The Fleeting Fancies of Fledglings [Part 2/3]: The Analysis

In the last blog, the article titled “Teenage Music Listening Habits: The Terrifying Truth” was posted. If you didn’t read the article, you can check it out here:

As promised, here is my analysis on that article, but keep in mind that depending on what side of the coin you’re on, this can be a good thing or a bad thing. Before we dig in, let me explain that I totally understand that this article is not representative of EVERY teenager living on planet Earth. However, since this article is published, there must be some sort of majority that feels this way, so let’s dig in:


This article is a good thing simply because if you’re trying to make a quick buck with the 18 and under crowd, then this article will tell you exactly how to do it and I would say to treat this article like GOLD! Ultimately, the formula whittles down to this:

1. Make ONE song that follows popular musical trends.

2. Post it on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and Spotify.

3. Cash in.

4. Repeat steps 1 through 3 if you want more cash.

This formula is simple in its construct and doesn’t require that a person be a musical artist per se, but rather it requires a person to be an awesome engineer possibly with keyboarding experience OR, to a lesser degree, access to musicians. In the article, the first line under “So what do I do with this information” reads:

“Concentrate on one song at a time. Record, release, promote. Rinse and repeat.”

If this is your M.O. then, by all means, go for it. Make your money and go on about your day. You shalt not receiveth a cup of Haterade from me for I have bills too. LOL!


This article can be a bad thing, but, to a greater degree, I think it’s more depressing than anything else. Why? Because a real musical artist is going to do what a real musical artist does… and that is usually not limited to ONE song. When I was 18, we had to buy the whole CD to get to the one song that we heard on the radio. The funny part about that is the one song on the radio probably wasn’t the best song on the entire project. Don’t get it wrong, there were DEFINITELY “dud projects”, but, for the most part, full CD projects were pretty good to the point where you could listen to the entire CD again and again.

But you had to LISTEN TO THE WHOLE CD to find that out.

So this article is a bad thing in the sense that:

1. …teenagers deprive themselves of finding out whether an artist is truly worth their time.
*The sum total of an artist is not the ONE popular song that they created. For example, Bobby McFerrin is a phenomenal singer/musician, but he is only KNOWN for “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”… a song that he himself considered nothing more than a trifle. Speaking of “Happy”, Pharrell is a musical genius as well so I certainly hope he doesn’t get pigeon-holed in the same fashion.

2. …teenagers limit themselves to music that sounds alike.
*Consider this: teenagers listen to ONE song at a time… with no true artist loyalty… and that ONE song probably sounds like every other ONE song downloaded into their MP3 device… which makes for a boring musical lexicon.

3. …teenagers miss out on using the entirety of your brain to regularly challenge their musical tastes.
*How can they KNOW if they like Jazz if they’ve never heard it?

As attention spans are shortened by an MTV-like blizzard of images and sounds, it’s causing music to try to keep up with the fleeting fancies of fledglings because that’s where the fast money is…

…and the music is suffering as a result.



The Fleeting Fancies of Fledglings [Part 1/3]: The Research

I received an email from one of the many music business groups that I’m a part of titled “Teenage Music Listening Habits. The Terrifying Truth.” I read the article and, the way I see it, there are terrifying parts of this article, but there are also nuggets on how to reach a generation with an ever decreasing attention span. In the next post, I will give you my analysis of this article, but definitely check it out first and see what you think.

Teenage Music Listening Habits. The Terrifying Truth

It is a little on the terrifying side though… ENJOY!

The Dark Room [Part 2/2]

“Let all things be done decently and in order.” -1 Corinthians 14:40 (KJV)

Continuing on from the last blog post, I shared that one of my BIGGEST annoyances in the church is when musicians invite themselves to play when no one has invited them to play. I also shared FIVE INSTANCES WHEN NOT TO PLAY so now let’s discuss let’s recap FIVE INSTANCES WHEN YOU SHOULD PLAY:


1. If you have been specifically requested to do so by a person in charge of the music.

2. If you have been specifically requested to do so by a person in charge of the music.

3. If you have been specifically requested to do so by a person in charge of the music.

4. If you have been specifically requested to do so by a person in charge of the music.

5. If you have been specifically requested to do so by a person in charge of the music.

Very simple in its construct, but, surprisingly, very hard to do. And I hear the question running through your head Mr./Mrs. Church Musician reading this blog:

“But what if there are absolutely no musicians with the prospect of none coming?”

