Archive for August, 2009

On Practicing

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

On Practicing

By Matt Marvuglio

Republished with permission from Artists House Music

There are so many things to say about practicing and it’s difficult to cover all of the aspects of practicing in one single article. But if I were to reduce it to one question it would be, “Why?” I think the answer would be, “We practice for performance.” I find that some of the best reasons to practice are for a specific engagement, audition, or maybe a recording session. That’s because you have to accomplish a specific task in the near future. The second kind of practice is more long term to keep improving on your instrument because you love playing it and you want to learn the literature and master it. Sometimes the two meet and practicing satisfies both reasons to prepare you for a single event. This will happen at different levels throughout your life. The best thing about practicing is if you do it correctly, you can be in the moment and really enjoy playing. Some musicians I know refer to practicing as a form of meditation.

When we play music or practice there are three levels of thinking going on at the same time. And the purpose of practicing is to process musical information into the following three categories of thinking or paying attention: automatic, veiled, and controlled. An automatic thinking process is when you are not aware of thinking or paying attention to what you are doing, but you are doing it. These are things like riding a bike, driving a car, skate boarding, and playing scales and arpeggios. Did you catch the last one? A veiled thinking process is doing two things at the same time where one requires a little more attention and requires more control. I think of it as riding a bike with someone and having a conversation at the same time. Or doing something when someone is talking to you and you keep saying, “What?,” even though you are pretty sure you heard them but you really want to make sure. (Maybe the last one only happens to me.) The musical version would be playing in a band or a quartet and you are playing in unison with one instrument while reading your part. A controlled thinking process is doing something that requires all of your attention and where you focus your attention to control a specific task. This is stopping for a red light, crossing the street, or looking at a conductor or a fellow band mate for an entrance.

As you can imagine, we need to incorporate all of these three levels of thinking into our practice because we are performing a number of different tasks at the same time. All of these tasks cannot have our full attention. Ask yourself, what requires your immediate attention when you are playing a piece of music? Is it the fingerings, the rhythm, and the form? The item that needs your full attention is the controlled process, the secondary task is veiled, and the one you are not even thinking about is the automatic process. You want to get to the point where you are paying attention to what is going on around you and interacting with the musicians in the band. You are not worried about fingerings or the rhythm but you can make music and enjoy it. This is when you know your practicing has paid off.

How we process music when we practice is through three different memory systems: hearing it (aural), seeing it (visual), and feeling it (tactile). It’s important to include all of these memory systems when you practice. This will help you from forgetting things because if one system fails, you can rely upon the others. Then you will have three chances for getting it right! Have you ever been playing where you forget what comes next in a piece and then you can either hear it or reach for it? Depending upon how you practice and your training, one memory system will be stronger than the other. For example, classically trained musicians have a very strong visual memory because they were trained from the beginning reading music. Other styles come to music through picking at an instrument or singing in the church choir. If you practice scales frequently without reading them you are building a strong tactile memory. Taking another approach to really listen while you’re playing is working on your aural system. Whatever your strength may be, you need to develop all of your memory systems and thinking processes on your instrument. I know of great musicians who practice scales while watching television. Or some talk about playing a piece of music while preparing a shopping list. These are clues as to what kind of processing these musicians have accomplished through practicing.

It would be good just to talk a little about two different kinds of practice. When I listen to different musicians practice there are two opposite ends of the spectrum. There is a level of practicing which is simply playing things you like, and mostly all of these pieces are things you can play. This becomes a get better and faster at all of the things you can do kind of practicing. I would call this maintenance practice. This is where you are really enjoying playing your instrument and making sure that you are keeping up your technique. Then there is a practice of playing music and technical exercises that you cannot perform which is self-improvement practice. This kind of practice usually involves playing in awkward keys or tempos that are too fast or too slow or simply things you can’t do. This kind of practice is very tiring and can create a good amount of tension. Actually, too much of this kind of practice could create physical problems with your playing. Make sure that you blend these different kinds of practice into each session.

