The Year of the Monkey

“…the year of the Monkey lends itself to luck in fortune. It’s also an opportunistic time, particularly in building and business growth.”

As we turned over the Chinese New Year this February I was inspired by what the Year of the Monkey is supposed to bring. I was committed to making changes in how I approached my music business, but in January I wasn’t sure how I was going to go about it.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions. I typically don’t like to do anything flocks of people do.  I figure if something is worth changing , then change it immediately, why wait until January 1 to do it?  But I do use the winter months to reflect and meditate on my life; what I want to do over the coming year as well as what do I want/need to do better. And then come up with a plan to achieve those goals. The last blog post I published in late January was part of that reflection-The birth of an album.  But I was pondering other things as well.

As the calendar advanced a bit further into February I realized one of the things I needed to do was to develop a routine. Something that was easily repeatable, structured enough to yield results, and flexible enough to fit my family life, music business and creative pursuits.

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The first thing I committed to as part of my routine was begin writing Morning Pages on a daily basis. That was  February 22nd. It’s a tool Julia Cameron teaches in her book The Artist’s Way which has been the bible for a lot of writers, artists, and musicians since it was published in the early 90’s.  Basically, Morning Pages equals a journal: three pages of hand written stream of conscious prose, poetry, or whatever might pop out of the pen. But as opposed to most journals written in the evening and that reflect on the day’s events, these are written the first thing in the day, when our ‘editor’ is asleep.  It allows one to dream weave, think up impossible scenarios, push the boundaries of what we might think would ‘work’. It’s a place where no feeling or idea is wrong. You just write. I’ve only missed one day, and it was a day that had me up and out the door at 5:30am and home after 9pm.

I committed to creating daily to-do lists, and then committed to doing what was on them. One of the things every sane self-employed person learns to do is leave some things on the to-do list for the next day. You just can’t do everything every day. But I’d gotten a little too good at moving stuff to the next day.  I can do the important and necessary stuff every day. That’s easy. I just have to prioritize it and then make sure I’ve left enough time to do it. So I started scheduling activities at specific times during the day.

I also made playing the guitar a priority.  So I put that on the to-do list.  And after a month I created a separate guitar to-do list and played what was on the list. (That didn’t last long), which has morphed into a guitar diary. (More on that in a bit). A couple of years ago I had committed to moving more, sleeping more, and eating less. I redoubled those efforts.

I let my OCD run rampant and got hyper organized about EVERYTHING. And I started setting my alarm for 6:30am.

So now it’s May 19, and I’ve been in my routine for just about 90 days.  Which is why I’m sharing this with you today.  The 90-day mark for me is significant because that’s how long it takes me to actually accomplish positive change.  This has been true in anything I’ve ever done; sports,  business, or music. The first 30 days establishes the habit, but it takes more than that to reap any real results. Because there’s refining, flexing, learning and editing of the process to be done.

The Morning Pages have been an absolute godsend.  They’ve provided me great insight in a variety of areas, and I always feel mentally fresh after I write. Always. Even if I’ve written about some tough personal issues.  It’s so cool to start each day with an actively engaged and positive mindset.

One morning I had the realization that in today’s music scene what I really am is an independent entertainment and information content provider. That was huge. I saw in very clear fashion how I might coordinate and monetize (sorry a guy’s gotta earn a buck) my music as well as my knowledge through various on-line portals and social media.  That has had a profound impact on how I am ‘working’ my business now. My to-do list looks very different from what it did 6 months ago.

For example, one of the things you’ll notice is that I’m not going to write how-to‘s on  this blog anymore. I’ve started two video blog series on YouTube that are much more effective at relaying that kind of information than are longish essays. And videos are much easier to monetize.

But upon reflection, I realized that the So you want to be a better guitarist? essays I wrote in 2015 provided the skeleton of what will be future books or booklets. I’ve just completed the outlines on two books that will be built off them, and I’m planning a third, and maybe more. Again, these will be much easier to monetize in book form than on blog.

So, now I’m going to use this blog as my public guitar diary.  Really kind of what it was intended to be in the first place. I will talk specifically about my daily journey on the guitar. I may write a paragraph, or a whole essay, or just one sentence.  But it will deal with my relationship with the guitar as it is in that moment in time.

