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Another Crossroads 

I feel like my career is once again at a crossroads. Every so many years, I make a major life decision when my wheels are spinning and my life is stagnating. In the past, it has meant returning to school, moving to a different community, or retooling.

My last effort was retooling in 2015. I quit my Toronto bands, as the travelling was taking its toll, and compensation was remaining the same as the cost of living increased. As a saxophonist, it is about 10 times harder to work than a rhythm player or vocalist. A trumpet player I know once said that horns are "the last to hire and the first to fire." Sums it up perfectly.

So, I created a solo act that combined my guitar, vocal, and woodwind skills into one thing using a piece of technology I bought. Four years later, it seems to be a wasted effort. I need a paid weekly gig to properly develop the act, but I soon learned that I'm not allowed to make mistakes. I practice my material hard, trying to memorize everything, but it's not the same as performing. I'm sure many musicians will agree with me. It doesn't help that I battle stage fright either. However, the more I perform, the more it becomes normalized, and the more confidence I have. Without a regular gig, this is impossible.

That brings me to my next challenge. I'm not good at talking to strangers. I’m not a salesman. I get nervous making a 30-second pitch, and people pick up on that. I mean, how can you entertain if you can't get your point across? Sometimes I just leave a card if the owner isn't in, but that never results in anything. I need help in this area, but can't find it. I want to be fair, offering a 10% commission on a booked gig. Every musician or band needs a team. I believe I have something to offer, but I can’t convince anyone to give me a real chance.

I'm disconnected from the local musical community. Perhaps it's my own fault. I have attended local events, but being an introvert, I end up sitting by myself. I've attended open stages, jazz jams, and blues jams to sit in, but it never results in decent paid work. I know where I stand: I'm not a great saxophonist, but I don't suck either. After a while, open stages feel like exploitation, especially when I see money go into a tip jar while I'm on stage, with the money going to the house band. After that happened a couple of times, I stopped attending. On top of my formal music education, I worked for cruise lines, toured with tribute bands, and played in community musical theatre pit orchestras. I would be happy playing in pit orchestras for my career, but I can't work for $30 per show.

I see some of my music friends doing really well while others are bowing out. I'm wondering if it's time for me to bow out too. However, I have so much invested that I can't see myself doing anything else. In my 20s in the early 90s, I tried getting a regular job but failed, perhaps because of the recession. I applied to a new Tim Horton franchise but there were 300 applicants. I think employers looked at my resume with a music degree and wrote me off. So, I decided to stick with music, especially when I saw my friends in other disciplines having difficulty finding work. Gen X had a hard time coming of age.

I have my teaching business, covering my expenses and giving me spending money. I live with my elderly mother, so I have a safe living environment, and I am grateful for that. However, I could not live on only my teaching income if I was on my own. I must have performance income to support myself along with my teaching practice. That has always been a constant.

Right now, I am focused on recording and releasing original songs that have been in my mind for over a decade. I can't afford pro engineers, so I've been learning to engineer myself. I released one song last month with little fanfare. Yet I'm working towards releasing another song before the end of the summer. My sound and style is different, which I’m finding to be more of a curse than a blessing. I'm hopeful that a small group of people will enjoy my work and support what I do. I want to go out and tour while I still can, while I'm in my prime. Otherwise, my life has been a great waste. I sit in a bar during happy hour while I write this, listening to cheerful talk, and wonder how others can be so “happy."




Long Day In The Studio 

My goal is to release at least one song this summer. Today I managed to record the guitar part, although it was with great difficulty. The part has a sixteenth-note funk rhythm, but I could not get it locked into the groove. It sounded fine to me while I was recording it, but when I listened back, it wasn't in the pocket. So, thinking it was my own inadequacy, I started to record it in smaller segments with the metronome on sixteenth note sub-divisions. This worked better, but there were still problems with the groove. Finally, after many hours, I began wondering if my computer was having latency issues with some of the plug-ins I had running. I turned off all the effects, but this didn't solve anything. After more frustration, I re-discovered the low-latency mode in the software's preferences. After I turned on low-latency mode, everything was easy. I actually recorded the entire guitar track in one take.

Hopefully it will be smoother from here on out. Next will be the bass part.


