Development Part 1 – Invest the Time

Today I’m beginning a series of shortish entries on development.  Something (perhaps decades of bigger-than-life celebrities) has dulled Americans’ sense of reality and left us believing that over-night success is not only real but also the best and possibly only path to achievement.

Any skill worth having requires effort and time to develop.  There are a lucky few who just come out of the womb with serious ability, but even these people must develop.

Bjork in 1976:

Bjork in 2015:

 

 

I feel like there are two seriously flawed beliefs  that result from denying the need for development.  They are not mutually exclusive:

1) if you can’t do something perfectly and effortlessly RIGHT NOW, you’ll never be able to do it ever so why bother?

2) you don’t need to develop your craft because you’re already really good and the world just isn’t aware of your radiance.

These beliefs both take the “playing to your strengths” philosophy to the extreme point of “completely ignoring your weaknesses”.

#1 struggles to develop new skills because they refuse to give any attention to anything they’re not already good at doing.  They are relegated to the tools in their toolbox – they don’t develop new skills.  They want to be good/finished/rewarded right now or not bother.  They often have incredible strengths but lack the discipline to do to the unfun but necessary things to keep things moving.

#2 wagers that he/she is the next one to be annointed by the gate-keepers and when it doesn’t happen, they age into a weird sense of bitter entitlement for having not really done anything good or at all.  They expect the rest of the world make-up for the fallout created by their imperfect beauty.  (I feel like Courtney Love is the poster child for this in some ways)

 

Now, I’m definiltely a fan of playing to your strengths.  Why make your first stringers sit on the bench while the B-Team is out there missing easy shots and losing the game?  But sometimes you have to play to your weaknesses even if you don’t want to develop them.

No one’s good at everything.

Maybe for you it’s managing money or time.  Maybe it’s interpersonal interactions.  Maybe it’s stage fright.  Some weaknesses must be overcome at least passably or the problems they create will develop faster than your strengths!

Anyway… Developement is simply the process of growth and it’s usually slow.  It can be accelerated by things like guidance, money and smart choices, but mostly, it’s an investment of time. If you want to be good at something, spend time doing it and let your long, long string of tiny successes and experiences culminate into something bigger.

And I mean long.  The other day, I was practicing and I played something I realized that the me of 10 years ago had struggled with.  I remember playing it for hours over and over one night at my old house in south Austin.  That night and the 10 years of nights just like it that followed paid off.  Just not quickly.

No Day Job – How’s That Going?

I missed an entry last week because I’ve been so damn busy various things I set in motion after quitting my day job. Thinking on that and having been asked about it a lot, I thought I’d write a short entry to give an update on what I’ve done in the 5 1/2 months since I said goodbye to working for the man:

March – easily the busiest and most lucrative month since I quit working the day job. I wound up having one gig that paid me as much as I normally made in a single month plus a couple others. I got really sick again at the end of the month just like last year and played a wedding that was just me and a singer at the height of a very bad fever. It was unpleasant.

April – Invincible Czars toured east of Austin with the silent film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Two Star Symphony drummer Kirk Suddreath joined us. It was fun. I didn’t earn any money but I didn’t lose any either. I started actually working with bands on pre-production and song arrangements for their recordings. That’s been slowly picking up steam. I also helped Opposite Day with a bunch of booking and management stuff. I started playing bass with Muppletone. I also continued filling with Sam Arnold and the Secret Keepers.

May – I thought this month would be dead but things got really complicated with Opposite Day booking. I started doing a bunch of gigs with Jean Caffeine. I also started making weekly “How to Play…” guitar videos and posting them on youtube as an excuse to get better at video editing and using Adobe Premiere. I’ve kept those up and even had some requests! Tony Brownlow and I started getting together to get The Genius Mistake going in the near future. We’ve been playing new and old songs.

June – vacation month. I hadn’t seen my family in Utah in a long time. I had multiple bookings cancel or fall through. It was about the most frustrating month of booking I’ve had in years only now it was doubly annoying because I was booking OD and the Czars. We wound up abandoning the idea of the Czars touring Germany this year as a restul. Near the end of the month I started working super hard on the Czars’ Nosferatu soundtrack fall – both musically and promotionally. I’ve learned that if I just write a little bit of music, sync it with the video and put a bunch of “Don’t Miss…” type text on it, I can do all the promotion for any given project having only created about 1% of the actual content.

