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Go With the FLOW 

Well, the Christmas activities have come and gone, and New Year's is right around the bend. It's at this time that a good bit of us make our well intentioned resolutions in an effort to better ourselves. As with all things worthwhile, challenges arise, and obstacles emerge. We want to be debt-free. We want to be in better shape. We want to travel more.

Whatever aspirations we may have may well be met with opposition. If they're worthwhile aspirations, this is almost always the case. Those opposing forces at work (time versus money, activity versus accomplishment, etc.) can either become a person's excuse for not doing something or the reason they're doing it. I suppose the real question is: Where do we find our motivation?

Earlier today, I became acquainted with the concept of flow training. The diagram below might be of interest:

To explore this on a deeper level of analysis, let's use exercise as an example:

If you want to engage in a physical activity, but that activity is too taxing, you will find yourself in the doubting, anxious part of the equation.  If the activity isn't challenging enough, you'll get bored. In between the two extremes is the flow, that steady channel of happiness where you are at your productive best. Let's say that the maximum amount of push-ups you can do is 10. If you were actually to do just 5 anytime you have your workout, you could do it without torturing your body, you could ramp up your energy levels, you can stave off soreness, and you can do the activity more frequently. Consequently, there will come point doing 5 push-ups is no longer challenging enough. So, you get the best of both worlds, consistently challenging activity with upward momentum, and the desire to come back day after day in pursuit of the goal in a pleasurable manner.

Maybe you're a musician. Is there a level of practice that's on the upper end of your comfort spectrum where you can get something out of it without the anxiety attached to getting instant gratification in the pursuit of an unrealistic goal? You may be surprised exactly how much you can grow over time, especially if you show up everyday and actually ENJOY doing it.

Whatever your goals, resolutions, and aspirations may be, I hope you find pleasure and inspiration in the process.

Happy New Year! Now go with the FLOW!

Fridays at The Glover 

Guntersville, Alabama is a very cool town. The folks there are nice. The atmosphere is warm. The lake is beautiful. Two weeks ago, I played a wonderful room called, The Glover. Beatrice (the owner) is the real deal, and she's not fooling around.

I can't tell you all the details, but long story short, this isn't the first incarnation of the restaurant. However, after a time, they have reemerged, and are taking the town by storm.

They're producing in-house classics such as homemade pasta, Creme Brûlée, and Beef Wellington. What's more, they have graciously asked me to come and play Friday's throughout the rest of the year, and I couldn't be more honored.

To find out more about this awesome restaurant, click here.

Bon Appetit!

Where, Oh Where Am I? 

Here are some questions I am often asked: "When can we see you play again?" "Do you have any local shows coming up?" "Are you still playing around?" The reality is that right now I would love to be playing more than I actually am.

I made a Facebook video about this very thing about a month ago, and I was pleased to see that I wasn't the only person that shared those sentiments. Truth be told, now is a harder time than ever before to book shows in public venues. I do not believe that there is any ill will or malicious intent behind it. I actually believe that most of it stems from otherwise goodhearted people delving into a certain effort without the rudimentry skills to be able to execute it properly. (Although, I've met ones who seemed to have nothing but contempt for the people they have to interact with. Maybe they shouldn't have that responsibility...)

As long as I've been at this, I have not done everything right. (I'm only human.) However, when I've been wrong, I have always tried to be quick to say, "I'm sorry." In light of this, I have no reason to believe that it's some personal agenda against me for two reasons: 1. Other musicians who have never set foot in those venues are having an equally hard time getting their foot in the door. 2. I've always tried to approach doing a job for another venue as if I owned that venue. That means I come early, I stay late, I bring the tools that I need, and I take seriously the desire to bring the best I possibly can to every single show I play.

While I do have some shows on my calendar, I am starving to play. I'm hungry to be out there pouring my heart and soul out in song and in spirit to anyone who wants to listen. That said, I do have some dates coming up in the very near future, and I would love to see you. As a consequence of basically being stonewalled by bookers, I am now privatizing most of my shows. House concerts are awesome, and if you'd like to see the ins and outs of one, click here because it is good stuff! 

