Thursday, 18 October 2012

illness and the jobbing musician.. an observation.

Every now and again, and I should firstly state, that having been solo since 2006, and played well over 500+ solo gigs and cancelled 6 including these two in that time,  you have to make a decision that is the worst possible. To cancel a gig.

The decision i take to pull a gig comes down to three factors.

1> do i feel well enough to load up my gear, drive to the venue, set it all up, tune all my guitars, and then sing and play the absolute best i can for 2+ hours ?

2> how shitty will the venue be with me for pulling the gig. This has to be a standard question. My regular venues should know me well enough by now that as my solo gigs form part of my income as a self-employed musician, i would never knowingly cancel a show. And, it must be said, I have never been tempted to ever do this.  I have respect and loyalty for any venue that deems I'm worthy of being paid to play at their venue. A healthy respect I should add, and this should work both ways.

3> Lastly, If there are two or more gigs in a weekend, what if I'm able to play 1? or 2? how would my voice hold up if i were to launch into a rock track in the first set ? if it went, would the punters be walking about later on, with me struggling to keep up?  nobody wants to see that ? do they ?  NO.

I ask all these questions, and more, before, finally, admitting defeat and phoning the venue directly and explaining. Normally, the venue understands.  However, on certain occasions, despite playing at venues for years and years, and putting up with their cancellations and general inability to organise, i get sick and have to cancel one gig, and, the business that it is, I find that I'm  " unreliable, and have let us down too often " loll..   I digress.

I was never under any illusion ( perhaps when i was 16!! ) that the music business is an extremely fickle business.. I am always looking for new and better ways to deliver my "chocolate cake" to the masses.

Usually in these blogs, I wax lyrical about how much effort I put into my gigs. Today, As i approach a weekend of gig-less income due to a very nasty chest infection, I wont bother you with the intense passion that I have for what I do.. rather, I remain resigned and content in my own skin, of one thing..

this  "The Show Must Go On" attitude, is a crock of shit..  On every single occasion throughout my 18 years playing in bands, and on high profile gigs and sessions, I have never seen it appropriate for a musician to just " carry on and get on with it " the results have been crap at best, and everyone walks away feeling like they've been cheated.

Too many times I see musicians performing like they're just going through the motions, like they don't even want to be at the gig.  whats the point ?  the reality is we have been asked to perform for a festival style event, (even if its in the local pub! ) so people can stay and be entertained by what you do, and walk away having hopefully had a good night.

But, largely, playing with a sore throat, unable to sing, and feeling lethargic and on tablets, leaves you feeling much less inspired, and well, just frankly playing and singing shit.

So, just wanted to touch on this subject fully, and to reiterate, that when I pull a gig, its because I'm literally too unwell to load up my car, set it all up, perform, and break it all down again, and drive home.

Do i love my job, of course, too much at this level i would reckon, I remain focused, and determined to fully see this career path through to its conclusion.

That is based on honesty, and being a realist.  not faking it, and doing half-arsed performances.

my work here is done, and I'm looking FORWARD (!) to getting back out there and playing for you all when I'm better..


Friday, 30 December 2011

Game - Set - and Match?

Its been a while..   and over the last few months, I've been a busy bee..   here are again some of my more recent thoughts on the fan-tabulous world of being a self-employed musician...

Festive Frivolities / Yuletide Felicitations...

Making sure your gigs over the festive season go swimmingly well, is reliant, it seems, on two factors.. one, wether you're any good, and two, how well the audience "perceives" you to be "good"..   its fairly common knowledge amongst those of you who read my blogs, that im always eternally grateful for the work I continue to get, from my most loyal of venues, and my ever expanding crowd base, and repertoire from the vast selection of popular rock and pop tracks continues to grow and change, to keep you, and me, interested..

However, there always remains the gritty problem, of choosing the "perfect" setlist for any given festival/event.. and it always leaves me with notepad writing endless song lists in tons of different orders.. 

There is an analogy that I like to use when it comes to playing rock and pop covers week in and week out in venues across Essex and beyond..  and I call it the "chocolate cake shop"..

