Tuesday, January 07, 2014

My wish for 2014

I'm a simple man. All I ask for 2014 (besides at least enough wealth to be able to pay my bills and purchase what I need when I need it, and for all these aches and pains to go aaway and stay away) is for people to leave comments to my blog posts that are not spam. I even got one that said ". . . and I also subscribed to your RSS feed." Well, I don't have an RSS feed, so there!

If you have a website that is well done, tasteful and promotes music in general, even if it is mainly for self-promotion, I would be most happy to feature your site on my blog. But please don't post any get-rich-quick links disguised as blog admiration notices!

Tell us about your music. What have you done lately? Are you learning music, or are you a professional? What make/model instruments do you play? What are some of the obsticals to success that you have encountered?

Have a Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Creating a professional image for your musical act

I realize that I am long overdue for letting you all know what I have been up to. Although I have not been doing too many shows lately, I have been busy. I have been working in a new area which I refer to as “Professional Image Building” where I work with bands and entertainers to teach them the “tools” they need to stand out from the rest, such as creating a visual image on stage, planning an effective set list, connecting with the audience and creating memorable moments. When you see a live band or entertainer in concert, haven’t you noticed that some, although their music is good, they just don’t give you much to talk about when you tell others about the show, while other acts bring you to tears and leave you thinking that you have never seen anything that great before. This is the difference between a good band and a great band!

After almost 50 years of professional entertaining, I am now in a position to share with others what I have learned on these topics. What brought all of this on was that four years ago I joined a professional gospel show band. We rehearsed the music over-and-over until all of the mistakes were gone and we could perform the songs flawlessly under any conditions. But all bands do this, don’t they? What was different is that we spent much of our rehearsal time working on the show – what to say, who says what, how to talk to the audience, arranging our songs in the best order, arranging each song so that is creates a “moment” and captures the listener’s attention, and then sucks them into the song and transforms them, and so on.

When we put all of this to the test on stage in front of an audience, I could see how this made a huge difference in how we connected with the audience. After being in the business for so long, I already knew most of this stuff, but I never bothered to rehearse it and work on it deliberately. I also studied other acts, attended workshops and watch many videos by people who specialize in creating an image for a band. I took all of the knowledge I already had and expanded on it a lot!

I then felt that I would be using my talents better to help other musical acts rather than to concentrate on my own act, so I started putting on workshops. They were a success, and my new music career was launched.

Here is some of the things we work on in one of my workshop series:
·         Planning a set list
·         Your songs don’t sound the same, why should they look the same?
·         Moving on stage
·         Body language/eye contact
·         Planning a show
·         Using mic stands
·         Using stools
·         Volume and balance
·         What to say and when to say it
·         Creating a “moment”
This is only a small sample – there is naturally a whole lot more to it, but in case up until now you had no idea what I was talking about, perhaps you can now see the importance of applying these skills to your own act.

If you would like to discuss the possibility of having me work with you or your band, please contact me at tom@tomsmerk.com, and we can talk more about it. Every performer and band receives individualized counseling – there is not “one” formula that works with everyone. In fact, we will work on each individual song separately until the song creates a momentous connection with your audience. We will look at many songs on your set list, choose the ones to use in your show and discuss why other songs are best left off the list. In a band, each member learns their part in the show, both musically and visually.

This is a wise investment in your future, so please discuss this and hopefully get back to me. Good luck!

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Someone just wrote to say " I just wrote an гeally long сοmmеnt but after I clicked submit my comment didn't show up. Grrrr... well I'm nοt writing all that over again." There was no return address, so I just wanted to say how sorry I am that had to happen to you. The interesting part of the experience is that the reply was to a post from December 2011! I guess I had better be careful what I say on this blog, because people are going to be looking at these comments long afterward!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday wishes to all my friends!

As we move from one year into the next, I wanted to take a moment and wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Yes, you heard me right, “Merry Christmas!” I don’t go for the “Happy Holidays” routine – so sue me if I am not politically correct.

Musically speaking, I have been working with a 6-7 piece jazz band called the “Paragons.” The band has a trumpet and a sax player, and plays mostly dance music such as swing, cha-chas, tangos, sambas and some vintage rock and roll. The musicians in the band are very talented and experienced, so working with this band is always a lot of fun.

