What Can I Do For You? What Can You Do For Me? How Can You Help Yourself?

Follow-Up to “Welcome to Plan M”

Recently I published the “Welcome to Plan M Blog.” Prior to that I had a rough idea of where I wanted to take this series, but the picture wasn’t clear until I put pen to paper and wrote it down.  As I got to the end of that post, it was apparent that this shouldn’t be just another guitar blog.  Although I am a guitar player, this blog needs to be about more than just guitar.  The digital realm is already saturated with those.

I want this blog to be about MUSIC, and helping adults enrich their lives through music.  This means that I’m going to need to create content that reaches out to fans of classical music, hip-hop, metal, country, world music, pop, etc. 

I want to write for people who bought an instrument during the lockdown who hoped to learn to play from YouTube videos. I want it to resonate with those who did so successfully, as well as those who gave up and stuffed it in the back of the closet. I want to connect with people who played in bands when they were young but got nudged away from music when the pressures of adult life got them down.  I want to coax them back toward the tunes that they love.  Perhaps most importantly, I want to reach out to people who never had the opportunity to learn an instrument, but still have an insatiable lust for music.

I’m in my forties now, and I relate to all the people I just described above.  In fact, at one point or another, I was each of those people.  That’s not who I am today though.  Today, I’m a guy with a day job who likes to play rock music on Thursday nights in the basement with buddies.  I plan live-band karaoke parties to get my friends involved. I’ve been able to build music back into my life in lots of other creative ways and I’m going share them all with you.

I only mention it here, because if I’m not careful, I may end up focusing my suggestions on guitar players because that’s where my current interest is. That would be fine, but I want to be more inclusive than that. I play a few instruments, but some I haven’t played in a while – out of sight, out of mind. 

I’m making this request for you to hold me accountable.  If this blog becomes too guitar focused, you should send me a message and remind me to come back to other musicians.  Trust me, I’ve got ideas for everyone, I just don’t have time to write all the posts. 

Are you someone who relates to what I’ve written above?  If so, please leave a comment and tell me your story.  If I have suggestions for you, I’ll write those articles first.  Consider it a perk of being one of the first to read and subscribe to my blog.  Thanks for reading rock stars, divas, moguls, & maestros!

The Legend is Born As the World Falls Apart – Hootenanny 2020

April 20, 2022

One winter after I graduated college, the drummer from my college band invited me to a New Year’s Eve jam session in Ithaca, NY. His buddy was throwing a party in this farmhouse out in the woods and my buddy was kind enough to invite me as his guest.

We drove down the winding snow-covered roads of upstate New York. Eventually, we pulled up to this beautiful old farmhouse. We dragged our gear up to the attic where we found a drum set and a ton of amps were already there. People trickled in as the sun when down and the jam session got started. We played all night, even when the ball dropped in NYC.

I’ve never been much good at improvisation, but I took a few solos. I embarrassed myself a bit… not because I was all that terrible, but because the caliber of musicians was really good. There were great minds and talents in the room that night and it was a blast. I don’t want to name-drop, but there were some people in that room who would one day become significant folks in the music business. Of course, none of us knew it then, but looking back at the talent that was in that room I shouldn’t have been surprised.

In the morning, we drove back through the snow to Buffalo and life went on, but I never really forgot it. It was very different than my experience playing in bands had been where we wrote and rehearsed every note (with just a few occasional sections for improv). I was enamored by the feeling of awe that washes over when everyone comes together to create those magical musical moments, out of nothing.

Flashforward 20 years- I’m playing in a band called Featuring No One. FNO is a band that rarely plays a gig. Instead, we’re focused on building a community of friends and musicians. Occasionally we write and record a song. Each time we do, we always invite a friend to be featured on the track, kind of like the hip-hop folks do. Except, for us, it’s not a cheap promotional stunt. We’re not famous, and I don’t expect we will ever be, but we’re going to have a ton of fun and share the joy with those we love.

