Thursday, January 4, 2018

Google Tools for the Busy Musician - Full Article



Google employs me as a bassist. I wish! What I mean by that is, their free services give the outside world the impression that I’m an organized, punctual, prepared, professional bassist and I keep getting hired. Want in on a secret? Yes, I’ve enjoyed a 20+ year career as a performing and recording bassist in Prince Edward Island while working full time in IT, teaching bass at the Holland College School of Performing Arts and UPEI, raising five little kids and sometimes seeing my lovely wife; however, my life is full of daily challenges that seek to make me fail in my music career. I'm naturally disorganized, forgetful, and full of procrastination. Enter Google, add my Smartphone, and watch as my chaotic life is turned into beautifully manageable bits. This music career of mine is not limited to the instrument I play, the notes I choose, the styles I enjoy, or the gigs I get. It 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 really getting?

I want to share with you some of the habits I've developed over the last 10 years since getting my first iPod Touch and subsequent smartphones - habits which honestly I didn't intend to create. I look back and realize they are habits I wish someone had introduced me to 25 years ago when I first started gigging - habits that now I could not function without. Google makes it incredibly easy to implement and use these techniques on a daily basis so you can worry about what is important: the music.

Google Calendar is my invaluable personal assistant: its power is highly underrated. I outlined this in more detail in the Bass Column in the Sept/Oct 2017 issue, but briefly, make sure you create all calendar entries with a title having the same searchable keyword. Add the date and time you need to arrive, the address, gig specific notes, a default reminder of 45 mins, 24 hours, and one week before. Make sure you invite anyone that should know about your gig: band members, significant others, Alain Caron, etc. Google Now will calculate the distance to your gig location and tell you when you need to leave. Hop in your car, click the location on your calendar entry and the GPS in Google Maps will guide you to your gig.


                              

Google Contacts are an often overlooked feature of any Gmail account. Have you ever seen someone post on Facebook "Got a new phone...lost all of my contacts. Text me your number so I can add you". I always simultaneously chuckle and shake my head. Say it with me: Google Contacts. Add that lovely Google account to your phone so that when someone texts you, choose "Add to Contacts" and save to the Google account. When you switch or lose your phone, just add your Google account to your new phone and you have all of your contacts again like nothing changed.

Besides the obvious single contact usage, contact groups are another overlooked feature. When you add that new contact make sure you add them to a group. Once 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, write my perfect sales pitch, now who am I sending it to? I've got 716 contacts, go through each entry and remember who is a bassist.” No way. I don't have time to sort through contacts. I use Google Contacts groups that I've spent tiny bits of time over the years compiling and maintaining. Then I go to Gmail and compose new email, and start typing "Bassists" in the to: field like this:




Sure Facebook is great for this too, but sometimes an old-fashioned electronic mail in true circa 1994 style can really do the trick. For the record, I sold that amp because of that email.

Google Drive has saved my hyde more times than I can count and I’m a bass player so that’s more than 4 times. It is my office/library in the cloud secured by 2-step verification (more on this later). I have my Drive meticulously organized in folders/subfolders to organize the various parts of my life.



Musically speaking, it contains:
  • Every chart I make or receive, organized by person/band I’m playing with
  • Every gig setlist organized by year with notes, youtube links, talking points, soloists
  • Several versions of my bio (short, long, life story, tome) as well as various photos for promo 
  • All of my commonly used teaching materials (lesson plans, exercises, backing tracks, articles)
  • Music related receipts for tax time
  • Professional development materials, course material, lists of to-do's, hopes and dreams
  • Email templates (musician services quote, new student welcome, pestering Alain Caron for a bass lesson)
  • All of my gear info (receipts for warranty, insurance, serial numbers, identifying photos, favourite amp settings sorted by venue, maintenance photos, bass-glam shots, bass selfies )

Having all of that material in one place and at my fingertips anywhere I go helps me sleep at night. Drive lets you create documents, spreadsheets, or scan text from a physical document and save these directly to your Drive. I'm going to tell you two things...which one is the truth?
  • I wrote this entire article at my desk sitting in front of my computer
  • Jaco needed a fifth string 
Lies, they’re all lies. I wrote 85% of this article on phone while on my couch, in a parking lot, in my kitchen, or sitting waiting for my kids at Kung-Fu or Choir (“OK Google, remind me to start a kung-fu choir”). Heck I wrote part of this article pulled over on the side of the road because I was struck with a great idea. (Sadly CM wouldn’t send me to Robert Trujillo’s house to write while playing Jaco’s bass for inspiration). Now what about all of your old files? I'm sure you have important files on your computer that you'd like to back up or have access to while on the move. Google Drive has downloadable sync tool which syncs files from your computer’s Google Drive folder with your Drive on the cloud.

Did you know that any content in Google Drive is shareable with other users? You can send a link to a specific item or an entire folder and manage the access level so other users can just view it or view and edit. Setlists are great example. Maintain your setlists in one location and no more 1000 line indecipherable Facebook threads that only half of your band members caught in the first place. No more “What? We were supposed to learn Wrecking Ball for this rehearsal?” Everyone knows where to check the setlist and therefore no surprises.

Another great feature is the ability to share files as an email attachment or to any other app on your phone. Imagine walking to your van the morning after a gig to find your windows smashed and your precious gear stolen. You have a precise list of serial numbers and identifying photos to provide to the police and instantly share online and with local pawn shops. Or let’s say I'm a band-leader for a corporate gig 100 kilometres away from my house. The contractor comes over to meet the group and after chatting says in front of everyone “Forgot to mention we need an invoice, if you have one we can cut a cheque tonight, otherwise it’ll be sometime late next week”. Rather than sweating through your lime green tux and facing seething band members you whip out your pocket computer, fill out the blank invoice template you have saved in Google Drive and you email it to Mr. Money faster than you can say Gene MacLellan.

