Be Aware, Opportunity Knocks

Be Aware, Opportunity Knocks

https://youtu.be/sfmQvc6tB1o

I don’t cry often, but I have sensitive spots, and this commercial hits a spot.

A creature — an idea — is born, “scary and messy and fragile”.  It walks the streets, receiving looks of disgust from passersby, its fur and tail matted with filth.  An outcast everywhere it goes, it seems it doesn’t have a home.  The creature appears quite sad.

And then a person puts their arm around the creature and guides it into the GE building, smiling and talking and laughing, the creature’s fur and tail becoming cleaner and prettier with each passing moment.

In the final scene, the creature, now clean and colorful, walks alone onto a stage in front of a large audience — they are giving a standing ovation.  The scene fades out as the creature steps behind a microphone to address the audience.

The tagline is “Yes, ideas are scary, and messy, and fragile…but under the proper care, they become something beautiful.”

Gets me every time.

The point is, we’ve all got something to say, and even the scariest and messiest and most fragile of us need love in order to become our best, to bring our ideas to fruition.

Everything and everyone contains a unique opportunity.

Back in June 2016, I read my local paper and saw a bunch of errors, so I found out who the publisher was and scheduled a meeting to discuss how I could assist in making their paper better.  This meeting led to me being hired to do some editing and also to rewrite a political ad.

Rewriting that ad was the experience which led to working with a candidate for Wayne County Third Circuit Court Judge.  I crafted a 14,000-word story about her life and career, and used it as the centerpiece of a grassroots social media mobilization, which, according to her social media marketing manager, was the crucial ingredient in her being elected to a seat on the bench.

When the judge and I first met, she asked me how I came to write political ads for the Redford Connection.  I explained to her that I looked at the paper, saw the errors, and instead of seeing a problem, I saw…

She finished the sentence for me, “You saw opportunity.”

She nailed it.  I heard opportunity knocking, and I opened the door.

It was an opportunity to help my community by assisting the local newspaper, which is run by two gentlemen who place great value on engagement, growth, humility, integrity, and a servant mentality.  They love the community of Redford, and they love its citizens.  They want to be the best they can be.

But the opportunity to help these gentlemen would never have been discovered if I wasn’t already in the habit of cultivating awareness.  If I wasn’t so focused on details, the little things that most others dismiss as unimportant in the grand scheme of life, I wouldn’t have noticed any errors to begin with.

The judge’s social media marketing manager was impressed with my skill set, and has since introduced me to several business owners in the hopes of engaging my talents to help them write their stories and create content which will add value for their customers and (ultimately) profits to their business.

I had a meeting yesterday with one of these business owners.  We spoke for less than an hour, then he shook my hand and told me that, from here on out, I am his go-to premium content creator.  This was after he asked what he could do to help me get further along my path, how I preferred to work, what my schedule is like, and what my rates are.

After that meeting, I went to the office of the publisher of the newspaper which started this journey, and discussed working together to transition the paper into a formidable source of Redford news, information, journalism, and community outreach, with a strong online presence via a website and social media.  I’m now formulating an overall strategy, and coordinating the team which will implement it.

None of these things would be possible, I would not know any of these people, if when I picked up the paper from my porch seven months ago I didn’t notice any errors, or saw the errors and threw the paper away, dismissing it as an amateur rag.  None of these opportunities would have come to be if I didn’t recognize an opportunity in the first place.

Understand: a heightened sense of awareness helps in all areas of life.

You need to be aware of the opportunities around you, especially if you are already somehow at a disadvantage.  Take advantage of all opportunities that are available to you, and don’t let anyone make you feel bad for doing so.

There may already be an opportunity that you know is right for you, an opportunity that completely aligns with your value system and who you are, and what you really want to do.  But that opportunity may challenge the beliefs of people who are close to you, people who you love, or who you associate with regularly.  They may say it’s too risky, or too difficult, or too expensive, or too selfish, or too different, too radical, too scary.

I’m telling you now, go get that opportunity.  Go take that opportunity and make it the best opportunity for you.

Be warned, some opportunities will present themselves to you that may seem like good opportunities, but in fact are not, and rob you of precious time and resources which would otherwise be used for better opportunities.  The key is to be aware of the path that you’re on and what values you hold within yourself, and adhere to those values, letting them guide your decision-making.  Let your experience and your values be your map and compass.

Remember: you are where you are today because of the decisions you made yesterday.  Likewise, tomorrow is the result of the decisions you make today.  Hold yourself accountable to making better decisions today, and you’ll wake up with a better tomorrow.

If someone whose values align with yours is willing to offer their help, take it.  If there’s a tool that will help you become more effective at your job, get it and use it.  If there’s a person who supports your endeavors, love that person and champion them.

A lot of people don’t answer when opportunity knocks.  A lot of people can’t recognize when opportunity knocks, or they’re not prepared when it does.  A lot of people are unaware of all of the opportunities available to them.  Knowing all of this puts you at an advantage.

