The Email That Made My Day

The Email That Made My Day

Last week, I received an email from one of the Bullfighters (fan club members). Her name is Heather, and she lives in Houston, TX.

“Good morning!

“Haven’t seen a blog email in a bit, so I hope it’s because you’ve got just s***loads of irons in all kinds’a fires, and that 2017 has, so far, been kind to you. Had your music in the rotation more lately, if that means anything to you.  🙂

“Hope you and your queen are doing well, and still enjoying homeownership! 🙂 It’s not without its faults, when you realize that, when something breaks, no onsite maintenance crew is coming right away, but I think it still means more to have your very own place. 🙂

“Take care of yourself, mister, and have a great f***ing weekend! :D”

That email made my day!

First, she’s right, I hadn’t blogged in a bit. Since Inauguration Day, I haven’t been compelled to write until the shenanigans regarding the layoffs at 89X.

I’ve been doing a lot of behind the scenes grinding, but not every single thing I have been excited about came to pass. I’m tired of blogging and telling people what’s going to happen, and then having it not come to fruition, which erodes trust and credibility. I don’t want to be the king of empty promises — the world is already filled with talkers; we need more doers.

Instead of blogging about every small advancement, development, wrinkle or hurdle along my path, I’d rather wait and talk about what is actually happening.

Second, Heather in Houston must be clairvoyant, because I indeed have many irons in many fires . . .

When it comes to new music, I’ve got three songs, each in different stages of production, to share with the Bullfighters for feedback before deciding whether to release and perform them. Those will be sent out as they are finished.

Also, I’m excited to announce that band rehearsals will begin on April 13!

I spent much of the past year meeting with and interviewing potential members, and we had our first official band meeting last week, during which we clarified our long-term vision as a group. There are seven of us getting ready to rehearse, and we are all multi-instrumentalists. (It’s funny sometimes how things work out — I’ve known all but one member since they were teenagers.)

Here’s another special announcement: my podcast Get After It with John Kay is now on iTunes!

Three new episodes will be uploaded in April, including my conversations with:

– Danny Muggs — Guitarist and vocalist from acclaimed Detroit blues-rock band The Muggs
– Don Slater — Bassist of Battlecross, a fast-rising Detroit metal band on Metal Blade Records
– Rocco Ambrose — Founder of the Ambrose Academy of Wing Chun Do and Grandmaster of the Wing Chun Do system of martial arts, a system whose lineage descends straight from Bruce Lee

Available as of now are my conversations with entrepreneur and InkAddict founder Jim Doyon, and drummer Matt Puhy from Detroit hard rock band Wilson. I’ve received great responses from people about the wisdom shared on the podcast by these two gents. Please subscribe to Get After It, download the episodes, and let me know if you learned anything by listening to them talk about their journeys.

[iPhone users: open your podcasts app, select “My Podcasts”, and click the “+” at the top of the screen. Select “Add Podcast”, and enter the following URL: http://getafterit.libsyn.com/rss.]

Speaking of journeys . . .

On January 21 my queen, mother, and sister-in-law traveled to Washington D.C. for the International Women’s March.

When my queen returned home, she expressed how much she wished I could have been there. I told her that if they have another march, I’ll go with her next time, to which she said that they will be having several different marches, including a march on April 29 for climate change.

SOLD. The queen and I will be traveling to D.C. at the end of April!

The thing is . . . I don’t wanna take a trip only to the nation’s capital.

There are Bullfighters in Pittsburgh, Boston, and Portland (ME), and I want to book an intimate house show in each area on the way to D.C.!***

And that’s not all! In addition to potential house shows, I have scheduled podcast interviews along the way with two people I have huge respect for — Adam Ayan, mastering engineer at Gateway Mastering Studios in Portland, and Patrick “Seton” O’Connor, Director of Operations for The Dan Patrick Show in Milford, CTI’m very excited to connect with these two, hear their stories, and share practical wisdom.

Like Heather said, irons in all kinds’a fires!

Finally, it means everything to me that my music is in rotation in people’s lives. Now that a group is ready to rehearse, we’re that much closer to getting out on the road. Consider this update to mean the wheels are in motion!

2017 has been kind to me so far, and I hope the same for you. As I look outside right now, gray skies are clearing, and the sun is peeking through the clouds.

