Q&A #19: Mark Diamond


Mark Diamond shares his journey as a bassist, how he navigated learning the craft mostly as a self-taught musician, amusing anecdotes when people attempt to guess the name of the instrument he’s playing, and his 4000 Facebook “friends”.


Leigh Lim: Hi Mark, thanks for taking the time to do a Q&A! On your Facebook page, you have a painting of a bass player. Is it a portrait of you?

Mark Diamond: Hi Leigh! Yes, it is a portrait of me! I was performing with my group Big Swing Trio at a now defunct club in Denver called Sambuca when a woman walked in with a giant blank canvas and said she was going see how the music inspired her and paint something while we played. This painting was the result! Her name is Michelle Torrez and she is amazing!


LL: Can you give a quick summary in terms of how you got to where you are with your playing? (i.e. first you did your scales, chords, then songs…etc etc)

MD: Well, I started playing piano when I was very young. Along the way starting in 4th grade, I added clarinet, drums in 6th grade, and bagpipes in 9th grade, only for that year. I pretty much considered myself a drummer until I was 20, when I first brought an upright bass home for the first time. It was my cousin Howard’s bass that he didn’t play anymore,, thank you, Howard!

As to scales, etc, I had much experience with the basics and theory of music from the years playing all of those other instruments. However, when I started playing the bass, I really began to play by ear, just learning tons of tunes and styles of music. Three months after bringing this bass home, I started gigging and have never stopped. I’m now in my 41st year as a full time musician! Indeed, I practiced scales and rudiments early on, and still do sometimes.

My practicing now consists more of constantly learning new material, which takes me on many different musical journeys and challenges.



LL: Readers may be familiar with someone else who has the same last name, your son Dean (link to Dean’s Q&A)! (Do you think it was your affinity to the drums that made Dean interested in it? Or was it just because you had your old kit in storage…and he asked if he could use it?)

MD: I did not have my old kit in storage, as I traded my drum set for a bass pickup decades ago, (not the best deal) in NJ before I moved out to CO. When Dean expressed interest in wanting to play the drums, we got him a set, used, of his own. I’m sure my love of music, and him seeing what I do everyday sparked his interest in creating music, no matter what his vehicle for his expression would be; whether drums, guitar, or any other instrument.


LL: Do you have specific books that you keep within reach that you regularly refer to?

MD: To be honest, I have piles of books that I have used over the years, but I wouldn’t say that I refer to them regularly, but they’re there when I need them.



LL: If you were to put together a ‘learning plan’ or practice pack for someone who has never played bass before, so they could have the capacity to play at your level and skill. What would it look like?

MD: Each person’s journey is unique. My journey has worked, is working for me. I feel that people can learn theory from a million books on their own time, so when I teach, it is more of a hands on approach.

The upright bass has some extra challenges in the beginning, like building up calluses, gaining strength and endurance, playing in tune, as there are no markings for notes on this instrument. I teach beginners approaches to scales, and use blues bass lines as exercises. I have students bring in songs they want to learn and help them find their way to playing them.

I am a self taught musician, for better or worse. Some folks certainly want to go the school route which is great. Majoring in music was not my path and I’m not sure it needs to be for everyone. But always learning and hard work is always the path, no matter how you get there.


LL: Do you use products to protect the skin on your fingers? (For example Shakerleg uses tape on his fingers. Some volleyball players use a similar kind of tape on their fingers for grip/protection when tossing the ball)

MD: For bass playing, I am against using tape. You’ve got to develop your calluses, go through that painful but rewarding process. You can’t get a nice, natural sound on the bass with taped fingers. Skin on string is the only way to go. Taping is weak! :>)



LL: Are there any challenges that come to mind during your learning process?

MD: For sure! I take on some projects that seem utterly baffling at the start! I may ask myself, how will I ever be able to play this? That’s when I have to dig even deeper. I tend to be a bit of a procrastinator, but sometimes I know I’d better get to this if I want to be ready to perform this music.


LL: Would you say it was discipline that got you to where you are as a bassist?

MD: To be a musician, you need to be very self driven, self motivated. No one can do this for you. There is certainly discipline involved. Many months and years of being alone in a room playing the same things over and over again…..very slowly and then gradually faster and faster.

That said, time is also a big factor. It just takes time to build up chops and a song repertoire, especially in the jazz world. Most jazz players have literally hundreds of tunes in their heads that they can play at any moment. You better be able to if you want to hang with the major cats! That just takes time.

Having the opportunity to play all these tunes on a regular enough basis to let them start to sink in is very important too. I was lucky to have that early on in my career. Of course, there are some very young players who can do all this in a comparatively short period of time, but that’s not true for most folks.



LL: Were there times when you didn’t want to practice? (What did you do to keep going?)

MD: Sure, most of the time! What keeps me going, for example, is knowing that I have to learn all these new tunes by a certain date, so I better get on it! Then there are other times where I just feel inspired to explore and try new things. Practicing can be boring or exciting, but always necessary.


LL: How important was it to have someone help you learn a specific technique?

MD: Being a self taught bassist, again, for better or worse, I really have carved out my own path to playing, and to the business end of being a musician. I did take a few lessons very early on with a great bassist in New Jersey, Don Messina. He certainly helped to show me some technique, but also turned me onto some great music like Lennie Tristano, Warne Marsh, Lester Young, Bird, (Charlie Parker), and some others which changed my life forever!

I also learned in the beginning that you have to play through the pain! If you have a giant blister on your finger(s), the best thing to do is to keep on playing. It can hurt like hell, but so what!



LL: Artists are known to be very protective for their work. What would you say to someone who can’t seem to let go, and share their ideas/work — while it is in progress?

MD: There is an amazing bass player whom I have never met, but I tracked him down by phone one time. He does this really cool thing where he plays his bass as a percussion instrument while playing the notes simultaneously, way cool. I asked him how he does it and he wouldn’t tell me. That’s okay, I get it.

If there is ever anything I can share with someone about how I do something, I’m happy to do it. I think most of the good players feel this way. Most of the musicians I work with are very collaborative. If they aren’t, it’s often because they have a precise vision of what they want, and that’s fine by me. I will strive to give them what they want.

On the business end of things however, I may not be so forthcoming. It takes a lot of time and energy and persistence to build working relationships with club owners and managers, agents, and folks who run festivals, etc, and I may not want to just give someone a name and number when it may have taken me a year to build this relationship.  


