Sketchbook Has Changed, And So Did I

For those of you keeping score at home, this is Sketchbook 2.0.

Sketchbook 1.0 was all about music. I use the past tense because once upon a time, about five years ago, I wanted to be a working musician. And things were going well. I had my day job, of course, but I was in a pretty good band that was gigging regularly. I did a few other things to make some money (“diversified my revenue streams” is how they’d say it in Wall Street-ese): I taught piano, played weddings, and played at church. I made some extra money, but it never seemed quite enough.

I knew the odds were long, that it would be beyond a stretch to replace my teaching salary with that of a gigging keyboardist (I say that realizing that, to some, those salaries might be about equal). But I was determined to try, and my blog about the music business became a source of motivation for me. It was like studying for a test. If I wrote about it, I would learn it, and if I learned it, I would do it.

Then at some point I realized a sobering truth about the music business: it’s a younger person’s game. I’m fifty-five years old now, twelve years away from retirement. Who was I kidding? Did I really intend to plug away at bar gigs weekend after weekend? Keep dragging home at 3 AM while fighting sleep? Walk into my house smelling of smoke, stale beer, and sweat? And for what? A C-note per night – if that?

But those were all secondary reasons. The real epiphany was the day I realized that my goal in music was completely different from that of my bandmates. I wanted a career in music. They saw it as a hobby. And I knew I needed them. I’m a sideman, not a soloist.

So I tried to step away, but I couldn’t completely. I left the bar gigs and weddings behind, but I still play for my church. That’s important to me. And I still accompany my school’s chorus, because I teach most of those kids, and they’re important to me.

And has anything else captured my attention and given me something to do in all of my free time? You betcha.

I use my camera to keep my creative edge sharp these days. I bill myself as a photographer, and I do mean bill. I’ve shot a couple of weddings, portraits, model portfolios, and I shoot for my school’s yearbook. It’s loads of fun, I make money at being creative, and maybe it’ll become a full-time business for me one day. Who knows?

And I also realized I’ve missed writing, although this piece has been no picnic. I debated writing it at all, but in the end I decided that I should give my working musician days some sort of coda in case I still had some readers left.

The blog remains, but the direction has changed. My plan for Sketchbook 2.0 is simple: write an interesting blog about interesting stuff that interesting people find interesting.

To followers who are still with me, thanks for sticking around, and I hope you enjoy the new blog. To those just joining, welcome to my adventure.


Sketchbook: 2013 In Review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for my blog. Check it out!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,500 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 58 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The frusrating task of self-motivation (for the writers, dreamers and do-ers out there)

Lauren’s advice is to a community of writers, but I feel her advice is equally applicable to musicians as well. We are the only ones who can make ourselves practice. We are the only ones who can make ourselves write lyrics and compose music. And at the end of the day, getting people to come to our shows is ultimately our responsibility.

Read Lauren’s fine essay, and take her advice to heart.


“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.“  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If the wind will not serve, take to the oars.” – Latin Proverb

I think one of the most important things I’ve learned as I have gotten older is the importance of understanding that we have to go through things alone. Now, I know I have talked about the importance of understanding that we have to have help if we are going to get to where we are going. And that still stands. But we have to do the work on our own. We are the sole decision makers in what we do each day. We are the ones who are affected by our actions, more so than anyone else. We are the ones who have picked the path we are on. And we are the ones with the ultimate responsibility of getting to where we want/need to go.

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The Digest: Volume 1

Note: The Digest is a new feature to the Sketchbook blog. My goal is to provide a weekly annotated listing of links to relevant articles about events, trends, people, and things that have a direct impact on us as musicians. If you find The Digest useful, or if you want to suggest improvements, please let me know. Also, if you have content you’d like to see included, please send a message via Twitter or Facebook and let me know that as well. And share the love by passing The Digest on via email or social media. 

Three Critical Reasons Why a Facebook Profile Can’t Replace a Fan Page, by Jon Ostrow on Music Think Tank.

Why should I create a fan page on Facebook? Can’t I just use my personal profile? Not if you want to use Facebook as an effective marketing tool for your music, says Jon Ostrow, who goes on to say that your family may not necessarily be numbered among your fans.