The best is yet to come! 😀

 

John Kay
jk@therealjohnkay.com

Music: http://johnkay.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @TheRealJohnKay
Instagram: @TheRealJohnKay
Facebook: /TheRealJohnKay

 

***If you’re in any of these areas, and are interested in what hosting an “intimate house show” involves (it’s easy!), email me at houseshow@therealjohnkay.com so we can discuss the simple details. The plan is to be in the area of Pittsburgh on April 25, Boston on April 26, and Portland on April 27. I’ve reached out to all of the Bullfighters in these cities already, and they are stoked!***

P.S. As far as home ownership is concerned . . . we have water coming in the basement. We thought we fixed it by sloping the grading underneath our deck, but nope. We may put in a French drain(?) this year if it’s not too expensive a task. If so, yikes. Other than that, we love our home, and may be adding a dog to the family soon. We shall see. 🙂

P.P.S. Speaking of journeys again . . . I like the shoe store Journeys, because they stock Onitsuka Tiger, my favorite brand of sneakers. But I hate the band Journey because of what Steve Perry did to my mom back in the day. He’s a jerk. And there is no “South Detroit” — that’s Canada.

New Year, New Song, New Podcast

New Year, New Song, New Podcast

2016 is finally over.

For many, it was a particularly brutal year.  For me, it was one of the best years of my life.

Mind you, it still had its challenges, from being laid up with injuries to having my car in the shop nine times, and my laptop — the heart of my business! — dying in the summer.

But mostly, it was a great year.

I bought a nice house less than three miles from my mom and dad, got my hands dirty and did some pre-move construction and finishing with my best friend, and moved myself and my queen in in February.  We took out the above-ground pool, and installed a fire pit, around which we hosted two fun parties with many of the awesome people in our life.

I bought a great car and use it to drive for Uber and Lyft, which has proven to be both a viable source of income to cover my household overhead and a way to retain my agency as an entrepreneur.  I get to listen to podcasts — I like to learn while I earn — and meet cool people, some of whom have become fans of my music.  (Remember: Tip your Uber or Lyft driver!)

I’ve been reading anywhere from 20-80 pages of a book every day, and will include my recommended reading list below.

I got hired as a freelance writer and editor by my local newspaper, and conducted a 3-hour strategy session with them to help determine their core values as a business.

Because of the experience with my local paper, along with my blog, I ended up being hired by a candidate for Wayne County Circuit Court Judge to write a 14,000-word story of her life and career, which became the centerpiece for the grassroots social media movement I coordinated to maximize its impact.  She ultimately won the election, and the votes needed in order to secure her seat on the bench were a direct result of my efforts, according to her social media manager.

I also began training in Wing Chun Do, a self-defense-focused martial art developed by Grandmaster (“Sijo”, see-jo) James DeMile based on his years of practicing and learning with Bruce Lee in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  I had the opportunity to meet and learn directly from Sijo this past August, when he travelled from his home in Hawaii to bequeath the Wing Chun Do system and Grandmaster title to my personal instructor, Rocco Ambrose.  I’m excited and fortunate to be learning from the Grandmaster of a martial art!

There wasn’t really a single thing that I would consider to be the best thing that happened to or for me in 2016, but I think overall, I’d have to say that I learned a lot about myself and my capacity to get things done, to become my best self.  And I learned a lot about others, too.

Every day, I effort to learn something new.  Whether it’s through reading a book, or listening to a podcast, or talking with a rider when I’m out driving, I’m constantly learning and applying the knowledge gained.

I think that having a student-like mindset is a great way to approach life, and I encourage others to ask tough questions, to seek deeper knowledge in all things.

But I always keep in mind something Sijo said during his visit: “If it doesn’t work for you, it’s pure entertainment.”

So this year, I encourage you to find what works for you, and use it to help you become better at whatever you’re doing and get closer to whatever it is you’re working toward.  (I’d love to hear your story!)

What works for me is operating from a place of authenticity, and creating the best content I can.

I’m happy to announce that starting in 2017, I am now delivering content in three forms:

My blog, which, now that I have a new laptop (yay!), I will endeavor to publish on a weekly basis…

My music, of which a new song was released yesterday (the general consensus among the feedback I’m getting is that it may be my best song to date)…

Finally, my new podcastGet After It! w/ John Kay, the first installment of which was published today at 5:00 AM!  I’ve already interviewed five guests for Get After It!, respectable mavericks each of them, and plan to release a new installment on Monday of each week.

The first installment features my interview with Emily Schaller, the CEO of a Detroit-based non-profit organization called RockCF, which raises funds and awareness for the fight against cystic fibrosis.  Emily’s story and life are inspiring, and every time I talk to her I feel the need to kick my butt a little more in my own efforts.  She truly is a ray of brilliant light, and everyone can learn something from listening to her.

I’m grateful to anyone reading this right now, and to anyone who listens to my music and my podcast.  If you like my music, please buy it.  If you like what you hear on my podcast, please subscribe to it.

