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…