Monday, October 5, 2015

Google for Musicians - Pt 1 : Contacts & Calendar

I have a house.  In my house I have a music room.  In that music room I have a desk/shelf/computer, etc.  And in and/or on all of those items are books, sheet music, CDs, calendars, receipts, invoices, tax documents, bios, headshots, setlists, gig pics, Facebook pages, websites, plans, history, dreams, failures, successes, etc, etc,  And in that music room I have instruments that I play privately and professionally.  I have a career; however, large or small, in music.  That career is not limited to the instrument I play, the notes I choose, the styles I enjoy, or the gigs I get.  That career has a thousand tiny pieces that make up who I am as a musician - which translates to who I am as a professional:  which translates to this: when someone hires me .. who are they getting?

Now... let's set a few separate hypothetical scenes.  Let's consider:
  1. I'm trying to sell some gear and I want to target a specific group of local musicians, that aren't all on Facebook!  
  2. I'm at a friends house and get a call or email asking if I can do a gig three Wednesdays from now.
  3. It's tax time... what gigs did I play this year?  and what music related items did I buy this year?
  4. I'm a band-leader on a high paying corporate gig 60 kilometres away from my house with an 8 piece band.  The contractor comes over to meet the group and after chatting says in front of everyone "So I never did get an invoice from you so we weren't able to cut the cheque this week.  If you have one with you we can try to get it done on Monday, but cheques aren't usually done until Thursdays".
  5. I'm on vacation and have an upcoming show, the organizer calls and says "We have a deadline tomorrow for advertising in the local paper, if we can get a 250 word bio and a high-res photo today we can include your act in the promo."
  6. I'm stuck in traffic, and I want to listen to new music my cover band is playing.
  7. I'm playing in the same venue for the 4th time this year.  My amp sound last time was great.  This time it's not cutting it. 
  8. I'm at a gig, and I've forgotten my well planned out setlist on my desk.
  9. I have a lesson tomorrow and I need to remember to bring a method book before heading to work in the morning. 
  10. All of my gear has been stolen.  
Ok, as well as being a professional musician I'm also an IT guy, so maybe it's second nature but I really like to use technology where possible and be as lazy as possible when it comes to organization. so many musicians..I wasn't blessed with the best natural organization skills. 

I'm also an avid Google user.  They do it right.  They give the user some pretty incredible FREE tools that allow a user to make so many different parts of their life/career/hobby/etc easier.  In talking to many colleagues, friends, family, etc I find it is an incredibly underused service.  <Insert Boggle into Brain Here>. 

Like most people these days I use a smartphone.  And seriously..the phone is smart if used correctly and will remind you of all the stuff you need to do, I'm not good at remembering those things on my own.  i.e I'm not a Smartperson. ( Except for the part where I use my phone smartly.  Ok I'm a Smartperson! yay! )

Here are my favourite tools and in an N-Part series (that's mathematics talk for "however many") I'll talk about how how I use each one to resolve the items above.  
Let's tackle the two easiest scenarios above - solved by Google Contacts and Google Calendar.

I'm trying to sell some gear and I want to target a specific group of local musicians, that aren't all on Facebook!  

Contacts are an oft overlooked feature of any smartphone or Gmail account.  Ever see someone post on Facebook "Got a new phone...lost my old one, along with contacts.  Text me your number so I can add you".   I always simultaneously chuckle and shake my head.  Yeah because allll of your previously saved contacts are going to immediately text you all the details you had previously saved.
Google Contacts....Gooooooooogle Connnnnntacts.  You add a Google account to your phone...when someone texts you, you choose "Add to Contacts..." and use the Google account, don't save on the phone.   When you switch or lose your phone, you add your Google account back and you have all of your contacts again like nothing changed.

