Education: The Dream Killing Machine

Our education system is doing a great job of creating productive citizens who work hard, wait their turn, pay their bill’s on time, and are totally unwilling to risk making a mistake. We have got linear “1+1=2”, “Columbus discovered America” thinking down to a tee. We can memorize the bejeazus out of some facts and figures, and a university graduate can even manage their time well enough to be extremely productive under pressure… But. We’re walking out of school with the unacknowledged assumption that every question has one right answer, and that if you don’t have that answer you are wrong and will be docked marks.

I personally see it most in Music education, because that’s the field I work in. By the time most kids reach high school it’s a challenge just to get them to string a handful of chords together that they can call their own. A lot of kids will do anything not to have to be vulnerable and risk making a mistake… Even when there are no mistakes to be made! To a lot of kids, the idea that there is no right or wrong answer, that they’re allowed to trust their own sense of what sounds good, is totally foreign. And it’s not just kids either, there are a tonne of accomplished grown-up musicians who can’t play their instrument without a sheet of notation to look at… without getting permission from a piece of paper. Or worse, who are capable of playing the most difficult of pieces but don’t because they take no joy in it.

I believe that a new approach to Music education can help to address the widespread social imbalance that we’re seeing between so-called left brain, linear, logical thinking, and so-called right brain, creative, emotional, intuitive thinking. I believe that if we can teach kids from a young age to trust their own inner musicality, to make things up, to get messy, to dig in and make mistakes, that this will help them be more well rounded, happy, and effective people. How you do anything is how you do everything, and the confidence, body awareness, creativity, and emotional intelligence gained through learning Music in this way will resonate and take root in the kids’ character as a whole.

Listen to every graduation speech ever made and you’ll hear “Follow Your Dreams”, “Believe In Yourself”, “Be Exceptional”, etc. and in these times such messages are ever more important. We need people who are willing to do things differently if we’re going to solve the problems being faced by our species. So, rather than spending 16 years hammering kids into a mould, then telling them to go out and be different, I believe that bringing this kind of Music education to the world will help to create people who are actually capable of thinking outside the box and following their dreams.

How Music Production Will Make You A Better Person

I had the opportunity to present some thoughts at a workshop this past weekend, and it was really good to get to sit down and put some more of the stuff I’ve been thinking about into a logical order and present it to some flesh and blood humans. A lot of these ideas are pretty challenging to the ways that most of us go about Life, so it was exciting and scary to get raw about it with a bunch of folks that I don’t know super well.

In all the time that I’ve been making music, and all of the time that I’ve been helping other people make their’s, I’ve found that there is one and only one big impediment to creative success. Youtube is full of tutorials about how to make that monster bass patch, or how to use side chain compression to get the dance floor raging, but very few people are addressing the thing that prevents us from actually applying that technical skill.

Good music is honest. It’s emotional. It comes from a deep place inside of us, and it communicates who we really are on a primal level (by virtue of communicating our feelings). This is vulnerable. The thing that stops us from making and sharing Music that we believe in is the fear of that vulnerability. We’re afraid that other people will laugh at this expression of who we really are, and that our sneaking suspicions of being “no good” will be confirmed for all to see.

And not only that.
Because “How we do anything is how we do everything.”

The way we tie our shoes, to the way we drive a car, to the way we eat, to the way we write a blog, are all manifestations of our personality and how we meet our experience on a moment to moment basis. If we’re afflicted with this sense of shame and fear of judgement when it comes to making and sharing Music, what does that say about the rest of our lives? What does it say about how we show up to our relationships? Our friendships? Our way of making a living?

So then, making and sharing Music by it’s very nature is a way of confronting and dissolving that shame so that we can be ourselves on a moment to moment basis. Sitting with the discomfort of playing that song for another person for the first time, going through the agony of creating a Soundcloud profile (for me it was MySpace), working up the courage to perform in front of people, breaking down the fear of sending our work out to a blog or magazine or record label… Each of these small acts chips away at the wall we’ve built around our tender core, and builds the strength that it takes to shine the light of our inspiration into the world. Inspiration can guide us in every moment, from something as big as listening to our gut about what career to pursue, to something as simple as going in for that kiss with the babe we’ve been talking to all night. We just need to be a willing to listen for it and express it when it comes, and making and sharing Music can help us to do that.

