April Showers

For a number of reasons, April seems the most hectic month of the year, and showers are a major contributing factor – showers of paperwork.

Yes, the weather is definitely a culprit – “Hey, it finally feels like Spring!  Wait – what happened to the sun?  Why is it so cold, I’m sick of gray cloudy days…  SNOW!?! You’ve got to be kidding me, I just want to be out in the Sun where it’s warmmmm.”

Yes, I wish it was warm and sunny, but right now I’m dealing with a shower of  TAX paperwork which, along with monthly bills, budgets, webwork, etc., keeps me inside staring at a computer screen. Ugh. The joy of being a full-time self-employed musician means my income tax preparation is complicated and joyless.  There’s income from many different sources to report, 1099-Misc forms to issue to musicians I’ve hired, receipts and credit card statements to mine for deductions.  (Yes, I keep track throughout the year, but there are always some that I miss).  But thankfully there is also TurboTax!  Sure, a professional tax whiz could fill out the forms, but I’d still have to dig up all the information, and that’s what takes all the time.

But there are other paper showers, too: contracts and stage plots.  One of the things musicians really look forward to is performing at summer music festivals, out in the open air with big enthusiastic crowds that don’t normally go out to the nightclubs where we mostly play.  Arrangements to play at these festivals are generally made in January and February, but the paperwork is due in April.  This season’s paperwork includes 2 PSU Alumni functions, 2 Summers’ Best Music Fest appearances, 2 Arts Fest appearances, a couple Musicians Performance Trust Fund programs, and several weddings.

All these dismal showers shall soon pass, however, and there will be plenty of time to enjoy the lovely flowers.  I’ll see you out in the garden!


No-Feedback Microphones Coming Soon

Courtesy of Andrea Alu, Researcher and Professor at UT Austin, that squealing and rumbling that emanates from speakers on many a stage may soon be a thing of the past. As with any new technology, the first products will rather expensive, but this design looks like it could scale out petty quickly.

One-Way Sound
(article from Bloomberg Businessweek)

We’re No Longer Puzzled

Christopher Kent

Chris Kent has finally made it to YouTube!

For a number of years I’ve been recording piano tracks for various artists at Bill Filer’s studio, and one guy who’s given me a lot of work and credit, and has always been a pleasure to record with is Chris Kent.
Who is this guy?
His songs are intelligent and humorous, and his meticulous attention to detail is always guarantees a great recording. For this project he pulled out all the stops, enlisting some of State College’s top musicians to get everything right – which you can hear in the recording.

There’s jazzman Steve Bowman on saxophone, smooth-as-silk Pete Jogo on bass, Grammy-nominated Jack Wilkinson on drums, and the legendary Andrew Jackson on congas.
Plus, Chris called up some of the best voices in the area to be his choir: Kate Twoey, Trace Baker, David Whitmer, Stacy Tibbets, Ray Najjar, Morgan and Margaret Higgins, Linsdey Lane Lorefice, and Lynn Yost.

The song/video “Piece Of The Puzzle” is actually just one part of a larger project which ties together a 12-song CD and a book, “Staying Off The Wheel Of Misfortune.” The book’s pretty cool, nicely written and full of great advice that’s hopefully going to help keep me away from a bad ride.

Find all you need to know at ChristopherKent.com

Musicians Kicked Off Gig Because of… Demographics?

Dancing With The Stars fires Longtime Band
Apparently a well-directed group of highly-trained musicians is not cool or hip enough for today’s younger TV viewers, who, according to highly-crunched data, polling algorithms, and ABC executive Lisa Berger, prefer machine-made dance music and DJs spinning mp3s. And there was also something about an 18-piece big band not being able to adequately cover songs by that ballroom dancing favorite, The Clash.

DWTS Will Sound Different in 2014
Trouble: Big Band Arrangements of Pop Tunes

Of course, I’m showing my age by using words like “cool” and “hip,” so the DWTS bean counters aren’t worried about my demographic anyhow. OK, so I never really watched the show, but I don’t like it when fellow players lose a gig for any reason other than doing boneheaded musician things.

Perhaps this is just an extension of today’s prevalent attitude that music should be free, that musicians don’t need to be paid to perform. Just give away the recordings, and we’ll buy the t-shirt. (Throw in a free sticker, too).

Should Bars & Restaurants Pay to Use Your Recorded Music?

The Music-Copyright Enforcers – NYTimes.com

LP record

Those who listen vs. Those who pay (Brian Rea)

Most places do, and it directly benefits me. My songs are registered with BMI, and whenever I play them in a public venue, I fill out a form on the BMI website stating when, where, and what songs I performed. Then, twice a year, I receive a royalty check from them – just like Willie Nelson and Lady Gaga.
Now if you bought a CD or downloaded an mp3 for personal use, then you’ve already paid for it – play it however you want. But if you’re a commercial establishment playing recorded music for your customers, it’s kinda like having musicians play all day/night long. You wouldn’t expect a live band to play for free, any more than you should expect a bartender or cook to work for free. And it’s good to know that some of the money paid for licensing goes not only to the superstars, but also to the little guys like me.

I Believe In… The Blues

Thanks to WPSU for featuring my essay on “This I Believe”.
Like most people, I get to feeling bad from time to time about one thing or another. Things don’t always go my way, and the march of daily disappointments often leaves me in the dumps.

But what gets me through the blues is music — music simply called “The Blues.” Blues music emanates from the roots of our difficulties. It’s music that has its genesis in the blood and sweat and toil of men and women who worked hard in the dirt and the dust and the mud and the grime of fields and forests long ago; men and women for whom music was one of their few salvations.

