Hobby #97: How to Have Fun with Music When You Have Limited Musical Talent: Conduct Historical Research – Part 1 – My Experience with Historical Research

Here is idea that is suited for all people, regardless of musical talent: conduct original research about your favorite song, artist, genre, era, concert venue, etc.  Try to learn something that no one (or next to no one) knows about, then share it with the world. 

This post is part 1 of a three-part series.  In part 2, I will discuss the benefits of conducting original research. In part 3, I will repost a paper I published based on this experience.

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Part 1 – My Experience with Historical Research

I had to write a senior thesis before I could graduate high school.  Perhaps you or your children had a similar requirement.  There were only few options that we were allowed to pursue.  One of them involved sending the final paper to a scholarship competition hosted by the local historical society.  The other options didn’t have any payout, so, I pursued the scholarship.

The rules of the competition have faded from my memory over the years, but the gist of was this: applicants had to do original firsthand research about an event, person, or place in Wayne County, New York.

I’m willing to bet that you’ve never been to Wayne County.  It’s a rural county along the southern shore of Lake Ontario in upstate New York.  It’s a sleepy place with lots of apple farms and a nuclear plant.  There’s not a whole lot more than that though, or so I thought at the time. Like many of my classmates, I found the place dull, and I couldn’t wait to leave for college.  I was turned off to the idea about writing about it because I couldn’t conceive that anything interesting had ever happened there, but maybe I could win that scholarship. What could I possibly learn that was unknown about a place so boring?

Luckily, someone had put together a list of potential topics for students to consider.  I’m not sure if it was the county Historian, or maybe it was my English teacher who wrote the list.  I guess it doesn’t matter much either way, because I suppose I owe both of then a debt of gratitude.

One item on the list caught my attention: composers of Wayne County.  For sure this had to be an error.  Clearly it was meant to say composters of Wayne County.  I was sure that no one of musical significance could have ever come from Wayne County.  It was much more likely that with so many farms around, there had to be rotting piles of apples somewhere that could be used to fertilize the soil.  Luckily, my English teacher was not as convinced as I was, so she encouraged me to join the field trip to the County Historian office so I could find out for myself.

So, I agreed to go check it out. If nothing else, it would be a welcome day of respite from the monotony of the classroom.  So, I went along, still in disbelief.  When we arrived, a clerk gave us all a brief orientation of facilities.  I pulled out the list, and I grilled her about the composer suggestion.  I’m sure my voice was drenched in the tone of the arrogance of youth.  She blew my mind when she explained that Wayne County actually had a significant music scene in the 1800s.


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That world was long gone, and it didn’t sound anything like the place where I lived.  I couldn’t reconcile the idea of Wayne County being a relevant cultural hub with the farm county that it was in the 1990s.  I had to know more.  I was hooked and I had my topic for my paper.  Lucky for me, the Historian’s office and my teacher were willing to teach me the skills to find and analyze various types of sources.

I should mention, these were the days before the internet.  Back then if you wanted to research something you usually started at a library and looked for a book on the topic. That could usually get you far, but this essay contest had to be original research. That meant I had to write about something that wasn’t already documented in a book.  In other words, I had to use other resources like government records, newspaper articles, and any real-world artifacts I could find.  In my case, I was lucky to find old playbills and programs from concerts that occurred more than a century before I was born. 

These kinds of documents take up lots of space, so historians used to take photos of them on microfiche film.  Then you’d have to sift through drawers of microfiche, insert the film into a machine and view it through this telescope looking machine.  Don’t worry if you’re unfamiliar with this technology, this post isn’t really about that.  I just want to point out how the world we live in changes over time, and this in turn, influences the way experience and learn about the world.  By writing this paper, I gained a much greater understanding of the place where I lived more than 100 years before I was born, and the technologies used to preserve it. The internet has simplified much of this process, but there are still plenty of real-world artifacts out there to consider, so I wanted to highlight this as possibility, just to be sure you’re aware that you’re not limited to tapping on your computer keys.  This activity can be much more rewarding and fun than that!

