9 Things Kate Bush’s Recent Record Setting Album Sales Can Teach You About The Music Industry

Kate Bush is on a roll.

Her recent 22 date sold out series (which marked her first return to performing her music live in 35 years!) is by all accounts and artistic and financial triumph.  But it did something even more remarkable:

Last Sunday she was the first woman to have EIGHT albums chart at the same time.

(You can read the full story here).

Even more impressive give that all of the charted discography was more than 25 years old (with the exception of 2011’s 50 Words for Snow)!

#6 – The Whole Story (1986)

#9 – The Hounds of Love (1985)

#20 – 50 Words For Snow (2011)

#24 – The Kick Inside (1978)

#26 – The Sensual World (1989)

#37 – The Dreaming (1982)
#38 – Never For Ever (1980)

#40 – Lionheart (1978)

The Take Aways

This story has everything you need to know about the music business, book business and any other business where you are creating something that other people buy.

1. Real fans take a LONG time to cultivate.  

2. Fans support artists not products.  

3.  People buy recordings (and go to shows) because of how they make them feel.

4. There is value in scarcity.

5. If you exceed fan’s expectations, those fans will become acolytes who will try to convert everyone around them.

6. Word of mouth marketing is the most powerful force on the planet.

7. There will never be another Kate Bush – Kate Bush was a unique combination of talent, songwriting and Major Label resources to market her product.

8. There will never be another YOU. Do YOU to the best of your ability. Be honest in your art. Make great art. Make great fans. Show the cavalcade of mediocre crap hiding on the charts how it’s really done.

9. Sometimes the good people do come out on top.

As I write this – every major label in the world is trying to reach Kate Bush. I hope she’s enjoying a fine wine and laughing as she says no.

Here’s a classic track of hers that is a great reminder to keep running up that hill and chasing whatever it is you need to do.

As always, thanks for reading!

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The 10,000 Hour Rule In Context

There was research and then there was Gladwell..and then the Gladwell acolytes…and then the Gladwell detractors and then we were left with a number.

10,000 hours.

You need 10,000 hours to master something….or do you?

Here’s another opinion.  From the trenches, based on no scientific data whatsoever, but operating solely in the area of personal experience.

First off – mastery as a term is deceptive at best.

I’m highly suspicious of anyone who calls themselves a master musician, because I’ve never seen anyone who operated at a level of mastery that identified themselves as such.  The people who play at the highest levels are often the ones who can tell you exactly what they can’t do and still struggle with the demands of whatever instrument they have.

Yes you need time – but it has to be focused time

I know a lot of people who started playing guitar when I did.  They’ve easily put 10,000 hours in on their instrument.  They’re marginally better than they were when they first started.  There are several reasons why:

  • They got one thing down and never expanded upon it.  If you ever listen to me practice, it rarely sounds very good.  There’s a reason for that – when you’re practicing you’re supposed to push yourself beyond your current capacity.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked by a practice room where someone was just playing all the stuff they already knew how to do and were convinced that they were really getting better.    If you ever go to a blues jam – you will always find that guy who’s playing the same thing over and over again on every tune.  Come back next week and you’ll hear it again.  It’s like you’re listening to a human sampler.  If you never push yourself – you will never get better.

 

  • 10,000 hours needs both focus and context.  What are you spending 10,000 hours working on?  The person spending 2,000 hours on focused goals that integrate skill sets will generally run laps around the person who put an unfocused 10,000 hours in.

 

  • It’s daily work – often on fundamentals.  Really.  It’s putting consistent focused time in every day that yields results.  Itzhak Perlman still practices scales 4-5 hours a day.  Trust me, he knows those scales everywhere there is to play them on the violin – but mastery is in going deep into areas that few other people are willing to commit to.

 

  • You’ll need models and or mentors.  No one is an island.  You’ll need to emulate other people to get to the unique combination of influences and skills that will create your unique artistic stamp.

 

  • A big portion of the time required for mastery goes into developing aesthetic.  I can teach you the technical aspects of guitar playing in a relatively short period of time, but it’s going to take me a lot longer to teach you how to play well.