Each practice session should contain both kinds of practicing and employ an elaborative rehearsal method. This technique of rehearsal involves making associations to other information you already know. By elaborating or creating a network of knowledge you can create a deeper or richer understand of the music on different levels. Most of us get locked into a rote rehearsal method at an early age. This technique is simply repeating the material over and over again to try to remember it. A common example used to illustrate this concept is repeating a phone number over and over again while running to the phone. It may last in your memory for a little while but it is soon forgotten. Sometimes this technique is confused with learning something by ear. If you learn something by ear and analyze it as a scale or arpeggio, then this is an elaborative rehearsal technique. If you just repeat it over and over again without trying to make a different connection each time, then you are learning by rote. Have you ever been playing a piece and you forget the music? It has happened to me on a number of occasions. If you need to go all the way back to the beginning of the piece to start again, you are not practicing properly and may be employing more of a rote rehearsal method. If you can start again by thinking of taking it from the theme, the last dominant chord, or the string entrance; then you are working more from an elaborative method where you are making different connections.

Let’s see if we can put this all together. You have heard of musicians practicing four- to six-hours a day. This is possible if you take breaks in between and employ different kinds of practice. But I would like to set up a weekly practice schedule for you based upon an hour, and you can modify this schedule to suit your specific needs. No matter what style of music you play, you should practice your technique, sound, and repertoire. And don’t forget to include a 10-minute warm up. I’m a flute player so I’ll leave you with a routine that works for me. Also, you can modify the routine to suit your own practice needs. I like to practice in six-day cycles where I give myself a day off. This provides me with an incubation period where I can reflect on the music I am playing and look at things differently. On this “day off” I usually end up practicing without my instrument, which is another kind of elaborative rehearsal technique. The following routine emphasizes an elaborative rehearsal method putting all of the memory systems to use.

Day 10 minutes 15 minutes 5 minutes 30 minutes
1 Warm up
(focus on rhythm and sound)
Scale study
(maybe major scales)
Analyze your piece without your instrument When introducing a new piece see how much you can sight read
2 Warm up
(focus on scale and sound)
Chord study
(maybe major triads)
Analyze a new section silently fingering your instrument Work on connections between scale and chord materials in the piece
3 Warm up
(focus on chords and sound)
New scale study
(minor scales)
Analyze another section Look for the repetitive sections and determine the form
4 Warm up
Day 1
New chord study
(minor triads)
Practice the piece without instrument See how much you can play by ear
5 Warm up
Day 2
Another new scale study (in 3rds) Practice difficult passages without instrument Work on special sections that need attention with instrument
6 Warm up
Day 3
Scale and chord study review of major and minor Sing the piece without the instrument See how much of the piece you can play by memory (visualize)

This practice routine is based upon self-improvement and does not include maintenance practice or what I consider just playing. As you can see this hour of practice is quite rigorous and you should blend both types of practice each day. It is important to blend your practice time so you can enjoy it. Yes, that’s correct. You should enjoy practicing. Practicing is a solitary event and should be blended with making music with others. Music is a social art and if you are spending numerous hours in the practice room without playing with others, something is wrong. Practice is for performance, play and be well.

Matt Marvuglio is Dean of the Performance Division at Berklee College of Music. As a virtuosic flutist and composer, he has traveled throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan, premiering his compositions for jazz flute. He has presented clinics for the National Flute Association, the Acoustic Society of America, and the International Flute Convention in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He teaches basic improvisation and ear training in Berklee’s online extension school, Berkleemusic. Visit Matt’s Web site.

MySpace Fundamentals

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Promote Your Music : Myspace Fundamentals
By Liam McCormack
Republished with permission from Artists House Music

Ok, I’ll admit it. I am addicted to MySpace. I love it. I’m on MySpace everyday and can’t get enough of it. The more I use MySpace as a promotional tool and a way to communicate with fans, promoters, industry contacts, bands, etc. I’ve found that many of the business ethics and concepts of professionalism that lead to success in the music business world are mirrored in the business relations of the online world. In respect to these ethics, here are some essential tips on how to build, design, and format your MySpace page correctly. I hope my insights will inspire new ideas and beneficial changes to your MySpace page.

