CultureSkills

This past summer, I had the great pleasure of working on my fourth music video for Dizzy Bats. The project was the second collaboration with LA-based director, Michael Chiu, who also directed and co-produced our music video for “Girls.”

For this particular project, the planning and production was done by Michael and the Director of Photography, Jeanna Kim. The two would have meetings on site at the restaurant we shot at to discuss direction, shot selection, and lighting. From there they picked out a crew to help bring this song and video to life.

On a hot Sunday afternoon in mid-July outside of LA, we all met up at Michael’s Burger around 3 PM, shortly after they had closed for the day. We utilized the entire restaurant and nearly everything at our disposal, which included burger patties and french fries to name a couple. The shoot lasted almost 14 hours and took an unfortunate turn when one of the crew members accidentally left with Michael’s car keys.  It was an absolutely exhausting but exciting day.

Over the last three years and four video shoots, I’ve learned that you really don’t need a lot of money to make a great video, and often times one simple concept can carry a project and make it great. The most important part of any collaboration is finding the right people to team up with; those who are equally driven and devoted to bringing your song to life. So to any bands out there looking to make a video for the first time, shop around for the right director and start brainstorming.

Bringing one of your songs to life through the art of film can be challenging, stressful, and intimidating. From production to shooting to editing to color correction, there is so much that needs to go right in order for a concept to be successfully carried out, and for a video to ultimately look great. In collaborating with so many film people, I continue to be blown away by the artistic drive of these talented individuals, as well as their amazing professionalism. It’s been fascinating to see the commonalities between the two art forms of film and music, while comparing our various stories. Art should never be limited to just one form, and through my work on these music videos, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the awesome marriage of music and film.

Check out Connor Frost’s Professional Spotlight here.

Image: Connor Frost

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

As huge jazz fans, we are so impressed with Jazz musician and trumpet player Alex Owen. After graduating from Connecticut College, Alex moved to New Orleans to work with a non-profit geared toward ending housing discrimination in Louisiana. He eventually started a band called the Messy Cookers – aptly named after his own sloppy cooking technique – and they’ve been playing together ever since. Although he now loves music and plays jazz for a living, Alex shares his advice on why never closing doors on opportunities, even at a young age, can lead you to your passion down the line. We are excited to introduce Alex Owen!

Name: Alex Owen
Age: 24
Education: BA in International Relations and Hispanic Studies from Connecticut College, High School Columbia Prep.
Follow: Facebook

How do you define ‘seizing your youth’?

I would define it as going out and doing what you love. I don’t think there is an age limit, or minimum, to trying to make your dream happen. When I hear the term “seizing your youth,” I think of having the opportunity to try things out and see what happens. Sometimes it’s a risk, but if you don’t take those risks now, then when will you?

What did you major in at Connecticut College and how did you determine what to study?

At Connecticut College I majored in International Relations and Hispanic Studies, and I minored in Music. I also was part of the CISLA program. I picked my majors just based on what classes I wanted to take. I had studied Spanish in high school and I wanted to continue to learn the language and become proficient, and I really liked the interdisciplinary focus of the IR major. It just seemed that the majors seemed to fit what I wanted to study. Of course, I wanted to play music as well, so the minor just seemed to fit what I was interested in.

What or who inspired you to become a jazz musician?

I think what inspired me was really just to follow my passion. I don’t think I ever sat down and thought, “I want to be a jazz musician.” I loved playing traditional jazz music at Connecticut College where I first discovered this music, and I also loved being in the jazz ensemble. I wanted to move to New Orleans because I knew they had a great scene for traditional jazz, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity I was going to play.

When I moved to New Orleans, I actually was part of a fellowship program called AVODAH, where I spent a year working full-time at the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, a non-profit working to end housing discrimination in Louisiana. It wasn’t until about mid-way through my first year that I started the Messy Cookers Jazz band and started to find gigs and get a little bit of work. I realized that I really loved the music, and while I also loved the work I was doing at the Fair Housing center, I really wanted to focus on getting better. It became apparent that if I wanted to gig more and get more work, it wouldn’t be feasible to work full time and try to focus on both things. After I started to get work, I decided that I could really be a jazz musician, and that’s when I decided to focus on it and teach music part time.