So be prepared and be aware, because opportunity is always knocking.  You just have to know how to listen.

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com

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

P.S. Episode 003 of my podcast Get After It!, with my guest Jim Doyon, is now live!  Jim is the founder and co-owner of InkAddict, a tattoo lifestyle apparel company, and he hates doing interviews, so I’m grateful to have the opportunity to share with you his insight and wisdom on life and business.  Click the link and get after it!  http://getafterit.libsyn.com/get-after-it-w-john-kay-003-jim-doyon

P.P.S.  I’m working on a new song, and plan to have the recording process wrapped up this week.  😀

P.P.P.S.  If you haven’t given me your feedback on my newest song, I’d love to hear it.  Feedback is the breakfast of champions, and based on what I’m being told, this may be my best song yet.  What do YOU think?  Check it out here, then let me know: https://johnkay.bandcamp.com/track/we-know-were-gonna-die

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

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

Kick in the Butt

artist

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

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

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

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

1. Stay stupid

2. Trust the soup

3. Start before you are ready

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I got mine today, right after lunch…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Koffin Kats March 2014 Tour – Update #2 (Tulsa, Corpus Christi, Houston, Beaumont)

Well, I’m one week into my tenure as guitarist for The Koffin Kats, and everything has been going wonderfully!  As I prepare to write this update, I fear that it won’t be as info-packed as my previous posts; also, my capturing of photos and videos has been few and far between.  (I’ve slept a LOT in the past week.)  So, I’ll do my best to cram as much as I can into the following paragraphs.  Let’s go!

 

After leaving the hospitality of our Brutally Frank friends (thanks, Steve and Mel!), we left Joplin, Missouri and stopped in neighboring Carl Junction so Eric and I could get haircuts.

Pompin' ain't easy in Carl Junction, Missouri.
Pompin’ ain’t easy in Carl Junction, Missouri.

Fresh from the barbershop we drove to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and hit the gym.  Afterward, we stopped at Gardner’s Used Books and browsed for a bit.  Vic bought a bunch of books, and when checking out he discovered that the store clerk was a Koffin Kats fan!  So, we all took a photo with him and then left for the venue.

Went to a used book store in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and guy behind the counter is a Koffin Kats fan!  Reading is fundamental, rockers!
Went to a used book store in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and guy behind the counter is a Koffin Kats fan! Reading is fundamental, rockers!

We arrived at Downtown Lounge a couple of hours early for load-in.  Once we checked in with the promoter and received our food buyouts, we walked to a nearby Mexican restaurant and ate taco salads.  Bellies full, we settled into the bus for a late afternoon nap.

Loaded in, I took the opportunity to change the strings on Angel, my Reeves Gabrels Spacehawk Signature Reverend guitar.  I like to change my strings every other show, because after two shows’ worth of playing they start to sound a little dull.  I know it’s only rock and roll, but I like to sound as good as possible.  If I could afford to change my strings every single show, I would do so.

Before the show started, we reached another milestone: 70,000 likes on Facebook!  We did some celebration shots and snapped this pic…

Celebration shots for 70,000 likes on Facebook!
Celebration shots for 70,000 likes on Facebook!

We took the stage at Downtown Lounge to great fanfare.  I felt much more comfortable with the flow of the set, and had worked out a few of the kinks from the previous two shows.  I did have one boo-boo though: when I jumped off of Vic’s upright bass after playing the guitar solo in “Chaos”, I placed too much weight on my heel and it cracked the outer shell.  No matter, the show went on smoothly, and all was well.  The crowd was stoked to see us, and we hung out and smoked and drank for a little while before packing up and beginning the eleven-hour drive to Corpus Christ, Texas.

Vic drove through the night for a few hours before pulling over to sleep.  A couple hours later, Eric woke up and picked up where Vic left off; I joined Eric up front to keep him company and read another chapter of my current book.

As we were getting closer to Corpus Christi, we stopped at a Buc-ee’s.  I’ve never been in a Buc-ee’s before, and had no idea what to expect.  This place is a huge fill station/food mart/gift shop/grocery store.  It had two endless rows of gas pumps, and there were so many people bustling about that it felt like I was at a crowded amusement park.  I ordered a sandwich, filled my water bottle, and got the hell out of there.  After bulldogging my sandwich, I proceeded to my bunk to have a nap.

I woke up when we had arrived at Boneshakers in Corpus Christi.  We set up our gear, and Vic and I took some time to work on a couple of my guitar effects for a few songs.  We also fixed the crack in Vic’s bass, and during the process I gouged a chunk of skin out my thumb when I caught it on the exposed tip of a screw.  I swear, something about this band and giving me hand wounds…it’s not right.

Once we got on stage to perform, the crowd was warmed up and ready to let loose.  And loose they got!  The area directly in front of the stage was a tiled floor, and since drinks had been spilled while people were dancing and moshing around during the opening band, the floor had been turned into a slippery death trap.  There were a few rowdy fans taking turns pushing each other across the floor, slipping and falling, getting up and repeating the whole effort.  I didn’t know what was more entertaining, our performance or the spectacle on the dance floor!

