Takes no Talent

The level of talent in Bluegrass as a whole is staggering. You can attend nearly any Bluegrass festival and see a 12-year-old picking out tunes faster than an octopus eight cups of coffee in on guitar then go another jam and see a 60 something-year-old sing a classic song with such control and power that you would swear it’s the first time you’re hearing it. Thousands of talented singers and pickers across the country have taken the mantle in Bluegrass and have turned the skill level up to 1000.

At the same time, the number of Bluegrass bands who have achieved success, and stayed successful for many years is few and far between. For every Blue Highway and Doyle Lawson there are hundreds of bands with as good (if not better) talent that never make it. Some of it is luck (A bigger chunk than anyone cares to admit); Some of it is timing (some bands just missed their window) but a big part of what makes those long-running, successful bands happen are the things that take no talent.

This isn’t a phrase I came up with (I stole the premise from the Dolphins, who probably are one of the dozens in line who stole it from someone else) but I think it explains a lot about what makes some folks more successful than others. How many times have you heard a fellow musician compare him/her self to someone on stage and say “Man I could be up there”. This happens more times than you would think, and if success and talent were directly correlated that wouldn’t be the case but it just does not work that way. So, what are the things you can do as an artist/band to be successful that “Take No Talent”?

Personality

Artists by nature tend to be a bit different than the norm. They tend to spend so much time on their craft that cultural and social norms can take a back seat. Your talent can speak for itself at times, but you will have to be even luckier than the average person if your personality doesn’t lend well to social environments. If you sing a great song, pick a killer tune but then are unable to carry on even a small talk conversation with fans and/or promoters the likelihood of you obtaining sustained success will be very low. It may not be “right”, that people take that into account when choosing between you and another act but its part of the equation. People tend to gravitate towards people they enjoy being around.

Show

Live music is and always has been the life-blood of Bluegrass Music. From the early days of Bill Monroe to the first Bluegrass Festivals all the way to Feature Films like “Brother Where Art Thou” Bluegrass has always been a spectacle. Part of the attraction of the music is the experience of seeing it played in person. The energy, the drive, and the fun are what sets this music apart from the pack. That is why acts like Little Roy and Lizzy, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver have been successful for so long, they entertain. They are full of amazing musicians and singers sure, but they also know how to put on a show. They mix their talent with stories, fan interaction, band interaction, comedy and so much more. They sell a ton of albums, but they also sell a lot of tickets to shows because folks want to see them in action. This, in turn, helps promoters and gets them even more bookings. It “Takes No Talent” to work hard at making your show something worth watching.

Being Social/Networking

Today’s music world is a far cry from the early days of Bluegrass. Social Media has made it so local bands can have the same national reach as any touring act, but they have to put it to use.

Networking has become a huge part of the industry and getting shows/deals/chances tend to fall in line with who you know. This is why being a successful artist/band doesn’t just apply to being on stage, the time leading up, and the time after you get done can be just as vital as the sick licks you crushed during BlackBerry Blossom.

Spending time jamming with folks at a festival, interacting in a positive manner with folks online and just talking to the people who came to see you makes a huge difference in your success and can often lead to more opportunity. You need to have folks invest in you and your project. Once you have shown them the investment you have made in it yourself, and the effort you are putting in to do all the little things, they will often times invest in you and be your “heralds” so to speak telling folks about you.

Effort

This seems obvious, but it needs to be said. The amount of effort you put in doesn’t always equate to success, but it can be a barometer of the probability of that success. Being successful in Bluegrass is a full-time job. You have to work at your craft musically every day, you have to always be trying to improve, you have to take every personal encounter with others (Online or in-person) as a chance to prove yourself to others. You have to “Do Your Time” as folks like to say, and you should try to make that “Time” as productive as that can be. Sitting back, waiting for it to come to you has rarely worked and has almost never been sustainable. Be aggressive with your dreams and always be willing to work harder than everyone else.

Positivity

The world has enough negativity in it and you feeding into that isn’t going to open many doors for you.  While people do like to get together to “Talk smack” about one another, in the long run people find that exhausting. It is super easy to see the negative in everything and be a reason that negativity spreads. It is so much harder (and refreshing) to stay positive. No matter the conversation or adversity, you need to make the effort to steer things to the positive side. This is one of the hardest things you can do that “Take No Talent” but it is probably the one I would say is the most valuable. People find positivity to be a magnet, and it draws other positive people to you. I don’t think I can stress this point enough “Positivity is a currency” it’s worth a lot and rarely found. Some people are just wealthier than others.

