Kids Today

Sep 03, 2020

A couple years ago my friend Billy had me fill in for the day, teaching his classes at Texas State University. Billy, who built the studio I currently work from, is a genuine Renaissance man, minus the hose and doublet. He was flying out that day to do backstage wizardry for the Dixie Chicks, and so wouldn't be around to teach his classes on post production and composing for film and television (have I made my point yet about the Renaissance man thing?) So on the morning in question, clad in neither hose and doublet nor tweeds and pipe, I toddled down the road to San Marcos, Texas to do my best impression of Professor of Music for Billy's students.

Now, I haven't ever taught college kids composition before, but I did spend many summers teaching the blues to teenage Stevie Ray Vaughan freaks. So even though I made my higher-education debut that morning in nothing more elaborate than a pearl-snap shirt and my favorite pants, my sleeves were not completely devoid of everything but my arms. Once every kid had arrived and was duly parked behind their workstation, their phone and their latte, I went around the room to find out a little about who everyone was and what they were doing there. This was when, for me, things got extremely interesting.

When I was in school, we studied music. But we didn't study anything else, to get work as a musician. Nor did we get any work experience in school, except maybe by playing r&b at parties or background (and I use the term loosely) jazz at the dining hall. But these kids? Going around the room, everyone was doing something: producing their classmates' albums, doing live sound on the weekends, interning at recording went on and on. And they weren't just learning to play an instrument or write concert music. They were learning to write for advertising and mix for television and some of them, the ones with real foresight, were studying marketing, too. Imagine that – they were actually looking at how to get their freaking music beyond their bedroom walls before they even graduated. If I was a purist, I suppose I could have found this depressing, in a cart-before-the-horse kind of way, but I've always admired the Jimmy Vaughan school of thought: "If you're gonna make records, ya might as well sell some." So in fact, I found it amazing, and weirdly encouraging.

One of these wise little optimists – let's call him Nate –  approached me after class to ask if I ever needed interns. He managed to inquire in a way that was both direct and respectful, which I came to find out is how he approaches most of his professional dealings. Because of course, when I did finally have a composing project that was both ongoing and full of lots of boring, repetitive detail work, I remembered Nate and brought him on board. He turned out to be sharp as a tack, unfazed by the tedious repetition and a shockingly entertaining hang. Part of our internship agreement was that I would explain anything he wanted to know about the music he was working so hard to finalize and render for delivery. This often evolved into lengthy conversations about composition, recording, jazz history, client relationships and more, and only increased my appreciation for how at least some current music students are wrapping their heads around the ancient question of art versus commerce.

Unlike Nate, who's been studying these things in school, anything I know about the art/commerce question is the result of thirty years of trial and error. And the phrase "trial and error" doesn't even begin to imply the scope of the trial involved, nor the extent of the error incurred. Which is why, as I go about updating my website and preparing to release a slate of new courses in the coming year, I'd like to explain something that's about to change over on my Youtube channel.

Three years ago, I put out a free series called Six Steps To Playing Fingerstyle Blues. It was designed to answer one of the questions I get asked most often: "If I want to learn fingerstyle blues, where should I begin?" Actually, Six Steps is not really for the beginning guitarist, but for someone who already plays some guitar, yet is starting from scratch with the steady bass technique.

So the series is out on Youtube, and that's great. But I get asked a lot about downloadable course material too, and of course, Youtube is not downloadable, officially anyway. Some people like the idea of the Fingerstyle Five membership but can't commit to a monthly or weekly schedule. Some people want to be able to refer to my material regardless of their internet access. And nearly everyone, it seems, would like it if I tabbed out more of what I present on Youtube. 

So change is afoot for the Six Steps series. Sometime in the next few weeks, for less than five bucks a lesson, you'll be able to download Six Steps To Playing Fingerstyle Blues from my site. It will come with an updated PDF including all of the full length examples, plus newly transcribed short examples from throughout the course. The download access will also include a streaming option. And Lesson 1, Playing The Groove, will remain on up Youtube for free.

I've had several people with marketing experience suggest this move, but I've held off because I didn't want to take content I'd made available for free and stick a price tag on it unless I thought the increased value justified doing so. I do think making the material downloadable, improving and expanding the tab and having the lessons all in one place is worth the change, and I hope you do too.

Did I just call my work "content"? Maybe some of this marketing showbiz is starting to rub off on me after all.

More soon,