LAS VEGAS, NV - A few nights ago I was putting together a curriculum for an upcoming school workshop. To my knowledge, I am the first vocal loop artist invited into their music school, and by being the first one through the door, they need to see something ahead of the curve of what I am going to be talking about and how I am going to do it. The usual suspects of guest artist talks made the final copy of my itinerary: gear talk, how-to, my influences; but upon closing up my itinerary I noticed I had yet to scratch an itch in what I had to say: I never wrapped it up into one concise statement. There wasn’t a soundbite or statement I could boil down my presentation into and have it translate over skill sets, instrument of choice and experience level. Tonight’s blog cast a bright light onto the less-traveled path where I found not one blanket statement, but through words that have guided me through my music career.
Consistency by definition is something happening over and over again. Much like…well…live looping. Instead of looking at it in a literal manner, take a step back and think of it as a figurative term. As young musicians, we cut our teeth on Charlie Parker solos, music theory books, technical etudes and long hours in the practice room. What happens after we get to the point where the mountain of a technical etude is reduced to a small foot hill? What happens when what used to make you sweat in the practice room, now becomes a fun exercise you can play in your sleep? For me, that is where the art starts. True, your practice session should always be musical, but what happens when you take the etude book away? What happens when you take the orchestral excerpts away? Can you still make music?
I have seen so many musicians that can play a piece of music that is in front of them, but can’t play the music that is (or should be) inside of them. One of the best pieces of advice I ever took from a mentor was, “Take chances every time you play.” There are nights when it comes together, and nights it will blow up in your face. Much like the etude that used to be hard, the chances you took on Monday night might show up in your musical vernacular by the weekend. Be consistent in your practice, your chance-taking, the level at which you apply yourself onstage, in the studio, or practice room.
A few years back I was watching a vocal looper out of the UK and spent the better part of an evening analyzing his looping set-up and his live performance. What I found compelling was his beatboxing. In a world where world-class beatboxers could be sitting next to you and you’d never know, his was different. His was simple. A kick, snare, high-hat and a crash. A modern day Jazz kit. Short was his pyrotechnics with his vocal percussion, but what he did with what he had was incredible. It was the most consistent mouth drumming I’d ever heard.
There was a time where I was trying to pick up every effects unit I could and add every bell and whistle to my set-up. The day came when I knew I wanted as many creative options as I could handle, but not at the risk of poor execution. I would rather have six effects that are dialed in any time any place, than twelve that are a crap-shoot. Clarity (and as I mentioned consistency)is king. Being the best vocal looper doesn’t interest me….but being the best I can be…and sounding fully realized does.
I went to college with a musician that could tell you the history of his instrument, the dimensions and inner workings as an engineer would and even delved into metallurgy to make his horn sound better. What he couldn’t do is create something that he could call is own. I find that heart breaking. Five years in a music college, and you can’t create something on your own any better than when you came in. You have to take those Monday chances in your music, you have to push yourself in finding the edge of today’s envelope and make sure it is well behind you the next time your instrument is in your hands.
Man…..why music ….if not to create?
Music has never been steered by those who sit gently in the comfortable corners of mediocrity and cash in on the status quo. It is by those that that have been hand delivered the status quo and throw it back into the face of convention. Zappa, Bach, Miles, Bowie. Their influences are heard and acknowledged, but they pushed their respective envelopes. Creativity isn’t flawless in execution. Creativity isn’t always identified or celebrated by the masses. Creativity unto and by itself though…. rewards an artist’s heart.