Updates

I confess that I've been awful at keeping up with this blog.  As someone that understand the importance of staying connected with your online presence, I'm a bit embarrassed that I've not posted anything since February.  There's been a lot going on that has admittedly derailed me, but not so much that I couldn't have carved out a short time once a week to connect.  For that I apologize.

Since I mentioned that a lot has been going on, I guess I should let you in on it.  This past May, I stepped away from Guitar Center, this time, permanently.  My wife and I came to the decision that it was time for us both to start living a life of freedom.  This included being free to have more time with our now 18 month old son, and time to build out my personal brand.  As a result, during the past couple of months, I've been focusing on strategizing, prioritizing, and preparing.

So here is what is going on:

  1. I've been spending a lot of time on bass; in the realm of between two and four hours a day. I'm making up for a lot of lost time that has set me back on some of the projects that I had been working on prior to September of last year..
  2. My Latin project, Agave (formerly Aliento), is going into the studio next month in order to record promo material.  Since the beginning of the year, we've switched keyboardists and added a vibraphone player, which expands our potential repertory.  I'll have that music up on this site as well as my Facebook and YouTube pages this fall.
  3. I'll be launching my YouTube channel in a few weeks.  In addition to me playing some various grooves for demos (original ones, otherwise Facebook will pull them down if I link), I'll be doing some product demos, and some educational content in preparation for the launch of my online learning site in 2018.  I'll put an announcement here once I've actually gone live.
  4. In addition to music endeavors, I am also launching a promotional video creation / video SEO line of business.  While I'm targeting to musicians, I'll also be working with some other clients as well.

There you go!  A lot of stuff cooking AND launching soon!  This is going to necessitate a redesign of the website, so do stay tuned!

The Reason

In my last post, over 6 months ago, I was talking about launching educational platforms, and that's still going to happen.  It's just moving a lot more slowly than I originally had planned.  In September, I returned to Guitar Center to supplement income while we went through the transition of adopting our son and building the foundation for the future version of Lownote Music.  Yesterday, I moved into a house, which better allows me to set up a studio that is more conducive to getting video shot, mixing music, and editing video.  In the coming week's I'll have things set up and will finally be able to start shooting some video.

So today's post is about something a little different; the reason I became a musician in the first place.

Earlier this week, I received word that my elementary music teacher passed away.  Mrs. Rambo was somewhat of a legend in my sleepy little hometown.  For many decades, she was the shaping force of music appreciation in the first five years of school.  If you understood what it meant when someone said "ta, ta, ti-ti, ta", you had studied at least one year of music with Mrs. Rambo.  Whether it was singing in the elementary choir, playing "musical baseball", or performing a concert with a flute made out of medicine bottles and water, she made learning music fun.  But for some, myself included, she sparked a special love of music that led to it becoming a vocation. I have openly recognized my high school band director, Mr. Hamblen, as my inspiration for going into music education.  But without a Mrs. Rambo, there would have been no Mr. Hamblen.  Every note I play or sing, every lyric I write, every minute I teach, has its source in her.

RIP Mary Rambo, and thank you.

Sacred Responsibility

During the lifespan of this blog, the bulk of my posts have had to do with my songwriting and live performance projects, and that's been fine as I've had a need to promote those activities, but today I want to talk about something that's very near and dear to my heart:  music education.

I hold a Bachelor of Music Education from New Mexico State University.  During my time in college, I taught private lessons and I was fortunate to have some great students whom I was able to help grow into All-State musicians in New Mexico.  I segued into ten years of teaching band in the public schools, entirely in rural and inner city schools.  Since then, I spent a few years as a worship band director, as a manager of a lessons program within the Guitar Center chain, and now, completing the circle as I coach student bands at Guitar Center's flagship lessons facility in Woodland Hills. 

While I get a big adrenaline rush playing live or in doing session work, I find my greatest satisfaction comes when I help student musicians achieve goals, experience breakthroughs, and attain a level of skill that they had not though possible.  It's not easy work, and I often come home exhausted after a really productive teaching session.  Likewise, there have been days when I went into a string of lessons wondering if I could make it through the day and come out invigorated.  How do I do it?  Why do I keep going?  It quite simple, actually:

I believe that musicians have a sacred responsibility to pass on their knowledge of the art to the next generation, lest it die out and be lost forever.

