A Chat With Brian Charette

I went to see – well, to check out – a jam session in Studio City tonight. It was at one of the oldest clubs, and the oldest jazz club, in LA: The Baked Potato (I got the ham, corn and pineapple potato).

I went ahead and signed my name on the sign-up sheet. I was the first name on the list. I went outside and introduced myself to the keyboard player. His name was Brian. He lives in New York. He was very kind and approachable.

Brian turned out to be one of Keyboard Magazine’s top four… well, keyboardists. You can read an article he just wrote  (that I literally just found) here. He was one of these laid-back geniuses who seem totally avuncular – until they melt your face off.

As I was picking up my face from off the bar counter, I asked him some questions about practicing, about getting better.

“Well, what do you want to work on?” he asked me.

“Consistency,” I said.

“Ah, that’s big. It’s all in your body, and how you carry your body.

“Read the Tao De Ching,” he told me. “It’s all in there. That’s the Way. It teaches how you have to do all of these things with passion, but to forget about what you’ll get from them. That’s the thing – letting go of attachment.”

Yeah, letting go of attachment. Of course. How many times had I heard that one before?

“Getting better,” he concluded, “is not an adding-to. It’s a stripping away.”

Ah.

Now there’s something to ponder.

It makes sense. There’s a True Musician inside, a True Person even. And we all just want to get to it. So that’s what we’re learning. How to get to what’s already there.

“Just relax, man,” he said. “You’ll be fine. I can tell you, you’ll be fine.”

Well, Brian, OK. If you say so! Now, off to find a copy of the Tao.

And figure out this body thing.

 

Information vs. Innovation

Real innovation comes from having the courage to sound like yourself. There’s a catch, though. Part of sounding like yourself is knowing what “you” sounds like. And you can’t know that until you listen to a few Others who already know what they sound like.

I’ve always been kind of envious of those who seem to be really good at assimilating bits and pieces of these Others. I guess that’s mostly because I always run into cats who seem to have more of a knack for assimilating than I do.

I’ve done a bit of assimilating, and I’m sure I’ll do more. But right now what intrigues me is the idea of working with what I’ve got. In other words, sounding more like myself.

It can be all too easy to have a hard time finding out what you sound like because you’re so concerned with properly sounding like someone else. As far as I can see, the only antidote for that is stopping acquiring more information – getting back to a Space inside of us that is uniquely ours.

I imagine it would go in a Cycle: Learn, Forget, Learn, Forget, Learn, Forget. The more complex the task, the more there is to learn – and therefore, of course, the more there is to forget.

Why Intimacy Is More Important Than Music

There is a lot of Music, but not a lot of true human connection, in the world.

Open a streaming app, like Spotify or Pandora, or an online media store, like iTunes. Go to a hub for independent music artists, like SoundCloud or Bandcamp. Visit any sites or services (and there are hundreds) where music, new or old, is simply a click away.

Now walk down the street. Go to a coffee shop. Peruse the aisles of a grocery store, or even a bookstore. Grab a bite at your favorite restaurant. Go to a public park. Go to work. How much actual relating is happening?

I think you’ll notice that what you’ll be hard pressed to find is two or more humans interacting in an authentic, vulnerable way. What you’ll easily find, however, is a lot of smart phones, a lot of laptops, a lot of “blinder vision”.

Of course, smaller towns might elicit more familiarity, but that doesn’t necessarily imply connection, relating, or what I like to call “Intimacy”. Cities or areas with a more expansive urban or cultural sprawl might be more likely to host venues or spaces where people with like minds can meet to share interests, but such places are also known for large amounts of loneliness or isolation in spite of, or indeed because of, the sheer amount of people residing there.

Deep, honest Intimacy – and I’m not just talking about bedroom Intimacy – is rare. Of course, that’s what makes it special. But does it have to be rare to be special? Music is easy to dive into; there’s obviously no shortage of music or musicians. Anyone can put their headphones on – but can anyone venture out of the bubble and start to engage on a deeper level with another human being?

Gravity

The sort of individuals who have had the biggest effect on me have been the kind of people who were the least concerned with having an effect. Their presence was big, through no effort on their part. If they were musicians, people listened, if they were artists, people looked. If they were teachers, people learned.

In Nashville, Tennessee, I ran into a couple of musicians who I perceived to have a big effect on not just me, but other folks as well, and who did so through a medium that was bigger than their music. Maybe “medium” is the wrong word. I like to think of it as “Gravity.”

This “Gravity” seemed to be magnetic, in a way. If I was to say where it came from, I could only use metaphysical terms like “well-grounded” or “character,”  but that wouldn’t paint the whole picture. But whatever it was, I could tell these men stood for something.

The thing that struck me the most was that they attracted people. If you were lucky enough to introduce yourself or be introduced, you felt as though they were somehow calling you to be more. When they played their songs, you were listening to them, not so much the song.

“Gravity” is earned through being a certain kind of person, not necessarily from obsession with technique or virtuosity – or any kind of isolation. You can’t separate the Music, or the Art, from the Man. But the Man is still there when the song ends.

I’ll Be At The Commodore On August 17

My last blog post was June 22. That’s not like me, right? What happened? Did I go into a coma for six weeks?

Well, not quite. But I did have a pretty severe accident that caused me to be bedridden for six weeks. And I obviously did not use that time to write blogs. Why? The simple answer is, I didn’t feel like it. That’s right. I wasn’t compelled. So I simply stopped.

But now, I’m starting up again! I got to thinking about my upcoming performance at the Commodore on August 17, and how I want to tell everyone about it, and that got me thinking about the website, and the blog, so here I am.

First and foremost, I’d like to make sure to invite you to the Commodore Grille at the Holiday Inn Select, Vanderbilt. I’ll be appearing among several other Nashville artists, singing and playing original songs.

The way I understand it is there will be hour-long sets of groups of three or four writers who will take turns playing their songs, and I’ll be in one of those sets. Here’s the schedule.

This is my first time playing all original music in a Nashville writers round format, so I’m psyched! I hope you can make it out. I am sure I won’t be the only worthwhile artist performing that night!

I’ll be sending out periodic reminders between now and then. I’ll also be sprinkling in some new blogs and content.

Until next time!

The Joy Of…

I think I’ve finally managed to rediscover something that has long been dormant… something that has eluded me for years, it seems, or at least until I gather up the courage and presence to let it return. That is the joy of writing music.

It’s not like I’ve never experienced it before… I have, many times, it’s just that I let what happened in between distract me, to the point where when I was not writing, I would forget what it would feel like to sit down, alone, a blank piece of paper (or in my case music notation document), and work through musical ideas, slowly, breaking them down meticulously until each note is scribed, and the whole time retaining that creative spark that allows the melody and lyrics to flow. This is not always easy, and that is one thing that makes it hard to start, but it IS always rewarding, and it DOES always feel right.

It was the things I thought I needed to do: the jobs, the parties, the errands, that took me away from that Joy. Not to say that these things are not in their own right necessary. But the minute they start to take away from the creative time, where the real magic happens, the painful sitting and waiting, sitting and noodling, sitting and writing, testing, rewriting… that’s when they become distractions. For so long, I’ve been de-railed by the “other stuff.”

It’s not like I ever abandoned the work, I just avoided it. Why? Perhaps the most obvious answer is Fear. Fear that I might sit for hours and not come up with anything I really liked, fear that I might be missing out on something else (what else is there?), fear that it’s just – too – hard.

But yet, every time I sit down, with my tools at hand, and really start to get into that creative space, and then start to get into a flow, and stick with it for an hour or two, I really feel good. It’s meditation at its purest. A state that’s calm and pure. I’m finally not thinking! My personal dramas are not even within my periphery. My “tragic” past is just where it needs to be – in the past. And at last, I’m fully in the Now!

Even as I write this, I can’t wait to get home and start writing music. I think that’s the whole point – to get back to that place when you’re a kid, you’re sitting in school, and all you can think about is that new toy you got for your birthday that you can’t wait to play with again once you get home. You’ll go through the motions, go to class, do the humdrum worksheets, then the minute that bell rings, you rush to the bus where you know you’re in the home stretch, and once home you barely answer mother’s “How was school?” before you rush to that toy. There’s a hunger, a need to explore, a zest for life that’s reflected in playing with that toy.

And so I can feel myself being pulled away from the petty detours and back to what matters – the writing. I can’t wait.

What is in your life that draws you, that excites you, that makes you impatient to get home and do? What’s that toy you can’t wait to play with?

Hi friends,

Things have really been eventful lately,  with long-winded road trips to far-off podunk towns, far-off not-so-podunk towns, and a second Dueling Piano tour in the good ol’ Home State to wind it off! In fact, so much zig-zagging his been done in the past three weeks that I’ve barely had time to sit down and write a new blog. This is the first time in a minute I’ve been able to sit down and compose anything. Still, I’ll have to keep today’s entry short!