July – Our Van started really having trouble just when we needed it for Czars’ road gigs and the labor to fix it was expensive so I started delving into self repair. I’ve learned A LOT about fixing cars in the last two months. The van is still not roadworthy. Invincible Czars shot a video in our house for Peter Stopschinski’s “Dark Theme from Metropolis”. Phil, Leila and I got really into arranging Bartok’s six “Romanian Dances” for the silent film. I saw Faith No More in Houston. They were excellent. I recorded some disappointingly eye opening vocal tracks for the Genius Mistake album that’s been sitting with no voices for one year. ugh.

August – With the van not working and being dependent upon Capital Metro to get me places, I hit a wall with all this juggling and wound up having to choose which balls to drop and pissing others off. I had to bail on a Secret Keepers gig and then had to get really choosy with my time. The Czars had the opportunity to use Ohm Recording Facility for a super cheap rate for a single day. We went in there and recorded a bunch of material for the Nosferatu soundtrack and all our silent movie (no drums) versions of Bartok’s “Romanian Dances”.  Long time readers of the this blog will also be interested to know that the reason I missed last week’s entry is because I was actually asked to write an entry for the web site Soundfly.com.  I was more surprised than anyone about this development!

To sum up, mostly I’m still in the “figuring it out” stage of this grand experiment. Yes, I’ve reached the point of purposely skipping meals to save money.

The Whole Flight Matters (Not Just Take-Offs and Landings)

Recently, I went through the most frightening turbulence on a plane I’ve ever experienced. At one point the plane must’ve dropped several hundred feet for what seemed like a long time but was probably just a few seconds.  It left me shaken and, in the moment, very aware of how helpless I was as we fell through the air in a winged steel tube.  I wasn’t the only one scared.  It was the only time I’ve ever heard a collective gasp/moan/swear from an entire plane full of passengers.  At that moment, I thought to myself, “I’m never flying again… if I even get out off of this plane!”  After the whole thing happened, the captain came over the intercom to apologize for not seeing the signs of turbulence and avoiding the hot air we’d passed through.  That eased my mind, at least, that the plane still had wings and we’d probably get to San Francisco.
Pilots practice taking off and landing a lot because those are the places that have the highest chance for an accident — so they want to get them right every time.  I can see how it’d be easy to (almost literally) go on auto-pilot once the plane’s at cruising altitude and for some little mistake to have a big repercussion like the one we experienced.

Bands are the same way.  You always hear that as long as the band members start and end together, most people won’t notice other mistakes.  That’s pretty true — you’ve always got the end of the flight to redeem yourselves with a good landing!  However, unlike planes, if you keep taking off badly and flying rough, no one will be in the room to see the landing.

Of course, bad landings are no good either.  Last year, I saw a very tight Austin metal band with killer musicianship.  Everything about them was precise.  They were (are) very impressive…. but at the end of every song their drummer would immediately start messing around on his kit.  This is really common and annoying as hell in rehearsal situations but I’d never seen such behavior at a show before.  It had the effect of making the show seem too casual.  It also made it unclear where the songs began and actually ended.  It made for a less effective presentation of their otherwise really well worked out songs.
A couple months ago, I saw the same band and they’d cut the drum interludes.  Their show was as professional and fun to watch as any Austin band I’ve seen at any level.  They were really good.  (Worth noting – they did all this having lost their incredible lead guitarist.)
All of that is good reason to practice your take offs and landings.  But fixing that problem was pretty easy.  Someone probably simply told the drummer to stop practicing his booduhluhkahs on stage and he stopped.  Done.

So, yes, taking off and landing is important.
But just because you get off the ground and touch back down doesn’t mean you won’t hit turbulence!  Taking off and landing helps get your passengers there, but if the rest of the flight sucks, you won’t see them on your plane again.  (That was my last flight with that airline, though I must say that this incident it was only the rotten cherry on top of the already gross ice cream cone that was my experience with them over the course of 4 years.)