On the flip side, one negative post, comment or interaction can sour the well permanently.  Sadly, people will remember those moments much longer than they will the dozens of other positive things you said/did. If you treat every conversation, social media post and interaction with others like its being live broadcasted to the world…you should be safe. Try and refrain from talking about sensitive subjects when at all possible on your social media, stage show or even just conversations with others. I know some of you will think this is not “Keeping it real” but honestly, whos mind are you changing with your strong opinion anyway? Is that worth you sabotaging your own opportunities?

Support

You need to invest in others. One of the most helpful things you can do for yourself is to invest your time in supporting other artists/bands. It a positive thing to do on its own and it also opens the door for you when it comes to future possibilities for you and Bluegrass as a whole. For instance, if a venue is booking band A to play a show each week and they see you promoting that show to others then they may hire you to play a different date at the venue or ask you to fill in when band A isn’t available. This may also give a different venue the courage to add a “Bluegrass” date to their event lineup.  It shouldn’t take this extra incentive to help folks out but it is there. So many artists/bands see everything as a competition and will go out of their way to put others down or sabotage those opportunities for others. If you would just take the time to support others, others will be more willing to support you in return.

Also, you should support festivals and venue’s even if they are not booking you. This is an investment in not only you but Bluegrass in general. The more festivals and venues there are, the more opportunities there are for everyone to share their music with the world. Attend all the shows/festivals you can, promote them on social media, and show folks the added value in having you involved.

Takes No Talent

These are just a few of the things you can do as a band/artist that Takes No Talent but can lead to success for you and those around you. I am no expert, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express Last night so…..

How to Bluegrass Social Media

Bluegrass Social Media

People love social media…people hate social media….regardless of your personal stance on the platforms, a social media presence is a must for any Bluegrass Musician/Band wanting to play gigs. Festivals, Venues, Sponsors and all the other gig-makers hire on the basis of a person/band’s following,  social media presence, and Brand. There are so many talented musicians and bands out there who do not have any following at all, so they find it hard to compete against the folks who take full advantage of all the platforms possible. This guide will be helpful to those of you who don’t social media at all and those of you that do might pick up a hint or two that they find helpful.

Which social media to use

There are multiple options when it comes to social media. Keep in mind that the more of them you use the better you will be able to take advantage of their benefits. Having too many may cause you not to take proper advantage of each one. Here is a list of prominent social media platforms in order of usefulness for Bluegrass promotion:

  1. Facebook: Most used platform. Best to get detailed information out on the web. Widely used by Bluegrass people.
  • Instagram: 2nd most used. Good for sharing media. Short pieces of info. Can be connected to a Facebook account.
  • Reverbnation: Good to show band music, media, gigs and all their details in one location
  • Twitter: Good for details but not widely used by Bluegrass People

Social Media No-No’s

  1. Don’t talk about religion: While your beliefs may be strong, you will alienate a portion of people who may be fans. It’s ok to promote gospel album or songs just don’t get in debates or go too over the top. (unless you are a gospel band then, do your thing!)
  2. Stay away from Politics: People love to bait and troll people on the internet and politics is one of the main tools they use to do that. If you post about politics you are taking sides in a debate and potentially alienating a portion of your fans.
  3.  Don’t Post Too much: A band or musician should not post more than two or three times a day unless it’s before or after a show or its something substantial. You do not want to be viewed as a spammer.
  4. Don’t be negative: Negativity is the quickest way to lose fans. Don’t respond to trolls (just delete their comments) Don’t put down anyone (or anything) just make your posts as positive as possible.
  5. Don’t change your picture frequently: People get used to a certain photo for a band or musician’s page so don’t switch them up too often unless you have to because of personnel changes. Consider this your Brand’s logo.

Social Media Tips:

  1. Post at least once a day: The point of social media is to put yourself out there and let people know you exist. Posting once in a week or once a month is a failure to do either.
  2. Add media into your posts: While people don’t mind reading a sentence or two they are much more likely to do so if they see a picture or video accompanying it.
  3. Let people get to know you: Do a top ten list of your favorite things, tell them about your gear, tell them stories about your music. People are much more likely to support you if they have an emotional investment in you. Show then you are a real person.
  4. Make your posts interactive: Ask questions, ask for opinions, do anything that would entice a fan to respond to a post. Comments are as good if not better than “likes” on social media.
  5. Respond to questions and comments quickly: People love to be responded to quickly, it shows you are paying attention.

Promote Shows on Social Media

It is always in your best interest to promote your upcoming shows. It not only helps the venue get more attendees but it also shows that you are busy with your music making it more likely for other venues or promoters to book you thinking you are “in demand”. Your promoting of your own shows (and other shows that venue has) is part of your overall value.

Support other bands and musicians

This might seem counterproductive in the competitive world of music but it will actually help you in the long run. The more you support others in the industry the more likely they are to support you. Each connection made is an investment in your brand. This also comes in handy when a connection has to back out of a show and is thinking of a replacement or a venue is asking them for other bands/musicians to book. There really isn’t any drawback to helping others promote themselves, and it honestly shows you’re a good human.

Support Festivals and Venues

Your much more likely to be added to Bluegrass Festivals and venues if the booking agents see you supporting them on social media. In today’s world, this is one of the first things promoters consider when filling out a musical lineup. This may seem like your giving away free promotion, this again is an investment in your Brand and future dealings. While you may not get booked to the festival your promotion, other festivals may see it and reach out. This also gets your “Brand” mentioned in the same sentences as established brands which helps promote both.

Show your Creativity

There are thousands of Bluegrass bands and that many more of Bluegrass musicians. Each one may be similar in some ways (or they wouldn’t be considered Bluegrass) but each has its true value in what makes them different. Creativity is the best way to show this difference and social media is a great platform to show that off. Original songs, live performances, cool album artwork and things like that should be featured on your social media. Figure out what your band does best (ie Vocals, originals, instrumentation, and improvisation) and make sure people get to see that in the forefront. This creativity will help in building your “Brand”.

Building your brand

In the end, Social Media’s man value for a band/musician is helping build your brand. You want to let people know you exist, what makes you different from others, what style/type of music you create and it helps build a network of people invested in your brand. When someone is looking to book a show, event or venue, the better “Brand” you have the more likely you are to be considered for that booking. Try to keep your “Brand” out of any negativity, keep it on peoples feed daily and always try to bring in at least one new fan a day to your brand.

Social media has its downfalls, but if a band/musician is careful and consistent they can greatly benefit from a social media presence.

I Am Not on Your Level

Opinions From The Road

Since the dawn of music, musicians have measured themselves against their peers. People who have the passion to learn a certain instrument, set goals on themselves like “I’m going to work so hard on this guitar until I can play like Tony Rice” or “Man I am never going to be on Jerry Douglas’ level, but I would like to get close”. While it is always good to have a goal, achieving a level that is impossible to measure can set people back in their development or make him/her give up altogether. This targeted comparison also causes the musician to “clown or copy” their targets traits without neither developing their own “artist” nor realizing the influences that created their idols artist.

After learning the basics on your instrument (and the basics of the music you are trying to play) and basic music theory, it is nearly impossible to quantify your development. There is no “Stage 2” that will take ____amount of hours to surpass or a set of skills that advance you to some next level because growth is not a liner measurement. It is not a point A to point B timeline that you can track, it’s not a check sheet you can fill out. You also cannot measure yourself against another musician properly because his/her timeline is different.

Learning an instrument is like floating in outer space. You want to move, but that movement is only accomplished by what happens to pull you into its gravity. You can want to learn, and practice hard to be better but your growth depends on what is influencing you. Your growth is pulled hard by certain influences and away from other ones. You might become well versed in dozens of chords but not as skilled with the rhythm in which to use those tools. You might become skilled at Monroe style mandolin for instance but struggle to play with bands who play in a more modern vintage.

This is why comparing yourself to other musicians is so detrimental to your development. If you measured a fish & squirrels ability to climb trees, the fish would look worse each time, but if you then do the same for a swim across the pond, the squirrel will look the fool. To take the analogy further, Barry Bales can win Bluegrass bassist each year but not even make a chair in the symphony. That doesn’t make Barry any less of an artist. He’s musical development is just better suited for what he is doing.

Instead of measuring yourself against other musicians, it’s better to just set an ideal or goal of what kind of “Artist” you want to be and be very cognizant of what influences you surround yourself with. You may find yourself surrounded by other players of your same instrument but their development is at a different point in the universe than yours is. Different influences, different goals and so many other factors that it would not be fare for either of you to compare to each other.  You will also want to surround yourself with people who want to help you develop, not those who are nervous about that development. Some musicians, like any part of society, want to hold other down in order to boost themselves up. Once you realize these, just pass them by and heed not their drama.

You have to set a point in YOUR universe that you want to achieve, work hard to push yourself in that direction but be ready for that path to be a very windy road that sometimes goes all directions but forward. At the end of your journey, you won’t care you who (or others) compared you to, you will remember that zig-zag line that helped to create the artist you became.