How To Be A Rockstar – Part 5: Money

Money. Listen to the weight of the word.

*Money*.

Lots and lots of us are reluctant to even say it out loud. It’s the root of all evil. It’s the corrupting force that drives the corporate destruction of the universe…

Is it any co-incidence that so few of us have as much of it as we would want?

I think of money as nothing other than an abstract representation of value. In the human super-organism, money is the scent trail that organizes our collective activities in such a way that most of us stay alive and pro-create. Yes, the system has problems. Yes some people get rich while others starve. But any system that is administered by the complex, fragile, fallible phenomena known as human beings is going to have it’s issues. Rich people *and* starving people are the exception to the rule. The vast bulk of humanity are getting by and having babies and that appears to be the main thing that evolution cares about.

I’ve spent the majority of my adult Life struggling to stay afloat, whilst putting my time and energy into Music. For a long time I felt resigned to a life of poverty but a while ago I came to the following realization: If money is an abstract representation of value, then I can create something of *infinitely* more value by doing what I’m excited about than I can by slogging away in the machine doing something that just pays the bills.

During all that time of scraping by, I was also transfixed by the seemingly impossible notion that I needed to make money making Music. There was this sense that making money at it would validate what I’ve been doing with my Life. I’ve realized recently however, that this is just as much of a trap as the idea that I need to do something lame in order to put food on the table. The ego driven need for validation is only ever going to create more scarcity. If I’m going to do what I Love and have *enough* then I first need to let go of the tantalizing idea of making a million dollars. I thoroughly believe that making serious amounts of money with Music is possible, I also know that in order to achieve this I need to let go of my compulsive clinging to that image, and embrace exactly where I’m at right now.

I plan to take some big baby steps in 2015 to move towards making Music a *prosperous* full-time occupation. It’s scary and exciting at the same time. Stay tuned ;-)

90% perspiration

I spent all of yesterday in the studio finishing off the second take of mix downs for a new batch of tunes (four really cool tracks that I plan on pushing hard in 2015). The project is at the point in the process where I can see the finish line looming ahead, there are just a bunch of minute little details to line up before I can put a ribbon on it and call it done. Part of the way I am is to always be looking ahead for the next thing to tackle, so there’s a big tendency at this point to be like “Good enough, you get the drift… What’s next?” It takes a lot of commitment to push through the last little bit of 90% perspiration and complete something that I’m really proud of. I end up with a lot of lists. Having all of the little tasks physically written down helps a lot to put it in perspective and give me the motivation to get it done.

Back in the Fall I had been expecting to receive a grant from the BC Arts Council to run my songwriting project in four Vancouver high schools. I was lined up to make close to ten grand in four months or so, and basically be sorted for money for the first time since the move. When it wasn’t approved, my plans for supporting myself in the big city were pretty much dashed and I was faced with a hard choice. Either get a “day job” washing dishes or some such thing to stay afloat, or… figure it out. OK, it wasn’t really much of a choice. I knew there was no way in hell I was going to get another soul sucking bullshit joe-job, so the remaining options were much more interesting.

I ended up deciding to treat the challenge as an opportunity, and asked a couple of friends who have a recording studio and a cabin up in the mountains outside of Nelson if I could come and stay with them. That way I could live on the cheap for a couple of months while I re-applied for the next grant intake. A good temporary home combined with some financial help from a handful of loved-ones, as well as a couple of online music tutoring clients, and I was able to spend the last months of 2014 working on Music full time, whilst taking the space and silence that I desperately needed after pushing myself so hard up to the EP release in October. Two and a half months of tending the fireplace to keep the cabin hospitable, running/hiking in the Kootenay wilderness, cooking good meals, and connecting with a couple of humans that I have a tonne of respect for… I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity, and I ended up with some of the best tracks I’ve ever produced. It was a huge challenge to set aside the part of my self image that tells me I need to be be “independent” and not rely on anyone else… But I knew that my willingness/ability to accept help was the only thing that was going to allow me to move forward on the path that I’m on. I remember a couple of times, sitting on the front step looking out over the forest and saying to myself I really am living the dream right now, and it would never have been possible if I had stuck to “man up and do it yourself” approach that has characterized my personality for most of my Life.

