of this. Scratch that. I wouldn't mind extra cash. Groupies are creepy. My brother had to deal with groupies when he was a performer at 6 Flags, and that weirdness would only be magnified if I were to gain a certain amount of fame. So, no groupies, but a girlfriend sure would be nice.

I'll have to admit that I'd like some extra money, but I don't need the rest. I am perfectly content to sit in the corner at a reception or a restaurant, playing and singing my favorite music. To many (not all) of today's stars, music appears to be a means to an end…usually money and fame. Of course I like to be paid for my time, and I deserve it, but my main reward is the simple act of making music.

My fondness for playing background music probably has a lot to do with my personality: introverted, shy, and solitary. More of my personality and oddball humor comes out when I'm with close friends or family, but I avoid large groups. Parties? Forget it. Unless I'm the hired musician, I don't go to parties. On the rare occasion that I'm convinced to attend a party, I usually find a nice corner and try to blend in with the furniture. I'm always the first to leave.

Sometimes I joke about a background music job as a musical wallpaper gig, or an MTBI gig (music to be ignored). The truth is that I really enjoy playing background music. One of my main goals in life is to make the space around me a more pleasant place to be. It's too overwhelming to think about changing the world, but when I play or sing, I can change the atmosphere of a room.

Imagine you are sitting in the corner of a room with people milling about, chatting, and checking out the buffet table. You tune your guitar, strike a chord, and start playing. The mood instantly changes. Your music intermingles with the conversations, calming the guests and lowering their voices. Someone stops to listen, because you're playing a favorite song that triggers a happy memory. A child dances. When your time is up, you pack up your gear, collect your check, and go home. In the meantime, you've made your little piece of the world just a little better simply by sitting in the corner and offering up your music.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Stay Busy

Being at the beginning of my new jazz guitar and singing career, I'm not in a position to give out a lot of advice to other musicians, but here's one bit of wisdom I can pass along. If you're looking to carve out a place for yourself in the music world, stay busy. If you plan on being a working musician, you need to play in public as often as you can.

In my experience as a new guitar player, as well as my previous experience as a trombone player, I've learned that work leads to more work. Momentum is everything. Simply being out in public is a signal that you have something to offer. You can be the greatest guitar player in the world, but that won't build you a career if you keep it to yourself. Nobody's going to knock on your door and say, "Hey, I heard you practicing. Would you like a six-figure contract?"

Even if you're not an elite level musician, if you get outside your practice room and perform, you're going to meet people and find more playing opportunities. The owner of the coffee shop you just played may love your music and want to schedule you again. Maybe you'll meet a more experienced musician who is willing to offer you some guidance. Maybe a customer in the coffee shop thinks you'd be perfect for their wedding (this has happened to me), or maybe another customer is an event planner. You just don't know who you'll meet until you get out there.

About three years ago, I started playing at an assisted living center. This was great practice for me. It was gratis, but it gave me a place to play my solo guitar arrangements in public. This gave me the confidence to start playing at the open mic at REV Coffee in Smyrna, where I played my solo arrangements and sometimes sat in with other musicians, learning songs on the fly. I also began searching for opportunities to play in a jazz group. I played in a few. None were the right fit, but I learned something in each group, and I eventually developed the confidence to start my own jazz group, On the Cool Side. I've also stayed busy by subbing with two big bands: the Atlanta Swing Orchestra and the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. Aside from having a blast playing big band rhythm guitar, my involvement with both of these groups has led to paying jobs. I've played in a pick-up combo from the ASO, as well as a recent big band job. The SJO has led to some background music gigs, where I've played dinner music prior to an SJO dance. Also, Dan Turner, the piano player from the SJO, has been kind enough to point me to some small restaurant gigs and offer general advice and guidance.

In the meantime, I've stayed busy playing coffee shops and restaurants as a soloist, with On the Cool Side, and with Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey. This is good practice. A coffee shop is a great place to try out new material or just become accustomed to playing in front of an audience, and you never know who's in the room. I always make sure to have business cards, and even though I'm shy by nature, I'll make myself go out and talk to people between sets, thank them for listening, and chat with them for a while.