What about that turbulence that comes up mid-set like consistent “bonk” notes going into a chorus?  Or, if your music is pretty complicated, a quick change that you only nail collectively half the time or less?   Or the lyrics/syllables that the singer can’t remember or agree on how to enunciate with the backup vocalists?
Pilots use flight simulators to prepare for possible turbulence and work out problems before they’re in the air putting everyone’s lives at risk.  What about treating rehearsals as show simulators instead of just hasty run-throughs to make sure the take offs and landings are ok?  Other performing artists call this a dress rehearsal and they actually run the show as if the audience is there and deal with any problems that arise in real time.

But that’s too much pressure for most bands that just run the songs  the night before the show (not making it through some without crashing and starting over in the middle) and then wing it on stage the next night.  “Take offs and landings ok? That’s all that matters. Let’s go in there and just start rockin’!”

Imagine if your pilot thought that!

For that reason, I don’t like that Austin-tacious laid-back way of rehearsing.  Even nailing your songs in rehearsal isn’t like being on stage.  Rehearsal turbulence isn’t real.  Your nerves and energy level aren’t what they are on stage.   How often do you come off stage thinking, “that was a solid performance.  I deserve a treat!!”?  If you’re like most musicians, it’s more likely that you focus on what went wrong.  So why not fix it before the real flight?  Before you fly your flight crew and passengers into turbulence you know is out there?
I suggest that once your take offs and landings are solid, stop focusing on running whoel songs and shift to fixing the 10 seconds in the middle that always fall apart.  Zero in on your trouble spots, turn down and slow down enough that you can pinpoint the problem, use a metronome click through your PA so everyone can hear it if you feel like your rushing/dragging and then play it CORRECTLY as a group over and over until you play right more often than you play it wrong.  Increase the tempo and keep playing it till you play it right every time.  This could take many rehearsals.
I write all this at the risk of being told what the guys in Steers told me over a decade ago —- that I care too much and no one’s going to put in that kind of time.   My response – the pilot can never care too much about the experience of the passengers if he/she expects to keep them in the seats.

Plus, if you stop willingly sucking in front of people, they won’t think you suck.  What a concept!

Gods of Convenience – 10 Years Later

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The Line-up from the Gods of Convenience days: Rick, Adam, me, Bill and Tommy outside Room 710 (now Valhalla) in Austin.

Recently, I was the guest on the Power Nap podcast. It’s a long conversation to have to sit through but I was amped up by the topics raised by the hosts Mike and Dieter.

At one point, Mike brought up The Invincible Czars’ first album Gods of Convenience. This month marks the 10th anniversary of the release of Gods… wow!

A couple of posts back, I was feeling critical of the me of 2005 and since it’s the anniversary of the album, I thought I’d use this post to reflect further on Gods… and that time.

First, there’s a bunch of stuff that might be interesting to know about where we were as a band when we recorded the album.  It was interesting for me to review it.

In February 2005, the line-up was young. Rick and I had been at it for 3 years but Bill (keyboard) and Tommy (drums) had been in the band only 9 and 5 months respectively. It’s odd to me that such a fresh line up had already debuted our Nutcracker Suite holiday show just a couple months earlier and (for better or worse) “put ourselves on the map” (as Graham Reynolds said) with a surprise success that was simultaneously exciting and damning: we liked that we sold out a show, but didn’t want to be known as a hokey Christmas band. We inadvertently and effectively put a foot into the uncool world of “novelty” acts.  We didn’t mind so much but there was a collective sense that we wanted to do something that wasn’t perceived as cheesy by our peers and serious music fans. This idea seems silly looking back because it focused on trying to win over people who’d already dismissed us rather than focusing on those who did like us.  I mean…  in spite of what I wrote above, the holiday show we do is fun.  I love playing Tchaikovsky’s music and we don’t have to do it year round.  As much as we wanted to be cool, being true to ourselves meant we weren’t.

(Side note – it was only two months later than we played that weekend with NoMeansNo in Austin and Ft. Worth.  I remember feeling very validated when John Wright thought enough of us to tell his brother Rob to actually listen to us on night #2 – something he doesn’t do often with opening acts.  He told me thoroughly enjoyed us and reminded him of Nino Rota.  Cool kids’ opinions mattered less and less to me after that night.)

So I guess I thought that recording an album of aggressive, proggy instrumentals and a few tunes with angry, snotty lyrics THAT WE’D ALREADY RECORDED AND RELEASED was a good idea. This had the subtle yet later noticeable effect of both alienating people who had loved our holiday show and not even registering in the minds of most others. Brilliant!! (I assure you, there was no strategy to any of what I/we did back then.)

