Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative

Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative

According to the last person who unsubscribed from my mailing list, I have a problem: I’m too negative.

I don’t normally follow up with those who unsubscribe, but this was an exception. This particular person is someone I met during my Koffin Kats days, a wonderful human being who is kind, generous, and supportive of my endeavors. They joined my mailing list just before my days with KK were over, and interacted with me regularly.

And then, just after I sent my last blog, they unsubscribed. So I had to reach out and ask why.

They informed me that “it all started back when you made a few comments on FB about your time/feelings towards/experiences with the Koffin Kats. I was really disappointed to read some of the disparaging things you wrote. I unfollowed you on FB at that time because I felt like it there was a lot of needless negativity there and I just didn’t want to see any more of it. You are totally entitled to your feelings, they are yours and therefore they ARE valid. I would never say otherwise. It just wasn’t something I was interested in seeing.

“More recently, your email/blog post about Nelson Ellis’s passing felt like a platform that you used to complain about sensing your own mortality. There was so much negativity in it. As well as the previous email regarding the band mates who abruptly severed ties with you.

“Please understand John, I’m not here to say that any of this was wrong on your part. You have an incredible way of expressing yourself, and you are entitled to your feelings and opinions. It’s not my place to say that any of it is ‘wrong’ or ‘not valid’ because they are your thoughts and opinions. You own that shit and no one can take your freedom of expression away. There’s just a LOT of negativity saturating these emails and I have a really hard time digesting it.

“I desperately need to be surrounded by uplifting things. Music, listening to my kid laughing at the crab in Moana for the THOUSANDTH time, stupid memes.. anything!!! And lately (because their frequency has picked up) your emails are more of a source of frustration. I know I could just NOT read them.. but I like knowing what’s been new with you and what you’ve been doing. I truly hope things are better with you than how they are often sounding.

“I sincerely hope you understand that I mean no ill towards you whatsoever. I’m just doing everything I can to keep my eyes fixed on the lighter side of life… cuz there’s a huge scary dark side to it all, and it’s suffocating…”

This hit me like a ton of bricks.

I thought that showing my warts and being honest about the hurdles on my path was the way to truly connect with others, but it seems to be driving people away.

The fact is…my life is great. Yes, I experience setbacks from time to time, but for the most part, everything is fine.

But in a strange way, I’ve always felt that I should play down how good things are, because they can end at any moment, be ruined by some unforeseen event or situation.

I haven’t written anything since receiving that email because I knew that the next thing I wrote would absolutely have to be about that email, and I’ve been scared to let it out.

Well, here it is. I’m afraid.

I’m afraid that when I mention something good that’s happening, it will end or be ruined somehow.

I’m afraid that if I communicate my vision for the next ten years, it won’t come to fruition.

I’m afraid to introduce the people on my team, lest they end up leaving.

I’m afraid to say how happy I am, because the pattern of my life is such that when I talk about something good, it ends.

I don’t want what’s happening in my life right now to end.

And I feel that if I speak publicly about the good things, then the evil part of the universe — It, if you will, dear friends and neighbors — will conspire to eradicate them all.

But I must, because my “negativity” is driving people away.

Fine.

(deep breath)

I have a great house in a wonderful neighborhood, with a backyard I can mow.

I have a beautiful woman in my life, and we have designs on getting a dog soon.

I have a growing family, and have begun to reconnect with family members I haven’t seen in years.

I have been training in Wing Chun Do for just over a year, and am a few months away from being an “advanced” student.

I’ve got two new songs in production, and one being mastered right now for public release.

I’ve got a great group of people learning, practicing, and rehearsing my music in order to perform and tour.

I have amazing fans all over the United States from Portland, Maine, to Los Angeles, California, who love my music and can’t wait for me to come to town and play for them.

I have a clear vision of where I want to be in ten years, and I am making the necessary sacrifices and taking the calculated risks to get there.

Guys and gals, I want you to know that if you’re still reading this, or any of my musings, I appreciate you. I get dozens of emails after sending these out, and though I don’t respond to all of them, I read every one. I love hearing from all of you, and staying up to date on your happenings.

Whatever your opinion of my music, writing, podcast, etc., I want to hear it — I’m not just creating for the sake of creation, I’m creating to make an impact on others, to improve people’s lives.

So if you feel my content is focused too much on the negative, say so. I’ll listen.

