Record Of The Day #3 – The Chronic by Dr. Dre

When I was young, I thought of hip-hop and rock as opposing genres of music. Standing firmly in the rock camp, I upheld the values of “true musicians” and shunned the talentless rappers who stole their music from others. The Chronic single-handedly changed that for me. While I already enjoyed selections from N.W.A, Notorious B.I.G., and Eminem, The Chronic forced me to re-evaluate my stance on hip-hop through Dr. Dre’s ingenious production, breakthrough arrangement, and top-notch rapping from both Dre and his guests.

I hesitate to define The Chronic’s genre as g-funk, the hip-hop variation on George Clinton’s p-funk, because this record invented the genre. While previous albums certainly imposed rapping onto Parliament and Funkadelic samples, none had the lasting impact and artistic ingenuity of The Chronic. This record is not a g-funk record, but the g-funk record.

What sets The Chronic apart from other g-funk records is Dre’s ability not only to sample great p-funk tracks, but to alter these tracks in a way which transforms them into entirely new songs. Not satisfied to steal the work of George Clinton, Dre wanted to use Clinton’s work to create something new and exciting. “Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’)” combines “Atomic Dog” by George Clinton, “(Not Just) Knee Deep” by Funkadelic, and “Funkentelechy,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)” by Parliament into a single track that alters the key and tempo of the songs to create a new masterpiece featuring vocals from Dr. Dre himself, Dre’s protégé Snoop Dogg, RBX, and Jewell.

Let Me Ride” continues in the P-Funk sampling tradition while “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” strays from this theme to create perhaps the most infectious hip-hop track of all time. “Lil’ Ghetto Boy” showcases the softer songwriting of Dre, Snoop, and D.O.C. and “Lyrical Gangbang” showcases the talents of The Lady Of Rage and Kurupt while sampling “When The Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin. “The Roach (The Chronic Outro)” starts to wind the album down with more P-funk samples.

The Chronic stands as the true middle-point between funk and hip-hop. Fans of old-school funk can enjoy the record as a series variations upon the classic genre, while fans of hip-hop need only to explore the extensive list of the record’s samples to discover a rich world of quality music.

Record Of The Day #2 – Joe’s Garage by Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa restores faith in myself as a songwriter. Much like the writing on Joe’s Garage, the ideas for songs and albums that I formulate are not only ridiculous and sometimes nonsensical, but also comedic, diversely influenced, and progressively-minded.

It is important to note that I am a fairly new fan of Zappa’s work. In fact, Joe’s Garage is only the second Zappa album that I have listened to extensively (the first one being The Mothers Of Invention’s Freak Out!). Because of this, I will stray away from over-arching descriptions of Frank as an artist and focus on Joe’s Garage as an album specifically.

Joe’s Garage is a concept album telling the story of a young guitarist named Joe who forms a garage band (“Joe’s Garage”), loses his girlfriend to a traveling rock group (“Crew Slut”), joins a cult which engages in sexual activities involving household appliances (“A Token Of My Extreme”), is imprisoned for playing rock music (“Dong Work For Yuda”), is released and discovers that music has become illegal (“Outside Now”).

Act 1 of Joe’s Garage (songs 1 – 9) conveys a tight and well planned narrative in which every song furthers Joe’s story and explores interesting musical and lyrical concepts. However, during Act 2 (songs 10 – 15), Zappa’s previously effective consistency starts to fade a little. By Act 3 (songs 16 – 19), much of the story has given way to Frank’s beautifully eccentric guitar playing.

It’s no secret that I am typically not a fan of double albums. I find that most records exceeding a length of about 45 minutes tend to be so drowned in filler that even the best moments can’t be enjoyed. However, despite Joe’s Garage three disks boasting a running time of 1 hour, 55 minutes, and 14 seconds, I found that the record has maintained my interest through a number of listens. While Zappa does have occasional moments of distraction in the second act, it’s hard for me to truly find fault in a record that can keep my interest for almost 2 hours.

