In the ‘off-season’ between tours, I undertook a course with Cari Cole all about how to turn musicianship into a profession. There were some great technical and artist developmental tips, as well as an introduction to other artists at all levels and ages, but the most value I got from the course was the slap-in-the-face common sense approach that if you want to make money as an artist, you need to treat it as a business. It’s all so easy to say “if only I didn’t have to work to pay the mortgage, I’d have enough free time to develop my craft enough to earn enough to pay the bills as a full time artist” (believe me, I know; I still find myself saying it!). Cari’s focus was that this is a state of mind that provides an excuse for not succeeding rather than a real cause. By structuring the artistic development during what spare time you do have, coming up with a plan and then getting out there, you set off a snowball that builds confidence, skill and networks. By opening yourself to collaborating, seeking external advice and support and ‘doing it scared’, you find that a lot of the roadblocks are your own creation. Personally, I’ve found that instead of just focusing on the end point (“I want to be here”), I’m now looking at how to aim myself in that direction and am enjoying the journey. A musical pilgrim indeed!
So with encouragement from Cari and all the people I met through the course, I started song writing again. I had done a little in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, but it fell by the wayside when the band I was in moved away from originals in order to get more work. Mindful of the ‘you’ll never be completely ready – just go and do it scared’ tenet of the course, I went to a local Muso club to perform some of the songs. From that performance I was invited to play for the SCALA (Songwriters, Composers and Lyricists Association) , and from that I was asked to go into Radio Adelaide on a Saturday morning to have a chat and play a couple of songs. It all happened so quickly once it started, but I’ve changed my focus to the tour again, so the solo stuff has gone to the background again. At least now I’ve been blooded, and so when I get back from China, I’ll have the platform in place to hit whatever direction I want – Solo Originals, Solo Covers, PlanB in Adelaide… maybe a combination of them all? And apart from all that, diving in like this introduced me to Adrian Miller, who ended up being our keyboard player for the China tour – see Synchronicity or Serendipity?
Getting in shape physically and vocally and re-learning the songs
I’m not the most physically active person on the planet and I knew that come July, a string of shows in a row was going to require some fitness. My first wakeup call was a couple of Christmas photos, which was then reinforced by a very rude little Japanese man on the Wii-Fit. Having an office job in close proximity to KFC, developing a liking for Hudson’s fruit scones and frequent morning teas weren’t doing me any favours. I started off with little things like taking the stairs to use the bathroom on a different floor when at work, getting off the bus one stop earlier, walking to the bus where possible instead of driving, giving up the 1 sugar in my morning coffee (couldn’t bring myself to actually giving up the coffee) and making an effort to walk past the cream biscuits in the kitchen at work. I’d been doing that for a couple of months and it did seem to help. A bit. So I needed to shift it up a gear. I used to run a little and that was great for using up heaps of energy in a short amount of time, but my back doesn’t like it much. Swimming is another favourite, but it’s just impractical. So I planned to hit the treadmill, which is now conveniently located in my music room in the shed. Karen (my wife) asked me to move it there because it was taking up too much room in the house… I wonder if there was a hidden agenda? Hmmmm.
Apart from the physical fitness, I needed to get myself in training vocally, too. It’s not as if I don’t do any singing; I usually have a bit of a go most nights with the guitar, I’d play and sing in the duo for 3-4 hour stretches a couple of times a month and I’m trying to build up a solo rep, but I didn’t think these were enough to get me in tip-top shape for the tour. I knew I’d be up late, probably in smoky venues, singing harder night after night. I’ve got several different vocal exercise courses on CD and MP3, but they’re more about learning techniques to sing better rather than strengthening.
So it’s all about setting aside enough time to work on these two things, plus doing my solo stuff, the duo stuff, overseeing the recordings, doing the grant applications and being involved in the tour planning. Oh yeh, and I have a job and family. One good thing is that I don’t remember being bored for a l-o-o-o-ng time.
In the end, my preparations were good enough. We had two full days practice when we reached China before the first gig, and I bought a humidifier for the room. As we went from show to show I found my voice strengthening rather than wearing out, which reinforced that I was doing it right. Thank you, Cari Cole and Brett Manning.