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The twelve things I’ve learned the hard way about Social Media

 

Following on from bDub’s video about the 12 things he’s learned making videos for YouTube (see below), I thought I’d piggyback that and make 12 things I’ve learned being the main social media guy for Wampler in the last 7 years. For those of you who don’t know, I’m the guy that has been the constant with the social media for Wampler since early 2011. Other people have worked with me during that time, most notably Alex who’s been with us for almost 3 years now, but, most of it has been me and my warped sense of humour. 

  1. People have opinions and they think they are facts. People are passionate about music, and they are passionate about their opinions associated with them. Especially when it comes to favourite guitar players. They may love the blues, or shredders, or whatever, but there are a LOT of people who misunderstand the concept of opinions. They have the final word and are prepared to destroy all those who dare to disagree! Let’s face it, we’ve all got into arguments on social media over pointless crap with strangers, but recently it appears to have hit new highs. My ban hammer finger seems to get twitchy much quicker these days.
  2. Memes are made to be stolen. One of the things that has caused me the most headaches is irate people shouting (well, typing in caps) “YOU STOLE THIS FROM MY BLOG WOT I MADES IN 2013” or something. The unfortunate thing about meme’s and graphics is that once they are on the internet, they spread like wildfire and it only takes one person to download it and put it somewhere else and all traces of the originator are lost forever. Subsequently, there have been times when things I’ve made have come full circle and come back to us, which makes me chuckle, and there have been cases when well-known outlets have been downloading stuff from us directly to reshare… It’s a difficult one, and one I try not to get grumpy about, but… you know… sometimes when a repeat offender does it over and over it becomes obvious and I let myself down and make a snide comment on their thread. I should know better really.
  3. Everyone thinks that you are the face of the company and you better not show any trace of personality. This is one that happens to me often. I quite often get a *insert expletive here* who thinks he can come on to my own social media presences and tell me off for putting them down when they act like an arse to either me or my actual real-life friends. I’ve been called many names, most recently a Nazi. As you can imagine, that wasn’t particularly nice but I’m a big boy now and sticks and stones and all that...
  4. Everyone thinks that because you work for a company like Wampler it’s all jamming with Brent Mason, making fancy meme’s and drinking fine wine with Seymour Duncan at NAMM and nothing else. Nah… it’s mainly planning strategy for marketing, B2B selling, watching market trends, trying to predict market trends, justifying decisions made about the current market, the future market and maintaining relationships. Basically, it’s about moving little grey boxes around the world. Sometimes you get the fun stuff, but it’s really really rare.
  5. Everyone is a world leading expert. On everything. No matter what evidence you place in front of them about running a business, they still don’t see why they should buy a pedal for $200 when they can buy a soldering iron and parts from “Hanks fishing tackle and Radio Spares for $35 and making it their damn self and it being just as damned good”.
  6. People think that who you are online is who you are in real life. What people have to remember is that working from home and doing online stuff can be kinda boring. When I get bored I partake in the age-old English past time of taking the piss. Although I do it in my real life, I pretty certain I’m not the stereotypical grumpy Englishman people think I am, or appear to be – here’s the thing, I often have to play bad cop to Alex’s good cop when dealing with trolls and people who don’t know when to stop talking. I dunno, maybe I am grumpy… but my wife tells me I’m not, and I’m not man enough to disagree with her on anything.
  7. People will tell the world with righteous indignation about bad things with a company on social media before even venturing into speaking with the company about the issue. Or, they will expect you to be online to sort their problem out 24/7 and have the answer for you in seconds. How many times have you seen “I’ve not received a response from them when I mailed them”… most of the time it will be 2 am on a Sunday, they’ve emailed you through the website and 10 minutes later they’ve gone out in public slamming you for the problem and your unprofessional way of not getting back to them. It’s massively frustrating, but you know, I’ve got to poop at some point!
  8. People will look for a correlation of events and try to draw conclusions from them, and they’ll do it all the time. “Yeah, well, Brian said he likes Uni-Vibes and next doors cat looks like Brian’s, he said the word vibe and wet in the same paragraph in a video in 2016 so I KNOW that a WampVibe is coming this year!”. Or something like that. You’ll know when stuff is coming because we’ll tell you. I mean, it’s not in my nature to tease people at all or anything like that **ahem**
  9. You get free stuff, all the time. I expect some of you have seen the pictures I post online of ‘my’ gear. The main thing is, it ain’t my gear. It belongs to the company (and others). I actually own 2 electric guitars, about 5 or 6 pedals (none of them are overdrives or distortions) and no amp. So, when I do gigs and take amazing gear, people think I’ve got amazing gear coming out of my arse. I don’t. I’m just lucky that this particular job means I have to have it here, for marketing. So, you know, it ain’t all bad…
  10. You spend all day chatting on social media. This is the one that confuses me the most. I am prolific on social media when I’m working, within the realms of my job – watching and analysing. But, once I take the work hat off, I disappear completely for a period of time. I am a family man and I protect the relationship with my wife and kids fiercely, so when I walk away from the computer, you won’t catch me on Facebook. I work from home and it’s 7 days a week, virtually 365 days a year, making multiple posts over multiple platforms for multiple brands. I keep in touch with a lot of our artists and dealers on FB and most of my relationship building is done there, so when I walk away, I walk away. It’s that, or I’ll end up being divorced.
  11. Fundamentally, most people (and companies) do not understand the concept of social media marketing. Which, in terms of other companies is great!! Hahahaha – KIDDING! But, I spend a lot of time watching and learning on social media, seeing what others are doing, analysing what we are doing and then making decisions on how to proceed based on what I see. I do have to say though, it’s a big rush when I see some of the biggest companies in the world blatantly taking our style and doing their version of it. It’d be better if I got 10% of the fee though! I speak to a lot of people who are allegedly marketing experts and most of them don’t get it. Don’t get demographics, don’t get what it means to try to get into people’s heads in the best possible way. A few do, and when I find them, I talk to them a LOT!
  12. A lot of people want to take your job. I understand that, completely. I have a cool job and people can think they can do better. Especially on the graphical side. We’ve, well – I’ve, really honed the look of the range in recent years graphically. We made a conscious decision on our look and I’ve continued to produce the graphics according to that plan. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read “Your pedals look shit mate” or something. It’s usually a graphic designer from the other side of the world who’s looking to get the work for themselves. Unfortunately, unless they want to do all the other stuff I do as well, it probably won’t happen. Because you see, we don’t all have one job at Wampler, we have about 4! 

Thank you for listening to me ramble and for your support of this blog, this is my first one of 2018 and I hope to be filling your eyes and minds with more irrelevant crap in the future! Despite what I have written above, I genuinely adore my job and interacting with people as much as I do. It's one of life's simple joys to be able to connect with so many people, from so many cultures, from so many countries, each and every day...

... and, there is a lot more to this, but I'm not going to give all my secrets away!

