Music Business

Experience, learn, always laugh, sometimes cry, repeat. by Nick Bullock

week 6 Experience, learn, always laugh, sometimes cry, repeat.

Some people love to say how difficult their chosen "career" can be. They complain. Sometimes it comes in the form of a joke, sometimes their words and actions straight up drip with venom, and sometimes its a subtle comment of desperation and frustration.

It's usually easy to imagine, feel, honor, glorify and visualize our next grand accomplishment in the career of our dreams. But that's not all there is to it. What does it mean to follow your career path? It means if it's true, it will be hard. If its TRUTH, it will be the hardest. Follow your instinct, follow your gut, follow your dreams and they are guaranteed to lead to hard times. But if they are really your truth, you don't have a choice anyways. So, if we choose to go the hard way and follow our truth, then we do it intentionally with the knowledge that we are not going to have a breezy stroll down career street. We can, however, learn to discipline our minds and hearts over time. We can learn how to honor our feelings of self doubt and frustration, but not live in them. We can start to take command of our subconscious. And slowly over time, we get really good at what other people might call having a thick skin, or "no worries". Its really just the ability to deal with in a healthy manner, all the negative bullshit that surrounds following your truth.

So, experience, learn, always laugh, sometimes cry and repeat.

ps: for week 6 of 52 in 52 go to https://soundcloud.com/nickbullock/grand-design

10 Things About Growth If You're An Artist by Nick Bullock

10 Things To Think About Concerning Growth and Growing as a Professional Artist: 1. Growing pains exist. There will be a time when you are still developing your skills. As a matter of fact, you will always be developing your skills. There will be moments when others doubt your abilities, or doubt what you can do. You can, at that time, decide whether or not you are going to honor your reality, or theirs. I suggest honoring your own.

2. Not everything is for everyone. It's ok if people don't like what you do. As a matter of fact, the more people don't, probably means that you are closer to finding your niche. If you are a really good americana songwriter, or incredibly skilled with ink drawings, then maybe a metal head won't like your song, or maybe a fan of water color paintings isn't going to choose your ink drawing. There are lots of people who do like ink, and who do like americana. Do what you do first, then find the people who dig it.

3. Marketing, marketing, marketing. The more organized and intentional you can be with your business, the further you're going to go. Period. If you take your business seriously, others will too.

4. Take a break. When you need one, take a vacation. As a self employed artist, It can be really hard to take time off. But it does your body, your mind and your soul a world of good to take a break every now and again. Yes, there are times when you have to put the pedal to the metal, and just move forward, but balancing that with taking breaks when you can is imperative to your survival as a person and an artist.

5. Shake hands and kiss babies. Take a page from politics 101, remember names and remember faces. Connect with people when you meet them. Care. Not disingenuously, do it for real. When you meet someone for the first time, look them in their eyes and search for their soul, be open to being moved by the person.

6. Those who do, do, those who don't, don't. Start something, and see it through. Don't let fear rise to the surface and drown your enthusiasm before you get a chance to explore your ideas. Think less and do more. Book your tour, make your record, show your work, etc. Do things, big and small, "smart" and "dumb".

7. This time right now while you are doing your thing, isn't your last time doing it. So don't get caught up in perfection. Process, not perfection.

8. Remember to check in on your goals. Every now and again (every three months?) take stock of where you are with them. Are they achievable and time sensitive? If someone asks, are you able to clearly communicate them. Write them down, and work backwards till you have the small steps clearly identified. Make it a habit each week to contribute in some small way to the execution of your goals. Each week I ask myself a simple question: "what is the one thing that I can do that can have the biggest positive impact on ___" (fill in the blank).

9. Get a hobby outside of your art. Seek inspiration else where.

10. Be open to life's many twists and turns. There are very few things in your (our) actual control. You can't predict or control how, what or why. But you can control your own reaction to the peaks and valleys. I'm not saying don't every have a pity party, i'm saying be intentional with your pity party, and when you are done, move on. If a song publisher says no, or a dance troupe goes with some one else, what does that mean? Nothing. It means nothing. It means that you can then shift your focus, when you're ready (after said pity party), to what you are supposed to be focusing on, Whether that is the next dance troupe or something completely different. Who knows? Being open is the point.

 

Week 5 of 52 in 52:

Yellow Stone

you can stream it here: https://soundcloud.com/nickbullock/yellow-stone

Week 5

Commitment by Nick Bullock

Commitment: The scary thing about committing is that you are officially on the hook. The scary thing about being on the hook is that you might be taken to task for not seeing it through. And if you fail, not only do you let others down, but you let yourself down, and that doesn't feel good.

But commitment is also confidence, it's a way of publicly stating your intentions. It's a powerful statement that "yes, I can" is in action. And the funny thing is, even when you trip up and make mistakes, people usually respect those who have whole heartedly committed themselves to something (an ideal, a job, a process etc), and rather than hanging you out to dry, they tend to give you a second chance. The question then is how do we want to perceive ourselves (therefore have others perceive us)? Whether we commit a "take to tape" at a recording session or commit to a relationship, I think the answer is obvious.

commitment

 

this week in 52 in 52:

The Hand That Pushed:

to stream, go to: https://soundcloud.com/nickbullock/the-hand-that-pushed

Each Path To Success Looks Different/Understanding The Bigger Picture AND Week 3 of 52 in 52: by Nick Bullock

blog week3.1 As a professional (actual or aspiring) musician, each path we take is unique to ourselves. The challenges we face are somewhat universal, but each solution should be tailor made to meet our unique needs. Or maybe a better way to say it is we each have a unique path to success to live out, and the tribulations we fight through to get where we want to go are an important part of that story.

