Week 13- "Who's Better Than You" (Part 1)?

Hello friends, back at it on this rainy tuesday. I'm looking forward to that break I was promised in a few weeks. Anyways, this weeks topic is about the importance of playing with other musicians, and the proper mentality to effectively create and improve. Realistically, it doesn't matter who you are, you will play with another musician at least once, and if you want to play more than once, you'll learn how to act. Cool? Cool! Let's get into it.

There is no one in the world that you aren't good enough to play with. 

Nope, it's just not true. Look, there are amazing musicians in every town of every area of the world. Seriously, there's an unfathomable amount of talent. But because of that, you should realize that you are just as valuable as them and just as able to create and express. Ideally, you should remove the phrase "better than me" from your vocabulary. It's negative reinforcement and if you do end up playing with someone like that you'll be trying to outshine them or shying away from playing; either way, it's not healthy artistry. If you feel like you need to identify the difference between you and another player, it's "He/She is better than me at _____ (Blues, Writing, Singing, etc.), but I have my own talents". And is that worth saying? Most definitely. Do not be intimidated by the players you respect. Instead, get close to them and show them how you would love to learn from them. Even the top players remember what it's like to meet idols, large or small. A determined and open minded individual can go a lot farther in that situation than someone who just plays well and doesn't quite care beyond that. Remember that half of your battle as an artist, player, writer, producer, etc is just being likable and giving people good reasons to have you around. When I went to Nashville last spring, a very big producer told me and other Berklee students something very important- he called it your "Hang Factor". That means how fun you are to have in a studio, how reliable you are- it's a very important quality in most successful musicians. You want to be the type of person that improves whatever environment you're in. That will breed better musicianship, creativity, and all in all, put everyone in a good mood and keep them there. That will take you very far. The best musicians gravitate towards the people who let them have the most fun (while still being professional of course) so always keep that in mind. 

I'm running just a bit short on time, so I think I'm going to call this part 1, and part 2 will be out next tuesday, keep an eye out for it. Sorry about that! Have a great week everyone! 

 

Week 11- "No, You Don't Have Writer's Block"

So at the end of this semester, I'm proud to say that I will officially be halfway done with my degree here at Berklee, and so I wanted to take this week to share one very important thing that I have learned. 

Writer's Block is not a CONDITION, it is a CHOICE

I can see how some would be offended by me saying that, but I promise you, it is the truth. You might have a slump of bad songs like everyone else, but you are not blocked up. You are lacking inspiration and motivation. But good news; both are all around you, always. Rejoice! From this point forward, you should never give yourself the writer's block excuse again. It's a mentality, and an unhealthy one at that. I've gone through month long stretches, one even close to a year, where I felt like I couldn't produce any quality work and whatever I did manage to write was all white noise. But I never stopped for a second to find new inspiration. I wasn't reading new books, listening to new music, traveling to new places. I was very complacently living life, and yet somehow I still expected my mind to procure interesting and new topics to write about. How is that ever feasible!? It's not! 

So what specifically are we talking about? How do you truly connect to the inspiration that has been eluding you? Open your mind. Remember that children's book that your parents read to you when you were young? At least 10 good songs in there. Have any friends who have a life more interesting than your current one, or maybe they could use a pick-me-up song to help them work through some struggles? You'd have to be crazy to think there isn't hundreds of songs waiting. If you take that mentality, you are unstoppable. Songs are in books, movies, and general ideas (yes, I know it references Writer's Block, but agree to disagree- there's good ideas in that list). 

If you feel that your songs are lacking originality, or that they are all sounding the same, it starts with your inspiration source. If you're writing to your anger all the time, or your unrequited love for someone, well it's not too surprising that the other pieces of the song follow suit. You need to find the unconventional ideas that are floating around in the auxiliary parts of your mind. When you write about love, be creative, the audience will understand from the get go that it's a love song, so you need to throw in a twist in there that revitalizes the meaning and the importance. Or find a new way to say "I love you". Angry songs, I've been there, you just want to spew it all out at once and wreak havoc on whoever is on the receiving end- but that just will not translate to the audience. And I don't believe that you'll like listening to it either when you're in a good mood and you're trying to sing your way through it. If you need to write that song, incorporate a new emotion, like remorse, or pity, because unfortunately hateful songs will not quite hold up on their own when its just unrelenting degradation. The bottom line is, if it seems like something you've heard before, put in something new that makes it yours again. Maybe instead of attacking someone, make the situation into a metaphor and disguise the scenario. Maybe instead of talking about your undying love for your counterpart, tell the world how miserable the world would be without your partner, how they brighten everything around them. Now it still says what you wanted, but it puts a much more concrete image in your audiences mind and they get to peak into the story and make their own conclusions about what the song is supposed to be about. Generally, people would rather get their own input as opposed to having the meaning forced down their throat. There's no greater compliment then when a member of the audience is so intrigued by a song that they come up to you after a performance and try to know more about the background of a song. We're all human, start relating to people and favoring their curiosity!

