Music City

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.

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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?)

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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

Happy Holidays, Still In Love With Music by Nick Bullock

It amazes me, that after fourteen years of calling myself a professional musician, I'm still lucky enough to do this for a living. More importantly, after all that time I still love what I do. I've definitely burned the wick at both ends plenty of times through my journey, but I haven't burned out. That got me thinking as to why I'm still doing what it is I do? Why, when its so easy to get frustrated, or more specifically for me, sometimes it can feel helpless. Being a musician, and relying on your income as a musician, can be precarious at times, and down right stressful. A friend recently wrote a face book post about his self proclaimed addiction to being a musician, and how it's cost him relationships, financial hardship and more. I can relate on some level. It definitely manifests itself as a need.

The other side of the coin is that being a musician is life giving, life altering and a spiritually rich path, every day. I've met my closest friends doing what I do, I met my wife, by doing what I do. I've had more adventures with my best friends in the last ten years alone than most people get in a life time. Being a musician led my wife and I to move to Nashville, which has brought immeasurable gifts, both personally and professionally. A whole new set of friends and relationships to build and nurture. I've been lucky enough to share in the experience of making records with close friends, which brings us inevitably closer as friends, as we dig deep together.

Thats the side of the coin I choose to look at everyday. And thats why I do what I do.

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I guess, for me, when I boil it down, music is really what I need to do. Yes, it's a passion, but it goes a little beyond that, it is what I was put on this planet to do, and the older I get, the more certain of that I am. When I was twenty two, I wanted to be in a band that was world famous, and successful beyond my imagination… like cover of Rolling Stones famous. Of course, I loved music and playing guitar then as I do today, but I had big aspirations. Now, my aspirations are a bit different, but just as big in their own ways. Gone is the desire for the RS cover, replaced with the desire to get to know all the players, producers and artists I can. People that have been on the cover of RS, and people who have not. The more I do this, the more I realize its about these experiences that I collect along the way. It's these experiences that make me rich, "famous", a better producer, a better writer and so on.

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If you are pondering whether or not to follow your musical talents and turn them into a career, let me be the first to tell you that it is 100% possible to make a living playing, writing and recording music. Let me also tell you, you better feel the need to pursue it from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head. In the age of "fair game" internet, and singing TV Show idolatries, more people than ever before feel they are worthy to pursue music as a profession, and maybe they all do, but it takes a particular kind of musician to maintain, and see the bigger picture through all the (temporary) set backs and frustrations. Being self employed can be tough, especially for musicians, who dare to make a living out of their art. But I'm here to say, if it is what you are called to do, if it is what you were put on this planet to do, be brave and do it. You can do it.

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone. Thanks for a great year Nashville! Thanks to all of you for taking time out of your busy lives to read this blog. There are a ton of things to look forward to in 2015, and I can't wait to share them with you all.

Inspiration from Movement, Songs and Ted Talks by Nick Bullock

dance 1 I got the opportunity to go to a Ted-X event here in Nashville this week, where the focus of each presenter was the creation process. Imagine people talking about everything from getting the audience involved at a concert to creating an instant feeling of communion with the people on stage, to how to best monetize your art, to encouraging community through art installations... all pretty great stuff, granted we've all heard it before... community, feelings, inspiration etc... but it's nice to be reminded... But before the talks even began there was the art itself, in the form of movement.

Now I work out on the regular (pretty much), so I can live longer, play music longer, feel good about myself... but these women (and one guy) have complete control of their bodies... a craft mastered over long and late hours practicing and rehearsing, as a group and as individuals. The thing that impressed me most was the choreography, and not just the steps and timing, but how the choreography used the dancers bodies. Someone had to "write" the dance, and when they did they decided to push some boundaries (at least to my untrained eye for dance) and push the performers... I wish I knew who did the choreography, I would shake their hand and tell them how it almost moved me to tears, how I was enraptured by their dance and what the performers could do with their bodies, and how it all tied together. Like any good song, it makes you feel.

