Nera

Monthly Archive: October 2013

Other people

Lou Reed died yesterday. There was a quote in the news about his death. It went something like this: “The crappier the music that I make, the more people seem to buy it.”

It made me think again about what makes an artist successful or great? His art? His personality? Their creativity? Their use of magenta? Luck? The answer is actually pretty simple. Other people.

Think about it. When is something valuable? When people start to believe it is. When they say that it’s great and spread the word.  And not just any people. The ones who have some value, some sort of status, the ones that people listen to. For example Vincent van Gogh was nothing but a madman until finally a group of acclaimed art experts decided that he was a genius. Without these experts, he would have been forgotten by history.

The world is a bit different now, you have the internet and a bunch of sites where you can upload your stuff for anyone to see. The beauty of it is that anyone can be an expert. Someone, technically anyone can and will define whether your art is of any value or not. For you to be successful you need other people. They will in the end tell you if you are worth it or not. Sounds a bit depressing? Here is the positive thing. Success and making art is not the same thing. You can make great art without any success and you can be successful and still make crap. And to be more complicated it is not this black and white, plenty shades of grey(hahaha) in between.

We need other people, we just can’t do it alone. We need others to listen to our music, to read our novels. Just be careful, don’t let others define too much who you really are. Like in the Loréal add, no matter what, you are worth it. Find  yourself.

P.S. The title refers to my all time favourite story, Neil Gaiman’s Other people. Be warned, it is not that uplifting. You can read it here if you are interested:

http://holdinghandswithhades.edublogs.org/seven-deadly-sins-part-7-the-others-by-neil-gaiman/

All work and no play

I practice, practice and practice, I keep myself in shape. I go to lessons, I listen to all kinds of music, try to learn new things, I go to gigs and so on. The list is endless. Sometimes it’s just too much.

I’m saying that everyone is allowed to take a break from all of it. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad person or your progress will stop. Your brain actually needs a rest, it needs to recharge. Banging your head at the same problem for 15 hours in a row wont fix the problem, it will make it worse. Know when to stop and say, I’ll take a break and do something completely different and irrelevant. I guess I don’t need to remind you what happened to Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining, do I?

I didn’t practice today. I did this. I recommend that you take a break and play!

Kllaasi

True colours

I’m about to move country again. I guess I’m an eternal wandered.  I’m trying to keep in mind Tolkien’s phrase “Not all those who wander are lost”. That’s true most of the time. I am happy that I have the chance to pack my stuff and just leave. It is exiting and thrilling and scary. Yes, I do worry. Not about the journey itself or the country, but about the people I will meet. Will they be good to me?

Julia Cameron talks about toxic playmates in her book, The Artist’s way. By that she means people who just take from you, but will not give anything back. Mostly they put you down and use you for their own agenda. Unfortunately I’ve met a few of these people and I can’t help but wonder why it took me so long to get rid of them.

I know that I am terribly naive, I sincerely believe that people are good. And I keep believing it even when I have evidence to show otherwise. Stupid, right? But it’s not easy to admit that the person you care about is actually harming and is using me. Nobody wants that, so you turn a blind eye.

How does this relate to singing? Well, I don’t know about other artists, but I know that I am fragile. My art is fragile. I don’t need people who are telling me it’s crap or I can’t do this and that. I guess, you can argue that I can’t take criticism, but why would I? Why would I listen to someone saying that it’s crap and giving nothing to build upon? Seriously, why would I listen to anyone that has never done any art or produced anything for the world to judge. Why? Cause they are my so called friends? I think a true friend is not out there to get you. Yes, they will criticise your art, but they do it constructively, so that you can grow from it not wither.  This is true also for your family, not just your circle of friends and acquaintances. The saying goes you can’t pick your family. Okay, but is that really true? Maybe you can’t pick the family you were born into, but surely you can pick the person you are with? If he or she is no good for you, why do you tag along?

Till this day I haven’t understood the “logic” behind the behaviour of toxic playmates. Is it jealousy? Fear? Fear of what? That I change and they get left behind? It doesn’t even matter. What I’m saying is take 10 minutes of your time now and think about all the people in your life. Look at their true colours. You know which ones are no good for you. Make a decision today to get rid of the garbage in your life. Time is way too short to spend on people who don’t really care for you.

It will not be easy. It wasn’t for me. For a long time it was terribly difficult to get rid of them. I thought that I’d hurt their feelings. Jeez! What I learned is that once I made the decision to get rid of them, well, they haven’t called me ever since. Make room for the people that see your true colours!

The video is from July 2013:

 

Show must go on

A few years ago I was asked which do I prefer The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. Silly question, but here is the answer: Neither. Sorry to disappoint you. I’m not undermining the importance of those bands to the history of music, or the universe. Both bands are epic without a doubt.

But I grew up listening to Queen. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_(band)) Queen’s frontman Freddie Mercury is my idol. I absolutely love him. I can’t even begin to explain what I think of him as a singer, a songwriter and a performer. Combining opera with pop? Singing in front of 100,000 of people? His voice is just epic! His range, crazy. His outfits, outrageous, all this long long before Lady Gaga.  Or what do you make of these?

