After attending a music university, performing at dozens of gigs in and around London, and paying close attention to the artists on stage, I’ve come to an interesting conclusion about the quality of music at live shows and its relation to the audience’s experience. It’s a theory I’ve been thinking about for the past few months, so it’s still in its inchoate stage, but coherent enough to describe the general idea in an abridged post.

I am currently writing a book in which I go into much more detail about this subject so I would appreciate your genuine feedback on this idea in the comment section.

In his TED-Ed Talk, Victor Wooten correctly points out that we should “approach music the same way we learn a language by embracing mistakes and playing as often as possible.” It doesn’t matter if your performance is covered in mistakes as long as you are able to adjust accordingly to assure, at least at minimum, an incremental improvement in your next performance.

It is of crucial importance that, if you’re blessed/cursed with an aptitude in music, you develop your skills in such a way that you maximize the quality of your musical expression to the best of your ability, because it will allow you to speak fluently and successfully participate in more demanding conversations such as improvisational jam nights.

If you do not put in the time and effort to develop your musical speech, you will not be able to contribute increasingly valuable ideas to the musical conversation across time. Assuming that you dare call yourself a musician (and a musician is not someone who can merely play guitar or sing to an acceptable level so much as a woodworker is not someone who can merely build a table to an acceptable level), you should be capable of participating in and occasionally taking the lead of a challenging performance. Of course, that also depends on the level of competence the conversation requires.

In any case, let’s take a look at what it means for a musician to “speak” properly.

In fact, let’s address the issue directly: Why are some live performances tasteless and boring when the potential for creative expression is virtually inexhaustible?

Well, for the sake of keeping it as short as I can without sacrificing the essence of what I want to say, here’s my attempt at a cursory answer:

The content of the musical discussion, not the technical proficiency of the performers, is my personal basis for discerning if the quality of music is good or bad. You can be a flawless master of your instrument and have nothing to say. You can also be an enthusiastic novice with a riveting story to tell. You might not be able to use the necessary vocabulary to fully instill the excitement you wish to emerge from your audience, but at least you have something to say.

My concern with the music scene in London, and in general, is that many artists have nothing to say yet they assume their positions on a stage, perform for other people who pay to see them, and think of themselves as musicians because they’re playing an instrument or using their voice to sing.

By the way, I’m not discounting the fact that all artists try to find their voice and, in doing so, go through periods of confusion, articulate vague ideas, and imitate popular genres and styles. Imitation is obviously part of the journey of learning how to speak. But that should not be the end product sold by someone who calls themselves a musician, especially if the motivation is to play a certain style of music just because it’s popular with people.

It is important to note that there is an inherent value in knowing what you’re talking about and providing additional personal insights to a crowd who wants to connect with what you’re thinking. By doing so, you extend your creativity outward as a reflection of your personality and you allow your audience to relate to what you’re saying. If the content of what you’re expressing is truthful then that is part of what makes a performance good.

The other part that makes a performance good is when you are completely comfortable in your technical abilities to the extent that you are competent enough to explore your instrument in an improvisational manner. In order to get to that point, however, you need to ascertain what your limits are by practicing meticulously. Otherwise, you have to push your physical and cognitive ability past your comfort zone in an attempt to surpass your limitations to the extent that the risk of failure is almost certain. The odds of that happening consistently at live shows without tearing at the reputation of your musical talent is slight to none. But if your comfort zone is broad enough, due to extensive training, the potential for creative experimentation without the risk of failure is sufficient to instill awe and extract genuine appreciation from the audience.

In essence, if 1. you have something to say and 2. you have the ability to say it within the context of a truthful and meaningful story, your live performance will always result in your audience thinking, “That was a good gig.”

There is so much more to say about all of this but I’m bordering on 1,000 words right now, which is a bit much for a blog post. My book won’t be out for a few years, but it’s currently in the works. Let me know what you think because your feedback will help me move ahead in my exploration of this massive topic. Hopefully, I will be able to conjure up a cohesive argument that will provide some clarity in one way or another for aspiring as well as experienced musicians.

London is almost unrealistically expensive. Wiser men have told me that rent should ideally comprise about 1/3 of your monthly income (with the average rent in London costing around £1,500 PCM as of June 2018). In fact, if you want to rent an apartment here without having to go through extensive complications, the estate agent will require you to provide proof of income that’s at least 2.5 times the amount of rent per month. Otherwise, you need a UK-based guarantor, which brings about an entirely new set of challenges.

I could write a detailed post about how counterproductive and mendacious estate companies are in London because, as a German, I like to complain about inefficient systems.

Perhaps another time.

In any case, it costs a lot of money to survive in London and a lot more money to live here. I barely have enough to survive.

So, I had a decision to make after moving into my new house in North-East London and dealing with the resulting costs. I could either get a well-paying job, work 50 hour weeks, earn upwards of £5,000 per month, and at least sleep comfortably because my waking hours would be spent making money. Or I could find a part-time job that merely covers rent and some bills but have enough time left during the week to spend it on my own projects like my music, my writing, and my company.

I desperately needed money, so I decided to go for option one. I redesigned my CV and sent out a few applications for consultant roles at large corporations in central London. I know enough about consulting and recruitment to seem like I know a lot. Kind of like my piano skills.