Aside from that, I'm working on some behind-the-scenes work for a special campaign coming up that I definitely would like you to see. Whatever piques your interest at this time, I certainly hope you'll share this post with anyone and everyone via the share button at the bottom, leave a comment below, please signup for the newsletter, and I'll look forward to seeing you at the next show!

Introducing Host a Show! 

We have a new addition to the webpage. It's called Host a Show! Think you might not have the capabilities to throw your own concert? You might be surprised. Got a space? Know some people who love family, friends and music? Perfect! To find out more, hover over the "Host a Show" Button in the menu, or click here to find out more about Booking Info and Host Info!

 

Don't wait! Book your show with Jonathan while slots are still available!

9 Ways to Bring Your Drum Loops to Life 

Nothing, and I do mean nothing, quite beats a good drum track. The right player, the right kit, and the right room can make a mix…..magical. But what if you don’t have access to a space where you can track in your apartment, or your recording gear is limited? In this post, we’re going to explore some of the ways you can breathe life into your loops. 

1. Groove 

Nothing is more essential for establishing a solid foundation in your songs than establishing the groove. If your kick and snare are displaced, and they don’t gel with the song, keep exploring presets until you find something that hits home with you. 

 

2. Tempo 

Now that we have our groove in place, play along with it. Does it feel off or forced? If so, you might consider altering your BPM’s to make sure you can play comfortably and sit in the pocket. 

 

3. Variation 

Bearing in mind that keeping your songs interesting should be your endgame, it’s fair to say that there should be some delineation between the verse, chorus, and bridge sections. Maybe you’d like to switch from your hi hat to your overheads, or play a section in cut time. Go with your gut until you get that “aha” moment. (Note: Be sure to check aspects of your kit for artifacts. As is demonstrated in our next example, even MIDI drums can suffer from phase issues. This is merely to illustrate a point.) Here’s a before and after sample using Scripter in Logic Pro X to create rhythmic variations in the very same drum sample: 

 

4. Live Samples 

If you’re a mix engineer and you’ve worked with multitrack sessions for other clients before, odds are you have at least a couple songs with well played, tuned and tracked kits. Even if you don’t, you have options. Several companies make high end samples of live drums on great kits, if you’re willing to buy them. Of course, if you know any total package drummers, you can always barter to see if they’d be willing to setup their kits and allow you to get clean samples of all the parts. If so, here’s a little trick for you: 

When you have your samples sounding right at the source (properly gain staged, of course) locate the beginning and end of your transient at zero crossings (the baseline where no audio is being played) and create a tight cut/fade at each point. Export the file into your sample library under the file name you’d like. Then you can pull it into your session whenever you want. 

5. DIY Sample Kit 

Many DAW’s have the capability to create and design your own custom drum machine. In this example, Logic’s Drum Machine Designer was used on the “Empty Kit” setting. 

 

From there, you can route the right part of your kit to the corresponding trigger. By clicking on an individual sample box, your panel offers you a wide variety of options and a vast array of tools for designing any singular aspect of your kit. 

 

6. Editing 

Occasionally, you may find something unnatural is happening like the tail of your snare is being cut off. No problem! Convert your virtual drums into a MIDI region and open your Piano Roll. 

 

Drag the clipped audio to another key assignment, and drag your snare sample into the corresponding box. As long as your sample isn’t being cut off from any triggers that follow it, you’ll be made in the shade! 

7. Processing 

As we talked about earlier, by clicking on an individual sample box in your drum machine, your panel allows you to do several things to each piece. 

EQ 

Each piece has zen simple high and low pass filters for cutting mud, harsh frequencies, and creative processing. 

