Seize the Day (with an Iron Grip)

I've almost outgrown the ears now.

I’ve almost outgrown the ears now.

Summer 2008. Los Angeles. A period I remember mainly for the self-loathing, despair and crumbling relationships that I enjoyed on a daily basis. For all the work and sweat I had poured into my life up to that point, I felt like I just might have been the biggest smallest piece of shit in the world. I still can’t pinpoint exactly how it all began but something in me was starting to sense that it was entirely my fault. And it was eating me alive.

There are brief anecdotes I do recall from that time that were perhaps the effect of my psychological turmoil, rather than the cause.

Over the course of my time in LA, I had periodically volunteered at Studio Instrument Rentals (SIR). I thought it was pretty cool that I could walk a couple blocks, swing a cool right, sneak through the loading dock on the side street and see people like Dave Mustaine, Johnny Rotten, Paul Cook, Stevie Salas, and Jordin Sparks hanging out at any given time.

I told the daytime and nighttime staff that I was a recording student and wanted to intern. They were cool about it and let me hang around. This went on for two years but after a while, the action around SIR got a little dull. Nevertheless, I finally decided to ask about getting a real job there.

It was an uneventful day as usual but I still bided my time. By late afternoon, almost no one was around and I found myself alone on a couch. After considering my job-seeking intentions, I dropped everything and went home. I decided I was through pissing away my time at SIR and would find something better to do in its place.

About two weeks later, I got a call from my friend Enrique. I was recording his band at the time and so we hashed out some scheduling details. Soon after, we were shooting the shit.

Enrique: “I got a job now.”

Me: “Cool man! Where at?”

Enrique: “SIR on Sunset.”

Silence…

Me: “Oh cool. How’d you get that?”

Enrique: “I went in last week and applied for a job.”

Me: “Really…they had an opening?”

Enrique: “Yeah. I actually need to leave soon because I have to deliver some monitors to the El Rey for Jane’s Addiction’s reunion at the NME Awards tonight.

Me: “I see.”

Enrique: “Well I gotta go now but I will talk to you next week.”

Me: “Sounds good.”

Enrique: “Ok, bye.”

Me: “Bye.”

If I’ve ever had a moment where I wanted to travel back in time like Scrooge and punch my old self in the stomach, that would be it.

This was only the beginning of a long summer…a summer through which I would perpetually feel like a jackass.

Never too proud (probably one of my better qualities), I returned to SIR a few days later asking if there were any job openings. They told me they had just hired two people but that I could apply anyways. I did but they never called and that was the end of my SIR experience.

After two years of free help demonstrating my usefulness and general likeability, I had lost out. Who knew I was sitting right in front of an opportune time to ask for a job? Only hindsight gives us such clarity. However, personal experience has an incredible way of teaching us lessons. The lesson here is quite simple: seize the day and choke that bitch (just so we’re clear, “bitch” refers to “the day”).

It’s tempting to attribute the cause of someone’s success to something he or she possesses that we do not. We may never know the facts on these things but it is much easier to make this excuse than it is to admit to yourself that your failure is your own damn fault.

It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Think about all the things you do everyday that have good intentions. Got ‘em? Good, because…

Good intentions don’t mean shit.

Don’t. Mean. Shit.

If you miss the boat, it’s gone. Swallow your pride, learn well and recover. There will be more opportunities down the road as long as you can recognize them. When you do, you will have the slightest twinge of a déjà vu…a very painful déjà vu.

Hey, at least you’re not a fool anymore.

I had a recording instructor who turned down a job working with an up and coming band that was unknown at the time. That band turned out to be Fall Out Boy.

I also knew a front-of-house engineer at The Roxy who once said “[serendipitous] shit happens all the time.” That was how he got his job and for live sound, I thought he had a pretty sweet gig. He went on to do sound for Sick Puppies, Black Label Society and The Neighbourhood.

****

Everyone has either heard of, or personally experienced these types of things. Give me your most brutal/hilarious/awesome story below and we’ll see which one takes the cake!

Advertisements

The Deeper You Dig, The Darker It Gets

This is one of my transcriptions from back in the day. It’s the two-handed tapping section of the guitar solo from “Get The Funk Out” by Extreme.

