Rock Lab Report: San Luis Obispo

Written by Lauren Vukicevich and Noah Robertson

DSC00555 Music Motive recently started a new program called Rock Lab, where students come together every weekend and practice as a band. Drum teacher Noah Robertson facilitates the group, giving them an opportunity to discuss ideas, plans, and musical choices. Noah updated the Music Motive staff on the happenings of the most recent Rock Lab at the San Luis Obispo studio:

“Last week we had a band meeting and decided we were going to get serious about getting ‘show ready’. I gave the group some advice on some things we could do to improve the band and start REALLY preparing for an upcoming performance. They are really motivated! These changes have been well received and we are slowly executing our decided goals, and the progress is showing!

DSC00566For instance, last week I gave the singer an objective… her job was to come back this week and be able to sing an entire song with NO LYRICS OR MUSIC STAND. She came back this week and nailed it! She was able to perform Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day, in its entirety, without using a lyric sheets or a music stand. Now we can begin focusing on things like stage presence and start to move away from ‘hiding’ behind the mic stand. She was proud to come back and show us she could do it. Good stuff! We got our guitar player standing up and switching channels now. Our drummer is no longer tapping the drums and cymbals, she is really PLAYING!

I noticed the band was playing primarily Pop and Country tunes before. Which is great! But I wanted to give them a challenge… I added ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana to our set list last week. My reasoning was that we really needed a rockin’ tune to contrast with the rest of the songs we are working on… I explained that it would be good to have a high energy song to open and/or close the show with, something to really WOW the audience, which really peaked their interest. This is ROCK LAB after all! None of them were really too familiar with Nirvana, and at first they seemed somewhat skeptical of the tune. Especially our singer… not a huge fan of rock, she says. That was exactly my plan though. Once I explained the method to my madness, they were more than willing to give it a try.

DSC00592I used myself as an example: I primarily play Hard Rock and Heavy Metal – however, playing Jazz, Funk, and other styles – it has allowed me to take bits from other genres and apply it to what I know best. I talked about broadening your musical horizons and how it can help you grow as a musician. Now I had their interest. I also talked about what it takes to be in a band with other people and how it often takes compromise. A lot of bands are made up of members who have vastly different tastes in music, etc.

Today, was our first time rehearsing our new song, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.
It couldn’t have gone better! We managed to get through about 75 percent of the tune today! And it sounded GOOD! They were having a blast with the song and are totally into it now. BIG morale boost! They said it was the fastest they have ever learned a song… Awesome!”


Music Motive presents: Catch Phrase LIVE at SLO Donut Company (793 Foothill Blvd) on Feb. 28th, 2016 at 6PM!

The Music Motive SLO Rock Lab Program is taking a huge leap forward with our first live performance EVER! The show will feature Music Motive students: Olivia Fernflores on drums, John Fairweather on guitar, and Athena Wilson will be singing.

The group has been hard at work preparing for their first live performance as a band, and they are finally ready to show “the fans” what they have been working on! Catch Phrase will be playing an amazing set of Rock and Pop songs from the past to the present.

For more information, or to sign up for Rock Lab, check out our website here.

Music Motive Locations

Written by: Darren Johnson

As an instructor at Music Motive, I frequently get asked about our studios and their locations. For anyone who has been wanting more information on this topic, look no further! This article will serve as your all-inclusive guide.


Music Motive has studios in four locations; San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Templeton/Paso, and Nipomo.

SLO.5San Luis Obispo: This is the heart of the Music Motive studios, located at 3440 S. Higuera Street #130. Not only are there a multitude of studio rooms for private lessons here, but it’s a store with music accessories too! As if that didn’t make it cool enough already, the showroom there is the placeholder of many Music Motive events, such as the Band Jam, Student Spotlight, and the studio where the Bucket Busters rehearse.

unnamed (2)Arroyo Grande: The newest location of the Music Motive studios can be found on 1115 E. Grand Ave (next to Donna’s Interiors). It’s been converted from an old house into a private lesson studio with three studio rooms. The whole place has a really nice feel. It also has a sweet avocado tree in the back yard! What more could you ask for?

PASO.2Templeton/Paso: This studio is located at 130 Easy Street #5. This studio has a huge main room, big enough that you could do cartwheels all over the place (I won’t judge). There are also two studio rooms for private lessons; I particularly like the sound of the drum kits at this studio.

Nipomo: The quaint Nipomo studio is at 338A W. Tefft Street. This is the smallest of the four studios and has nice vibes. It has two studio rooms for private lessons. I’ve also recently heard from our director Steve Hilstein that Nipomo has the most consistent weather in the United States. Go Nipomo!