Long before there were formal schools for learning music.  In fact, long before any sort of attempts to notate music occurred, humanity passed on the knowledge and skills of music by rote from generation to generation.  Why?  Because the culture understood that its music was an intrinsic part of its cultural heritage and as part of the perpetuation of the culture, the music had to be passed down.

Today, music programs have been cut from schools and those that still have band programs treat them as if they were an athletic team, with the expectation of trophies.  Most programs are now "pay to play", so the economically disadvantaged, regardless of talent, are denied a seat at the table.  Private music education (private lessons) can fill the gap, but in a society where everyone is already over scheduled, finding a half hour a week for a lesson, much less time to practice, is a real challenge.  This is where online learning comes in as a viable and cost effective option, and this is where I believe my calling now lies in music education.

In the coming months, I'll be putting together a YouTube channel with free educational content, and an online academy available through paid subscription.  I'll make an official launch announcement as soon as everything is ready, but in the meantime, I'm working on getting scripts written and demos put together.  I'll be posting updates as things progress.

Wow...It's Been A Long Time...

...since I updated the blog.  But then, there's been a lot that has gone on since I last posted.

The biggest news in my life is that I became a father for the first time.  We've been trying to adopt for nearly ten years, and this past January, just days after the end of the winter NAMM show, our dreams came true with the birth of our son Ikaia.  He came into the world a big boy and has kept growing!  Obviously, I've had to change my routines and timelines now that I'm a father, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Also in January, our keyboardist in Aliento, Doug Parham, had to leave the group for personal reasons.  Though we miss him terribly, his replacement Dave Edelstein has been a very capable replacement.  We're finalizing our book of tunes, adding not only new standards, but also originals.  We're looking at recording some demos soon as well as lining up some new shows for the summer and fall.  

Another new project is the revival of my band, The Weekend Project.  This was a cover band during my days in Dallas.  The Los Angeles version is a blues project performing a mix of covers and originals.  My good buddy Josh Gilbert is playing guitar; we are in the process of adding a keyboard as well as a drummer.

Another friend of mine, Mike Talanca, and I are working on getting a bass duets project up and running.  And I'm getting my studio finished up in order to get some material recorded.

Also coming up this summer / fall is the launch of the Lownote Music YouTube channel.

On the services side, I've been working on completing my training for SEO and video production.

This is the super short form of events.  More to come!

What's REALLY Going On?

CREDIT FOR THE TITLE TO MY FRIEND ROB HUNT.

Well, I'm coming to then end of 2015, and I've gotten off to a good start as far as the projects and goals I've set for myself as I transition into the Los Angeles music market.  My Latin jazz group, Aliento, is off and running.  I've been able to meet several goals when it comes to my personal growth as a musician (side note, if you're not looking to continuously grow as a musician, you really should hang it up).  I'm in the process of finalizing my gear setup for live performance / recording applications.  

More importantly, there are some projects that will be birthing in this first quarter of next year:

  • I will be launching my YouTube video channel starting with a series called BASSics.
  • A new project:  an electric bass duet (yes, it's unusual, but not as unusual as an electric bass / bassoon duet.  Which I've heard and it's pretty awesome).
  • The long delayed blues project.

As I get closer to these launching, I'll be letting everyone know!

In the meantime, have a great holiday season!

Projects Update

It's hard to believe that it's already November!  2015 has flown  by, and as the year is coming to a close, a lot of things are coming together.

  • Aliento's next show will be Saturday, November 7 from 7 to 10 PM at Limon in Simi Valley!  Though it's a LITTLE early, we may just throw a holiday tune or two in there!
  • Through networking, I'm in the early stages of developing some new projects.  These include:  solo bass performances, the California version of TWP, a bass duet project, and an original blues project.

On top of all this, my new custom Warrior fretless bass should be finished and shipping this week!

More to come!  2016 is looking awesome!

A Breath of Fresh Jazz in Simi Valley

The first Aliento show is in the books and it was a great time!  The weather and the music was perfect at Limon Latin Grill in Simi Valley, where the latest incarnation of the group made its debut.  We'll be returning for another set on November 7.

In the meantime, we're working on a few more "danceable" Latin jazz charts to get the booties shaking at our next set.  We're also putting together some holiday tunes in advance of the Christmas season.