So! Just a little bit of work left to do on these tunes, and then I’ll start shopping them to labels and booking a tour for the spring/summer. Holy shit. It feels a lot like I’m actually doing this.

The Beautiful Unknown

Somehow, I’ve been horrendously procrastinating about the blog for like a year and change. So with the New Year and all, I figure it’s time to finally get back at’er and start putting myself out there again. I have the sense that this is probably one of the best ways I have of connecting with the fans of my music in between shows and releases and whatnot, and it’s been driven home to me of late exactly how important that connection is. I’ve realized that the connection to my fans really is my Life’s blood and that I need to nurture it more effectively… My fans are my people, my tribe. I’ve even begun to think that a big part of the reason that this music exists in the first place is to bring us all together. So I’m going to be working at tweaking my presence on the internet, adjusting my habits and attitudes towards social media, and just generally being more up-front and available. It feels scary and vulnerable… which I’ve come to find probably means it’s a good idea.

I think a big part of why I fell off the blog-wagon back last year is that I was writing this series about “How To Be A Rockstar”, and had suddenly fallen into this pit of not feeling like much of anything at all. Settling into the move to Vancouver really handed my ass to me for a while, and it was all I could do to keep my head above water, never mind trying to pass on any nuggets of wisdom. The first half of 2014 was really tough in a lot of different ways, but I have most definitely come out on top… Largely because the difficulties forced me to learn how to depend on other people and accept help more deeply than I had ever allowed myself to in the past.

So here I am, back in Vancouver again after a two and half month hiatus in a cabin on the side of a mountain near Nelson, BC (more on that later). I finally got the grant to run my songwriting project (S.W.E.A.T.! – Song Writer’s Education And Training) in a couple of Vancouver high schools, which means  I’ll be supporting myself entirely from my own artistic vision for essentially the first time in my Life (at least for the next few months anyway!). With the help of various friends, family, and clients, I’ve been able to focus on my music career full-time over the last half of 2014 without recourse to any sort of day job, and it’s looking like a reasonable expectation to continue in that vein for the foreseeable future. I feel extremely grateful and humbled (also somewhat terrified at times) to be able to do this, and I’m super looking forward to what’s in store. I feel like I’ve grown tremendously since the move to BC, and I can see the path ahead of me opening up into the beautiful unknown. So… here goes.

How To Be A Rockstar – Part Four: Sex

Everybody knows that rockstars have a lot of sex. The assumption that I think most people make is that women will throw themselves at a rockstar because of his inherent sex appeal/high social status/alpha male-itude or whatever, but I want to present a different side of things. It is my belief that a genuine Rockstar is such in part because he has a lot of sex (of the deeply connected, heart opening, world shattering, vulnerably raw variety)… and not that he has a lot of sex because he’s a rockstar.

By way of explanation, allow me to pass on a phrase that I’ve found really powerful…

How you do anything is how you do everything.

Basically, who you are as a person and how you show up to your experience on a moment to moment basis impacts everything you do. For example, if your personality/habit/character is such that you tend to stick to your comfort zone you’ll probably order the same thing every time you go to your favourite restaurant (on  a micro level), and you might stay in the same career for 30 years simply because it’s familiar (on a macro level).

So, if we can all agree that sex is a primal, foundational, central aspect not only of being human but simply of being alive, then it’s easy to recognize that how you show up to your sex life is a huge reflection of how you show up to the rest of your Life as a whole.

Here’s a list of questions that I think illustrate this connection:

Are you aware of what you want and what you don’t want on a moment to moment basis? Are you willing to communicate that directly? Cuz, that’s some sexy shit right there ;-)

Are you willing/able to let your guard down, and truly allow another person to see you in a vulnerable place? Or even at your most vulnerable?

Do you pursue what you want with integrity, regardless of the perceived judgements/expectations of other people?

Do you give out of the simple joy/pleasure of giving? Or do you have a self-centred, transactional agenda?

Do you believe that you are worthy of fulfillment exactly as you are? Or do you feel you need to change/contort yourself in some way in order to earn it?

Are you willing to confront the uncomfortable reality of when you’re not getting what you want? Are you willing to own your part in that?

Do you put your energy into chasing some lofty faraway goal that seems to recede from you the harder you pursue it? Or do you flow with the moment, do what feels good right now, and allow the outcome to take care of itself?

