New Recipes

Gears are turning, and it’s likely I’ll have regular gigs again.

In the midst of the pandemic, I’m asking myself what entertainment even means.  Ask the crowd to throw their worries away, and live care-free while they sway along to our groovy tunes?  As a nation, we’re more fractured than ever before.  Over the years, my band has made efforts to steer away from material or themes that are political.  Now, it seems the mere act of standing close to me without a mask…is political?  Or merely ignorant?  How much does somebody have a right to be ignorant in the midst of a health-crisis?  By accepting a gig in a public space, am I dishonoring the efforts of those who valiantly quarantine?

Here’s my loose plan, that still has a modicum of honor in it.  We’re all craving human connection.  While we’re discouraged from congregating, anybody who walks into a bar isn’t looking for alcohol.  They want people.  They want to feel alive.

So make people feel alive.  I’m going to reprint a section of Consider This, Chuck Palahniuk’s semi-autographical manual for writing.

Think of a story as a stream of information.  At best it’s an ever-changing series of rhythms.  Now think of yourself, the writer, as a DJ mixing tracks.

            The more music you have to sample from (the more records you have to spin) the more likely you’ll keep your audience dancing.  You’ll have more tricks to control the mood.  To calm it down to a lull.  Then to raise it to a crescendo.  But to always keep changing, varying, evolving the stream of information so it seems fresh and immediate and keeps the reader hooked.

            If you were my student I’d want you to be aware of the many different “textures” of information at your disposal.  These are best defined by the examples that follow.

            When telling a story, consider mixing any or all of the following:

…description, instruction, exclamation (onomatopoeia)…

…Three parts description.  Two parts instruction.  One part onomatopoeia.  Mix to taste.


Okay, then.  New recipes for entertainment.  The above recipe is reversed for musicians.  The onomatopoeia is our singing, our music.  That’s dominant, that’s three parts.  Two parts instruction?  I get this, it’s telling the crowd what to do .  Giving them enough structure so they understand when to clap, when to sing along, when it’s okay to laugh, and -crucially- when to applaud when you’re done.

The “description” I’m very guilty of overdoing.  This is elaborating to your audience about context, exposition, or any other education.  Done wrong, it’s condescending.  Done right, it’s a good quick story, with it’s own pace and recipe.  So instead of three parts description, this should be minimized.  It’s still important, because it develops that human connection I was waxing about.  It humanizes the performer.

That’s extra important if you’re performing for droves of strangers.  They are lost, confused, scared.  They want humans.

Here we come.


I’m not one for camping

but everyone should see the face of a loved one

lit purely by the break of dawn.

My body, offstage.

At the gym, I’m mostly sitting and staring into space.

It’s been about two years since I invested in a personal trainer.  Lindsey gave me exactly what I asked for: a refreshed 4-day a week workout that drew upon a wide variety of equipment.  Since the summer of 2018, I’ve been mostly faithful to the workout.  I rarely took more than a week reprieve from it, and occasionally added additional cardio exercise to my day (swimming laps, or jogging with the kids to/from school).

It’s been three months since I’ve been onstage.  Three months since I felt like a professional entertainer.

I’m not totally sure why I’m at the gym now.  Conventional wisdom suggests that attractive, fit people have more successful performing careers.  Confidence in my performing abilities has usually matched my confidence in my body, and that congruence has worked for in my favor for as long as I can remember.  As I age, I wonder back to how much my youth, charm, and white privilege compensated from any shortcomings I displayed.  There’s always a day that I could have worked harder, practiced more.  More focus.  More discipline.  I’ll never get that time back, but would I trade my adventures and friendships for better piano technique?

Having children radically scrambled the equation.  Comparing my weight or BMI to professional models and actors is an unhealthy practice.  Maintaining that physique is a full-time job, and I could never rationalize that amount of exercise at the expense of my parenting duties.