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So there you have it, all of the key information needed to know which studio caters to your specific where-a-bouts. Feel free to sign up for lessons at any location on our website, call us at 805-543-0377, or drop by our San Luis Obispo studio to register, pick up a set of strings, or play with our puppy!



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.

Resolution of Music and Fitness

Lou Mars Working Out

Is Drumming Considered A Fitness Workout? Lou Mars, photo by Brian Peterson Photography

Here we are again, at the end of another year; pondering our goals for the New Year. One of those goals always involves getting healthier and more fit, i.e. exercising. Yet, professional health & fitness organizations report that the average new fitness club member will only last up to three months before they resign and return to their unhealthier ways.

This time around, consider trying something that might last by utilizing a more creative approach.

Many of us do not like to work out.

But, we all love the benefits.

Working Out On The Drum Kit

Working Out On The Drum Kit Photo by Stefanie Hilstein

With that said, most of us love to listen to, and if capable of; perform music. Imagine if you will combining the two? Did you know that Scientists and Doctors have recently conducted tests on drummers, and found that their levels of performance match professional athletes? It’s true. One of the first reports came out of the BBC, and many have followed since, documenting

Photo Courtesy of BBC News

Blondie Drummer Clem Burke Photo Courtesy of BBC News

drummers using high-tech diagnostic measurement equipment for the human body, and attached to a drummer while they performed. The findings were conclusive that the calories burned, dexterity increased, muscles developed and the brain areas activated were all at high performance levels while playing the drums. There really isn’t much more of a main-stream physically taxing instrument out there today, than a drum set.

How much more interesting is it to not only become fit, but to perform and learn music at the same time!?! Talk about exercising both sides of your brain as well! Brain implementation, along with the physical effort necessary to perform the drums make this instrument one of the best for those seeking a combination of fitness, music and mental exercising combined. This combination also leads to less boredom during the process, equating to not quitting in three months. If you are having fun getting fit, while learning a musical instrument at the same time, you will stick with it.

Worst case scenario is you’ll learn how to play the drums.

Best case is you’ll Love it.

I call that a win-win.

May your new year be the best one ever.
Be safe and keep the music alive.

Written by Music Motivator Lou Mars

How To Gift A Musician

Musicians can be both the easiest and most difficult individuals to gift during the holidays. However, what seems like a sure thing at first, can quickly become complex if you don’t know what you are doing. Sure, the easy way out is a gift card, but where’s the sentimental value in that? Whether it be a guitarist, drummer, brass player, keyboardist, vocalist etc., that you are shopping for; one thing is usually fairly safe: accessories!

gear-page-drumsEach instrument has an item associated with it, that is constantly in a state of replacement. For drummers it is sticks and drum heads, guitarist: pics and strings, brass: reeds and mouth pieces.

Wait, not so fast. Each artist will have a brand preference, therefore, buying just any product type will not suffice. Like knowing someones shoe size, take a moment to find out the brand and type that your favorite musician is using ‘before’ you buy. To you it’s another name, but to many brand-loyal artists, it can be part of their signature sound and style.

Other popular accessories that are always in need can be: music stands, blank sheet music, mic stands, headsets, etc.


Still confused as to what and how to buy?

Did you search online only to be met with a larger array of product options?

IMG_7291Stop in or call the Music Motive’s San Luis Obispo location. First, it’s fully equipped with your musicians’ favorite gear and accessories. Second, there will be a knowledgeable representative at the front desk to answer your questions. Third: The building is fully stocked with professional musicians, of all types. Any and all of which welcome such questions and can provide valuable tips plus advice that you just cannot find elsewhere.

Happy Holidays and See You Soon at Music Motive!

Written by Motivator Lou Mars

What is the Best Age to Learn an Instrument?

It’s a question instructors at Music Motive receive all of the time. When should I start? !cid_20EF3C1B-2EAA-41A0-9703-B937751D3796Is he or she too young? Am I too old? Is there a magic age to learn an instrument or artistic talent? First the easy answer, “The best time to start is now.” With that said, please allow me to present some variables to complicate matters a bit further.

Some instruments appear easier for the younger set to pick-up at earlier ages than others. Case in point: the drums. Drumming is a great starter for children, perhaps as young as 4 years of age. A good second choice would be another instrument from the percussion family, the piano. *Where-as guitar and/or other like stringed instruments can be a bit more challenging; due to very small hands and awkward fingering positions necessary to present a plausible note.

!cid_7DB363F5-3291-4310-BEED-3D330ED5AF3AWhat about the other side of the spectrum such as mature adults in their golden years? Is it too late? No, it’s never too late. And, it is in my opinion (supported with much observation); that more mature students take their lesson plans much more seriously. Yes, it may be more difficult, and test your patience to learning something new during your later years of life, but isn’t that what life is all about? If we stop learning what are we? How exciting it is to learn something new, and to release the beautiful sounds trapped for so long inside our minds, body and spirit!

