music business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Week 5 of 52 in 52:

Yellow Stone

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

Week 5

Commitment by Nick Bullock

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

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

commitment

 

this week in 52 in 52:

The Hand That Pushed:

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

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

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

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

blog week 3

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

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

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

This week 3 of #52in52

In Disguise

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

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

The Listener is... by Nick Bullock

A wild beast, unpredictable, untethered, and roaming the desert constantly changing its habits, making it almost impossible to track or chase. So what do we musicians, artists, players and writers do? Do we follow the trail, hire a tracker, load our packs with fifty pounds of shame and frustration and set out to capture their attention? No. Well, yes, and no.

We let them come to us, by being ourselves.

Yes, we do practice to get better, yes we are listening to the times pass with our ears to the ground, keeping track of culture's momentum. Yes, we want to know what the thirteen year olds are digging on. Yes, we want to know what is happening in the clubs of NYC, on the front porches of Nashville, and in the back yard parties of LA. I say it IS good for us to know who headlines what EDM festival, and what the top college radio stations are playing. Its always good to keep your eyes open when you're in the wild desert homeland of the listener. So listen good, take notes, copy stuff, learn from everything, learn it all. Then forget it all, and let your voice come through.

Thats the only way you are going to lasso the listening public. Thats how you'll build a fan base. No matter what you do, if its really you, its really true, then the wild listener will find you.

From freak flags to sweet melodies... the right people are out there, your tribe awaits. Follow your own road.

Road2

 

5 Questions with Kyle Cox by Nick Bullock

Kyle is one cool dude. I first met him through mutual friends while he was here working on his record... which is awesome by the way. Give it a listen at http://kylecox.bandcamp.comSince first meeting we've kept in touch and kept tabs on each others happenings. I have to say, I love it when talented friends find well deserved and hard won success. Kyle is a great singer and writer, I asked him a bit about his process, what it was like working with Mike Marsh, and a few other things... here are his responses, enjoy!

Kyle1

1. What does a good song mean to you? What does it do for you?
This is such a difficult first question to answer. I feel like I'm always debating this in my own mind. I have so many friends I respect who totally view a "good song" way different than I & they aren't wrong. It's a very subjective thing.

For me, lyrics, melody, & structure are the 3 main elements I consider to make up a good song. And in that order of importance. If those things don't hit it for me, then I have a very hard time enjoying the song. Like if I have no idea what you are singing about, but the melody is catchy & the structure is real tight, I still will have a hard time enjoying it. Recently, however, I've been trying to not be so critical.
It's like food. Food is food. Taco Bell is just as much food as a $300 steak at the fanciest restaurant in town. Obviously one is "better" than the other, but it's still food. It's still going to fill you up, give you energy, & sustain you to your next meal. Both even have their place & time. The same with music. It's all got it's time & place, even if it's not my favorite, that doesn't mean it's not good or serving a valuable purpose. So I guess what I'm trying to say is, music is like food & I love Taco Bell.

2. You play a lot of intimate house shows, what is the difference between a house show like that and other concerts you've played? Do you like one more than the other?

 
I do play a lot of house shows. I really, really love playing house shows. Even though I am an introvert (and a very strong one at that), I'm a very relational person as well. I love the barriers & walls that get torn down during house shows between the listener & artist. It's a very relational thing. There's no lights, stage, speakers, etc that separates the artist from the listener & almost puts the artist on a pedestal. It's very transparent & very equalizing with the listener. No "rock star" persona possible when you are sitting on a couch in an apartment & the owners cat jumps on your lap mid-song.
There's also a lot more conversation that happens, it's a very vulnerable moment as an artist, and I think it's one of those things that in order to really make it enjoyable for the listener, you as the artist have to connect with them personally.
I do love playing any & all shows, period, and there's definitely something special about venues that you don't get in a house show setting, so it would be hard to say I really like one over the other. But currently, it seems the fans that have been connecting with my music the best have been the ones who have seen me at a house show.
Kyle2

3. You normally play solo, what was it like working with producer Mike Marsh and crafting an album with more of a full band or produced sound?

 
It was a killer experience. We've actually been working together a little bit before this record. Our first time working together, I sent him some acoustic demos & he emailed me drum tracks. Then I just tracked the rest in Orlando at a studio. The next time I came up to Nashville, tracked 2 songs full production with him in 4 days & it was such a rad time that as I was walking out to my car to head back to Orlando from that session, he literally said "write a record this year & let's record it this summer." So that's what I did.
I've definitely built a lot of trust with him, so tracking full band was rather easy for the most part. I would just send him the demos I did at my house, he'd track drums to them, have someone track bass, & then I'd come to town with bass & drums finished. It was very streamlined. I'm not really protective over the arrangements of my songs, so I'm always willing to do & try whatever idea anyone I trust has.
It's like raising a kid I guess (although I'm not a parent...ha). You obviously have an idea of what you want your kid to be once they are born. Like an ideal scenario in your mind. But to force your kid into that ideal probably isn't the best way to raise them. You want to give them all the options possible & let them develop into the person they were meant to be. It doesn't make that kid any less your child if they don't end up exactly like you imagined, & honestly, it probably makes them a better person. I think the same thing goes for a song. I sometimes have an ideal vision for where I see it going as a song, but I also want to see it go where is best for the song. Nine times out of ten, just letting the song grow in the studio usually leads the song to a better place than I'd imagine it would've gone anyway. It also doesn't make it any less my song.