Justin Mason, Florida Bluegrass Network

#fbn #floridabluegrassnetwork #bluegrass

Don’t Play, Perform

OPINIONS FROM THE ROAD

Bluegrass is such an energetic art form but at the dawn of its creation, it was conveyed in such a stoic manner. Bands would stand on stage, not move more than was necessary, keep very serious expressions while wearing matching suits and ties. At that time, bands and musicians were trying to show the general public that the music was sophisticated regardless of its mountain sounds. It was very structured, it had very defined boundaries and walls. They were very deliberate with their storytelling, careful with their jokes and always tried to keep things as professional as possible so that the music could earn the respect it deserved.


While this was a general practice, there has always been those artists who have chosen to do their own thing. Jimmy Martin and his crass storytelling and clothing, John Hartford with his unique personality, Jim & Jesse with their pop-esq songs and vocals…ech chose to forge their own path and give their audience something different. Bluegrass is steeped in traditions that have been passed down from generations and still today you can find bands who still play like the Bluegrass Boys, Stanley Brothers or the Carter Family. Traditions are great, borrowing from someone’s style is flattering but in the end, if you take the stage as a band…you are there to perform.


There are so many pickers who can play note for note the songs from bygone days. You can pass any jam and hear “Blueridge Mountain Home” done just like Lester Flatt used to sing it and there is nothing “wrong” with that but if you take the stage as _______band….you need to perform the song like you. You need to find what makes you different and convey that to the audience.


When you take the stage in the Bluegrass world you are accepting the responsibility to PERFORM your music with people. Danny Roberts (from Grascals fame amount other things) recently said “Sometimes a person’s first exposure to Bluegrass is to see a local Bluegrass band who isn’t practiced or who don’t put on a show and assume that all Bluegrass bands are that way, and they just are not. “ That is why Danny prefers a person’s first experience hearing Bluegrass to be at a festival. That was you ensure (hopefully) that they are experiencing well-practiced musicians who work hard in their performance. If someone enjoys music and sees a good Bluegrass band perform, we know they are going to be hooked.

There are so many factors that contribute to a good performance:

Skill (obviously…but this is not the “end all be all”)

Look (have some self-respect and at least look good. No need to match or anything but at least look like your taking pride in yourself.)

Song Selection (Play a few hits your way to bring them in, then hit them with the originals. That way they have a baseline for what your sound is)

Communication (Nobody comes to a live show to listen to the radio, they come to Experience the music. You need to be able to keep them interested in between songs. They want to hear your stories and be a part of the song. Don’t go overboard here, there can be too much communication.)

Stage Presence (You don’t need to be dancing around all over the place, but people need to know you are enjoying yourself. Smile, interact with your bandmates, get into the song…do whatever it is to give the audience a reason to look up from their phone. If your miserable, they will know)

In the end, you are up there to perform not play. Anyone can play (ok, well probably most people can) but it takes an artist to perform. If you perform well, people will respond accordingly.

Justin Mason, Florida Bluegrass Network
#fbn #floridabluegrassnetwork #bluegrass

TIME TO JAM!

OPINIONS FROM THE ROAD

Bluegrass music is special in so many ways. The tight-knit community, the festival lifestyle, the accessibility of the bands and the jamming. Anywhere you find festivals, Bluegrass Conventions or shows you will find jamming. Early in the morning until sunrise the next you can find pickers of all walks coming together to share their take on the music. Traditional jams, progressive jams, Grass-Country jams and so many variations on each that finding a new jam is always like unwrapping a new gift.

It has been a tradition since the music started that you can find band musicians, local pickers and people who just enjoy the music all mixing together and having a good time. So many national touring acts have formed just from the simple act of meeting at a jam and finding a common passion and sound. Jams are also a boon to local festivals and associations. If a festival has bountiful jamming then more jammers are likely to come and that means more ticket and camping sales which turns into more money for the Bluegrass Scene. Jamming is so vital to Bluegrass that many “Jam Only” festivals have popped up.  

While jams are innocent and fun, there is an underlying event going on….networking. While it may not be as obvious as “After Hours” drinks with co-workers or large trade conferences, Bluegrass Jams are a place people come together to meet others and be seen. You can have the guitar skills of Norman Blake or the vocal prowess of Russell Moore, but if you don’t have “people” in your corner…your just another person. While this is totally fine if that is your only goal (some people are totally content with going from jam to jam and never doing anything more) if you have aspirations of Bluegrass “Success” you will need to jam well with others and show people your passion first hand.

“It doesn’t matter WHAT you know, it’s all in WHO you know” couldn’t be more fitting for Bluegrass politics and exposure. Promoters and labels look for bands and musicians that are not only good at their trade (not to mention original) but they also must have a following. They must have a network of people who will attend gigs, buy records and also have the ability to add more of a following all the time. The best way to make this happen is to jam! You could beg on social media, you could spend money on adds online but the best way is to jam. Jamming also opens up new gig opportunities all the time. Bands/musicians who are asked to play a show and can’t do so will often suggest a friend/band that they know through jamming.