This is definitely a common occurrence in the African-American church, which, I believe, is the reason why church musicians are bold enough to invite themselves to play in practically any situation. I still say that IF that is the case, you still need to talk to someone in charge and ASK if they need musical assistance. A simple “Do you all need help on keys?” or “Do you mind if I play the drums?” goes a long way and shows a level of respect as opposed to just running up to an open instrument simply because it’s open. Even if it is the case that there are absolutely no musicians with the prospect of none coming, consider these questions:

“What if that church has a praise team that sounds like “Take 6” or “Sweet Honey In The Rock” and doesn’t need musicians?”


“What makes you so sure that you know ALL the music sight unseen/sound unheard?”


“How can you be sure YOUR playing style is something that the singers can follow?”

So on and so forth. Do you see where this line of questions leads to? There is a huge difference between confidence and arrogance. As a musician, you should definitely have confidence in the musical abilities that God has given you, but never be so arrogant (aka “prideful”) in your musical abilities that you think you can “Superman” any situation and save the day. Remember the scripture in Proverbs:

“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty* spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18 (NIV)

*Interesting to note that one synonym for “haughty” is “arrogant”.

Also remember that when Superman was being “super”, he caused a lot of collateral damage that DC Comics never explained how it was fixed or whether it was fixed period.

So is it possible that prideful or arrogant musicians are causing musical collateral damage because of pride? If that’s the case, how is that decent and in order according to the scripture?

P.S. – If you don’t know who “Sweet Honey In The Rock” is, you definitely owe it to yourself to look them up on YouTube. Awesome female a cappella group.

The Dark Room [Part 1/2]

“Let all things be done decently and in order.” -1 Corinthians 14:40 (KJV)

And now for the question that will be the premise of this blog series:

How often do you walk into a completely dark room, close the door behind you, and just stand there hoping that the flashlight app on your phone will light up the whole room (assuming you have one)?

I would imagine that most, if not all, of you out there in Blogland would say “Not often”, “Not at all”, or counter with “Why would anyone ever do something like that?”

And guess what? Those are the appropriate responses.

A HUGE pet peeve of mine is church musicians who invite themselves to play when they haven’t been invited. The “dark room” scenario is the closest real life parallel that I could come up with to illustrate this phenomenon. I’ve only experienced this in church and, after so many years/decades of being a church musician, this is still one of my BIGGEST annoyances. Therefore, for my own sanity, I thought I would put down in “writing” times when it is appropriate to play and times when it is NOT appropriate to play in a given church service… and for the sake of my sanity (yet again), let’s start off with when NOT to play:


1. If there are already musicians in place and you don’t know/recognize any of them, DON’T PLAY.

2. If you don’t know/recognize any of the singers, DON’T PLAY.

3. If your thought/intention is to just “follow along”, DON’T PLAY.

4. If you haven’t rehearsed with the group, DON’T PLAY.

5. If you have NOT been invited/requested to play, DON’T PLAY.

Even a musician with the best of intentions is introducing an X factor when they voluntarily push their musical services into a situation that doesn’t require it. These five common sense instances are a great litmus test to KNOW through and through when NOT to play because the goal (ESPECIALLY in church) is for all things to operate decently and in order.

And yes… “all things” means “all things”. Selah.

Please Don’t Lie

Think about your answers to the following questions:

1. Have you ever ordered a menu item from your favorite fast food restaurant only to find that the food you were actually served looks nothing like the picture?

2. Have you ever walked up on a person of the opposite gender that you were interested in only to be IMMEDIATELY uninterested once (1) you got a good look at them or (2) they started talking?

3. Have you ever purchased a car because it looked “baller”, but once you started to drive the car you found out that it was a “not-at-all-er”?

Musical concepts apply in our everyday life more often than we think. The three questions that you just read are the everyday life examples that I apply to songs that have elaborate introductions yet those introductions are NOT an indicator of what the song will actually be. You’ve all heard those songs. In fact, the conversation in mind might go a little something like this:

“Wow… I LOVE the intro to this song…”

“…sounds like the singer is about to start…”

“…wait, did the music just switch up?…”

“…this is not where I thought this song was going…”

“…I’m changing the station/turning on the CD player/turning on the iSomething…”

Does that stream of consciousness sound familiar to you? When I took jazz composition in college, one of the things that my professor said about the introductions to a piece of music is that it has to be related to what’s actually happening in the song. Otherwise, it’s not really an introduction.

