Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Why we do what we do

Hey Comrades!

I hope everyone did OK in that CRAZY week of earthquakes and hurricanes! Sounds like a Muse song...

Anyway, on Friday, I had the great good fortune to take a day trip with my folks. We all cram in to my mom's green mustang, formerly owned by my guitar teacher. My brother Zakk usually drives this strange vehicle that takes turns being the soundtrack from an unwritten Charlie the Unicorn episode (that would be me, along with my mom providing the humor, and my brothers as Charlie), to high-caliber think tank. Let me be clear - if the brothers had their druthers (haha, it rhymes!), it would always be a think tank. I'm to blame for the Chaaaaaaaalie skits.

Cruising along Route 66 east through the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, Zakk deftly piloted the 'stang around slow trucks and silly minivans while I brought a topic to the table.

"Man, I'm noticing how mean and desperate us little musicians can be lately!" I started. As funny as it sounds, I'm really having trouble with the relentless self-promotion and arrogance on display every day on the social media networks. Sure, sure, I've fashioned myself the leader of a movement and commanding people obey the new laws of the land, and some other people are simply asking for friends to come out to a show. So I realize this sounds a little silly, especially since I'm typing this in a blog!

However, I'm noticing that it seems to be less a conversation, and more a shout-off when it comes to musicians using the networks.

Maybe I'm noticing the dysfunction of the musical community because I've been watching my photographer brother Noah. He's involved with a lot of photo sharing sites, and through his excellent photos and savvy personality, has made friends and connections all over the world. Everybody loves Noah, and he's had ultra-high level connections call him personally from overseas to ask his opinion.

Now, granted, I want to give credit to where it's due. He's a stellar photographer, a super nice guy, and he always has dynamite ideas. Plus, he doesn't say crazy stuff like "Off to behead Justin Bieber's hair now in the name of the Revolution!" So he's got a lot going for him.

BUT - it does seem like the photo community is genuinely interested in what the other members are up to. They learn from each other, grow, improve, and network like crazy.

Meanwhile, head over to YouTube, and you get comments like "America beat Germany in WWII" on Rammstein videos. Friend a musician on Facebook, be bombarded with "Yadda yadda has invited you to a show" (usually in another state.) Twitter's no better: "I'm at Starbucks/drinking beer" (Folk musicians/rockers.)

Where's the conversation? This doesn't stop in the electronic format. Pick up a guitar magazine, and read all about how Eddie Van Halen got a flanger to sound like an airplane in 1979.

The Internet presents us with the unique opportunity to engage and network. Spam has always existed, and while social networking makes it easy for anyone to clutter the airwaves, we're missing a really important aspect: The other half of the conversation!

But this is still just a symptom of the disease. Why are us musicians so mean? Are we really that desperate? I know I am sometimes.

Resistance indicates the presence of a challenge, and the presence of a challenge means we're barking up the right tree. If we love the goal, the challenge might be a welcome visitor. After all, it means we've found the door to the bank vault! OK, so it's locked, but that means there must be something good inside!

So what exactly are we trying to do? And most importantly, why? I watched this TED talk, and I've been thinking about it ever since. I highly recommend watching it.

I'm still trying to figure it out. Sure, I love music. But what am I trying to do with it? Why are we so nasty sometimes? To quote Elf "This place smells like mushrooms, and everyone looks like they want to hurt me."

The light gatherers help each other. We're the bringers of sound...Why don't we? I'm working on a speech for Comrade TV that will outline some of the new principles that I want to operate by, but I still have to figure 'em out. I think being supportive, encouraging, and listening intently will be three of them. More introspection on my part is needed before I can deliver the final draft, though.

Let me know if you have any ideas. And let me know what your inner circle motivation is, too! I'd like to hear!

Vive la Revolution!

- Josh

Friday, August 26, 2011

No radio show!

Alert! Alert!

Comrades! There's a crazy hurricane named Irene churning up the east coast, and it's canceled my train to Richmond! That means no radio show...booooo!

