email: tom.bajoras@gmail.com    
         

Archive for Advice

12 Things I Learned About Starting a Business (by Starting a Business)

The first thing I learned by starting a business is that it’s best to just do something. If you have an idea for a business, and you love the idea, and you believe it to be a good idea, then just run with it. If it doesn’t turn out great, or even if it fails, learn from your mistakes, and do it better next time. If you sit around just thinking about how to do something perfectly, you’ll never do anything. So rather than sitting around thinking about how to write the perfect article about this, I’m just going to jump in and start writing! Here then is a list, starting with the second thing that I learned by starting a business.

2. If you don’t love what you’re doing, don’t do it! Even if it’s something that can make a lot of money. Failure isn’t the worst thing; the worst thing is succeeding at the wrong thing.

3. Be sure that what you’re doing is a business and not just a hobby. If your thing is disruptive performance art, then by all means go ahead and play bagpipes while riding a camel through a subway station… but don’t think it’s a business.

4. No matter how much you love what you’re doing, it’s not going to succeed as a business unless it’s something that people want to buy.

5. Starting a business is SUPER difficult and requires a FULL commitment. You can’t do it in your “spare time.” You will have no spare time! If you’re already married, it’s going to be even harder. If you have kids, you can pretty much forget about it.

6. If you’ve got what it takes, starting a business can be the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done in your life. Yes, it’s difficult, but it’s also wonderful.

7. You can’t do it alone. So, for example, if you need to do marketing, hire a marketing person. If you need to do PR, hire a PR person. If you need to create a web site, hire a web designer.

8. If you can’t afford to hire people, then you’ll have to share equity. If your dream is worth believing in, then there will be people who will be willing to share your dream.

9. You’ll be amazed by how good other people are at what they do. You need to surround yourself with smart, passionate people, who know and love the thing that they do as much as you know and love the thing that you do. If your thing is programming, or baking, or fixing cars, then do that. Don’t waste your time trying to do marketing. You’re a not a marketing person. Someone else is a marketing person, not a programmer/baker/mechanic.

10. Ask yourself what you’re good at. No, not just good. Ask
yourself what you’re freaking amazing at! Those are the things you should spend your time doing.

11. Never hire friends. Never work for friends.

12. Business plans are worth less than the paper they’re printed on. But if you want to write one to help organize your thoughts, go ahead and do so. Just remember to throw it away when you’re done writing it.

Each one of these points was learned by painful trial and error. I could probably expand on each of these points. Maybe I should even write a book. Except I’m not a writer. See #9 above.


I’ve been working with sound or music in one form or another for over 50 years. For half of those years, starting in 1991, I took a detour and founded Art & Logic, a custom software development company. Starting in 2008 I’ve been able to take a step back from daily operations of Art & Logic. To enjoy my semi-retirement I did what any other insane person would have done in my situation: start another company. So I’m now running a small audio production studio. I’m happy to report that I’m learning all the lessons over again that I learned from starting my previous company.

Nine Ways To Disaster-Proof Your Studio

We’ve all been there. It’s 11pm on Friday, and the deadline to deliver the finished mix is noon on Saturday. You settle into your studio cockpit, and your computer greets you with “cannot find the audio files for this session.” Or maybe you’re in the middle of recording the most awesome vocal performance that this planet has ever heard… and there’s a power failure. Or, heaven forbid, you walk into your studio only to find that the computer, your 1959 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst guitar, a dozen bottles from the wine cellar, and the emergency cash are all missing.

You can never be 100% safe from all possible disasters. For example, if the zombie apocalypse starts tonight, I wouldn’t sweat the string arrangement for tomorrow’s session. But as a professional you owe it to your clients to be prepared for the most common kinds of disaster.

1. back up your data

1. Back up your data.

I bet you saw this one coming. You do back up your data, right? No? Then go do it right now. Seriously. Even if you don’t come back and read the rest of this article, I’ve done my job.

