Attitude Adjustment

•January 7, 2014 • 2 Comments

I may catch some flack for this, but I’ve seen it so frequently the past few months I simply cannot stay silent anymore.

There are A LOT of professional (or aspiring to professional) musicians out there who need an attitude adjustment.  What am I talking about, you may ask?  Statements like the following:

“I’ve studied this instrument for ____ years.  I know best.”

“I didn’t spend all that time in school to play whole notes.”

“They don’t read music. How could they know what they want to hear?”

If you’re a musician who chooses to collaborate with others, you don’t have the right to criticize them unless they’ve validly done something stupid or ignorant.  There’s a story I heard a few years ago which happened during a recording session, where the composer freaked out because a melody they’d written was not played in the bassoon, like they wanted.  The conductor explained that it was out of the bassoon’s range, so the oboe took it instead.  The composer, livid, said, “Well, the computer can play it!”

Now, before you roll your eyes, consider that the bassoon falls into the class of instruments that MOST MUSICIANS don’t know how to write for, unless they play it.  (Heck, I don’t know the range of a bassoon. I’d have to look it up.) Others in this class are viola, English horn, saxophone, and contra-anything.  And the rule remains – just because it CAN be done, does not mean it SHOULD.

So, any of you who roll your eyes when you hear an ignorant statement like, “Well, the computer can play it!” instead of complaining about someone being stupid, EDUCATE them.  You don’t know anyone else’s musical background, and I can solidly say from experience that some of the most beautiful and interesting music I’ve heard came from people who don’t read music and don’t know “the rules.”  (Of course, if they choose to argue with you and live in their ignorance is bliss world, that’s their choice and you can’t help it.  Just smile and nod and keep their name in mind so you don’t work with them ever again.)

And for the record, there are very famous composers out there who couldn’t write a viola part for shit.  Tchaikovsky and Copland, I’m looking at you.  John Williams, too.

But there’s another side to this musician attitude adjustment.  Many of the people I work with are NOT of a classical nature, even if they play classical instruments.  If you play violin, for example, and decide that you want to play for rock bands, most of your playing career is going to be long, held notes.  All those hours perfecting Mendelssohn / Sibelius / Tchaikovsky / *insert commonly overplayed violin concerto here* definitely honed your skills and (hopefully) made you better, but can you count to a click track?  Can you follow a changing drum pattern or a new guitar riff?  Can you play without a key signature?  Can you improvise a solo?  If your answer to any of those is “No,” then I’m sorry to say you’re going to find it difficult to get along in the non-traditional music world.  And nobody cares that you won the concerto competition with the Brahms as a freshman.  It’s irrelevant to your current situation.

Musicians do not live in their own isolated bubble.  Very rarely do we perform anything by ourselves.  So not only do you have to keep your ego in check, you have to know how to work and blend with others.  How many of you eschewed chamber music in college because it took away from your solo practice time?  Guess how many musical skills you missed out on?  A rock band is just an amplified chamber ensemble.  Everyone has their own part, and if you mess up, you screw up the rest of the group’s sound.  You can mess up in a symphonic string section and nobody but you (and possibly your stand partner) will know.  

Additionally, when you choose to play parties or events, remember your audience.  One of my best friends has a story from her college days of a gig with the cello choir that frustrated the group because:

– They had to play in a small area and “didn’t have enough bow room”
– The audience wanted to hear familiar tunes, not the complicated, obscure stuff the cello choir wanted to play
– The audience barely listened because the cello choir were background music
– Nobody in the crowd acknowledged the “artistic integrity” of the cello choir

Now, this friend and I played in the same youth orchestra.  We played gigs and concerts where there was barely enough room to sit let alone play.  We played Christmas carols in a greenhouse, or outside (on Long Island, in December) and HAD FUN, because that’s what gigging and playing for the public is supposed to be – FUN.  

And I think that’s where many professional musicians need the biggest attitude adjustment.  Just because you went to school, have a particular degree, have played here and there for particular big names, if at some point there wasn’t an element of fun, you need to figure out why.  It’s not necessarily a “go home and re-evaluate your life” kind of thing, but it is something worth thinking about.  If you’ve lost the fun of music, you’ve lost the purpose of music.  It’s entertainment.  It’s expression.  It’s art.  There is no right or wrong, no absolute yes or no.  It’s all up for interpretation.