Besides the obvious single contact usage, groups are another overlooked feature.   Over the years I've made a lot of connections with musicians, specifically bassists.  I had an amp I was trying to sell and I put it on Kijiji, I put it on Ebay, I put it on Facebook.  No bites.  Then I decided to try some direct marketing: Email every bassist I know.  Ok.. compose new email...perfect..write my perfect sales who am I sending it to?  Ok..I've got 645 contacts... lets go through each entry and remember who is a bassist.  No way man.  I don't have an hour to sort through contacts.  No time for this, I want to play bass.  So I use Google Contacts and contact Groups that I've spent tiny bits of time over the years compiling and maintaining.

Here is my bassists group:

Then I go to Gmail and compose new email, and start typing "Bassists" in the to: field like this:

All N-number of Bassists I've added to that group will get an email.  Lucky them!  I also use this for questions as well "Hey fellow bassists.. does anyone have recommendations for a local luthier to fix my cracked headstock?", etc, etc.  Facebook is great for this too, but sometimes an old-fashioned electronic email direct from circa 1994-style can really do the trick.

btw..I sold that amp through email.


I'm at a friends house and get a call or email asking if I can do a gig three Wednesdays from now.  

I have all of my gigs in Google Calendar.  All of them.  With as much detail needed as possible. 

Here is a sample Calendar entry:

When I create the calendar entry I make sure I do a few things. 
  1. Date/Time: Besides the obvious date of gig, I put the time: more specifically, the time I need to arrive.  In the notes field I'll list the details: load in, soundcheck, gig time, specific gear I may need to bring, specific sheet music, etc.  Also things like: details from the organizer or band-leader "You can park in back and load through the service entrance",  "please wear suit and tie", "meal included", "meal not included, don't arrive hangry", "please wear pants", etc, etc. You get the idea.
  2. Keyword: use the same keyword in the title for all shows.  I use gig  .  If you look at my list above, you'll notice every entry has gig in the title.  This is great for several reasons. 1) What is my gig schedule for next two months, so I know what music to work on, etc .. go to Google Calendar and search the word gig. Boom.. a list.  2) It's tax time.. ok let's make sure I recorded all of my gig money, plus any expenses related to gigs..boom..a list of all gigs you've done. 3) You're rewriting your bio... Who did I play with this year? ..boom..a list..
  3. Location: Add the exact address or Google Maps recognized name in the location field.   Google Now is incredible.  I'm sitting on my couch watching Threes Company reruns and I get a notification.  "You need to leave in 30 mins to reach your destination for "Jazz gig with special guest".  OMG I've completely forgotten about a gig.. my phone just said if you don't get your butt off the couch, dressed, packed and on the road in 30 mins, you're ruining your reputation. Day saved because Google Now will use the addresses in your Calendar entries to calculate time it takes to get there and assumes you're not a Smartperson and reminds you.  Seriously ...awesome.
  4. Reminders : I add a default reminder in my Google calendar settings.  45 mins, and 24 hours.  45 mins for the above "I totally forgot" scenario and 24 hours for the "I have a GIG tomorrow night?????"  scenario.  If you were supposed to learn tunes, pick up your tux, shave your back, before the gig tomorrow, this just saved your hairless back.
  5. Invites: Have a special someone in your life?  Are they tired of you saying "oh.. I didn't tell you about the gig? yeah... I'm outta town for a few luck with the kids. oh btw it's a full moon tomorrow".  Invite your better half on all of your calendar invites to save last minute awkward conversations.  Or.. if you're a band-leader - add your bandmates.  Or..if you have a day-job with a work email address, invite your work email so you're always in the know. 
You may think you're not busy enough to need to put your schedule in your Calendar.  But that's the point.. it reminds you if you're not playing daily.  And of course to answer that question.. CAN do that gig three Wednesdays from now because you were able to check within 2 minutes and know your schedule and get back to the person.  Instead of not knowing, having to check your paper calendar when you get home. Forgetting to check.  Forgetting to respond.  Losing a gig because the person got tired of waiting.  Do that enough times and you'll be 2nd on the call list next time. Or worse.

