Perception in B Flat Major

Perception in B Flat Major

We had a plumber at the house yesterday.

Nothing major, we hoped; our pipes whine whenever we flush the toilet, and a quick Google search revealed that whining pipes could be a result of a water pressure issue.  Since moving into the house two months ago, we cringe every time we hear the shrill scream.

We wonder if this time, when we flush, our home will show its age, and something will burst.  We — more accurately, I — have been following the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” rule, so as not to exacerbate the problem.

And it could be an expensive fix at a time when we are just settling in after buying the house and everything we got to update it.

But what does money matter when “FIX ME!” cries the copper?  “SOMETHING ISN’T RIGHT!!” the pipes seem to shriek, making their presence known, ramping up the intensity as the day dies.

I just flushed the toilet again, as I’m getting ready to head to an Easter brunch with my family.  Sure enough, ten seconds later, here comes the whining.  And I’m fine with it.

Why are we getting together on Easter, anyway??

My brother, as far as I can tell, is an atheist who values science and fact above all.  I could be wrong, but I believe my sister-in-law feels the same.

Dad isn’t particularly religious, though he was raised Catholic.

My queen is working a double, so she can’t go, but she sure as hell isn’t religious.

Mom is an ordained minister who performs amazing wedding ceremonies (there isn’t a dry eye in the congregation when she finishes her unique love stories which she writes for each couple she marries).  But she doesn’t go to church or take the eucharist or anything like that.  She simply performs her own private bible studies and walks as righteous a path as possible.

And mom didn’t even set this brunch up, it was my aunt and uncle, in town from Atlanta.

A little background on my family, and how close we are: my father (John) and his brother (Ken) married my mother (Vikki) and her sister (Janet).  Two brothers married two sisters.  Because of these unions, Ken and Janet’s kids — Katherine (Kat) and Kevin — are more like siblings than cousins.  We share many similarities, beyond simply physical features.

Ken and Janet set up the brunch, and I know that when Kat and Kevin were kids, their family would attend church.  Methodist, I believe.

And on Easter Sunday when I was a kid, our grandma, John and Ken’s mom, would pop for a couple of rooms at the Holiday Inn where they hosted a large brunch.

I would always look forward to Easter brunch with grandma; as a fat kid, I loved the chocolate mousse.  We’d get to swim in the pool, play putt-putt, arcade games.  It was awesome.

But we’re not kids anymore.  And grandma died fourteen years ago.

Holidays aren’t the same.  At least not for me.  They used to mean something.  Now it seems as though holidays have become a day when family has to get together.  Regardless of what’s going on in people’s lives, or deadlines, or promises, everything must be put on hold because “it’s a holiday”.

The “holidays” I look forward to now are the ones I create.  The ones I earn by way of hard work.

I’m going on a holiday this Wednesday, in fact.  Gaz Coombes is performing in Chicago on his first U.S. tour since Supergrass disbanded.  Supergrass is my favorite band of all time, and Gaz is my favorite contemporary artist.  His latest album, Matador, was nominated for the Freddie Mercury award for Best New Album.  The Mercury awards are like our Grammys.

So, on Wednesday, I’ll be taking the day off, driving to Chicago, and letting loose while witnessing one of my heroes sing his heart out.  That’s a holiday to me.

Not today.  Today, I have to dress my best (which isn’t saying much, since I still have to order my new suit), and put on hold my studio migration and setup, put on hold the song I’ve been working on, put on hold the priorities I value higher, and attend brunch with the family.

I love my family, don’t get me wrong.  I just feel that “because it’s Easter” or “because it’s a holiday” aren’t good reasons for abandoning what’s important for me to do right now.

But I will.

Because I’m a nice guy, I’ll endure the small talk, the banter.  I’ll bite my tongue when I’m judged for my lifestyle.  I’ll leave my verbal épée in its scabbard.  I’ll do my best to relate to the stories of office work, or the you-had-to-be-there tales which always seem to bubble up when conversation gets dull.

