I Don’t Want To Become A Chillaxi

Behold, the Chillaxi.

Typically seen empty, circling downtown, hoping to can catch someone’s eye and get booked. 

Remnants of dying industry grasping at straws to stay in the game while misinterpreting the needs and desires of the current industry.

Only a few years ago, taxis used to be the answer to a problem.

The “Go To”

The “industry standard”

But then, someone came up with a better, faster, easier, more modern solution and, seemingly overnight, they became obsolete to an entire generation.

But it wasn’t overnight. 

Instead of doing the constant self (and external) examination that leads to a genuine understanding of where the industry is headed and where they fit in it, they woke up one day and realized the world around them had changed.

The phone no longer rang on it’s own.

In a panic, the ’quick fix’ was to put on a trendy outfit with the hopes of appearing hip and still with it.

The only problem is, once you open the door, it’s just an ordinary taxi.  

Good thing that never happens in the music world or other creative industries…

Let The Game Come To You

It’s 9am on a Wednesday morning and I haven’t eaten breakfast.

A half-liter of Paulaner Hefe-Weizen is in my hand and the only thing keeping me from questioning my life’s choices and thinking of myself as a complete lush is the fact that I’m surrounded by a bar full of business professionals who decided to spend their morning doing the same thing. Funny how a socially expectable thing like watching Germany play in the World Cup can turn adults into the equivalent of teenagers pretending they’re sick, skipping school and being careful none of their friends post a picture of them online in fear of indictment. 

As the match ended and the bar began to empty, defeated Germany fans returning to work with overcompensated posture and enunciation, I found myself sitting in conversation with a gentleman and his wife. Both in their mid seventies, their retirement allowing them not to feel rushed to leave, I became soberly aware of my career as a musician possibly meaning a decision to take my retirement in small segments throughout the week therefore lessening the chances of the possibility later in life. 

I noticed they’d been drinking the lukewarm-black-sludge most bars pass off as “coffee” all morning so I can only assume that the conversation ended up taking a deeper turn mainly due to the forwardness and courage my breakfast choice of liquid bread and hops had given me. 

I had asked about an offhand comment I overheard the husband make, saying that they had only been married for 3 years, but we ended up talking abut marriage, careers and life in general over the next half-hour when he said something that stuck out, hidden within a considerable amount of wisdom the rest of the conversation with them held. 

“As much as we force things in life to work out, I feel like the best thing to do is what your coach used to tell you if you ever played sports when you were younger. ‘Let the game come to you.’ Don’t feel like you need to franticly run around forcing things to work out the way you want them to. Trust things are going to work out and open yourself to the possibilities of the unknown, life has a way of working itself out.”

My buzz is gone but his words are still floating around my head, dulling the usual sharpness of my self-consciousness and worry.  

When staring down the loaded barrel of an empty day, week or month (a phrase I heard Pete Holmes say on his podcast and related to instantly) I find myself wanting to force things to happen, or worse, question the sanity of my decision to venture down this road of being an artist with the sole goal of finding my own voice in the world. 

“Calm down Morgan, ‘Let the game come to you’.”

Over the past five days, it’s become a sort of mantra I’ve used to remind myself throughout the day when I feel the fear creeping back into focus and I've decided to make it a regular meditation throughout this next month. 

Not as an excuse to be lazy, but as a reminder to take a deep breath, trust the process and

“Let the game come to you.”


Two Toxic Habits

As an Artist Augmenter, when sitting down with an artist for the first time, something I like to talk about are two toxic habits all artists and musicians who perform live are temped by that I’ve seen first hand in green rooms countless times all over the world. I explain how avoiding it might be one of the most important decisions they make when it comes to a healthy and sustainable performing career.

The impact I've seen of artists making this a priority have been so powerful that I decided to take some time to sit down and share those thoughts here with you with the guarantee that, anyone who chooses to put the following two rules, or anti-habits, into practice will find unimaginable benefits throughout their career.  

 

 

"Never Count The Crowd

&

"Never Judge The Response

 

 

It’s ten minutes before taking the stage. We’re amassed in the green room getting ourselves mentally prepared to go on stage as someone has decided to designate themselves the official “Herald of Attendance” bringing to the group’s attention such gravely needed audience member head-counts in the form of phrases such as: 

“It’s a packed house! This is going to be a good one.”

