Tag Archives: music

Leverage

I recently did this video about something that’s completely been missing from all of my musical pursuits. It’s the answer to the most common question asked of an artist – ‘why should I care?’ – and it’s the key to credibility and all that comes with it. I lack leverage.

I have a talent, according to my friends and family, and more believably, according to the kind strangers who have told me so at the small, infrequent, poorly attended shows and performances that have characterized my career as a performing violinist / dj / musician thus far. Thanks to them, I have been able to transcend the idea that people close to me are concealing the truth because they love me, and I go on.

So I’m kinda stuck in the middle right now. I am way past the immature temptation of blaming Cape Town (let’s face it – most people don’t have the money or transport for music shows), and I’m also done with blaming myself for a lack of talent, time, equipment, etc. I just don’t see these negative thoughts as useful to anyone with a serious intention.

But on the other hand, I also don’t feel like I am anywhere musically. I have one friend – Emile – who regularly expresses interest in using music to change the circumstances of his life. All the other musicians I know seem either not interested in making anything of their skill, or worse, starry-eyed with the idea that they’re gonna be the next big thing. Meanwhile, the quicker you rise, the quicker you fall. I’m going for a once-off permanent switch thanks.

So my average week consists of only around 4 or 5 hours practice. I intend to say ‘per day’ at some point, but for now, it’s not enough. The rest of the time I’m doing everything from tutoring Koreans to uploading web content to documenting this journey, even to selling donated chess sets in order to pay my somewhat living cost – R6000 per month. Half of that expense is the rent, a beautiful farm cottage with rehearsal potential, but not being used! How can I capitalize?

So I need to make some changes. Suggestions? How am I gonna break out of the catch-22? What do I have to do in order to make something extraordinary?

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Temporarily Pro

The Annual Phong Nha Acoustic Night

So I got a gig playing music every night. About a week ago I was sitting on the couch here at Phong Nha Farmstay noodling around on the violin. Stewart, a fellow guest, walked past.

“Hey, I have a guitar upstairs.”
“Cool, bring it down, we’ll have a jam,” I answered.

Ben, the Australian owner of Phong Nha Farmstay was standing nearby. “You guys should play inside for everyone,” he piped up. These words had once meant terror, but time and practice have changed their meaning to fun.

We’d only just met, so we improvised. The equivalent of musical improvisation in, let’s say, the business world, would be if someone asked you to give a critical board presentation but refused to tell you the topic until you were actually standing between the screen and the board members. If you falter or fidget, members of the board will begin chatting, wander off to the drinks cabinet and generally just ignore you. So I have to give myself a pat on the back for giving it a shot.

Ben loved it. Ben’s the type of guy you’d like to have on your side in a fist-fight. A strapping, no-nonsense, congenial, jeep-driving khaki-wearing Australian man whose time in war-hardened North Vietnam seems to have sharpened his senses for opportunity, even if it means beating a path through the jungle to get there. Phong Nha Farmstay is brick-and-mortar proof of it. When the jam was over, he suggested that we do the same the next night, and we did. The next night, Stewart left to go back to Hue. So I just carried on alone the next evening. And the next.

Evenings at Phong Nha Farmstay

Then it was my turn to leave Phong Nha and carry on with the plan of getting to Phnom Penh on my bicycle, Giant. But, as they say, life’s what happens when you’re making other plans. The night before, as I was doing the hardest thing about travel (saying goodbye to everyone), Ben took me aside and told me he’d like to make a deal on account of the fact that I’d provided some good times in his quiet, wet season.

So, here I am, until the end of September. We’ve got a great PA system overlooking fields where water buffalo roam. I’m playing a 90-minute set in the evenings, mostly covers (Oasis, Ben Harper, Beatles, etc). I’ve also managed to perform my violin dance show Pravda23 to a backing track. Along with local dude Hai, and German classical guitarist Joel, we played a wildlife awareness charity show to 120 people last Friday night in town. Technically, and joyfully, a professional.

I just feel really thankful that this opportunity has presented itself. My days involve sourcing new songs and lyrics, as well as practicing guitar and violin and teaching one of the local lads guitar. More than the time and the payment, I now have the confidence that one person in the world sees the value of what I’m doing, and the feeling of being professional, albeit if only for a few bars of the score.