Compression/Distortion 

I’m definitely putting these two in the same category. Both affect the dynamic range of your instruments, and both can raise your RMS levels while making your tracks sound fatter and more aggressive. Even many of your DAW’s stock compressors are modeled after coveted vintage gear, and have a make-up gain controller. This drives the amount of distortion going out of the circuit, and a wet/dry mix control enables you to blend the unaffected signal with the highly affected one. This is essentially parallel processing. 

 

Here’s an example of a dry sample, a compressed sample, a distorted sample, and a compressed and distorted sample blended into the original: 

Ambience 

This is a tricky one. Many novice engineers drench everything in reverb because they think it makes the mix sound more lively. The truth is that if you oversaturate a mix with reverb and delay it will sound incredibly washed out. To combat this, consider only four or five things that could really benefit with the addition of reverb. Maybe on your kit it’s the snare or the overheads. Be conservative with it, and if it doesn’t need it, don’t add it. Here’s an example of our kit before and after adding a bit of reverb to the snare. 

 

8. Panning 

Wider is better. There are only three real positions in your mix: left, center, and right. Use the extremes to your advantage. Pan the more spaced elements of your kit to the extreme. It’ll sound bigger, and we like bigger. Here’s our kit in mono followed by an example with the toms and overheads panned hard left and right. 

 

9. Processing the whole kit 

Sometimes, a plugin can be used to add flavor and character to your entire mix. iZotope Vinyl does a pretty good job making music sound like it’s being filtered through an old radio. 

Thanks for tuning in. Armed with this knowledge, hopefully there’s something that benefits you and your music. Now let’s go save the world one mix at a time!

SaveSave

Behind the Song - "Over and Over" 

Full disclosure: I'm conflicted. Not by this blog initiative as a concept, mind you, but because the basic crux of this series is to take you into the corners of my mind. It's a scary prospect. I like to write songs steeped in introspection, deep thought and fearlessness to explore ideas that people may otherwise avoid. Who knows? Maybe that's the point...

In the days of court jesters, yes, they had a role of being entertainers in the king's court, but they had the king's ear as well. Often, they were the only ones who could deliver bad news to his majesty without fear of reprisal. Today, reprisal is easy to find, and fear is all too commonplace. Today, musicians have taken the reins, and they have some real questions they ask themselves often. For me, it's namely, "How can I add value to people's lives because I'm doing this?" It occurs to me that there's is still a place for telling stories, for exploring things in ways that may be antithetical to the paradigm of the cultural norms. How very punk of me.

Let's dive right in...

"Over and Over" is, by far, the most involved production I've ever created. By the end of the session, there were 119 tracks in the orchestration. I hope you can enjoy it and get something out of it. You can listen here, and if you'd like to have the song for yourself, I'll include links below. 

I learned a lot from that experience. Some things I'll replicate. Some things I'll do differently next time, but I stand by the work, and am generally pleased at the result. Now for the inspiration:

I had a torrent of emotions pouring over me while writing this one: boredom with a homogenous, one-dimensional society when it comes to the universe of ideas, anger with the new righteous who believe they have the morally superior high ground and act in immoral, unethical ways to prove themselves, and no civility in public discourse.

I get exhausted seeing the same links, the same complaints, the same never-ending cycle of information day-to-day. I get frustrated with a culture that places no filter on itself when it comes to the ideas they instantaneously believe, but never test.

I get infuriated by the arrogance of the people who control the flow of information, who take for granted that they are accepted as disseminating the truth. People tend to confuse "truth" and "information." The fact is that these are two separate terms that are not necessarily interchangeable. Many of those who control the flow of information prey on people who will not question the paradigm. Probably because it feels good to go along with what everyone else says. You're much less likely to disturb the status quo by opting for the path of least resistance.

Maybe most of all, I get saddened by a people who've lost all believe in themselves and the world around them. That devaluation can't be anything short of pejorative. One of its effects is a people comfortable with casting blame on everyone else, but even if they have a point, what are they prepared to do to get back up on the horse?

Ultimately, this is a clarion call to help a culture struggling with approval addiction to maybe not rely on the outside world to be responsible for one's self-esteem. After all, if they can give it to you, they can also take it away from you. I hope for a people who have self-respect born of fighting for what matters most, while not allowing others to dictate to them something conflicting with what they know in their hearts are right.

Feel free to share this with anyone you'd like! If you like what you hear, and would like to have the song, you can find it at these fine links with more to come:

Apple MusicSpotifyiTunesGoogle Play/YouTubeAmazonDeezerTidal

Principles are your pals... 

Yes, I know the learning aid is actually for the word "principal," but hear me out...

My dad spent a lot of time teaching me several valuable things, not the least of which were cultivating diligence and hard work. Those principles are still with me to this day. 

For many people, work is the ultimate four-letter word. However, I do believe there is something to balancing good work with smart work. 

What constitutes smart work? 

For me, it is about stepping back and getting a lay of the land. It's about evaluating what needs to be done away with, what would be preferable, and what is downright essential. Hopefully, at the end of it all, you see more assets in your life than you do liabilities. 

I'm sure I'm like most of you in that I owe my parents a debt I'll likely never be able to repay, but it won't keep me from spending the rest of my life trying. 

I learned the value of making educated decisions, and calculated strategies to set my family up for success rather than failure. 

So, cheers to my dad, mom and all you wonderful folks who've supported me through thick and thin. 

To creating your portrait of a destiny, 

Jonathan Laird 

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Money For Somethin' 

"That ain't workin'. That's the way you do it. Get your money for nothin' and your chicks for free..." Dire Straits, 1985 - Brothers In Arms

It's the little things in life that can bring you the most amusement. One of my favorites to this day is, "So, do you have a real job outside of doing this?" I don't plan to put any of the ridiculous assumptions attached to such a question to rest with this post, but just in case anyone was curious at all, I'd like to share with you, "A Day In the Life of a Professional Musician."

7:30 - Wake up and do stretches
7:45 - Breakfast and daily preparation
8:15 - Workout/protein shake
8:45 - Instrument maintenance for tracking/performance (set intonation, dial in electronic components, restring, etc.)
9:00 - Preproduction (i.e. arranging for final tracking session, deciding which instruments will be used in the orchestration, composing motifs for individual parts, making tonal decisions for each texture, finding out what the appropriate placement of each texture is and where it should or shouldn't be played in the song.)
9:45 - Warmup drills (vocal and instrumental)
10:15 - Pre-Tracking session - Prearranging recording environment, setting up I/O, routing cables, microphone selection for what will be tracked, proper placement for each instrument.
10:35 - Record - (This is as a solo musician doing his project DIY) Deactivate all external processes running on CPU, disable sudden motion sensor, adjust project settings to 64-bit resolution, 96k recording sample rates, gain staging, create a guide track for the song, create drum patterns for the material, select the appropriate fills for the song and alter the kit to fit the aesthetics if necessary, create a couple guitar tracks (sometimes acoustic, sometimes not), track bass parts, stack electric tracks (sometimes 2, sometimes as many as 5), create strings patches, keys, auxilliary percussion, if necessary.
11:05 - Lunch/tutorials
11:35 - Editing - Splicing track compilations, creating crossfade edits, eliminating dead space in tracks, getting rid of distracting breaths, mouth noises, pops and clicks.
12:05 - Mixing - Adjusting all the relative gain in the tracks to a level of -18dB, low level monitoring, creating a static mix where all the parts in the the apex of the song are balance where I'd like them to be
1:35 - Panning, EQ, compression, effects, volume riding and automation.
3:05 - Mastering
4:35 - Booking shows/updating calendar dates
5:00 - Prep dinner
5:30 - Dinner
7:00 - Band rehearsals/Practice for upcoming shows
8:30 - Family time
10:00 - Cleanup
10:45 - Social media campaigning/content curation
12:15 - Shower
12:45 - Plan for the next day
2:15 - Sleep

Did I mention that this is a regular day? It doesn't account for days when I have to travel for a show, pad the schedule in case of extenuating circumstances, do setup and tear down of 1000's of dollars of equipment for a show that my colleagues and I perform for 4 hours for a relatively small ROI per gig only to be told by others that our business isn't legitimate, it has no value, and we don't deserve the money to justify being able to eat.

