Busking for Bucks

Every first Thursday of the month my neighborhood (Hillcrest) hosts a “Shop & Sip” in which business stay open late and offer various free drinks and snacks to customers. When the weather is nice it usually draws a huge number of people, and there are always food vendors, artists, jewelers, and musicians showcasing their wares on the side of the streets. I had told myself over a week ago that I would go busking with my guitar at this event for a little extra cash and to advertise for guitar lessons. Yet I woke up feeling groggy and unmotivated, and began to talk myself out of it in my mind: “it’s not a real gig, you don’t have to do it… you don’t want to see people you know there, it will be awkward… busking isn’t respectable… you aren’t going to get any money… it’s totally not worth it… etc.” Eventually I decided on a compromise: I would go to the slightly richer, and more family oriented neighborhood of the Heights (which I believed also took part in the 1st Thursday Shop & Sip) and find a spot to play. I thought this would be a better place to advertise guitar lessons and a spot where there wouldn’t necessarily be a lot of people I know seeing me perform the lowly work of busking.

I rode my bike from Hillcrest to the Heights and stopped in Stephano’s Fine Art Gallery, where I met Stephano Sutherlin himself (an extremely kind and helpful man). He informed me that the Heights does not actually take part in the 1st Thursday Shop & Sip festivities, but that they have something similar on the 3rd Thursday of every month. He also seemed willing to have me play at his gallery sometime and pointed me towards some other good venues (he even called a couple places for me!). I’m convinced that personal interactions like these are the best way to develop a career in music (perhaps a career in anything). Yes it is much easier to sit at home and just send out emails, facebook messages, and blog posts 😉 about your music, but it is also much easier for people to turn down or ignore these mediums. Music is a social art— musicians rely on and interact with other people during most every step (from rehearsing/performing with other musicians, to talking with venue owners, to establishing a connection with the audience). The working musician must develop a great skill for interpersonal communication.

So after being energized by my interaction with Stephano I returned to Hillcrest to look for a good spot to play later that evening. I spotted a good bench in front of Hillcrest Artisan Meats (H.A.M.) and the workers there graciously agreed to let me use one of their outlets to power my amp. I went home to prepare, and thought it would be nice to have more than just a single guitar so I borrowed my brother-in-law’s loop pedal (which would allow me to play melodies and solos over my recorded harmonies), and quickly learned how to operate it. I ended up playing from about 6-7pm (I didn’t anticipate H.A.M. closing so early), and though it was shorter than I expected, I was pleased with people’s reaction to my music and relatively satisfied with the $16 I made (more than enough money for dinner)— I’m sure my rate would have improved later on in the evening with a few more drinks in everyone’s system 🙂

My initial reservations about busking come from a place of self-consciousness and a vague sense that busking is somehow a seedy or disreputable activity. Yet my better judgement knows that it is a perfectly fine and honest pursuit for me. I am talented, and playing good music for people to hear for free. I am not begging, or demanding payment, but if people so choose, they can drop a dollar in my hat. Furthermore, street performance is an ancient art! The street is virtually the one consistent stage for musicians and artists from antiquity to today and I should be proud to carry on such a legacy. Finally, the street is perhaps the purest test of whether people like your music— they didn’t come to hear it, they aren’t invested in it, but if they turn their heads, stop, and take time out of their day to listen, you must be doing something right.

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Lamenting the Loss of Routine

My work schedule looks extremely irregular. This week, for example, I had a rehearsal from 8-10pm on Monday with a Jazz band, an out of town show with a Rock band from 11-12:30pm on Tuesday, and a rehearsal with a different Jazz band from 6-8pm on Wednesday. Tonight I am playing solo guitar at a restaurant from 6-8pm, tomorrow I am giving a guitar lesson from 5-6pm, and Saturday I am playing at a wedding from 4-5pm and a party from 9:30-midnight. Next week I may not have any gigs. A variable schedule is typical for the musician and flexibility is a must have trait.

Certainly there is some temptation to just utterly embrace this irregularity, working hard when I have lessons, rehearsals, and gigs, and just taking it easy when I don’t. Yet I’ve learned that I thrive on a regular routine. I am sharper, more productive, and generally happier when I have some level of intentional day to day consistency. Though I can rarely choose exactly when and where I am going to have performances and rehearsals, I can choose what time I am going set my morning alarm— I choose to set it for 5:55. Ideally, I wake up, write my “morning pages”, do a quick Chi-Kung routine, eat some breakfast, then spend the next four hours practicing and preparing for whatever gigs, practices, and lessons are looming. I usually feel relatively accomplished after this, and reward myself with lunch and a much needed nap. When I awake, I am ready to proceed to whatever musical exploit is scheduled or available for that evening (this is when the irregularity creeps in). When I am finally finished with all the day’s musical tasks (often very late at night), I blog about it and go to sleep.

