Kevin Danny Carr – College Graduate

Written by guest blogger, Music Motive Director, Steve Hilstein

Writer’s Notes: Please indulge me. I normally don’t consider myself a writer, and this blog doesn’t really fit our regular criteria. But, since I’m the director of Music Motive, I suppose I can do what ever I want. So, there! It may be obvious by now, but I’m writing this without an editor or proof reader. YIKES!

This blog is about Kevin Carr. He worked at Music Motive as an intern for about a year and actually started this blog for us a couple years ago.. As well as being a writer, he’s also a musician/teacher (guitar/drums), listens to the radio a lot, and is a uniquely gifted writer. He’s also my nephew, but trust me, that’s not why I hired him.

Kevin Grad 2015As you can see, he is graduating this week with two degrees from the University of Rochester in New York. What makes him extraordinary, is how he persevered to make it happen.

Although Kevin may not fully realize it, his childhood was challenging. When he was very young, his family fell apart due to many struggles that he and his older brother and sister had no control of. He was ultimately raised by his loving Grandparents, Jerry & Connie, and supported by other family members. Kevin had every reason (or excuse) to fail in life, but it is his character and wit that has allowed him to succeed.


Kevin “Macho Man” Carr – 4 years old

Born and raised near Pismo Beach, California, his education process, included a diploma from Arroyo Grande High School. He also achieved a community college degree in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and has received numerous honors, achievement awards, and hard earned scholarships. All the while, he was a full time manager of a gas station, has worked in coffee shops, at grocery stores, as a music teacher, entrepreneurial assistant, inner city youth counselor, freelance writer, and one of his most challenging jobs, working for me as an intern at Music Motive. 🙂


Receiving “Outstanding Adult Student” award. April 2015


Just a bit chilly on February 15, 2015. High 1, Low -4


He may not have been able to achieve all of this without his faith in God, and the support he has received from his loving wife, Megan, who put her own career on hold to be at his side while living in an unfamiliar city for two years during the coldest winters on record in Rochester. Megan ROCKS!

The moral of this blog, is this: Whether you are a musician who is trying to achieve excellence, a student wanting to make it through school, or longing to have an exciting career to fulfill your passion and purpose (and EVERYBODY has a purpose), you CAN do it! How? Three ways. Never give up, never give up… NEVER GIVE UP!


Kevin and Megan celebrating success!


Kevin, “congratulations” really isn’t enough. You are brilliant, inspiring to me, and we are proud of you beyond words.

Now, SOAR!
Love, Uncle Steve

Stage Fright, Part 2: Tips

Written by: Lou Mars
Last week’s blog (read here) covered stage fright and my own personal experience with it. Here are some tips I have learned over time to aid a musician with stage fright –
1) Mind over matter: Program and convince your mind to realize that stage fright is not fear, but actually excitement to do what you do best in front of others! You are not scared, you’re highly anticipating your performance. Yes, you are excited! You are lucky to be where you are. Enjoy it.
2) Speed: Use caution to not jump out too fast on the opening song due to nerves. Sit back on the beat for the first three songs until you get your bearings locked in and are a bit more calmed down. Otherwise you can rush the set. Most musicians can calm down by the second or third song. It is especially important for a drummer to hold the beat as fellow musicians in your band may also be struggling by rushing the tempo.
3) Nervous Symptom Antidotes:
[Drummers] – If you suffer sweaty palms, use drum sticks that are “not” lacquered and instead have a dryer unfinished surface. Gloves will also do the trick, but cut off the fingertips to cool your fingers. If you toss or snap sticks, make sure to keep one handy and close by in an easy access holder for a quick grab. A drop is never as long as you think it is. Take your time, grab the stick and get back to the beat. It’s not how you miss, it’s how well you recover!
[Vocalist] – Water is key. Nerves will cause a dry mouth and make it difficult to speak. Keep your mouth and lips moist with water placed nearby for an easy quick grab. You can actually purchase cup holders for microphone stands that will provide this service. Breathing is also key to calm your diaphragm. Breath deep and exhale slowly.
[Strings] – Ensure the neck of your instrument is well oiled and clean. This will keep sweaty hands from leaving a residue on the strings and slowing your finger work. For guitarist, a pick holder installed onto the microphone stand to replace drop picks is key.
4) Paralyzation: Sometimes when playing in front of very large crowds I could feel myself tensing up to the point where my arms felt like they were not going to move. This type of paralyzation (deer in headlight) reaction is also common. If this occurs, clear your mind of thinking of the number of people watching you. Don’t look into the crowd at this point and instead take a deep breath, exhale slowly. Repeat. Think to yourself that it is no different then rehearsing at home. Once relaxed again, make sure to re-establish eye contact with the audience, smile and put on the performance you were meant to deliver. Once you get started this feeling will usually fade within 1 to three songs. Therefore, don’t stop. You are just minutes away from a great performance!
5) Anticipation: many of my fellow musicians (including myself) are more nervous “before” getting on stage, than actually during the performance itself. If this is the case, find a backroom to get yourself calm. Do not use alcohol or drugs to relax your body, as your adrenaline level will entice you to consume more quantity without a positive desired effect; such as actually calming your nerves. But such substance abuse will in fact affect your performance in a negative manner instead.
**Remember, you’re on stage because you worked hard and you deserve to be. The people watching are there because they want to enjoy your performance. Don’t forget to enjoy the experience as well, and as a result your positive energy on stage will be contagious not only to your fellow band members, but also to the audience.
Keep the music alive!

