Author Archive

Finding the Right Musicians

It’s a sad fact, but the best musicians are not always the right ones for your project. You may like the drummer’s playing from such-and-such band, but before committing to have them on a gig, make sure that their professionalism lives up to their chops. Someone who seems very invested in your music may or may not have the experience to come up with appropriate parts. So how do you know who will do your music justice and won’t waste your time?

This drummer's on the wrong gig.

Seek out recommendations. I wouldn’t hire someone to paint my house before checking with a referral. If you don’t have the personal experience working with someone, it’s always good to ask for others’ opinions. Friends, colleagues, and other members of your band will be eager to recommend someone with whom they’ve had great experiences working before.

Once you’ve got a lineup for the band, taking into account your budget and the size and aims of the gig, make sure that they have what they need to know your music inside out. Don’t send too much, or too little.

Read more

Why Keep Doing What You Love?

We’ve met lots of kids here on our travels through Latin America: kids fortunate enough to learn English in American schools and visit family in the US, other kids who have never left their hometown. We’ve seen kids 8- to 12-years-old working on construction on a poorly maintained mountain highway.

Clinton Curtis and Gray Reinhard pose with local children after our concert in Danli, Honduras

Last night, before our open-air concert in Danlí, Honduras, some disheveled-looking kids asked me for change. I apologized, but as I asked them about their town, their home, their expressions changed from miserly to curious. It was as if they had never before met an American who wanted to know about their lives. They asked about the band, about the kinds of music we play, about who we are and where we come from.

There are times when my practical nature questions the value of encouraging others to pursue artistic pastimes. For as many who are fortunate enough to carve out careers in what we love to do, there are countless more who flounder. If it’s so hard to make a living playing music with all the opportunities available to us in New York, is it right to encourage a child in a developing country to pursue their passion when it may frustrate their ability to build a stable life and family?

Students at La Casa De Cultura, Danli

But somehow, meeting these Latin American kids with (often, though not always) less opportunities than I’ve had gives the phrase and sentiment “keep doing what you love” new resonance. Why is it worth shooting for, no matter what your background? Because it’s difficult. Because not everyone gets to do what they love. But because some of us can, and because when we lead lives enriched by our passions, we can share and exchange that wealth with everyone else we can reach.

Justin Goldner is a bassist, guitarist, producer, songwriter, language junkie and lover of culture in all its manifestations. Follow him on Twitter @JusBass.

Preparing Songs for Your Band

How can you as a musician or artist be heard above the static? How can you distinguish yourself so that you are the one that gets remembered, that gets the call for the next gig and the gig after that?
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Artists: How to Effectively Prepare a Band

There’s no one way to get your band together. Miles Davis, James Brown and The Beatles, for example, all had notoriously different ways of running their bands, of working together (or not working together), and all made excellent music.

The harder it is for your band to listen to your songs, the less likely they are to know them!

There are, however, several principles to follow that will ensure that everyone takes your music seriously and that result in a much tighter musical unit.

Preparing Songs for Your Band
Send a single demo of every song. Make sure that the demo is listenable, easy on the ears, and representative of how you want the song to sound. YouTube and other streaming media are a no-go– if your band is able to get it to work, they’ll likely only get to hear it once. Read more

Respecting People’s Time

People often ask what it takes to be a working musician in New York City. How can you as a musician or artist be heard above the static? How can you distinguish yourself so that you are the one that gets remembered, that gets the call for the next gig and the gig after that?
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Respecting People’s Time
There’s nothing more important than showing your coworkers, collaborators and friends that you respect their time. The nature of the music industry usually requires that people invest all of their free time in several projects: if you’re not performing, you’re preparing for a gig. If you’re not creating new music, you’re promoting the music you’ve made. If you’re not booking a gig, you’re working on marketing. The vast majority of musicians need to play with numerous artists and/or work numerous jobs to make ends meet and get to do what they love.

So if you show them that you respect their time, they will respect yours. How can you indicate to people that their time is valuable to you?