I was unfocused as I sifted through dozens of newspaper articles before I noticed a trend of articles about a particular composer who lived in Wayne County in the 1800s.  Eventually, I came across playbills from a performer with the same last name, and articles about an internationally known music school also run by someone with the same last name.  I consulted with genealogy records and confirmed that they were all members of the same family.  Once I made this connection I kept digging and found that they were succusses both locally and globally.  Eventually, I was able to recreate a rough historical account of their professional lives.  I wrote it down then sent it to my English teacher and the Historical Society.  Long story short, I got the credit I needed to graduate, and I won a scholarship to help pay for college.  The article was published into a book with other scholarship winners from that year.

Now that would have been wonderful if that was where the story ended, but there is still icing left to put on this cake.  Years later, I received a letter from a woman claiming to be a descendant of the family I wrote about.  She discovered the article I had written while doing genealogical research about her family at the Historical Society.  She told me of an old violin, which had been handed down for generations in her family.  She thought there was a chance that it could have been played the same ancestors that I wrote about.  Her granddaughter was using it to take lessons.

That was the first time anyone had ever read anything I’ve written that wasn’t my mother or a teacher.  Someone I never met found my paper, learned something about her family history and was enriched by the experience.  I put something in the world that mattered to somebody and that made me proud.  You can do that too. 

In my estimation there are about four people in the world who read that paper: my teacher, the person who chose the scholarship winner, the descendant of the family, and me.  Let me summarize some of the effects of this work: the publication, the scholarship, fulfillment of my graduation requirement, the contribution to a reader’s understanding of her family history.  That’s with a readership of four people.  Think of all the potential impacts you could have by posting your own original research on the internet.  Sound enticing?  Get to work.

Music as Creative Inspiration

Please feel free to listen to this album as you read this post and its links. For the past two weekends I was taking a course given by Antolina Ortiz…

Music as Creative Inspiration

Hobby #22: Play for Patriotism & Community – Join a Firemen’s Band

Did you play a brass, woodwind, or percussion instrument in high school? If so, this may be a new fun hobby for you.

Firemen’s Bands and Community Groups

Summertime is here (if you live in the northern hemisphere) and with the warmer weather comes many community events.  Hopefully Covid won’t ruin them for us this year!

In the U.S. we have several national holidays during the summer like Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day.  Small towns also usually have local holidays.  Often these events are commemorated with parades and festivals.  Parades may look a different in various parts of the world, but I bet most of them feature music.  So, if you’re looking for a new hobby, there is a good chance you can adapt what I say here to fit your local culture.

There are several different community groups that take part in parades such as drum & pipe corps, fireman’s bands, and high school marching bands that fill up the rosters.  Unless you’re a person of a certain age, you’re not going to be in the high school marching band. (However, you may be able to volunteer to support them.  Perhaps I’ll write another post about that.  In the meantime, consider reaching out to your school’s band director to see how you can support them.) Luckily, you may be able to join a drum and pipe corps or a fireman’s band.  I’m sure that the process for joining these groups will be different based on where you live, but when I played trumpet in fireman’s bands about 20 years ago it was easy.

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Will You Fit In? Do You Have the Skills?

Fireman’s bands, despite the name, are not usually composed of firefighters. The band is usually local volunteers who march with the firefighters to show support and bring extra energy to the parade. These bands usually play patriotic standards like John Philip Sousa marches, most of which you’re probably already familiar with. The people in the bands I played with were of all ages from high school on up to their 70s. If you could walk and play an instrument you could join. Occasionally we even played on the back of a flatbed truck to allow the elderly and less mobile founders of the band to play. I think they were in their 80s, so it was very inclusive.

The skill levels of band members varied considerably, but I don’t remember there being any real superstar players.  Some folks could play well, but there were Miles Davis caliber players there.  If I had to guess, most folks would have sat in the middle of the section of their high school bands.  Players of most skill levels were welcome.

We tried hard to sound good, but enthusiasm was valued more than perfection.  If you could play a familiar song like “The Stars and Stripes Forever” reasonably well with just a few rehearsals, you were in.  I don’t recall having to play an audition, so it was pretty low pressure.

Being able to sight read was a helpful skill, but I think a player who plays by ear could have easily gotten by, especially since the music was mostly standards.  However, occasionally the band leader would throw a less familiar piece into the mix with little notice, so it really is best if you are a competent reader of music. 

