Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day everybody! In honor of this mother’s day, I’ve decided to break my blogging fast and feed you some words straight from my brain to yours. Before I start discussing any musical material, or tell you how to pick up women at the bar (yes that is something I cover later in this blog post), I want to take a moment to celebrate my own mother. For one reason or another, motherhood has been a topic that has come up a lot lately in my conversations. Whether I’m talking with someone who had a very engaged mother, or someone who’s mother was not exactly present for much of their life, I have come away from these conversations with a deep gratitude for my mother. The selfless love and care that my momma has given me is the solid foundation upon which my life rests. She is an amazing, strong, sweet, sensitive, and intelligent woman who has an incredible intuitive sense for the needs of other people (especially children). She is also a talented, and prolific visual artist, who has inspired me in my own creative path (that’s one of her paintings above). She sacrificed so much of her own life so that my sister and I could have a leg up in our lives, and I can never thank her enough for this. Thank you momma! I love you!

I suppose that by talking about my wonderful mother there has been a bit of a topic trend in my last two posts: family. For my previous blog post was not exactly a real post, but a bunch of cute pictures of my niece used as a distraction technique so you’d all forget that I had set a pretty ambitious goal for myself. The goal was to write, record, and release four new songs during the moon phase cycle. Well, that was about two moon cycles ago, and clearly I’ve not released any new songs have I? HAVE I? No, I haven’t.

Not only did I not complete that goal, but additionally I just straight up stopped blogging for like two months. I really went off the deep end huh? Oh man, you should have seen how nice and regular my postings were from August to April. I posted something nearly every week! Oh wait actually you can see. Check out my WordPress stats y’all. Those black blocks are the days I posted something—notice the big conspicuous gap in postings during April and May.

Sidenote: this is also how I try to pick up women at bars. I lock eyes with a lovely lady across the way, confidently saunter over to her, and then seductively whisper into her ear “hey girl, check out my WordPress stats,” unveiling my blog data. Then she’s all like, “Oh my god. 44 followers? Semi-regular posts? I’m yours.” It works every time kiddos. For more on this topic, check out my other blog: how to pick up women at bars. Sadly, I personally won’t be picking up any women at bars until I pick up my pace on this blog.

In this bizarre alternate reality I’ve just created in which blog-writing is some kind of romantic currency, I very well may have kept up with my posts these past two months. However, living in the actual reality that we live in— the one in which blog writing offers little to no romantic, economic, or social rewards, I just basically stopped blogging when the rest of my life became too busy and full. I am after all not a full time blogger, but a full time student, and late in the semester when assignments, responsibilities, and social engagements were piling up, I could have kept blogging, yet I’m certain either my schoolwork or my sanity would have suffered.

So I forgive myself for the blog hiatus, and I hope you do too gentle readers. If you don’t, that’s ok too, but perhaps you should check out my other blog: how to forgive people. The good news is that now that school is out for summer, I am re-entering the blogosphere! I do this not for any romantic, economic, or social gain, but because this is a personally satisfying and enjoyable practice. This is where I come to organize and articulate my thoughts about my life and my music, its where I come to practice the craft of writing, and its where I come to set ambitious goals that I may or may not accomplish.

I mentioned one of these ambitious goals earlier: I would write, record, and release four new songs during the moon phase cycle. Specifically that was the moon phase cycle from February 26th to March 27th. Well, I obviously didn’t release any new music during that time, but that’s only because I also didn’t record any new music during that time.

I will however give myself a small pat on the back and say that I did write four new songs during this period. Furthermore, I will record and release these songs. For our final project in the jazz studies master’s program at NYU we are required (although it feels more like a privilege) to record an album of original music at NYU’s state of the art Dolan Recording Studio. The four songs that I wrote, which were heavily influenced by my music lessons with Wayne Krantz at the time, are songs that I will record as part of this final project.

Thus, I’ll give myself a D minus on my moon cycle assignment. Yet as classic slacker wisdom states: D’s get degrees, man. In this case, my D-minus execution of one goal, will indeed help me achieve one of my current goals of earning a master’s degree. What will be truly interesting to see, however, is how my life and goals shape up after I earn that degree. For graduate school provides a clear structure and aim for my life right now— yet once I graduate, it will be up to me to blaze my own trail. Whatever happens, I think that this lowly practice of blog writing will remain an important personal tool in my march towards musical success.

I suck.

DisplaySomaLucas

Disclaimer: I’m late with this post. The following events refer to last week.

