Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Who Are We Making Music For?

"If you are making music for everyone, then you are making it for no one. " 

This is how I live my life: by keeping my focus simple and narrow. We are no longer living in an era where it’s all about trying to please the masses. It’s about connecting with those who share our worldview, no matter how few. And these people are our conduits to others who also share our worldview.

When I came to New York to pursue a career in jazz during the 1990s, this was the height of the record industry. The industry was so lucrative and powerful that people had more respect for label heads and other industry types than they did for the artists.  Unfortunately, so did many of the artists. These types had one agenda: Sell as many records as possible, by any means necessary. They did not care if they needed to fire your band, have you change your music, have you play other people’s music, or entirely redefine who you were and what you did--as long as it moved units. 

I’m happy to say that these people and their way of thinking are of little relevance in today’s culture. Thanks to Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, the record company-industrial complex came tumbling down.

How does this affect you? Better yet, how does this affect us?

That model was all about trying to lure people who don’t care about what you do and quite frankly, did not care about jazz--at least progressive jazz. It was all about trying to get a more significant piece of the marketplace; instead of satisfying the market that was already loyal to our cause.

We no longer have to make music for everyone. Or try to bring those along who have no interest in what we do. We can make music for five people if we want. No label suits are telling us that this a bad idea. The label suits may not care, but I guarantee those five people we are making music for do. In fact, they will care so much that they will tell others, and then those people will tell others, and so on and so on. It's the people on the fringes who are actually looking for new music. The WBGO and Jazz at Lincoln Center types don't have an aesthetical scarcity problem that they need you to solve. They will live their lives fine never knowing that you exist. So don't even waste your time going after these folks.

So in the grand scheme of things, if you think you are making music for everyone, I’m sorry to inform you that you are probably not making it for anyone, including yourself.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Four Letter Words: Choosing the Correct One

As musicians and artists, we’re constantly bombarded with this four-letter word with everything that we do: M-O-R-E. We're always under the pressure to get more gigs, make more money, play more shit, sell more CDs, and grow more audience.

But I’m here to say that we should be consumed by a different four-letter word: L-E-S-S. Aiming for less actually gives us more. It allows us to be more consistent, more focused, and it allows us to matter more to people who actually care about what we do.

I’ve always been a believer in the principle of opposites. If you want to learn to play fast, practice slow. If you want a bigger sound, practice soft. And if you want more out of life, aim for less.

Just some fruit for thought.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Hawthorne Effect

How does the Hawthorne effect affect our daily lives? 

First of all, many may not have heard of this phenomenon, but I guarantee that most of us have been under the influence of it. The Hawthorne effect is a type of reactivity in which people modify an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed. Simply put, you act differently when you think that people might be watching you. 

Think back to your college days, when practice room availability was scarce. And when one did become available, there was usually a burning musician in the room to your right, another one to the left, and probably a few in the practice rooms across the hall. I found that under these conditions, practicing was no longer about learning new ideas and perfecting your old ones, it became a type of performance. 

And this is classic Hawthorne effect. 

I usually had a love-hate relationship with the communal aspect of college practice conditions. On the one hand, I enjoyed letting others hear some of the cool things I was working on—as I did theirs. The drawback was me feeling compelled to perform rather than just practice. I’m talking about the willingness to sound horrible as you take on the new and under-explored material. And this speaks to the aspect of the Hawthorne effect in which one's behavior becomes modified when being observed. 

Here are some ways it affected me:
  • I never wanted to play things I didn’t know.
  • I always wanted play things that were flashy.
  • And I was too paranoid that others were listening to me.

But I must say, the Hawthorne effect doesn’t always have to always affect you negatively.  Sometimes knowing that you might be observed helps you to become more focused. Instead of showing off your flashy licks, now you’re showing how disciplined you are—how you can methodically tackle a new idea. 

Even outside of musical things, the Hawthorne effect is the reason I go to Starbucks to do administrative tasks on my computer. Just from feeling self-conscious about indulging in time wasters like YouTube and Facebook, I tend to be more focused, and I use my time more wisely. 

So is being watched while we perform tasks a good or bad thing? I guess it all depends on the kind of show you want to put on. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Naysayers: Three Kinds of Pessimism

Whenever we attempt something new, whether it be a new job, a new project, or perhaps a new musical direction, we’re likely to encounter some well-meaning soul telling you “No, you can’t,” also known as the naysayer. I’m here to tell you that you might not be able to always avoid them, but you can learn how to identify them and how to deal with them

There are basically three categories of naysayers. Each possessing three levels of pessimism.

  1. Family naysayers 
  2. Destructive naysayers 
  3. Constructive naysayers 

Family naysayers:
With family naysayers, they don’t wish you harm, they just want you to be safe. They want you to have a steady job, a family, benefits, the whole nine yards. They want you to follow a rule book; however, you’re looking to follow a vision for which you have to make up the rules as you go along. We’ve heard that art and finance don’t mix. And neither do art and family approval. 

In dealing with family, I say this: love them, respect them, but ignore them. They may not get what you do, and they may not be able to get what you do. And you don’t need them to. Their function in your life is TLC, not career support..

Destructive naysayers: Avoid these types at all costs. They thrive on negativity, and they absolutely love company. Under no circumstances are you to share your ideas or plans with them. Chances are they will only greet them with negativity and cynicism. As with the former, respect them, love them, but avoid them, and certainly don’t listen to or become influenced by them.

Constructive naysayers: This group is the most complicated. Because they get what you do, they support what you do, but they’re not convinced that you are making the right decision. They might be in support of you being a professional musician, but maybe they think you should major in accounting as a backup plan. For this group, I say this: embrace them, listen to them, maybe even implement some of their suggestions. You might even revisit your original idea to see if this is something you really want to do. This will help solidify it in your mind and give you the assurance that you are indeed making the right decision.

So as you pursue your new idea, project, or vision, just realize what you might be up against and go for it!

Embracing Authentic Confidence, Beyond the Illusion of Perfection

My struggles with confidence has been a constant companion throughout my life's journey, with and without my horn. I certainly have my g...