Hope to see you at the next gig!

Swinging By For A Quick Update

There's been a lot going on over the past six weeks, so I haven't had much time to blog.

First, an update on Aliento.  Due to his work schedule at the Northridge Guitar Center location, Julian has not been able to consistently rehearse with the group and we've been forced to look at other options.  It took a while, but I've finally got a core lineup for the group:

  • Andy Najera - Woodwinds / Guitar
  • Doug Parham - Keyboards
  • Tim Hill  - Bass
  • Bill Severance - Drums
We are going to be trying out an auxiliary percussionist today as the material we play, especially the Cuban stuff, is not as punchy without the additional percussion.  We're actually going to try to record tonight during our rehearsal so that we can start getting some bookings going for the fall.

My original projects are currently on the back burner. I don't currently have the time or the equipment to facilitate writing or recording.  Thus, I'm holding off on this until next year.  This also includes the instrumental music I was planning on creating for mine and Christy's business.  Instead, I'm focusing on getting Aliento performing regularly as well as getting a blues / cover group up and running in order to generate revenue.

I've been spending my time and resources working on upgrading my gear to better fit the context of the musical styles I'll be doing.  One of the benefits stemming from my time at Guitar Center is the enhanced knowledge base regarding gear, which helps me to make more informed choices about what I want and don't want. I've made some slight changes to my pedalboard, and have been looking at adding a 5 string fretless bass to my arsenal.

In addition to the changes to gear, I've been working on technique and tone.  One of my bass instructors at GC Studios is a very well respected bassist in the biz.  I've taken a lesson with him that has really helped my technique and tone, and I will be taking more lessons as I've got time to do so.  Having made the commitment to do Latin jazz, I have to up my skill set to meet the increased technical requirements.

Speaking of which, I need to hop off here so that I have time to eat and get my gear ready ahead of this evening's rehearsal.

Peace!

MUSIC TIPS FROM TIM

On my personal Facebook page, I've periodically put up "Music Tips from Tim", which are thoughts on being a successful musician, or for that matter, person.  After re-reading them, I've come to understand that there are four areas of soft skills that really drive whether or not someone can be successful as a musician.  There are a lot of people out there with unlimited musical abilities, but they can't seem to find success.  Why?  Because they lack in one or more of these four areas.  There are driven musicians who can't seem to get over the hump.  Why?  Because they lack in one ore more of these four areas.  So in taking all of my music tip posts and condensing them, here are what I believe to be the four key soft skills for musical success:

Humility

In working with musicians over the years, I have often gotten the "do you know who I am" speech.  As part of this speech, there is a litany of name dropping in order to impress me with the end goal of getting me to do what the other party wants through what they believe is intimidation.  However, I have found that the most successful musicians are extremely humble.  They don't excessively trumpet their credits or boast of their accomplishments.  On the contrary, they look upon their personal triumphs as "great opportunities" or "blessings".  They feel very fortunate to have been able to be one of those few musicians that have a significant level of success in what is a tough industry. 

I also find that to a person they wise enough to know they're not wise enough; skilled enough to know they're not skilled enough.  They never take it for granted that they've "arrived" and can stop working hard.  They do not take the opportunities they've been given for granted.

Integrity

I recently put up a post on Facebook about a time when Grammy Award winning bassist Nathan East turned down an opportunity to work on a recording project with one of his heroes / influences, Quincy Jones, in order to keep his commitment to playing with Kenny Loggins' touring band.  It turned out that the project was Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album.  But being impressed with Nathan's integrity, Mr. Jones contacted him to play on MJ's follow up project, "Bad".

Though it may not seem like it in the music business, integrity is GOLD; especially if you're a session musician.  The ones always leaving projects for the "bigger, better deal", eventually at the end of the call list.  The first call people keep their commitments and keep their word.  When they do have to back out, it is because the project is truly NOT a good fit for all parties.

On a related note, ARTISTIC integrity is critical if you are going to be an originals artist vs. a session musician.  Session musicians play and sing what's put in front of them, that's the job.  If you're going to be an original artist, then be ORIGINAL.  Be true to who you are.  Be the first YOU, not the next whomever.