Do you consciously cultivate your own fulfillment? Or do you expect it to just happen on it’s own?

Do you ask yourself the question “How can I get what I want?”… Or do you ask others the question “How can we get what we want together?”

***

I definitely won’t try to put up the front of being perfect in this area. In fact for the great majority of my Life I’ve been spectacularly bad at showing up to my sexuality in the ways that I’ve wanted to. The realization that sexual Rockstardom is an integral and absolutely necessary part of whole-self Rockstardom has been a big one. I’m actually really happy with exactly where I’m at right now (which is a very new development, believe me), and I’m also looking forward to where things are going ;-)

How To Be A Rockstar – Part Three: Identifying Desire

Today I’m going to get into the subject of identifying what you want. To me being a Rockstar means trusting your own desire, and being willing to go where it takes you. But what does that end up looking like in practical, everyday terms?

First off, let’s be clear that desire is dangerous. We’re inculcated from a very young age with the idea that we need to subvert our desires in order to find security, and this can actually be pretty true. The world would probably fall apart tomorrow if everyone quit their office jobs and moved to the beach to write a book about whales. Following your desire can often look like trading your cow for a handful of magic beans, but then again… If you’re lactose intolerant and sick of cleaning up cow shit, a handful of magic beans may look pretty appealing.

For me it was sheer dumb luck, I’ve known I wanted to make Music since I was about five years old. I remember my older brother putting on a live AC/DC album and I heard Bon Scott’s on-stage banter. What went through my five year old head? “Oh man, how am I going to know what to say between songs?”. It took a loooonnnnggg time for me to truly admit to myself that this is what I wanted to do with my Life, but that nagging desire really never left me.

Other people aren’t always so lucky. We’re so bombarded with influences; parents, school, friends, social status, etc. etc. etc. that it’s very easy for that little voice whispering from our heart to get cluttered away. Many people reach adulthood with no clue as to what they actually want. 

So what do you do in that situation?

First off I think it can be a good idea to start small. If you don’t know what you want to do with your Life on a grand scale, start with what you want for breakfast. Instead of getting up in the morning and fixing the same old peanut butter on toast with half a grapefruit, take a minute to check in with yourself. What do I really want right now? It may turn out that you want French toast with a side of bacon. It may turn out that you want a kale smoothy. Or it may turn out that peanut butter on toast will really hit the spot. Either way you listened to yourself, and gave approval to what you heard. I believe that starting small and checking in with your desire in the moment is a recipe to revolutionize your whole Life. Or at least what you eat for breakfast.

The second thing you can do is this: Try to remember the last time you were really happy doing something. Think of the last time you were so absorbed in what you were doing that any thought about the bills or the squeaky brakes or the last episode of the O.C. just melted away, and you could have kept doing what you were doing in that moment forever. Maybe you were kneading dough on your kitchen counter on a Saturday afternoon with the sun streaming through your window. Maybe you were hiking up a mountain with the crisp air biting into your lungs. The last time I felt this way I was hitting a floor tom along to some Music that a friend and I had just made up on my laptop. Whatever it is, that is what you were meant to be doing with your Life (or at least, that’s what I think). So now, you can start taking little steps (tiny, tiny, baby steps are OK!) to do more of that.

“But,” your analytical mind is going to chime in immediately, “You can’t make money doing that.” And to that I say, don’t worry about making money just yet. Just listen to your desire and do more of it. Make French toast for breakfast, and set aside time to make bread on Saturday afternoon (or climb mountains, or hit floor toms, or whatever). Your head will come up with a million reasons not to do what you want, that’s your head’s job. It will come up with every possible thing that could ever go wrong, and even some things that couldn’t possibly go wrong in a million years. That’s just your head doing it’s thing. Heads don’t make decisions (at least not the big ones), hearts do. It won’t seem practical, it won’t seem socially acceptable, and it definitely won’t seem easy. But if you keep doing whatever that thing is, and keep paring away the things in your Life that keep you from doing that, eventually you’ll see that it worked.

The more you feel your desire – feel it as a physical sensation in your body, give it room in your Life, approve of it and act on it – the more of it there will be to feel. It’s a skill that you can get better and better at, until eventually your desire grows and grows into this unstoppable emotional freight train that drives you exactly where you didn’t know you should be until you got there.