*Prodigies: A prodigy as defined by, is a person, especially a young one, endowed with exceptional qualities or abilities. However, in my experience prodigies come in all ages, shapes and sizes. I have witnessed a blind youth walking up to a piano without any prior documented experience and suddenly playing a song. I also watched a 3 year old walk up to a snare drum, and perform a proper star tuning pattern on the head’s lug nuts. I asked the father, “Are you a drummer,” he replied, “No.” I continued, ”Then how does he know how to tune a drum? He’s implementing the proper pattern, as if he has a tuning key in his hand.” “It’s the first time he’s ever seen a drum,” the father replied.

Some things we simply can’t explain. If at age 50, you find yourself sitting down behind a guitar for the first time, and a song just comes out. That’s called heart. The more of it you have, the more you will enjoy your time at Music Motive.

Perhaps today is the day to start.

Written by Music Motivator Lou Mars

As Told By Steve Hilstein

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich 

After writing for Music Motive for over a year, it was about time that I interviewed the man behind it all: Steve Hilstein. I have learned so much from him, not only about the importance of music education, but also about serving a community. Through knowing Steve, I have seen the kind of passion that drives a vision, but I have also seen a genuine, patient, and fun-loving guy. I am constantly inspired by his service and dedication to music education all over the county, and I think you will be too!


Jamin’ with Chris Marshall – the Oasis Band.

Did you decide to teach music?

I started playing drums when I was ten years old, taking lessons, but it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties, when a friend suggested that I try teaching. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I  got my first drum student, and realized how much I enjoyed it. That seems like it was a long time ago. Ha!

What made you want to go into business?

After a few years of teaching and educating myself even further, I began building my drum teaching business. I had quite a few students and I wanted to start carrying drum books to make it convenient for them, so I got my resell license and started supplying things like sticks and drum heads. Before I knew it I was ordering drum sets for them, and I thought maybe it was time to open a drum shop. So, I did and called it “The Drum Circuit”. I had that business for twenty years, but I realized that the retail part of it didn’t allow me the time to fulfill my passion for music education. So, I kept the drum school, but I sold the retail part of it, and branched out to teach other instruments such as guitar, piano, violin, and other instruments. That’s when we eventually transitioned what is now Music Motive!


Grand Opening of Music Motive in SLO – September 2011

Why do you believe that music education is so important?

I believe that music education is vitally important. I believe it’s the fabric of our lives. Music is all around us and touches us at a very deep level. It’s been my passion, not only to perform, but also to empower other musicians to teach and pass that on.

How did you come to start the Music Enrichment classes in SLO County elementary schools?


The Bucket Busters performing at Farmer’s Market

It all really started with the Bucket Busters – people would come out to watch us perform and they would ask how their kids could get involved, without realizing that the kids in Bucket Busters are accomplished drummers. So I thought, why not start a drumming class and do it on buckets? We came up with the name Bucketeers, and we were soon invited to teach at schools. We started a program that is capable of bringing about 90 – 8 week classes a year to about 30 elementary schools in San Luis Obispo County. After we initiated the Bucketeers program, we also added Guitar, Sing, Piano, and new this year, Drama/Musical Theater classes as after school programs.

How did the scholarship program begin?

Many years ago a young man came in with his mom to ask how much music lessons were, and I could tell by the look on their faces that they couldn’t afford it. And it broke my heart and I just thought, I want to do something so that every kid who wants to study music, in private lessons, or in the classes in schools, has opportunity. We started comping kids some of the lessons, then we began a scholarship program, which people would fund. Then, the Bucket Busters came along, and all the money that is donated to the Bucket Busters at our performances and through the sell of their CD, “Trash Talk”, goes into the scholarship program. 100% of these donations go toward private lessons for kids, as well as the music enrichment classes in elementary schools. That is huge to me, because now we have money for anyone who qualifies, any family that can’t afford lessons for their child. We can make that happen.

Guitar! – Music Enrichment Program in schools.

How has your vision of Music Motive changed since you first opened?

I believe we’re on track. We’ve tried some things that didn’t work and others that surpassed my expectations, but there’s still a lot to do and it will always be a work in progress. We’re currently developing a recording program, and a ‘band workshop’ to bring our younger students together to form bands. I would like to have more classes and workshops, and mini-concerts. The ideas just keep on coming, which is really my job – program development and promotion, amongst other things.

What is special about the new Arroyo Grande studio?