One of the most important questions each artist asks themselves is "how can I get paid for my art"? How can I make music and make a living doing it? The answer lies in the unique situation each individual finds him or herself in. If you're a songwriter, maybe the answer lies some where on music row, getting a pub deal or the like. If you're a band, maybe the answer lies out on the road, on the club circuit. If you're a singer, maybe the answer is you tube… my point is that we each have a unique set of talents to meet each set of challenges with, and our job is to first identify and understand where we want to go with our careers then work backwards to get there. For me, I want to be known as a great producer who helps artists achieve their sonic vision, and as a great guitar player and songwriter in my own rite. (sound familiar?)

blog week 3

So how do I get there? Well, for starters, I make very specific, time sensitive, small and achievable goals (S.M.A.R.T.). These goals are specific to me (for example, booking four records or EP's a month at my studio etc) and meet my needs both in the short term and long term. They come from the roles I give myself (husband, business owner, and band leader of The Sound Awake).

What are your roles? What are your goals? Once you identify where you want to be, work backwards and define the steps that need to be taken.

The last thing I'll mention is about understanding the bigger picture. Each "failure" can be turned into a success story. For example, if you're a band that tours, and you play an off market in-between two major markets, and the turn out isn't that great your first time through, then at the very least, you have a great data point that says next time don't play the off market show, or if you do, understand what situation you are walking into, and figure out how to turn that into a win. You've got the data, and data is powerful stuff. I think too often we as artists can get lost in the negativity, the self doubt and we forget that at the end of the day, this is a business we are in. Yes, commerce AND art coexist. This doesn't mean you need to bow to the gatekeepers of old, (I think this entire blog post has been about defining success and the path to it by yourself) but it does mean that the more you think and act out of the bigger picture, the happier you'll be (and probably the quicker you'll achieve your success).

This week 3 of #52in52

In Disguise

The link: https://soundcloud.com/nickbullock/in-disguise

ps: thanks to Jay Frank and Nathan Dohse for the great conversation this week and inspiring this post… smart and talented dudes

Working IN your business, Working ON your business: the difference by Nick Bullock

week2 There is a big difference between working on and working in… both are important. I know for me, when I get myself organized about which is which, it helps me to prioritize, and get clearer about my goals as an artist and a business owner.

Working in your business, for me is practicing my instrument, playing gigs, recording, mixing, producing, writing songs, song writing sessions, and a host of other fun "artistic-y" things. I generally spend more time doing these things because I'm a firm believer in if you want to be know for doing great things, then you need to practice, and practice often. By working in my business, I get better, learn more, and generally have the feeling that I am progressing in my "studies".

Working on the business is doing all the managerial and administrative things. It's taking the time each week to write out my roles and priorities. Scheduling meetings, making coffee dates, scheduling recording sessions, booking gigs, scheduling rehearsals and in general reaching out to anyone I find fascinating, inspiring,and with whom I might work well with and want to meet. I still keep an old school date book/organizer to help me run my schedule (and business). Working for my business basically keeps me in check so that I am consciously taking the time for working in my business (my art), and making sure I have time with my family. Pretty boring stuff right? Well, it's not as sexy as practicing my sweep picking, or getting the perfect take from a vocalist i'm working with, but it sure does make my life breathable, and it makes sure I get all the time I want and need doing the things I love.

Of course both of these things combined make the whole, the yin and yang. And sometimes life chooses which you are going to spend more time doing, "working in" or "working on". It's a balancing act that has its own flow and zen to it. In the end, I meditate, I laugh as much as I can, I fall deeper in love with my wife everyday, I remind myself that I am a blessed dude for getting to work with creative and talented artists here in music city (one of the greatest cities in the country/world) and I get to do that for a living! I try to be as kind as I can, I try to bring out the best in the people I surround myself with, and I surround myself with people who encourage me and challenge me to be my best, and grow… And of, course i play my guitar and write songs.

So I guess there is working on, working in, and then just being… what ever it is we want to be.

Week Number 2 of #52in52:

"Nervous"

to sign up for the #52in52 mailing list for exclusive content, voting on your favorite songs and other cool shit send your email to:

thesoundawake@gmail.com

to stream this weeks song, go to: https://soundcloud.com/nickbullock/nervous

Before and Now: One Year Left by Nick Bullock

IMG_3763 What would you do with only one year left to live? How would you live, what would you change? What are you meant to do with your life?

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz hadn't even started working for Starbucks till he was 29

Martha Stewart worked on Wall Street for five years before starting her brand.

At age 25 Mark Cuban was sleeping on a floor, sharing a three bedroom apartment, with five other guys.

John D Rockefeller made his billions early, but his life didn't really begin till he got deathly ill, was given a year to live, and decided he couldn't take his wealth with him to the grave. Philanthropy became his soul purpose in life, his true calling, and he lived for another 40 years giving his money away.

JK Rowling was diagnosed with clinical depression, and was married, had a child, and got divorced all before she got the first Harry Potter book published.

At 29 Oprah Winfrey moved to Chicago to host a local morning radio talk show.

My point in all of this is that we are not always in control of where the universe brings us. We are not always where we need to be, and we sometimes don't get what we want in life. But time and time again, I have seen with my own eyes, that life puts us right where we are meant to be. Do you think that any of the above people knew that they would end up where they did? No. They might have dreamt, and visualized, and prayed, and worked their asses off, but there are no certainties in life.

When I was 15 I wanted to be a professional point guard in the NBA. Just ask my friends... i even once told a friends mom that I would buy her a new car when I got drafted... they still like to remind that I owe them... I was devastated when I didn't make the team. Later that year I picked up the guitar.

