LivingArts: Talking about practice


A new D’Angelo record came out - finally. We can all die now, knowing that his follow-up was equally as masterful as his breakout, Voodoo from so many years ago. A whole new generation of awkward teens are going to discover how great R&B can be, throw out their Nirvana t-shirts and start wearing their jeans backwards (it’s only a matter of time before we make that mistake again).

Something that you might notice when you listen to any D’Angelo record is how cohesive the band is. The same is true of other R&B acts – James Brown was notorious for working his band up to soulful perfection. It’s a quality that you can hear on records, but not something you would notice unless you play two records side by side.

What are we talking about? We’re talking about practice. If you are a performing artist, you’ve got to practice and some artists practice more than others. Making music is just as much about performing in front of people as it is about writing and recording. In today’s industry, at some point you need to leave the studio, set up shop on stage, eventually go on tour and sleep on someone’s cold concrete basement floor in Saskatoon (#truestory).

And if you’re going to perform in front of others, the more you practice, the better your performance (unless you’re into punk, in which case…stop reading).

When I was in University, I used to practice the drums sometimes 6 hours a day. I was, as you can imagine, performing at the peak of my ability. In the ten years since, that number has slowly dropped down to maybe an hour a week. This month alone, I have spent 5 hours in the throne and that seems like a lot.

I don’t practice because I don’t have time to practice. I have a full-time job, a kid and a social life. If, by miracle, I find an hour or two for anything, I typically spend that time sitting on my couch with my guitar, working out new bits for songs or checking out new records.

If you ask any of my colleagues, I’m sure they can relate. It’s a weird time in music, when there is so little money in the industry that you have to work a full-time office job to afford to play music.

Now – you might be thinking “Steve - you’ve got a family and a house and stuff, so what are you doing still trying to make it as a musician?” That’s a good question, reader. I often ask myself that question.

I haven’t come up with an answer, aside from narcissism or that I feel like I’m just now hitting my stride. But do we want to live in a world where musicians call it a day when they reach a certain age and haven’t made it yet? Are we missing out on some great music because artists with amazing potential are hanging up their instruments too soon?

In the current musical climate, it’s getting to the point where it’s not a choice. You have to pay the bills and any time spent earning the cash to pay those bills is time that you aren’t spending honing your craft.

I’m certainly doing my best to work around it, with last-minute rehearsals before gigs and
sneaking in late night jams when there is time. We’re coming up with some pretty good stuff, too, in spite of the time crunch and the lack of resources to pay everybody for their work.

Still - it’s hard to get your 10,000 hours in when you’re doing it a pace of 5 hours a month.

[Next month: Steve launches his brand-new all Dad record label, ‘Sub-Papa’]