Everybody’s Networking for the Weekend

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.

Sunnin’ and Funnin’

School’s out for summer everybody! I’ve got high hopes and ambitions for this summer season. Ideally I’m going to embark on a daily course of trying to take over the world Pinky and the Brain style. I may have even found my co-conspirator in a Utah born, NYU educated, world travelled, vibrant young social worker/musician/aspiring sports agent named Francesca— unfortunately I may be Pinky in this metaphor— more on her later.

I’m currently working on a three year plan that I’ve created for myself. I’ll spare you the details of this plan, both because its boring and I don’t want to reveal my secrets just yet. However, I will bore you with the ideal daily routine which is aligned with my three year plan:

  1. Wake at sunrise, have a cup of tea, and write in my journal.
  2. Go to Central Park and practice/play classical guitar by the lake.
  3. Have breakfast while watching or reading the news (I gotta stay informed about this ongoing no holds barred cage fight between the Trump administration and democracy y’all—I’m really pulling for democracy).
  4. Write/record/produce original music in the world’s tiniest recording studio (my bedroom).
  5. Have lunch while watching something hilarious (there’s a lot of great comedy out there people— I’m currently working through Veep and Master of None).
  6. Go to the gym and workout or play b ball (healthy body, healthy mind).
  7. Go to school and practice electric guitar at the NYU jazz studies building.
  8. Work on my master’s thesis.
  9. Have dinner, have a drink with friends, and relax.
  10. Go home and go to sleep.

If you’re still reading, I want to commend you and thank you for your patience. I’m really pushing this author-reader relationship to the limit by asking you to stay engaged while I throw around phrases like “three year plan” and “daily routine” and then hop right in to obliquely bragging about how I live right next to Central Park. Yet I only did that to demonstrate that I have really high standards for myself, and that I consistently fall short of these standards. That’s right. My plan this week was to execute the above routine every day from Monday through Friday. I basically did it once on Thursday, however I didn’t even work out— I took a nap instead. So what was I doing with my time this week instead of being a self-motivated, music-minded, rigid worker-cyborg? Well, let me give you some highlights:

Monday, May 15

After having spent the afternoon playing music and hanging out with my good-buddy Jonathan in Prospect Park, I met up with my friend Francesca (mentioned above) in Williamsburg and ate some world class shawarma before going to a free comedy show at Bar Matchless. Coincidentally, Bar Matchless is where I made my NYC debut back in the summer of 2015 when I was on tour with the hilariously fun band Swampbird (read about that here if you like). All the comedians were very funny, but the highlight of the show came when a tipsy Michael Che (of SNL fame) decided to drop in for an impromptu set. Actually, calling it a set is a real stretch. He actually just crashed another comedian’s set and spent the whole time bantering with him and the audience about mother’s day, sports, and conspiracy theories. It was great—he’s even funnier in person.

Tuesday, May 16— Wednesday, May 17

Tuesday morning I woke up sick with a sore throat, headache, and heavy fatigue. I literally could not keep my eyes open for any significant stretch of time. Thus, I resigned myself to just resting until I was well and basically spent the next two days sleeping. The only variable during this stretch was where I slept— my bed, the couch, or in the sunshine of the park. I really have no idea what it was I came down with, but it felt like I was sleeping off and fevering out the remainder of a long semester’s demands and stress.

Thursday, May 18

Like I said, I actually executed that daily routine pretty well. Sometimes I can sort of almost be disciplined.

Friday, May 19

After sleeping in, I went to school and practiced sight-reading with my friend and fellow guitarist (read: poor sight-reader) Dan. We then ventured out on a beautiful warm day to watch some fellow NYU jazz students busk under the arch of Washington Square Park. I was sitting cross-legged leaning against a small pillar and enjoying their music when all of a sudden I looked up and saw Jeff Garlin walking towards me. Despite the competing sounds from my NYU friends, the theme song to Curb Your Enthusiasm burst loudly through to my consciousness. As he was walking towards me I tried to think of something to say: Hey, I’m your biggest fan! (No. I’m a fan, but I’m probably not his biggest fan); Hey Jeff, how are ya? (I actually couldn’t remember his name at the time, so that wasn’t an option). Instead, as he walked by me, we made eye contact so I just smiled and said “hi,” and he replied with a friendly “hey.” It was nice.