But I promise, from here on out, I will endeavor to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative,” as my mother always says.

Is that cool with YOU?

P.S. Downplaying my strengths has been a pattern of mine for as long as I can recall, and I had an epiphany regarding this subject in my latest podcast with Cody Hawken.

P.P.S. If you met me during my Koffin Kats days and want to know the REAL story of why I’m no longer in the group, message me privately.

P.P.P.S. Everything’s fine.
———
Visit the archive: https://therealjohnkay.wordpress.com

Website: https://therealjohnkay.com
Music: https://johnkay.bandcamp.com
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 © 2017 John Kay, All rights reserved.

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The Text Message Break-Up

The Text Message Break-Up

Has it happened to you??

I ask because it’s happened to me too often, most recently with two would-be band members.

I’m not trying to put them on blast, but…they’re both on my mailing list, so I may get some blowback.

I still love and respect them, it’s just amusing to me at this point that two people whom I’ve known for years — one since we were in middle school together, the other for whom I produced an EP over a decade ago — would say, in so many words, “I quit,” via text message.

We had our first band meeting back in March, and everyone was on board, we were all on the same page. Our first rehearsal was during the second week of April, and it went quite well.

A couple of days after that rehearsal, the former recording client messaged me, saying the band wasn’t what he thought it would be. The other didn’t return to any rehearsals, and after two and a half months (!!!) finally messaged that he couldn’t continue on with the group due to family and work, two issues we discussed at length prior to his initial involvement.

Since that first rehearsal, I haven’t seen these two gentlemen, although I see them posting on Facebook all the time.

What it all comes down to, regardless of what industry one is in or what type of job needs to be done, is something called “GWC.”\

“GWC” stands for Gets it, Wants it, and has the Capacity to do it.

The former recording client got it, and had the capacity, but didn’t want it. My good friend from school got it and wanted it, but didn’t have the capacity in his life to do it.

In order to build a great team, everyone has to get it, want it, and have the capacity to do it. There are no exceptions.

But why break up via text message?? Why not call me? Were they afraid I’d try to talk them into remaining with us? Did they not want to hurt my feelings? I may never know because…

We are living in an age where it is easier to not have the difficult conversations required in life.

People would rather email than meet up, would rather text than call, rather “ghost” somebody than say what’s really on their mind.

I hate fence-sitters, and I’d rather hear “I hate you” than nothing at all. At least I’d know where I stand.

Why is everybody so afraid to say the hard thing?? The truth will set us free!

At this point in my life, I’ve learned that nothing is permanent. Every relationship, job, event, belief, etc. has an end somewhere down the line, it’s just a matter of when and how.

Some things end badly, but not all things, and things don’t have to end badly unless you make it so.

Needless to say, the two would-be members have each returned to their own personal status quo. They are content and happy with their lives, and the stress of embarking on a new and different musical journey is no longer weighing on them.

Moreover, they have both been replaced by members who share the core values of the group — sacrifice, measurable growth, accountability, reputation for excellence, time, intensity, and respect.

Everyone is happy.

Still, I would have appreciated a phone call.

Wouldn’t anyone?

———
Visit the archive: https://therealjohnkay.wordpress.com

Website: https://therealjohnkay.com
Music: https://johnkay.bandcamp.com
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 © 2017 John Kay, All rights reserved.

89X

89X

I woke up today to the news that 89X, Detroit’s alternative rock radio station, owned by a Canadian company, has axed its American operations.

That means that a dear friend of mine is now out of a job.

I remember when he was still in school learning about audio engineering and the inner workings of radio. My band was one of his guinea pigs as he honed his recording chops. He was concerned with taking care of us, and making sure to do things right. As always happens when doing anything creative, there were some technical issues which slowed the session, so we weren’t able to finish the recording. But what did get recorded, he mixed and sent to me a few weeks later.

He sees his job through to the end, no matter what.

While at college he hosted his own radio show, and interned at 89X, reporting to program director Jay Hudson. Together they ran a weekly program which showcased independent artists and put a spotlight on the local music community. They held events and shows around the metro Detroit/Windsor area, and chose artists to perform with large touring acts.  (Hudson resigned in July 2016 after 10 years of working at the station.)

A year or so later, my friend and I were hanging out in my studio. He had nearly completed his internship, and was concerned that the station wouldn’t be able to hire him. He felt the pressure, worked even harder, and turned out to be hired and become a regular on-air for years to come.