 

Balancing Family, Life, and Guitar

This is going to be a bit of an odd blog for me because it’s going to be a bit personal. At the same time, I feel after talking with several others in similar situations, that it’s a relevant and worth sharing. I’ll preface this with a bit of background info to fill in the gaps. I’m 31, father of two little boys, married to my high school sweetheart for nine years by the time this is posted. Happily married, love my children, working a full-time IT job that’s 9-5:30 and then I work for Wampler about 20-25 hours a week. Most know my background about the kidney stuff, but a quick rundown that’s completely oversimplified: On my 5th kidney, 3rd kidney transplant, 24 years total of dialysis (4 hours, every other day connected to a machine unable to move my left arm, sitting in a chair). All started out when I was 16 months old, and even now with the kidney transplant I require infusions every two weeks to maintain the health and well-being of the longest lasting kidney I’ve ever had, but it’s working, and it’s the closest semblance to “normal” I’ve ever achieved. That’s the quick and dirty.
 
Now that you’re caught up, we can discuss what I’ve found to be a recurrent theme amongst many people my age and older. I’m talking about the balance of adult responsibilities and trying to find time to fit in my hobby. Before becoming a father, I was told: “enjoy your free time; you won’t have much once you have kids.” I never realized how true this was. Not that it’s saying it’s a terrible thing in the least bit to have children (I believe quite the opposite), but it was a shock for me and quite an adjustment the first few months after having our first little dude. I had to forgo quite a few of the personal things I enjoyed doing recreationally to help provide for our family, assist my wife as she had to give up a lot of her free time as well, and help fall into the role of Dad. I eventually got into the groove of things, and we’ve since had another little boy, and the two have brought us more joy, headaches and overall unconditional love than I could have imagined before having kids. This is my best recollection of the events and thoughts that went through my mind during those times.
 
During those first 6-10 months after having each child, I seriously considered selling all my gear. Not a fleeting thought, but a point where I felt I literally wouldn’t be able to play and that it was pointless to own the great gear that I had if it was never going to get played. Between trying to be a good dad and husband, I went for weeks and at one point over a month without touching a guitar. At the time I was playing regularly at church, along with jamming with my buddies at least once a week, maybe more with the hopes of just doing some cover gigs locally for fun. After our first boy was born, my meager skills I had spent 13 years (at the time) developing seemed to be fading into distant memories, because when I did pick up a guitar, it felt alien. My hands wouldn’t work right; I couldn’t remember specific notes in songs or parts I had played hundreds of times. It was depressing, in a nutshell. The old saying “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it” definitely applied to me. I think it stung so much for me because playing guitar was one of my primary stress relievers, even if it was playing my electric unplugged in a spare bedroom for 3 minutes. The moments I would get, I was so tired that I mostly just sat there and vegetated, maybe hitting a few notes, but more so taking solace in holding the instrument I so dearly love. For the first two years of his life, my first son suffered from chronic reflux, and woke up every 1-2 hours, every single night. There were many days I didn’t quite understand how I had made it to work without hurting myself or others because of being so sleepy during my commute in. Coffee went from being something I enjoyed drinking, to a life-sustaining fuel required to function. During those times guitar became an afterthought, a faraway pipe dream of a forgotten time.
 
In the weeks after our first son was born, pretty much immediately my days of getting together with the guys to jam were cut to a minimum, then to nothing. Not because of any reason particularly, my priorities just had to shift to my family. In all honesty that’s when I was feeling the most down because at that very moment when I hadn’t touched my guitar for several weeks, I felt like I had lost part of myself somehow. “My” identity felt like it no longer existed, and it was more part of the collective of trying to survive this new uncharted voyage we just set out on. The one thing I did learn though is that the balance is NEVER going to be 50/50. There’s always going to be a sacrifice to be made; it’s just part of life. I noticed I dove into work to keep my mind occupied, and I was lucky enough to find a second job in the music industry. To the people who say that working for Wampler isn’t work, then they have no idea what it’s like to work in the music industry. It’s a constant thing that needs attention, from social media posting on all outlets, content creation, blogs, videos, writing manuals, picking out colors and names and doing the research to be sure nothing is trademarked or copyrighted. The flip side of my son not sleeping meant I was able to get a lot of work done during all hours of the day and night. Jason is 5 hours ahead of me, so he was often awake and was my sounding board as a new father, and for that, I’m forever grateful. He and Brian helped me so much during that first couple of years that it’s impossible to put into words. I highly recommend talking to someone close to you, because if nothing else expressing your inner thoughts helps you cope with changes and good and tough times. I relied heavily on them more than I relized now that I look back. I’d often text Jason at 3am (8am his time) while holding our son that finally fell asleep after screaming for a few hours with a belly ache, saying “I’m about to lose my mind, I REALLY wish I could play guitar right now to decompress.” Whether he was being honest or just trying to make me feel better, he told me it was normal and that it would get better. And he was right.
 
[On a side note: Have you ever had the urge to play guitar SO BADLY that it almost makes your muscles hurt? It’s like this insatiable desire to play, where nothing can quell that urge until you get to (at best) hold a guitar in your hands and strum a chord or play a few notes. It’s like a core sensory urge, like craving food when you’re hungry or water when you’re thirsty? Am I the only one?  Sorry, getting off track.]
 
Just like everything, time passes, they got older and luckily took a liking to guitar-oriented stuff. Our second son started sleeping through the night after a few months and was more comfortable for us because we felt like veterans at that point, but the moments of wanting to play guitar and not being able to be still there. Between working my regular 40 hours a week, and doing the Wampler stuff (more on that in a bit) on the side, my wife working and all that, I felt guilty not spending my time off with my sons. I would pick it up for a couple of minutes, then set it back down and be with my family. My priorities had shifted entirely, but I didn’t have that feeling of being down or feeling regret for not being able to play. I finally “balanced” what worked for me that made me feel right in my mind. Granted it’s not the same for everyone, but that worked for me. Life happened, my chops took a major hit, but were found a new “normal.”
 
Our boys are now five and two now. Our oldest is in kindergarten, and has played soccer and baseball, and wants to try basketball starting in a few weeks. Our youngest is two…if you have ever had a two-year-old, then you know what I mean. You can’t take your eyes off them, because they’re so sweet and cute and all that awesome stuff, but they’re mischievous as hell too for lack of a better word. Even though they’re out of the diaper stages, they still require (and deserve) time. So, when I get home from work, the boys follow me into our room where I change and fire up my amp. 9/10 times I get about six chords in or half of a lead run in before they’re tackling each out on our bed, or attempting to dive off something, trying to emulate some wrestling moves our oldest has picked up at school. So, I attempt to break them up and go back to playing. Inevitably (usually 2-3 minutes later) one of them is going to hurt each other, or they’ll go back in the other room and start going nuts around my wife, which I try to avoid since she has them during her days off (Nurse, x3 12-hour shifts a week). Someone will bump their noggin, or the other won’t do a certain thing the other wants them to do, and it ends up being some crying or messing with each other. I shut down, and we go in the other room. That’s it. There were my couple minutes. On the weekend we're always going, so I may pick it up for a couple of minutes if we’re home and don’t have anything planned, but you can bet if the weather is decent we’re off doing stuff because I couldn’t before (see first paragraph, the whole dialysis thing). But it’s gotten better, and it gets better. 
 