Or

“Dang, it’s only half full. There’s barely anyone out there.” 

The problem with crap like this, and why this person should be slapped immediately and dragged out of the green room preferably by a bald & sweaty security escort, is:

1. With all the distractions and last minute issues wrenching for your attention before playing a show, it's critical that you only focus on issues within your circle of influence. The attendance size isn't something within your control at this moment. Move on.  

2. The number of people currently there to see you perform holds ZERO impact on how you should approach your forthcoming set mentally.

When I was younger, I used to say things like, “We’re not doing it for the audience, we’re doing it for ourselves. We’re doing it for the love of the craft, for the love of the music.”

My outlook has since changed to the belief that we’re doing it 100% for the people in the audience! If we weren’t, we’d just make this music alone in as small of a practice space as possible, record it, and move on to the next project. That's called making a record. The moment you decide to perform that music live for other people, the intention changes, who you're doing it for changes.

DSCF1210.jpg

"...if someone has paid admission at the door to see you play, you owe them something. You're literally walking on stage in their debt."

Now, I want to be extremely clear that I'm not saying that your show shouldn't be about the music or the songs themselves. I have zero interest in having a gag-reflex-triggering conversation with someone who cares more about how they look on stage than than they do making good music. In fact, this isn't even about what you should be focusing on while you're on stage.

What I'm talking about is setting intention and understanding WHY you're about to go onstage and WHO this is for.   

As much as we musicians find ourselves saying things like, "Support Live Music" or "Support The Arts", no matter the venue or musical scenario, once someone is in the door, they aren’t there to support you. Even if the crowd is made up entirely of your friends an family who's intention is to 'support you' by going to your fourth kickstarter cd-release concert, as far as you should be concerned, the only reason they are there to have an EXPERIENCE and SHARE a moment that will only exist tonight.

The reason YOU are there,

is to GIVE that to them. 

The fact that we as musicians are fulled by the presence, the energy and the response of a crowd is a byproduct of the synergy of the situation. Don’t fool yourself into the lie that the crowd is there to GIVE you anything. I'd even go as far as saying, if someone has paid admission at the door to see you play, you owe them something. You're literally walking on stage in their debt. 

You

     Are

          There

              To give.

                     Period. 

Give them a new way to think about something.

Give them a break from everyday life.

Give them an experience.

Give them rush of adrenaline.

Give them a new favorite song that they can associate to the memory of this evening and fall asleep to in weeks to come while their parents are shouting at each other in the room next door. 

Of course, it’s a bummer when you’ve worked your ass off to write music, practice the tunes, book a date, promote it, lug all your crap there to set-up and soundcheck only to find yourself playing to a handful of people in a crappy sounding room. 

The thing is... counting the crowd doesn’t alleviate any of that, all it does is cheapen the value of the people who did show up to see you play. 

That's not to say don't learn from the night and take action. OF COURSE you should ask yourself why nobody came to your show and figure out what you can do better in the future so you don't only play to your mom's work friends again. 

Maybe people don't attend shows booked on a Monday at 4pm. Book a better slot. 

Maybe you need to promote it better next time.

But here's the deal: None of that matters right now, in this moment. 

Quit whining and ruminating on the size of crowd your ground-breaking music deserves, shut up, embody a genuine sense of gratitude for those that are there, and fiercely determine to give them a show they’ll never forget.  


"Never Judge The Response


After the show, the second temptation to judge response of the crowd is even easier to fall into and ten times more toxic due to the fact that, if left unchecked, it has the power to discourage an artist to the point of never wanting to play in front of people again.  

It’s incredibly easy to walk off stage thinking that the audience ‘wasn’t feeling it tonight’ but here’s the cold hard truth: 

We are INCAPABLE of discerning the impact of the moment on those in attendance judging by the outward physical response that we perceive from on stage in the moment. 

Unless the crowd is literally booing, throwing trash on stage or assaulting you by blatant heckling, we truly don’t know the impact our music had on someone. 

Even the most unaffected-by-adrenaline artists playing a show in the smallest most well-lit of venues can’t see everything while performing. The few reactions you do see are not a reflection of the entire crowd. And even those you do see, you have no idea what’s going through their mind or in their lives that leads them to looking the way they do in that moment. 

