This song is dedicated to my dear friend Heinrich in Cape Town, South Africa. Writing and recording it was a blast. I hope you will enjoy listening as much.
The unique Chocolate Cream Song is my tribute to the supremely delicious food that is chocolate cream. Made of only an avocado, a banana, some cocoa powder and a pinch of salt it is easy to make, healthy, tasty and also paleo, vegan, raw, vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free… oh food can be so much these days. Let’s keep it simple: Chocolate Cream is delicious.
And here is the song with an animated video:
Here’s the audio only:
Success is relative.
And yet our society shares a generalized, very narrow and absolute definition of making it which usually only involves the dimensions of accumulated wealth, social class and fame. Thousands of famous and rich stars who just can not get their lives sorted out clearly show the fallacy of this thinking. Frequent divorces, unhappiness und drug addiction seem nothing worth striving for and are certainly not signs of true success. Most of those unlucky stars will agree. Not even from their own point of view have they achieved success.
A girl managing to keep her promise to run five miles every day has made it. An elderly woman who finally learns to speak a foreign language has made it. They both are truly successful. Only the individual can define success. Furthermore the individual must define success. If you do not know where exactly you want to go you will never know when you get there (but mind you, you can be happy without a specific goal).
To relate this to music: Many musicians dream of making it in the music industry. Which is a vague dream. It usually seems to involve getting some kind of record company to take advantage of you and taking your rights from you in exchange for a measly share of what they define as profit in the form of money, the value of which is fleeting and questionable.
If that is your definition of making it, you might want to reconsider. Think about the fate of people like Jaco Pastorius. Was he successful? He is famous, he is a bass legend. But was he sucessful? Did he make it?
It is vital for you as a musician to ask these questions, to ask where you actually want to go yourself. I spent years practicing the guitar in order to improve my technique to play faster. I never set this goal for myself. Improving technique is just ingrained in our instrumental training culture, particularly on the electric guitar. After six years of lessons I realized that I did not care at all about speed and technique. What fascinated me was composition. From that moment on I was no longer a guitarist but a musician who happened to play mainly the guitar and I picked up the piano again and started to play the drums and sang and wrote a lot more songs. That is where my success started.
Think about the millions of lightning fast guitarists who are unhappy and still have not made it even by their own definitions. Put that in perspective while looking at the many technically sloppy or slow guitarists who are considered successful and revered the world over like Keith Richards or BB King. They, in turn, might consider themselves unsuccessful.
Success, clearly, is not universally embodied by money, fame, involvement with the music industry or technical prowess. Instead it is multi-dimensional and individual. Success is subjective. You can and you will succeed precisely when you achieve your goal.
Thus, you can only be successful if you know what your goal is. In order to make it you need to define what that means to you.
Success starts in your head and ends there. Therefore I will write about finding your making it in my next post: Strategies for guaranteed success.
If you would like to follow me on this journey of making it subscribe to my free newsletter. I am going to write about how to achieve success next and even how not playing music can make you a better musician.
Making it as an artist is simple. Based on my experience in the games industry, as a self-publishing author and as a musician I am writing this series to help other artists achieve success. This post tells a story not unusual for many artists.
22 years ago I took my first guitar lessons. Those had not been my first music lessons but it was the first time I knew that making music was going to be an essential part of my life.
I did not want to be a rock star, I did not care about girls melting at my feet or about being cool, whatever that means. I was just madly in love with music.
At that point I had already taught myself the basic chords. It took just an hour and showed me how easy things are when your priorities are set. The following years I spent most of my spare time with a guitar in my hands and playing like a maniac (I just dug up recordings from that time).
22 years ago I was a kid. Which made life even simpler. The only significant duty you have hereabouts is going to school. Guitar and music and school were all I needed to take care of.
Then school ended and things got complicated. Making a living comes into play and opportunities arise and you get confused. I clung to music for years after that but finally gave in and got a proper job freelancing in the video games industry (if you can call that proper in the 2000s). Fascinating, those things called career and work and colleagues and financial pressure: They pushed the guitar to a cobwebbed corner of my life out of which it only slowly made its way back into my life. I kept playing, but rarely and with little thought. And yet I learned vital lessons about creative work. Lessons that without my knowing then would help my success as a musician.
Several years later the games industry bored me and I quit and became a successful self-publishing author. I did not actually plan this. It just happened and it, as well, is quite an exciting, albeit labour-intensive job. Music slowly returned and I found out that I am not really a guitarist but a musician who happens to play mainly the guitar. As a self-publisher I learned many more crucial things about creative work and how to make a living from it.