I’m thankful that on occasion, one or both of our boys choose to come in there with me and do something associated with it. The latest trend is for our 5-year-old to want to strum my MIM strat (wine red with a maple neck, my original first electric guitar), and our 2-year-old to strum his toy guitar while I’m playing. I freaking love it. Yes, it’s a bit of a cluster because of course our youngest wants whatever his big brother has. So I have to separate them so they don’t slam each other or hit the guitars together, or sit between them so I can keep an eye on both of them. But for a few brief, fleeting seconds it’s incredibly fun and the proudest Dad moment you can imagine. Or sometimes, our 5-year-old will want to turn up whatever my loudest pedal is (gain and volume) and just strum, saying he’s writing a song. Or our 2-year-old will want to strum as hard as possible and just yell “LOUD!” with a big cheesy grin on his face. I cherish those moments more than I can put into words. 
 
What’s my point with all of this? Being a parent is one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever done. It’s a daily struggle to try to be a good husband and father, but still, incorporate guitar into my life. I’m very fortunate to have a wife that supports me in my pursuit of gear (that’s a whole other topic for another day), but it’s an internal struggle for me personally where I think “I REALLY want to play guitar, but she’s had the kids all day.” Or there’s loads of laundry that need to be done, or my wife needs help getting dinner sorted, or trying to get our oldest boy’s homework done before it gets too late. In general, my self-guilt leads me to omit time to play, and do what needs to be done. I want to spend time with my boys and maintain my relationship with my wife, and try to help her keep the house in relatively organized chaos instead of looking like a warzone (again, if you have had young ones, you get what I mean). Guitar has taken a backseat to life, but in the end, it’s still there riding with me, no matter what. On occasion I get a few minutes at the house to myself, I dime everything and let it wail. Our dog goes to the other side of the house, the pictures and windows rattle, but it feels like the air moving from the speakers is literally blowing the stress out of my body. It’s rejuvenating and provides a moment of zen. I should mention that there are days where I have a truly “Eff it!” attitude where the dishes and all that crap can wait. If the kids aren’t tearing the house apart and are just playing, then I’ll go and play for a bit. To be completely honest, after about 20-30 minutes of playing I get it out of my system (see the side note above) and then go and do whatever chore our household thing needs to be done. But it’s there when I need it.
 
Admittedly, I’m just starting out this journey. Based on stories Brian and Jason have told me about the teenage years, I fear a bit for my mental state when it’s all said and done. My only hopes are that when they’re older, that I’ve provided a good foundation and example for them to learn from, and hopefully I didn’t mess them up too bad. I hope they find the love of the instrument that I did, and that it provides as much joy and comfort as it shows me in my best and worst times. I know my story is very different from many people, but it’s my best recollection of what I recall and the thoughts that went through my head as I was going through them. No, I don’t play music professionally, and I never will. It’s my love, my vice and my therapy all rolled into one. I have a feeling you know exactly what I mean. I’m not bringing religion into it at all, but for lack of a better term, it’s almost a spiritual feeling, like all is right with the world when all the stars align and your tone and playing hit all the right spots. The stress melts away with every note. 
 
I don’t know why I wrote this, to be honest. Maybe it’s hope that someone will identify with it when they’re going through rough times or those transition years and realize that it does get better. The boys will only be young but for so long, and eventually, they won’t want anything to do with me. When they’re gone out on their own, it’ll be my wife and my guitar that I’ll lean on as I miss the times when they were little and the world was realistically simpler than I thought it was.

The internet killed the electric guitar...

If you recall a couple of months back, an article was released by one of the more mainstream sites talking about the “Death of the Electric Guitar,” and how guitar-based music is going by the wayside and will eventually fade away. That had me thinking, and realistically that’s partially true and partially false. If you pay attention to modern pop music or top 40 songs, then you’ll notice a lack of out-front guitar riffs driving the song. It’s taken a backseat to synths and a plethora of other instruments, or it’s omitted entirely. In other genre’s it’s not quite as bad, but even the likes of Keith Urban and many other country artists are moving away from incredible guitar work to catchier, pop-driven songs. It’s just the nature of the business; it’s what sells. Metal still has a pretty solid foundation, but if you notice it’s not necessarily traditional six-strings doing the heavy lifting. The guitar has taken a step back and become the supporting role again, being layered with effects to make it not even sound like a guitar anymore. You’ll find that even now pedal demos feature not just guitars, but synths as well. All things being said, does that mean the electric guitar is “dying?” 
 
If the electric guitar is dying or is already dead, it’s because the internet and media have killed it. I can read your mind; you’re thinking “What in the heck is he talking about?” Reading that statement out loud, it seems like I’m talking out of my tail, because the internet has made it easier than ever to listen to and interact with some of the greatest musicians on the planet. So how could that possibly kill it? If anything, it has made it even more popular than ever in the music and gear demographic. That’s the exact problem though. Oversaturation and desensitization are slowly killing the electric guitar. Let me explain where my thoughts are coming from.
 
To start out, let’s back up a few decades…if you’re younger than 25, then you may or may not identify with this as much as some of us who grew up in the dawn of the World Wide Web. From the early days of music, what was the easiest way to hear the latest and greatest music? TV, radio, vinyl, 8-track’s, cassette tapes and compact discs were the only realistic and readily accessible form of listening, aside from catching a band live if they came to your area. I’ve heard many countless stories of guitarists picking up their guitars in the first place due to hearing one of those forms of music when they were growing up, and repeating them until the record was worn out. To hear such incredible music and artistry was mind-blowing with the onset of then-modern technology. Imagine discovering Hendrix for the very first time (many who read this may not need to imagine and were there), or listening to the heavy tones on the first Black Sabbath record. 
 
All of these artists were discovered because they took the time to make a record and tour the music excessively. Concert tickets were cheaper, so it was easier to go out and witness these legendary musicians making their mark in the world during their hey-day. In general life was cheaper, it wasn’t as much of a financial endeavor to go out to a bar and see local music, or you could go to a music festival and hear some of the greatest bands of the era at a single venue. Of course, all of that changed over the years. Cost of living has gone up tremendously over time, where money could be set aside for special events like concerts, they have to go towards bills and rent and daily stuff that life throws at everyone. Let’s not get too far off track though, more on that later. In decades past the tools were fairly limited in regards to gear compared to today, so technical ability was what truly set various famous guitarists apart to put their unique spin on the instrument. These styles defined the very core of what spawned countless guitarists to follow in their footsteps. It was new, exciting and completely groundbreaking.
 
