Friday, March 16, 2018

Change and the Music World

Many of you know that I have returned to the Tony Corrales Band and no one is happier than me. The support we have received has been amazing with so many telling me that I am back where I belong. Even I saw it as a homecoming but what many people do not know is that even though their favorite local country band is back it is already not the same band that they remember. We have a new bass player, changes to our set list and a different approach to how we're handling our business.

And this is just one of my musical changes.

I am also back with my old Jazz Trio Sonoral Sol and that band is also different than the way it existed before. We are now in a trio format where in the past we worked mainly as a quartet. We are also doing less traditional Jazz and focusing more on Fusion/Funk, Latin and some upbeat Blues. We are also hoping to get some outdoor gigs because we have the urge to not only bring the beat but to also bring some generous volume to our performance.

For me, these changes are all part of the reality of the music world where change can occur as quickly as your next breath. In other words, don't comfortable because the minute you do there will be a permanent change that you aren't expecting or even want for but it still needs to be dealt with.

My First Experience with Change in the Music Scene

The first time I had to accept the unexpected was in my first real band. It was called Fictitious Smith and this was a group that meant a lot to me because I helped start the band when I was a senior in high school with guys who are still life long friends. It was also the first band I ever performed in a nightclub with, the first band I ever recorded with in a professional setting as well as the first band I did business with in the Los Angeles music scene. Aside from all of those firsts I also got my first taste of the ever changing music scene and to be honest, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Even though it was the early 90's there was still some 80's Rocker sounds that I didn't realize were the last breaths of a now dying decade. Even though we were a proud of what we were doing we still had a sound and image that resembled bands like Queensryche and Iron Maiden so we didn't have that pretty boy look to say the least. We were also very confident and focused but soon learned that. reality was already identifying this band of guys in their late teens and early twenties as dinosaurs.

The musical scene had changed and suddenly people in the industry would say that we were good but needed to sound more like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and even the Red Hot Chili Peppers. At first I just shrugged it off and thought that such people were just not the right people to work with us and that we would just find someone else that believed in the kind of stuff we did. After all, it's not like there weren't different musical genres out there. However, it didn't take long for me to realize that this was the kind of Rock music that was on MTV and the radio and that there was nothing I could do about it.

Sadly, it wasn't long after this realization that the group disbanded so while I took a peak at the music classifieds or met with other musicians that were looking for a drummer I was astounded to hear that Grunge and this other thing called Alternative Rock were now the type of Rock bands that people wanted to put together because that was the new sound. Sadly for me, I hated it.

Amazingly, I did find other bands to work with as the 90's carried on but it wasn't always easy because there were very few musicians out there who dared to do something different rather than people who wanted to be the next version of what was popular that week. Still, the music scene was something I didn't really care for and it was up to me to accept the fact that it wasn't going to stop evolving based on my personal preferences.

Shifting Gears 

When I reached my 30's I was now married and started having children. Before my first child was born I had promised my wife that she would never have to worry about me being around to be the husband and father that I was obligated to be. I decided to work as a hired gun and even went as far as saying that if I was lucky enough to work with a musician or group that was about to break that I still wouldn't change my mind about being around for good. But even as I focused on being a local pro change was still a big part of what goes on even for a part time musician (At this time I was already working full time as a high school teacher).

The first thing I had to do was decide on a set fee for my services and then stand my ground when it came to negotiating with others. That can be easier said than done when you're negotiating with someone who has more experience in business. I was a quick learner and eventually as I got more work I started to establish a reputation in the local music scene, which allowed people to accept my fees as they knew that I was not only available but also someone who would deliver the goods.

I also had to accept the lack of stability in the working scene. Sometimes a gig would last for several months. Sometimes it would be a few shows. Other times I would perform on one song in the studio and just like that I was paid and then went on to the next thing. Networking was a daily thing and I had to make sure that people knew who I was and when I was available in order to keep working. Sometimes I liked the music and sometimes I didn't but since I was now a hired gun it wasn't about personal preferences but giving my temporary boss exactly what they wanted.

While it was nice to have money in my pocket I now had to deal with the fact that I didn't have as much time to write my own music. Of course I didn't stop working on new material but I found myself having to spend more of my free time learning other people's songs rather than writing my own songs. It was kind of a bitter pill to swallow in terms of my ego because after spending years of being a contributor to my former bands I now saw that no one really cared about the music that I wrote. That and the fact that I might have a great idea that the person I am working for could benefit from but they might actually reject the idea and/or not be interested in my creative ideas at all. After all, I'm being paid to play the drums. That's it!

Also, the scene had changed so fast that I either had to learn how to write songs that people wanted to hear right now rather than the music I loved to play just a couple of years ago or try to turn off my creative side. The latter wasn't going to happen so I had to ask myself what I could do creatively that would be worth my time. The answer soon came when I started a project that I did solely for myself.

Music Licensing 

For a couple of years I had led a percussion quartet called Manito that played some of my original tribal drumming compositions along with some arrangements I put together of of some other World drumming songs. We had some success in the local music scene but I was always of the fact that this project would have a limited audience.

