strumzilla

​A blog/journal about my life and the stuff I like. Popular subjects include music, guitars, gear, books, movies, video games, technology, humor.

I finally caved...

I just ordered my first new Mac since my 2013 MBP which was relegated to drum room duties a few years back. It had been chugging under the weight of multiple monitors and larger track counts for awhile.  Apple has creators wrapped around their fingers since they still imo provide the most stable and streamlined environment, especially for music and video. And they charge for that exclusivity. 

I’ve managed with a WinPC these last couple of years, enough to write all of the songs I’ve posted to date. It’s been a bumpy ride at times as I’ve had some major shutdowns and failures (all in the WinPC driver/software side) and recurring hiccups that regularly interrupt the creative process. It wasn't a new experience for me, as I've owned desktop PCs for over thirty years. I actually got my start on a TRS-80 Color computer, followed by an Apple IIe (which we never really knew how to use properly), an Amiga 500, and then finally a Gateway IBM 486.  I toiled under the pre plug n play environment for many years, so I'm not unaccustomed to making PCs work, I just grew really tired of it.

For me, the appeal of the Mac is that it just works. You turn it on and it's reliable like a television (pre smart tvs) or a refrigerator. You don't have to constantly struggle with driver updates, hardware conflicts, etc. I’ve had multiple Macs in the past, dating back to my first Mac Pro in 2007. With rare exception, they just perform. They don't unpredictably freeze up, crash, fail to boot, etc. like my WinPC still does on a recurring basis. When they die, they die horribly, but that’s typically after many years of steady service (and usually a few months after the AppleCare has run out). I'm willing to take the chance again just to have that Mac workflow environment, which is still my favorite by a long stretch.

So, with shaking hands (and spouse approval), I clicked the mouse and drained a considerable pile of ducats from the vault to order one of the new iMac Pros. I chose a mid tier option that I’m hoping will last at least four years and beyond. Mid tier in Apple terms is premium by any other company’s standard. By the time I feel compelled to upgrade again (inevitable in the computer world for the foreseeable future) we’ll hopefully have the house paid off and enjoy a bit more discretionary flexibility. Of course I paid for AppleCare this time so I'll be covered for any disasters at least for three years.  Depending on what's developed in that timeframe, I may still be happy with the its performance to keep going for a few more years beyond. 

It's not about having the fastest/newest computer, I've resisted Macs for many years now and went back to the desktop PC when they released those touchstrip MBP with very little incentive for the creative types. The iMac Pro is a step in the right direction and maybe the upcoming Mac Pros will be even more appealing, but I'm not willing to wait at least another year that could stretch to two based on how slowly they've trickled out updates to the pro level devices.  Having seen several reviews and demonstrations from creative professionals, I know the new iMac Pros are a content powerhouse and I look forward to just creating for a good long while. 

Concerts Attended*

I randomly decided to list the shows my friend Matt and I had attended over the years and then it just seemed natural to finish the job. This mainly satisfies my need to list/organize things, and it's a nice trip down memory lane as well. I've been pretty good about keeping ticket stubs over the years but there are a few omissions here and there. I have actually gone to the trouble to try and find ticket stubs on Ebay and I managed to get stubs for Journey (my first show), Van Halen on Diver Down, Ozzy on BATM (also saw him at the Texas Jam on that tour, for which I still had the stub), and Dio from Last in Line. Why these particular stubs were lost is a mystery as I have most of the shows I've ever seen.

I'm still trying to get several other stubs but the pickings are quite lean in that department. I actually bought ticket type paper and need to get around to recreating a few of the missing stubs. There have been a few shows I've attended on will call that they just don't give you a stub by policy or on occasion a ticket printer wasn't working. 

*reliving past shows is the gift that keeps on giving. 

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A year of freedom

This week marks one year as a contractor (fee basis) in my previous job. Fewer workdays, better compensation, and I'm almost exempt from the typical workplace drama (almost). Job security is lower in context, but otherwise there's really no downside. Our mid-range plan is to pay off the house and then we'll reassess. We may stay where we are, we may still pursue that house in the country.

