Gee, Mark… you kind of disappeared.

Well, yes, I did in fact.

HI! I hope this finds you all well, happy and thriving, and you had a smashing holiday in whatever way you chose to celebrate.

I took a bit of time before posting this – much has happened, and I wanted to get it all out.

Because this is a blog, and not a newsletter, I’m opting for more information as opposed to less.  That is, at least to me, the nature of a real blog anyway.  Something more than just issues of the moment or “Hey – I’ve got a gig coming up!”

SO….

Since we last “spoke”, I’ve been going through a transformation in the art department… those of you who have been kind enough to follow me for any length of time know about the hell I voluntarily put myself through with the Four For 4 project.

It became a chore I dreaded.  Not good.  It left me nearly devoid of inspiration and motivation, and questioning whether or not I even wanted to make music anymore.

Once that passed, I gently re-inserted myself into the studio to work unfettered by anything remotely resembling pressure or deadlines – and I have actually accomplished a lot.

But there was one piece of the puzzle that was still missing. Or, more accurately – there was something still standing in the way… I thought it was my setup, and in part, it was.

Out of both budget (I’m not rich – far from it), availability (some of the gear I’m using only because it’s what I could get my hands on) and comfort zone, most of the equipment and software I’ve been using is very VERY old and outdated… a Rube Goldberg affair that, while functional, requires 2 very old computers, running simultaneously, along with outboard equipment, multiple monitors, wires galore and more.

Bearing in mind that the studio has always been a vital songwriting canvas for me – with my existing setup, once I get into working on a song, I can’t jump to another song unless I change all the settings to match the new track (and thereby losing the old ones.)  So it came to the point that instead of making music freely, it became more like piloting an old airliner.

For example – the sequencing software I use is over 20 years old and runs on DOS. (Really.) And while I love it, and it’s incredibly fast to work with, there are major drawbacks too numerous to mention. I’ve been looking for a replacement for a very long time. (For those of you who don’t know what sequencing software is – no matter – it’s just a way of recording the way notes are played and what instruments they’re sent to.) Bear in mind that this is not like getting a new word processor – it’s more like replacing an instrument – except that a new instrument would have the same 6 strings or the same layout of keys. When you replace a major piece of software, it means essentially having to learn an entirely new instrument, and how to use all the technology that surrounds it.  I’ve been terrified that making that change would grind the creative process to a complete halt.

I had tentatively settled on using Reaper as a replacement… it initially looked good, and got very high praise from its’ users… plus a couple of friends were using it, and had good reports. Bonus – it works on a laptop, and does both the audio recording and the MIDI sequencing… bye bye old computers and welcome to the 21st century! I bought it, and dove into the manual.

Not so fast…

While Reaper initially looked good, in the end it was so open-ended – maybe in trying to be all things to all people – that it was actually very confusing to use. The simplest tasks in my former system were like trying to find my way out of a maze. It was emblematic of everything I was trying to rid myself of – a complicated structure that was getting in-between myself and my art. Back to the drawing board.

Well – it’s not like I have 80 hours a week to do this, so once again hamstrung, I put it on a back burner, and continued in a very limping-along fashion with my old gear.

But it opened my eyes to something vitally important – it was a metaphor for what had happened to my art. I had become so far removed from loving making music that doing it became more like a duty than a joy!

My father.

As some of you know, my Dad took his own life in 2000. One really important reason for his demise was that at the age of 68, he was scared that if he left his current life behind, what he would face was unknown. I tried to tell him that this was a good thing – that it might be scary not knowing what would happen, but it was far better than knowing what would happen by staying in his current situation.

Well hello Mark. (As my sister Elyse is fond of saying… “take my advice, I’m not using it.”) This was precisely the situation I found myself in with regard to making music… an old system that was safe, but stifling – squeezing the very life out of my art. And there I was right there with it holding it’s hand.

So, after a long time of holding out hope and avoiding the issue as best I could – I forced my own hand. I’ve been dismantling the nervous system of my “studio”, and am starting with a completely different system of working. There were some initial inner voices screaming at me about not knowing how to use new stuff and being crippled without the tools I’ve come to know, etc. etc. – but there was a time when I didn’t know them, either, and made out just fine.

I can’t tell you how good it feels to be casting off the detritus. While there’s an aspect of it that’s scary as hell, the prospect of not doing what I so love to do scares me far more – and that’s precisely where I was headed.  I don’t want to end up regretting my choices – especially when it comes to the thing that has touched me more than any other.

I am also writing again… lyrics are flowing more readily than they have in a long time, and while not nearly at 100% there is light where before there was only tunnel.  :)

A final note – part of me feels the need to apologize for going quiet – but I won’t.  I really needed to get back to basics here – to get this part of my life as healthy as the rest of it – otherwise, there will be no music coming out of here that either you or I want to listen to in the first place!

But I will say that I’m thankful for your patience… not that anyone’s banging down the door, but I do feel an allegiance to those who give the gift of their attention – and want you to know that it is never taken for granted.

So onwards I go.  And am grateful, as always, that you’re here with me.

Love to all, and happiest of New Year’s.

M.

John Mayer NAILS it (and me)

When I first heard John Mayer – what struck me was how old and wise his guitar playing was.

Bastard.  :)

I’ve not been a follower of his – nor do I own any of his stuff… but there’s no doubt that he’s incredibly talented, and has worked at it.

I came across a BerkleeBlog post about a clinic he gave in July, and I was struck by how much of what he talked about related to me, my process, and what I’ve gone through in writing – not just in the current project, but in writing and representing myself as an artist over the past 5-6 years.  A few choice quotes that struck me:

“…This is not a time to promote yourself. It doesn’t matter. This is the time to get your stuff together. Promotion can be like that. You can have promotion in 30 seconds if your stuff is good. Good music is its own promotion.”

“…I stopped using twitter as an outlet and I started using twitter as the instrument to riff on, and it started to make my mind smaller and smaller and smaller. And I couldn’t write a song.”

“You got the distraction of being able to publish yourself immediately, and it is a distraction if you’re not done producing what the product is going to be that you’re going to someday use the promotion to sell…I had to go through the same thing I’m talking to you about – what you have to go through – which is to completely manage all the distraction. Manage the temptation of publishing yourself.”

Elizabeth Gilbert just FLOORED me.

Elizabeth Gilbert is an author who has recently become VERY VERY successful.

I won’t tell you any more, except that she gave a talk at TED which is positively transformative. If you create in ANY way, it may be the most valuable 18 minutes you ever watch.

So watch: