Monday, June 26, 2006

Lima Beans and The Interest of Others

Have you ever had someone ask you “what you do for work” only to realize that that person really wasn’t listening at all to what you were saying as you answered the question? Maybe that person was distracted by the drop jaw girl that just walked by behind you... or maybe that individual just wanted to “make conversation” without really investing in the conversation. I’m reminded of the “greeting times” at church, where everybody stands up, and in many instances, makes superficial conversation with their pew neighbor, only to sit down and forget what was just discussed. I’m not pointing my finger here, as I’ve been guilty of both above examples.

We all have hot spots or topics that really ignite our conversational participation (or domination, in some cases). I personally love talking about music... and technology which has furthered music production. I have to be honest here... I don’t get all that excited when someone starts barking about the latest NFL scores or the newest sports car muffler upgrade. In fact, I sometimes feel like such situations do nothing more than highlight my ignorance (that’s why it’s better to keep your mouth shut when you don’t know what you’re talking about, or just ask questions... or go read up on the subject, and come back with something good to say...or just smile and nod). Generally, I really have to force myself to listen when such topics are on the table. However, I think and I hope I have become a better listener through the years.

Here's a random, yet applicable illustration. If my friend is hooked on Halo 2 (the video game), it might take some work on my part to share an equivalent enthusiasm for a make believe world of tanks and robots, when I know I could be out interacting with real people instead of blowing things up in a virtual warscape. Regardless, the “real person” in this scenario is a talented video game savvy friend who needs encouragement just like I do. The point is, sharing the interest of another takes work and sacrifice (maybe I’d rather be playing the piano instead of racking up Xbox points). The amazing thing is... just like originally offensive food (see picture), interests can be acquired... and such acquired interests can often form the bridge to the most valuable of all human pursuits, relationships.

Ultimately, we should be striving to love God... and this includes loving the quirky bipeds which make up His creation... that means me loving you... and that means you loving me... and that means us loving the overall bizarre world threads of a quilt called humanity. He loves us each for who we are, and likewise, we should love one another unconditionally... and often, we do this through purposely discovering and appreciating what makes another person “come alive.”

Thought of the day: Naval gazing is a tough habit to break. Too much belly button watching kinks the neck. Selfishness is stubbornness. No body likes a stiff neck.

Philippians 2:3-5
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

Monday, June 19, 2006

Why are Sound Men So Annoying?

Generally, sound technicians are the janitors of the performance world. They mop the musician floors, replace the musician lights, and are often not even acknowledged until a musician stall runs out of toilet paper. I am not saying any of this because I am bitter (as I am a sound technician by trade). I actually enjoy running sound, and in most cases, like the possibilities of serving some truly amazing singers and instrumentalists through the venue of audio. I’ve just observed that audio folk often go unrecognized until there is a problem. How many times has a sound man been blessed with a standing ovation? More often, he will receive a sea of turning scowls after the sound system screams with feedback or starts chattering like a squirrel... and sometimes, the problems happen for uncontrollable reasons. All kinds of things can happen. Maybe it’s the wireless microphone that suddenly, without warning, receives interference from a tv station or nearby cell phone... or maybe it’s the novice professional on stage who decides to point her vocal mic directly at the stage monitor... or maybe it’s the bass guitarist who makes the error of plugging his bass guitar into the “out” plug on his bass amp. Accidents are itching to exist, and sometimes the sound man can do little about the union of stupidity and panic birthing beneath the colored lights of center stage. Nevertheless, there are times when the sound guy misses a cue, or forgets to mute the mixer channel when the guitarist reaches to unplug his 1/4” cable from his Martin acoustic (nothing like a thunderous POP!!! to wake you up on an early sunday morning, right after a heart felt message of rededication). Regardless of who is to blame, most people tend to remember the pops and squeals more easily than the shows & services where everything goes off without a hitch. I suppose the goal of the sound tech should be to go unnoticed. If people start talking about you, it’s probably not a good thing.

In contrast to what I've said above, there have been a number of occasions when I’ve been personally acknowledged and thanked for my work as a sound dude. The other day, I was working the faders at a Jazz & Blues festival in Gahanna (OH) when a couple came up to me at the sound board, and complimented me for the good mix. That sort of stuff means a lot. Next time you are at a concert or at church service, make sure to stop by and thank the funny looking bald yet bearded man sitting behind the mixing board (I’ve noticed a trend in bald sound men with beards).

