For The Soul Zone
By Chris Standring
searching artist wants to get there. It's that magical place where
something takes over, you know, when something bigger than you
whispers in your ear and says "Relax - I'll take it from
I like to call it the 'soul zone', others simply call it the 'zone',
I'm sure there are many other names for it.
For those of you who don't know what the heck I'm talking about,
it is the ultimate state to be in as an improviser. You might
have played a gig and gone through the motions and nothing particularly
interesting sprung from you. You might have played a solo at a
different time and place and thought you said some pretty interesting
things. But then you'll probably remember those times when you
played a solo and something absolutely magical happened. Maybe
you closed your eyes and you went off into this magical mysterious
place where nothing else mattered. While you were playing you
felt like you were in the middle of a 'happening'. Your tone was
just right, your phrasing was great and it seemed like you were
truly improvising for the first time in a long while. And strangely
enough, at the end of your solo, you look up and you can't remember
a thing you just played. Then the band members look at you with
a big smile of approval. You were in a completely altered state,
or so it seemed.
Does this situation sound familiar to you? If so, you have experienced
the soul zone. One of those trance like states that every searching
musician is trying to get back to. It's the spiritual realm. And
we would like it to happen more often than it does.
There's no question about it, this experience may well be one
of the factors determining why so many musicians have turned to
drugs and alcohol in the past. That Zen like state seems to be
one of the reasons musicians play music at all. Of course the
good news is that you can get there without the substance abuse!
The question I have always asked is this: "Why does this
zone only come about from time to time?" I think there are
a number of reasons.
First and most important I think is the fact that there are so
many distractions when we play. I have found that as my career
got busier as an artist, I was sometimes taking on the role of
artist, manager and agent. By the time I got on stage I was finally
having to think about entertaining, whilst asking myself all sorts
of things like "Am I losing the audience? Do they like this
song and if not should I cut it from the set? - have I brought
enough people to this show? Is the promoter seething with anger
- will she book me ever again? How many CDs am I selling over
there? Should I be promoting my CD more during the show? Am I
funny witty and charming on stage - dammit do they like me at
all??" Yiiiikkes heeeeeellllllppp!!
As you can imagine, this scenario doesn't exactly make for a Zen
like transcendental state now does it? Of course I am exaggerating
somewhat but my point is that all too often, there are too many
distractions in order to get there.
The other big big reason is that sonically things might not be
right. How many times have you done a show where the monitors
sound terrible or you're playing through a rented amp that isn't
sounding any good to you? What if the drummer sucks?
I have always thought that if the band is 'on' you simply don't
notice any of them. The music just feels great and everyone is
in sync - just like they should be. When this is the case everyone
is in that zone and the music is magical. So it's definitely a
matter of external factors being right as much as it is internal
relaxation and the ability to let it flow.
One thing that I have always found particularly difficult and
is a continual learning curve for me, is the art of recording.
And here I don't simply mean recording guitar parts, that is a
craft that can be learned. I'm talking about recording an improvised
solo that is truly inspired. The question is "How do you
get to that zone in a cold sterile environment?"
What amazes me is that there have been many many truly inspired
solos recorded on albums, so those artists figured out a way to
get to the zone. I have always found it easier to reach my optimum
playing peak in a live setting. When I'm recording I want it to
be just great, it's going to be immortal after all, you know,
on a CD forever. And this is where the problem lies. Too much
thought. To get to the zone one needs to totally let go.
So what can we do to help us get to that magical place? First,
understand that it might not happen and that it's perfectly fine
if it doesn't. It might be out of our control. Before you step
out to play, take a deep breath and center yourself. Nervous energy
can take over and it's important to get as much external crap
out of our heads as we can and give the music our full and undivided
attention. Take your time as you play, think about playing behind
the beat instead of playing on top to drive energy. Relaxation
is the key and the right energy will come as a result. Have your
internal antenna up for musical ideas. They might come from the
band and you should be ready to grab some inspiration from them.
Close your eyes. This can help, even just to get you on the right
foot. Let it flow. Try to ignore any reasons for you to not
And that last part I think is the most important of all. Be
Present. Not always an easy place to get to but if we can
strive for it, I believe will make us better musicians, and we'll
enjoy the music that much more.
| Chris Standring
is the CEO and founder of A&R Online (www.aandronline.com).
He is also a contemporary jazz guitarist presently signed to
Ultimate Vibe Recordings. For more info on Chris' recording
career go to his personal website at www.chrisstandring.com
to article directory index
Learn how to put your music career on the map with A&R Online's
free 7 day intensive Wake Up E-Course
. Sign up below:
A&R Registry Includes
regional A&R contacts not listed in any other directory. Lists
entire A&R staff, direct dial numbers & assistants names!