I stay busy with my publicity work as well. You have to get out of the house and play, and you also need to have an online presence so people can find you. By maintaining a website and constantly letting people know it's there, you're putting out a virtual billboard. (Earlier this week, I was happy to discover that when I Googled myself, I was on the first page, and no longer on the fifth page after another Tom Godfrey who was deceased.) I recently took my publicity efforts a step further and exhibited at the Georgia Bridal Show. It was expensive, but I think it was a good investment. Today I played a wedding as a result of being involved with the Georgia Bridal Show. On top of that, I met some event planners at the show. I'm working on developing relationships with those planners, which should result in some more payed gigs in another 6-12 months.

My online work and public performing is gradually starting to pay off. At this point in my new career, I'm playing mostly free gigs with a few paid jobs here and there. This month I'm playing five low or non-paying jobs and three jobs with pretty decent pay. Three paid jobs isn't much, but it's three more paid jobs than I had a year ago around this time. If I maintain a busy performance schedule and consistently work on publicity, then next April maybe I'll have six paid jobs instead of three, and the year after that, maybe I'll be turning down jobs or acting as a contractor.

It all comes down to staying busy. Here I am now. Three years after playing at that retirement community, I'm playing more paid gigs and meeting new people all the time. Three years from now, who knows where I'll be?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Band Meeting

Most musicians are reluctant to deal with the business side of music, myself included. We prefer to spend time and energy practicing, rehearsing, and writing. Unfortunately, we also have to find our own playing opportunities unless we have agents to find them for us. Personally, I'm weak in the business of music. Coming up in the classical tradition, I don't remember a single conversation about how to build a music career, and when I was an undergrad, the University of Illinois didn't offer a business of music class. The standard career for a classical trombone player was to win an orchestral audition or find a college teaching job (or possibly both). Once you had a job, you wouldn't have to hustle for gigs. Someone else would book concerts for the orchestra, and you would show up to prescheduled rehearsals and concerts. For a college teaching job, even if you were complacent, you were pretty much set once you had tenure. (For the record, not all college trombone teachers are complacent. Elliot Chasanov inherited an already strong trombone studio when he became Professor of Trombone at the University of Illinois, but then he took it to another level through tireless recruiting, PR, performing, and excellent teaching.)

One thing the music schools never considered is what would happen if you didn't win (or want) an orchestral job, or what if you didn't want to teach? What if you wanted to form a small group, such as a brass quintet? Where would you find jobs? What venues or events could you play? Who would you contact to find such jobs? How would you advertise? Where would you advertise? I just looked up my alma mater's curriculum, and unless I missed it, there is still no business of music class. The University of Illinois has one of the best music schools in the country, but it's disappointing that since I graduated in 1988, there is still no class that offers practical advice on building a music career outside of teaching or orchestral performing. I sincerely hope that someone responds to this blog and proves me wrong.

As a freelancer starting a new career in non-classical music, I'm learning the music business the old fashioned way – by being thrown into the deep end! Fortunately, there are others around me to offer support, advice, and encouragement.

I just had a new business experience that has been long overdue. Tonight, Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey had a band meeting to draw up a business plan. We've had meetings to talk about our general vision for the band, but this is the first time we've begun to draw up a formal business plan. Fortunately, this wasn't a dry meeting. I love all the members of the group, and it's a treat to spend time with them.

To help focus our eyes on the prize, we first talked about the broader aspects of our band. We talked about our overall vision for AVG, looking into the future, then worked backward to figure out the steps that would lead us there. For example, we talked about who our audience will be, then we worked backwards, thinking of several ways to reach our audience. Each different way of reaching our audience branched into several other important steps.

I won't go into the details of our meeting. We still have to formalize our business plan, and even then, it'll be an internal document. I can talk about our meeting in general, though. We talked about where we would like to eventually perform…coffee shops today, but then playing at the next level of venue in Atlanta (Eddie's Attic, The Five Spot, and so on), and then expanding to regional, then national, etc. We talked about where we could place our music (TV, commercials, film, games, etc.). We talked about a division of labor within the band…who's going to research venues, who will take care of web stuff, and so forth. We talked about how many albums we would like to record in the next few years, and much more.

What I especially liked about our meeting was that we didn't sit around and try to figure out how we were going to make tons of money. Of course money was part of the discussion, but it took a minor role. I was happy (and not surprised) to find that our top priorities were writing and performing high quality music to touch others and create memorable experiences. I love performing with AVG, but I find equal satisfaction in the process of writing songs with the band. Sometimes one of us will bring in a finished song, but most of our new songs are group efforts. It's magical when you're hammering out a new song, then something clicks and everyone's looking around saying, "Yes! That's it!" Sure, we'll have to take care of the business end of things, but as long as we stay focused on the music that we love, we'll be in good shape.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What's in Store for 2010?

