Archive for ‘Experience’

July 25, 2015

PLAYING THE COLLEGE CIRCUIT: TALES FROM THE RUSTY VAN

In the early 1980s, before I worked as a product specialist for synthesizer companies, I did a high-tech solo act that performed at night clubs and college campuses around Chicago and the Midwestern U.S.

The college circuit was actually pretty lucrative and it was a good way to get exposure for my original music around the time that I released a 4-song EP called “Hard Disk Drive.” But I certainly have some hilarious memories from that time in my career.

There was a rusty van that I used to haul equipment to the gigs in those days. It had no passenger seat, so I put an old armchair inside for the front seat passenger (my wife). The “roadies,” usually some friends or my wife’s cousins, would sit in the back, avoiding a hole in the floor. I don’t think that vehicle was officially considered road-worthy.

For the piece de resistance, the decrepit van frequently had engine trouble. If the engine was hard to start, I learned that sticking a broom handle into the carburetor would do the trick. But imagine my embarrassment when the van was parked in front of the administration building at some college in downstate Illinois and I had to open the hood of the van and stick the broom handle into the carburetor while the president of the college was standing there, gaping in disbelief. I’m sure that made quite an impression on him. The wrong impression!

Seriously, though, there were (and probably still are) some real advantages to performing on college campuses.

As I told a writer named Joe Ziemba, in a 1984 story in Chicago Soundz magazine, “The college circuit is a step in the right direction …because you get an immediate response, whether it be positive or negative. In a club, the response might not always be there and you don’t know if it’s you, the club or the indifference of the audience, which may just be there to get drunk or pick up somebody.”

Other good points of playing at colleges included the fact that many of the shows were scheduled during lunch hours or in the early evening. It was nice to finish a show, pack up and be on my way by 10 or 11 p.m. instead of going onstage at midnight. The college venues were usually cleaner and more luxurious than most night clubs, too.

In some of the smaller college towns, the students were appreciative to have some “big city” talent coming their way. In addition, many students welcomed the chance to help with unloading and loading equipment, to learn more about the music business.

Of course, professional conduct was expected when performing on college campuses. That meant showing up on time, dressing neatly, not using profanity or drinking alcohol in front of the audience. I worked with several booking agencies which were members of the National Association for Campus Activities and they wouldn’t tolerate “bad musician behavior” that would reflect poorly upon them.

While it’s been many years since I traveled the college circuit, I still remember the good, bad and just plain ridiculous moments. My high-tech solo act and the shows that I played during that timeframe were an important part of my journey to doing what I now love doing: working as a full-time composer.

Chicago Soundz Magazine

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May 17, 2014

EVERY T-SHIRT TELLS A STORY

It’s said that every picture tells a story.  Every t-shirt can tell a story, too, if you’re talking about my collection of souvenir shirts from my music career.

In a burst of spring cleaning last weekend, I found and opened a box that apparently had been sealed since my move from Chicago to Seattle more than 15 years ago.  Inside the box was an assortment of t-shirts from my stints with various rock bands and jobs as a music product specialist/clinician, as well as composer/sound designer jobs.

I’ve held onto these shirts, for several decades, not because I plan to wear them anymore but because they bring back great memories.  There are so many stories associated with these old shirts that I’ve decided to launch a weekly Facebook post called “Swag Sunday.”

You’ve probably heard of Throwback Thursday.  Swag Sunday is my take on that trend, using photos of  “swag” I’ve collected to share tales about the educational or sometimes outrageous experiences I’ve had in my musical journey.

To begin this series, here’s the lowdown on this very small mesh shirt that was presented to me by a fan at a nightclub called Mr. B’s in the college town of Ames, Iowa (USA).

IPWMOrgan

This fan found out it was my birthday and gave me this shirt, with the words I PLAY WITH MY ORGAN, spelled out in red felt, as some sort of joke about the Hammond C3 organ that was part of my gear when I was in the band Lois Lane.

What can you say or do when someone you don’t even know hands you such a gift?  The only polite response was to accept it and say, “Hey, thanks!” That is what I did, even though I would never actually wear this shirt.

The same fan baked this birthday cake for me, in the shape of a keyboard stack, with plastic figures of The Beatles on top.  Needless to say, this was a very unexpected and slightly odd gesture.  But I was touched that someone (especially someone I didn’t personally know) would go to the effort to do this.

KeyboardCake

As you can see from this photo of the Lincoln Lodge, the motel where Lois Lane stayed when we performed in Ames, Iowa, it was not a glamorous gig.

LincolnLodgeMotel

Yet after finding this long-lost, crazy shirt, I can smile at the memory of that night.  And I’m grateful that I’ve had opportunities to travel to so many places, meet so many people and entertain them with my music.

MrBsNapkin

Also, reflecting on that particular gig at Mr. B’s, here’s a photo showing the actual shirt that I wore onstage that night.  In retrospect, it looked like a costume from “Star Trek!”

StarTrekShirt

Check out my Facebook page on Sundays for more great swag and the stories behind them!  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Duane-Decker-Music/111562938973298

 

January 4, 2014

THE VALUE OF EXPERIENCE

It’s often hidden and not talked about. It’s sometimes valued, sometimes just considered old. But when experience is combined with passion, commitment, determination, drive and creativity, it’s a fuel that ignites in a major way.

Smart companies will look to hire employees or vendors that have a broad base of experience because they know it will benefit them in a variety of ways.

Your work is done at a high quality bar, which makes their products stand out from the rest. This results in a higher return on investment.

You know more about what works. You avoid costly mistakes because you know what doesn’t work and you are able to explain why.

While an experienced worker is more costly to hire, turnaround time is a lot quicker. You know the tools and are able to produce without burning a lot of time learning the process along every step of the way.

Experience also means that you have seen many trends and styles come and go. You know what worked 20 years ago and you know why it may or may not work again today.

Even when faced with something totally new, you know the overall process to obtain the end result and are able to adapt to, or create, a new way of doing things quickly.

Because you have a broad knowledge of your craft, you are more likely to come up with a successful creative idea. You know how to balance introducing something new, without totally eliminating what was good and working before your new idea.

All of these points add up to a value-added relationship that is a winning scenario for everyone.