We’re really excited about it! It’s a great location, right on Grand Ave. (1115 East Grand) between Elm and Halcyon. When I first walked in the building, which is an old house converted to offices, I could just see that it was meant to be for us. It’s got plenty of parking, large rooms that have been made into 3 studios, a waiting area, an office, and room to grow. We’ve been wanting to be in Arroyo Grande for a long time, now we’re finally there and really excited about it.

Are you still playing music yourself?


“Stereo Steve”, with Music Motive guitar instructor, Steve Ambarian.

Yeah, I still play – I still do two or three gigs a week with about five different bands: the Oasis Band from SLO, a duo called Stereo Steve, with Steve Ambarian, who is a guitar teacher here at Music Motive, and a group from Southern California called The Scarlet Furies, and recently, I’ve been playing with Monie Mills and the Lucky Horseshoe Band. I’ve also been playing quite a bit in the last couple of years, with the Nataly Lola Band, Randy Rigby, and I host the drums about once a month for the Blues Masters Jam at Shell Cafe in Pismo Beach. I also do some freelancing with people who need a drummer, whoever will have me! One of the things that I really enjoy doing is playing music I don’t know, with people I just met, in a place I’ve never been before. I find that to be a challenge, and really enjoy it – and I seem to be able to pull it off most of the time!

To find out about music lessons, enrichment classes, and the new Arroyo Grande location, check out our website!

Music Motive’s Local Musician Survey

Written by: Darren Johnson

Recently, Music Motive created a survey for the musicians of San Luis Obispo County. It was great to see how passionate members of our community are about music, and there were a few thought provoking results that surfaced: graph

My favorite part of this survey appeared out of the results from the question “Why do you choose to be a musician?”

–Some responses were very heartfelt, such as:

“I find joy in music. It’s therapeutic, stimulating and there’s really nothing that is more liberating than playing music with other people that you genuinely connect with.”

“Because it brings me more joy than anything else in this world.”

“Music makes me happy.”

–Others were a little more on the funny side:


“Better than a regular job.”

No matter what the answers were, I couldn’t help but get an overwhelming sense of a musical community. We all became musicians by choice because of our love for music, all joining together in the pursuit of one common passion. In my opinion, that’s a pretty great thing.


Something that stood out from the results was that over 80% of the 30 respondents said they have taken private music lessons, and around 63% said that they hoped to become or already were professional musicians. graph3 This shows that private music lessons have had a huge benefit for our musical community, and would be a great idea for those seeking a musical outlet.

Not only is being able to play a musical instrument a useful skill set, it also creates positivity in other aspects of our lives. A good knowledge of music helps to create well-rounded and compassionate individuals, making it an important part of our community’s education.

Second Saturdays

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich


What’s the secret to developing talent and using it to master your instrument? Do you ever wish you could get some inside tips from successful musicians themselves? Travis Larson and Jennifer Young of the Travis Larson Band will be kicking off this year’s “Second Saturdays” on February 8th with a guitar clinic at Music Motive. The Second Saturdays Showcase is Music Motive’s teacher demonstration event, which is usually held from 12-1pm on the 2nd Saturday of every month. This event, however, has a special time of 1-2pm, and will be free for any musician wanting to attend.


To find out more about the Travis Larson Band, check out our previous blog interview with Music Motive instructor and TLB drummer Dale Moon.

For information regarding the Second Saturdays, click here or on the Travis Larson Guitar Clinic page.

Run For Music

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich

Does the idea of doing something fun that also benefits the San Luis Obispo music community spark your interest? The 2nd annual “Run For Music” fundraiser will be held on Sunday, January 26th on Cal Poly’s campus. Participants can choose to run or walk either a 5k course, or the longer 10k route. The event is put on by the Iota Pi chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi, the national honorary band fraternity dedicated to supporting Cal Poly bands and music in the San Luis Obispo community.


The money raised by this event will support: music programs at schools in San Luis Obispo, the Cal Poly band program, and the Iota Pi chapter. Kappa Kappa Psi’s community service includes volunteering at elementary schools, creating high school music leadership workshops, and hosting a Musical Petting Zoo at the Farmer’s Market. This is one of many musical petting zoos where kids can explore and try out a variety of used instruments right there on the spot! All of these services are a great way to expose kids to music, as well as develop the bands at Cal Poly.


The Cal Poly marching band.

There are many ways to get involved with Run For Music! You can run, be a sponsor, or even volunteer to help with the event. Interested in participating? Register here for a discount, or at 9 am in the Cal Poly University Union on the 26th, where there will be a live music ensemble; the race begins at 10 am. This is an awesome cause supporting something that we at Music Motive strongly believe in!

Check out the Iota Pi Facebook  or website to find out more.