Your Bread and Butter
Ignore all the cool site designs, flyers, links, and banners for a second. What is the most important thing on your page? The answer is your MUSIC!! The songs you post on MySpace are your page’s bread and butter. Your music will make fans or lose them. Just like the “real world,” you want to present your songs in the best form possible; so you should record professional demos of your songs and post them on your page. It’s hard to comprehend a catchy, well-written song through layers of static and a guitar amp that drowns out the vocals from your one-mic recording done in your basement. Posting high quality recordings on your page will put you above the thousands of bands on MySpace who have posted mediocre tracks. If you don’t have the money to record professionally, record acoustic tracks with just a vocal accompanied by guitar or piano until you’ve saved enough money to produce better recordings. This allows your fans to get into your songs in their purest form and it keeps the recording process simple. Another tip to consider is the order of the songs you post. My suggestion is to post your best song first; just like the first song on your album, you want it to draw the listener in. Posting a variety of songs on your page is also a plus. Displaying a range in your music abilities will impress people as well. Maybe someone who doesn’t like your louder songs will fall in love with the ballad track and purchase your CD. One recent update to MySpace gives bands the ability to post five songs in their profile, instead of just four. MySpace has an advertising deal with Bodog Entertainment. All you have to do is go to http://www.myspace.com/bodog, add Bodog as your friend and a fifth song option will appear for upload on your ‘Manage Your Songs’ admin page. Check it out!

Shows, Shows, Shows!
After you’ve posted some quality recordings on MySpace, there are still endless ways to improve your page and inform your fans about your band. Two important items for your MySpace page are your upcoming shows and your contact information. MySpace provides an easy way to enter show information and displays your upcoming shows in a calendar list on your page. Include as much information as possible about your shows so your fans don’t have any questions. Be sure to fully research the details of your gigs and list the date, time, venue address, price, other acts, etc. One possible way to draw more fans to your show is to list whom you’re playing with on the same line as the venue name that appears on your calendar. For Example: “June 22nd – The Avalon w/ The White Stripes.” If you are playing with a local band that you know has a good draw – it would be beneficial to list this right on your calendar to attract more fans to the event. The more information you give your fans about your gigs, the more you decrease the chance of people not coming because they don’t know how to get there, or how much it costs, or when you perform, and so on.

Where Can I Contact You?
Another important piece of information you’ll want to highlight on your MySpace page is your contact information. Just like promotional materials you send to people in the music business, you want your contact info on your MySpace page to be easy to find and easy to read. A club booker or label executive isn’t going to see your email address or phone number if its hiding down at the bottom of your page under your list of musical influences, so be sure to make it easy for visitors to find. Along with your email, website, phone number, and other contact information that you post, you could list your individual band member’s personal MySpace pages, emails and screen names as well. Putting your screen name on your MySpace page is another easy way for a fan to contact you. Sometimes people prefer to talk directly over instant messenger about booking shows, merchandise questions, or just to say they like your music. Who knows, having an instant messenger conversation with a fan might inspire them to tell even more people about your music and how they can ‘talk to you online!’

Behind The Music
In addition to this basic information, the supplemental content you can add to a MySpace page is literally endless. One piece of information most bands post is a biography. Your bio informs your visitors of your band’s story and can also document your achievements, for example, who you’ve recorded and performed with, past tours, etc. Along with a bio, press quotes from publications or popular music identities will attract attention to your group. This type of promotional content on your page has the ability to influence new fans to look further into your band and can also be beneficial if music industry professional check out your page. MySpace also makes it easy to inform your fans about your latest news by posting blogs that appear as links right on your page. Blogs are an ideal place to present exciting upcoming events, lyrics to your songs, member journals, track listings, and more. Your fans also have the ability to comment on these blogs, which can fuel the buzz around your band to an even greater degree.

Click Here!
On the technical side, one of MySpace’s greatest assets is the ability for bands to host graphics, linking, and image/video posting on their pages. You can provide links to your website, mailing list, your online store, online music stores for your music, press stories, videos, ring tones, and the list goes on (for posting tips check out the Graphics section of this article below). Having these types of resources available on the same page as your music is a priceless opportunity to present your fans with ways to learn more about you, buy your CD or contact you, all in one place. Posting upcoming show flyers and pictures of your merchandise on your page is also a great idea. Many bands utilize promotional tools like online map programs that represent their fans from all over the world by location (see an example at http://www.frappr.com/). A similar program that is also becoming popular on band’s MySpace pages is Eventful’s “Demand” program (http://eventful.com/demand/learn). This program allows fans to demand that an act perform in their area. A band can create a demand box for their group, post it on their page, and their fans can add to it depending on their location. The program counts and displays the number of fans in each area that “demand” the artist. Neither Frappr’s mapping technology nor Eventful’s demanding program are essential components to your MySpace page, but if you have a growing number of fans across the country that message you saying they wish you’d play in their hometown, why not document it on your page for people to see? It certainly can be impressive if you have many people supporting you across the globe, especially to a music industry professional that may have an interest in your band.

