Monday, March 17, 2014

we have met the enemy, and he is us

Why I will never give up:

Thanks to Pogo Possum and Walt Kelly for this wise parody of words in the subject line - and to Wikipedia for teaching us where it comes from!

This post is all over the place, with totally disjointed thoughts. I am puking it out anyway... Better off my chest than in my heart causing damage, because this way I get to better see the magnificence of the blessing in the perceived crisis.

You know, it never ceases to amaze me how something that was initially ignored becomes self-evident later - how it's so obvious that people always expected it to be so. I once read a quote by a famous American radio announcer who said that people won't give you the time of day when it comes to something - but then when you make it, they act as if they always knew you would.

This also relates to Malcolm Gladwell's tipping point - achievement in any area of endeavour seems like an uphill struggle, but when you break through, then it just seems easier (although it's not). This is also relevant to branding - the whole notion of creating a strong brand is built on the premise that once that brand is strong and well-known, then it's easier to get it out there...

I refer specifically to a music awards ceremony. I enter it every year, but every year, I get nowhere. I see people that I know who enter it, and they have won - and now whenever they enter, they always seem to either win or be nominated. It's because their personal brands have been given that initial boost.

To tell you the truth, I don't think my music is good enough yet - on paper, yes, but in reality, no. And it's not because all those people are more talented than me. I know that I have worked really hard on my talent for music, and that it does not come easy. I have beaten those same people in competitions before, so I know I have what they do. But they have had success that I have not had (yet), so they seem to be breaking through more often. It's Jon Shaw's theory of double jeopardy in music branding. Good thing I am doing my doctorate on personal music brands, so this info will help me with my studies - and ultimately to build my own personal music brand.

So I am not surprised that I did not get nominated for an award - again. I just don't think I am there yet with the professional side of things - mostly because I cannot afford it yet (though that is going to change). But I know I have the talent and the vision, the mission and the purpose, the values to lead me there. It's just gonna take a bit more time. Music X-Ray sent us an email today, about the rejection letter of Bono back in 1978. Their advice? You keep trying until someone says yes. I also like John Demartini's advice: just outlive all the other fuckers, and when they die, you'll be the only one left standing.

Yes, this time I am discouraged that my music career is going nowhere. Yes, I feel confused, disheartened, discouraged, down. Is this because music truly is NOT my highest value - or because I am not doing well enough? According to whom? Well, if music is not my highest value, then I pray God will change that - make the void so great that the value becomes enormous - and may I search all my life for a thirst that will never be quenched.

I sometimes feel that the problem is me - it's not all the others who say no. It's me. It's not the other people who told me I couldn't - yeah, there have been some of those. It's me who keeps silently telling myself that I can't, shouldn't, mustn't, haven't yet so why bother, etc., etc., etc.

Well I am very sorry Rob Rodell. I don't give a shit what you say to me - I want this. It may be a small ember that is burning and is about to die, but I pray that it will never go out. I pray that my life's work truly is music, and that the greatest contribution that I will make to this world is a musical one.

I am so far from that it is scary. But I don't care. May the ember never die. May I truly follow the calling of my soul.

I ask myself right now: strip away all the bullshit. What do I really want? The inner turmoil that I feel clouds my vision. But as I sit here, what will I write? I declare that my telos is music, and I pray that it will be so for all eternity.

So TAKE THAT, Rob Rodell! Go fuck yourself. I will NEVER give up on music. I don't care if I am 95 years old with my oxygen tank when they call me up on stage to win my only Grammy.

I will follow my dream, no matter how dead or dying it is. I will follow my dream. I will follow my dream. It is a music dream. I drink deep of the fountain of music. May my soul never be quenched.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

House Broken Album Launch

My God, I have almost forgotten what a blog is! In the time since I last wrote a woman could have had a baby already - it's been nine months!

I am so pleased that I am launching my tenth album next week Saturday. It comes on the back of three years of consistent work with several different producers and artists. And while it is not perfect, it is ready, and it is coming out.

A friend of mine asked me yesterday if I should first get the album perfect before I release it. I said no, based on years of experience and the precedent set by others in the music industry. Because it is my assertion that, unless you are just very lucky, it takes a whole lot of crappy albums to create a great one.

That is something I will spend the rest of my life trying to do: create amazing music that connects with and inspires people, and becomes timeless.

Music, grata Deo.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

On going gold & releasing my 8th album...


I wrote this on my Facebook page yesterday: "Hey Dad! Happy 68th birthday for yesterday. Miss you, but know you are still with me in spirit. How's Rod? Just wanted you to know that I have just released my 8th album, which is dedicated to you. Hope you love it! It's called 'A Cappella Christmas Vol. 2.' Enjoy. Much love, Rob. Xxxx" I couldn't help but cry, and I am glad they weren't tears of sorrow but of joy, like the ones I experienced in studio the other day - for the first time in my life!
What a year 2012 has been! It's been brilliant and it's been challenging, like every year before and every year that is yet to come in my life. And that's okay, because I know that we, the entire universe, are surrounded and enveloped in an amazing love that is eternal and omnipresent.
Last year perhaps my single biggest musical achievement was my South African Music Award (SAMA) nomination, but this year there have been quite a few:
  • It's official: the "Could This Be Love" house single with Cuebur and Shimza went gold in SA, which is just amazing! I set myself a goal back in 2006 to achieve gold status by June 2007 and platinum by December the same year. Little did I know how much work would be involved! But I am soooo happy that I achieved the first part of that goal, five-and-a-half years later... That's okay too - better late than never, and now at least I am on my way...
  • We finally did a video for CTBL as part of the 48 Hour Music Video Project, which Johannesburg had the awesome privilege of being involved in - one of only 14 cities in the world.
  • The song was nominated as the second-best song at the prize giving for the MVP, and a well-know local group, The Muffinz, said they absolutely loved it, and fought hard for it, so it became a two-hour fight between my song and the winner. I could never have done it without Cuebur, an amazing and humble producer and DJ that is just such a pleasure to work with.
  • A Cappella Christmas Vol. 2 was released this year, and became my 8th album release in 4 years, since my 1st release back in 2008. Shameful that it took me more than 10 years to release my 1st album, but I was waiting for a major label to pick me up. Eventually I woke up and started using my brain, and since then the albums have been coming thick & fast. I like being in control of my career!
  • I may even get a 9th album out this year still, if I can get my awesome graphic designer to finish the cover before the 31st!
I am deeply, richly blessed, I have had an amazing life, and I am incredibly grateful for my family and my life. Just all that good stuff, you know? Every human being has tasted it, no matter how tough they have it/have had it/will have it. There is always something to smile about, even on days when you're totally pissed off.
Musica, grata Deo.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

It's easy to criticise when you're standing on the sidelines...

My blog post earlier today refers. What a day!

So I was busy singing at Hyde Park, when a tenant asked me to turn down the "noise." I politely declined, saying that I would do so when instructed by Tumi from centre management. Tumi then opted to move me to the other end of the lower level mall. Whilst I was busy re-setting up, which was of course a huge waste of time, I get called over to the table of what appeared to be a sweet elderly couple who asked if the music was going to be good, and also implored that it not be too loud.

Considering their needs, I turned the sound way down. To no avail! I sang two original songs and then launched into Elton John and Diana Ross, after which I went and asked the sweet old dears if the music was okay. BAD IDEA! The granny bitched and moaned about how her husband didn't enjoy his cappuccino and how she couldn't enjoy her ice cream because the music was so loud. A real pair of old farts! Anyway, she bitched in my ear, so I called Tumi. Granny then told Tumi that they had come all the way from Pretoria to eat a nice meal, which had been ruined by loud, "ugly" music. Well, I lost it! I told Granny dearest that the music was hardly ugly (I didn't spend 10 years training my voice because it was fun - it was damn hard work), and that I took offence at her rudeness. Well, she laid back into me and told me that I was ugly. Of course that just got my back up even more, so I got stuck into her again and asked her who died and made her the Queen of England, and that there was no need for her to be such a nasty piece of work.

Eventually Grandpa and Tumi calmed us both down. Gramps took her away, and Tumi suggested that I stand down for the day and pick it up again tomorrow. I said, "Sorry Tumi, but I won't stand for that crap. She needed to be put in her place." She said not to worry, apologised profusely, and asked if I was okay, which I don't think I was. Now I know, based on my blog earlier today that this is part of the game, but I was totally unprepared for Granny's little temper tantrum. As I took my equipment to pack it away, Jurg asked me how it went. I told him the story. This was his response. "They booed Pavarotti off the stage. Don't doubt yourself." Wow, what awesome advice was that!

I also spoke to Kim, one of the tenants. She also gave me some great advice, which I really needed to hear: "If they don't like it, it's their problem, not yours. You are doing the very best that you can, and you love it, so just keep on doing it. I don't see her getting up to sing." Yeah, Kim reminded me of a friend of mine, Roger Dickinson, who said that people used to stand on the side of the soccer field, all liquored up, and tell him he was useless at soccer. It's easy to stand on the sidelines and criticise.

But I am not gonna give up. I may be bloodied, but I am unbowed. And I really need to grow a bigger set of balls. So tomorrow, unless Tumi comes and tells me to shut up, or by an act of God I am struck down, or a tenant takes an AK47 and shoots me, I am just gonna sing. But some won't like it. This is when I become crass and say, tough shit. That's part of the game. Did I learn nothing from the blog post I wrote this morning?

And so now allow me to become even more crass for just a moment: FUCK YOU, UNIVERSE! If you think I'm gonna quit because some old bitch is a miserable pickled old prune and does not appreciate my art, then you have got another thing coming. Arrogant? Maybe. But I think at least the universe appreciates the honesty. Hey, let me remind myself: as John Demartini says, if you're not being crucified, then you're not living on purpose. I can deal with that. Music is my telos, I don't fucking care how hard it is. This is what I was born to make my greatest contribution to the world in.

Time to get back out there, and live to fight another day.

criticism & praise

Urban legend has it that if Madonna gets 10 critiques, with 9 being positive and 1 being negative, she tends to forget about the 9 good ones and fixates on the bad one. Maybe this is just the sensitive nature of the artist, or maybe she just wants to get it right and prove her critics wrong.

Either way, I can relate! I am doing a stint at Hyde Park Corner, a very snooty shopping centre in Johannesburg, every Saturday and Sunday in the month of August (like Madge, it's also my birthday this month). I started last weekend, and I must say it's damn hard work! This is the not-so-fun side of the music biz. Glamour, what glamour?

Because it's in a shopping centre it's an acoustic nightmare. I find it very difficult to hear myself over the PA system, but some of the tenants have been complaining that it's either too soft or too loud. It has been rather unsettling, but I have tried to march forward, despite my aural insecurities, and deliver the best damn job that I can.

In some cases it has worked. Last week on Saturday I had a gentleman walk up to me and say, "You have a beautiful voice. Very nice to listen to." Another gentleman called me as I walked past him sitting at a restaurant and said, "I just want to tell you, you have the most extraordinary voice." Of course these are the wonderful compliments a singer wants to hear. I thanked them both and said that I appreciated the feedback, because it was hard to know what people actually hear - and of course what they think.

The one gent said that he had owned an interior design shop in the centre for 30 years, and that I should take his advice and bring a gun with, because he thought it was a shame that people just walked past and did not even acknowledge me as a singer. A lady on Sunday walked past me and said practically the same thing - that she and her family had been listening, and they appreciated it, and that even though there was no audience to speak of (I am doing background filler music, though thankfully some of it is original), that it was still great. Of course I thanked her and said that we singers really need to hear that sort of encouragement.

And then, of course, there is the other side. A few years ago I delivered what I thought was a great Christmas programme at Greenstone, another large shopping centre on the other side of Johannesburg. When I phoned the marketing manager in January to ask her if she wanted to hire me again for Valentine's Day, she said that the tenants didn't like my singing. Ouch! I certainly have my critics, and it's hard. A music publisher that I submitted some original music to for a possible publishing deal once said to me, "Rob, some of your stuff isn't bad, but please get someone else to sing it!" I guess I just have to make peace with the fact that not everyone is going to be a fan of my music and my voice. That's the brutally harsh reality of the music industry, and if I want to be in it, I need to live with that. Hey, if somebody is willing to pay £1,000 to see Barbra Streisand perform and then heckle her, why should I expect anything different?

So yeah, I have had my detractors at Hyde Park. One tenant, who said she was very glad to hear that I was singing and was looking forward to hearing me the next day, was one of the first to complain to centre management about how I just was not cutting it. Another woman came down from the optometrist on the next level up, and asked me to please turn down the music as she could not hear patients over the phone. A few days later a friend of mine went up there to speak to her, and she did not know who he was. He fished for info, and she eventually said, "Well, I can honestly say that he does not have the voice of an angel!" C'est la vie.

My singing teacher always used to relay the story of Pavarotti, who as a youngster went with his father and uncle to go and listen to some opera. Apparently his father couldn't stop booing, and his uncle couldn't stop lauding the singer. Young Pav then decided that 50% of people will like you, and 50% of people will hate you. My teacher always then said that it would be the same for me, so I should just get on with the job. I take comfort in the fact that my music will resonate with some, even if it doesn't with others. Is that not the way of the world?

John Demartini always says that if you're not being crucified and opposed for what you stand for, then you're not on purpose - you are not making a difference in the world. I believe it was Einstein who said that people with a vision and a purpose will always be violently opposed by those who are against them. I think John Demartini is a visionary who has helped me live my telos, which is music. Some people think he is the anti-Christ.