This last year has seen the completion of several original tunes and videos. It's been a great year of development in most creative aspects. I'm not over the moon about anything I've done so far, but I would at least call all my projects successful in achieving what I had in mind in the beginning, and even moreso as learning processes. I expect my highly d̶r̶e̶a̶d̶e̶d̶/̶i̶g̶n̶o̶r̶e̶d̶ coveted creative efforts will likely only increase.  Not that I need more interests, but I've taken up drawing as part of my overall pursuit of visual arts. I hope to combine music, video and illustration in various ways. 

Hell Bent for the Cliff (lyric video)

This turned out alright. I ended up starting over on the mix because I hadn't gain staged appropriately in the beginning. This version is where I quit working on it, not necessarily the definitive version but I'm okay with where it's at for now. 

Hell Bent for the Cliff

Verse
The sea is rising we're casting seeds in fallow fields
Demagogues delude then doublecross in backroom deals
Arbiters of virtue claiming false dominion
Sycophants spinning vacuous validation

Chorus
Can you feel it slipping away?
Fragile fibers start to fray
Hell bent for the cliff
Constitution in decay

Verse
Millions starving, they're making bombs from baby food jars
Exalting the grotesque, ignoring the stars
Fear, lies and hatred have stolen the narrative
Waging war on the weak instead of live and let live

Chorus
So you chose to live and let die?
Universal truths you deny
Deadly decorum
Matrimony moribund

Verse
Gatekeeper Gladys adorned in apparatus so fine
Bankers stealing our gold businessmen drinking our wine
Orange orangutan squats on the ivory throne
The beds are burning and we’re staring at our phones

Chorus
Can you feel it slipping away?
Brittle bonds twist and break
Hell bent for the cliff
Constitution in decay

Verse
Mother, Mother I think they're going to build a wall
Nations rise and one day nations fall
Bent backs unbroken will stand again
A final reckoning comes to us all

Chorus
Can’t you feel it slipping away?
Karma gets the final say
Hell bent for the cliff
Constitution in decay

Back at it

I returned to the untitled riff rocker after last week's diversion for "Christmas Armistice" (a profitable one).  I managed to put together a fairly acceptable framework for the song and I recorded rhythm tracks on both the Tele and Les Paul. Using my standard wet/dry (AxeFx/SPDIF DI) approach, at any given time there up to 12 rhythm tracks. All together it's a bunch of mush, so I started some basic editing. I used my new(ish) best friends for mixing Neutron 2 and Ozone 8. The track assistant is perfect for artist oriented "producers" like myself. It's quickly become my go to solution for at least the initial rough mix so I can just hear how the song is shaping up.

I will return to the old school approach to mixing (well, digitally at least. I'm not going to get a console and tape machine) here in the future, it's still what I'm currently majoring at Berklee and I don't want to get lazy about the real art of producing and mixing. That being said, I chose production at Berklee because at the time the only other option was music business. As I've stated before I plan to add Guitar for the dual major once I put together an audition. 

Back to the riff rocker, I wrote basic verse and chorus vocal melodies yesterday and I'm pretty happy with them. I think they work pretty well with the tune, and it almost felt like the tune was written around them instead of the reverse. Now I need to write the lyrics and then record the vocals. My old friend Mike (Paramedic, Bassist, Rush Fan) had offered to help on a future project, so I'm going to try and get him to record a bass line for the tune. We'll see how that goes. I'm sure he can up with something much better (and more bass centric) than I can. 

Christmas Armistice

Last week was a reasonably successful week from a songwriting standpoint. I had to write a song for my acoustic guitar class final, so I endeavored to write and record the song/video within that one week. I had noodled a simple counterpoint idea (my first) on the keys a few weeks before and thought that might be useful. 

I ended up using that as the chorus and in short order came up with a basic chord progression for the intro, verses and chorus. It's a really simple tune in that sense, basically in A minor with occasional non diatonic wanderings. I ended up also coming up with a harmony line for the chorus melody and that's definitely an area I intend to explore further. Lots of untapped potential in counterpoint and harmony. I'm taking a basic rhythm section arranging course next semester, but I'm planning on taking a counterpoint course in the future. 