Let’s come back to the present and see how things have changed. If you’re into guitar and effects and gear, then it’s safe to say that when you go check Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter or any other social media apps, there’s a high probability you’ll find someone playing with incredible talent and tone. Could be a random page sharing it, a friend recording a video, or your favorite brand showcasing a new piece of gear. We’re surrounded by guitar pretty much all the time due to algorithms these platforms use to track your viewing habits and all that fun stuff, and eventually, the bar gets raised higher and higher as the videos get better, the players get better, and the tracks get more technically impressive or over the top. Original music has gone from “Three chords and the truth” to have to think outside of the box to truly create something unique. Our idols have spawned some of the most incredible guitarists on the planet regarding technique. Players like Guthrie Govan, Tom Quayle, Jon Gomm, Tosin Abasi just to name a few… all of these players and countless others transcend what we’ve known for decades as great guitar, combining fluidity, note choice, phrasing and overall mastery of their instrument to define a generation by breaking the mold. But, let’s be honest here. If these social media platforms didn’t exist, how many of these great players would you have heard of organically? Again, it’s a different age where we can readily have digital media nearly instantaneously, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 
 
We’re completely oversaturated on all things gear-related and playing that many find any way possible to break loose from those traditional molds. Hence the rise of more noise-making pedals, glitch effects and some far-out weird stuff, because many players just aren’t content with the sound of a cranked Plexi amp for example, or they don’t want to sound like a particular artist. It’s commendable, because they want to create their unique sound. That being said, it’s gone from straight-forward ripping and shredding to creating ambient textures using pads and synths or octaves, layered delays and reverbs and modulation, extended-range guitars and drop tunings, etc. They produce truly unique tones that are far from traditional but provide a different set of tools to let the player’s internal “voice” be heard. So in that regard, the electric guitar is thriving better than ever. The average musician looking to find something unique and different have more options than ever, with more coming out each month.
 
On the flip side though, at what point does it go from playing guitar to playing pedals? Joe Bonamassa sparked up some major heat in the guitar community when he was quoted in an interview with MusicRadar saying:
 
"I’ve really gotten over pedals. I can’t keep up with this craze of boutique pedals that make you sound like everything but your guitar. I can’t get my head around it. So you don’t want to play a guitar [properly] so you buy a box that makes it sound like an algorithm, like you just fired up your computer and you can spend the night staring at your fuckin’ shoes? C’mon man…. I know I’ll get shit for saying this, but it’s fucking lazy. It’s insulting to people who spent 35 years playing and learning, like a lot of players. And we continue to work at it! These guys can barely play a chord but call themselves soundscapists. Get the fuck outta here! It’s bullshit. There’s so much masking and spin going on there. Can we get real for a minute? What do you actually play? Pick up an acoustic guitar… try that!"
 
Is this his way of voicing his frustration with the drop in focus of guitar-driven music, or was it solely a clickbait scheme to drive social media buzz? I’d suspect a bit of both. Either way, it started a firestorm of anger from guitarists who rely heavily on effects to sculpt their sound. 
 
So, what’s next? Realistically nobody knows. The younger generation has more opportunities than ever to either dive head first into guitar or completely ignore it altogether with the plethora of other options trying to take up their time and money. Will we see another Eddie Van Halen or Jimi Hendrix? Maybe, but I doubt in the traditional sense. I think it will be someone pushing the boundaries of current tech, not necessarily TECHNIQUE. It’s an ever-changing landscape that we’re all just along for the ride on, but there’s always the hope the old saying from Stephen King is true “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.” Maybe a guitar renaissance is coming in the hopefully not too distant future. The electric guitar isn’t dead; I’d say it’s lying dormant waiting for it’s time to shine again.
 
I'll leave you with a little fun fact to think about: On January 1st, 1962 the Beatles were turned down for a record contract by Decca with the reasoning that "Guitar groups are on the way out." I guess you just never know what the future holds, right?

Being stuck in a rut

Yesterday, this question was asked on the Wampler Pedals tonegroup on Facebook.

Do you ever get to a point in your music that you just feel stuck where you’re at? And that you find yourself losing sight of where you need to be in your music to inspire yourself to learn new things? What do you do to re-inspire yourself to get you back on track?

This struck somewhat of a chord with me (da daaaaaa) and my personal experience is why I have so many strings (da daaaaaaaa) to my bow as a player. You see, I’ve been in so many ruts with my playing I think I could write a book on how to get out of them. Well, maybe not a book, but probably a blog piece. 

So, in the many ruts I’ve historically been in, how did I elevate myself out of them? The trouble I’ve been in is that I’ve been in one for a while and I was lifted out of it this weekend. But, I’ll get to that in a minute. 

  1. The first and most important thing I’ve done as a player is to see live music. As much as I could, as often as I could. My wife always kinda laughs at me when we see music together as, apparently, I stare at the guitar player’s hands, all the time. My concentration levels are so high I am barely aware of the world around me, I’m just drinking it in. Absolutely everything they do. Notes, rhythms, vibrato, phrasing… everything. I just watch them. Any decent player, that doesn’t have to be decent on the level other than playing in a local pub band, will have something to offer you if you only pay attention. For example, on Saturday our band shared a bill with a Reggae/Dub band called The Barefoot Bandit. I quite like Reggae and Ska, so I was always going to like it, but they had a guitarist in that band (Harry) that enthralled me. He had the kind of right hand you don’t come across often, his rhythm work was sublime – yet subtle, his chord inversions were perfect (he was complimenting the other guitar player of the band) and his solos were genre perfect. When we went on after them I was so inspired to make my right hand stand out better. I didn’t play anywhere near as many notes as I usually do, but I hope I was a little funkier. Ever since then, I’m been working on my right hand, I hadn’t planned to, but it’s opened a new door for me.
  2. The second most important thing I’ve done is learned that it’s not all about your preconception/expectation of a player. View every player you hear/see as a potential teacher and take something away from them for yourself. If you pick something up from a player, take it home and incorporate it into your own. For example, the one thing Vai has taught me over all the years I’ve been listening to him is phrasing. It’s the same lesson I got from Clapton, Nuno, Beck and Quayle. When I first heard those players the last thing I thought about was their phrasing, but that’s what I’m left with from them. I looked past my expectation and found something they had that I didn’t. I unexpectedly learned from them, after I first got into them.
  3. Listen to everything you can bear to listen to. Don’t just listen to your comfy music, the stuff you love, stick something on you wouldn’t normally and try to hear something different in it. When I am coming home from a gig (when the wife isn’t with me) I often listen to Classical Music, or Jazz, or something else I would never listen to at home – so, use your radio. Put a channel on and listen to it. There will be something there for you to latch on to, even if it’s just one thing – the more you do it, the better you will become at picking stuff up. And DON’T just listen to the guitar parts, listen to the phrasing and attack of brass sections, listen to the depth and power that a certain inversion of a chord that is being made by the strings in an orchestra… It’s all the same thing, it’s all just the application of the notes and the intervals between them. Then think about that in your own playing, something will pop out at you.
  4. Don’t be afraid to stop playing, or go to a different tuning, or pick up another instrument. A piano in the house is the best thing for me to have as a guitar player, I often sit down at it and play with chord inversions or different scales over chords on the piano… I look at the patterns on the piano I wouldn’t normally look at on guitar - I try to play guitar stuff on piano and then piano stuff on guitar. Most of the time it sounds like utter crap but the thought that has gone into it ALWAYS opens another door in my head, and when I get back to being me on the guitar again I usually notice something has changed somewhere, something new has arrived.