And you will still get to learn from my journey sans any monetization. Because the truth is I am now, and always will be working on the same things you’re working on; how to better use the guitar to share my stories, my hopes and my fears. So that’s what I’ll be writing about.And I will probably discuss more about how my routine has impacted not only my productivity, but my creativity-that’s a big part of my musical/playing process. And I’ll do that every day. So, please join me.

If however my daily musings aren’t dealing with what you’re currently working on or interested in, then head over to my YouTube channel; I have 14 new vlogs that are how-to guides on a variety of guitar playing topics, and I’m adding two a week, every week for the foreseeable future.

Here’s the link to my channel. Each vlog has a description of the information covered. And you can subscribe so you’ll never miss one.

Here’s the first one, just to get you started.

Cheers, kb

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The birth of an album

I just spent a very enjoyable 45 minutes ‘charting’ the songs I’m considering recording on my next album. Oops, did I say I was going to record another album. Ahem.

Anyway, over the past couple of years I’ve done lots of stealth writing and arranging, material that for the most part I’ve not performed or videotaped. I did debut a couple of pieces on my November tour with Steve Davison and in December with Raymond Gonzalez, but for the most part the 16 songs I’m going to record haven’t been heard much by the general public. I’ve been doing this on purpose because I really want the tunes to be a bit of surprise.

So this morning I was doing what I normally do about 30-45 days out from the studio dates; taking an inventory of what I’m planning on recording, which for me includes which instruments I’m going to use, an estimate of how long the piece will be, the tempo of the piece, the tuning of the piece, and whether it will be solo or ensemble.

I always try to have about 60 minutes of music ready that I can edit down to 42-48 minutes; what I consider to be a proper length for an ‘album’. Any longer and folks won’t hear the last couple of tunes, and any shorter and folks might feel like they’ve been cheated.

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The Financial Conundrum of being a Live Indie Performer in the Digital Age

I’ve long kidded that the reason I got into music is that when I was young my parents told me music wasn’t lucrative.  I was just starting Sunday school and they had talked about lucre and how lucre was a bad thing, i.e. filthy lucre. If lucre was a bad thing I reasoned that anything lucrative must also be bad and music WASN’T lucrative therefor it must be good and a worthy pursuit. Right? That was sound reasoning wasn’t it?  Ah youth and naiveté. But I’ve never thought of playing music as taking a vow of poverty either. I was smart enough to know I wouldn’t get rich or make nearly the amount of money I had as an executive recruiter, but when I started out touring nationally in the mid 90’s things were working out. I wasn’t filling rooms like I’m doing now on a semi-regular basis, but the folks that did come were a huge support and bought my CDs.  Tickets to my shows were $10-$20 and if I didn’t get a guarantee I would typically get 70-80% of the door.

Here’s the thing. When I got in the business CDs sold for $15 and tickets to my concerts were in the $10-$15 range and, as I said, I retained 70-80% of ticket sales plus 100% CD sales. Over 20 years later CDs are sold (ha! more on that later) at the same price of $15 and the tickets to my concerts have gone from $10-$20 a ticket to $12-$25 a ticket. But here’s the kicker; rooms are by and large keeping 40-50% of the door instead of 20-30%. Why? Because their costs kept going up, like everyone elses, but instead of passing the costs off to the consumers by raising prices to appropriate levels they’re making up most their revenue from the artists who are bringing people in as opposed to their customers.

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What’s in a Name: Part 2

While I do some editing on these posts, they are largely stream of conscious essays in which I write what I think and feel about the issues I deal with being a niche independent musician who is self-managed and self-booked. Recently I’ve been reviewing  my blog posts, and I’ve noticed an undercurrent of frustration and anger, and much of it is something I’ve already discussed: naming the genre of music I play. Back in May I wrote a post titled “A Rose by any other name: Or What’s in a Name?” It’s hot linked so you can read it yourself, but the gist of it was a rant showing my frustration at my largely failed attempt to be considered a folk artist.