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And thats what its all about. Connecting the audience with the emotions they already have inside of them... When I was watching the dancers move I started thinking about my father and my parents divorce for some reason. I have no idea why, but it brought me there... to the underbelly, and I felt vulnerable for a minute. Thats what a good song or performance of any kind can do.

I'm working with an artist right now who decided to bare his soul and tell his truth with the songs we're recording. It think a lot of song writers say they write their truth, but I think too few do the necessary digging... because it's hard, and it can be very painful. Later that same night, after the ted talk, we got a buddy to lay down some pedal steel on a couple of these songs for this particular artist and again I was reminded of the dancers I had witnessed... the movement of the pedal steel, the sound it creates whispers of movement... shapes and forms coming and going... another great performance...

So yeah, my tuesday was filled with community, feelings and inspiration... and it was awesome!

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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.

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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

Time to Show Up by Nick Bullock

I was hanging with a buddy the other night, and having both moved to Nashville at relatively the same time, we started talking about people who get the gigs in town, versus the people who don't. Unknown

The first person I recorded here in town was Danny Sierra Leone. I met Danny out at a new faces night at The Basement (probably still my favorite club to go see music), and after chatting with him for about ten minutes, I gave him my card and we parted ways. Fast forward a bit and we have one EP done, and an LP in the works. There are many bands and artists that I have met in similar circumstances, and have had the privilege to get to produce, record or play with. Each time it has come about by me just showing up and putting myself out there.

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I will say that sometimes it is difficult to know how and when to show up. Each conversation we have or circumstance that we find ourselves in, can require a different reaction from us. Case in point, the buddy I was speaking about earlier, is an incredibly talented bass player... like really, really good. He asked me what he should say when he meets another potential employer/artist... "hey I'm a really good bass player, and you should hire me?". Of course he was being a little facetious, and that strategy would be more funny that anything else, but his question of how to present himself was a real one, and a challenge for many of us. I don't pretend to know the best answer for other people, I only know what has worked for me. It is definitely uncomfortable to put yourself out there sometimes, and that nervous feeling is usually my barramoter for taking action and going for it. Once I do, I trust in my ability to be myself, be genuine, be curious, be respectful, be professional, be nice, and from there, I give up wanting control. I can't control whether or not the band will come and record with me, or whether or not I'll get hired as a guitar player for the persons project. My buddy can't control whether or not the person hires him to play bass. The only thing we have control over is whether or not we put ourselves out there. There is no magic bullet answer for my bass playing friend, there is no definitive strategy that once implemented, it will guarantee him the outcome he deserves and wants. Yes, we could probably get into a conversation on how to have a conversation, how to read people, and how to manipulate circumstances, but then you're just kind of looking at it from a cold perspective... or being a tool, not a person. We want connection, not manipulation. So, the best advice that I can think of for myself and anyone else is to just show up and trust your gut. Be genuine, and be present.

I like to think my ability to be present, and genuine... to show up  is part of the reason that people like Danny Sierra Leone choose to work with me. I love putting myself out there, despite how scary it can be, because it has given me friends, work, and a creative energy that is life giving.

So, it's time to show up!

What can you do this week to show up? Share with us a story of you putting yourself out there.

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Bedrest, It Makes You Think by Nick Bullock

I had to go get an unexpected outpatient surgery yesterday. I was fine on Tuesday night,  and when I woke up on Wednesday I was in so much pain that I could barely walk or sit. I'll spare y'all the details, but it was not comfortable. So I found myself yesterday in the capable hands of a surgeon. And later that afternoon, I was gratefully walking back to the car with much relief. So yes, I am fine.

But it made me reflect on the things we take for granted, and those of us that are lucky to have healthy bodies, more often than not take for granted the gifts that our healthy bodies bring. There are so many minor miracles that need to happen in order for you to bend down, pick up a guitar, take hold of the guitar with your hand, swing it up on your lap using your muscles in your arms, take your right thumb and arm and strum the strings while your brain and your left hand communicate exactly how and exactly where to place each one of your fingers on the fret board, all at the right time. Do you know how many electrical pulses are being sent to and from your nervous system, to your muscles, to your brain and back again. I'm no scientist, but I know that it isn't a simple procedure.