The first time I heart “Catholic Girls,” I knew that I would love Joe’s Garage. It features an oddly catchy yet annoying funk-pop melodic line leading into a crooner-style chorus. “Keep It Greasey” is a powerful funk-rock track showcasing the underrated bass guitar talents of Arthur Barrow and the always excellent Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. “Watermelon In Easter Hay,” an 8-minute guitar solo, was considered by Frank to be one of his greatest songs and in his will, stated that only his son, Dweezil Zappa, is allowed to perform the track.

While Freak Out! may have cause Frank Zappa to grab my attention, Joe’s Garage is causing him to keep my attention. I find it inspiring that Frank truly did exactly what he wanted with this album. The results are astounding.

Record Of The Day #1 – Blak and Blu by Gary Clark Jr.

While it would be easy to say that this Austin artist is simply picking up where electric blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan left off, even a brief listen to Blak and Blu sheds light on the richness and variety embodied by Gary Clark Jr.’s music.

Kicking off with the upbeat and horn-rich “Ain’t Messin ‘Round,” Blak and Blu explores elements of soul, rock, and hip-hop while still boasting a powerful amount of blues credibility.

I found myself most struck by “The Life,” a pop and hip-hop influenced summer jam and “Please Come Home,” a 70s-style soul-ballad showcasing Clark’s surprisingly smooth falsetto.

For fans of Clark’s iconic heavy blues-rock tracks, “When My Train Pulls In,” “Bright Lights,” and “Numb” are unrelenting in both their quality and their bluesy southern attitude.

Blak and Blu flows more smoothly than just about any post-2010 record I can name. Careful thought was obviously put into the exact order of the tracks, creating a natural concert-like feel. In an age of singles, Gary Clark Jr. released a true record intended to be enjoyed as a full work that progresses through various stylings and moods.

Blak and Blu is a fantastic debut record and would serve as great study material for any musician looking to enter the rock or blues game.

Gig Etiquette

I have been lucky enough to be a performer of music for over six years. In this time, I have seen a number of musicians, both experienced and amateur act in ways that are not professional and courteous in a live music setting. I have compiled a list of some of the most important rules of etiquette for gigging musicians.

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One of my early gigs with Some Assembly Required
  1. Move Your Gear Quickly – Musicians of every caliber seem to struggle with this rule. Be it the drummer disassembling their entire set on stage, or guitar players waiting until the band before them has finished before moving their amps out of their cars, I have seen countless musicians spend longer moving equipment than they spend performing. When this happens, not only does the crowd lose interest in your band, but they lose interest in all of the other bands. It also causes frustration for the other musicians, the sound person, and the owner of the venue. Simply put, move your gear inside as soon as you arrive at the venue, assemble it before you move it on stage, and move it off stage as quickly as possible. You’ll have time to disassemble and pack your gear once you’re out of the way of the next band.
  2. Be On Time – This falls in the same area of courtesy as the first rule. When you’re not on time, everybody else at the show has to wait for you to catch up. Arrive when told to by the venue. If they do not tell you a time, ask. If the venue seems casual, get there when the doors open or at least an hour before your set time.
  3. Meet The Sound Person – Here’s a piece of advice that was given to me by an early music mentor, Tony DeLaRosa. “The Sound guy is your best friend.” Any time that a venue has a sound person, make sure to introduce yourself and thank him for doing his job. He will often also take this chance to ask you about the specifications of your band. While more professional venues will require a stage plot, at the basic level, you should at least know how many mics you’ll need, if your band has backing tracks, the genre of your group, and what instruments everyone plays. By meeting with the sound person, you can not only establish a good connection, but also make sure that the venue knows all of your technical requirements.
  4. Keep Your Gear In One Spot – As a band, it is to your personal benefit to keep your gear in a tight and small area of the venue. Check with the venue to see where you should store your equipment and make sure everyone in your band keeps their gear together in a way that uses up little floor space. This not only helps keep you from forgetting and losing gear, but gives the other bands room to store their equipment as well.
  5. Thank The Venue – Both on stage and in person, it’s important to let the venue know that you appreciate them letting you play. This applies regardless if you’re getting paid or you have played the venue before. Not only does this increase the likelihood of the venue calling you to play again, but also gives you a chance to tell people to get a drink, tip the servers, etc.
  6. Ask About Merchandise – Once your band has merch, it’s always a good idea to check with the venue to see where you can set up a merch table. It’s an even better idea to bring your own table and merch person instead of having to rely on the venue for these things. Once you get to high-level shows, some venues will start taking a percentage of your merch sales. Be sure this is discussed and settled before you arrive at the venue.
  7. Stay For The Other Bands – It should be noted that I do not stay for every single band that plays with me. However, I always make an effort to watch a couple of the bands. I can say from experience that when bands see you in the crowd enjoying their music, they are far more likely to stay and enjoy your music. This is even more true when you take the time to go see a band when you’re not performing with them. The general rule of thumb is that you should stick around for as many bands as you will enjoy seeing. It never hurts to build connections.
  8.  Ask The Venue – Always take the time to talk to people who own the venue. Before the show, discuss payment, tips, merchandise, load-in, soundcheck and anything else you can think of. The day of the show, ask where to load gear, where to place merch, and other details that might be important the day of the show. It is better to make sure every question is answered before you get on stage. Anything that is left up in the air is going to come back to hurt you.