Sunday morning I woke up feeling like a crumpled piece of notebook paper— four hours of sleep is not enough to relieve the effects of a night of steady debauchery. Yet at the sound of my 9:30am alarm I dutifully unfurled my limbs and stood up to prepare for my solo guitar gig at the Afterthought’s Sunday Brunch. During my performance, I focused intensely on the music, and performed with a loose, expressive, nuanced delivery — yet I also made a handful of stupid mistakes (missing familiar passages, dropping the tempo, blanking completely, etc…), undoubtedly a result of copious amounts of shenanigans the night before. I do regret perpetuating the stereotype of the partied out musician, but sometimes I just like to cut loose with my friends. I disagree, however, with the myth that musicians play or write better when they are drunk or high; and I reject the romanticized image of the freewheeling artist who sleeps, eats, drinks, smokes, writes, performs, travels, and has sex simply whenever the spirit moves him. Believe me, I’m as attracted to this picture as anyone, but it isn’t real. Life lived in an unbroken stream of creativity would be incoherent— musicians (like everyone else) benefit from structure and routine.

With this fact in mind, monday morning I woke at 6am, loosened up with a chi-kung routine, drank a cup of tea, and practiced Jazz guitar for an hour and a half. I ate breakfast and then worked on the drum and guitar tracks for a Pop-Rock song I’m recording. After Lunch I took a long siesta, and then drove to River City Coffee to drink a cup and begin writing this blog post. Lastly, I enjoyed a pleasant dinner date with a pretty girl I met on Tinder (I’m not ashamed). On paper, this was my perfect work-day: I woke up early and engaged in the art (recording), craft (practicing), and critique (blogging) of music before some relaxing social time. In reality, I wasn’t all that effective at any particular task; I went through the motions during practice, didn’t record any great guitar tracks, and wrote a grand total of four sentences of this blog (easily distracted by fellow coffee shoppers). Overall my brain was sluggish from little sleep and I was creatively uninspired, yet I am happy with this day because I made myself do the work that I’ve set out to do. I know that I can’t practice only when I have a gig to prepare for, or write/record only when I am inspired, or blog only when I’ve had a great idea or experience. If I wish to make a livelihood out of the art, craft, and critique of music, I must make a habit of practicing these things.

Tuesday morning I woke again at 6am and repeated my morning routine of chi-kung, caffeine ingestion and practice (this must be a habit now right?). After breakfast I worked on this blog post, writing most of the previous two paragraphs. I ate lunch, took a nap, and then gave three guitar lessons in the evening. Done with work for the day, I went to Allsopp Park to play basketball and workout with my roommate Read (insert shameless plug for Read’s awesome new composting business here). I finished off the night by drinking beers and admiring the full Strawberry Moon with a fond friend. Another perfect day.

Wednesday morning I meant to wake at 6am again, but instead I pushed snooze a thousand times and slid out of bed around 10am, disappointed in my lack of willpower. I did some chi-kung, journaled, and ate breakfast while talking about the stages of life with my other roommate John (insert shameless plug for John’s awesome music here). I reluctantly practiced classical guitar for an hour and had planned to work on this blog, but my practice session flowed into a songwriting session instead. After finishing the song, I ate lunch, took a nap, and then gave a guitar lesson. I finally worked on this blog post starting around 9:30pm. Thus, I didn’t follow my routine. I was slow-witted and weak-willed all day, easily distracted from my work by internet articles and endless Tinder swipes. But ultimately, I did everything I set out to do: I practiced/taught (the craft), wrote a song (the art), and worked on this blog (the critique). I may have been disappointed in myself during the day, but ultimately this is a positive step. It offers nothing for me to be disappointed in. I am here to build habits, and even when my schedule gets thrown off a little, I know that if I am working on the art, craft, and critique everyday, then my work will bear fruit. Good job, Lucas

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.” As I sit here and congratulate myself for my efforts at being a good musician, I can hear this quote spoken by Terence Fletcher in the brilliantly unnerving film Whiplash. While I don’t ascribe to Fletcher’s brutal motivational tactics (if you haven’t seen the film, here’s another quote demonstrating Fletcher’s pedagogy: “Nieman, you earned the part. Alternates, will you clean the blood off my drumset.”), I do understand this sentiment. To stop and congratulate yourself at any moment, especially early on in your musical development, is to lose the edge that could make you great. The combination of desire for mastery and awareness of where you need to improve will lead to growth. By contrast, contentment with your skills and ignorance of your shortcomings will lead to stagnation.

