Monday, November 26, 2012

Kinetica releases today on iTunes and CD

It's here!  Kinetica officially releases today and is now available on iTunes and CD.  I can't wait for everyone to hear it.

Listen and Order:

Buy on iTunes:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Story Behind Kinetica

How a faith-based, cross-country move inspired an album with a funny name, some spaced-out artwork and my most personal songs yet

I can think of a million reasons not to release an album this year. Let’s just mention two: time and doubts. For starters, I wondered how I could make the time. Can you relate? I mean, there’s work, keeping up with our four kids, church responsibilities, personal worship time, a new job, new house, new yard, new neighborhood, new friends, a new pursuit of family history (I’ll have to tell you about it sometime) and of course spending time with Stephanie (happily married for 12 years). Not to mention, I kinda enjoy having fun outdoors, camping, hiking the north Phoenix foothills, playing racquetball and yes, sleeping occasionally.

There were also plenty of doubts that came to mind: “Will anyone pay attention? Will anyone from Texas still care? Is it really worth the blood, sweat, tears and money? What if no one likes it? Can I really capture the songs that are running through my head? Ultimately, does anyone really care about piano music from some dad in Arizona??”

It might be just how I am, but I wonder if all of the doubts and the seeming impossibility of finding time actually spurred me on and gave me the resolve to do this. Because here I am 13 months later with 11 tracks that came together just recently. But it turned out to be an interesting moment when they did.  The first time that I listened to Kinetica from top to bottom in early October, I sat back and had a rare moment of clarity. I thought, “This record is something I’m proud of. It is something special and deeply personal. I am proud of creating this.” And so it is.

I don’t know if this comes as any surprise, but I don’t take any of this for granted. I don’t assume people are going to pay attention to a new album. After all of these years (Piano Pop came out in 2001), it still comes as a bit of a shock when you come up to me and say that you enjoyed listening. Some of you have known me for decades, and some are just getting to know me. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, I owe you thanks for supporting and encouraging me to overcome doubts and make time for something that I can hopefully look back on and be proud of.

Without further adieu, here’s more about the album:

1. What does “Kinetica” mean?

Kinetica is a play on the word “kinetic,” meaning motion. The album is about movement. Momentum. Motion. It is about all of the movement in our lives – continually moving forward at times when we want to stand still. It is about changing directions and following new directions. Sometimes we are the ones driving; sometimes it’s a higher power, but we are constantly moving.  It is about anticipation.

2. What inspired the album?

This album is about all of the movement in my personal life over the past year when my family and I moved across the country without fully knowing why. In the summer of 2011 following a vacation trip to Arizona, we followed a very personal feeling that we needed to relocate there. We weren’t sure exactly why. We have family in the area that we would get to see more often, but we knew how difficult it would be to start over and find a new neighborhood, new home, new school, new community, new church family and new job. Yet we felt strongly that we needed to, and we did. It took a lot of stepping into the dark. And it’s been a challenging year at times. We left behind pretty much everything and everyone that we knew. It has been a faith-building experience, one that has made us better people and strengthened our family identity.  

Another event that inspired the album was collaborating with my brother Neil to create in July. While transcribing simplified arrangements of pop songs for the site, I discovered a love of reinventing popular songs. It led me to experimenting with mash-ups on Kinetica that I never expected and have become some of my favorite arrangements yet.

Finally I owe some inspiration to a new friend and colleague Eric Torres who is a phenomenal graphic artist and a champion of creativity. He designed the album artwork and assured that it tells the right story about me and about the music.

3. How is Kinetica new and different?

The album tells a story and captures a year of my life. I also tried some things I’ve never done before, like mashing up pop and rock songs. Some of the original songs like Momentum and the title track are some of the most difficult that I have ever arranged. Also, I have hidden some riffs from popular songs. In the middle of Where Have You Been (which is a surprise in itself that I’m covering a Rihanna song) you will hear some Nikki Minaj. And there are two hidden riffs on I Will Wait — one by Maroon 5 and one that I won’t give away yet. 

Preview and pre-order Kinetica here:

So what other questions do you have about the album?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Why a Compliment From an Inspired Man Taught Me a Lesson

The privilege of hearing the Lord’s inspired servants at General Conference each April and October often brings to my mind some of the blessed occasions I have had to meet some of these inspired men. Today I remembered an opportunity to meet a General Authority 13 years ago who gave me a great compliment and taught me a lesson at the same time. His words have guided my approach to sharing music ever since.

Elder Kenneth Johnson
taught me the difference
between performing
and praising.
Elder Kenneth Johnson is a former President of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and in February 1999 he visited the Colorado Denver South Mission where I was serving. I was asked a couple of days before his visit to prepare a musical number on the piano that would be shared in front of a group of fellow full-time missionaries. For those who are not familiar with Mormon missions, we devote our entire two years to sharing the gospel. We don’t date, watch TV / movies, play video games, listen to the radio, surf the Web, attend school or see our families during that time. Our schedules are focused and filled. As a result, I had no time to prepare a musical number. More importantly, I didn't have a piano on which to practice. I prayed and asked for guidance that I could contribute a meaningful spirit to the meeting.

The night before his visit, my companion and I were at a church building in Colorado Springs setting up chairs for the meeting. We had a few minutes after finishing before heading back to our apartment. I sat down on the piano bench in the room and started playing through one of my favorite hymns, "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief." I shortly realized that it was in the same key and meter as a song I had written called "Snow Angels." Within minutes, I was able to connect the two songs in a new arrangement. I felt it was the best I could do, and we returned home.

The next day, we met as a group of around 40-50 missionaries. Elder Johnson delivered a powerful talk. As he concluded, I prayed silently that the Lord would allow me to invite the Spirit even more strongly. I felt at peace as I sat at the bench and began to play. Despite only arranging it the previous night, the song came freely and powerfully. The notes felt surprisingly familiar. After I finished and stood up to walk back to my seat, Elder Johnson walked up to me and gave me a hug. In front of the whole room, he looked at me and shared a poignant compliment:

“There’s a difference between performing and praising. You praised. When you perform, the center is you. When you praise, the center is God. Thank you.”

His words captured the feeling in my heart at that time — I wanted to praise the Lord and give the glory to Him, not myself. Those words have stuck with me, and I think about them every time I am asked to share a song in a sacred setting such as a church service or fireside. May we remember the difference between performing and praising not only in music, but in everything we do. And may we focus as much as we are able this weekend on the similarly inspired messages of modern-day apostles and prophets at General Conference.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Scoop Behind Piano Pop

Looking Back at Releasing My First CD Eleven Years Ago

My musical journey over the years has included some memorable moments. One of those was recording my first CD over 11 years ago on a shoestring budget as a wide-eyed, newly married college student. The songs on Piano Pop captured a unique period in my life, and releasing the album was a springboard to greater experiences.

I wrote all 11 songs over a couple of years during which I got engaged, got married and prepared to be a father. Reunion, for instance, came after I visited with friends whom I hadn’t seen in several years. Building Our Dreams and Before Tomorrow described the excitement of dating and falling in love with my sweetheart. Unspoken was written on a Christmas morning in gratitude for my family. But even with all of the major life events, this album captured a playful and downright silly side as well. I mean, take a look at the artwork! Most of the pictures came from my full-time church mission in Colorado. Little-known facts: The main shot on the front cover is standing on top of a peak on the eastern slope near Columbine (southwest Denver). The inset shot on the left where I am in a suit was taken at our wedding open house at my parents’ home in Houston, Texas. The one on the right was taken on the BYU campus. The picture on the back cover of the baby with the ginormous headphones is me. Don’t know the age.

Quite frankly, would I change the album cover if I had to do it all over again? Yes. However, at the same time, it represented my personality and passions in my early 20s and, perhaps most importantly, the fact that I don’t take myself too seriously. As further evidence, in the acknowledgment section in the liner notes I thanked Papa John’s pizza and Blue Bell ice cream. Little-known fact: I thank at least one type of food in the liner notes on every CD.

It’s true that I consider Piano Pop my first full-length album, but it’s a little-known fact that seven of the songs were first recorded over a year earlier on an album titled Before Tomorrow. A longtime family friend, Chris Gould, recorded that album as a favor to me at my parents’ home. I burned each copy by hand and tried to keep enough in stock when I performed concerts, mostly in and around BYU campus. In December 2000 while we were expecting our first son, I re-recorded those seven songs at Heritage Music in Orem, Utah and added four more – School’s Out, Restless, Building Our Dreams and Movin’ On. I recorded all 11 tracks for under $200. Little-known fact: The title Building Our Dreams comes from a lyric in Wedding Song by the Utah folk pop band Colors.

Recording the album was pretty exciting; it was a validation that I could actually pull it off. It was the fulfillment of a dream. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it would be a launching pad to land some gigs and get my name out there. I had something tangible I could give to fans, other artists and the media. I used it to become an opening act for many of my favorite local artists – Peter Breinholt, Colors, Julie de Azevedo, Enoch Train, Cherie Call and others. It’s the only album I had on my website at the time that I was invited to perform at the Opening Ceremony Reception at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. It would be over 6 years before my next album, so I did my best to make the most of those years. The fact is that songs like Serenade, School’s Out and Snow Angels will continue to be some of my favorites to perform live. These songs will always stick with me.

Thanks for letting me open up the memory vault and take a stroll deep into time. Here are some of the songs.

Before Tomorrow:
School’s Out:

Sheet Music
Snow Angels:
Before Tomorrow:
School’s Out:
First Rain:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Music Hasn’t Led to Fame or Fortune … and That’s Fine With Me

Five years ago this fall, I was invited to the FOX 4 studio in Dallas to record three songs for their Good Day Christmas program. I got all dolled up in my suit and tie, met the show producer and proceeded to lay down three songs on their Young Chang baby grand in the corner of the studio.