2016 is over.  The best is yet to come!  🙂

New song, “We Know We’re Gonna Die”: https://johnkay.bandcamp.com/track/we-know-were-gonna-die

New podcast, interview with Emily Schaller: http://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/id/4951467

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com

My 2016 recommended reading list:

Paul McCartney: The Life by Philip Norman
I was raised on the Beatles, classical music, and country music.  Anyone who is a Beatles fan generally has a favorite Beatle, and mine was always Paul, although the songs that I loved the most and wanted to learn were usually George songs.  This 800+ page book, a birthday gift from my parents, grabbed me from page one and I read it voraciously, at one point over 125 pages in a day.  Paul was the meticulous one, the one who focused on the details, staying late into the night at the studio to get his bass parts just the way he wanted them, which is to say, perfect.  This book reached into my soul, and I found myself empathizing with Paul in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible if someone told me so.  The author had McCartney’s ‘tacit approval’ to interview anyone and everyone who knew Paul about anything and everything, so this truly is the definitive Paul McCartney biography.  A must-read for anyone interested in one of the biggest superstars in the world.

The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory by John Seabrook
I hear all the time about how new music is no good, the radio sucks these days, all the songs sound the same.  Well, this book explains why.  From ABBA to Ace of Base to Kelly Clarkson and Rhianna and more, the evolution of pop music’s dominance is thoroughly broken down.  You get the inside scoop on who really writes the music we hear everywhere — mostly white, middle-aged, Scandinavian men.  This book was fascinating from start to finish, and I recommend everyone reads it.  It’s full of delicious and salacious stories, from Ke$ha’s turbulent lawsuit against producer Dr. Luke, to the time Kelly Clarkson bawled her eyes out in Clive Davis’s office because he insisted on including “Since U Been Gone” on her sophomore record (it would go on to win the Grammy for Song Of The Year).  Treat yourself to this book.  You won’t regret it, even if it does disgust you.

Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday
I need to read this book again, this time with a highlighter.  That’s something I have been doing more of, highlighting books as I read them.  This year I’m going to transcribe the highlighted passages from my books onto index cards and create what’s known as a ‘commonplace book’ for myself.  A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations, and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits.  The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking, or whatever it is that you do.  Some of the greatest men and women in history have kept these books.  Marcus Aurelius kept one, which more or less became the Meditations.  Petrarch kept one.  Montaigne, who invented the essay kept a handwritten compilation of sayings, maxims and quotations from literature and history that he felt were important.  Thomas Jefferson kept one.  Napoleon kept one.  Bill Gates keeps one.  I first heard of the idea of a commonplace book from Holiday’s blog, and liked the idea so much I decided to apply it.  This book will be one of the first to get transcribed.  It’s relatively short, and one can likely read it in a day or over a weekend.  Beneficial to anyone.

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle
This one hits you where it hurts: your smartphone.  Everywhere we turn, most people seem to be looking down at a device.  It’s the reality of the culture in which we live.  But there are devastating side effects to our new habits that are only now being discovered.  This book sheds light on those side effects.  There’s a group of friends going out to dinner and mandating the creation of a ‘cell phone tower’ in the middle of the table, where everyone stacks their device on top of the others, and the first person to grab for theirs when it rings has to pay for the entire meal.  Or consider that many young professionals fresh out of college and beginning their careers would rather talk to their colleagues, bosses, and employees through text, email, or Gchat, than have an actual one-on-one, face-to-face conversation.  We are connecting with our devices more than we are with each other.  According to Turkle, based on her research, this is a growing epidemic, the results of which are a general lack of empathy toward others and an inability to tolerate natural lulls and awkwardness in conversation.  Sound like the world we live in?  Ever since reading this book, I have effort to ‘elevate the conversation’ whenever possible.  Instead of emailing, I’ll text.  Instead of texting, I’ll call.  Instead of calling, I’ll drop by.  By elevating our conversations, we can reclaim our empathy and our connection to one another.

The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time by Arianna Huffington
Believe me, no one was as shocked as I that I purchased something from Arianna Huffington.  Regardless of any opinion one may have about her, the information in the book is immediately applicable.  Since reading it, I do my best to get at least 7 hours of sleep every single night.  You should, too.

What Do You Do When Your Lover Hates Your Art?

What Do You Do When Your Lover Hates Your Art?

So I have this problem.  Not really a problem, it’s just…I guess…a bummer.

My girlfriend doesn’t like the new song I’ve been working on.

This tune has been milling around in my head for the past few weeks.  I stumbled on a melody that I enjoyed, sang it all day in the car, and got the gumption to wrap a song around it and record it.

And now I can’t stop listening to it!  But there are a couple of things I need to address before actually releasing it, which include re-recording the lead vocal.

Many who have given me feedback on my music say “John, your stuff is really good, but sometimes your lead vocal seems forced,” or “it seems like you’re trying to hit all the notes,” or “it feels like you’re concerned with being perfect instead of just singing.”

Those are tough pills to swallow, because I don’t really know when my vocal is done until someone else tells me it is.  Being that I produce my work myself, I have no way of knowing if my work is truly done.

And how do I know when it’s actually good??

Yes, I want to hit all of the notes, but I also understand that feeling and emotion can sometimes get lost in the process of striving for perfection.

