Nick Bullock

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

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"

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

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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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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A Case Study: "Say Yes" by Elliott Smith by Nick Bullock

elliott4 One of the best songwriters maybe ever. I don't think everyone gets him, at least not at first, but when he hooks you, his genius unfolds. It's not just the words, its the twists of melody and harmony, and how the notes and chords sweep the words along. I'm a big fan, obviously, but if you are unfamiliar, do your self a favor and check it out. I started with the album XO, and my writing, production and taste in music hasn't been the same since... all for the better I like to believe.

Case Study: Say Yes by Elliott Smith

A cold start and a nice descending chord progression played on acoustic... simple right, almost seems like its just another folkie doing his thing.

I'm in love with the world trough the eyes of a girl  Who's still around the morning after

Then the acoustic guitar becomes two acoustic guitars, panning immediately in time for the second half of this first verse. You also have an electric guitar appearing too, with his voice being doubled as well... maybe this isn't so cookie cutter after all. And I want to point out the lyrical/rhythmic phrasing here, without getting too music geeky, its so easy to follow along, and sing along... and the words are pretty straight forward and honest... simple and honest usually wins for me. More on that below.

We broke up a month ago and i grew up i didn't know I'd be around the morning after 

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Followed by the guitar playing the melody, panned on the right side still, then the second verse. Same simplistic beauty as the first. Again, that phrasing, and I love how the first three notes of the melody start by going up in register, as the guitar/bass line is moving down... yay for counterpoint! In general, the melody has more upward movement too.

It's always been wait and see A happy day and then and then you pay  And feel like shit the morning after  But know i feel changed around and instead falling down  I'm standing up the morning after 

Then the bridge, instrumentally, pretty much the same thing is happening... the doubling of the vocals, the electric guitar panned right, the acoustic doubled with one more or less down the middle, and the 2nd one panned to the left. That electric guitar is almost playing more lead type stuff, nice double stops... Also, worth it to mention that the bridge, depending on how you count it, is a five measure phrase.

Situations get fucked up and turned around sooner or later 

And then back to a quick verse: This is the first time in the song that he gives away his control, "you tell me"... I never knew what to make about that line, is he resigned to his role, resigned to play the fool, and he just doesn't care, or is there something more... the next section, I think, answers this, but I always wondered about this lyric, as if this is the point in the song where the main character is teetering... whats going to happen?

And I could be another fool or an expection to the rule  You tell me the morning after 

The second bridge! He harmonizes with himself, which he does really well, does it with two voices an octave apart too, which is a little bit different than what you would normally do... in a classic pop sense anyways... Other than that, it's the chord changes, and the extension of the bridge and phrase that is so cool, especially on the word "is" (and notice the electric guitar mimicking the vocals there too)... any you guitar playing songwriters out there, check that second chord out (thats how you use an augmented chord!). Lyrically, this is where he answers my earlier question, to me anyways... its not up to him who loves him and who doesn't. Just like its not up to me who loves me and who doesn't, who cares for me and who doesn't... these are all things out of my control, but we still have to ask. It's worth it in the end, even after the rejection, to ask someone to care for us, to ask someone to say yes. This moment right here, this is why I love this song, and its arguably one of my favorites by one of my favorite songwriters. Simple. Vulnerable.

Crooked spin can't come to rest  I'm damaged bad at best She'll decide what she wants I'll probably be the last to know  No one says until it shows and you see how it is They want you or they don't, Say Yes.

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And how does he end the song? With a dash of optimism... i think. And wraps it all up in barely over two minutes.

I'm in love with the world trough the eyes of a girl Who's still around the morning after

If you're a fan, there is a new documentary on Elliott called Heaven Adores You, you can find more info  here:  https://www.facebook.com/HeavenAdoresYou

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGB8meDWQeQ

What song or artist should I do next??

 

Play For Me... by Nick Bullock

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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.

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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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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?

Bob Marley, Redemption and Me by Nick Bullock

I'm not really a fan of Reggae, as I'm sure my old friends (and old band mates especially) can attest to, especially living in such a small hippie town for so long before moving here to Nashville. It often seemed like it was everywhere in little ol Ithaca NY. It's not that it isn't good, there is some great stuff out there, especially some of the older recordings, but in general, I always felt distant from it. Maybe I was just over saturated with it at one point and got jaded. But once upon a time, when I first stared to play the guitar, I learned Bob Marley's Redemption Song. The intro lick was easy, but for the beginner still posed a little bit of a challenge, and the chords were all nice and simple. It was, and still is a great camp fire song. And truth be told, I had heard Dave Matthews perform it, so it was obvisouly cool (does Dave Matthews count as a guilty pleasure now?). This was when I was young, impressionable, and susceptible to the hippie jam band culture, and I inhaled it all whole for a long while. Only to reject my younger musical ways as I got older and grew into my own skin.