Ok, enough for now... if you don't have a Google yourself a favour..go get one.  If you already have one, stop playing Flappy Bird, and go try out some of the techniques above, make it part of your daily routine.

Next time I'm going to talk about Google Drive.   This service saves my hide more times in a day than you can imagine.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Note-Well - Mastering the Fingerboard

if you are still struggling with the fretboard and names of notes it can be pretty daunting to try to apply concepts that you learn, especially in real time, say in a jam.  If someone is calling chords out, or you're looking at a chord chart it's just simply frustrating if you don't know the names of the notes you're playing. It can feel like you're playing blind.  

A good portion of us have 4 strings, with 21 frets... that's 84 different notes to learn. can be daunting.  Yes there are only 12 notes, and they repeat, but if we want to be fretboard masters, we really need to know all 84 notes, more if you're a 5, 6 string player.  

... I watched an Anthony Wellington master-class video on Scotts Bass Lessons.. he jokes about running into a student and saying "15th fret, A string" and that student has to know it's C .. but..he's serious.. it's your vocabulary.. no.. your alphabet and if you're denying yourself that, again you'll find frustration trying to follow a lead sheet and know where to put your fingers .. "you'll see the chord is AbMaj7 .. you'll know the notes are Ab C Eb G .. but .. where are those notes on the fretboard? How can you play it anywhere and groove, and and be musical, and interesting, and have a bass face that doesn't look like you're screaming "HELLLLP MEEEE" on the inside :P  

Other than saying "ya just gotta learn it" ( which maybe works for some) there has to be an easier way right?  ( insert cheesy late night infomercial voice here ) .. "  Whyyyyy yes there is!!! Call now to buy the Note Well, if you call in the next 10 minutes we'll throw in a new pick and a half of a ham sandwich. " 

Ahem.. but seriously... I used to use this terribly cheesy thing with younger students that has worked well in the past... the description is a bit cheesy but the concept works, and it's essentially what Anthony is talking about.. I call it the Note-Well ... it's  the place where you keep all the names of the notes on the fretboard, for later retrieval.  

so.. if you start out and completely fill your note-well with every possible note and then try to retrieve one at a later date it'll be tough.. it's too many notes to keep track of too soon.  

So start with literally just one note ( you probably already have more than one ) .. but .. just one note on one string.. say... 8th fret on A .. it's an F. Great... now.. put that note in your note-well ( this is where I'd make the motion of taking the note off the bass and inserting it into my head by squishing it in forcefully... kids dig it.. teenagers just think you're weird ... adults start scanning for the nearest exit ) and don't forget it..

Now same as Anthony says..if I walk up to you on the street and say where is an F on the A string.. BAM.. you know where it is.. easy to note.  Success.  

Then..start adding notes one by one.. here and there... great you have say 4-5 notes.. cool... now.. if I said where is an F# on the A string.. Bam.. it's easy because you already remember where F is.. you just need to go up one fret... and now because F is in your Note-well the recall time is much faster... and chances are you barely thought about the F, you just went for the F#.  

until eventually.. you fill your-note well in an organized fashion...and you know where everything is ( in relation to everything else ) .. because you took the time, one by one. 

Then on your next Jam you're presented with a lovely AbMaj7 chord and all of a sudden you're an AbMaj7 fretboard monster, grooving like mad.  

Friday, January 9, 2015

Bass Bits: Sweet Child O' Mine by Guns & Roses

Sweet Child O' Mine ...  yes Slash's guitar intro is universally recognizable but Duff McKagan's bass intro is just as recognizable in the bass world and arguably a rite of passage for any rock bassist. 

It has melody.. higher register playing.. and that sweet chorus + Fender tone. 


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Bass Bits: Come On, Come Over

Here is the opening riff for Come On, Come Over by Jaco Pastorius & Bob Herzog, found on Jaco's first album.

Keep those left hand fingers close to the fingerboard and do it as efficiently as possible.  Keep it tight, keep it groovy.  

Make sure to channel your inner Jaco with your right hand.