I’m at a point where I don’t know whether my vocal is good, or what I should even do with the tune — my queen doesn’t like the song, and her opinion matters to me.

According to her, I should not release the song under my own name, or I should try to sell it to another artist.  She says she hates my new song for the same reasons that I don’t like Sia’s music.  And a huge part of the reason I don’t like Sia’s music is because I have learned how today’s hit songs get made…

I just finished reading a book two weeks ago called The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory by John Seabrook.  The book explains that the majority of major label producers and writers today utilize a method Seabrook calls “track-and-hook” — a (hopefully) compelling music bed is created and vocal melodies and hooks are paired to match, or vice-versa.  There are teams of writers who work on songs together, trying to add the best beats, melodies, and “top lines” (the vocal hooks that are the most memorable).

The most successful top-liners generally sing the lead vocal on the demo versions of the songs they are attempting to sell to a recording artist.  In many cases, their performance is, in fact, better than that of the artist who ultimately records and releases the song.  But, these top-liners are kept in their place by the powers that be in the music industry (not pretty enough, skinny enough, buff enough, young enough, and on and on and on).

And then all of a sudden, came Sia, swinging from her chandelier.

Sia cut her teeth in Australia, but her bands failed to break through to the mainstream.  So she moved to NYC and became a top-liner, crafting hits for today’s biggest stars before creating her worldwide solo success.  Her writing credits include “Pretty Hurts” for Beyoncé, “Perfume” for Britney Spears, “Boy Problems” for Carly Rae Jepsen, and “Double Rainbow” for Katy Perry.  She’s fantastically talented, has a gift with words, and her voice is powerful.

I hear potential in Sia’s work in the same fashion as I did Lady Gaga’s music when I first heard it.  I thought, “Okay, you’re obviously talented.  And now that you’ve hooked everyone with your catchy pop stuff, the next album had better be the real deal.”

The issue I have with Sia is that, to me, her music sounds like a bunch of top-lined demos, waiting to find an artist to re-record them.  Much of the time it sounds like she’s mumbling words so the artist can put their own inflection on them later, or pretending to sound like Rihanna…which is incredibly ironic, since Rihanna probably had to figure out how to sound like Sia when she recorded “Diamonds”, since Sia wrote it!

One successful top-liner has a particular way of working: she goes into a recording studio and listens to several beats and music beds pre-produced for the session by the rest of the writing and production team; once she hears something that moves her, she enter the vocal booth and makes noises along with the music, trying to find the right emotional impact; then, after the basic pattern and melody are established, she improvises different lyrics on the spot, or reads from her notes of one-liners and couplets, trying to find The One.

This top-liner’s name is Ester Dean.  You may have heard of some of her songs: Ciara’s “Drop It Low”; Rihanna’s “Rude Boy”, “Only Girl (In the World)”, “What’s My Name”, and “S&M”; Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” and “Turn Me On”; and “Firework” for Katy Perry.

They figured out the formula.  They figured out how to craft a song in such a way that after repeat listens, you actually like it.  At first you may hate it, but after you hear it a bunch of times, you may like it.

Then again, the opposite is true in the case of my queen and my newest song.

When the person who loves you the most and supports you in your endeavors doesn’t like the work you’re doing, does that mean you shouldn’t share it with the rest of the world??

Frankly, I feel as though I need to release it, simply because she hates it.  I’m not sure about you, but I hate most pop music that comes out.

But they keep playing it, and people keep streaming it.  Some people — not nearly as many as who stream it, but some people — keep buying it.  And both go to the concerts.

So if I hate most of the songs on the radio, but they’re incredibly popular with millions of others…and if there are many unsung heroes behind the scenes, writing songs, and creating today’s hits…why can’t I follow my muse from time to time and create a pure pop song for the sheer enjoyment of it??

No, this particular tune doesn’t have a whole lot of substance to it.  It doesn’t have a whole lot of depth and meaning.  But why is that a problem, considering that most of the songs I’ve written throughout my 20+ years of songwriting do have depth and meaning?  Why is it a problem for me to make one pure pop song?

Hell, maybe I’ll make ten more!  Do ten pure pop songs outweigh the value (or take away from the value) of the hundreds of other songs in my songwriting catalog which have depth and meaning, and interesting chord changes, and intricate melodies, and multiple vocal harmonies, and an orchestra’s worth of tracks and instruments??

Sometimes it’s okay to just like a pure and simple pop song.

Unless of course, you’re a rock and roller, in which case you may be called a faggot or a sellout for liking something that doesn’t fit the mold of what’s “acceptable” in the rock scene.  A scene which rails against the use of computers and digital technology in the creation of music.

Maybe the reason I’m so fearful to create and release a pure pop song is…I fear that it will alienate people who enjoy my other music.  I don’t want that to happen.  I want to be able to create music whenever I want, based on the inspiration I get from my muse.