Preparation

Top musicians stay on top of their game; keeping their skills honed and ready for whenever the call comes for a gig.  They also show up to those gigs with extra strings, tuners, cables, and whatever they might need for a gig that could fail.  They show up with their set list and the book in order for the evening.  They have a music stand and a light if they need it. They have practiced their parts prior to the gig and are ready to go.

I cannot stress enough the role of preparation in music.  As the leader of a few bands myself, few things frustrate me as much as my band mates not coming to rehearsal, but to practice; the difference being a rehearsal means everyone is prepared going in as opposed to not being so for a practice.  I have gotten more than my share of callbacks over my adult life simply because I put in the work before rehearsals / gigs and as a result did not waste other people's time.  

Time Management / Punctuality

Early on as a music major at New Mexico State University, I had it drilled into me, "if you're on time, you're late."  So deeply has this been instilled in me that my wife admittedly will stay clear of me 3 to 4 hours before any gig or rehearsal because I am in the mindset of getting everything ready on my end to be at the venue no less than 15 minutes early for a rehearsal and at least an hour before any gig!  I want to value my bandmates' time and I want to make sure that I'm fully ready to go when the downbeat hits.  Obviously, things happen that affect our abilities to be on time periodically, but they should be the exception, not the rule.  The key is leaving yourself enough margin in your day to absorb the bumps life throws as you.  

Hand in hand with this is time management.  In college I played in the wind ensemble, the orchestra, the low brass choir, a tuba quartet, a brass quintet, the brass choir, the top jazz band, the show band, the show choir, and the marching band.  Additionally, I was prepping for my weekly private lessons, preparing for my recitals, gigging with outside groups, and working on my coursework.  Time was golden, and though I will admit that I didn't always manage my time as well as I could have, I did fairly well.

These days I have to juggle being a good husband (which means sharing in the household responsibilities), a good doggie daddy, helping to run our family business, working a job in MI retail, and developing my personal music projects, whether it be my Latin group Aliento, or working on my songwriting.  I have to take time where I can and use it wisely.  When I don't, something gets the short end of the stick, and it's more times than not my personal practice time.

I get it; we're all busy.  We live in a fast paced world in which we don't leave enough margin in our day to absorb the fluctuations of life.  To be able to stay on top of their game, the top musicians have mastered time management, or at the very least had enough foresight to hire someone to keep them on schedule.  Short form:  time is money.  If you waste someone's time, you won't be making the money.

So those are my "Music Tips from Tim" condensed into a single post.  Feel free to discuss and share your thoughts.

Peace!

Plugging Along

Rehearsals with Aliento have been moving along briskly.  It looks like I have a lineup finalized consisting of drummer Julian Ortiz, pianist Doug Parham, saxophonist/flautist Andy Najera, and myself.  We're going to have to get some work done quickly to be able to book for the fall season, including getting the book together and getting a demo recording done.

As my journey of musical growth continues here in LA, I've come to the realization that I can no longer avoid playing fretless bass if I'm going to be able to work here.  To that end, I've decided to have a Carvin 5-string fretless custom built for me.  In all honestly, I'm actually looking forward to the challenge.

My practice space is about 90% complete.  There is still a lot to do for the actual studio part.

So until next time...

Aliento Lives!

If you have followed this blog, my Facebook page, or Twitter feed, you are aware that prior to making the move to Los Angeles I was leading two bands.  The first, Tripping With Placebos, was my oldest project, dating back to 2008 (when it was The Weekend Project), which was the vehicle for my original material.  The second, Aliento, was a Latin jazz combo focused primarily on classic Latin jazz with the option to add original material.  Whereas TWP was the channel through which I exercised my songwriting and performing skills, Aliento was my way of getting back to my roots as a jazz bassist.  In moving to Los Angeles, one of my primary goals was to get a new version of Aliento up and running before the end of 2015.

In the last week, I've been able to lay the framework for the resurrection of Aliento as part of the overall building of the Lownote Music brand.  My business partner, Julian (you'll be meeting him soon), will be contributing his skills as an accomplished drummer.  Meanwhile, we'll be connecting with a potential keyboard candidate in the next couple of weeks to see if there is a fit.  If all works out, I'll have the lineup finalized for a solid trio, with the option of bringing on another member or two (horns, guitar, or auxiliary percussion). With a little luck and some hard work, we should be ready to debut before summer is over!

Stay tuned.  "A breath of fresh jazz" is on the way back!

