Monday, February 06, 2017

If you play the game right, you're gonna lose.  What?  You ARE going to lose.  BUT... You're also gonna win.  NOT talking about the superduperbowl.  If you're a singer, a composer, an actor, a painter and in doing so you're a TRUE artist, there is a "game" you play.  It's a serious game.  A trumpet player friend who played in Buddy Rich's band told me about the game.  Every time he played, he tried to make it better than the last time.  Two things he realized: 1) It's a losing game to play because you get to a point when improvement is so slow it is hardly noticeable, if at all.  2) There comes a time that you ARE good enough for what is needed AS A PROFESSIONAL.  BUT (and this reaches beyond the moon) you still keep playing the game of trying to improve beyond where you are.  When you stop trying to improve, well, that's the level of artist you are.  "Art" is an unwinnable game from this perspective but the great thing about it is that there is no limit to it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Thought, Word, and Deed

I remember a bumper sticker on a guy's truck. He was the right hand man of an ex-felon gold smuggler who became a multi-millionaire in commercial real estate. The ex-felon (gold laws have since changed) bought properties when the economy was down and sold when it was up and kept maybe 100+ million, which he leased out. His right hand man, who never was as wealthy had a bumper sticker on his truck which said, "The one who has the most toys when he dies wins." I once thought a little like that but was never a multi-millionaire. I had all the arrogance and then some, though. By choice, now, I have very little in the way of "things". I do have some clothes, including over 100 shirts but they mostly sit and are not used. My time is spent writing novels, screenplays, music, and musicals and doing some teaching and some traveling. I think we have 7 computers between the two of us but very little furniture and no car. I don't think that I AM what I do, though. Not at all. It would be easy to say that I am a musician, singer, writer, composer but I do those and the "am" part lies far behind the activities. I was in architecture and other things www.chuckstewartpresents.com/chuck-stewart/ but they don't define me and they don't enslave me and they don't put me in a box. If someone were to say, "What do you really do?" implying that I had to choose one thing, I finally have the answer. I express through creating and the field, the genre, the activity are the vehicle, but not the driver of it.
Chuck Stewart is a composer, musician, singer, and writer.
chuckstewartpresents.com|




When air pressure is reduced in the air stream emanating from the lungs, this results in diminished pressure and tension of the vocal folds (used to be called "vocal cords"). Three simple ways to do this are: warming up with lip rolls (lip trills) OR on tongue trills as in a "rolled R, like in Spanish or on a phonated 'Z' and done on: tetrachord plus one-up and down, on arpeggios or even on octave glissandos-ascending and descending. These also can be reversed pitch-wise. Now the good news. There are vocal coaches who teach this and also charge as much as $500 per hour. I, myself, paid $175 an hour for this and to learn much more, a few decades back. Over 200 Grammy winning singers and singers from all styles and genres, including Broadway warm up like this. Why? Because it works and it causes no strain (if you do it correctly) and it can help ensure a career that lasts and a voice that is freed up, relaxed, and endurance is better than NOT warming up. It is better than the old bullshit things done in most choruses led by pitifully inept people and also by the vocal coaches who should not even be in the business, spouting all the worthless clich├ęs, most of which reveal absolute ignorance of anatomy, physics, and acoustics. For instance, if you think you "sing from your diaphragm" you do NOT know how it works. Talk to a pulmonary physician if you want some expert opinion on that and if you think you sing from your diaphragm after that conversation, you might want to see a physician who works with people with delusions. The diaphragm has no proprioceptive nerves in it, so you cannot even feel it. Do NOT blame me because I did not make or design your diaphragm. It is also the "INHALE muscle" and the expiration of air is done by the elasticity of the lungs and thorax. It is NOT my fault. If the expiration of air is forced, it is done by the internal intercostals, the triangularis sterni, and the rectus abdominus (abdominal muscles). WHY would I mention this? Because if you distract yourself with typical misinformation, not only will you never improve, but you also will have your attention in places of fantasy and your musicianship and your sound and your performance will suffer greatly. So... I did not design or make the human body but I have taken the time to study anatomy and to work with some physicians (5 of whom were students of mine) to verify that my information is correct. I am not the source, so don't attack me.

How long should a person warm up? Until the person is warmed up. Some days it could be 5 minutes. Some days it could be longer. People are biological but not always logical. Life is not the same as inanimate objects, possessing predictable quantifiable control or results like structural steel and operate within the confines of the laws of physics although those do also apply to peoples' actions such as: inertia, momentum, acceleration and other principles. If a person warms up for 20 minutes or more and is having any difficulty singing, it is not the warm up which is the issue. It is lack of correct training, done correctly and a failure to comply with the participation with the knowledge, which we call practice. This brings us back to a person at rest tends to remain at rest unless acted upon by an outer (or inner) force...inertia

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

DON'T sing when you are sick!!!!

When you are sick, don't sing! If you do, you risk injury if you have a cold, you may also have swollen vocal folds. Swollen tissue is more easily injured. Think of the last bad pair of shoes you had and got a blister and you felt pain but you kept walking. Then it broke and you bled. This happened to my wife a couple of months back. It proves the point. Irritation can lead to a blister and a blood blister and you do NOT want that on your vocal folds BECAUSE those are ...precursors to nodules (callouses) and they do NOT vibrate correctly. If nodules are surgically removed and you are left with scar tissue, it also will not vibrate the same as normal tissue and your sound may suffer horribly. If you are hoarse, do NOT sing! Hoarseness is the sound that swollen vocal folds make. It should be a warning signal to you! Read this: http://www.msn.com/…/adele-cancels-second-phoen…/ar-BBvKtrF…

Friday, August 12, 2016

MARKETING

Marketing.  Marketing is the weakest skill most artists have.  Most artists who have "made it big" have done so because of actions taken by a team.  Marketing is the difference between success and failure.  Most singers, musicians, actors, artists, and entertainers fail miserably at marketing themselves.

Marketing brings about awareness of your existence as an artist.  If the world does not know about you and why you are unique and what your art looks like, you may as well be living in a little shack out in the middle of the forest, with no roads which lead to it.  You are a hermit.  You are unknown.  You are hidden.  You need to be discovered.  If you leave it up to chance, don't count on anything changing.

What can you do, to be found, to be known? 

You will be successful to the extent that you know how to market.  I wish that this weren't true, because it takes work and time and attention.  It also takes some education.  You don't have to get a bachelors or masters degree but you do have to know what works and what doesn't work.  This is the real make or break point in a career.  If you hire someone to do it for you, you might be doing some outrageous things that you are unwilling to do.  Think Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, and Madonna, years ago.  What if you don't like wearing a meat suit, strange shoes, being overtly sexy (if not vulgar) or being outrageous in other ways?  The truth is that everyone did not do those things but the truth is also that you absolutely have to know how to attract attention.

Ask me how.

Friday, August 05, 2016

FRUSTRATION!

FRUSTRATION

Someone said that "the cure for frustration is patience".   It sounds good.  It sounds nice.  Is it true?  Usually frustration will happen when you are trying to do something, anything, and it is not going like how you would like it to go.  It could be that something in general is not happening at the rate that you expect it to happen.  Maybe you are stuck in the low side of a learning curve and it feels like you are not moving at all.  So then you feel a feeling and (if you're really stupid, as I have been) you make up a story to tell yourself.  You give it all a "meaning".  I'm not smart enough.  I'm not good enough.  I am stupid.  I am not talented enough.  I'll never get this.  It is ___________ fault.  Fill in the blank with: parents or friends or enemies or competitors.

All kinds of things can be frustrating, when you practice.  The first thing to do is to stop.  Usually there will be one of two things missing: 1) knowledge or 2) experience.  Experience can include little, insufficient, or no practice.  Find what you need and continue.

It is very unrealistic to expect something to simply happen of its own accord.  You should have already learned this in life, but if you didn't, now is a good time.  Think of the bad time you had at the dance you went to and you sat in a chair and at the end of the night you went home in tears because nobody asked you to dance.  Why did you go in the first place?  If you went there to dance, you danced.  BUT...  If you went there to be asked to dance, you set yourself up to be total effect.  When you are total effect you are not participating in life.  When you are not participating in life, you may be apathetic.  Unless you have a damned good reason to be apathetic, you're being pathetic.

Your attitude toward life and your attitude toward practice have everything to do with your outcome and your progress.  Do you persist or do you resist?  Do you look to the end goal or do you look at your inability to be perfectly perfect the first time through something?  Do you persist at learning or do you resist learning?  You can be your own worst enemy but that does take more effort than just getting the job done.

A LIFE LESSON

I spent decades practicing: singing, piano, composition, arranging, trombone and other things.  I wanted to be as great in the "real world" as I could be in my mind.  I could envision what and how I wanted things to sound.  To be at your best in any art, you can be passionate all you want but you must approach things with the appropriate emotions.  Frustration is inappropriate for creativity.  So are anger, rage, violence, hate, and other heavy emotions which will make art turn to something less than art.  You can put those emotions, as appropriate, into lyrics or performance or songs but when they are turned against yourself, you will slow or stop all progress.