For beginner musicians, check out the video below for information on how to get your band ready for the stage.

How To Build A Solid EPK

 

office-594132_960_720In the music industry, most people simply do not have the time to thoroughly investigate your band. No talent buyer or A&R executive is going to browse all of your social media and listen to your band’s full EP before deciding if they want to work with you. Because of this, it is imperative to build a solid Press Kit. In the old days, this was an envelope stuffed with a your band’s demo, a few promotional photos and a biography of the group. But thanks to modern technology, the Press Kit has now become the Electronic Press Kit (EPK) and can easily be sent for free.

 

First, some examples:

Before you even start working on your EPK, it would serve you well to explore some different styles and arrangements for this page. I found a format that works well for me after quite a bit of research. You can look at my website or my band’s website to check out my style. In my high school group, one of our dads put together this EPK to help us with booking.

How do you build one?:

There is a number of websites that allow you to design a press kit for free online. ArtistECard and ReverbNation are both extremely easy to use, but leave you with very little room for customization and a weak URL (such as artistecard.com/SARtheband). I would recommend these services if you need a press kit IMMEDIATELY and simply do not have the time to learn a more complicated system. These sites are great for putting something together to impress local bars and restaurants, but if you want to be taken seriously by professionals, you need something a bit more substantial.Wordpress_logo_8

WordPress and Tumblr are both blogging websites and basically offer the most customization possible without you learning to code. Yet again, you might be stuck with a weak URL unless you are willing to pay, but the extra amount of customization can help make your EPK look more professional and impressive to people in the industry.

What needs to be included?:

Biography: In my opinion, this is the most important part of the EPK. Whether you write the bio yourself or get a fan of your group to do it, the bio is where you get to explain what sets your band apart. Make sure that you tell a story and make your band seem profitable and marketable. This is really the best chance that your group gets to sell itself to the viewer. It’s best to keep your band’s bio to only a few paragraphs to prevent reader boredom.

Genre/For Fans Of: This is what most people are going to look at first in your EPK. It helps one to know if your band is stylistically going to work with their plans. I also find that a “For Fans Of” section that lists some of your primary influences helps to avoid confusion. I can not remember how many times I have seen groups describe themselves as a “punk” band yet have vastly different sounds.

Contact: This is pretty straightforward. Be sure to include all contact information for your band. This can include your band’s email, your manager’s email, your booking agent’s email, etc. Include all of this information to keep communication running smoothly.

Video: It really is great if your band has filmed a music video or had a professionally shot show. If not, you can get a decent sounding and looking live video as long as your band does not play too loud. Even better than any of these options, though, is to put together a promotional video just for your press kit. Below I included an EPK video for John Mayer’s album Battle Studies. It’s a great example of how to sell yourself through your video instead of showing a live performance.