Two celebrity sightings in one week is very auspicious.

Saturday, May 20

Such a “long week” of “hard work” required some serious rest and relaxation by the time Saturday rolled around. Thus, I again called up my good buddy Francesca to hang out. We were both feeling pretty low-key so we just holed up in her grand-parents’ beautiful Central Park West high-rise, cooked some dinner, ate, drank, and made merry. Now, many of you may be reading between the lines and assuming that this is a new romance, but hey, don’t assume, don’t read between any lines. Actually she and I are developing something that, for a variety of reasons, is much more precious to me right now than romance: true friendship.

We met on seis de Mayo at dawn in Central Park. I had been up all night celebrating Cinco de Mayo with some friends and was finally making my way home, while she had woken up early to go kick a soccer ball around. We had a brief humorous exchange and then ended up walking around the park for an hour or so kicking the ball back and forth and talking before I finally needed to go back home and sleep off my looming hangover. We’ve become fast friends, and I am so grateful for this. The Upper West Side is an amazing, beautiful place to live, yet outside of my wonderful roommates, I actually have not met any young people that I really connect with in the neighborhood. Thus, it is so fun to have what in many way feels like another “kid” in the neighborhood to play with.

Sunday, May 21

I’m sitting here at my coffee shop, writing this blog post, and even now a large part of me truly regrets that I haven’t gotten as much work done as I had hoped. I do indeed feel great when I am achieving things and working towards my goals. Yet something that I and many other Americans frequently forget is that there are things just as important as work. This week was full of rest, friends, and fun, and that is nothing to regret.

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.

Play Your Part


dennis-rodman-dive

So a couple of months ago I was waiting on the C train listening to an old man play what sounded to me like Bach on his electric piano. Despite his lowly stage and modest pay, he was playing beautifully and so I looked around to see if any of the other awaiting subway riders were noticing his performance. To my delight I looked up and saw one young woman listening with rapt attention. After dropping a couple of dollars in his keyboard case, I boarded the train and ended up standing right next to that woman. So I did what few New Yorkers ever do, and I struck up a conversation with a stranger on the train. I asked her if she was a musician, and she said no but that music was a big part of her life and that she was actually involved in film (acting, writing, directing, producing, etc…). We chatted about a short film she was producing and eventually I told her that if she ever needed anyone to score her films, that she should call me. I gave her my card, bid her adieu, and got off at my stop, satisfied with the exchange, but not exactly expecting anything to come from it.

Well, I must have made a good impression (either that or she couldn’t resist the low, low price I promised her), because a few weeks later, she called me about scoring the short film that she was producing. Sidenote: kids, it turns out you should definitely talk to strangers, because they’ll end up hiring you to score their films. So for her privacy and my own entertainment I’m going use a completely made up name and call this producer Lilliandra (I estimate there’s an 85 percent chance Lilliandra is going to read this blog, so I hope you enjoy your made up name, Lilliandra). Lilliandra was working alongside the writer/director/star of the film— let’s call her Nira— to put the finishing touches on the work. The film is a comedy with a surprising dramatic turn set at a low-key house party in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Both Nira and Lilliandra admitted that there are some editing issues, and some suspect acting on the part of one of Nira’s costars, yet overall I found the film charming, funny, and heartfelt, and Nira shines as a magnetic personality onscreen (off-screen as well in fact). I was happy to be a part of the project, and after some direction from Nira and Lilliandra, I began writing and recording the music for the film. After a week of hard work I had something I was excited to show them, so we set up a meeting at Nira’s Greenpoint apartment.