How does all my waffle above deal with the question posed? When I’ve been in a rut I’ve found that someone, somewhere, will pop me out of it. Harry did it on Saturday, I heard something that I wasn’t expecting, and dived into it. I’ve also found that if I take something from someone musically and put it into my own playing, it will then open another door. So, if you want a challenge, learn a song by someone you never normally would. Then look at the chords underneath it, then take a hook from that song and put it in a completely different one and see what happens. You will find that your playing will become more interesting and you will discover a new direction to play. This is the reason I successfully play a lick from Steve Vai as part of my stock solo in “Bring Back The Sunshine” by Eddie Rabbit - and I’ve been told it sounds good.

Most of all, do not limit yourself to one genre or group of players. Listen to everything, take a walk with a different tuning or a different instrument. Primarily, just stop worrying. Someone will come along and scare the crap out of you enough to make it all exciting again.

Thank you Harry, you did it for me on Saturday.

 

All you need is love someone once said. Las Vegas sadness.

I am at a complete loss as to what to write today. I had loads of ideas laid out in my head, I was going to talk maybe about the TC Electronic MiMiQ, or the new Quintessence, the Quilter 101 Reverb, but seriously, none of that matters right now.

I am despairing as to what has happened, as to what is happening. This is the third (that I can remember off the top of my head) time in recent history where a music event has been attacked. December 2015, the Bataclan - Eagles of Death Metal concert, 90 dead and over 200 injured by persons with automatic rifles. Manchester Arena, Ariana Grande concert, 22 people killed and 250 injured by an IED. The question I keep asking myself is "why".

I'm in the UK, so I was aware of this as it was happening pretty much, I get up early in order to tip my kids out of bed in time for school, so in my gently hungover state this morning I turned the TV on (as I like to have background noise other than my kids moaning about being tired) while I wake myself up by playing Clash of Clans and was greeted by live news as it was unfolding. I was, and still am, speechless. Confused. 

Music is supposed to bind us. Music is supposed to inspire us. Music is supposed to bring us together. To attack a place where nothing else matters apart from the shared enjoyment of something that transcends colour, race, nationality, sex and everything else, to me, is about as low as it can get. If that's not enough, on social media, you get everything that always happens after, happening. People offer opinions, solutions, political postures, justifications, excuses and it all descends into pointless arguments that will change nothing and just solidify more hatred and more things to not understand about the world we live in.

I often get called names because of my opinions on humanity, and all that does is nothing but show the ignorance of the people who say it. All because I dream of a world where people don't hate, not where everyone is being treated with suspicion and people are judged on their own personal actions and attitudes rather than anything else. A place where people from all over the world can get together and enjoy music without the fear of being punished for it. 

We exist as a company to bring enjoyment to the people who play our products. And some of those products were on the stage last night in Las Vegas. All we want to do is allow the entertainers to entertain and for those who are listening to enjoy the experience, it’s one of life’s simple pleasures and it sickens me when people use violence to disrupt it.

All you need is love. All you need is love. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need. And pedals.

 

The state of the online troll, 2017 edition

Social Media trolling in 2017. Do you do these? I often get called a troll on social media, so I thought I would look into it a little and see what's what.

Upon looking I can identify four main areas of trolling in the industry this industry, and others, and I’ll try to quickly explain them here. This might be my “I’m watching you moment”.

The “Illinformed muck spreader”. Yes, I edited that. I wanted to call them something else, but I won’t!! Over the years I’ve seen certain companies (and people) attract hate for one reason or another – it’s a big circle and it goes around constantly. Most recently it’s been Josh Scott and his company JHS. Now, I’m not going to get into the specifics of it but I’m lucky enough to call Josh a friend (enough for me to partake in a little of the banter mentioned below) and be horrified in what has been said. Josh has made mistakes, but who hasn’t, but it would appear that many people are only interested in spreading certain things about him and the company, either by sharing a long since disproved Reddit link, or talking about something with half-truths, and then pass that information on widely. The classic example of this was when Josh appeared on That Pedal Show a few months back, I found myself on a Saturday afternoon putting people right on YouTube and them not believing a word of it. It’s so easy to share information these days, but it doesn’t appear to be that easy to get it verified first or to even admit when you are wrong when someone who knows more than you tells you the reality of a situation.

The “want to be in with the crowd, banter”. This is where the grey line sits, banter. A lot of people who ‘meet’ me on social media see the way I speak to my friends and then try to do the same thing back to me, Brian has said they are trying to get in with the guy from the pedal company, I understand that, but it seems weird. Some of the people I ‘troll’ the heaviest on social media are friends I’ve made through the company/industry. So, please take a bow Thomas Quayle, Jamie Humphries and Richard Lainegard (and many many others come to think of it). All three of them are now actual friends, but we met online, and the banter grew over the years. I think people see the way we all talk to each other (especially myself and Jamie, as let’s face it, we are basically kids in the way we act) and think that’s the way to talk to us. It isn’t, that’s how WE are, but just how can we articulate that online? It’s really quite hard… Mostly they get ignored, but sometimes you have to say “Excuse me?”, that never really ends well though…

The “Anonymous Hater”. You know the kind, they hide behind a false name online and then just drop the hate on anyone and everything. If only their Mother’s had given them more hugs as kids, or their Father had attended their sports events at school, they may be better people.

The “Classic YouTube Hater”. These are the ones that confuse me the most. As soon as someone drops a new video on YT, they press the dislike button, usually without seeing it. I’ve noticed that Rob Chapman tends to get a load of thumbs downs instantly, so people are doing it without viewing it. So this means they somehow object to him, I doubt they’ve ever met him, so you know… if this is you … just don’t watch it. You don’t have to. Remember, Rob is providing a service, in his own style, and if you don’t want that service, don’t partake in it.

The other kind of main YouTube troll that totally cracks me up is the vocal hater. Now, I don’t have ANYTHING to do with the company YouTube page (probably a good idea based on what I am about to say) but every time we launch a new video, that tends to have Brian being Brian in it, someone will ALWAYS say “Your playing sucks”, or “That sounds terrible” etc etc. As soon as I read these, I always click on the profile of the person commenting and watch their own videos. 99% of the time they sound like a beginner playing a cheap guitar through a crappy amp, yet most of them are not young and have great gear. My head tells me something about these people, but I won’t say it, I expect your head is telling you the same thing.

Here’s the important thing, the REAL players and companies tend to support each other. When someone drops a video of their playing online the real players tend to support the uploader, tell them they like it, share it and basically embrace the industry. The people who don’t appear to know their input socket from their strap locks are the ones who spread the hate.  What does this mean do you think? Are these people just jealous trolls who can’t be nice, in the case of the people 1, 3 and 4 above, yes. What about the people who are number 2, just people trying to get in on the scene and they think this is what you have to do? It’s pretty obvious to me that what we are lacking online at times is social etiquette (and I also put my hands up to this one, there have been times when I’ve been wildly inappropriate at the wrong time that’s led to embarrassment to all involved) and basic respect for the people who are out there.