So I’m not wasting a minute more of this fantastic time of my life, unexpectedly finding myself being a professional performing artist – on a farm in Vietnam!

I make and compile all sorts of music while on the trot. Have a looksee.

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What Happens When I Hit The Cape Town Music Scene?

From December 2012 to February 2013, I’ll be recording and producing material in a rented studio space in Cape Town with the intention of creating an electro-swing-polka-tango album called Modern Folk under the Pravda23 alias. Come and hang out.

I gotta go home in a few months, back to Cape Town. Teacher time’s up. I wanna make music. Lotta feelings come with this. There’s my old friends, I’m Stoked That The Scene Is Growing and Can’t Wait To Rock This Shit, but I also checked Am I Good Enough and This Is All Cool But It’s Nonsense lurking around at the back.

It’s mostly fear of failure, of embarrassment. I’ve done all these different jobs, but always writing lyrics on lunch-breaks and watching audio tuts in the cracks. This is my vulnerable life.

Did the CPT music industry for two years with Overtone, basically full-time volunteering for most of it. I learned I wanted to be a musician instead. So I sorta began changing tracks, and now, five years later, I’m glad I did. But now I gotta find a place among all these dudes who have been rocking it for the last 10 years, and I feel like I’m playing catch-up. I know I got exactly what it takes to make something of this, but damn it’s a scary idea stepping in front of these fuckin hipster gatekeepers and tastemakers and saying “here I am”. I wanna transcend it all, blast off instantly, but apparently the only way up and out is through the venues to the festivals and beyond, with a very specific brand of Cape Town niche cool to light the path.

Pay me in time. I’m not greedy, I don’t care who gets the limelight. I just want to make a living from being a musician, producer and performer. That’s all I’ve wanted and worked for for years now. I research these dudes. I’m fanatically interested in Die Antwoord, Goldfish, Markus Wormstorm, Sibot, Freshlyground, Niskerone, the whole Red Bull scene, Richard the Third, Das Kapital, Narch, the Van Vok King Tasties brat pack, Ma’or and Balkanology and Rocking the Daisies, LMG, African Dope, Overtone, Rolling Stone SA – in a word, the Scene!

But I never got how to connect with these people. I don’t wanna seem false, like, “Hey, I love that thing you do, by the way, can you do this for me?” Is there such thing as sincere success, or all just fake it till you make it?

So I gotta learn how to pretend that it’s just another Friday evening for me, instead of, you know, they “keys to the golden kingdom” kinda thing. Which is tough. You chase it, you invest your ass in it, but somehow you have to be lighthearted about it.

In seven months, all this talk is gonna be put into action and transmute into an album called Modern Folk by Pravda23. It’s time to take a risk and give myself the time that I’ve been promising myself. Wish me luck. I’m going in.

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3 Month Wish.

Come to think of it, the goal is not necessarily to make a huge transition into the world of professional musicianship. That comes with all of its own baggage, which I will gladly pick up if the opportunity to have a serious go at it arises. No. The actual aim here is just to have the 3 months required to do a massive recording / production “dump” of the mountain of ideas piled up in my files, my head, my fingers. I look at these instruments every day, almost apologetically, thinking, “Sorry melodica. I know that you need some action. I promise I’ll give it to you soon. Sorry electric guitar, those riffs will have their time.” And quite frankly, I’m getting over saying it’ll happen some other time. 

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Meet Jovan Bvartmann

I’m revamping my vibes. So the big question: what does it take to create music worth listening to and passing on to your friends?

1) You don’t necessarily have to BE a sellout, but being perceived as one can helps. If your tone even remotely comes across as “please listen to my music because it matters to me personally and you’ll be doing me a favor”, dead end. If, on the other hand, you pitch it as “if you don’t hear this now, you’ll just be another pleb when I’m too famous to be in your circle”, people respond. For many people, I’m the closest thing they have to the glitzy, glamorous music industry. A musician friend. Find them and give to them first.