I have a new hobby. I got back into ham radio (I got my first ham radio license in 1988) and I've taken tests the first Saturday of the last three months until I finally worked my way up to the top level, "Extra Class'" which is as high as you can go in ham radio. Now I am studying FEMA courses and am getting some "Incident Management System" certificates, and will be doing some volunteer work with the Sheriff’s office and some ham radio emergency communications organizations. Whenever the next disaster comes, I should be fully credentialed and will be helping out with disaster relief and emergency communications. I also built a web site (http://radio.tomsmerk.com) that I will be using to provide news about local ham radio groups and clubs. If you are interested in ham radio, scanners, shortwave listening, CB radio, GMRS or FRS, check out my web site and see what you think!

So, back to music. When I play with the Paragons, I've been playing my big jazz guitar most of the time, the Heritage Golden Eagle, and I’m using a neat little Fishman Loudbox amp, which is very small and light, but it has 60 watts of power so it works well with the bigger band.

I still maintain my performance schedule at http://musician.tomsmerk.com/gigs.html, so hopefully you will soon be able to come to one of my shows. Don’t forget to say “hi” when you come. If I can ever do anything for you, feel welcome to contact me at tom@tomsmerk.com.

Happy Holidays! (Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Happy New Year 2011

Happy New Year. The year 2010 got busy toward the end, so I had less time to be a blogger. The new Rightside CD I mentioned earlier was finished on-schedule and is available at http://rightsideband.com. I also finished (finally) my own solo CD of praise and worship music. I started writing songs for that one back in 2007. For more information on “For The Faithful,” see http://musician.tomsmerk.com/forthefaithful.html. It is a collection of twelve praise and worship songs, including four originals. The rest of the songs are popular church hymns from "a few years ago," before all the modern music took over the worship service in the church. We sang some great timeless hymns back then, and I hope you will enjoy hearing some of them again.

I am currently writing and recording songs for my new CD, which will be an instrumental jazz recording featuring guitar. You can hear some samples of the new CD at http://musician.tomsmerk.com/tunes3.html. So far, I have identified seventeen songs for the album. Now I am thinking that maybe I should find three more songs and then do two CDs with ten songs on each. Or maybe I will go ahead and record all seventeen, then pick the best twelve to fifteen songs to be included on the new CD.

Recently, I have launched a new Facebook page to promote my music. Please follow the page at http://www.facebook.com/tomsmerkmusic. If you are a Facebook user, be sure to click the “Like” button so that you will receive updates of all the posts. Also on Facebook, I am trying to promote a “Facebook Group” named “Backstage Chat.” It is intended to be a place where musicians, entertainers, songwriters, speakers, concert promoters and support staff, music teachers, etc. can have a place to hang out and share information, stories-from-the-road, tips, advice, useful information, announcements, etc. Picture yourself walking in to a room where many of your favorite local or national entertainers are sitting around on sofas or at tables, relaxing, and "talking shop." The Internet makes this possible, and I'm hoping a lot of entertainers find this page and are willing to share a sense of community, from seasoned veterans with a lot of advice to share, to newbies looking for all the resources they can latch on to. A group FOR musicians BY musicians! Please check it out!

I am going to be trying out a new way of delivering my music a local small venue concerts such as coffee houses and open mics. I just recently purchased a new acoustic guitar amplifier, a Fishman LoudBox Mini. It is actually more than an acoustic guitar amplifier – it is a 3 channel system that includes a connector to plug in my iPod (or CD player) for my backing tracks, a guitar channel with a phase switch for acoustic guitar, and a microphone channel with XLR input. Both channels have separate reverb level controls, and the guitar channel also has a nice chorus effect. Each channel has separate volume and tone controls, and the tone controls are active, meaning that if the bass knob is set half way, it is set to “neutral,” or effectively not in use, and then turning it up adds bass and turning it down cuts bass. This allows me to get a perfect tone out of both my guitar and microphone. The aux input for my iPod doesn’t have any controls, it goes right to the master volume, but the tone is perfect without any modification (a credit to the iPod) and I can regulate the volume on the iPod itself. The tone on the guitar channel is excellent for both acoustic and electric guitar. I plan to set up one of each – my Martin D42 K2 for acoustic and my Heritage Golden Eagle for jazz, and then connect them with an A/B box to switch between the guitars. The amplifier has 60 watts of power, and it actually sounds like 60 watts. The whole amp is very small and light, so this new setup should make it very easy to set up for gigs. Plus, my sound will be more consistent from gig to gig since I will be using the same rig and not have to rely on house systems. If I need more volume, the amp includes a direct output (XLR) to plug it right in to the house system! I’m very excited about the possibilities. I think people will be amazed when they hear how much sound comes from this small amp. I will be using it for the first time on January 14, 2011 at Friendly Grounds Coffee in Santee. Show is from 6-7:30PM – I hope you can make it!