LL: What are some misconceptions you find about you as a bassist?

MD: The first misconception is that so often people ask me how long have I been playing the cello? Also, people ask me more often than you would think what this instrument is called. I always ask them for their best guess. The worst answer ever was when a woman guessed the oboe. I told her she needed to get out more often!

Folks think the bassist is just a time keeper. Everyone in the band better be a time keeper. That the bass is easy. I’m sure there are many misconceptions, but I don’t always get to hear them.



LL: Haha! The oboe! So, for those who need a bit of guidance regarding the difference between the bass and the cello, how would you put it? (Also…do you have a preference on calling it an ‘upright bass’? Apparently there are some who dislike using the term ‘double bass’.)

MD: The bass and the cello are in the same family, so I get it when folks make that guess. The cello is much smaller than the bass and it’s range is higher. I love the sound of a cello. It can go quite low, but not as low as the bass, and then it goes much higher, closer to viola and violin range. It is also tuned in fifths, like the violin and viola.

The bass is tuned in fourths, like a guitar. As to what to call the bass, I’m sure it is the instrument with the most names. Just add the word bass after each name…here we go: upright, double, string, acoustic, stand up, contra, dog house, bass fiddle, and bull fiddle (don’t add bass to this one). I’ve never heard of anyone disliking the term double bass.


LL: Do you have a certain process when you get ready for gigs? (gigs close by, or when you are out on the road?)

MD: I kind of gauge my day gearing up for gig time so that I have my peak energy for those hours. I wouldn’t say I have a certain process, there’s lots to do before I leave for the gig, taking care of business by communicating with folks about upcoming gigs, dealing with organizing music and band members for upcoming performances, home stuff, yard work, whatever.

Food and changing into my “gigging vine” are the final preparations. On the road, depending upon where I am, I like to sight see, explore local foods, or have rehearsals if necessary.





LL: How would you describe your style of playing?

MD: I am a high energy, aggressive player, but I like to play slow and sweet too. I usually go through a wide range of emotions during any performance, so it all comes out along the way.


LL: Favourite time of the day to play? (either recording/gigs/writing)

MD: I’m not a morning person by any means, so I don’t like playing early in the day, although some performances do call for that. Otherwise, I’m happy to be playing anytime. A two hour gig is too short, and sometimes a four hour gig can be a drain, so let’s say the best hours for me would be 9pm – midnight.

I don’t like to record on days that I have other gigs, so for recording sessions, it’s nice to have the whole day to settle in, relax by not worrying about the time, and get the job done.


LL: What is your warm-up / practice routine like?

MD: Some days I don’t like to warm up or practice before a gig because I know the gig will be so demanding I want to have everything to put into it. Other days, I may run some scales and patterns, warm up slowly and get faster to be ready.



LL: Do you have a mental (or written) checklist that you go through, before each work is finished?

MD: I must have a mental checklist.  I don’t have a written checklist because at this point in my career, I know if I’m prepared, or not, for anything that I have to accomplish.  If I’m not prepared, I get prepared in time.

If by “each work” you are referring to writing, I really don’t write. I collaborate with writers and help arrange.  I’ve never been much of a writer, and there are so many great writers out there, I am just happy to learn and play their music


LL: What’s part of your arsenal at the moment?

MD: I have three basses. One is a Meisel that I bought brand new in 1978 at an import warehouse in Union NJ. It is a laminated, or plywood bass and is pretty good. I’ve done a million gigs and made many recordings using this bass.

In 2002 I bought a Juzek, a carved bass, each side of the bass is one solid piece of wood, and I love it! I also have an Eminence bass which is a portable, upright bass. I mostly use it for destination gigs when I need to fly. Since 9/11, TSA has made flying with a bass much more challenging, and this bass is just like checking a bag. The finger board/neck of the bass separates from the body and the two pieces go into a flight case that is the same size as if you were traveling with a set of golf clubs. No more hassles trying to talk my bass onto a flight that has already taken me somewhere.

Flying out of DIA was never an issue. It was always on the return flight that the trouble began. I got tired of that conversation! I have one German bow and one French bow. I prefer the German.

Over the years I have explored many different strings, but I keep coming bank to Dr. Thomastik Spirocores, until a few months ago when I tried Pirastro, The Jazzer. I am liking them very much!

I own four bass amps…one Hartke 15 Kickback, one SWR Workingman’s 12, and two Mark Bass 12″ combos. I am a huge fan of the Mark Bass amp and it’s the only one I will use. I try to get them provided when I travel. Sometimes that works out. That’s really about it. I’m mostly an LTD, a low tech dude. I just want to reproduce the natural sound of the upright bass as loudly as necessary.



LL: Fretted or Fretless? (Or both — when the environment calls for it)

MD: I only play the upright bass, which is naturally fretless.


LL: Did it take awhile for you to settle on the kind of pickup that you like?

MD: Over the years I have tried, and still do, many different pickups. I actually have four different pickups on my bass presently. I lean towards one of them more than the others, The Full Circle by Fishman. I also have a David Gage Lifeline, a String Charger, and an Open Source.


LL: Is it possible to have more than four different pickups? (Also interested to hear where is each pick-up located — and how you switch from one to the other. Are there separate plugs for each pickup?)

MD: I suppose it’s possible, but 4 is probably over doing it already! Yes, each pickup has it’s own jack.

I generally start with one of the pickups and if I’m not happy with the sound, I’ll try the others. Lately the Fishman Full Circle is my go to, and I stay with it. It takes time to learn how to get the right sound out of each one, how to set your amp settings, how any given room reacts to your sound. It’s a process.

The Fishman is built into one of the adjusters on the bridge. The Lifeline is also on the bridge held on by the pressure of the same adjuster, between the adjuster and the wood of the bride. The Open Source is like a piece of tape that is held in place between the low end foot of the bridge and the body, the top of the bass. The String Charger is attached by a bracket secured with velcro under the fingerboard and sits right at the bottom of the finger board. It is a magnetic pickup, (as opposed to a transducer like the others), which you find on an electric bass guitar, so when I need high volume with no feedback, I use this pickup in conjunction with one of the others. It’s a pretty amazing sound, if I say so myself!