Tell me about your college bands The Endpiece and Funk the Police. How have those experiences shaped your current music?

Those were some really great bands to be a part of. When I look back at my college experience, some of the fondest memories I had were from those two bands. I think those experiences were incredibly helpful because they taught me so much about being in a band and what the dynamics are like. One thing I learned from being a musician is that it takes so much work to make the music great. You have to practice, you have to find different roles, and you have to learn how to create chemistry with your other band mates in order to make great music. I’ve found that in any style or genre of music, this is true.

You also have to be able to find common ground among different personalities. While I don’t play the style of music that those two bands played anymore, I still take what I learned from those bands about working together with other musicians to make great music, and it’s something I use every time I play with people today.

Alex 2

How do you stay motivated on-stage night after night of performing?

It’s definitely tough to do this. It’s certainly easier when you are playing a crowded venue. The hard thing to do is really be on your game when it’s the third or fourth set and it’s a slow night. I think what makes some musicians truly great is that they play the same way whether there are 100 people in the place, or two people. I really try to focus on just making great music at all times and I try not to worry about the crowd. Obviously, I’m always paying attention to the crowd, especially when I’m the bandleader. But once we pick a song and we get into it, I try to block it out and just try to make great music. Ultimately, that’s the most gratifying thing, and it’s something that I could do every day for the rest of my life.

Where does your band name, Messy Cookers Jazz Band, come from?

Ha-ha, this is a pretty funny question. I was making a comment to myself the first year down here that when I was cooking, I made a pretty big mess. I lived on campus all four years of college, so I never really learned how to cook before I moved down to New Orleans. All of a sudden, I realized that I had to cook for myself, so I learned the basics and was able to get by. I guess my technique was still a little sloppy. I was cooking for my housemates one night and I made the comment about how I was a messy cooker. My roommate Jeremy was walking by, and he went “I think I just found your band name.” The name was just too good to pass up.

How does living in New Orleans inspire your music?

I think living here is great because to play the music I want to play, which is traditional New Orleans jazz, I’m able to learn from the best. There are great musicians still working all the time today, who themselves came up playing with and learning from some of the all-time greats. It’s really a privilege to be able to hear them play on almost any given day or night, and to occasionally have opportunities to play with them. I think hearing what they have to say, and listening to the way they approach the music, is key for me to also try and play this music. I try to utilize their advice in every gig I play.

What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned from being a musician?

There are a lot of good lessons I’ve learned. One is definitely how to take criticism and how to take rejection. Every musician is going to have self-doubt, get yelled at on a bandstand for making a mistake or not knowing a song, get fired from a gig, or get turned down for a gig. It’s very discouraging, but the best thing to do is trust in yourself and trust in your ability. I’ve found that during the tough times, trusting myself has allowed me to stay positive, remain focused, and continue to make great music.

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What is the biggest challenge with being a musician? The best part?

There are a few challenges with being a musician. I’d say one challenge being unsure know when your next paycheck will be coming in. Especially as someone that is new to town, I’ve gotten a lot of gigs last minute. Since I’m still trying to establish myself, I’m in a position where if I can make a gig, I take it. It’s definitely hard to adjust your schedule last minute. The schedule can also be grueling. Working nights can be really hard, especially since I teach during the day. You really have to alter your life schedule to fit your work. Sometimes this means trying to eat a big meal to last you the 4-5 hours you will be out since you don’t have access to food. Other times, this means trying to hang out with friends during the day because when they are free night, this is when I’m working.

On the flip side, the best part of being a musician is that it’s greatest job in the world! I get to make awesome music, something I would do anyway in my free time, and then I get paid for it. I’ve been fortunate to get work with some world-class musicians, which is an awesome experience. There are many nights when I can’t believe I’m sharing a bandstand with some of these people. It’s also gratifying when you can tell that you’ve touched people with your music.  When I’ve just spent a night making music that you know was great music, and people come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed it, that really makes it gratifying.

Any tips for learning how to play an instrument?