Back up often. Back up everything. At the very least, just connect an external hard drive, and copy all your data to it once a week. These days, external hard drives cost only $40 per TB. Each time you do this, create a new folder with today’s date. When you eventually run out of space on the external hard drive,  then just delete the oldest backup folder to make room for the newest one each week. With this simple manual solution you won’t lose more than a week’s worth of data. If you’re paranoid, then back up more often. You can also do daily partial backups (back up just the projects that you worked on since the previous backup), and do a full backup once a week.

There are also online backup services. Probably the best known is Carbonite, but there are others. Modern operating systems come with their own backup utilities, so you probably don’t even need to buy additional software or subscribe to an online service unless you want more control over the backup process: If you use a Mac, you already have Time Machine; if you use Windows, you already have the built-in Windows backup utility.

2. save often

2. Save often.

Software sometimes crashes. It’s a fact of life. And here’s a theory based on personal experience: When software crashes, it’s usually right when you’re doing something important and haven’t saved your work in a while.

So get in the habit of saving your work often. When (not if) your software crashes, you’ll only lose the work that you’ve done since the last time you saved it. People notice that the “S” is wearing off my computer keyboard; that’s because I use the key command to save my work so often. I don’t even do it consciously anymore; it’s not like a timer goes off inside my head every 5 minutes that says “time to save your work.” I just do it without even thinking about it. Save immediately after you’ve done an important edit, or right after you’ve recorded something, or right after you’ve typed a sentence. (Yes, I just saved my work after typing that.)

Depending on what software you’re using, it might even have an “auto-save” feature, which saves your work at regular intervals. It might be wise to enable that feature, but be aware that it could interfere with audio functions that access the hard drive. If you save your work manually (but frequently) you can make sure that you only save when doing so doesn’t interfere with something else.

3. use a UPS

3. Use a UPS.

That’s “uninterruptible power supply,” not “United Parcel Service.” A UPS is basically a big battery that goes between your equipment and the AC outlet. If the electricity shuts off (for example, a tornado knocks down the telephone pole in front of your house, or you forgot to pay your utility bill), the battery keeps your equipment running for a few minutes. How long depends on the size of the battery and how much you have plugged into it, but it means you’ll have time to shut everything down gracefully before the UPS battery runs out.

This is important because otherwise equipment can be damaged, or data can be lost.

4. have extras

4. Have extras of everything.

There are things that you can’t have too many of: batteries, pens and pencils, blank recordable CDs, cables (audio, power, data), bottled water, business cards, etc. Keep a good supply on hand.

In situations where you need to provide a certain number of something, add one or two beyond the number that you need. For example, last year I was in charge of the PA system for a friend’s outdoor wedding. When I asked him how many mics they would need, he said “just one.” To his surprise, I said “OK, I’ll bring 3 mics, 3 mic stands, and 3 mic cables.” When we got to the wedding site and started to set up, it became apparent that the bride and groom couldn’t share the mic with the singer, because the singer was standing quite a distance from the couple, and it would have looked terrible to have the mic move back and forth between the two locations. And then, sure enough, the pianist arrived and
came up to me and said “I’ll be singing harmony; do you have another mic?” So we used all three of the mics, stands, and cables that I brought.

That’s just one example of why you might need more mics than you thought you did. There’s also the possibility that one of the mics won’t work, and you’ll be glad that you brought an extra.

Other things for which you’ll want to have extras in case something stops working or gets lost right when you need it: your computer mouse, headphones, and whatever is needed for your particular instrument(s) such as strings, picks, rosin, and reeds.

5. heed early warnings

5. Heed the early warning signs.

Sophisticated electronic gadgets sometimes are polite enough to announce their impending demise. A few scattered bright green dots on your monitor might mean a dying video card. A high pitched sound coming from the hard disk might mean all your files are about to go to file-heaven.

If you are fortunate enough to be given a warning, assume the worst. Save your work. Back up your data. Replace that video card or hard disk.