New Song Recording Finished 

This week, I completed my first polished recording since I released Interaction in 2002. Seventeen years. That's a long time. I've done so much since then.

I have another album's worth of material in me, but I've decided to release songs as singles for now. The idea of recording an album is simply too daunting because this time, I am doing the engineering as well as writing and performing. By releasing a series of singles, I hope to feel more accomplished and less stressed.

I would love to go back into the studio with a pro engineer, and even a producer, but for now, I should do as much as I can on my own. I have been learning audio engineering and my software with a tutorial series on YouTube by MusicTechHelpGuy, which has been awesome. My new song Go About Your Business was mixed and mastered using his methods and advice. I still have a lot to learn about audio engineering, but my skills will solidify with more experience.

I did a live video recording of Go About Your Business in 2017. I used a loop pedal on the guitar for percussive effects and guitar layering.


The studio version sounds fuller with additional drums, bass, acoustic guitar, electric piano, and flute. I'm still mulling a release date as I get the other pieces in place.

I believe my new genre going forward is chamber pop. My music is melodic, has defined arrangements, and uses elements of classical music. I also add jazz elements, so perhaps that is my contribution to the genre.

Changing Focus 

My last gig two weeks ago was playing solo with my guitar, looper, voice, sax, and flute. Since then, I've put my energies back into my tenor sax so I can get in form for a jazz quartet gig tomorrow. I've hired some great players for this one and I want to be able to 1) have endurance for a 3-hour gig and 2) be able to keep up with the rhythm section. I tried to choose interesting tunes while keeping it as simple as possible.

It feels good to focus on my horn again, It made me remember how much simpler my life could be with only a saxophone to play. I took my horn in for a check-up this week and now it's it in top condition, This morning, I pulled out my book Top Tones For The Saxophone to revisit my sound concept. It's amazing how deep of a rabbit hole you can go down just paying attention to tone. If only I had been patient enough 30 years ago to go through those exercises. If only, if only.... The past is done, and all that matters is tomorrow.

I've enjoyed this diversion back to playing jazz, but I'm looking forward to getting back to my recording process on Monday. Here is the poster for tomorrow.


Split Brain 

Even after my attempts to focus on one area of music, jazz keeps pulling me back in. Last night, I played one last jazz gig at the venue where my old band The Sean Hully Jazz Group played once a month. After I wrapped that band up, it continued under the name Jazzmania, and they continued with the monthly performances there. However, the venue (under new ownership), effectively fired the band because they weren't selling enough drinks. Age-old reaction: blame the band! The band had competent players and was only playing for tips anyway. I am predicting the venue will either change hands, stop having live music, or go out of business in a year with that kind of policy.

I played two days solo at Maplefest in mid-March, and I am back again this Saturday. I also have a jazz quartet show on April 14 and a production show on April 27 where I'm back on saxophone. I initially put my saxophone on the back burner so I could focus on one musical thing and try to do it well. However, I keep being pulled back to the saxophone with one situation or another. The jazz I played last night wasn't financially beneficial, but it was socially and spiritually gratifying. The other two shows have acceptable compensation, but again, they take up time with preparation. It splits my brain. I'm not sure if that is a good thing or if it is holding me back.

I'm self-learning how to engineer recordings too. I'm working on a studio version of my song Go About Your Business. This is a live version with my looper.


I have all the instruments recorded, but I may add another rhythm guitar track to beef it up a bit. I've learned about EQ and compression on rhythm section instruments so far. I still have a ways to go before it is ready.

At least my personal energy is rebounding again after a disappointing week off I had from my teaching practice in March. I think I was simply exhausted. I will get this recording out there by the summer.

My Completed Renovation 

I'm still settling back in to my renovated studio, but it's been complete for a couple of weeks. It's 10 am, and I have to leave for sound check soon for my matinee gig with the Peterborough Pop Ensemble. I'm playing tenor saxophone in the support band for the choir.

Here are a few photos of the reno. It such a warmer, yet energetic space now.








Getting Through The Holidays 

I have had no serious performances for a couple of months, so I've been turning my attention to recording songs and renovating my studio Bird House Music.

My "office" is currently in the cold basement of an old house, and most of my music equipment is in storage while my studio is painted. Painting started today with the ceiling, and I expect all will be completed by Monday. If the plan goes well, new carpet will be installed next Wednesday. I installed track lighting last month which replaced the harsh fluorescents that burned my retinas for 10 years. My studio should be ready for January 14 when music lessons resume.