So, there you have it. When someone asks me, "Do you have a real job?" I take it with a grain of salt. A DIY musician is a manager, equipment specialist, producer, tracking, editing, mixing and mastering engineer, a composer, session player, a booking agent, IT specialist, web designer, a marketer, promoter, distributor, on top of being active in their community, being there for the family, and trying to find the time to build outside relationships.

Do I have a real job? Actually, I have several within a multifaceted business structure. I look forward to the day when society at large will see that for what it is and place value on what we do. If they don't, you may not have many people who want to do it any longer, and that would be a great loss to the culture.

Lawn Boy 



“The grass may be greener on the other side, but it’s just as hard to mow.” - Jeffery Scott Johnson, 1998 

This is the story of two friends who were thick as thieves. 

In the winter of 1989, my family and I moved down to Huntsville, Alabama. It was quite an eventful year. It was the year a deadly tornado came through South Huntsville and decimated a good part of the city.  It even made national news.  However, the prevailing reason my family uprooted from Parkersburg, West Virginia was because of my grandfather, who’d recently undergone triple bypass heart surgery.  I remember crying my eyes out all the way down, and it is a long drive from Parkersburg to Huntsville.  Leaving the only life you’ve known is never easy, and I wasn’t taking the transition lightly.  Nonetheless, I found myself making my home in a town that I still live in to this day. 

My grandfather was a renowned preacher, and a great one at that.  He had no small role to play in helping me develop a comfort level in front of a crowd.  In fact, he and my father were able to work with me consistently, and I began speaking in public as early as fifth grade.  One of the first friendships I made in those ranks was with a kid named Jeff. 

Jeff was an amiable, blonde-haired kid.  He always had a smile to give, and was always warm and welcoming.  When I didn’t have any peers to speak of in the outside world, I had a handful of them at my church, and he was at the top of the totem pole. 

And why not?  After all, this guy had an aptitude for making friends, and it didn’t seem to matter who.  No one was too weird, too unorthodox or too unpopular.  Jeff didn’t weigh his relationships by those metrics, not ever. 

My first years in Alabama were very hard for me.  Well…..maybe not the very first one.  I made friends fairly easily and excelled in my studies when I completed my fifth grade courses, but couldn’t have been prepared for what the next year had in store.  I attended Liberty Middle School.  I was excoriated so much that I spent more time calling in sick to the clinic than I did in the classroom.  I had some consolation in the fact that I had a loving family and friends outside of that environment, but I can’t lie.  It was rough. 

I hadn’t yet figured out how to be comfortable in my own skin.  I felt awkward.  I was an outcast, the object of ridicule, and definitely an easy target.  Unfortunately, when I transferred to Madison Academy the following year things were not much better.  I didn’t say much to most people.  I walked down the corridors basically staring at my shoes, and all I wanted to do was fit in.  One evening, I found myself thinking in my bedroom, “Why am I trying so hard to win over people that are so bent on hating me?  Why should I care what they think?”  That was a turning point.  I grew into someone who could hang out with the popular kids, maybe because I’d become self-aware.  And I also hung out with the unpopular ones because I knew what it was like to be one, and knew I was no better.  One constant throughout this entire process was Jeff.  He was always welcoming, inviting and never above anyone.  In a way, I’d like to believe the epiphanies I had in school were in no small part because of him. 

When we turned 15, we entered into the job market and we both bagged groceries at Publix.  We’d hang out after hours and shoot the breeze a bit.  I particularly remember him getting a kick out of me going to the bathroom while I was on the clock, and falling asleep in the stall for over an hour.  Oops… 

Speaking of work, I always admired his sense of entrepreneurism.  Jeff, with the help of his family, eventually launched a successful landscaping business.  Keep in mind, we were still in high school, and this was and is very impressive to me.  He was always hard working and diligent.  Certainly more than I was at our age.  Did I mention the bathroom? 