LL: What’s your default gear set-up?

MD: I don’t use any effects. I just want to amplify the sound of the acoustic bass. I use a Mark Bass Amp, which I just love!!!


LL: Has any of your equipment undergone customisation?

MD: My friend James Connell of Sol Vista Violins, who is my “bass guy” whenever I need anything taken care of is developing a new tail piece which will house a pre-amp, tone and volume controls and inputs for two of my pickups so I can blend their sounds.  He has a patent pending. I am very excited to try this when it’s ready.


LL: Do you have a piece of equipment (or software) that you thought was a good buy at that time, but you eventually didn’t use it as much as you hoped?

MD: I’ve gone through many different items over the years. I keep some of it and sell or give away some of it. Creating your sound is always a work in progress and new equipment is developed and comes out.



LL: Would you recommend buying consumables in bulk?

MD: My strings, for example cost about $280 per set, but sometimes I buy two sets at a time when they’re on sale. I go at least a year between string changes.


LL: Gear Maintenance and Storage?

MD: I have a shed at the top of my driveway under a car port where I store all my gear. The bass gets to come in the house! As to maintenance, if something needs repair, I do it right away. I don’t like when things don’t work as they should, or more to the point, as they need to.



LL: During a gig, do you keep some notes as a guide?

MD: With my IPad and or phone nearby, I may send myself a note to remember a song that needs to be learned or worked on, a vocal harmony, etc. I can also make notes right on a chart in my IPad. On a straight ahead jazz gig, I know many, many tunes in my head…..not all of them, but a whole bunch!


LL: Are you mindful of ergonomics when you play? “(Are there specific things you’ve done over the years to make sure that you are taking care of your posture and not putting unnecessary stress on your body? Do you use a strap when you play?)

MD: No strap for me, as I stand next to my bass when I play. I feel that there is an acquired skill to the art of strength through relaxation when playing. I try to stay loose, but I dig in deep when I play. I re-position myself often throughout any gig so no one area is being used too much for too long.

Of course, my hands and fingers and arms and shoulders are always in action.


LL: What’s next for your playing?

MD: I am always learning new songs and material. I am currently trying to work on the art of less is more, which is always a challenge, trying to leave more space, play less notes, and yet say more. I am proud of my musical diversity and being able to step into almost any situation, whether rehearsed or a one off with strangers, and doing a good job.

I’m almost never happy with where I’m at, which can be a good thing, to keep me working and striving to be better and as good as I can be. I may never get there!



LL: Do you think you’ll be doing any videos with just you in it? (Maybe jamming along with a looped chord progression or you doing a studio recording? Aside from the one you did with Purple Squirrel?)

MD: The Purple Squirrel video is actually a live performance captured. I don’t play alone, so a video of just me is not likely. Sometimes in the studio someone films us, but I don’t usually see or have access to those. It is for the person hiring me to play on their project who uses that for their own purposes.

I wouldn’t mind having some of those videos to see and share, but I don’t have them now.


LL: Are you open to teaching anyone to play bass?

MD: I’ll give my best shot teaching to anyone who wants to take lessons from me. One requirement is that they have to already have an upright bass, as lessons without one would be useless because they wouldn’t be able to practice what we’ve gone over.

You’d be surprised how many folks ask me if I teach, but don’t have a bass, at least yet. I don’t want to just take someone’s money!



LL: Aside from: ‘What instrument are you playing?’ — are there questions you find yourself answering multiple times?

MD: ‘How long have you been playing?’ I’m in my 41st year as a bassist. ‘Is this your real job?’ It sure is! ‘What do you really do for a living?’ You’re seeing it. ‘Do you play any other instruments?’ I have in my life but not anymore, except some drums once in a while.

‘How do you know where the notes are?’ It’s a secret! ‘Does it hurt to play the upright bass?’ Only when you don’t play for a little while. ‘Do you love what you do?’ Absolutely!

‘What kind of car do you drive?’ Presently a 2003 Honda CRV. The bass has been in many vehicles over the years including a ’68’ Beetle. It wasn’t fun, but it worked!

LL: Are you currently mentoring someone?

MD: I am not presently mentoring anyone, that I know of. Over the years though, people have thanked me for bits of advice or info that I’ve shared with them at some point in time, whether about playing, or how to approach getting a gig, or sharing info on how I get my sound.

I am lucky to surround myself with world class musicians who are also nice people. I try my best to always be at the top of my game to be ready to play in any situation that comes my way, with whomever it might be. Every phone call is a potential new adventure.

One of the only things I don’t do is play in a symphony orchestra. I love that music, but it’s not what I am striving for musically. I have, however, twice in my life, played in a jazz quartet with symphony orchestra. It was exhilarating to play in that setting!



LL: What do you do when you come across something that annoys you?

MD: Wow, that’s an interesting question. I guess there’s the saying, choose your battles. I try to do that.

If it’s a situation where I may not be in the same setting for a long time, or ever again, I won’t do or say anything and just do my job and be done with it. In situations that are ongoing, some for decades, I will certainly speak up when necessary for the betterment of the project. I try to do it off the bandstand because that’s not the place to try and fix things.

Unfortunately, there are some folks out there that just speak up openly rather than wait for a moment in private to give some feedback —- it’s very uncomfortable.

I do vent though. Unfortunately, my poor wife gets the brunt of my venting!  Thank you, Karen!  


LL: Are there certain things you ‘geek out’ about? (could be music or something not related to it! Specific thing / or things that you could end up going on and on about…if given a chance! Could also be either a topic which would get you talking endlessly — or something that has captured your interest recently. I’d also be interested to hear about a topic you’re hoping to get a chance to discuss more.)

MD: I try not to talk endlessly…..who wants to hear that?! Being like I said, a low tech dude, I don’t geek out on gear or anything like that. I’ll talk about my grandson for a while, if someone wants to listen!

I like sharing war stories of the road in the right setting. I always say, the worst times make the best stories!



LL: Are you a big listener of music? (Does your music library reflect the music you play? Or does everything you listen to eventually make its way to your playing? Can you share some of the artists that you absolutely dig, and are surprised that others in your circle haven’t heard of? songs/albums that you cannot get enough of? Alternately, you can also share things you like reading about or listening to —- or even your favourite non-musical artists: painters, dancers, sculptors, poets…)

MD: I do listen to a lot of music, a lot of different music. I’m sure all of the music I listen to seeps into my playing. It is not a planned thing, more of an osmosis situation.