I'm a goal setter and list writer. That's probably one of the reasons I was able to learn guitar quickly. I began playing guitar six years ago. It took me six years (from age 11-17) to go from complete beginner to a college level trombone player, so I figured I should be able to reach a comparable level of playing on guitar in the same amount of time. From the first days of guitar playing, I knew I wanted to reach a professional level, so right away I was able to stay focused and have a purpose for every practice session. I have now reached what I think of as "entry level pro." In other words, I'm not even close to the level of the big fish in the jazz world, but I'm certainly good enough to merit getting paid for playing in public.

To me, one of the greatest things about playing guitar (or any instrument) is that you're never done. There's always another song to learn, another way to finger a chord or scale, another arrangement to write, or another lick to learn. There's also the challenge of gradually being able to play faster, and there are so many different ways to play the guitar that it's a rare player who can master all the techniques.

I've met many small goals to get this far. Here are my goals for 2010.

  • Write 10 songs. I'm not a prolific songwriter, but I've been happy with what I've written so far. Song writing is a new skill I'm developing. I'm not comfortable with it yet, but I feel I have a lot of good songs in me waiting to come out. Most of my songs start as instrumentals. With Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey, I have a special incentive to write music. We perform all originals, and our rehearsals are nurturing and encouraging. Many of our songs are group efforts. In our latest song, "Let Go and Fly," I came up with the music for the chorus and influenced the overall feel of the song. I suggested the lyric "Let Go and Fly," which inspired Thomas Vinton to come up with the rest. Thomas also came up with two really cool musical hooks that helped glue the song together. Patricia Allen put Thomas' lyrics to music over our chords, and Yahya Rahman offered general suggestions and laid down a killer drum beat. Between group writing and solo efforts, I've written three songs this year, and I've got a really good melody for the next one.
  • Earn $1,000 in one month from gigs by October. Obviously this is a professional goal and not a musical one. Up until recently, I've been playing mostly low- or non-paid gigs simply for the experience of getting out in public and learning to deal with my stage fright. I'll continue to play some of these non-paid gigs because I like the people involved, but I'm focused on finding better paying jobs. With On the Cool Side, I'm working hard to find jobs at weddings, dinner parties, cocktail hours, receptions, and so forth. Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey will be having a meeting soon to discuss ways to create our own gigs and promote our original music. Eventually I'd like to be able to make enough money from gigs to pay rent and bills.
  • Find an agent. Again, this is a professional goal. I'm nearly finished putting together the materials I'll need to find an agent. The package will include a demo CD, photos, a fact sheet, bio, gig sheet (of recent and upcoming gigs), etc. An agent gets a percentage of your gig money, but your chance of landing good jobs increases…if you have the right agent. This is an area where I'll have to proceed with caution, and I'll be soliciting the advice of friends who have been on the Atlanta music scene for a while.
  • Plan an album for On the Cool Side. I'd like to record a CD with On the Cool Side in early 2011, which means that I'll have to lay the groundwork in 2010. I don't have a concept for the album yet. All I know is that I'd like to have two parts original music and one part jazz standards.
  • Copyright my songs. Soon I'll be copyrighting my music, along with Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey's songs. This is a very important step to take. Once our music is copyrighted, we'll be able to pursue potential avenues of income. For example, we could sell a song or instrumental for placement in a TV show or movie. Our songs need to be copyrighted in order to sell our own album. We could hit the jackpot and sell a song or two to a major star. There are many possibilities, but first we need to get those songs copyrighted. If we don't copyright them, there is the possibility that an unethical person could write them down and take the credit for them (along with potential income).
Most of the goals I outlined are professional goals, but I have plenty of musical goals, too. I try to learn a new song every week. I enjoy Gypsy Jazz, but I'm not well versed in it, so I'm working through a Gypsy Jazz guitar book. I'm constantly learning and memorizing licks. I'm gradually improving my speed and accuracy. I'm improving my singing.