You can imagine how thrilled I was when the program aired on Christmas morning and my arrangement of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” had made the final cut. (Watch the video here.) There I was, playing one of my songs on TV! Had I “arrived?” What would come next – people knocking down my door offering record contracts, thousands of instant album sales and sudden large amounts of cash, right?!

I think we all know the answer, and it leads me to two points. First, the invitation from FOX 4 didn’t come by chance; I had put my PR skills to use and had contacted the station until we negotiated a time for me to come on the program. It took a lot of methodical, conscious planning and follow up. Second, playing on TV is something that I will always remember, but it didn’t lead to fame or fortune…and that’s fine with me! My friends and family congratulated me for the next few days, then life went very much back to normal. It was an extraordinary event that happened to a rather ordinary guy.

I have had some memorable opportunities because of music, but my goals in continuing on the piano have nothing to do with fame or fortune. There are other reasons that drive me to keep making music. More on that in another post, but in the meantime I simply wanted to share that I have no “delusions of grandeur” about where music will take me in the future. I consider myself quite grounded. I have goals, I know my identity and I have a deep understanding of the reasons why new songs and arrangements continue to come to me.

This is all part of who I am and what drives me. I don’t wait around for some event to indicate that I have “arrived” as a musician any more than I waited around five years ago for FOX Good Day to magically discover me. Big moments in my life haven’t happened by chance, and that’s one reason they are so memorable. I hope to share more of these memories in the coming weeks and in turn hear more from you!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How to spend my "music time"

Lest you think there is anything glamorous about writing music in your spare time, I would like to fill you in. It’s true that during the best of times, music is rewarding enough to be worth all of the work, but that’s my point … it’s a lot of work! And at the crux of that work is the fact that it takes much more than creating music to find lasting success; it requires budgeting time regularly to promote yourself. Remember the old saying, “If a tree falls in the forest but no one hears it, does it make a sound?” Musicians have to spend time making sure they are heard.

I don’t have a lot of discretionary time (who does?), so when there is time to work on music, I often face decisions like, “Do I work on a new song, or transcribe a new quick riff, or plan gigs, or do media outreach, or develop marketing strategies, or touch base with fans on my social sites, or update my website, or play with audio mixes, or just jam?!?”

Experienced music coaching consultant Tim Sweeney said, “Too often when I speak at a music conference artists will say to me, ‘I don’t want to do all the work you are talking about. I just want to play.’ I tell them if you are serious about your music then you need to focus on building your career so it will last.” Take it from the expert.

I once spoke with a friend whose book was picked up by a well-known publisher. He was thrilled but felt apprehensive at all of the self-promoting he knew he would be doing for the next several months in order to meet his obligations. He didn’t naturally like to draw attention to himself, not because of a lack of confidence but because he doesn’t take himself too seriously. I told him I knew exactly what he meant. I guess I’m always hoping that my music can do its own talking rather than me having to say anything.

So I guess the point tonight is that you may see me posting a lot about new songs or the new website (thanks for being so excited about, btw), but know that I am very grounded and that I don’t take myself too seriously. Ok, well I guess I spent my “music time” tonight blogging instead of working on new songs, so back to work…

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Idol Talk - Top 10

The top 10 tackle the Billy Joel songbook this week, which I’m predicting will shake up the top vote-getters and reveal a dark horse or two. Last week was my favorite so far of the season, especially Joshua. That dude really connected with a song I’ve never really liked (“When a Man Loves a Woman”) and made me like it.

I think this is the week we’ll see Colton take a chance and move up the ranks. I also think Jessica will bounce back and at least one of last week’s bottom 3 will become a contender.

I also have to say the Jimmy Iovine clips are entertaining, if not for their blatant attempt to fill the Simon gap and hear what a record executive really thinks about the contestants. Do I wonder sometimes if they give a contestant a hard time in order to rally their fan base? Yes, sometimes. But more often than not, Jimmy is the only voice of reality. The judges continue to refrain from judging. It pains me when Seacrest asks them to select who is in the most trouble and they downright refuse (J Lo, you are the worst offender!). So I may begin referring to them as cheerleaders until they show some sign of doing what they’re paid to do.

Here are my rankings for the Top 10 and my hope for what song they will select tomorrow night:

Singers to Beat

1. Joshua Ledet "The Longest Time"
2. Phillip Phillips "My Life"
3. Jessica Sanchez "And So It Goes"
4. Colton Dixon "Pressure"

Middle of the Pack

5. Hollie Cavanagh "Just the Way You Are"
6. Skylar Laine "Tell Her About It"
7. Erika Van Pelt "Big Shot"

Bottom Three

8. Heejun Han "She's Got a Way"
9. DeAndre Brackensick "River of Dreams"
10. Elise Testone "Lullaby"


Shannon Magrane
Jermaine Jones