"Great Players Who Can't Teach" - And Other Thoughts About Teaching

Something interesting has revealed itself to me as I've gained more experience as a teacher: the higher level you teach, the less it becomes necessary to be good at teaching. 

To put it another way, when one teaches more basic material and/or younger students, the greater the focus will be on your TEACHING chops rather than your knowledge of the subject matter. 

For instance, teaching children requires extremely high levels of organization, empathy, and need to create a plan for consistent improvement. Teaching adult beginners requires the knowledge that in fact they are professionals in their normal lives and are not accustomed to being a beginner at something. Teaching a college general education course to a class consisting largely of ESL students, first year college students, and students who are first in their family to attend college requires so much more beyond just knowing your subject material. 

On the other end of the spectrum, when I've taken lessons with internationally celebrated jazz artists, it didn't really matter to me if they were expert teachers per se - I just wanted to spend an hour or two with them to get a glimpse of the elite musician's mind and to hopefully unearth some wisdom that would change my playing. As a professional artist myself, I don't need to rely on the teacher to provide structure, or to have empathy for my situation, etc. I just want the raw information so I can wrestle with it myself for the next couple of years. 

When I've taught higher level musicians myself, I also assume that I don't need to do a lot of hand holding and that they're here for similar reasons as mine for studying with an artist who is further along than they are. 

As I began teaching in community colleges I learned that the things that make the biggest difference in student's lives have to do with teaching "stick-to-it-ive-ness" and responsibility, while also being sympathetic to their needs and personal situations. Many of them are working through school and/or raising kids and/or coming back to college later in life and/or getting a second chance at college. The skills needed to address these things have very little to do with the actual subject matter one teaches. And this is in college

Of course, if you're a Harvard professor that gets quoted in the news or is otherwise considered an expert then you're expected to have an unparalleled level of knowledge in your field - and then you will have a prestigious, world-class teaching post even if you may not be a world-class teacher

Similarly, we all know that there are great players who can't teach their way out of a paper bag, but they're still busy teaching lessons because . . . they're great players, and attract students because of their public profile. 

Perhaps the best teachers of them all are teaching K-12. That they are able to essentially wrangle cats and grow their minds is an enormous feat. Hats off to these tremendous superheroes. I am in awe of you.

What's cool is that there is so much you can accomplish as an artist-teacher. There are different avenues for changing lives and making music be a positive force on the bandstand and in the classroom. One of my teachers was Dr. Aaron Lington at San Jose State, who is a world-class artist-teacher and Grammy winner with Pacific Mambo Orchestra. My friend and member of my nonet Ben Torres also won a Grammy for his PMO efforts and is a great elementary school music teacher. Top that! 

At the end of the day, all of us that aspire to be great artist-teachers need to understand that there is so much more to teaching than "knowing your stuff". It's a given that all professional educators have a baseline of knowledge, but it takes a while longer to figure out the other skills needed to become a truly great teacher. 

How many times DOES he say "motherf*****" ? And other thoughts on the "Miles" autobiography

I once had a student in my jazz history course write a book report on "Miles: The Autobiography". They hilariously noted that "his favorite word appears to be motherf*****". So I decided to mark a tally on the inside page each time that word (or it's plural) was used while I read the book. The final count? 370 times in the 402-page account of his life. That's an impressive 0.92 motherf***** per page. 

A crude and simple way to create a record of simple crudeness

I can just hear Miles now "Man, this jive-ass motherf***** reads my entire life story and the only thing he can say about it is how many times I said "motherf*****"? Ain't that a bitch". Yes it is. But I do have a few more words.

Miles' recounting of his life - including his upbringing, move to New York, life in the studio and on the road with jazz legends, and a candid look into his substance abuse and severe personal issues - is a riveting read that can be appreciated by musicians and non-musicians alike. I particularly loved the earlier chapters. Being a jazz musician and reading Miles' account of 1940's-50s New York is a little bit like being a comic book nerd and reading a novel in which all your favorite super heros hang out together in one place.

Yet Miles has a no-BS way of humanizing the giants (including himself). It struck me that the scenes Miles Davis was a part of were in some ways as ordinary as a scene anywhere - people make calls, bandleaders assemble groups, clubs get filled, people (hopefully) get paid, and so on. There's something fascinating to me about the ordinary-ness of it all and it made me realize that any local scene is in some small way connected to this great lineage. 