Social Media: Most bands do not usually have a problem remembering this section, but I feel it should be mentioned regardless. Include links to your social media and make sure that they links open in a different browser tab so the viewer does not lose your EPK.

Pictures: Many groups include a section of their EPK dedicated solely to pictures. I have found that it is often better to sprinkle these images throughout the press kit. It helps keep things visually stimulating and saves the reader from the trouble of clicking an extra tab just to look at your band. It is also important that you get professional pictures. Nobody wants to see the picture that Uncle Joe took on his phone of you playing in a dive bar. Include professional band photos from a photo shoot, a live performance and a recording session.

Music: Do not forget to include your music in your EPK. Yes, I have seen it before. If your band has done any recording that does not sound like crap, include samples from a few different songs.

Other Goodies: At this point, you really have the essentials to a press kit. However, your band might have some other things to show off. Has your band opened for Pearl Jam? Include a “Notable Performances” section. Has your band been interviewed by a local newspaper or podcast? Include a “Press” section. It is okay to get a little creative here to make your band stand out, just make sure that everything you include is relevant to a press kit and makes your band look more professional and profitable.

Don’t Embarrass Yourself In Front Of Your Hero

I know we’ve all heard stories of bands giving one of their fans a shot at joining their group. Be it Henry Rollins getting pulled on stage to sing with Black Flag, or Arnel Pineda becoming Journey’s lead singer through a YouTube video, the idea that any person could one day be in their favorite band is exhilarating. I was given this opportunity recently, and the feeling is totally different when you’re actually put in the situation of practicing and performing with a group that you love.

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Album cover for The Chemical Plan

Honestly, I was scared shitless to play with Ashes Of Folly. The musicians in that group have been playing music longer than I have been alive. They are experienced, talented, and held me to professional standards. And all of this doesn’t even touch on the fact that I idolized this band, listening to their album, The Chemical Plan, over and over for six straight months. This fear came to fruition the first time that I rehearsed with the group. I expected to feel better, less scared and more confident in my abilities after this practice. Instead, for the first time in years, I felt inadequate as a musician.

Now, I would say that I am a good drummer. I am not the best, but I know that I bring something unique and interesting to every band I have been in. Essentially, I know that I have the abilities to play in Ashes Of Folly. So I thought a lot about what exactly made me feel so inadequate and I found two of the most important reasons. I intended for these to serve as lessons for any aspiring musician.

 

  1. I came to rehearsal knowing about 95% of the material. Sure, I could play through all of the songs, but there were sections where I was lacked confidence and missed important details. I learned that day that by the time I come to rehearsal, I need to know every detail of a song. And most importantly, I have to know the structure. I would wager that these professional musicians found nothing more frustrating than watching me learn the structure of these songs. I am the drummer. I am the timekeeper and the master of the arrangement. I need to know the structure so that the group moves from section to
    section with ease.

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    Ashes Of Folly’s logo
  2. I was too busy being a fan of the group. Look, there’s nothing wrong with being a fan of a band. In fact, these people are the lifeblood of any successful venture, musical or otherwise. But once you step foot into a room with these people, you need to leave this behind you. If you ever want to be taken seriously as a musician, interviewer, or businessperson, then you to set your fandom aside and get to work.

 

After my first rehearsal, I spent hours every day working on the material, perfecting the songs that I thought I already knew. By the time our next rehearsal rolled around, the songs were tight, I locked in with the band, and we sounded great. A couple days later, I took the stage with Ashes Of Folly with my heart pounding and my head ringing. I did well. Not excellent, but I pulled it off.

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Me playing live with Ashes Of Folly

Here’s the thing, I grew more as a musician in that one week than I had in my previous year playing in bands and practicing individually. That is the most important thing. Every musician must realize that every gig, every band, and every experience they have is a chance to grow. And the most important of these experiences is playing with musicians that expect you to perform at a professional level.

Ashes Of Folly’s Music Video for “Make Up, Make Out”

My interview with Perry from Ashes Of Folly: #8 – Rick Perry (Ashes Of Folly)

Ashes Of Folly’s Website: http://ashesoffolly.com/