It's a funny name - the only Irene I've known was this little old lady who bought a lotto ticket every day. Maybe it's her ghost coming to wreck vengeance, and saying "beat these odds, punk!"

So, in place of the broadcast, I'll be hosting a video chat on Google + at 2:00 pm Eastern Standard Time, 8/27. My page is www.gplus.to/joshurban Drop me an email or leave a comment if you need an invite to Google + ...the coolest networking site EVER!

I'll be jammin' on some blues in honor of SRV, chatting revolution plans, and chilling. Well, I never chill, but I will be chatting!

Actually, I think a hurricane is a fitting tribute to Stevie. It's even better than a radio show.

"Well they call me Hurricane, and I've come to play you a song..."

- Josh

Thursday, August 25, 2011

SRV's Radio Tribute

Hey Comrades!

This Saturday will mark the 21st anniversary of Stevie Ray Vaughan's untimely demise after one of his greatest gigs ever.

I always like to do something to honor him, and this year, I've got a unique opportunity. I'll be hosting a radio show!

I was building the playlist the other day, was almost finished, and happened to look at my Fender Guitars calendar. I saw the red letters, and realized that I needed to throw the playlist into the blender!

A number of years ago, a friend gave me a bootleg recording of his entire last show at Alpine Valley, Wisconsin. I'm told it was recorded off the soundboard, so while the audio quality is a bit lacking, the tracks are HOT!

I'll be broadcasting the whole thing this Saturday during my show at WDCE 90.1 FM Richmond, so if you're in town, tune in! If you're not, it'll be streaming live at www.wdce.org (just click on "listen now.")

It's an incredible concert. You really don't want to miss it. (Ha, look at me, promoting for an SRV show. THAT'S a job I'd be glad to do every day!) I'm blow away every time I hear the CD. He said once that he plays every show like it's his last, and unfortunately, that time, he was right. Wow, what a way to leave the stage of the earth...What a show he played....nay, channeled.

Airtime is from 3-5 pm, Eastern Standard Time. The facebook page for the show is www.facebook.com/thesignalman

I'm so looking forward to it. I'll be hopping on Amtrak's Carolinian train #79 for the two hour trek to Richmond, hurricanes and earthquakes permitting. (We're getting pounded over here!)
Songs will be written on this trip...Especially if there's nuns sitting next to me! After the show, I'll be hanging out in Richmond's most "scenic" train station...It's really quite utilitarian, so hopefully the dreariness will provide great artistic inspiration. Watch out - Handy Street II?

See you on the air!

- Josh

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fame is unrelated to Talent - just ask Kim

"What's wrong with you, man?" my mom asks, her eyes flashing. "Where did I go wrong?"

Parental disapproval isn't something that I usually deal with. For the past 25 years, my folks have done an exceptional job of showing me that I counted, mattered, and was something to be proud of.

However, I have brothers. Their favorite pastime is to sort of play emotional billiards, and try to create a bus to throw me under, with mom driving it. Come to think of it, they must have learned it from me. And trust me, it's great fun...When you're not the one in front of the bus, that is!

Zakk really outdid himself this time. He connected the dots, and explained to mom that it was "THAT Kim" I always talk about when a picture of the "Keeping up with the Kardashians" showed up on Netflix. You should have seen him cackling as I got flattened.

I admit it, there must be something not quite right with my taste in women...Fairly wrong, you could say. But from this, we get a great music lesson. Read on!

It's a beautiful day ouside, but my heart is black. Kim is finally married. Now I'm gonna have to wait a whole three years before she's back on the market.


Maybe I can learn to dress myself properly in the meantime. I sorta look like the caddie from "Happy Gilmore." The first one. The kid. Actually, a combination of the two. It must be my haircut and unshaven face, or perhaps it's the checkered shirt and checkered shorts that match even worse than my socks. Yep, I need to up my game if I wanna go fishing, that's fo' sho'.