When I was a kid, I dreamed that when I became an adult, I’d finally be accepted and welcomed into the guild of the wise, praised for my intelligence and insight, that I would engage in lofty conversations about important issues and more adult topics.

Not so.  Swearing is frowned upon and actively discouraged.  Table manners are critical, certain topics taboo.  Going against the norm is met with judgment and naysaying.  Being different is just too…different.

When I’m with my family, I feel like I’m still a kid, like I accidentally broke the head off of my uncle’s 3-wood or something (which happened, but that’s another story).  I feel as though I’m under surveillance.

And I think the reason I feel that way is because they still see me as a kid, and treat me as such.

Perception is everything.  They say if you change the way you look at things, then the things you look at will change.  Today, I will employ that mindset.

Today, I will look at my aunt and uncle as two crazy kids who married their sibling’s sibling.  Two people who have experienced their own shares of hardship and fruitfulness, who are still to this day trying to get through this thing called life.  Two baby boomers who are trying to make sense of the world in which they live.

The world of the millennial is taking shape.  The world of the baby boomer is dying.  And it scares the living shit out of them.

By changing my perception, I can create whatever experience I want out of this brunch.  So, too, can we all, in life.

Like the whining pipes…

The plumber, who happens to be the boyfriend of my queen’s cousin, said that there really isn’t an issue.  The pipes are just running through holes cut in the wood joists, and sometimes they vibrate, causing the whining.

Now, with his expert opinion, I can relax.  What was once a terrible annoyance and a harbinger of disaster is now a song my house sings.

Last night, after my queen got home from work and used the restroom, I muted the television and asked her to be silent while we listened to the pipes play.  We sat motionless, eyes closed, and listened intently to the symphony being offered.

It was in B flat major.

Change your perception, change your life.

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Let he who would move the world first move himself. — Socrates

Copyright © 2018 John Kay, All rights reserved.


Greg Proops, Drums, and the Men Behind The Beatles

Greg Proops, Drums, and the Men Behind The Beatles

If I said the name Greg Proops to you, would you know who I mean..?

He’s the guy from Whose Line Is It, Anyway? who looks like Buddy Holly and Charles Nelson Reilly had a baby and gave it good fashion sense, rapacious wit, and an appreciation for all humanity has to offer (save violence, oppression, bigotry, misogyny, racism…).

Anyway, he hosts a weekly podcast called The Smartest Man in the World, and it is absolutely fantastic.

For anywhere from 1-2 hours, Proops rants, informs, and educates on topics ranging from pop culture and current events to vodka, sports, social issues, more vodka, politics, music, movies, and a bunch more vodka.  He does so in front of a live audience, with whom he engages throughout the show (interrupters, beware!).

As I sit here, watching my beloved Red Wings collapse on the ice against the Penguins, I’m enjoying a “vodka-flavored vodka drink”, which reminds me of earlier this week, when I listened to the latest Proopcast, “Fountains”.

Toward the end, Proops pays honor to Sir George Martin, the longtime producer of The Beatles, who basically worked on every Beatles recording except Let It Be (Phil Spector).

Martin died three weeks ago.

To celebrate his contributions, Proops plays a few exceptional Beatles tunes which span the breadth of their career, and goes on to essentially say that without George Martin, the band wouldn’t have achieved the level of musical greatness which they did.

It’s true, and his glowing praise for Sir George is absolutely warranted.  Martin was an undeniably important part of helping the Beatles achieve the impact — the true potential — of their music upon the world.

Greg says, of George Martin’s approach to working with the Fab Five, “Always yield to people who are geniuses, and try to support them in every way.”

The Beatles helped shift cultural consciousness, and even though haters may shout “MONEY GRAB!!!!” every time there is another reissue, the music resonates decades beyond the band’s breakup because the songs transcend all genres and acknowledge myriad aspects of humanity.

The Beatles appealed to our better selves as human beings, and they were silly at times.  They weren’t afraid to be themselves, to follow their muse.  The best example of a band who does those things today would be Ween, and they broke up years ago, too.

