Some thoughts on music in the digital age…

I saw this on YouTube and it resonated with me.

Maybe you’re not a music teacher like this guy, but I bet music technology has changed the way you listen to and learn music to.

Hobby #8: Active Listening

This is a common sense hobby – you probably don’t need someone like me to suggest it. But I bet for most of you it’s been months or even years since you’ve done it… so indulge while I nudge you a little bit.

Dedicate Time to Focus on Active Listening

Minimize distractions: let the dog out, put the kids down for nap, and silence your phone.

Grab a note book and pen so you can take notes. Scribble what do you like about the instrumentation, any lyrics that stand out, and any emotions you feel.

Consider headphones: this will help you hear the depth and spacing of the instruments better. Any headphones will do, but noise cancelling over ear will help block out the world and let you get lost in the soundscape.

Get comfortable: Dim the lights, light a candle, and pour some wine.

Listen to your favorite tune, or try out something you’ve never heard before. (See the playlist below for suggestions if you’re looking for something new).

Check out this playlist if you’re looking for something new to listen to.

Set a reasonable volume: heavy metal should me loud, classical music should be loud enough to hear dynamics, or whatever is appropriate for the tune you’re enjoying.

When the song is over, review your notes in silence- add any final impressions you have. If you feel compelled, listen again.

Move on to another tune. Then when you are done with the session take a moment to reflect. Did you learn anything new about your artist, album, song, genre etc? Can you draw any new conclusions?

Is there something that you’d like to share? Publish on social media or share with friends or consider starting a song club.

The most important thing is that you make the time, because if you don’t, life will get in the way and you’ll miss out. Get listening!

PPAC Challenge: BJ’s Bar Fredonia, NY

The Always Write blog challenges users to post art found in public places. Here is my submittal for the PPAC Challenge #61.

BJ’s bar has been a staple for bands passing through western New York State for nearly a century. It’s dark and moody and there are so many trinkets to catch your attention.

Be sure to stop in and have a beer if you’re in town and certainly be sure to mention if it is your birthday.

A painting of a skull under the bar at BJ’s Fredonia, NY.

Hobby #16: Kill Your Radio Club

In 2014, I was bored with the music on my iPhone and I was still resistant to letting internet algorithms make recommendations to me. I’m less resistant to the algorithms now, but no less disappointed by them now than I was then. 

Don’t even get me started with the radio. The constant commercials and the lack of variety make radio in the US unlistenable 98% of the time.  Honestly, I’m not sure who listens to it anymore.

I was so frustrated that I was constantly listening to the same music I already owned, rarely discovering anything new. The only time I did was when someone I knew would say “Hey- you gotta hear this new band, you’re gonna love them!”  Truth be told, even then the stuff my closest friends recommended to me missed the mark more than it hit.  Maybe I’m just difficult to please.  Still, I found this to be the only way to find anything that suited me. 

I was determined to avoid falling into the trap that so many people fall in to during middle age:  they stop caring about new music.  I did some ruminating and eventually I landed on the idea of adapting the model of a book club to work for music.

For many of us, the term “book club” conjures a mental image of middle-aged women sitting on plush white couches drinking red wine discussing this month’s recommendation from Oprah or Reese.  The concept is simple, someone organizes a group of folks who love to read.  The group plans to meet periodically and discuss their thoughts & feelings about a particular book.  The idea is elegant in it’s simplicity. 

Photo by Helena Lopes on

At first, I considered copying the format directly.  I figured that I’d choose a new release album prior to the first meeting, tell a few friends, then we’d get together and chat about it over beers.  I quickly dismissed that idea for a few reasons. 

First off, it’s inefficient.  Everyone would only learn about one album each month.  Moreover, if the members didn’t like the album or the artist that I picked then they wasted money buying something that they didn’t like.  If my taste was different than the other members they would eventually become disinterested and quit.

I considered having a rotation schedule so that each member could assign an album for each meeting. That way I could avoid being the single gatekeeper of taste.  This improved the idea, but it was still problematic.  It would reduce the probably of people getting frustrated or bored with my musical taste, however, it still meant we’d just learn about one artist/album each meeting.  I knew there had to be a better format.