As Robert Palmer sings, it takes every kind of people to make the world go round. Ain't that the truth! As for me, I am just gonna keep on singing, whether they love me or hate me, and I hope that I will touch the lives of many with my music. I desire to serve people with it.

Well, let me be off. I have to go sing now at Hyde Park. There is nothing else I'd rather be doing right now.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Confessions of a Busker

Katie Melua once remarked, upon seeing a 6-year-old Russian boy busking in Moscow, that busking is a rite of passage for a musician, although she also said that she felt 6 was a little young!

Well, at age 40, I have decided to return to busking, and I have been doing it for almost 2 months now, on and off, every week. I must say it has not been easy!

I first tried busking at The Zone in Rosebank in Johannesburg 10 years ago, when I was in my early 30s. Since then they have built the Gautrain (Johannesburg's subway or underground or metro), which has brought a whole new bunch of people to the area. South Africa has also changed a lot in the past 10 years, and now you will see all race groups with money, not just White people anymore, at the centre. Initially I was a bit worried... would a young hip Black lady give a bald White dude a tip for singing in her ear as she pays for her parking? To my shock initially, and great happy surprise, some of my biggest tips have come from the awesome Black people who now shop in Rosebank - and they are loaded. Chalk one up for my stupid prejudice...

The stuff I busk is quite different to my House music, which I do with very cool young producers. No, at The Zone I sing stuff from musicals and theatre and a bit of opera and a few of the oldies. It is beautiful music. Occasionally I throw in an original. Not being great at guitar and with a keyboard being impractical, I just stand and sing a cappella - which is still awesome. In the underground parking areas my voice sounds amazing because it has built-in reverb.

Today a lady came up to me whilst I was singing and said to me, "Your talent is wasted in this place." I was so encouraged and thanked her for her kind words. About 20 minutes later I thanked a lady for giving me a tip, and she said, "No, thank YOU! It is beautiful." I was truly encouraged. Apparently today I made more than most buskers did.

But I won't lie... It is hard, and I really didn't feeling like doing it today. I felt introspective and insecure, but I kicked my own backside and decided to do it anyway.

Still, the people who are closest to me think that I am a professional pauper, standing, and I quote, "...on the side of the road begging for money." I can understand why they feel that way. I left a lucrative career in corporate marketing to pursue my dream of a full-time career in music, and I am much the poorer for it. It is the fourth time I have shunned the marketing world in pursuit of my musical dream, because I know that music is my telos, my calling, my highest value, my purpose and mission for this world.

I wonder sometimes, though: is the price too high? I am making so little money compared to what I used to, and on a day like today I am not happy that I have chosen music, because it has made me poorer. How can I find a way to make money from my music career? If others can, surely so can I. Well, that's the brave story I tell myself, but I certainly don't feel that way today...

No, I won't go back to corporate marketing, and even though I am now doing my doctorate and I should be earning the big bucks, still I find it hard to make music my career. Well, John Demartini would tell me that at least the addiction to my fantasy of music being a glamorous job is being shattered, so that I can deal with the reality of what music is really about. At least now I know what ABBA and Danny K are talking about when they say music is such a tough job, and you really have to love it.

As I was busy doing my hour of busking, and after I had finished, I felt better. Did I enjoy it? Very, very much. I loved singing. I love singing. It's so hard, but I still love it. And as I was doing it, and placing my voice higher and higher in my head, to get the best possible sound, I gave all my breath, and I loved it. And that's when the lady complimented me on my gift...

Does this blog entry have a happy ending? No. Music is a pain in the ass. But what to do? I am in love with music. And there's not a damn thing I can do about it. So I guess I better just get on with it and sing. What else should I do? Nothing. Sing or be damned. Sing or die. Make music till I die. As Pavarotti said, that is a life well lived, and that is what I have dedicated myself to...

Monday, May 28, 2012

Vivat Academia, Vivant Professores

I just learnt that I have passed my course at Wits University on business principles for songwriters and music publishers with distinction. This makes me very happy, for 3 reasons:
  1. I can use the knowledge to help and serve my students in The Music Business Academy, my school that teaches music business (http:///www.samusicbiz.com)
  2. I can use the knowledge to protect my music from theft and misuse.
  3. It validates me as a musician, in my eyes, and lends credence to my desire to do music as a full-time career, which I am doing now. I am not just paying lip service to my telos, I am following it up with action.
Music, grata Deo.