My First Song Was A Secret

I still remember where I was when I shoved that piece of paper into my backpack.

image via

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.

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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.

How I Messed Up During Rehearsal For My Concert

I have a 1962 Harmony Stratotone electric guitar. And I found out — at the worst possible time — that it sounds terrible.

Harmony Stratotone 1962

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 in to 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.

Or else.

Joe Saylor: From A Small Town To The Late Show

This is Joe Saylor’s route to CBS.

Joe Saylor

Saylor, jazz drummer and Indiana, Pa., native, landed a spot on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert as a member of the house band, Jon Batiste and Stay Human.

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.

Joe Saylor

“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.

I Will Never Play At This Venue Again (For Real)

I once played a show at a certain venue. And I will never play there again. Here’s what happened…

Caleb J. Murphy music
Not the gig at Cap’n Crunch Cafe

For the sake of the venue, I’m not going to use its real name — I’ll call it the Cap’n Crunch Cafe. I’m also not going to say what city it’s in and I’m going to change the name of the venue manager to Daniel.

Now usually, coffee shops don’t/can’t pay artists, but rather encourage them to sell merchandise and collect emails for their newsletter.

I understand this. And I knew before the Cap’n Crunch Cafe gig that I wouldn’t be getting paid. That was fine.

But because coffee shops often don’t pay, they always — in my experience — give you a free drink.

So, before the show, while the place was still pretty empty, I went up to the barista and asked if my bandmates and I could each get a free drink.

“Uh,” the barista hesitated. “I can give you like $0.25 off.”

“Oh,” I said.

Sort of a letdown, but I placed my order and got ready for the show.

Strike one, Cap’n Crunch. 

By the time we were ready to start, there were nearly 100 people in that cafe, which is way more than that place got on any regular evening.

It was packed.

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So we did our first set and it was really fun.

Then after the first set, we took a quick break. So I went over to the barista to grab my drink.

As I was getting ready to pay, he said, “No, man. No charge. I should be paying you for bringing all these people in.”

I took my free drink and we went back up to play our second set.

Now, the verbal agreement I had with the venue manager was that we would play for two hours. We played for a total of 1 hour and about 35 minutes, with a five-minute break in between sets.

I didn’t think it would be a big deal since we weren’t getting paid and we brought in a lot of paying customers. I honestly didn’t think anything of it.

But … several minutes after we said goodbye and thank you to the crowd, my bassist came up to me.

He said the manager was in the back complaining we hadn’t played for the full two hours, saying, “When I say two hours, I mean two hours.”

Yes, it wasn’t a full two hours like we had planned.

But if Daniel wasn’t happy about that, he could’ve come up to me and said something professional like, “Would you be able to keep the music going? You guys ended a little early.”

Totally fine with that.

It was not so much the request, it was the snarky way in which the request was conveyed.

Strike two, Cap’n.

So we went back up on stage to jam for the next 20 minutes or so.

But in the middle of a song, I looked over and there was Daniel, stage right.

He was making a cutting motion across his neck with his hand.

“You done?” he lipped.

Me and my bassist exchanged a glance, like I guess we’re done now. Apparently, our two hours were up.

Cutting us off mid-song was unprofessional, unnecessary, and made me feel like Daniel didn’t really appreciate us being there.

Strike three, Cap’n Crunch Cafe. 

So we cut the song short and said our second goodbyes and thank yous to the crowd.

And those were my last goodbyes and thank yous to any crowd in that venue.

Takeaway point: if you’re a musician and a venue treats you like this, just move on. Find venues that treat you professionally, whether they’re paying you or not.