From this month's PlayJazzGuitar.com newsletter....
How To Move People With Your Music
By Chris Standring
"We need to intrigue the listener, not impress them. We are not performing monkeys, we are artists, and until we understand this basic rule, we are simply not artists".
I have never been more interested in musical phrasing than I am now. Perhaps it is because I have recently been hearing young technically astounding players with chops up the yin yang and I am not satisfied. Why? I have been asking myself. And I think the answer is that, to me, it appears they are not 'in the music', they are simply showing off their astounding technique. "Look what I can do!" in other words. This is not the way of the peaceful warrior.
I am quite convinced it takes a good amount of experience to get past the playing. We HAVE to get past the playing in order to say anything of real substance. It is not about chops or those amazing altered lines that we can play over dominant chords. These are the pursuits of the music college student. Which by the way, is perfectly ok and valid. But if one wants to really make a statement musically, and really say something of substance, it has to be about the music, not the musician.
And this does not go for just guitar players. It goes for all artists with any instrument, any field for that matter.
If you want to impress another guitarist who is learning, go ahead, rip through some changes and show them stuff they can't do. But if you want to grab the attention of someone who knows nothing about your instrument, then you have another challenge on your hands, because someone who is impartial to your instrument wants to be moved, not impressed.
Let me put this in no uncertain terms; we need to intrigue the listener, not impress them. We are not performing monkeys, we are artists and until we understand this basic rule, we are simply not artists.
Now, this may seem tough but I want to suggest that I am talking on the highest level here. Everyone needs to go through school, practice with Jamey Abersold records, play through changes, get repertoire together. But there comes a time when we have an audience to play to. And many musicians simply don't understand why they do not communicate.
An audience wants to be moved by the music. They do not need to know what you went through to get to this place. They simply want to be moved. And the way you move them is to make a pure musical statement based on the song you are playing, not based on your immense vocabulary that you might have amassed.
And when you come to not only realize this, but think about these things in a live playing situation, then you will become a great artist.
So how do we get there?
There is a great quote from MIles Davis, who was talking to John Coltrane. Trane asked Miles Davis's advice on how to end a solo because Trane was having difficulty finding a place to end. Miles answered in his raspy whisper, "Take the horn out your mouth." Space is the place - Take the horn out your mouth!
And here lies complete genius. Miles knew, for he thought about this for many years.
Space indeed IS the answer. Phrasing is the key. I have an assignment for you. Play a solo over a song you like to play. Play a phrase to start off your improvisation. Simply play a short phrase, maybe two or three bars, then end that phrase. Instead of picking up another phrase immediately after, I challenge you to wait at least two extra bars before you play again. This indeed will be a challenge because leaving that much space would be akin to us feeling like our audience believes we have nothing to say. We are used to making ourselves fill in the spaces because we feel we need to be saying something. But one thing that is important to realize, the audience does not hear it this way.
And I challenge you to record many solos this way. Whilst you are playing, you may be uncomfortable with this, but when you hear it back you will hear yourself in an entirely different way. Don't forget, where there is space in your solos, there is music, because the band is still grooving, hopefully making you sound good.
One little drawback with the guitar is that we don't need to physically breathe. Unlike a saxophone we can technically play endless phrases without a breath. The piano is the same. But we need to breath. Music needs to breathe. When the music breathes, so can the audience, and when the audience can breathe, you have them in the palm of you hand!
Don't be afraid to take the horn out of your mouth, if it's good enough for Miles, I believe it is good enough for us.
Another article from A&R Online I penned sometime ago. A little food for thought.
Defining The True Artist - Do You Have What It Takes?
By Chris Standring
There are musicians who are more than comfortable remaining anonymous. You know, happy to hide behind their guitars or keyboards and be sidemen to the stars of today or tomorrow. Then there are those that have grandiose aspirations of stardom, adoration and limelight. And then there are those who have a driving desire and need to say something original artistically, to express themselves and to communicate that expression to an audience, be it a small niche market or wider demographic.
Those falling into the first category can make a living, albeit fairly modest as a general rule. Those falling into the second category often live in a little bit of a dream world and, depending on their tenacity and 'smart' skills, usually end up disappointed because the focus is set on the destination rather than the journey. The third category usually reap the rewards of the second category gaining all the success and limelight, but as a result of focusing on their art rather than the shallow and flighty end of the musician's world. These are usually the most fascinating people too, because they generally have a little mystery about them and because they actually possess what most entertainers really want; sincere and dedicated talent!
But there are also those that are in the early stages of artistic development who are still learning their craft, and open to influences. Possibly they will become great artists in the future, possibly not. It will be a question of choices and consequences, and doors opened and opportunities taken advantage of - or not. Life certainly will take you places.
But for those that do have aspirations of artistry and expression, then I firmly believe you must have qualities that others do not have. As an artist I believe one must stand out from the heard in order to be heard. It is so easy to make a record these days. One no longer needs to have the luxury of a recording contract in order to stand on a pedestal and say "I am an artist - buy my record!" With home studios costing one 16th of the price they did ten years ago and with software programs that do it all, you can churn out albums by the dozen if you put your mind to it. And many do.
However, just because you can, why would you? - is my question. Just for fun? OK, valid I suppose. But Isn't it better to spend that time and energy searching relentlessly for something unique and different? God knows record companies are releasing enough crap by the hour, even signed artists are now under the impression they have got something to offer. Maybe they have, but for the most part I don't think so (as public reaction and their soundscans will attest!)
Perhaps I am being extremely unfair, but I think too many artists do not realize that they have a responsibility to say something profoundly unique, certainly if they expect any kind of career longevity. We live in a world where musicians spend their lives emulating their heroes; singers spend their lives emulating Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra and so on. Rock guitarists spend their lives emulating Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Paige, Jeff Beck and Eddie Van Halen. Jazz guitarists are proud emulators of Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Wes Montgomery. Saxophone players worship Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Michael Brecker. And so on...
Before I go on I have to say that emulating heroes is absolutely imperative in your formative years as musicians. You simply MUST listen to the greats, past and present. One has to have a strong grounding and musical knowledge and one simply cannot get there without listening. However, way too many 'artists' cannot get passed this stage. They need to have peer approval, have to know that other respected musicians around them recognize them and applaud their abilities. Often all this takes place subconsciously.
This 'peer approval' is a stage of development that is also important. Every musician goes through it at some point. It is absolutely natural, but I firmly believe that to become a great artist, you have to move beyond that stage and look inward. I always liken it those wedding band singers, who despite having an honorable and justifiable (and in some cases envious) career, they are all too often the 'performing monkeys'. They are often fine vocalists but at the end of the day they are seeking approval and applause and not communicating or expressing anything artistic. They certainly know how to entertain but do they know how to intrigue? It's a huge gap. Nothing remotely subtle about it as far as I am concerned.
The real communicating artists seek unique expression. They are not interested anymore in sounding like their heroes. They have moved past that, now searching constantly, developing and refining their own unique voice. Look at any of the true giants of yesterday and today. Yes you can hear their references, but they also have their own strong identity. At some point during their development something bigger than them took over. The chances are they knew it at the time and took advantage of it and made an extra effort to really hone that uniqueness.
Finding that unique inner voice might not be as easy for some. I think it starts by recognizing your technical weaknesses. It is often those weaknesses that ultimately end up becoming your artistic strengths. Let's face it, if you were able to play the guitar technically perfect, at all speeds, meticulously so every note that came out was totally clean and audible, would this be ultimately interesting to an audience? Yes it might be very clever and impressive, but for how long could you listen to an album where every phrase felt like you were having your teeth drilled!!?