And my muse speaks to me randomly.  It happens all the time.  It doesn’t even have to relate to music.  It could be an interaction with a person, a news article I read online, a book I am reading or have read, a movie; it could be anything.

For example, the sound of an ambulance siren in Budapest, Hungary that I heard as I was strolling through the city on a day off while on tour last year.  Noticing the rhythm and the melody, I immediately opened up my voice memo app and captured them, so that when I got somewhere I could create music again, I could take that sound I heard and put it in a song, or rearrange it.

Or whatever I want, because while there are some rules when it comes to making music, there really are no rules when it comes to making music.  No limits.

That’s how the world works for me: anything and everything can be an inspiration to create.  So I’m not making this pure pop song as a way of selling out (or buying in).  I’m not making it so that I can get clicks and likes and shares all that stuff.  Those things are nice, but I would like to believe that they are a byproduct of making quality art.

But “quality art” is subjective, and the subject of this particular song is about going out to the club with your friends, catching a stranger’s glance from across the dance floor, and falling in love at first sight.  Can’t get more cliché than that, can you??

(“You’re going to be 35 next week.  When have your friends ever picked you up to go to the club??” my lady says.)

AND, the song only has four chords — D, E, F# minor, and A; and they cycle over and over for the entire song.  The chord progression does not change, and yet the song builds and builds, as do most of my songs.

(“You say Sia’s songs are the same thing over and over, but so is this song.  Don’t be a hypocrite.” she elaborates.)

With my music, I try to take you somewhere.  I try to transport you through time, over the course of a few minutes, and escort you on a journey.  Music is the only art form that can do that.

Visual art, as stunning and amazing as it can be…once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it.  You see a tattoo or you see a painting, and you’ve seen it.  It’s over.  But a piece of music, it takes time to unfold.  You have to sit there — have to pay attention — if you really want to get the depth and meaning.

Or don’t.  Either way’s fine.  Some music is just there for background noise.  Many artists even pride themselves on being essentially background noise for the party.

Most of my songs, I don’t want them to just be background noise.  I want them to be the songs that you spin when times are tough, to remind you to keep going, to persevere, to never give up, and to believe in yourself and believe in your dreams and achieve something.

But this particular song, the purest pop song I’ve ever written, is simply ear candy.  It may get stuck in your head, because the melody is memorable and you can sing it and sing it and sing it, and not get bored with it.

I speak from experience: though the song hasn’t yet spent a month in the universe, it’s one of those that I can’t stop singing.  It is physically gratifying to me to sing this melody and the words the way they are.  It feels good on my tongue, in my throat, in my chest, and in my stomach when I vocalize the sounds which make up the words and melody for this tune.

So I’m going to recut the vocal.  I’m going to mix this song, and I’m going to do it as quickly as possible and get it on Spotify.  Because I think that there are going to be a lot more people that simply enjoy the song for what it is, rather than hate it for what it is.

Because what is it at the end of the day?  It’s just a song.  Just another song out there in the ether.

But it could become a party anthem.  It may make you sing.  It could be a song that gets the club jumping.  It could be a song that makes two strangers fall in love and become best friends.  Who knows?  Maybe it’ll just lead to a couple of one-night stands or random hook-ups.

Understand: if it affects you — if it causes a reaction — it’s done its job.

This song moved my girlfriend to hate it and call me a hypocrite.  I wonder what everyone else is going to think of it…

But first I have to sing it again, better than last time.

P.S. My new album has finally been mastered, and is currently being prepared for release on Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Play, Tidal, BandCamp, and iTunes.  It’s all happening. 🙂

John Kay

blog@therealjohnkay.com
TheRealJohnKay.com

Music: http://johnkay.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @therealjohnkay
InstaGram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /therealjohnkay

Spinning Plates

I need to express how satisfying it is to be in my and my queen’s new house, sitting at our kitchen table and writing this…because at this time ten years ago, my life was flipped upside down.

I was in the process of filing bankruptcy and finalizing a contested divorce, ultimately resulting in the foreclosure of my home and repossession of my car.  Moreover, I was walking away from a career in retail sales management, and the cushy benefits and guaranteed income which came with it.

Music has been my passion since I was born, and I decided once and for all to make the creation and performance of my own music my number one priority in life.

So I took out $20k in student loans and relocated to Phoenix to attend a premier audio engineering school.  (I wanted to learn how to professionally record and mix my own music in order to save money.)  Graduating required the completion of 480 hours — 12 weeks — of an unpaid internship, and six months after arriving in Phoenix I moved to Nashville.  Once there, I bought a 1989 Mazda 929 for $400 and lived in it while interning at a newly-opened all-analog recording studio.

The car died halfway through the internship.