4. What was the hardest song to write and cut on the record and why?

 
Hmmm...I'm not sure. I don't think really any of them were tough to record. The song I definitely spent the longest time writing would probably be "Bring Us To Our Best." I'm still very proud of those lyrics & I spent a real long time writing them.
I think the song I was least excited about recording was probably "Honey, Let's Run Away." Not because I don't like that song at all, but it is the oldest song on the record. I probably wrote that song 4-5 years ago & have played it for so long that it's just worked it's way out of my live set. I still think it's a cool song, but the honeymoon excitement of that song has long worn off well before I even dreamed of recording a full length. I think because of that, it was a little tough to get excited about the track & come up with some cool ideas. I definitely have to throw the arrangement credit to Mike on this one. He really brought this one to life & made it seem brand new to me again. He did such a good job producing this track. It's become one of the favorites of a lot of people I know.
Kyle 3

5. What are some of the things you are looking forward to most now that you live in Nashville?

 
I think what I'm looking forward most about Nashville when it comes to music is just doing more of what I was already doing in Orlando. Orlando is amazing & I am so proud of being from that city, but there's just a limited number of places to play & music events to be excited about. The ones that are happening are super awesome & I love them, but there's really only 3 venues in town I love to play, 1 open mic I really love, and 1 songwriters group that I was a part of. 
 
I'm excited about just doing more of those things in Nashville. If I wanted to play a different open mic every night of the week here in Nashville, I could. There's far more than 3 venues I'm excited to play & that I have played already that I love. I've already had 2 groups of friends (you, Nick, being one of them) that have talked to me about doing a songwriters group. That's just all the stuff I'm really excited about. Doing a high volume of the things I was already doing in Orlando. The things I could only do once or twice a month I now can do 4-5 nights a week if I really wanted to.
 
That's a very exciting thing for me.
 
I'm also probably just as excited for seasons. I love seasons. I love that the leaves are changing & that it's cold. That rules.
 
Anything else you want to mention?
 
I have a full length record that just came out called The Plan, The Mess. You can find that record on iTunes,http://kylecox.bandcamp.com or http://www.kylecoxumusic.com
If you want to know when I'm playing next, head to my website or follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/kylecox

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.

dance 2

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!

ped st

Patience, Wisdom, Courage and Strength by Nick Bullock

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

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

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

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

photo-7

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

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

Patience:

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

Queen Cartton

*clearly none of this artwork is mine

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

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

Fame vs Great by Nick Bullock

I'm on vacation. I'm staring at wave after wave crashing onto the sandy beach. I'm a lucky guy to be able to witness the millions of little happenings, lets call them experiments, that have over a long period of time brought about this particular sandy beach, ocean tide and sun shine into one masterful experience. I wasn't going to write a blog this week, but then I started reading The Rise by Sarah Lewis. I love vacations for lots of reasons, but at the top of my list, it allows me to kick back and enjoy catching up on reading and writing. Last time I had a couple of days of vacation I gave myself a challenge to finish three songs by the end of my four days off, this time, I'm being a little more relaxed about it all, not searching for perfection, but enjoying the process, and trusting it. photo-9

The Rise, at least so far, seems to be about the gifts that mistakes can bring to an artist or creative person as they develop. How mistakes, one by one, get us closer to achieving our goals as creatives. And that without them, we are worse off. Maybe a better way of saying that is it's not about the destination, it's about the journey (that old cliche!). I, as some may know, am not always a patient person when it comes to my career/creativity/destination vs journey... I'm not always patient with my own course of development.

photo-8

We as creative American citizens/artists/entrepreneurs can and should be pushing every envelope we are given. We should be striving for excellence, and fumbling on the way. We should not expect the world to stop for our genius, we should instead seek to never stop ourselves from striving to discover our own genius. It is not about fame or money, it is about mastery. Perfection is a concept that is unachievable, and mastery is a noun, that brings forth memories of actions taken. Mastery is born from the ability to make mistakes and learn from them, again and again and again. I'm reminded of The Gap, an idea that was first brought to my attention by Ira Glass (http://vimeo.com/85040589). The Gap is the space between our current abilities and what we see our true selves being capable of, to put it simply.

I never knew that Michelangelo was famous for leaving works unfinished. But it makes sense. If completion is the objective then what is an artist to do once the job is done, cease being an artist? I know that with every song that I have written and recorded I am only giving it up to be released or to be put down on tape because I am ready to say goodbye and walk away from an imperfect and incomplete idea or concept. No song is ever finished really. I could and sometimes do drive myself crazy with nitpicking my work to death. Sometimes, more often than not, I am needing to move on, so the song is "done". This is how I track my idea of mastery, this is how I grow. And really, my ultimate goal is not to write a hit song, or produce a hit record, it is to be a master of my craft, a master of my tools. That is what really turns me on, and what gets me going.

photo-7

And when I'm able to remember that I really do what I do (write, play, and produce music) because I love the inevitable discovery process that comes with wanting to master such crafts, I am able to take a deep breath, trust the process, enjoy the waves, breath, enjoy my book, and look forward with excitement to the good work that I am going to continue when I get back in my studio.

When I moved to Nashville, it wasn't so I could be a star, I moved there because that was where the biggest musical masters were from. So yes by all means, follow your dreams, start a business, start a band, paint a picture, try out for The Voice, move to NYC or Nashville, be an athlete. But do so for the love of the work, not to seek fortune and fame. Those things are fleeting. Do the world a favor, and seek to be a master. That is where greatness truly lies. That is what inspires people to change their lives and the lives of others for the better. The world needs more masters, maybe now more than ever.

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

 

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.

 

 

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