But Proops also mentioned the “…aural magnitude that George Martin was able to create…”.  And that means people need to know about Geoff Emerick…especially if you don’t know about Geoff Emerick.

When Geoff was 15, he interviewed for a job at EMI Studios, which ultimately became Abbey Road.  He was hired promptly, and happened to luck out doing assisting work on the first Beatles demo.  The rule back then was that if the band got signed to the label, they were assigned the same staff who cut the demo to make the album.

So, Geoff Emerick assisted on most of the earliest Beatles recordings, and at 18 years old, George Martin promoted him to head audio engineer, because their original engineer, Norman Smith, decided he’d rather produce Pink Floyd than record the Beatles.

The first album Geoff engineered was Revolver, and that’s when their sound really changed.

Geoff Emerick broke the rules at EMI.  They used to have technicians with lab coats checking in on sessions and recording the levels of the equipment to make sure they weren’t being overloaded.

When the white coats had their backs turned, he placed some really expensive microphones up close to Ringo’s drums, which was tantamount to being fired.  Emerick even overloaded the expensive compressors used to control the volume and dynamic range of loud recordings; another terminable offense.

Of course it all started with the drums! Everything starts with drums.  Drums speak to every human being.

Drum.  Drum NOW!  Drum with your fists on your belly, your hands on your lap, your fingers on the table.  Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, just stop reading for a moment and DRUM!

Drumming is, at its core, a human being flailing their extremities in a controlled and musical fashion.  Drums are the first instrument, before the voice.  Before we all were birthed into this world and coerced to cry, we were drumming inside of our mothers.

Drums are primal.  Drums are spiritual.  Drums are the universal instrument. Drums are energy.  Drums unite people.  Tribes used drums to communicate across great distances, to signal and coordinate battle efforts, to dance.

In today’s music, we remember the vocal, but the drums are the driver. They, along with the bass, move the air that supplies the groove.  Most of the best bands have great rhythm sections.  If your band has a great drummer, you just may become a great band.

No Dave Grohl, no Nirvana, at least not as the world experienced them.

So when Emerick played back the drum take for the first song recorded for Revolver, “Tomorrow Never Knows”, Ringo was astounded.  He had never heard drums recorded like that before — big, with attack and body.

Geoff made the drums pump and breathe.  He gave Ringo a new life, and showed the Beatles a new sonic landscape.

Inspired by Geoff’s innovative approach, John Lennon told him, “I want my vocal to sound like the Dalai Lama shouting from a mountaintop.”

What??  In a studio where suits a ties are required, who talks like that??

Again, geniuses.

Geoff thought for a few moments about what that meant, and how to create the texture John had in his mind.  He finally decided to take a Leslie rotating speaker cabinet, generally reserved for Hammond organs, and record Lennon’s vocal through it.

Listen to “Tomorrow Never Knows”, and pay attention to the drums and the vocal: the drums are in your face, present; the vocal is swirling, ethereal.

Geoff Emerick and his approach to audio engineering empowered the Beatles to take creative leaps further than the sterile, rule-based EMI studio would generally allow, and it paid off in Revolver.  So much so, that it revolutionized the recording industry.

Geoff has gone on to enjoy an amazing career as a producer and engineer for Paul McCartneyElvis Costello, Badfinger, Art Garfunkel, America, Supertramp, Cheap Trick, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and so many more.

So, while everyone is giving love to George Martin, and he certainly does deserve it, my behind-the-Beatles hero is Geoff Emerick.  Because while George Martin was arranging beautiful strings and horns, and playing piano and coaching vocal harmonies with the boys in the live room, Geoff was sweating bullets in the control room, scared to death of being found disobeying orders, while bearing the ultimate accountability for recording THE BEATLES.

But he knew he was right.  He believed in his decisions, and those decisions ultimately made the Beatles’ music better for them.

He was the unknown, who risked it all, for the greater good of music.  And it paid off.

Don’t confuse a risk with a gamble.  Gambling is foolish.  Risking is smart.

Trust your instincts, take the risk.

Because tomorrow never knows.