I don't want to go on all day about this, I think you've all gotten the point. But really, you have a job as an artist or a creator of any sort, and it's to brighten the world with your abilities. Make the world feel your emotions, and allow your audience to unlock theirs. I don't have to tell anyone currently living in America that what we need the most right now is compassion and empathy. Regardless of your political views, this is a unified nation and the only people who will be harmed by fighting or violence is ourselves. I know in my heart that there's been a call from the establishment as a whole for new and vibrant art that lets us all push the reset button as we move into the future. Yes, your song may not travel far and wide, but if it affects even one person positively and convinces them that we need to collect ourselves as a nation, then you have outdone yourself. Keep writing (or painting, or dancing, or speaking, anything expressive) guys, it's what the world needs. 

Thanks so much for reading as always, I'll be back next week.

-Jamie 

Week 10- "No, I Am Not Talking About The Election"

Well the title should tell you at least what today's article won't be about. Yes, I have my opinions just like the rest of you, but I don't feel like being crucified for supporting one side or the other, or neither. It's a discussion I'll save for 2020 when Kanye runs. Anyways, I hope your respective candidate wins, unless that is not the candidate that I support, in which case you can soon expect a barrage of some factual, some not so factual information supporting my claim splattered on your Facebook wall. 

So this weeks topic, in the spirit of gathering a group of like minded followers and leading them to high places, is about the effectiveness of social media. In 2016, we as artists, producers, engineers, thinkers, comedians, household pets who somehow created their own instagrams, know that social media is the best form of distribution and promotion that you can get for free. You can reach millions of people with the touch of a button, you can connect with fans thousands of miles away who you have never met, the possibilities are endless. But, here's the catch- you have to work to get there. The thing with social media is that there's always this white noise buzzing in the background, someone is doing something somewhere, and they're most likely getting attention for it. And since attention is a finite resource, obviously you are going to be competing a little bit for other users time when you want to reach them. Yes, you are unique, and you are most likely an incredibly talented and poised individual, but you're a small fish in a big pond. So for the fun of it, lets talk about how you evolve to the point where you can grow legs and walk right out of the pond where everyone can see you (And yes, I suppose we'll also assume you can breathe air by that point- thanks Bill). *Disclaimer- I have not claimed social media fame as a priority, and therefore I am not someone who has had monumental success- but I feel that through extensive research, I can tell you what you'll have to do to reach that point. 

First off, you must be committed and consistent. One good post every few weeks is just simply not enough to interest a potential fanbase. Plan on posting 3-4 times a week, and if it's not a decent quality photo or video, or a clever inspirational quote or piece of advice, forget it. People notice when you're running out of things to say, or songs to perform. Now that being said, those things should not happen if you start to schedule your posts for yourself. Make a day out of it, maybe every wednesday is a new age cover of an older song. Maybe every friday, you do a quick 30 second video looking back at the week behind you. People start to accept those things as habitual and feel rewarded when they can anticipate it and eventually they will want some sort of involvement in your posts. But without your consistency, there's nothing to really gravitate towards and slowly they will miss the things you post and your audience will start to shrink. The second habit that you will need to get into is engaging your audience. Find some dedicated people who like every single thing you post and ask them what they like about your page, what are some of their favorite posts from the past. Did those posts do well for you? Well, it would be pretty stupid to go away from what works. Reach out to your followers and see what really interests them, is it covers, or small blogs, funny or inspirational messages, sharing good music from your contemporaries? There's definitely more that you could be doing to please them. Make it known how much you appreciate the support, and respond directly to people whenever you can, it goes a long way. A lot of the people who support you will also have their own interesting and exciting pages, make it your priority to be active on their pages as well. Don't just "like" something, leave a comment, tell them what you actually liked. It's easy to convince yourself you don't have time to do that, but you do, it's just not as easy as pretending like everyone should just love you and your posts with nothing being given in return. The more you can establish strong relationships with fans online, the more reach you will have when you want them to tune into something. This brings me to my next point, the 7-to-1 rule. The rule is simple; For every 1 post you self promote with, there should be 7 that are just simple entertainment, advice, or engagement towards your audience. The endless self promoting may or may not feel necessary, but I promise that after a bit your followers will not look so fondly upon it. Use that one post to highlight an important event, like a contest you've entered or a gig you really want to get people to. There's times when this rule should be interpreted more loosely (i.e. when you release an album), but generally, this is the trend you'll find on major pages. Don't ask for too much of an already dedicated audience, they're doing more than enough by just supporting you. Self promotion must be shown wisely, when you're careless, it leaves a real bitter taste in everyones mouths. So the last point, and I am always going to be a broken record on this one- Be You. Look, not everyone is an extrovert that's always prepped for a photoshoot and constantly interested in getting themselves out there. Personally, I do not have that trait and I don't possess that type of mindset when I approach social media. But I don't act like someone I'm not. You should always be cognizant of the fact that some of these people know you in real life, and if they're expecting a fireball of emotion and a big personality, and get none of that, it's very detrimental to your image and by extension, your success. People will eventually see through it, and while it's important to try and please people, you have to do it in a way that truly reflects your spirit. That's just so important. Don't compromise your integrity just to get a few more likes on something. Be true to yourself, and other people will join up to your truth. I promise. 

Well, I'm off to a guitar lesson now, I hope the election works out your way, and if not, remember you can always move. Have a great week everyone! Thanks for reading!

-Jamie

Week 9- "What is 'Good' Music"?

So I've been trying to answer this question lately (Nope, there's no friendly intro to this, we're going full steam ahead my friends); "What makes music enticing? Why does some music stand out so easily"? To this point, I don't have anything concrete, but I've got a few strong feelings and well, what are blogs for right? Exactly, I don't really know either. Let's do this.

**WARNING; This post has a lot of quotes- I mean it, there's so many "Quotes". If it makes you more comfortable, say "Quote-Unquote" to yourself every time I use them, it'll be pretty entertaining.

It is impossible to say what "Good" music is. It's subjective at every turn. Now, moving past that, we can certainly distinguish strong, thoughtful, well-crafted music from the opposite (I bet you wanted me to call out a certain genre or artist here, but I respect Pop Punk and people like Lil Yachty too much to ever do that). What separates the top artists is the attention to detail, the undeniable confidence in the inner workings of the song. It's no accident that Top 40 songs become Top 40, and it's also not surprising that music from the 60's and 70's still lives on with us today- it's worth the loyalty and attention it garners. If I was going to get technical, I could pass everything off to just opinions and suggest that really none of them matter, but thats just plain untrue. Collective opinion determines the success of a song, no matter what level we're talking about. Now, I want to be very clear on this; If you're not writing for you, you're never going to truly love the song. There's exceptions, of course, if you actually are writing for another artist, but in this blog I like to assume that people are primarily writing for themselves and aiming to express themselves in their music. Realistically, we're human, we will not connect with every single song. Stop treating yourself like some sort of fruit that can be endlessly juiced. It's impossible to get deep with every song. But you should be always be trying. Contrary to popular belief, deep songs with a lot of emotion don't always have to make you feel vulnerable. You're an artist because you express what others have trouble with, don't shy away from your ability, embrace it! Your emotions, along with your flaws, your achievements, your mindset, your charisma, they all make your songs uniquely you. And realistically, that's where the "Strength" lies in the song. Does your audience hear the song? Or do they listenKnow the difference- when they hear your music, they should want to listen because it makes them feel something that they love feeling (and oh hell yes that can be sorrow too- just because people are afraid to be sad doesn't mean we don't all need moments to release a bit!). Authentic music speaks volumes (Ha music pun) over well produced music with the top musicians on the tracks. That's not to say that the sonic quality isn't extremely important- of course that matters towards your professionalism, but unfortunately spending time and money on those things for a song you don't truly believe in, well that's just a waste. I write more "Bad" songs than "Good" ones, but that's because my emotions don't always show up. When they do, however, I almost always end up with something I love, or at least a song with tangible raw potential. 