In ANY online situation, and as my personal reference point, I give you Mr Andy Wood. The benchmark for social media politeness. I don’t know if this is a conscious effort on his behalf or if this is just the way things were done in his house when he grew up, but you can’t find a more respectful and gracious man out there. If someone posts something online, and even if it’s obviously someone working on something and it’s a bit rough, he supports the person and encourages them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Quayle legato masterpiece or someone like me ham-fistedly trying to rip off someone else’s solo. Now, Andy also calls people ‘Sir’ in real life, if you ask him a question he says “Yes sir” in his response (which has led me to look over my shoulder in the past as I’m not used to people being that polite and I think he’s talking to someone else) - maybe we could all do with being brought up in East Tennessee to get some respect in our language. You’ll never see Andy undermining players, even those I know he looks up to – especially those he looks up to, if he classes them a better player than him, he has respect for the player and what they are doing.

To the others, I say this. One day Brian may be foolish enough to let me comment on the company You Tube page, and I can guarantee I would have a field day with you, but you know, I’m not allowed for this very reason as fortunately for us, these type of people aren’t so prevalent on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If you befriend someone on social media and they have a lively relationship with other people that appear to revolve around insulting each other, let them get on with it, it’s their thing, not yours. Be informed, if you are about to say something about someone or a company that is defamatory, look it up first. Don’t spread the hate for the sake of it, one day someone is going to go too far and get themselves sued. I kinda hope this happens one day, it would be a wonderful wake-up call to many people out there. And to the haters. I know haters are going to hate, but you know, all you are doing is making yourself look like a dick in the process. So, as usual, I’ll end this with my favourite saying: “Don’t be a Dick”

What about me being a troll, nah - I just have fun calling my mates names, it's what I do.

 

Making your own luck in this crazy world of music

One of the more bizarre things I hear often is that I am “lucky” to do the job I do, I find it odd. It’s a job, sometimes, it’s cool as I get to do cool things (about twice a year) but mostly it’s being pushed for sales, deadlines, reports and everything else everyone does in their job. I’ve always said to people that I just move little grey cardboard boxes around the world, either by selling or marketing, it just happens what is in those boxes is quite cool to some people.

As I was writing that response to someone last week it put me in mind of a conversation I had with someone a few months back, who often gets the same thing (except his job REALLY is cool).

Before I get into it, I will put my hands up and admit that it’s the people you meet in jobs like this one that makes it cool, again, not lucky – as we work really hard, but it’s really cool to me these people for work. 

Before I get into the conversation I had, here’s the obligatory back story. I’m ‘quite’ the fan of Mr Steve Vai, anyone who is connected to me already knows that, but I need to get it out in the open. I find his levels of composition, stage persona, fearless technique and all round attitude to life inspirational. Basically, he’s up there for me as a human, player, and composer. So, it follows suit that I’ve ALWAYS wanted to play with him. Ever since I first saw him play live in 1988 I’ve wanted to be on stage with him. Secretly, I’ve always thought I could do it as well, as every time I’ve seen him live I’ve watched the other player and thought “I could do that, you’re so lucky”.

Yep, I do it as well. Guilty as charged.

With that in mind, you can imagine what it was like - December 2012 - when I was driving up to London (about 3 hours) one Sunday afternoon for one of my first artist visits to a touring production, Wampler artist Dave Weiner. Dave and I had exchanged a few emails over the preceding months, and he was using some of our pedals in the “Steve Vai: Story of Light World Tour 2012-13” so I went up to meet Dave, take some pictures, and generally (hopefully) enforce our brand with his (as that is what artists are, they are their own brand, a brand which we try to align with in order to make it beneficial for the both of us). I was extremely excited to be able to check out what it took to be that guitar player first hand, and you know, I planned to kidnap him and then take his job!

The gig was in central London, the legendary Hammersmith Apollo (previously known as the Hammersmith Odeon, now called Eventim Apollo) which I’m pretty sure you will recognise as not only does EVERYONE play there, but there’s been some incredible live albums and videos recorded there over the years. I was due to meet my mate, and Wampler Artist, Levi Clay up there as I had a plus 1 to the gig, and lets face it, pretty certain no one would miss a chance to see Mr Vai perform like that given half the chance so he was happy to lose an afternoon with me. I parked up, went to the venue, met Levi and made my way round to the stage door. Obviously, security treated us with complete disdain and we couldn’t get around them, so Dave came out to meet us. My first impression of Dave was that he was quite cool, very smiley, and easy to talk too. We spent a good hour or so on the stage (a real ERMAGHAD moment, I was on the stage at the Hammy Odeon, with Vais’ gear) with Dave that afternoon talking about his gear (we had to be quiet unfortunately as Steve was hosting an EVO Experience at the back of the theatre), stayed around for the sound check, went and grabbed a pint and something to eat, and then enjoyed the show. All the time during the show I was watching both Steve and Dave, seeing how they played together, saw how Dave did his job flawlessly, and I must admit, I came away more impressed with Dave than I was Steve that night.

Over the following years I’ve met up with Dave on his travels a few times, had lunch, he’s met my wife, we Skype, keep in contact often with business stuff and all that, so you know, we’ve become mates down the line. I’m not going to do that bullshit internet thing that means everyone is my “good friend” or my “best buddy” just because you have your picture taken with them, but you know, we are mates. It during one of our catch ups a couple of months ago (Dave had just come off the “Passion and Warfare 25th Anniversary Tour” and was really 'quite' tired) and we were talking about work, I jokingly said the words “Remember mate, you’re so lucky that you have that gig” and he responded with something like “Yeah right, it’s great, I love touring and it’s an honour to tour with Steve for the last 19 years, but what everyone needs to remember is that I made my own luck with that” and we both had a little chuckle about it – because, basically, that's the truth.

Dave did not wake up one day and find himself, aged almost 23 as the guitar player in the touring band for Steve Vai. He was a Vai fan (he secretly ducked away from the main group of his school trip to NYC to buy Passion and Warfare the day it came out) but he put himself in the position to get that job. He moved from the East Coast to L.A. to attend GIT at a young age to be the best player he could be, during this time he worked as an unpaid intern for a management company that just so happened to handle Vai. Dave used to deliver packages to Vai, and spent weeks and months gently getting to know him before even mentioning he played. Eventually, once Steve asked if Dave played, he handed him a tape of some stuff he had been working on and then just quietly left, never expecting it to be talked of again. So, he didn’t just blindly send a tape in, he worked hard to even get to L.A., let alone to work unpaid for that company, and then worked hard to remain professional and courteous in front of one of his favourite players, not throw a demo tape at the first opportunity and just allow what happened, happen.

Imagine his surprise when a couple of weeks later Vai phoned him and asked him to learn 17 songs and to leave almost immediately for tour rehearsals.

Over the years I’ve admitted to Dave my insane jealousy of his job, asked him about it almost to the levels of interrogation, and he’s always been very honest and open about it. Dave worked hard to get that opportunity, put himself in a position to take it, and then worked extra hard to keep that position for what is now 19 years. Steve’s in a position to be fussy about who plays his material live, so as you can imagine, Dave has to do it properly each and every night. Steve isn’t a hard task master, mistakes happen and they are laughed about, but the laughter would soon stop if Dave wasn’t performing to up to Vai’s standard each and every night. Not only is Dave a stellar player who has to match who is arguably the greatest guitarist of that genre, he also has to be wonderful human being to be in that band, it’s well known that the Vai camp is family like, and people who don’t fit don’t last long, fortunately for Dave, he doesn’t have to work at that bit too hard. 