My wife, Peggy, had some health problems just before Christmas, so we went to Las Vegas for a week to rest up and have some fun. The Aria Resort & Casino in the new City Center development comped us one of the nicest suites we have ever stayed it. It was a “corner” suite, and had great views of the strip from every room. Even the bath tub sat surrounded by windows for a nice view while you soaked, but I didn’t have time to try it out. After a few days at the Aria, we moved to the Wynn Resort. Next to Bellagio, the Wynn is probably my favorite hotel and casino in Las Vegas. We had a wonderful stay at the Wynn, and also spent some time looking at the nice Christmas decorations at the Bellagio Hotel. We also checked out the new “Cosmopolitan” Resort & Casino which opened just a few days before we arrived. This brand new addition to the strip looks like it is also one of the fanciest,

Back home from Las Vegas, we enjoyed Christmas at home by ourselves, and then enjoyed the company of friends at two different New Year’s Eve parties.

Plans for the New Year are simple – keep working on the new jazz CD until it is finished, play the gigs I have scheduled, and try to get more paid gigs with other bands. I’ve already begun to accomplish that goal by securing a dance job with the Paragon Jazz Band in February. I’ve worked with this band before, and am looking forward to seeing some of my old friends again.

Until I get a chance to write more articles for my blog, I hope you will keep in touch other ways. Here is a list of the many ways you can remain a part of my life:

Website: http://musician.tomsmerk.com
Other Websites: http://tomsmerk.com
Music Blog: http://guitarwisdom.blogspot.com
Personal Blog: http://tomsmerk.blogspot.com
Music Page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/tomsmerkmusic
Personal Page on Facebook: http://facebook.com/tsmerk
Twitter: http://twitter.com/tsmerk
Email: tom@tomsmerk.com
San Diego Reader Page: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/bands/tom-smerk
Rightside band web site: http://rightsideband.com


Keep in touch!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Your songs don't sound the same, why should they look the same?

I was watching a Tom Jackson video recently. Tom Jackson’s work as a Live Music Producer has helped shape the public presentation of many of today’s artists from the stage. Originally from the LA area, he is now based in the Nashville area.

One of Tom’s comments from his video presentation was “Not all of your songs sound the same, why should they look the same?” After thinking about this observation for a while, I’ve decided that this is a big part in making the difference between an amateur music performance and a professional show.

Whether you work as a single or a band, there are many things you can do to keep your performance visually varied. If you are a singer, you have the choice of using a microphone stand or holding the microphone. M ix it up. Even within the same song, you could start out with the mic on the stand and then take it out and hold it as the song builds dynamically.

Another bit of visual variety that can be added is the use of a stool. Sit on the slow, soft songs, stand up on the more exciting stuff, and move around a little when the song really starts to build. You could start off a song sitting on the stool and then get up and place the stool behind you when the song picks up steam.

And when you decide to not use the stool or microphone stand, even the way you move it out of your way can show professionalism. Be quick and decisive about getting the stool or stand behind you, and don’t linger or stumble with the process.

Some props can also add visual variety. Hats, sunglasses, rubber noses, funny neckties or bowties, etc. are some examples. Don’t be corny, but rather, be tasteful when using prop gimmicks because they could backfire and make your act look cheap and amateur.

Move around on stage for visual variety. Sign part of the song from the right of the stage and part from the left. Return “home” to the center of the stage. Walk across the stage slowly as you sing on slower songs, of walk quickly and decisively to get from one point to another on the livelier songs. Or you can sing an entire song from the left, and then later in the show, sing an entire song from the right.

Body movement and “steps” can add some visual variety, but don’t try to do full-on Motown choreography unless that is what your act is all about. Just a simple side step to the left followed by a step to the right will suffice. Or you could just stand in one place and turn your body to the right or left. Little hand jesters such as a wave or a finger snap can help.