We might not always get what we want, but almost always we get absolutely the best thing for us, even if we don't recognize it at the time.

So, if you had one year left, what would you do with your time?

IMG_3742

Patience, Wisdom, Courage and Strength by Nick Bullock

Cartoon girl:guitar Strength (from Webster's Dictionary): the quality that allows someone to deal with problems in a determined and effective way

Strength is easy, it's really about taking action. Do it. Whatever that is. That is having strength. It has nothing to do with size, and everything to do with intent. To dare to dream is great, but it's in the first step, and the second step that strength is shown. So write your song, book a show, show your face... it takes strength to make those first steps (as well as every step there after)

Courage (again, Webster says): the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous

Yup, strength's big brother. Before the step can be taken, you need to come to a realization that you are not doing what you were put here in this planet to do. This might be one of the hardest things to admit to yourself... "yeah, I don't love my job, but it does have great benefits" etc. I'm not shitting on anyones desires to lift themselves out of poverty, or anyones goals to make more money, but money is just energy, and so is courage. It builds until one day you say "f the benefits, i'm miserable". Whether your happiest when writing a book, or poem, or acting, or singing songs or whatever, courage is recognizing that steps (strength) that need to be taken, and admitting your truth. And doing it everyday if need be.

photo-7

Wisdom (Webster's Dictionary): knowledge that is gained by having many experiences in life

That's the thing... experiences... you don't know you love acting until you have the unique experience that comes with it. The first time I saw a guitar player doing his thing, I thought it was really cool. And, as a small child at the time, I remember thinking I wonder how you do that... Where are those sounds coming from? Fast foreword about ten years and I have the experience of picking up the guitar for the first time, and the wonder and frustration that comes with learning a new instrument. Fast foreword another ten years and I have the experience of going to school to study the instrument, and playing my first professional gigs with it. Maybe, beginning to build a little bit of wisdom on how to use the guitar properly, for me. Another ten years, and I have all the experience and wisdom that I have now (and i'm still working on it!). You can't fake passion, passion doesn't start with knowledge, but it can go hand in hand with wisdom. Without all my experiences, I wouldn't have cultivated whatever knowledge I do have in my early thirties about playing guitar, being a professional musician and making music. Without that wisdom, I wouldn't understand my passion nearly as well as I do, and I wouldn't be able to do what I do... Without the experiences and wisdom gathered, I would be lost. Even with courage and strength.

Patience:

More often than not, this is the one that I struggle with the most. But in all honesty, it might be the most important. When you're playing a solo live, improvising your way through with your band mates and friends, patience can be what makes or breaks the experience. When you're in the studio, searching for the right tone and part, patience is the saving grace, other wise you settle for less than what your creativity is demanding of you. When you're writing a song, patience is being able to take a deep breath, and stay present and with it until you've figured out the next line in the story you're telling. It's also knowing a good song when you have one, and not becoming negative about it when the first person you show it to/play it for doesn't loose his or her shit and have a come to Jesus moment like you think everyone one should. And patience is being able to smile and relax when you are meeting someone who wants to help you along your path to success. In this case, it's the comfortable pair of jeans that never looses its popularity, because patience tells you that you are worthy of success, and it doesn't really matter if the person you are meeting with right now actually comes through or not.  patience is being in it for the long haul... the long game.