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Have you ever stopped to wonder about the mysteries that are right there in front of us every day? What gives you the voice you have? What gives you the ears you use? And how do they all work.

It's easy to lay on the couch all day, and ponder this all, because, lets face it, Netflix only has so many interesting movies to watch, eventually you get bored and start to think about stuff...

My challenge, and one that I bestow upon you, the reader, is to remain mystified by it all, especially when you are healthy. It is up to us to not take for granted the beauty of hearing an old vintage Gibson being plucked, because with out the ears on your head, you would have no way of knowing that beauty. And without the ability to strum, you wouldn't know the joy that it brings.

Thanks for reading.

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!
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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!
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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?

Pop Songs with A Side of Meaning Please by Nick Bullock

There is nothing wrong with a party song. There is nothing wrong with a song about sex. There is something wrong with pop music when all we have are these two options as listeners. And yes, I know, you can dig, and find the niche artist(s) that fill the void for you, but with so much stuff happening in the world, you would think that some one out there in the pop music would start to question where we are as a human race. This is what music once did. Neil Young sang about Ohio, and Joni OHIO

 Mitchell sang about being Blue, and Springsteen sang about being Born in USA. They were and still are all considered to be part of popular music. What happened to all of our pop writers that were skilled with a melody and a turn of a phrase, AND had meaning and depth to what they had to say. I know they're out there.

blue

 

It doesn't have to be just an exercise in baring witness to the outside world, I'm just as interested in the internal struggles we all face as a music fan. Thats why I mentioned Blue earlier. But there is more to it than whiskey and bouncing asses. Is there no one that is willing to risk? Is there no one that is willing to tell it as they see it? I don't care what side of the coin you are on, what political stance you take, what you feel is what you feel, and that is all I want to hear, that's what I'll buy. I want to hear you sing of the beauty around you, of the struggles, of the humanity, both good and bad that you see. "Three chords and the truth" they used to say. I think we've lost sight of the most important part of that cliche, the truth! 

Again, I'll repeat myself, I need a good "dance party" song, or a "forget all our worries" song too (I used to play in a funky jam band after all!), we all do. Blowing off steam is good. And I understand that the professional song smiths out there have families to feed and bills to pay, so I don't blame them for taking care of their business (I'm in the same boat). But music, while giving us that particular gift of forgetting our worries, once was so much more, and I'm talking pop music here.

Yorke

I wonder if music in general can ever get there again? I believe it can. I have no idea how, or on what platform, or who it'll be. Maybe Miley Cyrus will grow up to have more depth than anyone would have guessed, maybe Bruno Mars will stop singing about banging like a guerrilla, or maybe Thom Yorke (one of my personal favorite song writers of all time) will embrace his lyrical side of writing like never before.

Bruno

I believe like all things, the pendulum will swing back, and I'm going to do everything in my power to help it along the way. Radio might be slowly dying (right?), but pop music is, as always, here to stay. Our challenge is to make it mean something again.

cyrus

What do you think?

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.

tour5

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! 

tour4

 

Some Words with Music Band from Nashville TN by Nick Bullock

Hello from the road/tour! One of the best things about living in Nashville is the incredible talent that you are surrounded with everyday. It can be daunting, but mostly I find it extremely inspirational, and enlightening. It helps me clarify what and why I do what I do with my musical career.

Music Band is probably my favorite band in Nashville, and and I only say probably because I'm very aware of my own tendency to get super excited when I bear witness to great musicians singing great songs... Music Band is positively great. I've gotten the opportunity to see them a bunch since moving to Nashville, and under full disclosure, I've have the great fortune of knowing them personally for the last three or four years... And to sum up my feelings, last time I saw them, I immediately went home and wrote a song that was very inspired by them. And for me, whenever someone makes me want to go home, pick up my guitar and start writing, I'm all in. That, is true inspiration. Thanks for that Lee, Harry and Duncan.

Enjoy the interview!

MB 2

Nick Bullock Music: What is your favorite thing about the Nashville music scene?