P.S. I actually sent this to Greg Proops…and he responded:


So awesome


I loved when you were mistaken for the guy from Steppenwolf


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Let he who would move the world first move himself. — Socrates

Copyright © 2018 John Kay, All rights reserved.

Kick in the Butt


You know, the universe never ceases to amaze me….

I ordered some monitor stands for the studio in the new house so I can migrate my operations here.  Along with the stands, I bought a few books, which have all since arrived.  Steven Pressfield’s Do the Work was delivered this morning and I’ve just completed it.  At a mere 98 pages, it was easily the shortest book I ordered.

The main theme in Do the Work is getting out of your own way by overcoming Resistance (Pressfield purposely capitalizes this word), and allowing Assistance to aid you in your efforts.

Pressfield essentially says that in order to succeed at effecting a change in one’s life, one needs to:

1. Stay stupid

2. Trust the soup

3. Start before you are ready

When it comes to being creative, to “stay stupid” means to not over-think and just act — without simultaneous self-criticism.

Just begin.  Get after it.  Don’t worry about the results yet.  Just follow your muse and allow it to take you wherever it goes.  You can sand off the rough edges later, just get started and engage in the work.

To “trust the soup” is to let go of the need to control, and put your faith in something bigger than you.  Not necessarily God, but the “Big Mystery” or “The Source” or just the universe itself.

The goal is to remove any preconceptions or held-fast rules or judgement and simply allow ideas to come to you naturally, organically.  There are no right or wrong ideas, only ways of thinking which make them so.  Don’t think.  Just write your ideas down.  Record voice memos.  Capture your thoughts as swiftly as possible, or they may leave before you get a chance.

“Start before you are ready” is a theme I find common throughout my studies.  It’s good to be prepared, but if you prepare too much and your plan is too rigid, you leave no room for maneuvering should problems arise.  And problems will always arise!

If you begin before you are ready, you know you are unprepared, and therefore, you will have to be more focused and attentive to the matters at hand.

You are naked, you are alone, and you are scared.  You must do something.  So DO something.  Place yourself on what author Robert Greene calls “death ground” — if you are in a position in which you absolutely cannot fail, in which you either live or die, your focus and energy will rise to meet the challenge.

Pressfield’s advice in Do the Work is delivered pointedly and succinctly, with humor sprinkled throughout.  I recommend it to anyone who wants to make a fundamental change in their lifestyle or business.  It’s a good kick in the butt for those who need it.

Don’t we all need a good kick in the butt sometimes??

I got mine today, right after lunch…

My queen left for work, and I sat my happy butt down in my easy chair and settled in for some me time, playing Black Ops 3.  After a few rounds, I cooked a pork chop and warmed up some bacon jalapeño mac and cheese (yes, it’s as good as it sounds; feel free to email me for the recipe!).

As I was eating and playing, I thought of the book I had just read.  And I got upset with myself.

I thought, “Is this Resistance??  Right now?  Me, reclining in a comfortable chair, eating and playing video games instead of working on something?  Should I stop what I’m doing right now and start working?”

[It may seem weird, but I have conversations with myself often.  You see, entrepreneurs have no true barometer for how hard they supposed to be working, at any time.  “I’m my own boss” literally means that I am the one who has to boss me around and hold me accountable.  For each time I think I’m the hardest working person I know, there’s a time I believe I’m the world’s biggest slacker, that people think I’m lazy.  (This is actually very common among entrepreneurs, and can lead to serious bouts of depression.)]

Once I finished eating and cleaning the dishes, I looked outside to see if my monitor stands had arrived yet.  They hadn’t, but the regular mail was in the slot.

Along with the usual ads/junk/bills was a package for me.  Upon opening the mailer, I laughed.  I had received the kick in the butt I needed — The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles, the other Steven Pressfield book I ordered.

Reading is very important to me.  It makes my brain tingle in a very positive and productive way.  When I read, I read with intent to learn.

There was a book I bought once for $70.  My friend laughed at me, thought I was crazy.  “You paid seventy dollars for some old book?!”  I told him that I didn’t just buy some old book, I bought the author’s thoughts.