Some people still work like that, but many more of us in this day and age do our work sitting on our butts, talking on the phone, staring at a screen, pecking away at a keyboard. Now, I happen to love my work – pecking away at a piano keyboard. It’s not backbreaking hard labor. But I still get the blues, and playing blues music helps me deal with the bad stuff that inevitably happens.

The rhythms, Bluesy Chord Progression and scales may seem simple, but to me the sound of the Blues is as complex and contradictory as our lives. Minor melodies of experience play against major chords of desire, over a groove that pushes fast and pulls slow, creating a harmonic richness full of dissonance and resolution. I find great joy and satisfaction in hearing and playing through these moods of the Blues,

The stories this music tells are those of the human experience: our woes and sorrows, our joys and triumphs. When I play the Blues, the music has a way of distilling complicated troubles. It addresses the thing that’s really getting me down and brings it to light, allowing me to sing and dance in its face. When BB King cries “The Thrill is Gone,” Charles Brown warns about “Bad Bad Whiskey,” and Otis Spann proclaims “It Must’ve Been the Devil,” I know I’m not alone. Someone else has suffered just as I have.

The Blues also brings me together with a community that is not distinctly liberal, conservative, religious or secular. Rather, it is all those things. It is universal – everybody gets the Blues. There are Blues lovers and musicians all over the world who support live performers, listen to Blues radio stations, go to Blues festivals, form Blues Societies. They publish magazines, create podcasts, sponsor competitions, and present awards.

They do this because the Blues means something to them and the music speaks to their soul – just like it speaks to mine.

So whenever something gets me down, I get down to the roots of American music and rejoice in the immortal words of Little Milton who sang, “Hey Hey – the Blues is all right, Hey Hey – the Blues is all right.”

So yes – I believe in the Blues.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Sorry, this post is not about sex or politics – it’s about communication.

Twice weekly a small restaurant in my hometown hosts live music. Wednesdays a 4-piece all-acoustic group performs Classic Rock and Americana, Thursdays I play Piano-bar style Blues and covers. One weekend a year several Jazz duos or trios play there during a local festival. We’ve each been playing there since the restaurant opened about 4 years ago. Nice place, good food, good owners to work for.

So I was a bit surprised when the pub manager announced “Hey, we have two bands from Philadelphia coming up to play here next Tuesday. Be sure and tell everybody so they have a good turnout.” Bands? Ok, that’ll be different, but I’m all for live music, so bring ’em on.

Tuesday arrived and I was out doing errands – walking the dogs, delivering a piano to the Beatlemania show, going to the bank, etc. For the evening I planned on stopping in to see the Philly groups a bit, then going to hear Carlos as John Lennon play my piano.

Then the call came. “JT, the bands are here, but they don’t have any mics.” I knew right away it was more than microphones they didn’t have. No mics = no mic stands = no mic cables = no mic mixer = no PA speakers. The bands showed up expecting a PA system to be at the club.

Nobody asked, and nobody told there was no house PA.

So I threw some equipment into my car, drove down to the club, and proceeded to set up my PA system. In the process, the band requested a keyboard stand and amplifier. Yes, I have them, so I drove home and brought those back.

But there was a bigger problem here from the start. As soon as the bands walked into the restaurant, they said “Oh no…” They realized it was the wrong venue for the music they play – hard-driving college party rock. As the manager watched them carry in guitar amplifiers and drums she said “Oh no…” Did they have to use amps? The regular Wednesday band uses no PA, no mics, no amps. Thursdays I bring one speaker for my vocals.

Nobody asked, and nobody told that the venue was primarily acoustic music.

But the show must go on, however, so the bands set up, and trying to be quiet, started to play. As several couples got up and moved their dinner outside to the deck, the first band finished their first song, and the manager, apologizing, told them it was way too loud for the room (which it was). So the drummer stepped out, the guitarists turned down, and they proceeded to play uncomfortably for only a few more songs before taking a break.

After setting up the keyboard amp and stand, the second group took the stage (sans drummer). Having had time to assess the sound of the room, they played a little quieter than the first band, and delivered a longer more enjoyable set. They finished their set, the five of us listening applauded and gave a few dollars in tips. The bands loaded out their gear, everybody thanked and apologized to each other, then the musicians hit the highway to continue their tour.

Nobody asked, nobody told what to do except show up and play.

So how did this happen, how did a pair of rock bands get booked into an acoustic venue? Ari Herstand, who blogs about the music business, mentions this in one of his posts, Book Your Own Tour. When looking for gigs, “get a feel for how your project could (or could not) fit in the venue.” Clearly, this was not done.

Nobody asked, nobody told whether the bands were right for the venue.

So there’s a little blame to go around here. First the booking agent, who cold-called the club and set up the show. A gig is a gig, any chance to perform, right? Second, the club manager who agreed to the deal without knowing anything about the bands. Two bands for the price of one? What a deal!

No, it was a bad deal for all parties. The bands didn’t get to play for the crowd they hoped for, the club didn’t have a crowd to make any money from. There was no relationship established for future bookings, no recommendation for the venue as a good room to play. The only good is a little education was shared, the bands and the venue each got a horror story, and I got a blog post.

So – Do Ask, Do Tell. You may lose a good story, but you’ll have fewer of those “Oh no…” moments.

The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science

In the current climate of polarized politics, why do we stick to our guns (pun intended), and demonize the other side? Why do we refuse to listen, debate, compromise, but only shout back at the other guys, calling them idiots and morons? Why are we so right and they are so wrong? Why do they want to ruin OUR country? Well…

“GIVEN THE POWER OF our prior beliefs to skew how we respond to new information, one thing is becoming clear: If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn’t trigger a defensive, emotional reaction.”

Reblogged from Chris Mooney @ Mother Jones (yeah, I read that sometimes…)

Go ahead and read the whole thing here:

The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science.