Without a vehicle, and with no money and nowhere to live, my parents drove the nine hours down and brought me back up to Detroit.  Just like that…poof!…I was essentially a teenager again: fresh out of school, with no car and no job, living in mom and dad’s basement on their dime.

I was utterly ashamed.  I felt like a total failure.  But I had a new skill set, and promised myself that I would work as hard as possible to get my own place within a year of moving back.  After a year of busting my butt securing occasional freelance work, I got a job as the house engineer at a venue.

I applied to get a place, but got denied a loan because I didn’t have enough history of income.  So, I built a makeshift recording studio in my parents’ basement, and toughed it out.  I had clients here and there over the following year, building my income history, and things were running smoothly until I was no longer needed at the venue I worked at.  My main source of income was now gone.  The only thing left was my band and our potential.  But due to perpetual discontent, the band dissolved within the ensuing two years.

There I was, back at square one again.  I was angry…with myself.  Because I believe you are where you are today because of the decisions you made yesterday.  Likewise, tomorrow is a result of today’s decisions.

Taking the time to reflect on everything, I ultimately realized that I wasn’t being my true self….I needed to make music which truly comes from my heart, and not just my head.  I needed to make music that speaks truth to power, and has depth and meaning.  I needed to be true to my positive habits and instincts — musical, professional, and personal — while allowing ample room for further enlightenment.

This realization led me to finally begin writing my own original music with the intent of performing it as a solo artist.  I’ve always written for bands I’ve formed with others, and I felt it was time to take the leap on my own.

Suddenly my creative juices were flowing at an unstoppable pace.  I began writing furiously, and before I knew it I had the makings of a full-length album on my hands.  I took my life savings at the time and spent it to have the songs mixed by a major label mixer, and began saving little by little to have the album professionally mastered.

And then…Koffin Kats called, offering a golden ticket to touring life.  I dropped my plans and accepted their offer wholeheartedly.  What followed was an amazing ride across the US, Canada, Europe, and the UK spanning two years.  I was excited for the future, and started making plans to finally get my own place.

Then five months ago, they told me their original guitarist was coming back to the group at the beginning of the new year, and my services would no longer be required.

Panic.  I was less than half a year away from being back at square one for the third time in six years.  I didn’t know what to do.  All I knew is I was going to make the best of the last couple of tours with the Kats, and figure it out.

On tour last November, I was chatting with a fan after one of our shows, and she asked to hear my solo material.  I explained to her that it wasn’t finished but she said she didn’t care, so I sent her a link to my Dropbox folder containing the tunes.  She got back to me a couple of days later, telling me that she loved the album, recommending I share it with others.  So I did; since first sharing with her, I’ve been in touch with over 400 people who have all listened to my tunes.

The responses have been positively overwhelming.  In my 25 years of making music, I have never received reactions such as these.  The ongoing communication with everyone has shown me that my music resonates with people, and I am honored by that.

Going back and forth with everyone has resulted in creating my website, where people can preorder my album (once I send it out for mastering) and join my new yearly fan club.  I feel incredibly humbled and grateful to say that several people have joined already, and we are all excited for what’s to come.  🙂

In the meantime, I’ve found a great way to earn viable income while growing my musical efforts: driving for Uber.

I bought a 2001 Ford Focus on its last legs back in July.  I submitted to drive for Uber in early December, thinking they’d turn me down because my car was too old, but they approved me within 48 hours.  I immediately began driving as much as possible in order to make money for…

Closing costs on a new house!  It turns out that based on the history of income from my two years with Koffin Kats, and the money in the bank from Ubering, I was able to get approved (with my dad as cosigner) for a mortgage.  We closed on New Year’s Eve, and my queen and I just moved in less than two weeks ago, after doing some remodeling and painting and whatnot.  And, the Focus died in mid-January, but based on my credit I was able to purchase a gently used 2012 Chevy Sonic!

So…I’m in my new house, sitting at the kitchen table, listening to sports radio on the sound system in the living room, and working on this letter.  And it feels so good because it feels earned.

I look at balance in life like the plate spinner.  You know, from sideshow acts, the guy or gal who takes long sticks and spins plates on top of them?  The goal is to get as many plates as possible spinning at once, so the performer can step back and say “Ta-da!”

That’s life: there’s a money plate, a job plate, a spouse plate, a family plate, friends, hobbies, spirit, health, etc.  The object is to get everything in your life in order so you can sit back and say “Ahhhhhhh…” and relax.  Just like the plate spinner, I can’t relax until I know all of my plates aren’t wobbling.  For a while, I had all of my plates on the verge of crashing to the ground.  Some did, and I had to get new plates.

It feels good to be able to step back and reflect on the journey of the last decade, to see how far I’ve come since my world was flipped upside down.  And now that the house and car and income plates are spinning again, I can get back to spinning the blog plate and the emails plate, and most importantly, the new music plate.  I’ve got another new single coming soon which reflects my newfound confidence at getting through this thing called life.

