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Jon Batiste, Michael McDonald Offer Real Advice To GRAMMY Camp Musicians
Carnegie Hall. The Blue Note. Madison Square Garden. Radio City Music Hall. Broadway. New York is positively brimming with storied music history. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. For a young musician, it's certainly akin to being the proverbial kid in a candy store.
As a matter of fact, 18 young high school musicians are getting their opportunity to sample the sweets that form the rich music culture of the Big Apple as participants in this year's GRAMMY Museum's GRAMMY Camp — Jazz Session program. Their week-long musical adventure is anchored by select appearances and performances at official GRAMMY Week events such as GRAMMY In The Schools Live!, the MusiCares Person of the Year after-party celebration and the GRAMMY Celebration, the Recording Academy's official after-party.
But before they hit the downbeat, the Jazz Session students participated in an exclusive Industry Insider Night centered around a question-and-answer dialog with Jon Batiste, "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" bandleader, and Michael McDonald, artist manager for Mick Management and MusiCares Board Chair.
Taking place at New York's impressive Hudson Yards complex, the purpose of the intimate setting was to provide the students with an opportunity to gain credible insight from two professionals representing different sides of the music industry: the creative side and the business side. And Batiste is technically part of the family in being a flesh-and-blood alumnus of the GRAMMY Camp — Jazz Session program.
The dialog was compelling, the stories were interesting, the questions insightful, and the advice offered was candid. Here are seven tips that Batiste and McDonald passed on to the GRAMMY Camp musicians — principles that formulate solid advice for any young musician mulling a career in music.
1. Wherever You End Up, Find Your Tribe
New Orleans native Batiste picked up and moved to New York to attend the prestigious Juilliard School. While getting an education and furthering his music abilities were top of mind, the Stay Human bandleader drove home the point that his choice was also based on the potential to trade fours with like-minded musicians.
"College is a place to meet people, and New York is a hub of music," said Batiste. "There's so many opportunities. So I think that coming to New York was very important [for me] because it just exposes you to so many different things. And then going to Juilliard, I met so many people who I just considered to be part of my creative family. Wherever you end up: find your tribe."
2. Prepare For The Real World By Doing Things "Before It's Time"
As the saying goes, being school smart is one thing. But being real-world smart can be a totally different ball. And for music students, making that transition from music school phenom to is forged with potential obstacles. Batiste urged the students to keep an eye on the big picture by getting an early start on tackling the things they want to do in their careers.
"The biggest thing I learned from that whole transition [from school to the real world] is to be trying to do the thing before its time so that you're ready before the opportunity does come," said Batiste. "I wanted to lead a band so I was leading a band. I wanted to learn from musicians who I listened to on recordings so I sought them out. … When you get out of school, it will feel like more of a natural transition."
"I always say, 'There's always room for the real deal.'" — Michael McDonald
3. It's OK To Suck
Sometimes musicians can become obsessed with trying to play every note perfectly. While allotting countless hours to woodshed is no doubt part and parcel to honing one's instrumental prowess, Batiste turned the tables with a thought-provoking nugget of wisdom based on personal experience.
"I wished someone would have told me that it's OK for it to really suck at first. In fact, if it doesn't suck it probably means you're not trying hard enough," said Batiste, who regaled the students with tales of when he used to perform for NYC subway patrons. "Push it to the point where it's uncomfortable. We pushed ourselves to do stuff that we didn't see people doing and it wasn't comfortable, but I think that created an understanding of what we wanted to do and how to critique [ourselves] so the next time it will be better."
4. Focus On Finding Your Vision
While technology is considered a double-edged sword by some, the truth is that technological advances have afforded musicians more autonomy and flexibility. Starting a YouTube channel, social networking and recording album-ready music in a bedroom are just three examples of how young musicians can tap technology to their benefit. Technology and tools aside, McDonald stressed an aspiring musician should exhibit self-starter qualities and spend ample time to decide the direction they want to their career to head in.
"If you can't start something on your own, if you don't have a vision, if you don't know what you like, I can't do anything for you," said McDonald, whose client roster includes the likes of Batiste, Maggie Rogers, Ray LaMontagne, and Walk The Moon. "For me, to take on an artist, I want to see someone who has initiative, drive, and is resourceful, and can do a lot of things on their own."
"Wherever you end up: find your tribe." — Jon Batiste
5. Make A List And Let Creativity Flower
Lists are good for a number of things. Grocery lists. To-do lists. Shopping lists. Instruction lists. While formulating lists can help manage productivity, Batiste explained that he employed a certain kind of list to help spark connections and foster creativity.
"What I did at one point, because I really couldn't articulate it, I made a list of every single thing that I like," said Batiste. "It didn't even matter if it was music or not. There was random stuff on the list and I tried to make connections between them. The creative mind is mysterious. Stuff will emerge."
As it turns out, McDonald went through the exact same exercise on his own. Great minds really do think alike
6. Don't Chase Today's Trends
While keeping tabs on the Top 10 list can be enticing, McDonald recommended that the students shouldn't become consumed with altering their course to match the sounds of the artists landing billions of streams and YouTube views.
"Don't chase what's happening this year or what the trend is," said McDonald, who got his career start on the road with Dave Matthews Band in the '90s. "I always say, 'There's always room for the real deal.' Dave Matthews came out in the '90s. That was acoustic guitar, saxophone and violin. And it was coming out at the same time as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots. The trend was grunge but these guys just were who they are."
7. Heed Your Belief System
When asked about the age-old question concerning art versus commerce — or if a musician needs to "sell out" to make it — Batiste advised the students that the answer will come from within. Specifically, a young musician should be mindful of their values and beliefs and steer toward what moves them with passion and vigilance.
"The question is more about: What do you believe? Who are you? Why do you play?" said Batiste. "When you answer that, it's like, 'Well, that's why I play. Let me figure out how to make money doing that and let the chips fall where they may.' Do the art because you love it. If you really love it, it's probably a part of who you are. I'm always singing. I'm always creating ideas. That's me. It's not my love for the art. It's who I am."