So, the next time you think about saying “You’re so lucky to be in that job” take a moment to think about what that person did to get into the position to be in that job in the first place, Dave worked hard to get there and worked even harder to stay. He is one of the internet’s primary guitar educators with his subscription website guitopia.com (you should be a member, it’s awesome and I’ve learned SO much from it), he has released 4 solo albums with more in the pipeline… So, you know, there is an element of you make your own luck in this world - and you make it by working your socks off. I’m not going to be one of those people that blindly says “You make your own luck” with crossed arms and a bad attitude, but you know, you can certainly push it along as much as you can in order to achieve your goals.

The moral of this story: Work hard, play hard, don’t be a dick. Come to think of it, that’s the moral of every story I tell. I need to work at that last bit though.

You check out Dave on daveweiner.com - join his guitar education community (I'm a member and thoroughly recommend it) guitopia.com or buy his music from here - you should get them all, but if you like that rock guitar thing, I still think OnRevolute is one of the finest instrumental guitar albums ever made!

Here is a video that I took that night. It's all about peace, love and good happiness stuff. It's quite distorted... apologies.

Dave, Paris 2013 playing Ignition, from the album OnRevolute.

What would I say to my younger self about learning the guitar?

A question was asked on our main FB page last weekend that made me sit and think, it was a question that made me peer into the rabbit hole of my own history. Fortunately, for my own sanity and those who read it, I managed to stop myself going into it completely as that’s a place no one wants to visit too much!

“If you could go back in time and give your younger self any piece of advice when starting out playing guitar, what would it be?”

I started playing guitar in the early 80’s. It was one of those childhood memories that sticks out with complete clarity. I watched my older brother and his friend Rob working out a song by the Shadows called “Shazaam”. I just sat there and watched for about an hour, while they worked it out. When they got bored and left, I picked up the guitar and then copied what they did. I was surprised that I seemed more physically able to do it than they were, as I was playing it quite quickly. I then copied whatever they did on guitar until some point soon after I had about 10 Shadows songs under my belt and started working stuff out for myself. We all shared the knowledge between the three of us (Rob introduced me to a lot of rock and roll stuff and then my brother went off to explore U2) I learned quite a nice and interesting range of stuff as a kid, I thought at the time I was cool because I could play songs for 4 or 5 different artists!

To my younger self, I say this… in fact, I’m going to capitalize them as I want to shout them at me… 

GET SOME BLOODY LESSONS: It’s taken me years to remove the bad habits I’ve learned from when I first started - I was only exposed to the music I really liked so I was narrow minded, had a narrow field of musical exposure and my theoretical knowledge is shockingly bad. It’s better now (thank you Tom Quayle) but it’s no where near where it should be considering I’ve been playing for over 35 years. So, get lessons, play properly and embrace the music your teacher suggests you listen to!

LEARN TO READ THE BLOODY DOTS YOU IDIOT: This is probably my greatest regret. By the time I was in my late teens and early 20’s I was, in terms of physicality, a great player. I could do almost anything. But, my lack of reading meant once again I was narrow viewed, I couldn’t stand in, I couldn’t work as a player professionally as easily as it would have been had I learned to read properly.

LISTEN TO EVERYTHING AS EVERYTHING IS COOL: I never listened to jazz, blues, country… anything other than what was in my CD collection. I didn’t properly first listen to the Beatles until I was in my mid 20’s. I had never heard Johnny Cash, Jerry Reed, Rory, Chet, BB King, Robert Johnson, Jimi, Muddy Waters, Grant Green, SRV, Jansch, Larry Charlton, Django… none of it until I was much much older than I should have been. I thought that because I had the “Still Got The Blues” album by Gary Moore I could play the blues. I missed out on SO much it’s hard to comprehend.

PLAY FOR THE SONG: I played to (try to) look cool and (try to) attract the girls. I never played for the song, when I think about some of the inappropriate Vai licks I put into Blues songs it makes me cringe now. I never played for the song. Only for me and my sex drive.

GEAR DOES NOT COMPENSATE POOR TECHNIQUE: I got a compressor early, this meant I could do a note for note copy of “It’s a Monster” by Extreme without warming up as the band opener, but only if I had my compressor with me and enough gain. Again, showing off. If you can’t play it totally clean, you can’t play it properly.

WORK OUT EVERY SONG YOU HEAR, BY EAR: I wish I had done this, I’ve learned so much from working out songs by ear and then thinking about “why did they do that?”. You don’t do that when you go and buy the tab books, which of course was what I did. I almost feel sorry for the people learning now as they have so much in the way of short cut respouces available to them via the internet.

EVERYTHING BETWEEN YOUR FINGERS AND YOUR EARS IS IMPORTANT: In my first band I had a wonderful guitar. An Ibanez JEM 77FR. Unfortunately, I put it through a Boss BE-5 into a stock Peavey Bandit 112. In other words, I successfully made a great guitar sound bloody awful night after night. These days all of my gear choices are for a reason. My guitar, my wireless, my pedals, my patch cables, the cable running to the amp, the amp, the speaker cable, the cab and the speakers. Everything is considered and chosen to make me sound as good as I possibly can. I don’t really have any weak links in my signal chain, although it leaves me vulnerable in terms of what goes in comes out, I’m a better player for it and much more pleasing on the ear of the audience.

PLAY WITH AS MANY BANDS AS POSSIBLE: I don’t know about you, but I remember mistakes on stage far more than I do if they are made at home. So, I would tell myself to go and join a blues band early on. Join a wedding band. Join ANY band, because you learn so much in those bands it will make you an infinitely better player.

DON’T TAKE THE PEOPLE THAT MAKE THE EFFORT OF COMING TO SEE YOU PLAY FOR GRANTED: When you play live in front of a fee paying public, or people that are supporting free venues by drinking the beer, give them the best musical experience you can. They don’t care how great you think you are.

FFS, PRACTICE MORE: Once again, as I was a flashly player and had the gear to allow me to keep the notes I didn’t quite hit, I thought I was much better than I was. It’s taken me YEARS to get my right hand up near to where my left is now, and it’s still waaaaaay off from where it should be all things considered. I’m actually a little embarrassed by my rhythm playing. I didn’t practice my right hand technique anywhere near as much as I should have, also my timing is awful, without a drummer or a click track I can’t keep in time worth a beat, although in my defense, I am considerably better than I was 10 years ago. So, young Jason, practice practice practice.

DON’T BE A DICK: Pretty certain that one doesn’t need any further explanation.

There, I feel better for that. I just wish I’d been around to tell me this all these years ago. And yes, that statement and all the contradictions within confuses me as well!