And yesterday, he was laid off, along with around a dozen others affiliated with the American side of 89X.

The layoffs were part of a larger restructuring at Bell Media, the corporation who owns 89X and three other stations. According to Bell Media news director Matthew Garrow, “The restructuring is a response to the challenges we and other Canadian media companies are facing on multiple fronts: changing broadcast technologies and growing international competition, a tough advertising market, and ongoing regulatory pressure.”

That is all business-speak for “radio isn’t as profitable as it used to be.”

But that’s because nothing is what it used to be. Everything is changing. Before we know it we’ll be able to use our devices to request the car of our choice on demand, and it will show up with no driver inside. Commuting to work? Get a small hatchback. Going out for a fancy date? Get a Mercedes.

Abundance rules.

It’s already happened in music. It used to be that radio was the only way to hear music, unless you bought the record. Now, with cloud-based streaming services and customized playlists, not only do you not need to own any music, you can create your own personalized radio station! Why would you listen to terrestrial radio, waiting for them to play the song you want to hear, when you can reach into your pocket, pull out your device, and hear it right now??

And most people tell me that terrestrial radio sucks, that they play the same songs over and over and over, that the music is homogenized and pasteurized for the masses, that there’s no there there.

But that’s because terrestrial radio is run by large corporations.

The DJs used to rule when they had autonomy over their shows, were able to spin the tunes they wanted, not just the company-approved playlist. They would scrounge record stores and listen at home for songs that resonated with them, with the current culture, not just what was blowing up the charts. The great DJs took risks, they helped push music forward, they captivated their audience.

That’s what made Howard Stern so popular, he takes risks, says what others are too scared to say. And he knows the world is much cruder than it used to be, which is why he knew that satellite radio was the future, a place where he could be his authentic self without fear of the controlling corporation bringing down the hammer. (When Jay Hudson resigned from 89X, he took a job at Sirius XM.)

Corporations don’t like free-thinkers or risk-takers.

And Bell Media, rather than taking a risk and truly shaking up the format and pivoting into the Now, decided on the impossible task of figuring out how to continue doing what they’ve been doing, because it’s what they know. They looked at their profit margins, and they cut the first thing companies always cut when their profit margins are low — payroll.

Payroll is generally the biggest expense of any company, and the first line item to receive cuts when the company wants to tighten its belt. That’s the reason the car you’re going to call won’t have a driver: it will cost less. (The trucking industry is going to experience a revolution soon, as will many other industries due to automation and robotics. If a human can be replaced, they will be replaced. Humans cost too much.)

My heart breaks for my friend. He sacrificed to get where he is, he said no to a lot of things that other people would not in order to become successful in his industry. From day one, he put in the hours and the sweat equity to do his best for the station. He learned from his mistakes and his mentors, and applied his knowledge on a daily basis. And now the station says they’re moving in a different direction, without him.

But I’m not really surprised — I’ve seen this before.

My dad worked for a radio station in Detroit — W4 Country — for 13 years, ultimately becoming the station’s creative director. He was laid off in July 1995 by the parent corporation which owned the station. W4 Country was part of a 19 radio stations group owned by Shamrock Broadcasting, a division of Shamrock Holdings, which was founded in 1978 as an investment company by Roy E. Disney (yes, that Disney).

Shamrock Holdings bought a bunch of television and radio stations in the 1980s and early 1990s, and sold Shamrock Broadcasting to Chancellor Broadcasting in August 1995, right after the layoffs at W4. Chancellor Broadcasting restructured and became known as AMFM Inc. in 1999. In 2000, AMFM Inc. merged with Clear Channel Communications. After the merger, Clear Channel owned 830 radio stations, 19 television stations, and over 425,000 outdoor displays in 32 countries. In 2005, Clear Channel Communications split into three separate companies; Clear Channel Communications for radio, Clear Channel Outdoor for out-of-home advertising, and Live Nation for live events. Clear Channel has since become iHeart Media, and 89xRadio.com redirects to iheartradio.ca.

So when I saw the news this morning that Bell Media decided to lay off my friend and his co-workers as part of “restructuring”, I shook my head in disgust, but I wasn’t shocked. When it comes to corporations, it’s only a matter of time before the rug gets pulled out from under you. They are always buying and selling and merging and splitting, and they only care about profit, not people.

