What to Gift the Musician in Your Life (Since You Can't Buy Them Talent)

Tim Brennan

Last Thursday at the Grit holiday party, I received an early Christmas present. They gave me two Gritty award trophies—one for most-read blogger of the 3rd quarter and the other for most-read single post. To be honest, I found this quite uncomfortable. I’m used to losing. Heck, I didn’t even put on a decent shirt before going, considered bailing on the night because the day was hectic enough, and was just chilling in the back when my name was called. So winning has left me with a feeling that does not make me comfortable. I don’t even consider myself a writer. But I am very thankful and surprised.


In the swirling pool of emotions, I wasn’t too sure how this would affect me. Upon leaving, my wife cautioned me to not let this go to my head. “Is that what people do when they win awards?” I asked myself. Come on, Tim Brennan is not that narcissistic, I figured. Tim is not the kind of guy to let a little piece of clear plastic go to his head. Tim’s always been humble and in the background—a bassist for goodness sake. A bassist, by the way, ranks just above drummer yet just below bicycle messenger in the pecking order of guys chicks would hook up with if they lost a bet. In football terms, the bassist is like the lineman. Yeah, Brennan’s a good support guy, not a winner. But here he is talking and writing in the third person. Is this the change my wife cautioned me about?


Perhaps a victory is all it takes. Yes, I should embrace the victory. From now on, I will be referred to as “Tim Brennan, Award-Winning Blogger.” Ha! The barista is gonna need extra space to write that out tomorrow morning. Can’t wait to hear, “Tall decaf soy caramel macchiato in a venti cup because the name is too freaking long for Tim Brennan, Award-Winning Blogger!”


What does this mean for you? Well, this means that any advice I give, you can attach more importance. Such as “Dad, I have to quit school with one semester remaining. To be a real artist means I can’t have a college degree. That’s what Tim Brennan, Award-Winning Blogger says. And he must know. He has an award-winning blog.”


But before we go about convincing your younger sister’s college fund is better spent on recording all three songs you’ve ever written, let’s start small.


I’ve got some Christmas gift ideas for you. You know if you don’t give some strong hints, you’ll get some useless stuff. Like iTunes gift cards: you already steal all the music you like while hoping to somehow make a living at music (huh, is there something wrong with that picture?). Or bowls made out of vinyl records (the people who do this make me sick. If I find them, I will wrestle them until they agree to stop abusing these rare icons of my youth.)


Here are some ideas: 



1. Capos. For the guitarist in your life, a few more capos (aka clamps) can be in order. The capo is necessary—not only to allow one to change keys without going through the whole difficult process of learning new chords, but also because capos can help affix a T-shirt to the driver’s-side window on a cold night after the drummer busted it with an icy snowball.


2. Nine-volt batteries. You can never have enough.


3. guitar pick hole punch. So geeky, and yet I love mine. Old credit cards, fake IDs, and hotel room keys can all be turned into guitar picks. You’re recycling and saving a trip to the music store, as well.



1. Books. Personally, I keep an extensive library of books about the music industry. It makes me look like I read and has the added advantage of filling up my shelves. Now that I have two awards (did I mention that?), I may not need as many books up there, but one I won’t take down and suggest for any working musician is This Business Of Music. It is darn thick and does not have any pictures—big drawbacks for any musician—but the words inside have a whole lot of meaning. It is an ever-evolving Bible of important stuff about copyright, trademark, what a personal manager does versus a business manager, contracts, labels, etc. Perfect for referencing almost any music business-related question.


Hitless Wonder: A Life In Minor League Rock And Roll by Joe Oestreich is a nonfiction book about an Ohio bassist for a band called Watershed. You’ve never heard of them, which is why the book is called "Hitless Wonder.” Get it? I may be a big fan of the book because I am also a bassist from Ohio. And because we played the same clubs back in the day. And because I like the guy and his band. And because he is now an English professor in South Carolina. And because reading this book is sort of what inspired me to get off my ass and start writing, which led to me becoming an Award-Winning Blogger. Did I mention that? Yet, Hitless Wonder ought to appeal to anyone trying to make it in this business. Or perhaps it would appeal to the friends and family of the musician. This book can tell them more about what you’re going through than perhaps you can. It’s funny, honest, and at times very poetic. 


2. A gift certificate. But not to Guitar Center. That place is evil, I tell you. Zombified, pasty-skinned, black T-shirt wearing dudes with ear gauges so big that I wonder if when they pass out, their friends use those giant ear holes for bag toss games. Sure, this is very general and probably wrong. But if it keeps you away from Guitar Center, then my work here is done. Friends don’t let friends shop at Guitar Center. Use a locally owned music store instead. Get to know the people there. 


3. Membership to AAA. This one's for the touring musician. The van will break down. No question about it.



1. A demo recording package at a local studio like Charleston Sound. Their rates for a package are cheap, their facilities are good enough for award-winning artists, and there is so much to learn in a studio.


2. Musicians’ earplugs! I just went and got myself fitted for a new pair. It's been about 10 years since I lost my last pair and I miss them. For about $190, an audiologist will make a mold of your ear and send it out to be made into a plug which fits your ear perfectly. That plug will have a small hole through the center of it to allow sound, but a nub on the external part, into which you can snap a filter. The great thing about these is that, unlike the foam plugs you may get at CVS, you are still able to hear the music in your practice space or on stage clearly, it’s just at a lower level. Set up an appointment with an audiologist for the musician in your life and save their hearing for years to come. It’s thoughtful!


3. Plane tickets to Austin, Texas March 12-17. That’s when the world famous SXSW (South By Southwest) conference happens. Hundreds of unsigned bands pour into the Music Capital of the World (as nicknamed by Austin, of course) to attempt a bit of soul-trading-for-record-deals. The city will reek of desperation and barbecue. The nights will be filled with great music wherever they turn. The days will be loaded with seminars on everything they want to know about the business. It can be the most intensely packed five days of music industry education your musician could ever ask for. There is a strong possibility they could meet someone who gets them further up ladder of success or see unknown bands that will win Grammys in five years. 


4. The Marshall Amp Refrigerator—the granddaddy of all musician gifts Yup, a place to keep all your beverages cool, but hidden behind a genuine Marshall stack facade. It’s pointless, yet chills beer as well as any other fridge for twice the price. Perfect for any man cave or rehearsal space. However, no word on if your beer freezes when you turn it up to 11.



If I don’t submit another blog this year (though I have three started, I may get lazy and rest on those award winning laurels), have a great holiday season. And thanks to my daughter for hitting “refresh” about a hundred times. That, apparently, is the only way I can figure that my numbers would be so high.