So instead of criticizing others for being less educated than you, or not knowing what your instrument is capable of, enjoy the experience of opening up someone’s mind to new knowledge, and allow the things THEY know to enter your mind as well.  Share your love of music in multiple ways.  But if all you can think of is, “I did all this work for someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing and they’re paying me next to nothing.  This is such a waste of my talent!” then please go get a day job and leave these gigs to people who will find the fun in them.  And check your ego at the door, because if all you’ve done to this point is practice in solitude, not even a McJob is going to employ you.

OPERATION TAKEOVER

•February 24, 2013 • Leave a Comment

As I’m sure you all know by now, since I never really stop talking about it, I’ve been in Avery Watts for almost four years.  I’ve always wanted to be in a rock band.  When I decided to become a professional musician being in a rock band was one of my two goals (the other is to be a top call studio musician) and it wasn’t until after I got my Masters degree that I got the opportunity. 

I hope by now you’ve all seen the official video for “A Cut Above”:

This is, obviously, only a taste of our live show.  What’s not obvious is the fact that nearly everything done to make that video was done by Avery himself.  He created the timing on the LED screen in the background.  He shot everything he’s not in.  He programmed the lights to coordinate to the music (as happens during the live show) and he edited and produced the entire thing.  BY HIMSELF.  He recorded, mixed, and produced the entire TAKEOVER album BY HIMSELF.  (Note: He put in string parts through a synthesizer and we collectively decide which ones Rick and I play during the show, which ones we record with actual viola and cello, and which one we leave as backing tracks.)

We’ve gotten invites to play all over the world, but cannot fulfill those requests for one simple and annoying fact. We don’t have the money. So Avery came up with an idea. Just as he’s worked to get everything to happen with the band, and found equally hard working musicians to contribute and stand by him, why not get the support of the fans to bring us places where they can finally see us live?  Not only that, let’s get fans up on stage, and on the albums, and on album covers.  Let’s get local bands to open for us at each stop rather than take one or two supporting acts with us.  Let’s make it EQUAL.

This is inspiring.  Knowing that all of us in the band have worked equally hard throughout our lives to get where we are today, and will KEEP working that hard, even when (not “if”) we’ve met success… you don’t find that anymore in the world.  It’s all about who you know or how much money you’ve got, or how much you’re willing to whore yourself out and how much of yourself you’re willing to give up in order to make it. 

THE TAKEOVER seeks to change that.

If you’re tired of seeing mediocre acts win all sorts of awards, tired of feeling like real music is dead to the world, support us, get us on tour, and most importantly, GET YOUR VOICE HEARD!

Please watch the following video, then head over to http://www.wearethetakeover.com and support our cause.  Support the hard working musicians worldwide.  If you can’t financially support us, that’s fine, but please SHARE THIS.  Share the video, share the website, get as many people as possible to see it and see how far it can go.  Do it for anyone and everyone you’ve ever known who wants to fulfill their dreams.

Musing

•June 30, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about life, about stuff, about music… everything, really.  There have been a lot of things going on, both good and bad, but hey, that’s life.  But one of the biggest things that’s been on my mind is my own personal career and what I want out of it.  For those that follow astrology, I’m at the tail end of my Saturn Return (and being a double Capricorn, and with Saturn making it’s move to Scorpio – consequently where it falls in my chart – it has NOT been easy!).  For those that don’t, let’s just say there have been many transitions and the universe is basically deciding what stays in my life and what goes. 

ANYWAY

I saw the Scorpions live last Friday night.  They were amazing to watch, so incredible and inspiring.  It was shortly after that concert I realized the exact reasons my top three bands are so close to my heart.  Then I realized I haven’t updated this blog in forever, and thought I’d put my thoughts into written words.