If the Internet Is Working for Musicians, Why Aren’t More Musicians Working Professionally? on The Trichordist

With all of the cool internet tools musicians have to send their careers into the stratosphere, why aren’t more of them making their living as musicians? When less than 1 percent of TuneCore artists make minimum wage, and when only 2 percent of artists who released albums last year broke 10,000 units, something’s wrong. Are the digital technologies that are supposed to help artists really helping?

Artists Are Like Children. They Simply Lack Discipline, by Paul on Digital Music News.

On another take as to why technology isn’t working for some musicians, Chuck D. opines that it’s the lack of structured classes in high school. That, he adds, along with the fact that young music students don’t have football coach-like mentors who order them to run laps if they don’t do their theory homework.

Ten Reasons How (Digital) Music Controls Your Life, on Manila Standard Today.

Headset manufacturer Skullcandy runs down a list of the top 10 ways music controls our mood, energy level, and even intelligence.

The Healing Powers of Music: Repairing Brain Damage, by Melanie Spanswick on Classical Mel’s Piano and Music Education Blog

“Patients with left-side brain damage who can no longer speak,” says author Melanie Spanswick, “can find they are able to sing words, often without trouble or training.” Her article defines melodic intonation therapy and discusses how therapists used it to teach former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords how to speak again.

I’m a Music Industry CEO. And This Is Why I Tossed Your Resume Into the Trash, by Paul on Digital Music News.

Trying to land a job in the music industry, or do you want to be a musician? There is a difference, according to Lee Parsons, CEO of digital distributor Ditto Music, and you need to understand that difference before applying to his company. He spells out the top 20 list of things to do (and not to do) if you want to land that customer support/marketing position he has open.

Is Spotify’s Business Model Broken? by Greg Sandoval on CNET.

The music streaming service Spotify is struggling, posting a 60 percent revenue loss from 2010 to 2011. While analysts say there’s enough cash to keep it going for a while, its current business model is “unsustainable” for the long term.

Pandora Offers Song and Dance About Music Sales, by Greg Sandoval on CNET.

Here’s the skinny: Pandora, according to cofounder Tim Westergren, says that they pay a lot of royalty money to their artists. And they do: Coldplay and Jason Aldean are on track to make a cool million each from the internet radio company. But terrestrial radio broadcasters pay much lower royalties, and now Pandora is trying to get the government to lower internet radio royalty rates. Meanwhile, the music industry is trying to get radio stations to pay the same royalty rates as Pandora (understandably, they’re not interested). One thing’s for sure: the election will long be over before this issue gets settled.

How To Build a Professional Music Team, by Ryan J. Colburn on Music Clout.

It’s time to start putting together a team, says Ryan Colburn, when you’ve released a CD, put on some big shows, and gotten some decent press. Pick your managers, booking agent, publicist, and attorney carefully, and understand what they’re supposed to do. They, in turn, should understand your goals and objectives as an artist.

Classical Music: Musicians as Entrepreneurs on The Economist.

Quite a few classical musicians have had to become real entrepreneurs in order to ensure they can rely on a market for their work. Without flexibility and creativity, classical music will struggle to find the audiences necessary to sustain itself. Read how some innovative classical musicians try to cultivate these audiences by reaching out to the communities through unconventional means, such as coffee shop concerts.

20 Ways To Get More Gigs, Parts 1 and 2

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a band in possession of talented musicians and expensive gear must be in want of a gig.

I must sincerely apologize for maligning Jane Austen so horribly, but I just couldn’t help it. It’s true. Show me a band, and I’ll show you a group of people who want to play out. But how does one get those gigs? Is it as difficult as the Bennett girls finding husbands?

Not quite. The Live Unsigned Blog spells it out for you in this article loaded with advice on landing more gigs. (Part two can be found here.) Some of the advice is common sense stuff that musicians ought to know, like why bars hire bands (right answer: to bring more folks to the bar), and to be nice to the people who hired you. Then again, it might not occur to a band to try to stand out more (it worked for KISS) or to swap gigs with other bands.

There’s plenty of food for thought in these articles, and I’m pretty sure you’ll find a few things you can try right away. Let me know if you start booking more gigs. And remember that I get ten percent.

Note: This is a repost of an article that previously appeared on

How To Create a Great Press Kit

My previous article covered writing press releases, which is closely related to the press kit. A press kit is the link between your band and those who will hire or promote your band. It makes sense, then, to understand the correct way to put one together, as well as what pitfalls to avoid.

