Archive for the ‘So You Wanna Be A Rock Star’ Category

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EPILOGUE

February 13, 2011

 

Interesting that my first post in nearly a year will be about an idea that came to fruition, only to see its extinction two years later.

It’s certainly not uncommon, and statistically it’s inevitable, but that does not change the sadness one feels when the day arrives. You think back to the dozens of auditions, hundreds of hours of rehearsals, the camaraderie, the long discussions and finally, the performances. All of this runs through your mind, like one short film after another with flashes of the current “scene” intermittent throughout.

Time spent on trying to understand what happened is useless and unproductive. It is what it is. Living in the moment keeps things in perspective and the “should’ve-would’ve-could’ve” thought process at bay. You quickly look inward, trying to find that still small voice, that has guided you well in the past, to once again move you forward. Lingering is not an option.

Fortunately, you have many good memories in pictures and video, all of which capture the project’s essence for future generations thanks to cyberspace.

Now comes the longing to fill the void – not right away – but soon. It does not have to be a replication of what just passed, but certainly needs many of the same elements or you won’t be “fed.” You start thinking about people you’ve worked with in previous projects and ask yourself if you should cross any of those bridges again. The answer does not come immediately, which indicates possibilities. On the other hand, you realize that whatever issues caused those projects to end, could and mostly likely would manifest themselves in a new one.

So this journey called “life” continues – one ride ending and another beginning.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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March 19, 2010

Dismay and disappointment will take this post from observation to rant to lecture.

Just grin and bear it. 🙂

On February 11th, our band, Powerline, had “the conversation” with our original drummer. (See Letting Go.)

We posted an ad on a couple of different sites.

Our first audition was six days later, February 17th, and we found our drummer  nearly a month after that.

We wouldn’t have believed it if we hadn’t just lived through it. The five of us auditioned so many unskilled drummers, we were starting to wonder if we shouldn’t program a good drum machine.

True, we are not playing run-of-the-mill classic rock, but we stated that clearly in our ad. You certainly wouldn’t know these drummers lacked the requisite skills to play at this level, based on the introductory comments they sent us.

“30 years of experience, great equipment , Very good time and groove. Jazz, rock,r&b,funk,country no metal. I am looking for a band that plays with some dynamics and a great overall sound. Very quick study I will learn your tunes on my time. Rehearsal is for putting the music together. Lets talk see if we can make something work

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“I want to play rock music that people want to hear and sound like the original when we play it. I do read, so if I get stumped on a song I can usually find the sheet music and figure out the time changes and breaks.”

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“I’M CONFIDENT I CAN PLAY ANYTHING. SOME OF THE SONGS ON YOUR LIST I’VE PLAYED BEFORE. I GUESS IT WILL BE UP TO YOU GUYS TO SEE IF I CAN `BRING IT’ WHICH I AM 99.9% SURE I CAN.”

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“hi  g——  here semi pro drummer . lead and backup vocals pro dw kit  pro  rehersal studio  30 years experience / connections for gigs  if intrested  call or e mail thanks for your time. G——,  —/—/—- . i know  most of what you do”

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“I promise It would be worth your time to have me come and play with you.”

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“if I can hear it, usually I can play it.”  

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“I am a seasoned percussionist…” 

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End result? Out of 32 possible drummers, 15 auditions scheduled and 13 auditions held, only 4 actually qualified, based on their skills. One of the four was eliminated because he wouldn’t commit to the project. The other three were the last to audition. Of those three, one would have to travel over an hour each way to rehearsal, twice a week. From the two remaining drummers, the one we selected was the only one who came to the audition completely prepared, knowing all the material well and having the skills to execute the “signature” parts with authority. His congenial personality and willingness to commit to the project was obviously second-to-none.

ONE out of THIRTY-TWO!

We learned the hard way that much of the musical talent in this city – a city with so many excellent players when I first started performing – has become very mediocre. After doing some research, we discovered this “shrinking-pool-of-skilled-musicians” phenomenon is not unique to Columbus.