Picture this.. walking into your local town centre cake shop ( I knew it would be something to do with food :D ) and asking for a chocolate cake...  you know you want a chocolate cake as you've eaten it before, so you come back for the same thing..  because you like it..  theres also a familiarity.. you know what to expect when you take a bite..   its the same for musical tastes..   I've lost count of the amount of times, I've altered my setlist, only to have my regular crowd come and say to me.. what happened to..(insert track) ?!!   

With that being said, I still do like to insert new songs all the time, but keep the setlist pretty much the same throughout, varying the track playlist every gig though..  It works out pretty well..

dangerous things to consider are, for example, playing lots of fast, upbeat rock tracks consistently one after another, with no slow songs in between..  I've seen this escalate in the past with the temperature of the room getting hotter, more alcohol being consumed and fights breaking out! It really does happen, and as a result, I like to do no more than 3 upbeat tracks before doing a mellow one. Stagecraft, some call it, I call it being sensible and taking responibility for the evening to which I've asked to provide entertainment for.

There will always be a healthy, steady stream of classic rock supporters, just as there are football team supporters, and funk worshippers... this will never change, and as long as we're aware of the target audience we are playing for, there shouldn't ever be a problem and most gigs go down great.

So why, do I always find myself, when being booked for a private function, party, or every year at parties for Christmas Eve and New Years, frantically writing new tracks in the studio, (already I have over 160 tracks!), and writing endless setlists in an effort to create the "perfect setlist"?  It really is the holy grail for me...

Sadly, there isn't such thing as a perfect setlist, only, the right entertainer for the specific evening.. I'd be useless playing a gig in an old peoples home, but have gone down a storm at biker festivals.. get the picture ?   This is my new frontier.. to be able to embrace the new WITH the old.. To still play the great classic rock guitar pieces that will forever stand the test of time, but also add the additional "fun/happy" modern track in too..

It may not appeal to everyone, and im extremely sensitive to that (my loyal following take note!x) but in an effort to have a nice long career at this level as a performing rock musician, be it, solo or with any future band I should form.. it will always include the widest range of music possible, stretching my tastes!  

A most notable addition to my set, has been a re-working of mine of a Gloria Jones track called "Tainted Love" ... some, if not all of you, will remember this from the 80's from Soft-Cell's Marc Almond, and as great as that may be, I took my leanings from the original 60's motown track, and punk rocked it up a bit..  look out for it at my gigs, and I'll be making it available as another single release soon too...    It is completely refreshing to do this, and I will be adding more in like this next year..

So, on the Eve before New Years Eve, I write this blog, with complete excitement, antici...pation, and healthy nerves, trying to conjure up the ever elusive crowd pleasing song after song..   can it be done?...  surely it can..  IF everyone knows the tracks..  and how hard can that be?!   lol :D   

Thanks for reading my latest ramble, stay safe, and have a great New Year! X

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

More Jam Sir ? To go with your bread ?

Picture the scene.....  you arrive late home from work one evening, and discover that your water pipes have burst. Somewhere. You dont know where..  All you know is theres a horrible whoooshing sound. and water is pouring out from the walls... Who do you call ?  yes.. thats right,  a plumber..   but hell be expensive..  could be hundreds of pounds..

Imagine the training that person had to pay for, and go through, to be able to get to a point where he could legally advertise himself as a plumber.  I bet we all never think about that on a daily basis.. you hand over your cash, or cheque (do they still exist ?).. and magically the water disappears, and everything gets fixed..  as nice and polite as we are to the superhero in disguise, we just hope we dont see him again..  or the water for that matter..

Now imagine this scenario...  The plumber has fixed the leak, tots up his bill, and you look at him rather confused and say.. " I thought you were doing this for nothing.. you know... for free..  because you love it...."

He would be pretty happy with that would'nt he ? After all, its his vocation in life, his passion.... 
It's all he'd ever wanted to do..   why should we have to pay a builder, plumber, electrician, landscape gardener, sewing machinist,  printing firm ANYTHING ?   they love their jobs.. they must do.. surely ?

Now as a fully paid up member of all things musical, this is where I draw the line...  I see time and time, venues advertising JAM NIGHTS..  come along, bring your instruments down, play and have a great evening..  Imagine at the end of the night, turning round after filling the place up, and saying.. "cheers for that... £xxx.xx (Insert reasonable sum there ) please..."   and look at their faces..   "oh, we dont pay the musicians anything.. "   

Now, I for one, CAN see the validity in jam nights,  If you are out of work, and are looking to form a band ( in gods name WHY?! lol )  then surely the quickest route to getting out there would be to go along to as many of these as possible...  more often than not though, its also a sure fire way to end up washed up, chewed up, playing the same numbers, week after week, to little or no audience, or worse still, a packed house, who have all turned up to see these "charity-musicians" play..

