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Posts Tagged ‘authenticity’

Louder Than Words

As they say, “Information is power,” and I’ve spent much of my career consuming various books to inform myself on a variety of topics be they technical or management or leadership. I have hundreds, may be thousands of books either in paper or electronic form that I’ve read over the years.

But it’s not really a lust for power that I’m after. But I’m constantly seeking to improve. As a result, I share what I learn with others, and actively mentor young engineers and teens. I think it’s important to share what we learn throughout our lives. It just improves life for everyone around us.

One of the subjects about which I’m passionate is leadership. Leadership isn’t just leading people and telling them what to do. True leadership comes from the inside; from what you value, from what you’ve experienced. And one critical aspect of true leadership is authenticity. That’s where the book I’ve shared, “Louder Than Words,” comes into play.

I’m still in the middle reading this book; truth be told, I’m only through the first few chapters. But as I was reading it today on the first leg of my return trip home from India, a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago surfaced in my mind.

It wasn’t that the conversation was long and drawn out, but the nature of the conversation stuck with me since then. Basically, the conversation revolved around songs that I should play in my restaurant gigs. My friend is a big Michael Buble fan, and also a young country fan. In our conversation, he was kind of pestering me about doing Michael Buble tunes and some country tunes.

At the time, I tried to brush him off a little, saying that while the artists he was mentioning were certainly successful, I just didn’t like them enough to cover their songs. But my friend just wouldn’t relent. Being a salesman, and a good one at that, he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

I finally just put my foot down and asked him to please stop with the suggestions. I explained to him that as I didn’t really get into Michael Buble or country, even though I could cover any of the songs he suggested, I just wouldn’t feel authentic. I have to like a piece of music well enough where I could truly “own” the song, and perform it coming from my heart. I don’t do superficial or shallow.

That’s not to say I don’t do any country. I cover a couple of Zac Brown Band and even George Strait songs, and even a couple of Keith Urban tunes. But the songs my buddy were suggesting weren’t resonating with me. And I’ll just say it: Michael Buble is just way too cheesy. I get that he has millions of fans, and he’s crying all the way to the bank with his success. But he’s like Nickleback to me. 🙂

I realize that I took a while with the backstory to what I really want to talk about, but it really does relate. For me, I didn’t learn musical instruments just to sit in my bedroom and collect gear. I learned instruments to play music and share it with others. I’ve been performing in one form or another for over 45 years.

When I was younger; especially in my teens and early 20’s, I will admit that I was a bit of a copycat. I want to play or sing the music exactly how the original artist did it. But as I got older and started to get a lot of gigs, I realized that I was selling myself short by not being authentic; by not taking that change on myself to express a piece of music in my own way.

And that’s basically the crux of this post. Are you being authentic? Are you even interested in being authentic. Personally, I have not judgement on people either way, but authenticity – or lack thereof – is easily detectable.

For instance, during my week and a half long stay in Pune, India recently, my associate and I frequented a great open-air restaurant next to our hotel; mostly because it was convenient and had great grilled meats, but also because they had live music on some nights. On one of those nights, they had a blues band playing.

It was a simple trio with a 20-something guitarist doubling as the lead singer. The kid had a great voice and he really could play the blues. The first song they did, he did a 10-minute solo that seemed to be a distillation of Gary Moore, SRV, and some BB and Albert King thrown into the mix. The solo was absolutely spectacular. Enough complexity and sophistication to pique the guitarist in me, but simple and melodic such that I wanted to hear more. That solo just felt like the kid had a story to tell.

But as the band got deeper into the set, the kid just seemed to pull the same patterns he used in the first song and apply them – albeit in different keys – to the solos of the subsequent songs. My mate and I finally left after they’d done about seven numbers. He even said, “It’s getting a bit monotonous.” I replied, “Yeah… after the first song, I pretty much saw all his tricks.” We had a bit of a chuckle but we talked about it on the way back to the hotel. I said what was disappointing for me was that while the kid obviously had talent and skill, in the end, he just came off as inauthentic. It was clear he studied the blues greats that he was obviously emulating, but he didn’t turn what he learned into something that was authentically his.

BB King was the master of the single note solo. This kid could do that in spades. But he overused it. He did it in every song. Most people who aren’t musicians might not catch that, but as my associate mentioned that it was getting a bit monotonous, he might not have been able to place a finger on exactly what it was that was monotonous, but it definitely wore on him.

Am I advocating not learning patterns? Absolutely not. But as a one my teachers once told me, “You learn patterns and scales so that you know your way around the fret board. But in order to truly improvise, you use those patterns and scales as simply part of your musical vocabulary.” Every song has a message. So every song requires a different part of the vocabulary.

Just like we use the word “the” in our daily speech. There is a “the,” or common words,  in music as well. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s the overall phrasing, not the individual words that matter. If all you’re doing is throwing together the same words and phrases, what you’ll be saying will ultimately be gibberish.

And this is where authenticity comes into play. When you perform authentically, you say things in your own way. I’ve been teaching my sons who play guitar and ukelele respectively. Both have asked me about improv or even just “owning” a song. I gave them each a simple exercise. Take four notes or chords (with the chords, they should fit harmonically together like G D A Bm. Start playing them evenly a few times. Then think of how you’d communicate those same four notes or chords according to a particular emotion like anger or fear or happiness. What you’ll find is that you’ll change the attack or shorten or lengthen a note or chord to fit the emotion. That is the basis of any form of communication.

But just by doing that simple exercise, how you play those notes or chords are authentically yours because you’re translating what you’re feeling inside. Kind of cool, huh?

But all that said, I’m not trying to be an arrogant ass who is an authority on music. But I am sensitive to authenticity. It doesn’t take a master to detect it…

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In Search of Authenticity

When I first started this blog as a diary of the gear I had purchased or evaluated in my endless search of “tone,” I have to admit that many of my purchases were made based upon their cool factor; as in how cool they sounded. As I was still new to tube amps, and electric guitars in general (having spent almost 35 years playing nothing but acoustic), I was like a kid in candy store, and as such, the decisions I made with respect to gear didn’t have the depth of thought applied to them that my later purchases have had.

Not to take away from the process. I’ve got some great gear as a result, but I also have lots of gear that’s just collecting dust because they just don’t fit my sound, or as in the case of my small collection of overdrives, there’s quite a bit of overlap in capabilities. For instance, I have three or four overdrives that are modeled after the venerable Tube Screamer. But it’s all good. I had to get all that out of my system. But now that I’ve refined the definition of my sound, I’m much more careful about the gear purchase decisions I make. Plus, I’m a lot more careful about the discretionary income I have as I share my passion for gear with my passion for fine wine.

But on top of that, the refinement of my sound has also compelled me towards authenticity in all aspects of my music; that is, being true to myself and what pleases me. I want the gear that I buy to allow me to authentically express myself and whatever musical message I may have, whether I’m playing my own music or covering someone else’s. My feeling is that I can’t be anyone else but me, so when I perform, I want to perform as me and not the personification of someone else.

Especially with doing covers – whether in my solo act or with my church band – I cover the music, not the artist. I arrange the tunes to fit my own interpretation of the music. It’s not about trying to be different just for difference’ sake, but to me, it’s more about ownership, and making a song my own. And from that perspective, I’m pretty careful about the songs I choose to cover. I have to feel as if I can own the songs and not just do them because they’re popular. If a song doesn’t really appeal to me, no matter how popular it may be, or even how well I might be able to perform it, I won’t do it because its lack of appeal to me won’t let me own it. Yeah, I suppose it would be a different story if I was in a show where I wouldn’t have a choice of singing a particular song. But since I do have the freedom, I can do the things I like to do.

Authenticity is important to me as an artist. It’s something I share with young people who sing with me. I tell them that it’s one thing to sing a song, but it’s an entirely different matter when you own a song. The difference in performance is like night and day. I give them an example of a friend of mine that I accompany at the restaurant I work at. She does this one Tuck and Patti song called, “You Take My Breath Away.” I personally don’t like her rendition of it, but our audience does, and the reason they do is that she owns that song hands down. So I appreciate what she’s does with it, even though I don’t happen to like her approach. After all, it’s about pleasing the audience, and she does that. Someone else who would just go through that song would simply pale in comparison.

None of this may make any sense, or you might think I’m completely off my rocker. But ask yourself if you’re being true to yourself with your performance. If you take a hard, honest  look and see that you aren’t, you may surprise yourself by trying to be authentically you.

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