Show up on time. If, as a musician, you show up late to a rehearsal, not only do you waste the artist’s time (and possibly money)– you waste the time of every other musician in the band. If, however, others see that you are prompt and efficient, you will stand out and are likely to be on everyone’s list for the next gig.
Read more

American Music Abroad Tour: Merengue in Santo Domingo

This month I’m on tour in Central and South America with the Clinton Curtis Band, through a very special program called American Music Abroad. Organized by American Voices and the U.S. embassies in each country, they send numerous American musical groups around the world to perform and engage in cultural exchanges.

Colonial Zone, Santo Domingo

We just finished a week in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic filled with several concerts for absolutely outstanding audiences. We also had the chance to give several master classes for Dominican students, which has been one of the most rewarding parts of our tour so far. It’s as if we have the opportunity to rectify every sub-par educational experience we had in childhood, and the responsibility to pass on every positive educational experience from which we benefited to the next generation.

Moreover, we’ve met tons of incredibly talented kids who are eager to share their own talents and cultural background with us. Yesterday after our master class at UASD in Santo Domingo, music students showed us some traditional merengue rhythms.

Learning New Skills for the Gig

People often ask what it takes to be a working musician or artist in New York City. How can you as a musician or artist be heard above the static? How can you distinguish yourself so that you are the one that gets remembered, that gets the call for the next gig and the gig after that?
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Sometimes, a gig may come up that requires you to do something outside your comfort zone– it could be playing a style you’re not familiar with, arranging vocal parts, or learning new software. These are the best opportunities to gain new experience and develop additional skills that you can turn into further gigs in the future.

You’re a guitar player and a gig needs a banjo double? Now’s as good a time as ever to invest in an inexpensive banjo and learn the ropes. You’ll make the investment back in the gigs you’ll gain with this new skill in the future. (You’d be surprised…or maybe not… at how many artists don’t know a banjo player).

Learning new instruments or software can be daunting, but taking a challenging gig can be a great opportunity to develop new skills.


Read more

Being Over-Prepared: Tips for Artists & Bandleaders

How can you as a musician or artist be heard above the static? How can you distinguish yourself so that you are the one that gets remembered, that gets the call for the next gig and the gig after that?

When you walk into the rehearsal room or recording studio, you will want to make an immediate impression– of professionalism, of precision, of creativity– of all that it is that you do and that you do it well. If you walk in unprepared, there’s simply no way that you can be at the top of your game.
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Continued from Being Over-Prepared: Tips for Musicians & Singers


Tips for Artists/Bandleaders
If you are an artist or bandleader, have everything on hand that you may need to prepare for the show, and make sure your musicians have them in enough time to prepare adequately: a setlist, listenable demos, appropriate charts, and any ideas that you may want them to realize. Send them mp3s– preferably not flooding their gmail inbox. If the musicians can listen to the tunes on the go, they will get to know them better. If the band needs to learn the songs by streaming them from YouTube or another site, they won’t be able to distinguish the parts as clearly and won’t be able to hear the songs as frequently. My favorite way to send and receive tunes is with Dropbox, Sugarsync, or any other platform that lets you send a link to the downloadable mp3. The fewer intermediate steps that stand between a musician and the music they need to learn, the better they will know the music.
Read more

Being Over-Prepared: Tips for Musicians & Singers

How can you as a musician or artist be heard above the static? How can you distinguish yourself so that you are the one that gets remembered, that gets the call for the next gig and the gig after that?
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

When you walk into the rehearsal room or recording studio, you will want to make an immediate impression– of professionalism, of precision, of creativity– of all that it is that you do and that you do it well. If you walk in unprepared, there’s simply no way that you can be at the top of your game.

The fix is simple: be over-prepared. Learn everything ahead of time. If you’re a sideman, know every note of your part. Have it charted out. I find that making your own charts helps to memorize songs, as I can later visualize the form in my head. The more time that you take to learn tunes and develop a personal and effective way of notating what you need to know, the more efficiently you’ll be able to learn them.
Read more

New Year, New Voices, New Ideas

People often ask what it takes to be a working musician or artist in New York City.