Stage Fright (Friend or Foe?)

 Written by: Lou Mars
Stage Fright

Stage Fright

Most musicians at one time or another have had to deal with stage fright. For those that don’t know what stage fright is, Wikipedia defines it as follows: Stage Fright – is the anxiety, fear, or persistent phobia which may be aroused in an individual by the requirement to perform in front of an audience.

Many don’t know this, but my sister is an excellent classical pianist. Most do not know this fact as she will only perform in private, she is absolutely terrified to perform on stage or in front of people in general. For those of you who do not perform on instruments and cannot understand this emotion, think of it like ‘public speaking’, listed second only to death in the all time phobia list.
Lou Mars Ogden Theater Denver Colorado

Lou Mars Ogden Theater Denver Colorado

I have personally struggled with stage fright for years. In my younger days my hands would get so wet from sweating (nerves) that I would find myself struggling to hang onto my drum sticks during a live performance. I would average one drum stick flying out of my hand ‘per show’ from age 10 thru 15, usually during a critical drum solo or fill. Later in my 20s I learned to hold onto the sticks, but I would snap sticks like toothpicks out of the gate with my amped up nerves. Next I graduated to struggling with tempo by coming out of the gate too fast at the start of a show due to hyped nerves. Today, I can’t wait to get on stage, keep a solid tempo, smile and put on a great show. I’m just thrilled to be here and that somebody wants to watch me perform.

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley

I found that in my case, my stage fright would never really go away, I would simply learn to harness the energy and channel it differently. I now use stage fright as a means to actually improve my live performance. For example, I once witnessed a drummer dropping a stick, pausing, then calmly picking up another and twirling it. He had turned the error into showmanship. You can do the same with nervous energy. I used to Marvel at great front men like Elvis Presley, that seem to be able to perform on large stages as if they were in their own living room. That is until I watched a documentary showing Elvis backstage trembling and sweating profusely in his seat prior to walking on stage. I then realized for the first time that being nervous was not limited to amateur or intermediate performers, but in fact “all” performers, no matter how polished, professional or great at their craft.

 Next week, I’ll offer some tips on working through stage fright. Stay tuned!

Essentials For a Home Recording Studio

Written by: Darren Johnson 

It has never been easier to create quality music; the modern musician has access to equipment that certainly would have generated jealousy and awe from artists of the past. With the advanced technology that’s available today, anybody with a passion for music can start building their own studio at home.


Something to keep in mind when starting a studio is that the scope of this topic is quite large. In order to avoid feeling overwhelmed, it’s best to begin with just the basics. Here, I’ve included five essential pieces of equipment for building your studio.

  1. Computer

Whether you go with PC or Mac depends on personal preference and which DAW you choose. However, considering how intensive the mixing process can get on your CPU, it would be a good idea to get some extra RAM.

  1. DAW

A look inside of ProTools

DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation. This software will be where all of your audio and MIDI messages are sent and edited. The industry standard is Avid’s Pro Tools, while some other powerful options are Apple’s Logic and Ableton Live. Looking for something on the cheaper side? Garageband and Audacity are both great!