Queen Cartton

*clearly none of this artwork is mine

Victoria Banks: 5 Questions With a Great Songwriter by Nick Bullock

I met Victoria Banks shortly after I moved here to Nashville. Right off the bat, she was warm, inviting, informative, and very  willing to help a newbie in town.
Victoria is getting ready to release a new record this Fall (October 7th), with pre order sales starting today. You can go here to pre order: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/indigo/id911603123
and here to check out her new single: http://www.reverbnation.com/victoriabanks/song/21654835-ruined?1336410755
You can find out more about Victoria Banks by going to her brand spanking new web site too: http://www.victoriabanks.net
As always, Victoria gave really thoughtful answers to my questions. I hope you enjoy!
Vic1
Q: Do you write differently when you write for you the artist, versus when you write with the purpose of getting an album cut?
A: I can't say that I ever specifically try to write for myself as an artist.  As a staff songwriter, I'm in the office with co-writers 5 days a week writing for other people.  Sometimes I write with artists, in which case I listen to their material ahead of time to understand their style, vocal range, and the perspectives they like to sing from lyrically, so I can try and throw a pitch they can hit, to put it in baseball terms!  Sometimes, I'm writing for an artist who is listed on the "pitch sheet" my publisher provides; they have imminent recording dates scheduled with a producer and are often looking for a certain kind of song (for example, uptempo positive story song, or rangy midtempo life song not about love).  But on most days, my cowriters and I are just trying to write the best song we can write on that day regardless of who might sing it.  Some of those songs will stand out, feel right with my vocal range, and resonate with me emotionally, and those are the ones I end up recording on my own records.
On those days when my cowriters and I are not writing for a specific assignment, we often start off by going through our stockpiled lists of potential titles and "throwing out hooks" into the room to see if anything inspires us to write a song around it.  Or we listen through our collected melody snippets we have saved in our phone voice recorders to see if anything catches our fancy.  It's funny, but sometimes a title or a melodic/lyric phrase that previously didn't seem like anything special suddenly comes to life and takes on a new and inspiring energy when it's shared with the right collaborators on the right day.  The trick is to find that seed that wants to grow - and that grows easily - into a song.  You know you're really onto something when a song just falls out of you.
For me, the song that wants to be written today also often appears to me in the car on the way to a co-write.  Maybe I'm thinking about who my collaborators are…maybe I'm somehow plugged into their wavelength spiritually already…I don't know what it is!  But many times, I've had an entire first verse, entire chorus, or some significant chunk of a song pop into my head en route to the appointment.  I sing it to my cowriters when I arrive, and that's almost always what we end up writing for the day.
Q: Do you always try to write a hit song? Is there a difference between a great song and a hit song?
A: There is not always a difference between a great song and a hit song, but sometimes there is.  There can be a moment in the writing room when you find yourself at a crossroads.  Nashville writers have a running joke that one path leads to the radio, and the other path leads to the Bluebird Cafe.  You basically have to decide what your priority is.  If I think I can make a song commercial enough to cut, and still do the hook/melody justice, then that's always where I want to go with it!  After all, I'm being paid to write for the radio, and the long term future of my career as a songwriter depends on my ability to have hits.
Sometimes, it's the choice of making a hook positive or negative.  I recently wrote a song called "Ruined", and with a title like that, you'd think it would be a sad ballad about being destroyed by love.  But we turned the hook positive, and made it into a fun, groovy uptempo: "you're like a bottle of the best champagne and nothing's quite the same once you've tasted that/if I ever lose you, what am I supposed to do/I'm so ruined by you!"  That's going to be the first radio single off my new CD, and it's really getting a great response…maybe because of the positive twist on what you'd think would be a negative lyrical hook.  Radio likes positivity, so to raise your chances of a cut, you should make it positive.  However…there's also nothing better than a really well-written sad song…a "House that Built Me".  When those become hits, they become "song of the year" kind of hits.  But if you're gonna make it sad, it should only be a) because you're gonna record it yourself, or b) because it's going to be GREAT enough to get cut despite being sad.  Otherwise, it will collect dust on the shelf and never get recorded.
The choice of tempo is also a crossroads that you face in the writing process.  For radio, fast tempos are in demand.  When you think about it, artists might have one or two ballads on an entire record.  Most radio singles are uptempo or at least fast midtempos. So if a title will work as a more uptempo song, I usually lean that way.  However, when a lyric falls out of my brain attached to a slower tempo with a great melody or a smart lyrical twist, I'm not afraid to pursue that direction too.
I just did a writing retreat with Lori McKenna, who is a consummate ballad writer.  She can just slay you with a negative ballad.  But, those songs aren't getting cut much, so she likes to collaborate with co-writers who pull her into a more commercial vein.  There were times in the room with her when I could see both directions laid out at the crossroads, and as much as I would have LOVED to have gone down the negative ballad road to see where it led, we went the other way.  And then the combination of her lyrical bluntness with a commercial tempo/melody/positivity has made the songs we wrote really stand out in pitch meetings!
Vic3
Q: How has Nashville songwriting changed over the last 5-10 years?
A: I've been a professional staff songwriter in Nashville for (gulp!) 17 years now, and a LOT has changed.  In the mid 90s, there was a lot of pressure to steer away from writing alone, so I learned to collaborate so that I could widen the number of people pitching the songs to include my cowriters' publishers too.  In the late 90s, record sales were falling off because of Napster and other illegal downloading websites, so "writing with the artist" became the thing to do.  (Record labels and publishers were realizing that by having the artist co-write the songs, they could tap into the publishing income stream and recover some of the revenues they were losing to downloading.)  When that happened, I had to learn how to a) write a song very quickly - usually within about 2 hours - to fill a specific need for a specific slot on a specific record, b) dare to suck and not be freaked out by the fact that I was in the room with someone famous…or egocentric…or ADHD, and c) pull an idea from the artist's own experience in order to tap into an emotion that they're currently feeling so they will relate to the song and feel invested in it.  In addition, I have often written with artists who are NOT songwriters, who don't play instruments, who may have never written before and who may not even contribute at all to the song.  The trick is to try and pull something out of them, and sometimes to write the song DESPITE their presence and somehow still make them feel like they're contributing to what's going on.  You're half songwriter and half psychologist in those situations!  But your chances of getting a cut on records these days is way higher if the artist's name is on the song.  In the best case, that means having the opportunity to work with a talented visionary who knows what they want to say and you just tap into that.  In the worst case, you're sticking someone's name on the song you wrote…but that's the way the game is played.
Since 2001, radio has gone the direction of the testosterone-driven "bro country" thing.  Even more so, lately, with artists like Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan.  So that has changed the writing process too.  Now, I collaborate with "track builders" who often don't write the song, but sit in the room and build a kickass sounding demo while the song is being written.  By capturing the magic of the energy that's in the room, and by putting their own touch on it to bring it into a somewhat programmed sounding, somewhat pop-emulating production, they're often putting the song over the edge sonically so that it will grab the attention of artists and A&R people to get it cut.  Therefore, Nashville is starting to go the direction that L.A. went a long time ago in including the track builder as a writer.  Also, it's rare for me to write with just female collaborators anymore.  With so many males dominating the airwaves, it helps my odds to write songs that are pitchable to men…and that's a little easier to do when there's a guy in the room with me, even if it's just to say "nah, a man wouldn't say that" or "nah, that melody is too girly".
Q: What are some ways that you push yourself to be a better songwriter?
A: You know, I wish I could say that I have targeted specific exercises for myself to push myself to be a better writer, but I don't do anything like that.  I think to me, writing is just a way of life.  It's not a career.  It's an eat, sleep, breathe thing.  So I can't help but always be striving to be better.  I'm in it wholeheartedly, 5 days a week, in the chair at the office, writing a new song every day (sometimes two).  Listening to other people's music helps…going to other people's shows helps…doing your prep work to bring ideas into the cowriting room helps...going for long drives with my voice recorder helps…and keeping those antennae tuned for the next idea to be inspired by an overheard conversation or a TV show plot line is part of it too.  But ultimately, when you've written a couple thousand songs and you've still scheduled yourself yet again to show up and write another song today, you can't help but push yourself to make it better than all the others.  Otherwise, what are you still doing it for?  And the dopamine rush when you write a truly great song…that's an amazing feeling.  There's nothing better than that feeling.  Because you are going to live and die, but that song is going to live forever.  You've created something that can't be un-created.  You've created art!  That's what it's all about.
Vic2
Q: What are you looking forward to most about your latest release? What was the most exciting part during the recording process? What else would you like to mention about the release?
A: My new record, “Indigo”, is coming out this fall.  I made this record differently than my last two, which I also love like my own children, but for different reasons!  My previous records were collections of my favorite songs I had written, but they were entirely geared towards country radio.  There’s a very specific sound, and a very specific kind of song, that fits into that box.  For this project, I just had a burning desire to make the record I wanted to make…not just a record of singles, but a record I wanted to listen to over and over again in my living room or in my car.  So there are ballads on it…there are sad songs on it…there are imperfections on it…and it’s produced in a way that doesn’t make you feel like each track is punching you across the face with compressed sound.  I worked with co-producer Park Chisolm to build each track from scratch, and many of them are based on my basic guitar and/or piano skeleton tracks I recorded in my home studio.  I’ve always aimed to combine emotional impact with an intellectual side in my lyrics; in the metaphors and turns of phrase.  I feel like this record is right up that alley.  And a few industry folks who previewed the record told me they think it will attract intelligent listeners who are fans of The Civil Wars, so hopefully listeners will feel the same when it hits iTunes!
What Nashville artist, band or songwriter should I interview next?