The biggest tip I can give is to be patient. Something I tell my beginning band students all the time is that Louis Armstrong didn’t sound like Louis Armstrong when he first started playing. Music is like a totally new language; nobody just wakes up a genius. Everyone works at it and tries to make new strides. When you are learning a new instrument, take pride in whatever progress you make, however small, and focus on achieving each milestone. Eventually, before you even realize it, you will start sounding better and playing an instrument will become more fun.

How do you overcome self-doubt (or stage fright?)

Like learning an instrument, this comes with practice. The more gigs I play, the more confident I become in myself, and the easier it is to overcome stage fright. Stage fright, and self-doubt, is a part of being a performer, and is something that becomes easier with practice. Whenever I get nervous, I also try to remember that there is a reason I’m on the bandstand. If I’m a sideman, I try to focus on the fact that someone called me to play the gig with him or her, so I must be doing something right. As a bandleader, I try to remember that the venue likes us enough to hire us, and the people I’ve hired like playing with me enough to want to play with me, otherwise they would’ve said no.

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What advice do you have for youth who want to be professional musicians?

My advice is to go for it. If you feel it’s what you want to do, and it’s what you are most passionate about, then absolutely go for it and don’t hold back. People are definitely going to tell you that you can’t do it, or that it’s not stable, etc. These are things that almost all professional artists face at one point. If you are driven enough and determined enough, you can sustain the bumps in the road and make it happen. It’s also ok to take a part-time job or do something on the side to make ends meet, even if it’s not exactly the work you want to be doing. I’ve been lucky enough to find work teaching music, which is something I love and plan to pursue, but I know other musicians and other artists who’ve had all types of weird jobs not related to their art. As long as it doesn’t directly interfere with your art, I say there’s nothing wrong with getting a job to pay the bills.

What do you do when you’re not making music?

I really enjoy spending time outdoors. I’m fortunate that New Orleans has a temperate climate (other than the summer), which allows me to go running, spend time in parks, and generally do activities outside. I also spend time with my girlfriend, watch TV shows, and spend time with friends.

What does a day in your life look like?

Ha-ha, depends on the day! Usually my weekdays consist of teaching during the day. I have a little break in the afternoon, where I usually exercise and get other work done (the work never stops for musicians). If I have a gig that night I’ll eat an early dinner, warm up a little, prep for the gig, and head down early to set up. If not, I’ll either go to hear other bands and sit in, or just hang out and rest. The weekends are mostly about gigs. If I don’t have a daytime gig, I can run errands, hang out with friends, and then go to my gig later. However, some weekends I just spend it running from gig to gig. The great thing about being a musician is that no two days are the same!

What motivates you in your everyday life?

I always just try to be the best person I can be. Whether I’m playing music or not, I always try to be nice to others, to spend quality time with other people, and to be true to my craft.

What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

I would definitely tell myself that music isn’t dorky, that I should be pursuing it. I think at 15, I really was into sports, and not so much into music. Playing trumpet was more of a chore my parents made me do (and I’m glad they made me do it), and I wish I had treated it differently. I think a lot of this was that I didn’t realize how much fun playing was, and I didn’t think it was that cool.

Image: Hot Steamed Jazz Festival; all others from Alex Owen

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

Managing, singing, writing, playing, and producing your own music takes a lot of time, effort, and creativity. What is the process for producing an album? How does one become a professional musician and artist? How do you stay confident in front of crowds night after night? Connor Frost, who manages, sings, writes, and plays his own music with his band, Dizzy Bats, explains, “Just go out there and do it, repetition really helps.” 

Having grown up playing music and being surrounded by a musically-talented family, standing in front of an audience is nothing new to Connor, but he continues to channel all of his energy into his performances and he makes sure he is always learning something from each new experience. Fresh off the release of his new EP, Appendectomy, Connor has a lot to share about his experiences pursuing music full-time and how he got to where he is today.

Name: Connor Frost
Age: 25
Education: B.A. from Connecticut College
Follow: Twitter | Facebook | Dizzy Bats | Take a Listen/Download

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

CF: Following your passion. I do my best not to worry about the different molds that society has created for us, and instead just roll with it and ride that passion wave.

CJ: What did you major in at Connecticut College and how did you determine what to study?