  1. Audio Interface

An Audio Interface, put simply, is where your audio signal is sent before going in or out of your computer. The interface you choose will make a big difference in audio quality, but it is important to also choose one that matches the needs of your gear. Want to play acoustic guitar and lay down some vocal tracks? Something small would probably be best. Want to record some big band jazz songs? You’ll want something with a multitude of XLR microphone inputs.

  1. Studio Monitors

These speakers are what you will be listening to and mixing your songs with. Ideally, you want monitors with a flat frequency response so that your mixes sit evenly within the sound spectrum.

  1. Microphones

Blog2Ah, good ol’ microphones, every audiophiles favorite subject! The two most common types of microphones are Dynamic and Condenser. Although condenser microphones have a better frequency and transient response, and are ideal for recording, they are also more expensive and require an interface that can run 48v phantom power. For dynamic mics, a popular choice for recording vocals is the Shure SM58. It’ll be best to do some research in order to see which microphones are best for the needs of your recordings.

Preparation for a Collegiate Music Career

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich

Are you considering a university education in music? Studying music is an incredible experience, which has many psychological, social, and physical benefits!

What do music programs offer?: A collegiate music program can be an opportunity to develop a wide range of skills, to learn from professional musicians, and to collaborate with like-minded peers. Many universities offer concentrations or majors in particular subjects. Some examples are music theory, performance, composition, music education, and music therapy. Universities with music programs often have several options of ensembles to play in, and performance halls where you can showcase your progress.


The view from the stage of Cal Poly’s Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo

Is a career in music right for me?: To be a professional musician, you must be dedicated and passionate about your practice. Music programs require a lot of time and focus on a primary instrument, as well as confidence in your abilities and progress. If you love to play music, and you’re excited about learning and improving, then you may be ready to look into a collegiate music career!

auditions2What do I need to know?: Music programs require an audition that goes along with your application to the school. Most colleges look for a few main proficiencies, as well as the student’s potential. Generally, you will prepare 2 contrasting – meaning different in style, era, tempo, etc. – pieces of music on your primary instrument. These are usually played from memory. The audition will also include playing scales, sight-reading sheet music, and possibly demonstrating musicianship through ear training.

Music_Composition-600x401How do I get ready?: Preparing early can build confidence, open up possibilities, and enhance motivation. Discovering which area of music interests you the most, comes from exploring your strengths and your passions. A private instructor can help you experiment with these different aspects of music, in order to determine which is the best fit for you. Before you begin a college-level music program, it is important to develop a repertoire of songs and techniques. Proficiency and experience will allow you to have more choices of schools and programs, and will help you transition into being a college-level music student!

You can find a private lesson instructor at!

10 Great TED Talks on Music

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich

TEDTED talks have been a growing phenomenon in popular culture over the past few years. These talks are perfect for people who want to learn random information from the comfort of their own couch…instead of cleaning/working/practicing/doing anything they should be doing. At least it’s productive procrastination, right?

While TED was actually intended to represent “technology, entertainment, and design,” there are now talks about almost every topic. Started in 1984 as an annual conference in Monterey, CA, they are currently being held by people all over the world. Of these various topics, there are several on the subject of music. Here are a few TED talks on music that we thought you might enjoy!

Music as a Language: This talk is worth the 20 minutes, as bassist Victor Wooten discusses how to keep freedom in the music learning process. He also encourages musicians to learn from the music – especially how to “change your octave,” meaning how to change your perspective. Watch here.

How to Truly Listen: Evelyn Glennie is a percussionist from Scotland, and she is also deaf. She demonstrates how she learned to feel the vibrations of the music and really connect with the sound. She is an inspirational woman and is incredibly talented. Watch here.


Evelyn Glennie playing the marimba

To Hear This Music, You Have To Be There, Literally: Ryan Holladay gives an awesome talk about music that he composed for a landscape, which he then recorded onto an app. As a listener moves around, the music unfolds in certain ways depending on where they are. The existing music is written for places on the East coast, but they are currently working on music to accompany Highway 1! Watch here.