Music Band: The music scene here had been gaining momentum well before we moved here two and a half years ago. Really steaming, cooking with gas. It's like a big steam engine ripping through a residential intersection at 3 in the morning and the driver is all coked out and fucked up just laying on the whistle because he hates his life and wants to ruin everyone's night. That actually might be one of my least favorite things, when a train sounds its horn for way too long and you're just too close to it. It cuts right to my core, enough for me to shout out loud, "SHUT THE FUCK UP!" every time I hear it. Damn, it makes me so mad. But the Nashville music scene does not make me feel this way. We got mad respect for these streets and these peeps here. Mostly everyone who plays music here rules, and I think that's because it's the kind of town that if you come here and don't have any respect for the folks who have been holding it down OG-style then you're liable to get yourself banished. Sorry, but that's just the way it is. It's "Music City" and people have been doing this for as long as anything here. That's what's cool about Nashville. It doesn't matter what kind of music you're into because you should be able to appreciate the real heads who are on their grind. It's funny to go to shows here, and a lot of touring bands I meet will lament about this, but a lot of the time when Nashville people are watching bands they don't move around much. I think it's not because everyone's jaded on music but it's more because everyone is a musician in their own right and are actually watching the band, I mean having a real peek-see, and I can respect that.
NBM: How do you balance the artistic/creative side of being in a band with the business side of being in a band?
MB: We've been pretty much doing our own business since the beginning, so it's not really something we think about much anymore. Although lately there have been more business-related things going on for us, it's fun to learn how it's done, and I think we're fortunate to have some guidance from our friends who know what they're doing. Everyone in a band is always like, "I just want to play, man. The music industry is killing me. Etc." but we're quickly learning that if you can't deal with the business side of things then, well, what the hell? Music ain't a hobby. Not for the real heads, at least. If you're actually trying to make money or a career out of this then you gotta learn how the shit works, even if it's learning by trial and error. I think it gets to a point where the creative side of playing music is sort of like the "reward" for everything else. Or at least that seems like a good situation. I guess it's something we've just had to start balancing out of necessity.

NBM: How do songs come into creation for the band?
MB: Most of the time one of us will work on the structure of a song alone and then bring it to the the rest of the band in practice and we'll spend a few days working it out, trying different things. A lot of the songs on our new tape "Can I Live" actually came out of fucking around at our old practice space, as bands are wont to do. Some of my favorite songs we have just came up off the dome from a late-night "jam", as corny as that sounds. Once we have a song though, we spend a lot of time tweaking it and working on dynamics, harmonies, etc. usually by recording a demo at home and seeing what we like/don't like. Lyrics are really important to me (Harry), and so that's often one thing I personally start with.

 

NBM: Do you have an end goal, a big picture you are shooting for?

MB: To become immortal, and then, die.

NBM: What about being in a band excites you the most? What are you working on now? How is the process going (how did it go)?
MB: Live shows are the best. Going on the road. Meeting people, meeting other bands. Good audiences. Makin' em laugh. Free meals. Being in the van just getting all crazy. Figuring out a new song and being really excited about it. Recording. Takin' a peek-see at mixes in the studio (shout-out to Andrija at Bomb Shelter). Venues that really know how to treat musicians, and not that bullshit where you show up and everyone working there is like "I don't even want to be here tonight. What's even going on?" Havin' a plate of Lil' Smokies in the morning. Fun doggies. Seeing our parents on tour. Putting friends on "the list" due to mad respect. 

 

MB 1

Check out their new release "Can I Live" a cassette release on Infinity Cat: http://infinity-cat-recordings.myshopify.com/collections/music-band

You can listen/stream there stuff here: http://musicband.bandcamp.com

For music info/shows etc go here: https://www.facebook.com/musicband.gov

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What Nashville band should I interview next?

Play For Me... by Nick Bullock

famwash

Hi, Musician on stage... I'm here, I'm the only guy in the room... can't you see me? I'm listening, I'm clapping, I'm engaged in your music... this is your soul, remember, and I am liking your soul... hello? I don't need or want you to stare at me the whole time, thats just creepy, but some eye contact would be nice when I'm the only one clapping. Just saying.