I believe we rehearsed about once a week during parade season and the few weeks preceding.  Of course, you were encouraged to attend them all but it was a volunteer organization so they understood if you couldn’t make it.  I believe there was an expectation that you’d come to rehearsal before each parade, but once they knew that you could play even that was a flexible requirement. 

I grew up in Upstate New York, where it’s frozen half of the year so we stay inside mostly.  The rest of the year is party time, so the parades tend to fall between the end of May and early September.  This meant there were parades most weekends during that time.  Of course, band members had lives outside of the band, so we didn’t expect you to be there every week. If I had to guess I might have made it to half of the parades, maybe even less.

The band leaders were flexible about attendance.  That sometimes meant we were challenged to put a full band together for parade day.   Occasionally the band leaders had to resort to gentle “arm twisting” to get enough people there, but I think most weeks we got by with whomever was available.  I can remember a few parades where we only had a handful of people.  Surprisingly, it didn’t stop us from participating, we just played louder, and we had just as much fun.

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What Kind of Equipment Do You Need?

You had to bring your own instrument and a lyre to hold your music.  The bands provided the uniform and the sheet music.

I recommend choosing your instrument carefully.  I used to own two trumpets, my fancy expensive silver Bach Stradivarius, and my modest student model horn.  If you have the choice, I recommend using a less expensive instrument for marching.  There can be a lot of people bumping into each other, at the end of parades or in the fairground, especially if you or your bandmates like to get a little tipsy in the beer tent. You won’t carry your case with you when you march, and you may have to leave at the beginning of the parade. Then you’ll have to carry your horn around at the end until you get back to the case. (PRO TIP: Park at the end of the parade route and walk to the rally point.  That way it’s easy to throw your horn in the trunk and you’ll be able to enjoy the festivities without worrying about it.)  Some folks were trusting enough to leave their horns unattended on a picnic table.  I can’t say I recommend that, but if you do you run a bigger risk of theft with an expensive horn so be wise.  (Check eBay and Reverb.com for inexpensive or used instruments).

We traveled around the surrounding counties, so transportation was something you had to consider. We never went more than an hour from home for a parade. Some members carpooled to reduce emissions and travel costs.

Benefits of Playing in Community Bands

The Blawenberg Band, Hopewell, NJ Memorial Day Parade May 29, 2022

This hobby is a fun way to show your support for your community, show your patriotism, honor veterans and first responders, support your local chamber of commerce, and connect with your neighbors.  It’s low commitment and more likely than not, you’ll be familiar with most of the songs you’ll be asked to play so unless you’re in a particularly ambitious band, you probably have the skills you need.

The band that I played in paid small stipends for each parade that you played.  As I recall, it was about $19 a parade (that’s what it was in 1997-1999).  This money came from prize money and from the parade organizers.  That was enough to cover the gas to get there, but not much more.  It certainly wasn’t the sort of thing you did to get rich; it was a fun way to keep up my chops over the summer. 

One of the best perks was that we usually got into the beer tent for free.  Sometimes that meant free admission, sometimes it meant free beer.  I was not of legal drinking age at the time, so the admission bracelet was highly coveted by my friends.

Parting Advice

Admittedly, my experience with marching bands is fairly dated, so if you’re thinking about exploring this idea, I strongly recommend reaching out to your local fire department.  Do NOT call 911 for this, please find the non-emergency number or email.  Even better yet, use google to find the community groups in your area and contact them directly.  Alternatively, next time you’re at the parade you can usually meet up with the band at the end of the parade and ask them in real life.  Often there is a bonus concert at the end of the parade near the beer tent. If you’re not sure where to find them, I recommend looking there.

One last bit of advice: Beware of horses! Always keep one eye on the ground in front of you and make sure to choose appropriate footwear. You may even want to keep an extra pair of shoes in the car. Other than that, have fun… and thanks for supporting the community!

Beware of the beasts that march ahead of you! They can be unforgiving on your shoes.