 

A musician was once relating to me the story of how pedagogy was handled in the part of India he was from.  “If you wanted to learn tabla.  someone would make an introduction and that person would handle all elements of the terms of study (payment, etc).  That was never discussed between teacher and student.  Then, you would go to the guru’s house and you might not touch a tabla for a year.  You would be cutting wood and doing all sorts of manual labor around the house – but the lessons would be going on around you and subconsciously the sounds and rhythms would be working their way into your ear.

Then one day you might get a lesson and learn some basic rhythms.   It might be a three hour lesson to get some basics together and then there would be some follow up spot checks to see how you were progressing.   Once you were ready you’d get another lesson and that would eventually become a regular event – but all during that time you’d be absorbing what was happening around you and starting to develop a sense of how things are supposed to sound – that way you know what sounds you are trying to create.”

A Rag is a DEEP thing.  If you’re just running the notes up and down, you’re not playing a Rag. It’s not just a collection of notes, each one is a world that contains melodies, phrases and even times of day that they’re to be played that define it.  You can learn some of the phrases relatively quickly but really knowing the Rag is a whole different thing, and a whole different time frame.

Aashish Khan once told me that his grandfather made him stay on one particular Rag for a year.  To put that into context, imagine practicing C major scales and phrases for 12 hours a day for a year and at each stage having your teacher tell you, “You’re not ready yet.”  Could you keep pushing forward in the face of that adversity?

Here’s the thing:

Very little is impossible.  The amazing thing about acquiring any skill set is that it’s about breaking complex motions down into its simplest components, mastering each one of them in a vacuum and then integrating them into a larger context.

Bukowski once said, “Endurance is more important than the truth.”  What I think he meant by that was that no one starts off as a brilliant writer/guitarist/anything.  There’s a long period of time that you’re going to be bad at something when you take it on, but the people who keep at it eventually get better.  Some of them even get to be great and become the very thing they were trying to be.

Mastery is largely about learning how to acquire a skill set.  If you’ve gotten good at playing guitar, it will probably not take you as long to get good at say, mandolin.  I’d argue even further that if you’re a great instrumentalist, you’ll probably pick up something like cooking at a high level much faster than someone who has not acquired mastery in a specific area.

Finally, I’d argue that mastery is a reflection of self.  It’s not about being able to play a scale the fastest or having the hippest lines over a chord progression.  It’s a cumulative process that uses something (playing guitar for example) as a means for getting to the best version of you that’s possible.  It’s not about mastering a Rag for example, it’s about your individual expression within that Rag.  It’s about where you are in a given moment of time and about what you have to say within that medium.

Mastery isn’t about guitar.  It’s about you.

To master anything

You’ll need time.

You’ll need focus.

You’ll need challenging things to work on.

It’s best to get crackin’ now!

As always, thanks for reading!

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Working With Limitations

There is a Stravinsky story I find myself telling often.

Allegedly, when he went to compose, the first thing he would do is put a time and key signature on a piece of manuscript paper to limit himself.  Without that he would look at the piano and, seeing an almost infinite number of possibilities, get overwhelmed and shut down.

A key part of the process to learning anything is overcoming limitations.  By expanding one’s knowledge and skill set things that were impossible become possible or even easy.  As a musician, when I find an obstacle to something that I need to be able to do I practice doing it to add it to my abilities.

But what about other strategies for dealing with limitations?

Instead of assuming that limitations needed to be eliminated, what if, limitations were embraced and worked with to reach your goals?

Kang Yana Mulyana

I know very little about this Indonesian guitarist other than the fact that he has some very real physical impediments that make playing the guitar in a “traditional” manner impossible.

Check out his workaround!

What’s technically amazing to me about this is that the fretting hand is only using the thumb and pinky (!?!) to get those notes out of the guitar!

How did he do this?

1. He had a why.

Again Victor Frankl, “He who has a why can bear almost any how”

2.  He worked with his limitations rather than try to overcome them.

If he had gone to a guitar store to take a lesson, he probably would have been told that his physical limitations would prevent him from playing and that he’d have to do something else.  But his numerous work arounds (putting the guitar on the floor, finding alternate ways to fret and pick notes), allowed him to get the same end result.

Do you.

Let’s not get this twisted, I’m not saying that you should be lazy.  Kang Yana Mulyana spent a LOT of time working on guitar to get the end results he wanted (and that’s some real physical and mental obstacles to overcome).