Once again, that is my “ideal” weekday routine. I stayed loyal to it the first three days of this week, and it felt great. Yet last night I stayed up late with a good friend, skipped my blogging session, and went straight to bed. As a result, I slept through my 5:55 alarm this morning and didn’t wake up until 7:30, feeling guilty. I did some Chi-Kung, but not my morning pages, ate some breakfast, started struggling with this blog post, and talked with my roommate about how much is too much information for this blog 😉 as well as the relative merits of U2, Vampire Weekend, and Steely Dan. I am still struggling with this blog post. I feel out of balance and slow-witted and I want to stop writing. I want my routine back.

The Art, Craft, and Critique of Organized Sound

Disclaimer: This is my “about” page. I thought it could be useful to make this a blog post as well.

My name is Lucas and I, like most humans with a pulse, love music. Unlike most humans with a pulse (and any sense), I am attempting to embark on a career in music. I graduated from the Scholars Department of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in the Spring of 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in “applied music” with a focus on guitar performance— hardly the most lucrative degree. Practically all I’ve been directly trained to do in school is play guitar, analyze music, and write papers— hardly the most lucrative skills. Yet during my undergraduate years I additionally developed great capacities for self-discipline, time-management, and connecting with other people. These skills combined with my love of music and inborn stubbornness make me feel that I can actually attain and sustain a career in music.

My plan of attack is broadly that every weekday I will practice the Art, Craft, and Critique of music. I define these as such:

  • The art of music is writing, recording, and performing original music.
  • The craft of music is learning pieces of music, practicing technique, giving lessons, and performing non-original music as well as marketing myself and finding new venues for my music.
  • The critique of music is a written critical analysis of the art and craft of music.

This blog is the cornerstone of my critique of music. Though I do sometimes write about other musical artists and their work, the main focus of my critique will be on my own musical output, and the methods I use to put it out there. I do this for one to help myself— writing about my experiences practicing, performing, composing, and working with others will better allow me to learn from my successes/failures and will hold me accountable to works, projects, and goals that I set out. For others the critique of my musical life will offer an insider’s look at what it is like to live the life of a working musician— perhaps interesting for the non-musician, and hopefully useful for anyone trying to follow a similar musical path.

Bear’s Den and Bug Dust

Every morning I wake up, fix some coffee or tea, and fill three loose leaf pages with stream of consciousness writing. I took this practice (called “morning pages”) from Julia Cameron’s book The Artists Way, which no I have not finished yet, but still recommend to anyone looking to expand their creativity. Today I started off all analytical-minded, trying to plan my day, but then I switched brains and just let it flow (kind of like I am going to do now, because it is 1:30 and I am riding home to Little Rock from Conway with my band The See and I am very tired, and want to finish this post before I get home so I can just hop in bed and slide into dreamsville). Anyway, I consider these morning pages as me practicing my art— they are often ripe with lyrics and ideas for songs. This morning I looked around my kitchen and expressed wonder at the myriad worlds around me— the wood lines in my table, the creamy surface of my coffee, the buzz of my refrigerator, etc… I wrote that it is impossible to capture with words the many worlds around me. Then I immediately retracted that statement, because the age old “poetic” notion that something is so profound that it can’t be described in words is a cop out! Yes, many things are impossible to fully capture with words, but if you are writing poetry or lyrics, you have to try to describe these things anyway! If something is truly inexpressible in words, your futile attempt to do so will express that fact. I hope I never put the phrase “words can’t express” in a song. With all this in mind, I set about trying to describe in acute detail the dust of decaying bugs sitting in between the two panes of glass of my kitchen window. For now I’ll spare you my portrait of the bug-dust.

I was all ready to give my first guitar-lesson of the summer to a brand new student this evening, but he had to cancel at the last minute due to a time-conflict with his work. He assured me that he is serious about learning the guitar and we have set up a lesson for next week. I do believe him, and look forward to teaching him— I just need about nine more students to keep the bills paid.

Tonight The See and I played at Bear’s Den Pizza in Conway, AR (hence why I am coming home so late). The Bear’s Den is a homey, spacious restaurant & pub with a collegiate feel (by this I mean they have a regulation beer pong table outside) and mediocre pizza. This place was packed for a Tuesday night— clearly the prime hangout for the young and the restless of Conway. The stage was large enough to comfortably host a heavily equipped four piece rock band (like ourselves) and I was overall pleased with the quality of the sound in the room and onstage (unlike some “music venues”, this place had multiple stage monitors). We played very well tonight despite the fact that our drummer Tyler’s bass drum wouldn’t sit still and kept knocking into Joe (our lead singer), and that Joe broke a guitar string on the first song (he did have a backup guitar). We kept everything very tight and we seemed to have impressed much of the audience; some of them even bought T-shirts. In my experience, playing for a new audience frequently infuses the band with a natural urgency and strong sense of presence that sharpens our focus and often leads to the best performances. This happened last night and it served as a reminder of just how special our upcoming multi-state tour (from June 28th to July 19th) could be…