The professional goals mean nothing without the musical skills. The musical skills are a lot of fun to work on. Some days can be frustrating, especially when you're not progressing as quickly as you'd like, but overall, the musical endeavor is satisfying. One really cool thing about the guitar is that it's a never ending puzzle. Once you crack a code, you discover that there are deeper mysteries to explore. Eventually, the professional side of things may level off, but there will always be something new to learn on the guitar. As long as I keep looking for ways to improve my playing, I'll never be bored.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Losing It

I've had weight issues ever since college. I was active through high school, and simply being a teenager was enough to keep weight off. When I was a freshman in college, the cafeteria at my dorm had all you can eat soft serve ice cream. Ice cream is my biggest weakness, and I gained much more than my "freshman 20."

Since college, my weight has been up and down…mostly up, but sometimes down. Before my last year in college, I decided to do something about my weight. I began running and lifting weights during summer break, and I was down to 210 pounds and looking pretty good by the time the fall semester began. I continued lifting weights and exercising through my short career as a teacher, got into bodybuilding, and was even considering entering an amateur bodybuilding contest. (For those of you who haven't met me in person, I'm a tall man with a large frame. On most guys, 210 is overweight, but on me it looks just right.)

After a short, unsuccessful teaching career, I went to grad school at Kent State University for a master's in trombone performance. During this time, I started gaining weight. I was so into practicing, performing, and studying, that I neglected to exercise, and soon I was buying bigger pants. It also didn't help that within walking distance of the school there was a Taco Bell, a pizza place, a Chinese restaurant, a Denny's, and a Ground Round!

A few years after that, I lost weight again after winning the Air Force band audition. I had to lose 60 pounds to be qualified to enter basic training. I was playing in the Ohio Light Opera at the time. The OLO is a summer music job. I played trombone in the pit orchestra. It was an easy schedule, and my mornings were free. To lose weight for the Air Force, I walked and walked and walked. I walked 8 miles every morning, rain or shine. By the end of the summer, I had lost 70 pounds, I was running, and I was one of the fittest recruits at basic training. There were two main motivators that helped me lose weight that summer. 1) I had a good job waiting for me as soon as I could shed the pounds. 2) There was a very pretty oboe player named Andrea Gullickson who walked with me every morning. Guys, if you had Andrea waiting for you at the tennis courts every morning, you would've been walking, too! I've always regretted not pursuing that relationship, but hey, what can you do?

I was very fit in the Air Force, partially because I had to stay below a certain weight, but mostly because I discovered that I liked running. Most people will only run if they're trying to catch a bus or they're being chased by a tiger. I ran because I enjoyed it. I entered several races and eventually clocked some decent times. My personal best for a 5K was 19:30…not world class, but certainly not slow.

After the Air Force, I ballooned again. Once more, I stopped exercising, and the weight crept up and up. I lived in Chicago for a few years. Although I gained a lot of weight, it never got totally out of hand, because I walked everywhere in Chicago. I didn't need a car. I could walk or take a train to anywhere I needed to go. I met Katherine through a mutual friend while living in Chicago. We were soon married, and I moved to Dayton to be with her. Suddenly I was driving everywhere again, and I started gaining more weight. We moved to Atlanta, and I kept gaining.

Katherine divorced me a few years ago, and I went on the "divorce diet." I did pretty well, cycling and walking. At one point I had even started running, but I think that was my downfall. I was trying to recapture my glory days of running in the Air Force, and I soon started running more and more, pushing myself too much. I caught a bad cold and stopped exercising for a week because I was too tired.

After I recovered from my cold, I lost the motivation to exercise again, which is too bad. I had lost 70 pounds and was nearing my target weight. So here I am again, obese and 43 years old. Today, this very day, I've decided to lose the weight once again. Today I saw a man in the grocery store who was so fat that he needed a motorized cart to get around. Watching him at the checkout line, I realized this could be me in another 10 years. I have back problems, and in the past few months, my knees have progressively been getting worse. I don't want to end up motoring my way around the grocery store or dropping dead with a heart attack before I'm 50. I don't feel I'm being overly dramatic when I tell you that I've been digging my own grave with a fork and spoon.

It's time to fix this problem once and for all, starting today. The most embarrassing thing is that I've known how to lose and maintain weight all along. I've been into both bodybuilding and running, and at one time I was a licensed personal trainer, so I know all the steps I need to take. I just haven't been doing anything about it. This will start with a better diet…in with the meats, veggies, fruits, and water, and out with the Ben and Jerry's and chips. (I'll miss you, Ben and Jerry.) Time to start taking that daily walk again. Fortunately, humans are designed for distance walking, and even a fat dude like me can walk.