The Local Music Industry  across the country does not have nearly as much high-level talent as it did even twenty years ago. This explains why people who enjoy live rock are gravitating to bands that can perform the classic rock of the 70s and 80s well. Back when those original recordings were made, most of the artists were skilled enough to perform in their own recording sessions. In the case of one band, “Boston,” not only were all the musicians high-level talent, but the actual recording itself – which was done in the guitarist’s home – met the standard of quality set by Columbia Records for all their recordings, and was shipped as is – no changes made. It was their debut album and sold 17 million copies.

The musical environment is certainly very different today, and it doesn’t take a genius to understand why.

Here comes the lecture.

Pay attention, would-be musicians: if you’re serious about music, this is for you. It’s also for your teachers, if you’re taking lessons and your parents, if they’re paying for those lessons.

Regardless of what instrument you want to learn, if you do not learn it practicing to a metronome, you’re wasting time and money. You will not learn meter (playing in time) by just playing the correct notes, or in the case of drums, the correct hits. Meter has to be engrained in your sub-conscious or you will never be able to play at a high level and/or with top-notch musicians. They will spot your lack of skills in a heartbeat, especially if you’re a drummer. Any instructor who does not teach with a metronome is doing a great disservice to their students. Any parent that doesn’t demand this in the lesson plan is wasting their money.

To the young and not-so-young musicians who want reward without working for it? Keep reading.

If your dream is to someday get signed to a major label and record your own tunes, you will be very disappointed. Even if you’re fortunate enough to get signed, you won’t be performing in those recording sessions unless you’re an extremely skilled player with extensive experience.

There’s not enough room on this entire blog to tell all the stories of bands that get signed, walk into a studio, only to find their assigned producer saying, “I don’t need you on guitar, I have someone. Same with you on drums. All I need is the singer. If you want a good-sounding CD, this is how we’re going to do it. If not, this session is over. Have I made myself clear?”

I’ve been performing for over 45 years, but that’s not what makes me a good player. It was my initial training when I was an adolescent that makes me a good player. Here’s my State Competition Score and Review when I was in the 8th grade. Those results occurred because I was well-trained, not because I had “years of experience.” That competition was nearly 46 years ago! Family and friends used to say I was “gifted,” but that’s not the case. I was blessed with excellent instructors and had the desire to play well. Truth-be-known, without extensive review, I could not perform “Brahms’ Rhapsody in G Minor” today, even if my life depended on it.

Sitting in your bedroom, playing “made-up” guitar “riffs” for your friends, on your “Flying V” through a “Marshall Stack” means nothing. 

All you’re accomplishing is hearing loss.

If you don’t know what key your in, the time signature (beats per measure) or the chord changes behind those “riffs,” you’re wasting your time. You must learn the “language” in order to “communicate” on a high level with other musicians who are serious about their craft.

No real player wants to babysit your lack of skills.

Thinking you don’t need this “stuff” only reveals your naïveté. If you’re serious about music, buy a metronome and a few good music books and start learning some scales (or drum rudiments) to develop technique. After you’ve acquired some “chops,” learn a few of your favorite songs’ guitar, bass, keyboard or drum parts – note-for-note. There’s a good chance the people playing those parts are highly-skilled session players – not the artists whose names appear on the CDs.

When you can keep up with them, you’re on your way to being a real player.

Okay, I’m breathing normal again.

Thanks for indulging me.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

PS – The drummer we brought into the band took drum lessons from the 3rd grade through the 11th grade. (He’s now in his forties.) A few months ago, he decided to get some “refresher lessons” from a highly respected drum instructor. To determine his skill level, he was asked to play “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas. (This was also one of our audition tunes.) After he finished playing, the instructor looked at him and said,”You don’t need me. That’s the best I’ve heard someone play that tune in a while. Go home…”

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LETTING GO

February 26, 2010

Your thoughts go back to the beginning: how you met, the project’s evolution, decisions made along the way in what has now been a 16 month process – a fact causing you to sometimes shake your head in near disbelief.