The early days of FNO were in my DC apartment. We’d sit with acoustic instruments and write songs, then if we had something we wanted to record we’d move to another location where we could do basic tracking. Once we had the rhythm tracks recorded we’d recruit a friend to sing or play a solo.

I’m not sure how we never got a noise complaint. I think my neighbors must have been saints. (Thanks Quebec Housers!) We recorded a few tracks and dumped them onto SoundCloud. It was a blast. I still have vivid memories of Jehn tracking vocals in the bathtub of my studio apartment. Those were the days, and she rocked it.

Flash forward a few more years later, I bought a house with my wife. Suddenly FNO had the space to play, and enough distance from my neighbors so we could get loud. Our focus shifted more to building chemistry within the core group. We stopped writing songs for a while and focused on rehearsing cover tunes. Sometimes we’d experiment with different instruments. We had the freedom to learn and grow and develop our skills and chemistry.

Eventually, we started working on a setlist, but we still had no intention of playing shows. We just wanted to be able to competently play songs we loved. Eventually, we had 10 songs, then 15, maybe more.

This was great fun and very fulfilling, but eventually, we started to get detached from the community that we had when we invited Jehn, Alex, Ashley, and Drew into the sessions. There were five people core in the band and those same 5 people came to rehearsal (well 4 of us, one member moved out of town, so his role changed a little… more about that later). Our other friends weren’t involved anymore. I’m not sure if that bothered the rest of the band, but it bothered me. So, I started strategizing.

I recalled that night in Ithaca, NY. I wanted to share that live experience with my friends and family so I pitched an idea to FNO. I suggested a Hootenanny, where all our friends could join in and be a part of the band for the night- whether they had talent or not. They were in.

We sent an evite to 30-40 of our friends. We instructed them to bring whatever instruments they had. If they didn’t have any they could sing. If they couldn’t sing, they could still come and listen and party. We published our setlist and encouraged people to learn the tunes and plan to join in.

I set up the PA with a few extra mics and put all my extra guitar amps out. The basement was set up for a full five-piece rock band (plus special guests) and the living room upstairs was set up for an after-hours acoustic jam session.

The night of Hootenanny started a little bit like a house party gig. FNO jammed and our friends and family politely listened. After a little encouragement and lots of liquid courage, a few of our more daring friends started to join in.

The flood gates burst open when our buddy Josh showed up with his bass. He pluigged in and joined in as though he’d been rehearsing with the band for years. Josh is a gigging musician with a vast repertoire. He made it look easy, and when others saw him join in, they felt empowered to do the same. Suddenly everyone was grabbing a tambourine or a microphone, and then the party really came to life.

Occasionally someone would offer to lead a song, we’d do our best to follow. Sometimes it was ok, sometimes it was terrible. It didn’t matter, it was loud and fun.

That was early March 2020. I don’t need to tell you what happened about a week later. That’s all chronicled elsewhere. Our little Hootenanny was the last bit of socialization that some of us had for quite some time.

Now I don’t know if people look back at it nostalgically because of everything that happened after. Maybe they really had as much fun as I did. Regardless, throughout the lockdowns, people would chat me up over Zoom calls to talk about how much fun they had that night and to beg for me to host another one soon.

Well after about a year of lockdowns we started planning for the next Hootenanny. FNO wrote a setlist and started learning the tunes. We even added some fresh blood to the band. Now I’m happy to say that the second Hootenanny is about to happen next weekend.

It’s a really easy theme party to throw if you’re already set up for a band, even easier if your friends all play acoustic instruments. If you’re looking for a way to make music play a bigger role in your happiness, this could be a GREAT way to do it.

I’ll try to post the evite, setlist, and other information in the information below so you can use it as a template for your own Hootenanny. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Bridging the “Chasm” – Overcoming the “Leave of Presence” & “the Big Dum”

March 14, 2022

I was very hesitant to abandon “Amnesty for Asking” before I finished my demo, but I just wasn’t making progress and I’m determined to keep this project moving in the right direction. Hopefully, this blog will help me keep track of the song, and when I’m ready to give it a good performance I can record that guitar part. I’ve got hundreds of half-complete demos around and very few that are complete. I need to become a closer.

