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Uncharted Waters

I never saw myself playing in a band with Slum Village…my plan was to stay focused on how to make Ab & The Souljourners the next big thing. On the other hand, God had other plans and had taken me outside of my comfort zone.

As the Slum Village European tour continued, my expertise on putting the show together also continued. Our first night at London Jazz Cafe was great but we were facing a dilemma the night of our show at Paradiso in Amsterdam. On the way to sound check their manager told us we had a 90 minute set that night and our current set was only 60 minutes. I remember that day like yesterday....Paradiso was like a big cathedral house with a balcony surrounding the entire place. It looked like an old church turned into a performance hall. We were sound checking and I was on stage playing and singing Ab & The Souljourners material to keep that fresh in my head while T3 and El Zhi discussed possible songs that they could perform to extend the set time.....and that's when it happened! T3 was listening to me playing and singing and asked "What is that?" I told him it was a cover song that I sing during my set with my band. He told me right then and there that I was singing that song in the set tonight. Then he asked me to come up with an instrumental part that me and Dez could perform after I sang. I was thinking to myself...he has to be kidding...this is the Slum Village show, not the Ab show so why would he give me the spotlight two weeks into the tour?

I was constantly being put on the spot and lots of pressure was on my shoulders. That night at Paradiso they were expecting 1,000+ people to attend. I had never sang in front of this many people before. T3 told me that him and El Zhi were going to leave the stage when I sang as well. It's one thing when you are performing with a popular group that people are coming to see but it's totally different thing when you have to perform by yourself in front of people who don't know you at all.

I had to continuously find courage on this Slum Village gig. All this time I had been asking for opportunity to become this big soul artist and T3 was offering the experience I needed to get to my destination but It was always spontaneous. I constantly found myself wanting more time to practice and be comfortable but I refused to voice what I wanted because it wasn't about me. I was in a new world with new rules and I couldn't lose this opportunity because I was uncomfortable.

That night the crew was chillin' in the green room and Pharoahe Monch walks in. Of course they know each other so everyone is greeting and I'm chillin' in the corner reading a book (I wish I can remember what I was reading at the time). T3 introduces me to Pharoahe Monch by saying: "This is Ab, our new Music Director." I thought to myself....Am I?...but I didn't question it, I shook his hand and sat back down and began to think about how this gig was turning into something that was so far from what I expected. I was so nervous about singing in front of all those people mainly because it wasn't my name on the line as much as it was Slum Village's. It was their show and I didn't want to let them down. I left a green room filled with laughter and classic tour stories with hopes of settling my nerves but before I could get a grasp on them It was showtime.

I stepped out on stage to a full house of people ready to see Slum Village. Sad to say I wasn't looking forward to my part of the show but it came quickly and before I knew was just me and Dez on stage with 1,000+ people staring at me....

I was nervous and shaking but I sang....I sang scared....and I was scared the entire time I sang but I made it through...scared and all. My scared vocals were on point though.... People cheered so loud after I was done. I couldn't believe it. It was one of those things in which I was so nervous and uncomfortable that I didn't enjoy the moment but nevertheless it was a great moment for the show, the audience, and most importantly myself.

That night was a stepping stone for my solo career and I didn't even know it at the time. We got back to the green room and everyone in the group was blown away! Especially the manager who had missed sound check. The next day I had a conversation with him and he told me that I was doing an excellent job as the Music Director and he needed me to keep the guys focused. He wanted me to keep bringing my ideas to the table at sound check and push them to perform records that they don't want to perform if I knew it was good for the show. Last but not least he said: "T3 likes and respects you more than you know, this is only the beginning for're a part of this family now." I said ok and the conversation was over.

I have no clue when they decided that I was the Music Director but it didn't matter at that point because that was my title and I accepted. Every night for the rest of the tour I performed my section of the show and became very comfortable with it no matter if it was 500 people present or the big festival crowds of 10,000+ people. Looking back on it, I could've easily backed down from T3's request of singing  an entire song in the midst of their set at Paradiso because I was scared and uncomfortable. The Slum Village tour experience was uncharted waters....but it was in those waters that I learned to swim. I learned the difference between European fans and American fans and that was something T3 knew about that I didn't. He knew from the minute that he heard me sing in sound check that the European fans would embrace me. I learned that in order for me to get to my destination I had to do things I didn't want to do and sometimes I would have to do them scared and all. If I would've let me fear get the best of me I would've missed out on an opportunity to grow as an individual and an artist.

I wonder if T3 decided right at that sound check in Paradiso to make me MD of Slum Village because I stepped up to the challenge...

Are you stepping up to challenges to grow in your life and career?

What uncharted waters are you suppose to dive into in order to learn how to swim?

Something to think about....



P.S. the story isn't over.....



Are You Ready?

From the top of 2003 to March of 2006 I made small decisions that prepared me for an opportunity that I had no idea was coming. My choice to be "Faithful to the Little Things" is the only reason I got this opportunity in all honesty...

I came home from my 9 to 5 at W.W. Grainger on either a Tuesday or a Thursday in earlier March....yeah, it had to be one of those days because my band "Ab & The Souljourners" had rehearsal on those evenings. I remember after rehearsal my manager who happened to be my mother at the time called me and said that she'd been looking for opportunities on craigslist. She submitted my info for numerous inquiries dealing with people looking for wedding bands to songwriters and producers. My mom was and still is faithful to research. I honestly thought it was crazy that she kept searching on craigslist for opportunities because I thought it was a waste of time.....I was wrong.

On this particular evening she was contacted by a woman named Kelli who visited my website after my manager responded to her request of looking for a keyboardist/singer for their upcoming tour. After hearing my music they were considering me to go on tour with them but they needed to hear me play some of their music first. I remember my manager saying specifically: "Aaron they need to hear a recording of you playing their music ASAP and I told her you can do it tonight." It was 11:30pm and I had just finished rehearsal. I had to wake up for work at 6am and I was tired!!! Regardless, I said ok...Where can I hear their music? What's the name of the band mom? She says "they have such a terrible name...funville or something like that...let me just get the name of the group instead of guessing.....they're called Slum Village.....did you hear me?.....Hello?"

I paused.....

In shock in the middle of my room....


Mom: yeah, you heard of them??

Me: YES!!!!!! Mom I gotta call you back...I got to make this demo!

As a fan of Slum Village, I was already familiar with their new album that came out fall of 2005 so now it was time to show and prove. I cut on my computer, plugged in my mic and keyboard, and recorded the demo in 20 minutes. I sent the demo back to my mom and she sent it to their correspondent. I remember it was a Tuesday night now....because that correspondent called me on Weds and asked me if I could fly to Detroit on Friday to meet T3 of Slum Village...Of course my answer was YES!!!!

So I went out to Detroit and we went to the studio and T3 put me on spot. I had to play, sing. and record music. He asked me numerous questions about myself, what I believed in, and what I was doing with my life. I was in Detroit for the weekend and came back to DC with the gig. He told me we would be going on a European tour in July.

When I look back at that opportunity I'm certain that I only got this gig because of the small things I was faithful to from 2003 to 2006.

1.) I had a website where they could go listen to the music, see what I looked like, and learn basic information about me and my career.

2.) I had a computer and equipment to record the demo in house the same night to meet their need for hearing me perform their music ASAP.

3.) I recorded music often so I knew how to make the demo recording sound appealing.

4.) I practiced playing and singing so often with my band and independently that I was very familiar with playing, singing, creating, and performing on spot.

All of the small things were SO HUGE that week. My music career changed in a week based off of my faithfulness to those little things above and now I was headed on tour with one of the Hip-Hop genres most respected groups. I was ready when opportunity knocked and I didn't even know it.

Really ask yourself...Are You Ready? Whatever you're striving to do with your life....Are you prepared to do it if the opportunity presents itself? And if not are you working towards being ready?