The greatest love of my life came back with full force at some point in early 2012 and coerced me into writing and recording an album, finishing one song per month. That turned out to become the monster called Blood and Souls.
Two years later I followed that with another album, Love and Passion.
Both were and are successful albums. That is why the title of this post is misleading: In many ways I have already made it as a musician.
Making it is a vague term and I will explore that in detail in my next post. Let us for now agree that the definition of making it depends on your perspective.
As a devoted lover of music I take making it, first and foremost, literally: I have made it as a musician because I keep making music. I compose, I play, I learn. I have failed in the past. Even between Blood and Souls and Love and Passion I have sometimes failed. I will continue to fail from time to time.
But if I were to draw a graph between 1994 and 2016 you would only see a steep drop from 2003 to 2005, a steady increase until 2007 and a dramatic surge back in 2012. We all live through these highs and lows. They key lies in not quitting.
So making it as an artist, in the most general sense, is very simple. You need to make art to make it. It is incredible how many talented musicians already fail at this stage because they expect music, money or fame to just flow their way. But making music is work. Success is not in sitting at home and complaining about the state of the music industry.
Of course there are more specific definitions of making it and success. Those I will explore in my next post in this series.
My experience as a creative professional tells me what I need to do in order to accomplish my goal and I am going to share this knowledge with you. It really is quite simple. Most of the time it is not easy, though.
With many of you I share the desire to spend most of my time just making music. I want to write and play and record and perform and share my music. I am closer than ever before to that goal, yet not fully there.
But I am going to make it.
If you would like to follow me on this journey subscribe to my free newsletter. I am going to write about what exactly making it means next, how to achieve success and even how not playing music can make you a better musician.
The world could do with a lot more love and passion. So why not check out my brand new, second album Love and Passion?
Look at this magnificent cover artwork by the one and only, the talented artist, decent person and crazy girl, Andrea Christen:
Does it not tickle you to find out more about what is behind the wolf, the boy and the muse? Click here to learn more and to listen to all the lovely acoustic music for free. You can also buy the album as a very limited edition CD, only 100 copies were made. And if it is too late, why not buy it digitally? If you click here, you can also learn more about every single song on this album and to whom it is dedicated.
Just when I had pressed down the plunger of the carefully prepared French Press and was about to pour a cup of my freshly ground, cherished Rosetta Asuvim coffee, my Parisian host’s oldest son entered the kitchen, drew a cup from the drip filter machine that had been idling there for at least an hour and rammed it into the microwave. Inside me a little kitten died right that moment before I regained my composure and smiled. This is the variety of life. I like my coffee. You like yours.
We live in a world where you can listen to as much Justin Bieber as you like. And I am free to listen to Richard Einhorn or Miles Davis. If and when I like. We all have these choices. That is beautiful.
Later that day I encounter a café near Notre-Dame that sells their cup of black water for an impressive 6€. I chose to pass on this opportunity to try another cup of carelessly brewed hot beverage. After a while you learn to spot the signs of both careless and careful baristas at work. That allows you to make careful choices, save money and improve your day.
We have all these choices. What makes me sad is how few people are aware of them. Most coffee drinkers know only their black roasted, pre-ground, drip-filtered, microwave-reheated coffee. They are not aware of the alternatives. They do not know about origin, processing, roasting or filter methods. They do not understand that all these factors make a huge difference. They can not believe that coffee can, in fact, taste like tea or juice or chocolate. They live in blissful ignorance.
I smile again, wider this time, when I finally enter the doors of Café Craft and gratefully receive a cup of carefully V60-filtered Ethiopian joy – my first thusly brewed coffee in months. Intense memories of honey still linger on my tongue hours later and the day’s circle closes. And I just can not stop smiling.
I don’t expect for everyone to drink specialty coffee only. Instead I wish for everyone to drink the coffee he or she likes best. That, though, requires education. If you do not know your alternatives, you do not know what you like best. This education every single one of us can take into their own hands. You do not need to study music theory in order to understand jazz or classical music. All you need is your senses and awareness. We have plenty of that but waste it staring at screens or fantasizing about irrelevant things past or future.
If you want to learn more about the choices you have in life, just turn on some music, close your eyes, listen closely to every single sound and be aware of what it does to you. Switch off all expectations. Do not expect the music to do anything to you. Instead watch how your body and mind react to the sounds. And stay aware. Listen to as much and as varied music as possible. Never stop.
That is the only way to find out which type of coffee you like most.