So since being a parent, my simple fitness goals have been “don’t look out of shape.”  My wife, a brilliant health counselor, routinely asked me “But how do you feel?”  I know that choices that I make that will disrupt my energy and disrupt the flow of my week.  I frequently stay up too late, browsing the internet.  While my tolerance to alcohol has increased in the last decade, my resiliency has decreased.  A big night of drinking will wreck me for the following morning, and my family has no patience for my hangover.  Nor should they.

In the midst of the pandemic, choices like these are verifiably unhealthy, but I still occasionally do them because they make me feel like a grown up.  I spend sun-up to sun-down with my children.  Sun-down usually meant I was released into the music scene of Kansas City.  That’s gone.

So I’m back at the gym, sitting on the floor, staring.  Do I need to hit it hard?  Is that what my body needs?  Do I need to maintain an aesthetic that goes beyond pleasing my love?  My children really don’t care what I look like; they just want me to keep up.  I keep up with them on bikes and hikes, jogs and log rolls.  I’m tan from being outside with them so often, and why concern myself with an even tan?  Who cares?

People aren’t really thinking about me that much.  That’s among the great ironies of life; some of the people whose opinion we value the most aren’t actually pondering us at all.  Nobody really cares what I look like.  What currency does it have?  Who am I trying to impress?

I’d rather be reading a book.  I don’t need intensity, although I do enjoy the feeling of resting sore muscles.  I sleep better when I exercise more, but I already feel physically and psychologically drained from the pandemic.  Every.  Day.

I know that at some point, I’ll be onstage again, performing songs for strangers.  Being fit and attractive (with a mask on?) will give me a shred of subconscious credit that I don’t deserve.  I know this because it’s a mistake I make over and over.  I mistake someone’s attractiveness for value.

Breaking Up The Band

Breaking Up The Band

I’m breaking up the band.

For thirty days, five library books sat piled on my bedroom dresser.  They were chosen by me, checked out weeks before the pandemic gripped the world and my life.  I’ve never been angered by books before, angered at their existence, angered at their residency in my house.  They sat there mocking me, silly reminders of my pre-pandemic life.  The man who checked out these books was from a different time, a different world.  For the first 30 days of the pandemic, I was obsessed with science fiction.  Anything I read or watched had to be about outlandish, bizarre places.  I was particularly drawn to any stories of a person experiencing parallel realities, or altered timelines.  For much of April, I felt like I didn’t belong in this world.  I had been both misplaced and displaced.  All of my basic understandings of the world had been dashed, and these damn books just sat there, taking up space.  Piled together, they were about the size of a large box of kleenex.  Like me, they had been thrown out of an established continuum, and were now locked in this new reality with me.

Libraries were closed, I was ordered not to return them. Burn them?  Tempting.

I didn’t.  Eventually I read them.  I’m putting on record that the order I’m experiencing these books is worth noting.  I’m marking this feeling now, because I’m breaking up the band.  I’m returning some of the books to the library, and checking out new ones.

Completed before the Pandemic:

            Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts, by Ryan Holiday

            This was the only book by Ryan Holiday readily available from a nearby library.  Earlier in the year I’d stumbled across one of his blog posts about stoicism, and I was eager to read one of his books.  I’d been struggling at my job with how quickly we seemed to turn over material in our band.  Why did some pieces seem to outlast others?  Was there a piece of that formula that could be explained to me?  I was also trying to find motivation to write my own book, create my own music, and start my own band in Kansas City.  In retrospect, the early parts of the book about creativity have aged well in the pandemic.  The last part about marketing has not.  Holiday’s first book was a tell-all about insider-secrets of the American advertising industry, and the pandemic has turned industries upside down, or eliminated them entirely.  Some of the advice in this book was relevant in February 2020, and was rendered stunningly stupid.

Begun before the pandemic, paused, and now completed:

            The Infinite Game, by Simon Sinek

            This book probably angered me the most, because I was so excited to read it and channel the ideas to my band, but instead then I had to swallow the ideas myself.  I can encapsulate thusly: There are finite games and infinite games.  In finite games, there is a clear winner and loser.  By contrast, infinite games have no winners or losers.  Players can come into the game and leave the game at anytime.    In infinite games, you can’t control the rules. You can only control how you play.

            For years at my job, I’ve imparted a variation of this philosophy to the people who work for me.  Don’t get too attached to how we operate here.  Don’t get too stuck in believing that this defines a career in music.  Be prepared to port skills here to other bands, venues, and formats.

            Guess what?  The pandemic hit, and we were all laid-off, and live music in this country has been redefined forever.  The modern music industry was already a strange mutation leftover from post WWII prosperity and technological growth.  Now it’s unrecognizable, and anybody who had a “get-rich-quick” mindset to the performing arts is jockeying for viral fame on Tik-Tok.  I have no choice but to redefine my place in the worl as professional creative, and how important that is in the new landscape.  I hated this book for how prescient it was.  I hated taking such a strong dose of my own medicine.

Completed during the Pandemic:

            The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Stephen Pressfield

            I credit this book with pulling me out of a funk.  I’d read one of Pressfield’s other books, Turning Pro, two years ago.  Pressfield’s chapters are brief, deft, and styled in a way to not intimidate the reader, even as the subject matter forces me to confront my resistance to creating art.

This was the first book I chose to read during the pandemic.  It didn’t demand much concentration.  It demanded reflection.

For a few weeks in April, I’d jog after my kids as they rode their scooters to a nearby creek.  With playgrounds closed, they found joy in playing by creeks.  They throw rocks, observe plants, create small forts from sticks, marvel at animal tracks.  I’d sit on a rock and read this book that I’d carried as I ran.  It was about resistance.  Resistance is ever present for artists.  The book asked me if I’d succumb to it, or figure out how to keep it at bay.  This book helped me form an inner permission structure to take in new art and ideas.  I was less angry when I read it.  I began to release my resentment of the world, and contemplate how I could get back to creating something.

Completed during the Pandemic (but previously read three years go):

            The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, this latest translation by Michael Nylan (notably first published translation by a woman)

            I noticed myself with strange habits when I read this book.  I felt drawn to thinking of my band.  They were my troops.  I loved being their leader, even when it was difficult.  I took so much pride in my job; I took it so seriously.  This is not my wisdom, but if I man walks into the woods and others follow him, we say he’s a great leader, but if a man walks into the woods and nobody follows him, we say he’s going for a walk.

            So instead I just tried to go for a walk while I read this book, systemically putting down my desires to lead a band into battle with an unruly, skeptical audience.  I realized that my children were my new troops.  My family was my band now.  The lessons about command resonated with my challenges of being a parent.  I thought about it, and wrote about it.


            A mystery book. 🙂

            What this all does is ask me to re-evaluate my priorities.  I’d begun to tell myself that my musical legacy would be left by the people I mentored.  In the wake of the upheaval in the country over unbearable racism, I think about my children.  I think about how critical it is that Brooke and I raise them with the right set of values.  We think about our children’s sense of humanity and how to shape it.  That seems so much more urgent then lessons about being a professional musician.  As I re-attune my priorities, my definition of success changes, including my desire for success.  The events of the world bring my focus to my immediate community, and how I can affect change.  I spend more days thinking about I can actually control, and that’s fairly limited to the walls of my home.  I can control my interactions with my family.  I want to reposition my confidence, away from my worth as a professional musician, and closer to my family.  Will this mean less discretionary income and less professional opportunities?  Maybe.  Will I be out doing less things?  Will I see less people?  Will I gain deeper bonds with my family by sacrificing a dated set of values?

            I’m breaking up the band.

            I already returned The Art of War and The Infinite Game to Missouri.  I’ll return The War of Art, Perennial Seller this week, back to Kansas.  I’ll finish Why Good Sex Matters soon.

Thank you, books.  You were here for a reason.  It’s time for you to move on, and take your ideas to somebody else.  I’ve taken my notes.  You don’t want to be here anymore.  I don’t want to look at you.  The space on my dresser will be occupied by a different pile.  The moment has passed.