CF: Going into Connecticut College I knew that I wanted to study Chinese, so when I was applying to colleges, I looked for programs that had strong Chinese programs. I also knew that I wanted to study music but I wasn’t really trying to dive into a conservatory atmosphere. I was, however, looking for schools that would allow me to be involved musically, so the small liberal arts college system appealed to me.

CJ: Did you study abroad? What was your big takeaway from studying abroad and do you think it was worth it?

CF: I studied in Beijing for the spring semester of my junior year. There are so many takeaways, but I would say by the end of that experience, I considered myself “fluent” in the Chinese language, which was ultimately my goal. I think it was also an incredible cultural learning experience. Just crossing the street in China is an adventure every day. Immersing myself in that type of environment that was totally different from what I grew up in was pretty great.

Connor in front of Organs

CJ: What or who inspired you to become a musician/artist?

CF: I grew up playing music. My mom is a professional pianist. My dad is a singer. They’re both teachers, they both teach music. My mom works at Sacred Heart University as a teacher there, she’s also an organist at a church. My dad also teaches. So I grew up around music, but it wasn’t until college that I realized that music is what I want to do. My parents made me continue music up to a certain age, but I never felt like they forced it on me. It was a mix of being surrounded by it, but also the great experiences that I had in college and starting my own band made me realize that this is what I want to do.

CJ: How did you know you wanted to be a musician/artist professionally?

CF: I didn’t really know. Out of college I was a full-time teacher for 2 years, the first year in Connecticut and then in North Jersey, and my reasoning for that was that I wanted to be in or around New York because that’s where my band was and still is. I really love teaching, realized that teaching full-time and doing the music thing full-time just wasn’t a healthy lifestyle and it was causing a lot of unneeded stress. I ultimately decided last February that I wanted to remove myself from full-time teaching and dedicate that time to music.

CJ: You recently went on a national tour. When on tour, how do you stay motivated on-stage night after night of performing?

CF: I put all of my energy into the performance. Seeing the country is great, but at the end of the day, you’re on the road for one reason and that’s the performance.  I try not to worry about things that are out of my control, which is easier said than done.  Seeing different cities is pretty cool, too, but I put everything into the show. Whether I’m playing for 1 person or for 50 people, it doesn’t matter, I just try to make the performance the best it can be.

CJ: Have you ever forgotten a song lyric on-stage and what do you do when that happens?

CF: Short answer, yes. I’ve mixed up verses. I think only the really hardcore Dizzy Bats fans notice, so it’s not a really big thing. I’ll definitely laugh about it, though.

Connor and his band 2 - 1

CJ: Do you have a pre-show ritual?

CF: I don’t really, but I probably should. I just try to eat well and not right before performing.

CJ: What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned from being a musician/artist?

CF: I think throughout all of my song-writing, I was really concerned with how my music would be received amongst my friends, new fans, and family. In the beginning, it was as if I was trying to write for someone else. I was trying to write to this group of people – whoever they were, and I wasn’t even sure who they were really. Lyrically, I was trying to make my songs really accessible as well.

Now, I truly just write for myself.  I’ve stopped worrying about whether the record will sell or if someone will like a song or not. The greatest lesson I’ve learned is that you should write for yourself and be true to yourself, otherwise the art loses authenticity and meaning.

CJ: How do you overcome self-doubt and stage fright?

CF: Just doing it more and more. I grew up performing so I had a lot of experience on stage. I do get anxious about some shows, though.  For example, our first Dizzy Bats show, which was a couple of years ago now, I was crazy nervous. Last year we were playing a show every weekend from January to April, and by the end of it performing was second nature. There were some nerves but more excitement and positive energy than anything else. Just go out there and do it, repetition really helps.

CJ: You write, sing, and play your own music. What is your songwriting process?

CF: It really depends. It’s tough for me to pick a time to sit down and just write a song. It doesn’t really work like that. I get ideas for songs at really inconvenient times, usually right before I’m going to bed, which is a horrible time to get a song idea, or while stuck in traffic on the GWB. I usually come up with a melody first, and then I take that melody and mess around with the guitar, and then I’ll put lyrics to it and take it to my guitarist, Kyle, who will come up with additional guitar parts. Then the whole band will flesh it out from there.