Tim

Artist or Performer?

Kanye West's most recent outburst at the Grammy's as well as the viral petition demanding that he be replaced at the Glastonbury UK festival has again brought up the question of what constitutes an musical artist.  I'm not going to insist that what I'm about to share is the correct view, but rather that it is a view to consider.  I hope that readers will take it in the intended spirit; a challenge to think and create a personal definition of an artist vs. a performer.

So let's start with a couple of working definitions based on the New Oxford American Dictionary:
  • Performer - a person who entertains an audience
  • Artist - a person who practices any of various creative arts; AND
  • Artist - a person skilled at a particular task or occupation; AND
  • Artist - a performer such as a singer, actor, or dancer
So one thing is important to note:  an artist can be a performer, but a performer isn't necessarily an artist.  Let's break that down a little bit more.  One point of clarification, this discussion pertains to vocalists, though some (if not all) of the principles would apply to instrumentalists.

  1. A performer can entertain an audience but doesn't necessarily practice any of the various creative arts.  A professional wrestler can entertain an audience but may not be considered an artist as there is no creative output.  An illusionist can entertain an audience but may not be considered an artist as there is no creative output.  Likewise, a vocalist could be considered a wonderful performer, but not an artist if there is no creative output.  In other words, are some of  the performed songs ACTUALLY written by the vocalist (collaboratively or not)? I use actually as a descriptor because it is a common practice in the business for performing artists to pay larger license fees to take songwriting credit for songs they didn't actually write.  Did the vocalist also contribute instrumentally?
  2. The delineation between artist and performer becomes a little less clear.  This is the criteria under which the professional wrestler and the illusionist would qualify as artists; so long as they demonstrate that they are skilled at their task / occupation.  An accomplished vocalist would qualify as well (i.e. a vocalist that shows mastery of their voice and craft), and I think it is here where there is some question as to whether or not certain musical acts qualify as artists as they have a heavy reliance on auto tune and other vocal processing to successfully deliver product.  My personal take is that if someone has not mastered their vocal skills enough to a point that they cannot function without significant processing, then they cannot be considered an artist, but they CAN be considered a performer.  
  3. Related to point to is how the vocalist can deliver a line.  An artist uses the fullness of their developed vocal ability (however comparatively great or small it may be) to tell a story, paint a picture, or evoke an emotion.  Whitney Houston and Tom Petty do not have any similarities in their vocal abilities whatsoever, but there is no doubt whatsoever both could / can deliver a story, provoke an emotion, or paint a picture.  Vocal competition shows like The Voice are an excellent way of seeing the difference between artists and performer.  Every year there are some amazingly skilled vocalists who can produce near technically perfect lines, but just cannot connect with an audience.  Those vocalists may entertain; the audience has an appreciation for the product, but they do not CONNECT with the audience.  Those who can connect can justifiably be named artists; those who cannot, performers.
In closing, there is nothing wrong with being an exceptional musical performer.  Entertaining people is a great gig and you can make a lot of money doing it if you're skilled and driven enough.  However, if one aspires to be a musical artist, I believe there is a much higher standard, and we have to be much more cautious in throwing the term around.  

Peace!

A Kick in the Butt

Nothing like a good kick in the butt to start the day and get me thinking about what is REALLY important in this musical journey.

I had my first session with music business and voice coach Cari Cole today.  I had hoped to come out of this experience inspired (and don't get me wrong, I am), but instead came out more frustrated.  It has nothing to do with Cari's advice; that was rock solid.  It's the realization of just HOW MUCH work I'm going to need to put in to be able to gain a foothold in a new market at my age.  The main challenge for me is going to be developing a routine to address both the business and creative sides while also working full time at Guitar Center and running our family business.  Eventually, the GC thing is going to have to go the way of the dinosaur, but it's a matter of timing.

Right now, the main things I need to focus on in the coming weeks are:

  1. Securing a practice / performance keyboard
  2. Finding time to write every day
  3. Finding time to work on vocals every day
  4. Finding time to work on bass every day
  5. Securing interface, controller, plug ins, and monitors.
  6. Identifying artists who are doing what I want to do
  7. Places where I want to play
Maybe, just MAYBE, if I can get those pieces in place, I can get a CD in the can by this time next year.

Stay tuned!



Happy February!

It's been a couple of weeks since I last posted, so Happy February!  The groundhog clearly was not referring to Southern California when he made his forecast, so it's a gorgeous day here in the Valley!  There's been a bit of activity going on since the last post, so I want to quickly update everyone on what's going on.

I attended my first NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) trade show at the end of January.  Ever since I joined Guitar Center, I've wanted to attend the Winter Show in Los Angeles, and now that I'm here, I took advantage of it!  There was so much to see and just not enough time to get to everything (I didn't get to any of the boutique guitar booths), but it was just such a great experience to get out there and gain an understanding of just how big the music instrument / live sound / recording world really is.  Among the personal highlights for me were the Audio Technica, Electro-Voice, Phil Jones Amplification, Electro-Harmonix, Guitar Hanger, and Fibenare booths.  Fibenare was perhaps my favorite.  I had read in one of my boutique guitar books about the Fibenare brand out of Hungary, built by hand by two brothers.  I knew their guitars were highly sought after, but I had no idea that they made basses!  One of the brothers, Gabon, was gracious enough to tell me about how they built the basses as well as pricing, and to my surprise, allowed me to play their neck-through Globe Bass.  This bass played like butter, and is only the third time in my life that I've had a bass over $5000 in my hands to play extensively (the last two were a 1961 Fender Jazz bass at $21K and an Alembic Artist at $9K).  I'm pretty well set on basses with the Grabber and the Big Al 5, but if I had $7K to blow...

I also had my initial consult with vocal / music business coach Cari Cole.  This was something that I'd looked forward to as I wanted to have one very vital question answered:  could I realistically develop a successful music career at age 48?  The response was encouraging, and so I'll be continuing coaching.  This is going to involve me being stretched in ways I've not considered in a long time, if ever, but I am stoked about what might happen this year.

My pedalboard is half complete.  I've FINALLY acquired an EHX Bass Soul Food as well as an MXR Bass Envelope Filter (replacing the Mad Professor Snow White Auto Wah, which was WAY too expensive).  

I've got some live music projects in the works as well.  More on those as I get them finalized.

Keep on rocking!

Friday Night Update

It's been a Freaky Friday here in the Valley.  I've spent the entirety of my two days off getting both vehicles registered in the state of California, and the hoops one has to jump through here make Texas seem simple.  But these were necessary; it wouldn't do to get arrested for out of state registration on the way to a gig...

As I mentioned in the last post, I'd returned my Soul Food in anticipation of the new Bass Soul Food that EHX just released.  Since I'm going to my very first NAMM next week, I'm hoping that I can get my hands on one at the show!  In the meantime, I was able to do some fine tuning with my MXR M108 10 band EQ and got the tone dialed in on that.  Additionally, I picked up a TC Electronic Corona Chorus pedal, which I have to say is the best chorus pedal I've ever plugged into!  Easy to dial in tone and the breadth of tonal capability is amazing between the standard chorus, tri-chorus, and TonePrint options!  The addition of the Bass Soul Food, along with the MXR Bass Compressor, will complete Stage One of my pedal board rebuild (i.e. the necessities for most bass gigs).  Stage Two will consist of additional pedals for musical experimentation and tonal enhancement.  These would include:  Way Huge Supa-Puss Analog Delay, Mad Professor Snow White Auto Wah, MXR MicroAmp+, and either the EHX MicroPOG or the TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb.  If there was an acoustic bass simulator pedal, I'd be all over that too.

I've also begun to have some clarity on how I would like to structure Lownote Music in the coming year.  I am planning on focusing on three tracks:

  1. Original Music Recording / Licensing:  This is where all my previous TWP music would wind up falling.  In fact Tripping With Placebos would essentially become a virtual band, with most of the parts being created and recorded by me.
  2. Live Music Performance:  This is where the new incarnation of Aliento would fall into place.  Latin Jazz is a hot genre here (Poncho Sanchez holds court in LA).  I'm also in the process of forming a blues trio with a couple of my co-workers.  This is likely where most of my income would come from initially.
  3. Professional Services:  This would encompass potential session work and coaching.
In order to really get this structured and moving, I've decided to get a music business coach.  I've applied to work with celebrity vocal and music business coach Cari Cole and have an initial conference call this Thursday to see how she could help me.  Fingers crossed.