I had a wonderful guitar teacher at UALR named Michael Carenbauer who approached this point in a more humorous mood than the surly Spencer Fletcher. When I arrived at UALR I thought I was pretty good at the guitar— I could play fast and people seemed to like how I sounded. Yet in an early lesson Mike described what our goal was for learning any Jazz tune: be able to play the chords/melody, know what scale to use for improvising at any moment in the tune, and don’t get lost, all without looking at the music (things I couldn’t yet do). He said that “when you can finally do all of that, you suck.” There I was, a 19 year old who had been playing guitar for nearly a decade, being told that I wasn’t even good enough to suck yet. I was below the suck level! Up until that point, I had always been told I was really good at the guitar, and I think it was no coincidence that I never really practiced very hard either. Determined to at least suck, I consequently practiced and practiced until I could accomplish those tasks. Yet what I learned in the process of practicing hard, is that there is always something else to learn; there’s always something I suck at. This is what is beautiful and frustrating about music: the journey is never over. This is what leads some musicians to such great heights and makes others give up completely. I know that I couldn’t give up music if I tried, thus the only way I can be satisfied is to be conscious of where I can improve and continue to take on the next musical challenge.

I began this post thinking it was going to be about the importance of routine, and it would have been had I kept it up. Having lost my focus and abandoned my routine, I am obviously in a better position to write about how much I suck. The awareness that I suck is after all what compels me to wake up early and practice. What is often unacknowledged is that all great musicians, artists, and writers sucked at one point. Bob Dylan sucked, Aretha Franklin sucked, Picasso sucked, and Shakespeare sucked, but they all stuck with their craft long enough to become great. I suck too, but dammit I’m going to stick with it.

Killing Two Birds

At the dawn of this blog, you’ll remember (well, I remember) that my mission statement was to pursue the art, craft, and critique of music. Throughout my two year span of being a full-time musician, it feels like I have greatly succeeded in my goal of working at the craft of music; I’ve consistently practiced Classical and Jazz guitar, learned an enormous number of songs, played countless gigs, and continually taught private guitar lessons. I feel I’ve failed in the areas of art and critique; I’ve been terribly inconsistent in keeping this blog, and have virtually no original works or recordings to share.

I see clear reasons for this. There is a direct incentive for me to learn songs for gigs, and to teach guitar lessons— this is what people pay me to do (the craft). Conversely, I’ve yet to be commissioned to write my first Symphony (the art), nor have I been approached by any publications to write music reviews (the critique). Practicing the craft of music is essentially the entirety of my job at this point. After I’ve done my job for the day, like many other people I know, I’d rather watch a TV show, drink a beer, or go on a date than try to write a song or an essay. Furthermore, I have a habitual tendency towards learning songs and practicing guitar— these were consistent parts of my former life as a full-time music student from 2009-2013. During this period, I developed no such habits towards recording original music (the art) or expounding my own opinions on music (the critique). Simply put, money talks and habits are hard to break.

My desire to write music is motivated by something more abstract than money or habit. Although I’ve certainly fantasized about getting rich off of my own original music, there is actually no guarantee that I will make any money writing and recording original music. Yet even faced with this possibility, I know that I still want to make music.

My best evidence for this is the fact that my most prolific recording period occurred when I was in high school— a magical time when I wasn’t worried at all about money (my parents had me covered). Weekends and nights I would spend hours on end recording and re-recording parts on my red Fostex 8-track digital recorder for whatever song of mine I was wrapped up in at the moment. I didn’t do this because I thought it was going to make me rich and famous (I barely let anyone hear my songs). I did it because it allowed me to explore and release thoughts and feelings that were deeply personal to me; my songs were typically concerned with girls I liked, frustrations with high school social life, and my semi-secret spiritual yearnings. I remember writing during this period that I was so thankful to have music as an outlet for these difficult and sometimes dark feelings and wishing that everyone could have something similar— I wondered how anyone could be sane without an art to pursue. In addition to the psychological benefits I reaped from it, recording songs also satisfied my basic need to tinker. My recording process was essentially an extension of my childhood fascination with Legos: I would record the foundation of a song (most often guitar and vocals), then add another piece— perhaps a bass-line, then another— a drum track, then another— maybe a guitar solo, then another— a vinyl sample, all the while listening to the work over and over until I was satisfied with the pieces in place. I’d be so wrapped up in these sound-experiments that I would sometimes forget to eat all day.