This Weird, Freaky Bird

Here’s one of my favorite paradoxes, courtesy of Bruce Springsteen, from his 2012 SXSX Keynote Address:

Don’t take yourself too seriously, and take yourself as seriously as death itself. Don’t worry. Worry your ass off. Have ironclad confidence, but doubt – it keeps you awake and alert. Believe you are the baddest ass in town, and, you suck!

It keeps you honest. It keeps you honest. Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideas alive and well inside of your heart and head at all times. If it doesn’t drive you crazy, it will make you strong. And stay hard, stay hungry, and stay alive. And when you walk onstage on tonight to bring the noise, treat it like it’s all we have. And then remember, it’s only rock and roll.

Here’s a similar one from author Elizabeth Gilbert, taken from her book Big Magic.

…Art is absolutely meaningless.  It is, however, also deeply meaningful.

That’s a paradox of course, but we’re all adults here, and I think we can handle it.  I think we can all hold two mutually contradictory ideas at the same time without our heads exploding.  So let’s give this one a try.  The paradox that you need to comfortably inhabit, if you wish to live a contented life, goes something like this.  “My creative expression must be the most important thing in the world to me (If I am to live artistically), and it also must not matter at all (if I am to live sanely)

Gilbert goes to on claim that we need the mental agility to leap between these two polar opposite in a matter of minutes.

So if I attack these paradoxes from a different angle, do we actually find balance?  That seems more like an ideal, not quite a practical way of living.   The equality of the paradoxical ideas is an illusion.  We must accept the paradox, but then also accept that we will forever be sliding back and forth between these ideas.

I can’t freeze my mind the moment that It trips the threshold between the ideas.  My mind is too fluid.  Perhaps that’s a lie I’m telling myself.  To slow my mind down, find the balance between contradictory ideas…that would probably earn me some genial applause from the zen masters.

In reality, when I find myself too far on one end of the spectrum, the other end beckons.  It calls to me, either “Get serious” or “Relax!”, depending on where I find myself.

I frequently fumbled this balance as a leader.  I always espoused to my band that our music was important, that we were part of Kansas City’s heritage, that we were bringing people together with the power of live music.  I worshipped that god every night.  I transformed our stage into an altar, and I sacrificed myself on it, again and again.  I cared about every random customer that stumbled into our bar, rushing over to them in exultation.

This was really intense to be around, and it wasn’t easy to talk me down from this position.  The only compromise I was willing to make was that we had to entertain these people.  To be an effective professional entertainer is to step outside of yourself and take a seat in your own audience.  You must observe how you appear to others.

So here we find that rack that I was mounted on for six years.  I was a slave to the holy mistress of music, while also a professional entertainer.  Was this a perfect balance?

Depends on your viewpoint of me at the time.  If you were a patron, stumbling into our bar, looking for a good time, a good beer, or good company, then you probably saw a professional entertainer onstage.  I loathed being self indulgent, and the interactive element of our platform allowed me to directly poll the audience for the kind of music they wanted.

However, if you were a fellow musician, in a band with me, then I was a fireball of passion, angst, and sacrifice. This was tough to take for long periods of time, anything more than a few minutes.  These dogged professionals, their skin burned from my heat, have been thankful to be away from me during the pandemic.  I might never recover them.

It runs counter to my narrative that the power of live music pulls us together.  But we’re not talking about music now.  We’re talking about egos (crowds love me!), sacrifice (extra rehearsal to get this bass-line right), determination (this isn’t good because we didn’t practice enough), and disappointment (we worked on that and the crowd didn’t care).  The artist in me says that all of these things are necessary steps on a journey.  The human side of me, my heart that values connection, is unsure what I gained from all that tension.

