Halifax Pop Explosion

#HPX2017 is here! I'm back on Atlantic time and playing a killer show at the Seahorse tonight. Here are the things I'm hoping to get to, so we'll call them my recommendations, but my #1 recommendation at a festival like this is: get a wristband. Hop between shows. Have a plan, but be prepared to deviate from it. Check out a bunch of stuff. Take a chance on something new. If you want to get into a big show, get there early. Have fun.

Of special note, a bunch of these (particularly all-ages shows) are free this year. OK:


5pm: Free + All Ages: WHOOP-Szo and Strongboy at CKDU

7:30pm: Gianna Lauren + JOYFULTalk (free, all-ages)

8:45pm: Charlotte Day Wilson, Lido Pimienta, Ralph, Vogue Dots

9:30pm: Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, WHOOP-Szo, Geil, Inland Island

10pm: Partner, Fake Palms, Designosaur, Valerie at the Seahorse

1:30am: Afterparty with DJ BUDI - ft. Lido Pimienta, Ralph and MORE!



Honestly, I'm torn. Will probably be a game time decision. But the one thing I am definitely not going to miss is:

8pm: Weaves Aquakultre + Big Budi Band LUKA Kurt Inder Strongboy



2pm: HfxPop Quality Block Party All Ages Extravaganza v 1.5

6pm: Husband & Knife, Yoneda, Fantasy Eye at Art Bar +Projects

6:30pm: Patrick Watson, Rural Alberta Advantage, Yukon Blonde, Dance Movie

9:30pm: Not You, Jon McKiel, Rabies, Thick Business at the Seahorse

10pm: DA x Halifax Pop Explosion Showcase

12:30am: Dabin, Pineo, DJ Douvet at Reflections Cabaret


See ya in the pit.

Ryan Brown
How to make your cheap drum set sound amazing

Great, practical advice for people starting out. There's a lot you can do with any instrument to optimize it. If you own an entry-level drum kit, think it could probably sound better but aren't sure what to do with it, watch this!!

These guys have done a favour to beginning drummers everywhere, for free. To be totally honest, neither of their style is really my thing as a drummer, but I have to give props for this video. And there's another lesson: you don't have to agree with everything about another musician's approach in order to learn and benefit from listening to them. Our world is full of perspectives. ✌️ ❤️

Ryan Brown

What do you want to do? 

Everybody's different.  There's no real predetermined path for music. There's knowledge that has been accumulated over the years (varying amounts of centuries, depending how long your instrument has been around). There are combinations of sounds that just seem to make sense (David Byrne's "How Music Works" devotes an entire chapter to ratios found in paintings, architecture and planetary orbits that mathematically match up with the kinds of sounds humans like), and technical things that, if you learn them, will make you a more efficient/effective player. You don't need to learn any of it if your music doesn't require it. Kurt Cobain proved that point in the early 90s. But he had a clear goal: to become the biggest rock star in the world while staying true to his punk rock roots. And he nailed the technical aspects of his music. Morrissey and Johnny Marr have both attributed The Smiths' unique sound to the clarity of their vision - Morrissey the tragicomic poet; Marr the rock guitarist who had to avoid "rockisms." While Four Tet uses a bunch of gear, he doesn't get too complicated with each piece - just makes it work and exploits what's weird about it. You can learn all the rules of a particular style, but music that simply recites the rules is never the legendary stuff, because it doesn't move us on a gut level.

When you have a destination in mind, you can pick out which skills are relevant to you, and learn them. When you don't have one, you spend a lot of energy on "Just In Case." You might buy a shelf full of books, videos, some really nice equipment. Will that stuff mean you're ready? Do you need permission to go and play? I believe this view is actually counterproductive. Yes, you'll take in more material, but all the while you're worried about not being good enough, not knowing enough, doing it wrong. As we know, anything you do repetitively is a form of practice. And "practice makes perfect." Would you choose to spend time perfecting the art of feeling unaware and unprepared? Is that why you picked up an instrument?

There is another way. A musical practice can be like a doctor or lawyer's practice (credit due: I got this idea from Jerry Granelli). It can be something you do, rather than something you polish up and display. Are you trying to communicate? Make a billion dollars? Join a band? Blow people away with your technical prowess? (and if so, WHY?) Push yourself to achieve more, because it feels good? Feel like you can "just play anything"?

It all starts in the mind. If you can be crystal clear about what you want to achieve, doing it is the easy part.

Ryan Brown
How to Practice Effectively

1. Decide what you want to do.

2. Find out how to do that thing.

3. Train yourself to do it.

That's it. Simple, but not easy. Most of what we do in drum lessons revolves around #2 and #3, but both are pointless without #1. And the whole thing is pointless without a focus (although I don't think "pointless" necessarily means "bad').

In his book "Talent Is Overrated," author Geoff Colvin studies high achievers across different disciplines to see what makes them stand out. His conclusion: "deliberate practice." He found that the top achievers were not necessarily the people who put the most time in; they were the people who had a clear goal and worked very intentionally toward achieving it.

When people start out on the drums, goals are often vague ("to learn"..... "to get better"... "to be able to go crazy".........). I like to ask students why they think I'd make them practice something as boring or annoying as a paradiddle. I often get answers like "..........to do it right?" Not wrong exactly, but the reason you practice the paradiddles is: to develop your hands! And your mind! But if there's no clear connection between the task you're given and your own goal, there's not a lot of motivation to do that task well, or even at all. Paradiddles are boring and annoying.