To be honest, most of the songs I created in high school are not very good (I have the recordings to prove it), yet over the years I’ve also produced enough music that I actually thought was good (and enough is a relatively small amount in this case) to be encouraged to continue writing and recording. Most importantly I still have the burning desire to create and tinker with music that is emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and bodily meaningful to me. If it were not my job to play and teach music, I would still wish to write and record songs. I can sometimes get complacent, thinking that because I am getting paid for musical activities that I am following my adolescent dream of being a musician. Yet the truth is that my deepest aspiration all along has been to write, record, and perform my original music. I am lucky that both my college major and my current job have made me more capable of creating higher quality music, but I won’t at all be satisfied with this fact unless I actually make the music! I don’t need to make money doing it (even though yes I would like to); I simply need to do it.

And last week I did it; I completed a song for the first time in over four months. Furthermore, I’m going to share it with the internet world— something I truly haven’t done since I had a myspace page in high school. I’m not putting this work in the public space because I think it is particularly special (it’s not bad, but it’s not great); I’m putting it out there to hold myself accountable to my goal of writing, recording, and sharing my music. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the school of thought that would have aspiring artists only share their best work. My strategy is to share music as it comes and as I create it, despite it being less than perfect. With the knowledge that my music is available to the public,I hope to be pushed by a constant sense of “I can do better than that last song” to continue to write and refine my work. Furthermore, as an artist you never fully know what your audience will respond to— a track of mine that I think isn’t particularly good may end up being meaningful to someone else listening to it (or vice-versa). I certainly have my tastes and opinions about music, but I can’t pretend to be the ultimate judge of what is good (even regarding my own work); musical taste is about as subjective and personal as it gets. So right now I think I just want to try to throw a bunch of darts at the board and see what sticks.

So perhaps you’ve picked up on the fact that I am killing two birds with one stone with this blog post. My two failed musical missions (the art and critique of music) are now being resumed. I’ve shared a song (the art), and I’ve written about it (the critique). I should note that I am using critique in a very loose way for my purposes. I am not talking about a formal academic critique or music reviews. I reserve the right to do those things if I wish, but when I say the word critique in the context of this blog, I am really talking about simply writing about anything pertaining to music, and most often pertaining to my own musical life. I wish to use writing as a tool to explore and expand my musical life; perpetual writing prompts for myself are “what am I doing with music?” and “why am I doing it?”. Similar to my logic for sharing my recorded songs, I believe that sharing my musical life via writing will hold me publicly accountable to doing meaningful musical work.

I’ve recently picked up a small collection of Henry David Thoreau’s writings entitled “On Nature and Man.” In the section on aspiration, I read the following:

“Do a little more of that work which you have sometime confessed to be good, which you feel that society and your justest judge rightly demands of you. Do what you reprove yourself for not doing. Know that you are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with yourself without reason. Let me say to you and to myself in one breath, cultivate the tree which you have found to bear fruit in your soil.”

Writing words and music are truly what I reprove myself for not doing. When I am doing it, I am happier, and my whole world feels more complete; when I am not doing it, I feel I am missing something, and almost everything else feels either subtly or overtly like a distraction. Given my long history of not doing these things, I am honestly a bit skeptical that I will indeed continue to write music and keep a blog. Yet I know that I desire it more than anything right now and I know that I have the ability to do it. I pray that acknowledging these facts will push me towards doing what I know that I need to do— and if you see me in the street, feel free to give me a little push in that direction as well.

So everybody, this is my blog and so I can present myself however I want. The temptation is to conveniently omit all my warts and ulterior motives. But I don’t think doing this will ultimately help either myself or my readers as much as if I am being completely honest. Throughout this blog-post I’ve naturally been showing myself to be pretty noble in my pursuit of music, and indeed everything I’ve written above is true— part of me loves music in an utterly pure way. Yet I’d be lying if I said there weren’t vain and superficial reasons that I do what I do. Part of the reason I want to write music is that I think it is a cool thing to do, and I want to be a cool guy. My ego loves the identity of musical artist and I want you to love me for it too. The same is true for writing about music. I certainly care about what I write, but I also think it is cool that I write and love getting complimented by people who have enjoyed my writing. Being a musician, an artist, or a writer all fit perfectly with what I consider to be an attractive image, and perhaps even more dangerously, they seem to fit many other people’s idea of what is cool and attractive. If I am not careful and self-aware, I know that I can begin to love the image more than the substance (we’ve seen it happen before). The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. So again, if you see me in the street, and catch an all-too-princely pep in my step, feel free to tear me down a few notches with a swift verbal jab— not out of hate, but out of love for what I really am: just some dude.

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.