I’d say my music library reflects the music I play and then some. Picking particular artists is always so hard. I can’t ever answer, what’s your favorite, anything, song, artist, food, etc. The mood, the location, the situation all play a role in what might be a favorite thing at the moment. I know that’s not what you asked, but there I was.

Musically, my influences are so vast. I grew up on rock and roll and music from Puerto Rico on my local am station, and George Gershwin, and then the history of jazz!

Who do I absolutely dig? Man, it’s so hard to go there. I’ll just start naming everybody from Bird to The Beatles. Okay, slow down…..I love a song called River Man by Nick Drake. I love vibraphonist Joe Locke, how he plays and arranges tunes. I still love Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Young…..all of them together and separately. Christian McBride is so amazing as is Rene Marie! Okay, now I’m just gonna start naming everybody and it’s sooooo many people!

I like reading people’s autobiographies, when I get a chance to sit around and read, which isn’t as often as I would like. I love all the arts that you mentioned. One of my brothers is a singer, actor, dancer who started as a classical ballet dancer in The Stuttgart Ballet in Germany in the mid 70’s….I love that too!



LL: What are you reading at the moment?

MD: I kind of answered this in the last question. I read all kinds of things in magazines or online. Could be music related, or about someone’s struggle or accomplishment in their lives…..I also love the Ted Talks!


LL: In what way do you approach motivation and inspiration?

MD: My motivation is often derived by a deadline! Motivation to me is having to get something done by a certain time, and wanting to do my best at it.

Inspiration to me is striving to achieve a level of something that I heard or witnessed and was awed by, and I want to get closer to that level. Maybe it’s the same thing.



LL: What makes you smile? (Could be something that gave you a really good belly laugh: a joke, anecdote, a scene from a video/film — if you can share one of the ones that come to mind the most, that’ll be great)

MD: Man, so much makes me smile and laugh, I’m glad to say.

Here’s a true story a friend of mine shared from one of his gigs a while back. He was playing solo piano in Buffalo, NY during a blizzard. There were only a few folks there, but he played and did his job, and nobody seemed to care at all. Towards the end of the night, all of a sudden at the end of a tune he heard this clapping and got a bit excited, as no one had responded all night long. He looked out in the room to see who it was, and there was a guy a few tables back who had just had his burger served and was slapping the bottom of his ketchup bottle to get it out. Ah, the life of a musician!


LL: What’s your view about social media? (Were you reluctant to get into it the first place, or were you happy to experiment and play around with specific social media sites)

MD: A friend of mine and I had a $10 bet that neither of us would ever get a cell phone! He lost the bet by getting one before. I soon thereafter got my first one. My kids got so tired of me asking them over and over how to send or check email. Well, I’m better than that now.

I mostly use social media as a tool to promote my performances. Sure, I’ve reconnected with friends from childhood and get to post and see other’s pictures of travels and family. It is a bit addicting if you’re not careful. Time can fly by when you get caught in the one thing leads to another….this story to that story, or videos of who knows what.

I have over 4000 Facebook “friends” some of whom I actually know in person! I do love that you can see photos and videos of gigs and life experiences in a handy manner.



LL: What are your favourite sites at the moment?

MD: Well, YouTube has the history of the recorded world on it, so that’s a pretty good one. I use it if I need to find and learn a song for a gig. There’s usually a version to check out.

Also, to be able to see footage of some of the greats that have been long gone, that’s really something!


LL: What would you do when you need cheering up? (a particular website, listen to an album….?)

MD: I’m usually pretty cheery, but if I need cheering up I will talk to my wife, or maybe listen to some music, or just be silent and think.



LL: Are you interested in technology? (Details of your Desktop/Laptop/Tablet?)

MD: It’s not that I’m interested in technology or not, I don’t keep up with it until it affects my life, I guess. The specs of my Desktop/Laptop/Tablet ….who knows!



LL: Are you the type of person that finds it easy to start something?

MD: No! I am a procrastinator, but then again, when I want something done, I need to do it now! I think it’s a Scorpio thing. I’ve sure been quick to answer all of these questions right away! When I do have an idea, I suppose I do actually try to get the wheels turning quickly.


LL: For someone watching you play for the first time, what is the message you’re hoping they’ll take with them?

MD: If you mean someone watching me play “live” for the first time, folks tell me how animated I am, like a Muppet!

I want people to feel the joy and emotion of the music, listening to it, playing it, the sense of team work within a band. If you mean watching a video of me, well, the same goes. I think I’ve inspired others to work hard at their music and find like minded folks to play with and then bring it to the masses.



LL: What makes your soul sing? (could be things that energises you)

MD: The love I have for my family! When my family is good, so is everything else. Next would be when I get to travel, especially getting paid to travel and play music. That’s always a great combination!

Here is a soul singing moment to share:

It was the day of 9/11. I had been booked months in advance for a big, international corporate gathering. The tragedy of the day had occurred. First thing to find out is if the event is still going to happen. The band was to make some good money on this gig, and we really wanted it to happen, but there were so many other considerations to deal with.

Well, everyone was in town, there was no flying anywhere, food was ready, venue secured, etc. They decided to go forward and hold the event. There were people from like 40 countries at this gathering. It was less of the party it was supposed to be and more of a somber affair with only one topic being discussed.

After a couple of hours, a few people stood right in front of the band to actually listen. Within a few moments others joined them and before we know it, a large group was virtually circled around us. People from all over the world. Different skin colors, different garb, cultures, and for about five minutes, everyone stood shoulder to shoulder and let the music wash over them, letting them forget for just a few minutes the horrible event that had happened just a few hours earlier.

I don’t think I had ever witnessed the power of music as much as in that moment. That was some soul singing!



LL: What do you find is the best way to connect with people who admire your work? (sending and replying to individual messages via email or social media? or via your mailing list?)

MD: I make it a point at each performance to approach people in the audience and let them know how much it means that they are there, supporting me, the venue, live music in general. I like the personal touch! Of course if I receive an email or a letter form someone who I may have connected with on a musical level, I’ll thank them for thanking me!


LL: Have you found your tribe yet?