Gigging - what not to do - Part 1

Gigging… the term is often very fluid in its definition. When someone says they are going to a gig, it could mean a lot of things: It could be a massive outdoor show with thousands of audience members in attendance, or a small obscure bar on a weekday night with a hand few of people listening and all sorts of other things in between. Either way, no matter where you’re playing, it’s in front of a group of people outside of a controlled environment (practice space, home, etc.). Getting out there and playing music in front of an audience is an unrivaled feeling. Equal parts excitement, nervousness, focus and a plethora of other emotions washing over you in waves before, during, and after the gig. A great gig can truly connect with the audience and it just feels like the crowd and the band become one cohesive unit, moving and singing together that everyone can feel the collective sonic aura that is in the air. It’s a truly awe-inspiring moment. Conversely, a poorly executed gig can really wreak havoc that could prolong past the gig in question. Bad gigs turn away customers, which in turn hurts the venue and the band's subsequent change of returning (and even procuring other gigs). I’m not necessarily saying that a bad gig will ruin everything, but with a few minor tweaks and preparations, it can eliminate variables that are possible to mess up. 
 
I’d like to share a story about a gig I recently attended that sparked this blog piece. My wife and a few friends of ours went out to celebrate my wife’s birthday. We ended up at a local restaurant and bar that has been known for having quite good bands play in the past. Everyone ordered drinks around 8 pm with the band starting at 9 pm. We had no clue who the band was, the sign only said, “Live music”. At around 8:15 a few guys started showing up, one carrying pieces of his drum kit, the other carrying a combo amp with a Mesa/Boogie cover and a small pedalboard (We’re guitar players, I can’t imagine I’m the only person who scopes out other rigs at places).  The drummer sets up and begins testing his snare and it was easy to tell outright that he was a heavy-handed guy. The guitarist pulls out his sticker-covered black 70’s-era headstock Strat with the string ends flopping around the headstock. He proceeds to tune (unmuted) and starts riffing. I’m not talking about just quiet noodling; the guy was full-on digging in with his Dunlop Crybaby Mini and Boss DD7 raring to go. Finally, about 8:45 they stop and go to the bar.
 
Prior to taking positions at 9 pm, each of the band members takes between 3-5 shots each of some sort, then they head up and start their set. Prior to playing a single note, the bassist proceeds to inform the crowd that they were playing all original music and no covers, or as they like to call them “Future covers.” They proceeded to play a ska/reggae song that was… okay. The guitarist took an extended solo that lasted about 7 minutes with his wah and delay on with the mix set REALLY high no tap tempo, off beat). After finishing the song, they followed up with reinforcing they were playing future covers, and noted, “One day other bands will be covering our songs. Just remember Led Zeppelin had to start out playing original songs too.” … more on that later. After the first song, the bassist and the guitarist switched and started playing the other’s instrument for the remainder of the time we were there. Into their second song, the bass player started getting a little wound up. The rest of the band was low-key and had a swing feel, where the bassist was jumping around like he was at a punk gig. Amid his carrying on, he proceeded to jump on his cable and rip it out of the input jack. We’ve all been there… you know exactly what that sounded like. He fumbled for a moment then mid song you could hear him crackling the amp trying to plug the cable back in. We endured a few more songs that were accompanied by cliff notes such as, "We wrote this one while we were doing acid on the beach in Australia" and similar things. At 9:45 we decided to move on a check out what else was going on in the city, so we departed.
 
Ever since that night, I’ve been thinking about what went on and how they could have prevented or improved the experience with a few adjustments in the process. In my next blog, I’ll run through a few good practices and tips and tricks of what works and what doesn’t after discussing the topic with colleagues who gig regularly in all sorts of venues.
 
Part 2, coming on Thursday. I know, exciting isn't it! :D

Pride and Ego my lads, it's what makes the world rotate

I was talking to Alex about a forthcoming blog he has coming and I (as usual) ended up quoting an Iron Maiden song to him. The song is B side from 1986, so you know, not one of their most well-known, but me being the Maiden geek I am, it did seemed appropriate.

Alex’s blog is going to be about common problems for people starting out in bands, and I instantly thought of the Maiden’s song “The Sheriff of Huddersfield” which was basically them mercilessly taking the piss out of their manager Rod Smallwood. There is a wonderful line in that (Bruce doing an impression of Rod) that says “Pride and Ego my lads, pride and ego, it’s what makes the world rotate.”

As I was then thinking about what he said, I had somewhat of a revelation myself, so I thought I would put it down on th’internet (one for the good people of Huddersfield there, and Yorkshire in general to enjoy) to remind myself in the future about my place in the universe and playing in a band.

I play in a pub band, doing covers. Nothing outrageous, but we make good noises at all the right times. We do our favourite songs in the hope that the people coming to see us enjoy them also. We are not a note for note type of band, we do everything our way – sometimes that way is like the record, sometimes it’s really not. This means I have a lot of scope as the guitar player to go off on one and enjoy myself with rather long and protracted solos. 

Last week we played a gig and did a song we don’t do very often, “Bring Back The Sunshine” by Eddie Rabbit. We do it nothing like the original, it’s more done in a rock ballad style and I get the opportunity every time to pretend to be David Gilmour.

In my opinion, I did the greatest improvised solo of my life last week in this song, I literally gave myself goosebumps as I was playing it. Mrs Wilding comes to virtually every gig (she often plays the piano with us as well, but wasn’t on the night in question) as she just loves listening to me play. As we’ve been married for over 15 years she knows my playing well and knows when I am happy playing and when I am not, once I had finished my solo I looked up at her and she was beaming at me, smiling all the way up to her eyes and back down again, so I know that she appreciated it also.

Once the set had finished I went outside to cool down and waited for the inevitable glory to be poured on me by my bandmates. You may think I’m joking but we’ve all known each other for literally decades and I’ve been playing with them for that long, not as a regular member of the band but I’ve been dropping in and out for ever, so we know each other really well and we have absolutely no issue with telling each other when one of us does something really good, or really bad. I think it makes us a better band as we trust each other implicitly. I joined the band full time 18 months ago and we’ve often commented on how musically we are a good fit as we are all just fans of each other’s playing. I’ve said before I consider Rick, the bass player, to be the greatest I’ve ever seen and stand by that.

So (there it is again, I really must stop going that), I’m outside and out they come and I say “That was great”… the bass players says “Love that picking thing you did on Liza Jane” and the singer said, “Bring Back The Sunshine…” (here we go, I was about to receive the glory I so richly deserved) “… would be great if you went down low at some point, give it some more dynamics”.

I was devastated. Literally felt like my heart dropped into my stomach. Nothing about my mega solo at all. Mrs Wilding had said it was great, she loved it, she even recognised some of the set pieces I had done within it

It’s taken me until today to realise that my pride and ego have got the better of me, and for that, I openly and publically apologise to them. If I think the solo was that good, but it didn’t catch their attention enough to comment, then I need to make it better. I can remember exactly what I did and how I did it (which is rare when you are a prolific improviser) as a lot of it was sections of some tasty licks from other players put together to make my own version of a solo. I obviously need to make it better, I need to think about its structure and a way to make it more memorable. If I want to catch their attention, I need to actually catch their attention with something and not just assume that because I think something was good, that they should notice it.

Basically, I need to work on me. Pride and Ego my lads, pride and ego. It’s what makes the world rotate.