Eventually it hit me.  The answer was simple: playlists.  Each month a member would volunteer to host the next meeting.  The host or hostess would establish a theme for the next meeting.  The members would then each create a playlist based on the theme to prepare for the meeting.  Then during the meeting, members would each take a turn sharing their a few choice songs from their playlists and describe anything interesting they learned while researching the topic.  Members could then share their entire playlist with everyone for their listening pleasure after the meeting or all of the songs could be put on a single compiled super playlist.

This was the actual Facebook post announcing the first meeting of the Kill Your Radio Club.

Truth be told, the original Kill Your Radio club was short lived.  Eventually my hobbies drove me toward other interests, but I still think this concept can work for a lot of readers.  This is a simple event to host.  Here is what you need:

  • Creative ideas for topics:  Try and encourage the club to do some research in to styles and artists that they may not already know.  Remember, the goal is to find music that new to you.  In our first meeting the theme was “great protest songs.”  I was hoping to find my playlist, but I think it was stored on a computer that died years ago.  This topic was wonderful because with just a little bit of research it was easy to find protest songs from just about any genre. I compiled a new playlist (below) with some examples that we listened to that day, as well as new songs I’ve heard since. We also came up with themes of “Sell Outs” and “Songs from Artists Who are Past Their Prime.”
This is a recreation of a compiled playlist from the first Kill Your Radio Club. The theme was “Great Protest Songs.”
  • Virtual versus Real-Life Meetings: Hopefully the worst of the pandemic is behind us, but perhaps you’re in a part of the world that is still locked down.  You could easily implement this idea virtually with friends all over the world using chat rooms, discord servers, or zoom. Maybe you just have friends in other parts of the world and want to use this as an opportunity to reconnect. Regardless, a virtual club is a great way to learn about music trends around the globe. However, maybe you’re itching to get back out into the real world and see people again. You’ll have to keep reading. There are a few more factors you’ll want consider for a real life meeting below.
  • Consider the sound system you will use.  We had some challenges getting everyone’s devices to connect to the speakers.  Sure, that was before Bluetooth was a common feature on devices.  You may still run in to challenges though.  You may want to ask everyone to add their tunes to a single shared Spotify play list.  That way the songs can be easily accessed from a single device.
  • Snacks! Of course, you’re going to want your favorite treats.  Be as bold or boring as you want, it’s about the music- but everyone knows music tastes better with a full belly. If you’re really inspired, try to make the treats correspond to the theme.

Have you ever tried to host a Kill Your Radio club or something similar?  How did you do it?  What worked and what didn’t?  Do you have a great theme for a playlist?  If so, please share your thoughts with others in the comments.

Ukrainian Music Gear Auction- #Musicians4Ukraine

Hobby #6: A Call to Action

Four Steps to Give Ukrainian Musicians a #LilBoost #Music4Ukraine

I recently made a post called “Listen for a Cause” where I encouraged readers to do a little research into the Ukrainian music scene which has been interrupted by the Russian invasion.  Prior to that, it was disrupted by Covid like the rest of the world. 

As the war drags on, those of us who want to support our brothers and sisters in the Ukraine may be looking for new and creative ways to do so.  I’ve been encouraging people to go YouTube, Spotify, Bandcamp, and other streaming services to give Ukrainian artists a boost.  Perhaps this will help provide them with steady income while it is difficult to book gigs.

Photo by Katie Godowski on

If you want to help here are some simple and fun steps, you can take right now to help.

Listen to music from Ukraine -Seek out Ukrainian artists on Spotify, YouTube, or the streaming service of your choice. If you are unfamiliar with Ukrainian music, you might not know where to start.  Below is a playlist of artists I’ve been listening to start there and when you hear something you like please listen to more songs by that artist.  I’ve also been publishing a series called Hasty Music Reviews.  Each post gives a brief description of a Ukrainian song and I compare it to Western artists.  If you like the artist I mention, then there’s a good chance you may enjoy the artist featured in the post.

This is an example of a playlist that you can use to educate yourself or others about Ukrainian music. You can use songs from this list to create your own content or feel free to share this list without creating new content.

