Music is Important

“My single dropped today.” Madison Line Records Official Announcement
 
That is what I was able to say last Friday. It is a privilege to say those four words in today’s economy and music industry and pandemic-changed world. It is a blessing of teamwork and persistence and constant learning and technical prowess to say these words today. Music making is just one of the skills a modern musician must learn if they are moving towards a single “drop”. Once a song is written and fully edited and ready, it must be recorded, mixed, mastered (magical and mysterious “finishing” process), and then it exists as a file, basically. All that work of creativity and money and decision making and you have…a file. Music seems unimportant at that point.
 
As a less than full time music artist, I have a lot of responsibility throughout my days that is not writing music. Most musicians do have hundreds of items they do weekly that are not music related. But music is the part I can’t wait to get to at work. The active creative process makes much more music and joy than can ever be “dropped”. The joy of making music and recording eventually hits that long, low channel of trudging through platform uploading and design tweaking, marketing strategies, and background accounting in preparation for a “drop”. Someone must do that work and more often these days it is the artists themselves.
 
Then, the day arrives and your single is magically available to the whole world to buy, share, stream, and determine where it goes in their lives. The artist hopes, once again, that the music is important, it somehow jumps into life again and somehow enough people share and enjoy it to become more noticed and more important to people in their ears and in their story, ultimately.
 
“(This is) Where I Wanna Be” is the name of my song by my band “the beep” and by me, the creator. It is important to me and I hope you will share that feeling with me by clicking https://song.link/cRjXS46DBxqhZ to a file somewhere in the space of the internet. I loved it for a long time on its way to you. And yes we created a cute .gif file that looks like a static-y TV image to make you happy and listen.
 
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Music is Important

We were made for hard work.

Human beings are designed to carry out difficult tasks and sort through information and relate to one another with complex signals. Physically, we are weaker than many animals around us. Imagine if the wasps gathered and decided to rule the world – we’d run scared from our homes. But they can’t. We can, and I hope we do with grace and finesse, rule the world. But our bodies and large brains are made for processing and growing and learning.

“Not just watching a screen”, I say with my best dad voice. “Get out there and do something!” Seriously, we need something to challenge our coordination and development mentally, emotionally, and physically, which is why academics and sports and music all create larger opportunities for people for long term growth and success. Music practice makes one stronger, really. When you develop the resolve to rehearse over passivity, practice for hours on detailed, complex figures, and create nuance with developed skills, you are growing and becoming more of a ruler of your world.

It is hard work to be a musician.

More on that later on in my series, but for now I will leave you with the thoughts that young people everywhere are becoming smarter, stronger, more resilient, and more capable every day through music practice. I share a photo this week of one who goes beyond the basics every week and practices skill and feel and power until he is ready. His life is better with drums and I believe we all could use some more calculated practice of music for our sanity and life.

 

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Music is Important

“My single dropped today.” Madison Line Records Official Announcement
 
That is what I was able to say last Friday. It is a privilege to say those four words in today’s economy and music industry and pandemic-changed world. It is a blessing of teamwork and persistence and constant learning and technical prowess to say these words today. Music making is just one of the skills a modern musician must learn if they are moving towards a single “drop”. Once a song is written and fully edited and ready, it must be recorded, mixed, mastered (magical and mysterious “finishing” process), and then it exists as a file, basically. All that work of creativity and money and decision making and you have…a file. Music seems unimportant at that point.
 
As a less than full time music artist, I have a lot of responsibility throughout my days that is not writing music. Most musicians do have hundreds of items they do weekly that are not music related. But music is the part I can’t wait to get to at work. The active creative process makes much more music and joy than can ever be “dropped”. The joy of making music and recording eventually hits that long, low channel of trudging through platform uploading and design tweaking, marketing strategies, and background accounting in preparation for a “drop”. Someone must do that work and more often these days it is the artists themselves.
 
Then, the day arrives and your single is magically available to the whole world to buy, share, stream, and determine where it goes in their lives. The artist hopes, once again, that the music is important, it somehow jumps into life again and somehow enough people share and enjoy it to become more noticed and more important to people in their ears and in their story, ultimately.
 
“(This is) Where I Wanna Be” is the name of my song by my band “the beep” and by me, the creator. It is important to me and I hope you will share that feeling with me by clicking https://song.link/cRjXS46DBxqhZ to a file somewhere in the space of the internet. I loved it for a long time on its way to you. And yes we created a cute .gif file that looks like a static-y TV image to make you happy and listen.
 
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Music is Important

Music is Important

I have music playing in my head.

Ever since I was a little boy, I would hear musical lines and melodies and rhythms playing in my head. Taken from the environment, taken from natural sounds, taken from conversations and ideas around me, I would pursue those musical and lyrical ideas and start stinging songs about them. And I would sing pop songs and get stuck on “earworm” melodies (although I have a perfect solution to getting stuck on a song – ask me when you see me next), and drum on the table until mom made me stop. And again. And again. I just have had music flowing in my head and I can pull down Samuel Barber or King’s X or Future at any time easily. I’m “musical”.