First of all, if you’re reading, I want to THANK YOU for being so cool. Your very act of reading these words is giving strength to this blog and therefore strength to me and my creative efforts. I wish I could find the time to connect with each of you and bake you a cake. Until the physical manifestation of my gratitude, for now, please be content with THANKS! YOU ARE AWESOME!

 To those same people (you), I also wish to say SORRY for the laps of time since my last blog. I really am trying to get better about keeping up with this blog, no matter the traffic. The same principle goes for other areas in my life. Being present to everything, addressing it one by one, letting nothing go by the wayside is a constant balancing act. And of course, there’s the music. So, if you actually have been keeping up and were wondering where I went, or even if you didn’t notice, I will do my best to be more vigilant and consistent with my blog and my email list from now on!

As far as the music goes, I have been on a temporary writing hiatus with all of the traveling. Recording, at the moment, does not appear to be a possibility. That’s OK – I’d really like to focus on what matters right now, and that’s the writing. Since my first album effort did not pan out, so much time has gone by with so few songs! It’s time to get back into the mud of songwriting! I’ve been out of the game too long.

Once again, thank you so much for your support if you are a reader. If you’re not, subscribe if you like. I know this was an extra-short post, but I will be checking back in again and again with more and more updates, specifically as to what sorts of changes and cool things are happening both in my life and with my music!

 

Love!

-Pierson

Life On The Road!

Hello, all!

Lots of stuff going on – too much to really put into an organized blog post. Still, I’ll share a few snippets! I’ve been really excited about everything lately, partially because of all the great connections I’m making and the ways I’ve been making them. Nashville really is the right town for the right biz! And I know I used to be all negative about social media (some of you might remember a long rant I posted about social media and its throes), but I think now I’m finally starting to see the massive value in it and to enjoy learning how it works and participating!

I am actually composing this in bed. (Haha!) I have a head cold and really have nothing better to do! I’m actually, in all seriousness, recovering from the last two weeks, which really have been full of strenuous travel. But I’ve been telling myself how exhilarating it actually is and believing it too! So I really don’t mind the cold. Actually, I’m kind of enjoying resting for a couple of days before I head off to my next stint, a dueling pianos show in Indianola, IA (don’t ask me anything about the place, ha!). It IS a 10 hour drive from Nashville, so to alleviate some of the grueling hours I’ll be heading up to Louisville on Thursday to hang with some old friends and relive some times. Then, off to Iowa!

Last weekend was a fun one in Royal Oak, MI playing with Frank Turner, Ryan Miles, and a long lost dueler buddy, Katy Marquardt. She’s a very bright and talented lady based out of Chicago, Illinois. We met a few years ago at the Louisville Howl at the Moon and had seen each other a couple of times since then. It was cool to be on a gig with her at a different time and place and to see how we had both grown as entertainers. She really inspired me, as she had learned it seemed hundreds of new songs since I last saw her, and making me feel like I need to up my game! Thanks Katy!

Image

I also met a bunch of super cool new people who I hope to consider my friends from now on! This is why I love traveling and the work I do. 🙂

Let’s see, what else… in Nashville news, met up with the great Dean Madonia last night at an awesome venue here in town called Douglas Corner. What wonderful musicians! There had been an hour set of a fantastic jazz/funk trio led by Val Lupescu (check out his stuff on SoundCloud – you’ll be glad you did), followed by an hour or two of an open jam session led by Lupescu himself. Both Dean and I sat in (here’s a pic on Instagram: http://instagram.com/p/fMLobswGgy/). Again, I was blown away by the talent on the stage and the general vibe of the room. Definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for somewhere cool to go on a Monday night!

Well, I suppose that’s it for now. Time to start thinking about chicken soup… As usual, thanks for reading!!

 

-P

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POST SCRIPTUM

These past couple of weeks have really been eye-opening and life-changing for me… I’ve realized that really there is nothing blocking me from achieving my highest aspirations, that life is infinite, and that I have the power to be who I want to be! It’s all very liberating and awesome and I hope to share that through some new music which I’ll be recording very soon on my new upright piano! As an addendum, I wanted to add some podcast channels I’ve been listening to on my long drives that have helped pump my state even more! If you have a smart phone and don’t have the app, “Pocketcasts,” download it now. It’s only four bucks and it is so worth it, as it is chock full of podcasts from so many cool sources. Here’s the ones I’ve subscribed and been listening to:

Brent Smith Lifestyle

This Is Your Life with Michael Hyatt – Hyatt is actually a Nashville cat who is super into marketing and selling yourself in a constructive way. He wrote a book, I forget the name but the subtitle is something like, “Getting Yourself Heard In A Noisy World”… I’m going to Google it and buy it and I suggest you do the same!