The initial goal was and still is to make great music together. As is often the case over time, camaraderie is formed. In addition to learning and performing music, you laugh, share past experiences, socialize outside of “band stuff” and ultimately, form friendships that appear as binding as family.

If you’re lucky, all of this cements the group in a fashion similar to any healthy relationship. There’s understanding, compromise, caring, open communication and most importantly, respect. Some who are close to the group often don’t understand the bond. Short of a clear explanation, you simply state, “It just is.”

But now, you’re at a crossroads. Neither direction is easy. As you survey the thoughts of other members, you realize you’re not alone. There is concern, angst, caring and kindness all present in this heart wrenching, but all-to-common situation.

You have to replace him.

He’s done nothing wrong. Most bands would be thrilled to have his easy-going manner, professional attitude, punctuality, kindness of heart and giving spirit.

Most bands.

But yours is an evolving project. The material is becoming more challenging – the result of a consensus decision. The desire to move in this direction also challenges the skill level of each member. All have every intention and the ability to meet the challenge – except one.

“His heart’s in the right place,” you tell yourself, so you keep working with him. “He’s the one that started the band,” you remember, as you witness endless struggle with some musical passages. You begin to ask yourself, “Has he got the chops?”

Then comes the defining moment.

Rehearsing one four beat measure for over an hour, in a span of three different rehearsals, he continues to deny what everyone else knows: he’s not able to learn material of this caliber. He becomes defensive, challenging the other band members, rather than himself. Adding insult to injury, this was the night he invited a co-worker/friend/musician to observe what would ultimately be his last rehearsal with the the rest of you. Fortunately, because of the quality of the band’s character, and his in particular, only frustration – not anger – sets in.

There is the pending disappointment that comes as the night progresses. By the end of rehearsal, the inevitability of the next step is clear.

For the next couple of days, e-mails go back and forth among the rest of you, expressing sorrow and churn for the upcoming conversation. Then, suddenly, there are none. No more funny e-mails. No more links to cool tunes on YouTube. There’s nothing more to say.

It’s now three days away, then two, then one.

Everyone arrives early. There’s a quiet anxiety permeating the room in anticipation of his arrival. The suggestion is made to sit at the kitchen table. You start off, quietly and calmly, expressing your concerns over the last rehearsal, then move into why you feel the best for all is to move forward with someone else. Again, because of his character, he too is calm and understanding, seeming almost relieved. After you finish, the rest of the members express their concerns, in much the same manner.

Then, it’s over.

After packing his gear, he shakes hands with everyone and exits.

“I can’t believe how well that went. He was so good about it.”

“It’s as if he sensed it was coming – almost like he wanted out.”

Maybe, he did.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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WE’RE NOT THAT IMPORTANT

January 9, 2010

We’ve been at this for what seems like an eternity.

Everyone we know tells us how great it sounds – everyone except those who earn a living buying a product like ours. Our sound’s “greatness” is directly tied to income generated for their enterprise. The opinion of others, beyond those around us, is not relevant if we create only to appease the need for self expression. On the other hand, if we are seeking public recognition for our effort, then the earning potential of our product could make it important.

If “…beauty is in the eyes of the beholder…”, so too is great music, art, cinematography, photography and even food. We believe our creation is excellent, but that has no value. Others that know us may feel the same way. Again, no value.

However, if the “beholder” is investing in what we’ve created, then we’re important to someone other than ourselves. Without their vested interest, we could stop creating today and no one else’s life would be affected.

The decision to combine the self-indulgent need to express with the desire for acceptance beyond family and friends is the all-encompassing, monumental journey whose completion, few have achieved. 

We artists are very unique individuals because we’re willing to express ourselves in ways few would ever dream of doing.