Without a doubt, all you motherf***** out there should read this book. 

(Happy birthday, Miles). 



How I Successfully Funded Two Albums On IndieGoGo

My debut record consisted of original music for the solo classical guitar. People, Places, and Monsters is a CD/DVD that includes the 5-movement Monster Suite, beautifully animated by Bay Area animation virtuoso Gabe Wexler. With the addition of a book of scores, this was a large and ambitious project, so I turned to IndieGoGo to try and raise money. I raised $4,890 or 75% of my goal, and actually wound up raising more offline (I'll get to that later). 

About a year and a half later I went back to the well to fund my Quartet Plus record. This album has music for my quartet and nonet and was recorded at one of the Bay Area's finest studios, 25th Street Recording in Oakland. Again, a large and ambitious project. This time I have to say I even surprised myself a bit, raising $8,184 (or 102% of my goal)

Before you get too happy for me - don't worry, I still spent plenty of money out of pocket! But any way you slice it, the $13k+ I raised on IndieGoGo played a huge role in getting my records off the ground. I was happy to spend above and beyond to make the best records I could possibly make. 

Here are 10 things that helped me successfully crowdfund two records:

A shot from the Quartet Plus Recording Session at 25th Street Recording in Oakland

1) Read up. Whatever your crowdfunding platform, read their FAQs, read whatever helpful collateral they have to help people maximize their campaigns. Some of what I say below is from those guides. Find these guides, read them, and heed their advice. 

2) Research campaigns. Find campaigns similar to yours, both successful and especially unsuccessful. Read. Watch their videos. Observe. Think about what dollar amount might be best for your campaign. Remember that it will cost you money to fulfill the perks you're offering and pay fees to your crowdfunding platform and PayPal. 

3) Create a 2-3 minute video and a compelling description. The video doesn't need to be fancy, but it DOES need to be short. 

4) Think about perks. You'll probably get the most contributions at $25 and $100, so make those perks attractive to your fans. For my campaigns I gave signed CDs at $25 and a bundle including 2 tickets to the CD release concert at the $100 level. 

5) Send personal emails. Sure, it's ok to send a mass email if you have a substantial fanbase. But when it comes to your PERSONAL connections, approach them tactfully with a personalized message about your project. Tell them about it once, and follow up maybe one more time before time runs out. This takes time, but don't be lazy - send emails to everyone you know. 


6) Utilize social media. Create buzz around your project by sharing your milestones and publicly thanking people on social media. Ask people to share your campaign because while not everyone can contribute money then CAN help spread the word. Don't overdo it - once every 1-3 days is plenty. There's a fine line before it gets obnoxious. 

7) Promote at concerts. I wanted to make sure that I was ready to record People, Places, and Monsters, so I did a series of house concerts for free. I printed a program for the evening and on the back printed info about my campaign. Although my main motivation was to practice the material I was about to record, I also gained some new backers this way. 

8) Consider offline crowdfunding. I said earlier that I raised 75% of my goal for People, Places and Monsters, but that doesn't count what I was able to raise offline. A couple of people who saw that I fell short of my goal organized a concert for me so that I could raise more funds. I offered the same perks as are available through my IndieGoGo and wound up raising about another $1,300 at that concert. 

9) Let your people in! Your friends and fans want to be on the ground floor of your album. Let them know that you value their contribution, give them occasional updates (album art completed, CD release concert booked, pictures from the studio, etc) while you're in campaign. 

10) Put out a killer album. In today's climate where it's hard to sell music for $0.99, the people that are chipping in $10/$25/$100/$300/$500+ to your campaign are giving you huge votes of confidence and are buying a whole lot more than just your record. Make it count. Do everything in your power to knock it out of the park. Spend to the max and (if you can) then some. Don't cut corners. Over-deliver. Promote the record and let your people know of your successes, because your success is their success

Packed house at the Quartet Plus CD Release Concert, September 2014

The best part of crowdfunding beyond just receiving funding is that you get to connect with friends and fans on a deeper level. If you do a good job during the crowdfunding stage, there will be buzz around your record release. Backers will want to know what you're up to. This is a great and organic way to build relationships and build momentum for what you're doing. 

Feel free to ask questions or comment with your own thoughts and experiences on crowdfunding.