On Saturday my roommates and I hosted a barbecue at our apartment. As I’ve expressed in blog posts past, I love my apartment and roommates so much. One couldn’t hope for a better household of randomly assembled twenty-somethings. Early in the day, when it looked like our plans were going to get cancelled due to pouring rain, I was really content to just play Nintendo 64 all day with my roommates— that’s how cool my roommates are. But the rain cleared and so the show went on. We fired up the grill, threw down some burgers and dogs, and our guests trickled in and out throughout the afternoon. A core of five of us lasted until midnight, eating, drinking and telling stories— we let our guard down and learned a lot about each other that night. In the immortal words of Ice Cube, “I gotta say, it was a good day.”

The icing on this delicious cake of a day was that I met a cool, kind videographer named Paul. My friend Morgan brought Paul (and Paul’s lovely Labradoodle Ringo) along to the party, and I got to pick his brain a bit about various films and projects he’s working on. Of course I didn’t want to pry to much— I’d guess Paul probably came more for the hot dogs and beer, and less to talk about his work life— however, in NYC it seems like every social event is also a networking opportunity.

A networking opportunity?

Did you cringe a little bit while reading those words? I did when I wrote them. As someone invested in a career path that doubles as an artistic expression, I’m not wholly comfortable wearing the business side of my musical life on my sleeve. After all, I didn’t start writing and playing music because I wanted to open up business opportunities— I think I did it because I was a sensitive child who discovered that music was a satisfying outlet for my creative urges… oh, and also because I just thought it was cool. So it feels corny and insincere to think of an interaction with someone at a barbecue as something called a “networking opportunity” that would benefit my “musical career.”

Yet the truth is, I do want to have a career in music and “networking” will undoubtedly be major part of any successes I have. It is a clear fact of life that people so often get jobs simply based on who they know. This is especially true in the music industry. If you need to find someone to score your film, or play violin at your wedding, or sing tenor in your indie rock opera, you’re first going to think of who you know, and then if you don’t know anyone, you’re going to ask someone you know if they know anyone. Sure, there are less personal ways of finding a musician like posting an ad on craigslist or contacting your local musician’s union, but the vast majority of gigs come to fruition as a direct result of human to human connection.

Thus networking is undoubtedly an essential part of any musician’s career. But personally, I just really dislike the term networking. It is such a lame business-professional buzzword, like “synergy” or “team building.” It makes me want to yak. The term also has an air of objectification. When you are “networking,” it sounds to me like you aren’t exactly treating people as people but as nodes in a cold synergistic digital network built to benefit your career goals— you are using people as a means to an end. Of course this isn’t the whole truth— it probably isn’t even the half truth— this is just the feeling I get from that bogus word.

If you’re like me, and become nauseous at the sound of the word networking, but still want to “make it” in some kind of creative field, I have good news. You don’t have to become some kind of overly enthusiastic, business card pushing, insincere yuppie blowhard to expand your work opportunities. That is, you don’t have to do that unless you are an overly enthusiastic, business card pushing, insincere yuppie blowhard. If that’s case, you do you brother! Because when we’re talking about networking (and I really hope that is the last time I have to use that word in this blog post), we’re really just talking about meeting people, remembering people, and hopefully having them remember you. And you surely want people to rememberer you as you actually are, not as some put on personality that you think will be pleasing and engaging. Granted, it’s probably a good idea to try to be polite and attentive when you’re meeting someone new that you might want to work with, but you don’t have to be spectacularly “on,” and you certainly don’t want to be anything other than yourself. This really isn’t all that different than meeting someone you might want to be friends with or someone you might want to date. Whether it is a potential friend, partner, or collaborator, what you are generally seeking is someone that you enjoy being around, someone that you can communicate well with, and someone with whom there is a degree of mutual understanding. And you can only really find that if you are being true to yourself.

In a very meta moment, Paul and I spent a portion of our conversation talking about the importance of meeting other people in your creative field and just generally being cool, personable, and easy to work with. We were two people in a similar creative field (he is also a musician, and I am also trying to begin doing film scoring work), being generally cool, personable, and easy going. Perhaps we will collaborate down the road or recommend each other for various projects, and perhaps not. I know that based on my first interaction with him, I would certainly have no objection to working with him. Furthermore, because he struck me as cool and professional (and because he is the only videographer I know in town) I would recommend him were someone to ask me if I knew any good videographers. Yet whether our connection yields professional gains or not, ultimately it was just nice (and always is nice) to have a pleasant conversation with another good human.

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.

World's Smallest Studio
World’s Smallest Studio

Before arriving in New York City I was excited about the prospect of turning over a new leaf in such a lively place. I was convinced that I was going to work harder than I ever had before— I would write, record, play gigs, excel in school and promote myself ceaselessly. For I knew that if I did these things that I would grow musically, enhance my career, meet some incredible people, and learn countless lessons that I would carry with me for the rest of my life. Yet as anyone who has ever set a new year’s resolution knows, it feels great to dream up a grand new life, and it feels bad when you inevitably fall short of your goals. Thus, I was feeling blue last week because (in addition to America electing it’s first cartoon super-villain president) I felt like I was falling short of my musical and personal goals for my time in NYC. Sure, I’ve been going to school, doing my work, and paying my bills— there’s no reason for anyone else to be upset with my behavior here, and yet I am disappointed in myself because I know in my heart that if I truly want to succeed in music here or anywhere else, there is much more that I could be doing. So I did what I always do when I’m feeling down on myself: I made a list of things that I could do to make myself feel better.

1. Seek out gigs. Why? Because performing has been such a large and positive part of my life for the past nine years and I’m sad to say that I haven’t played a single gig since I’ve been here. I yearn to perform, and I absolutely have to if I want to become a part of the New York City musical community.

2. Talk to David Schroeder, the director of the NYU jazz studies department. Why? Because I’ve had something on my chest since I enrolled in school here—namely that I do not think that I am a “jazz musician.” I absolutely love learning from the many jazz masters who teach at NYU, but I needed to bring it to light that I am interested in playing a great many other genres and that it is likely that I am not going to make my millions (or thousands, or dozens) strictly playing jazz.

3. Play music with someone. Why? Because I’ve been spending far too much time cooped up in a small room practicing music, and not enough time actually making music with other people. As I’ve written before, playing music alone and never doing it with others is merely masturbation.

4. Call the producer of a short film that I am scoring. Why? Because I wanted to clarify some of our goals and deadlines, and it is better for me to be proactive than to passively wait on her guidance.

5. Go play pickup basketball. Why? Because I love pickup basketball. It’s fun, therapeutic, social, and there’s no better sound than a crisp swish.

I am very proud to say that in addition to fulfilling my usual school duties, I achieved all five of these goals this week. I booked a couple of gigs for mid-December, I had a wonderful heart to heart with David Schroeder, I played music with a couple of classmates, I got in touch with the producer, and I played pickup basketball. Each achievement momentarily infused me with joy and confidence and yet, on Friday after I had accomplished all of them, overall I still felt low. The good news is that I’ve lived long enough to learn that sometimes my sadness is not a result of outer circumstances, but just part of the natural ebb and flow of my spirit. You cannot have happiness without experiencing sadness, and I’m likely experiencing a natural low after the incredibly exciting high of being a New York City newcomer. I’m oddly at peace with my sadness, for I know it will pass and give way to joy again. Such is life.

So Friday night I was feeling sleepy and sad as I was taking the Subway home—I got off of the A train in order to transfer to the C, when I was suddenly face to face with a vivacious young subway performer wearing a red tie prancing around singing Holly Jolly Christmas along to a backing track. Now I’m generally uninspired by the song Holly Jolly Christmas (especially before Thanksgiving), but there was just something so enjoyable about watching this little dude sing it. He followed up Holly Jolly with his final number of the evening: a highly dramatic dance routine to a high-energy club song. It is comical for me to write this, but I sincerely mean it— that little guy’s sparkling dance routine brought me back to life. I felt intense joy at watching him so freely and spontaneously express himself. Coincidentally, if you go to his instagram page (@masterblasterg) you can actually see video of this exact moment. Scroll down to the video titled “Dance because you can” and you’ll see me in the background, first languidly looking at whatever distraction I have pulled up on my phone, and then by the end, flashing a huge grin.

As he was packing up his gear I went over to slip him a tip and talk to him. His name is Gabriel Angelo and he is 17 years, and he had the same effervescent personality in conversation that he does while performing. I asked him what his musical goals are, and he told me (with a dramatic wave of his hands) that he wants to do more shows than anyone ever has in the world, and to heal people with his music. You’ll have to suspend your cynicism to read this (as I have to suspend mine to write it) but he did heal me that night. I cannot describe it any other way than to say that in watching him sing and dance, he transmitted his pure joy directly to my heart and soul. As if that gift was not enough, he reminded me that I did not fall in love with music for any practical purposes. I fell in love with music because of it’s mystic ability to transmit feelings beyond words. Certainly it is good to set goals for myself and achieve them, but I should remember that practical goals may have very little to do with love, happiness, and music.

Three months ago, I told myself and the public that I would release one blog post and one song every week for nine months. So far I’ve been able to stick to my guns because, as I’ve stated before, this project is not about quality— it is simply about quantity. It is a personal quest to get better at the crafts of blog writing, songwriting, and recording simply by putting in some work. However, I’ve run into a problem this week. I had a song to record, and have been working on it all week, but I had no idea what I would write my blog-post about. I casually assumed that I would eventually think of something to write and would be able to knock it out in time, yet each day passed, and I still had no idea what I would write. Even today, the day that I will post this entry, and even now as I am writing this sentence, I still don’t fully know what I am going to write in this blog post.

Yet I’ve got a start. I took a creative writing class my freshman year of college in which we had to write poetry, and my professor told the class that if you don’t have an idea for a full poem, just use fragments of other poems. I was the only one in class who took his advice and I got an A on the poem. It pays to listen to your teachers kids. Well there are no teachers to grade this, but I am hoping that if I just piece together some of my current thoughts on musical things (the phrase “some of my current thoughts on musical things” is best read with a southern accent), it will make for a passable blog post, and we’ll all feel good about Lucas continuing his outpouring of quantity work. Let’s begin with some confessions.

These are my confessions:

  • I haven’t listened to Beyonce’s Lemonade. Why not?! No reason, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I’ve been told it’s “a masterpiece,” that it’s full of juicy references to Beyonce and Jay-Z’s marital turmoil, that it’s the “best album of the last two years,” and that she’s not only going to win the Grammy for best album this year, but the Grammy committee is also going to go back in time and give her Beck’s Grammy from 2015 as Kanye tried to do at the time. But yeah, I just haven’t gotten around to it. Perhaps I’ll celebrate the fourth of July with some Lemonade.
  • I’m fairly certain I started playing guitar to impress girls. Now, granted my memory is hazy on this. I’ve always loved music, and I took piano lessons from age 8 to 10, but right around the time I became aware of girls, I insisted on switching from piano to guitar. Coincidence? I think not. I know that by the time I was in high school, I definitely thought it would help me “get girls.” It didn’t, but I stubbornly continued to play, and practice until, by the time college rolled around, I just fell in love with learning the instrument. I’m now (mostly) free from my early ulterior motive, but if it weren’t for my naive misconception that girls would automatically fall in love with me because I played guitar, I might not be the guitarist you see today.
  • Guitar is not my favorite instrument to listen to. When I listen to music, I tend to prefer the timbres of the voice, or an organ, or a horn section, or a nice flute, or even the humble oboe. I play guitar simply because it is the instrument that feels the most natural and comfortable to me. If I am going to contribute to the creation of beautiful music, it’s going to be with a guitar. I do love the guitar, I just like the sound of some other instruments a bit more.