What I am saying is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving your goals.  What worked for one person will not necessarily work for you.  The important things are to have an end goal that your trying to achieve and to work with your attributes and limitations to achieve them.  Learning what works for you is a lifelong lesson and it’s definitely one worth taking on.

Here’s one more video to help keep you inspired.

As always, thanks for reading!

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Do You Need A Guitar To Be A Guitarist?

In an earlier post, I provided some scrutiny to the blanket idea to a common self-help sentiment that, “the answer (to your questions/searching/etc) lies within.”

And while there is some truth to that sentiment, it is only a 1/2 truth.  You can find some answers within, but only when interacting with external influences.

“It’s about my music…”

When I taught lessons at CalArts, variations of the above statement came up repeatedly from students who didn’t see the merits of learning other people’s songs as lesson material.  “Can’t we just work on my stuff?”

Well, we can…but there’s a problem:

  • every song you write is the same chord progression moved to other keys
  • you have two strumming styles
  • your melodies are variations of each other

In other words, the problem is you just keep writing the same song with different lyrics.

This is what happens when you work on things in complete isolation.  You end up “discovering” things that are already well worn territory, and you develop a language that has incredible emotional meaning for you but doesn’t necessarily engage other people.

It’s like learning a native language.   You could just say gaga-goo-goo the rest of your life instead of learning words but while your parents would know what you were saying, it would be lost on anyone outside that circle. You have to learn other people’s words to have the common ground to communicate with other people.  The originality comes from being able to form your own unique sentences and your own ideas.

So the teachable moment comes from getting students to realize that you can learn other people’s material with the intent of developing your own music instead of simply learning how to play their songs.   It comes back to two core concepts of mine – having a “why” and learning the deeper lesson.

Do You Need A Guitar To Be A Guitarist?

It’s a trick question as the answer is yes and no.

When you first start off, you have to have a guitar to be a guitarist.  I’ve known a number of people who truly had the souls of a guitarist and were as passionate as guitars and guitar playing as I was, but they’re uber – fans.  That’s fine but they’ll never be a guitarist because they have no desire to pick up the instrument and play.

So you can have all the intent in the world, but if you don’t play the guitar, you’ll never be a guitarist.

In contrast, at a certain point being a guitarist becomes a skill.  You don’t become defined by what you play, but instead by how you play it.

There is a story of Miyamoto Musashi, possibly the most renown samurai in history, being called to a duel on an island.  Allegedly Musashi, who at that point stopped using traditional swords in favor of a bokken (a wooden sword), got into a boat and carved a bokken out of a spare oar on the boat.  Musashi killed the opponent with the bokken upon arriving on the island, and bid a retreat in the boat before his opponents followers could attack.

Musashi didn’t need a sword to be a master swordsman.

Gear

In this season of black fridays and holiday excess, I invite you to be mindful and take stock of what you really need to play.

  • If you’re a guitarist and your guitar is not in playable condition, you’re going to need something (a setup, repair or possibly a new instrument).  Ditto for an amp if your an electric player.
  • If you need to record and don’t have a way to record audio, you may need something,
  • If the only pedal you have at your disposal is an Arion Distortion you may need something.

But often what’s needed is a set up, or some new strings, or some lessons to get inspired and go to another place.

It’s easy to get caught up in gear lust and say that if you only had (insert mystery guitar/amp pedal here) that you would be able to do (insert desired outcome).

But it’s important to remember that just as gear can be inspiring –  an abundance of options doesn’t lead to exploration of all options, it leads to paralysis.

A key feature of teaching improvisation involves teaching people to work within limitations. It’s in the limitations that you can find the unique approaches and the vocabulary that you thought you were missing.

This holiday season – I invite you to take stock of what you really need to reach your goals and to explore maximizing what you already have.

Do you need to be a guitarist to own a guitar?

Does owning one guitar over another make you any more of a guitarist?

The answer lies within and without.

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“Embrace The Scariness”

Let’s say you want to get something done.

Fear can either kill your project or kick it into gear.

But what effect it has largely depends on how you view it.

Some fear is healthy.  Standing on the ledge of a building might invoke the kind of fear that is razor sharp and puts all of you senses on overdrive.  That kind of fear – the fear of survival – can be a healthy and reasonable fear.

The other fear – the fear of failure or the fear of the unknown – can kill you.  Fear of failure can kill your dreams and sap whatever inertia you might have built up in seeing your project to fruition.

Failing to do anything is infinitely worse than failing to succeed.

When I moved to NY, I left a secure gig and a lot of leads for future work,  but I left because my wife was already living there there and that was the priority.

In the middle of a particularly arduous moment in the relocation, my dear friend Lulu offered me the best advice I’d ever gotten. “Embrace the scariness. It will keep you sharp. And once you are here, work will come.”   And even when the work didn’t come right away  I didn’t die.  Life moved on and I moved with it.

Here’s a hard fought lesson about fear. That moment when you feel the all embracing fear and you’re wondering if you’re going to be able to do the project should be when you know you’re on the right track.

It’s the moment when you realize that you’re going to commit to doing something. Sometimes you have to take a leap even if that means you’ll be forced to sink or swim (and nothing wakes a person up more quickly than choking on a mouthful of water).

Just remember that no matter what you’re working on you’re probably not going to die.  Learn to identify your fear and head it off at the pass.

As a big bandleader once said, “A musician is not like a fine cheese or wine.  They don’t get better just sitting around.  They get sh*ty and stale.”

If you’re scared, it means your probably about to make a change.  Embrace the scariness and repeat often.

As always, thanks for reading!

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Don’t Knock It ‘Til You Try It – A Little Perfectionism Is Good For The Soul

Perfectionism has a bad rap.

It’s true.  Tune into any podcast, blog post or pop culture portal and someone will tell you perfection is overrated.

Present company included.  I have a post right before this one that described perfection (As in perfectly sequenced MIDI timing and pitch) as boring.

But here’s the thing (and there’s almost always a thing)….

It’s easy to go to extremes.

People will tell you that in a black and white scenario that they like the grey, but they typically like the grey closest to either extreme because balancing the middle is hard.

Those in any facet of the entrepreneurial space say, “Hey just get it out there and keep getting stuff out there!”  But that  advice works on the assumption that what you’re getting out is good.

It’s easy to confuse output with accomplishment.

On one extreme you have artists who cut corners with projects and turn out 1/2 baked recordings, books, films  and other works of art because they want to get the next thing out the door.

On the other extreme, you have people who never release anything because what they’re working on is never done.

The hardest thing in the world for an artist to confront objectively is a mirror.

“…Anything Less Than The Best Is A Felony.”

The best means discomfort.

It means pushing yourself right up to the limit of what can be done in the time frame that you have to work in.

Very few people do this on their own.

I really dislike gym culture (and much of its clientele), but I really like the physicality of gyms.  What’s great about it is that you see your limits immediately.   You can either can lift something or you can’t.  The benchmarks for performance are immediate and obvious as are the developments you make over time.

Developing yourself as an artist is much more difficult to determine.

It’s the distorted reflection in the mirror.  Many artists often look in the mirror and see someone else’s reflection.  They compare what they do to what other people are doing.

But it’s really like the gym.  It doesn’t matter if the person next to you can bench press more that you can, it only matters what you can do.

Another book story

I just re-released my pentatonic book.

When I initially released it, I wanted to put out an inexpensive pdf that would help people because some of the feedback I got from my other books was that they had too much information and were more money than people wanted to pay.

But releasing it the way I did just ended up hurting me instead. Because instead of making it 60 perfect pages, I made it the best thing I could in a weekend and got it out the door with my thinking being,  “Well the people who want a $5 book will read it quickly and then want a bunch of them in short order so I need to get in the flow of releasing a lot of them quickly.”  So I did it as an experiment basically.

It was a terrible idea.

It was a terrible idea 1.) because it wasn’t perfect.  There were typos and oversimplifications and shortcuts that were taken to get the length of the book down.  While some people who were looking for this format saw it and said, “Wow this is a great idea!”  the people who were judging all my output by this first impression (i.e. looking for faults in the book i.e. shopping) said, “Oh…thank God I didn’t buy the full book.”  It was the wrong first step to introduce people to what I do.

It was also a terrible idea because 2.) while it was a bargain for what it offered (6 lessons in a really valuable technique for $5) – the people who bought that book were never going to pony up $30 for a 400 page book. It would just be an endless series of releasing 60 page $5 books.