Mad at the World
I have a theory. I believe many sound technicians and stage hands (roadies) are bitter musicians who didn’t ever make it as performers. Now before all my tech friends get upset... let me say this... many of my technical friends are extremely humble and talented musicians, and deserve to be recognized, signed, and distributed (I say this in all seriousness). I’ve just made this general observation as I’ve worked with a variety of audio folk through the years. In fact, while I was at the Jazz & Blues festival the other day, I met one stage hand who was complaining about how the jazz drummers had dented the drum heads on the provided rental drum kit. He was saying things like, “Those guys are such A-h***s. They don’t care what they destroy as long as it isn’t their equipment. F****** musicians.” I had to laugh. I was thinking, “Seriously man, lighten up. Those guys are probably better drummers than you’ll ever be. Show some respect.” You meet all kinds of people. Guys who bring their own headphones, SPL meters (for measuring sound volume levels), adapter boxes, and volumes of ill quoted technical jargon..all the while struggling to understand why the powerless keyboard isn’t working (hint: turn the power strip on!).

My Share of Slip-ups
I try to approach my sound jobs with some humility, knowing that I am pretty ignorant in many areas, and can always use a new dose of learning. In fact, there have been times when I have literally ducked under the sound board after a terrible mistake, embarrassed by the fact that I just overlooked a strategic detail, so obvious that a monkey would have passed with flying colors. We have all those type of days. At least a monkey wouldn’t hold a grudge against the world.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Scattering Stones and Gathering Them

Some people swear by “New Year’s Resolutions.” I generally don’t make any major commitments on January 1st, but I do have an ongoing list of improvements I’m working towards in my personal and spiritual life. We each walk a delicate rope of “making plans” and “being open to God’s redirecting.” I thought I’d share with you some future goals I have, as well as update you on where I am at in regards to the “music career.”

A Time for Everything
As you probably know by now, the touring thing has taken a back burner (we stopped playing out after our March 7th show at Huntington College). I’ve found that maintaining a band is challenging, especially if you are a solo artist hoping to find musicians who will play your music for next to no pay. I’ve also discovered that it’s hard to do the “rock” thing without a band. The inability to “find the right people” and have the appropriate funds to pay those “right people” has created for me a catch 22. I haven’t yet had the confidence to go out and play solo, although I’ve been considering that as an option. I just think I need some new material to supplement the piano driven songs on Backstage Pass (as I don’t play guitar, and wouldn’t be playing songs like “Ladder” if it was just me and a keyboard), and I need to be a little more polished as a singer and pianist. I’ve also thought about going out and playing shows with two people... myself and one guitarist. That would certainly simplify things. Regardless, it will be a while before I step onto stage again.

So as far as goals go, one of my first is to become a better singer, a more fluid keyboardist, and a more confident performer. This involves a lot of practice and training. My second goal is to come up with a number of new songs which I can try out on a live audience, before I ever drop a dime in the recording studio. This involves writing, writing, and writing some more. Third, I am shooting to have approximately 1/2 of my album debt paid off by January 2007. I hope to spend a lot more time working (at my day job), writing, and practicing between now and then. I may re-evaluate how much I am working and how much I am creating/recording, come the new year. Forth, I am attempting to slowly move my small business 10x12 Productions forward. My work at 10x12 has me occasionally composing custom music and recording/editing voice-overs. I also file much of my freelance work (setting up/tearing down for concerts and events, running live sound, etc.) as “work done through 10x12 Productions.”

At the moment, I am a bit limited in my ability to take time off of work to focus on performing/playing out/recording/etc (although I probably should spend a little time here and there shopping the album w/ record labels and radio stations). My biggest priority is to get out of the woods financially... the longer I wait to take care of my debt, the more the interest grows, and the money I might make through selling CDs or playing shows is negligible compared to the income I make through my day jobs. I now make in one day (at my day jobs) what I might make in profit at 2-3 concerts, minus the headaches of maintaining and funding a band. Ecclesiastes 3 says there’s a time for a everything... "a time to tear down and a time to build (v.3)...a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain (v5)." I feel like I am in a phase where I need to be conservative with my spending, and in the area of risk taking. I need to build on what I have, and use the opportunities I am getting right now (running live sound, working at the tv station) to hone my abilities as a musician and engineer, and further my networking. Some people have asked me if I am ever going to move to Nashville, as this is often considered the mecca of Christian music. My short answer is, “I don’t feel like I am ready for that yet, but I am preparing for such possibilities.” I may talk more about this in a future blog.