I believe my friend isn’t going to have a problem finding work. He’s talented, and emotionally intelligent. If anything, I’m happy for him. At least for now, he’s no longer under the yoke of a corporation.

He’s free.

 

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com

Twitter – @therealjohnkay
Instagram – @therealjohnkay

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.

Seizing Opportunity, or When Light Recognizes Light

Seizing Opportunity, or When Light Recognizes Light

I’m back!  😀

Long story short, at the beginning of August, just when I began working at a furious pace on new music and all the other content I’m excited to share, my computer died.

Like many independent artists, a powerful laptop is the hub of my entire enterprise.  Rather than go even deeper into debt beyond the student loans, car loan, credit card, etc….I chose to suck it up, deal with the fact that my enterprise would have to be placed on hold for a bit, and earn enough money to buy a brand new laptop.

Now that I have it, one would think that the first thing I’d do once I got the new computer is get right back to working on music, continuing where I left off.  But that isn’t the case.

Here’s what’s going on…

I bought and moved into a house in Redford Township, MI at the beginning of the year, and made a personal commitment to be a good neighbor and contribute positively to the community as best I’m able.  My queen even baked cookies, and she and I went up and down our block from door to door, handing out cookies and introducing ourselves to our new neighbors.

One day, I was at Costco, filling up my gas tank.  From behind me I heard a woman’s voice…’Hey, who does your tattoos?’  I turned around and saw the woman walking up to me.  Before I could finish saying the name of the artist, she had grabbed my wrist and was manipulating my arm to get a better view of my ink.  After telling her who did my tattoos, she said “Hold on…” and went to her vehicle.  She came back with a business card, handed it to me and said “Vote for me on the second of August.”

I looked at the card.  It had her picture on it and said ‘Vote Kelly Ann Ramsey for Wayne County Third Circuit Court Judge’.  “Oh, you’re running for judge?” I said.  “That’s right,” she replied.

This was in late July of this year, just three short months ago.  At the time, I had just done some freelance work for the Redford Neighborhood Connection, our local newspaper which is circulated to every house in the township on a monthly basis.  I first discovered the paper on my porch in June and thought, “Well, this is my local paper, so I should probably read it and get an idea of what is happening in my new community.”

As a writer, the first thing I noticed was that the front page was filled with typos and redundancies, and littered with punctuation and grammatical errors.  There was even a section advertised as being on page 6, which turned out to be on page 9.  Rather than dismiss it as an amateur effort and throw it away, I decided to find out who publishes the paper.  It turns out it is privately-owned, and is essentially a two-person operation plus a freelance graphic designer handling the layout, with no editor-in-chief on staff.

I called the owner of the paper, and we agreed to meet.  While they said they do need an editor, it’s not in their monthly budget to hire one full-time, but they promised to keep me in mind for freelance work as needed.

True to their word, within a few days they sent me an email saying that a candidate for Trustee had delivered them “a dog of a political ad”, and they wanted to get my professional opinion on how to make it better.  They hired me to re-write the ad, and according to the publishers, it ended up causing quite a stir among the so-called Redford political elite.  The paper has since hired me to do additional editing and writing, along with a strategy session to determine their core values, and occasional social media consultation.

So…at the Costco gas station, when Ramsey told me she was running to become a judge, I said, “I write for the Redford Connection from time to time.”

Her eyes widened — “Do you have a card??”  I told her no, but that I had hers now.  She told me to get in touch with her and we would do lunch.

We emailed each other over the coming weeks, and finally met at Sheesh in Livonia — her favorite — where she introduced me to beef sajji, which I’ll put right up there with Bucharest Grill’s shawarma.  (That’s right, I said it.  Oh, and extra sauce is a must.)

She proceeded to give me a basic background of her career, told me what’s going on with her campaign, where she needs help.  I told her how I came to be doing freelance work for the Redford Connection, how I saw something with several obvious errors, and instead of seeing something worthless, I saw…

And as I paused for a moment to find the word, Ramsey was already finishing my thought.  She leaned across the booth, smiled and said, “You saw opportunity.”

And she nailed it.

Sure, the errors bothered me.  I have a “perfect problem”.  That is to say, everything has to be perfect, and that’s my problem.

But beyond the errors, I saw the opportunity to help my community.  After all, how many in Redford have noticed the same as I have, and just throw the paper out without even reading it anymore?  If I could assist the paper with delivering its content as best as possible, perhaps its public perception would improve, perhaps its readership would increase, along with its inherent value to the community.

