The Old Man’s Guide to becoming a 21st Century Musician

The past few months of artistic acceleration and evolution have caused a new concept to form in my head
It is the concept of the 21st Century Musician
My first attempts at become a more evolved musician started right around the turn of the century when I joined Autonomy
I had begun to develop a multi-media approach with my TV show and the video loops that I played on TVs on the stage
This coupled with the Ground Zero video gig gave me plenty of opportunities to learn how the visual nature of multi-media affects an audience
I had only begun to think about electronics, having played around with William’s Zoom drum machine and tinkering with an Alesis drum brain
However, I was weak in those areas
Although, playing songs like “Ignite” and “We Have it All” did give me plenty of growth when it came to interacting with a drum machine

It wasn’t until neccessity caused me to embrace electronics in 2005 that I realized that I needed to embrace a 21st century mindset and shed the old trappings of the way I used to think about music
Not just how I would make it
But why I would make it

Since 2nd grade, I have had the same general concept of a musician was someone that was better at playing an instrument than most people
The ones who got famous were those who could exploit their own strengths (technical prowess, attitude, good looks etc…) to get to the top
The ever expanding pallate of rock music in the late 20th century would broaden the definition of successful musician but every single genre and sub genre would have the same general goal
-Become a good musician
-Get bigger
-Play for more people
-Make money
-Become a better musician along the way so that you are respected and admired for what you do
What’s more, do it when you are young and good looking and can enjoy the Rock n Roll fairytale

Having spent a good 25 plus years of my life as a musician, I accrued quite a few hangups that are very 20th Century
Some of the most harmful were things like
-if you write it, you gotta play it, sampling parts is cheating
-people will respect you based on your musical accomplishments
-try as hard as possible to maintin originality and make sure no one can say “you ripped that off from _____”
Basically, I was trying to amplify everything that made me more special than everyone else and resenting those who were good at other things for succeeding
Not only that, but I had a very narrow concept of what music was

It didn’t take long after I progressed from beginner to intermediate musician that I acquired the need to innovate
It was about the time I moved from KISS to Rush
That was more than 25 years ago and I have had the same basic concept of what would make me consider myself a successful musician

So, am I gonna finally get to what I consider to be a the difference between a 20th and 21st century musician?
Well I’m gonna try because I am still not sure myself

In my opinion, Frank Zappa is one of the most important 21st century musicians of the 20th century
He didn’t just embrace multi-media, he accelerated it’s evolution
Here are some things that are Zappa did that is now considered very modern
– Maintained complete control over every product he made
-Produced music, film, video and  print and didn’t see any clear distinctions between any of them
-Defied and ignored any attempts from others to confine him to one genre of entertainment
-Commented so much on society that he would influence it both on a commercial and artistic level 
-Not only embraced new technology but made it do things that had never been done before on such a scale 

Basically, he was an innovator at pretty much anything he did
God help us all if he had lived long enough to use the internet

So, what does the 21st century musician strive for?
For one thing, you can’t have a closed mind to the rapidly developing technologically based music and art fan
In the rock musician’s case, it is no longer good enough to just emulate the way the popular bands look and play
It also goes deeper than just posting your gigs on the internet
Furthermore, the musician that expects to be admired based upon their own accomplishments can no longer afford to just be good on their instrument 
Now that anyone can make music with a sampler, you have to find ways to use that technology to set yourself apart from the current batch who are using 21st century tools to make 20th century music
It goes way beyong making cool beats and sampling neat sounds (and it is waaay past metal riffs over disco beats)
The same goes with the visual aspect
It is no longer advanced or innovative to just throw some random footage on the video screen while you play
There are plentiful amounts of cheap and easy tools that make it easier for you to have exact control over your content, so why not consider your visuals just as important to the context of the performance as the music?

The other equally important aspect is to exploit social media as a way to endear people to you instead of a shotgun-blast method of “e-flyering”
Now that there are a million bands out there that look and sound just like you (no matter how original you think you are) you need to be able to adapt your personal communication skills to the 21st century “word of mouth”
The old way was to get out and schmooze people by flyering and talking to people
That aspect is still critically important but now you need to treat the various social networking sites the same way as you would your potential demographic in a club
It is no different to IM someone for a second than it is to stop and say hello to someone that you only have the intention of talking to before you move on through the club

Lastly, the musician that strives to become something more than just a good pop musician with the latest technolologically based trend behind them, needs to stop thinking of these things as trends to be exploited and start exploiting them as tools for the re-definition of  the  basic creative process
We all have a tool that will advance communication and cultural growth faster than anything comparable to the printing press, magnetic tape or even television
The 21st century musician needs to see it as a whole instead of endlessly sorting through it to find the millions of needles in a planet sized haystack

I hope to come as close to a 21st century musician as I possibly can in my lifetime
Looking over the recent events of the past decade, I realize that this more than a positive outlook
It is justifying my own place in this world
For me, artistic death almost became real death and I had to adapt in order to survive
If I can’t be a part of the 21st century, then why bother to live in it?


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