This is an acoustic distillate of my Brütal Metal album Blood and Souls. During writing I was actually surprised by how many beautiful melodies went into the original album that I did not really recognize at the time of its creation.
I am very proud of this song and of my vocal performance. By no means am I content with the vocal track and I still have a lot to learn. On the other hand I know exactly where I started singing-wise around two years ago: With nothing. No training, no experience, no practice. Words can not describe how grateful I am to my vocal coach Angelika Norwidat for guiding me through the darkness and giving me confidence that I can learn how to sing. Without her I would not be singing in public today. Without her I would never have written my upcoming album and I might have quit making music altogether.
In his book What to do when it’s your turn Seth Godin basically says:
“Even when you make your art – the world owes you nothing.”
And I think he is right. As an artist I am not owed respect or applause or even recognition. Why would I?
Steven Pressfield, in The War of Art, writes:
“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”
Again, I believe the author is right. By the way: The War of Art ist a mindblowingly incredible book, you should buy and read it right now.
What those quotations leave us with, though, is this: If you are an artist, you have to give and give and give and never expect anything in return:
You owe the world. No one owes you.
That might sound daunting. At the same time, I think it is liberating.
Go out and rock. Now.
(And get those books, they are priceless.)
In which I extend my lifespan by cooking the perfect omelette.
During my stay in Cape Town I decided to take drum lessons. It never hurts to learn more about rhyhthm. This is an opportunity to expand my musical vocabulary for composing. And I just love to learn new stuff anyway.
If drinking coffee can improve my music, taking drum lessons certainly will do so as well. But where is the connection to cooking an omelette and how should it expand my lifespan?
Forget time to make it memorable
You may have gathered that I love good food. Good food can excite your senses and draw all your attention. In Cape Town you can experience new flavour combinations, textures and qualities daily. Your senses of taste and smell learn new vocabularies.
Learning something new requires attention. To make the most out of it, you need to be fully aware of every moment.
As long as you keep this conscious focus, time often seems to fly by. My drum and vocal lessons are always over before I know it.
But did I just lose this time that has passed?
Paradoxically, the opposite appears to be true. Time may just have passed me by. But I will be able to remember most of this lesson for the rest of my life.
As time flies
That time I roasted cocoa beans for the first time in my life? Two hours were gone in a heartbeat. Cupping coffee at Rosetta Roastery? Thirty minutes went by in a breeze and I remember every detail of the process.
Maybe you have ever experienced this on your way to work: You get into your car to drive to work. You arrive without really knowing what you did in between. You were on autopilot, your mind wandering somewhere else. You can not remember any part of the actual way.
You have truly lost time.
In just the same way you lose the time you spend bored in front of a TV screen. The kind of time that seems to stretch on and on, spent waiting for something to happen.
What has this to do with making the perfect omelette?
Why do you remember your first kiss? Or that christmas dinner with the whole family when you were 12 and everyone was so happy? You were conscious and engaged. These moments of full awareness entered your mind and are stored as vivid memories.
We will get to the tasty omelette in just a moment.
Be a student for life to stay awake
Learning truly, which requires aware consciousness, apparently increases your amount of lasting memories.
You are in the Now and build a library of experiences. You will not look back on such a life and ask “Where has all the time gone?”
You will not ask because you will remember. Your life feels longer.
So how can an omelette extend your lifespan?
I like a good breakfast. It does not need to be an omelette. Yet it amazes me how so few places in this town serve a decent omelette. So in order to make my daily breakfast more enjoyable, I decided to learn how to make a proper French omelette myself.
After months of daily practice I can now state with confidence that I can prepare an amazing omelette.
Every morning I will pay close attention to my process of omelette-making. There is a lot to learn here:
I will pick up differences in the way the eggs behave while I beat them with different motions.
The way not only different amounts but also varying ratios of parsley to chives influence the flavour.
How much heat and what timing exactly I need to perfectly curdle the eggs for the right, moist cosistency.
And how the almighty butter can indeed always improve everything further, and further still.
All this attention to detail forces me to live in the moment. My urge to improve the omelette further keeps me from dropping into a routine.
This way I not only extend my lifespan but I also become a better cook. And get a good breakfast. A good way to spend my time.
Eventually I will stop learning more about the omelette and routine will set it. Then I will start making poached eggs.
Would you rather die at age 21?
You can, of course, decide that you have learned enough at age 21, after apprencticeship. You can just get a job and by all means, stop learning because that is for kids.
You can wake up at age 65 and ask where all the time has gone.
