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greg dahlen

Alumnus, academy of achievement


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Do you like your job? What do you like or dislike about it?

Maria was cutting my hair, and I asked if she liked her job. She said very much, quite exciting to cut hair. Asked what she liked about it, she said she enjoys working with the different textures of hair, fine, medium, and thick. Unexpected and interesting answer.

I hope she was being straight with me, if she actually dislikes cutting hair possibly she would not want to say it to someone whose hair she is now cutting?

Also interested in how you feel about jobs you've had in the past.

If you don't like your job, is there anything you could do to make it better?


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    Dec 15 2013: musician - life is sweet.

    took me a long time to get here though.

    i like the nervous energy i get leading into a gig. the immediate and unique communication that happens between performer and audience is addictive and cannot be reproduced in any other way.

    no white-board meetings, no pointless paperwork, i'm my own boss and i love singing.
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      Dec 16 2013: Thank you, Scott. Any idea why some people are reasonably comfortable performing on stage and others are inhibited?

      Where have you gotten an impression of pointless paperwork? I would think businesses cannot survive unless they are fairly stripped down and doing relevant paperwork.
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        Dec 16 2013: it's partly an ego thing - doing your thing in public.

        part of the instant kind of communication i mentioned - people applaud your work (if you're any good). i always like to imagine a plumber getting a standing ovation after fixing a broken toilet and other such jobs that are worked everyday to no applause.

        the dynamic between a performer and audience can be highly energised. i've played some pretty intense (in a good way) gigs with my band and the buzz from that situation is massive and, like i say, difficult to reproduce anywhere else.

        all the paperwork i have been involved with is largely pointless and time-wasting but i have really only worked in teaching which is very different to private business, i imagine.

        plus, in New Zealand, there is bureaucratic overkill for some reason (i think this is a growing issue around many countries).

        but i never use contracts or anything but i do deal with invoices and receipts and that stuff but i like to keep it to a minimum :)
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          Dec 16 2013: well, plumbers do get a lot of appreciation and thanks, but it's true, they don't work in front of a crowd. But it's curious, while I appreciate and enjoy musicians, could we say that what a plumber does is more crucial, or can you rank those, Scott? Or maybe musical performance is more important than plumbing, maybe musicians inspire a lot of creativity out of their audiences? (I'm just asking myself why some musicians are better paid than plumbers.) Any musical performance is more intense than plumbing in the sense of being brief and the musician doesn't perform 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year.

          Can you put your finger on what makes one rock singer better than another? Because rock singers aren't necessarily gods of technique? Maybe it's just a feeling that's hard to put into words?

          Yes, I've heard that is intense. What would you say that dynamic is that is different from singing alone at home?

          Can you say more about time-wasting paperwork? I've worked many different jobs, both public and private, and generally the paperwork seemed pretty reasonable.

          I have worked as an extra in TV and movies, and that's a pretty nice buzz. Maybe it is that performance, high-visibility thing. It's very tiring, you get home and you're exhausted although mostly you sat around that day.
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        Dec 16 2013: 'performing' in public increases the nervous energy and I guess for some people that's closer to anxiety than for others.

        i chose the example of plumber because i do think the trades are generally more necessary than entertainment, although you can argue that entertainment is very important in it's own way.

        plus, there are memes doing the rounds on facebook, etc, about musicians being worth more than a few free beers, etc. one of the common ones i have seen is a letter to a bar owner who expressed shock at the price for a 5 piece band - the response is for the bar-owner to ask 5 plumbers to come in and work "after-hours" and see how much they charge - a terrible and inaccurate analogy but typical of the "musicians are worth more" memes out there.

        i think there are some musicians making big coin but that is directly related to their exposure and popularity. as a band who has not "made it", we certainly struggle to get paid 'big' money but for me, it's a lifestyle thing and not really a fast road to riches. if i wanted loads of cash, i would have gotten into corporate banking.

        it's hard to say what makes one singer better than another because it's pretty subjective. to me, it's about performance of the song, the songwriting and FEEL. Neil Young, Dylan, The Band, The Kinks are all huge influences for me. these guys write brilliantly and perform equally well without being ironed flat through over-used production techniques or dressed up to appropriately 'fit' an audience's perception of the genre.

        Neil Young is well-known for doing whatever he wants and to hell with the record company. Geffen rejected his album "Old Way"s" for being too country and told him to do something rock n roll. Neil recorded "Everybody's Rockin" with a band called the Shocking Pinks. He took Geffen literally and created an old-style shoo-wop rock 'n roll album as a "f-you". it's quite hilarious. Geffen then tried to sue Neil for not being Neil Young enough. Neil won
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        Dec 16 2013: singing at home is enjoyable - i do it a lot to keep the rust away and learn new songs but there is a strange dynamic between an attentive audience and performer (if the audience ain't listening then it's the performer's job to make them).

        there is communication of a sort - not usually spoken but often visual - facial expressions, dancing, clapping, stamping, smiling, yelling and whistling. this can go both ways - silence at the end of a dismal performance, booing (very rare).

        and then, in the middle is heckling which can be positive or negative or neither, just an interaction. i enjoy this because it helps you to develop a rapport with an audience by responding in an entertaining manner, it means the audience is engaged one way or other and is never scripted or planned - part of the attraction of live performance.

        but what i like the most is the immediacy of the "feedback". you know, before the song is even finished, whether it's going down well or not. when it's not going well, it often gives me a rush and the desire to pick it up which often leads to taking it "to the next level" as people say.

        as for paperwork, i've been subjected to unnecessary paperwork, double handling and so on but i frequently find it too far removed from the real job (in my case teaching). in NZ, a teacher seems to be judged more on their planning than their ability to communicate effectively with their students.

        it's frustrating because, even though there is a digital revolution happening in schools, it never seems to be utilised to streamline the bureaucratic side of things. in fact, in my last teaching job, we had to enter and handle data both digitally and on paper - this double-handling increased the workload for no reason other than ye olde tradition and did my head in. sorry about the verbose response :)
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        Dec 16 2013: oh, forgot to mention:

        dress code - you can wear what you want - tatty shoes and jeans to formal functions; ridiculous trousers; ostentatious shirts; sunglasses inside; over the top hairdos (if you have hair), etc.

        drinking on the job - it's not only expected but encouraged and one universal perk of being in a band seems to be free drinks and often meals.

        outspokenness - you are often allowed to be a little more crass than in other walks of life. also, you aren't required have any religious or political affiliations although you can if you want.

        girls - this is like money. there isn't really any until you're famous but it can make it easier to break the ice if a girl you want to strike up a conversation with has been watching you all night on the stage.
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          Dec 17 2013: thanks, Scott. Well, I think I was starstruck, I was thinking of the famous musicians who make a lot such as Jagger and McCartney. When I look around on the web, it looks like the average musician is making about as much as the average plumber. It's kind of interesting, when you think of a famous musician, it would seem no individual fan spends much more on one in a year than the fan spends on plumbers. For example, if I go to see the Rolling Stones once in a year, and buy one Rolling Stones record, I might spend $100 that year on the Rolling Stones. And I might spend $100 that year to plumbers. But apparently what the Stones do is unique enough, fulfilling enough, that scads of people spend that $100 on them, so they make a lot.

          Appreciate the description of how it feels to sing. So what would you say is being communicated, or what is the dialogue, is it only a dialogue of emotion, is there an intellectual dialogue? Would you say it fulfills a different part of you than TED conversations, which is primarily intellectual?, or are TED and rock singing somehow related?

          I have heard that belly dancers are also afforded a particular freedom to speak in the countries where they are common. Wonder why musicians and dancers get this leeway?

          Do you dance as well as sing?

          You had to enter what sort of data both on paper and digitally? The same data twice? This was due to what tradition?
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        Dec 17 2013: i think the big, famous musicians have an advantage in that what they produce has strong emotional bonds for their fans. they also have the advantage of being able to garner a huge audience so they can command huge profits - if they are well-known enough.

        the communication thing is hard to explain but i guess it's partly to do with the way people seem to enjoy being part of a big crowd.

        for the wild dancers, it's physical and emotional and possibly a release of sorts.

        there are those that sit back and watch intently - often because of the lyric so i guess that could be intellectual.

        there's also a shared love of music which is evident - i have had many guys come up quietly after a gig to say how much they liked one of the covers and they turn out to be huge fans of that particular musician. this usually leads to long discussions about music and bands.

        I often select cover songs that have some meaning to me - sometimes they are songs that are slightly subversive or roll a bit against the grain. often, they are just clever use of words or a wry and insightful observation on people or life. so it's definitely an intellectual thing for me. in fact, i would say that i am a writer and performer, not a musician as i am not highly technical or knowledgeable about music or the guitar.

        i'm not sure if you could say that rock singing and TED are related but i think there are elements to rock n roll that most people can relate to.

        i think musicians and poets have always been allowed to get away with breaking social boundaries - i suppose it could be like lancing social boils in some ways - giving people an outlet in an appropriate setting. some one said to me once that they enjoy conversing with musicians as they tend to be more clued up as to what is going on. i'm not sure that's true.

        i do not dance but it's only because i can't.

        the paperwork thing is due to the changeover between hard copy and digital and will get better.
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          Dec 18 2013: well, Scott, would you say you have intellectual interests? Do they coalesce around any certain topic, or topics, or are they all over the place? When you taught, what were you teaching?

          How is it that someone can't dance, you aren't paralyzed? Maybe you should take a dance class? Dancing is a lot of fun.

          I'm wondering if musicians are allowed to be more crass. Maybe we allow anyone to be crass if what they're saying holds water? Can you give some examples of where you were crass, and what you think the connection was to your being a musician?
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        Dec 19 2013: definitely intellectual but also emotional and physical. the combination of these things is a heady mix.

        i like the pop song because it strikes me as being the perfect way to communicate an idea or a thought or a sentiment.

        it's poetry but better than traditional poetry - that's why i write songs rather than poems.

        i like the 'ruggedness' of rock - that i can be a bit looser than in other situations because it's an appropriate setting. people kind of respond to it - if no one is dancing, i will often remind guys that dancing counts as foreplay in an attempt to entice people onto the dancefloor. it often sparks a bit of debate too when a guy yells out "yeah" in response and his girlfriend whacks him and says "no it doesn't!".

        my main interest is popular music - bands and generally the 60's era of music.

        i can dance but don't often do it. i swing my elbows and knock my knees together a bit when i'm singing and playing guitar but not really dancing. i jump up and down a lot too. maybe shuffle around while the other guy plays a lead. it is fun. but you probably won't find me on a dancefloor.

        swearing a bit on the microphone is not unusual but we tend to keep it to a minimum and limit it to certain situations - otherwise it loses effect and lowers the tone.

        come to think of it, we're not often blatantly rude but oblique and make use of the double entendre. like i say, humour helps loosen up a crowd. you also learn to do it mostly because the guitarist is tuning up or the drummer is taking off his skivvy or something else is going on and you need to fill the silence (which is deafening if you're on the stage).

        but there's also the idea of the saturnalia - that time when social norms were stood on their heads and more liberal speech and action was allowed for a short period. i think we all need to step out of our regular shoes and cut loose every now and then. this is my job, hence my thankfulness for being able to do it
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          Dec 19 2013: thanks, Scott. You know, you're an excellent writer. Are you keeping a journal of your musician experiences, perhaps you could write published essays or a book or a newspaper column.

          You know, you're right, a song definitely has an idea aspect. It has never occurred to me to discuss with anyone the ideas I was hearing in songs, but I'm going to look for opportunities to do it. But one weakness I see of using songs for intellectual nourishment is that often one is drawn to hear the same songs over and over, but really doesn't one get the ideas in the song the first time one hears it, it doesn't continually provide new ideas the way, say, talking on TED does?

          What ideas are you putting in songs, or emphasizing? Are you a 'cause' writer, do you find causes you'd like people to get behind, like no nukes, and try to write a song to persuade them?

          Well, I mostly like dance for the exercise, I think it's a way to exercise that feels very good. I find I can dance anywhere, for example, as I type these words I can roll my belly in the chair in a belly dancing type motion. I like to dance (mildly, keeping the feet in one place) whilst waiting in line at the grocery, waiting on the corner for the light to turn green, and so on. It's an idea I'm trying to popularize, that you can dance anywhere, any time, with or without music, but it may be a losing battle. Most people seem to feel like life is a little more boxed up, like there are situations where you dance, at a nightclub at 9PM with a band, and there are situations where you don't, in line at a minimart at 10AM.

          One hopes in general a performer likes his audience and is not too inclined to be rude. Sometimes there is a way to be rude that positively advances the situation. I would say people accept rudeness from anyone if the rudeness is appropriate to the situation. It could be that performers can make a better judgement as to when to apply rudeness because they have.....
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          Dec 19 2013: these intense communicative experiences as you say.

          The idea of dancing anywhere is somewhat covered in Sara Bareilles's video "Brave." Have you seen this video, what do you think? http://www.vevo.com/watch/sara-bareilles/brave/USSM21301304
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        Dec 19 2013: i'm a fairly uptight guy which is why i don't dance but is probably the same reason i have been drawn to performing in a band as an outlet.

        i rely on the "muse" thing when writing - i feel as though ideas and thoughts bubble away for some time and eventually manifest as a song. it's a strange process because sometimes, it does feel as though the songs come from nowhere.

        i have an idea, often a title or a good line and then build the song around that, so most songs are idea driven - they start with an idea anyway and once you're started, the rest is relatively easy.

        i don't write too many love songs or if i do, it's not really a love song, it's just disguised as one. mostly i write about things i see around me and try to put my spin on it.

        songwriting keeps you sharp because you cannot dither and drivel on too long.

        i always like my audience - by rude, I mean risque; a little blue not offensive or ill-mannered. most audiences that i've come across are generous with their attention and response. but at times, a belligerent audience is good because it forces you to utilise all your stage-craft to win them over.

        it's simple really - let yourself go and give it all and people respond because they can see you are being quite straight with them - as opposed to striking poses and living out cliches.

        as for dancing, i can see how it would be a great release for people and i agree, it should be done more often and in less 'expected' situations - the world would be a better place if everyone sang and danced more often.

        my band will be making a music video soon for a song called Pagan Games. it's really about this idea of forgetting everyone else's expectations and just let yourself go. we're going to be dancing and frolicking for the camera so I guess I'm going to have to learn some moves.
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          Dec 20 2013: Scott, do you care to talk about what it is to be fairly uptight?