Since recording the instrumental version of this tune, I was inspired to pen some lyrics and so now I plan on recording a version with vocals in the near future. This tune was a nice surprise because I actually had people talking about how the song made them feel, which is a first for me. That's really the point, though. Causing an emotional reaction with music is all I can really hope to achieve. Complex and impressive arrangements are fun and I'll pursue those tunes as well, but as a listener I'm always drawn to those songs that make me feel something. I have loved all the technical players I've seen live, but nothing has connected as strongly as a show like David Gilmour, Father John Misty, or Tommy Emmanuel (he straddles that line, but it's his simpler and more emotive tunes that mean the most). 

Christmas Armistice

And in the bitter cold, they laid their weapons on the frozen snow
All quiet on the western front
Foes laughed and sang, then prayed
For peace a toast was raised
A fragile truce they did construct

And in the bitter cold, they laid their weapons on the frozen snow
A respite from the wars to come
A fleeting bloodless day
Brittle bonds doomed to decay
To doubt and fear they would succumb...

The Ratio of Response to Effort

As a creator it's always interesting to see the ratio of response to original material versus forwarded/shared material from other sources. I've heard about this from other creators as well, this phenomenon is described below by "Music Is Win" creator Tyler Larson. He is much more likely to get views/response/feedback for cover songs or some of the less serious, even incidental stuff he posts compared to something original that he toiled at for months or longer.

It just reinforces the idea that it's the work that's the joy, not the finished product and certainly not people's reaction to it. I linger on the very fringes of social media so I'm probably not comparable, but my most watched video by far is a sloppy cover of a zep tune recorded on a cheap webcam years ago. Part of that is the unpredictable nature of sharing and/or the way youtube will suggest or link videos. I could make more of an effort to share/"advertise" my videos, but my best efforts are still directed towards improving my craft. I should note that I realize a better song is going to get more views, so I'm not surprised that more people would be inclined to click on my cover of "Rock & Roll" than on my latest weirdly titled prog demo. 

Riff Rocker Untitled

Resumed working on a long dormant riff that I've actually had for many years. I put together a basic structure of the song several months ago (I think). I'm not sure when I got the time to patch together this very rough cut but the arrangement was pretty close to how I intend to keep it. I laid down several passes at the various parts on the Les Paul. I think I understand how many bands prefer to demo songs while on tour before they hit the studio to record them. Just messing around with the song for a few days has brought new ideas, plus it's helped the performance with the extra practice. 

Yesterday, my intent was just to get all the rhythm guitar parts finished and then maybe double track those with my Strat. I got sidetracked during the solo part and went ahead and started making some passes at that. I built on a solo idea I'd had started when I put together the first rough cut. I like the structure okay, but I need to practice it and I'll probably make a few tweaks to it before it's done. I played it on my Les paul, but I may try it on the various guitars to see if I have a preference.

After I've got a decent rough demo of the guitars I'll work on the bassline. Perhaps counterintuitive to how many songs are put together, but this song was written on the guitar so I decided to work on that first. I'm going to try and write and perform on the actual bass guitar this time. The last song was all written in midi and I never played the bass on it. This song is essentially just guitars, bass and drums. I'm leaning towards writing vocal melodies and lyrics and that will be the next big effort. 

WBU is finished, on to the next song...

I posted a lyric video of my recently a̶b̶a̶n̶d̶o̶n̶e̶d̶  completed song, Widow Black Unweeping. I decided to leave it as is, and although the mixing/mastering could probably use another set of ears I'm leaving it for now so I can focus on new music. I'm wondering if I'll eventually revisit some of these tunes in the future and re-record them from scratch. Possible, but not sure I want to go to that much additional work. I need to just keeping churning out new songs because I'm learning the process for all steps, not just the core of songwriting. Considering the end result, this song took entirely too long. I've heard Steven Wilson remark that if he can't finish a song in one day, he loses interest. That's an oversimplification since he's not talking about a completed song ready for release, but I imagine his demos still sound pretty amazing.