The Dave Ramsey Show – my chiropractor actually told me about this one, haha. Dave is cool when it comes to practically managing money (and he’s based in Nashville too, go figure).

The Good Life Project – hosted by a variety of amazing hosts, this is a must for any entrepreneur (and that’s all of us). I could give you the link but I suggest you just go Google it. Seriously, right now. Do it.

Check these out and respond with comments letting me know how/if they helped you out in any way, or if anything in this or any of my blog posts is enjoyable to you! 🙂

Why My Kickstarter Failed: Thoughts on Transparency, D.I.Y., and Evolution, pt. 1 [subtext: You Don’t Have To Read All This Nonsense, But You Totally Should :)]

Well, here we go. Another blog entry… this one will be kind of stream of consciousness, so I hope you don’t mind!

Where do I start? Well, as some of you already know, I am in the midst of moving to Nashville. Yes, this is exciting! Yes, I am not finished moving out of my Old Louisville apartment (still a few boxes full of random items and food that I may or may not keep…anyone want a decent-sized TV? A decorative tree? A nifty lamp?). Yes, my financial assets are…limited (that’s putting it lightly). But I am doing it, I am taking the step, and you know what, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared…but courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway!

As I take a brief repose from the mind-scrambling chaos of moving, I thought I would take a moment to reflect, in a public blog, my thoughts on a few topics having to do with Music and Life In General, given recent events of my career and the direction I see the music industry going. I am, as are all my fellow indie musician friends, an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur means so many things in today’s…market, industry, whatever you choose to call it. It’s a rush. I mean, a real trip. The ultimate freakout. An amazing miracle, but also a hair-tearing plague of blogs, vlogs, tweets, feeds, syncs, apps, and iEverything.

What exactly am I talking about here? Well, if you are reading this, you already have the first part of the answer. This blog is itself part of My Musical Image. And, by God, we all have an Image to uphold! Not just musicians. Butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. We’re all part of the same playing field now…it’s called the Internet. Forget about playing for a crowd of living, breathing people who could, through a thing called word of mouth, spread word of your name to other living, breathing people . Those things are so forty years ago. Now everyone’s measured by the same criteria: how well can you manage your online profile? How often do you update that blog? How many videos you got on your YouTube channel? What’s your Facebook? What’s your Twitter? Are you LinkedIn? Google+? Tumblr?  Oh, don’t worry, they have an app for all those that you can download on your iPhone (OK, OK, some people still use Droids…). And yes, you need to be updating all those CONSTANTLY. That’s called an INTERNET PRESENCE. If you don’t have it, you ain’t doin’ nothin’.

Am I ranting? Perhaps. Nonetheless, this has been on my mind. There’s no denying that the music business has mutated so insanely that if anything in the biological world were to resemble it, it would be some sort of life form that would suck all other life forms into its ever-expanding…too weird? Yeah, I’ll leave that one alone.

The bottom line is that if you are one of those courageous, insane souls who want to support themselves with an independent, autonomous business, one that you create yourself, if you are of the league of superhumans called Entrepreneurs, well, you are not a normal person. You have chosen a path of infinite discipline, samurai-like dedication, and newsfeed updating. And, ON TOP OF THAT, you must be creative.

Now, if you’re still reading–which I doubt, and if you gave up at the second paragraph I don’t blame you–if you’ve made it this far, please allow me to beseech you to hear me out and not dismiss this entry as overly cynical or negative! I’m sure I’m echoing the frustrations of countless other young, ambitious entrepreneurs who are indignantly sitting on their blogs and social networks, wondering what their next move should be, their next clever Facebook quip or funny Tweet, their next career-launching blog or vlog post. And I’m here to tell them, if God willing you should be one of them, I’M ONE OF YOU! I too am frustrated, I too am stressed, I too am wondering what the hell will become of me and my art, which I don’t even understand anymore. BUT, lest that last bit carried an undercurrent of hopelessness, I am NOT GIVING UP! Which brings me to the topic of Transparency.