          I wonder how some musicians rise to the top? I'm thinking they may be more demanding. I have read the Beatles were very demanding in the studio, they weren't satisfied to be just good enough, they kept going til they got what they really wanted. Would you be comfortable that way, being demanding and really going until you got exactly what you wanted? Or do you settle for good enough?

          It's hard to think someone could attract an audience if they disliked their audience. Most people want to be liked. But people might like it if you placed a demand on them sometimes too?

          One thing that depresses me is people who can only loosen up via a narcotic such as alcohol. Scott you said you like being able to drink, is it something you have to have, or can you forego it?
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        Dec 19 2013: cool video.
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        Dec 21 2013: too self-conscious to dance with others around.

        as for musicians rising to the top, there should be good music (but this is not a requisite) but there needs to be a management/marketing team that knows what they are doing. it is a very rare thing for a musician to make it to the top solely on the strength of their music - sad but true.

        the Beatles stand apart from other bands because of their sheer talent as well as the effect they had on popular music. their songwriting is brilliant and their vocals very, very tight - you can hear some amazing vocal-only recordings on youtube. they are a great example of feel over technique (though McCartney probably covers both) - neither Ringo nor John were virtuoso players on their instruments but that doesn't matter - it's that rock thing again.

        i don't think any performer actually dislikes their audience - although you see with people like Kurt Cobain, the fake side of the industry - all the idol worship and myth that springs up around the great bands - can be what they hate.

        popular music can be art or business - it's rarely both. when it is, that's when you get Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc.

        audiences can be like bands - good and bad. there are music lovers and music consumers. music consumers are a recent phenomenon and they are a result of the internet's effect on music dissemination. these are the people that think a band is like an iPod and demand the song they want to hear and expect it now. they also often expect bands to be able to play anything and everything. rather than enjoying the listening experience. i don' t give those sorts of audience much regard.

        i don't need alcohol to 'relax' but it is one of the perks/dangers of the job. it can be an artificial lift to help boost your energy - this can be helpful when you're playing a song for the millionth time - and it can easily become a habit. if i'm honest, that's all part of the attraction that performing with a band has for me.
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          Dec 21 2013: Scott, is it just luck when a band gets a good management team? But surely there's something you can do to increase your chances of getting good management, research various firms or ask other bands?

          I wonder how the Beatles got good vocal tone? I'm sitting here trying to emulate them and it seems when I push my lips forward and form a tightly pursed hole to sing through, it does sound more like them, but I lose the ability to pronounce words as clearly. Maybe with practice I could pronounce clearly.

          Never quite got why people wouldn't want to be idolized.

          popular music can be art or business--you mean it can be art or it can sell a lot and make a lot of money? Can you say at all what makes something art, Scott, I know it's a hard question?
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        Dec 21 2013: in New Zealand (population 4.5 million) there aren't enough management groups and there just isn't a big enough market - it's DIY until you crack it but it takes a set of skills that musicians often lack.

        many managers groom young performers and mold them into a marketable product. that's how Lorde made it to the top - she has been groomed since age 13 and very obviously targets an american audience.

        for a band, you can hope to get someone with management skills who likes the band and foresees a great future - these people, like bands, probably have to work for peanuts to begin with until the band has achieved some kind of popularity - these people are rare.

        In The Beatles early years in Hamburg, they were playing 6 days a week playing for 8 hours at a time. that kind of practice leads to perfection. McCartney and Lennon also had fantastic voices that complimented each other just as much as their songwriting.

        enunciation and mike technique count for a lot - it takes a bit of practice to get comfy on a microphone. My biggest struggle vocally is to not sing in an american accent - this is very easy to do as most of the pop music we hear is sung this way because the roots of rock n roll are based in the States.

        The lyric has always been the main attraction for me but also the way the words are sung - vocalists I like are David Gilmour/Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), Neil Young, Damon Albarn (Blur), Ray Davies (The Kinks) and pretty much anything by The Band (Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel are incredible in my opinion).

        Neil Young is a good example of not liking fame - here he is talking about fame:

        songwriting is an art when it's done with the focus on the song and the music and not necessarily meant for an audience to hear.

        music is a business when a market is targeted and a group is groomed to appeal to that market. this is why we get so much fluff and paint-by-numbers pop music in the mainstream charts.
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          Dec 24 2013: well, how would you feel about being famous, Scott, is it something you would like?

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