Rin’s #1 Band in the World:  X Japan

I won’t tell the whole “How I Got Into X Japan” story again, but long story short I found their music at a time in my life when I was not in a happy place.  As I learned about them, about their struggles as a band and how hard they worked to make it in the 80s Japanese music industry, I learned that persistence pays off.  X Japan have a huge following all over the world because they’ve never given up.  Even while they were broken up, their name and reputation made it around the internet to thousands upon thousands of new fans, myself included.  They’ve since reunited and done shows around the world.  But if they’d ever thrown in the towel when they got frustrated or early on when the industry wouldn’t take them seriously, they would not have accomplished anything.  Their success inspires me to never give up.

Rin’s #2 Band in the World:  Dir en grey

Here’s a different case of persistence.  Dir en grey are not afraid to change their sound or their music for their own sake as artists, despite what the fan base cries out for.  Each of their albums is decidedly different from the last, and yet everything falls into place and fits their style.  I like that they’ve recently, as B-sides to singles, chosen older songs to re-release in their new style.  (Seriously, listen to the old “Tsumi to Batsu” off of Gauze then go to the new one that was the B-side to “Different Sense.”  You’ll see what I mean.)  They also put on an amazing live show, full of energy.  Fans respect them and continue to see them, again, all over the world, because they’ve stuck to their own vision and ideas.  They’re inspirational because they stay true to themselves and their ideas.

Rin’s #3 Band in the World:  Scorpions

If nothing else, the Scorpions’ show last Friday proved why they’ve been around for 40 years and been relevant the entire time.  They have their sound, their ideas, their music, and seriously have not gotten the recognition in the United States that they deserve.  I only got into them three years ago but have consistently been amazed at the level of music.  If all you know of them is the stuff that came out in the mid- to late- 80s and the early 90s, find all their music spanning their career.  You’ll be amazed at the sounds and music these guys have created over their long lifetime.

So in the end, I want to have the determination of X Japan, the artistic integrity of Dir en grey, and the career longevity of Scorpions.  I want to have as energetic and transfixing a live show as all three of them and be able to stand for something bigger than myself.  And that’s that for now.

Gigging 101 Part A: For the Hired

•April 5, 2012 • 2 Comments

For musicians and other artists, gigs are a way of life.  As a freelance musician I gig frequently, in various places and for various people.  I’ve been doing it for years, and in that time have observed many different behaviors from both the hired and the hiring.  What follows are some basic rules (in this post, for the hired, aka other musicians) that I’d like to call

GIGGING 101

All are from my POV (obviously; I’m the writer!) so feel free to add your own experiences, two cents, or questions.

For those HIRED

1)  There is no gig “too small”

…especially when you’re in school or just starting your professional career.  You never know who you’ll meet at a gig, what impression you’ll make on people at a gig, or what lesson(s) you’ll learn from a gig.  Watch what you say and how you act, for you don’t know who’s watching you, deciding if they’ll hire you back or, in the case of fellow musicians, they’ll hire you at all.  (This is something I’m always working on, personally.  I have a big mouth and don’t always think before I speak.  It’s caused some awkward moments, but the ones that turn out good I add to an ongoing saga I have with one of my friends entitled “Rin Needs to Learn to Keep Her Mouth Shut.”)

2)  COUNT

There is nothing more infuriating than having to stop a rehearsal, or more embarrassing than having to stop a performance, because somebody did not count their rests or their rhythms properly.  Now, everyone makes mistakes, so that’s not to say that one miscount equates dismissal, but a GOOD musician can get back on track without too much of a disturbance to the rest of the group and will not make the same mistake twice.  The same good musician will take responsibility for their goof and apologize SINCERELY to the rest.  Rhythm is always more important than the notes.  As a friend once pointed out, without rhythm, the opening of “Joy to the World” is just a descending major scale.

3)  Keep a Schedule

No matter how good your memory is, if you’re gigging to survive you will be busy and driving all over the place.  I know they say “the definition of optimism is a violist with a beeper,” but make sure you have as many ways as you need to remember when and where each gig is.  I carry around a student planner (since the orchestral season is nearly identical to the school year) and put EVERYTHING on those pages.  On my wall I have a calendar, dry erase board, and bulletin board.  Each week, I take out the planner and put the upcoming events on the dry erase board.  They’re color coded.  Each time I pass, I see them.  This works for me.  Non-archaic technology works better for others.  Point is, know where you have to be and when, which segues nicely into the next point…

4)  Early is “On Time” and On Time is “LATE

Things happen.  It’s called life.  But you know what?  YOU CAN PLAN FOR IT.  Especially if you’re keeping a schedule.  Always have the contact number of someone at the gig, most likely the person who hired you, in case there is some unforseen emergency or something that will prevent you from getting to the gig on time.  Plan to arrive at the gig earlier than you need to be there.  Learn the traffic patterns around your gig area and the times of day when traffic is bad.  It also doesn’t hurt to look up the location of the gig on online maps so you can get an idea of parking, landmarks you’ll recognize while driving, and see alternate routes in case the one you’re taking is blocked for some reason.  Additionally, if you know your schedule is tight for that gig, let the person hiring you know in advance.  That’s just common courtesy.

5)  Practice Music That Gets Sent to You

Or at least look it over for spots that might be tricky.  If the person hiring you took the time to send you music, it’s just common courtesy to give the music a quick look before going to the rehearsal.  Unless you’re used to sight reading at studio musician level, don’t leave anything to chance.  Remember, THEY know they sent you the music in advance.  It looks bad on you if you can’t play it.  This rule is particularly important when working with new music composers and music arrangers of both the professional and student levels.  It gives you the opportunity to ask questions directly to the source before stepping into the rehearsal (and potentially wasting time on something trivial) or you may find a mistake or inconsistency in the part that would have wasted rehearsal time.

6)  Don’t Back Out of a Gig Unless It’s ABSOLUTELY Necessary

Once you make a commitment to be at a gig, you better be at that gig.  There are legitimate reasons for having to back out or get a sub, like getting seriously ill or dealing with a death, but – and this goes along with the whole “keeping a schedule” thing – as long as you are organized you should not be double booked.  Additionally, there may be times when you get a call for a better paying gig at the same time as a gig you’ve already got.  Instead of backing out of your previous commitment, recommend a friend for the other gig that came up.  If your friend is cool, they’ll hook you up later on.  And if they’re not, well, you don’t have to hire them again!

7)  Ignore Your Cell Phone While on the Job

This one’s getting particularly bad with current high school and college students, and some adults who love technology.  Unless you are an on-call doctor, you do not need your cell phone during rehearsal.  I remember one rehearsal where a violinist took out her cell phone and started texting people during a tacet (for non-musicians: a whole movement of a piece where you don’t play) and I thought to myself, “You’re a student.  You’re not THAT important yet.  Put your phone away.”  Typically during a tacet you’d clarify things in other movements with your section principals and listen for themes and rhythms that may come up later on, so you know what the conductor expects when they happen (and it will earn you bonus points for knowing and remembering what the conductor expects).  You can check your phone for messages during rehearsal breaks, and make any necessary calls or texts then.  If someone calls you for  a gig, they will understand that you were in rehearsal and could not respond.

Additionally, you do not want to be “that guy” who ruins a recording because their cell phone went off.  People DO get fired and blacklisted for things like that.  If you’re asked to turn off your phone, do so.  Your legions of followers will still be there when your gig is done.

8)  Show Respect, Even If “You Know More”

This should go without saying, but not everyone who works in music formally studied it, and even those who formally studied it will have their strengths and weaknesses.  A songwriter may not realize they wrote notes out of your range (happens frequently on viola), so if you notice unplayable notes, simply ask if the writer would like them up an octave, or ask what else you could play there.  Always be willing to work WITH the person who hired you.  When it comes to classical music, what the conductor says is what you play, whether it’s historically accurate or not.  Orchestras are not a democracy.  If you want to gripe, just remember the part of Rule #1 where you don’t know who is at your gig and who may overhear you.

I think that’s all for now.  Got any stories or things to share?

Comparison

•December 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

This is just because I’m wondering.  Please listen/watch the following two videos, and share your thoughts.

Malice Mizer: Gekka no Yasoukyoku

 

D: Gekka no Yasoukyoku

Anime and Classical Music Revival

•September 8, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Having studied music through both college and graduate school, I encountered many different types of people.  In my day-to-day rehearsals and gigs, I continue to encounter many different types of people.  We are all individuals, just with one common thread – our countless hours of practicing classical music.  When you’re a classical musician, “outside” people think you are odd, or that you see yourself as above the rest of the world.  Within the orchestra, there are the competitive ones who feel they have to validate their existence by being the best.  There are others who seem to joke around and not take things seriously, and there are those with little confidence in their abilities, even if they are really good musicians.  An orchestra is its own slice of society, but from the outside it looks weird.

Because of cuts to the arts, it’s difficult for younger students today to access the classical music world and learn to appreciate something different.  Even if they don’t DO anything with it, countless studies show how beneficial music education is to students’ brains.  I’m currently reading a book about how music affects the mind (which I intend to blog about once I finish, but we shall see if it actually gets done) and what it comes down to is that it really doesn’t matter how much you know about music, but how well you feel the music.  But nothing seems to bridge that gap between the classical world and the regular world.

At least, not in America.

There are two Japanese anime series (that I known of) which take place in music school.  One is Nodame Cantabile, about students studying music in college and how their aspirations fuel their friendships.  They all learn from each other.  There is always some competition, either between the students themselves or the students and the real world – the timpanist’s goal is to be timpanist in a major orchestra, for example – but the students all learn from each other.  It shows that musicians / music students are people, too, and not completely in their own little world all the time.  Nodame Cantabile used a lot of classical music for its soundtrack and within the series itself, with the characters performing different works for their exams and performances.  The series, aimed primarily at teenage girls, consequently created a revival of interest in classical music among the youth of Japan.

But what about during high school, when one has to balance music with all the other academic subjects and extra-curricular activities?  Enter La Corda D’oro.  While the plot is less realistic than Nodame, the focus of La Corda D’oro is on music’s effect on people.  The main character is Kahoko, a girl who has never played a musical instrument, but she encounters a musical fairy that watches over her high school, which has a prestigious, separate music school attached to it.  The fairy, named Lili, gives Kahoko a magical violin that anyone can play and enters her in the school’s annual music competition.  This, of course, brings Kahoko a new array of things to think about and do.  She has to learn music, to practice, to face fears.  She also has to deal with music students jealous that they were not selected for the competition.  And yet, the other competitors (minus the violinist, surprise surprise) are intrigued by Kahoko and her simple love of music.  She strives for the sound, for the overall beauty, and does not focus on every single note and perfecting every moment, as so often a musician can end up doing without even realizing.  Kahoko hasn’t been taught that every note must be executed perfectly; she just wants the music to sound good.  The other competitors help her, each in their own way, and even though they’re all looking to win the competition, they support each other.  There’s also the high school “drama” that comes up, as many of the male competitors seem to have feelings for Kahoko (but it’s an anime aimed at teenage girls, so it’s easy to overlook that part for the deeper meaning) and many of the girls are jealous Kahoko gets to spend so much time with the desirable guys.  I’ve only seen the first group of episodes, but the purity of the meaning of music is contagious even this early on in the series.  As Lili’s words so often echo in Kahoko’s mind, “Music [in Japanese] comes from ‘fun’ and ‘sound’!”

Wouldn’t it be nice if, in America, we could have some television programs that showed musicians like this, without the backstabbing, without the silly drama, and highlight what makes music MUSIC?  Shows that enlighten others to the beauty of orchestral works instead of showcasing the orchestra as another collection of geeks?  Ah, to dream.

Illegal Downloads

•July 29, 2011 • Leave a Comment

DISCLAIMER:  As both a professional musician and fan of many bands, I can see both sides of this eternal argument.  These are my opinions and they may insult or upset you.  I make no apology for that.  I am getting on my soapbox for this entry.  Consider yourself warned.

Twice in the past two months, Kyo of Dir en grey has expressed his displeasure that the band’s latest single, “Different Sense,” and their upcoming album, Dum Spiro Spero leaked a few days and a full week, respectively, of their release dates.  Leaked releases are nothing new to the industry, especially now that everything is digital and as close to instantaneous as one can get without having direct implants into the brain, but what concerns me is a lot of fans’ nonchalance over the whole thing.  Fans, not just of Dir en grey but of many bands throughout the industry, seem to believe that there is nothing wrong with this practice.  I’ve heard fans claim at concerts that the band members are all rich, that the bands make so much money, blah blah blah, the list of “reasons” for not buying albums or merchandise goes on.