(On a related note, the people who bought the larger books were probably less likely to go back and purchase a smaller book.)  It was the wrong market for the wrong product.

So from a sales perspective, it was the wrong way to go.

On the plus side of this process – I got to use what I had done as a template to make the book I wanted to, instead of the book I thought people were asking for.

So, I took the lessons from the other books and filled out the material and re-wrote and edited almost everything.

And you might think, oh if the first book was 60 pages, it should only take 1/2 that time to create a 100 page book.

It ended up taking about 80-100 hours.

For the most part, those hours were spent on really tedious work.  Recreating graphics and editing them on the pixel level.  Rewriting almost every word and sweating the content.  Working on layout, fixing the table of contents.  Printing the book in multiple versions and getting the information flow just right.

In other words, mostly cutting and pasting and editing.

Hopper

Despite what can only be described as a borderline unhealthy appreciation for Apocalypse Now, my favorite artist named Hopper isn’t Dennis Hopper but instead Edward Hopper.

Here in NY, the Whitney is showing a fabulous Hopper exhibit (“Hopper Drawing”)  that shows numerous sketches Hopper made before he made some of his most iconic paintings, and seeing them really shows his thought process.   Mostly you see a process of him sketching ideas with endless variation and tweaking them so that when it came time to paint it he understood every nuance.  Every light source…every shadow…every aspect of the architecture that would allow the painting to express what he wanted to say.

If he just threw the first image that came to his mind up on the canvas, it never would have worked as well.  It was only in that exhaustive research and exploration that he came to the true articulations of what he needed to say.

The effortless work of art is a lie.

Even watching Shawn Lane roll off a “perfect” improvised line, that effortlessness only comes from tens of thousands of hours of work (or more) to get to that point.  Hopper got to where he did by striving to push himself further.

To discount perfection entirely is to sell yourself short.

Better work only comes from raising the stakes, demanding more from yourself and repeating endlessly.

Like everything – it’s a balance.  Too much perfectionism and nothing ever gets released.  Too little and you release sub-par material.

But in a “It’s a journey not the destination” variation – it’s not just about finding the balance – it’s about finding out why the balance is important and how that balance helps you achieve what you’re setting out to do.

Until next time – thanks for reading!

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PS – if you’re interested you can find out all about my newest guitar book release here, here or here.

Re-contextualizing Time

Here’s an obvious statement, with a not-so-obvious ramification.

Time is cumulative.

 

As a society, we’re trained to think of time in specific blocks.  We take an hour for lunch.  We work from 9-5 (if you’re lucky).  Television shows are either a ½ hour or an hour.

 

So we’re trained to think that if we don’t do anything for the full hour that nothing is getting done.

 

Here’s an experiment.

 

Can you do a 100 push ups in a sitting?

 

If not, can you do 10?

 

If you could do 10 consecutive push ups with perfect form how long would that take?  Maybe 30 seconds?  Now let’s say you did that 10 times a day.  That’s 300 seconds (aka 5 minutes).  But you can’t do anything with 5 minutes of exercise a day, right?

Wrong.

Try it every day for 5 weeks.  Try adding 1 push up per set every week (and more if you can).  That pushes you up to 15 per set or 150 a day.  By sheer increase in number you’ll notice that you’re getting stronger.   You’ll probably  notice physical changes as well.

Guess what happens when you apply this to practicing a difficult passage with a metronome?

Reclaim those shorter time increments in your day by reprogramming your brain for what they mean!  Those minutes add up over the course of the days, weeks and months ahead.

You can get a lot done in a lunch hour and those hours add up. Set a timer and work on things for 20 minute increments.  But when you work on them, really work on them.  Don’t half-ass them.  If you do this multiple times a day, you will get a lot more done than you might think.

If you have a strong understanding for why you are doing something, you will do whatever you have to to overcome any obstacles associated with how.

I hope this helps!  More posts soon (and more podcasts as soon as I can stop running my air conditioner long enough to record one!)  Thanks for reading.

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PS: If you play guitar you may be interested in a book I just released yesterday!

The Scott Collins Fretboard Visualization Series: The Pentatonic Minor Scale

Book Cover Full
You can read all about that here or see excerpts and order the book here.