When I opened The War of Art, I knew this was the universe saying “John, slow down.”  Because I haven’t really read any books since I last toured, which was November of last year.  I’ve been so busy with my fan club, buying and moving into the new house, producing and writing new songs, driving nice people (and a couple crazies) around metro Detroit, blogging, etc.  I haven’t taken time to sit and read, to soak up new insights.

So this weekend, in between moving the studio gear and furniture to the new house, getting everything in its proper place and setting it up, acoustically-treating the mix room, and approving the master of my new album (excitement!), I’m going to be doing as much reading as possible.

As soon as those monitor stands get here…it is ON!

But first a few more rounds of free-for-all in Black Ops 3.  😀

Visit the archive:

Join the fan club: Become a Bullfighter

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Let he who would move the world first move himself. — Socrates

Copyright © 2018 John Kay, All rights reserved.

When I’m 64

When I was a little kid, the majority of my Sunday evenings were spent riding home from grandma and grandpa’s house in my dad’s tiny Ford Ranger.

Dad kept a box under the bench seat with several cassette tapes of various styles and artists; Beatles, Jethro Tull, Beethoven, Monty Python, Guess Who, Mozart, more Beatles, et al.

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64..?”  Dad was 64.  Right up until a month ago.  No, he didn’t die; he turned 65, eligible now for all of those tremendous senior discounts, social security…

Once every year on those musical rides home, when the mood struck, he would pop in Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s seminal “Karn Evil 9” (  When the tune kicked in, he became pure energy, visibly passionate and animated, singing along, hitting the steering wheel perfectly in time with the drum fills, fingering the air organ (don’t be cheeky!).

The song lasted the whole drive home, and each time he played it he would point out all the different changes, extoll how “ELP” would occasionally cover classical music, and…

And now we have earworms.  The general public is aurally assaulted on a daily basis with calculated productions, formulated to be catchy, financed to be played everywhere, advertised incessantly; productions cached and controlled by the very rich, who manipulate, extort, exhort, and exhaust both the songs and the artists who perform them.

Until finally, they are discarded, another empty Starbucks cup.

Ask anyone under the age of 25 “Who sings that ‘867-5309’ song?”  They won’t be able to tell you…but they know those digits and can sing their melody.  They’ve heard it for years in their cars and at Speedway stations and Gaps and at 7-11 and in TV commercials and at Cold Stone and…

My dad worked in commercial radio from 1969-1994, mostly in downtown Detroit, and his first 15 years were spent as a disc jockey.  He loved exploring local record stores, always discovering new music to share.  Taking his findings home, he would scrounge intensely for the “deep cuts,” songs that may not necessarily be fed to the radio station or considered commercial enough, but he believed would resonate with his audience.

Because he knew his audience.  He encouraged his listeners to call and write to him.

And he would respond, both personally and through the music he would play during his time on-air.  He took his role within the universal music community seriously.

Taking time to set up the context of songs before the lyrics kicked in, breaking down some of the core elements of songs after they finished, knowing when to keep quiet and simply let the music play…he ran his show like a well-oiled machine, educating his listeners on how to listen to music actively.

He was infamous among his colleagues for refusing to play “Stairway to Heaven” in its heyday; every other DJ was doing it, so he didn’t need to.  A fresh impact each and every show was paramount, so if a song had grown stale among his fans, he stopped spinning it.

Early in his career, my dad unearthed a deep cut from a band featuring an albino multi-instrumentalist: a synthesizer-driven instrumental, with a working title of “Double Drum Solo”.

Upon first listen, he was blown away by the tune.  Even though the song was over nine minutes in length, and had no vocals at all, he knew for sure his fans would dig it.

Understand: my father’s authenticity and attention to detail — two traits which he still exemplifies to this day, I’ll add — made his fans quickly grow to respect him.  That respect, along with the subsequent growth in his audience, earned him the trust of his bosses and the freedom to work on his own terms.

But when it came to this particular song, the station’s program director called him crazy, shouting “It’s an instrumental!!!” and protesting “Nine minutes?!  You’ll lose half your listeners!”