Yet after showing them my work, I could already see the unfortunate truth on their faces: the music was not right. In a nutshell, the music stepped on the humorous parts and over-dramatized the dramatic parts. Despite the fact that Nira and Lilliandra let me know this very delicately, I’m ashamed to admit that internally I felt very defensive. I thought “didn’t they know how much work I had done… and this music is really good…and I’m giving them a low, low price so they should be happy with what I gave them… etc.” Yet all of this was simply the ego-trip of a rookie film composer faced for the first time with some real life critique of his work. If I am going to continue in this business (which I certainly hope to), I need to grow thicker skin and be perpetually open to direction, critique, and even outright rejection. Lilliandra and Nira were right after all— I had stepped on the jokes, and over-dramatized the drama.

Ultimately, however, I was guilty of something more egregious than simply writing bad music. I had essentially used this film as a forum to show off my abilities as a composer, rather than simply trying to help tell the story. The music was in fact “good” in the sense that it was well crafted and sounded nice, but it was the wrong music for this film. Nira and Lilliandra were going for something more nuanced than what I had presented. My music was outshining the film at the expense of the story.

Likely most of us at one point or other have been guilty of bolstering ourselves at the expense of the larger community or project that we are a part of. In the least we’ve all seen it in the losing basketball team with a selfish “all-star” taking all the shots (I’m looking at you 2015 Kobe Bryant), or the band with lazy songwriting that simply serves as a forum for the lead guitarist to shred painfully long solos (I’m looking at you jam-band scene). Yet the best and longest lasting actors, musicians, athletes or workers in any field are not those who do everything to make themselves look better, but those who realize that they are a part of a bigger picture and simply play their part very well (I’m looking at and applauding you Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Rodman, Steven Drozd, and everyone of their ilk).

Last night I met again with Lilliandra and Nira. I had made many adjustments according to the direction they gave me, and as a result the film’s story and personality was much more clear than it had been in the previous incarnation. We had a pleasant and productive session of simply fine-tuning the musical elements, rather than having to completely re-work them. The night was fun and fruitful because we were all on the same page, telling the same story, and each playing our part.

Just Do The Damn Thing— Opus 12

Lucas1

Here’s a secret to life kids: do what you say you are going to do. In 2008 I was 19, I had just dropped out of Lake Forest College after one uninspired semester, and I was telling myself that I was going to write and record an epic album. I imagined all the glory, wealth, and fame I would eventually receive— oh how sweet it would be. Instead, I got a job working at Burge’s Smoked Turkeys & Hams, drank too much, smoked too much (and I’m not talking about the turkeys), and grew depressed. It would have been depressing enough to have a poor diet, not get enough sleep, and live in a disgusting house with three other lethargic 19 year old dudes (as I did), yet added on top was the existential angst of not doing what I had set out to do. I yearned to write and record, and instead I ate catfish sandwiches and partied for a year.

A turning point came when Michael Carenbauer, the Director of Guitar Studies at UALR, walked into Burge’s one day to get some lunch. I had known Michael from my days at the community school of the arts at UALR and he suggested I enroll in some of his guitar classes. Thus, I went to UALR part time for a semester until I decided, with encouragement from my parents and Carenbauer, that I should apply for the Donaghey Scholars Program. I received a full-scholarship and a generous stipend and began classes full-time in the fall of 2009. Unlike at Lake Forest, I was determined to put in my best effort this time around. Fearing a lifetime of making cherry limeades at Burge’s, I told myself that I would work harder than I ever had in school, and that is exactly what I did. In 2013, I graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA.

Yet the most potent takeaway from my time at UALR was not my institutional success, nor was it the knowledge and skills I gained there— with a bachelor’s in music, and my only tangible skills being the ability to play guitar and write essays, I didn’t exactly have a clear path to follow after college. The most important thing I realized at UALR was that I had the personal ability to set my mind to something and achieve it. So I set upon my next goal: I would be a full time professional musician. I vowed to not take a job unless it was related to music, and thus started hustling to find enough gigs and guitar students to pay my bills. For three years I’ve steadily increased my musicianship, my notoriety, and my income (though all three are certainly modest) as I’ve succeeded in my goal of being a full time musician. I feel very proud of this fact. Although it is rarely a glamorous lifestyle, and I make far less money than some of my professional peers, I have a great psychological peace with the fact that I am doing what I dreamed of doing and what I said I would do.

Those of you who have followed the premise of my recent blog posts know that this is something else that I said I would do. On April 7th I stated that I would release one blog post and one song every week for nine months. For fourteen weeks I have diligently stuck to that promise (if you’re wondering why this week’s song is only Opus 12, it’s because two of the weeks I released songs under an alias). Now I’m going to quit. Yes I realize I just spent the last three and a half paragraphs talking about the importance of doing what you say you are going to do and bragging on myself for doing so! So what! I quit.

The truth is, I’m quitting for a good reason (I can hear your skeptical comments). I made the vow of doing this for nine months before I knew that I would be moving to New York City. Upon deciding that I would attend NYU this fall, I realized that I would not be able to keep recording a song every week. It has taken a lot of time and effort to keep this up, and I will not have that kind of time when I’m trying to keep up with the accelerated pace of grad school and NYC. I will, however, keep doing a blog post every week, I simply won’t be releasing a song.

I’m stopping now primarily because I need to take time to prepare for school. At the beginning of September I have music history and theory placement exams as well as ensemble auditions at NYU. I am going to take the time I had been using to write and record songs and use it instead to practice and study (I received two thick music textbooks to work through yesterday in the mail). Yet another big reason I’ve chosen to cut it off this week is that I am preparing to fulfill another long standing commitment I once made. I’m finally going to record that “epic album” I dreamed about when I was 19!

Ok, it might not be epic; it might not bring me fame or fortune; it might not even be that good. But I once told myself that I would record an album and I know that I won’t be happy unless I do. I’ve booked time with Jason Tedford at Wolfman Studios, recruited my friend and musician extraordinaire Daniel Olah to help me, and later this month will record 12 of my best songs (many of which I released during this project). I’m just gonna do it!

Now I could wrap this all up by saying this: “life is short, just do it!” But that would be a lie. Life isn’t necessarily short. If you aren’t doing that thing that you want to do or that thing you’ve been saying you are going to do, then life will be very long. You’ll have a nagging sense of regret, shame, and yearning and time will just creep slowly by. The good news is that in that long, lingering lifetime you can turn it around at any moment and start doing what you say you’re going to do. Don’t worry if you never become rich or famous— life isn’t about winning the prize, it’s just about doing the damn thing.

Now that was a nice, neat narrative, but the larger reality (like everything in life) is much more complicated and deserves some qualification. I realize that not everyone was born into circumstances as favorable as mine. I have a wonderful supportive family, and while I did not grow up rich, I certainly never felt worried about money. Some people do not have the freedom to set their mind to some lofty ideal because they are simply struggling to get out of a dire economic situation, or even worse, struggling for their survival. I am not here arguing that everyone can easily come up with a dream and achieve it. I understand that in America the chips are stacked greatly against you if you are a person of color, a woman, LGBQT, physically disabled, poor, or anything else that isn’t rich, white, and male. The inequality in our country is horrendous, and must be remedied if we want to continue to pretend to be a civilized country. I wanted in this blog post to offer inspiration and advice, but I’ve quickly bumped into the realization that my perspective is limited due to my fortunate upbringing. I haven’t fully wrapped my head around how to reconcile this. Yet I still feel that there are some good sentiments in this post, and they are here for anyone who might find them useful.

Here’s the final Opus (for now). Sorry to end it on a sad note, but hey, tears are part of life too.