John Aulabaugh never underestimates the power of getting the right players in a room.
When recording his album, Of Sins Present and Past, John brought rock legends together to help him create music. Each person added his own touch and had fun crafting different parts of a song.
This is what makes music fun for John and although he’s flown planes, started a software company and written iPhone apps, he says nothing compares to the magic of making music. In our interview, John gives advice for aspiring musicians and tells us about when he first fell in love with music.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m the kind of guy who has to do everything – I don’t know why. You probably know the type…the perpetual hobbyist? I grew up in a small college town before the advent of the personal computer, multi-media and cell phones. In the Midwest, money was short and entertainment had to be created so I tore apart cars, started scuba diving, built radio rigs and learned to fly. But nothing compared to strapping on a guitar and turning it up!
As I grew up, I turned that creativity and drive into starting a software company (in 1992) and now I write iPhone and iPad apps. While I still dive and fly (my own plane), still nothing compares to writing and playing music.
When did you first discover your passion for music? How has it changed over time?
There was this real dive of a bar in my hometown where every kid wanted to play. Cheap Trick and REO Speedwagon played there a lot and as young as 16, I’d sneak into Ted’s with a fake ID (don’t do that kids!) The music was pure rock and roll at a crazy volume and I loved it. But to say that it wasn’t about the girls would be a complete lie!
How has it changed over time? It hasn’t!😉 You know, if I had the patience and maturity back then that I have now, I might not have stopped playing music for 25 years! I went from never writing or singing lead vocals to writing like crazy and cranking out a cool critically acclaimed album with some great artists.
What does great music sound like to you?
A great song to me isn’t a formula, but it does have to make sense. The song has to be memorable which means a strong hook and great instrumentation. I’m a sucker for great “builds” and vocal performances. I like to listen to a song over and over and over, just to hear little fills and a great sounding guitar, and yes – the occasional fuck-up.
For example, listen to a song called Deathly by Aimee Mann. It has the perfect intro with just her vocal, high-hat and an acoustic that sounds about as good as my Martin D35. After the first half of the verse, the bass comes in along with another guitar and the sound fills the bottom of the bowl warming the pallet and what sounds like a telecaster or a jazzmaster plays the perfect licks in the right channel – the bowl begins to fill and add color. The harmonies are clear and present and, like the instruments, are separated so that if you want to completely relax and isolate each instrument in your head, it’s easy to do. By the end of the song, the bowl has filled with an overpowering build that makes the music pour over the brim.
Advice for aspiring musicians?
Absolutely – if you do nothing else, know and be the master of your instrument! Know how to read and write charts. Learn from the players you think are incredible and do it without an attitude. Stop worrying about if people love you, if you love what you do and don’t short-change it, then you’ll take your place among your heroes.
I started really late (starting to write and sing at 52). I don’t aspire to be a star, I just write and write and write. I’ve had the opportunity to work some of the best musicians in the world because I give them a really good product and then tell them to make it their own. If you are working with the best players, it’s a formula that doesn’t fail!
Describe a great experience making music.
My last session for my album, Of Sins Present and Past, I made sure that I had all of my players in one room. These days, you can send songs around the world to have people play parts, but when you get everyone in the same room, magic happens…really!
I had written a song called One More Down the Line which sounds like it’s something out of a Firefly episode or a Tarantino spaghetti western. I had Jason Roberts (Norah Jones’ guitarist), Frankie DiVanna (bassist for Trash Can Sinatras), Jessy Greene (violinist who has toured with Foo Fighters, Wilco, Pink and others), Dave Krusen (original drummer for Pearl Jam) and Rami Jaffee (keyboardist for Foo Fighters and Wallflowers) all in one room working on my song!
I had the song charted for everyone and we started playing through it to get a feel. As we finished a take, Rami would make a suggestion or Jason would change up a part and we’d run through it again. After we all had input into the what it became, we ended up with an arrangement that was somewhat different from what I had originally thought but now it made more sense and after playing it a few times, each player has his/her own approach and ownership to the product. So much goddamn fun!
What has been your experience like using about.me?
This is a site with just the right amount of global reach and anonymity where I can connect with people I think are intriguing and like-minded.
I really dig how I can connect with someone half way around the world who shares the same back-story or experiences. I’ve connected to new friends who have started playing my music on their radio shows and podcasts and I’ve shared my music in places where I would have had no chance to exposure through Facebook or Twitter.
Anna Lizaur is a Marketing Manager with about.me. She graduated from the University of Virginia. Anna is fluent in Spanish and can count to 100 in Chinese.