Loaded out, we drove to a nearby Wal-Mart and slept in the parking lot.  We woke up just before 11:00 AM and had breakfast burritos at one of our friends’ restaurant.  Breakfast finished, we started out on the road toward Houston, and I settled in for a nap.  I woke up and we had made it to a Planet Fitness in Houston to get a workout in before heading to the venue, Walter’s Downtown.  When we reached Walter’s, Vic enjoyed an early evening snack of sardines and sriracha sauce.

It's sardini time for Vic outside Walter's Downtown in Houston, Texas.
It’s sardini time for Vic outside Walter’s Downtown in Houston, Texas.

After loading in and playing through a couple of songs for a sound check, I changed Angel’s strings and warmed up my hands by running through chromatic scales and lead solos backstage.  There were snacks there for us including candy bars, pretzels, and cookies.  Vic and Eric chose to subsist on the snacks instead of spending money on dinner, and I followed suit.  It turned out that was a poor decision on my part, because after having only two beers and two shots, I played a set with more flubs than I care to count.  It wasn’t a horrible performance, but it certainly wasn’t my best.  That night I made the decision that going forward I will always eat at least two hours before we play.

The rug really ties the stage together at Walter's in Houston, Texas.
The rug really ties the stage together at Walter’s in Houston, Texas.

Gear loaded in the trailer, we followed some friends to another bar for a quick nightcap.  We got there at last call, and the next thing I knew I had two shots of Bulleit bourbon in one hand and two shots of tequila in my right hand.  The last thing I remember was leaving the bar, climbing in the bus, and getting in my bunk.  After that, blackness.

The next day, we joined our friends Dave and Lisa at their store The Haunted Heel on the boardwalk in Kemah, Texas; they sell creeper shoes, dresses, shirts, and other rock and roll-inspired attire and accessories.  Vic picked up a new pair of shoes and then we all went out to lunch at Aquarium.  We ate some fantastic seafood, and I was able to drink some hair of the dog in the form of Dos Equis lager.  Lunch eaten, I went into the bus and…you guessed it…took a nice long nap.

Seafood lunch with our friends from The Haunted Heel on the Kemah, Texas boardwalk.  SO.  GOOD.
Seafood lunch with our friends from The Haunted Heel on the Kemah, Texas boardwalk. SO. GOOD.

We drove to our “road mom” Alicia’s house and hung out for a few hours before heading to the venue.  Well, at least Vic and Eric did.  I opted to continue sleeping in the bus, and did so until we arrived at Tequila Rok in Beaumont, Texas.  I got my rig set up, tuned my guitars, and set my sights on finding a big salad to eat.  Alicia ended up driving me to a local Italian restaurant and I got what I wanted.  I felt lucid (read: hungover) all day until I finished that salad.

The Koffin Kats have played at Tequila Rok before, and usually perform on their outside patio stage.  Due to rain, we were forced to perform inside on a stage four feet off the ground, which was fun.  We also discovered that when I don’t drink before going on stage, I am MUCH more on point when it comes to my performance.  So, from here on out, I’ll be politely refusing drinks prior to show time.  Sorry in advance to those of you who want to get me drunk!

We had a few fans from Walter’s in Houston make the trek to Beaumont to see us again.  One of them remarked to Eric that she “didn’t want to like the new guy, but he makes it really hard not to!”  Hahaha!  I knew going into this venture that there would be fans and friends of the band who are close to both Ian and Tommy, and I figured it would be difficult for me to win people over.  As I stated when my new role was first announced, all I aim to do is honor their legacies and add whatever value I’m able.  It’s awesome to have so many people come up and tell me I “fit right in”.  It feels really good, and it just makes me want to do even better the next night, which is always the goal.

Once we packed up our gear into the trailer, we went back to Alicia’s house and were treated to an amazing pot roast with potatoes and bread.  We ate heartily, drank some secret recipe moonshine and whiskey, and Vic passed out listening to music while Eric and I stayed up watching TV and talking until the sun started to come up.  It was a fitting end to a great first week.

Today, we handled our band business.  Normally we would do it on Management Monday, but since today is our only day off we moved everything up so we can just roll out to Austin, Texas tomorrow with a clean slate.  One of the topics we covered was making a music video for a certain song on Born Of The Motor, and hopefully that seed bears fruit soon.

I leave you with that titillating thought until next week, ladies and gents!  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

:-J

John Kay is loving being on the road, getting better every day, and working hard to win you over.  Subscribe to The Real John Kay’s blog to receive an email whenever a new post occurs!

Wanna hear a sample of the music John Kay makes when he’s not on the road with The Koffin Kats??? Check out the first single “Dealing With People” from his upcoming debut solo album here.

Twitter: @TheRealJohnKay
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Music: johnkay.bandcamp.com