And at the end of the show, come say hi, because I stayed, I am still here, and I'm not counting the wasted girl who is flashing the bartender, or the drunk dude passed out and slowly sliding off his stool, they doesn't count. Lets talk, and get to know each other a little bit.

I was hanging at the Family Wash over on the East side in Nashville, which is quickly becoming one of my favorites spots to hang, and saw a band there in this exact context. And you know what, the singer made eye contact, and came over and said hello, and thanked me for being the only one paying attention.

It makes a difference.

A little eye contact goes a long way.

 

 

A Case Study: The War on Drugs, Red Eyes by Nick Bullock

My wife and I started a new tradition this past week, our date night has become a weekly record listening party for two. We'll go to the local record store (last week was Grimey's, on 8th Ave here in Nashville), pick out a vinyl, and go back home. We'll lay a blanket on the living room floor, picnic style, set up the speakers so we're in the sweet spot, and dig in. Last week was my turn to pick, and I grabbed a record that I have been meaning to listen to since March. We were swept away. WOD1

I saw The War on Drugs about three years ago maybe, back when I lived in Ithaca, and I fell in love with them. I know I'm in love because whenever I do fall, I always walk away with a sense of "That is what I want to do", and that is exactly what happened three years ago. And, it is with that in mind that I chose this song for my next case study... here we go :)

Intro: super cool, I love the synth sound, and instantly you get a pulse for the song, the drums enter with the bass, the bari sax, and a guitar playing some pentatonic tastiness... then the vs starts...

I'm not sure what exactly he is talking about here, but it doesn't matter. That is one of the things I love about rock n roll, yes you tell a story, but it is just as much an audio story as it is a lyrical one. What I mean by that is the music serves the lyrics, and vice versa... they make sense together. It's not about one, its about them both, together.

"Where are we This everything On my knees To beat it down To get to my soul I guessed my way Anyone can tell it's you coming But baby, don't mind Leave it on a lie Leave it your own way"

At this point its obvious that the acoustic guitar and drums are really serving as the back bone, pushing the song along at a nice pace, cruising, accompanied by their big brother the bass, and happy for the company. They are there, watching the spectacle of lights that the synths, and the guitars create, and making sure no one gets hurt.

The piano is nice in the verse too... buried a little bit in the mix, but it's there...  a nice texture.

The verse has a cool 2/4 to 4/4 meter rotation... kind if spinning on itself, you can certainly count it all in 4, but it's more fun to throw some 2's in there, I think :)

And I love the sound that he got on his voice... nice reverb/delay etc. I like how the vocals really sit nicely.

Then you have some interlude material that is pretty much the same as the intro. Is that a leslie effect on the three note guitar lick?? It happens too quick.

The 2nd verse pretty much maintains the pace of the 1st verse, with a nicely added guitar that doubles the vocal and synth line in there for a real quick second...

Which leads to my favorite part! This isn't so much a solo as it is a "lets get really excited for a minute"... they are pulling at us, teasing us, saying you know you love the momentary intensity here, and you know you love it because it's fleeting... nice guitar playing, brief though it be. All over the same chords as the vs:

2/4 I | 4/4 IV | IV | vi- V | 2/4 I | IV | IV || for those of you who care... then the breakdown.

WOD2

It's nice, swelling organ, really great sound... and still the drums, at first without the acoustic strumming its reassurances, then it builds. The acoustic shows up again. The bari sax is back, did it ever leave? Man, that organ sounds so good. I miss being in a band with an organ player. There might be some percussion back there in the mix too, can't tell. The singing starts again, and we are jolted into another solo section, which repeats the themes from the earlier... almost feels like a chorus really, on this second repeat of it... I guess it really isn't a real solo section after all... more of a chorus. And the piano returns!!! All the while, he sings for us. It's an intimate kind of vocal performance, very familiar... I think I can relate to the feeling in his voice... it's part conversational.

It's amazing to me how good all this sounds. Like really, really good. The drums are clear, the piano doesn't sound too tin-y... the vocals... This song really just transported me away. I can't think of a better song to listen to while laying down on the floor with the lights low and closing your eyes.