I have two main motivators for losing weight, and I'm planning on occasionally reporting my progress in this blog as an additional motivator. The first motivator is health. I'm 43 years old, and I'd like to spend at least another 43 years happily making music. The second motivator is not, unfortunately, a pretty oboe player waiting for me near the tennis courts every morning. The second motivator is my new music career. It's a sad fact that many people listen with their eyes. Think about all the attractive pop stars with questionable talent and model looks…Britney Spears, for example, whose initials just happen to be B.S. Looking good won't make me a better musician, but it'll make me more attractive to potential clients and fans.

So there it is. Once again, it's time to literally walk my ass off!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Checklists

Even though I'm not nearly as good a guitar player as I was a trombone player (yet!), I enjoy playing guitar more than I enjoyed the trombone. Not that I didn't enjoy the trombone. I loved the trombone, and I miss the camaraderie of playing in a section with my buddies, trying to part the hair of the cello players in front of us. An orchestra rehearsal wasn't a success unless you got at least one dirty look from a string player.

I like jazz guitar for its versatility. As a guitarist, I have to be able to play in a variety of situations. Tonight I'm playing a big band gig, which means that I'm playing strictly rhythm guitar…quarter notes all night, a la Freddie Green. A couple nights ago I performed in a combo setting with On the Cool Side, playing rhythm guitar, improvising, and singing. Tomorrow morning I'm playing for a church service, where I'll be accompanying hymns and playing solo guitar arrangements. It's hard to get bored when you have so many bases to cover.

Although I'm having more fun now as a jazz guitarist, I look back with fondness at my trombone days when I have to pack up for a gig. Before I began playing, guitar equipment looked so simple. It looked like it was just a player and his guitar. It wasn't until I started gigging that I learned all the equipment you need to haul to a gig. As a trombone player I was spoiled. For the most part, I played in situations where just about everything but my instrument was provided. As a guitar player at the start of a new playing career, I usually have to bring everything but the kitchen sink. From what I've read, Joe Pass only carried his guitar from job to job, expecting that everything else would be provided. I'm not even close to Joe Pass' level of fame or musicianship, so it's up to me to provide the necessary gear.

Here's a list of equipment I typically take to a gig. I don't always have to take everything on the list. For example, if I'm doing a solo guitar gig with no vocals, I don't have to take a microphone and speakers, but still, there's quite a list of stuff to bring even for a simple solo gig.
  1. Guitar(s)
  2. Guitar Stand(s)
  3. Picks
  4. Instrument Cables
  5. DI Box (Direct Input, sometimes needed to get hooked into a sound system)
  6. Microphone(s)
  7. Microphone Cables
  8. Microphone Stand(s)
  9. Music Stand
  10. Mixing Board (for Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey gigs)
  11. Cough Drops (if I'm singing)
  12. Guitar Pedals
  13. Tuner
  14. Speakers
  15. Amp
  16. Extension Cable
  17. Power Strip
  18. Multi-Tool (For emergency repairs. I haven't needed it yet, but the day I forget to bring it is the day I'll have an emergency)
  19. Extra Strings (I haven't broken a string in public yet, but again, the day I forget my extra strings is the day I break one.)
  20. Peg Winder (Helps change strings faster)
  21. Music
  22. Set List
  23. Business Cards
  24. Water
  25. Stool (Most places will have something to sit on, but I keep a folding stool in my trunk, just in case.)
  26. Calendar (In case I'm lucky enough that someone wants to book me for another gig.)
  27. Duct Tape (The Universal Tool)
  28. Wind Clips (If I'm playing outside and using music, I need wind clips to keep the music from blowing away.)
  29. Stand Lights (if I'm playing outside at night, or inside with bad lighting.)
  30. Extra Batteries (For my stand lights, tuner, and pedals.)
  31. Tip Jar (Always the tip jar! Well, not always. It's not really appropriate for weddings and funerals.)
  32. Recording device…a video camera and tripod if the lighting is decent, or an audio recorder. It's important at this stage of the game to document everything, and since I sometimes have trouble with rent, hiring my own videographer is out of the question!
  33. Rock-n-Roller Cart: I love this thing! With this cart, I can usually haul my equipment in one or two trips, and it folds up and fits neatly in my trunk.
By contrast, here's what I typically needed to bring to a gig when I was a classical trombone player:
  1. Trombone