Which brings me to last night, as I'm driving my car home and listening to the radio. When the song starts to play and I hear that opening guitar lick, my immediate instinct is to switch the station, and my hand reached out to do so. But for some reason I stopped, hand hanging in the air, half way to the radio dial. I started to listen, really listen again. And the words cut through all the bullshit in my mind. I was reminded again of what I knew at such a young age, the lyrics are genius, and even more so moving. Not because they are clever, or hip, but because they are honest, and go way beyond the initial meaning. And I'm not going ot really get into what that initial meaning is, or pretend to understand the mind and soul of another man and his intentions for writing a song, but I will say that the lyrics are undeniably universal. And I was reminded that maybe some things from my past are worth rediscovering, and that I should suspend my auto-discard impulse response. Who knows, maybe I'll dust off the old patch work pants... probably not.

What stories from "yesterday" can teach you something new "today"? What songs have new meaning to you in your life today?

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photo taken off the internet, not from me :)

 

Everyday by Nick Bullock

Everyday: read a book in your field

write a song

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teach someone younger than you

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listen to your favorite vinyl record

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go to a house show

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go to a big concert

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kiss your wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend

tell a friend you love them

schedule a coffee meeting with someone you admire

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learn something new about gear

gear

look for a mentor

go to the gym

record music with your friends

studio

smell the flowers

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...or, if you're like me, take a breath, and do what you can today, and trust the process.

 

Ten Thoughts on Touring by Nick Bullock

Do you ever wonder what it's like to drive cross country with your best buds and play music that you love? If you are thinking about making that move, here are some thoughts on it that I hope you'll find helpful. tour

I miss touring! I spent about ten years of my life playing well over a thousand shows and living out of a van. Touring with the same guys night in and night out. We were lucky, we made our living playing our music for audiences around the country. Touring can be such a fun way make a living, and it can be a very tough lifestyle. Here are some thoughts/tips/advice (call it whatever you want)...

1.) Don't be an ass and drink when it's your turn to drive.

Seriously a dick move here. It's a great way to build resentment in the van, and can make for a very angry band in the morning, and at the next show, which of course, an audience can pick up on. Pull your weight, I don't care what you play.

2.) Set up your merch every night, even if you don't want to. When the show is over, go and hang out by the table.

An obvious one it would seem, but I've been to so many shows where it'll be 4 or 5 bands on the bill, and only two of them have their shwag out and viewable. Even if you don't have any t-shirts, and the record hasn't come out yet, at least have a snazzy mailing list, a pen (yes!) and a light by which to see. Also, when you can, place the merch by the door, so people walk by it on their way out.  (Admittedly, I could take my own advice here sometimes too!)

3.) When you crash with strangers, treat their house with respect, make your bed, do the dishes, say thank you with your actions, not just your words.

The strangers you meet on the road are the real reason we do this. They are friends in the making and fans for life. It builds good will, and the next time you're in town, they are likely to have you over again, come to the show, tell all their friends that the coolest band in the world is coming to town etc.

4.) Try not to eat at too many greasy spoon joints.

When  I finally learned this lesson, I started the habit of packing and bringing some healthy food with me, especially on the shorter runs of shows. You aren't always in control of what your eating options are, but make healthy choices when you can. A good trick is to shop for breakfast at a local grocery store instead of the diner. More now than ever before it seems like they'll have an organic section with some healthy options. If you're touring, your in it for the long haul, your gut (and your wallet) will thank you.

5.) Be on time, even though no one else will be.

Hurry up and wait is the name of the game. But being on time is a good way to build trust with venues and promoters, even though most people won't be. It is also a good way to guarantee you a sound check, which will make the show that much better.

6.) Never, ever, ever talk shit about another band you are playing with. 

Word will get out, and it's not the other bands that will suffer, you'll be known as a prick. Don't be a prick.

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7.) Don't stare at your shoes.

The show is for you, AND the audience. Look at them, or at least pretend to. I still struggle with this one sometimes, but inevitably, when I come out of my shell, the show takes a turn for the better. Have fun, you're playing music.

8.) Tip the bartenders at every show.

They, more often than not, have the ears of their bosses, and promoters. Treat everyone you meet well, and they will more than likely remember you for it, even if it doesn't seem so at first. Oh yeah, and of course when you do meet an asshole, ignore them.

9.) Give your band mates space when they need it. 

Everyone gets pissy now and again. We miss our significant others back at home, we're hung over, we don't want to drive 5 hours today, we're missing the game, whatever the case, don't take things personally. If someone says something that (you know) they don't really mean, let it roll off your shoulders at the moment, and when calmer heads prevail, bring it up then if you really need to (maybe after the kick ass sold our show you just played). Communication is of course key, but timing is a good thing to get a feel for too.

10.) Stop to smell the roses.

There are so many wonderful experiences to have when you're out there on the road, playing show after show. You're with your best friends (at least some of them!), you're getting to see the country and meet so many cool people, making friends every where you go. Don't take it for granted. Some of those friendships I formed I still cherish dearly to this day. Stop and smell the roses, and smile.

So what did I miss?? What are some other things that every band should know when they start touring?

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.

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Some helpful songwriting ideas by Nick Bullock

songwriting photo Below are some thoughts on songwriting that I have found helpful. Whether a novice, or a hall-of-famer pro, I hope you you find them helpful too.

always keep a pen and pencil near (or your iPhone).

sometimes you need the idea for the song before you write it, meaning, it's helpful to have the hook already, something that we can all relate too. the rest of the song usually just writes itself once that ball is rolling.

we will write shitty songs, it's inevitable. when we keep at it, we will also write good ones, maybe even great ones.

try writing with a secondary instrument, or even an instrument that you don't know how to play at all. this can sometimes spark that 6th sense/creative instinct that can sometimes lie dormant.

all of the ideas are already out there, floating around in the air, listen for them, and they will find you. there is an endless amount of creativity out there. it will never end.

eavesdrop on other people's conversations. they sometimes say the coolest things. there has been more than one occasion a line has fallen in my lap by sitting at a bar with my note pad by myself and listening to what people are saying around me.

copy the greats. do it, you'll be better for it. i need to do this one more myself, but every time i have, i've learned a ton.

words matter. for some, they come really easily, for others, the music comes way easier. whatever is your case, words matter, so take your time with them if you need to.

all you need is three chords and the truth- sometimes, but most of the time this is absolute bull shit. take away the three chord stipulation, and leave the truth part.

now to contradict myself, simplicity rules! when i graduated with a jazz degree, i had to put at least two seventh chords in every song, and guess what, most of those songs sucked!

if you want to write a hit song, sometimes you have to pander to the lowest common denominator. if you want to write a great song, speak your truth. rarely the two meet... al least speaking from a lyrical point of view.

write all types of music, pop, country, rock, edm, classical... try your hand at everything you can. you'll learn something new from each category, which can be channeled into your own personal work in really cool ways.

lastly, JUST KEEP DOING IT. writing is a skill, it is a craft. the best writers do it all the time, yes, as i mentioned above you are guaranteed to write a bunch of crap, but as you do it more and more, you'll start to see what works, what mechanisms exist, and the best way to apply them. you'll learn to strengthen your voice, and be more confident in what you have to say. you'll learn and you'll keep getting better.

what songwriting tips or ideas do you have? what are some of your thoughts concerning other artistic processes? please share!

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Swearing Popes = No One is Perfect and The Gap by Nick Bullock

The Gap So I missed a week. When I started this blog, I promised myself that I would do it every single week, no matter what else was going on. I think sometimes I bite off more than I can chew. Maybe you can relate? I get mad when I break promises to myself, even unreasonable ones, but then I remember that no one is infallible. Even the pope let the "f word" slip out and into the microphone, throughout St Peters Square https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jUt0AY8mXY. Though my intentions are good, I make mistakes, we all do, and it's easy to beat ourselves up over it. The important thing is that I/we keep going, and get right back in the saddle... Regardless of what caused the slip up, if we believe in what we can achieve, we have to keep going and growing. In my case it was just being too damn busy and over scheduling myself, but other times it's fear that can paralyze me, or self doubt, or procrastination. I saw recently, as I'm sure some of you already have, a great video on this topic of "just keep going". It is entitled The Gap, by Ira Glass and Daniel Sax. Please check it out! It's great. http://vimeo.com/85040589.

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So here's to another week, where I get to reinvent myself all over again, I get to raise the stakes again, I get to  challenge myself again, I get to laugh at my shortcomings again, and I get to tell myself to chill the f out, again.

What do you want to challenge yourself with? What do you want to laugh about this week?

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Nashville, Updated by Nick Bullock

Here is my week: Wednesday: day session with my buddies Goodsex. They are a great garage type band, and super cool guys, and hillarious. The session went great (once I figured out how to solve that weird lattency situation!). They're going to be releasing a 7 inch this spring. For a listen to their first record, go here. http://goodsex.bandcamp.com/

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Night time rehearsal with my band, The Sound Awake. Thomas Elefante (drums/vocals), Kevin Harper (bass/vocals), and Alex Tomkins (guitar/vocals) are super f-ing talented and rad dudes. I'm lucky that they like the tunes, and are kind enough to play with me. If you see them around Nashville, give them a hug. We're going to be doing a bunch of recording together, not to mention playing shows in the Nashville area.