Get ready to dance.  😀

P.S. If you want to hear the album that is resonating with hundreds of people, email blog@therealjohnkay.com and I’ll share it with you personally.  🙂

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com
TheRealJohnKay.com

Music: http://johnkay.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @therealjohnkay
InstaGram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /therealjohnkay

My First Negative Review

I woke up sick as a dog this morning, and had the following message waiting for me in my inbox…

“so, here I go finally…

“I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t like your solo material and I believe it has nothing to do with me being narrow-minded (at least I wouldn’t describe myself like this)…

“what I hear is a professionally recorded and produced material without soul. please don’t get me wrong (I might be wrong and this won’t be the first time) but I got the impression that you wanted to please everyone… the sound is right, the words are right, but the magic is just not happening…

“one expression comes to my mind: comfort zone

“hope you don’t get this wrong! (and who am I to judge anyway?) talk later, take care…”

 

To which I responded…

THANK YOU.

You are literally the only person who has told me that they didn’t like *any* of my solo material out of the nearly 300 people with whom I’ve been corresponding over the past two months.

I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for someone to get back to me with a negative review. My thought is that others may feel the same as you, but are too “nice” and don’t want to hurt my feelings or something.

Do I think you’re wrong?? Hell no. The truth about my music is that whatever it is to you, it is to YOU. I tell people all the time: music is like wine — if you like it, it’s good. You just don’t prefer this bottle of wine, and that’s cool.

As far as the material being professionally recorded and produced, you’re damn right: I performed 99% of the parts, and engineered and recorded the album myself. I paid thousands of dollars for a major-label mixer to mix the tunes, and they’ll be mastered by the guy who did Nirvana’s “Nevermind”. So, yeah, it’s gonna be professionally produced, as will any music I release publicly.

Pleasing everyone? You’re right again. I’m a people-pleaser, but I’ve been training myself to follow my instincts more and not worry as much about what others think.

Regarding soul, I have to agree with you, in part; I believe my vocal performances could have been better in many respects. I’ve been getting lots of great feedback about my voice, but there have been some folks who like the music and say that they felt my vocal was a little hesitant.

Plus, the songs aren’t mastered yet, so it’s tough to assess their overall impact. I’m confident that some additional mojo will rise out of the work once it is truly finished.

“Comfort zone”? That one perplexes me because, frankly, these were some of the most uncomfortable songs I’ve ever recorded…

My experiences making music up until recently were completely informed by rock and roll of some type (punk, metal, etc.). The thing is, I’m interested in, and informed and shaped by, many many different genres. My songwriting is all over the place. Rather than viewing my album as simply a collection of different songs that say “Look what I can do!”, I see it as a representation of my musical diversity. I have a large palette of colors, and I enjoy painting with all of them.

And lyrically speaking, these songs have some of the most honest, deep, and personal content I’ve ever written. It’s about my life and the people I’ve known and been connected to. Just putting the words on paper took a certain amount of courage; to sing them into a microphone, more; and to give them away in an unfinished state for people to criticize, the most.

I really appreciate you getting back to me with a negative review. I know that everyone isn’t going to like my music, and I’m fine with that. I just want to know why.

Thanks again!

If you’re interested in hearing my album to judge for yourself, send your email address to [blog] [at] [therealjohnkay] [dot][com] and I will hook you up.

P.S. These songs were all recorded in 2012, and since then I have made a point to really focus on my vocal performance and let my “true voice” come through.  A better example of where I’m at now is my most recent song, “No More”.

John Kay
TheRealJohnKay.com

Music: http://johnkay.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @therealjohnkay
InstaGram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /therealjohnkay

Welcome back

Wow.  Almost a year since I’ve written on here.  2014 was a whirlwind touring with Koffin Kats; long tours, Europe, met some amazing people, ate and drank well, learned lots, made new friends, played great music, saw many smiles, had tons of laughs.  Being in the band is a real treat, and I’m really looking forward to our plans for 2015.

I’ll get back to updating more often.  I’ve been kind of slacking in that department, and it’s just because I haven’t made time for it.  That changes.  My plan from here on out is to update once a week.  Updates may be short, or they could be long, insightful and on point, or rambling and the product of inebriation.  Either way, I’ll be after it regularly.  It’s important that we talk.

Things are popping here at home while Koffin Kats take a break to work on new material (and for Eric to get hitched; congratulations!).  The boys are working on shirts and patches, and I’m currently beginning production on a new EP, which will be available as soon as possible.  I’ve already got a couple tunes you can download, and the ones I’m working on now will be up when they’re ready.  Also, I’m getting geared up for the upcoming tour with Reverend Horton Heat in April, and Easter in Las Vegas should be awesome.

More to come later, but for now I’m just here to say “I’m here.”  Talk soon.

