September 21, 2008

Many of you have heard by now about the Learjet carrying six people that crashed in Columbia, South Carolina this past Friday night.  Four people were killed and the two survivors recovering in a burn center in Augusta, Georgia are Travis Barker and DJ AM.  Here’s a link to the latest news of their condition: .  According to this source, the two are “expected to fully recover from this horrific event.”

I’ve written before about the way music connects emotion, memory, artist, and fan (see previous blogs “Someone saved my life tonight” and “Musician, heal thyself”).  Today I am further considering the complexity of these associations.

This tragic event has changed the way I will listen to Blink 182 and subsequent projects that drummer Travis Barker has been involved with.  As someone who has enjoyed and appreciated his art, I already feel a kind of connection with him.  When I hear him, I celebrate life–keeping the beat with him, thinking about where I was when I first heard the song and then thinking about the wild ride to where I am today.  Now, I will also be thinking of the horror of what he has survived, wishing I could know how he is, and wishing I could do something to help him.

That’s it . . .


Thoughts on bands and grief and loss

September 1, 2008

I’ve been thinking of the Dave Matthews Band a lot the last couple of weeks.  They lost their saxophone player (founding member, arranger and co-writer LeRoi Moore) to complications following an ATV accident last June.  To lose a member of the band and continue on without them is very difficult.  Every rehearsal, every concert, every song is a constant reminder of them.

The grieving process is a long one.  The key to moving through it is to stay open to all the possible levels of the grief.  Each will experience these in different measures of time and intensity.  There may be anger, sadness, guilt, and regret.  A critical element of support is to accept one another’s emotions without judgment.  There is not one best or right way to get through, except to remain open to feel.

The most painful, yet most present way to live is finding your own way to celebrate that person’s life with gratitude for being a part of it while the deep emotions of grief are ready to surface at any moment.  The tension between remembering and stepping forward into the future will weigh upon the members of the band for many months, even years.  Your lives ahead will be an endeavor to do both.

Listening to you

August 10, 2008

Beyond the endeavor to create a song, what is it that compels a musician to want to play it for others?

There is a rich mutuality between the performer and the audience. The musician is offering an experience. The audience wants to respond and interact with the experience. The moment of connection between the two can be marvelous, even mystical.

From my background working with musicians, as well as being one myself, I find a kind of paradox at work. The outward performance–the leadership, confidence, and strength–often springs from a place of deep introspection and self-doubt. The writing and performing come, not only from a knowledge of one’s talent, but from an at times oppressive desire to fill a space they have. I have had musicians tell me that they do what they do, not simply because they want to, but that they need to, and thus will suffer and sacrifice to pursue their art. There is a driving energy that fuels the courage it takes to perform and to bear being critiqued as well as appreciated.

My hope is for musicians to have, not necessarily less introspection, but less self-contempt or doubt–that their energy will more and more come from being amazed at their own life journey and at the privilege of inviting people to marvelous, mystical moments.

We can work it out, Part 2

July 27, 2008

After last week’s post, I found the following quote that I came across this week from particularly pertinent:

If you’re going to create music with other people, you should work out agreements so you can manage expectations. It’s always difficult, especially when there’s money involved, to negotiate things after the fact. Work that out as you’re creating the music instead of just saying, ‘We love each other and it’ll all work out,’ because circumstances change.”

– Shoshana Zisk, music lawyer, San Francisco Music Law (George Clinton, Island Records, Motown Records) Issue 23, 2006.
The phrase that stands out to me most is “managing expectations.” Expectations are almost always unspoken. When they are expressed, it is often at the point of heated conflict where there are feelings of misunderstanding and betrayal. Shoshana’s advice is good: talk about expectations as you’re creating the music. This kind of conversation is not an easy one. It gets to a more personal and vulnerable level. At times, it can be very helpful to have a facilitator for the discussion. I work with bands to do just that. Everyone gets heard and areas that easily cause tension can be managed and conflict diffused.
The goal is for the fun and free flow of collaborative creativity thereby contributing to the success of the band as a whole.

We can work it out

July 20, 2008

Some of the bands I’ve worked with have had a difficult time when it comes to creative decisions. There is often one visionary and founder who is the driving force behind the band and its music. If that person makes most of the artistic decisions, usually the other members are ok with this for a time. But below the level of awareness, resentment can begin. As unacknowledged resentment builds, small irritants become major points of conflict that seem far out of proportion to their importance. It is likely the conflicts (which aren’t the real issue) will continue until the main problem gets addressed.

There needs to be a time and space made to discuss the artistic roles of each member. The leadership role of the visionary is critical. Likely the band would not exist without him/her. Yet it cannot overshadow the unique contributions of all the other players. Each person needs the opportunity to communicate about what they bring to the sound, in light of the overall vision the leader may have in mind. The collaboration is where the bright spark of any one band’s sound is ignited.

Even if most often the members of the band are in agreement creatively, it is important that there exist an avenue for discussion when exceptions occur. It is when issues of artistic decisions and fairness etc. are left unsaid that bitterness can take hold and will inevitably inhibit a band’s success.

Someone saved my life tonight

July 6, 2008

When I meet someone for the first time and I tell them that I’m a counselor to musicians and bands, I typically get a response somewhere between bewilderment and fascination. Most have never heard of this counseling focus. It takes a few moments for them to let it sink in. The most frequent question subsequently posed to me is “how did you choose that?”

I finished graduate school with a clearer idea not only of the ways I share traits with all of humanity, but of the elements in my history that make me unique. I lived many years not able to articulate and appreciate these elements. During those years it was a wide variety of musicians and bands who voiced for me something I couldn’t voice. Songs like “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash, “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd, “Better Man” by Pearl Jam, or “Prayer” by Disturbed created a space for me to feel joy, life, grief, and rage. I am incredibly grateful to these and many, many others for taking some kind of their own desire, pain, or whatever it was and composing the music that landed and met a need somewhere in me.

Not only have I, and do I, interact with songs by applying them to my own world, I have always had a longing to know the artist behind their art. After getting my counseling degree, this expanded to the vision of how I can help artists in practical ways to embrace and enhance their gift as well as to cope with anxiety, discouragement, and difficulties in relationships that they face.

Thank you all.

Another brick in the wall

June 8, 2008

Often when bands are experiencing conflict, they perpetuate the conflict much longer than necessary. This is because it’s difficult to step out of the ways we usually communicate under stress.

One of those ways is sarcasm. The good thing about sarcasm is that there is sometimes a lot of truthful sentiment wrapped up in it. The bad thing is it is in a form of attack meant to express thoughts while hiding vulnerability. The effect is to put the other on the defensive and often the response is sarcasm. This kind of exchange easily escalates to a level of cruelty that neither party really wants to be a part of, and what really needs to be said is lost. It frequently leads to strained relationships between musicians and sometimes to the dissolution of the band.

Your band is made up of musicians from different backgrounds and patterns of relating and it is inevitable that there will be differences of view. That’s part of what is so cool about doing what you do. The art you collaboratively create and the connection you feel when you’re creating and playing could not happen without each unique person present. It is important to be intentional about learning how to manage conflict and communicate clearly. Gaining these skills will serve you well now and for the duration.