But that alone does not make us important.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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“HOBBY”

December 15, 2009

 

The Battle of the Bands is in two weeks.

It’s a big deal: TV, radio and newspaper coverage, a live recording featuring the top five bands on a two-disc LP and all-but-guaranteed additional bookings.

You’ve been saving money from your after-school job for nearly a year, working for $1.45 an hour. You need $995. You know it will add a new dimension to the band’s sound and could certainly help in this contest. You have it on lay-a-way, but it won’t be paid off in time for the “battle.”

There’s only one thing you can do: ask the music store owner to let you use the electric piano that afternoon and then return it – something he has never allowed with an item this expensive. Because of it’s popularity with national groups like The Left Banke and The Association, it’s in high demand and his is one of only three in the entire state.

To your complete surprise, he honors your request.

After the event, you go back to the store, excited to tell him your band came in second place and came close to garnering the top spot because that band violated one of the rules and was nearly disqualified. The owner smiles warmly while you recap the day’s events. “Man, it was incredible! There were so many people! You should’ve been there! It was great!” As you head out the back door to bring in the keyboard, you feel a tap on your shoulder.

“Just take it home with you and keep paying on it like you’ve been doing. I know you’re good for it.”

“Really? Thank you! Thank you!

“You’re welcome. Oh, and by the way, I look forward to seeing your band again.”

“Again?”

“Yes, again. I was there today. You guys were great.”

The rest of the summer is a whirlwind of engagements, local TV show appearances and newspaper articles. You’re having the time of your life.

But then comes Fall and with it, the start of another school year.

It also means the 2nd Annual Lecture on putting aside what grown-ups are reluctant to even call a “hobby.” This time, the lecture comes from an uncle on your mother’s side, who, for some inexplicable reason, feels she needs his help raising you.

He starts out with the usual, “It’s time to put away the music and concentrate on your studies.”

This year, you decide to disagree. “I can do both.”

“No you can’t, and you won’t,” he says, truly startled at your opposition to his command. “Playing music will get you nowhere. You need to forget this nonsense and bury yourself in your schoolwork!”

Then comes the “never-been-done-before” move: you talk back to your uncle. “I just shelled out a thousand bucks on this ‘nonsense’ and I am not going to forget about it for the next nine months.” You back up slightly as the last words come out of your mouth.

In rapid-fire, non-cohesive – yet seemingly rehearsed – verbal bursts, he yells, “What did you say? You can’t talk to me that way! How much? Does my sister know about this?”

Feeling somewhat confident that you weren’t going to get knocked across the room, you only answer the last question. “Yup. Mom was there when I bought it.”

Now comes the other lecture – the one where your mother scolds you for talking back to an elder and implicating her as a co-conspirator. But after a few finger-pointing comments, she finds humor in the situation.

“You really said that to him?” she asks, starting to smile.

“Yeah. I guess I should’ve kept my mouth shut,” you admit, while revealing a certain pride in your “performance.”

Breaking into laughter, she says, “Yes, you should’ve.” Then, with a failed attempt at regaining her “I’m-upset-with-you” composure, she mumbles, “Don’t let your grades slip.”

She had a love for dance, working her way through college teaching at an Arthur Murray Dance Studio. Her unrealized dream was to someday go to New York and dance on Broadway. At seventy years old, she still commanded attention when she hit the floor.

Thanks for understanding, Mom.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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THE POWER OF A SONG

November 23, 2009

“It’s really popular right now.”

“It is?”

“Yeah. My daughter loves the tune. I think it’s a theme song for some TV show she watches. She says young people really identify with the message.”

“Hmm. This might explain why the group is so popular again, after all these years.”

It became a must-learn song for our band.

But it presented a huge challenge. We had to find someone who could sing it with the energy and power of the original vocalist. That took one year. Most groups would just drop the tune and pick an easier one that could be sung by a current member of the band.

