“Watch The Sound”

I wasn’t sure what to think when I saw the trailer for this music documentary but after watching the first two episodes I was hooked. It’s a fantastic series with excellent interviews & perspectives, beautifully shot and edited. I had to confess that it made me rather envious imagining the type of life the host Mark Ronson has led up to now. That being said, it’s a very inspiring, informative and admirable project. Can’t recommend it enough.


(Continuing on from the “Welcome to Real World” post…)

Before even meeting my collaborator for Beatcamp @ RealWorld 2018 we received an assignment from the camp director Marc Langsman: select an image from the National Geographic archive that would serve as the basis of inspiration for the song that we would produce during the workshop. 

At first this felt a bit daunting, as there are well over 9.3 million images in the archive, but I held the attitude that I was going to find it quickly and that I’d know it when I saw it. Within 10 minutes I came across this fantastic photograph taken by Oliver Apicella:  

To me, it said everything about what we would be doing for the project: casting our nets, hoping to catch the big fish – inspiration.

Fortunately my collaborator, Patrick Hill, agreed and suddenly we were working together in the same direction. (Great idea, Marc!) We also agreed to create a completely new song, just for the camp and that everything would be done from scratch.  

From there the song came together rather quickly. We had the chord progressions, riffs, melodies, lyrics, arrangement and drums all done on the first day of the camp. The next day we built the song up by tracking bass, guitars, piano and vocals. The final day of the camp we recorded a violin solo, edited the tracks, mixed it all down and gave it the name “Nets”.

You can listen to the entire BeatCamp at Real World 2018 album on Spotify or iTunes/Apple Music.

Aside from having a dream come true (getting to make music at Real World) the camp taught and reminded me of quite a few things:

1) To stay focused on the goal and feel as if it is already done. I’ve been doing this with great success for a couple years now and it helped a number of times during the camp. Particularly given the time constraints and the ever-present temptation to try too many things.

2) Strive to hear my inner voice even in the midst of chaos/activity all around, as well as differing opinions. This doesn’t mean “ignore everyone else”, it simply means don’t forsake my own intuition/vision just because of what’s going on around me.

3) Go with the path of least resistance. E.g. don’t insist that I do something myself if someone else can do it better/quicker. Early on in the camp I made a conscious decision to involve the studio musicians as much as possible. Normally I would opt to do everything myself but here we had a small army of professional musicians/engineers/producers ready and willing to help out. I realized that I should make the most of this opportunity, particularly if I wanted the track to be finished on time.

4) Be open to seeing how someone else might do something. Originally my plan for mixing was to do a first pass myself and then get feedback as to what should be fixed. Then I had the thought “I pretty much know what I am going to do and how it will sound, why not see how a pro would do it”. So I asked the Head Engineer Oli Jacobs if he wouldn’t mind handling it while I looked over his shoulder and he said “sure”. Turns out that this was one of the highlights of the entire camp for me. It was fantastic being able to see his workflow, his choices/decisions and being able to ask him questions as to why. He was super helpful, responsive and kind throughout the process. 

Thanks again to everyone involved in making “Nets” a reality. Here are the credits:

Glenn Schoonmaker (Composer), Patrick Hill (Composer), Nicole Fermie (Vocals), AD Chivers (Vocals), Howard Gill (Drums), Paul Whalley (Bass), Graham Kearns (Guitar), Jonathan Page (Piano), TiiT Kikas (Violin), Oli Middleton (Recording Engineer), Oli Jacobs (Mix Engineer), Tim Oliver (Mastering Engineer), Marc Langsman (BeatCamp Director), Rena Biring (Beatcamp Organizer) 


I’ve always been interested in personal development and consider myself somewhat of a “spiritual person”, meaning that I believe there is something more to our reality than our physical senses can quantify.

I had heard a lot about the benefits of meditation over the years but for some reason found it really difficult to do on a regular basis. Then in 2004 I decided that I was going to see if I could do it for 15 minutes a day, every day, for 30 days. I wanted to do this for two reasons. First to see if there was any benefit from it, either singularly or from a cumulative effect. Secondly to show myself that I could be focused and disciplined when I chose to be.

The technique I chose is simple and somewhat challenging at the same time. I sit in a comfortable place where I am not likely to be disturbed for about 15 minutes. As I breathe in I count the breath, even visualizing the associated number, with the goal of letting go of all other thoughts. This usually works out to about 150 breaths. That being said I’ve never been devoid of all thought for very long, our brains are problem solving by nature and they want something to do. I simply realize that I am thinking a thought and choose to let it go.

The analogy I like to use to describe this process is that it’s somewhat like going to see a baseball game. You are sitting in the ballpark, there are people everywhere, making noise, walking around, etc., but you choose to focus on the game, regardless of the activity in the stadium. Most often you just accept that this activity is part of the experience of going to the ballpark and it doesn’t take away from your enjoyment of watching the game. In this case “the game” is the focus on the breath and “the people all around the stadium” are the thoughts. Make peace with the fact that you’ll have thoughts and that you can let them go just as easily as they come up.