But not everyone has music just playing on a mental tape in their head and those people are called “weird”. Just kidding, but you like to have music playing when you work. Oh, how you kill me but I get it. Music is important and if you don’t have it, you want to hear it. I have come to understand that music helps you to focus on something as the brain locks into something familiar and comforting. My blog talks about this often and the science backs it up. But my comfort is internal and I work well in silence.

Do you love silence and work better with no music? Further study forming here.

For the sake of today’s blog, I’ll just stick to the MUSIC BRINGS FOCUS theme and say that no matter what your style or genre or artist (can you really work to that music?), we all need a focal point for our brain to concentrate and music causes me to focus on it rather than my work. So, I am that musician that focuses for many hours a day in silence. Strange. Music moves me greatly and I respond quickly when I do hear it. I become more sensitized maybe. It has been said that music is as much about the space as the notes. I agree.

The silence you see in me is offset by the mental tape and space I enjoy inside me.

Take a quiet break sometime too and maybe, just maybe, put in some earbuds (person sitting next to me at dinner).

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Almost Heaven
 
West Virginia is almost heaven.
 
Some songs are ubiquitous and connected to a single experience or place. “Country Roads” by John Denver is one of those songs. Although Denver was most often associated in the 1970s with Colorado and the big western sky and seemed personally to be a remnant of hippie culture-turned-pop mellow folk hitmaker, he wrote one song that is solidly West Virginia. My first big concert was John Denver and I was a young fan of his music and attitude. Maybe the music even formed me as a naturalist all my life and respecter of the beauty of God’s creation. Music does that to us – forms our opinion of things when we are not even thinking about it. Even if it reflects the reality of our culture, it also enculturates us further to the angle of response to the culture we should have or could learn.
 
My stepmother Gladys took a trip in the 1960s across the USA and tried to hit every state. From Virginia. The main one she realized she missed upon her return? West Virginia. It is that remote. At that time the interstates were not complete through the mountains towns and curvy roads were solid West Virginia. I did some years of riding up to my dad’s “homeplace” in the economically challenged center of the state that were curvy and tiring with no four lane roads. Like the song Country Roads says, life is old there. So were the roads themselves and the rivers and mountains of course. I recommend it. 
 
I was with Gladys and my dad there earlier this month and my son was playing Country Roads on the porch of the homeplace on guitar (I was hoping he did not forget any lyrics, as everyone in West Virginia knows when you miss a lyric on this song). I had a moment. Not just standing in the ever flowing Elk River on a large rock. Not just sitting up on the rock ledge looking down at the two lane bridge and the climb we made. I had the music of the place solidly flowing in me because the music matched the feeling and the music made the feeling even better. 
 
And I think that is what party music does, though I’m no party animal. It is what patriotic music does. Hiphop. Old country and western. It takes the feelings of the groove we know, adds in the stories of the people and the place, and reminds us of a home, sometimes far away. And that we should have been home yesterday.
 
Music is important.
 
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Music is Important 14

That Casio keyboard belonged in the trash.

Music is an expression of the heart and soul of people – and their very interesting thoughts. Songwriting is often a cathartic exercise, which I’ll talk about at length in future articles. As I’ve said before in this blog, you can learn a lot about people through listening to their music with them and hearing them describe what they like about certain artists or songs. I’ve heard why my one friend – just one – loves Taylor Swift (empowerment), why my kids like hip hop (creativity) or classic jazz (horn lines sound like freedom), and why my wife listens to 90s rock that has returned to radio (recapturing those early years of our marriage). 
 
Ok, maybe I made that last reason up; I need to ask her.
 
This week I listened to a new worship song from Hope VanDouser on our Madison Line Records label, something she’s writing, heard (and watched) an interesting tune from clipping. based on an irritating alarm clock and no beats in a hip hop track, and scanned old time AM radio country classics on a cross-country journey. I listen for words and emotions from real people and find they are ultimately more similar than we realize. Gain and loss, love and frustration, passion and resignation fill the airwaves (yes I love terrestrial radio) and I feel I grow as a person by knowing more about and from many people. Inventive sounds and new combinations bring fresh togetherness across common dividing lines.
 
What does not bring me pleasure in listening is the irritating sound of a Casio keyboard. I will talk in future blogs about my wonderful college experience with a Casio based group, but the common cheap keyboard is a nuisance and I reveled this week in seeing one in a trash can. The sounds cheapen the musical experience of people who love the real instruments and the quality is at a level that I maintain should not be allowed – lowest. It is unnecessary even in the child’s room when the real sounds are available in community and even smart phone based keyboards sound more resonant and sonorous than a Casio.
 
And, most importantly, when I was broke in college Casio refused to remedy their terrible “craftsmanship” with an item I bought with my few dollars and their “customer service” produced a lifelong Casio critic. I resist mentioning them except in the opportunity here to show the photo of one of these tormenting keyboards that I discovered snugly resting where it belonged this week – in the trash. 
 
Everyone share your musical ideas with real instruments and not Casios.

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Music is Important 13

I worshiped God in Punjabi last weekend.
 