That’s the opportunity I saw, and what Ramsey was able to put into words.

(I’ve since learned that Ramsey is great at spotting opportunity in every person or problem she encounters.  She also believes that the playing field should be level for all, so that everyone is able to have as many opportunities as possible to achieve the life they were meant to achieve.)

I didn’t expect that by keeping my mind open and recognizing an opportunity to help my local paper, it would lead to an opportunity for me to help someone I have come to now refer to as “a judicial Joan of Arc.”

At our first Sheesh meeting, Ramsey told me “I want you to write a story about me that will go viral.”  Of course, no one can necessarily make anything go viral.  It happens organically, and many variables work together to cause it.  I knew I could help her write a story, but it wouldn’t make much of an impact without a coordinated effort to have others share her story.

But first, I had to hear her story, to see if it was worth telling.  After all, I had just met her.  Given the current political climate in our country, how could I know at first glance whether or not she was just another sleazy politician, in it for the glory and the power and the paycheck?  So we scheduled another lunch meeting so I could prepare some questions and conduct a more in-depth interview.

Since the beginning of October, I have conducted nearly 10 hours of interviews with Ramsey.  What I have learned in those interviews, the things she told me, resonate to the core of who I am as an individual.  I value personal sacrifice, measurable growth, individual accountability, a reputation for excellence, time, intensity, and respect.  Ramsey exemplifies all of these values.

I began to believe the universe had created that chance meeting at Costco for a reason, that we met so I could help her as best I’m able to get her into a seat on the bench.  It’s a seat she deserves, based on her decades of experience in the judicial system, the indelible events which have shaped her personal and professional life, and her tireless crusade for our communities, especially our children.  Light recognizes light.

So, after much thought about how to accomplish the task of putting Ramsey’s incredible story into words, and consideration of the strategy and implementation needed to help it reach as wide an audience as possible, I decided to put my own efforts on hold and help Ramsey coordinate a grassroots mobilization of her staunchest supporters whom are active on social media, specifically Facebook, in the final week leading up to Election Day.

Understand: In order for Ramsey to win a seat on the Wayne County Third Circuit Court bench, the communities of Wayne County need to know her story.

To quote noted trial lawyer Gerry Spence, who never lost a criminal trial and whose notable cases number in the hundreds, “Storytelling has been the principal means by which we have taught one another from the beginning of time.  All learning of humankind has been handed down for eons in the form of stories.  We are, indeed, creatures of story.  All varieties of creatures inhabit this planet…but we alone are story creatures.  Telling stories and listening to stories are the activities that most distinguish our species.  The stories of our childhood remain with us as primary experiences against which we judge and decide issues as adults.  They are forever implanted in both our conscious and unconscious.”

In order to give Ramsey the push she needs to get into the seat she deserves, we’re asking her staunchest supporters whom are active on social media, specifically Facebook, to make a daily commitment to share her story, to please share the posts from her page with their networks of people on Facebook, and across social media.

Understand: Facebook actively suppresses posts from pages in order to entice page owners to pay for the post to reach a wider audience, and the advertising dollars generated are what get Facebook’s shareholders paid.  Likes and comments do not make a significant impact, but shares do, big-time.  If her supporters commit to navigating to the Kelly Ann Ramsey for Wayne County Third Circuit Court Judge Facebook page on a daily basis, and sharing the content posted over the final eight days leading up to the election, I believe the collective effort will do the job of winning the hearts and minds necessary to capture enough votes for Ramsey to win.

Starting Tuesday, November 1, and continuing each day until Tuesday, November 8, the seven parts of Kelly Ann Ramsey’s story will each be released and hosted on my blog.  Please feel free to share each part on social media, even if you don’t live in Wayne County, or Michigan for that matter.  Every share counts.

I’m very excited to help Ramsey get into the seat she deserves, and return to music-making and tour planning after Election Day.  I’ve got a bunch of new songs written which are ready to be recorded and mixed, a few songs ready to be mastered and released, and a couple of secrets up my sleeve to share before the end of the year (which my fan club members already know about).

Let’s do this!

Oh…happy Halloween!  🙂

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com


Hear the music: https://johnkay.bandcamp.com
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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

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.

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com
TheRealJohnKay.com

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