It’s Always the Little Things!
Two final topics that are subtle but important characteristics of your MySpace page are your “headline” and your “Top 8”. Your MySpace “headline” is the short quote that appears next to your profile image at the top of your page. This quote can be edited in the “Edit Profile” admin page on your MySpace. Since this little blurb is right next to your picture, people visiting your page are bound to see it, making it an excellent place for advertising. This is a prime promotional spot and you have the ability to write anything you like, from song lyrics to your album title. But choosing to write something like “Buy Our EP on iTunes!” or “Request Our Songs on 101.7 FM” are great messages to relay to your fans if you are really pushing something like a new record or looking for a new drummer. You can even take a larger step and post this information right in your band name appearing in your profile. For Example: “The Strokes *Have 2 New Songs*” or “John Mayer is LOOKING FOR A NEW BASSIST.” Many people will see this information attached to your name –whether it be on your page, above your picture, in comments you’ve left, next to messages you’ve sent them in your inbox, or a friend’s Top 8’s.

Speaking of Top 8’s, another MySpace page feature is the Top Friends list that is displayed on all MySpace pages. For non-musical personal MySpace pages the Top Friends list serves as a way to post pictures of your closest friends. With a band/music MySpace page, a band can choose to represent a number of profile types on their top friends list: fan’s profiles, bands, clothing companies, record labels, venues, and more. If you are at a level where you are playing music with notable bands and recording at recognized studios, its a good idea to list these up and coming bands and studios in your top friends list. When you display this relationship on your page, anyone in touch with the music scene in your area can see that you’re recording at top of the line studios, playing with successful bands, performing at great venues, and making the right choices that lead to a successful career. Ultimately, with all of these content, image, and linking ideas in mind, it is most important to keep your MySpace page looking professional. With all of these resources in your grasp it’s very easy to clutter your page with too much information and promotion. No one is going to want to scroll through your page if it is just a bunch of videos and advertisements. Keep your page organized and professional while still displaying your group’s important information and promotional resources. You may choose to design your page after your latest album’s artwork, or create a custom design to make your page stand apart from the default white MySpace background. Regardless of what you choose to put on your page, you’ll want the online representation of your band to be informative, user-friendly, and professional.

HTML What?
In order to maintain and update your page with links, flyers, text, and such, you will need to know some html coding basics. Fear not my friends, although computer coding may sound kind of scary, it really isn’t that complicated. There are a handful of free Websites that offer html basic how-to’s that can teach you a variety of linking and posting techniques. A great example of a free html site is: http://www.htmlcodetutorial.com. Another graphic design tip is to make friends with someone who can create flyers and banners for your band. Maybe someone in your band will take this on so you can keep it within the band. The last thing you want is a MySpace page with great music decorated with lame banners and show flyers that people find unattractive. Either research resources or take it upon yourself to make attractive advertisements for your band. Many artists, especially those with record label backing, have teams of people working to design their MySpace pages and promo content. Make sure you can compete with these pages by learning the fundamentals of advertising – through Google searches, advice from friends, or whatever it takes. One popular option for formatting your MySpace page is to use a free MySpace Page Generator. These are programs in which you enter information and then the generator formats your MySpace page with a certain background, font, font color, bordering colors, etc. Some artists choose to give their page a certain look to make their profile more unique. This is a great idea in my opinion as long as the page layout doesn’t interfere with the content on the page. You can find free MySpace Generators all over the web. Here is an example: http://www.mygen.co.uk/.

Remember, when designing your MySpace page, keep your page professional, informative, and organized. Best of luck!

Promotion 101: Getting People To The Gig

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Promotion 101
By Mike King
Republished with permission from Artists House Music

If you or your band are just starting out, playing out can seem like a pretty daunting process, especially if you’re the sensitive artist type. While some folks feel perfectly fine playing to the handful of locals at the pub down the street, you can be sure that the folks that booked your show booked you for a reason: to bring people in the door. If you’re playing to an empty house, the club’s bills aren’t getting paid, and the chances of you being invited back to play are about the same as the chances the townie sitting at the bar will buy your record. There are certain unavoidable events (competing shows, acts of God, etc.) that every performing artist has to deal with, but there are also a number of very basic grassroots-type things that you can do to publicize your show, get people in the door, and make the club happy to have you.