We’re so bad at saying goodbyes these days.  Social Media allows us to stay connected forever; we’re perpetually presented with photos and videos of anybody, ranging an entire life span.  There’s a distinct possibility that I’ll never see some of these musicians again, but the more I evaluate that, the more remote it seems.  What’s lost forever is our context, not necessarily our bond.  Live music is being reborn like a phoenix, and we don’t know what the plumage will be for this weird, freaky bird.  We sure as hell watched it burn, though.

Now we see it again, so small and fragile, yipping around in the ashes of what it was.

            This eternal, mythical phoenix is also a contradiction.  It’s always dying, and it’s always being born, in a cycle.  There’s a big burst of fire when the cycle starts over, but it’s death and birth at the same time.

            Death and birth at the same time.

Unique, But Not Special

I’m up really damn early today.

            There are humans out there, getting up even earlier.  Pounding it harder.

            The pandemic draws me to stillness.  The morning hours, so peaceful, before my kids wake up, transforming the home into a crowded bounce house.  This place, this mind, asks not for more noise.  I’m seeking ease and calm.  Time to be alone with my thoughts.  This journal.

            There are musicians getting up before me, and practicing.  Athletes who are rising and stretching, exercising.  Some of them even do it with kids, even in a pandemic.  Some of them are sick, some are near death.

            I’m unique, but not special.

            I know all these people are out there, some in my neighborhood, many scattered across the globe.  Artistic, creative, passionate people.  They are unencumbered by all the things I complain about.  Sure, they’ve got their own demons, their own battles, their own injustices to rail against.  But they complain less than me.  Some don’t whine at all.

            For months, I’ve been a heartbeat away from renouncing the cloth and burning all the musical instruments in my house.  I’ve crafted goodbye speeches and drawn up wills, all in my head, all in my angst.

            For now, I don’t practice songs.  I practice something simpler.

            At the piano, I practice scales.  Technique, the mere art of having my fingers touching the keys.  Up and down, at a brisk pace around the circle of 5ths, back to home, back to middle C.  No songs, but it’s still undeniably musical.  Undeniably purposeful.  Gains. No wanderings.  The musical equivalent of push-ups, crunches, and jogging.  Training for the moment.  Conditioning for the moment.  Look at all these people, pushing themselves forward.  Look at the humans!  I can say it with joy:  I’m unique, but not special.  I’m not alone!

            How many of them train without knowing what it’s for?

            Martial artists train for a fight that might never come.  They can prepare their bodies and minds, but they know that the fight will have a host of variables beyond their control.  That’s okay.  The ones I admire bring a quiet sense of confidence, because they have a plan and have been trained to respond correctly.

            I train now for a different world, a world not seen for generations.

            We’ve been here before.  We humans made it through.  Look at the humans.

            I’m unique, but not special.

            I’m still here.

            I’m here.

Who Knew All Along

I would like to know who I fooled

at the end of my life.

I kept deep, dark secrets up until my last breath.

Who bought it?  Who remained fooled?

More importantly…

who had me figured out?

Who knew my secrets, but never told me.

Who accepted these dark things about me, and walked along.

Why was I never able to talk to them about my secrets.


the deepest, darkest secrets are the ones bursting from us

The ones we most desperately want to share

to scream from the roof tops.

But I’d rather know

who knew all along.

The Art Of War, drifting from music to parenting

Sun Tzu

Authors Note: This post is from June  of 2020, when the Howl At The Moon band in KC was formally disbanded due to Covid-19

Sun Tzu

The Art of War in Parenting

My buddy Drew recommended Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to me years ago.  He enjoyed framing the audience as the enemy to be conquered.  I’ve read The Art Of War three times now, each time with a different translation.

My first foray, I felt lost.  While I sensed that I was reading wisdom, the language was too stilted for me to appreciate.  Drew’s analogies seemed like a stretch, but I enjoyed searching for them.  This was also high tide for e-readers, and I’ve never been able to enjoy an e-book the same way as a traditional hold-in-your-hander.