It is sad to see musicians stop jamming once they join a band. They come to a festival, play a set and then pack up and leave (I understand some may have other gigs) losing the opportunity to share themselves with other jammers who make up such a large portion of the Bluegrass world. I am of the opinion that they lose sight of what got them to that level or maybe they just don’t understand the value. I also know of many players who get “burnt out” on the Band member life, and then find their passion again after a good jam or two. In the end, Jamming is positive at all levels and if it is possible for you to join a jam…why the heck would you not?

Jamming is your Bluegrass Street Cred, Jamming hones your people skills, jamming broadens your musical horizons and best of all…..jamming is fun!

Justin Mason, Florida Bluegrass Network

Opinions from the Road – Don’t be a “normie”

When you think of the legends of bluegrass music, what names come to mind? Monroe? Flatt and Scruggs? Wiseman? Stanley?

Why is that? Why are those the names you come to? It’s because those artists were original. Regardless of you Bluegrass style preferences you recognize them for their originality. Nobody remembers the guy who sounds like Josh Graves, you remember Uncle Josh.

The reason I bring this up is just a few months ago I met a musician who was not only supremely talented but played his instrument with a style and enthusiasm that set him apart from others and I was pumped. I saw the same guy again recently and he was different. He was much more tame and “normie” he explained that a band member made him tone the “him” down to fit the “normie” style….and I was disgusted. I told him man, don’t let people tone your artist down.

There are so many people that work so hard to sound like Rice, Scruggs, Skaggs, Crowe or whomever that it makes the feat seem mundane. These are the people I call “normies” They put all their effort into sounding just like someone else that they lose all their…..them. The problem with “normies” is they not only suck the life out of Originality but they also force their status quo on the rest of the music. “That’s not how Bill did it” (eye roll)

Be you, soak up the legends and hero’s, find what made them great (to you) and then find that thing that makes you…you and cultivate it.

Will everyone like it? Hell no. The normies won’t like it because they can’t be you. You might not play that Reno lick note by note like Don did but you can sure as *bleep* play it like you.

“normies” will try hard to fit your circle block in their square wholes but eventually you will need to cut your own path and run.

Be original, be you and when the “normies” start their squawking….smile and be you even louder!

https___blogs-images.forbes.com_larrymyler_files_2017_02_Stand-Out-from-the-Crowd

Justin Mason, Florida Bluegrass Network

Opinions from the Road – “Support Your Rival”

In sports, rivalries are everything. Teams play harder against their rivals, fans come out in droves to see rivalry games and it makes each player involved strive to get better in order to beat their rivals. Yankees-Redsox, Bears-Packers, Lakers-Celtics…the list goes on. Those strong leagues become stronger for it.

In music, rivalries are abundant but they can go too far. The Bluegrass community tends to be a very small town style gossip train. Rumors, stories, and information tend to spread like wildfire while their validity is rarely questioned.

arm wrestle

I can’t count the times I have heard “That band ___________ doesn’t play real Bluegrass”, “I heard _______band gets gigs because ________ member is a woman” or “We should be playing that show, we are so much better than _______ band.” (And those are the more tame statements I assure you). Each time I just shake my head and think “Good for _____band for booking that show” (along with the realization of the character of the musician who made the statement) While that person might see their rivalry as the nature of the business….that level of negativity really just ends up hurting Bluegrass as a whole.

We forget that every door another Bluegrass band (or musician) opens is a door that your band can walk through. Each new venue hosting Bluegrass, each new jam that pops up, each new audience that is introduced to Bluegrass just gives us all more opportunities to spread Bluegrass to more people. (which means more opportunities for you) That is why I always say “Good for them”

Even if your rival band gets a show, puts out an album or achieves any kind of success, you should support them. You should want successful Bluegrass bands to be around you, it helps shine lights all around you, Bluegrass and Bluegrass in Florida. Every time you see them get a new gig, it should make you smile. You know that Venue ______ might be a possibility in the future. Every time they get a good slot on a big festival you should know that it might be you next time.

pexels-photo-164531

In the end, let your rivalry (if you must have one) fuel you in a healthy way. Get better, try harder and find figure out what they are doing, that you may not be. Support your rival in any way you can, because their success will be your success and in turn breed Good Bluegrass music that can spread to all reaches of the Sunshine State.

Justin Mason
Florida Bluegrass Network

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