Jeff and I played on MA’s JV Football team.  (They’ve gotten good since then.)  We often ate at each other’s houses, and got to know our respective families very well. 

We also sang in the chorus together.  Jeff had a real musical talent beyond what I even think he knew.  He always seemed to have an ear for rhythm, and would tap out drum patterns on the steering wheel of his black Ford Probe with little to no effort. 

Beyond the work week, and school, we both extended our time, money and energy to the mission field.  One particular trip I remember was to an orphanage in Ensenada, Mexico.  He had an affinity for working with the children and made bricks faster than just about anyone on site. 

One of our favorite connections though, was definitely music.  We had a band of brothers.  There was Rob Collier, who has since developed some notoriety for himself in the Shoals, and Matt Eaglan, who I’m sad to say is no longer with us either.  Many were the nights we found some location off the beaten path to throw a football while listening to Pink Floyd, Zappa, Phish, Bela Fleck and Dave Matthews.  In fact, the name of this post points to a Phish album we listened to routinely.

College opened up some bittersweet experiences for us both.  We developed different ways of seeing the world, but this was a time when people could disagree with each other and still remain friends.  We both had some of our first serious relationships, and we both dealt with our fair share of heartache on the other side, but we were always there to pick each other up when we fell.  We always had that connection even in the years of his marriage where I had the honor and the privilege of playing at his reception and ceremony, and he was always gracious and thankful for the gifts he’d been given. 

Jeff, like everyone, had his struggles in life, and like everyone, wrestled with not letting those things get the better of him.  I do not wish to discuss these things at length, nor will I dishonor his memory by doing so.  I did not struggle in the ways of my friend, and as such, I consider myself fully unqualified to speak on these matters. 

Now, my cup runs over to overflowing with the tears of sorrow over the best friend I have lost, tears of joy over the superior life he now finds himself experiencing, tears of anguish over the circumstances surrounding his death, and I hope at least, tears that will ultimately lead me and those who knew him best to the hope that one day we will be in his midst again, enjoying the heavenly splendor that should be the ultimate endgame for all of us, and particularly those who were blessed with the joy of knowing him at all.

Human R.O.I. 

In a world where we would be forced to evaluate the competitive market value of most human capital today, I grow concerned about the rate of diminishing returns from certain sectors. Quality people are all around us. There are just so many more people who aren't. 

I believe that this is strictly out of choice, mind you. Who can place perceived value on the individual except for the individual? After all, above any minority group that I can think of, the most valuable one is that of the individual, and they can rise from humble beginnings to kingly endings Much like a snowball grows monumental as it falls from the mountain peaks all the way down to the foot, so too people can start out small and make choices, decisions and steps to take themselves to larger destinations. 

It's not a popular view that I take. I believe in meritocracy. I believe that people should be rewarded based on their contributions to society. Contribute more, you'll get more. It's a principal as old as time, and it will continue to be truth regardless of what anyone has to say on the matter. 

Note: we're not talking about people with disabilities here. If they are in legitimate need, it is our duty to help them out as best we can. 

I'm talking about the ones who have no skin in the game, but want to do the play calling. You know who they are. They're the ones who  know better than you what you should say, what you should think, who you should be, what your dreams are, what the secrets of the universe are, when you should accomplish everything, where you should go scholastically, philosophically, politically, economically, spiritually, socially, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Who knows? Maybe they have nothing better to do than to live vicariously through you because they couldn't cut it. 

Harsh? So what? If I feel compelled to live life in the way that it moves me, it doesn't make much difference to me at all who likes it and who doesn't. If I have a strong moral compass, and choose to live legally, morally and ethically, good on me. I will have self-respect, and that's good enough for me. 

Ask yourselves, who are the people who are weighing you down and clipping your wings? Love them, but do it from a distance and give them no quarter. Until they're willing to be meaningful contributors to your particular equation, they are irrelevant.