As this is Promotion 101, we’re going to assume you haven’t really played out yet, and that your local market is what you’re looking to conquer. Which is great, as the first rule of thumb for a successful show is to INVITE YOUR FRIENDS. It may sound too sales-ey, or disingenuous, or presumptuous, or whatever, but this is the music industry, and no matter what role you play in it you’re going to have learn that no matter how distasteful it may seem, self promotion is the key to success. The number one thing you should do is to invite everyone you personally know to your show, twice – once a week or two before the show, and again the night before. Preferably through e-mail as well as a personal call. Before your music has a chance to speak for itself, the people that are going to go see you play are there to see you, personally. Hopefully you’ll pull off what you’re trying to pull off on stage, and your friends will turn on their friends to what you’re doing, and you’ll have the beginning of a little fan base. And of course these friends will mark the beginning of your mailing list, which you will keep up religiously.

Once you’ve exhausted your personal address book, it’s time for some external publicity. Making posters or counter cards is pretty easy. In no way do these have to be Hatch Show Print, thick stock, 5-color metallic ink jobs. Some really great posters can be made on the down low if you are creative and have access to a cheap copy shop. But, as always, the devil is in the details – there are certain things you must mention in the poster: Who? Where? When? How Much? Age Restriction? If someone somewhere has ever said anything nice about your band it doesn’t hurt to give people a quote either as a point of reference, but it’s definitely not a necessity. Once the posters are together, distribution is the next step. Try to find friendly, like-minded, public businesses that are cool with you hanging posters or distributing counter cards. In marketing land, someone who likes to use clichés might call this ‘fishing where the fishes are.’ Independent businesses are a good place to start – coffee shops are usually good, independent record stores, cool clothing stores, bars, etc. Your return on investment is higher if you spend some time thinking about where these should go. Another good idea would be to distribute some cards outside of a larger band’s show that you feel ‘shares the same artistic sensibility’ as you. Think your music sounds like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah? Might be a fair idea to hang outside after their show to promote your band as well.

Now that you’ve laid the groundwork for your grassroots promotional efforts, it’s time to focus on getting your show listed in the press – which can be a bit of a process, especially for a new band. For any hope of getting some promotional love from the press, you’re going to need to submit your press release at least THREE WEEKS in advance, and you’re going to have to format it just right.

Basic Press Release Guidelines

For Immediate Release

Contact info here, to include name, address, phone, email

Who, What, When, Where, Cost

All the specifics should be right up top in the release

About Your Band/Music
What makes you special, who do you sound like, why should anyone want to see you play live? As Frank Zappa might say: “What can you do that is fantastic?

Quotes
It’s always better if someone else says something nice about you, rather than you saying it yourself. There was a band around Boston a few years back that used a quote from Mark Sandman in their press releases that said something like “I saw them play, they were…interesting.” I always thought that was pretty cool.

Bio
About you or your band, what the member’s play, was a member of your band part of Broken Social Scene? What else can you say about your band?

Once you have the above formatted nice, you’re ready to send it out. Start with the hip weeklies in your area (In Boston this would be the Dig and the Phoenix, Chicago has the Reader, NY has the Voice, etc).

Next Steps
After you get a couple shows under your belt, there are some additional things that can be done to help promote yourself. You’re going to have the beginnings of your community started and your email list in place, and you can now keep people up to date through a dedicated list (there are many companies out there that can help you to send nice HTML updates), as well as a MySpace page with show listings and song samples. And once you start really killing your live show, you may start making friends with your local press, which can result in some show reviews. If you have aspirations to play outside your local area, all this critical mass can be harnessed into your promo kit, which you’re going to use to secure dates in areas where you don’t necessarily have the luxury of a fan base yet.

Keep in mind that getting your name out there is an arduous process, and no matter how good your promotion is, you’re absolutely going to be playing to a handful of folks on occasion. Every other band has been in exactly the same situation, and if you lay a firm promotional groundwork now at these early stages, and your live show is excellent, you’re bound to succeed.