As I say in that post, I’ve always wanted to be thought of as a folk musician. Why is that important to me?  At this point I’m asking myself the same question.  I know much of it stems from the ‘facts’ of my musical upbringing where folks like John Prine, Steve Goodman, James Taylor and Jackson Browne have more to do with my picking up and playing the guitar than Leo Kottke, Michael Hedges, or Alex De Grassi ever did.  And I’m almost entirely self-taught. I’ve had less than 10 formal guitar lessons. Those origins are about as folky as you can get. But I’m learning that where I am and what I do now is more important than where I’ve been in the past. I have to act on the former not the latter. Continue reading

Dancing with Shadows or What wakes me up at 3am

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These posts I’ve been writing have been for the most part positive in nature. Partly because I’m a naturally positive guy, and partly because I think it’s important to stay positive-see the best in a situation and not the worst. And I’ve always found whining and complaining to be both counter productive and boring as hell to listen to. If you don’t like the way things are, change them. Don’t expect someone else to make the changes for you, or because you want them to; things change when YOU make them change.  (It would appear that my bias against laziness and ‘being stuck’ is showing.)  But my mantra has always been “Make a plan, work the plan, trust the plan. Refine the plan and then repeat. Over and over and over again.”  I used this process to set up a search firm in Dallas, TX in 1982, The Danbrook Group, that is still in business today, as well as establish my own search from that I successfully ran from 1984-1993. It’s a process that I used in 1989 when I taught myself chord theory and learned how to play and compose in alternate tunings, and the same process I used to establish my own record label while becoming a nationally touring independent musician.

But that doesn’t mean doubts don’t creep in. I know artists who are constantly insecure. They’re constantly questioning their talent and their worth as an artist.  I don’t struggle with that. As one of my heroes Chet Atkins said: “If you hear something you like, and you’re halfway like the public, chances are they’ll like it too.”  I’ve found this to be absolutely true. People have always enjoyed my music-especially since I started playing my own music-I’ve always reached people at a deep level with my guitar. What I struggle with is not whether or not my music has value or worth, what I’m struggling with is whether or not the pursuit of creating and performing the music has been worth it to me and my family.  I think of the hours and hours I spend closed off in my studio when I’m home coupled with all the time I’ve spent on the road the past 20+ years.  And as the world measures such things I have NOTHING to show for all the labor.  I have no 401K plan, I have no retirement, no pension, no savings; NADA. Any financial security I’ve had has come through me marrying well.  And my social security will be an absolute joke because my income is so low. I can’t help my daughters with college money, or help them at all financially when they’re going through rough times the way so many of my friends can.  While I can and do help out around our house with general expenses I am next to useless when an emergency like septic issues crop up and we’ve got an unexpected $750 plumbing bill on our hands. I can’t tell you how helpless and worthless moments like that make me feel. Continue reading

Why I perform: The Most Important Minimum Wage Job in the World

As has been the case for many of you the past couple of months, I’ve been going over 2013 income and expense for tax season.  Last year wasn’t a good year, not by a long shot. It was the worst revenue year I’ve had in over a decade. Simply put, I got my ass handed to me.  Last year I drove over 45,000 miles, booked, played and did the PR for 80 concerts, and played the guitar 2-3 hours every day. I spent 100 days on the road sometimes sleeping on couches, mattresses on the floor, and even a couple of nights in my car out in the middle of nowhere because they were charging $90 for a $40 hotel room.  After running the numbers I spent a minimum of 3000 hours working in 2013.  Let’s just say that after expenses my income was way under the PROPOSED minimum wage increase to $10/hr.   WAY LESS.

So it’s clear I’m not in this for the money.  And believe it or not, I’m one of the lucky ones. There are very few instrumental guitarists who get to do this for a living. Probably less than 100 or so on the planet.  And other than a couple of folks who we all know, none of us are getting rich doing it.  So why do it?  On a personal level I can’t NOT do it. I’ve tried.  I know for a fact that I won’t last long after my stage days are done, because that’s where I’m of service, that’s where I belong, and that’s where I can be an agent for change in a troubled world.

You see, in a world where people are leaving dogmatic religions and emptying churches I believe we need a place where people can come together and bond in a communal environment.  While listening to music on your own sound system can be a powerful experience, nothing has the impact of the shared musical experience with a room full of others.  I KNOW that people leave my concerts feeling better than they did when they came in, and I know that will carry over into the rest of their evenings and even the next day. Why? Because that’s what happens to ME every time I attend a concert.  And this affects the way we see and treat the world and the people  around us. Continue reading