I remember playing a sold out show in Guangzho, China. Thousands were there in person and we later found out that millions streamed it live all over the continent. To say that the green room was electric with energy before playing would be a massive understatement. As the music director, I had designed the show to start off with the band walking onto a pitch black stage and begin performing the intro song as the music and lights grew louder and brighter leading to a climactic break where the stage was finally illuminated and the artist appeared in front of the crowd, seemingly out of nowhere. 

As soon as my eyes adjusted, rocking out and giving everything I had in the moment, I looked out to see THE ENTIRE AUDIENCE… sitting down! During intermission, after a comment was made about how it was a bummer that they weren’t standing up and rocking out, jumping up and down like we were accustomed to of other audiences during that tour, it was explained to us that it was due to Chinese police enforcing everyone to remain seated for the entire set in fear of a riot and in accordance to Chinese Public Gathering Laws. 

I remember a moment in the second half of the show playing through tears as I saw an 11yr old little girl SITTING with her friends so excited and moved by the music that she was compelled to move in any way she could and sat waving her hands back and forth and dancing in her seat.
(She later threw a gift stuffed animal on stage during the encore, something we're accustomed to in Asia, and was immediately surrounded by a SWAT team of eight men in full black gear, helmets and shields facing her alone and blocking her from view. I still have her stuffed owl as a reminder of that moment to this day. Strider, our bengal cat, pulls it out and sleeps with it from time to time.)

In another scenario, I remember playing a show in Minneapolis with my band Headlight at Fine Line Music Cafe years back when an audience member decided to stand the entire show right on my side of stage up-front with his arms crossed and a bored look on his face. It ruined the entire vibe of the evening for me as my eyes were constantly pulled towards this sole vortex of emotion instead of any number of the other people obviously enjoying the show. Afterwards, out of nowhere, he came up to me as we were tearing down our gear and thanked us for the evening. “This was just what I needed tonight. Thanks for giving me a break from an otherwise horrible past month.” He said as he took turns shaking our hands.

That interaction was the last time I ever counted the members of the audience before a show or judged them by their ‘response’ and it’s been the most freeing decision I’ve ever made when it comes to performing live in-front of people.

So, if you and I were sitting down and grabbing a coffee before your show tonight…

If you had hired me to plan your next tour and we were brainstorming in pre-production…

If you are someone who is going to find yourself performing in front of people, on any level, in the near future, this is what I would ask you to do. 

Handwrite the following paragraph down, leaving the last bit blank. Then, every night before walking onstage, read it out loud to yourself and fill-in the blank with whatever comes to mind from night to night in that specific moment: 

“I am so damn thankful that my life has brought me to this moment getting to do what I love in front of people that want to hear me. There is nobody in the universe more worthy of playing these songs, in this moment, on my instrument than me. There’s no way I can ever fully understand how tonight might impact someone on a deep and meaningful level. I acknowledge and let go of the temptation to judge the evening and the audience by my understandably limited view from where I stand on stage. Tonight, I want to give the people listening ________________.”

As cheesy and lame as an exercise like this can be for most of us (myself included) I’m convinced that even the awareness of it in the moment could change the way you approach your music and that invisible connection we all have from on stage with those that are there to see us rock. 

So, If you ever come to a green-room minutes before a show and I’m not there, I’m most likely taking a moment to center myself in gratitude for the opportunity I get to give for a living. 

Please don't feel the need to tell me how many people showed up. 


The Bard & The Hearth

In ancient Medieval Gaelic culture, there lived traveling ‘keepers of tradition’, custodians of the sacredness of the universe, most commonly known as ‘Bards’. 

Masters of story-telling, verse-making, poetry reciting and music composing, they traveled from town to town sharing their stories from far off lands in return for a warm meal, a roof over their head and, if they stumbled on an exceptionally hospitable home, maybe even a warming drink from the cellar. 

The excitement of their unexpected presence in a village was aggrandized by the fact that the length of their visit was unknown, often even to the Bard himself, and may only be for one evening. Welcoming him into their home, a host would then send word to nearby neighbors, friends and family inviting them to join in the magic that was to take place that very night. 