Building the Musical Muscle: Doctor and surgeon Charles Limb discusses how deaf cochlear implant users hear music. While the new implants are adaptive for basic function, they have a long way to go before they can accurately transmit the beauty of music. Watch here.

Trusting the Ensemble: Trust is an important part of any relationship, and musical relationships are no exception. Conductor Charles Hazlewood gives his perspective on the necessity of trust and respect in ensembles, especially between the leader and the rest of the group. Watch here.

Charles Hazlewood conducting

Charles Hazlewood conducting

Hidden Music Rituals Around the World: Vincent Moon tells of his journeys around the world, filming simple, real music videos for people he meets. He aims to capture the traditions in order to share diversity and history with future generations. He claims, “The way we show the world is gonna change the way we see this world.” The talk ends with an incredible performance by Nana Vasconcelos. Watch here.

Music is Medicine, Music is Sanity: Robert Gupta tells his story of meeting Nathaniel Ayers, a man who played upright bass at Juilliard until he developed schizophrenia and became homeless. Ayers was portrayed in the book and film, The Soloist, but Gupta gives a different perspective on their time spent playing together. He demonstrates the power of music to alleviate symptoms and transform through connection. Watch here.

The Polyphonic Me: Beardyman talks about all the different possibilities for the human voice and performs different techniques on a machine. He gives a performance on a machine that he built himself, which can loop, distort, and assign his voice to keyboards. Watch here.


A One Man Orchestra of the Imagination: Andrew Bird uses looping to truly be a one man band, demonstrating his instrumental and vocal talents. The flow of his insight and creativity is evidenced in his music, and it is a blessing to hear. Watch here.

The Beat of My Own Bucket Drum: Jared Crawford gives a drum performance on his two buckets, which may look familiar to those of you who are familiar with Music Motive. The real question is…was he ever a Bucket Buster? Watch here.


Jared Crawford, AKA “Choclattjared”

Happy procrastinating! To find out more about TED, check out their webpage.

Synesthesia and the Musical Experience

Written by: Darren Johnson

What does the number seven smell like? Can you taste purple? Despite what you might think, I’m not talking about the result of some out of class *cough* “research” that you may have done in college; I’m referring to a phenomenon known as synesthesia. This is a rare neurological condition in which a person experiences a cross-wiring of two or more senses during their daily lives. For example, the most common form is people associating numbers and months with colors. Is the number five red to you? Is August green? If so, you may experience synesthesia.

Image1Some defining characteristics of this condition are that your crossings are consistent, and they can’t be turned off. If you see August as green, it’s always green and trying to imagine it as yellow feels terribly wrong. Unlike people without synesthesia who may be able to imagine August as green, people with this condition automatically see August as green; to them the two are intrinsically linked. People with synesthesia (called synesthetes) might have different experiences among one another. A synesthete who sees a green August could get in a heated debate with somebody who sees a yellow one. The people reported to have synesthesia are few (around 1 in 10,000) and if you have one form of it, you’re likely to have others as well.

I first learned about synesthesia around a month ago, when I was talking to a friend of mine about how a 6/8 time signature has a different “shape” than a 4/4 time signature. His response was along the lines of: “Dude, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” After a while of asking questions and tapping out beats on a table (boom boom tap, ba doom ba doom tap… “You don’t see that?”) I realized that I was identifying with sounds differently. I did a quick Google search of “Sounds have shapes,” and boom… the vast and interesting topic of synesthesia came to my attention. After 21 years of being alive, I discovered that it’s not ordinary to see shapes when you hear music.

Pharrell is musician with color-sound synesthesia.

Pharrell is musician with color-sound synesthesia.

How does this connect to musicians? Well, synesthetes are known to make metaphorical connections to abstractions, the basis for creativity. In fact, synesthesia is expected to be eight times more common in the artist population. An example of a musician who had synesthesia is Jimi Hendrix, who related harmonies and melodies to colors. He would refer to his classic E7#9 chord as “the purple chord.” Another is Pharrell Williams, who sees music as a moving set of various colors. He describes his hit song “Happy” as “Yellow, red, a little pink, a little rainbowy…”

Something I’ve learned from this topic is that we all have very different perceptions of reality. A song that I love may be a song that you hate and vice versa, and that’s because two people can experience the same piece of art in completely different ways. What’s wonderful about this is that it shows us how every artist has a big contribution to make. No matter what you create, there is somebody out there who will love it and feel that it relates to them in a strong way. So have fun, keep creating and playing!