No matter who you are, or how good you are at what you do, something very special about New York– or, I imagine, any other major arts hub– is that there is always, and will always be someone out there who is better than you. Some people find this intimidating, but for others it can be incredibly inspiring– there is always someone to learn from and an impetus to ceaselessly improve your craft.

But how can you as a musician or artist be heard above the static? How can you distinguish yourself so that you are the one that gets remembered, that gets the call for the next gig and the gig after that?

This year I’ll be exploring some of the skills and practices that I’ve observed in the best musicians, singers and artists in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville: those that I respect most– those that have managed over years to build a solid profession on being the best of the best. I’ll be interviewing some of them about their skills and sharing my own experiences and observations– and hopefully, you can share your comments as well.

For another spin on 2013, the Subdiversity blog will be joined by culture producers and curators karmeck360– (a.k.a. Morgan Karr and Lindsay Meck), contributing their own angle on the interaction between live and social media in the 21st century. More on that in days to come.

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Justin Goldner is a bassist, guitarist, producer, songwriter, language junkie and lover of culture in all its manifestations. Follow him on Twitter @JusBass.

Holiday in Turkmenistan

This Thanksgiving, I took turkey to the extreme with a trip with the Clinton Curtis Band to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan to perform at the American Culture Days Festival organized by the U.S. Embassy. For those unfamiliar with the Central Asian steppes, Turkmenistan is a former Soviet state nestled between Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. It’s capital, Ashgabat, lies 10 miles from the border with Iran.

Clinton Curtis & Geoff Countryman visit music conservatory students in Mary, Turkmenistan

Things started getting exciting when we arrived at the gate in Istanbul for our midnight flight from to Ashgabat. We were greeted by a plethora of women in gorgeous Turkmen dress who employed some serious puppy dog eyes when asking me to carry aboard some of their (abundant) duty-free bags. We were careful to walk the thin line between offending anyone and inadvertently carrying contraband onto an international flight.

When we landed at 4am after about 24 hours of traveling, we were informed that Americans rarely fly in via Istanbul, because in the case of bad weather, the flight diverts to Tehran. My initial disappointment was supplanted by relief when we learned that Americans in Tehran without an official invitation are promptly jailed. Guess we dodged a Persian-rug-sized bullet.

Turkmen Ministry of Water building, shaped like a plunger

The city of Ashgabat is dotted with enormous, gleaming monuments, built since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and set against the backdrop of mountain ranges surrounding the flat desert city. The Ministry of Gas is designed to look like a giant Bic cigarette lighter, while the Ministry of Water is somewhat reminiscent of a plunger. The ornate “Palace of Happiness” is where newlywed couples go to register their marriages.

Portraits of their current president adorn the interior– and exterior– of most buildings and the national airline. Not only a dentist, he is an avid equestrian as well as a guitarist and accordion player. We were given complementary encyclopedic volumes that he wrote on “Medicinal Plants of Turkmenistan”.

Monument to former president Saparmurat Niyazov that previously rotated to perpetually face the sun

The trip was particularly special because we were able to experience a taste of Turkmen culture with companions, including the phenomenal bluegrass band Della Mae, the jazz virtuosi of Ari Roland Quartet, and New York breadmeister, founding owner of Sullivan St. Bakery and Co., Jim Lahey.

But the Turkmens’ response to us was also overwhelming. Volunteer students, seemingly from the upper echelons of civil society (many were ethnically Russian), flocked around us before, during, and after the concert. After gigs with Ryan Beatty and Ed Sheeran, I’m accustomed to how to act around starry-eyed teenagers (hey, I was accustomed to being one), but the distinctive element here was that we too were bubbling over to have been catapulted here halfway around the globe, meeting these people whose lives and experiences differ widely from our own but whose interests and aspirations are so familiar.