We recorded Gods ourselves, of course. That’s what bands that aren’t already rich or connected do and we were proud to be among that fold. Affordable digital home recording was still relatively new and we had to not only learn how to capture sound but how to deal with this new digital medium that no one else we knew (or could afford) was really any good at it either. We didn’t do that well — when Chico Jones mixed it, he at first asked us not to put his name on it!

Still, the experience educated us beyond what we would’ve learned through any other process we knew of and we/I used it to make future efforts less painful and time consuming.

We tracked the initial takes as a group in a single weekend at the office building where I worked by day. It was not the best sounding space but it was the biggest space we could find. We filled in the vocals and extra horn & guitar parts later at Rick’s house and my house. This was much more difficult than it is today. We only had one desktop computer capable of doing what we needed so if we moved, the whole set up had to move. This was pre-flat screen monitors and pre-cloud storage (dropbox, etc).   Most affordable laptops didn’t have the capability to do what we needed.

The summer before, I’d blown out my voice on the road. It actually hurt to sing for well over a year and has only recently been as powerful as it once was (it didn’t help that I gave up singing for a while in 2010). It was frustrating to have to perform the tunes for the recording knowing I was at about 60%. Worse, it physically hurt to even give that much.

Still, the CD was exciting to work on. We liked hearing ourselves and unlimited undo/redo enabled us (and I mean that in the worst way) to add and take away stuff as much as we wanted. I think my puritanical standards when it came to capturing performance harmful, in retrospect. I wanted us to be able to play a couple group takes and make minimal fixes of each tune but I didn’t seem to understand that doing so would require some arrangement changes.   So everyone was trying really hard to master material that was sometimes simply not playable.

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Rick and I showed up at Ohm to mix the album dressed exactly the same one day… unplanned.  Pic by Chico Jones.

Plus, all the songs were on sheet music and the better readers among us were getting really literal to the point that right notes took precedence and sounding good was less of a consideration.  In that way, Gods is more of a document of how we might’ve sounded rather than how we did.

Unlimited tracks also enabled me to make the arrangements too dense and layer things with tasteless abandon.   I’d gotten pretty good at making complex, layered arrangements that didn’t sound bad but they didn’t sound good either. They weren’t very effective.   I knew what was under all those layers but no one else did.  It must’ve seemed like a total jumble to listeners. It didn’t exactly fly off the shelves. Of the 1000 pressed, I still have about 30-50 copies.

So what’s any good about it?

Well, if it fails to present my ability to orchestrate effectively, it at least presents my strong desire to do so – or at least to do something different than most of my peers (I felt like La Mancha also did a good job of this kind of thing). I put a ton of work into the material and even if it doesn’t work, it shows.  For me, it’s cool to hear what potential was there with no guidance beyond simply listening to classical music and trying to emulate it with our instrumentation with me and my limited skills (a few music classes at ACC and private guitar lessons) in the drivers’ seat.

Bill’s keyboards really stand out to me. I hear the songs differently than I did in those days – instead of focusing on the horn and guitar, which were the original two instruments in the band, I really zoom in on those awesome analog keyboard sounds that Bill shaped for us. No wonder audiences kept telling us we sounded like Yes.

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Bill aka Willie Poland.

I’ve always liked Tommy and Adam’s performances on the album.   We’d recorded the songs before with other drummers but they finally rocked with Tommy. He understood what I was going for with these tunes.   I remember feeling giddy after the first time he came and played. It was just the two of us and he made “Doctor’s Excuse” really kickin’!

Possibly the best thing about it —- Gods doesn’t sound much like anything else from that time. I’ve often thought we’d be perceived as a Brown Whornet or Mr. Bungle rip-off but we’re not really as avant garde as them and lacked animated front man.  Whether anyone else liked it or not, we’d successfully created an unlikely mix of aggressive indie math pseudo-metal with fun, goofy, world-influenced stuff a la Oingo Boingo and Brave Combo combined with the DIY attitude of NoMeansNo and Fugazi.

We were pretty good at what I now know to be marketing.   One really, really weird thing at this time was the number of other bands who thought we’d quit our day jobs. People far more experience were surprised to learn that we weren’t making any more money than they were… or at least very little more. (Maybe that’s why none of the cool kids came to our shows – we seemingly came out of nowhere with this Christmas thing that didn’t seem like much of a gamble from the outside and got a bunch of attention for it. I’d probably have hated us, too.) I guess we’d just done a good job of promoting ourselves – we had a better web site than most other bands in Austin at the time thanks to Rick.

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Our second show with Tommy on drums at the Caucus Club in Austin— now known as The Mohawk — on their brand new (at the time) outdoor stage October 2004. We were super stoked when the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram ran this a HUGE version of this pic (taken by Gina Holton) in advance of one of our shows there.

As all over the map as the album is, that variety has never gone away. We’ve at least been consistent with our inconsistency and it all started there.  We only got better at things like improvising (which most of us sucked at in 2005), playing latin and country styles and mixing loud guitars with horns and violins.

Though the recording is super dense, many of the tunes on Gods lasted a long time in our live show. We got a lot of mileage out of my arrangement of “A Glezele Vayn”, “Iron Fist of Stalin” and “Mursketine” which were always standouts. “Glezele” was the default encore number until 2013! You know how you sometimes get sick of a song? I never got tired of playing “Doctor’s Excuse”, “Gods of Convenience” or “Mursketine”.

Unlike a lot of Austin bands, we actually had a bit of a message with the notion of the song “Gods of Convenience”. The Austin Chronicle called us “activists” in their generous 2.5 star review. The rest of the lyrics were about indie-rock snobs and other people who’d pissed one of us off. Not exactly tackling the issues. Nonetheless, our lyrics weren’t just about partying, love/sex, satan or nothing at all. They may not evoke much emotion, but at least they were pretty well thought out.

Tommy, Adam and I were really tight together. This recording reminds of all the stop-on-a-dime weird, unnecessarily difficult changes we were capable of together as the extended rhythm section. Even if it only appealed to other dudes with beards who like metal, we were pretty damn good at it.

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Adam, Tommy and me at the old Emo’s in 2005 opening for Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. We’d shaven half of our hair. Tommy had only half a beard and I only had one mutton chop. Adam had half a goatee!

I think that sentence might just sum up the way I feel about the album in general. Gods came out right around the time that new music was newly so plentiful and readily available that no one wanted to invest their money or time in anything that wasn’t sure to please. Developing an act slowly in public still happens, but it seems that most of the more successful (whatever that means now) groups these days come out of the gate already totally put-together with social media, business and video editing skills as strong as their musicianship – sometimes stronger!  Maybe we (especially me) were naive and idealistic dreamers living at the end of an era but I’m glad that we were able to have a time of such an innocent and simple passion for what we did. I miss that. We were just doing what we thought was cool and working what we had (we still do this).  We were always, always genuine. I’m proud of that and that’s what Gods reminds me of now.

Thank you Adam, Rick, Tommy and Bill for rocking for real.

 

 

10,000 Kicks

I re-re-re-re-read this quote from Bruce Lee recently:

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

and it is the reason for this week’s more journal-like entry:

April 2015 marked 10 years since The Invincible Czars played a lovely weekend with NoMeansNo in Austin and Ft. Worth. I went back and listened to an excellent room recording (made by Adam Kahan) of NoMeansNo’s Ft. Worth show April 25, 2005. Then I listened to a few recordings of The Invincible Czars from that weekend. It was exciting to hear what we were playing back then but also kind of depressing.  10 years later, those recordings sound like a band that hadn’t been together very long and was trying to play beyond its capabilities – rough around the edges to say the least.

In our defense (against my own comments I guess!) we truly hadn’t been a band very long! Though the Czars name had been around for 3 years, the line-up in April 2005 wasn’t even a year old. We were trying to figure out what we did well with a mish-mash of material from the band’s earlier, wackier days and our then new, heavier sound.

Still, listening to these old recordings, I realized my biggest regret about The Invincible Czars’ only era of sustained line-up stability (2005-2008) was that I failed to identify our strengths and capitalize on them (more on this another time). I wasn’t leading well (or even consciously) enough to focus the group or myself enough to find our “one kick”. I was always juggling. We practiced A LOT but thanks to me, we were practicing 10,000 kicks.