One of the issues that every artist will encounter is that your "Best" music is not your audiences "Best" music. So what do you do when the golden child song of yours gets an "Eh" (Hope you're still sticking with the quote plan here) response from your friends? First off, do not get angry. The reality is their reaction to your song is not their reaction to you as a person. If they're giving you an honest opinion, you thank them and then you reflect. Trust me, it's not them misunderstanding you. The people listening to your music are the ones who dictate where that music will end up, and they should not have to work hard to like it. If you feel like you still know better than them, maybe you should watch this video from a pretty successful guy who explains this a bit more in depth. The reality is if people aren't responding to the music that you believe in, and you've covered the bases on production and you're not sure what else to do with the song, then chances are you're not giving the most honest representation of yourself. I've made the mistake for years of basing my songs off the feedback I receive and never considering that I'm not trying to change internally. You can dress up a song to be perfect for a listener and they could still quite easily tell you it's not their favorite, because really I think they will know that it's not where YOUR heart is. I can tell this is getting more and more unclear, so to summarize; MAKE MUSIC YOU LOVE BEFORE EXPECTING OTHERS TO LOVE IT. And if they still don't love it? You keep writing what you love, because there's an audience out there for it that has been waiting years to find someone like you. 

Well, that's my article for this week. I hope you "Enjoyed" (I'm thinking about removing the quote button from my keyboard for next week) it! Let me know what you think makes a song great! Thanks!

-Jamie

P.S. No one tell Lil Yachty about this article, seriously, I respect him so much. 

Week 8- "Working Through The Rough Patches"

Hey everyone, hope you're all finding this well. This is midterm week here at Berklee and I'm looking forward to crossing the finish line in another month and a half. So yeah, that's how I'm doing. Anyways, this week will not be as dark as the title seems. I want to approach the setbacks for artists, because realistically, none of your idols have become your idols without some pretty intense frustration and perseverance. Let's get into it.

I'll be very honest, I am struggling at the moment. Struggling to write the music I want to write, struggling to advance my career, struggling to figure out exactly what my career is supposed to be. And I am so frustrated. But in reality, I'm doing fine. Why? Because I have come far enough to face these questions. I know that success can be just over the hill and it's perfectly natural to trip a bit before you keep going. Hell, I trip more than I walk some weeks. But that's part of the experience. What's to appreciate about success if you didn't earn it? The hardest fought battles are the most satisfying victories. I know I am never alone in my struggles. There are many artists who are way more talented, business minded, and creative than me who have the same struggles. That's how I know that it's not necessarily something I'm doing wrong. I won't sugarcoat it though, knowing this does not make the struggles easier. In fact, it makes them more aggravating because the seem endless. 

OK, we've talked more than enough about me, so here's the real blog post;

"You're doing what you're supposed to be doing"

Soak those words in. Artists don't get to hear those words often (until they've reached a biblical level of fame where they can pretty much do whatever they please). I think the reality is it doesn't matter what you're doing; whether you're a Musician, an Entrepreneur, a Writer, a Doctor- if you're struggling, it's because you're pushing yourself, it's because you're digging out your path in front of you. If that was easy, we wouldn't respect you so much for doing it. You've set an intense goal for yourself, and you know deep in your heart that it would feel trivial if it was handed to you. Naturally, humans go away from pain and towards pleasure. You're doing something incredible and inspiring, and there's nobody that can put a stop to your progress except you. I can't begin to say how impressed I am by the hard working people who put their heads down and make their dreams into tangible successes. How do they do it? There must be some sort of silver spoon, or maybe they caught a lucky break, right? No. No way. Look money is money, fame is fame, you can put forward all sorts of excuses as to why you will not succeed and why person X did, but at the end of the day, person X just made it happen. I'd be willing to bet quite a bit of money that it wasn't without some otherworldly stress, some tears, and a lot of shutting out the noise that says they should give up. I'll bring myself back in for a second- I think all the time about what if I just quit? Just stopped the music and picked a new career? I could. I might. But not unless I KNEW that it was what I truly needed. But for the moment, I have a dream and nothing can cut me off from it, not even myself. OK- back to the important thing; You, and your "soon to be" successful and amazing career that will offer inspiration for everyone who someday follows in your footsteps. If I can offer you one thing to get through the struggles it's this; DO NOT CUT CORNERS. Did you catch that? Hang on.

