It’s Not What You Do, But How You Do It

I just spent a day recently hanging out with some of the folks I used to work with back in my record store days. Wonderful people, and we all had a grand time. And, looking back on it, that period of my life had a huge influence on my aesthetic as a musician and performer. Absolutely huge.

Up until that time I had listened and mostly paid attention to music centered around technically- challenging drumming (jazz, fusion, progressive). It’s kind of like I was more focused on great  drumming than great music. Not all the time, but most of the time.

And working in a record store changed all of that. And it was not just that I had all this great music to listen to–not only while you were working, but you could check out music for free–like the library! (Oh. My. God.) It was also the idea that it was okay to be interested in music that was NOT driven by technically challenging drumming (music for its own sake, not driven by how hard the drum parts were). In fact, in the record store I was surrounded by folks like that.

This was a huge revelation for me, and brought me to the point of understanding, eventually, what my aesthetic is. This led directly to what makes me unique as a musician and teacher.

I should tell you why it was so important for me to come to grips with this–I feel that this is important for all musicians.

I had stopped pursuing drumming and music as a career right out of school for the most idiotic of reasons–I figured out I was never going to be the next Tony Williams (the things you do when you’re 22 or 23…aach). Who’s Tony Williams? Check him out here.

Anyway, what was really going on was that I was never going to be a great drummer in the technically-challenging drumming mold. Not that I didn’t have the chops to do it (I came out of drum corps, so chops weren’t a huge issue), I just didn’t feel that music when I played it. The music didn’t feel right, I didn’t feel right playing it and my heart wasn’t in it. So actually, in a manner of speaking, I was right–I cannot be one of those Tony Williams-types, playing technically challenging music, as wonderful as they are. But (and this is what I missed when I was 22 or 23), my talents lie in another area.

Over time (and it took a long time–most of it spent doing work in the corporate world) I figured out what I am. I’m a song-drummer in the Ringo Starr lineage (he being the Patron Saint of all song drummers as well as the original song drummer, or OSD ;). This is a very different thing from what I was raised to respect as a young musician–those technically-challenging drummers. But I came around slowly, and I am now convinced that this is what I was put here to do, musically speaking. And this has made all the difference.

Why is knowing my aesthetic in music so important? Knowing this makes me somewhat unique (most drummers are into the technically challenging stuff), and it gives me something to say as an artist and teacher. It gives me a base to start from in all of my professional endeavors (i.e. gigs, teaching, this blog, instructional DVD’s, books, etc.). In a way, it is the all in all–this little bit of hard won, self-knowledge has opened the door for any number of things I want to do with my professional life.

There are so many musicians and teachers out there. And, me focusing on my personal aesthetic helps me stand out in a crowd. It also keeps me focused when I need to figure out what to take on (and, more importantly, what NOT to take on) as projects and opportunities present themselves.

It’s also led me to this wonderful feeling of being comfortable in my own skin. It’s easy to see that when I was focused on technically-challenging music–or when I was working my corporate job–I just didn’t feel comfortable. Like I was constantly walking around with a limp. A psychic limp, maybe 😉

But, when I started focus on what I was put here to do (teach and perform music) and the way I needed to do it (the song drumming approach) the limp went away. I was finally feeling comfortable in my own skin.

It’s also important for me to mention that identifying my aesthetic approach was, in a way, the most important part of all this.

For example, if I had left my corporate job, and moved to playing and teaching music but I remained focused on technically-challenging music, it still wouldn’t have felt right. And worse, I would have noticed that ‘not quite right’ feeling (theres that limp once again), and I might have associated it with teaching and playing music. And that easily could have been an excuse to drop the music and go back to the corporate job and lifestyle. And I would have gone back to the same place I was at when I was 22 or 23. Groundhog Day all over again.

So, in this way, knowing my aesthetic approach helps me stick with this career through thick and thin (and there’s plenty of thin that comes with this, let me tell you ;).

So, I guess what this tells me is that how you do something is just as important as what you do.

And yeah, this has made all the difference. And it all started while I was working in that record store.

Where in your life have you identified your personal aesthetic, or how you do what you do? Could be in your family life, your job, your hobbies. It’s a very interesting thing to think about…

Thanks, cheers!

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  1. […] a recent post (“It’s Not What You Do, But How You Do It”) I talked about awakening to my aesthetic approach for music. And, in Mr. Smiths words, it was a […]

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