Trying to be consistent

Previously, I’ve mentioned the importance of regulary producing art, over and over, so that you keep up with yourself. Otherwise your art gets stale before you’re done, and you end up scrapping it or never completing it.

The other benefit of regularly producing art is that you learn to be consistent. Consistency is an important aspect of trust. Trustworthy musicians are fun to play with. Of course, good musicians are even more fun! But, it’s good to be trustworthy. I’m not going to get into the band dynamics that come from being trustworthy, that’s what sites like How to Run a Band are for (disclosure: I’m in a band with Seth). And I won’t get into the importance of your fans trusting you, and so on.

But if the quality of your art is all over the map, then you will suffer. If you’re awake one day, and hung over the next, then you’ll suffer. If you only make art when you’re inspired, then you’ll suffer through long periods of time without productivity. You probably already suffer. That’s why you’re an artist. Might as well avoid letting your art suffer, too.

But make sure you’re being realistic. I set a goal to make a blog post once/week, which I thought was realistic at the time, and yet I’m quickly closing the gap of only being a few weeks ahead. I started a few months ahead. By the time you are reading this, I will be on vacation. Good thing I am still ahead! I can focus on my family over vacation. It’s a challenge, but it pays off. And I hope this is a realistic challenge. If I stop delivering a blog post every week, then I expect people will stop checking up on me to see what’s up, and I will get even farther behind when I have tours or vacations.

On a related note, if I don’t write good content, then you’ll stop too! Another example of setting realistic goals: you need to have consistent quality.

This post is probably on the low end of the quality spectrum, but just a thought that I felt was worth sharing.

Trying to change

During my recent time spent studying under Brian Oppel, I had the opportunity to learn some techniques that made drumming more efficient. I would work on my assignments, and could track my progress. It felt great.

And then I’d play a show, and would feel like a complete moron. All these songs that I had previously learned started to feel stiff and awkward. I hated the technique and inflections I was playing. I complained about this, and he suggested that I not worry about it so much. He told me to just let the new techniques slowly integrate themselves into my playing, and just play old songs however I had originally learned–and not stress out so much about it.

Since then, I’ve thought about this some more. One of the things that changes with experience is your perspective. I was perfectly happy with how I was playing old songs, up until I learned a new way to play. I also have to manage my resources: am I really going to go back and relearn every single song I might play live? That’s not realistic. It’s far more productive to focus on being a better musician in the long term and practice the more efficient techniques. Actually, now that I writing this… perhaps use old songs as exercises and kill two birds with one stone. Just make sure you are practicing correctly.

Here’s a pitfall: integrating a new “efficient” way of doing something into your life immediately. You may understand how the new thing is awesome, but you’re not even close to mastering it at the same level as the old “inefficient” way. So you’ll probably mess that up, too. If you’re going to replace a way that you do something, you better be coming out ahead. Give yourself plenty of time to practice the new way in situations where no one is depending on you or where you have low visibility.

So, I think the point is that change can’t happen overnight, and it’s disruptive to try to force it. Instead, better to allow the new techniques to just integrate themselves into your life as you move on. Otherwise, you’ll get stressed out and be unhappy, which will just slow you down even more.


Hey, I just performed darbuka, aka doumbek, in front of a live audience for the first time last night! I was just sitting in with the quite talented Marchette DuBois and James Hoskins at Cafe Paloma here in Seattle, playing some Balkan rhythms on the side from time to time. But it’s always exciting to play a new instrument in front of people for the first time! I also learned to play the tupan this year, so really expanding my horizons lately and it feels great.

Why you should play the drums

Eleven reasons why you should not play the drums

1. You will not make any money.

Musicians don’t make much money. The vast majority of us supplement our income with a day job. Plus, programmed drums can be cheaper. If you’re lucky, you can be a poor professional who competes with drummers who care more about music than you. The richest drummer is Ringo Starr, who a lot of people seem to mock as if he sucks. Even the richest drummer has a curse.

2. You have to haul stuff.

You spend more time hauling than performing. You must own a car, unless you live in New York. Don’t expect others to haul your stuff–that’s why they are playing another instrument.  You spend 2 hours/day just setting up and breaking down your equipment. You are the only person in the band with a car. Or worse, you don’t have a car, and you’re constantly being kicked out of the band because you’re such a mooch becuase you’re so poor buying equipment.

3. Equipment is expensive.

Drumsticks, Cymbals, Heads. They constantly break, and must be replaced or you can’t play. No, you’re not getting a sponsorship remotely soon. Only superhumans get sponsorships. You need a cymbal bag to store your cymbals, or they will break more quickly. You need a stick bag. You need a freaking car.

4. Playing is hot and sweaty.

You can’t play anywhere without having to change your clothes every time, or else you smell bad.

5. You aren’t the center of attention.

The singer should get all the attention, for a great reason. Everyone likes to sing. People rarely get a drumbeat stuck in their head. They never see you anyway, because there’s always a person or a cymbal in front of you in every direction.

6. You’re loud and annoy people.

Pike Place Market bans percussion for this reason. And you seriously have to go out of your way to play quietly. People would rather just hear a singer/songwriter.

7. It takes a long time to learn, and it’s repetitive.

Stop playing drum fills all over the place because you’re bored. The musicians mostly want someone to lay down a beat. Beat It, by Michael Jackson, is a massively successful song with the simplest possible rock beat for 5 minutes straight. That is what they want.

8. Most people don’t want to hear a drum soloist. If they do, it’s in context of a song.

See rules 5, 6, and 7 for more info. You’re not going to be a solo artist. Everyone hates that person on the street who plays drums on buckets.

9. You probably don’t have a sense of rhythm.

If you don’t constantly tap on things and annoy your parents, then it’s too late. You must practice to a metronome all the time.

10. You take up a lot of space, and usually play in a corner.

You’re trapped behind your drums, while everyone else gets to move around and interact with the audience. If you have to go to the restroom, you need to physically move your hi hat to get out. Or you’re pushed at the back of the stage, and may fall off on your back.

11. You have a bad attitude.

The previous ten rules bum you out, and you complain all the time. No one wants to play with you anyway.

The only reason you should play the drums

Because you know inside your soul, this is what you are meant to do.

Trying to choose

When I was a kid in band, my teachers would say different versions of something like ,”You have to learn the rules before you can break them.”

Recently I went through a year and a half of drum lessons with Brian Oppel to make sure I still had some perspective, and it occurred to me that there is something a little more subtle going on here. It’s not just that you need to learn the rules–it’s that you need to be able to be aware of your options. The rules are only part of the story; common tone theory, cadences, secondary dominants, rudiments, ghost notes, whatever. Even if you break those rules, you may still be reinventing the wheel. You have to listen to John Zorn, you have to listen to noise music, you have to listen to Asva, you have to listen to Classical and Country and Gamelan and Romani. Or if you listen to those things, then go and listen to Rebecca Black. And that just touches the surface. You also have to seek out all the art that you hate, and you better have a good reason for hating it other than “it’s different” or “it’s stupid”. You’re developing your pallete, so that you are aware of both the rules and the known broken rules. You have to be aware of all the options.

Essentially, the more you can zoom into every little thing that you do and turn every single note or action into a choice, the better you become as an artist. But that’s not enough. You have to practice enough so that each choice is both informed and instinctual, so that you can make choices quickly in the middle of a performance without deep thought. That’s the hard part, only borne from repetition and experience. Choose quickly, and choose often.