Hello 2014

2013 has been a pretty exciting year for me.

Each day it seems my music is reaching more people…and they seem to like it too! The emails and comments I’ve gotten from all of you have been really humbling (and yes, a bit of an ego boost as well) and motivate me to keep doing what I’m doing.

So I’m really excited about what will happen in 2014. Releasing my new album was the perfect way to finish the year, because it helps me see the next one like the beginning of a whole new creative cycle.

I already have a lot planned, but basically I just want to keep making new music. I already have a few songs brewing and huge list of covers I’ve been wanting to do.

I’m moving away from Tool for now, but planning on doing some A Perfect Circle, Opeth and Karnivool, among others. There are also some TV and movie themes I’ve been toying with.

I’m also looking for ways to help my fellow guitarists out there in anyway I can. I’m not entirely sure how that will materialize… Video tutorials? Online course? E-book? All of the above? We’ll see, but I’ll definitely be asking for your feedback, so keep your eye out for that.

And finally, it seems that playing outside of Berlin is starting to become a possibility. Perhaps not right now, but soon. So if you’d like me to play where you live,  let me know!  The more people tell me, the better I know how probable it’ll be.

So thank you for this wonderful year, I’m really grateful for every comment, every email, every showing of support. It really makes a difference, I mean it.

Wish you guys all the best in 2014!


The Story Behind Worldbuilding

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I recently released my new album Worldbuilding to the world, and I thought I’d share the story behind it.

After I finished my previous album A Work in Progress, I had a bit of a revelation. It wasn’t a huge epiphany that hit me on the head or anything like that, more like small, enlightening steps that eventually came together.

The first thing that happened was that I started getting into fantasy and a lot of the imagery behind it. At first it was through comics. I was never a huge comics fan, but after buying my first cheap-o tablet it seemed like the perfect time to give them a try. I read things like Y:The Last ManPlanetary and Bone (one of my personal favorites). And then Game of Thrones happened. Saw the show, read all the books, and became a fan.

And all this stuff left an impression on me. When I was writing music, I’d imagine scenes from the stories, or was reminded of certain characters. Or when I was reading, I would be reminded of a song I was working on. I was in this sort-of creative feedback loop.

Along with all this, I also came to know myself better as a musician. I spent years learning about as much music as I could. I studied classical composition, jazz, African drumming, North Indian classical music… Anything that piqued my curiosity.

That’s all great, I mean it has definitely given me a set of tools to work with, and my music is all the better for it. But at the same time, I was starting to forget where I came from in the first place.

I grew up listening to metal and hard rock, and that shit stays with you.

I would’ve never thought in a million years that I’d bring my metal influences to the acoustic guitar, but that’s exactly what I ended up doing.

I still enjoy listening to different kinds of music, and I always try to learn new things. But I know enough now not to get sidetracked and try to be something I’m not.

The last thing that happened, and this is probably what brings it all together, is that I became a father. The moment my wife told me she was pregnant, my priorities shifted drastically. And when my son was born it really forced me to sit down and decide what was really important to me and trim away all the secondary stuff.

So I put all my side projects on hold and stopped playing for other people. I decided to focus my time on teaching and my solo guitar music.

The funny thing is, that way of thinking permeated into my music. I became way more selective of the music that I wrote. It wasn’t just about it being good or bad. It had to be me.

For the first time ever I felt like I had found my sound, and all the music that I wrote had to be a part of that.

This is where the concept of Worldbuilding comes in. Fantasy authors are well known for building whole worlds for their stories. I felt to a certain extent that that was what I was doing with my music. It’s not just about writing good songs, but also creating a world for the listener to immerse themselves in.

Hopefully I’ve managed that, though ultimately only the listener can decide. But I definitely feel like I’ve taken a big step in the right direction.


How to Compose (Or How I Happen To Go About It)

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I got a YouTube comment the other day asking for tips on composing. Unfortunately, YouTube’s wonderful new commenting system didn’t allow me to reply.

I was about to answer privately, but realized others might get something out it, so why not share it with everybody?

To paraphrase the commenter, he could already come up with ideas and riffs, but didn’t know how to take it further and actually write a song or a composition. He also wanted to know if he should learn theory.

I’ll start by saying that theory is not necessary for writing good music, though I most definitely recommend it. When it comes right down to it, composing is more about problem-solving than anything else, and all that theory does is give you a greater toolset to work with when you’re trying to solve a problem.

So how do I go about composing? This is the process I usually go through, though it can vary greatly from song to song. This isn’t some master plan I came up with to write music, it’s just how it’s always happened naturally.

First Step: Inspiration & Collection

This is the part most people can do with no problem. That cool riff you discover while practicing, that melody that pops in your head on your way to work. These are the seeds that you’ll use as a foundation.

I’ve always been pretty inconsistent about remembering ideas, but lately I’ve gotten into the habit of recording everything right away into Evernote. It has really helped me become a lot more productive with my music. In fact, most of the music on Worldbuilding started with an idea or riff in my “Song Ideas” Notebook.

Step 2: Research & Development

This is usually my favorite step, and also the part where knowing theory will help you the most. I just take an idea and try to develop it as far as i can. I’ll try it in different keys, change a few notes around, try to come up with a contrasting part…basically, I jam with it without worrying too much about the final result.

While I’m doing this, I’ll start getting an idea of where the composition is headed. Maybe the original idea sounds like a great intro, and this one variation could be the chorus, etc. I usually come up with the first half of the song fairly quickly. That’s where the hardest part comes in: where to go from there and how to end the song.

Step 3: Putting it All Together

I try to make every composition feel like a story, and every good story has a climax. My thinking process is something like this: “Ok, I have this really cool first half, now something even cooler has to happen, and then we finish.” That something cooler sometimes comes easily, sometimes not so much.

I can’t give any specific advice since it’s always different. Like I said, composing is problem-solving, and every song will have its own solution. It’s up to you to discover it. The important thing for me, is that I always want the music to go somewhere.

Step 4: The Final Details

Once the composition has a form and has all its parts, I focus on the small stuff. Maybe find a way to make the transitions between parts a bit smoother, or maybe that one part in the chorus isn’t sounding quite how I’d like it too. Sometimes this step can take the longest, it happened to me with “You Are My Natural Selection.” I could never get the heavy section in the middle to sound quite right, and the transition was also kind of clunky. It took me months of experimenting to finally get it right.

And that’s my approach more or less. Sometimes I go through this whole process, sometimes I skip a step or two. And sometimes the music just writes itself (but that’s very rare).

The important thing is to keep trying. Even if you feel that what you’re coming up with is no good, the more you compose, the better you’ll get at it. Everybody has to start somewhere.

Other than that, if you’re finding it difficult to write your own music, the best advice I can give is to just listen to a lot of music, but with composer ears. Pay attention to the form of the song, how it builds, where the climax is, how they transition to one part to the next…the more you listen, the more possibilities you’ll have.