I have felt frustration, anger, rage and even self-loathing and self-deprecation and none of those are constructive.  I have thrown things, broken things, punched holes in walls and none of that helped my music get any better.  It just made more problems that had to be solved.  The amount of time wasted with negative emotions can be ridiculous.  If you ever think you are being stupid, you may be, if you go through all the drama just to end up having wasted your own time and opportunity.  Practice is an opportunity.  Treat it with respect and your art can be more respectable.

One night I was with a friend in his recording studio (which I had designed--I also did the mixing room for NBC Burbank).  We were working on an arrangement of an original song written by my daughter.  He was "laying down" some guitar fills.  He played a few notes and made a mistake.  He hit rewind and record.  It happened again--the same mistake.  Rewind.  Record.  Again, the same mistake.  Rewind.  Record.   Perfect this time.  No reaction and no emotion and no wasted time.  No chairs flew across the room.  There were no Anglo-Saxon expletives being screamed from his mouth.  No fists through walls.  Nothing kicked across the room.  No wasted time.  What was the objective?  To get the guitar licks recorded perfectly.  This happened in a span of maybe two minutes.  Nothing was hurt.  No one was offended.  No respect was lost.  The man is a phenomenal musician with phenomenal credentials and had been one of my mentors for over 20 years.  His focus was on having it right, NOT on why it wasn't or THAT it wasn't and his focus paid off.   I knew he could play anything with anyone but in this brief episode resulting in perfection, he taught me more about being a true professional.  Patience is not only the cure for frustration, it can head it off at the pass, partner! 

Monday, August 01, 2016

How Did I Get Here?

Have you ever asked yourself:  "How did I get here?"

Maybe you found yourself in a bad spot or a tight spot or an impossible predicament and you asked, "How did I get here?"  Maybe you found yourself suddenly noticing that your improvement was incremental and you didn't realize how good you had become at something that meant everything to you.  It is at that point in time to take a look and assess how you got there.  Why?  You want to stay there once you are there, don't you?

My father played piano most days after he came home for work.  Sometimes he would show me some things.  He was a very good amateur who could somehow rise to a professional level when he sat in with professional musicians.  I was curious and interested in what he was doing and how and one thing he told me was to learn chords.  I found a book about chords and, at the age of fifteen, I learned chords.  I learned major, minor, 6ths, 7ths, augmented, diminished, 9ths, and so on.  Then I tried to play from piano sheet music, just looking at the guitar chord symbols and found that I could play songs: melody in the right hand and chords in the left.  It was a bit awkward until I learned inversions.  It was good to get away from everything in root position.  One thing that helped was my father taught me "Satin Doll", which was played by Duke Ellington's band.

Flash back to the forties.  New York City.  A 21 year old navy lieutenant out for a good time is in the venue where Duke Ellington's band is playing.  You would have to know my father to understand the audacity of what was about to happen.  Cutting to the chase, he sat in on drums with Duke Ellington's band.  Decades later, he did the same, except on piano, playing...you guessed it...Satin Doll.  It was at the West Virginia governor's inauguration ball.

So, knowing chords is only important if you wish to play piano or write music.  It certainly doesn't hurt to hear chords and to understand what you hear, if you are a melodic-type musician, such as a singer or any instrumentalist.  It is an absolute necessity, if you have any aspirations of playing jazz.

A college class that is five days a week, an hour each day, with homework, sounds grueling.  To make it worse, it is at 8 AM.  You cannot stay up late and party for long and show up for that class before exhaustion sets in.  Therefor, you learn something that is not part of the curriculum.  You learn that you either prioritize your time or you fail.  What was that class?  Music Theory.  It used the Walter Piston book.  Piston' birthday is the same as mine.  That's odd, because that is where the similarities cease.  The teacher was a famous composer of modern music.  How did I get here?  Oh yes, I tested for the class.  What was the test?  Before I answer that, I should point out that there were 300 freshman music majors.  A few at a time were put into a classroom with no piano in it, were given music manuscript paper and a pencil.  A professor walked in and said, "Write out the melody line to "The Star Spangled Banner."  I wrote it out perfectly and that got me in the hardest music theory class.

I lost my edge after losing my high school girlfriend.  I stopped going to class for a while.  Before this, late one night, my roommate played random notes on the piano and I could hear which notes they were, without looking.  It turned out he could do the same.  We both had a disease--perfect pitch.  It is useful but I don't know how to teach it to anyone.  I don't see colors or pictures or numbers; I just hear and know notes and their pitches instantly and without analysis.  The same goes for chords.

I got a phone call in the dorm.  Dr. Whear was on the phone and he invited me to meet with him. We got together and he let me know that I had something that is "very rare and only one other person in the class also had this thing".  I knew it was my roommate.  He was talking about "perfect pitch".

Dr. Whear asked me, "What do you want to do with your life?" 

I said, "I want to write music."

"It's a very lonely life, writing music, but I think you could do that.  I would like you to please come back to my class.  Would you do that?"

I agreed.  Five days a week.  8 AM.  Lots of homework.  I got ok grades on my compositions.  I broke some rules with Baroque-style 4 part writing.  That annoyed him and also my on-purpose mis-pronunciation of Mozart.  A music theory rebel, I was.  It is part of how I got here, though.  I would say that being a music major is more time intensive than majoring in almost anything else.  There is a huge amount of practice on the major and minor instrument (or voice) and add to that the so-called core curriculum that everyone gets: English, Math, etc., ad nauseum.  Then you get the picture that it may be more than an engineering student will do time-wise and maybe more along the line of a medical student.

If you have plans of being a songwriter, you might consider that time to learn and study and practice will determine your outcome.  You cannot really fail.  You can quit, though.  You also can self-sabotage, by not learning your "tools" and their use.  If you don't put in the time and the study and the practice, you are the cause of your asking yourself (as you wait tables or do other jobs):  "How did I get here?"  You took the steps that lead to the place.  No on walked them for you.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Get Your Goal

Any time that you think that you are not good enough, not talented enough, not smart enough, not skilled enough, not knowledgeable enough, then you...YOU are lying to yourself.  This does not apply to all people but it does apply to you.  Some people are not up to the task but YOU are. 

You are at a fork in the road.

One side leads to success.  The other side leads to murdering your joy, your dreams, your aspirations, your goals by pretending that you are not who and what you are.  You can put your energy on one or two places:

1) trying to find WHY you have doubts that cripple you or

2) gather up all that is inside of you and force yourself to do the work but do not make it bigger than what it is.  That only will lead to being overwhelmed and that leads to murdering the artist in yourself.  It IS life or death but you will make the decision to live or die as an artist and following that path.  You will have to make choices and decisions every day and perhaps every hour but it is as simple as a thought in the direction of your destiny. 

As you progress toward your life as an artist, you will gain confidence and strength.  Evaluate your assets and also your deficits.  In reality, negative people or negative thoughts or criticism are enemies to your goals.  You don't need to attack them but you do need to not let them affect you any more than single a drop of rain would.  It is insignificant.  Small changes, building over time, lead to the fulfillment of your goals.  This is just how it works.  It has been said that patience is the cure for frustration.  Part of knowing the rules of the game is knowing that playing within them works.  Violating them leads to frustration, losing time, and pain.

You may have made the tasks appear larger than what they are and have caused yourself overwhelm or you may have thought of a longer runway than what it actually is and have overestimated time.  It takes less time and effort than what it feels like and you could only know that had you already achieved your goals.  So, you must have some faith and belief of the possibility of this being true. 


We are not born walking but we do walk.  You can only build on success but it is incremental, never instantaneous.  You are today, where you are on a path to success.  For some reason the plan or the map has not been clear.  Let me know if you need help with that and we can implement a myriad of sequential steps, done within a time frame. 

The first step is to make a decision.  That sounds simple, in and of itself.  It is.  However, the word decision, can be made to mean that you cut off all possibilities of NOT doing what needs to be done.  When you "don't feel like doing it" or do not do it, you are going the wrong way and are literally creating unhappiness and possible failure.  The thing to do is to act.  Action is much more powerful than thought in the achievement of goals. Don't get this wrong, though.  Thought is very very powerful and is capable of either starting or stopping your progress.  The best thing is that thought can also help you change direction and to keep you moving in a straight line to a goal, instead of being distracted from it. 

You need a rigid and unchangeable policy in place to handle any pattern which is stopping you or slowing you down which can include both thought and action or the lack thereof. Without a policy of how you operate as an artist, you will be subject to every little whim of yourself and others and may wake up one day, still lying to yourself that you are too old and that it is too late.  Now is the time, your time.  It is the only equal asset that the living have.  Use it and prosper or waste it and suffer the consequences.

 Write down your policy for yourself and let me know what it is.