Friday, April 9, 2010

Hungry Ear Coffee House Article

Amy Wenk from Reporter Newspapers wrote a nice article about the Hungry Ear Coffee House after attending last weekend's show. Here's the link:

http://reporternewspapers.net/2010/04/08/unitarian-coffee-house-feeds-hungry-ears-and-mouths/

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Changing Gears

Lately, things have been changing quickly. One year ago I was happy to perform once or twice a month, usually for free. Last month I performed several times with On the Cool Side. This month I'll be performing four times with Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey, three times with On the Cool Side, twice as a soloist, once with the Atlanta Swing Orchestra, and once with a pick-up group.

Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey is changing. We have a meeting in a couple weeks to discuss the coming year. Most importantly, we'll be putting together a package of music to copyright, which will allow us to move forward with a lot of things, including recording an album, selling songs, and distributing our music through CD or downloads. We'll also be talking about an official band name, brainstorming ways to create and promote our own gigs, and more.

I feel this year will be a turning point for both On the Cool Side and AVG (or whatever we'll eventually call ourselves). On the Cool Side has built up a good repertoire, and the band members are all stable and reliable. I'm working hard to find good paying jobs, and I'm also preparing a press kit and looking for a good agent. AVG has a solid book of all original music, and the band is getting tighter and tighter. Once we've copyrighted our songs, we'll have a whole world of music publishing and recording to explore.

The biggest, most important change is in my attitude toward performing. I'm in the middle of a transition from thinking like an amateur to thinking like a pro. Until recently, I've been happy to play just about anywhere, even for free. Now I want to be paid. That's not to say I'll never play for free again. There are a handful of places I truly enjoy playing in that offer little to no money: Mighty Joe Espresso, 45 South Café, Rotagilla, NWUUC, and most recently, Nathalie's Fish House. Even as I search for good paying jobs, I'll continue playing at these places because I like the people and they treat the musicians like gold. They have all given me the opportunity to play and develop. I won't drop them because I'm suddenly playing for more paying jobs, but at the same time, I'm no longer searching for similar venues.

The thing is, I want to be paid for my time and effort. Some folks tend to think that by looking specifically for paid gigs, I'm selling out. I say if you've earned a degree and spent thousands of hours and dollars without seeking compensation, you're selling yourself short. I've also heard one person say that you should only play for the love of the music. I say that I love music so much that this is all I want to do. Do you love your job? I hope you do. Do you want to get paid to do your job? Probably! Music is my job as well as my love. I want to be able to pay my rent with gig money and with royalty checks. If I can pull in royalties from a few songs, that means I'll be able to spend a little less time music engraving and spend even more time practicing and writing music.

I don't know how it is in other cities, but a major frustration I have with Atlanta is that it can be very difficult to find paid jobs at traditional venues. Part of the problem is that I'm new on the scene. In time, I'll be more established, and more doors will be open to me once I find the right agent. A major part of the problem is that Atlanta musicians shoot themselves in the foot by playing for free more often than not. There's always someone willing to play for "exposure." Lately I've come to despise that word. "Exposure" around here just means "for free." The bottom line is that if the owner of a bar is making extra money because of your music, then you are entitled to some of that money. Your dentist or mechanic doesn't work for tips or "exposure." Why should it be any different for musicians? Club owners will tell you they're supporting music by letting you play for exposure while they rake in extra money from the drinks people buy as they listen to your band. I say they could show some support with their wallets. It's no coincidence that the best music spots in town are establishments that pay their musicians.

Well, this turned into a minor rant about the general state of Atlanta venues. Back to my point. I'm shifting my mindset and looking for more paid gigs, promoting my own events, recording my music, and publishing songs. This is not a hobby. This is a life.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hungry Ear

When I was a classical trombone player, I was a specialist. All of my practicing – etudes, solos, and orchestral excerpts – was geared toward classical playing. With aspirations to play in a professional orchestra, this narrow focus was necessary. Now that I’m remaking myself as a guitar player, I’m finding that it helps to diversify.