I purchased The Art of War for Managers a few years ago.  The authors sprinkled in casual managerial lessons through-out, making finding the leadership lessons much easier.  By this time I was leading my band at Howl on a nightly basis.  I felt like I had “troops”, instead of being an army of one.  I enjoyed it, and I passed it on to one of my favorite band-mates, Sean.  Sean has been gracious to share stories about his Chinese heritage and trips to the mainland, and I’ve loved learning about China and Hong Kong through his experiences.  I’m always ready to bond over Chinese philosophy with Sean, or any philosophy for that matter.

Now, I have no band in a professional sense.  I’m reading the latest translation, the first by a woman, Michael Nylan.  I’m enjoying it immensely.  Nylan’s translation holds on it’s own; she hasn’t inserted any modern anecdotes as a crutch.  My mind constantly drifts towards having a band, and conquering a crowd.

For a time, I wanted to continue to use The Art of War in this manner, but now I’m picking up parenting tips.  Most recently, I found this passage:

In Warfare, there is

1.     Deserting

2.     Insubordination

3.     Peril

4.     Collapse

5.     Chaos

6.     Rout


These six are hardly due to natural catastrophes, they are the commander’s fault.

I was able to lightly ascribe these to leading a band, but they really hit home for parenting.  Any six of these is basically a failure of leadership.  Here we go.

Desertion follows one arm attacking another ten times it size, when the strategic advantages are equal on both sides.

             I’ve seen my kids give up or become frustrated when they feel completely outmatched by something.  This has happened only a few times in organized sports, but seems more likely in scenarios that challenge their intellect.  If it’s ten times beyond their understanding, they will abandon it.  It’s my responsibility as a parent to present challenges that will push them, not overwhelm them.

Insubordination follows when the infantry is eager to fight, but the officers are weak.

            This is my children failing to be patient when something they want is just out of their reach, and they take it without permission.  This can be theft, or commonly extra food in the kitchen.  My kids are probably testing boundaries, and also testing the consequences for their actions.  I need to give them a strong sense of integrity to keep them from making impulsive decisions, and give them comparable consequences when they give in quickly to temptation.

Peril follows when officers are eager to fight, but the food soldiers are weak.

            The metaphors get slippery when Sun Tzu seems to interchangeably use terms like rulers, generals, commanders, officers, and soldiers.  I rarely position myself as ruler, and most of the information in this book is for generals and warfare.  So let’s say in this example I’m an officer.  Peril happens when I shove my kids into an activity that they find frightening, but I don’t.  They are too scared to function.  This is similar to desertion, but not quite the same.    It’s okay for them to be challenged and out of their comfort zone, but I still need to teach them about fear, and Ideally coach them through it.  Even when attempting something dangerous, they should have a way to feel safe.

            Sometimes, I’m the thing that’s frightening to them.

Collapse comes when unbridled rage consumes a senior officer, so much that he moves with-out authorization to engage the enemy and fails to understand his capacities.

            The warning here is for me.   Do not loose cool.  I should be thoughtful, strategizing, and not lashing out at people when I fail.  My kids are watching.  They will collapse when they see me flailing.

Chaos comes when a weak commander fails to enforce the regulations and delvers instructions that are far from clear, so that his officers and men cannot be trusted and his military formations are in disarray.

            When my three kids play with their three cousins, chaos usually ensues, and we parents laugh and use that term lightly.  However, we bristle when we sense that our kids aren’t respectful, and their energy is out of control.  Are people are getting injured or property is being damaged?  It could be that I failed to adequately calculate the risk of the activities, or the chemistry between children is off.  They might need to be separated for their own well being, especially if disagreements are spiraling out of control and turning violent.

Rout comes when a commander proves incapable of assessing the enemy, so he sends a small force out to engage a large, a weak force to attack the strong, or he operates without crack troops as a backup.

            Bad planning led to total failure.  Nobody had fun, and the only thing we learned was that we should have had a better plan.  That’s a tough lesson, and I’m unsure how much my kids should be penalized for their perceived lack of a plan, especially if I’m supposedly in charge.