That’s like if I shake your hand… say to you “Hello. My name is Thomas”… and my name tag says “Bill”.

You see. Not a real introduction. Therefore, to all of my songwriters out there in Blogland, I encourage you to make sure your intro’s match your actual song giving you musical consistency throughout your entire piece. Think of it like this: an introduction is nothing more than you musically letting the listener KNOW what they’re about to get into for the next 5-6 minutes. As a result, that 30 second intro is crucial. How crucial?…

A solid intro indicates a solid song.

A weak intro indicates a weak song.

A weak intro to a solid song indicates an incomplete song.

A solid intro to a weak song indicates a LIE!

(please don’t lie… it’s so unbecoming)

Don’t Run The Vamp Too Long

As I was preparing for work this morning, I was listening to the Gospel station that’s part of my cable package (around Channel 400+ or so) as I typically do. A song came on from a Gospel mass choir (that shall remain nameless for the purposes of this blog) and it was a hand-clappin’, foot stompin’ go getter.

OK. No problems there…

And then comes the vamp…

And then comes more vamp…

And then comes even MORE vamp…

Being that this is a TV channel, I can’t skip the song and go on to the next one (like on my iPod or Pandora, etc) so I had to suffer through it. In my suffrage (and subsequent memory of this morning’s suffrage), I decided to look that song up and run some analytical numbers on it. The results are SHOCKING (kinda). Check it out:


INTRO = 21 seconds = 5% of total song
VERSE 1 = 28 seconds = 7% of total song
CHORUS = 19 seconds = 5% of total song
VERSE 2 = 29 seconds = 7% of total song
CHORUS (again) = 19 seconds = 5% of total song
MUSICAL SEGWAY* = 38 seconds = 9% of total song
VAMP = 266 seconds = 63% of total song

*for lack of a better identifying term

…and the sad part is that the song didn’t actually end. It just faded out (which meant that the vamp went even longer). So if you look at the percentages for this particular gospel song (and others like it), most of meat (over half of the entire song) is in a VAMP that never seems to stop. Therefore, to all of my songwriters, I beg you to take heed of these TWO simple thoughts:

THOUGHT #1: If your song is mostly vamp OR heavily vamp dependent, then you need to beef up your verses or your chorus or something. After all, you go to the buffet for the entire meal, not JUST a whole lot of dessert. Selah!

THOUGHT #2: Don’t run the vamp too long lest you lose the attention of the listener.

**FOR ALL OF MY NON-MUSIC READERS, the word VAMP in music refers to “a section of music that is meant to be repeated indefinitely until a signal is given to the group to move on to the next section or the end of the song”.

You Should Go And Play

My wife recently bought me a birthday gift (per my request) that has been helping me out a lot with some “outside the box” musical creativity. What’s the gift (you might ask)? Simple…


For those of you who remember K’Nex, you already know what they are, but for those who don’t, K’nex are “a construction toy system that uses color coded interlocking plastic rods, connectors, gears, wheels, and other components, which can be pieced together to form a wide variety of models, machines, and architectural structures.”

(thanks Wikipedia)

So what does this have to do with “outside the box” musical creativity? Well, when I was a kid I had this (along with Lego’s) and used to build all kinds of items based on stories happening in my head (and the stuff I had to build to make the stories come true). That could be anything from a Lego based Klingon Battle Cruiser to a K’Nex based octagon fortress (and YES I had those little green army guys to guard it). The bottom line is that those toys sparked my imagination so you can imagine that once I received my birthday gift, I was zoned out for a good amount of time building all kinds of stuff that’s been festering in my brain for the last 10-15 years or so.

Little did I know that would fuel the creativity that I use for the music that I play and even the music that I teach to my students. THEN I came across this quote by neurophysiologist and educator Carla Hannaford (author of “Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head”):

“Play provides the emotional spark which activates our attention, problem solving, and behavior response systems so we gain the skills necessary for cooperation, co-creativity, altruism, and understanding.”

So while you are in the practice room (or the “woodshed” as my jazz brothers and sisters like to call it), be sure to set aside some time to go and play. You might find your practicing afterwards will have a fresh sound.

This post brought to you by the letter P (for “play”), the number 4 (because the word “play” has four letters in it), and my lovely wife (for buying me toys that I now have to make sure I clean up off the floor-LOL!). #143

And if you’re interested in Hannaford’s book, check it out here: