Inspiration & Practicality

Everyone once and a while, I’ll pop in an old CD I haven’t heard in a while. Perhaps an old favorite. I always wonder “Why did I ever stop listening to this?” It transports me, inspires me, changes my writing habits as a composer. Oh how I am so easily manipulated into the fantasy of the genre. The lure of playing heavy metal before a crowd, the self-sufficiency of being a singer-songwriter behind an acoustic guitar, the appeal of leading worship at church. “Maybe this one will allow me to pursue this full time.” “How about this one; it’ll surely bring in the income.”

I’ll go through a phase. Sometimes a week, and sometimes a couple of months. Either the inspiration will die first, or the once “practical” solution as a composer seems “impractical.” What comes off as myself being such a genre-diverse composer is really just me scratching & clawing to find something that works; not musically, but financially.

Let’s make good music cheap sounds an awful lot like the fast food industry, but hopefully the dream isn’t as bad for me.

Here’s to all you composers, songwriters, and aspiring bedroom musicians. Let’s find something that works.

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LTP: Coffee Too Bitter? Grab Some Ethiopia

Over the years, I’ve had people wanting a coffee that’s not too bitter. This request was usually related to acid reflux problems rather than a preference in taste.  Often the solution was to give them a darker roast coffee. I had one particular individual who was so convinced that this was the solution that he ordered a single cup pour-over of our Espresso blend every day. Another solution was to suggest to the customer a lighter roast, such as Starbucks’ Veranda or Willow Blends.

The problem with the dark roast coffees, especially the espresso roast, is that there’s still acidity; albeit, more balanced than that of a Central American coffee. That is what often makes dark roast coffees more desirable for espresso – they are full bodied and have the strength to be diffused within a latte or cappuccino. It’s not often you’ll see medium to light roast coffees used in such capacity other than enjoying them as purely espresso.

When it comes to a light or blonde roast, they are roasted for a shorter amount of time often so that they don’t taste burnt. These coffees prior to being hulled have been, more often that not, subjected to a washed process which involves fermentation of the coffee cherry, and therefore a bitter flavor. What you want is a coffee that’s been through a natural processing.

Coffees from Yemen, Brazil, and Ethiopia, in short, don’t go through a washed or semi-washed process. Rather, they go through a natural processing which does not involve any fermentation, which is often where your bitter flavor comes from. The beans are sun-dried before they are hulled, leaving the much of the fruity & floral flavors still intact without any of the bitterness.

Next time you’re at you’re local coffeehouse, ask for some Ethiopia as a french press, pour-over, or as whole bean to take home! You’ll be pleased with the new experience!

6 Ways I Use My Day Job to Pursue My Dream Job

Monday morning is upon us again. The majority of us will get up and go to a job we tolerate in order to pay our bills, have insurance, and maybe – if we’re lucky, bring us a tiny fraction closer to our dream job.

DSCG4839The following was advice from my producer shortly after I started working with him on the first of our now two albums. He has played metal all across Canada and Europe and knew of individuals who were using their day jobs to advance their careers as musicians.

  • For example, one individual worked for an airline; therefore, was able to get excellent prices on tickets for him and his mates for touring.
  • Another example; a bandmate worked for a moving truck company (Uhaul, Ryder, etc) and was able to cheaply haul instruments and merch while supplying transportation for his band members.
  • And to finally beat this into the ground, I understood that another musician worked for a tshirt company – so  yes; his merchandise overhead was significantly lower than most musicians.

Sometimes you will have to think outside the box for your circumstance. You may have to dig deep to discover just what advantage your job brings you. I had to do just that. I don’t often like to talk about my day job, but for the sake of this article, I will do so.

IMG_2338-0I work at Starbucks, and as a partner I have used several benefits to propel my career as a composer and performing musician.

  • Free pound of coffee per week: I have used this not only to stay up later working on music & articles (such as this), but also as currency as I do have a great relationship with my producer. The coffee I bring him eliminates his need to purchase coffee; therefore, a dollar amount we agreed on deducts from my final studio bill for every pound I bring in.
  • Paid Vacation: I’ve been with the company several years now and I tend to rack up vacation hours more quickly than most. With this, I have used paid vacation days to work on music, do shows, and work with my producer whilst getting paid to do so.
  • Stock Options: Yes, I sold several hundreds of dollars worth of stock I had racked up in order to hire my musicians for WaveTransform Fest 2014
  • Face Time: We’re encouraged to develop lasting relationships with our customers, and it is also said that word of mouth is this best marketing tool. A great many of my regular customers are aware that I am a musician & composer, who regularly composes and performs, and has albums available to buy and stream at Johnny-Newman.com, iTunes, and Spotify.
  • Spotify: Speaking of streaming, an especially new benefit to all Starbucks partners is the availability of free premium Spotify. So, if I were to have the desire to have album reviews as a regular part of my blog (by the way, blogging also fuels my music career), it wouldn’t cost me a dime to do so – just a little time out of my day.
  • Entry Level Perks: Since I have been with the company, I’ve actually turned down promotions. This allows me to make my availability almost as flexible as I wish. Additionally, our insurance begins at 20 hours a week. This means when work picks up on the music end and I have to cut my hours at my day job, my insurance and benefits never suffer!

Take time to brainstorm over your day job. Find ways you can use it to your advantage in pursuing your dreams! If you can’t find any way it can help you, ask yourself is it really worth staying? Especially if the paycheck isn’t that hefty, you may want to consider other options closer to your dreams!

 

Composer’s Logue | Transitions

Composing in the digital age has brought its share of problems for the active composer. The age of 4 bar loops sometimes boxes us in subliminally . We can go from one section of music to another without properly transitioning.

I found myself working on a composition with the working title ‘Polarity.’ Each section focuses around a group of notes from the clock face.

  • One section around the notes of a C9b7
  • Another around a G#9b7
  • And the remaining notes around a C7(no 5th)

It would be quite atonal if the C & G# chords didn’t share some notes; hence, the polarity. Getting back to the transitioning subject, between the first two sections, I wanted to create a 2 chord transition only lasting one to two measures. I came to the realization that I was severely missing out on some interesting development. Instead of selling myself short with this abrupt transition so early on in the composition, I am taking advantage of both the shared & differentiating notes between the C & G# sections to slowly meld between the two. In a way, it reminds me of the wormhole between 2 galaxies like in the film Interstellar.

This is the only place in the composition I’ll have a mediant relationship between chords, so why not take the most advantage of it. Later, going into the final section, I will essentially have a subdominant relationship…I guess we’ll see what happens when I get there.

Polarity

[ C9 – G#9 – C#7(no 5th) ]

Riff Development | Getting the Most out of Your Ideas

 

One of the greatest lessons I learned when I was a student of music composition was to make use of my ideas; or in this case – riffs. Before my training, I didn’t often maximize on my ideas and would write motifs, ideas, riffs, etc. and not take time to find their full potential as most young and inexperienced composers do. Below is an example of how I might begin to develop an idea.

(0:00 – 0:24) I present the idea as a simple gallop riff with some chromatic ties between the gallops and a chromatic 3-note run at the end of the phrases. I establish the initial idea by repeating it before I develop it by modulating up a whole step.

(0:24-0:35) In the modulated development, I change up the chromatic ties between the gallops; however, I leave the chromatic 3-note run intact. At the last phrase end, I introduce the next development before I continue into the next phrase by playing the 3-note run as double stops (power chords).

(0:35 – 0:58) As I return to the original key, I have developed it further by playing the whole section as open power chords. Also, you will notice that the percussion has become more aggressive; the crash and splash cymbals are in use with some more technical fills.

(0:59 – 1:10) When I modulate this section, I change octaves for some of the ties for a better flow on the instrument. At the end of this section, notice I extend my 3-note chromatic run by adding an additional 3 more notes and by extending the measure from 4/4 to 5/4 to emphasize my cadence before returning to the original single-note idea (1:11)

If I were to develop this idea further, I would begin to look at fragmentation. By taking some of the individual ties, or even the 3-note chromatic run, I could explore some excellent development to build upon my original ideas. When doing this on your own – make sure to save your best developmental ideas for last as to make an exciting climax! I’d love to hear what you all might do, as well!

Happy composing and happy riffing!!

Dec 28 | Monday Playlist

In light of all the new music I got over the Holiday, this is what’s in rotation now. Now that we have a kid, I’m a little more conscious about what music is playing around the house and in the car. I’ll wait until he’s old enough to appreciate & understand Swedish tech metal.

  • Dustin Kensrue – Carry the Fire
  • Jon Thurlow – Stand in Awe
  • Misty Edwards – Always on His Mind
  • Misty Edwards – Measure of Love
  • Jake Hamilton – Beautiful Rider

Tear off the Roof | On Mark 2

Brothers, sisters – carry me closer. I see so many at His feet. I wanna be there! I want to be there! Carry me closer. I need to be fixed. My heartbeat’s a mess & only He can fix this wreck! There are so many – so many there. Carry me up to the roof! Hoist me up with mighty arms and lower me in!

Only He heals & only He forgives!

Tear off the roof and lower me in, because only He heals & only He forgives!

(inspired by Mark 2)