For me, it's just magic. And it as I write this I have three thoughts: 1. That is what I want to do. 2. I love my wife for having such an awesome idea for our weekly date night (yes, that was her idea!) and 3. I have a studio, and it is calling my name... inspiration indeed!!!

 

What song should I do next?

 

 

Playing a guitar solo on the back of a motorcycle... by Nick Bullock

cloud I get it, they go super fast, and the rush... man, it's addicting! I was on the back of a bike for the first time last week, sweeping through the Dragons Tale in North Carolina and Tennessee. If you like to ride, then you know The Dragons Tale. (After I said a few Hail Mary's) I was blown away by how oddly safe I felt once I got used to the glide of the bike. In a somewhat strange way, it reminded me of a great guitar solo. In it's breakneck pace, the sudden turns, the leaning in with your body, the speeding in and out of a curve, the tension of unforeseen scenarios that a driver will encounter, and the ability to deftly handle any precarious situation he is given. The driver must be zen at all times, flowing with the curves, and at the same time keeping a watchful eye for anything that might disrupt the pace.

A great guitar solo (or any instrument for that matter) does the same things, staying in the moment, trusting your instinct, hearing when the music "turns", keeping your technique relaxed at all times. They even made a books out of it... (Zen Guitar and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance). And like the driver of the motorcycle, the driver of the solo needs to be aware of many things at once, all while keeping that improvisational wonder. Where is the drummer, pushing the beat, pulling the beat or riding the middle? What did the keys player just play, what chord extension was that? Where are we going? Am I taking the audience with me? Am I leading us up the mountain, sweeping around curves, or am I just sitting letting the bike idle?

I could talk for years about what scales go with what chords, and what you could do by superimposing a triad over another chord. I can talk about dotted rhythms, triplets, playing over the bar lines, extending phrases and  the simplistic beauty of the one note solo, but really, a good solo simply moves us to feel alive and excited. It comes from passion, and the freedom to risk falling on your face combined with the confidence to be able to take any turn in the road.

What do you do that gives you that same freedom?

Gerry

Refresh and Reset by Nick Bullock

Last week, my wife and I went on our first honest to god vacation since our honey moon, over two years ago. And I'm talking about the "lets get a way and have some fun in the sun" kind of vacation. photo-2

Meredith challenged me to write three complete songs, and be able to perform them to her by the end of the stay. The stakes were high, back rubs and getting out of kitty litter duties were on the line. I wrote the bulk of the songs by the end of the second day... I won :)

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I was reminded how healing vacations can be.

Whenever Thomas Edison had a problem he couldn't solve, he took a nap. And inevitably when he awoke he was able to solve the problem that plagued him earlier.

Vacations can reset your creative juices, and give you more energy and a new perspective on your creativity and your process. I can't remember the last time I had a care free afternoon to just do nothing but write music. When I did, my brain exploded with song ideas, and I was able to take the time and get them all down.

So, take a restful vacation, and if you can't right now, take a nap every now and again (or whatever your version of Edison's nap is).

When was the last time you had a good solid get a way? What insights did it give you?

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Infinitely Available by Nick Bullock

Infinitely available... Probably the most important thing you can ever be. The biggest gift to someone else is your time. That is the most precious possession we own, because we only have one life, and it goes by fast.

When you are meeting a friend for coffee, or going on a date with your husband or wife or girlfriend or boyfriend, give them your full attention. Look at them when you listen, and look at them when you speak. Smile with your eyes. Those non verbal cues are the most important.

When you are writing a song with a friend, give their ideas 100% of your attention. Really listen. If both of you do this, the inspiration will run over, and you will write a great song.

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When you are making an album, put away your phone. Listen to what the guitar player just overdubbed, and cheer him or her on. Tell them what it was that was awesome, before you say anything else. Be goofy, make jokes, and laugh with your band mates. Celebrate at the end of each stage. Even if it is just a high five.

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Be like a puppy, infinitely available. As best as you can. In the end, your art, your relationships and your life will have more of an impact.

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Thanks to GoodSex for a great week of recording. I love your songs, and I'm excited to mix this record!

 

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).

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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?