I'm going to strive to streamline my process. I decided during the last song that I want to try the writing/recording on Studio One and then send it to Pro Tools for mixing and mastering. Part of this was frustration with the Pro Tools interface and monitor management. Ironically, I've settled into a decent workaround for those issues that doesn't take too much effort so it may not be as critical. I'm still going to give it a go for the next tune and weigh the pros and cons after. I'm a fan of Studio Ones monitor management and that it can be altered for each song. There are still so many DAWs out there I haven't tried. I've wondered if Ableton Live, Cubase and a few of the other major players would offer me something I'm missing. My feeling is no, but the grass is greener, yada, yada, yada. I tried Reaper and it just wasn't working for me. Granted, I didn't put much effort into learning it. I really did like Logic and Final Cut on the mac, and if Apple releases a compelling desktop next year, I'll definitely consider using them again. Luckily PT and Studio One are cross platform so I could continue using those. 

Crimson musings

I finally got to see the legendary King Crimson led by the steady hand of the venerable Robert Fripp in Dallas this past Saturday. I waxed a bit poetic on el facebook:

A theater unto itself, a King Crimson concert is a humbling display of power, precision, and passion. At times subtle and delicate, but unfailingly relentless and implacable all the while. I sat in bewilderment, my attention passing quickly from musician to instrument and back again, barely able to keep up with their performances.

Moving from joy to sadness, from confusion to clarity, from gobsmacked to gleeful, I was blown away by this night. These world class musicians were a sight to behold and brought a wondrous spiritual rhapsody, of a kind I've never quite witnessed before. Thank you, gentlemen, thank you indeed.

Set 1:
Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One
Pictures of a City
Cirkus
Neurotica
Fallen Angel
Epitaph
Discipline
Red
Islands
Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two

Set 2:
Drumson Outbreak of Wonderment, Joy & Bliss Arising
Easy Money
Indiscipline
The ConstruKction of Light (Part I)
Lizard
Moonchild
The Court of the Crimson King
Meltdown
Radical Action II
Level Five
Starless

Encore:
21st Century Schizoid Man

It was truly one of the most powerful shows I've ever attended, and judging from the audience response (a standing ovation after nearly every song) they felt the same way. I managed to sneak my way into Tony Levin's blog post about the show as seen in these photos. 

 

 

Revisions and Additions

I've had a few days away from "Widow Black Unweeping" (the song formerly known as Languid Licking Lollipop) and I've decided to revamp the vocals and some of the rhythmic elements. I'd say the proposed changes dials it back to about 80% complete because I'm not planning any other big changes. There are parts where the vocals and the rhythm seem to work against each other and some of that is predicated by how wordy the song is. I'll try and simplify some of the rhythms in the more wordy sections and see if that helps. If not I may trim down the lyrics as well. 

The vocal melodies in both the verses and choruses are just not powerful enough (from an emotional standpoint, but that could probably also be said about the delivery). I need to work on some sort of slamming chorus that really notches up the energy level and it's probably going to overshadow what was the original riff idea. That riff is okay on its own, but it doesn't seem to work as the main energy of the chorus. The verse melodies might not need as much of an overhaul, but they need some work because I don't sound comfortable singing them and they need a little more emotional energy. 

As I've stated in the past, I really learn the best lessons by first doing things wrong or at least inefficiently. Before I invested any time into production and mixing, I should have really focused on core song structure and made sure that it was connecting emotionally. I'll have to develop a workflow for more efficiently demoing tracks before I invest too much time in recording and producing them. It seemed to work out okay with Rascal's Refrain, but maybe it was just a better song and maybe I just got lucky. 

I've also begun work on another tune that had been lying dormant for several years. It was also born of a riff, and I had previously put together an entire song structure minus lyrics/vocals. I'm still thinking I want it to have vocals, but I'm not sure what they're going to be about. Instead of working exclusively on one track,  I want to mix it up a bit so things seem more fresh when I come back to them. I'll still likely finish WBU first, but I want to give myself breaks from the monotony of one song. 