I attended an annual winter solstice party hosted by the bass player in my old jazz band The Sean Hully Jazz Group. Being an introvert, I ended up tending the solstice fire alone outside for part of the evening until the party came out to join me. We burned old cedar that represented the old year, and new cedar that represented the new year. Here's my fire.
On New Year's Day, I went to a low-key party called "Hair Of The Dog." I hadn't heard of that crazy term before, so I did an online search. "Hair of The Dog" is an English expression meaning a cure for a hangover. That may have been the last fun thing I learned in 2018.

"Hair Of The Dog" was a nice gathering during the late afternoon. I knew only a few people there by only remote acquaintance, including the host. He graciously extended the invitation when we met at a local jazz performance.

During the party, a lady who I just met encouraged me to start a YouTube channel instructing music. I have mused about doing that before (it was in my brain for perhaps five seconds), but I didn't think that I could contribute anything that isn't already out there. She encouraged me further, saying that I spoke well, and that I only have to dive in under a catchy name that reflects what I'm doing. I have an inactive YouTube channel called BirdHouseMusicCanada, so I think I will try posting a couple of video lessons and see what happens. It will be great to make videos in my renovated space too.

Speaking of which, I am hosting a Renovation Reveal Party on January 18 from 5-8. I'll be giving short looping demonstrations too. Here is the Facebook link with all the info. 

Finally, below is a selfie taken after I finished clearing out the studio. The space looks tired, I'm in torn jeans, and my hands are hurting after removing carpet trim. However, I was excited about finally being able to put my mark on this space. When I first rented it, I started working right away because the space was perfect for music lessons. I had just withdrawn from a  Ph.d programme (long story) so I had to get up and running quickly. I have a supportive landlord with a great roster of students each year to keep me afloat. At this time of year, it's important to be thankful for what we have, even though life throws us curve balls every so often. May you hit those curve balls out of the park this year.

Happy 2019.

Sean

Struggling With A Descriptive Term 

A well-know term that quickly and accurately describes my music act has been bothering me. It's a term that rolls off the tongue beautifully and has been around for perhaps a century. The term is "one-man band."

What bothers me is that "one-man band" is not inclusive. Yet I hate the sound of "one-person band," because that sounds forced to my ears.

As I wrote this post, the term "one-up band" popped into my head. When I checked the meaning of "one-up" it said "having an advantage over someone." So that meaning isn't suitable. I was thinking of a situation in baseball of someone being "up to the plate" or in video games, player 1-up. I like the phonetic sound of "one-up band."

Any other solutions or comments?

Transitions 

My career is in a state of flux. I now have a full night of covers after tweaking and adding tunes over the summer. There is still more refining to do for sure, but my show is more or less in my back pocket.

No more gigs for a while, save for one next weekend at Trail Mix 2018. It will be an opportunity to present some of my original music as well as the covers I play. I plan to give away my CDs at this festival with a PWYC tip jar concept. I need to declutter, as I have plenty of CDs that I have been holding onto for too long. I will also try out my new banner, which should be good advertising for people walking by. It will be my first foray out of my home area.

I will be renovating my studio in January, and I'm already thinking about moving my stuff into storage in December. I'm trying to declutter now, but that is difficult because I use pretty much everything I own. I think my main strategy will be looking for better and more attractive storage options.

I am craving the renovation now as my studio is looking tired and worn. I have an energetic and grounding colour scheme in mind, inspired by a local Thai restaurant that has Feng Shui decor. The painter is lined up and the carpeting is chosen. The rest is up to me. I'd like to figure out how to hide cables that are running everywhere too. The hydro outlet locations are never convenient.


Creativity Strikes At Unexpected Times 

It's a quiet time for me with nothing on the horizon until the end of July. I've noticed many of my musician friends have been quite busy. I said aloud, "everyone is gigging but me."

My mind went to the jazz standard "It Could Happen To You" and I found I could replace that title with "Everyone Is Gigging But Me." So, I wrote new lyrics to the song and sang them in a video in my Insider Facebook Group to test it with listeners.

I'd appreciate feedback, positive and negative.