Hobby #39: Digital Nostalgia of an Analog World: Mix Tapes, Playlists, and Finding Your Musical Voice When You Have No Musical Skills

The goal of this blog is to help adults create more joyous lives by reviving the love for music that has been lost amongst our adult responsibilities.  In an earlier article I promised to post ideas for people who have minimal or no musical skills.  If that is you, then this post is meant for you, however, if you already have some chops, you’re still going to want to stick around.

If you’re of a certain age, you probably spent some time making mix tapes. If you were a broke kid like I was, you waited for your favorite song to come on the radio, then you’d drop everything to run across the room and press record.  Of course, you never got there fast enough so all of your songs were missing the intro sections.  Maybe you were lucky enough to have a double deck player and a lot of cassettes, so you didn’t have that problem, but for some of us the struggle was real.  What was worse, was that a lot of great music never made it to the radio.  If you were into obscure bands then you were out of luck unless you could find a station zany enough to align with your tastes.

If you’re one of the younger readers and you grew up in the time of streaming services, then you’re probably laughing at the notion.  It must sound archaic to you. It kind of was, but we loved our tunes and that was just the state of the technology at the time.

Well, you did have another option.  You could buy lot of albums, (collections of 12-20 songs that came on some kind of physical media such as cassettes, CDs, vinyl LPs, etc.), to round out your collection.  An album cost $15-20 dollars back then and you usually didn’t have the option of buying just one song.  You could then copy songs from those tapes to a new tape.  You had more control that way, so you never missed the intro section, but it cost more money.

So, to summarize, that you had to either work for your music by waiting for your tune to come on the radio and hitting record or you had to pay for your music (you usually had to buy a full album). Any way you sliced it, you had to EARN it.  When you earn something, you tend to appreciate it more.  Of course, I’m trying to draw a contrast here to the music of today, that is conveniently available instantly at your fingertips for free.  There’s still plenty of good music out there, but it feels more disposable now, because it is so effortless to obtain.

I know that sounds dramatic but stick with me here.  One of the things that people did with mix tapes was give them as gifts to one another.  One of the most common mix tapes was when lovers captured the songs that reminded them of each other.  It was a prelude to Netflix and Chill, it was personalized, and you understood the effort your lover put into making it. So, when someone gave you a mix tape, you really appreciated the gesture.  Plenty of folks considered a mixtape to be one of the most romantic and thoughtful gifts a person could receive.

Some people created custom artwork to amplify the mood.   Of course, this was before people had computers in their homes, so the artwork was almost always hand-drawn, a photograph retrieved from the photo lab or made from clippings from magazines.  (That sounds really of creepy now, but it wasn’t then… well, not as long as you actually liked the person who gave it to you. If you got a tape from someone you didn’t like, well that was definitely creepy then too). Regardless it was one more creative outlet to show someone how much you cared and further amp up the romance.

Of course, you didn’t have to put love songs on your tapes.  You could make a tape for any theme that you wanted.  The ones I remember were usually ones my friends and I made for road trips or for parties.  Either way, we literally created the soundtrack to our lives on those plastic cassettes.  These tapes became literal artifacts of our childhoods.  I like to imagine a day, long after humanity is extinct, that an alien archaeologist will find a box of these tapes and will conduct research on the precious artifacts. Perhaps the artwork will be miraculously preserved in addition to the audio.  I wish I could be there to read the alien musicologist Ph.D. dissertations that could be written on the topic.   

About 10 years ago, I got in touch with a friend from high school.  Somehow the topic of mixed tapes came up and she mentioned that no one had ever given her one. It haunted her, after all those years, that she had missed out on this rite of passage.  It haunted me too, enough so that I remembered the discussion when I was Marie Kondo-ing my life to prepare for an upcoming move.  I found an old Walkman in a box of stuff from college, and it reminded me of her.  I put some fresh batteries in it, and by some miracle it still worked.  I could have tossed that Walkman in the trash, perhaps it could have been the missing link that  the alien archeologist will need to play the box of tapes it will one day find.   I didn’t though, because I knew the one person on the planet who would really appreciate a Walkman and who would really be touched by an old-school mixed tape. 