MD: I’ve been fortunate to have many tribes throughout my life. From childhood, I always had a group of friends, some of who I am still in touch with today, meaning fifty years of friendship, and counting.

I have band mates of more than 30 years who are also great friends. I have my amazing wife and children and our growing “tribe”! My wife always challenges me to be the best person I can be, ever evolving, hopefully in a positive manner. The people I perform with are always helping to keep me, and I, them, at our highest level of performance and musicianship.

Surely some people come and go through these tribes, but everyone leaves their mark on each other along the way!



LL: What kind of opportunities are you looking forward to?

MD: I have played in Europe a couple of times as a side man, and would really love to bring one of my own groups over sometime. As to a specific artist, I’m not sure, but I’ve had the opportunity so many times to play with some of the greats, and I hope that continues along the way.

I’d also like to play more concerts, festivals, and high end corporate events and be on more recordings. I do all of those things now, but I’d like to do more of that than playing in bars and restaurants, not that there’s anything wrong with that. That’s where we hone our skills and keep our chops up, so we’re ready when the bigger things come along!



LL: In what way do you enjoy helping others?

MD: Most of my lessons run overtime just because we are deep into something and I want to complete the discussion at hand. Some of my associates and I donate time to playing music at homeless shelters, as those folks don’t get to go to places to hear live music because they usually get throw out. We also do special lower rates for some fund raising events.

I am always happy to talk shop with my peers, especially with up and coming younger musicians and try to share any tidbits of wisdom I may have discovered in my own journey.





* Mark Diamond is a bassist based out of Broomfield, CO, and is a staunch supporter and creator of live music. He looks forward to seeing and chatting with you at any of his performances (and doesn’t mind if you ask about his grandson!). You can check out his personal site or his Facebook page for gig information.


Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (April-May 2015) between Mark and Leigh. Content has been edited for length, and the final version has been reviewed and approved by the interviewee.

Leigh Lim is a musician based out of Sydney. You can find a sample of her music here. To reach out to Leigh, you can do so via this form or a direct message through YouTube. (Curious to find out if she’s your kind of person? You can check out her slightly cheeky FAQ.)


  • If there are things that you’d like to know about Mark that has not been covered, please do leave a note (using the second form gives me the opportunity to share your request with the WNE community and also to give Mark the option of answering).
  • Corrections and additional information: Spot one? Let me know! (Please?)
  • If you share a quote from your favorite Q&A on Twitter, don’t forget to use the hashtag ‘#WNEQA‘!
  • WNEQA is now on Facebook! 🙂
  • This post has been tagged so it could be considered for Long Reads.
  • To lock me in to be involved in your Q&A/FAQ for your page, contact me or fast track your request here🙂

Interested in reading more?

  • Following each Q&A session I post a separate entry (The Quote Jar: Eighteen) that would be a companion piece to Mark’s Q&A.
  • How about checking out all the other Q&As?

Want to start a conversation unrelated to the Q&A? That’s okay too! Just use the first form below. 😀


** For feedback and comments that you wouldn’t mind displayed publicly, you can use the ‘leave a comment link’ below.

Q&A #12: Aaron Strout


Aaron shares his journey as a consumer of music, the importance of Spotify in his listening experience, and how he took awhile to fall in love with The Beatles’ White Album.”


Leigh Lim: Hi Aaron, thanks for taking the time to do a Q&A! Looking through the different categories on your blog, I noticed that there isn’t a separate category for music. Does that mean that music is so much a part of you, it would be rare not to talk about it?


Aaron Strout: Leigh – Music is a passion for me. But really only as a consumer. I am an avid listener of new music (thank you Spotify!), consumer of live music and I love to share what I’m learning with others. However, I haven’t ever translated that into writing about music. I reserve that for mostly professional areas like mobile/location-based marketing/social/digital.


LL: How has your music tastes changed through the years?


AS: The first albums I ever remember listening to (this is in the mid-70’s) are the Beatles, Cream, Paul Simon and Led Zeppelin. My dad was an appreciator of good music so I came into this world listening to some great bands.

As I moved into my teen years, I moved from Van Halen, The Doors and The Kinks into early Rap (Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run DMC and the like). That morphed into bands like Bon Jovi, Rush and others early days of college. Like many others, I then went through phases of dance music (Nina Cherry, Rob Bass, Digital Underground), Grateful Dead and then alternative (Cure, Smiths, Sinead O’Connor and Living Color).

Grad school was hardcore grunge — Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees (plus Nine Inch Nails). Now I really like everything save pop country.


Sunset at 2013 ACL Festival  Photo: Aaron Strout

Sunset at 2013 ACL Festival
Photo: Aaron Strout


LL: Artists that you loved from first listen, until now?

AS: Beatles, Rush, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Rage Against the Machine, Norah Jones, Pink Floyd, Doors, Billy Squier. Early Run DMC and Public Enemy. Pretty Hate Machine in particular by NIN.


LL: Are there certain albums (or tracks) you avoid listening to because of nostalgia?

AS: There aren’t really any but Prince’s Purple Rain was that way for a while. I’m over it.


LL: Do you make it a point to catch live music (as it is being played/recorded) regularly? (or do you prefer attending ticketed events — or go for archive convert providers like wolfgangsvault.com)

AS: Probably more of the first two. And to contradict a little of what I said earlier, we have a video show called Live from Stubbs. We are starting to push harder into music and actually did an interview and recorded four live songs with the band, Lord Huron.



LL: What’s are your most listened to tracks?

AS: I keep an ongoing list on Spotify at any given time. My current one is called “Run Boy Run.” Three songs on that list that are earworms for me are Gin Wigmore’s Black Sheep, Manchester Orchestra’s, Top Notch and Wolf Alice’s Moaning Lisa Smile. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black Keys and White Stripes are go-to artists for me on any given occasion.


LL: Does having an online playlist help a lot?

AS: Yes. I live by my online playlists. I have two that I listen to regularly – one that is a go to called “House List” – this is what I run to. The other is my collection of what I am listening to. A mixture of recommendations from friends, things I’ve Shazam-ed and such. Run Boy Run


LL: Albums that took you awhile to fall in love with?

AS: Hmmm… The Beatle’s White Album comes to mind. It’s esoteric so it took a while to grasp. Now it’s one of my favorites.


LL: Have you travelled to a specific area just to catch a performance?