A new domain, a new semester and Father John Misty

Sauntering into October, and fall can't be more welcome. The news cycle is a continuous barrage of gloom, doom and cheeto in chief's continuous upstaging of the last unbelievably stupid and callous comment or decision he made. It's impossible to process in real time, so I disconnect. Luckily I've had some great music by which to achieve this, including one of the better shows in a long time, Father John Misty at The Bomb Factory. I went with a group of friends including the brothers Garrett who originally turned me on to him. He's an old soul, wrapped in beautiful nihilism laden with gallows humor in a sumptuous sonic feast. Some of the best new music I've heard in years. No rest for the weary music fan as I begin pre-loading for prog titans King Crimson in a few weeks. 

I'm hoping for an email from a domain registrar to offer my long sought after domain for pyramidgrid.com. I've been trying for a few years since the name occurred to me and it's about to come available. I'm not sure how the current registrar got my information, but I received an email indicating it would be up for sale soon, so I'm trying to complete the purchase. This will be my ostensibly prog group name/page, not sure exactly how I'm going divide up my songs as an artist at present since I don't have enough of a catalog of songs to really worry about it yet. A concern for another day. 

I just started the fall semester at Berklee last week and it's already proving fruitful. I'm taking a harmony class as well as acoustic guitar techniques. We jumped right into alternate tunings the first week and it's proven inspirational for composition. Our first assignment was to post an original song using the tunings and I had already jotted down a basic idea while noodling. It's a short song in open D tuning that I plan on developing further in the future. A good week. 

Nut Cutter

Nut Cutter

 

Chorus
When you pull up on those jeans and they're bulging at the seams
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
When you’re cruising at the mall and your jeans are way too small
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

Verse
When your Wranglers are too tight
And your crotch a bulbous fright
Why you need a belt god only knows

Peacocks spread their feathers wide
Up that crack the jeans will ride
Feathered hair, concert tees and camel toes

Chorus
When you're walking through your school and exposing all your tools
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
When you're sitting there in class with a bulging pelvic mass
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

Bridge
Alex Lifeson wrapped in silk
Ivory slacks flowed like milk
His samite streams forked below the belt

Derek Small in more than name
Form fitting jeans revealed his shame
Until a cucumber would save the day

Chorus

When your kibbles and bits are giving people fits
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
When your one eyed trouser snake triggers the shakes
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

When you go to the show with a raging camel toe
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
It's really not that nice to wear a denim vice
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

When your splitting at the seams and the girls start to scream
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
When you show your wedding tackle and the ladies start to cackle
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

Not quite the end of summer

August is winding down, but we're still stuck in the middle of the sweltering season. Here in the south that typically runs year round with a few months break that we affectionately refer to as "Winter" but can include temps in the 70s and even 80s. At some point in my lifetime, this is probably going to just change to Summer Light as we will have done away with any temperatures remotely resembling winter. 

I got the 65 Amps cabinet and installed it in my now nominal amp iso room (closet). I don't have the setup totally settled just yet. I'm putting an iso pad like I have for my subwoofer in the home theater to minimize the low end. I'm debating whether to place a few of my bass traps in there as well.  I need to engage in some cable management for that room as well as where I have the amp head in my control room. I gave the setup a few run throughs and my basic impression is that it sounds wonderful. I just very basically placed the two microphones and haven't taken the time to adjust their positions to find the best sound. I'm getting a Dynamount system to make this process much easier. 

The Dynamount is a "robot" controlled mounting system for microphones that allows you to move the microphone through 2 or 3 axes depending on the model. You can mount it horizontally or vertically and this gives the choice of horizontal, vertical or proximity as well as rotation. I'm probably going to go with the proximity option (you have to choose between having the robot system flat or vertical and this determines if you'll get the vertical or proximity option).  My 65 Amps cabinet is a 1x12 so I'm pretty sure I'll get more tonal variety out of proximity than vertical. Right now I've just gotten the one system and I plan to use it for the Royer 122. I'll likely add a second system in the future.  

https://dynamount.com/ 

 

Checking In...