If I start writing a song and the song doesn’t write itself, then it’s probably not meant to be.  If I have to spend a lot of time thinking about the song, then it’s probably not going to happen, or perhaps I just have a horrible attention span.

Connor playing guitar - 1

CJ: What advice do you have for youth who want to be professional musicians?

CF: Write for yourself and don’t worry about how your music is going to be received. In the end, if you’re not happy with your music and you’re not stoked about what you’re putting out, it’ll be hard for others to be excited about it. If you want to be an indie rock artist, don’t let the empty room discourage you.

CJ: What does a day in your life look like?

CF: A typical day involves waking up and now eating breakfast which I never usually did. I’ll work on some music, whether it’s Dizzy Bats or other projects I’m involved in. During the day I’ll have rehearsals, at night I tutor, and then I’ll work on more music, read, and watch TV.  Every day is different which is really cool.

CJ: What was the inspiration behind Appendectomy?

CF: I had an appendectomy that went all wrong due to mediocre doctors and poor opinions. I ended up back in the hospital after the appendectomy because of post-surgery complications, so during that time I was going through a lot.

So I started writing this song which is a little bit about missing this girl and also about putting things into perspective. I found myself whining and crying when I was bedridden, but I realized at the end of the day I was going to walk out of that hospital, which was more than a lot of patients can say.

CJ: How long did it take to write, sing, and produce Appendectomy?

CF: We toured the songs for half a year, from January to May. We went into the studio in May and I would say we spent four total days in the studio for five songs – one of the songs didn’t make it on to the EP. The mixing and mastering was in June. From learning the songs to getting the final tracks was a 6 month process. It can be shorter than that, but it just happened this way.

Connor singing and playing guitar -1

CJ: What activities were you involved in throughout high school? Were there any experiences that were most memorable or life changing?

CF: I was very involved with music. After I quit the soccer team my junior year of high school, I decided that music was going to be my focus outside of the classroom. My jazz band teacher in high school really was a source of inspiration.  In playing with such strong high school musicians and getting instruction from a great jazz musician, I started to casually think about life as a teacher, as well as a musician.

In college, I played in every single group imaginable, it seemed. I played in the concert band, symphony orchestra, jazz band, I fronted a rock band and funk band, and that’s when I started writing my own tunes. My college band, The Endpiece – that experience made me realize I wanted to go the rock ‘n roll/indie route. Of all the amazing learning experiences that I had, that was one of the most amazing and life changing. I learned so much and there is no way I would be doing what I am doing now without that band.

CJ: You are also the manager of your band. From the business side, how does that influence the creative side?

CF: It doesn’t, except that some songs have been about the frustrations of managing the creative as well as business side of things. They are pretty separate because managing deals with booking shows and PR, so it doesn’t necessarily crossover into the creative world.

CJ: What music are you most influenced by?

CF: I am influenced by all of the genres that I’ve studied. We have a lot of horns in our recordings and I draw influence from all of the experience that I’ve had playing classical and jazz trumpet.  I hate classifying our music but if I had to put us in a box: 90’s alternative rock, punk and power pop. Our music is very 90s influenced, which makes sense having been a 90s kid.

CJ: What motivates you in your everyday life?

CF: The music is what motivates me, as well as working with kids. Those are two things that I love to do, and I feel so blessed that my life consists of these two passions. I don’t find myself necessarily sitting on the couch trying to find ways to motivate myself.  Not at the moment, at least.

CJ: Who is your role model?

CF: It sounds corny, but seeing what my parents have done with music and seeing how happy they are is inspirational.

More recently, the various producers that I’ve worked with – our guitarist, Kyle Joseph, and my buddy Jon Markson – have been the two people on the production front for Dizzy Bats, and in seeing what they do in the studio and what they do with their own music keeps me motivated and inspired.  Every time I see them work I am amazed by their knowledge, expertise, and drive.  My brother, who I consider to be the most all-around creative person I know, is also someone I look up to.  I feel really lucky to be surrounded by such talented friends and family.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

CF: Relax, it’s all good.

Connor Frost Qs

Check out the lyric video for ‘Batman and the Joker’ below!