The Power of Wow

Today I was reminded of the power of wow, and today that experience came from playing great instruments.

Truth told the last couple weeks have been hard guitar weeks for me. I’ve been working very hard to get ready to go on the road for a mini-tour the first full week of June which has included lots of office work, and I also had a less than satisfying visit with my father and family over his 90th birthday in Northern Michigan that included TSA hassles and gridlock.

I use the phrase playing the guitar to describe what I do and the word play is important. Play requires a certain mind-set, and mine was nowhere close to allowing me to play. I bounced back and forth from being a hyper efficient self-employed business man, and frustrated traveler/son.  I still spent time on the guitar, but man it was work. Real work. It was like doing push ups, or running on a treadmill. It was just exercise. I wasn’t playing at all.

Luckily I recognized that, and last week when I got back I told myself to chill. Most of what I was frustrated about was beyond my control, but anything that was within my control was dealt with immediately. And that really freed up my mind.

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And since I’d been fighting my baritone while I was in Michigan (my fault, not the guitar’s), I picked up my 20 year-old 12-fret which had recently been restored to its former glory by its maker, Alan Carruth.  And my immediate thought was wow. Just wow.

It sounded so good, and of course behaved great. I was once again transported by the power of wow. And because it felt so great I played with some reverence for both the music and the guitar, which translated to nice tone, improved dynamics, and really fluid rhythms. Ah, I was playing music.  I wasn’t working on the guitar.

And today, for the first time in several weeks I picked up the harp guitar and later the baritone guitar I had fought with last week. Holy Shit!! Twin Wows!  Both drew me in and seduced me. And again I was playing music not working the guitars.

People don’t know this about me, but I can go months without playing a particular guitar. So much depends on how much I’m touring, who I’m touring with, and what guitar has grabbed my particular fancy. And the last couple of weeks the wow has been the 12-fret guitar. But a couple of weeks before that it was the high-string, and before that it was the baritone. And before that it was the piccolo harp guitar.

As long as I’m playing a couple of hours a day, it really doesn’t matter which guitar I’m playing. I’m keeping my hands in shape, and if my hands are in shape it only takes me a few days to put together a 90 minute concert spread over 3 or 4 guitars.But I always try to follow the ‘wow’ because that’s where the playing is, that’s where new music is, and that’s where, when I’m really lucky, I can find a transcendent performance.

For me following the power of wow keeps me fresh. And staying fresh is so important when you’ve done something for over 4 decades, and something you still do a couple of hours of almost every day. It helps that I have five great guitars, but you can find wows in lots of different ways just on one guitar.

Putting on new strings, try a new tuning, trya partial capo, put the capo higher than you ever have before, play an old favorite song you’ve long neglected, plug in and turn up the amp really loud, record a video, or perform live. All can provide players with a wow-a breath of something fresh and exciting. Something that seduces us and draws us in. Something that makes 90 minutes FLY by. If we’re going to continue to grow as musicians it’s important to stay open-minded and keep asking ‘what if I?…” Following the power of wow does that for me.

What’s your wow? Find it, pursue it.  The power of wow, is powerful indeed.

Cheers, kb

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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

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

Simple Pleasures

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The past month, as my 40th anniversary of playing guitar got closer, I spent a lot of time reflecting. This reflection has both brought up demons I didn’t know were there and exorcised some long-held demons as well.  I’ll deal with the new demons over time, but the biggest most important takeaway from all this reflection is my growing realization that my happiness and contentment are not brought on by major, life changing events. The happiness and contentment I’ve found is in the everyday living I do. It’s noticing the birds chirping out my window, or feeling a cool summer breeze as it wafts through the open window. Watching a movie with one of my daughters, or cooking a meal with friends.  It’s the small stuff. But for me these little moments happen most often when there’s a guitar in my hands.  I’ve told my closest friends this is, and I’ll make it public today, the day I got my first guitar was the FIRST day in my life I felt complete and whole EVER-the very first time.  That’s huge, and it’s still true for me today. I don’t NEED the guitar the way I used to NEED the guitar, but I still feel an instantaneous change come over me when I play a guitar. I have to admit that it is that feeling that has made it impossible to contemplate getting a ‘real’ job.  Part of it is physical; the guitar has always felt natural in my hands, and the other is the sound.  Ahh, the sound of a plucked string, especially the sound of a fine steel string guitar; that has always been sound of the music I hear in my head. It’s just such a powerful feeling to pick up a guitar, pluck some strings and have music the I hear in my head come out.  It’s still like magic to me. Still, after 40 years. Continue reading