If you think you may be a synesthete, you can do an initial test at this site:

Fundamentals of a Fulfilling Practice Time

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich

When you’re aware of how your mind works, you can use this knowledge to your advantage. There are four fundamental aspects of practicing a musical instrument. Understanding these basics will allow any musician to have more fulfilling and efficient practice time.


The first is that the practice environment is extremely important in facilitating strong learning habits. A good environment will inspire a musician to want to play. What makes a good practice environment? It’s completely dependent on the individual, but there are some common ideas that can be integrated into any space. Inspiration often comes when there is minimal stress, so the space should be free of things like clutter, to-do-lists, or calendars. Having various practice spots can be helpful as well, because studies show that in order to recall information in multiple environments, the learner should also recite or practice that information in multiple environments. Availability is important as well – simply having your instrument in a visible place that makes it easy to access. The first step is usually the hardest when starting anything, so making the initiation easier will help you begin that process.

Another fundamental aspect of practicing is motivation. There are two basic kinds of motivation – internal and external. Internal motivation comes from an intrinsic drive to learn and improve, simply because the satisfaction of accomplishing something feels good. External motivation comes from some source outside of the self, whether that is a teacher, parent, bandmate, class, or competition. These are motivating factors because they promote accountability and following through. Goals can be used for both internal and external motivation, but either way, the goal must be realistic. Large goals should be broken up into smaller goals, which will provide incentives and positive feedback along the way. For instance, if you want to become proficient in a certain style, it’s helpful to first set the goal of mastering one particular song or technique associated with that style.


Third, consciousness is an essential part of every practice routine. Staying present and being aware of every move will always lead to better learning. Going through the motions may slowly imprint the music into muscle memory, but to truly know the music, it’s crucial to consciously think of what those muscles are doing. It’s easy to get distracted by all of the other things going on in life, but in order to stay present, you must focus on what’s right in front of yourself. This means tuning out all of the alternative options – all those other possibilities of what you could be doing instead. You’ve made the choice to pick up that instrument, so make peace with that decision and be there mentally, as well as physically.


Music Motive student and Bucket Buster: Steven Saavedra.

Finally, enjoyment is fundamental to practicing any musical instrument. The best way to ensure this is to create a positive framework for approaching practice time. This means going into the practice session with a good attitude, excited about the learning process. Rather than seeing it as a “problem” to deal with, it’s helpful to instead see it as a challenge that will lead to improvement. Quiet thoughts of defeat and “it’s too hard” because the practicing is what will make it possible. Have fun with the process, and when it starts to seem like work, remember to smile. After all, you’re playing music.


Music Knowledge is Power or (Why isn’t anybody listening to your music?)

bo-diddleyI recall an old interview with Bo Diddley that I witnessed. Bo was famous for playing his home made box shaped guitar. He was asked, “Who are your influences?” By which he sniped back in Bo Diddley fashion, something like: ”Nobody, I don’t listen to nobody else so I don’t sound like nobody else.” At the time I thought that was one of the coolest responses I had ever heard. I found myself imitating Bo Diddley when asked the same question through the years. But the reality is that it may have worked for Bo Diddley, but my wiser self has found that the statement in my opinion is simply untrue. As an artist, we all have influences whether it be musical or simply our environment that inspires or colors our world. This mixture or concoction of life is what creates our output. The bigger issue is that for many artists, the input stops at early stages of life. Like the last high school haircut style you donned years ago, that to this day still never gets modified. Our music production gets stale in the same manner.

Is anybody buying your music? Only a few friends or family members downloading your MP3s? Does your music you are creating sound dated? These can be signs of a lack of growth. And please, don’t use the Bo Diddley line here, or the over-stated: there just aren’t any good bands to listen to since _ _ _ _ (enter year here). That’s simply not true. Every decade including the current has incredible, very talented performers/artists on the charts, under the charts, unsigned and signed now more than ever.

billboardSo if I asked you: “Who’s in the top ten on billboard right now?” Could you answer the question? How about, “What genre is dominating the top 100? How many units did the artist sell to appear on the charts? Are they signed or unsigned?” I can hear you muttering under your breath in disgust, “I’m an artist not a statistician, that’s simply not important to me, my purpose is to create music not follow others on charts.”