Some things to think about before hitting record by Nick Bullock

I met with a friend last night to talk about making his record. We got together, and he played me all of the songs he was considering recording, and we talked about the arrangements, instrumentation, and production he was aiming for. As the person who is producing, engineering and finally mixing his album, it's my job to make sure that his vision is achieved, both artistically and sonically. There are so many factors that go into crossing that goal line that I thought I would just outline some thoughts on the process. board

1.) Pre-production can make all the difference in the world, turning a good song into a great song. It can also serve the artist by helping him/her get an even firmer grasp on the sounds they are going for. For the artist I mentioned above, we will be getting together at least one more time with the full band to rehearse and go over arrangements. This just helps to smooth out any kinks that show up. It's much better (and cheaper) to work all that stuff out before you actually hit record. It also serves as a confidence booster to everyone in the group.

2.) Don't be afraid to copy the greats. Get specific. There is no way that I can get your band to sound exactly like Surfer Rosa era Pixies, but it does help the producers and engineers to know that you love the bass sound on Michael Jacksons Thriller, or the snare on the Smashing Pumpkins Good Night Good Night. Borrow the sounds and the ideas of your heroes, just don't expect to make a DNA copy of their music, nobody wants that anyways. (This of course applies to the writing process too... chord progressions, snippets of melodies etc)

tape

3.) Now is not the time to quit smoking, or switch to tea. I'm not saying that I do not wish for you a long and healthy life, but recording can be stressful. You are spending a decent to a huge amount of money to lay down your soul for all the world to see, and you want to get it right. There can be a lot of internal pressure (and sometimes external). It can be a scary process for some. This is also where a skilled producer comes in to play as well, managing personalities and feelings almost as much as they are managing guitar tones and performances. All I'm saying is don't do anything that is going to add a big amount of stress to the process (which includes partying... the studio is not a disco tech, at least not anymore... at least mine isn't).

4.) Tune your guitar between every take. It's a good habit to get into, just do it.

5.) Make sure you have all the pics, strings, smaller instruments, cables, percussion you could possibly ever need. Write up a master list of everything you will be bringing, and get it all together the day before you load into the studio. Check it twice.

rack

6.) This is the moment you have been waiting for. Embrace it, trust the people you have chosen to work with. By the time you are ready to hit record, you have already made most of the difficult decisions. It's time to breath and concentrate on playing and singing your ass off. Let the rest float down stream. Don't worry about deadlines, don't worry about changing the world, don't worry about who will like this or that. Trust your self, trust in the moment, and play for the selfish joy it bring you and your mates. The best records, I think, are the ones where the band lets go of expectations, and they trust in the process of being in the moment. They make decisions based on what they enjoy about music, what they like. You've already dissected every chord and lyric, and channel strip, so now its just about having fun and making great music.

What do you do to help get yourself ready to record? Share your thoughts.

Touring: Experimental Existentialism and Shut Up and Play by Nick Bullock

Have you ever toured before or wanted to hit the road in a van, with your best buds, playing your music? Who wouldn't want to, right? A few weeks ago, my band went on a ten day tour, starting down south and eventually ending up north to play a festival set near my old stomping grounds of Ithaca NY. All in all, playing eight shows along the way. I thought I would share some thoughts on my experience, both anecdotal and practical. First, a brief background for those of you who don't know where I'm coming from. I spent the majority of my 20's, in a van touring with my best friends. tour6

We lived together, worked together, partied together, did chores together, wrote together, and recorded together. We were, in some ways, living the dream. One day at a time, we were figuring out how to be professional musicians in a professionally touring band, playing original music. We hit the jam band circuit hard for years, playing well over 150 shows a year for the majority of our time together. That is a lot of days on the road, I don't care who you are. We sacrificed much of our personal lives for the greater good of the band, and for our shared vision of what we wanted out of life. I'm very proud of those days, and I don't regret a single moment. Being in that band taught me many many things.

tour8

 

