Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A Thousand Points of Light

I've been reading some musician biographies lately. By the time a biography is warranted, the musicians are usually in their later years, which means that their formative years were quite some time ago. In the case of the first crop of great jazz players, they came up in a time before the internet, before television and in some cases before radio and recording. Early rockers were not as limited, but recordings were sometimes scarce, and live TV appearances not that common.

One theme that runs through all these biographies is early influences. Interestingly, for some of the old guard there usually weren't many. Often as young enthusiasts they would make do with sitting outside a club where their hero was playing.

Fast forward a half a century and we have the complete opposite. You can now view all of the great players (with a few exceptions) any time, 24/7. Add to that a veritable avalanche of online lessons and demos and you have an insane amount of influence and inspiration to choose from. 

You'd think that having few opportunities to hear/see good players would be rather limiting. And yet all the great jazz players seem to have fared just fine having absorbed inspiration from a relatively small number of players.

I recently tried to summarize my own influences, and it wasn't an easy task. I started with a very long list of drummers who I really dig. Yes, I absolutely love listening to these players. But when it came down to naming the people who'd influenced me the most, the list was extremely short, perhaps 3 or 4 names only. And that makes sense. It simply is not possible to emulate a long list of players. I also find that the influences are situational: if playing rock, I 'borrow' from my favourite rock drummers. Playing jazz, same thing.

The key here is to go ahead and be influenced. Don’t fall into the trap of avoiding influence --  that's a great way to stagnate. And don't feel you need to master a plethora of styles. Just be sure to pick up enough different material that, when combined, it expresses who you are and what you want to say musically.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Diversify and Conquer Part I

It's never been easy to make a living with music. In fact, some of the players you most admire just might be semi-professionals -- i.e. they have to do other things to make a living.  Gigs are simply harder to find these days. One way around this scarcity of opportunity is to do other things. It's possible to diversify your activities without giving up your choice of music as a career.

Here are some areas you might check out to (a) find more work and (b) find rewarding jobs in and around of music.


Of course this is what we all want to do, and there really are a lot of options. In general, you will be either a member of a band (or several bands) or a freelancer/contractor. Here diversity means being able to play in a variety of styles and situations.

Touring: As a hired sideman or as a member of a band, the touring musician's career is on the road. Some musicians tour constantly, and time spent at home can be a rarity.

Local: It's tough but not impossible to make a living locally. The trick is to live in or close to a place where there is a lot of work. This is why musicians gravitate to places like New York, Nashville and other music cities. 

Studio: Music centres often have lots of recording studios. This type of work calls for an abundance of high-end skills, but the rewards can be excellent.
Shows: Dance troupes, theatres, broadcasters, and others all need drummers, and these can be great steady gigs. Hal Blaine honed his chops playing for strippers.


There are actually a number of options for dedicated teachers.

Music store: This setting gives you instant credibility and visibility. Plus the music store does all the marketing and paperwork. On the downside, the pay may not be great and you need to play by someone else's rules.

Private studio: This is a tougher way to do it, but you get to be your own boss and keep every dollar you collect. Be prepared to spend a lot of time marketing and developing your reputation.

Institutions: Colleges and universities have high skill requirements, but if you qualify, the work can be both rewarding and lucrative.