Reflect on the music – You can listen passively if you want, but ultimately, you’re going to want to convince others to check out the great tunes you found.  That will be easier if you know exactly why you liked it.  How did the song make you feel? How is it like music you enjoy? Do you have any friends or family that you think would enjoy it too?

Spread the Word – Streaming services pay fractions of a penny per stream, so to have any significant effect we need to get lots of people listening.  Be a social media influencer and spread the word about the great music you find.  Reach out the influencers you follow and ask them to post about their favorite Ukrainian artists too.

There are many great ways you can do this.

1. Write posts on social media about the great bands you find.

2. Share playlists of your favorite songs.

3. Create your own original content like blogs, music reviews, reaction videos, lyric videos, or cover versions.

4. Create a hashtag and follow hashtags created by others like #Music4Ukraine.

5. Reach out to friends and encourage them to do the same in real life and online.

6. Ask social media influencers to join the cause.

Purchase Merch – I know times are tough for many folks around the world.  Many people trimming back their discretionary spending around the globe, but you can always consider spending money on albums, shirts, posters, or other merchandise if you are able and willing to do so.

Concluding Thoughts

I sincerely hope you’ll join me supporting the people of Ukraine. I hope you’ll reach back to me and recommend your favorite songs to me so I can check them out, and I’ll continue to do the same for you.

Photo by Markus Spiske on

We don’t have to limit ourselves to just supporting Ukrainian musicians. In this particular case we’re using music to support musicians, so it’s easy and natural. However, I’m sure with a little creativity you can adapt this model to support any social cause. I hope you’ll take the idea and run with it and let music inspire you to make the world a better place.

Observe the joy as this busker expertly handles a heckler…

In the heckler’s defense, this guy is so good that he is almost unbelievable. This five minute guitar solo never gets boring- well done!

Thanks to Shatnershairpiece for being a good sport and sharing the magic of music with this man.

Hobby #3: Reinvent the Concept of a Band – Hobbies You Should Try Instead of Starting a Band

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re probably already thinking about how to get more involved with making music, and perhaps starting a band is one of the options you’re considering.  Starting a band takes a lot of effort and persistence, and you’re a busy person with important obligations.  You’re not sure if staring a band is realistic at this stage of your life.

Part 1 of this series presented five reasons why you shouldn’t start a band.  Part 2 described some situations when you might want to start a band and ignore the advice in part 1.  This edition will reconcile the earlier two positions by providing suggestions about what you could try instead of starting a band while still enjoying some of the rewarding benefits of being in a band.

The suggestions below are intended to inspire you to find creative ways to help you achieve your musical goals. For instance, if you really love to write music, you can do that without having a band.  Alternatively, if your path to happiness involves live performance, there are more ways than ever to perform that may not involve the cost or effort that it takes to start a band.

Understand Your Goals and What Makes You Happy

In an earlier series, I encouraged readers to do a series of self-reflection exercises to gain a better understanding of what makes them happy when they are making music.  Some musicians love the attention from fans, while others get a thrill from being on stage.  Other folks need to express themselves through creation of original music, while others are happier playing covers.  That post provided a series of thought experiments that readers could do to try and figure out what aspect of music specifically makes them happy and which they can do without.  That series explores these considerations and more.  I encourage you to read check it out before you check out the suggestions below.