DO.NOT.CUT.CORNERS.

Look, it is so easy to want to just write your song, it's "good" and you pat yourself on the back and then feel like Leonard Cohen for a week (If you are a songwriter and don't know who that is, please look him up, please). But really, if you want this music to spread its' wings and take off, it has to be "Amazing". The kind of song that your friends keep on replay, the one people ask you to play at shows. Maybe they even know the words to it. And on the business side, if you want something to happen, don't wait on people to make your career happen for you. They won't. Sorry. You need to be quick on every response, don't be afraid to follow up two or three times with a venue- they're seeing your emails, trust me. Be a fighter and don't feel ashamed of how hard you will push. Be the kindest, most courteous and consummate professional that you can be.  It goes further than someone liking your music. You need them to love working with you. Don't be cheesy, but you should make it known to every potential employer that you appreciate the opportunity to the fullest. Give respect to get it. If you follow this model of living, the world will eventually give into you and your struggles will slowly break up. 

You're going to have some dark days. We all do. Sometimes that's life, other times its because you're being tested. Stay resilient, go seize your dreams. Thanks for reading, I hope anyone who is struggling currently can push through soon, feel free to reach out to me if you need an open ear. Have a great week!

-Jamie

P.S. I love this article, it's short and it's honest and informative, go take a look! It's very specific and a good place to start when you're looking for new angles to work. http://www.musicthinktank.com/blog/how-to-succeed-in-the-music-industry-on-your-terms.html

Week 7- "Smile (Or Make A Really 'Cool' Face)"

Welcome! So I got a bit smarter in the past week- the title is now at the top, you don't even have to scroll! And that revelation only took me a month and a half! 

So anyways, down to business. This week I'm going to talk about the importance of image in the music industry (and all other industries for that matter). Before we begin, let me clarify that I am not basing image off of "Attractiveness" or some other subjective and useless term. I'm talking about making yourself into an established and conceptualized "brand" of sorts. A very good friend and advisor of mine Danielle Kolachik (You can and should go see her unbelievable photography- Danielle has taken countless pictures for me, including two album covers!) introduced me to this idea about a year ago and I have had a great time incorporating it into every decision I make these days. Basically, your brand is your personality taking shape as a business. It's something you want your audience to support and buy into, and like I have mentioned in past blogs, they will eventually come to know you as you've branded yourself. Are you very artsy and down to earth and you wear a silk scarf 365 days a year? Perfect, make that look iconic. Are you very introverted and you don't really have a distinguishing feature? Well that sounds somewhat unfortunate, but if you go and own that, you are now unique with your image. Simply conveying who you are goes a long way with people. After all, a fan doesn't want to feel like they only know your music but not you. If you're quirky and they're quirky, they won't have to work too hard to love your sound because they've already signed on to you as a person. What Danielle loves to have me think about is the small details for things, like color scheme (if you're not familiar check this out), and really figure out what colors speak to my personality and how that will affect the viewer. We also talk about things like hand positioning in pictures as well as when speaking to a fan and the way that your hands can show the demeanor you bring into an environment. If you really want to know more about this, I am not the expert, I am just a student, but there's countless articles online detailing creative ideas for branding in businesses of all varieties. Branding comes into play at every turn of musicianship. The website that you are currently reading on was designed with very specific concepts and colors in mind (yes, yes, I know the blog is black and white, but legibility is important too, there's always a balance to find). Realistically, the only restriction on designing anything for your brand is that it has to speak to YOU. It's not going to matter if I or someone else doesn't quite gel with it, if it's authentic and it embodies you, it's bound to find it's place in people's hearts. So stay at it, don't be deterred by some opposition at the start, it's part of defining yourself and your image. 

That's this weeks post! Little shorter but I think you all get the point. Also, if you're looking for a killer photographer/videographer, wanted to give a shoutout to my friend Kevin Prunty- he's an Arlington graduate currently studying film at Pace in NYC and I promise you he is great at what he does and he has a fun time doing it so hit him up! Anyways, thanks for reading everyone, see you next week!

-Jamie