Too often we continue to drive a car, day after day, even though the “check engine” light is on. Then one day, probably in the most inconvenient time and place, the car dies. It’s the same way in the recording studio. I don’t know why, but people will say “that whining sound? Oh, that’s just my hard disk. It’s been doing that for the last month. What did you say? Back up my data? No…why?”

6. keep your gear in shape

6. Keep your gear in shape.

You know what they say about an “ounce of prevention,” right? Create a studio maintenance checklist. Once a month, run through the checklist and make sure everything is working. Keep your software up to date. Test the odd piece of gear that you only use once a year. Make sure the refrigerator is stocked with bottled water and craft beers.

7. install a security system

7. Install a security system.

Part of successfully operating a recording studio is to advertise its existence and location, and to brag about the cool expensive instruments/equipment that live at that location. Unfortunately this also means that you are broadcasting to potential burglars.

So it just makes sense that you should have a good lock on the door, and you should keep it locked. But I also recommend installing a security system. Companies like ADT (www.adt.com) provide video surveillance and 24/7 monitoring. Smartphones and apps provide numerous possibilities for protecting your studio against burglaries, fires, floods, and so on.

And that brings us to a related precaution…

8. have insurance

8. Have insurance.

There are two kinds of insurance that you should have: property insurance and liability insurance. Property insurance covers the replacement cost of your equipment if your studio burns down, gets blown over, gets flooded, or is flattened by a stampeding herd of cattle. Liability insurance covers medical and other expenses if someone other than you gets injured while in your studio.

It’s reasonable, and usually not very expensive, to have both kinds of insurance. In the first case you’re probably laughing and saying “Yeah, right, what are the chances that my studio will burn down?” and in the other case you’re probably laughing about improbable scenarios like a singer trying to hit a really high note and suffering a brain aneurysm. To be sure, both kinds of event are very unlikely, which is why the insurance won’t cost much. But if you are extremely unlucky, and one of these things happens, without insurance you might be faced with enormous repair costs or legal fees.

If your studio is in your home or on your property (such as a detached garage), don’t just assume that it is covered under your homeowner’s policy. Consult with your insurance company. It could be, for example, that your homeowner’s policy doesn’t cover your studio if it is being run as a business.

9. no liquids

9. Enforce a “no liquid” policy.

One of the lesser known consequences of General Relativity is that the gravitational attraction between a cup of coffee and a piece of equipment is proportional to the replacement cost of that equipment.

I’ve been there on more than one occasion, so let me summarize briefly: cappuccino + laptop = not pretty. So next time you’re tempted to set your cup of coffee, water bottle, glass of wine, or anything else in liquid form next to your mixing console, Steinway grand, or MacBook Air, stop. Instead, put it somewhere that’s at least ten feet away from anything valuable. Consider also posting a sign on the studio door saying “no liquids, please.” Even if no clients ever walk through that door, the sign will serve as a reminder to yourself.

 

Did I leave anything out? Of course. It’s the unknown unknowns that eventually get us. The zombie apocalypse might even have already started. But if the zombies cut the power lines, at least my UPS will let me save my work before they break down my door.

On Self-Reflection

Look at yourself in the mirror. What do you see? Now… what do you really see?

When was the last time you held a mirror up to your inner artist and tried to give honest answers to questions like these?

  • What are my strengths?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • What do I like doing?
  • What do I not like doing?
  • What do other people like about my art?
  • What do other people not like about my art?

You can take this as far as you want to. It can be as simple as “what are my best songs / what are my worst?” or, at the opposite extreme, it can be “what do/don’t you like about me?”

Now comes the even harder part: Find a mirror. By that I mean a couple close friends. Really close friends. I don’t just mean the people you like to have a few drinks with, watch some TV, or go to an occasional sporting event with.

I mean someone you’ve known for at least half your life, someone who has stayed your friend despite the two of you having grown as artists and as human beings, someone with whom you’ve had arguments and disagreements, perhaps even temporary periods of not being on speaking terms. Someone who has stood with you in your darkest hour, and someone for whom you’ve done the same.

For the purposes of this exercise, someone other than your spouse.