Instantly, the monotony and routine of everyday life was spontaneously shattered as the darkening of their doorstep by the stranger meant preparations needed to begin immediately. Stoves were kindled, water set to boil, and an calf slaughtered as word began spread to nearby villages and towns. A fire was made and furniture rearranged, every square foot available would be needed. 

Later that evening, after a massive feast, the guests would began to squeeze into the main room and fill the mismatched seats all facing the hearth save one. Children sat and played on the ground nearest the fire, the youngest of them confined to their mothers laps, and the head of the home makes his way weaving between chairs and guests with a dusty bottle of whiskey that had been saved for a special occasion like tonight. Absentmindedly smiling and nodding at the gratitude and praises of his neighbors, his focused gaze scans the room for glasses needing a topping off, trying to discern if a second bottle will be needed. 

At the perfect moment, carefully chosen, the traveler enters the back of the room and quiet hush falls over the gathering as he makes his way to the last remaining seat. Setting down his pipe in exchange for a lute, the silence is broken by a slightly dissonant cord as he strums his thumb over the strings. A tension is fills the room, children squirm and mothers hold their breath. He tilts his head and effortlessly twits a tuning knob at the the end of the instrument as the sound gently falls into into a pleasant chord that brings oxygen back into the room. 

What stories will tonight bring? 
Will they be filled with historic battles of long forgotten heroes? 
Will there be tales of heartbreak that bring tears to even the most stoic of eyes? Maybe even be laughter, bringing the same effect. 

One thing is for sure,

Only the Bard knows the adventures that lay before them this evening. 

It’s unfortunate ‘Bards’ no longer exist. I like to think I would have enjoyed traveling the road alongside them, helping to tell their tales and play their songs.



Post Scriptum: "The Bard & The Hearth" was inspired by a house show in Delano, MN on April 20th, 2018. Over the past 20 years, I've stayed in hundreds of host homes helping modern day bards tell their stories. To say the generosity of those welcoming us in has changed my life for the better would be an egregious understatement.  

The Search

Being on the road with music is all about radius. 

The bus parked next to your center of gravity, the venue, and the only question is, “How far away am I willing or able to venture in my time off?” 

Every day, 
every city, 
every club is different, yet more of the same.

After finishing a morning sound-check, the Google Search commences. Like a coin in a Vegas slot machine, my winnings flood an iPhone screen. Red pins pointing me in the direction of the nearest Edison-bulb illuminated third-wave coffee shop. 

As I headed out the back of the club, passing through the alley way VIP location reserved exclusively for stage hand smoke-breaks and the occasional mattress left by last night’s ‘urban camper’, a pile of trash made up of discarded amp tubes, drum heads and guitar strings caught my eye. 

Physical manifestations of hours spent in the deep caverns of gear forums researching the key to magically unlocking the eluding temptress of perfect tone. 

Now, worthless debris.

Like a paper cup that held yesterday’s americano, 

An empty shell once holding value worth searching for. 

“Deep Dark Secret”

In college, I was in a touring band and on days off, I often found myself in an unfamiliar town with a crippling amount of down time. 

In attempts to combat boredom, a buddy of mine and I would play a game we called “Deep Dark Secret” where we would pick out a random person and make up an entire back story of their life, what brought them to this moment and what horrendously dark secret they were hiding from us.

He was exponentially funnier and more creative than I was, so half the time I just ended up laughing with a stomach cramp induced by his obnoxiously descriptive tales of past lovers, drug smuggling and apparently being surrounded by people looking for a secret place to store a dead body they were hiding. 

I’m not sure if it was this game or a character trait imprinted in my DNA but I often find myself, while in a crowd of people (the kind where there’s enough that you’re able to disappear and just observe) wondering about the lives and stories of the people who’s paths have intersected mine for a split second. 

The only difference

I guess

is that I’m no longer making up stories. 

Funny how curiosity suffocates assumptions. 

In a world of assumptions and stereotyping, may your curiosity lead you to the possibility of actually SEEING the people around you. 

Above photos were taken yesterday at a "May Day Parade" in Minneapolis, MN with my wife Sarah and taken with my Fuji x100, f=23mm 1:2 lens