In the summer of 2002 I recorded some of the my compositions on my own, which led to the release of my first solo CD called Desert Drummer. Sales were what some would expect of music in the genre but I was still very satisfied to get my own music out there. The best thing about it was that it had nothing to do with the current Rock/Pop scene so I could do whatever I wanted with no apologies or expectations.

I would soon find out that I was now going to enter another part of the music world that I knew nothing about.

I had posted a few songs online and that's when the owner of a company with an extensive music library contacted me to see if I could write some more material that he could place on various television shows and films. That wouldn't be a problem as it never took me long to write something within that musical genre but then he started to speak with all of these business terms and I must admit that there were times when I was somewhat intimidated.

I had a lot to learn and fast.

We came to an agreement and lucky for me I had some people I knew that I could turn to for advice that gave me a better understanding of the world I was about to work in. I then took the time after this deal to learn even more about music licensing as well as the importance of being a member of a performance rights organization (I am an ASCAP member).

Thankfully this now business partner of mine was a great benefit to me as he more than came through when it came to getting my music out there. My music has been featured on television shows such as CSI: Special Victims Unit, America's Top Model, as well as shows on MTV/VH1 and the BBC along with other television stations around the world. Aside from that I also started to peddle my work on other websites as an independent contractor, which allowed me to meet and work with other filmmakers who used my music on their films.

Selling Yourself  

As I continued to get placements in films I also continued my work as a drummer for hire. Eventually my resume was now filled with many accomplishments that gave me the confidence to approach some equipment companies about getting on their artist rosters. Fortunately for me many of them saw enough in my music career to offer me an endorsement deal. This meant more to me than I realized because that meant that they wanted to invest in me and not just some drummer that was lucky enough to be in a world famous band. (Here's a shout out to Soultone Cymbals, Ahead Sticks & Percussion Products, Drum Dots and Hansenfutz Pedals)

My composition efforts have also earned me a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts to write and record more compositions for future licensing opportunities. Later I would be awarded multiple ASCAPLUS Awards, which are monetary awards that are given to ASCAP members after their compositions are reviewed by a panel of judges. Most importantly, I added these nods to my resume as I continued to network my drumming and now my composition services.

Of course its important to have an online presence and while this can be a chore for some people I understand that it's a necessary part of being a working musician. There are certainly days when I don't feel like posting updates on what I am doing but I remind myself that it's no different than getting up early in the morning to go to work.

Some artists despise the business end of things and I totally understand where they are coming from. But, every occupation does have a business side so it is always important to know what it means to do good business while also being aware of the changes that are sure to come.

Of course personality is important in getting somewhere as I found out right away how a polite presence along with a professional attitude will earn you more work. However, there are those moments when you have to stand your ground as there are always going to be people out there who either want to low ball you and/or rip you off! That's when I go into what I call Aztec mode:

I am a pro drummer who has performed professionally for over 26 years with countless recording credits who is currently on call with three local recording studios in Tucson, AZ. As a performer I am currently working in two bands who are some of the best in their genre while continuing to freelance with other groups. I have four endorsement deals and I have been featured in DRUM! Magazine as a performer and a writer.  Aside from that I am also a composer with several placements on various television shows & films around the world who has earned awards and a grant for my original compositions. So, please tell me why you think my fee is unreasonable. 

No, it's not unreasonable for any working musician to be fairly compensated for their efforts. We work harder than DJ's and no one ever complains about having to pay a DJ when they book them to provide music at their events? Still, do DJ's earn their money? Absolutely! So tell me why musicians don't deserve the same treatment.

Captain Carlos 

In a perfect world I can show up to a gig, perform, get paid and go home. Or, I could have a manager that does all the business for me and give them their required percentage without any concern that they are taking more than their share. That would be ideal and make my life easier but we all know the horror stories that come from relying on other people.

Bands come and go and the problem with working bands is that the littlest thing can happen from the leader of the band wanting to suddenly pack things in to side musicians being replaced for any reason at any time. Of course when it comes to representation an artist has to make sure that the person speaking on their behalf can be trusted. That's why I have learned that it is always best to be the captain of my own ship rather than follow another leader.

Thankfully when it comes to working with the Tony Corrales Band I am working with four other professionals who have more than proved how much I can actually rely on them. These brothers of mine are so real that even my wife has no doubt in their honesty and integrity. Therefore, when I am negotiating with other people she usually reminds me that, These other people aren't like Tony and the guys so don't you trust them! Yes dear.

In terms of working with Sonoran Sol, this is a band I put together many years ago with guitarist Dan Griffin so the authority I am able to exercise is to my benefit. As far as my independent contractor work (music licensing, session work, fill in gigs, etc), I am more than pleased to have the final say on whether or not I will agree to both the work being offered as well as the gratuity that is being offered for my services.

At the end of the day I am not afraid to fail because I would rather fall on my face due to decisions I have made rather than be tripped up following the coat tails of the wrong person. If I succeed, then great. I'll just add that to my resume and then move on to the next project. If I fail I will learn my lesson and move on. No apologies and no regrets.

Carlos Solorzano

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