What Goes Into a  Press Kit

According to Al Lautenslager of, a good press kit needs to contain the following elements:

  1. Letter of Introduction. This is where to say why the press should care about you. Contact information goes here as well.
  2. Band Information. A history of the band and biographies of personnel should go here.
  3. Band Photos. Don’t skimp here; hire a photographer to shoot quality photos. Make sure they convey the image of the band.
  4. Previous Press Coverage. Include clippings from newspapers, magazines, reviews, and links to media coverage.
  5. Press Releases.
  6. Tour Schedule.
  7. CDs and Videos. Include a copy of your CD or demo, as well as a DVD of any videos you have made.
  8. A Sample Story. Do their job for them: write something that the press can easily use right away. They can edit it as necessary, and it’s possible they may print it verbatim.
  9. Frequently Asked Questions. Good for guiding interviews.

Once you have it all together, prepare both print and electronic versions of the kit. Make sure that the printed materials are presented professionally.

What To Avoid

Mike King, an instructor at, notes that while creating a good press kit is fairly straightforward, many bands still get it wrong. Among the turn-offs:

  1. Too much information. Keep it brief.
  2. Too little information. Make sure your contact information is on each piece of the kit, including the demo. Include some business cards as well.
  3. Package too flashy. If the demo isn’t any good, a leather portfolio will not land you the gig.
  4. Poor grammar and spelling. This is one place where you can’t afford to make mistakes. Pay an English teacher or graduate student to proofread every written piece in your kit. It’s worth the money.

By taking the time to do a good job on the press kit, you will have something that represents your band well. Take equal care in distributing these kits, and you’ll increase your chances of getting the gig.

Steps to Understanding Notes and Intervals

Not my school, but you get the idea.

I teach piano twice a week to small groups of students at my middle school. Last week I began teaching them about intervals, and I noticed that I wasn’t getting the concept across in all cases. Nevertheless, I forged ahead with the examples in the book as though they were gospel, even as I made a mental note to research other methods for future lessons.

I still hadn’t thought of anything by lesson time today, when, as they were filing into my studio, it hit me.

“Come with me,” I said. “Let’s take a walk.”

We walked to the atrium, which houses two large staircases. They gathered at the bottom while I explained the game. I told them that these steps were the keys on the piano keyboard, and that we were working in the key of C. I announced the names of the “keys” as I dropped note flashcards on each step, starting with C and ending with G. I then told my students to stand on the notes that I called out.

That was fun! Some cried out as they marched up to F, “I’m winning! I’m winning!” Okay, I thought, this was going to work well.

It was time to try intervals. I asked them how many steps they needed to take from C to stand on G. One said 3, another 4.

“Well,” I said, “in music you have to start with the note you’re on and count it. You also count the one you end up on.”

“Oh,” one of them said, stepping off the interval. “One … two … three … four … FIVE!”

“Right!” I exclaimed. “Perfect!”

We went on like that. They counted up from C and down from G, and then they began counting up and down from wherever they were. A third down from F? No problem. A fourth up from D? Easy.

We then went back to the studio and worked out on mini whiteboards what these intervals looked like on the staff. I had them start with C and go up and down by various intervals. It was tougher than the steps, but they were able to get it since they had the concept. We then took our “compositions” back to the stairs and did some “sight-reading.” Finally, back to the piano to hear the piece.

I think my students enjoyed the break in routine as much as the activity itself. They’re in school all day, and my studio is a small, unused office with a donated upright in it. I love it, but to them it’s still a classroom. Today they got to move.

But as much as I enjoyed doing this myself, I doubt I’ll use a staircase to teach glissandi!

Sketchbook Is Now On WordPress!

Greetings, and welcome to Sketchbook on WordPress. I made the decision to migrate my blog to WordPress after viewing some excellent blogs by fellow musicians. My blog will still be available on tumblr, but it will be a repost of the original content found here.

For those of you who have been following my blog on tumblr, you’ll recognize some of the articles that I’ve reposted here today. Forgive my redundancy, but my goal was to have some sort of content consistency for new visitors.

And finally, for my fellow musicians, guest posts are welcome. Send a link to your article to I’ll read it and include it in my blog if it’s on topic and appropriate for all ages.

Thanks again, and welcome!