Wes Montgomery played with his thumb because he kept dropping his pick, ultimately enabling him to become the greatest and most influential jazz guitarist of all time. BB King has about three licks in his entire blues repertoire. Does anyone NOT know BB King when they hear him? Thelonius Monk refused to conform to traditional piano techniques and musical ideas. He simply HAD to play music the way he heard it in his head. He made such a bold musical statement during his time that he is emulated the world over and revered by the greatest musicians living today.
Technical shortcomings can be the very essence of your unique artistry. Now, should those shortcomings get in the way of what you need to say musically then those weaknesses might need to be turned around so they don't restrict what you hear in your head.
Remember, the true artist simply communicates from within. All other extraneous thoughts, influences and distractions need to fall by the wayside. The minute a lick or a phrase that your hero played or sung (and made famous) ends up on your record - watch out! You might be in trouble. Absolutely steal from your heroes, but just remember that real artistry is about what YOU have to say, not what your heroes have already said before, and have possibly said better.
Push yourself to the max and search for that truly unique quality within. After all, that next great talent we are all so desperately waiting for might just be you!
More thoughts to discuss.....
How to really sell CDs online
By Chris Standring
I'm about to tell you a new and highly effective way to sell CDs online from your own website. Listen up because I usually put this stuff into an ebook and sell it for gobs of dough, but frankly I haven't got time to write a book right now. However, I do want to share this knowledge with you because it works. The question is, how serious are you about your career? because if you don't have any real commitment and focus then no amount of articles and tips you read will help you. But if you want to rise to the occasion. Read on...
Unlike other motivators, gurus or success coaches, I will never give you academic theories, untried or untested ideas. On the contrary, in fact, the only ideas I will share with you will be those that I have personally tried out and had success with. That's why I get excited, because I see results, and mostly they are light bulb moments. "Why on earth didn't I think of that before?" is usually the afterthought.
Over the last seven years I have had an enormous amount of success both as a musician and as an Internet marketer. I say that not to brag, but because I want you to to know that if I can do it, then so can you. We are living in a new age. Truly, the geek will inherit the earth. I guarantee that only the proactive 'details oriented', 'out-of-the-box-thinkers' will really have success over the next few years. Watch if you don't believe me.
OK, so where do we start? Do you have a website? Good. Do you have a web designer? If so, he or she must read this because for the most part web designers are not Internet marketers, they make pretty web pages. If you do your own web work (and I highly recommend that you learn), all the better.
I am now going to propose to you that you now have two websites dedicated to your band or act, instead of just one. First, you must have your 'calling card' website. You know, your site at www.yourdomain.com that contains all the good basic info about you that fans can read. I'll talk about the other site in a moment.
Ideally visitors should be finding your main website from a ton of inbound links from other sites. Rather than just getting any old link from another site to point to you, do all that you can to get a 'golden' link. By this I mean a highly visible link on a highly trafficked page. Do a joint venture if needs be by promoting their site from yours and so on. But get good solid substantial links from other sites whose demographic would be interested in you. Ask those questions!
If you want to score high in the search engines, make sure that other sites display your keyword in their anchor text. In other words, if you want to score high in Google when someone searches on 'punk bands', then make sure that that keyword is in the anchor text of the inbound link. (More on this in huge detail in the Indie Artist DIY Smartkit).
OK, now you have a steady flow of traffic to your website. Of course you need to make the site fascinating and seductive. Here's what you need to understand about your site;
Sure you want to tell them where and when you will be playing, show them photos etc. But effectively, you do this by direct marketing through email, forming a personal relationship with your fans one by one. And they will love you for it. More on this in a sec.
So the trick now is to figure out how to capture a new visitor. How do you seduce them into your lair? so to speak. Once you have a committed, interested new fan, you can turn this new person into a purchaser, and if you do it right, a fan who will purchase from you time and time again. You do want to make money as a musician, right?
So the secret is getting them to give you their name and email address so your automated system can do the rest. Enter the second website I was just telling you about...