I’ve been meditating like this every day now for over 14 years, and am very happy that I made it a regular part of my life. I feel that it has benefited me in countless ways. It has given me more clarity of thought, balance (emotionally/mentally/physically) and peacefulness. At times it is a subtle feeling, other times it is powerful and expansive. I look forward to “sitting” as part of my day, no matter if I am at home or traveling abroad.


Where you least expect it…

As mentioned in a previous post I feel that inspiration can happen anywhere and from just about anything, if we are open to it.

I had been wanting to write a new instrumental song for a while. I wanted it to be melodic, powerful and totally unique from what I had done before. I imagined it as being done and had the thought that before I knew it I’d have something cool. A little while later this magazine showed up:

At first I didn’t notice anything special or unusual about the magazine. It was nicely designed and well written but nothing stood out to me. Right before I was about to put it into recycling the orange tape on the back of the guitar headstock caught my eye:

I realized that it was probably the tuning of the guitar, a tuning that I had never used before. I grabbed my guitar, set it to the pitches indicated and within a couple hours had two new songs that were totally unique from anything I had done before. All from something that I was about to throw away.

I love it when stuff like this happens but looking back at it now makes me wonder just how often this type of thing could be happening. Where the seeds of what I want could be right in front of me and I just don’t see it.

Hans Zimmer

Last year I took the Hans Zimmer Film Scoring course on Masterclass.com and really enjoyed it. While there wasn’t too much technical information in this class it had plenty in the way of mindset and approach that Hans used in various real world situations, which helped him to become one of the most prolific and successful film composers of our time.

I particularly enjoyed doing the assignments, creating compositions based on specific limitations/requirements. My Music Sketch #55 “Perception” was based on the following assignment:

“Think about one of your favorite directors. Find an interview in which he/she talks about the making of one of his/her lms. Use this as a jumping o point to create your own version of a score that’s informed by how the director talks about their intentions behind the film. How can you translate the director’s approach to telling the story into a score that helps serve that narrative?”

The director I chose was Terry Gilliam and the movie interview was about his film 12 Monkeys. The key point I got from the conversation (which inspired the song) was this:

“We seem to be inundated with information. It’s hard to know what the real stuff is, which is the stuff that counts, I think that the hardest thing in modern society is to know what to listen to and what not to.”

No Guitar Is Safe

First discovered this podcast by Jude Gold and Guitar Player magazine in late 2016 and am so glad that I did. Amazing guitarists jamming and talking about their craft. They can go really deep when compared to a magazine interview, these podcasts can go for 90 minutes or more. Really great to hear these full length conversations.

While there are a ton of fantastic interviews, the ones that really stand out to me are the Ben Lacy, Mike Keneally, Owen Barry, Jeff Kollman and Tommy Emmanuel episodes. Really cool!

Everything is Everything

Watched a great lecture on the relationships between rhythm, pitch and color given by Adam Neely at Abelton’s Loop 2017 conference. It gets “out there” at times, but he pulls it all together as he demonstrates how everything is essentially rhythm.

Particularly liked this “The Color of Sound” chart from Nicolas Melendez and Clint Goss that Adam referenced. It shows the direct correlations of pitch and light frequencies. It would be cool to use this when putting together a concert’s light show!

For The Love

Remember when you did something purely for the act of doing it? No ulterior motive (e.g. “I’ll do this and maybe this other thing can happen…”). I’m guessing that you, like me, were pretty young when that was your modus operandi in choosing how you spent your free time. For me it was skateboarding, sports and music. I remember being about 12 years old playing the saxophone in my bedroom. I had been practicing a piece over and over for about 2 hours (driving my mom and neighbors batty) and feeling totally alive, free, and fulfilled. At that moment I felt that there was nothing better in the world that I could be doing with my life. It was pure, honest and direct. I still think about that moment when I start to wonder why I do what I do with music and always come back to the same answer: “For the Love”.


I have been really fortunate to have had some truly fantastic guitarists/musicians as teachers/mentors. Each had their own area of expertise (James Robinson: Flamenco and improvisation, Hristo Vitchev: Jazz and Music Theory, Doug Doppler: Metal/Rock and Modes). A common thread they all share (aside from them all being great guitarists) is their commitment to excellence as musicians. Each of them are truly masterful and I’m very grateful to have been able to have the opportunity to study with them.

Perhaps the one lesson that has become the most useful and profound is one that James Robinson shared with me. I was having difficultly making time to practice and he said “just do a little bit every day, even 5 minutes a day and you will get better over time”.

After repeatedly trying (and failing) to make myself stick to difficult and extensive regimens, I decided to try his suggestion and do a little bit every day. The past few months I’ve been doing just that and I’m starting to see a difference. I created a daily routine that covers a wide variety of subjects that I’m interested in and limit the amount of time that I spend on each of them to 5-10 minutes a day. I do some ear training, guitar studies (fretboard knowledge, chords, sight reading, bends, scales, improvisation), theory, notation, bass, keyboards (scales and chords), songwriting/chord progressions and vocal exercises. Again, each area only getting 5-10 minutes a day, period.

Is it perfect? No, but I can see that I’m making progress and am happy to have something that is manageable and easy to stick to. Also, I have plenty of time left over to do other things like writing and recording songs, which is why I want to be a better musician in the first place.

Thanks for the excellent advice, James!