So, I attended multiple interviews wearing my friend’s suit because I don’t have one of my own. All interviews went well; three went extremely well. Two of the companies said they could pay me 20£ an hour. The other company offered me 25£ an hour. The last interviewer told me that I’ll be able to enjoy weekly Michelin-starred restaurant meals with my coworkers as well as a luxurious company car and business trips to Dubai and Singapore, staying at all-inclusive 5-star hotels. I would’ve had my income and expense ratios sorted and living in London wouldn’t be so daunting anymore.

Side note/pro tip: your bachelor’s degree doesn’t mean much (and a degree in music means even less). However, if you are well-versed and ostensibly competent in a particular field, can prove your experience in real-life scenarios, can articulate properly and speak with brevity, and if you are commercial, confident, and sell yourself effectively, the recruiting officer is very likely to slot you into their company at any level of the workplace hierarchy. Make sure you tell the interviewer how their company will benefit if they hire you and finish by asking, “Is there any reason why you wouldn’t hire me?”

Funny enough that the highest paying company told me that they would love to have me start first thing the next week. It was a Friday that day.

On Saturday I played a sold-out Sofar gig with Selin. It’s a big deal for any musician; if you want to know more about Sofar Sounds, click here.

While playing a song called “Take My Time” I started crying. I can’t say exactly why; the audience was incredibly supportive, my bandmates played in perfect harmony with each other, and the atmosphere was crowded with emotion. Some audience members had that tearful shimmer in their eyes as well. I guess it was a mixture of all of those things. It was embarrassing and cathartic and joyful all at once. At that moment I knew that it would be absolutely insane for me to work at an office in a corporate setting, talking to prospective clients on the phone, closing deals with partners, and holding meetings with shareholders and company executives. I am fully capable of doing all those things but that particular moment on stage made me realize that passion trumps income.

I called the company the next day and told them off.

I had no money in the bank, no other possible job opportunities lined up, and £2,500 due for rent in two weeks.

Neat.

Option two it is, then.

I’ve worked with coffee before and loved it, so I applied for a part-time position as a barista at my local specialty coffee shop. I did a trial shift, pulled some decent shots, poured some decent latte art, and got the job.

My life could have changed completely if I took the consultant position and stuck with it. I could have made a lot of money and had a stable, secure job with a pension and a company Mercedes-Benz. I could have had enough money to buy a brand new Nord Electro 6 and no time to actually play it. I could have joined the legions of money-crazed businesspeople and said terms like “KPI” and “ROI” and “NPV” a lot. #LetsGetThisBread

However…

My life is changing either way and I’d rather sacrifice Michelin-starred restaurant meals for pasta leftovers in return for the chance to establish a personal connection with people through the medium of music, for the chance to make audience members tear up and smile, for the chance of participating in a meaningful conversation using the universal language, for the chance of making enough money to live by doing what I love.

If all else fails, I’ll just move to Lisbon, Portugal, and call it a day. Sayonara mi amigo.

 

Many of you are wondering what I’m doing with my time now that I’m not a university student anymore. This post is going to answer that question.

Two things:

First, I moved into a house in East London. It’s been an incredible and almost ridiculous journey, but here we are. Many thanks to those who cared enough to help us get here; you know who you are. The funny thing is that this house is up for sale, so we might have to move out again after 6 months, but at least we have a working base for now, so that’s good.

Secondly, I’m starting a new company. Some of you might have heard of Sesh Records already. So here’s the deal:

Most artists need to work full-time in order to fund their part-time creative endeavours. That has become something that musicians have adopted as the norm because it is, in fact, the normal thing to do at this point. But if you spend 40 hours of your week working a job you don’t even like (or you work part-time and attend university), that leaves very little room for hours you can spend making music; and even if you make music, your lovely neighbours will complain about the noise and/or you won’t have the energy to make quality music that you truly enjoy. I know I’m speaking to the choir here as most of you are musicians, so you know what I’m talking about.

In any case, that sucks. What sucks more is that, even if you’re lucky enough to have the option of making money with your original music by playing live shows, the stage and sound equipment is usually in terrible condition, you have to pay £5 for a beer which costs the bar £1 to make, and most times the money you get paid only covers your travel costs, if that. So who is the organiser paying? Are they paying you for your music or are they paying Transport for London for their Underground service?

The issue is that artists are so desperate for gig opportunities that they’ll grab anything, even if it’s merely “good exposure” instead of life-sustaining money. This enables organisers and venues to give artist a sub-par deal, because there are countless musicians in London, so if you don’t take the deal, someone else will. It goes so far that some event companies will even ask artists to pay in order to perform, which, I believe, is the definition of the word “satanic” in the Oxford English Dictionary.

All things considered, that’s one big problem. My new company is going to solve this situation by raising the quality of service artists receive for their work and restoring value to good independent music. I believe that good artists should be enabled to make good art, because they’re literally the only people in the world who can do that.

I’ve spent the last 8 years figuring out how to manifest these ideas by talking to many experts in different fields about their thoughts on how to make people’s lives better. These discussions have opened the doors to an almost forgotten area of economics within the subcategory of investing that deals with investing in people rather than in projects.

I’m keeping the description of the company relatively vague because I don’t want to divulge too much information at this stage. I just wanted to let you know that I’m actually doing this now because it’s the best use of my time after dropping out of uni.

And also because it’s a vision that is bigger than my own ego, therefore it requires teamwork, trust, dedication, and a few more noise complaints before we can afford our own studio space.

So we’ll see how well this goes with the new house and the new company.