Archive for January, 2012

New Song: You Raise Me Up

Funny how you hear a riff that triggers your creativity. I was watching a video last week at church, and there was this really cool acoustic riff that was played underneath that inspired me. There was something about the chord pattern I really dug: 6-5-1 with a minor root. So I started playing around with that pattern, and came up with this song called, “You Raise Me Up.”

This is a song about being called by God, something like how God called on Daniel and Ezekiel in the old testament, and how they couldn’t believe that He’d call on them because they didn’t feel they were anything special. But because they had such a deep love and trust, they just let go.

Here it is:

I played all the instruments except for the drum loop. For the electric guitar, I used my trusty Les Paul ’58 Reissue through my Aracom VRX18 running into my Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator. No EQ on the guitar – it was recorded raw, then I added a bit of reverb in the mix.

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I belong to a men’s fellowship group at my church. Ostensibly, it’s a bible study group, but it usually extends far beyond just discussing the particular bible passage that’s the topic for the week. This past meeting, the subject turned towards vulnerability, and we all agreed that much of our success in life – no matter in what we endeavor – has much to do with being vulnerable. During the course of the discussion, a good friend mentioned that he’s just watched a great video from the TED conference on the very subject of vulnerability. I just finished watching it, and it has really gotten me thinking. Here’s the video:

What struck me like a ton of bricks was what she said near the end of her talk: To let ourselves be seen—deeply seen, vulnerably seen. To love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee. To practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror.

After the talk, I sat for several minutes thinking about my music; what I’m playing, what I’m writing. In a previous post, I mentioned that after a year-long hiatus, I returned to writing music, but making a conscious decision to write Christian sacred music. That was difficult for me because I really wanted to write more mainstream pop and rock for a time. Before I made my decision, I anguished over what I thought I should be doing and worried over what others might think of my music.

I had already gotten a taste of humble pie with my non-religious music from industry veterans: It was not very good; or at least not good enough to be published. Most feedback came back stated that the songs were structured well, and the ideas were sound, but they wouldn’t have that much appeal. Mind you, having wide appeal wasn’t very important to me, but I was living under the illusion that my songs were hits. They weren’t.

A large part of why I couldn’t find much success in writing non-religious music was what I now understand is a lack of sincerity and a lack of vulnerability in my writing; a lack of willingness to completely expose myself for fear of showing too much. You see, like many, I had spent a lifetime “numbing my vulnerability” as Brene Brown puts it, and when I was writing about my life, I was going to some pretty dark places that were difficult to deal with. It was too uncomfortable. But I had always found peace and solice in prayer, and though I’d visit those dark places, within the context of prayer, my songs became therapy for me. I allowed myself to be vulnerable so I could heal that pain.

From a more practical side of things, I also decided at that point in time that I made my decision to return to writing sacred music that it wasn’t necessary to try to play like everyone else. I’d continue to study and do my best to improve my technique, but I didn’t feel all that compelled to play John Mayer songs note-for-note, or play blues with the same kinds of phrasings as Eric Clapton. I just accepted that my playing was where it was at at that moment in time, and I’d just play.

The interesting thing that happened when I made that decision was that my playing improved dramatically; more so than at any point in my life and playing career. I’m no shredder, and I’m no blues god, but I finally started getting comfortable with what I could do, and I just did it, knowing that if I needed to learn more, I simply would learn more. In other words, I just accepted the fact that I only had a certain set of tools at a particular time, and I just used what I had.

Anyway, food for thought…

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Wow! Made the Finals!

I’ve been entering the SongDoor International songwriting contest on and off for the last few years. Like many emerging songwriters, when I first entered the competition, I thought my songs were hits, only to come to the sobering and humbling conclusion – after professional evaluation and feedback – that my songs really weren’t all that good. But last year, after taking a hiatus from songwriting for over a year, I decided to return to writing, but taking a much more humble approach, and also decided to go back to my roots: Contemporary Christian. But in deciding to going back to writing Christian music, I made a conscious decision to write in styles that departed from what you’d normally hear on Christian radio; for instance, reggae.

But I also wanted to make sure that my songs weren’t full of my own hubris, so I worked with a couple of different producers to evaluate my songs. That made a world of difference, and the way I approach music writing has been completely transformed; not really from the standpoint of “fitting in,” but writing music that has a good structure and good hook and while it may not be universally appealing, just plain makes sense.

For this year’s SongDoor International contest, I was invited to participate because one of the producers that I work with works there. Though she doesn’t do the judging, she encouraged me to enter a couple of songs. So I did, and I made the finals! I find out the results tomorrow, but to make the finals is real affirming that my choice to return to my roots was the right one. I really don’t care if I win the contest. It would be nice, but more important to me is the recognition that my music has appeal in a context that’s completely different from a church service. Here’s a link to the finalist list.

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Just got a news release the other day that I just had to share:

VoiceLive Play GTX is the world’s first multi-effects unit dedicated to rocking the world of the singing guitarist. Pro-level TC-Helicon vocal effects and state-of-the-art harmony processing is just half the story. With VoiceLive Play GTX, you also get top-of-the-line guitar effects from TC Electronic. Quite simply, as a singing guitarist you will feel like you have a dedicated vocal producer and an experienced guitar tech sitting inside the box.

I’ve been looking for a great harmonizer to replace my DigiTech VL4 for quite awhile now. I originally was looking at the VoiceLive Touch, but didn’t like the fact that it had a separate switching unit. With the VoiceLive Play GTX, it’s an integrated unit, which is very appealing to me. And at $349.99 when it comes out this spring, I think I’ll have found my next harmonizer unit. Add to the fact that you have great TC Electronic effects, and I think we’ve got a winner!

The unit also has 10 different amp models. I’ve never been a big fan of amp modeling, so I’ll reserve judgement until I test the unit out. But for now, as a regularly gigging musician, this is fantastic news!

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I have to admit that I have never really gotten into modes and modal theory. This is because the way it has been explained has been so freakin’ confusing. But I discovered a fantastic video series by the great Vinnie Moore, and he explains and demonstrates modes so well that after all these years, I finally “get it.” check it out…

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

This is great stuff!

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The Risk of Reviewing

A fellow blogger who focuses on wine recently got a hate letter from a winery owner who went a bit overboard with an email response to a review that he wrote of her wine. There was some pretty lively discussion around the letter, with people in support of either the author or the winery owner. But one commenter said something that struck a chord with me: “You reap what you sow…”

That saying couldn’t be more true, and which is why at the outset of this blog 5 years ago, I made the conscious decision to never post bad reviews. If I didn’t like some gear a manufacturer sent me, I’d let them know privately, and I wouldn’t write a review. My choice was to post reviews about interesting and/or “best in class” gear, as opposed to writing a review on something I find mediocre or just plain bad.

As a Wine Enthusiast reviewer, Steve Heimoff has to publish his reviews for the magazine, but I do have to question why he chose to publish this particular review. After all, he boasts tasting over 4000 wines per year; a huge amount from which he can choose the stellar wines. And though he defends himself in his article, and he’s right to question the sinister email, the question still remains why he chose to publish that. I suppose he could argue that he wants to give his readers the full range; a complete picture of what’s out there, but I don’t buy into it completely.

Part of the reason for me to publish only gear that I would rate 4 and above was time. Not so much now, but in the earlier days of this blog, I was reviewing LOTS of gear, and working full-time, I just couldn’t keep up, as my review policy had evolved to providing demo clips as much as possible. And so it goes with gear – and wine for that matter – that I wanted to buy. I just don’t have a lot of time to devote to searching, so I look for reviews of stuff that gets a high rating from a reputable source.

For instance, with wines, I don’t even think about buying wines in 80’s point range because I don’t drink wine everyday, and when I want to enjoy a glass, I want it to be good, so I tend to lean on the scores a bit in my search for wines. Admittedly, there are times where I question how the hell can this be a 90+ wine? But for the most part, the wines scored in that range have tended to be pretty damn good.

With guitar gear, I look to good, reputable sources for gear reviews. I’ll look at negative reviews as well, but once I detect ranting or unsubstantiated complaints, I’ll immediately dismiss the particular review. Stuff like, “This sucks…” or “This is just useless crap” with nothing to explain why are completely useless input for me in my buying decisions. That’s why forums are a bit dangerous. A lot of the feedback you hear – both positive and negative – tends to be plain opinion with no real testing. So buyer beware! Don’t buy into the hype if you can avoid it.

I know I talk about it a bit, but my Timmy pedal was a “hype” item. I originally heard about it on a prominent forum, and dismissed it because of all the hype surrounding it. But it wasn’t until I actually saw and heard it in action and got feedback on it by the player that I made my decision to get on the waiting list.

Anyway, back to reviewing, as a reviewer myself, I think it’s important to play nice. After all, at least in my opinion, you attract more bees with honey.


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Wednesday Meanderings…

I just read an interesting post on The Gear Page about playing in a cover band, and the poster questioning, along with some friends, why anyone would want to play in a cover band. This, of course, stirred up a hornet’s nest of debate. After reading that post and many of the replies, I thought of my own weekly solo gig that I’ve been playing for 11 years at the same place that consists of 99% cover material and a bit of my own music. I didn’t post an answer there, but I’ll post it here. The reasons I play covers is actually many-fold, but here the primary reasons:

  • Most importantly, I play for the pure joy of playing and entertaining. There’s nothing like making people smile. As an artist, I put my own twist on songs that I cover to “own” them a little, but they’re covers just the same. But who cares? I love what I’m doing, and people seem to like to listen.
  • Doing covers is lucrative. The restaurant pays me very well for what I do, and I make pretty good money in tips. The “salary” pays for gear and other stuff like my cell phone and wine club memberships; I use the tips for walking around money for the next week. It’s all good. But on top of all that, customers of the restaurant hire me for private gigs to do exactly the same thing.
  • Also, doing covers exposes me to a very wide range of musical styles, and pretty much forces me to learn how to effectively present the music according to the intent of the particular style. In other words, doing covers makes me a better musician. At my weekly gig, I play all sorts of songs from different genres: Classic Rock, Folk, Jazz Standards, Broadway, neo-Classical, and even Opera. The effect that has had on my own original music has been immense, and has allowed me to mix different styles into my own music.
  • Finally, and obviously, doing covers keeps me sharp.


Wow! Lots of lively and angry discussion around Faustine Amps and Tim Gregoire’s bankruptcy announcement. If I’ve come off as defending Tim, I apologize. But I do understand his position and choices he and his wife made because I’ve been in that boat. It doesn’t make what he did right, and for sure, he acted pretty unethically, but financial desperation makes you do funny – and questionable – things. Criminal proceedings may occur, but probably not. What will be for sure is that Tim’s future prospects for doing business in the music world will be seriously curtailed if not completely non-existent.


So Mitt Romney narrowly wins Iowa… with the same percentage that he lost in Iowa in 2008. And it’s roughly the same percentage that he’s had his entire campaign. Oh well… No, I’m not a fan, but it’s just interesting. Don’t believe the spin!

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A friend of mine referred me to a thread on The Gear Page forum about Faustine closing its doors. Then I went to the Faustine Amp web site, and lo and behold, the site is gone and in its place is a heartfelt letter from Tim, Faustine’s founder. I really feel for Tim, having come close to bankruptcy 10 years ago, so I’m familiar with the pain and anguish he must be feeling.

What is clear is that there are lots of unhappy people who have lost their deposits. Some are rather nasty about their anger, and perhaps understandably so, but as others pointed out, the $550 deposit was discretionary for most people, so yeah, it’s a pisser, but it’s probably best to move on. I call experiences like this a “learning tax.” Got that term from a former business partner when we were ripped off of over three grand in a bogus server purchase. You get angry, you call the FBI for wire fraud, but in the end, there’s not much you can do about it. No, I’m not apologizing for Tim, but I’ve been in this situation, having given my hard-earned money to someone; only to lose it due to fraud. And I’m not saying that Tim was intentionally fraudulent either; a bad businessman perhaps, but not necessarily fraudulent. That’ll be up to the courts to determine, considering lots of people are trying to get their money back from their credit card companies.

But I think there’s an over-arching issue here from which we as boutique gear lovers can all learn. There was a LOT of hype built up over the Faustine Phantom attenuator, and several well-respected professionals personally endorsed the product. As a result, a lot of people pulled out their wallets and dropped $450-$550 on their down-payment; knowing full well that they’d have to wait – a long time, and in some cases over a year.

Obviously, wait time wasn’t an issue, but a good lesson to take away from this would be putting a down payment on any gear; especially on gear from a small shop; not necessarily that the proprietors are dishonest, but at least for me, I have to call into question why you’d need a down-payment in the first place. Experience tells me that when there’s a down-payment involved AND a super-long wait time, it’s clear that the company has cash-flow issues. What appears to have ended up happening with Faustine is that Tim had to “rob Peter to pay Paul” as he indicates in his letter:

I continued taking new orders and attempted to maintain a tight control on my cash-flow so that production could continue while I searched for new funding to get Faustine back on track.

Tim’s cash flow issues aside, here are some things to consider when getting gear:

  • Personally, I’d avoid ever having to pay a down-payment unless it was absolutely clear what its purpose is; and more importantly, only if there weren’t any issues surrounding the down-payment. There was lots of discussion on the boards about the requirement of a a down-payment for the Phantom. That would be a red flag for me.
  • If you’re willing to wait, then wait. I waited 6 months for my Timmy, but Paul Cochrane didn’t require a down payment, and once it was done, I had the option of not getting it. So for me, there was very little risk.
  • I’ve said this many times: Don’t buy into the hype! Do your research, play the gear if you can, and if you can’t, talk to as many owners of that gear as possible. The Timmy was highly hyped, but while I didn’t have the opportunity to play it before I got it, I did have an up close look and listen to it being used by a professional guitarist at a concert. After that, I knew I had to have it, and I haven’t looked back.

In closing, I do feel for Tim, though I’m not apologizing for his actions in any way. At best he was naive in how he ran his business; at worst, he knew full well what he was doing when taking people’s money. Either way he’ll have to answer for it. But personally, he’s a really nice guy, and I have been in his position, starting a company that was completely funded by myself. It was just more work than I could handle. I wish him well as a person. I’ve played his amps, and they’re very nice. Never cared too much for the Phantom, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t build a quality product. He in way over his head.

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