Now ask those close friends to answer the same questions about you and be brutally honest. The exercise can be reciprocal (but only if the other person agrees). Make a verbal contract ahead of time that you will not be offended and that this will not hurt your friendship; in fact, if done in the right spirit, it can strengthen your friendship. But you’ll need to be prepared to hear things like “I think your songs are great, but you’re not a very good singer.”

Now on to the next part. All the self-reflection in the world isn’t much good without subsequent action. For example, “you’re not a very good singer” can lead to actions like (1) not singing, (2) teaming up with a good singer, or (3) taking voice lessons. Or “your piano instrumentals are your best work” might prompt you to start working on a new collection of piano instrumentals. But if you’ve chosen to go to a deeper level with this self-reflection exercise, then comments like “sometimes you say things that seem like gossip” might lead to a healthy habit of double-checking what you’re about to say before deciding whether to say it. Or “you have always been a faithful friend” might simply mean “keep doing that; that’s worth more than art.”

 

The Art of Listening (Part 1: Instrumentation)

I deliberately used the word “instrumentation” instead of “orchestration” because I thought the latter might be too limiting. One immediately thinks of Beethoven, Ravel, Rimsky-Korsakov, and a whole lot of other European guys (let’s face it; they’re mostly guys). Even “instrumentation” might be a bit limiting, because not all sounds that make up music are necessarily instruments in their own right, but let’s go with “instrumentation” in the sense of “a combination of sounds.”

I had a good friend, an accomplished musician, with whom I used to sit and listen to classical music while reading scores. One day he arrived at my house, a Wu-Tang Clan CD in hand, and excitedly said “you’ve got to hear this!” He popped the CD into the player, and my cat, still somewhat shaken by a recent high volume listening of King Crimson’s “Larks Tongues in Aspic,” sensed danger and quickly left the room. Gun shots! Shouting! Sirens! My friend hit pause and said “what do you hear?” ” I hear gun shots and sirens,” I answered. “And what else?” He paused for dramatic effect and then said joyously “Sleigh bells… Gun shots, sirens, and sleigh bells. The instrumentation is pure genius.”

I could write many pages about instrumentation, and I can’t imagine how many pages it would take to say what I don’t know yet about it. We could look at recording different instruments, balancing between them, placing them in a stereo or surround image, how these change over time, what sorts of EQ and reverb settings are used, and so on. We could look at the bigger question of what the instruments are actually playing, but this of course quickly gets into theories about harmony and counterpoint, which would take up even more pages.

But let’s just focus on one thing: listening to music intentionally, trying to know what sounds are happening at any given moment in a piece of music. Try to be able to answer the question “what were you just hearing?” if someone were to press the pause button. You can do this with pretty much any piece of music, whether it be Beethoven, Beatles, Beastie Boys, Bajoras, or The Band Whose Hit Song You Are Mixing Right Now.

One technique that I’ve found useful is to pretend to be a bandpass filter, ignoring fequencies outside of a range, then gradually adjust that range until there’s something that you’re not ignoring. Try listening to just the bass. Then listen to just the high frequencies. Lastly, try the middle frequencies. For most kinds of music the middle is likekly to be most difficult, because it will have the most instruments wandering in and out or living entirely within that range.

You can also separate sounds by listening to the stereo domain: Hear only the sounds in your left ear; then hear only the sounds in your right ear, etc.

Then do the same thing in the amplitude domain: Hear only the loudest sounds, then hear only the softest sounds.

This sort of “selective hearing” takes practice. Start with simple instrumentation. Listen to a piano and violin piece and hear only the violin. Then listen again and hear only the piano. Once you can do this, try a piece of music that has three instruments, maybe piano, bass, and drums. Move on to various kinds of quartets. It can help to ignore the melodic and harmonic content of the music, e.g. don’t start humming along with the melody; listen to it as sound, not music.

Over time you’ll be able to mentally “de-orchestrate” increasingly complex music.