AS: Sort of on one — my wife and I planned a trip to Portugal to visit friends but we specifically timed it to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Lisbon. The band, Morphine, was playing. I had never seen them live. It was ironically one of their last performances before lead singer, Mark Sandman, died. The other which was in the U.S. was Rage Against the Machine. I travelled by myself to LA Coliseum to see them perform with Muse, Rise Against and Lauryn Hill. It was an epic show.

C3 marker (Austin City Limits Music Festival) Photo: Aaron Strout

C3 marker (Austin City Limits Music Festival)
Photo: Aaron Strout




LL: What’s your rule when purchasing new music?

AS: Because of Spotify and Pandora, I don’t actually buy much music now (I do subscribe to the premium version of Spotify). Once in a while if I want to support a particular local artist/friend OR in certain cases like Tool and AC/DC who don’t make their music available via Spotify, I will go in and buy entire albums off of iTunes.


LL: Are you also intentionally going for digital rather than physical copies?

AS: Yes. I really only do digital/streaming these days. It’s more because I travel so much and move around a lot when listening to music.


LL: Would you watch documentaries related to the music you listen to?

AS: Yes. Love the documentary called “It Might Get Loud” which is a movie about Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, The Edge of U2 and Jack White. I also have a copy of Dave Grohl’s Sound City but haven’t watched it yet.


LL: Do you bring music while you are out and about?

AS: Yes. I have it on my iPhone. I also have the house wired but also have a mobile Bose speaker. Music is with me wherever I go.


LL: Do you try to avoid listening to music via headphones or earbuds — and as much as possible in a way that you can share it with others around you?

AS: It’s a mix. Plane and office time is strictly earbuds. At home, it’s all speakers!


LL: Did it take awhile for you to decide which ones to put at home? (speakers, amplifiers…etc)

AS: We moved into a house that was already wired. So no, I didn’t spend much time on speakers/amplifiers. But I do have an awesome mobile Bose speaker that my friend, Jason Keath, gave to me. I also use Sonos via my home stereo. That allows my kids and me to DJ off our phones when we are at home.


LL: A music purchase you regret you didn’t make?

AS: I wish I bought more original physical albums like Nirvana’s Nevermind and Alice in Chain’s Dirt. Beyond that, probably not.


LL: What’s the best (music related) gift you’ve received?

AS: My first CD player from my parents in 1989. It changed music for me forever.


LL: Memorable recommendations from ‘kids, neighbors and colleagues‘?

AS: My oldest daughter turned me onto Bad Suns. She also is exploring a lot of new music so she is keeping me current. Truth be told, I ask from time to time on Facebook for new music recommendations and that’s where I get a lot of my new music.

Those three songs I mentioned above are from my Facebook requests. My friend, Kyle Flaherty, and I share musical tastes so he turns me onto new stuff from time to time like the Bands Hozier and Broken Bells. To that end, I go to Austin City Limits Music Festival every year. That is also a big driver of new music for me.


LL: Do you still listen to radio?

AS: I do. I listen in the car about 50% of the time. I have a pop station, alternative, classic rock and modern rock station that I usually hit up. I actually Shazam those regularly to get new music choices (not so much the classic rock station).



LL: While you were writing your book, did you listen to specific albums? (or did you have a specific playlist going to keep you writing consistently — and to keep you in the ‘zone’ as much as possible?

AS: Mostly chill music. Stuff like Massive Attack, Norah Jones and the like. I definitely can’t listen to heavier stuff when I write.


LL: Do you prefer smaller venues (with as little amplification as possible) than stadium type ones? (for live performances)

AS: Yes. Not so much for the “as little amplification as possible” but more for the intimacy piece. I also find that that bigger stadiums tend to be more cookie cutter and harder for the crowd to get into the show.

The Black Keys* in Austin (2012) Photo: Aaron Strout * One Aaron's 5 favorite bands!

The Black Keys* in Austin (2012)
Photo: Aaron Strout
* One Aaron’s 5 favorite bands!


LL: Do you have a favourite live album?

AS: First would be U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky. Second is Nirvana’s Unplugged. AIC’s Unplugged is also awesome. Regarding Youtube, there is a version of Graffiti 6’s “Stare Into the Sun” that is acoustic and AWESOME!


LL: Is knowing the song’s lyrics important to you?

AS: Sometimes yes. If the song is meaningful to me. But I can get into the soul of a song even without knowing the lyrics.


LL: Aside from music, are there certain things you ‘geek out’ about?

AS: My kids, Boston Sports, Barbecue, photography… to name a few.

Aaron's daughters (oldest and youngest) in front of the “I Love You” wall in Austin. They both LOVE music and are an inspiration to Aaron. Photo: Aaron Strout

Aaron’s daughters (oldest and youngest) in front of the “I Love You” wall in Austin. They both LOVE music and are an inspiration to Aaron.
Photo: Aaron Strout


LL: Do you get drawn in by various other forms of art?

AS: Definitely photography. And usually it’s the reverse, I see visions of certain things/scenes when I am listening to certain songs. For Sarah McLachlan, there is a song called “Fear” on her Fumbling Toward Ecstasy Album. Every time I hear it all I can envision is a cool second floor room at sunset with the windows open and white sheers gently billowing. Not sure why but it is a very clear visual.


LL: Do you go out of your way to discover new things?

AS: Yes. Food, books, places to travel to.


LL: Where do you go for inspiration?

AS: I rely pretty heavily on my social channels. But often, going for a long drive or a long run can help me clear my head and give me perspective.


LL: What makes you smile?

AS: I love all three of my children to death but my seven year old daughter says things sometimes that I just can’t help but smile. The things she says come completely out of left field sometimes. My other go to is the line from Good Will Hunting where Will asks one of the Harvard Student’s if he likes apples. The student (on the other side of a restaurant window) shrugs and says “yeah?” Will says, “I got her number (Skyler), how d’ya like them apples?!?” Not sure why but I love that line.


LL: What’s your view about social media?

AS: Embraced it early on (2006) and have never looked back. Surprised actually when others don’t embrace it.


LL: What are your favourite sites at the moment?

AS: Medium is pretty cool from a blogging perspective. Otherwise, I bounce around a lot thanks to Facebook and Twitter.


LL: Are there websites that you like to visit just because you like the design?

AS: Medium – very clean.


