Wednesday 5 December 2012

If you are a songwriter, You need to read this!!!

Ok so not all bloggers blog everyday. I Haven't had anything extraordinary to say really and unless you have something to say, maybe its better not to say anything, keeps things simple. I started reading Neil Young's Book Waging Heavy Peace.

 Its his first book and its very good and inspiring. Like all artists that are seekers as I am, i'm always looking for the secrets to the craft. The best places to start are your heroes. I've been a Neil Young fan since I heard the Live Rust album back in High School and like Dylan he is one of the reasons I write and perform on guitar. Here is a quote from Neil Young's book Waging Heavy Peace so, if you are a songwriter, You need to read this!!

"When I write a song, it starts with a feeling. I can hear something in my head or feel it in my heart. It may be that I just picked up the guitar and mindlessly started playing. That's the way a lot of songs begin. When you do that, you are not thinking. Thinking is the worst thing for writing a song. So you just start playing and something new comes out. Where does it come from? Who cares? Just keep it and go with it. That's what I do. I never judge it. I believe it. It came as a gift when I picked up my musical instrument and it came through me playing with the instrument. The chords and melody just appeared. Now is not the time for interrogation or analysis. Now is the time to get to know the song, not change it before you even know it. It is like a wild animal, a living thing. Be careful not to scare it away. Thats my method, or one of my methods, at least."

So there you have it. Learn the craft, write when the muse shows her head and get out the way!

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Let's talk about risk!

At the end of my third year of college I auditioned for a job playing piano on a cruise ship. I don't remember where I heard about it but the short of it was that I needed to record a demo of myself in a trio setting and playing solo, demonstrating my group and improvisational skills. I sent the tape off to Florida where the cruise line was out of and awaited a reply. A couple of months later I received a call from the entertainment director and was offered a spot in a pit band for an unspecified period of time. The PD said that he was impressed with my audition, he then asked me a question that literally changed my life.
"Joe, how's your reading?"
Now I knew exactly what he meant by that, and without a pause I answered.
"Its good."
There were two ways that I could have gone about that question. I could have answered truthfully, that at that time I couldn't read beyond a basic lead sheet and in which case I wouldn't have got the job. Or, I could of answered untruthfully, as I did, get the job and work my ass off as soon as I got on board to keep it.
If I had answered truthfully I would have missed out on the life experience I through myself into and probably would have spent another summer in a factory. I would have regretted not taking a chance and jumping right in, regardless of the consequences. This job was much bigger than just a paycheck. It meant getting on a plane, going far away from everyone I knew and doing this music career for real like I always wanted. Risky business for sure.
Fast forward to the first day. I've met the band, been given the riot act on boat safety and stowed away my things. I meet the band leader and he gives me the run down and the shake down and hands me this book. 150 pages.
"This is tonights show!"
No breath....
"and this is tomorrow nights show!!"
As he hands me the second book I'm thinking to myself, well if I wanted a crash course in playing in an off broadway pit band then I had stepped onto the right boat.
I guess you could say I was in some pretty deep waters at that moment or at least I was going to be.
For the next two weeks I spent every moment of my spare time practicing and reading and sweating and worrying that I was going to be thrown overboard at any time. I mean the band was there specifically to back up the dancers, screw up and the whole show goes down.
By the 14th day I had just about memorized my parts and was reading without looking down at my hands. Unfortunately since I played so poorly for the previous 12 days or so the sound guy turned me off going through the P.A.. I had really played well on that last day but the band leader said he couldn't hear me again and that at this point I had two choices. I could ask to leave the ship, go and work on my reading and call them when I was ready, or, they could ask me to leave in which case I could never come back. I attempted to plead my case that I was really playing that last time but by then I realized they all knew I had been turned off going through the sound system.
Well you takes your chances in this life or you don't it's as simple as that.
For the next three weeks before they found my replacement I spent afternoon, evening and late evenings playing solo piano in the dining rooms. Since I had been working so hard playing broadway shows and really digging in, my playing was truly amazing. I was playing stride and left handed bass lines and soloing and changing key on the fly and taking requests and making tips, American dollars back in the 90's had a certain punch to them.
I had finally become a true piano player of the first order. Those 5 weeks on that ship changed me and my playing for the better, regardless of what terror I went through. In the end I never played another cruise, though I could have gone back if I wanted to later.
I took a chance on myself, one of the first of many to date and I have no regrets.

So, have you ever done something that was at the time so far out of your comfort zone because something inside you said "you need to do this"?

Let's talk about risk!

Wednesday 25 April 2012

TV Radio and Force Multipliers

Yesterday I got together with an old band mate and now hopefully a full time drummer with the current project I am working on. We were rehashing past gigs and all the years that we played together. We recorded as a band, a tune that actually made it onto to local radio here in Cornwall. I didn’t know this until yesterday, but that song actually made it into standard rotation for a full week. That was over 5 years ago and the band broke up shortly after, but it was the first time I ever heard one of my songs being played on the radio.
Lately, I’ve been doing kind of a folk revival, revival type of thing. As a recording artist, a large part of the whole process is figuring out exactly who you are, what you want to say, and how and where you are going to go about saying it. I’ve been writing and performing for over 20 years, and recording for the last 10, mostly working as a solo act, but right now I am getting a good touring band together and building a fan base. I was recently interviewed on a local cable TV show and performed a few tunes. The interview was great for me personally. Being able to voice what it was that I was really doing, and being asked questions about how I was planning to pull it off, really solidified the ideas I had spinning around in my head, but up to that point, had never totally committed myself to. Most likely the show was not viewed by many, however there is now video that can be used. Those couple of hours of performing and talking are what would be considered a force multiplier.
A few months back one of my songs was played on an internet radio station in Northern Ontario at 3 in the morning. Once again most likely the listenership was modest. That being said though, the song was being heard in some far off place across the world. The DJ pronounced my name incorrectly. Hehir. It’s “Hare” not He-Hire. Get known and they'll know how to say it. They played the track right after the Scorpions though so that was cool.
Now I’ve submitted countless cds to local, college and internet radio stations. I've also been featured on Earbits radio and have made it onto their rotation on a limited scale, probably once a day or so. Earbits does not pay royalties, however it still gives the opportunity to be heard by a lot of people that would otherwise not know you at all. Along with Earbits, there's also been limited rotation on and their paid service available should I wish to do this in the future. Standard land radio rotation is not the easiest to get onto. There has to be a real buzz about your group for this to occur. TV and Radio are excellent avenues for exposure and one or the other can catapult a career to great heights. Having the right song at the right time reaching the right audience is the ultimate force multiplier. I've once heard that showing up to your local station with breakfast for the DJ's is an excellent way to start. I personally haven't done this but it is a thought.

Monday 16 April 2012

How to make it in the music business

So you want to know how to make it in the music business.

I dream big, I always have. My goals are not normal and I’m good with that. I have a two and a half year Letterman goal that I started about a year ago. I’m on this journey and I plan to share it with whoever is willing to read this and go along with me. I will get there.

So why David Letterman? Well the way I see it is, if I’ve made it onto the David Letterman show it means that I have something of value out there being heard by everyone. In essence Letterman means I have reached my goal and I’ll finally be recognized for all the years of hard work that I have put into the music business. Plus whenever you do the Letterman week, you are also doing Good Morning America and SNL.

We’ll get more into Letterman in future posts, but today I’m going to provide some ideas and insight for you so that maybe your road, if you dream as large as I, isn’t so long getting to where you want to be. I started when I was 17 and now I’m 42, you do the math. Here we go!

Making a decision about your life and your career

I made a decision a long time ago that if I was going to spend all my energy on something and put in years focusing on a profession it might as well be music. In the end, if I were successful the payoff would be greater and the journey much more colorful. As my journey is still going, I would say I have not reached my final goal but I’ve seen some successes, lots of failures and tremendous colour.

Be patient with yourself.

During my childhood, I became lowly skilled at about 10 instruments, before settling on piano when I was 17. Looking back now if I would have stayed with the first one I chose, the Mandolin and not given up, then I would have been able to pick up Guitar, Banjo and Bass as a matter of course. So sticking with things and being patient with yourself first and foremost, is probably the most important step that needs to be realized.

Believe in yourself

I was fortunate enough to have been instructed by some iconic piano players. These mentors showed up at the right times in my life and helped to take me to the next step in my musical development. This pivot in my life, i'll call it, also occurred when my grade 9 english teacher read one of my short stories to the class. I knew from a young age that I had some ability to write, but her small action made me really believe it. I was fortunate enough to have these people in my life believe in me, and eventually I started to believe it too. So believing in your abilities, or at least the ability to believe in yourself is paramount to making it in this industry, find a mentor!

Work towards mastering your instrument

A great artist has taken the time to master her/his instrument. During my last year at Humber College in Toronto, where I learned Jazz piano, I was turned on to the great brilliant blind pianist Art Tatum. I got to thinking about how his blindness in some way gave him an extra edge as a piano player. With this in mind I started practicing piano in the dark. At first it was very difficult but after forcing myself to work like this for a couple of months, the piano and my fingers and my minds eye all became one.


Doing this for as long as I have, I can say truthfully there have been times when I thought the burning desire to follow my goals would just fizzle out. Somehow though it hasn’t and I’ve pushed through some fairly tough challenges. Anyone who’s ever “Made it” has a fire that can’t be put out. Its cliché I know but there is no other way to say it, you have to really want this with every particle of energy that encompasses your being.

Think Big

If you are going to have a goal or a “Dream”, another cliché and I apologize but that’s what people know, you might as well think in the largest realms possible. Why not, its yours to own and yours to get. How hard you are going to work at it to get it is completely up to you. Why not say, I’m going to do this and no one is going to stop me. No one can really stop you. Only you can stop it yourself.

Well I’ll leave it there for now. If you have a big heart and want to share it with the world then you should.

I’d really appreciate any comments or questions on this subject and my journey. If you dream big or have lofty goals then shout them out. All the world is a stage.