Clinton Curtis & Della Mae sport traditional Turkmen hats

Della Mae and Ari Roland’s group put on tightly calibrated, wonderful shows for a very receptive audience. We stepped on stage last, unsure of how an auditorium filled with dignitaries of conservative generations and students of arts institutes would respond to our overly cranked amplifiers and raucous posturing. Clinton is, of course, incapable of playing it safe. We opened with “Best You Can“, and tossed each other sidelong glances as he delivered ambiguous lyrics on Cat Stevens. As the set ground on, we repeatedly elicited unison clapping from the audience. It soon became clear that there were widely different factional responses, from hardened women in traditional dress with intractable scowls, to younger kids whose enthusiasm was contagious. Experienced in drawing some reaction, anything from a crowd, we quickly resolved to leave our everything on stage, do with it what they would. As we skanked through “Only Way Out”, Clinton left them with an impromptu screaming guitar solo worthy of Marty McFly. In that moment, I wondered how many Turkmen teens were developing plans of musical world domination like those that we in the band still nurture.

My own inclinations for the situation were perhaps a little bit safer, but once the gauntlet had been thrown down, I had to follow. “Riverside Hotel” tumbled into a drum and bass breakdown, but how do you communicate to an audience who may never have seen such explosive live drumming just what is happening on stage? I climbed onto the bass amplifier, unaware that it was perched precariously between two levels of the stage. 15 seconds of energetic wobbling could have ended in physical and diplomatic disaster, but somehow I managed to stick the landing right as Clinton and the band flung us into a double-time coda. Springsteen would have been proud. The Turkmen Minister of Culture was not as easily impressed, later requesting that I not repeat the stunt for our closing concert.

4 out of 5 of us discovered the hard way that many foreigners get sick the first time they visit central Asia and we spent several days bowing to the porcelain throne. In the midst of digestive troubles and band members dropping like flies, Clinton, saxophonist Geoff Countryman and drummer Drew McLean toured the city of Mary, once a major stop on the Silk Road, and put on a moving improvised performance there for local students and dignitaries. Fortunately, the rest of us were able to pull ourselves together for our final concert Sunday evening. After our performances, we were invited back on stage to join the native performers in a 15-minute disco clap fest. (By that point, half of the audience seemed to be on stage with us.)

We were also surprised to discover that the American Culture Days Festival was sponsored in part by Chevron, ExxonMobile and the Ashgabat-Alberquerque Sister Cities Foundation. According to Wikipedia,

Research conducted by the World Pensions Council (WPC) suggests that Turkmenistan’s political isolation ended remarkably in the years 2011-2012 as US, Chinese, Russian, Iranian and Turkish institutional investors courted Ashgabat, vying for a piece of the world’s fourth largest reserves of natural gas.[25]

On the way back, a few of us made a stop in Istanbul, which after a week of no sleep seemed rather like Valhalla. Istanbul is one of the most beautiful, enchanting, historically rich and cosmopolitan cities in the world– an onion layered with thousands of years of eastern and western culture.

Stepping into one of the scores of local music shops near the Galata Tower, constructed after the 1453 Ottoman capture of Constantinople, our noodling quickly sparked an impromptu jam session with passers-by. Not to be outdone, the store owner whipped out an Ottoman military double-reed called a “zurna”, which is easily the noisiest and least in-tune instrument you will ever hear. Gray Reinhard shredded on a bağlama sax, whilst Clinton Curtis and each I brought home a fretless “cümbüş” (pronounced joom-boosh), a hybrid instrument between a banjo and a rice cooker. You can expect the sweet smell of rice and some vaguely out-of-tune noodling at a Clinton Curtis show in the near future.

Here you can see even more photos from our trip – taken by Geoff Countryman and Clinton Curtis. Thanks to Clinton and Geoff for the generous use of their photos and videos in this post, and to the U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan as well as the Turkmen government for making such a unique trip possible.