Reflecting back on this list, I find that some of these things are inevitable.  Making mistakes and failure is how we learn, even as parents.  I’ve undoubtedly experienced these six failures as a parent, but the true crime would to be refusing to learn from them.  The supreme lesson from the Art of War is that the best preparation will yield to no battle at all.  Conquer your enemy without fighting, before the battle ever began.

Paul will give a presentation about the Art of War: Onstage, July 8th at 2pm, at the Central Resource Library in Overland Park.

Subscription models for us, in a new era

Self publication.  Traditional publication.

Unsure how this pans out in a pandemic.

I find the Substack model most intriguing.  A straightforward e-publishing method that allows you to groom a subscriber base. Writers have control over how and when a paywall goes into effect.  No need to pay a fee for the service, the service makes money when you make money.

For the various writers and journalists being laid off around the world, it seems like a good deal, but some are complaining about the loss of the newspaper, the magazine, or even the curated website.

It’s not lost, it’s just reduced.  There is less variance of voices now, and the freelance journalists who thought they had a home?  Squeezed out.

So they’re given a choice: claim your own audience, or keep seeking assistance with publication.  Is this adapting?  It depends if you consider yourself a professional journalist. A professional critic, maybe?  I’ve watched some of my favorite writers bounce around between papers and news-sites.  If they had an independent feed or blog, would this be my way of supporting them?  This concept is within arm’s reach of Patreon and Kickstarter, established routes for artists to fund their projects.

It also seems to squeeze content creators OUT of the professional sphere.  What is the business model here?  I’m a big fan of Seth Godin’s dichotomy of Entrepreneur vs. Freelancer.  Direct subscriber models seem to drift towards freelancers, since the person doing the creating cannot step away.  Yet, it doesn’t seem project based.

If I’m in the mindset of the person doing the subscribing, it’s either “I need to read this content” OR “I want to support this writer”.  I believe this is also a dichotomy, much like the Stones vs. The Beatles.  Nobody can hold both of these things equal, one is slightly dominant than the other.  If you polled your meager audience and made them choose between the two options, the ensuing data would reveal how your freelancing business is actually operating.

But does that matter, if the $ is flowing in?  Maybe the ensuing data would just illustrate the tilt of capitalism.  The critical question: How much of my income from writing should I put back into the freelance writing ecosystem?  As in, pay other writers for content that I need/want.

It’s a stone’s throw away from the concept that we should give 2% of our income to charity.  It’s a concept that charitable foundations have embraced.  Big-thinker charity types are trying to raise it to 3%.  That percentage mark would drastically increase charitable giving worldwide, but these ideas were before the pandemic and the new probability of economic recession.

What we end up with is a bunch of artists trying to argue for their own existence as professionals.  Hey, you need us.  You need to be entertained, or challenged intellectually.  But who is going to pay for the good stuff?  Who even decides what the good stuff is anymore?

Let’s say I allocate 2% of all my income towards supporting artists via subscription services.  If I want to pay money to see one of them in concert, or buy a book, do I re-allocate money from a different artist subscription in order to offset the additional cost?  This micro-budgeting seems stupid, but it’s not far my wife and I budgeting how often we go out to eat, and what restaurants we support, usually lining up with our tastes.

We pay a premium because of both the product (the food and drink) and the experience (the service and atmosphere).  We’ve suffered through enough zoom meetings to know that we cannot control the service and atmosphere of the internet, but we can try to control the product.

I’m getting to the heart of my woes as a musician lately.  I’ve been an entertainer specializing as a cover artist that worked primarily in bars and restaurants.  Any product I served up was hardly  unique.  I viewed myself as part of the service and atmosphere, and my employers agreed.  Upon scrutiny, this is actually an unholy alliance that devalues what I create.  My covers weren’t really that special, since there are already thousands of piano bar entertainers in the country, and our product doesn’t actually have much variance.  We end up overly relying on the atmosphere setting a standard of what our audience expects, and spreading ourselves over localities and regions.  I relished exceeding an audience’s expectation, but the business reward was just more of the same.  Freelance work led to more freelance work.

You could argue that’s how it’s supposed to work.  I’ve long held a Darwinian view of the music industry, especially of side-men.  If you are mediocre PLUS untrustworthy, unreliable, and unpredictable, then you won’t be contacted for more work.  This is the plight of the freelancer, and we rise and fall accordingly.  This was a value I’ve held tightly for decades, but it’s challenged by this paradigm shift.  Without live music, what is the value for my product as a free-lancer?

Time get busy making something.

Pre Jam Panic

I’m compiling a mental list of all the things I want to take to a blues jam at Knuckleheads, but might not. It will be my first encounter with other musicians in over two months. I have no friends there; all strangers. I’m not required to play; I could show up and sip beers and watch.

That part of me that wants to jump in and mess up as I go; it likes to play around with my ego. Those two parts of me, the jumper and the ego, have gotten me this far. It’s so important to be noticed, but I want to prevent myself from making a bad first impression.

From checking out the profiles of the hosts, there’s probably already a musician eco-system happening here. There was probably a scene before the pandemic. I won’t know if the musicians here are desperate for things to return to normal, and reboot their scene, or if they are scattered, lost, and confused. There really might be competing agendas here today.

I’m scattered, lost, and confused.

I’ll bring my bass. Bass players and keyboard players are usually in high demand, but that also means that they camp longer at jams. That’s awkward. The turn-around for guitarists and singer is always really fast, if the host is doing a good job of managing the flow of musicians. That’s mostly the challenge of an open mic host, dealing with guitarists and singers. The rhythm section players usually end of managing themselves, or in some cases stay static the whole time if they’ve been hired to play. So then this tension arises that if a different rhythm player (bass, piano, drums) asks to play, the current player onstage needs to police what’s happening at that instrument. Sometimes somebody is so bad, or just a pariah, that the open mic host will openly call for somebody else to come play.

So it’s hard to know if you’re asked to step away, was I bad? Or is someone legit trying to police the spirit of the jam and get more players up? Maybe the bassist just had to pee. Or they wanted a break to go talk to a friend in attendance. Or their tired and they want to go home.

This is why I become an intense observer at jams and open mics. Open mics are a different story, where there is no band and everybody in the audience is isolated in their anxiety and unable to actually listen to whatever is happening onstage. That’s probably why the most fun I’ve had at open mics are when I have no plans to play anything, or with anybody. I’m off the clock.

But if I’m trying to understand a scene, I’m watching the interactions between the players. Are they laughing and smiling at each other? Are they nervous? Are they just spaced out? Are they trying to communicate about the silliness of the lead singer? They do looks for that, and that’s an indication that they have discussions about the silliness of the singer offstage. Or maybe they just look impatient.

It could also be that they are locked in professionals. If they have blank faces, they are probably concentrating, doing their job, in the moment but passive at the same time. That’s zen, baby. I’ve spent so much time onstage, I need to be either paid extra or be really feeling it to plaster a smile on my face. It can be the marker of a professional entertainer, but it’s tough to sustain as a professional musician. Playing an iconic riff, watching the crowd react, jumping into the meat of the song. That’s like clockwork. Like a boulder rolling down a hill. A cascading waterfall.

Maybe I’ll get some of that today.

Gear Options:

Bass. P-80 piano (simple key sounds, piano + ep) or MOX8 (much more robust key sounds, including organs, clavicle, etc). Personal drum sticks. Cable for bass. Stark tuner for bass. Cable for keyboard.

I’ll need to dig a functional case for the MOX8 out of storage. It’s really heavy and unwieldy, so I’m tempted not to take it. I think my play is to scan the stage and see what the keyboard situation is before I bring on in. It’s possible there is none, which frees me up in a big way. If keyboard player is hesitant to let others touch the instrument because of coronavirus, I’ll probably stick to bass, or offer to bring in a keyboard from the van. Probably best to have my first beer just watching, and then decide what to go get.