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Separate Spaces vs Grandmaster.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about focus. I realized it’s something that I always heard people telling me to do, but not something I ever took time aside (in school or in life) to really learn how to do. In fact, for some time I even shunned the idea. I purposely joined as many clubs, bands, projects, etc. because I was interested in so many things. I equated busyness with success. I was skipping the “being effective” part. So I’ve been trying some things.

I quickly realized that one culprit of why I was having difficulty focusing was likely space. I’ve pretty much always had three lanes moving in my life. 1)Music, 2)Work, 3)Personal Life. When I was in school, work was replaced with school (barely). The second half of 2012 I was able for the first time to create a life/art/work balance as it relates to space that I hadn’t had up until that point. The company I started got its first NY office, I started renting a studio to go to when working on music, and suddenly my apartment became…just home. In cycling between the three locations, I built up a response where I would arrive to the studio, and feel, “Now I just work on music”. I’d get to the office and think, “I’m going to knock out my DecisionDesk work”. And when I arrive home I actually immediately relax a lot more than I used to. Home used to be where I would shuffle between chilling out with my girlfriend, work on that new song, and send a thousand emails. The separate spaces concept was really helping my focus on each track of my life.

The other side of the coin though is that there is a part of me that firmly believes that you can accomplish what you need to accomplish pretty much anywhere if you know how to focus. If you have the tools you need (for me, a laptop, some headphones, and ideally some sort of instrument to write on) it literally didn’t matter. I even got deeper into this headspace after reading a book by Josh Waitzkin (the Searching for Bobby Fischer kid), a chess Grandmaster where he talked about having trouble focusing on chess when playing in Washington Square Park in NYC. He would hear a song and be distracted, someone would be talking over him, etc. So he trained himself to be able to focus (and win) in practically any environment. He would purposely play with loud music on, have his little sister screaming behind him, etc. Eventually, it didn’t matter where he was, his focus was unwavering and you wouldn’t beat him even if you were jackhammering in his ear.

A goal of 2013 for me is to be able to operate well in both the “Separate Spaces” arrangement, as well as the “Grandmaster” arrangement. I could see wanting to continue with separate spaces as a trigger to know what I should be focusing on in each space, however I’d like to be able to be thrown for a loop, “today you have to finish your work with tons of people around you talking about different things” and still retain focus. Right now I do not have the Grandmaster method down. One way I think I can try to build that muscle is by roughly maintaining my daily habit (it’s 2pm, you should be focusing on X) even when my schedule has changed my normal location (a meeting took me to the other side of town, or I’m in a different city visiting friends).

Preview of my debut album " Seahorses "

On Where Pianos Roam

I wanted to give a little preview of the album and talk about one of the songs in particular. 

Early on in this process, I spent a great deal of time figuring out which songs would appear on this album.  There was one song specifically that I knew belonged on "Seahorses".  It's exactly one of the songs that exemplified all of the ideas and themes behind this album.  Foolishly, I decided to leave it out.  I did this because I could not figure out the best way to present this song.  Of all my songs in my repertoire, this one demands a certain degree of reverence.  It did not feel right to go for something fully produced with a complete band of instruments behind it, and I felt that it would cheapen its intention and its meaning by making it available on a commercial album. 

Well, as it turned out, I changed my mind, and of course, I did it at the worst possible time.  The deal-breaker was that, as the recording sessions were coming to a close, I felt more and more that excluding it would be a mistake, and I would physically beat myself up for this many years down the road.  Furthermore, this actually is not a commercial album.  I would certainly love to sell many copies of it, but if only one was sold to someone who really connected with it, then I would be very happy.  It is, more than anything, a work of art--my art, that is.  It is a series of thoughts, stories, musical compositions, and feelings that I am compelled to share.

On the final night of recording, when the main vocal parts for several of the songs were done, I said, "To hell with it!!  Let's do it!!".  Given our constraints in time (studio time is so not cheap), this last minute inclusion required a certain degree of determination.  I decided to just record it live.  By this, I mean that I was going to just sit at the piano and play while singing into a mike.  This meant that there would be no full band or rhythm section behind it, and unlike all of the other songs, the vocals would not be recorded separately from the music.  So, even though I knew my voice had reached it's limit after already singing so much, I performed it anyway.    Ben, my producer, just hit the "record" button, and I just played. 

It was about 2:00 am (very late!) by the time we did this.  We recorded the song all the way through twice over, and by the time I  heard the second recording, Ben and I knew that I got it right on the first try. In fact, I honestly believe it is one of the best versions of the song I've ever performed.  Perhaps it helped that my voice was tired and that it was so late at night, but the finished recording delivered everything that this song needed to give---every intonation, every lilting cadence being so honest, with every word and every note nestled upon the crest of a tidal wave of emotion.   

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