Where are you looking when you are on stage? Add visual variety by looking at different things and different places. Look at the front row of the audience. Look toward the back of the house. Look at another band member and share a smile or a head nod. Don’t just stand there all night looking at some noon-existent dead spot in the distance like a lot of performers do. Sometimes you can’t really see the audience because of the lights, but that shouldn’t change any of the above. Just try to see past the lights, or pretend that you can see.

There is more I could add, but I just wanted to get you started thinking about how you could apply this to your own band. Every act is unique and individual, so what works for one act won’t work for another, and not all this information I presented today will work for everyone. We can use the “comment” feature of this blog to share additional visual gimmicks that have been successful for you in the past. While I thank Tom Jackson for getting me thinking about this topic, I wanted to mention that all these ideas were my own from past experience, and although some are so common they might mirror things Tom has said, I had no intention of plagiarizing his teachings.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

New CD project underway

Saturday, February 20, 2010 found me in the “Upper Room” recording studio in Santee, CA to add the guitar parts to the new CD by “Rightside,” a local 9-piece gospel group that plays in the country rock style. I returned March 2 to finish the recording. The new CD is scheduled for release in April or May, and at this point, all seems to be on schedule. The CD will be titled "Living on the Rightside," and a special CD release party concert is scheduled for Saturday, May 22, 2010 at Pathways Community Church on Carlton Hills Blvd. in Santee, CA. A guest band (tba) will open the show.

The CD will include ten cover tunes, no originals, and the songs on the CD are:
Give It Away
Eagle Song
Rightside Of The Dirt
How Long
I’m Loving Life
Have You Traveled With The Lord Lately
Wine Into Water
Living For The Moment
Get Up In Jesus Name
Keep Walkin’

I listened to the last CD from Rightside, which was recorded at least two years ago, and this one should be significantly better for several reasons: one extra tenor singer, the last CD had no guitar player, plus the obvious fact that the musicians have gotten better over the last two years and the vocal blend is now much tighter and more rehearsed.

I was able to do two takes of all 10 songs in about two hours. I plan to make a return booking next month to re-do one of my guitar solos and to add acoustic guitar parts on three of the songs using my Martin D42. This first time, I used my Carvin AE-185 to play both the electric and the acoustic guitar parts, and I was impressed how well the Carvin sounded as an acoustic instrument because it has such a small, thin body. I used a BOSS GT-10 guitar processor to enhance the acoustic sound. I also used the GT-10 on the other tracks for amp and cabinet simulation. Rather than renting a selection of choice amps, the amp simulation on the BOSS GT-10 is so good, I just plugged directly into the mixer.

Another thing I did different is to record using the same GT-10 patches that I use for live performance. Usually I will record the guitar track “dry” (without any EQ or effects) and add effects and EQ during the mixing process. I decided to simplify the process this time by leaving the effects (compression, echo, reverb, chorus, EQ, etc.) in the patch because I had spent so much time setting up the patches in the first place. The recorded sound should be ideal, and will require no more of an adjustment other than leveling with the other tracks. The other thing I left off the recording was volume adjustments, which is the way I always record. I played the whole track at the same volume, and will trust the engineer, Jim, to work some parts into the background and to bring out the intros and the solos a little more.

Speaking of Jim Burnett, owner, engineer and producer of the Upper Room recording studio, he did an excellent job getting all the takes recorded. He obviously knew his equipment inside and out, and was very patient, cheerful and confident in doing his job. Beginning artists should trust the engineer and producer to make them sound as good as possible, and talented hands and ears can sometimes make poor musicians sound good. But when you’ve been around the block as many times as I have, you worry about just the opposite happening, you think “I played my butt off, now is this going to come through in the mix or is he going to muck it up somehow?” Well, if Jim does as good a job with the mixing as he did with the tracking, I’m sure I’ll be happy with the results.

The songs on the CD were all good choices and display a nice variety of vocal and instrumental talent. I enjoyed playing all the songs, and I hope this enthusiasm is captured in what you hear when the CD is released in April or May. We’ll be doing the photography on Saturday, March 27. The mixing should be almost finished by then. I can’t wait to hear the finished product, and I hope you all will pick up a copy also! All the profits from the CD will go to missionary work!