I tried to think back of our times in high school, to see if I could create a nostalgic playlist, but my memory was just not good enough for that.  So, I shifted my strategy. During our conversation she mentioned that she had become vegan and worked at some kind of animal rescue.  Her compassion for animals was dear to her heart, so I set myself on a mission to find songs about veganism and animals.  It took a fair amount of research, but I did it.  It was as weird as you’d probably expect it to be.

Of course, this was in the age of the internet, so the research wasn’t that difficult, and it only cost me a few bucks to download the tunes to a playlist.  It took a little engineering to get my computer to record to cassette, but lucky for me, I know a little bit about audio engineering (more on that in a future post).  It took an hour or so to dump the tunes to tape.  I listened to my masterpiece while I handwrote the track list in the jewel case. (That playlist is preserved  on an old computer, if you’re curious I can try to retrieve it.  If so, leave a comment).  When it was done, I packaged it up, dropped it in the snail mail and waited. 

A few days later, my phone rang.  My friend thanked me profusely. She laughed and cried, and we continued our poignant nostalgia trip through time.  It was a wonderful way to reconnect with an old friend and it felt amazing to know that she had finally received her own personalized mix tape, and was freed from the lingering teenage angst that haunted her since high school.

Now I’m not saying you need an old cassette deck to make a mix tape.  You can do the same thing with your favorite streaming service.  You can make playlists – either for yourself or for your friends.  You can share them on social media.  In fact, some people actually make money doing exactly that.

Here are a few fun themes to get you started, but I recommend coming up with your own.  The weirder the better.:

  • Top 10 songs on the day your child was born
  • Songs that were popular in the country where you went on your honeymoon on the day of your honeymoon
  • Songs that you requested be played at your wedding (or songs that were on the “don’t play” list if you want to irritate your ex)
  • Songs that make you think about someone special
  • Protest songs through the ages
  • DJ a gab session with your friends in real time- when someone says something memorable try to play a song that intensifies the mood.  The next day, send your friends the playlist.
  • Songs that inspire you to create art, work out, do chores, etc.

If you really want to amp this idea up, start a club where you and your friends make playlists on a topic, then you get together, crack open some bottles of wine and listen together.  My friends and I used to do it at the KILL YOUR RADIO CLUB and we really loved research the lists and seeing how different our lists were despite the common theme.  It was a wonderful way to learn new music, and to learn more about your friends taste in music and their values.

You might be thinking “Spotify playlist are no big secret, I could have thought of that.”  To which I would respond, “Sure you could, but did you?”  I’m willing to bet most of you haven’t ever made a playlist on your favorite streaming service. For those of you that have- you probably haven’t bothered to share it with someone you love. Let’s face it, sharing the tunes we love with others is part of what makes the experience special.  If you agree, you might want to share this article with someone you love then make playlists for each other.

Go ahead, give it a try.  Pick a thoughtful theme and share it with someone you love.  Also share it with me in a comment, I’d love to see what you come up with!

This post is getting long, but I’ve got plenty more ideas for play lists.  I might even post some here if there is interest.  If so, let me know.

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!

Welcome to Plan M

Maybe you had big dreams of being a rock star, country diva, or rapper when you were a kid.  So many of us shared that dream.  For most people, this dream was fleeting.  It appeared suddenly as you rocked out into your hairbrush microphone in front of an audience of one in the mirror, then it faded away as mysteriously as it appeared. 

For some of us of though, this dream persistent.  We rushed home from school so we could get to band practice sooner or woke up in the middle of the night with a lyric we were too afraid we forget- only to find that we couldn’t get back to sleep and had to stay up all night to finish the song.  For us, music was career Plan A.

Perhaps you took music lessons or maybe you were self-taught.  Either way, try to remember what it felt like the first time you were able to honk out a vaguely discernable melody on your instrument.  Try to remember first time you created musical harmony with another person’s voice.  Remember the tingles that shot down your spin the first time you played E power cord through an overdriven amp or spit out an improvised rhyme that was so inspired and fresh that you surprised yourself with how creative you could be.  Think hard.  Can you remember it?  Can you feel it?   If you’ve read this far, I’m willing to bet that you can– and that chill is still on your spine, that’s the magic coming back.  Revel in it.