Fortunately for my dad, it was a time when disc jockeys were regarded across the country as the real tastemakers, and they had a modicum of power within the music industry.  He had full creative control over his show, and despite the urgings of his boss, he broke that record that night.  (To “break” a record, in radio speak, means to be the first in the world to play a song or album on the air.)

He was true to the music first — if it sounds good, it is good.

The song he debuted that night was originally released as the B-side to another song.  The two were soon reversed by the band’s label when DJs across the US and Canada were flooded with phone calls and realized the song my dad played was the hit.

The name of the band was The Edgar Winter Group, and the song was “Frankenstein”.

Even if you don’t know the song by name, you’ll know it when you hear it.  Here’s the part we all know — ba-da bop bop ba-da bop baaaaaaa!! — in a Buick commercial with Tiger Woods:

Is my dad the cause of Edgar Winter’s success?  Irrelevant in the bigger picture, though an argument can be made, I suppose.  The point is…he took a chance on an unknown because he had the authority to do so, and it paid off for both of them.

Corporations believe they are the only ones in America with any real authority now.  They have the money, so, therefore, they figure they have the power.

But they don’t take chances on unknowns anymore, only sure things and proven commodities.

In The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, published in 2015, John Seabrook writes “Over the last two decades a new type of hit song has emerged, one that is almost inescapably catchy.  Pop songs have always had a ‘hook,’ but today’s songs bristle with them: a hook every seven seconds is the rule.  Painstakingly crafted to tweak the brain’s delight in melody, rhythm, and repetition, these songs are highly processed products.  Like snack-food engineers, modern songwriters have discovered the musical ‘bliss point.’  And just like junk food, the bliss point leaves you wanting more.”

Pop music is dominated by a few huge record companies that use data on past successes to replicate them again and again.  This has led directly to the present situation, wherein only a handful of people, a crazily high percentage of them middle-aged Scandinavian men, write most of America’s pop hits.  Popular songs, like most mass-productions, now get made via focus groups and formulas.

If you’re a DJ in American commercial radio today, you don’t have the freedom to debut any “deep cuts” — there’s a playlist provided to the station by their parent company (likely, this one) with all of the songs the labels want played, scheduled at specific times throughout the day.

The widespread influence of Big Pop even extends to music journalists who, working online, have come to understand that championing little-known artists commands far less traffic — and therefore less job security — than their critical explanations of the new Adele video or (another) Beatles re-release.

Bottom line: if you’re not making hits, or spinning hits, or talking about hits, you’re fired.  Don’t look the part, or wanna play along?  You’re left on the outside.

What the labels refuse to admit, or are incapable of comprehending, is that while algorithms and playlists and clickbait thrive on confirming one’s loves and hates, the best critics — or museum curators, or record store clerks, or DJs, or friends — peddle not only their own insights but also ways to arrive at new insights about things.

In a culture ruled by corporations, profit is the ultimate goal.  Chances are uncertain, and cannot be taken.

Can you imagine a 9-minute instrumental featuring a double drum solo from a band fronted by an albino on today’s radio stations, in shopping malls…at Starbucks??  Fat chance.  Forget “Karn Evil 9”.  It’s nearly a half hour long, whose story, told in three parts, features a 15-minute instrumental section.

Admittedly, I dismissed Emerson’s passing as simply another of our great musicians moving into the next world.  (George Martin, Maurice White, Paul Kantner, Glenn Frey, and David Bowie all said goodbye this year, and we’re not even through March!)  He’d merely be showered with love for a weekend on social media, and then promptly forgotten, as so many others have been.

And frankly, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer never excited me in the same way as other artists.  That’s unfortunate, since Keith Emerson was a musician of the highest order.  Right up until the moment he killed himself at 71 years old.

According to his long-time partner, Mari, he was “tormented with worry” about an upcoming tour, and said he had suffered nerve damage to his right hand which affected his playing: “He didn’t want to let down his fans.  He was a perfectionist and the thought he wouldn’t play perfectly made him depressed, nervous, and anxious.”

Noting heart disease and depression brought about by alcohol in the full report, the coroner ruled his death a suicide — t appears Keith Emerson had so much respect for his audience that he ended his life in order to ensure that he would never let them down.

After I told this news to my queen, she paused for a moment, and her first words thereafter were “John…please don’t ever do that.”

Because she sees me as I really am: I’m a perfectionist, too.  On the occasions when I happen to screw up, it’s usually because I’m worrying too much about screwing up.  She knows how passionate I am, and how I put my heart and soul into everything I do, what I create, into my music, my performances.

But she also knows that I absolutely dread the inevitable loss of my skills.  There will come a day when I am physically or mentally unable to perform and operate at the level I regard as my standard.

The same goes for each and every person alive — we all erode in time.

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”

Need me?  Feed me?  Don’t care.  Will I still be able to create and perform music at the level I do now???

That’s why I believe no matter who we are, what our circumstances happen to be, or what passion we choose to embrace, it is crucial for each of us to engage in life with intensity, to make an impact during our brief time…

“In the face of our inevitable mortality we can do one of two things.  We can attempt to avoid the thought at all costs, clinging to the illusion that we have all the time in the world.  Or we can confront this reality, accept and even embrace it, converting our consciousness of death into something positive and active.  In adopting such a fearless philosophy, we gain a sense of proportion, become able to separate what is petty from what is truly important.  Knowing our days to be numbered, we have a sense of urgency and mission.  We can appreciate life all the more for its impermanence.  If we can overcome the fear of death, then there is nothing left to fear.” – Robert Greene, The 50th Law

The legends don’t really go on forever…

But what they create does!

When I heard last week that Keith Emerson died, I immediately thought of those trips home from grandma’s with my dad, over 25 years ago, when we bonded over the music he and Greg Lake and Carl Palmer made.

We can travel through time, if only in our minds.

P.S. Full disclosure: I borrowed a few phrases from a couple of Atlantic articles relevant to the content.  Check them out if you’d like: Article 1Article 2

P.P.S. There are numerous videos showcasing Keith Emerson’s talent.  Here are two examples: and

Visit the archive:

Join the fan club: Become a Bullfighter

Music: Spotify Artist Page
Podcast: Get After It w/ John Kay on iTunes
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Let he who would move the world first move himself. — Socrates

Copyright © 2018 John Kay, All rights reserved.

You Always Come Back to the Basics

Let’s step back for a moment and just marvel at the age in which we live: imagine going back one century in time and telling someone “In a hundred years from now, people will be able to listen to any song ever recorded in the history of music, on two tiny speakers which they place in their ears, and they can do this almost anywhere in the world at any time via a device that fits in the palm of their hand.”

It sounds like fantasy.  Yet, here we are today with streaming music, or “freemium”.

We live in an age in which we can easily Google “what is the best ______”, and we want the best, for free or as cheap as possible.

We’ve had over 100 years of recorded music, and it is widely agreed upon that analog audio sounds more natural and less harsh than digital.  And when it comes to exciting the senses, vinyl does the job best.

There’s the unmistakable smell of the cardboard jacket when you first tear off the cellophane; the 12″x12″ canvas for visual art; the delicate touch required to maintain the quality of the record (and turntable); and ultimately, the sound of the music itself.

But digital audio is soooo much more convenient and inexpensive to manufacture and distribute than a vinyl record.

So, how do you offer the best of both worlds when releasing an album??  By inserting a coupon to download the digital version of the album inside the vinyl copy.

That’s what the ‘big’ artists are doing, and that’s what I’m going to do.

My album is currently being mastered.  Once it is finished I will begin taking pre-orders for the vinyl version at $25 each, and all pre-orders will include a download of the digital version.  When the vinyl records are manufactured and shipped, they will all include a download coupon.

My new single is out for mastering as well, and those who subscribe to my mailing list will get a chance to hear it before anyone else.  (Those who are members of my fan club – *wink-wink* – have already heard the unmastered version.)

Mark’s story is the story of our American musical culture — we are quite literally coming to our senses.

If you want to hear the album before it returns from mastering, email me at and I’ll send it to you.  🙂

Visit the archive:

Join the fan club: Become a Bullfighter

Music: Spotify Artist Page
Podcast: Get After It w/ John Kay on iTunes
Twitter: @TheRealJohnKay
Instagram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /TheRealJohnKay

Let he who would move the world first move himself. — Socrates

Copyright © 2018 John Kay, All rights reserved.

“The King of Empty Promises”

Funny.  Because it hits home.  It’s timeless.

We’ve all been in this situation before: we loan something to a family member, friend, or coworker and we expect it back in a timely fashion.

But so often it isn’t returned when agreed upon.  Even though the loaned item may be a small thing —  a book, a movie — the unwritten social contract between the two parties isn’t.  When people don’t deliver on their promises or obligations, it erodes integrity.  Trust evaporates.

I’ve got a book loaned out right now to an important person in my life (  It’s a book I reference often, and I was supposed to have it back over a week ago.

HA!  “…supposed to…”

I was “supposed to” have a song ready to release two weeks ago.  In fact, I purposely told everyone to expect it at a certain time, in order to force myself to rise to the occasion and knuckle down on it.  Which I did.  I got everything recorded pretty quickly, and was ready to move on to mixing…or so I thought…

While getting prepped to mix, I received an email offering an amazing opportunity — a chance to learn specific mixing techniques from one of the most sought-after mix engineers in the world.

I was conflicted.  I had put my word out there in the universe, and made a promise to deliver.  But I also knew without a doubt that if I passed on this opportunity, I would certainly regret it later.

Because any chance to learn from the greats should be taken.  That’s true in respect to any craft.  Seek out the talented people in your field who are achieving, are respected, and figure out how they did it.  Rather than blindly following trends or listening to those who say “it can’t be done,” look at those who are actually doing it, and whose work will truly stand the test of time.  Learn from them.  To not do so is, in our times, an act of willful ignorance and a failure to honor your best self.

And now, I’m sitting here listening to my song again and again and again, because I can’t get over how exciting it sounds.  The things I learned opened my eyes (ears??) to a different approach for creating a sonic landscape which really makes a production come to life.  I brought the first print home from the studio last night and figured out which tweaks need to be made, so I should be able to send it out for mastering within the next couple of days.

Speaking of mastering…

The full-length album which I shared with you is finally in the hands of my favorite mastering engineer, and I’m eagerly awaiting delivery of the first prints.  🙂

Former UK Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli famously said “Never complain.  Never explain.”  It’s a good reminder to keep your nose to the grindstone, and don’t let circumstances or failures determine your future — no one likes a whiner who makes excuses.  Louis the XIV passed judgement between two parties in his court with a simple “I shall see.”  His decision would be made in private, and only those involved would be made aware of his ruling.

I’m not complaining about anything getting in the way of delivering on my promise, but I am explaining.  Why???  Because I believe in accountability.

In fact, accountability is one of my six core values in what I call…well, you’ve heard of the barter system?  I call it the “MARTIR system”.

After truly examining what I value when it comes to being a professional musician, I found my values include:

– Measurable growth

– Accountability

– Reputation for excellence

– Time

– Intensity

– Respect

So…I’m explaining myself as an act of accountability, because I respect you and I value our time — I’ve been learning with intensity in order to achieve measurable growth and maintain a reputation of excellence.

I’ve promised emails, songs, and albums.  I’m done promising.  The new newness will come when it comes.  I just ask for your trust that I am working to make my music the best it can be, both for me and for you.

Thanks for your patience, both now and in the future.

The best is yet to come…  🙂

Want to hear the album in its unmastered form??  Send an email to and I will hook you up.

Visit the archive:

Join the fan club: Become a Bullfighter

Music: Spotify Artist Page
Podcast: Get After It w/ John Kay on iTunes
Twitter: @TheRealJohnKay
Instagram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /TheRealJohnKay

Let he who would move the world first move himself. — Socrates

Copyright © 2018 John Kay, All rights reserved.