LL: What would you do when you need cheering up?

AS: A little Jack White or Skrillex always get me going when I’m down.


LL: What has been the most memorable time a band connected to you?

AS: The day that Chris Cornell tweeted me was a major highlight. I’ve always been a huge Soundgarden fan.


LL: What makes your soul sing?

AS: Running. Spending a night out on the town with my wife. Austin City Limits Music Festival.


LL: What do you find is the best way to connect with your circle?

AS: Facebook for sure.




* Aaron Strout is based in Austin and the Managing Director of WCG. You can find more about his book here, his entries here, and Tweets here .


Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (October-November 2014) between Aaron and Leigh. Content has been edited for length, and the final version has been reviewed and approved by the interviewee.

Leigh Lim is Mini-Bio Photoa musician based at Sydney. You can find a sample of her music here. To reach out to Leigh, you can do so via this form or a direct message through YouTube. (Curious to find out if she’s your kind of person? You can check out her tweets and personal entries.)


  • If there are things that you’d like to know about Aaron that I have not covered, please do leave a note (using the second form gives me the opportunity to share your request with the WNE community and also to give Andrew the option of answering).
  • Corrections and additional information: Spot one? Let me know!
  • Q&A Suggestions (individuals or groups) and feedback (specific or general) are always welcome. 🙂
  • If you share a quote from your favorite Q&A on Twitter, don’t forget to use the hashtag ‘#WNEQA’!
  • This post has been tagged so it could be considered for Long Reads. 🙂

Interested in reading more?

  • Following each Q&A session I post a separate entry (The Quote Jar: Eleven) that would be a companion piece to Aaron’s Q&A.
  • How about checking out all the other Q&As?

Want to start a conversation unrelated to the Q&A? That’s okay too! Just use the first form below. 😀


** For feedback and comments that you wouldn’t mind displayed publicly, you can use the ‘leave a comment link’ below.

Q&A #11: Andrew Simple

“Andrew shares his journey as a musician, why his Gibson J-45 is his go-to guitar, and the effectiveness of sleep.”


Leigh Lim: Hi Andrew! Thanks for being open to do a Q&A! I noticed you have a couple of lyric videos up on your YouTube Channel. Do you like doing them?

Andrew Simple: Yeah, I have some friends that are great at it, so any good ones are made by them. I’ve slung a couple together on iMovie after getting some requests, but you really want to do them right. After Effects, Final Cut, etc.


LL: Can you give a quick summary in terms of how you got to where you are with your playing, writing, and arranging?

AS: I started by wanting to write, and immediately learning the major and minor bar chords on the guitar and then just writing a bunch of songs based on that. I always recommend learning the bar form first, to get a quick win. It sounds good and is a formation you can easily just slide up and down the neck without too much thought.   It made guitar seem easier than in really is, but it kick started my writing.

As time went on, I gradually discovered more and about the guitar on my own. As far as arranging, I have been fascinated by the symphony orchestra since a young age, and that always gave me a good sense of the various elements that need to work together to create a piece of music. Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’ probably was the most influential to me when I was quite young.


LL: If you were to put together a ‘learning plan’ or practice pack for someone who has never played, written, or arranged music before, so they could have the capacity to play, write, and arrange music at your level and skill. What would it look like?

AS: Since I have had such a piecemeal musical path, its hard to suss it all out and recommend it to someone. After a few years in the wild, playing in bands, and learning on my own, I did go to college and studied music academically. That helped with a lot of “aha” moments, especially the music theory.

I believe in an individualized plan of education across the board, so whatever the interest is, I say follow it hard however that might look. Music school isn’t for everyone, practicing isn’t for everyone, writing isn’t for everyone, etc.




LL: Would you say it was discipline that got you to where you are now?

AS: This follows from the last question, and its discipline that is key.

If you follow the elements of music that you are interested in, study the greats in that field and soak it in, and then apply it. For me, it was breaking down the chord structures of Stevie Wonder, Beach Boys, Billy Joel, etc. And those artists all made really interesting arranging choices too, so learning from those artists was really important for me.

Guitar was the first “composition” instrument I used, and then I added piano when I couldn’t get all the voicings I wanted, which in turn lead me back to guitar to experiment with alternate tunings.


LL: Do you incorporate alternate tunings when you write?

AS: I like simply dropping the low E to a D. It allows me to get some richer inversions that I can play more easily on a piano.


LL: Were there times when you didn’t want to put in time to practice?

AS: I think deadlines are the only thing that really gets me to finish something when I don’t feel like it. Rehearsing, practicing, etc. If I have a gig coming up where I need to learn new songs or something, just that fact alone forces me to put in the time. Recitals were the same way in college.


LL: What would you advise a songwriter (who has never played guitar before) wanting to accumulate enough knowledge and skill to be able to translate musical ideas using the guitar?

AS: Besides the above, maybe try to build on any knowledge you already have. If you are wanting to learn guitar, and you already know some piano or theory, I think drawing some basic threads together would be good. Such as noting how the guitar is tuned in 4ths, or how the frets are chromatic, like going key to key on a piano.

I also recommend just learning 2 chords so you can dive in and at least get through a song, like Do Wah Diddy or something. Having a quick win like that can fuel more wins, getting more challenging each time, and hopefully learning the theory along the way.


LL: What’s part of your arsenal at the moment?

AS: My go-to guitar is my Gibson J-45. I like the Fishman Spectrum DI for live playing. As far as picks and strings, its Dunlop Tortex mediums and Curt Mangan light strings.



LL: Did it take awhile for you to settle on the gear that you like?

AS: Yes, it did. For instance, I settled on the Fishman DI for live playing, only after having an LR Baggs DI with a separate compressor, and since the Fishman was both a DI and a compressor, it helped lighten the load. You just make those tweaks all along the way. Settling on the guitar was the most significant thing. Once you play a guitar that really is inspiring to play, you just have to find a way to make it yours.


LL: With your Gibson J-45, do you think that what attracted you (and made you think: “I must make that mine!”) was the sound and feel?

AS: J-45’s are just a really nice, loud, balanced brand of guitar. They are famous for it. So when you pick one up for the first time, you go “oh, I see the light!”. But really, their strength, to me, is in their fullness in terms of EQ curve.


LL: Has any of your equipment undergone customisation?