Now, unless you’re a professional working musician, you probably moved on from your musical dreams at some point.  Maybe you retired your guitar to its case under the bed when you left for college.  Maybe you did musical theatre in a community group for a bit but gave it up after having kids.  Maybe you grew tired of trying to sing over the roar of the coffee grinders at open mic nights.  Regardless of your path, at some point you probably abandoned your musical ambitions and moved on to your Plan B.  We all promised we wouldn’t do it, but eventually the pressures of the real world beat us down. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the real-world and you’re an adult.  You did what you had to do, and that’s ok.  You took a job in a bank, or a factory, or hospital.  Hopefully whatever you do pays the bills and brings you fulfillment.  Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.

Photo by Suvan Chowdhury on Pexels.com

After transitioning to Plan B, your life went on.  You moved to a new state, you found a different career, had kids, got divorced… who knows, but you eventually landed on Plan C, then you adapted your life to overcome some new challenges and found yourself on Plan D.  The cycle continued.

You struggled, you persevered, and now here you are today surfing the web to find ways to enrich your life.  Perhaps the hair on the back of your neck is still on end from a few paragraphs ago.  I’m hoping I triggered a memory so vivid and rich that you’re beginning to realize how much happiness music used to bring to your life, and maybe you’re feeling inspired to recapture that feeling.  If so, this blog is for you – to help you find your Plan M- creating a more meaningful life through the magic of music.

Right about now you’re probably intrigued by the idea of being more musical, but the pressures of the real world are already starting to make you doubt yourself.  You’re thinking you don’t have the time, or the money, or the talent. Stop that! Stop it now! 

I’ll be honest up front; I’m not going make you into the next Kendrick Lamar here.  That would take a lot of time and effort, and quite frankly, you and I don’t have that kind of time or talent.  We’re looking to find joy here, not to become rich and famous.   You don’t need talent, money, or even lots of time to find joy.  Talent is obviously optional for happiness (just look at all the terrible singers who love doing karaoke).  Many of the ideas you find here won’t cost you a penny.  Some of the ideas described here require minimal amounts of your time.   Some of them you can do with your kids, while other ideas will be better experienced alone, and some will be better in big celebrations with all your loved ones. I’m going to do my best to cover as many genres as I can too.  There is a little something for everyone. Leave your insecurities and the door and enjoy.

 Let’s begin.

{On May 7, 2022 I posted a response to this entry. If you’d like to read more, please be sure to read “What Can I Do For You? What Can You Do For Me? How Can You Help Yourself?” Enjoy!}

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.

Making Music in Adulthood

April 19, 2022

I played in a number of bands through my teenage years and through college. Some were more successful than others, but none of them had me on the fast track to super-stardom. Bummer.

The band I played in during college was kind of successful. I used to look forward to weekly rehearsals and gigs, and I really missed the community that arose around us after graduation. Sure, we were playing gigs mostly in our small college town, but we sold out the clubs each time we played. We had a consistent fan base who wanted to hear our music and be part of our “scene.”

I don’t want to mislead you into thinking this was some grand endeavor. The biggest club probably held 400-500 people. Many of them were much smaller. The size of the crowd didn’t really matter though, those were OUR fans. All 500 of them, and we were part of their community and that was special.

Predictably, that band broke up after graduation and I moved to the city to start the transition to adulthood. I had a job and a few friends and family in town, but otherwise my life was a blank slate. I wanted to make music, but I didn’t know any musicians in the area. Sure, I could have started over, but that was daunting and to be honest, I wasn’t sure that I had the kind of energy it would take to create a new band from scratch. After all, now I had real-world responsibilities and I couldn’t stay out all night at the clubs like I used to do.

One day I ran into a buddy from college. He was the founder of our college acapella band. He and I toyed with the idea of starting a band for a while. We experimented with different lineups (including using a drum machine when no suitable human was available). We played some gigs and drank some beer. It was fun, but it was pretty clear it wasn’t going anywhere. Eventually, we stalled out.

One day our little band decided to do a little recording session with some of our friends, friends who had some musical talent but weren’t really interested in being in a band. It was more of a goof than anything.