You can also learn to ignore groups of related instruments. For example, listen to a song and ignore all the vocals. Then listen to it and ignore all the instruments.

If you have a digital audio workstation, try loading a piece of music into it, select a part of the music, then set that part to play in a loop. As it loops, write down all the instruments that you are hearing. Even if you don’t know the name of the instrument, write down a brief description of it: oboe, female lead vocal, guitar, gun shots, sirens, sleigh bells, or just “weird shimmery thing.”

These are exercises, not to be confused with actually enjoying music. The theory though is that if you do these exercises, you’ll increase your ability to distinguish between different instruments, and you’ll be able to hear subtle nuances that you couldn’t hear before. And the better you can listen, the more you can enjoy.

You’ll also be able to understand how to make kinds of sounds, and you can construct a pallette from which you can paint your own collections of sounds. You might even keep a notebook or a folder of audio samples illustrating techniques. This can become a life-long obsession. Some people collect stamps; other people collect comic books. Why not collect sounds?

Ten Simple Ways to Write Better

If I could go back in time and give advice to my graduating college class, I would tell them, regardless of their career aspirations, learn to write well. I could give a million examples why good writing is important, but here are just a few:

  • when you write a letter accompanying your demo CD to the music supervisor at a music licensing company
  • when you send an email proposing a collaboration with another artist
  • when you write a comment on the music blog that just reviewed your latest project

Knowing the basic rules of grammar and punctuation, not to mention spelling, will make your communication stand out from the crowd. There’s nothing like ” i would suggest listenning to some jazz or for more understanding of something out of place but being intentfullly done that way, maybe some noise so soften you into the concept haha” to send the message that you are 14 years old and playing an out-of-tune guitar in your parents’ basement.

Here are ten very basic guidelines to improve the quality of written communication. This is just a list of very simple, mechanical, principles that address the most common mistakes in writing, so if you just follow these there’s a good chance that your writing will be above average. Obviously, writing goes far beyond these mechanical things. In today’s world of hyper-abbreviated channels like text messages, Facebook comments, and tweets, you’re not going to be constructing elegant story arcs, but hopefully you’ll still be able to impress your readers and make them want to hear a little more from you… or at least not make them want to hear less.

1. Use a spell-checker.

This one is such a no-brainer that it’s hard to understand why people skip it. When I was working in the HR department of a software company, it was amazing how often we saw cover letters from applicants with simple typing mistakes such as “I’m an expert in web desine.” This suggests sloppiness, which is not the most desirable trait in a web designer.

2. Punctuation goes inside a closing quote.

  • correct: “This is a sentence inside quotes.”
  • incorrect: “This is a sentence inside quotes”.
  • correct: Here is a list of things inside quotes: “melody,” “harmony,” and “rhythm.”
  • incorrect: Here is a list of things inside quotes: “melody”, “harmony”, and “rhythm”.

3. Know when to use single quotes.

Single quotes are used to indicate a quote within a quote.

  • correct: “I heard that John said ‘yes,'” said Bob.
  • incorrect: “I heard that John said “yes,”” said Bob.

I don’t know why, but some people seem to want to use single quotes instead of double quotes, or to use single quotes instead of italics, or for any number of random things.

Technically, with each level of nesting you toggle between single/double quotes, but such sentences are hard for the reader to parse and can probably be expressed in simpler ways:

John said “Bob said ‘John said “Bob said.”‘”

4. Use italics to indicate emphasis.

If you have access to styled text, then italics is used to indicate emphasis. In text-only email you can enclose the *emphasized* text in asterisks. Don’t make up random ways of emphasizing text, like “putting it in quotes” or ‘putting it in single quotes’ or Using Capital Letters. And PUTTING IT IN ALL CAPS IS RIGHT OUT.

5. Don’t capitalize words that don’t need to be capitalized.

There are of course situations that call for capital letters. For example, if you are referring to the President, or if you are referring to an organization by its name, such as The American Society of Capitalization. But don’t just randomly capitalize things that Seem Important.

The title of a book or movie is in italics; the title of a story, song, or article is in quotes.

  • correct: Where God Went Wrong by Oolon Coluphid
  • incorrect: “Where God Went Wrong” by Oolon Coluphid
  • correct: “Fish Heads” by Barnes & Barnes
  • incorrect: Fish Heads by Barnes & Barnes

6. A comma separates the parts of a compound sentence.

  • correct: I went to the store, and I bought some guitar strings.
  • incorrect: I went to the store and I bought some guitar strings.

This is a compound sentence because each part can stand on its own as a sentence:

  • I went to the store.
  • I bought some guitar strings.

When the subject (“I”) of the second part of the sentence is removed, what we’re left with is no longer a compound sentence, and therefore there should be no comma.

  • correct: I went to the store and bought some guitar strings.
  • incorrect: I went to the store, and bought some guitar strings.

You can tell that this is not a compound sentence because the two parts can’t both stand on their own:

  • I went to the store.
  • Bought some guitar strings.

To help you remember this rule, remember that “compound” and “comma” both start with “com.” Then all you need to do is remember how to tell if it’s a compound sentence.

7. “Its” is the possessive form of “it.” “It’s” is the contraction of “it is.”

  • correct: It’s the best song I’ve ever heard.
  • incorrect: Its the best song I’ve ever heard.
  • correct: We love music for its ability to communicate pure emotion.
  • incorrect: We love music for it’s ability to communicate pure emotion.

8. “Their” is the possessive form of “they.” “They’re” is the contraction of “they are.”

  • correct: They’re almost finished mixing the album.
  • incorrect: Their almost finished mixing the album.
  • correct: Their first album was good, except for the song about fish heads.
  • incorrect: They’re first album was good, except for the song about fish heads.

9. Write out the numbers 1-10; use numerals for numbers above 10.

One, two, three, … eight, nine, ten, 11, 12, 13…

10. The Penultimate Comma

Ah, the penultimate comma…Hardly anything in the rules of usage inspires so much passionate debate. On the progressive side of the argument, the rule is “use it or lose it, but be consistent after you choose it.” On the conservative side, the rule is “give me the penultimate comma, or give me death.”

Here’s an example of a penultimate comma: I went to the store to buy mic cables, a mic stand, and a pop screen.

Here’s the example again but without the penultimate comma: I went to the store to buy mic cables, a mic stand and a pop screen.

So which one is correct? The answer is… it depends. Most business communication tends to be conservative and preserves the comma. But artists, well, they like to think different.

How to End a Drought

Some people have asked what to do when you’re in a dry spell as a creative person. We’ve all been there: You just feel burnt out, not enjoying what you’re doing, and you start to wonder if you’ll ever write another song again (or write a story, or paint a picture, or whatever it is you do). Here are three things that I’ve found work for me as a composer.

  • Take the pressure off and just allow yourself to have a period of time (weeks, months, or maybe even a year) where you don’t write anything. During that time instead just enjoy music. Listen to your favorite CDs, go to concerts, and rediscover what made you first want to become a composer.
  • Collaborate with someone else.  Work with another composer, or a lyricist, or a choreographer, or a filmmaker.
  • Learn something new. For example, if you’re a pianist, try learning to play violin. Or if you’re a composer, trying writing poetry.

I hope this helps end your drought!

How to Become a Composer

A young guy asked me this morning for my top three pieces of advice on how to become a composer. I told him:

1. Make sure you’re asking the right question. Do you already write music? Do you like writing music? If you didn’t answer yes to both of these questions, then my answer is that I don’t know. I also don’t know how you can become a squirrel. But if you do already write music and you like writing music, then you are already a composer. The question isn’t how to become a composer, but how to become a better composer. And in fact you’re going to be asking that question the rest of your life.

2. Listen to a lot of music. Listen to all kinds of music, even music that you don’t like. If you like something, figure out why you like it; and if you don’t like something, figure out why you don’t like it. Never let yourself get so busy writing music that you don’t have time to listen to music that someone else wrote.