AS: Just in swapping out bridges, and stuff like that, with my guitar guy in Nashville. Nothing major. I have some nice bone bridges on my guitars and ukes.


LL: During a gig, do you keep some notes as a guide?

AS: I’ve written so many songs, I’ve had to use the tablet as a cheat sheet, I admit. Mental notes can fail you, haha!


LL: Were you just “fondly” recalling some gigs when you didn’t have some notes handy?

AS: If you play enough shows, eventually you will have times where you forget lyrics and get lost, etc. So at some point, it’s just nice to have a home base to look at so that you start verse 2 correctly coming out of a chorus for example. Also, once you right enough songs, its just harder and harder to keep them straight.


LL: What is your warm-up / practice routine like?

AS: I don’t think about it too much – I just start playing what I like in the green room or wherever – jamming, etc. You’ll get warm whether you want to or not. That way its not too structured and potentially stressful.


LL: Description of your playing style?

AS: I’m a singer-songwriter, so I rely on fairly basic picking strumming and I used finger-style on a few tunes, flesh, not nail. I am really choosy if I play any solo stuff – I leave the tearing it up stuff to my band.


LL: How about your voice? Did you have to put a lot of hours to get it to where it is now?

AS: My voice really just naturally developed. The hours were put in, but not consciously. Early on I was all over the place pitch wise and dynamically, but [it has] really evened out over the last 3 years or so.



LL: What are some misconceptions about you as a musician?

AS: I think, just in general, musicians get the classic bad rap as slackers or something like that. In my experience, musicians are some of the smartest cats around. Just not getting taken seriously when I was starting up years ago, but that’s to be expected, I suppose.


LL: What’s next for your playing?

AS: Playingwise, I feel like I’m fairly happy where I am. Honestly, I am always trying to find ways to condense, even just writing songs with two strings on the guitar.


LL: Have you been always mindful of ergonomics when you play?

AS: I think bass is harder on the body that guitar, and maybe a padded strap is more important there. With acoustic guitar, I’ve never felt a need to use anything besides a basic strap. Just having good posture in general will spill over to playing music. Since I started on drums, posture was a huge factor in being able to play properly, so I’ve always been mindful of that.


LL: Guitar Maintenance and Storage?

AS: I’m bad when it comes to putting my guitars away…they tend to lay about the room so I can grab them quickly. I get bummed out when I have to open a guitar case if I am wanting to play the guitar, haha. That sounds bad, but it’s true.  

All over my house are guitar stands and guitars in several rooms of the house so there is always something to grab. I’m not one of those that cares about keeping the guitars ding-free. Though there are cases, where that is in order. Otherwise, some lemon oil with a cloth up and down the fretboard is a good thing to do regularly for cleaning/conditioning.



LL: Would you recommend buying consumables in bulk?

AS: If you can, bulk buying for small stuff like strings and picks is wise.


LL: Your music has been used a number of times in ads — is that something you are constantly excited about?

AS: It’s a surprising twist in my musical journey – that my songs seem to work well for various film and TV applications. I love the exposure, and it’s just fun.


LL: Do you have a regular schedule of posting videos? (Or it depends on when you think of something to share?)

AS: The latter


LL: Are there certain things you ‘geek out’ about?

AS: I geek out about bird watching and philosophy/logic. That’s pretty bad.


LL: Are you still a big listener of music?

AS: I really don’t listen to much music these days. I’m creating it so much, there’s just not time. Maybe a couple times a week I will throw on an old record, but its mainly to zone out.


LL: Do you go out of your way to discover new things

AS: I think just being in the music business, I hear all the new stuff from various sources naturally.


LL: Where do you go for inspiration?

AS: I think films are heavily inspiring for me. Its such a rich art form, it stimulates on nearly every level.


LL: What helps you focus on your uniqueness?

AS: I don’t guess I focus on uniqueness per se. I just hope I naturally am “me”.



LL: What’s your view about social media?

AS: I’m fairly reluctant about all of it.


LL: What would you do when you need cheering up?

AS: Sleep


LL: Would you be open to collaborating with other artists?

AS: I collaborate all the time with other artists. It’s a big part of my world.


LL: Are you interested in technology?

AS: I use technology out of necessity. Pro Tools is my go-to recording software on my Mac Pro.


LL: With your videos, are you looking to upload the same kind in the future? Or are you looking to do different things?

AS: Always open to new things


LL: If you were asked to pick from the videos you have, which one would be your favorite?

AS: I like some of the live acoustic ones best probably. That was a fun concert.





LL: For someone watching a video of yours for the first time, what is the message you’re hoping they’ll take with them?

AS: Sure, inspiring others to create is always great. I don’t know if there is a single message, but that’s certainly one of them. If they find something they like and that they can incorporate into their jam, all the better.


LL: What makes your soul sing?

AS: I think just creating music, really. Basic as that!


LL: What do you find is the best way to connect with your audience?

AS: I think the mailing list does a good job of it



Andrew Simple is a singer/songwriter currently based in Nashville. You can check out his videos here and learn more about him here.


Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (October 2014) between Andrew and Leigh. Content has been edited for length, and the final version has been reviewed and approved by the interviewee.

Leigh Lim is Mini-Bio Photoa musician based at Sydney. You can find a sample of her music here. To reach out to Leigh, you can do so via this form or a direct message through YouTube. (Curious to find out if she’s your kind of person? You can check out her tweets and personal entries.)


  • If there are things that you’d like to know about Andrew that I have not covered, please do leave a note (using the second form gives me the opportunity to share your request with the WNE community and also to give Andrew the option of answering).
  • Corrections and additional information: Spot one? Let me know!
  • Q&A Suggestions (individuals or groups) and feedback (specific or general) are always welcome. 🙂
  • If you share a quote from your favorite Q&A on Twitter, don’t forget to use the hashtag ‘#WNEQA’!
  • This post has been tagged so it could be considered for Long Reads. 🙂

Interested in reading more?

  • Following each Q&A session I post a separate entry (The Quote Jar: Nine) that would be a companion piece to Andrew’s Q&A.
  • How about checking out all the other Q&As?

Want to start a conversation unrelated to the Q&A? That’s okay too! Just use the first form below. 😀


** For feedback and comments that you wouldn’t mind displayed publicly, you can use the ‘leave a comment link’ below.