What I Love, What I've Started to Enjoy, and What is More Likely To Happen
I think sometimes we can pigeon hole ourselves into believing that our interests only lie in one specific area (in my situation, this could involve the dream of becoming a solo artist) when in fact, we have other areas of interests which may take years to discover. Over my short life, I have realized that I enjoy a number of areas within music and production: writing (lyrics, songs, blogs, articles), editing (music/audio, even video), arranging and producing (songs for bands, jingles, commercials, tv/movie scores and sound effects), live mixing (churches, bars, etc...this requires you to be on your toes at all times), studio mixing (a more controlled environment), web design (although I am quite a novice in this area compared to some people), and worship leading (in moderation, as I am easily burnt out with this). However, my greatest passion involves communicating my own heart through songs/stories of personal struggle and victory. I love making records, but also just love writing. Maybe same day I’ll write a book. Who knows. Your interests can definitely change and mature as you get older.

For those of you who don’t know, I graduated from Liberty University (Lynchburg, VA) with a communications degree in 1998. I started off majoring in music, but switched my major to communications my second year, as I felt communications was a much more marketable career path. Many of the students in the music department were either going into classical vocal/piano performance, or were focusing on becoming music teachers. I really didn’t want to go either of those directions so I turned my attention towards broadcast media, namely television production. Over eight years later, I am quite glad I had the wisdom to go this direction. I figured I could freely pick up the musical knowledge I needed for my own projects by “hanging around the right people” (and I wouldn’t have to take out student loans for the experience). I realized that pursuing music as a career was risky business. Regardless, I am happy that I did take a year of music studies at Liberty as I still apply much of the information I gained through my introductory music theory classes. I imagine the classroom emphasis of melody and harmony was one contributor which helped to push me away from the more “beat driven” genre of rap and towards the melody dependent form of pop rock (Not to mention, my favorite band at the time, dc Talk, was also making that turn from rap to rock).

After graduating from Liberty, I started my career in television in 1998 in Columbus at a tv news station. I honestly “saw the job as a pay check” the first year, as I was doing nothing more than organizing scripts for news anchors and running teleprompter during newscasts. However, at the beginning of my second year, I was hired on as the evening news studio audio engineer (I ran the sound board during live newscasts). That was a little more interesting. I definitely made some glaring mistakes from time to time (like not turning on the weather man’s mic, etc), but the experience pushed me to be quicker on my toes, and allowed me to begin developing my ear for live audio mixing.

I now work at a different tv station/production house, and have been at this job for about 5 years or so (there was one year somewhere in the middle when I was not working at the station, and filled my wallet with freelance work). There are elements of work at the tv station that I really enjoy. Then, like any job, there are the regular routines which are less creative and less enjoyable. I suppose you learn to be thankful for everything, and it’s that much more fun when the really creative projects/tv shows surface.

I’ve discovered that there is much more work in the “sound for picture” field than in the “sound for records” field (not only in Columbus, but nationally, I think). You don’t have to look young and hip to compose music for movies or tv shows (or to be a record producer, although the competition in this field may be a little more competative). I think this is a line of work I could realistically be doing when I am in my 60s. The proposition of surviving as a rock artist involves so many things... your image, your age, your charisma, your popularity among fans, your reviews, etc. I would love to be a solo artist, but I’m realizing more and more that I need to try to move my “day job” forward just as much as I try to excel what I originally thought was my “dream job.” I need to keep in mind the possibilities of supporting a family down the road, having a career when I am older, etc. The cool thing is, the work that I am doing now (running live sound, working in the studio at the tv station) all ties in with what I long to do as a solo artist. The knowledge I am gaining now can easily be applied to the song writing, arranging, and mixing of my own projects. Will I work in television forever? I do hope I can move on someday to bigger things (maybe composing music for movies, or becoming a music producer), but in the meantime, it’s good to know I’ve acquired some skills which give me something to fall back on when my work as an artist is thin and and far from lucrative.

The Bigger Bull's Eye
At times, I wish I could just be out there "touching the world with my songs," but I've learned there is a greater good in furthering God's Kingdom... regardless of whatever trench I may find myself in... and there is always a reason to be joyful. Although I'm off target often, I am striving to learn the secret of contentment.