3. Write music for at least 15 minutes every day, 5 or 6 days out of every week. Don’t just write music when you feel like it, because you won’t always feel like it. Sometimes your job is just to show up. Sometimes when you show up, even if you don’t feel like it, inspiration will meet you there.

Have a Seat

Working in the studio can be a pain in the butt. I mean that literally: After sitting in a chair all day long, it hurts! And that’s even though I paid over $500 for an ultra deluxe European chair from some designer whose name I can’t remember except that it had a couple umlauts in it.

If your job involves sitting for long periods of time, using a computer, then you probably also, at one time or another, have experienced pain in your back, neck, wrists, shoulders, head, or eyes.

Here’s a big word for you: ergonomics. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ergonomics, “ergonomics is concerned with the fit between the user, equipment and their environments.” Equipment might include a chair, a desk, a computer monitor and keyboard, a mouse, a MIDI keyboard, and so on, but I’m going to focus on the chair, because it’s the piece of equipment that you’ll probably use more than any of the others.

If you’re like me, chances are, your chair is where you’re going to spend most of your day. Yes, like it or not, this is your main axe. So don’t skimp. For about ten years I followed the “it’s just a chair” philosophy, so I spent as little as possible, but I lost count of how many times I went back to the store and spent “as little as possible” to replace my chair. After ten years I realized that it was time to reevaluate this strategy and spend an order of magnitude more on my main axe. I’ve never regretted it. For that order of magnitude increase in spending I got an order of magnitude increase in the life expectancy of the chair, and also a much less painful sitting experience.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some things to look for while chair shopping:

  • Adjustability: Make sure there are lots of adjustable parameters.
  • Arm rests: If you plan to sit in this chair to play a keyboard instrument, then you probably won’t want arm rests, so make sure they detach/re-attach easily. (Or buy a chair that doesn’t even have them.)
  • Weight: Generally, chairs that are heavier are built better and last longer. That’s not always true of course, but I’d be skeptical of a chair that I can toss across the room with one arm.
  • Fabric: That shiny black leather looks sexy in the showroom, but you might have regrets after sitting in it for ten straight hours. Consider instead a “mesh chair.” Mesh allows air to pass through the material, which keeps the parts of your body in contact with the chair at a lower temperature.
  • Comfort: This is highly subjective of course; what one person finds comfortable another person might find very uncomfortable. In order to find a chair that’s comfortable for you, I recommend bringing a laptop computer with you when you go chair shopping. When you’ve found a chair that you might want to buy, try sitting in it for at least 15 minutes, while using your laptop computer to write, surf the internet, or even do some audio/video editing.
  • Sound: Don’t forget that if you’re going to be doing any audio recording while sitting in this chair, you don’t want it to make mechanical noises as you shift in the seat.

One name that you’re going to hear as soon as you start researching chairs is Herman Miller. They’re sort of the brand leader in high-end chairs. And, to be honest, their chairs are really good. But they can be expensive. But some people swear by them. There are also lower priced brands that imitate (or “are inspired by”) Herman Miller.

I can’t recommend any brand names (mostly because I can’t honestly remember the brand name of the chair I’m currently using), but the main lesson I want to teach here is: do not underestimate the effect on the quality of your life that you’ll experience by sitting in a good chair.

Happy sitting!

Advice to Beginners

I don’t know if you’re a musician. If you are, I don’t know what kind of musician you are. Maybe you’re a songwriter; maybe you’re a classical pianist; maybe you’re a didgeridoo player. Maybe you’re a poet, a sculptor, or a choreographer. Throughout this article, I’ve used the word “songwriter,” but hopefully you can adapt this advice to your own creative pursuit.

I also admit it’s pretty darn bold of me to give advice to beginners, when I am in so many ways just a beginner myself. My music production company has been in business for less than a year. But on the other hand, I’m old enough to remember when CDs were invented and when mullets were cool, so I hope that with age comes some wisdom that others can benefit from. As I like to tell my mentees, “I’m not any smarter than you; I’ve just been around longer, so I’ve had time to make more mistakes than you.” (The mullet, by the way, was definitely a mistake.)

I’ve been thinking about what advice I wish someone had offered to me back when I was just a kid trying to write music, with the occasional crazy idea that someday maybe that would be the main thing that I’d be doing and that someone might be even crazier and be willing to pay me to do it. Alas, I can’t go back in time and offer this advice to myself, but the next best thing is to publish it here on the internet for all the kids (and those with child-like hearts) who still have these crazy dreams…

  • First of all, you aren’t trying to become a songwriter. You already are a songwriter. You’re just trying to become a better songwriter. You write songs? Then you’re a songwriter. The question of why you do it never even occurs to you; you just do it because that’s what you need to do. So ignore any voices (especially you’re own) that try to tell you that you’re not a songwriter yet.
  • Write a lot. Write often. Feel no shame in not finishing things (if something’s not working; abandon it and start something else). Learn the discipline of writing everyday, even if you don’t feel like it. (One of my favorite pieces of advice, although I can’t remember who said it: “So you can’t think of anything to write about? OK, write about that.”) Most of the fight is just showing up. I promise you that if you show up, the music will show up too.
  • Be prepared for inspiration to strike anywhere, anytime. Always carry some way of capturing those unexpected moments of inspiration. I recommend a miniature digital recorder. You can hum a melody, recite a few lyrics, even just describe an idea (like “hey, I should write a song about the old remains of a kite that I saw stuck in a tree”).
  • Collaborate. Most of the time you’ll probably write by yourself, but seek out opportunities to write with other people. Remember that co-writing, like love, doesn’t often blossom at first sight. The first (or second or third) time you write with someone, it might be hard and might not produce good results. But if there’s even a glimmer of hope that the collaboration can produce something that you can’t produce by yourself (assuming of course that you like that product) then go back for another try.
  • Spend time with people who know more than you. Oh man, how I wish someone would have told me this. You might even be surprised that older, smarter, more experienced people won’t mind having you around, as long you don’t become a nuisance. I saw a cool documentary about how Mark Knopfler likes to invite young musicians into his mixing sessions, as long as they stay silent and sit in the back and just watch. Some ideas: look for internships, go to symphony rehearsals (they’re usually free), take lessons, take someone to lunch and pay for lunch in return for just listening to their stories.
  • Be true to yourself. Don’t write the songs that you think people will like; write the songs that you like, then find other people who also like them. Imagine how awful it would be if you write a hit song in a popular style that you don’t like, and then everyone expects you to keep writing in that style.
  • It’s hard work. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. But it does mean that success is not going to come quickly or easily. You have to listen a lot, write a lot, practice your playing or singing, take lessons, etc.
  • Don’t wait for a song to be perfect before you record it or perform it live. Guess how many songs you’ll record if you wait until they’re all perfect…
  • Join a community of songwriters where you feel safe sharing your songs, getting constructive feedback, and being enouraged. You can find such groups through your school, your spiritual community, on bulletin boards at music stores or studios, and there are lots of “meetup” groups that advertise on the internet (for example at meetup.com). When you go to a songwriter meeting, each person is usually expected to bring one song to share with the group. There will probably be snacks and drinks and opportunities to talk to the other songwriters. This is a great way to find collaborators (see above) as well as people who know more than you (see above).
  • Get your music to be heard. There are lots of opportunities to perform live (count it an extra blessing if you get paid, but don’t expect it): coffeehouses, open mic nights, art galleries, farmer’s markets, talent shows, etc. And broadcast your music: Start a YouTube channel, a blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, use a music sharing site (like SoundCloud or Bandcamp), etc.

Obviously the list could go on and on. But I really do think that these ten things are the things that I wish I had known dozens of years ago. Instead I probably was fixated on getting my mullet just right, or saving up some money to buy the coolest new keyboard (so that I could sound like everyone else).

It’s been years, but like I said, I’m still a beginner (just in different things than before), so I’d love to hear any advice that you can give me