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Tips for The Aspiring Rock & Roller

Updated on August 7, 2014

I've been listening to music my entire life. I've been playing it for the past 47 years (and counting) and have been writing my own songs for the past 40 years (and counting). I've been recording it since 1988. That's a whole lotta music goin' on, no matter how you slice, dice or try to spin it. I've seen musical trends and fads come and go: got caught up in a couple, was swept aside by a few more, ignored the rest. To simply say I've seen and heard a lot would be something of an understatement. More to the point, however, is what I've learned over the years, a small portion of which I now impart upon you, gentle reader . . .

To Begin With . . . the following five statements are false:

  1. Rock & Roll is about “attitude”.

  2. Rock & Roll is about getting getting drunk/loaded/laid.

  3. Rock & Roll is/was about rebellion against “authority”.

  4. Rock & Roll is historically the province of enthusiastic but relatively unskilled musicians.

  5. Rock & Roll and Rock are one and the same.

There are other fallacies/misconceptions I could roll out, but maybe another time.

Gear, unlike clothes, does not make the man. Or the woman, for that matter. Contrary to what musical instrument manufacturers and guitar manufacturers in particular would have you believe, buying the same model of instrument played by your fave rock & roller will not turn you into a new and improved version of said fave rock & roller (neither, for that matter, will effects whether rack-mounted or on the floor. It may well be possible to digitally simulate/replicate a sound, but Rock & Roll is about sound and feel which is a completely different animal than sound and technique. The playing of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck still gives me chills. The countless million-note wonders that have followed in their wake bore me at best, annoy me at worst. Sound and feel). Find a guitar that works for you, even if it's an inexpensive model. I've given away and sold enough high-dollar guitars and basses over the years to realize that when it comes down to it, for all the inlay and exotic woods and high-tech hot-rodded pick-ups, we're talking about lumps of wood with wires on them.

What goes for guitars goes for amplifiers: if you want a true Marshall stack sound or a vintage Fender Twin Reverb sound or a VOX AC30 sound, get one. Don't spend money on some digitalized dial-up gizmo on an amp that approximates a classic sound according to a read-out or sonic diagram or whatever. I don't care what the spec sheet says: there is no way on God's green Earth your little 10- or 12-inch speaker is going to come near the true sound of those amplifiers. Save your money and get the real thing. Accept no substitute.

(Special Secret Old-Timer's Tip: if you want that hot, dirty, screaming old-time blues sound just reach in the back of your amplifier and yank out one of the power tubes. This will cause your amp to over-drive the remaining tubes and . . . what? You've got a solid state amp? Check back with me when you get a real amp, kid.)

You can have all the energy and attitude in the known world, make all the right moves and poses on stage, even have the right haircut . . . but if you can't play/sing/write, no one will care for very long. That, if nothing else, is the enduring lesson of the Punk movement.

If you are going to do any recording, either at home or in a commercial studio, never – and I mean never - “go direct”. Any recording engineer/producer who is reluctant to do otherwise or says it can't be done or it's necessary for greater control of the sound when it comes to the mixing stage is either lazy or learned his job out of some manual rather than by actually getting down with it and learning how things work. Probably both. If you find yourself dealing with one of these creatures, cop a walk and find someone else or learn how to do it yourself. While there is an art to microphone placement – and like any art form, it takes time and practice to get it right - the recording process isn't magic and it's not rocket science, though there are those who will do their utmost to convince you it is. Avoid these people at all costs as they will be no use to you whatsoever.

Make no mistake: Rock & Roll is hard work, requiring commitment and discipline. It's also a lot of fun.

Finally, never forget Rule #1: If you can walk, you can make the gig.

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