Charity ?  yes, that word again.. I, for one, have known many people struck down with the dreaded "C" word, and not come through.. and  as for  great organisations like Help For Heroes, and the teenageers fighting out in Afghanistan..  Id play all YEAR for NOTHING for causes like them..  happily.. 

But, and I'll come straight out with it..  IF you are a musician, FULL TIME, making a living at it, and not a day-jobber, plodder, who simply lives in a never ending quandry at middle-age of ".. oh no, all my kids are grown up, was it all worth it ? perhaps I should have stuck at being a musician, as i was bloody good.."  then chances, are, you will know what I am talking about ....

Being paid to provide a service, which includes people hiring YOU, YOURSELF, as a PRODUCT.. is a business..   and there we have that word..  the music BUSINESS.  Jam nights are, in a professional musicians eyes,  to be avoided at all costs..  why should you give your services for free ?  remember the plumber ? 

Now, ive probably upset quite a few people by posting this, but rest assured, that is never my intention, my point being simply this... 

If you are a professional musician, then, yes,  you are a bread-head (to a point) as that is how you make your living..  to even talk money/wages/salary these days to most people, is a moot issue..  but it does need to be said.   If my gear leaves the house, its to earn money... doing what i spent 10 years of my life in a rat-infested bed-sit, slaving over Paul Hindemith books, and working on my jazz/rock/ear-training/sight-reading chops.

The choice was simple for me, I accept that I may never be a famous musician, or have international chart-sucess, but well, frankly, if you only gauge your sucess on being on the cover of Rolling Stone, then you're pretty shallow.  No, for me, I equate sucess with being able to make a living from music.  It's bloody hard and sometimes, the rewards are clouded, IF ANY.   

Now, if you are a "day-jobber" musician, and want to go along to a jam night and have a bit of a giggle, and play a few songs, then hop back home into normality, GREAT.  I have to get that point across... only, dont whinge, that you might have missed the boat, and how your life could have been different had you not had 2.4 children, and gotten married, and become obsessed with this UK-"FETISH" of  "I MUST OWN MY OWN HOUSE IMMEDIATELY"..   if theres one thing im learning, its that you just cant have it all...  you either want to be a full-time musician, or not.. dont pretend, or blag, or moan.. 

When i was 13... I remember hearing Jimi Hedrix, and The Beatles... but I also remember playing my first band gig, where everyone was dancing, and I got paid at the end of the night.  But, what people tend to forget, is that although with plumbing, there are formal qualifications.. with music, any wally can get up and do it..   its the last bastion of the cowboy..  you dont get that in TV.. or FILMS..   its just too unionised.  

That part in between hearing, and being inspired by your idols, to actually earning money from it.. for me... it took 5/6 years..  for others it took 10-15, and for some it took 1 year or less..  yet.. at a gig, nobody even considers how long it took a musician to be able to play the latest chart hit, or rock classic... its taken for granted..   maybe that person spent all day every day, in the run up to that gig, learning to play new songs... only to get minimal applause at best..

How could we change this ?   hand out flyers, stating that tonights act worked very hard at making sure the show you are about to watch is the best it can be ?   That he spent all week, running around, getting strings, running through all his equipment, updating his website ?   do you think the audience would care ? probably not..   

As musicians, we are sitting ducks, in some ways.. We need to play, and teach, and record, in order to make a living, yet there is always some... well..  complete DOUGHNUT who insists that hell do it cheaper, or for free, and proceed to play as if he was on acid and had consumed pot and alcohol intravenousely...  

Getting back to the part about learning your craft..  How many years did it take you ?   remember when your parents would run in and shout.." turn that damm racket down.. "  and you looked up and said...." but mum, cant you hear what song im playing..."   then 4 years later, they come in and say...." thats good.. that sounds like.. (insert fave song)...  now, can you washup!"