Aside from playing with Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey, I’m mainly focused on jazz guitar. If I had started playing guitar early in life, I’d probably be comfortable in many styles today. Since I started playing guitar so late, I’ve decided to concentrate mainly on one style. Although I’m focusing mostly on one style of music, I’m learning and developing many other skills that work together to support my new career. For example, my “other job” is music engraving (see “What the Bleep Is Music Engraving?”). As a classical trombone player, I didn’t have to think about much more than playing the trombone. I played in an Air Force band. I received a regular paycheck with great benefits, and someone else took care of booking and publicity.

As a freelance guitar player, I have to wear many hats. No one else is finding gigs for me, although I may find an agent in the near future to help with that. I handle my own publicity, maintain my own website, hustle for gigs, and more.

My newest hat to wear is running the Hungry Ear Coffee House. Unlike most of my non-musical activities, the Hungry Ear is a lot of fun. The Hungry Ear Coffee House is a monthly concert series hosted by the Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation the first Saturday of each month. It’s a two-hour show that usually features two Atlanta area musicians. It’s mainly a venue for folk music, but the Hungry Ear has also had jazz, a classical flute/guitar duo, and a women’s a cappella group. Its most popular act by far is Montana Skies, an amazing cello/guitar duo with a style all their own they call classical fusion.

I’ve only been running the show for three months. Clarence Rosa ran the Hungry Ear for twenty years before retiring from it about a year ago. While Clarence was still running the show, I was involved in the Hungry Ear in other ways. I performed at the Hungry Ear a few times, and I booked the musical acts for about a year and a half. My favorite thing about the Hungry Ear Coffee House is the atmosphere. It’s set in a little wooded pocket in Atlanta. The performances are intimate, with an appreciative audience that is up close and personal, listening intently to the songs and stories. Since I’ve started running the show, we’ve added a new element. The Hungry Ear Coffee House doubles as a monthly food drive, with all food donations going to the Community Action Center in Sandy Springs.

Running the Hungry Ear Coffee House is a voluntary position. I didn’t originally intend to take over operations. I discovered it was on hiatus after trying to book Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey for a show. I sent a Facebook message to a Maurice, a friend of mine, saying it was too bad the Hungry Ear was no more. The next thing I knew, we were meeting over lunch to talk about what it would take to get it up and running, what elements we might change and what we would keep. A week or two after that, I received an email from someone at the church, telling me that the board would like to have Hungry Ear shows again, all of my ideas were doable, and that now they just needed someone to run it. So much for my advisory position! I knew this would be a challenging, time-consuming project. I thought about it for a few days and then let her know that I would be willing to head up the operation.

Although at times it’s a lot of work, I’m glad I decided to lead the charge. Some of my reasons for running the Hungry Ear are for the good of the church and community, and some of my reasons are entirely selfish.

Selfless reasons for running the Hungry Ear include:
  1. Benefiting NWUUC by helping it build a higher profile in the community and by acting as a monthly fundraiser for the church.
  2. Benefiting Atlanta musicians by providing a unique venue with a friendly audience.
  3. Benefiting those in need with food donations to the Community Action Center.

Selfish Reasons for running the Hungry Ear include:
  1. Creating a higher profile for myself by networking with musicians and running a popular venue. I want to grow the Hungry Ear Coffee House into a “must play” venue for Atlanta musicians and a “must attend” venue for Atlanta music lovers. If I’m known to be the person in charge of such a venue, it can only help my name recognition and credibility as I look for my own gigs.
  2. Learning how to run a sound system, which is something I never had to worry about as a trombone player. My first time running the sound was pretty shaky. In our most recent show, I felt I did a good job, and soon it’ll be second nature. Developing skills as a soundman can only benefit my bands (On the Cool Side and Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey). If I get really good at running sound, it could even become another source of freelance work.

A personal flaw of mine is that I’m a control freak, often taking over jobs because I feel that’s the only way to get it things done right. Running the Hungry Ear is teaching me to trust people more. There’s no way I could run the Hungry Ear alone. I’ve delegated someone to run publicity and a couple others to round up volunteers. I have to trust that everyone else wants to have a good show just as much as I do. I still offer guidance and suggestions, but by and large I try to give a general idea of what I want and then let them find their solutions. This frees me up to do a better job at my own tasks on a show night: meeting the performers, acting as emcee, and running the sound.

Although running the Hungry Ear involves some personal sacrifice in terms of time and occasionally having to turn down a gig, I feel the long-term benefits will outweigh the short-term sacrifices. I’m doing good work for the community, and I stand to gain by meeting new people and developing technical and personal skills that can only help my music career in the long run.