Looking back, I’m probably more proud of my hand notation and observance of musical nomenclature formalities than any of the actual transcription. Don’t get me wrong—you won’t find a more accurate transcription of this thing anywhere else (Hal Leonard Best Note-For-Note my ass).

The reason I share this with you is because it might be…too accurate.

Yes, dear reader, such a thing exists and has many forms: missing the forest for the trees, over-analysis, obsessive–compulsive personality disorder, infobesity, etc. As a former perpetrator, I hope to impart some life-lessonry here so that you too can save yourself from the perils of rock n’ roll ignorance.

About two years after I had penned this work, I tracked down/ambushed transcriber extraordinaire (and instructor par excellence) Dale Turner in the illustrious hallways of Musicians Institute and handed him a copy.

After three seconds of applying his music speed-reading powers, Dale said, “It’s good except for this one note.”

Not sure of which I found more shocking, the man’s alien precision or the wrong note, I decided to have a closer look.

“On the second staff here. That ‘D’ should be a ‘G’,” he indicated. I instantly knew where he was looking. It was a note I remembered because it oddly broke out of a fast repeating pattern for no special reason. It probably wasn’t even intentional but it made the record and I caught the bastard.

“I slowed the CD down and the ‘D’ is what I heard,” I responded, to which Dale then offered this pearl of wisdom:

“The point is to show what he intended to play.”

I’ll admit this didn’t exactly sink in at first. However, it eventually became a reminder for me not to lose sight of the big picture ever again.

I developed a periodic habit of dropping trivial details and asking myself what I really wanted whenever I faced important life or career decisions. In modern society, we get caught up in so much day-to-day bullshit that we constantly forget why we’re doing what we’re doing in the first place.

Sometimes you need to impose reality checks on yourself. It takes less than 5 minutes and you don’t need to go out and dodge oncoming traffic during rush hour either.

I’m calling it the Existential Crisis Protocol, or ECP.

I find it effective to perform this procedure every so often but others might need to do this multiple times a day at first. We will use the abbreviated version here. Begin by asking yourself this question:

“Am I happy?”

If your answer is yes, then carry on with your supercalifragilistic day. If your answer is no, then proceed with the protocol:

1. What do I really want out of my life?

If what you want is to be happy, that’s a good starting point. It may seem overly simplistic but it’s still important to realize. Happiness is a discipline and it does take effort so you’d be wise to practice this by working on things that actually mean something you.

Also, the reason I don’t like to follow up the preliminary “am I happy” question with “why am I not happy” is that many people don’t actually know why they are unhappy. Usually, they are just unfulfilled or doing work they are not passionate about.

Using myself as an example, here’s how I have answered this question many times: I want to play my music around the world.

Playing, writing and recording music is fulfilling work for me. I identify music as a personal success that brings me joy. But the zenith, or ultimate form of this to me, is playing songs I wrote in a band for people across the globe.

The key is to find something that would represent the funnest version of whatever ambitions you have, no matter how lofty it might seem. If you are having trouble, slap yourself (tears help) and then read this article.

2. What am I currently doing to progress towards this goal or fulfilling life?

Make two lists: One for goal-supporting activities and one for goal-destroying activities. This can be tricky if you’ve been deluded into thinking things like being a professional musician requires knowledge of every scale ever invented.

I’m not saying it’s okay to just skim the lake all the time; I still enjoy delving deep into a subject and absorbing every detail. However, this habit can lead to procrastination, analysis paralysis or information overload, i.e. you ain’t gettin’ shit done. Be brutally honest as you write.

Me:

Goal-Supporting

Writing my songs

Recording my songs

Playing shows with my band

Interning at XYZ recording studio

Goal-Destroying

Practicing scales 8 hours everyday

Jamming (aimlessly) with so-and-so “to be nice”

Reading redundant “how to” articles

Dicking around on Facebook

Complaining

3. Eliminate.

When you finish writing, look over your goal-destroying list and eliminate or reduce these activities as much as possible. For jobs and other obligations that may not directly support your ambitions but are necessary for your food & shelter needs, let them stand (unless you can do better).

You might be surprised to find your goal-destroying list is longer than your goal-supporting list. This is to put things in perspective for you. How much time are you really putting into your aspirations?

****

Once I started trimming the fat off my personal and professional responsibilities, my actions began to align with my goals. The result? I progressed much faster and became more efficient with my time.