Something to think about...



P.S. I was excited to learn who else was in Slum Village's band, looking forward to rehearsal, and excited to go back to Europe... I'll talk about all of that later on this week.



Faithful To The Little Things

Earlier this week I talked about how taking things "One Mile At A Time" coupled with being faithful to the little things leads us to reaching our big goals. In that blog entry I was asked a question that I want to answer in detail.....As promised I want to touch on the the little things I have been faithful to that led me to becoming a music director and headed out on my 10th tour as a musician/singer.

In 2003, I decided that I wanted to do music full time. My big goal was to be a songwriter. I was faithful to writing as many songs as I could a week after studying for school. I was attending Howard University at the time and I would test out my songs by performing them open mics on campus. I could determine if the songs were good or bad by the crowds reaction. At the time I had nothing but a keyboard and a composition notebook so the only thing I was faithful to was creating music and writing.

I began to study songwriters and discovered that Gordon Chambers (has written records for Brandy, Carl Thomas, Anita Baker, and more) was having a writing workshop in Brooklyn, NY. I made my way up to NY from DC to go to the workshop and performed some of my songs for him to receive constructive criticism. He thought the songs could be shopped to artist if I worked on my structure and then he asked me where is my recorded demo of this material? I was puzzled....I never thought of that. I had to create a demo in order to shop my music. He told me to get my songs recorded and copyrighted so I could shop them to artist.

It took me a year but I was faithful to getting a computer and a microphone to record my demo and copyrighted my songs.

After completion, my roommate returned home one day and gave me some money and told me he had sold a couple of my demos on campus. I was surprised people purchased my music. My intention was to be a songwriter, not a singer! The only reason I sang on the demo was because no one else would sing my songs....Regardless, we burned the demos on my computer and sold so many copies on campus that there was a demand for me to do a show.

I didn't have a band at all! I spent the next few weeks finding band members and studying the greats. I bought Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Funkadelic and Earth Wind & Fire live show DVD's. I searched for Stevie Wonder, Sly and The Family Stone, and Prince live audio shows. I was faithful to learning how to put on a live show. I formed a band called the Souljourners and we performed at Howard and then starting performing around Washington DC.

We use to show up at gigs and people didn't take us seriously at all! Mostly because we didn't have any of the so called "right" equipment.

Shout out to my Casio keyboard that I was played at gigs around town. My drummer (Russell Carter) had a mismatch set and my bass player (Malik Hunter) had an upright bass that was severely beat up. We would show up at gigs around town and based on our equipment we didn't look the part but we could play. The first step in my journey to being a music director (I didn't even consider myself a music director at the time) was being faithful to studying music performances and practicing with my band "Ab & The Souljourners" no matter what! I didn't care if our equipment wasn't the standard....I wasn't going to let that hold me back. Things can always be better but if the instruments made noise....we were practicing and performing on them. We continued to impress people around town the entire summer of 2005 and I sold that same demo at every show.

June of that same summer, I attended a writing workshop in Brooklyn, NY. I was expecting to see Gordon Chambers again and show him had created a demo but to my surprise they had a new songwriter doing the workshop named Eric Roberson (written for Musiq Soulchild, 112, Vivian Green, Dwele, and more). I performed my songs and explained what I'd been doing for the last year and he was throughly impressed. I asked for constructive criticism and he said I needed to record an official CD because the presentation of my demo wasn't good. I can't fake...that made me mad....I was salty....but I went back to DC and did just that! Me and my bandmates Malik Hunter and Russell Carter recorded an official CD and released it in Nov. 2005 titled "Lyrically Inclined 1.3, The Odyssey."

I even had an album release party where me and my band performed most of the new material. In the process of creating the album I reached out to my brother to create a website because I knew someone was going to tell me I needed one eventually. The album was out and we continued to practice and perform....and I continued to write songs and I was faithful to all of these things.

From the top of 2003 to March of 2006, I was faithful to these little things that led to bigger things that I will explained next week....