We wrote a comedic parody of U2’s “One” with lyrics about Elliot Spitzer’s sexual proclivities. We were pretty proud of the outcome, so we sent it to our local radio station hoping they’d play it on the morning show. We got an email back from the DJs saying how great they thought it was, but it was too spicy for radio. So, we made a video slideshow to go with it and threw it up on YouTube. It got to about 70,000 hits and then it got taken down due to copyright violations. We didn’t understand that we couldn’t use photos from the media. Oops! Lessons learned.

Anyway, things fizzled out for that band shortly after that. We called it quits- for a while. Then one day my buddy’s wife suggested that we give it another go. She said that her husband was happier when he was making music and she really wanted to encourage him to have that kind of influence in his life.

I’m not sure that I had the self-awareness at that moment to know that I felt the same way, but I do now. In fact, that moment has hung with me for 15 years. I thought it was amazing that she supported us making loud noises in her basement, while she watched their two young girls upstairs. She was trying to let her pursue the things that made him happy in life. She did it with a smile (even though I know she didn’t appreciate it when we vibrated the wine glasses off the wine rack).

Sure, that says a lot about her. Clearly, she’s an amazing wife. (My wife is similarly supportive and exceedingly awesome like that as well. It’s part of why I married her!) Perhaps more importantly though is the realization that even though we weren’t kids anymore, even though we had given up on Plan A- Be a Rockstar, rule the world and we had moved on to Plan B- get a job pay bills. We didn’t have to give up on the music. We just had to find a way to be more creative about how we did it. That’s what this series of articles is going to be about… how to keep the moment up with music after your life changes.

Maybe you had a Plan A that led you into a successful career. Great for you! Maybe your life took you down some winding roads and you found your success on the second or third attempt. Maybe you’re still trying to find your path. Either way, if you’re looking to make music a bigger part of your life, and make your life happier, then this series is for you. This is how to move on to Plan M.

Thoughts on Sponsored Content

April 1, 2022

I know the internet is full of people who are sensitive about advertisements and the role that influencers have on sales. I’ve got mixed feelings on the topic myself, and now that I’m creating something and putting it into the world, I’ll have to figure out how to proceed. So let’s start that conversation here.

I should make it clear; I don’t have any sponsors. Honestly, I don’t think I have any readers yet. This blog has only been active for a few weeks. I haven’t even told anyone I’m doing it and I don’t think anyone has seen it. As of the time I’m writing this, there have been three hits and they were most likely all me. I don’t expect sponsors will be knocking down my door anytime soon, although I admit, I wouldn’t be opposed to sponsorship if it were offered.

That being said, it’s not too early to consider how to handle talking about products, because even though I’m not paid to say so, my opinions about certain products may be considered an endorsement.

I’ve been putting links to some of the products I’ve used in the blog. I don’t have to do that, but I think it could be interesting or helpful to anyone working on a similar project.

For instance, when I link to a product, such as the HX Stomp that I have mentioned many times, I have to make a choice. I could decide to link to the Line 6 webpage which would give you some great information about the product. Alternatively, I could link to the Sweetwater website which would help you buy it quickly. Of course, I could just as easily link you to the Guitar Center website that would get you the same product from a different company. Is it right for me to endorse one major box store over another? I don’t know. I like them both and I shop at them both. I could just as easily link to one of the many YouTube channels that reviewed the HX stomp and that would give you yet another perspective. That could help an up-and-coming influencer get started.

Honestly, I don’t know what the right strategy is. I don’t know if it makes a big difference, any option I choose may show an actual bias that I have. It just as easily may suggest a bias I don’t have but APPEAR to have. I don’t have any qualms about telling you about great products when I find them, why should I? I want you to love making music and great gear helps! If I find crappy gear, I’m not likely to use it, so I probably won’t be writing much about the negative experiences (unless it really pisses me off, then I reserve the right to rant). So please, understand that this is a bias that I have- I’m going to write about the good stuff, and as of now I’m doing it because I want to, no one is paying me for my opinion.

You probably believe me now because I’m nobody. You’ve never heard of me, and neither has anyone at Sweetwater except for my Customer Service Rep (shoutout to Adam Caesar) and maybe the folks at my local Guitar Centers. The burden is on you, dear buyer, you’ve got to be an educated buyer. I did the research myself before I bought the HX stomp by looking at all of those resources. I like it and find it to be a hugely useful tool in my studio. You might think the same thing, you might not. I don’t know. I’d be curious to hear your opinions on this product or any of the others I mention.