Things to Try Instead of Starting a Band

  • Start Something Like a Band but Change the Rules to Better Fit Your Lifestyle – Every Thursday I get together with a group of friends.  We get dinner, pick up a case of beer, then we head to our rehearsal space.  We have a running “setlist” of songs we’d like to learn, and we tinker through them.  Sometimes they sound terrible, sometimes they sound ok.  The ones that sound ok, remain on the set list for next week.  Eventually we have a couple dozen songs that we can play through top to bottom, and they sound recognizable.  They’re not what I would consider “gig ready” but that doesn’t matter because we never really play gigs.  That’s not our goal.  We play because it’s fun and we don’t care if anyone likes us.  We get the comradery and fun of being in a band without any of the pressure. 
  • Perform Online – The internet has many great ways for artist to perform for audience online.  Some of them can even be done live.  For instance, YouTube, Facebook, Twitch, and others have options to live stream a concert that you stage in your living room for people all over the world. allows you to broadcast to a single random person – sure you don’t know who is going to be on the other end of the line, but nonetheless, it’s a unique chance to perform.  Who knows, maybe you’ll make an new fan.[BG1]  This could be a really great option for people who live in remote locations and who can’t book real world gigs locally.  If you’re unfamiliar with Omegle check the video below by guitarist “the Dooo for” inspiration.  A word of warning, Omegle can get a wild so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
  • Write and Record Songs with People in Other is free recording software that allows you to easily record your songs, and it allows others to record overdubs with people over a standard internet connection.  This is wonderful way to promote collaboration with artists all over the world.  You can use this option to find interesting instrumentalists that may not have available in your area.  It’s easy to use, especially if you have previous recording experience, but new users should not be deterred, you can easily find tutorials on a variety of topics on YouTube.  Of course, this isn’t going to replace the feeling you get from playing live for an audience, but perhaps that’s not what you crave.  If your main goal is to vibe with talented artists and make a great single, this might be the path for you.
  • Create New Content: Perhaps you used to play in a band years ago and you have some old recordings laying around that no one hears anymore.  You could use those great old tunes to make music videos and upload them to YouTube.  Think of how much fun it would be to reconnect with old bandmates by reviving some of that old material (cringeworthy as it may be).  Alternatively, you could create new music and start from scratch. 

I have a former bandmate who makes a video Christmas Card every year with his kids.  It’s always such a treat to see the kids grow, and watch their musical skills develop over time.  Best of all, I get to see my buddy enjoying the music he loves with his family. 

If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out Jacob Collier- he’s a tremendous musical talent and he’s got a large catalog of music that he’s done independently.  Of course, if you’re new to video Jacob’s work may be too hill a climb to start with- you might want to check out the Lyric Videos that are all over YouTube, then build on that.


Don’t let  society define your approach to forming a band, especially if you’re doing it as a hobby.  You can make your band any way that you want it to be and you can focus on just one aspect the musical experience if you want.  If you don’t want to or can’t play gigs, focus on something else.   Be creative in your search for a creative outlet and you may find that you enjoy playing more than you ever did.

Hobby #2: Start a Band

5 Reasons Why You Might Want to Ignore The Advice From Part 1


Let’s face it. Being in a band can be tremendously rewarding, even if you never make it big. Making music is a great way to pass the time, and it doesn’t get better than doing it with your friends.

I’m not surprised if many of you are tempted to reject the recommendations, I made Part 1 of this series where I posted five reasons you shouldn’t start a band.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with playing in a band as an adult, and if that’s what make you happy then I hope you’re not deterred by my previous post.  However, hopefully you’ll consider the advice I provided and use it to your advantage in way that minimizes those down sides so that you can optimize the amount of enjoyment you have.

Reason 1: You won’t be happy unless you’re in a band

This blog tries to help adults figure out what aspects of music make them happy so they can on those activities in the limited time they have.  Perhaps you’re a person who just will never be satisfied with anything less than being a traditional band.  Maybe you’ve read some of the other posts I’ve written and decided those suggestions just aren’t for you.  That’s cool.  You do you!

If you’re in that boat, you’ve probably already had some success playing in bands.  You’ve felt the rush of live performance and you’re not willing to give that up.  That’s awesome, you’ve found your path.  If this describes you, then you’re better prepared than someone who just taught themself how to play during the pandemic. 

However, if you’re one of those new players you should not have any delusions that being in a band will be easy.  Assess your commitment level, if you’re not all-in, then consider trying something else first.

Photo by Brett Sayles on

Reason 2: You love to perform in front of an audience, live, in real life

I always took note of the first person to hit the dance floor when I would play gigs.  That person came to the show determined to have a good time.  She starts the party and others eventually join in (it’s always a lady).  Things snowball from there. 

Spotting that first dancer always reminds me why we perform.  All artists want to make people feel something, and spontaneously bursting into dance is a very clear person indication that someone is having a great time.  You’ve helped that person escape their troubles, at least for the evening, and that’s a wonderful service to humanity.  You should be proud.  I always was, and I still miss performing when I spot the first dancer a gig that I’m not playing.

