I am a very well educated musician. I started playing piano when I was seven. My piano playing then is much better than my piano playing now. I had the benefit of musical parents and a concert pianist living two doors down from us. My brother was into all the best rock music (what we now banefully call Classic Rock). He plays bass mainly, but also guitar. As a teenager, he gave me a really cheap guitar, but it was all I needed to spark my interest in music again. I bought some cassette tapes that taught the basics of blues playing for rock
music and learned album after album of songs. But I never really understood why music worked the way it does and how to write songs that make people want to sing and play air guitar/drums. I took lessons from my local music store, Ace Music, which is no longer in business. I bought my first guitar from them using the money I saved from odd jobs around the neighborhood. (I will have to write a separate blog post about my guitars and other equipment, for the tech geeks like me that like to watch rig rundowns by www.PremierGuitar.com.)
My friends in high school were all into the best heavy metal music. We went to every concert and festival. I even got into a band, Midievil, where I played bass guitar. We recorded a 4 song EP at Rumbo Recorders (owned by the Captain of the Captain and Tennille) around the time artists like Fleetwood Mac, Heart and Survivor were recording there. We mixed the songs at Mad Dog Studios in one long session. Unfortunately the EP was never released. However, the experience gave me every excuse to want to be in recording studios for a living. (Remind me to write another blog post about recording studio experiences.)
Also during high school I spent a summer going to Musician’s Institute to study guitar (GIT). It was amazing! I learned so much about what it takes to be a musician, tried and true, through and through. There is so much to learn, so many styles, so much passion. That summer I practiced 16 hours a day, even in the car (no, I was not driving yet). But it was the music theory part of the studies that I gravitated to most; a sign of things to come.
It was not a big decision to enter college, it was inexpensive, and my mom supported my decision to study music and recording engineering. I started in classical guitar performance at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Simultaneously, I earned a certificate in Recording Engineering at UCLA Extension, one class a quarter for 2 years. I also started writing music in earnest, co-writing with my best friend Brian Kaye and starting a band. I was not as interested in just being a classical guitarist as I originally anticipated, and moved to San Diego State University (SDSU) where I went on to earn my bachelor’s in music education. This was not an easy transition, because I had just met my wife-to-be, Aline, a couple months before at CSUN.
Being apart from Aline was unbearable. I had written “Aline’s Song” (currently being recorded for re-release) within a couple months of meeting her. It was during this time at SDSU that I wrote “Back at Home” and met a friend in the residence hall for whom I wrote “Release Me” as a way to help him break out of a relationship. I had the great fortune to become friends with Derwin White, who approached me to record his music. Derwin founded DKW Musicworks, and we still compose and record orchestral scores for various projects. I really must say that it has been through working on his scores that I have redefined what I am capable of composing and creating. When I graduated from SDSU, I decided against getting a teaching certificate in music, and moved back to LA.
I got an internship working with Hans Zimmer and Mark Mancina during the time they were writing and recording The Lion King and Speed. While that was a great environment, there was a major turnover and I got a call from Paramount Recording Studios in Hollywood. Now, let’s clear the air…Paramount Recording Studios is not part of Paramount film studios, for which it has its name, see http://paramountrecording.com/ for the details. That being said, it is a fantastic studio with a great roster of professional engineers, artists and recordings. I have fond memories of meeting and becoming friendly with artists such as Quiet Riot, The Offspring, Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, and so on. I was able to record an album worth of material there (including the unfinished recordings you hear of “Back at Home” and “Release Me” played on Internet radio), but the project was interrupted because of a dispute between myself and the engineer/producer. Regardless of the benefits, Paramount was not really the foot in the door I was hoping for, so when Aline told me we are planning to get our master’s degree, I followed her advice and we both got accepted to SDSU.
I thoroughly enjoyed earning my master’s degree in music theory. Music theory is what makes most musicians wince. But, for me, it was really the first time that I got to study music 100% of the time. I got straight A’s, was given membership to Pi Kappa Lambda honor society and wrote a fantastic master’s thesis. My thesis was a theory for learning and analyzing rhythm and how rhythms are connected. My friend called it a sledgehammer. It was actually an idea I had when I was in high school, but I had learned so much since then that I knew it was the right time. Aline got into the Ph.D. program at SDSU, so to keep up with her I applied to music Ph.D. programs.
I got accepted to a few universities around the country, but it only made sense to attend UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) that was a 5 ½ hour train ride from San Diego. I spent a lot of time on that train writing and grading papers. Again, being apart from Aline was difficult, but the Ph.D. programs had a way of keeping us busy. I completed a couple of years in residency and returned to San Diego. We bought our home and I continued to do research and write for a few years. My dissertation was a study of how people perform the same music differently. I wrote a software program to analyze recordings in great detail (down to the sample level) and did archive research at the Getty Research Institute. While it was interesting and very time consuming, it did not really define me and my musical understandings the way my master’s thesis did.
As you can surmise, I spent most of my time in school. I have had interruptions that have left all of my music projects incomplete. I had fairly well given up on the rock star dream. It was not until Aline was pregnant that I caught the songwriting bug again and wrote a song named for our daughter, Josie. I had picked up so many new resources that really helped me see ways songwriting is a serious craft, not just strumming and picking and singing. In a nutshell, I have learned that writing songs are about expressing emotions, but to do it right you have to focus on the song’s core. Have you seen the movie Rise of the Guardians? There is a fantastic scene where Santa Claus corners Jack Frost and demands to know who he is at his center, in his core. The movie is Jack’s journey to discover this answer. In this journal I will chronical my journey and am glad to have you share the experience, riding shotgun as we drive along my Unpaved Highway.