How I Listen to Live Music (no, I’m not sleeping)

There’s no denying the power of seeing music live, as opposed to just listening to a recording. You can see the artists creating the music in real time. You’re a first-hand witness to the passion, technique, focus, talent, the blood sweat and tears that go into every great performance. That’s not even saying anything about hearing a piece for the first time and getting your mind blown when something you’ve never heard before triggers that g-spot in your brain. And when you are hearing a piece you’re familiar with, there’s a sense of excitement and suspense, wondering if it will be as good, better, or worse than the recording you’ve heard countless times before.

But sometimes that passion and suspense can trick me. I find myself enjoying something live that I would never listen to in the solitude of my home, simply because I am drawn in by someone’s performance.

This happens the other way around too. I find myself disliking a live performance because they are playing a great song, but with very little effort or passion included in their performance. Yet I know if I was listening to that song in my home or in my car, I would very likely enjoy the song.

Over the past few months I have seen very many acoustic performers at open mics and piano shows, and for the most part they have been extremely good. I’m not trying to out anyone as a joyless musician or a phony, because I haven’t met any.

What I *AM* trying to do is disprove a potential statement that someone may have for me if they happen to witness me listening to live music, and that statement would be:

“…dude, he fell asleep!”

I am easily deceived by the wonder of seeing music live, and it distorts my aural perception of the song. So sometimes I try to eliminate the judgmental sense of sight by closing my eyes and just enjoying the sound of the song. I tend to judge people and music unfairly because the I think the song they are playing is too easy to play (a common and unfortunate mistake to make when trying to assess the value of a song), or they’re the eighth guitar player I’ve seen that night. There are a myriad of visual and circumstantial reasons to unjustly dismiss a live performance.  The best way I can think of to keep myself from making these hasty and unwarranted conclusions, or falling prey to the potential juxtaposition of sight and sound,  is to close my eyes. I try to imagine myself listening to the song in my home, without the influence of the venue, the lighting, the audience, how long I’ve been there, or the performer’s presentation.

I usually find that I like the song a lot better when I close my eyes. I can focus more on the lyrics and the overall direction and style of the song. I often find a much deeper appreciation for what is being performed. Its hard to separate music from its visual representations. We hear classical music and think of people in frumpy clothes and wigs. We hear country music and see cowboy hats. We hear Lady Gaga and think of a meat dress…or a mermaid in a horse trough, or Janus giving birth to her (his?!?) own head.  My eyes really do deceive me. I see live music and hear an awesome plucking guitar performance from someone who looks to be barely moving their fingers, or dismiss a visually subdued performance of  two chords repeated over and over again when the music gives me goosebumps the second I close my eyes.

So for Big Brother out there, live music does not bore me to sleep. I free myself from making unfair judgments when I listen to music with my eyes closed.

That is, unless you’re a piano player. Then I’m watching your fingers like a hawk, even though I can rarely tell what you’re actually doing.

One Step

I have officially finished the lyrics to my newest song, One Step. It’s taken probably two months to finish this new tune – its basically about feeling like everyone has a leg up on me. I kind of feel this way professionally, financially, socially…at least enough to write a song about it.

It’ll be a little while before I record it, though. I have very high aspirations for the piano part of this song. It has three distinct styles (and a key change for each one), but they don’t feel forced. The hard part will be writing each of these parts out. I have a tendency to do the same comping patterns over and over, and this is my best chance to create my own comping patterns, learn others that already exist, and expand my vocabulary. The slow process of musical evolution..

I’ll be playing this song at the Elbo Room this Sunday night, 8 PM. Come hear it and let me know what you think it sounds like. Hopefully I’ll have a video or audio of it soon, but not before next week. I have three performances coming up this week (corporate tonight, all-request on Friday at Grace Street Tap *come out and see it!!!!*, and the big show at the Elbo Room Sunday). They’re all different types of shows, and prepping for them will take up most of my time this week.

I hope to see you Friday at Grace Street Tap or, even better, the Elbo Room on Sunday. Tell your kids, tell your wife, they’s coming to get you and take you to the Elbo Room.

In the meantime, enjoy the lyrics to my newest song

Verse 1
Lean on me, but not too hard
do I really look like a rock to you?
paralyzed by wide eyes, yeah I’m not likely to move
but I swear everyone I meet has walls that stand on their own

Climb the flight in steps of two
you never have to meet me halfway there
I’ve got nothing in my calendar but flexibility
I’ll still ask far too politely for what I should demand

Why can’t the world stop to catch its own breath?
is there a color of the rainbow that I can’t see?
you think I’d be done playing catch up by now
but everyone else can’t help but stay one step ahead of me

Verse 2
know your place and wait your turn
that’s easy to say when you take all my moves
making amends instead of friends, they’ve all got deadlines to keep
they’re blowing autumn leaves all over my hand-me-down ride

you’d probably say cool passed me by years ago
you’re wrong – I am your retro trendsetter
But I’m just not big enough to be myself
why must I walk another man’s road just to find my own?

Chorus 2
Can’t wear you heart on Armani sleeves
you won’t get anywhere with virtue or tasteful subtlety
you think I’d be done playing catch up by now
but everybody else can’t help but stay one step ahead of me

if I could read your mind I wouldn’t waste our time
stepping on toes as a kid in his father’s shoes
Why don’t you just give up and call yourself grown up
well let’s not fool ourselves that’s what its all about
accept reality, admit to yourself I Can’t

© 2011 Adam A Nelson

You’ll Never Know

Tonight I am playing at my first sweet shop – Lickity Split on N Broadway in Chicago. I can (but won’t) walk there for the gig – my digital piano and other equipment can’t, but I like to fantasize about having a gig for which I don’t have to tear down or set up (If there was a way to write that sentence without ending on a preposition, please let me know).

I’m working on a few new songs, and I’m suffering from the same critiues I always give myself during the writing process:

1. I have a few little parts of songs, and I can’t figure out which ones go together – they all sound interchangeable to me

2. The melody sounds forced, but I’m tired of all of my melodies falling into that pentatonic pit (hee hee hee alliteration).

3. I spend so much time writing down what I want to say and trying to mold it into lyrics that I end up with things sounding more trite than just writing what I feel – but that’s always far too many syllables to express lyrically.

4. I write too damn high for my voice, but when I transpose it, it becomes too low for the piano (there’s a term for why you can play a fifth in the middle of the keyboard and hear the interval, but your ear can’t recognize that same fifth when played three octaves lower – it just sounds like noise. Wish I could remember that term).

And I wish I had an answer for these problems, mainly the first one. I can deal with the others, but I feel weird when I have four small pieces of song and they don’t fit together as one, but they work well together in many combinations of pairs. So how do I decide which one makes the best song? Its something you can’t recognize until you’re too deep into the writing process, once you’ve really fleshed out what the song is going to be about.

That brings up another problem I face a lot.

5. The song ends up being about something completely different from what I originally set out to write.

Through the means, I lose the ends…if that makes any sense. I set out to achieve a goal, and I lose that goal completely when I enact my means of achieving that goal.

Sometimes I do wish I had a McJob. Would save me the mental strain of trying to create something perfect.


Good Saturday Morning to all!

I am celebrating breaking 100 fans on Facebook with the release of my latest, full band recording of Mr. Wrong (You Aren’t Me)

It has escaped my clutches and was released just now on Reverbnation. By early next week, it will be available for download.

Raise a glass and help me celebrate with a listen to my rocking-est piano tune. Then go out and have an awesome Halloween weekend, tell all of your ghouly friends about the new song, and stop by to download it for yourself on Monday!

Thanks again! go here for the stream:

And if you want to pledge some of your support, click “like” on the right!!! Thanks!


*annoying news show music* Everybody Everybody! I have just posted my new mix of Picture Yourself online! You can find it on

as well as


And I’m ready to release another full band track, with drums, bass, and professional production. The track is called Mr. Wrong (You Aren’t Me) and features some real bad-ass playing from my friends Steve Giedosh on Bass and Darrell Grey on Drums, with production by Rick Freimuth. This track will be available for download, at any price you feel fit to pay. And it will be available AS SOON AS I REACH 100 FANS on Facebook.

So if you haven’t yet, click on the link just to the right to “like” me on FB!

Tell all of your friends to do the same!

If you know anyone who likes new music, singer/songwriters or sexy piano players, then let them know immediately about my page and my music.

HELP MY FAN BASE REACH TRIPLE DIGITS! Like me on facebook and very soon I shall release my never-before-heard, full track, full production song “Mr. Wrong (You Aren’t Me)”

And when you’re dong telling everyone about it, sit down with some good hot cider, listen to my new mix of Picture Yourself, and have a very Happy Halloween!

Yet another open mic

Went to Uncommon Ground once again last night for another open mic.

Wow – there was some talent there last night. A lot of great guitar players, singers and song writers, all inspiring me to write new stuff in a new way. That always happens when I see new artists. They make a rhyme I never thought of or do a chord progression that my music theory knowledge tells me *should* be wrong, and they go and do it anyway. Or they go ahead and do that angry song about cheating or how not to live your life. The audacity! These people have real talent and guts and it always inspires me to take my music a step further to places I used to think that no one would go with me.

I gotta say though, the one who really stood out for me was the guy who opened, and I assume, didn’t participate in the contest at the end or he would have kicked me right out of the running. I’m talking of one of my new influences, Mike Maimone. He went on stage, slapped the piano into submission, and hacked up a myriad of deep emotions onto the microphone. And I loved it. I had a nice chat with him afterwards and got a free CD from him, though I would have gladly paid for it.

So while you’re liking me on FB and checking out my music, definitely click on this guy and keep an eye out on what he’s doing. I’d tell you to see his next show at Uncommon Ground on November 17th, but we all know I’m playing that night at the Metropolis Coffee Company at 8 PM.

I know where your loyalties lie…and if you betray them, I know where you live!

Open Mic #3!

THIS FRIDAY! Adam is performing with Piano Fondue dueling pianos at the Brink Lounge in downtown Madison, WI from 9 PM to 1AM. $8, not to be missed! Now to the blog…

Just this last Tuesday night I played at an open mic at UncommonGround on Devon and Glenview. Here’s how it all went down:

After calling ahead to see if they have their own piano (they do!!), I warmed up my voice with a few vocal exercises and a shot of Grand Marnier and showed up shortly after 7 PM, when sign up was to start. Of course it didn’t dawn on me that the earlier I showed up to the sign up, the earlier I would likely perform. I also didn’t know that this particular open mic is a contest of sorts: each week, a winner is chosen from a “producer’s” ‘best of’ list, much like American’s Funniest Home Videos, except its Uncommon Ground’s Awesomest Most Radical Open Mic Performer.

I was the second performer, after another girl, Molly Osbourne (let’s call her), played a cover and an original song. I remember liking her original song (though I couldn’t tell you for the life of me how it went), but I remember being impressed with her rhyme of “worth it” to “perfect”. I was so impressed, infact, that when I relayed my wild impressions to my girlfriend, she told me that those two words do not actually rhyme. Silly me. Well, Molly performed the rhyme to perfection, which is exactly what is to be expected of a top notch performer.

As I said before, I was second to perform. I played Picture Yourself and Mr. Wrong, thinking it was a good thing to display two different styles of music. There isn’t a lot to say about my performances, though it is surprisingly different to perform my songs on acoustic pianos. My digital always sounds good, and I’ve gotten used to its touch. Acoustic pianos are inconsistent from model to model, and even note to note after its been played and abused for years. All I have is a low G that makes a snapping noise if I decide to really rock out. Some softer passages are truly soft when I play them live at these open mics, and loud passages just don’t punch as well as I want them to. But that’s because most bars out there aren’t sporting brand new Steinways. mmmmm

BTW…Uncommon Ground has lemon zested frites! I’m a big fan of frites (for those of you who don’t know what they are, they are basically french fries cooked by people who actually give a shit), and the addition of lemon zest (and parmesan, which I chose to omit) scared me at first, but it actually added to the taste of frites. Could have used more salt though. That goes for almost anything though.

The other acts were a mix of emotional vocal melismas, gimick songs on guitar, guitar duets, blues covers, and many forgotten words and soon-to-be pop songs. Highlights included US Mike’s slaying of the Carpenter’s “Superstar”, the Scuttlebugs (who eventually won the night), an Amy Winehouse doppleganger, a girl who did a song with only drum accompaniment, and a song about cheating boyfriend, sung by the cheating boyfriend.

In other news, the new mixes of a few songs are in the works, including the updated Picture Yourself and My Greatest Wish, both of which are featured on myspace (FOLLOW THE LINK TO THE RIGHT!!!), as well as two new songs with full band arrangement, and the re-recording of Another Day, previously released on myspace and reverbnation. Once I’m happy with the recordings, look for your chance to purchase them yourself online. T

So tell all of your friends, relatives, enemies, pets, coworkers and drug dealers to check out this and my other websites, listen to my music, like me on facebook, and come out and see my upcoming performances. Thanks!

Singer/songwriters are awful

So a friend of mine on Facebook recently statussed (i.e. posted as his status – I’m trademarking it!) this:

“If you are described as a “singer-songwriter,” I automatically assume you are awful. Sorry.”

So what exactly does he mean here?

I assume he means that a singer/songwriter simply writes bad songs that no one likes;

That this singer/songwriter writes and sings the songs but doesn’t take the time to flesh out the songs completely to a point where they can conform to a single style, or you would go ahead and call yourself a Rock musician, or a Jazz musician, or a Pop musician or a Rapper.

It may also imply that this person doesn’t get along well enough with other musicians (or play well enough) to the point where he can get a job in a band or make a band on his own that has a distinct sound.

Maybe this singer/songwriter makes songs that are strictly therapeutic and thus unrelatable (or unlistenable), or that they’re simply looking for an outlet to vent their frustrations or annoy people intentionally.

I suppose that people who write their own songs are twelve for ten cents, and some of them maybe need to be told to keep their music to themselves.

I can’t think of a lot of things to say to defend myself against this accusation at the moment: I have written a handful of songs, many of which are very therapeutic in nature, I don’t play in a band with anyone else (yet), and since I play piano, the most appropriate title for my genre of music is probably pop, or acoustic.

But I do spend quite a lot of time fleshing out my songs to the point where they have a very specific style, and everything you hear in the song is very deliberate and not just the chance sonic phenomenon that occurs from haphazardly strumming a guitar or playing white-note chords with the exact same right hand shape on a casio keyboard I got for christmas when I was twelve (I bought my own Roland FP-7 a few years ago – its actually difficult to break a key on those things and I’ve done it a few times – anyone want to donate $250 do fix it?).

So, while I do still consider myself a non-awful singer/songwriter (among many other things musical), I shall go ahead and announce it here and now, the genre that applies to me and probably many songs from other musician’s repertoire, so that you can ascribe a title to my art other than “awful”…

My musical genre is Insecuripop!



yeah, there’s no way that’s catching on


…ps I tend to see Jam Bands as pretty awful, so I guess its all in the ear of the beholder.

My ticket to Hamburg!!

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me well – I am not very good at spending my time productively. I have trouble finishing things, focusing for too long, and yet my toughest hurdle to jump is swallowing my pride. I don’t want to misuse my time, or offer it to anyone else and do what they want me to do.

i.e. get a job.

Well at this point, one may say that I am a freelance musician. I take what gigs I can – I’m a jack of all trades – my schedule is inconsistent and filled up months in advance.

Well in my defense, I think that sort of thing takes more than sex weeks to establish, especially when you don’t live in a one-horse town (what’s the origin of that phrase anyhow? I assume its from the 19th century or before, maybe an old west phrase…). Also, there are a lot of offers out there that don’t pay. I know I’m supposed to take whatever I can , but I have to pay bills, right? There’s no point in short selling yourself.

But then there is the stuff that pays a little, but not enough. I’m looking for piano students and one ad on craigslist was looking for an in-home piano teacher for her two kids who would work for $100 a month – did I mention their home is in Antioch, practically in Wisconsin? that’s $25/week – I would say per hour, but that’s a lie. I would spend one hour teaching and well over two hours driving. Knowing myself, I would likely also spend another hour or two a week prepping for their lessons (people out there who don’t think teachers need prep time for their classes should actually try teaching sometime, and I’m not talking about an online or adult course).

On craisglist, one can also find many bands looking for singers and vice a versa, film makers looking for music, and clubs or restaurants looking to pay a house musician with nothing more than a meal. It really does start to beg the question, “Which of these offers is really worth my time?” – yes, even to a starving artist who has a habit of wasting a lot of it.

And just when I’m feeling like there are no big shots out there, I come across this:






















How many opportunities like this might I be turning down?

And should I just man up and get that jo-job?

or get back to playing virtual console?

nah…It’s time to write some more insecuripop – (PSSSST Have I told you that’s the name of my music genre? Do you like?)