Each human soul, each person created by God, longs to cry out in praise to him for receiving life and talk with (at?) him for the struggle of life. We have a built in dichotomy of experience, each of us at varying levels, of celebration and anguish. As a creative, I feel that pull in both directions often simultaneously. Because of the miracle of interconnected global video, we can share instantly with people around the world. Brothers and sisters, I call them.
 
Recently, one of my mentors in India has been organizing a worship and prayer service with churches across India and bringing programmatic training and encouragement to the (marginalized, pressurized, and brutalized) church of Jesus Christ in their country. As he has pastored through so many trials, his wisdom and leadership is invaluable to the next generation and he plans to spend it on them. As a college leader and a Christian, I love this model and am joining them weekly. 
 
What strikes me most visibly, coming from the American perspective, is how joyful and demonstrative he is in his service to God and passion and expectation for the next generation of leaders. Me too! I am with creatives all day and when I’m at my best I recognize a stored up energy and frustrated lack of expression that many in the US are discerning as anger and struggle, when the answer is sometimes in release – in joyful celebration or impassioned expression. We live. We are here. We are not finished. Besides the fact of our existence and the relative comfort within which most of us live across the world today, we are also made to create, born to learn and connect, designed to be in community, and anxious for something tangibly real.
 
I worshipped God in the Punjabi language last weekend. I listened to a brother playing his original Punjabi song on a Sunday morning (it was not yet even dark on Saturday night for me) and I worshiped God because his heart matched mine. We are so alike to one another and we just need to see it – I see it when I’m closest to God. And when I’m uncomfortably listening to others and listening to the still small voice of creation.
 
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Music is Important 12

My friend Emilee is a band nerd. She does her job every day at the music store and serves band directors and musicians behind the scenes with support and information and service. Emilee is what you might call “high energy” and she does not easily withhold her thoughts on things (we are actually in a prayer group together and she is working on that!) but her heart is gold towards people and God, with her best effort.
 
We all need a support person and musicians are no different.
 
Emilee wrote a blog for her music store and deeply researched how we can all come back to music class with COVID-19 going on and used a lot of resources and detailed multiple opinions to help band directors think through a lot of angles. When she shared this, in the “cancel culture” on social media, she was surprised at how many people maligned her motives and intentions without examining the merit of the actual information and assistance she brought to people. People were impolite and presumptive about her support. I thought, “Even if it were for a music store, that’s her job and it was well done, so relax everyone, right?” 
 
Emilee got to see her reward. Her post went viral and hundreds of thousands of people saw it and shared it and she did a great service to music people around the world. I was so pleased to see her satisfaction. She was helpful to people and, in the end, although there will always be naysayers, she used her gift of research and gathered opinion to support some people who really need our hands and prayers right now – band directors across the world who love seeing their students progress in music.
 
And as we all know, music is important.
 
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Music is Important 11

Some music is timeless and elicits a special reaction every time you hear it. It has been heard before and it has been set in many movies and events and even commercials. It becomes the standard theme you hear when a type of event occurs, a true theme of life at basketball games, school functions, campaigns, and ads. You might think “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, but I’m talking about “Carmina Burana” from Carl Orff or Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyrie”. Music is used to inspire, honor, excite, or create a mood. No matter if you are surrounded by popular music or music from a bygone era of the classical period, we are inspired daily by “keep up the good fight” themes in music. Why is that?

So much of life is difficult.

I was listening to the soundtrack an old 80s movie this week and when the passion was really desperately needed, they resorted to scoring ancient horns and orchestra and when the evil or mysterious things were happening, it was moody and electronic modern movie soundtrack music with ambling melody and the latest synths of the time. I could not help but notice that we need directive and powerful music to cut through the noise of daily doldrums and dawdling days. We need the power of the large ensemble. We need the community of the many instrumentalists playing together, the big choir, and the loud marching group.

We need music to focus us on those heroic and powerful actions we take in giving of ourselves to others, serving a bigger vision than our self, and caring for other human beings physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. We need our big themes and to recognize that for inspiration and action – music is important.

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Music is Important 10

Music is Important 10 We encourage children to sing and dance. We know that their focus on singing and expressing their natural inhibition when dancing and performing are good for their energy release, self-esteem in accomplishment (especially if cared for and encouraged by parents and adults), and building up their brain with music and motion. But what do we do with a really talented kid?

I watched the unflappable Ashley Marina on America’s Got Talent a week ago because a friend of mine manages her artistic development as an 11 year old from Pittsburgh. She’s very talented and incredibly sweet but something deeper is there. She does not project her fear, she exudes confidence and calmly adapts to incredibly stressful situations around her music and with a high level of professionalism. Some of this you cannot teach, but you nurture it in the family, in the friend groups, and in the professional artist development cycle.

I invite you to watch her here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8naCiB4CLzU

Ashley does choose some songs that don’t feature her voice well quickly enough for a competition like this. Simon pushes her when the crowd is ready to accept her talent alone. But he pushes her into a place where she can really shine – adaptability and personal emotive experience. The result is a Father’s Day gift for everyone.

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