I’m also interested if a certain type of link is more useful to you, my readers (if you exist). Leave a comment or email me. Let me know. Right now I have no corporate masters, so mold me as you want me to be and I’ll see how I can best support your needs.

Getting Started – Collecting My Thoughts and Developing a Plan

Originally Posted February 6, 2022

I’m going to keep this one really short and sweet. Yesterday I took stock of the riffs I’ve been working on and I made a quick catalog. My plan is to use the information below to keep me on track. I keep this in a text file in my recording folder.

Yesterday I spent some time doing an evaluation of “Amnesty for Asking.” I’ve got demo stems arranged in a rough format that I think will work and my next step is to go back and replay all the parts so they sound decent, not necessarily prefect. 😉

I’ve also got a bunch more songs to work through, so if I’m not feeling like working on Amnesty I may move down the list to find one that better suits my mood. I can update the file periodically so that I always have a decent status of how far along each song is.

One consideration I have is for efficiency sake, it’s probably best to finish one or two tunes then move on so I don’t get stuck in intermediate steps of songs for ages. We’ll see how that works out.

Here is my current assessment of licks/demos:

Updated Feb 6, 2022


1. Slow Grind 80bpm- Reminiscent of Old Pumpkins – Shoe Gazer

2. Cool Delay Effects (Keely or Boss DD200)

3. Major

4. Fairly well developed (multiple sections written)

5. Likely to be heavily processed, may be good to wait until better with FX

6. Slow tasty bends & Reverse Guitars, FUZZ with Submachine

7. People assume you mean something evil when you ask a question – getting judged/canceled


NEXT STEPS: Pump up the drums and retract guitars


1. 120 BPM CMaj

2. Grinding

3. Fairly well developed (multiple sections)

4. Riffed out

5. Could be straightforward, but will need a shredding solo


1. Midtempo Bob – 106pm in FMaj

2. Room for tasteful leads and bass groove

3. Pop format likely- may need a new bridge

4. Slow bends

5. Needs ambiance

6. Will need vocals to carry it and great lyrics


1. Cliche funk guitar lick with rudimentary drumbeat- needs a lot of work

2. Think of an updated CS lyric

3. May want to go full shoegaze

4. Write fun lyrics about people go get the good old days/Britney Spears was free

5. 112 BPM B Maj

6. Just the root of a song, not much to work with yet


1. Dark Groove A minor 95 bpm

2. Interesting harmony & melodic leads are well developed

3. Latin drums are interesting but will need some work

4. Experiments with the Major sections need to figure out what works best

5. May need a new arrangement with all the major stuff at the end like Layla piano part

6. Arrangement needs work, probably needs at least one more minor modal section


1. A minor 100 BPM

2. Despite being minor it is very uplifting

3. Lead noodling has some good ideas

4. Acoustic groove with ambient guitars are uplifting

5. Rough bass part (needs to be more inspired)

6. Is a nice contrast to other songs

7. Repetition in the bridge is cool


1. Slow half-time grind (136bpm Cmaj?)

2. Lots of rhythmic space is a nice contrast

3. Right now its only two sections- will need lots more development (listen all the way to the end for a CODA section)


1. 6/8 is a nice contrast

2. Feels like a drinking song

3. Can play the Taylor

4. Maybe relatively simple

5. Nice progression (IV iv cadences)

6. Not much to it other than a chord progression

7. 88pm Cmaj? (Doublecheck Logic Settings may be incorrect)


1. Light arpeggiated rif

2. 100 bpm Dmaj

3. Some ok lead ideas

4. Opportunity for space FX

5. Some riffs sound stiff, you’ll need to practice before you can track

6. Standard form may not be the best, think more about the arrangement

7. Could be a nice final track


1. Slow heavy grind with feedback – 110 BPM Minor

2. Good chance to layer guitars- several ideas on demo

3. Sound doesn’t really match the inspiration based on the guy who build the secret condo in the mall