But, like all things, everything comes to an end eventually. When we split up, we all went our different ways, and I, out of my creative restlessness started a new band called The Sound Awake a few years ago. In the time that has passed since my "touring as a living" days, I have gotten married, started a business, sold that business, moved to Nashville, and started my studio, and a new musical/professional life here in music city.... so this tour that I mentioned above, was really like a dipping of the toe back in the warm waters of the touring lifestyle. More than anything, I was curious to see how I handled everything... so here we go.

tour7

The Existential Experiment:

Playing music you write to a room full of enthusiastic people is really one of the greatest feelings I've ever experienced in my life. It is an experience that I would encourage anyone who writes their own music to aim for. The good news is it's a reachable goal. I didn't realize how much I missed the camaraderie of being in a band, hitting the road, and doing it together. There is a bond that gets formed, regardless of personal differences, or personality traits or whatever... it's unavoidable. You get tighter as people (sometimes this means you see both sides of people's humanity, the good and the bad), and tighter as a band. There is definitely a thing called "tour tight"... its kind of unexplainable, but after so many shows on the road, you all just gel better musically. We weren't out there quite long enough to get deep into that tightness, but it was there, lurking, and I could feel it. I wanted to drink it in more, I wanted to let that feeling wash over me more. I got a taste, and it was sweet. Touring is also an amazing social experiment, and way more times than naught, you get reminded of people's innate goodness. The kindness of strangers is a wonderful thing to behold. It is so easy to believe that the human race is going to hell in a hand basket, but when you get out there, meet people face to face, give them a genuine smile, you would be surprised at how many genuine smiles you get in return. Maybe that speaks more for the power of music, than anything else, but the fact remains, there are a lot of kind people out there who will offer you a couch to sleep on, buy a CD to support your dreams, cheer you on,  buy you a beer, talk guitar tones, or lend you an amp if yours breaks. I could go on and on. Touring is also a great time to catch up with old friends that you don't get to see on the regular. It is truly one of the best things about being on the road. I would go through and name all my friends that I got to see and spend some quality time with this last time out, but there are too many to name. I miss them already. All in all, the tour was very successful. When we got up to upstate NY to play the Grass Roots Festival (which is attended by about 10k-15k people), we were in shape, and we brought our A game. Nothing compares to the roar of a crowd after a particular enthusiastic song or musical moment... and my end goal all along was to get that roar, and we did, more than once. I can't tell you exactly what it feels like to be the target of a crowds raging storm of energy, but it feels so good. Its a drug, and I want more of it.

tour2

I don't know what it would be like to do 150 dates a year again, and quite honetly, where I am in life, I would have to get paid way more than we did on this tour to consider doing it. I missed my wife, I missed sleeping in my bed. I didn't enjoy sleeping on couches quite as much as I used to remember. And I like my AC (sorry, it's true...). Touring is hard work. You drive all day, hurrying along the freeway, watching the mile markers count down, only to get to the venue to see there is no sound guy, or the bathroom doesn't have a door on it, or the PA that the venue said they have doesn't actually exist... or all of the above. If you are going to put yourself out there night in and night out, the one thing I would say, is that the music has to be the life blood, it has to be the source and the purpose, it has to be the thing that gets you off the most. And you have to believe in it, more than you believe in anything else, at least for the moment. So, if you're still into it, here are some very practical thoughts I can share with you on the my experience.

Shut up and Play: I'll keep this pretty straight forward.

Start booking the tour at least four months in advance. If you're booking yourself, it takes more time than usual to get all the ducks in a row, line up the routing properly, and make as much of a promotional splash in the market as you can before the concert date.

tour3

It's up to you to get people through the door, and once they are there, to keep them there. I don't buy that it is only the clubs or promoters responsibility for the success of the show. We, as artists, are in charge of our carriers, not the venue. That being said, usually when venues see that you are working hard to promote a show, they will get on board and pick up the slack on their end too. A win win is what we are all aiming for, after all.

Advance the show! At least once, if not twice. Go over all the details with the talent buyer at least a month before the show. This can clear up any little hang ups, and make sure that communication is clean and obvious. This will ensure that you have little to no headaches on the road, it will help you rest easier knowing that all the t's and i's are crossed and dotted. Ultimately allowing you to concentrate on the music and relationships that can form while on the road.

tour1

The music comes first. Don't drink too much, serisouly. Don't overdue the excesses, because it will be easy to. When I was on the road this last time, I started smoking again (why oh why! after months of successfully quitting)... why? because I'm human, and thought I could handle the temptation. Beware, is all I have to say. Have a good time, but music first, and music last. (I am now more than a week quit again, thank you very much... get back on that horse!)

Appreciate your band mates, you are all in it together. You are a team. If someone is in a bad mood, it doesn't hurt to give them space. Don't take everything to heart, people are people, love them for who they are and where they are in their own personal journey. As long as everyone is treating the music with the respect it deserves (see above), all will be good.

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Don't be afraid to warm up! In the van, in the green room, wherever. What ever you can do to make the show a better experience. Warm those pipes, warm those fingers, and don't be embarrassed about it.

You are there to provide entertainment. Read the room, it might not be a great time to take a set break after playing your second ballad in a row. You will get booked again if you keep people in the room, buying drinks. Unless your touring larger venues, and drawing hundreds of people, know that the one thing that will help you achieve your goals is to get rebooked, and get playing for more people next time. The people that were there had such a great time listening to you that they tell their friends, buy your merch, sign your mailing list and spread your gospel.

Have a mailing list. Have your merch table in a well lit and obvious place. Seems like a no brainer right? Bring a light, bring a cool table cloth or patchwork blanket to lay down... anything to make your products/merch look cooler, or more professional.

Know that nothing is perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect tour. Have a a does of thick skin, if the promoter or bartender is being a total jerk, walk away respectfully. If the show is poorly attended, play your ass off regardless. Touring has its limitations, enjoy it for what it is and know that doing your best is all you really can do at the end of the day.

A big thank you to Kevin and Russ, bass and drums extraordinaire, you guys are the rock to my rock n roll. Thanks for making the tour possible. #tsatour

What are some lessons you've learned from touring? What about touring most excites you? Share you thoughts, we would love to hear them! 

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The American Dream: Just Do it (Happy 4th of July) by Nick Bullock

4th of July

Sometimes as a musician-artist, knowing what to do next can be a struggle. Questions like "How do we build our team? Who can help us get where we want to go? Where are our cheerleaders? How can I get a pub deal or record deal?" etc. These were all questions that to one extent or another, I used to ask myself all the time when I was in a full time band. And sometimes I still do. The bad news is that no two music success stories are truly the same. The good news, however, is that every one of those success stories have the same DNA, the same essence. People say you should do A to get to B, which gets you to C, then to D etc... that is all great, and you should absolutely check out what the experts say and do, after all, they're experts!

But you must remember, the best idea to get your band signed, or get that publishing deal, is always going to come from you. You have to do it, and the good news here is that you are very capable. You will need to think better and more creatively than you ever have before, and you will be tried and tested like never before. It will not be easy. I'll say it again, you already know what to do. You have all the cool, crazy and unique ideas that you will ever need, you just need to fish them out.

It's a business, and you must really understand that, even as an artist. Respect the business side of it, know that people are out there doing it so they can feed their families, know that people are out there busting their ass so they can put a roof over their head. You will need to be one of those people busting your ass. But you already know this. The most important thing is that you do it, start it, what ever it is for you. Start recording all the time, start uploading your videos, start working with smart people... what ever it is, do it. That is the only way that you will ever accomplish anything. Don't wait, do it.

Happy 4th of July. Three cheers for the american dream, all of them.

 

 

Country Music Is... by Nick Bullock

photo-2 When was the last time you listened? I listen every day, and I have no idea really what country music is today, do you? I think we can both sit here and name a whole bunch of differing descriptions of modern country music, and we would probably both be right. It's bro country, it's 70's classic rock, it's hip hip country, it's power chord country... these are all words that get thrown around. It think it's going through a bit of a identity crisis.

I heard on the radio (NPR of all places) that Big Machine (Taylor Swifts record label) and Cumulus Radio are teaming up to form an "oldies" country music station. Basically because the older artists like Garth Brooks and Shania Twain have no real place in the current country music landscape. And this makes sense to me. County music has become just about the only musical outlet for all angst ridden teenage boys (albeit white teenage boys), and the boys brought their girlfriends along too. For whatever reason, the general public has decided that rock/alternative music is dead... we haven't found our next Nirvana, and maybe we never will, and country music scooped that audience up and ran with it. And in the mean time I can only imagine that Willy Nelson is scratching his head. To quote Shotgun Willy, "you can't make a record if you aint got nothing to say", maybe he was wrong, it certainly appears so. I don't blame the old guard for wanting a place on the playing field, and I hope they get there, and soon. 

I will also mention that there is practically no room for female artists in todays current landscape, which is a shame... there are some great ones (check out Miranda Lambert for an artist and Victoria Banks for a songwriter... two super talented ladies).

photo-1

For someone who just moved here, being a songwriter and a studio owner, it's an interesting view. I'm on the "inside" looking in, but still from an outsiders perspective. I can't help but be influenced by it all, and I can't relate to (let alone write) most of the tunes that are on the radio right now. But every now and again, something good shines through, something that catches my ear, and I think, yes, there is still a place at the table for people who write with sincerity. I just have to look through the beer can and chevy truck haze... but those songs are out there. Music still comes down to emotion, and at the end of the day, it is emotion that sells it. 

Benson

Here is what I like about country music. I like a good time/feel good/summer time party song, despite what I wrote about above. I can't fault anyone for wanting to shut the brain off every now and again and just enjoy the moment. So when a song goes there and sells the summer time party vibe, I'm in, but it has to be smarter. The songwriter and artist have to care more than just rhyming beer can with summer tan. I also love how there are no "musical" boundaries really, when I'm building a track for someone, or writing a tune myself, I can borrow from Jackson Brown as much as I can borrow from Dre, and it's all good. That to me speaks of endless creative potential. And at the end of the day, country music emanates from Nashville, and Nashville has always been a song city, and always will be. It's all about the song, and music that is based on the craft of songwriting will, in the end, always steer true. 

What do you like about todays country music? What do you dislike?

Death to a Musician is... by Nick Bullock

What have you listened to lately? What have you challenged your ears and musical tastes with lately? GD Public Enemy

I heard someone say this weekend that if you're listening to the same things that you listened to five years ago (or fifteen years ago etc), then you're not growing. And not growing is death to a musician. 

Dookie thriller

This got me reflecting on what exactly I have been listening to lately. My current and past musical DNA if you will. Since moving to Nashville, I have definitely been challenged to "get into" things that I normally never would. Not because I would refuse to listen, more because I never would have been exposed to these new sounds in my former surroundings. I'll be honest, I don't love it all. But there are nuggets of greatness in almost everything. Every day, by being willing to listen to new things, I grow as a songwriter and a producer. Which in turn, helps me do a better job in realizing the dreams and goals of the artists I work with, gives me new inspiration and new techniques to try as a songwriter, and new vocabulary for this beautiful language we call music. From Eric Church, to Lourdes there are a lot of crazy and creative new ideas flying around, so I challenge you to listen to it all. The cool and the uncool. Eat it up, consume every dotted rhythm and inverted arpeggio, every auto tuned vocal, and every raspy whisper of Tom Waits.