I can recall a gig that had an entirely different emotional impact.  My college band was booked at coffee shop in upstate New York, just a few days after the terror attacks of September 11,2001.  It felt wrong to play a show knowing that some everyone in the audience was still in shock, and so many in our community were still mourning.  The band and I debated whether we should cancel the show or not.   Ultimately, we decided to play the gig because we knew we could help people heal. 

We reviewed our setlist and swapped out a few songs that wouldn’t really set the right tone.  We also added a cover that we’d never played before “Let it Be” by the Beatles.  We never had a chance to rehearse it beforehand.  I can’t recall ever playing a song live before or since where we had no rehearsal. 

I had some jitters about playing such an iconic and beautiful song unrehearsed, especially during such a serious gig.  So, I snuck out the door and went to the park across the street to practice a little bit before our set.  I might have gotten through the song once or twice before a kid, probably about 13 or 14 years old rolled up on his skateboard.  He listened for a minute and nodded along without saying a word.  When I finished, he started peppering me with questions about guitar and what it’s like to play in a band.  Truth be told, I was in absolutely no mood to chat with him.  I was trying practice, but he seemed over joyed to pick my brain about the guitar.  Eventually he told me that he had just gotten a guitar and he learned to play a Green Day song.  I relinquished my guitar to him and asked him to play for me.  His clumsy fingers fretted the chords correctly, but he couldn’t quite move them with the right timing.  When he finished, I applauded, he handed the guitar back to me, he was beaming with pride, and I was proud of him.

Eventually he jumped back on his board and rolled away so I returned to the coffee shop and played the set.  Eventually we came to “Let it Be.” It started out surprisingly strong despite the lack of rehearsal.  All was going well until the singer cued me up for a solo.  I’ve never been a very confident improvisor, so this gave me a beat of panic- but just a beat because my brain shut down and the fingers took over.  It wasn’t the best solo you ever heard by any means, but it was melodic, expressive and I didn’t play any dumb notes.  The crowd loved it and the guys congratulated me after the set on it.

I know this was a long story, but it highlights so many of the things that I loved about performing, the personal connection with an audience, the personal connection with the kid in the park, the flow of a moment that overwhelms you both emotionally and creativity.  These are all benefits you can get from performing live.  There was also something special about bringing joy into a world that needed it as badly as people in New York did that week.  I honestly believe that decisions like ours, to play that gig, are why the terrorist can never win.  Despite their efforts to destroy us, we persevered with strength, beauty, and hope.

Reason 3: You have a group of like-minded, dedicated musicians who want to play

Maybe you already have a bunch of folks in your life who are eager to play. The sun, the moon, and the stars are aligning, and it just makes sense to start a band.  You may have stumbled into a situation that is just too good to pass up. 

If this is the case, I recommend that you schedule a few jam sessions to see how it’s goes on a trial basis.  Speak to all the members and try to get a sense of what everyone wants to get out of the band.  Are you all aligned with what you would like to achieve?  It may be turn out that people aren’t as aligned as you think, but you won’t know that until you start testing the waters.  Can you feel momentum building? Ride the wave and see where it takes you.  Maybe you’ll be surprised. 

If it turns out that your band members aren’t as dedicated as you are, you may be in an unenviable position of having to replace someone if you want to continue making progress – but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

Photo by Brett Sayles on

Reason 4: You live in place with ample opportunity

Not all areas of the world are the same.  Some cities like Nashville or New Orleans have a tremendous number of venues where bands can play.  Of course, areas these cities are also saturated with extraordinary talent who want to play in those venues.  If you live in a place like this, you may find yourself incredibly inspired to make music but may find the barriers to booking shows entry unsurmountable.

On the other hand, there are plenty of towns around the U.S. that have a bar or two that are happy to let local bands play.  You might even happen to know the owner if you live in such an area.  It might be a reasonable goal to score a monthly gig with your country covers band in a place like that.  In my experience, the pay for gigs like that isn’t enough that you can quit your day job, but that’s not your goal it might be enough.  Maybe you’re happy play for a bucket of beers.  By all means, if that make you happy, ride that wave as far as it goes.