Well, let me shed some light on this.  First of all, bands are not rich.  Record labels are rich, not the artists.  I’ve said it before, you’ve all heard it many times before, LET IT SINK IN.  Read about the distribution of royalties and see how comparatively little the artists make here.  Keep in mind, it is the record label’s money that the band or artists uses for tours and to create the album in the first place.  That’s one of the reasons why it’s so gratifying to see an independent band succeed and get recognition.  They had to do everything themselves, and if fans don’t financially support the band, the band cannot sustain itself.

More important than the financial aspect, though, is the fact that a song or album is the band’s collective creative product.  They have put in hours of time writing, recording, arranging, and mixing, selecting the songs that work best together for the album.  They promote the album through interviews and television appearances.  During this time they don’t get to do much of anything else outside of their work.  They anticipate the album’s release even more than the fans because they want to see the fans’ reactions to their hard work.  They want to show the fans what they’ve accomplished, what they’ve created.  If the album leaks,  it shows disrespect to the amount of work the artists have done.

Some respond as Kyo did, in a few simple words for everyone to read, while others, like Cinema Bizarre back in 2009, respond as so:

I keep trying to come up with an analogy for the situation, and the only thing I can think of is the following scenario:  You write a story that you plan to read aloud to a crowd on a specific date.  This story is better than any you’ve come up with before.  To make sure it really is good and not just your imagination and ego letting you think it’s good, you have a friend read it over.  The friend loves it, compliments you about it, and can’t wait to hear you read it aloud!  You’re all excited, you’ve picked out your outfit, have decided where you’re going to put certain pauses for effect; you’ve got the whole thing ready to go.  Then, a few days before your grand unveiling, you discover your friend who read the story told a bunch of your mutual friends all about it – the plot, the characters, the main climax, the resolution, even the twists – just because your friend was too excited to keep it a secret.  That crushed feeling you get in the pit of your stomach thinking about how nobody will be surprised and the anger at your friend for not keeping their mouth shut?  THAT is what the artists feel when they learn their album leaked.

Fans, I have some harsh reality for you.  Bands and artists owe you NOTHING.  They create music for themselves that they want to SHARE with you.  Every band and artist loves their fans and knows that without them, they are just another person in this world, and they show their appreciation in the form of more songs and albums.  Every time you illegally download their work, you insult them.  Why should they bother spending all that time carefully crafting art just so you can take it for free?  You deny the artists their recognition.  You deny the labels the money to keep the artist working.  In the end, you’re not sticking it to the man or making any statement.  You’re hurting yourself and other fans in addition to the artists.

You are not a fan if you illegally download music.

“But I’m broke and can’t afford to buy it right now!” is a cry heard from a lot of fans, especially in this day and age.  Whatever happened to saving up for something you want?  Asking for it as a present for a birthday?  Finding a way to legitimately purchase it on your own?  People have become so entitled over the past years that most don’t realize nothing has changed.  If you want something, you have to work for it.  That is the way life will always be, and it is much more gratifying when you’ve accomplished something on your own.  Maybe you have to wait a little longer than the rest of the world, but there is no shame in that.  It’s not like the music is going to just leave its places of purchase anytime soon.

I, for one, love the anticipation of the new album, of getting it in the mail or purchasing it in the store and immediately driving around with it playing in my car so I can listen and hear the new stuff.  I love sitting later in a quiet room and discovering all the layers of sound, the way the channels panned to create aural illusions, the way the music all comes together to resonate with the listener’s soul.  I love the thought that I waited for this element of perfection, and look forward to the upcoming tour which will surely follow the new release.  Maybe people heard it days or weeks before me, but now I get to hear it and feel the sound for myself.  There’s something magical in the first notes of a new song.  Isn’t that worth the wait?

No?  Then kindly remove yourself from the band’s presence.  They don’t need a “fan” like you.