Dino Jr Junta arcade fire S Cook

I challenge you to listen to something you would never have "liked" before, in your past musical life, and write down five things that you like about the song. I'm going to do this right now with a Taylor Swift song (yup, thats right, T. Swift!) to see if I can prove my point, here we go (by the way, I've never heard this song before right now):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xg3vE8Ie_E&list=AL94UKMTqg-9Ds071vp-9iWci4ryhkG4Us

1. harmonics in the banjo in intro: who doesn't like harmonics! 

2. guitars panned r and l at 1st vs: I'm a sucker for panned guitars, especially when they are doing the cool layering type of parts, not just out right strumming

3. the scarlet letter you were Juliet line is a good one in the 2nd vs: it stuck out to me, I couldn't type fast enough though to get all the words down right here.

4. the pizzicato in the violin at the breakdown: sometimes I forget that you can pick at the fiddle, you don't always need to bow it... a nice reminder

5. i like the simplicity of the instrumental, and how the fiddle sounds more like a guitar... a little coldplay in terms of the rhythm/phrasing: just a cool and creative instrumental break, not a solo per se, which is a nice change

Trane A go go XO BTS

Well, there are my 5 things. For the record, at first listen, I see why the song has over a million you tube views, it's catchy, it pulls at the ol heart strings... I think the song is good, but I don't necessarily like it. And really, whether or not I like it is irrelevant. The important part is that the next time I'm recording a banjo, maybe I'll think to have the banjo play with harmonics instead of the actual fretted note. Or maybe I'll ask the fiddle player to play it pizzicato instead. There is a whole big world of inspiration and ideas out there, we just have to be open and wise enough to know that we should be looking and listening for it in even the most unexpected of places. Once again, if you're only listening to the same music you listened to in your past, you're musically dying.

What song did you try the challenge with? What did you like about it?

ps: I have to congratulate Danny Sierra on releasing his first EP this week. Danny was the first artist that asked me to work with him when I moved here some months ago. He is an amazingly talented songwriter and singer... you can check him out at http://danielsierraleone.bandcamp.com Go Danny Go!

Ego is a Stubborn-No Good-Rotten Tomato by Nick Bullock

ego 1 The Not So Obvious 

Have you ever struggled with the balance of ego, and humility. I know I have. Every time I get on stage I wonder how many people will come, will they like (love) me, and what does it mean if they don't. Is it even ok that I'm feeling these feelings? These are all small bits and pieces of my ego poking through. We've all been told, or tell ourselves to not worry about that, just go out there and be yourself, and do your thing. Sometimes this is easier said than done. The ego here, is playing hide and seek with our own sense of self worth. We all want to be loved.

ego 2

The Obvious

Then there are the obvious ego jerks, and we all know the type. Truth be told, we've probably all been guilty of this behavior at some point in our lives. Most of us learn that it does now pay to be a dick. On the surface it doesn't pay because everyone will look at you with daggers of judgement in their eyes, sometimes behind your back, sometimes right to your face. On a deeper level, it doesn't pay because (even if we're super rich and famous and trick some people into liking us) we are just robbing ourselves of meaning by covering up our vulnerable insides that we all carry. And that vulnerability is the good stuff.

ego 1

The Stubborn Ego

Then there is the pesky and persistent ego. This kind says, "even though nobody likes these polka songs I write, I know they are the best thing ever. I just don't understand why the record companies, music supervisors, and booking agents don't get it?". It might be true that those polka tunes are the best ever, and if you are writing polka songs purely for your own artistic expression, then more power to you. But if you are trying to have some kind of measurable success, then you might want to drop the ego, and say "my polka songs are great, but they aren't for everyone, maybe, if I want to be a professional musician, I should be open to other possibilities". I know for myself, I am constantly struggling with this one. Do I write/produce/record for you, the listener, or me the artist. I'm learning slowly but surely, that there is a possibility of me doing both. Either way, I think it is very healthy to be open to all possibilities, and not let ego cloud your vision. Sometimes you can grow, learn and achieve amazing results, that you never would have thought possible had you been stubborn and only stuck to your "I want to be a polka superstar" mentality. Life is too short to be short sighted.

ps: no offense polka enthusiasts, you all rock. :)

first picture is from http://www.vine2victory.com #1, the second is from http://www.flamewarriorsguide.com and the third is from http://esotericmystica.blogspot.com

 

 

You Never Know Who's In The Room by Nick Bullock

brodge 3 When I meet people, I imagine that one day they could be president.

It's good to be aware that there are many times in the life of a musician (or any profession for that matter) where we need a helping hand, and you never know where that helping hand will come from.

In my twenties, I made most of my living touring the jam band circuit across the country. Like most bands, our earliest fans were our friends and roommates. One such friend/roommate was Mike, who after moving back to Boston post college, introduced us to one of his best friends, Andrew. As we continued to tour more and more, we became just as tight with Andrew, and once Mike moved to California, we would stay with Andrew at every Boston stop on tour.

Fast forward a couple of years and Andrew is working for a licensing company, and getting our music placed on TV shows, getting us massive exposure and a good pay check. To this day, Andrew is still championing the music I make and write to different TV shows, movies and the like.

You never know who is in the room, you never know who will be a new super fan and can take your music to the next level, you never know who will be the one to give you that helping hand. It pays to be aware, and genuine. It pays to be humble and to love. Build your bridges with concrete hand shakes and look people in the eye, it pays.

Do you have a story of unexpected help or surprise friendship? Share it in the comment section below.

bridge