One more thing to consider is that even though the clubs in your area might be willing to hire you once, they may not hire you again if you can’t bring a good crowd out to hear you.  Make sure that your musical style is something that is palatable to the community where you play.  Your death metal band may have trouble building an audience in areas that have a strong preference for jazz.  That doesn’t mean you can’t find success, but you will probably have to spend additional time and effort promoting yourself.

Reason 5: You need a means of expressing yourself that you can’t do any other way

Singing is not a skill I’ve ever been very successful developing, but I love songwriting.  One of the challenges I face is that if I want to ever hear my creations, I need to have a partner who can bring it to life.  That doesn’t mean I need a band per se, but as long as I’m recruiting a singer, I might as well work with a drummer too (drum machines and virtual drummers are cool, but they’re still no substitute for the real things). 

There are numerous ways to collaborate both virtually and in real-life.  These may be great options for you (I’ll write more about them in Part 3 of the series).  However, there is something special about forming a band with like-minded musicians who learn your style and preference and can play off them intuitively, especially when you’re all in the same space in real life.  Being in a band is in a lot of ways a like a good marriage, and over time you can really develop synergy and learn to play to each other’s strengths and support each other to compensate for weaknesses.  This is much less likely to occur with temporary collaborations.

Some people just have a need to express themselves, and perhaps a band is the only way for you to do that.  If you find that you can’t adequately express yourself without a band, then do it.


This site encourages you to explore the many musical hobbies you can try.  Starting a band is one hobby that many of you have probably considered, in fact, it is probably the first one many of you have considered. It’s a wonderful way to spend your time, and I encourage to try it especially if the topics I wrote about here outweigh the challenges I wrote about in Part 1.

I hope some of you have made up your mind and now you’re sending texts trying to schedule your first rehearsal with your future band.  I hope you’ll post a video of your first show in the comments below.

However, if you’re still sitting the fence, that’s cool too because I have a lot of suggestions to help you key in on other ways that you can get the thrill of performing without all the effort of starting a band.

Be sure to check back for Part 3 of the series where I will share a few of them.  Also be sure to check out my other posts because those will give you other musical hobbies that may be just as fulfilling and that may be better suited for your lifestyle.

If you want an alternative take on what it’s like to be in a band check out this video.

“I’m the Mountain” By Stoned Jesus – A Hasty Music Review to Support Ukrainian Musicians #Music4Ukraine

Some of you may be trying to support Ukrainian musicians with the #Music4Ukraine Challenge, but maybe you don’t know where to start. I will be publishing a series of mini blog posts about some of the great Ukrainian music I found and I’ll give tips about the types of listeners I think might enjoy it. Be sure to listen to the song below and if you like it share it with your loved ones.

“I’m the Mountain”

By Stoned Jesus

  • The A section begins with minor acoustic guitar arpeggios, with a looming bass drone.
  • This is one of the few songs I’ve come across sung in English, the lyrics are dark – bemoaning a love gone wrong and accentuated with tight moaning harmonies.
  • After the second verse the song stops abruptly and is restarted with a new acoustic lick, which is eventually joined by an acoustic drum set and bass.  It slowly evolves until the acoustic guitars are overtaken by spitting fuzzed out guitar.
  • Until that point, it’s clear that the song is dark but the connection to 1990s grunge music becomes undeniable.
  • At times the song has hints of a low-fi Soundgarden/Tool demo track, but it’s much rougher around the edges. 
  • That is, with the exception that the vocalist doesn’t resemble Chris Cornell’s voice (no one does).  He’s got a deeper tone, more like Eddie Vedder in range but without the gravely tone.  In all fairness though, that is still a weak comparison, the singer of Stone Jesus has a sound that is all his own.
  • This song is great for fans of grunge music or anyone looking for a soundtrack to accompany their feelings of isolation.

If you’re looking for other great Ukrainian music I encourage you check out the playlist below. As I find more tunes I’ll add them there and I plan on publishing more “Hasty Reviews” like this to help you find the artist that bests suits your style. Also, if you’re interested in learning more about #Music4Ukraine be sure to check out my Listen for A Cause post.

This playlist will be updated periodically as I find more great Ukrainian songs. I encourage you to make a similar list and share it with your friends and family.