Brief announcements:

  • I have a couple of Rev Room shows coming up soon. The first is with Jamaal Lee on July 3rd for the Drummers in the House event. I don’t know why, but I’m pretty sure Little Rock has the highest dope drummers per capita of anywhere in the world. This Sunday is a showcase of some of these guys including Paul Campbell, Jonathan Burks, Stephen Bailey, and Jamaal Lee, with whom I am playing a short set. I don’t want to give anything away, but we are going to play a song that is going to make you say out loud “what the duck just happened?!” Except remove that auto correct from the word duck. The second show is July 9th, with Big Piph and Tomorrow Maybe for The Legacy Project release show. It’s going to Blow. Your. Mind.
  • I’m going to go in the studio and record an album at the end of July with some of the best songs I’ve written during these past few months. There, I said it. Now I have to do it.

The last album I listened to in full was:

Mr. wonderful by Action Bronson. I got this recommendation yesterday from a special someone— thank you, you know who you are! This album is so incredibly enjoyable. The samples are amazing, the production is great, and Action Bronson’s voice is perfect for his humorous, feel good, braggadocious lyrics. Any album that open’s up with a Billy Joel sample and ends with someone riding “the harley into the sunset” is alright with me.

Something Deep:

Throughout the inevitable ups and downs of a long life, it helps an individual to be at peace and content if he or she is connected to an eternal principle. I am comforted that I get to play, teach, learn and listen to music, because Music is eternal. I’m not talking about any one piece of music, I’m talking about the big, abstract, capital “M” Music that holds all of the various musical works and activities throughout the universe in its embrace. Music is forever waiting and willing for us to touch it’s surface, and is always open to letting us pry it’s depths.

Next time you listen to something, don’t think “I’m listening to Taylor Swift.” Just turn something on, and think “I’m listening to Music,” and then stop thinking, and just let it hit you. As much as we like to glorify our favorite artists, they are not the point— the point is Music itself. No one invented Music, we’re all just channeling it.

Something Shallow:

It helps to be hot.

BeyonceyoungelvisNow listen to my new song. Peace!

IMG_0648

Music is everywhere. No I’m not talking about the song of the birds, or the gentle hum of the breeze—I’m not being poetic. I’m talking about that REO Speedwagon song playing at the gas station, or Tears for Fears at the grocery store, or the Spoon album playing at the coffee shop while I’m writing this blog post, or me tuning out the Spoon album at the coffee shop with some Lamont Dozier in my headphones. With only a few rare exceptions, it appears that where there are people, there is music playing. This is great right? I love music, you love music, so it is only natural that we would want it playing everywhere.

No, this is not great. First of all, music is often playing at the supermarket, and liquor store, and restaurants to make you spend more money— this isn’t a conspiracy theory, the effects of music on purchases have been studied, tested, and verified since the 1960s (here’s a layperson-friendly article on the topic if you care to read it). The fact that corporations are using music to affect our purchase habits is certainly alarming. Yet as a musician and lover of music, I am disturbed by a more general fact: when music is playing constantly, we tend to value it less.

Music is perhaps the single richest human endeavor. Interchangeably or all-at-once music can provide a means of communication, an expression of emotion, a spiritual devotion, an ecstatic experience,an affirmation of one’s culture or group, a catharsis, a way of healing or countless other things. Music activates neurons in more areas of your brain than almost any other activity (and that’s a nearly un-paraphrased sentence from this article). Music should be revered for the all-consuming entity that it is. Instead we offer it up like free mints at the end of a Tex-Mex meal.

Before the proliferation of recorded music and stereo systems,respect for music came more naturally. To experience music a person would go to church and hear the mighty organ and choir, or go to the symphony, or meet in the town square for an after-work jam, or listen to a family member play piano, or sing songs with your friends (I”m certain that this is an over-simplification of musical activities in the past but you get my drift). Music was the most captivating form of entertainment and a relatively rare treat by today’s standards. Today we have constant access to music through computers, smartphones, radios and stereos and many of us wield this power like drunken kings, constantly bombarding our ears with a schizophrenic onslaught of tunes.

Furthermore, I think that there is a direct correlation between the ubiquity of music and a decline in dancing. In some African languages the word for “music” and “dance” is the same. In American English, perhaps we could use the same word for “music” and “driving.” Today music turns up in places that are not appropriate for dancing just as often as places where dancing is encouraged. There is probably some up-tempo music playing at the grocery store right now, but you won’t see anyone dancing to it. This socially forced denial of dancing carries over even to places that are deemed appropriate for dancing. I’ve been to (or performed at) too many live shows where the band is laying down some clearly danceable grooves, and the crowd is just motionless, cerebrally listening. I think that this is just what happens when you’ve been listening to music all day but haven’t busted a single move— you didn’t dance during the day when you were listening to Beyonce so why break the seal at the Big Piph & Tomorrow Maybe show? (shameless plug number one)

However, there is still hope for music. One arena in which music is still respected and fully enjoyed in our culture is at weddings. During the ceremony, music propels the movement of this still sacred ritual, and people are quite often moved to tears when they hear the first notes of the bride’s processional. Even after the ceremony, music still sits on it’s rightful throne; through some magical combination of booze, feel good songs, and joy for the newlyweds, wedding receptions still manage to get people to really cut loose on the dance floor. I absolutely love weddings for this reason, and I am extremely excited to get to travel to Eureka Springs this Saturday to play at a wedding reception with my band That Arkansas Weather— we’re available for hire by the way (shameless plug number two).

Yet you don’t have to wait for a wedding to start respecting music. Unfortunately you can’t turn off the music at the grocery store or Starbucks, but you can turn it off in your car; and you can take your headphones out once in a while; and you can turn it on in your room and really let it grab you by the bones; and you can come to the That Arkansas Weather show Friday at the Afterthought and dance til you feel better (shameless plug number three and I’m out).

For those not yet privy to it, this blog is part of a nine-month long project in which I release a blog-post and a new song every week. So below is this week’s Opus if you care to listen, and even further below are links to posts from past weeks. Enjoy!

Week 1—Nine Months of New Music

Week 2—That’s Masturbation

Week 3—Oblique Strategies

Week 4—A Conversation with the Wolfman

 

At the dawn of this blog-site, I told myself and you my precious readers that I was documenting my musical progress and pursuits in order to hold myself accountable to my stated goal of making music my livelihood. I knew that I was going to make a living with music— I simply gave myself no other choice— and publicizing my goal on this blog was a way to further solidify that destiny. What I didn’t know was what exactly my musical work would look like, and whether I would be really really poor or just poor.

Lo and behold, all fall and winter I have indeed been getting plenty of musical work to keep myself afloat. Furthermore, it seems to be getting easier and easier for me to find new and steady work (yesterday alone I was offered three gigs). But as it turns out, actually playing, practicing, and working on music seriously cuts into my blogging time. My life lately has been full of subject matter for this blog (quick generic summation: playing with six different bands, practicing jazz and classical guitar, teaching four guitar students, booking and performing numerous shows, attending countless rehearsals, writing and recording original music, applying for grants and music contests, etc.); yet the more subject matter I create, the less time I have to write about it. I am certainly much more comfortable with this catch-22 than the converse (i.e. me blogging about music so much that I rarely actually play music), however I do still feel that this blog is an important cornerstone of my musical life.

Socrates allegedly said that “the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being” (or something like that). I’m not going to unpack all my thoughts about that quote because this isn’t a philosophy blog (this is). Suffice it to say that I think that guy Socrates (and/or Plato) was on to something, and I think that taking time to examine, reflect upon, and reveal my musical endeavors and ambitions does in fact make my musical life more worthwhile.

Thus, I am here rededicating myself to this blog. I am not quite as ambitious as my first go-around when I said I would blog like every weekday (what?! that’s like professional bloggers status). Instead, I’m aiming for two short blog posts a week revealing what I am currently planning for, working on, and thinking about in music. If you are reading this now, please continue to check back in on my progress as I attempt to fulfill my goals of completing my 10,000 hours to mastery, getting paid for original compositions, becoming the most famous Lucas Murray on the internet (more famous than this one), and continuing to stay comfortably poor by playing music. Peace.