(If you’d asked me at the time what our kick was, I would’ve probably said something like, “lots of variety,” which is essentially bundling 10,000 kicks into one.  No.)

This got me thinking – what could I have done better and how can I implement it now?

I wish the me of 2005 would’ve chosen the band’s best kick, practiced/developed the hell out of it and then shared it when it was really good instead of rushing to create something that was “good enough” for shows on Red River and then trying to figure out the rest out on stage in front of people.

That’s what I try to do now but I didn’t have this perspective then. The me of 2005 had already been through 2 bass players, 3 keyboardists and 5 drummers in three years. Our “kick” seemed to change every few months.

(I’ve often thought that I should’ve dispensed with all the “what’s best for the group” thinking and simply determined my individual best kick and then found people to complement it. It may have been self-centered but at least it would’ve given us a kick to practice!   I  guess that’s what I eventually did but the me of 2005 was reluctant.  My favorite bands were bands – not solo acts with a backing band. I wanted to find what we were good at doing.)

Even without constant line up changes, determining your kick can be difficult. You have to go through some trial and error and it’s tough to know when you’re on the right track until you’re really on it. Sometimes this requires letting go of your preconceived notions, and conflicting desires and simply working with what you’ve got.  (I really envy the people who seem to naturally know what they are, recognize their strengths and – most importantly – go with it and love it.  Especially when they do this at an early age.)

In 2009, then drummer Louis Landry advised that we make a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of ourselves. Doing this the first time was really uncomfortable. Most of the band thought it was BS and didn’t want to participate.   At that time, I’d only just grabbed the reins and started trying to really be a band leader.  It was really disheartening and discouraging to have my band mates sit in a room in front of dry erase board and slowly realize we had been spending more time compensating for weaknesses and threats than capitalizing on strengths and opportunities.  Why were we playing songs with vocals when none of us were good singers? Why were we still worried about our draw at clubs when our best shows were in restaurants, theaters and outdoor events?  I didn’t have answers other than, “because that’s the only thing I know to do.”

But at least we learned some valuable info.  (big thanks to Louie for remaining positive and on my side through the process.)

Even once you determine your kick, you still have to actually put it into practice and the tedium of doing so can be a major threat.  It’s fun when you’re making leaps and bounds with little effort in the early stages but when the same effort only yields a baby step’s progress in the middle and final stages, most people bail. They put their kick on the back burner and start working on a new one so they can have that sense of satisfaction of making “big progress” again.  But that big progress only happens in the early phases.  If you don’t  stay on course when the fun fades, you’ll wind up on the path to 10,000 kicks.

That’s not to say you have to be a one kick pony.  Just find your kick and incorporate it into everything you do.  Maybe your kick is improvisation. Now you can improvise over all kinds of styles.  Maybe your kick is writing catchy hooks, playing at high volumes, instrumental wizardry, ambience…  maybe your kick is a female singer who’s been your horn player for a long time but you’ve been spending too much time concentrating on outdated material to write new stuff for the best part about your band that you never knew was right under your nose!

Just pick one, stick with it and I think you’ll see that what seems like a limitation will become your greatest strength!

I want to end by adding that though I’ve been really critical of myself and my band over the years (and in this post), I would’ve had to have gone through all this one way or another.  I had a lot of personal problems that are more to blame for any of these perceived failures than anything else.  I’m glad I made some good friends on my journey — Thank you Tommy, Adam, Rick, Bill (wherever you are) playing some “lots of variety” on stages all over the place with me in 2005!

 

Prove Yourself. Now Do it Again. Again. Again…

Recently, I had a group conversation that meandered its way onto the topic of having to continually prove one ’s self  – even to people who already know you to be capable.  Some of the people felt like they shouldn’t have to prove themselves to their fellow musicians… or anyone.  Some of us felt like proving ourselves again and again was necessary –possibly even the whole point of being a performing musician.

I was definitely in the latter group and the whole thing got me thinking some stuff that I thought would be worth sharing here.

There’s real validity in viewing a career as a series of hurdles to jump – regardless of profession.   Artists, dancers, software developers, construction workers, soldiers, athletes and even office workers are all constantly having to prove themselves over and over.  If the answer to “Can you do this?” is yes, then the next question is either “Can you do this again?” or, “Can you do that other thing?”

Primus proving it.