I like to make comparisons, because I doubt ANY sucessful musician has made a living from going to jam nights..  if he says he has, hes lying.. blatantly....

Some of the best advice I ever took was from an agent, years ago..  he told me..."when your gear leaves your house, its to earn money.."   and I've stuck by that all this time....  Provided, I give 100% at each and every gig, and play my absolute arse off, to the best of my ability, then YES, I do feel like I can justify that statement....

Imagine, if you will,  <insert modern rock band>..  In  concert..  you've camped out all day, in the mud, to see them perform..  it is raining, they come on,  and they play 3 numbers, swear at the crowd, and walk off..  would you feel cheated ?  yet, they would still want paying..  possibly thousands...  in 15-20 years time, they may be struggling to play some no-name venue that only packs out 100 people..  they all look at each other and think.." where did it all go wrong.."   perhaps the mud-fest tantrum day ?!

So, as I type this, in the throes of releasing yet another self-penned, self-composed, self-produced album, which has consumed yet more of my time than anything... It does make me wonder, why should i even bother ?  perhaps i should stop tomorrow..  become a milk-man, or postman, or stack shelves at Tescos.. become one of  consumerist society, who has the nice comfy concert seat, can buy the souvenir T-shirt, or CD at the end of the gig.. and not have to pack up any gear, in pain from constant back spasms after having played for 2.5/3 hours... why.. because, in conclusion... its my job, and I still love what I do..

If your intention is to make a living from music, then the only way to change the music business at this level, is to start with yourself, ..  say to yourself.. NO, im not going to go and play for nothing.

Is this a good thing ?  Maybe I'm wrong, and I think that my sh1t doesnt stink ?  perhaps I have an enormous EGO ?  If that were the case, the "free" gigs ive done for cancer research, kids cancer, and countless other times where ive donated my services for nothing are a figment of my own imagination... I think not.. 

There is a time and place for EVERY form of musical engagement. Jam Night, Solo Gig, Band Gig, Acoustic Gig.. even... Karaoke!...  but there is also a time, when you have to decide..  Am i doing this for the benefit of the venue owner, so he can fill his till up ? or am i providing a quality service that has people asking for more at the end of the night ?   there is a difference between the two.. and in my professional opinion, as a skilled tradesman.. its that one has perfected his craft, and knows his worth, and the other is wasting his talent.

Do you think Trevor Horn recorded Video Killed The Radio Star and turned round and said.."  its ok, you can keep the royalties, and ill sign all the rights away.. i dont want any money.. ".. 

Now, again, excuse me, while i put on my wig, and head along to the latest Karaoke night... Dancing Queen anyone?

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Gig ettiquette - a tale to be told.. and a thank you...

... now, dont get me wrong, as a solo musician, i absolutely love my job...i have complete freedom, but i never take it for granted and work my ass off to ensure that everything works right, and im in top form all the time, and treat every gig like its my last, and NEVER dis-respect anyone on a gig, or, for that matter, on my social time..

....however, ever since playing live professionally, I have noticed this "phenomenon" that happens, once in a while...  the gaggle of girls...  worse still, on their "hen-night" party, and even worse still, they clock me, like a sitting duck, and decide that no matter what i play, it simply isnt right, or not good enough...  expecting Disney studios to setup at the local club where im playing..   

after 15 years of hearing.." do you do Mustang Sally..? "  or  " .. do you do Summer of 69.." (well actually.. lol.. i may just do that one day..   or worse, worse still.. ".. do you do Brown Eyed Girl..."  I had thought i'd heard it all... 

on said evening, many moons ago i happened to have had an extremely good gig the night before, so was in the highest of spirits..  all was not, as it appears..

upon walking into the venue.. i was greeted warmly, and proceeded to load my gear in, and setup and order my customary lager shandy, and lemonade and water... thank you muchly...   ahh, that lovely feeling, when you're all comforatbly setup, and the guitars are all checked indiviually, all in tune, strings changed the night before,...  i then get about an hour to comfortably relax and think about what sort of set im going to play for the evening, whos coming, whos asked for requests via. email..etc..  and generally prepare for what i look forward to most about my job.. playing guitar and singing...

9pm came, and i lept up with my guitar in hand, launching into a nice set of mellow numbers, ripples of applause reverberated through the nice hearty crowd.. a few walked out... hey, thats life, you cannot please everybody.. 

the mid-break came, and i was starting to get really pumped about the customary rock numbers from hendrix, pink floyd.. when.. to my horror.. in they walked..

trundling through the door, came 6 of essex's finest.. all dressed in pink and white, with fluffy tails, and ears...   you'd think i'd be suitably impressed, and maybe pop over and say.. hello ladies, in a suitable Leslie Phillips style tone.. alas, these ladies werent for whistling at, not that its very PC to do that nowadays.. and I cant even whistle..  i digress..

so, now my choice was, knowing theyd had a few, and they would almost certainly want "those numbers" (see above)...

do i either stick to my guns, and play what i enjoy, as, quite frankly, id play it much better..

or do i launch into my customary "pop" set.. which i also love, i really do.. numbers that fall into the classic rock/pop category would be.. 
crazy little thing called love, maggie mae, i predict a riot, sex on fire, and maybe some oasis.. which i can almost certainly live with...   i have the lot, suitably armoured up thank you... 

However, the students, and mailing list devotees that have turned up.. but never make themselves known until the next morning in an email!! lol, are expecting Classic Rock..  did you hear that,  CLASSIC ROCK..  you know,  Hendrix, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton.. oooo dear, let me get my sarcasm hat on here..  but ladies, that may' mean, let close my eyes and grit my teeth as i say this..   A guitar solo...  aaaaaarrrgghhhh...

see, thats my whole point.. when they left, after i stuck to my guns.. they probably thought..  he was a bit shit.. he didnt play <insert latest trendy song>  forgetting that i actually DO play modern "trendy" songs.. but only if they are going to work live!.. 

assume, i'd done Mustang Sally for instance..  they would almost certainly rush to the stage, and sing along to that bit.. you know... the bit...  reminds of when the commitments movie came out... people thought they were being trendy by copying that music, which in itself is GREAT..  I love wilson pickett as much as the next guy.. but these people are half-assing it... they dont know music...  should they ? 

perhaps i should alter all my setlist, and play what "everyone" wants to hear...  did that for 10 years... in bands... still people werent happy, and worse still.. i was forever trying to second guess the audience.. which meant, when i got it wrong,  they hated, and so did i..

so, ive got off the subject a little..  but these lovely darlings resplendant in their celebratory rags were still there..  my guns and roses won the day.. thank god for that track..  and many more besides..    but they only stayed for one or two drinks.. what about the people that love pink floyd who were emptying their pockets at the bar.. looking forward(!) to seeing me play again, at the same venue..

I think there comes a time, when, as a musician, you have to say, ok, enoughs enough.. im far more interested in building up a hardcore following of people who are going to love what i do, communicate with me, email me, give me feedback, positive AND negative, so i can play music that we ALL enjoy...  rather than "bend" at every opportunity, and get scared (lol!) of a rabble of girls that walk in, and fold and leave my regular people out in the cold, by playing numbers that would be better suited on a karaoke machine...

like i said, dont get me wrong for one minute.. but after trying every method under the sun.. what we are talking about here, is looking afer the venue, AND the musician.. its symbiotic..  if the artist performing is happy, it WILL, and DOES, rub off on the audience.. wether hes playing Comfortably Numb.. or My old mans a dustman..  trust me..  why should you?  because its my job, and its all ive ever known.. and more importantly..  you're the one whos reading this, that IS a follower of me as a performer and musician..  the true people who i should be playing to.. 

...until next time..  so excuse me while i launch into some pussycat dolls..  quiet rant over...

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

competition time !

Hi all,  Ive just announced a competition for 5 people to walk away with a CD of my latest instrumental album..'Alive'...
To win, all you have to do is go to my website, and click on NEWS.. and answer the question.. 

5 lucky people will be selected at random, and ill even sign the album for you, and slip in a signed promo photo..

thats all for now.. get answering !!

Steve  x

hello all....

it seems there was an imposter.. me! of all people..  so welcome to my new URL -    the old one will shortly be deleted, when i can figure out how to.. it seems google cant distinguish between  my youtube account and my blog account, so ive had to start afresh with this one!!..

im hoping to post a few blogs now and again, about my life as a musician..  hoping it will bring some kind of therapeutic calm over me..  we can hope can't we ?

so let us begin...