Wrong answer.

musictrendsYour purpose is to be a professional musician. The only way to truly accomplish this goal is to know your environment. To know your profession. To be aware of what is going on around you and with your fellow artists. There are daily equipment/gear improvements, trends, and break-out artists that you should be aware of and inspired by.

My tips for keeping in tune with the constantly changing direction of all music genres:

1) Check billboard charts Top 100 and the Genre you are categorized under (Indie, Country, Rock etc) weekly. Note the artists on the move, and how many unit sales it took to get them there.

2) Access an online radio streaming resource where new music is intermingled with current or classic music like: Spotify, Itunes, Pandora and Jango. This way your exposed to new music within your genre, i.e. I personally listen to the Indie Top 100 daily.

3) Note the recording and production approach of the new music. What instrumentation is being favored? What style is the tone? What instruments are in the front of the mix or missing all together? How is the vocal phrasing being delivered?

4) Ask yourself, “If my song was playing within this list, would it fit, or stick out in an awkward fashion?” Sticking out doesn’t always mean you are original, it could simply equate to being out of touch. You need to write ‘some’ main-stream music within your genre that will attract listeners to discover your more abstract material. Many times an artist’s most popular song or best seller is not actually their best work. But it’s how the listeners will find them.

5) Watch for and observe new Music Video releases on VEVO and YouTube. What is the style of the music and video?

6) When applying for song contests, soundtracks or live show performance positions; note who is being selected over/instead of you. Visit their website, Sonic or ReverbNation page and listen to their music. Ask yourself, “Why did this band get selected instead of me?” Switch sides and act as the promoter and analyze why you would have selected that song or band as the winner. Was it the venue location? The genre of music? The expected type of audience? Or, perhaps your song just sucks? Being honest with yourself is the first step to improving your craft.

In summary: No, I’m not asking you to “sell-out.” I am not asking you to plagiarize someone else’s sound. I am advising you to be aware. Ignoring current trends, equipment improvements, and new music styles that listeners are buying; is like being a dentist and ignoring the invention of Novocain for your patients.

Be smart, be aware, be a pro.

Auditioning for a Band

Steve Ambarian last year with "Stereo Steve".

Steve Ambarian with Stereo Steve

I’ll never forget a comment made by a fellow drummer friend. Shortly after he had auditioned for a local band in Northern California he said, “That didn’t go well. I just didn’t play well.” I am quite familiar with my friend’s playing capability, and know for a fact that he is a top-notch musician. This knowledge generated my response, “There is no such thing as a bad audition, there are only bad matches.” Sure, I have had my share of performance slumps, and errors during auditions. However, most professionals can tell if you have what it takes within seconds, even if you botch a performance. With today’s online technology your style and versatility can be reviewed in detail before you even show up.

I have found that the culprit to a poor audition result, is more-than-likely a lack of chemistry or a poor match-up with the type of music or musicians involved vs. the playing style of the musician. Case in point, I have experienced many singer songwriter type bands that will jump at offering me an audition after viewing my website videos. It should be noted that most of my videos show me pounding on the drum kit and being compared to the likes of Keith Moon and Gene Krupa. Next, I will show-up at the audition, and the leader of the band will ask me to play with brushes throughout the set. I think to myself; that is like asking Keith Moon to come over and play tambourine all night. What a waste. Again poor playing, or poor match?

426419_151986161635211_1409967550_nIf you’re a guitarist and you’re being told you are too loud, find a loud band. A vocalist that is singing too low, find an Indie band. A keyboardist that wants to perform originals, locate an original band! It’s that easy. Your other option is to adjust your performance style to match the act, also known as the hired gun approach. I can personally vouch that adjusting your approach to fit another’s can work well over the short term. However, your personal inner artistic ways will more-than-likely resurface again overtime; and possibly cause remorse or frustration.

To sum it up, if your audition didn’t go well, don’t be blue. Auditions are also for fact-finding on your end, you are also auditioning the prospective band. If it didn’t work out, then you are that much closer to finding the right band for you.

Good luck and good auditioning!