In the case of musicians, we’re constantly performing in front of our band mates, our audience, our peers and critics in various formats.  We’re constantly proving ourselves to them.

Here’s the line of thought the other side SEEMS TO ME to have:  “I can do this thing.  I have done it before.  Why do I need to do it again in front of these people?  I know I can do it and they’ve seen/heard evidence of it.  Isn’t that enough?”

No.  As a performer, you need to be able to do it – not almost do it – more than once.  Otherwise, you’re just lucky.

If you show up to a dress rehearsal and you can’t play your part well , the others don’t think, “She sounds good on the recording, she’ll get it for the show.”  They think, “Oh yeah, we had to overdub this on the recording because she couldn’t get it.  She probably won’t get it for the show, either.”   You can probably make up for this if or you nail your part at the show!

If you have a truly bad show, audiences usually know.  They notice missed hits, bad notes, etc.  You may get some leeway with a brand new audience that has never heard the material… but how long will that last?  Two or three performances in that market?   Eventually they start to think, “This band doesn’t live up to the recording. “  It’s a little tougher to make up for this because it might be several weeks or months or even years before you play to those same people again to prove that you just had a bad night that one time.

I saw Dillinger Escape Plan open for Mr. Bungle in 1995 in Dallas.  Dillinger was actually booed off stage!  I saw them a few times after that in different venues, their fingers were fast but all I ever heard was a rumble of white noise.  I never went to see them again and I never choose listen to their recordings, even though they’re good.

(NOTE:  It’s important not to confuse an audience that doesn’t like WHAT you do with and audience that doesn’t like HOW you do it.  If you’re a boy band opening for a metal band, that audience is going to kill you whether you play well or not.   If you are a half-assed metal band, they may not kill you but they probably won’t pay attention.  It’s hard to learn anything from this situation.  “Why do they not like us?”  Dunno.)

If you release a mediocre CD and send it to critics for review, you’ll be lucky to get bad reviews.  You’ll probably just get no review from most of them.  This is harder and more expensive to make up for because now you need a whole new product to send these same people to prove that you CAN do it right – if they’ll even listen.

And there’s where the coin flips – it’s also possible to prove yourself UNable.  If you can’t get your part in rehearsal, if you play badly in front of the audience, if the critics and gatekeepers think you’re mediocre, it’s entirely possible that those people won’t give you another chance.  “He never plays it right and he’s not going to.”  “They’re just sloppy.”  “She doesn’t write compelling songs or make good records.”

Recovering from proving yourself UNable is tough, tough, tough.  Sometimes you can’t.

There’s a really not-worth-watching video of The Invincible Czars’ only performance on KVRX’s Local Live in 2003 out there.  We didn’t know we’d be video-taped and so we look terrible.  We had just lost a drummer and so we don’t sound very together even with the excellent Aaron Lack standing in on drums.  When I called to ask KVRX if we could do Local Live again a couple years later, they informed me that they only have bands once ever.

Aaron Lack drumming with The Invincible Czars at the Carousel Lounge in 2003.

Neat.  Now one of our most mediocre nights is preserved forever in KVRX’s archives.  When I see that thing, I think, “No wonder no one ever came to see us in the early days.”

I wish that I had understood the perspective of audiences, critics, my fellow musicians and band mates.  I see now that the potential I saw in various projects I’ve done didn’t mean anything to anyone unless it was executed well.  Potential isn’t worth much to someone trying to hire a band for an event, to an audience that wants to be entertained or a critic who hopes to be wowed.  You either do it or not and those kinds of things will only happen after you prove yourself able to harness and use your potential effectively and consistently.  Not before. In their eyes, if you can’t prove it, you can’t do it.  Can you get on this stage and make this audience that has never heard you actually care?  Prove it.

Proving it once doesn’t end the cycle.  Now you have do it again for this other audience.  Now, again for this audition.  Again in this other city.  Now in the studio.  Now live on the radio. TV.  In the dark.  In the cold.  Again!

It won’t ever stop.  Even as aging rockers, jazz singers, classical musicians, etc. near the ends of their careers, they’re still proving themselves over and over again.  As I write this, Aerosmith is preparing to prove it once again in Austin during Formula 1’s Austin Fan Fest.

Final thought:  proving yourself  won’t bring success – only worthiness of it and a sense of satisfaction.