Mostly, our education is: here's a task (or idea). Learn it. Complete a test. If you pass, congrats, you know that thing. That doesn't really work long-term with music. There are skills and styles you can learn, but you need listeners and for them it's mostly about feeling. Great technical players often make boring music, "poor" technical players are among the most celebrated musicians of all time. Of course it's all subjective and there are lots of examples of the opposites being true. That's the point. Everyone plays and experiences music differently. Creativity is an essential part, and creativity, by definition, can't be taught.

It's easy to sit down with an instrument, play it for a while and tell yourself you're practicing. You're definitely putting time in. It's probably fun. Nothing wrong with it. HOWEVER, if you're not working toward something specific, you're also probably not improving your skills; you are maintaining them. If you want to improve something, the more specific the better, because then you can really dial in what you need to do in order to get there.

For best results:

- Decide exactly what you want to be able to do. This can mean a long-term goal broken down into steps, or it can just be "what do I want to improve this week?" but in either case the point is to stick with a task until you nail it.

- Find out how that thing is done, make sure you understand it, set aside some time to train yourself to do it.

- Get a metronome. People (self included, sometimes) like to think it's a torture device designed to suck the fun out of music. It's just a tool that helps you focus.

- Set a timer. Play your thing with the metronome for one minute, then stop. See how it feels.

- Figure out how much time you can consistently devote over several days. Doesn't have to be much. Each time you practice, work on your thing for a set amount of time, then give yourself permission to be done.

- Repeat, as often as possible. Take breaks. If you have a bunch of things you want to accomplish, divide the amount of time you have by the number of things you want to do and practice accordingly - let's say you have 20 minutes, 3 days a week and 4 things you want to learn. That gives you five minutes on each one, then you're done. But it's a much more focused five minutes than most people actually get around to.  You're probably not going to master your task in one week at this rate, but you will make actual progress. And in the end you'll get there faster.

- Feel good about having put in the time and energy, and about accompishing something.

The best thing about this approach is that it's addictive. You don't get burnt out or frustrated because it's not drudgery. You may get to the end of your time limit and decide you want to do more. Great! Do it! Also please remember: exercises don't have to be boring. You're in complete control of how you play things - when things seem boring it's often because we're taking a very limited view of how we're supposed to (or allowed to) approach it, and as a result, play boringly. Please don't do that to yourself or others. Make it sound great! Have fun!

Ryan Brown
Best New (local) Music

My favourite stuff out of Halifax this week: 

- Big Budi Band / Aquakultre's set from this year's SappyFest. Live hip hop jazz improv groove party music from some of Halifax's best. SO GOOD. Recording is a little scratchy. Do not let that deter you. Push play, drift away.

- Tara Thorne (Dance Movie, The Coast, CBC) being interviewed by James Boyle (Halifax Pop Explosion). Lively convo about Dance Movie's new record (prod by John Goodmanson - Bikini Kill, Death Cab for Cutie, Sleater-Kinney etc) and whether pursuing the music "industry" is a worthwhile or even necessary goal for creators in 2017.

Ryan Brown
R&B with Yogi Horton

This is so great. Session drummer Yogi Horton was new to me; a quick search reveals that he's best known for his work with Luther Vandross but also Aretha Franklin, David Byrne, Hall & Oates ... full list here. In this video he takes you through decades, styles, techniques and MOVES! What I love about this video is that he incorporates ideas like tuning, motion and artistic decisions into it; things that often get lost when people focus on technical aspects but are vital to the making of actual MUSIC for and by humans.

An hour long and it's free! You don't need to track down a copy of the VHS any more. YouTube is amazing. Thanks to Tim Jim Baker for the tip on this one.

Ryan Brown
New! Live! Radiohead!

Radiohead just released 8 full-length live concerts from 2016. They are one of my all-time favourites. I am frequently impressed with how they bring their studio creations to the stage. Also - first impressions are so funny. Kind of a polarizing band. At the Osheaga show, after watching Thom Yorke for the first few minutes I thought "geeze, what a grump. you're a rich, famous musician. why so sour all the time? can he not sing any more or is he just not trying?" then realized - he's saving his energy so he can put it all into the performance. He's warming his voice up.

Admittedly I do get tired of the gloom, but man. What a band. Check the video above to see their Osheaga set and draw your own conclusions. For more:




Ryan Brown
Anyone and anything can make music

Merriam Webster defines a musical instrument as  "a device (such as a violin, piano, or flute) used to make music."

How about a device such as a flower pot, radio or plunger on a garbage can lid? . 


Ryan Brown
Classic Trax: Communication Breakdown 3 Ways

Timeless wisdom from almost 50 years ago.

This is a good one to learn because the sections are clear, they repeat and there's only a few of them. It's always helpful to check out different versions when learning a song - it gives you insight into how the artists themselves think of the material and how you can make it your own, what's essential and what can be left out. Live versions especially - you'd be surprised how often recordings that sound really hard to play get re-arranged for performance by the original artists, to make them easier (looking at you, Bieber/Jack Ü).

The first video below is the original studio recording with the band lip (and instrument) synching along for TV; the other two are live versions. When watching, make note of:

  • what stays the same
  • what changes
  • which parts of the song the drummer is accenting
  • which parts of the song the drummer hangs back and just plays the beat
  • dynamics - what's loud, what's quiet

Have fun! 

Ryan Brown