No huge developments since the last post. I'm at the end of my week off, and we're going to see Australian Pink Floyd tonight. I willingly skipped Fleet Foxes last night. A combination of feeling a bit worn out and being ambivalent on the band, especially considering the likely indie crowd at the Bomb Factory. The last show with a similar demographic I saw there (Sigur Ros) was about 30% people who apparently just wanted an air conditioned spot off the street to get drunk and run their mouths. Not a great combination for concert enjoyment. 

I've made a bit more progress on Languid Licking Lollipop. I'm trying to deliberately set aside time at the beginning of my practice day to work on the song. I've had a recurring issue lately with fatigue and headaches which although not severe, has been just enough to suck away my creative will and shorten my practice days. I'm trying to prioritize those days so I can at least get some work done before calling it quits. I know myself well enough that if I'm not feeling well, I'm not likely to have a productive practice or writing session. 

I'm still figuring out workflow both from a physical/studio space standpoint as well as how I approach song construction. I've made some changes to the vocal booth to facilitate using the computer while I'm tracking vocals. I put my little M Audio midi controller (25 key) in there so I can sketch out melodies as I work on a song. I'm not that competent of a vocalist and writer of vocal melodies that I can just go in an wing a vocal and have it sound good. I usually hear the basic outline of the melody in my head, but it takes a few iterations of trying to sing it and then figuring out the actual melody on the keyboard so I can record a basic midi version as a pitch reference. I've also taken to using Melodyne for the same reason. I laid down some scratch vocals and then pitch corrected them to use as a training tool. It also allows me to experiment with moving the melody around to get an idea of how it will sound. 

I used Melodyne on Rascal's Refrain to figure out harmonies and I think I will continue to do that. I also had a small eureka moment (I'm setting the bar very low here) when I remembered I still have the TC Helicon vocal processor which will automatically create harmonies and other cool vocal effects. I'm not sure whether it will be good enough to use for final takes, but this will allow to quickly record harmonies and other effects to a separate track which will give me more options during mixing. I needed some more TRS cables to run from the Helicon to the UAD Apollo, so I'm waiting on those. 

Speaking of waiting, my 65 Amps cabinet was finally delivered to Sweetwater and was supposed to come this Monday. As luck would have it, it's showing as out for delivery by FedEx today, so I'm now waiting for the truck to show up since it requires a signature. The last time we had a signature delivery was also a concert night and I think we missed the driver by less than thirty minutes. There's a good chance this will happen again if he comes after 6pm. Once I do get the cabinet, it's going in my amp ISO closet where I've already run the cables for the Royer 122 and SM 57. I had bought a bookshelf several weeks ago and that's where I'll put the Hughes & Kettner amp head. This will give me another tonal option as well as hopefully providing a bit of a buffer for the loud electric guitar noise. 

High Productivity is Celebrated...until it isn't.

In an ironic twist to my elevated productivity as a fee basis examiner, I had his supreme indolency take the trouble to drop by my office and let me know that my increased numbers (which had necessitated a salary waiver as I had hit my max after five months) had raised a few eyebrows. Although he was attributing it to "someone pretty high in Dallas" (high, he he), I'm sure most of it was coming from him. 

I reacted immediately (as I usually do, sometimes to my detriment) by telling him that I would welcome anyone who wants to take a close look at any of my work/exams and let me know what's lacking or inappropriate. I know my exams are complete by VA standards and I also know that I don't perform exams unless they're requested or justified in the case of a recently discharged veteran who requests to add a few more claims. 

As I explained to dicktug, I'm preferentially getting these bulk Gulf War exams which typically include 10+ actual claims and then an equal number of medical opinions for each claim. This can very quickly run my daily numbers to 20+. He made some sort of brief comment about his ability to generate those numbers which I just ignored because this jackhole was one of the examiners that weren't breaking 40 exams in a month. I've done more than that in one day. 

I also explained to him that I often take on other examiner's work because they call in sick or because they can't be bothered to complete opinions or equivalent. Our admin staff preferentially asks me to do these types of exams because I don't argue with them or make them feel bad for asking. Many of the regular Federal employees are downright adversarial to the people who are just trying to do their jobs and help veterans. 

