Men’s Health Submission

** Back in 2012, I submitted an article to Men’s Health for consideration but never heard back. Here is the article in its entirety. Thank you to friends and published authors Patrick Kennedy and Max Klau for their insight, ideas and expertise in reviewing my submission.**

The Beatles!!  Billy Joel!!  Elton John!!  Patrick DeCoste??  Hi, I’m Patrick.  Like the three before me, I’ve played Shea Stadium.  Attendance on record that day was 51,7495.  Granted I wasn’t there to perform a full-length set but I did land the coveted Star Spangled Banner gig.  One minute and 16 seconds of U2-inspired instrumental guitar licks (and a virtually guaranteed standing ovation!).

Like those around me, my life consists of working full-time, family, mortgage and car payments.  But once the clock hits 5pm, I morph from office drone into semi-professional rock guitarist. I may not be running to the John Varvatos store in NYC or Kat Von D’s Hollywood tattoo shop while trying to hang on to those fleeting moments of rock stardom – but I have managed to fit a few hours of guitar into my daily life.

Not just practice time–stage time. My guitar and I have had some unique experiences over the years, from the Shea Stadium gig to toiling in the orchestra pit for the Broadway musical, HAIRSPRAY.

It wasn’t always easy, and not everything went as planned.  My music-biz experience has consisted of rejections and mistakes.  However, I have scored a few important call-backs.  I’m no Eddie Van Halen, any more than my Sport Management degree makes me Theo Epstein. (I’m a grant manager for a major university in Boston as my day job.)  But those shortcomings only make me work harder.

GOING BACK TO THE BASICS

With no less than 50 hours of my week dedicated to working for “The Man”, how did I go from bedroom to ballpark? A quick rehash of the ABC’S:

Ability: No good job can be achieved without skill.  Take the time to hone your craft a day at a time.  Read, listen and communicate with those in your field.  Ability breeds opportunity, which breeds networks, which breeds opportunity, which breeds networks – you get the idea.

Balance: Finding “me” time can be as hard as finding time to dedicate to those things you have to do (you paid the phone bill this month, right?).  But that doesn’t mean it’s any less important.  If you can commit 45 minutes to the gym three days a week, why not dedicate that same time to your craft?

Commitment: After allocating time for achievement, you now have the ability to go for it.  Write down goals (long term and short term), time frames and start making it happen.  Stick with it–you owe it to yourself.

Sacrifice: With love comes misery.  Expect that you’ll hit some road blocks and stumble along the way, and know you’ll be giving up some nights out with friends or lazy evenings watching TV (pro tip: $8/ month will get you instant access to almost all of your favorite shows).  Moving forward will only make the rewards that much sweeter.

LANDING THE GIG

Scoring stadium gigs and orchestra pit forays don’t happen overnight nor did it happen without its up and downs along the way.

After sending my demo off to most (if not all) professional sport teams from Maine to Pennsylvania, I had my share of rejections. One front office wise guy went so far as to say he was protecting me from getting booed by not booking me.  Typical protocol included getting the contact info through the team’s website, mailing in a demo package and then never hearing back.  Every once in a while you’ll get the “Don’t contact us, we’ll contact you” postcard, even more rare is actually getting booked.

CASE STUDY

In 2010, I was approached about being the guitarist for HAIRPSRAY during its three-week run at the Cape Playhouse in Cape Cod (“where Broadway goes to summer”).  I couldn’t read music, could barely play by ear, and couldn’t improvise.  I played at bars in bands–not at theaters in orchestra pits.  With only three months to learn skills which takes years to learn, I had to find a balance between my full-time job, family and being the best musician I could be.

Comparing a theater gig to a club gig is like comparing a pick-up basketball game to joining a league: same skills, but more rules and higher stakes.  I quickly had to master skills like volume control, page turning, and “vamping” (repeating the same notes over and over until a set or wardrobe change was finished and the show could move on).

I took my first guitar lesson in 15 years.  I didn’t know the first thing about HAIRSPRAY, so I immersed myself in the musical–movies, bios, sheet music, iPod music lists on repeat.  I worked HARD, and I pulled it off because I believed and was believed in.  Before the first note of “Good Morning, Baltimore” was played, there was no one more prepared than me.

As my three-week run in the orchestra pit for the Grammy-winning, Tony-winning musical came to an end, I began to fade.  I was still working my full-time day job-during it’s busiest season!-while playing eight three-hour shows a week and commuting over 200 miles a day.  The brutal schedule took its toll but the rewards far outweighed any negatives.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED ALONG THE WAY

After the gear is packed and the bar is just a room full of empty bottles rolling around the floor, the ride home allows me to reflect.  What went right, what went wrong?  What’s next?  Through reflection, you can accurately access your positioning and plan for the future.