Freddie1

Image via BrianMay.com

 

Freddie2

Image via The Guardian.co.uk

Freddie3

Image via Silviasls.blogspot.com

Freddie will always have a special place in my heart. He sparked the inspiration to sing. His legacy is still with me every day. Every time I catch myself thinking inside of the box, I listen to him. So Don’t Stop Me Now! He left a lot more than just me liking men with eyeliner.

24

The most repeated question I get since I quit the 9 to 5 job is but what do you do then? Meaning what do you do with all that free time especially when nobody is telling you what you should do. I’m tempted to tell them I do nothing.

What I really do is this or at least some version of this. I have this schedule in my kitchen, it helps to see it, but after a while you will not need it. You’ll just do it.

8 to 9: Yoga + write 3 (A4)pages.

9 to 10: Coffee, maybe breakfast, email, facebook, shower.

10 to 12: Practice: Vocal warm up 15/20 minutes, piano for 30 min, rhythm exercises 30 minutes, and for the rest I work on a song or just some tricky part in a song.

12 to 15 : Lunch + nap

15 to 16: Ear training

16 to 17: Songwriting

17 to 18: Workout

18 to 19: Do what you want

19 to 20: Grocery shopping if needed

20 => Free

22 to 08 Sleep

It took me a while to figure it out that I do need routines. Routines, they actually give you freedom. It’s easier to show up every day to practice than not to show up. And once you’ve shown up, it’s much easier to do something than to procrastinate.

Of course I am not a robot that just does these for years. I’ve been doing the above daily routine for a few months now. Occasionally it changes. For example, the workout might be just a walk in the park, there might not be yoga because I have the flu, or I work longer on my piano playing skills than singing. Or I don’t take a nap! Sundays I don’t work like this. I just write my 3 pages and do whatever I feel like.

I might just change up the whole thing in a few months. I am not saying that by doing the things about you’ll become the greatest singer ever, I am saying that you should have a routine, a routine that works for you. The routine becomes a habit, easier to do than not to. Plus I promise you’ll feel less guilty, since you are actually doing what you are supposed to. Unfortunately we are a sum of our habits. The good news is, we can change our bad habits. Remember to start small, don’t raise your expectations too high, like now I have this one hour where I need to write the next hit song. Take it easy, give yourself time, you might get there eventually, but maybe just not the first day. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, the question is how are you using it.

Here is a funny article about the routines some other successful artists had:

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/oct/05/daily-rituals-creative-minds-mason-currey

Eight steps

Flying solo

I’ve been occasionally brooding over the fact that I can’t play any instrument well enough so that I can accompany myself. It would make my life so much easier. I could just take myself to any place they let me perform and just sing my heart out. Don’t get me wrong, I do like singing in a group, but sometimes I find that it’s just too tricky to organise even a rehearsal with people having other goals or issues to attend to.

10 years playing the oboe, parallel to steel drums, they are both useless for playing harmony. Okay, I could play the steel drums and play harmony, true. It’s just too loud for indoor places.

I don’t have an accompanist when I practise. I do have a piano occasionally or a background track but I don’t use them all the time. Even if I’m doing a scale exercise, I try to rely nowadays more on my ears, not the piano or the track.

I encourage you to sing more a cappella, that means without the help of any instrument. Pick any song and sing. If you want to benefit more from your rehearsal, do use a piano or a guitar to pick the starting note or chord of the song. Here is a virtual piano if you don’t have one lying around.  http://www.virtualpiano.net It’s perfect for choosing the starting note.  Sing the song. In the end check from the instrument if you are still in tune. Don’t worry if you are not. It’s hard to stay on pitch when there is no instrument to rely on. You will get better at it eventually. From my experience I can say that you’ll be about half a note lower. It’s okay, you’ll get there.

Here is a sample of my singing. One Night Only from the Dreamgirls. It’s recorded in my bedroom, the sound quality could be better, I could sing better, but you get the idea:

 

It helps if you can hear the harmony in your head while you sing the melody of the song. Do you hear the changes, the bass line?  I’m not gonna lie and say this is easy. But like with everything else you can practice this too. I personally still struggle with this, especially when it comes to jazz standards that just have too many chords in them to begin with. Take your time, I promise it will get easier.

You can even have a number one hit without any accompaniment! Listen to what Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner sounds like:

I think that the  true essence of singing without accompaniment comes alive really in an a  cappella group. For a few years now I’ve wanted to start an a cappella group. So far haven’t got around it, but it will remain on my bucket list. Here is one of my favourite a cappella group, Club for Five from Finland:

It’s really amazing what one can do with human voices, isn’t it? I know they’ve been doing this for years, and getting better at it.

So imagine what YOU can achieve? Don’t listen to the critique in your head that is saying no way, I sound like a toad when I open my mouth. The beauty in singing is that every voice is different. With practice you can improve. Use the benefits of singing without an instrument to become even better than you think you can be.  It helps with you pitch, your timing, pretty much anything. Someone pointed out to me today, there is greatness in everybody. Remember your voice is special!