But wait, who is this questionable character that I speak of, and how does she stay so famous?

THIS brings us to the point of today's blog.

It is definitively proven now: Commercial success and talent have nothing to do with each other. Sure, they can be combined, but they're completely different things.

I can hear you all howling that Justin Bieber has proved this point even after countless other pop stars have, but here's the thing: There are some little girls who genuinely like his music, and are moved by it. So while I don't care for it, it's a matter of taste. While the Revolution may overthrow it, it's still some form of music.

But here's a reality TV star who, as far as I can tell, has absolutely no talent, and who's fame is self perpetuating. I'm not saying it's bad - to the contrary, it's rather amazing how well it works. It's like an engine, almost. Once started, it will run indefinitely. She's like the opposite of one of those brilliant musicians who can't even dress themselves, but will draw a crowd of thousands when propped up onstage...Aerosmith! Ha ha, I'm a fan, quit yelling!

I can't applaud her, because fame for fame's sake is completely pointless, and borders on a disrespectful waste of oxygen in a suffocating world.

From a marketing standpoint, however, it is unbelievable! Did you hear she made 18 million dollars on her wedding? That's the way to have a wedding - heck with spending money!

While the Revolution will overthrow all frivolity and designer brands, perhaps we can take a page out of that exclusive book, and realize this:

Talent does not equal commercial success.

Commercial success is a skill.

Practice that skill. And practice your talent.

For Hendrix's sake, please make the world a better place. Make sure that music counts!

Now, I'm off to practice tying my shoes . I've only got three years till it's game time again.

Geeze, what if she reads this blog?

- Josh
PS. Google spellchecker suggests that "Kardashian" be changed to "Balderdash." Interesting.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Overthrowing a screen near you!

Hey Comrades!

DUDE there's some cool stuff going on Revolution-wise. I'm working on a top secret project, soon to be detailed soon. I'm getting ready for the college courses I'll be teaching. I'm recording that holiday EP, with the first track completed (mostly!) I've got the coolest piece of artwork I've ever photoshopped.

But why should you care? Well, at the moment, you shouldn't. Soon, you will. But for now, blah blah blah!

HERE'S the cool news. The Revolution continues, and it's coming to your living room. Or where ever you keep your computer and webcam. That's right, I'll be setting up shop for some Skype guitar lessons.

The Details
I need your help. I've been teaching guitar professionally for years, but I'm still getting the hang out of the video conferencing. It's a new teaching format, and I need some comrades to develop this program.

If anyone wants to hop on Skype or Google + for a few free lessons while I figure everything out, it would be so much fun!

I'm looking for a good cross-section of skill. Beginners, intermediate players, advanced shredders...you name it! Basically, we'd set up a time, and we'd have a half hour lesson via videoconferencing. It's totally free, and a one or three time deal. Think of it as beta testing. I WILL be charging for it eventually, but during the initial phase, it's free! I'd love to have your help with the project!

The Chat

Who as Google +? If you don't have it, send me your email, and I'll send you an invite! It's got a group video chat feature called Hangout. I'll be hosting weekly chats on it for all you guitarists and non-guitarists alike! Let's confer on how to take over the world!

Check out the Comrade TV video I just shot for it:

Hope to see you online this Sunday! I'm thinking 1:00 pm or so, but I'll post some details closer to the date! Drop me an email if you'd like to attend!

Vive la Revolution!

- Josh

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Hey Comrades!

August is here. I'm always glad to see it. I say "Hello August! Only a month till you're dead!"
Yeah, I'm not a big fan on the summer.

I'll tell you what I AM a fan of, though! Inspiration!

Of course, there's a story...

I got a call today. "Hey Josh, it's ___" (We'll call him Sam.)

"SAM! Dude, are you like ten feet tall? Your voice is so deep!" Sam is a former guitar student of mine, and he was calling to set up a visit. I hadn't seen him or his cousin, ___ (we'll call him Joe), also a former student, for probably about three years.

We sat around my teaching studio and talked for a good while. These fellas are 17 and 18, and about to set foot out into the big ol' world. It was super fun to toss around ideas about the future. It was neat for me to remember being 18. Seven years, while trivial with almost any metric, do put one in a very different phase of life. I always enjoy seeing old students. It's an honor that they stop by, financially un-obligated with any cancellation notice or anything, just to say hello.

The subject of ideal careers came up. Ever itching to put on my motivational speaking hat, I eagerly told Sam and Joe about my "Ask" theory. This is something I'm sure I've blogged about before, but I'd like to repeat it.

When we first get an inkling of what we really like in life, we excitedly tell the world. To quote "Little Stevie Vai" from his subtly profound track The Audience is Listening, "When I grow up, I'm gonna be a famous rock 'n roll guitar player!"

And just like the song, people laugh at the cute little kid at first. But then when it's apparent that the person is serious about pursuing their dream, they're beaten down. I've had many people tell me "Seriously, how many people make it? You'd better find a fall back."

We quickly learn to conceal the dream, because it hurts to be scoffed at.

There it rests, like the memory of a dear departed friend. Sadly, just like memories, it fades with neglect. One day, on our way to that dusty room where we've locked it away, we realize that, not only have we misplaced the key, but that we don't even remember what exactly it was that we locked up.

"Ah, it must have been to be a music manager!" we think. Now, that is an exciting and dynamic career, so to all you managers, don't think I'm knocking your craft. I'm not.

But, remember we started out wanting to be famous rock 'n roll guitar players? We've become so good at concealing the dream from other people, that we've hidden it from ourselves.

So we drift, and we know we're missing the target. Frustration sets in, and we might think "why can't I be the best at _____? It's not like I'm asking to be a rock star or anything!" Livingston Taylor once wrote "It hurts just as much to fall from a small dream as a big one."

Honesty with ourselves is vital. We need to find our way to that room, unlock the door, and look clearly at the dream. Maybe we've outgrown it, and then we can thank it, and place it respectfully back on the shelf. But maybe it's what we're really after. And, in the silence of that room, we can say to ourselves "This is what I really want to do with my life." Nobody has to hear you, and you never have to tell anyone.

But if you aren't clear about what exactly it is that you want, it's much harder to get. Ask. And ask for what you really want.

Now, sometimes one dream may morph into another. A young man named Johnny played guitar once, and moved with his band to LA. They flopped. Broke up. Done. Someone told him to come read for a movie. He got the part. You might have heard of him. His last name is Depp.

So, you're not always going to get what you ask for. But don't keep that dream locked away in the dust. It misses you.

- Josh

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Comrade TV and the Handy Street story

Hey Comrades!

Episode 6 of Comrade TV is available online!

Some of you have heard the third track of my latest CD (Signalman), called Radio W-HAM. In it, I tell the story of the time I took a train to New York City, and was shushed by a nun. My brothers captured some live video footage at one of my recent gigs of me telling the story...so here it is in person! I think you'll enjoy.

You know, one of the things I love about being a musician is the diversity of hats I wear. I'm starting to get intrigued with story telling, so this is my first step into that world. I'm sure every field is like this to a greater or lesser degree. How does your field allow you to express yourself? Even if it doesn't, there's always lunch breaks. You hear about that construction worker in New York who signs Sinatra on his lunch hour? He's all over the internet now! Way to go!

On other Revolution news, I've been working for a few weeks now on my latest recording, a holiday EP! It's coming along good, and I'll start putting down tracks for an original holiday tune tomorrow! Recording Signalman was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Talk about some work! But I tell you, after a year out of the studio, it feels great to be back at it! I've got some great ideas for artwork bordering on propaganda, and a cool new story.

One more thing: A local musician that I kinda sorta know just got his new single at #13 on the iTunes songwriter chart yesterday! It charted above Harry Chapin on that day! Way to go, Sam Grow!

I hope you enjoy the latest installment of Comrade TV, and keep on overthrowing bad music!