Dreams vs. Reality: playing Guitar Hero on Xbox doesn’t make one a guitar hero, just as playing Monopoly doesn’t make you a banker.  Take the time to work and hone your craft.  Accept the rejections while making adjustments along the way.

Opportunity vs. Entitlement: No one wants to work with someone who feels they deserve something.  Be humble.  Work harder for less.  Giving someone an excuse to not hire you is never a good career move.

Start small, think big: I labored in the Boston “open mic” scene for years.  That meant late nights performing between the old guy who wanted to be the next Paul Simon and the sorority girl doing Alanis Morissette covers.  Being a small fish in a big pond allows you find your niche, brand yourself and build momentum while collecting small victories along the way.

Remember that trip to Paris?  Or those college parties?  They happened because you were there.  You make the choice to go for it.  Make that your mantra–-do it.  Do it now.

MAKING IT WORK FOR YOU

Personal goals are labors of love.  You do it because you love it.  I can’t make mortgage payments on the 33 cents I make off each MP3 download.  Nor can I afford a week-long tour in half-filled bars, 11 p.m. set times or numerous trips to studios for recording time.

What I can do, however, is throw my acoustic guitar in the back of my 2-door Honda Civic and head out to the neighborhood bar to entertain for an hour.  My man cave (i.e., my allotted space in the back corner of my basement) allows me to record music on my laptop to distribute online.

Make your craft work for you.  Let your enthusiasm for your art shine, and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve found a way to pay the bills while still cultivating your passion and sharing it with the world.

IN CONCLUSION

Armed with tips and tricks to start making your hobby work for you, those “what if?” questions should hopefully become “why not?”  Be inspired.  Be grateful.  Be opportunistic.  Be who you wanted to be.  Fight through the adversity.  Do it.

Every day I look back at what I’ve accomplished and feel the thrill of satisfaction.  I also see how the work I put in yesterday sets me up to achieve even more tomorrow.

How do you want to be remembered?  How do you want to be perceived?  One thing is for sure: sitting there won’t get you where you want to be.

Get up.  Plan it.  Do it….and enjoy the ride along the way.

———————————————————————————————————————-

The “Hairspray” Experience: Summer 2010

This is my blog, insight and experience while playing in the Broadway produced musical, “Hairspray”.  I was asked tons of questions about it – from playing the pit, to off-stage happenings and everything in between.  Hopefully this answers them.

Before The Show:

I was referred to by local guitar virtuoso, Steve Marchena.  Steve played at the Cape Playhouse last summer but was already booked doing another theater gig.

The Preparation:

Once signed on, I bought as much “Hairspray” goodies I could: the original movie, its remake, the music, etc.  I spent a lot of time brushing up on my reading skills, music theory and chord harmony.  A major focus was on transposing music which is the ability to read music in one musical key while playing it in another (the equivalent of reading a speech in English but having to narrate it in Spanish).   The cast began rehearsals in NYC 2 weeks prior to opening night.  They rehearsed with the musical director, Jesse Vargas (who also doubles as Clay Aiken’s musical director), who also accompanied them on piano.  The band received their books and accompanying CD 1 week prior to opening night.  The book and CD had 2 guitar parts that I combined into one.  We were sent “cut sheets” later that week (cut sheets show which parts will be skipped: the Broadway production’s cast was larger than ours so we “cut” longer sections out).

The Rehearsal:

The band had 1 4-hour rehearsal the day prior to opening night.  We consisted of bass, drums, guitar, 2 keyboards, 2 brass and 2 woodwind players (half had played at the Playhouse prior).  We ran through the easy pieces first and then went over the more complex section again.  The following day we were scheduled to do a dry run a few hours before opening that night but due to last minute changes/ tweaks/ unforeseen issues, we only rehearsed part of the 2nd act.

The Pit:

This pit was located in front of the stage, below the front row.  When looking at the stage, it consisted of 3 areas: the rhythm section on the left (drums, guitar, bass), the musical director/ conductor/ keyboardist raised to audience level in the middle (so the cast and band can see him) and the other keyboard player and horn section on the right.  Unless a scene took place near the edge of the stage or in the far right hand corner of the stage, I couldn’t see anything.

The show (3-week run):

Opening night went well considering that a good portion of it came together within 24 hours.  The first couple of shows were spent getting familiar with everything/ one.  Although we had a different conductor and keyboard player for the 3rd week, everything went smoothly.  Here’s a quick summary of factors that the musicians had to consider that you may not have seen:

Cues: Some cues happen almost immediately without much notice while others have a full “1-2-3-4” count-in before playing.  For quick cues, I’d write a note to myself about what dialog will happen before the next song.  For example, when I heard, “Oh my God, I’m going to kill myself!”, I knew “The Nicest Kids (Reprise)” was about to happen.  The cue for that song was a head nod upwards and we’d start playing on the downward nod.

Volume: Because I sat directly in front of my amp, I didn’t have a gauge on how loud/ soft I was playing.  More often than not, a guitarist is asked (begged?) to turn down but the musical director wanted more volume so I was more than happy to turn it up.  For certain songs he’d also call for “more gain” which sometimes can be misleading.  More gain in a theater setting usually means make the sound more distorted not necessarily louder whereas in at a club gig, it usually means play heavier (ie more heavy-metal sounding – louder, dirtier and more aggressive).

Note/ Rhythm Selection: For the first few shows, I tried to stick as close to what was written in the book as possible.  Some books tell you what to play note-for-note/ rhythm-for-rhythm and others have basic outlines and it’s up to you to fill in the blanks.  For example, one book may not only tell you to play a C Major chord but in what order the notes of that chord should be played.  My book left a lot of the parts open to interpretation but made sure to spell out particular parts.

Safeties: In musicals, there are certain parts of the play that don’t have a certain time duration because they vary from night to night.  For that reason, the music has certain “safety” sections.  Safeties are repeated music patterns (of various lengths) that the band repeats until told otherwise.  In “Without Love”, this safety at 2:00 – 3:00 consists of various key changes and lots of open space for the guitar.  My focus was on nailing the key changes, controlling my volume and waiting for each cue as the length of that part varied from night to night.

Schedule: The show ran a typical theater schedule: 8 shows per week – one day off (Sunday).  There was always a show at 8pm Monday – Saturday.  Depending on the week, there was a 4pm Saturday show and/ or 2pm show on either/ both Wednesday and Thursday.  After the 2pm Wednesday shows, the cast came out for a Q&A session with the audience.  I worked part-time through the show – I’d be out of the house at 7.15am and back after 12am.  I’d take an hour ride train into Boston and back for work, then drive 75 miles to Cape Cod and back.  I wasn’t immune to Cape traffic either which definitely resulted in some close calls.  Eating dinner in my car on the way wasn’t unusual and if I got there earlier enough, I was able to take a nap in my car.  Glamorous, huh?

Page Turns: This is a under-appreciated art form, in my opinion.  Page turns rarely happened at the bottom of each page.  More often than not, I’d turn the page before I needed to in order to not miss a beat (literally!).  I’d also write at the bottom of the page was happening next so I could play through a certain section, then turn the page where I’d see arrows pointing showing where I should be in the music.  Case and point: In 2:57 of “You Can’t Stop The Beat”, I had a page turn.  To get through, I actually wrote that part at the bottom of the page to get through it and then turned the page at 03:06 and play on through.

The Music: Honestly, I dug all the tunes.  Infectious grooves, interesting chord changes and lots of up-tempo numbers.  The opening number, “Good Morning Baltimore”, is a favorite.  Great song, great introduction to the musical.  Trying to solo like Chuck Berry in “The Nicest Kids In Town” was a blast.  “Welcome To The 60’s” is a great song.  “It Takes Two” was a blast.  “Without Love” and the jazz, swing songs were probably the hardest due to constant chord changes and trying to gel w/ the other instruments.

The Cast: Unfortunately, my interaction with the cast was minimal.  Aside from heading backstage to get water before/ during/ after the show, I kept mostly to myself.  It was an all-NYC cast and production which came from Broadway and several had starred in “Hairspray” before.  I did see a few of them in/ around the Playhouse but out of costume, I couldn’t place them and wouldn’t realize it until afterward.  Regardless, every night they earned their standing ovations.

The Venue: The Cape Playhouse is America’s oldest professional summer theater.  The NY Times billed it as the venue where Broadway goes for the summer.  It’s 84 years old and seats 600 people.  Because it’s an old, wooden theater, I needed to factor volume and reverb when setting up my sound.  It was the first time in theater’s history that a production ran for a 3rd week.

Miscellaneous: It wasn’t until the 2nd week that I realized the random light peltings I received on my back were hairpins from the wigs that actors were wearing…  Our dress code was all black…  A lot of people came back in week 3 to sit closer and view what happened in the pit (I heard a few “I’m here to help w/ the page turning” jokes)…  There were rumblings that the costumes stank and I’m told costume designers dip them in vodka to cure the odor…  It seemed the first ones out of the theater was the cast, then the audience, then the band…  Most cast and crew stayed in either a motel or in a rented house…  The actors’ microphones were found on their foreheads wired under their wigs.

Other HAIRSPRAY links: HAIRSPRAY Opens, HAIRSPRAY Rocks!, HAIRSPRAY Is Happening!, HAIRSPRAY Actor’s Ritual

———————————————————————————————————————-

Get In Touch

Please use this form for bookings, house concert availability, scheduling lessons and other requests.