The second website is what we can refer to as a 'Member's Area". Most commercial or corporate online sites that have a member's area charge a recurring fee to be admitted. You however, are not going to do that. Your member's area will be absolutely free. All they have to do is subscribe. When they subscribe, they get access to this other site (which can be all part of the same domain) and of course you then have autoresponders set up so you can, over the course of a period of time (usually about 2 weeks), seduce them into buying from you. Works like a charm. Read on...
OK, so this member's area sounds really cold and lifeless doesn't it? Doesn't even sound particularly interesting. This is where you have to put on your creative hat. Don't call it a member's area. Personally, I call mine "Backstage", but you could call it anything you like. How about "V.I.P. Only". Or "Private Invite Only". Imagine you are opening a really hip new nightclub and you want only a certain style of person there. Imagine a selective New York nightclub where there is always a line outside and only the beautiful and famous people get to come in. By the way, did you know that there is never usually a need for a line outside a nightclub? How many times have you lined up for half an hour, then been admitted and walked into a half full club? The club is creating a perception that they are extremely popular. But no, all clubs do it because it makes them look good. Adopt this way of thinking for your website. Make it a real 'inside thing'. Kind of like you have to know somebody to get in. There is a website called www.smallworld.com who have successfully done this, and everybody of course is clamoring to be a part of this highly exclusive place. It is brilliant marketing.
So think about this other new site of yours. What do you call it? How will it be? What do fans have to do to get in? Think about this. It's your world. Make it fascinating and exclusive. Then build this other member's site and make it something folks want to come back to. The truth is, you now have their contact info so it almost doesn't matter to you what they do, but you do want them to remain in your world, so think about what you could do to grab their attention. I'll give you some ideas.
Your main website will have all the basic stuff like; About you, bio, photos, tour info, subscribe to newsletter, blah blah blah. All good stuff. But this other private site of yours has to contain highly personal, intimate and fascinating stuff that fans can pore over, that they can't get from your main site. In short, there has to be a seductive and 'slam dunk' reason why a visitor would give up their contact info. Let's face it, with spam issues, it takes a lot these days. Here are a few ideas.
We are living in a youtube world right now. There is every reason to make videos and it's easy to do, and dirt cheap. So...
OK finally, you have completed your private member's room. On your original website (www.yourname.com) you are going to coax your visitors to your private site area. You can do this on every page of your original website. You can see this whole marketing process on my personal site at www.chrisstandring.com and you can see my "Backstage" private VIP area at www.chrisstandring.com/backstage There, you will see the use of a new marketing idea called Peel-Away-Ads. In the top far right of all my web pages their is a seductive script that makes you want to click on the link that takes you to the Backstage sign up page. You could also place banners and clever text links wherever appropriate. Be creative here.
This whole private member's area is an intriguing idea for visitors because up until now, most bands offer things like "Subscribe to our newsletter so we can tell you where and when we are playing". Is this enough anymore? Absolutely not. We have to be creative.
And what do you do when you have your new fan's contact information? You set up a series of autoresponders that do all the work for you. What this essentially means is, a series of emails written by you personally that gets sent out over a period of time that you specify. Once a week over a period of say 7 weeks, seems to work. You set up these emails like newsletters where you talk about different things your band is doing, or has done. Mostly over time you are going to talk about your CD(s) that you want them to know all about and of course preview and finally buy. Anytime you have something new to tell your fans, you send out a broadcast email. Whenever your new CD comes out, you have a growing list of subscribers to sell it to. Direct targeted online marketing. This is the world you now live in.
If you want to really get into marketing online in a serious way, and do it right from the start, and sell a boatload of CDs online, all the fine details can be found in my Indie Artist DIY Smartkit. I talk about all the pitfalls of marketing online and how you can avoid them from the start.
This stuff isn't going to happen for you overnight, but it will happen, and you can sell a lot of albums if you do it right. Go get 'em!