- Josh

Monday, August 1, 2011

Calling in an airstrike on the Lemonade Stand

Hey Comrades!

It's summertime, and the lemonade stands are proliferating. Actually, I've yet to see one, but don't take my theme away, bro!

Social media, the internet, and the continued upheaval in the recording industry have created a unique universe in which the independent musician operates. However, like any new sky, there's a lot of trial and error involved before one can harness the maximum potential of the stars - or, in this case, fans.

A few years ago, when I was doing the band thing, I learned that the group I was in had booked a gig where we were selling tickets. No biggie, except...We were basically expecting our families to show up, and not many other people. "I have to sell my own mom a ten dollar ticket to see me play a few songs?" I wasn't thrilled about that, to say the least.

At the end of the night, after the sound guy had been paid, each band member got just under forty bucks...and I had six people come to see me at ten bucks a ticket.

"It's like a big lemonade stand!" I exclaimed disgustedly. And ever since I said that, I've noticed how many of these stands are out there. Some of them sell Mary Kay, some of them sell Avon (American cosmetic companies based on a pyramid marketing scheme), some sell a low volume of CD's, some charge a cover, but they have one thing in common: They have our friends standing in line.

With the advent of social media, we can really bombard fans incessantly, and demand even more of their time and money.

This is an unpalatable situation to me. I'm a musician because I want to rock the world, not because I want to impose on my friends to buy my CD.

I'm not exactly sure how to blow the lemonade stand to a fiery afterlife with a Justin Bieber soundtrack (sounds like hell to me!), but here's a few thoughts I've had on the subject. And, to be clear I'm not preaching, I'm not claiming to adhere to these rules all the time - think of them as a reading of my to-do list!

1. Never lose sight of the value of people's time and money: If they're listening, if they're paying, I'd better make sure I'm giving them something of value.

2. Monetize traffic, not friends: Successful websites make their money off traffic. They're free to access, and due to the sheer number of eyeballs, they can command a hefty premium from advertisers, not surfers. (The downside of this is more ads, but YOU try running YouTube's servers!) How can we apply this to music? I'm fascinated by sponsors, personally. It seems like sports does this a heck of a lot better than rockers. OK Go is doing some neat things in this field.

3. Quantity vs. Quality: In line with point 2, perhaps we should strive to lower the barriers to our music, and get as many people as possible listening! It's hard enough to get out there, and get a gig booked. It seems counter-intuitive to charge people for every single thing once they get there. A cover charge, drinks, merch, and the new CD can be quite a hefty bill. No wonder turnout can be low when the umpteenth facebook invite comes through to say "Hey, check out my band!" Sure, we've gotta make a buck, and I'm starting to eye the model of no covers, cheap CD's, and normally priced merch as a way to go. People can hear us, and spend as much, or as little, as they like. We get more fans, which is what we're after if we use the traffic model of success. This is something to ponder, and figure out what works best for you. I'd be curious to hear your ideas and experiences.

4. Treat the edge like VIP. Street music, or busking, gives us a term called the edge. So does U2, for that matter. People are reluctant to stop to watch a busker if there's nobody else there. As soon as several folks start watching the show, magically, people feel inclined to stop and watch. It's psychological, giving a cover of anonymity, and practical, so they don't have to pay you if they don't want to. I look back in utter shame when I asked a brother and sister to put a dollar in the jar when they stopped to watch me do a few magic tricks one day when I was busking. They should have waited for an edge! SO, the first two hundred fans of ours are really our edge, our front line soldiers, and our most powerful advertisers: word of mouth folks. I vote we treat 'em like VIP! Yeah, yeah, I've sold stuff to the Revolution's edge, and I feel pretty mixed about this. But I do make sure they get something free, be it an extra CD, a few stickers, etc.

So, this is how I'm calling in an airstrike to the Lemonade Stand. Please radio in if you've got any ideas, too!

Vive la revolution!

- Josh