When in need, Create!

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I’m not a car person. I have one, but only out of necessity. I don’t ever dream of owning a corvette, can’t rattle off the year and model of everything I pass on the highway, and couldn’t care less about the latest thing with a HEMI in it. There, I said it.

In spite of that, I end up doing most of my own car work…brakes, water pump, alternator, master cylinder, etc. (although i did pay to have my transmission rebuilt). It’s because I’m cheep. Not stingy, just cheep labor…I don’t charge myself much. I guess I ended up with good mechanical sense and it pains me to pay for what I can can figure out on my own.

It’s funny how necessity breeds ingenuity.

One of the things I enjoy most about my job is the challenge of making something really cool with very slim resources. It’s a chance for team work, ingenuity, creativity, and some crazy MacGyver engineering. Okay, to be totally honest it can also be one of the most frustrating parts of my job. Certain days I wish I could just buy what I needed and save the effort. But where’s the fun (or stewardship) in that?

So on that note, I thought I’d share some of my favorite examples of team genius (at least we thought they were genius).

Here’s one that I had very little to do with beyond the concept. My good friend Will Gallagher made this for our Christmas production last year and we liked it so much we kept it. It’s a brilliant combination of the old and new. On the audience side it looks pretty much like an ordinary piano with enough wear and tear to look nice and vibey.

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But on the other side…

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It was a ton of work gutting all the original parts, but it’s a great way to have all the cool keyboard gear without looking like Styx.

Here’s another one of our faux keyboard rigs. It started life as an empty Fender Bassman cabinet owned by one of the band guys. Add in some 1/2″ MDF, a bunch of hardware, a little cabinetry work, and a couple cans of spray bed liner and…voila! Looks like a Rhodes…

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…but ain’t.

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Several years ago we switched to using low wattage tube amps on all our guitar rigs and we needed a way to keep them isolated from the stage and each other. With the help of a great volunteer, we whipped up these isolation boxes that do exactly what we need. Isolate…and I think they look cool (although nobody ever sees them because they’re backstage).

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Once or twice a year we do a major redesign of the stage. If you watch any of the award shows or concerts lately, you’ll notice a TON of warm incandescent backlighting. The fixtures are crazy expensive, so we decided to design and build our own approximations. We think they turned out great! And every once in a while, when really needed…they can totally melt your face!

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All of these projects were accomplished with very little money. In some cases the trade off was the cost of time. The light towers in particular. In the end though, with a few weekends and some ingenuity, we’re way ahead of where we’d be if we sat around and waited for the “proper resources”.

Creative people are all over – creative parents, creative mechanics, creative cooks, creative accountants (the non-criminal kind). How has necessity inspired creativity in you? I’d love to hear your story!

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An Exercise in Listening

Have you ever been asked what sort of music you like.  I’m sure you have.  Maybe it was social small talk, an online conversation, or a first date; but if you’re like me, that question tends to create a bit of an internal dilemma.  You see, I like all sorts of music, but I don’t love many…I really only love a small fraction.  Which struck me as interesting after reading the latest chapter of Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.  He explains that while we are generally very good at identifying what we like (even with just fractional data); we are generally bad at articulating “why”.  Ask someone whether they prefer Coke or Pepsi and they’ll instantly rattle off an answer.  However, ask them to describe in detail why they prefer one over the other and the same person who initially exhibited confidence will likely digress into indecision and vagary.

So I ask myself “Why?”.  Why…exactly…do I bump certain music from the “like” into the “love” category?  What are the common factors that, when combined, create what I consider to be a great piece of music.  So, digging into my subconscious as much as possible, here’s my best crack at it.

Unique vocals – I’m a sucker for a voice that’s immediately recognizable.  If there’s any qualitative justice, Xenia, from NBC’s The Voice, will be the next teenage mega-star.  INCREDIBLE raw vocal talent – and perfectly unique.

Belivability – I need a sense that the singer totally buys what they’re selling.  That’s hard to pull off with stupid/crappy/juvenile/cheap lyrics.  If I’m able to personalize it – all the better.

Lift – at some point the song has to have a WOW moment.  Think: 2nd verse of Say, by John Mayer – 3rd verse of Hillsongs Forever Reign – the ending of Feeling Good by Michael Buble

Hooky Melody – there has to be a line/tune in the song that IMMEDIATELY connects with me – something I like to sing or hum as I’m driving down the road.  Hip-hop is full of ridiculously hooky melodies, although often without substance.

Groove – not necessarily a beat (although I consider myself a pretty accomplished “drivers seat dancer”), but something that connects to my internal rhythm – it makes my head nod and my arms move – internally, I’m tearing up the dance floor.  For me, Red Red Wine by UB40 is a classic groove song.

Lyrically Sophisticated – not high-brow, but something with purpose, meaning, and some creativity.  I mentioned hip-hop, and while it has great beats and hooky melodies, it often SERIOUSLY lacks in the lyrical department.  Before The Throne by Shane & Shane, and almost anything by Jason Mraz are perfect examples of great lyrics.

That pretty much covers it.  I can’t think of any song I “love” that doesn’t have at least 4 of these.  On a side note, I feel incredibly introspective right now…