But this is not just any tune and we have no plans to be just any band.

Nearly thirty years ago, the composers had no idea the impact it would have. Even the record company didn’t think it should be released as a single – at least not the first single from the album – because they didn’t think it had enough mass appeal.

Released in 1981, it reached #8 on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock chart, and #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It was never a #1 one hit.

Today, the song has appeared in a number of film and television series, including The Wedding Singer, Family Guy, Monster, Shrek the Halls, Bedtime Stories, Yes Dear, King of the Hill, The Comebacks, View from the Top, South Park, Cold Case, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, My Name Is Earl, Just Shoot Me, Laguna Beach, American Idol, Australian Idol, X Factor, Scrubs, The Sopranos, and Glee. It gained national press for its use in the final scene of HBO‘s The Sopranos from the series finaleMade in America.” It’s even been used in a Presidential campaign. It is now considered the signature song for the group that recorded it.

One of the song’s writers is easily the best-known rock vocalist of all time. The other writers were the keyboardist, Jonathan Cain and the lead guitarist, Neal Schon. When the singer decided to move on, the band went through lead singers for ten years searching for one that could handle the lead vocals without losing their voice. Today, the band’s music is so popular that there are over 60 “tribute” bands performing it world-wide.

Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey, featuring the unmistakable voice of Steve Perry, has made its mark as one of the most memorable songs in popular music’s history. It has one of the broadest demographic appeals of any song in my lifetime – and I’m no “spring chicken.”

Here’s a two part interview from July, 2009, with Perry about the tune by Canada’s CBC Radio One host, Jian Gomeshi. Enjoy the slide show while listeneing.

A few days ago, I set up two microphones in the rehearsal room to record us reviewing nine tunes, one of which was “Don’t Stop Believin’.” This is a “live” recording – no individual tracks, no “do-overs.” Although we still have some areas that need improvement, I feel we’ve captured the essence of the song. And yes, for those reading who might be musicians, we perform all of our songs in their original keys.

Steve Perry and Journey raised the bar for rock music in the ‘80s and their music continues to influence rock today. They make those of us “covering” their songs, better vocalists and instrumentalists. When I sent an e-mail of our version to one of my relatives who used to play hard rock in the ’80s, he said, speaking of our lead singer, “Man, that guy has a great voice!” and later in the e-mail he said, “…you totally nailed the keyboards…”

“Totally nailing” keyboard parts is what I do, dude.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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GASPING FOR AIR

November 10, 2009

GaspingforAirLogo

Over the last several months, our group, Powerline, posted ads for two positions to complete the band: a 2nd lead guitarist with vocal experience and a vocalist with a powerful, 1st tenor voice. We are very fortunate to have found both. There is no doubt the wording of our ads had much to do with attracting this talent.

My mother constantly corrected my verbal and written use of the English language when I was in school. It was very annoying then, but I couldn’t be more thankful now. While on Craigslist, I saw this ad. I immediately thought of her, knowing she would be gasping for air just reading the title and having convulsions after the first sentence:

SICK ASS GUITARIST

“Just decided im done with the unreliability of my last band. i am very versatile. im in to the black keys, dan auerbach, hacienda, jimi hendrix, devendra banhart, pretty much all blues and jazz, wolfmother, white stripes, raconteurs, martin sexton, redwalls, cream, ccr, led zeppelin. you know.

love psychadellic shit and appalachian acoustic.

i play a gibson les paul pro deluxe 1980
and a psychadellic strat and 1968 yamaha acoustic.

i am also 19 and am not looking for a bunh of old dudes to jam with. the closer to osu campus and my age the better.”

I know I’m older than most musicians playing in local rock bands. But, this guy needs to go back to middle school and try not cheating on English tests. As for the content, there was one respondent who said it all in one simple sentence:

Re: SICK ASS GUITARIST

“Looks like a solo career in the making.”

Perfect. 🙂

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com