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Thursday: a bunch of meetings (which I won't bore you with, but they were with some super friendly and helpful folks, so thanks folks!)

Night time session with Danny Leggett (he's so legit!). Danny is the man! Great songwriter, and singer. He hasn't put out anything in a while, so we're both excited for this EP! You can follow him on instagram @dannyleggittman

Leggett

Friday: more meetings, followed by some work for Will Musham, for his third recording to be released at some point in the future (after he releases his second record which I produced and engineered last year). Will is a fantastic songwriter. You can check him out at http://willmusham.com/ and look for his release sometime soon.

Will

Friday night (tonight!)... we'll see, was supposed to have a session with my other Danny Sierra! I've posted pics of Danny before and mentioned how absolutely rad he and his music is, but I'll do so again. He's an amazing singer songwriter. This is his debut EP, and it is going to be really great!

Danny

or i'll go see my friends from upstate NY, Driftwood perform tonight at a house show. I caught them on tuesday at The Basement here in Nashville. You should DEFINITELY give them a listen, they just released a new record and are out on tour. They're tighter than a frogs ass. http://driftwoodtheband.com/

driftwood

Sat/Sun I have all day/night sessions with my buddies The Heavy Heavy Hearts, a really great guitar/bluesy/rock band from here in Nashville. Super excited to work with these dudes, they're great players and have a really cool sound going. http://theheavyheavyhearts.com/

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(photo taken from their fb page, no idea who took it, but i didn't!)

Monday, back to The Sound Awake rehearsal! for our first ever show in Nashville, which is happening the day after...

Tuesday, the show! We're playing at the Basement, as part of their "new faces" night. My/our first nashville show... sighhhh

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And on it goes... So how is Nashville you ask? GREAT!

 

 

I used to hate "K.I.S.S." by Nick Bullock

The acronym stands for is "keep it simple stupid". My high school coach used to yell "K.I.S.S." over and over in practice. I hated it! Who likes to be called stupid, especially when you're sixteen years old and master and commander of all the knowledge in the universe? But eventually I learned to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. rock line

The difficulty with simplicity for me is that it feels good to complicate things. It makes me feel like I'm getting things done, getting smarter, or working harder. It feels like my level of expertise should be rising when I introduce more complication.

rock shape

When I got out of music school, and started touring, writing and recording with my band full time, it was as if I had every jazzy chord tattooed on my brain and I would be required to use at least a minimum of four of those chords per song, or else my dean would come in the room and kick my ass, screaming "Dominant 7" over and over (forgive the music geek joke)! And guess what, I had no idea how to write a good song. I realize now that I  hadn't learned how to use all that great knowledge that I had spent four years cramming in-between my ears yet.

rocks and sand

It took almost ten years after those first, post-college attempts at writing to realize how to use those same complicated chords in a simple way.

simple message

Now I love K.I.S., and yes, i prefer it without a side of stupid, because complication does not discriminate between the dumb and the percipient. So if I'm plugging in a microphone, writing a chorus, making business phone calls, communicating with my wife, or telling a joke, I've got my brain tuned to simplicity. I've found that the simplest answers are usually the right ones, and they usually get the complicated jobs done the fastest.

How about you? What do you do to keep things simple? What's your favorite "simple" song?

 

Listening: The Art of Telling a Story by Nick Bullock

Slowly but surely, I'm getting better at writing songs. It is a craft as far as I'm concerned, and yes, sometimes we stumble upon complete luck/grace/inspiration and we can write a great song that seemingly comes straight out of thin air. But even that scenario smells of sweaty preparation to me. So I practice, and I write a lot. The David was not created by a man who was picking up the chisel for the first time. We, as humans, learn and get better. We soak in our surroundings and even despite ourselves, we allow it all to influence us and the art we produce. Since moving to Nashville I've made it a priority to get better at listening to the new people I meet. Really listening, not just shaking my head and thinking of my response even before they're done speaking (which can be very hard to do). It is a skill that I think many people take for granted, and one that I want to get better at.

There is a wealth of inspiration that can bubble up when you meet someone for the first time, and hear their unique story, and not just hear it, but feel it. I want to start paying attention more, and capture that empathy, and maybe a bit of someone's story in the songs I write. I wonder if we could wipe away writers block if we practiced our art in the context of listening to the world around us.

When I really listen, I am also a better husband, friend, producer, musician, brother and son.

Writing a great song is often a result of telling a great story, and there are so many amazing stories out there.

Have you ever created anything after being inspired by someone's personal story or journey?

thebeatles     Dolly neal

Duke   stevie

BobbyD   barry