When I was a regular Federal employee I had the second highest (out of 20ish examiners) productivity in the clinic. Now as a fee basis, I think it's possible I'm the highest, but I haven't been looking at the clinic numbers anymore. I'm definitely generating higher per day numbers as it's not uncommon that I get 25 or more exams in a day. I assume part of his problem is that my elevated productivity makes the glacial examiners look even worse by comparison. 

I'm not sure if the current scenario can be sustained, but I'm hoping things will move slowly as they do in the Federal government. I'm also hoping that we'll continue to have our minimal producers occupying full time slots which will in turn keep the demand up for fee basis examiners like myself.

I think he is offended by the situation in which a lowly PA like myself (in his eyes) can earn an equal income to his while working significantly fewer days and not having to deal with a lot of the regular federal pain (actually my total is probably greater considering my other incomes). I've met several doctors like him in the past that seem to think they have earned a perpetual income just based on their diplomas and not based on any work they're doing now. The good doctors (most of them) judge other providers on their own merits and don't make assumptions based on degrees held. We've never heard them express concern that we have doctors earning huge salaries while doing little to no work. The VA has a prevalence of these types, I think it's one of the primary attractions to the job. 

Making Time for Writing

Time management is a challenge for us all I suppose. Even with a significantly reduced work schedule, it's not uncommon that I feel the weight of competing demands on my available time. I've had a long history (going back 13+ years since I resumed guitar) of practicing most days (typically a minimum of six days a week, with a rare break usually because of some other significant commitments).  For the longest time I was content with this schedule as I was just trying to get better at my instrument. 

As the years have passed I've added instruments (piano, bass, drums, vocals) and so practice time has gotten increasingly precious. Since starting at Berklee I also have the competing needs of schoolwork. This can occasionally be all encompassing when it's a big project. I've usually reconciled with lost practice time in this case because I'm still learning something of value towards my ultimate goal of becoming a better musician, songwriter, producer, etc. 

I've now had the taste of "finishing" a complete song. This is ultimately what it's all about for me, the ability to create something that only I can create. I've always been a creative person and it's in these moments of creativity that I get truly lost and can't measure the passage of time. However, the work of songwriting through to the finished song can also involve much of the technical and this can become tedious at times. 

On to the point. I've given myself a goal of trying to "finish" a song a week. Considering my total output up to this point, that's very lofty I know. I don't mean ready for public consumption, necessarily, but at least to rough demo form where the song structure has been finished and I've recorded working versions of the various parts. Experience is the best teacher I've found, and if I want to get better at songwriting I need to keep doing it as a regular part of my schedule. 

My desire is just keeping cracking at it and I'm confident with time that I'll be able to streamline more of the technical and focus more on the creative. I often refer back to a quote I heard from Brad Paisley that he attributed to a Nashville songwriter (can't remember the name but he's in the Country Music Hall of Fame), and that is "the first two hundred don't count."  While that may seem extreme, it's an absolute truth that if you write two hundred songs, number two hundred and one will likely be significantly better than your first. 

My plan going forward is to start treating songwriting like I treat my practice or even a job. I can spontaneously come up with ideas on a regular basis, but to finish a song requires some elbow grease. I'm hoping that by making it a required part of my daily schedule that I can start moving that song count towards the goal of two hundred and more. 

Learning NEW MATERIAL

A repeating theme I've learned over the years of practicing is that learning new material is one of the most rewarding aspects to musicianship. This is especially true if it's something I'm learning by ear. One of the biggest challenges has been to sound out harmonically complex piano music. I'm guilty of always looking for a sheet music version of something but there are still several tunes or at least versions of tunes I love that have never been offered as sheet music. This is especially true on live arrangements by artists like Rick Wakeman and other improvisers. 

I'm trying to make it a regular part of my practice to incorporate learning new material by ear, at least on piano and guitar. These skills only improve through repetition, and although it's very incremental and almost impossible to discern at times, I do notice a gradual improvement. I suppose this would be ostensibly for the ultimate goal of becoming a better and more rounded musician, but I've also always felt immediate satisfaction for even the smallest bits of a new song I'm learning. Learning a new song for me feels like tapping into the mystical, almost. It's the muggle equivalent of learning a new spell.