You can die because you feel you have lost your purpose.
You do have a choice
Time is a matter of perception. Your perception. And you can change your perception, you can influence the amount of conscious time you have in your life. Learn. Learn how to skate, to paint, to sing, to fly. Learn whatever you want to learn.
Never stop. Stay awake.
Just take a new path to an old destination. Even if it is just your way home from work. See new things, stay engaged. Eat something for dinner you have never tried before, even if it is just a new spice.
Make things happen to your life. Don’t wait for life to happen to you.
To be continued – my adventures in South Africa still not over.
Read previous parts in this series:
In which I work in a chocolate factory and find bandmates who can not play any instruments.
If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
Thorin (The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien)
Indeed, food and music appear to go well together in my life. As you might have read, while in Cape Town I learned from Ollie how to improve my music through coffee.
Now imagine a perfectley grilled, grass-fed, well-matured T-Bone steak, cooked medium rare and infused with olive oil, garlic, and rosemary.
Imagine the one and only perfect Pizza Margherita with all fresh ingredients, nice and crunchy on the outside, soft and subtle on the inside.
Imagine the perfect croissant. The perfect pasta. The perfect chocolate mousse cake.
The smells, the textures, the flavours.
Imagine the dedication, the skill and the years of hard work one has to put in to achieve these masterpieces, each of them indeed describing a traditional discipline of their own.
The fiercely passionate Italian Giorgio Nava inspired me with his conviction about how to prepare food properly. His passion and commitment captivate me as much as his attention to detail and insistence on doing it the way he wants. The path is not just as important as the goal – it is the goal. His dishes are so delightful that they transport you into the Now, they force you to live the moment consciously.
Giorgio fought for many years to have it his way: An Italian restaurant, a temple to the cow, a Milanese-style cafe and a fine pizza shop (those links are videos I made about him – check them out to get inspired.)
Insist and insist and insist
To meet people like Giorgio keeps me sane and on track. His work reminded me of my own journey with Blood and Souls. In his view there is no value in giving in or watering down your vision. “I always ask myself,” Giorgio says, “If I compromise my food, what would my mama say?”
Indeed, in the end we are all alone. Yet it is encouraging to see kindred spirits struggling beside us, facing their own challenges that are so different and yet so similar. In that sense we are connected. We are one.
It is not surprising, therefore, that when we meet we immediately sense our deep spiritual kinship.
Making chocolate and making friends
What could possibly go wrong when you find yourself reading the words “Chocolate Factory”, “Tour” and “Tasting” in one breath?
While in Cape Town I stumbled across the Cocoáfair chocolate factory and was excited (another video of mine.) As a social business they are going far beyond fair trade and organic: They are driven by the urge to create one of the best chocolates in the world while improving the living and working conditions for everyone along the way.
Through this lure and my love for good food, I met Heinrich, the driving force and visionary behind the operation. As stated before, kindred spirits easily recognize each other and we soon became friends.
Perseverance = vision + priorities + diligence
Heinrich is one of the most impressive personalities I have ever met. With enviable endurance he overcomes challenge after challenge to keep Cocoáfair on track in South Africa, quickly making the company a force to be reckoned with globally. He learns, absorbs, internalizes and solves any problem. And there are plenty of obstacles to overcome in this country.
Again, it is unfaltering perseverance that is the source of his success.
Yielding and succumbing to the flow often appears reasonable. It is the easy way out, the path of least resistance and pain. Let someone else take care of the hard stuff.
But where is the fun in that? None of us would be here today if our ancestors had not fought to go where no one else had gone before.
Heinrich and I found that just knowing there is someone else around with the same mindset gives us support and keeps us going. Inspiration rubs off and grows exponentially. That is how I came to work in his chocolate factory and to roast cocoa beans with him. Certainly my coffee-expanded palate helped. This is one unforgettable experience, including the smell of chocolate all over your body and clothes hours after you have gone home.
The band that can not play
Just like Giorgio, Heinrich is my perfect bandmate. Alas, he can not play any instruments (yet) and so my quest goes on.
That is what I am traveling for, after all: To meet kindred spirits. I love them all dearly and regret none of my adventures, unfortunate and fruitless trips notwithstanding.
If one day I stumble upon one such spirit with musical skills, I will jam with it and enjoy it all the more. If not, an open mind allowed me to meet these beautiful people and friends.
If you believe in something, stick to it and in the end you will have your reward.
To be continued – my adventures in South Africa are far from over.
Read previous parts in this series: