I packed up my car and got ready to hit the road. I was about to drive two hours away to play in a small cafe. Or so I thought.
I still remember where I was when I shoved that piece of paper into my backpack.
I was 15 years old and hadn’t yet written any songs. I mainly played songs by Coldplay, Jack Johnson, and The Beatles, not my own originals.
But at my family’s annual vacation on the lake, I started my first song. I sat on a bed in the finished basement of our vacation house, holding a notepad, a pencil, and a timid song concept.
I wasn’t trying to impress any girls and I wasn’t even thinking I would record the song.
I was just writing. No reason. Just because I thought it would be fun.
But, to my startlement, I heard footsteps. Right in the middle of my first songwriting session.
Without thinking, my hands shoved the paper and pencil into my nearby backpack. The sound of the footsteps got closer.
I pretended to be looking inside my backpack for something as my cousin walked by and said hey.
Whew. She didn’t suspect a thing…
I know. Ridiculous, right? Why was I keeping my first song a secret from my own family?
If you’re a young songwriter, don’t be like I was. Share your music. Get uncomfortable so you can eventually get comfortable.
RELATED: Books On Creativity
You won’t get better at (or even enjoy) songwriting if you don’t share your music with others. That’s what I’ve found anyways.
If you don’t have anyone in your life that you’re comfortable sharing your songs with, email me. I’d be happy to give you some encouraging thoughts.
Don’t hold it in. It’s not good for you.
I’d like to take a second to say that Evernote is awesome. I use it to write every one of my songs nowadays. And you can get a free month of Evernote Premium right here. Enjoy.
I have a 1962 Harmony Stratotone electric guitar. And I found out — at the worst possible time — that it sounds terrible.
This is a guitar that my dad found in the trash — it was in a foreclosed house his realty company had just bought. When I plugged it into my amp, I was shocked that it actually worked.
I use the term “worked” lightly.
Last year, some friends and I played a bunch of shows to raise money for my wife’s and my adoption fund (we’ve since adopted!).
But during one of those shows, I play this electric guitar, plugged into a Fender amp.
We started playing my song “Lunch Money,” but after a few bars, it was obvious something was way out of tune.
Something was terribly off.
That’s when, in the middle of the chorus, I realized the problem was my trash-to-treasure guitar. Apparently, it was still trash.
I stopped the song, quickly switched to my acoustic guitar, and started the song over. If I couldn’t bear to listen to it, neither could the audience.
(Fortunately, it was in a bar where not many people were paying much attention).
But my mistake started much earlier than this concert. It started during rehearsal.
You see, if I had practiced the right way, I would’ve realized, “Oh, crap, this guitar’s intonation is awful and I should borrow someone else’s.”
I learned that I should practice exactly the way I plan to play the concert. This means I should use the exact instruments, the same stage setup, and a similar amount of energy that I will during the show.
(I’ve read how many artists even plan out what they’ll say in between songs — the friendly banter they’ll have with the crowd or what they’ll say about their merch table).
So this is the lesson to take from this story: always practice exactly how you will play the concert.
This is Joe Saylor’s route to CBS.
In this role, which he and the band earned last year, he has assumed the title of “jazz cowboy,” according to the buzz on social media.
Well before stepping onto the Colbert stage, he and his band opened a concert for rapper Asher Roth. Saylor played tambourine while his bandmates played melodica, saxophone, and tuba.
“These people came to see a rap concert,” Saylor said. “And what they saw first was basically two toys and two archaic instruments.”
Saylor told the story:
“About ten minutes into it, people just started booing and we had never experienced that before, and we just kept playing and we just kept going harder and harder.”
It still was not going well, so Batiste, the band leader, gave Saylor the green light to solo.
Saylor said he was thinking he had to get the crowd into it, and then he noticed a nearby microphone. During his solo, he smacked the microphone with his tambourine with so much force that the stand fell to the ground, causing eardrum-blowing feedback.
The crowd went wild.
“From that point on, they loved us,” Saylor said.
If you were to go back in time even further, you would see him selling his drum set just to make a living. He was determined.
Even if he had been driven to homelessness, he said he would still be sure of his choice to pursue music.
“There was never a time where I wanted to give up or had any doubts,” Saylor said.
His drive to become a jazz musician started at 12-years-old when his father took him to see Roger Humphries, Pittsburgh-born jazz drummer who’s played with folks like Dizzy Gillespie and Ray Charles.
“That night completely changed my life,” Saylor said. “From the minute I walked into that club, I knew I wanted to play jazz. Roger changed my life.”
Throughout school, Saylor played the trumpet and the upright bass, yet the drums stayed constant for him. Ever since the age of three, he had been playing drums on a kid-sized kit that his father bought him.
Saylor said his love for drums first welled up in church when he watched the worship band’s drummer.
“I would always watch him play,” he said. “I was fascinated.”
Then after graduating from Indiana Area High School in 2004, Saylor set off on his pursuit of a career in jazz. He earned his bachelor’s at Manhattan School of Music then later his master’s at Juilliard School.
His tenacity to be his best is clear in the way he plays his instrument.
You may see him gripping the crash symbol against his body as if it were trying to escape while he beats it with his drumstick. Other times, you may see him drumming on the body of his kit as opposed to the skins.
He has even placed his foot on top of his tom drum during a solo.
The skills he has developed have earned a lot of people’s admiration, but he doesn’t seem to get distracted by that. He said he wants to focus on uniting and uplifting people with his art.
“Anytime that I play music for people and it touches them and uplifts them in a certain way, that’s always the best feeling for me, to know that I have that kind of impact,” he said.
“My goal is to uplift and love people through music.”
Even if it means selling his drum set or risking a life on the streets. Even if it means withstanding a booing crowd or sharing the screen with celebrities.
This article first appeared in my music-magazine-turned-podcast, Musicateur.