I know what it’s like to pour all your energy into one thing…even if that one thing is just a freakin’ sixteenth note. It’s fun to woodshed for hours. You’ll probably learn something too (bring a flashlight cuz it gets dark PDQ).

Lesson                                                                                                                                If you wanna hit the shed, cool, but one thing: don’t forget how beautiful it is outside.

Earlier, hashed-out version of my transcription

Transcribing the drums was much easier. Before I knew what to call the hi-hat, I went with “tsuss-ssiti” to denote the sound a hi-hat makes in a disco beat.

Jante’s Law And What It Means For Your Music Career

This crab don't give a sh*t (be like this crab!)

This crab don’t give a sh*t (be like this crab!)

Jante’s Law is defined as a pattern of group behavior that discourages any person’s individual success and achievement within a community. The law can be broken down into ten rules:

  1.  Don’t think you’re anything special
  2. Don’t think you’re as good as us
  3. Don’t think you’re smarter than us
  4. Don’t convince yourself that you’re better than us
  5. Don’t think you know more than us
  6. Don’t think you are more important than us
  7. Don’t think you are good at anything
  8. Don’t laugh at us
  9. Don’t think anyone cares about you
  10. Don’t think you can teach us anything

Oh and there’s also this cheery unwritten one:

11. Don’t think there aren’t a few things we know about you

I definitely know some people who follow these rules to a T. Do you?

Whether or not they even realize it, many folks subscribe to this philosophy in usually one of two ways: They have either developed a fear of rising above their peers and consequently being cut down or they are just a jealous prick.

If you haven’t already noticed, this fear-based mentality crops up a lot in local music scenes everywhere. A jaded old-timer rambles off why the music industry is a trap to an enthusiastic newcomer who didn’t ask for his opinion. “It’s all about the money,” he wheezes. Hmmm…

Tell me one industry that isn’t about the money or one industry that isn’t corrupt. If you’re looking for a place you can do work that every single person will love and want to pay you for out of total fairness, you’re on the wrong planet.

These “well-meaning” characters also seem to be the ones complaining about the down economy, job security, music these days, kids these days and well, you get the point. They are emotional vampires and will suck every last bit of life out of anyone who sticks around long enough to hear about their crappy life. If you get only one thing from this post, let it be this: you need to sweep that garbage to the curb.

What a lot of folks don’t realize is that there are many ways to make a living in the music biz, no matter how big or small. You can find a whole community of professional musicians especially in popular US music industry cities like Los Angeles, New York, or Nashville. They wear many “hats” when it comes to making a living as a guitarist, bassist, drummer, etc. Since they are actually the ones in the industry, wouldn’t it make sense to ask them for advice?

We’ve all heard the stories of bands and artists getting ripped off by their record company or dropped three weeks after they’re signed. These are the stories that permeate our culture and scare us into thinking we should stick with a “safe” or respectable career and do music on the side. Hey, don’t get me wrong—some folks have different aspirations outside of music and that’s cool. What isn’t cool is people’s propensity for giving me advice on why a career in music is unrealistic.

But hey, that’s people. If anything, their efforts to discourage or criticize me are boring and predictable. Actually, it seems like the only way to achieve success anywhere involves others getting in their shot at you while you continue to put out new music, play shows or even write a blog entry.

It’s like a bucket of crabs: if one crab tries to escape, the other crabs pull it back down. That’s called crab mentality but it’s not just reserved for crabs as you can witness almost every other day. When you encounter Jante’s Law, or Janteloven (its Scandinavian translation), realize that the only reason others are trying to bring you down is because you are already above them.

Janteloven is simply a set of rules that others expect you to follow. And screw that. It’s time to create your own “Musicloven,” a set of rules that you subscribe to in your musical journey. Try these:

  1. I am special
  2. I am as good as anybody else
  3. I am smarter than others think I am
  4. I am going to do better than expected of me
  5. I know more than others think I do
  6. I am the only person who can do exactly what I do
  7. I am good at what I do
  8. I can laugh at my own mistakes
  9. Others do want me to succeed
  10. Others can learn something from me (and I from them)
  11. I will surprise others

***

So where do you stand in all this? Are you proactive in building a foundation for a career in music and have your own Musicloven rule to add below?

Or are you pulling everyone back down with you?