In the meantime, I decided to move on and listen to some of my early demos and pick a new target. I chose to work on a song that was tentatively titled “Chasm – Leave of Presence.” It’s a rock song about how sometimes people are absent from your life, even when they’re still in it. My rough demo had a Logic Pro AI Drummer that played the same beat through all sections of the song. I have an A section, B section, C section, and some intro/outro material. I also noodled through some lead guitar parts that weren’t terrible. Most of the pieces of a song are there, minus the vocals. These ideas were just a series of loops that I had cut/pasted. It sounded very robotic.

Like “Amnesty for Asking,” I rearranged to order of the sections to what I think might be more reasonable (Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse Chorus Bridge, Chorus Outro). I’m not sure that this is the right format since I haven’t the many lyrics yet, but I don’t see any reason to do anything revolutionary with the format for this song other than my boredom with that overdone form.

Unlike “Amnesty,” this song is easy to play. So I laid down a rudimentary bass track and re-recorded most of the guitar (except for the lead guitar- the rough demo is good enough for now for that). It was effortless this time, especially because I used my HX Stomp as an interface. I pulled used some basic presets to get rough tones using USB input 1 and I recorded the DI signal using USB input 5 (this is a useful trick). This way I can go back and create unique tones later and not have to worry about the performance. I find this to be the best workflow for me because I like to separate the engineering tasks from the musician tasks as much as I can. This way, I can concentrate on my performance when I’m doing the musician work, and I can concentrate on recording when I’m in engineer mode.

I still have the basic drum tracks in there for now, but I can come back to those later. Logic Pro seems to have a lot of ways to tweak the drums and I’m looking forward to digging into those a bit more.

Also, while I was reviewing my other demos I found a quick burst of inspiration for a newer tune, tentatively called “The Big Dum.” This demo is just a chord progression with a rudimentary drumbeat. Unlike most of the songs I have right now, I have a rough cut of lyrics written so I laid down a very rough vocal track. I’m no singer, and I still need to come up with a strategy about how to handle vocals. I’ll probably need to get a series of guest singers, or maybe I’ll experiment with the Vocaloid plugin (I heard about this on Ben Levin’s Youtube channel – check it out.)

Hitting the Wall with “Amnesty”

March 12, 2022

It didn’t take long for my grand plan to fall apart. In my first post, I started to talk about the album, and I came up with a plan to tackle songs one at a time, building upon the rough scratch demos I’d accumulated during the COVID lockdowns.

The first track, “Amnesty for Asking,” had a very rough demo with a basic song format, and some very rough drums generated by Garage Band AI drummer. The song is built around a moderately difficult guitar riff that I played ok for the initial demo. I made a quick loop of it, and that was good enough to build up the frame for the initial demo.

Last month I changed up the format a bit, tweaked the drums, and recorded a rough bass track. Things were going pretty well, and I was happy with the direction things were going. My intent was to go back and replace the rough guitar loops by playing the song top to bottom, adding some fills in the process. However, it turns out that my fingers just aren’t ready to perform this song at a level that I’m going to be happy with on this demo. In other words, it was clear it was time to go back to the “woodshed.”

I sat down a few times and practiced for a few minutes here or there. However, as is so often the case, there just isn’t much time for practice when you’ve got some grey in your beard, but not enough grey to retire. Now it’s been more than a month with minimal progress. It’s well past time to switch my strategy. I guess I need to table this song and move on to something else. I can always come back- but I don’t want to get stuck in a loop of starting a song and not finishing it. I’ll have to be careful about that or this will never be done.

Boredom is the Mother of Invention


Originally Posted February 6, 2022

Judging by the recent boom in guitar sales during Covid, I’m not the only one who spent too much time watching YouTube videos about guitars and guitar gear and spending way too much money buying gear.  I’ve got a good case of GAS and my wife would agree. 

Buying and testing gear has been a great hobby for me and I don’t regret it.  Those little hits of dopamine from those last-second bids on eBay really helped get me through some dark days.  Sorry to anyone I sniped.

Now I should explain, I’m not some pro musician who has a need for lots of gear.  When I was young I hoped that would be me, but that ship sailed and sank to the bottom of the ocean long ago.  I work a stable 9-5 job like many of you.  I still jam with my buddies in the basement a few times a month, but we don’t gig.  Sometimes we write songs, but that’s rare these days. 

My buddies are all talented, but there are no virtuoso players.  Let’s just say, that given our lifestyle (adults with full time jobs, families, and other obligations), I don’t see us breaking through that ceiling and that is perfectly cool with me.  We’re having fun, being creative, drinking beer, and making music and I estimate that is better than about 98% of the population.  Life is good.

It’s a lot of fun and I really look forward to, but I need more. I really love to write.  In high school and college I played in bands that were focused on writing original music.  Some of the members of those bands are successful working musicians now.  I’ve had the opportunity to work with hugely talented players, and although I don’t have the skills to perform on that level, it doesn’t stop me from trying.  Over the years I’ve written some wonderful songs, and I’ve written some real stinkers.  I love the process, so even the stinkers were worth the time spent on them.  After all, learning through failure is still learning.

That being said, I’ve collected a heap of guitar, bass, and recording gear over the course of Covid (and I have plenty from the before times too).  I don’t want to start a museum, so if I’m going to keep this stuff I need to use it.  All of it.

My goal is write and record an album or albums (what IS an album anyway?) using each piece of gear here.  Honestly, I’ll never get through it all… but like I said, I’m not ashamed to fail.

I’ve started writing and demoing riffs, but up until now I haven’t done much more than that.  I tend to get distracted by new fun side projects (like last week I picked up a P-bass and now I’m rewiring it).  Distractions like this are fun, and they might be helpful to the ultimate goal, but more likely than not they’re just pushing me away from time in my home studio.  If nothing else, that P-bass is one more bit of gear I need to work onto this album. 

In fact, this blog is just another one of these distractions.  However, my hope is that I will spend a few minutes writing my plan for the album here, to share with you. Then I can use each post to build a plan with short-term achievable goals to help keep the album moving forward. 

For instance, yesterday I cataloged my riff ideas and gave them all working titles.  I took a few notes about my favorites and sorted my least favorite ideas into another folder on my computer for later use (or disposal).  Then I took stock of the level of development of each song noting factors like BPM, key, number of song sections, relatively completeness of the format, etc.  After that, I went to the first song on the list “Amnesty for Asking” and shuffled clips around to try and come up with a draft arrangement.  I should mention that these recordings are ROUGH. there are plenty of aimlessly noodled licks, a few of which may be the basis for something better, but most is stream of consciousness garbage.  It’s ok, I just want to see if I have enough material that I’m enthusiastic enough about to invest the effort to continue.  If so, then I’ll put in the work.  I developed a cool motif with slow bends that I really like and it sounds pretty cool with a fuzzed out rhythm guitar (maybe I can use my MXR Submachine).  With a bit of work, it could be a ShoeGaze banger.  We’ll see.

Today I will probably experiment with my new HX Stomp as an interface as I rerecord some of the better clips.  Again, this is just another demo so I’m not looking for perfection and I think calling up some HX stomp presets may be the quickest way get to success.  If nothing else, it will help me learn how to use that glorious little box.

Although, right now it is early morning and I’m still in bed.  The day may go another way.  I may have to do chores around the house and in all likelihood will lose my motivation before I get to the studio.  I may prefer write another blog post – this has been fun.  Perhaps I’ll start doing a rough arrangement of another song from the list – who knows.  If I think of it, maybe I’ll tell you next time.