Leave a review for Contrabass Conversations on iTunes!

I have never really asked for reviews for Contrabass Conversations in the past, mainly because it bugs me when podcasts that I listen to barrage me with 10,000 requests every time I listen.

Having said that, I actually would love it if you could take 20 seconds to rate the podcast, or even leave a short review.  This helps with all sorts of behind-the-scenes things in the podcast world (search ranking, discoverability, etc).

Here’s the link for Contrabass Conversations in iTunes.  You’ll be my hero if you take a second and visit the page!

If iTunes isn’t your jam, you can also check out the podcast on Google Play Music, and you can check out our free app for iOS, Android, and Kindle.

Musical Innovators: Edition No. 3

Check out the complete Musical Innovators series here.

I’m pleased to bring you three more people in my series covering people who are moving the needle in the music world. I’ve been following along with these folks for some time and am continually impressed by their dedication, enthusiasm, and imagination.

Innovator No. 1 – Scott Lang

public speaker and music education advocateScott Lang

Scott Lang is an interesting guy to me.  As I was getting ready to head to the ASTA National Conference a few months ago (I used to be the Illinois ASTA president), I spent a few moments looking through the conference schedule and cherry-picking what I wanted to check out.  The conference was in Tampa, and I knew that it was going to be hard sitting inside a windowless convention center when it was 80 degrees and sunny out!  I also knew that Tampa’s craft beer scene had exploded in recent years, so string education sessions faced stiff competition from brewery tours and relaxing in the sunshine.

The first thing I do when heading to a convention is check out the keynote speaker.  I’m a big TED Talk fan, and keynotes can be my favorite part of a convention.  Checking out Scott’s site led me to this video of him “doing his thing”:

I knew that this was going to be a fun convention!

Scott’s keynote rocked.  A former band director for many years, Scott now tours the nation on the public speaking circuit, and he’s got this zany music education advocacy preacher style that absolutely captivates the audience.

But Scott is doing much more than giving great keynotes.  He’s on a mission to get one million new students in music programs across the country, and he has launched a two-pronged initiative to help with recruitment: Be Part of the Band and Be Part of the Orchestra.

These sites provide videos covering subjects like:
  • Why students should stay in music programs (for parents)
  • Parent interviews talking about the value of music in their school
  • demonstrations of each instrument
  • video for administrators

There are also editable recruitment documents,instrument rental night handouts, sample letters to parents, student info sheets, and much more.  It’s one heck of a resource.

Scott also has a leadership training program designed to train student leaders—this is the sort of thing that I’d be pumped to do at my school if I weren’t quitting my job to go blog in San Francisco!


Innovator No. 2 – Musicovation

entrepreneurially-minded bloggers, performers, teachersMusicovation

I’ve known Zachary Preucil for years, and it has been great following along with him through his cello degrees at Eastman the New England Conservatory into his early professional career.  Zach developed a passion for entrepreneurship while in school, writing extensively for Polyphonic.org for quite some time.

Zach founded Musicovation with Elizabeth Erenberg with an interesting goal: to promote positive news about the music world.  Zach felt that there was a lot of gloom and doom about prospects for musicians in the media (and he’s right), and this site is a refreshing departure from that.  Weekly stories include students building a film music empire,  a career transition from music performance to marketing, and innovative new orchestras.

Zach and Elizabeth have brought together an interesting set of contributors for this blog, and I  look forward to each week’s new post and the fresh perspective that it will bring.

I’ve written a few things for Musicovation recently, including:

I thought about submitting my recent story Who Knifed Me In The Face but thought that perhaps it lacked the positive message that the site projects!

I’m looking forward to watching Zach and Elizabeth grow and develop Musicovation in the coming years!  Check it out—it’s good content.


Innovator No. 3 – Project Trio

Project Trio

photo credit: Project Trio

composers and YouTube sensations on an educational outreach mission

I first became aware of Project Trio when I was playing with Eric Stephenson (the trio’s cellist) in the IRIS Orchestra.  Eric, Greg Patillo (flute), and Peter Seymour (bass) are a great example of musicians with traditional classical training (the three of them met at the Cleveland Institute of Music) taking a right where others would take a left.  They’ve created their own platform to explore various creative paths.

I had the chance to interview Peter for Contrabass Conversations a few years ago, and we talk about the group’s mission in great depth.

Project Trio flute player Greg Patillo became a YouTube sensation years ago with his beatboxing flute stylings.  Here’s a video (with nearly 30 million views) of Greg beatboxing Inspector Gadget:

These guys are performing all over the place.  Folks in music school fretting about winning that “big orchestra job” need to check out what these guys are doing.  Does it look like they’re having a good time?  Does this look like a creative outlet?  This is a prime example of what can happen if you pour your talent and energy into creating your own thing.

I love it.

The trio has a ton of content on their YouTube channel, and I highly encourage you to dive into the rabbit hole and explore their videos.  Here are a few of my favorite:

Watching these guys may call to mind Time for Three, which is an apt comparison, though the two groups have notable differences.  I had the chance to interview Ranaan several years ago as well.  Frankly, there should be 200 more groups like these guys out there performing their own music and inspiring kids to do their own creative thing.  The world needs more of this.

Based in Brooklyn, Project Trio is offering a three day teacher training workshop (July 6-8, 2016).  I’d highly encourage folks to check this out and learn more about the new approach these three young musicians are taking with music education and outreach.

Check out the complete Musical Innovators series here.

CBC 208: Guy Tuneh on transcriptions, live performance, and musical curiosity 18

Soloist and chamber musician Guy Tuneh returns to the podcast

Soloist and chamber musician Guy Tuneh returns to the podcast

Today’s episode features soloist, chamber musician, and recording artist Guy Tuneh.  Guy was on the podcast way back in 2007, and a lot has changed for him in the intervening years.  His previous interview was one of our most popular episodes of all time, and in this talk we go even deeper, digging into why Guy makes music, how he approaches every single note he plays, and what motivates him to search out new repertoire and bring it to the double bass.

Guy has been working on several new recording projects, and we feature two of them today.  We are including an excerpt from Beethoven’s Romance in G Major before the interview, and we close out the episode with a complete track of Guy performing Bach’s Allemande from the Violin Partita in D minor.

You can learn about Guy’s upcoming solo appearances, recordings, and other details at his website guytuneh.com and on his Facebook page.  We also have a video version of this episode on YouTube.  Enjoy!

My Favorite Gig Stories

I started writing Crazy Gig Stories 10 years ago.  Though sharing gig stories was never my intent, as the blog grew in popularity I decided to put out some tales from my past.

The response was great, and I started writing these tales weekly. If you really think about it, strange stuff is happening to musicians all the time.

I finally started to write crazy gig stories again after a long hiatus, which has been super fun.  I’ve got many new ones to share, including several from the world of teaching, but for now I present you with some of the stranger ones from the past.  Enjoy!


My Car Caught Fire and Exploded!

In what may quite possibly be the worst gig story ever, I attempt to recall a very surreal night several years ago in words and hand-drawn pictures. Sometimes you drive home from a gig listening to the radio and smiling. Sometimes your car starts on fire and exploded on the south side of Chicago as you run screaming down the Interstate. This story is about the latter.

burning car

I Have No Pants

Sending a bass section into a hysterical fit of the giggles during a performance is not exactly the hardest thing to do, but I remember a moment a few years ago that will definitely stay with me for years to come.


Angering Conductors 101 

I probably shouldn’t have put the exact orchestra in which this happened in the post (I stopped doing that eventually).  This is one of my second-hand stories (but from a credible source). This documents a very funny series of events surrounding a performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony with the Louisville Orchestra. Contains some…ahem…adult humor.

Angering Conductors 101

Symphony on the Swamp

Some places just aren’t built for classical music concerts. This story is about a curious tradition of the Spoleto USA Festival–an evening concert on the edge of a massive swamp. Darkness…bright lights…giant swamp…read the story to find out what kind of a horror show these factors produce when combined.

Symphony on the Swamp

Extreme Gigging: All-Night Drives

Kind of precursor to Road Warrior Without an Expense Account, this story documents some of the complete insanity that I went through as a freelance musician, documenting my nutso drives from Memphis to Milwaukee in the middle of the night.  This is an early post of mine, and my writing certainly got better over time, but it’s describing a pretty surreal experience.

All-Night Drives

I Fly Plane!

Sometimes Russian musicians take over commercial airliners and fly them. I’m not kidding.

I Fly Plane

Grant Park Symphony Audition Story

I heard this great audition story a few years ago firsthand from the people who were involved. This was one of the rare times where I actually knew both the committee members and the audition candidate in this story.

Grant Park Symphony Audition Story

More Stories…

The above are just a sampling—I’ve written many more:

I’ve also done This American Life-ish audio versions of some of these stories.  I had a great time putting these together and might tackle more audio renditions in the future.


How I’m Doubling My Productivity and Increasing My Happiness 2

As I wrap up my final few weeks of full-time employment, I find myself thinking about how to organize this amazingly blank slate of a schedule.  Though I have certainly spent my fair share of time with a self-organized schedule, for the past seven years I’ve been teaching public school and have been locked into the “daily grind” with which we’re all familiar.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Fixed Schedules

It’s remarkable how teaching public school brainwashed me to respond to the school bell schedule.  8:50 am?  Now I teach!  11:25?  Eat!

All that is about to change for me with my plunge back into being an independent freelance dude, which is both exciting and scary.  That externally imposed structure imparted by the school job is vanishing, leaving me alone with my thoughts, ideas, ambitions, and projects.

Great, right?  Probably…

Netflix SweatpantsStill, I can’t help envisioning myself in three months, gut hanging out over my sweatpants as I wake up at noon, watch Netflix until 4 pm, and play video games until 2 am.

I certainly know that Jason: lazy, distracted, and sloth-like.  I’ve had more than a few summers that aren’t too far off from that.

Is that really how I want to spend my forties?

The Seduction of the Distraction

Being productive as a self-employed person is uniquely challenging.  What should I be doing with my time?

I know–I’ll check some stuff on my phone!

There are so many things that I could be checking:
  • Email
  • Texts
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Snapchat
  • Instagram
  • Blog Stats
  • Podcast Stats
  • Mailing List Stats
  • App Downloads

Like most people, I can fall down the rabbit hole of clicking… clicking… checking one more thing… and one more…

Before I know it, 7 am has morphed into 10 am, and all I have to show for it are some Facebook likes and a couple of consumed BuzzFeed articles.

Once I actually sit down to work, I’m focused.  In fact, I might go for hours without a break. I’ll finally stand up, back aching, and stagger over to the fridge for a snack.

This is the perfect moment to check more stats.  It’ll be OK—just a quick dip into what’s going on online.

45 minutes later, I’ve totally lost my momentum.  I sit back down in front of the computer, puzzled.  What was I thinking about?

Sadly, I think that I’m actually better at focus than many I know.  It’s a struggle, but one that I regularly overcome.  I just hate that I go through that battle so frequently.

Free Time: A Blessing and a Curse

For years, I’ve been cramming blogging and podcasting into precious windows of free time—4 am before school, 11 pm after a gig, or a few moments before a concert started.  I’ve spent lots of time in random corners of buildings, my car, or endless coffeeshops, furiously packing away at my laptop in the corner.

Time ManagementThis limited time has actually helped with my productivity.  There’s sense of urgency to maximize my precious free time.  A post or podcast simply wouldn’t get done if I didn’t use every precious second.

Now, I’m about to have all the time I want.  My wife will be at work during normal business hours.  I’m going to treat my time like I have a “regular” job, only filling it with projects that I want to work on instead of heading to a full-time job.

Yay!  And yikes!  I can only hope that “Netflix Jason” isn’t the ultimate result.

Looking at Time Management Techniques

I am obviously not the first person to think about time management. Here are a few examples of techniques I’ve previously explored:

Merlin Mann and Inbox Zero

I have followed along with Merlin Mann for years.

Merlin is a time management and productivity guru (and also happens to be immensely entertaining).  He inspired me to move to inbox zero several years ago after spending far too long with with 3000+ messages in my inbox.  This system has reduced my stress, increased my productivity, and cleaned up my workflow.

Internet Restriction Apps

I’ve thought about using Internet restriction apps in the past but haven’t pulled the trigger on any yet.  Maybe I will once I move out to San Francisco.  It seems like a good idea.

What I have done is turn off all notifications from all sources when I’m working.  No phone pings.  No laptop pop-ups.  Those interruptions kick me out of whatever I was working on and into distraction land.

Momentum for Chrome

I have found the Momentum Chrome extension to be helpful when working online.  Opening a new tab and seeing bookmarks and recently visited sites is like offering a chocoholic a box of Godiva goodies.  The Momentum extension shows a peaceful scene from nature, an inspiring quote, and a field where you can enter your primary focus for the day.  It’s simple and effective, and it has helped with my distractibility.

Create Content in the Morning and Tackle Tasks in the Afternoon

This isn’t an app but a strategy that I like: when I have a full day to organize as I wish, I use the morning for creative tasks, saving the administrative stuff like returning emails, collecting data, and working on the website for the afternoon.  I create best when I’m fresh, and actually making something in the morning energizes me for the rest of the day.

Pomodoro TechniqueMy New Secret Weapon

I discovered the Pomodoro Technique a few months ago after hearing Gaelen McCormick talk about it, and it has had a huge effect on how I work.  It’s simple to use and has been insanely effective for me.

Here’s the technique in a nutshell:
  • Pick a task.
  • Set a timer for 25 minutes.  This session is one Pomodoro.
  • Work on that task and nothing else for those 25 minutes.
  • Stop working when the timer goes off.
  • Take a 5 minute break.  Do not check email, Facebook, etc.  Stretch, get a drink of water, and move around.
  • Do another 25-minute session focused on one task.
  • After four Pomodoro sessions, take a 30 minute break.

I love this system!  It’s simple but provides a structure but can be endlessly tweaked to suit your needs.

I picked up an app for my MacBook Pro and iPhone called Pomodoro Time Pro, allows for scheduling according to category of task.  These basic categories hit most of what I do in front of my computer:
  • Writing
  • Podcasting pre/post
  • Video editing
  • To-do list items
  • Audio editing
  • Blogging
  • Other

The app syncs between my iPhone and MacBook, and I can view my work in a spreadsheet if I want to really geek out.

Why I Like This System

This system immediately clicked with me once I began using it.  For me, 25 minutes is that sweet spot where I can really dig into something but not get burned out. That’s just about when I feel like it’s time to get a drink of water, a cup of coffee, or to do some stretching.

Focusing on one task for 25 minutes is actually quite achievable.  The timer makes me acutely aware of those moments when my brain drifts.  It’s amazing how frequently I start the timer, start thinking about something, and those 25 minutes have dwindled to 17 minutes!  This system encourages efficiency of thought.

Ironically, the school at which I have taught for the last few years organizes their schedule in 25 minute increments.  I hope that’s not why I identify so strongly with this technique!  Probably just a coincidence…

Wait But Why did a great post visualizing the amount of time that we all are likely to have left on this planet using different graphic representations.  It’s a really cool and thought-provoking read.  Seeing the remainder of your life in little dots gives each day a feeling of urgency.  The Pomodoro Technique provides me with that feeling of urgency.  After all, time is a finite resource, and wasting it on stupid stuff like picking at my laptop case is all too easy.

The five-minute break give me time to do a quick pushup and plank mini-workout, go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, pet the cats, do some stretching, and walk around the place.  I sit down back down feeling loose and focused, ready to dig into the next session.

I aim for 10 of these sessions a day (that’s what my app was set for, and it seems just about right to me).  After those 10 sessions are done, I consider work done for the day.  That’s when I go for a run, do some reading, or hang out with friends.

10 sessions?  Really?  I mean, that’s only five hours of work… actually more like four hours with all of those breaks.  It doesn’t seem like a lot, does it?

Right…. but hang on.  Think about what any given day of yours is really like.  How many minutes of a day do you spent in 100% pedal-to-the-metal full focus mode?  Honestly, what’s that number for you?

For me, I know that I’m getting way more done with this system than with my more meandering, all-consuming vaguely productive tech sessions.  I can’t tell you how many days I’ve lost with vaguely unfocused Internet-based work.  I end the day stressed and burned out, with nothing to show for it.

What About the Rest of the Day?

I’m still working on this, honestly.  I’ll probably keep working on it for weeks, months, and years (kind of like practicing the bass).

My current thinking is that 10 Pomodoros is plenty.  I go do something physical like going for a run or a long walk.  I am currently not obligating myself toward any more work past those 10 Pomodoros.

It can be hard to get in those 10 sessions depending on what else if going on.  It’s perfect for a blank day, but it makes no sense for my current school job and doesn’t work when I’m playing gigs all over the place.  But man, it is so great for an unstructured day.

Frequently, I come back and feel inspired to do some more writing, podcasting, video editing, or something else creative like that.  If I feel like I’m on a roll, I have been letting myself keep going, but without the Pomodoro timer.  I love that little timer, but at a certain point I don’t want anything telling me when I need to take a break.

I’ll almost certainly be doing less of that once moving out to San Francisco sine I’ll be spending time with my wife (yay!).  Right now I’m this lonely guy living in a hellhole with his cats.  Working takes my mind out of my current living situation.  It’s way better than Netflix by myself!

If I don’t feel like doing something creative, then I usually spend some time reading, doing some research online.  I read up on cool places to visit in California.  I dive into YouTube and find cool bass videos to put out on the blog.  Sometimes I get some really good ideas in those leisurely end-of-day sessions, and I don’t have that anxious feeling of having wasted the day.  It’s a good mental place for me.

More About the Pomodoro Technique

I’ve read a couple of good books about using this technique.  It’s a simple technique and doesn’t require a ton of research in order to implement it, but I got some good ideas from these books (both are $3—super cheap!):

I’d also love to hear about what you use to structure your time!  Do you use the Pomodoro Technique?  Something else?  Let me know!  You can leave a comment below or email me at doublebassblog@mac.com.