2) Gotta make it fun for everyone, but YOURSELF LAST. Until recently, Pravda23 was my “online portfolio of creativity”. I mean honestly, how boring. But the moment the official blog got “hacked” by Comrade Jovan Bvartmann and used as the official mouthpiece of PRAVDA23, the underground resistance movement against the musical bourgeoisie, people started leaving comments in faux-Russian English and addressing me as Comrade. The same people that have been silent for the last few years.

3) Gotta connect. What good is dropping off Facebook and then complaining to yourself that nobody’s listening to you? It’s really a matter of just being mature enough to admit that you may not like all the insincerity involved in promoting anything, but that’s the way it is. Don’t aim for fake, but resonate with the few that appreciate you on THEIR terms…in this case, Facebook.

4) Proudly isolate and exclude people. Not everyone will get Jovan Bvartmann. People will be offended (Russian people?) People will hate. This is progress. Don’t worry what they’re saying. Every negative comment, reaction, etc is a victory when you’re aiming for attention.

5) Give give give. “Marketing” is as simple as calling up people in your industry circle and just finding out who they are, what they do, how they enjoy it and how you could help. With ZERO intention in gaining anything from them. Just being in their life, really. It’s a widespread attack strategy, because not everyone will respond or care. However, those who do will be loyal. Tribes, dude. Musical communism.

Most of this is my internalized paraphrasing of CD Baby co-founder Derek Sivers’ free e-book. Best advice.

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Truth (Song)

Wrote this in a parked car about 6 years ago I guess. The good ones tend to stick around.

LYRICS:
A young man demanded his priest for the truth
The old man replied with an all-knowing stare
And held underwater the head of the youth, saying
“Battle for truth like you battle for air.”

Battle for truth like you battle for air
Your days on this earth are an ongoing dream
Battle for love and you’ll find the way
The way it’s meant to be

Armies of answers of certainty born
May shear in triumph the ill-fated ears
Of listening questions, but will soon transform
From armies and triumphs to armies of years

And if the white wings of the angel of death
Make this very night with their presence ablaze
And bequeath unto me one final request, I’ll say
“Take me away from this beautiful place.”

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Endorphin Salesmen

One thing at a time
Yeah, splitting yourself I think is a luxury only established artists can afford. Everything you do at this point should gear towards working on one recognizable brand / sound. I’m in the same boat, I have lyrical stuff 10 years old still waiting for a decent recording, but I’m putting everything into dance / energy music now.

Endorphin salesmen
When it comes down to it, creating fans is about playing live shows. If the artist wants to become a professional, their service is endorphin release. Our job is simply to deliver an emotional kick to folk. The great entertainers are the ones who enjoy it the most, and therefore lead their audience down a path, allowing them to behave in a way that they’re constantly discouraged to do in everyday life. Now’s the chance to move, dance, release, enjoy. As entertainers, we have to create the live shows and master that scenario. The results are music, ticket and merchandise sales and awareness of your art.

Music, actually.
As artists all of our endeavors can seem overwhelmingly huge. We’ve got, like, all these projects lurking in the corners and our mental environment can seem very busy at times. But to the general public you’re only as good as your packaging. The Twitter / Facebook hype is the scaffolding, but having a solid performance is the building. People will know when you’re all scaffolding and no building. To me, rehearsal is more important than recording, practice more important than newsletters. It sounds obvious but I’ve spent sooooo much time updating stuff online and designing flyers when I should have been in school, getting better at music itself, or at least on the phone to a friend making a real connection to someone without seeing dollar signs hovering above their heads.

Fish where there are none
I believe creating good music (and therefore demand for it) generally takes the artist by surprise. That random track you just put out for fun often trumps the one you’re carefully constructed as a hit. And your most valuable thing is what makes you unique. Even if you’re only planning on creating commercial music, it must be delivered / distributed / promoted in a way that nobody else is doing it. So making good music is a balance between being prolific enough to not take each individual release too seriously as an artwork, but sincere enough to stick ONLY to the sounds which inspire you personally. Done is better than perfect.

In a nutshell: stick with creating one sound if you want to get noticed but keep experimenting with multiple sounds if your artistic freedom is more important. Above all, put the actual audio experience first. The rest is just noise.

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