Often I've punctually sent charts, lesson material, setlists, recordings, invoices, and bios/photos directly from my phone while standing in line at Tim Hortons, from the car, sitting on a bench, or making supper while fielding a thousand questions per minute by my four year old. Having an organized and standardized location where everything is saved really helps cut down on productivity loss and information loss or duplication. How many times have you emailed yourself something to remember only to have it buried in your poorly organized email. Email isn’t a great option for saving information. Or is it?

Welcome to Inbox by Google. It's like a five-string Gmail with active pickups, a Leo Quan badass bridge, and every note is the brown note. Content-wise it IS Gmail; however, its presentation varies from your grandpa's Gmail and is intended for forward thinkers like you. Have you ever missed an important email because it got lost amidst all of your Old Navy/Bulk Barn promos and loads of completely hilarious and useful forwards from that family member? Inbox automatically sorts and groups all promotional, social media, financial, purchases, etc together in groups and leaves your important email highlighted and exposed. You respond to the important emails that have response-awaiting humans and you deal with that other stuff when you're waiting for the bus or sitting on the...board of a local charity you believe in. It also consolidates your travel plans by trip location so there's no more searching for flight or hotel information.





On top of its automatic sorting features, I absolutely could not live without Inbox's snooze feature. You don't always have the ability to deal with email requests immediately right? Well, anything in Inbox can be snoozed so that it pops up again as if it was new again. Amazing. You have several options here including snoozing to a later date/time or a specific address/location. Inbox lets your pre-define your typical snooze times depending on your schedule.



What about when you get an important email that requires your attention but you can't respond immediately? Snooze it! Again whenever the specified snooze time is up, Inbox will notify you that you have a “new” item. You respond when you're ready but still in a timely manner and avoid getting labeled as one of those people that never responds or just getting ignored for the gig next time. You can also keep hitting that snooze button like a teenager/any employed adult on a Monday. Sorta like how I constantly revisit that time Joe Dart responded to my email. #Vulfpeck. I receive music related emails during the day and because I'm at my IT job I'll snooze emails until lunch time, or after the kids’ bedtime or simply for when I'm at home.

Which reminds me (see what I did there?), Inbox even has incredible location based reminders which you can use in conjunction with Google Now. Yes you may get strange looks talking out-loud to your phone like it's your personal assistant but it's worth it. “Ok Google...remind me to send setlist and charts to the band when I'm at Home. Remind me to book my vacation for Jazz festival when I'm at Work. Remind me to buy new bass at Long and Mcquade”. Next time you step in that door your phone will beep and remind you.

Do you have a task that you do daily? You can create repeating reminders so at the same time every day it notifies you to research online music sales opportunities, or Google your own name, or cycle through every radio station possible to see if your single is being played.

Hey, I bet you have more than one email address and you check them all in different apps or websites or maybe you forward them all to one address. Wouldn't it be nice to have all of your email in one location where you could easily view emails sorted by address and easily respond using whichever email address an email was sent to? Gmail man. Gmail. Don't be afraid of the S word..settings. Head to the Gmail settings and add up to five accounts to receive and send mail from. A thing of beauty.

I'd be remiss if I didn't show some love to the one that started it all: Google’s indexed Search results. This free service is taken for granted like the air we breathe or the warm sound of a Pbass. “Music venues in Nanaimo, BC”. “Guitar repair in Red Deer, AB” “Drummer babysitting in Toronto”. The ability to ask your phone or computer about something common or obscure and get usually solid results is incredible. Especially for someone like me who used to use the yellow pages...like the physical kind...in a phonebook…no not an app… a book...a real book...oh nevermind.

Google Keep is like extreme sticky notes from the future. The app allows you to quickly store a checklist, notes, voice memos, a picture from your camera, or it even gives you the option of doing a quick sketch in case you get an idea for a new custom bass design.

                                                 


I know...I should stick to bass playing. Bottom line is, Keep is a great sandbox for ideas and here's the great thing: all of the snooze features I mentioned above from Inbox are also available in Keep. Bravo Google.

Google Play is a fantastic subscription based music streaming service that gives you access to all of the great music of the world at your fingertips. In preparation for gigs I find that I'm spending more time listening to the music for the gig and less time stumbling through tunes as I play along. It ends up meaning more efficient and quality time spent on the bass. Space is cheap and Google knows this. They have more servers than Stan Rogers has verses and this allows you to upload up to 50,000 of your own songs, demos, band recordings or whatever audio file you need for your work. You can stream any song or temporarily download songs, albums, or playlists to your phone to save on data charges. This is all included in your monthly subscription. Pop in your ear buds and shed along in your mind to the new song you wrote or connect to your vehicle's Bluetooth and review your band's practice recordings while you drive and reflect on just how awesome you are.

Lastly Google Authenticator is a must. Secure your Google account with 2 step verification. If you happened to ignore every current piece of security advice available and use 12345 as your Google password and someone guessed it because they used the same combination on their luggage, they would still need your phone (which is secured right?) and the unique code from Authenticator that changes every 60 seconds. Authenticator also works with many other providers such as Facebook and Zoho and this lessens your chance of a stolen identity.

Call me crazy but I think all of these Google apps are really great and they really work for me and my style. I’m always on the hunt for new ways to make managing my life and career easier and truly justify the expense of a smartphone. All of this being said, if you decide to make better use of your smartphone by trying these techniques, make sure you balance all of this fantastic tech with the human factor. Sometimes it’s triple the effect if you pick up a phone, dial 10 digits, and make a human connection, or squat down, look your four year old in the eye and explain once more that the words are not “Another One Bust the Dust”.




**p.s... look .. I'm even on the cover... err....sorta... does this count?  I say it counts..


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