Everything I have just issued forth onto this public display is my honest thoughts and feelings on a matter I consider to be very important in this day and age. True, there are streaks of frustration and cynicism, but that is because, truthfully, I am a little frustrated and cynical! I’m not going to pretend that I like everything about what the music business demands today from us “indie artists.” Truthfully, I think it’s obnoxious–to be on a constant Internet vigil when our first concern should be making the best music we can. HOWEVER, I also recognize the necessity of this change. The music industry is “not what it used to be” because, well, “things ain’t what they used to be.” But I’m allowed to complain about it, aren’t I? And let’s face it: I’m complaining about it because I’m not very good at it!

This is what I’m talking about with Transparency…the idea that you can tell the world (and when you post something online you effectively are telling the world), that you suck at something…and have that be OK. And the more research I do into this whole entrepreneurship thing, the more I realize that part of it is being transparent, being honest and forthright about your strengths and weaknesses.

As you call can see from the previous blog entry, I recently launched a Kickstarter to raise money for my debut album. You can check it out here:  I did it with the attitude of, “OK, let’s see what happens.” I did all the necessary arrangements: made a video, wrote up a Story, prepared awards according to the various pledge amounts, and posted some YouTube videos encouraging people to check out the Campaign. I even spent a whole day learning how to organize a “Facebook Contest” in order to spread the word. Things were off to a good start, I got some generous donations from the get-go…but then I got busy with other things, I went up to Hershey Pennsylvania the second week of April for an APCA conference, and, well, I kind of got lazy. The YouTube videos started to get fewer and further between. My blog started to collect dust. I stopped sending out mass emails to the Mailing List I had spent hours putting together. And, of course, my project was not funded.

Lots of factors could have gone into the Campaign falling short of its goal: asking for a bit too much money given my current fan base, not consistent enough reminders through social networks, blogs, and YouTube, and a general lack of communication on my part. I can even recall some specific examples where some folks had intended to donate money, but did not do so immediately and when they checked back the Campaign was already over (I only gave 30 days for the Campaign). Another thing was that I probably did not put forth sufficient effort in the month leading up to the Kickstarter launch…the preparation was most likely not thorough, and I had even read that it’s the most important part of the entire process.

I recognize all these things, but I think the MAIN ISSUE (I don’t like that word, but whatever) was simply that I SUCK AT SOCIAL MEDIA. I really am not very good at these things, and I believe that is because I don’t really like them all that much. Or at least, didn’t. I felt myself growing frustrated, even dreading putting up another video, writing another blog, sending another email, always reminding, reminding, reminding. I lost the WILLINGNESS because of the way I felt about the whole concept.

Looking back, I know that I was really shying away from my responsibilities, and I hope that anybody reading this who has a similar dream (other frustrated entrepreneurs) can learn from my mistakes. As a solo artist in today’s “dog-eat-dog” music world, you HAVE to follow through with your intentions with the utmost…well, intent. Whether we like it or not, we have an image to uphold. We have a pic to upload (and it had better be high-definition, formatted correctly for whatever uploader the site provides…most vectorized images can be resized with no decrease in image quality). We have blogs to write, videos to make, and Tweets to Tweet. Like it or not, this is what is going on–this is what the business has become. And so now, more than ever, we are mercilessly scrutinized for our accountability, our consistency, and our transparency…because such things are a mere click away!

What is happening here is actually quite a bit more than updating some cyber space. Because of all we entrepreneurs are expected to do, we are actually forced to redesign our lives: to learn time management, how to manage our personal and business finances, how to be somebody that people like (sorry, but in the words of my good friend and fellow musician Zach Longoria, “half of this business is getting people to like you”), how to create our very own brand, and how to organize a devoted team of people who believe in you enough to gather the resources to make your inconvenient dream happen. So, we literally have to change the way we live our lives. We can’t just sit around and write music and hope that some major record label discovers us anymore. We are the label. And so along with the music business, we are evolving. What is happening here is evolution in action. As we develop the new skills and habits needed to navigate this ever-changing industry and so survive, our neural pathways in our brains are forming new connections and yeah, all that stuff you read about in the Talent Code. Which, to me, is no less than evolution. We as human beings have the unique ability to consciously evolve simply by making decisions in our lives. The more decisions we make, the more failures and successes (mostly failures), the more we change as people, the more we evolve.

So that’s why I think this whole big ridiculous thing that’s happening right now is just part of a massive shift in consciousness. Because in order to survive as artists (which is what we all essentially are if we want to live our own lives), we simply MUST evolve. And we must do it together. That’s called Interdependence. And I’m sure I’ll talk about that in the next installment, along with elaborations on the above ideas. This is after all, a pretty big…something.

Whew! That was long. That’s all for now. Happy Evolving!

 

-Piers