:-J

P.S. I plan to have my full-length solo album mastered within the next couple of months.  Details on that soon, and you can download the first track from the album here.

It’s All About the Songs: New Year, New Journey, pt. 3

It’s all about these songs . . .

Outside of being temporarily distracted by an 8-year career in retail sales management, my life’s entire focus has been on creating and performing original music.

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Someday, Mom . . .

Brief background: Natural inclinations drew me toward the drums before the age of 2.  In 5th grade I formed my first rock band, while also playing in every school band from elementary through high school which featured drums of any kind; orchestra, marching, jazz, musicals, etc.  My various bands over the years have been performing publicly since I was 13, and have recorded and released several full-length albums and EPs over the last 20 years, including many of my original songs.

In 2005, I built a makeshift recording studio in my basement in an attempt to record my original music.  I was able to record several demos of my songs, and subsequently discovered a passion for producing and audio engineering over the course of a few years.  I decided to leave my cushy and safe retail management job, move to Arizona and attend The Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences to truly learn the craft of audio engineering and music production.  After graduating from CRAS and returning home to Detroit, I set up my studio and began my career as a freelance producer/engineer.

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Welcome to Stu Stu Studio. Would you like a fresh pot of coffee??

In Fall 2011, when browsing in the Music section of a bookstore, I discovered a book called Zen and the Art of Mixing; the author — a major-label record producer and mixing engineer — uses the psuedonym “Mixerman.”  Upon reading the first few pages of the book, I felt as though it was written specifically for me.  Regarding music production and studio clientele, not only did it reinforce and validate several beliefs of mine which I had previously doubted, it answered my burning questions about the mixing process and how to achieve the best possible production.  I affectionately refer to the book for guidance and to refresh my mind when mixing for myself or my clients — I even answer some of my clients’ questions by going over to the shelf, grabbing the book and reading a passage!

The overall message of the book: it’s all about the songs.

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The book that changed my music — and my clients’ music — for the better.

Recently, Mixerman posted on his Facebook page, saying he had time to mix a project, and that someone should definitely contact him.  For the past 7 months I’ve been writing, recording, and making rough mixes of the songs that will comprise my first album as a solo artist.  (Click these links to read about the earlier parts of this journey: Part I, Part II.)  Since I happen to have an album to mix, I sent him a message, not knowing what to expect.  We began corresponding online and then via text the next day, resulting in his request for two rough mixes of my songs.  I sent him a medium-tempo softer indie/pop tune, and a flowing track which builds into driving rock.  Forty minutes later, while in a recording session with a client, I received a text from him:

“I love them.  The rocking track is fucking awesome.  Very cool.  Also, it’s obviously well recorded.  So, I’m certainly interested in talking to you about mixing the project.  Call me when you’re done tonight.”

Upon discussing the scope of the songs to be mixed — and my non-existing budget — Mixerman asked me to send him the roughs of every song to be included on the album.  I did so that night and woke up to receive an email from him which included the following:

“Dude. This album is fucking great. I mean, like I love it. You’re a talented motherfucker and on all fronts. I mean, your drum tones are killer. Well done on the recordings on the whole . . .

I was floored and freaked out; simultaneously elated.  Suddenly, I found myself blessed with an amazing opportunity: a major-label mixing engineer is willing to mix my project at an excellent rate — NOW — and assist me in seeing the project through the mastering process and ultimately onto the vinyl I plan to release!!  YIPPIE!!

I’m just — gulp —  thousands of dollars short of the budget.

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Gotta start somewhere!

Over the past few days, I’ve sought counsel from family and friends, clients and colleagues, asking their feelings on the subject and how I should proceed.  The response has been unanimous: have him mix my album, whatever it takes.  And, get a Kickstarter.com fund-raising campaign up and running ASAP because . . .

It’s all about the songs.

The lyrics and messages in the songs on this album are those anyone can relate to: dealing with people; loving (and leaving) the city you grew up in; liberation from a cheating lover; acceptance of loss; personal growth; new and rekindled loves; pursuing goals in spite of fear and ridicule; sexy bartenders; enlightenment.

After hosting several private preview sessions in my studio over the past few months (in order to gain critical feedback), listeners have been hard-pressed to choose their least favorite song on my album.  One after another, these songs elicit an emotional response.  Texts and Facebook messages with remarks such as “I can’t get your songs out of my head,” “When can I hear those songs again?” and “Make sure you let me know when you start your Kickstarter campaign!” have been sent to me with regular consistency since the beginning of the year.

I am pleased to announce that my Kickstarter campaign is finally up and running!  Click here to check it out and watch the video!!

I’m incredibly excited for the opportunity to present these songs to everyone in the best possible production.  I believe that the messages contained in these songs are important in our current culture, and need to be heard right now.  With Mixerman’s help, these songs are going to be delivered at the highest possible quality.

Thank you for reading this.  I appreciate you.

:-J