In India, you need a degree to move up in any walk life and the same should apply to music as well. We fathom you’ll be a far more successful musician if you’ve got a piece of paper that certifies your skills. But Musicians Institute (MI) in Hollywood, Los Angeles is far more than just that. It’s an experience as Sidharth (has finished his course) and Shezan (still pursuing) share their stories with us.
How did you decide that, “Man, this is what I want to do in life”?
Siddharth: Probably during TYBSc when me and my band Zygnema were writing some half decent songs. I wanted to learn more and thought of overseas education.
Shezan: I worked a couple of jobs in BPOs and I knew I wasn’t cut out for this stuff. My dad asked me to join his business and I did consider it for a while, considering all the perks he was offering me.
But I remember when I was at the airport to drop Sid. He had his guitar and gear and was packed and ready to leave for MI. Before leaving, he told me “Dude, its like living the dream and I am gonna live it big.”
The moment I came out of the airport, I called up my girlfriend and told her, “You know what, I’m gonna do it too!”
How much convincing did it take for your parents to let you join MI?
Siddharth: I’d finished my bachelors graduation in science with surprisingly good marks, so not much convincing was required really. My parents were elated with my grad results looking at the fact that I barely scraped through in my standard 12 exams.
After graduating I took up three jobs and racked up decent savings. My demo got cleared and I got selected for the Guitar Institute of Technology program in MI. I informed them only after my selection, told them I’ll get a loan and study music. So, no problems there.
Shezan: My case was slightly different. My dad, like most dads in India, was totally against me following a career in music. And that is understandable because there is no guarantee of a steady income unless you make it big.
It took me a whole year to convince my dad; he was not even willing to listen. But I think he finally saw how badly I wanted to do it and has been supportive ever since.
What is the selection process like in MI?
Shezan: You need to record your demo which is the main thing. MI will send out forms to you with specifics like what scales and chords you need to do, etc.
You need to record two-three songs of your own and if you have a band recording that’s a plus. I must add that the quality of the demo doesn’t really matter. I recorded my demo with Ashu of www.bajaao.com and we got the whole thing done in a day.
How much does learning in MI cost and how bad was it raising money for it?
Sidharth: It cost me around eight lakhs, which includes school fees, stay, food etc. But for some reason MI keeps increasing them every year. Banks are cool when they hear you are going abroad for studying but not exactly when they hear “Musicians Institute”. But I did manage to get a bank loan in the end.
How did you compare with the other students?
Siddarth: In India, one usually wastes a good part of their youth, like 20 years trying to study. Simply because in India, a musical career, if there was ever such a thing, doesn’t sound right and neither does it exist. Over there kids pick up their instruments at the ages of 8-10. I picked up the guitar at 19.
But we are far better than them when it comes to theory and memorising.
Shezan: There is a huge difference, because in USA, music education is no big deal. For a typical Indian family its almost like killing their son/daughter to let them go ahead with learning music.
Most of my classmates have been playing since age 10 or 12. And like in every classroom in this world, some of them are awesome, some are good and some really do suck. But I must add that they do practice hard.
I cant compare myself with any of the students now, because we all know what we are good at and what we suck at. Honestly its only about the time, hard work and dedication you put into your practice schedule.
What is the course content like?
Shezan: We have five core classes – Single String, Rhythm section, Guitar Reading, Harmony Theory and Ear training. My favourite has to be single string and Rhythm section. You learn a lot of scales, you get to know your fretboard, how to apply these scales and melodies to your own guitar solos and tons of chords. I love the practical part but I must admit, I’m not exactly fond of reading
How is the atmosphere in MI like?
Siddarth: Very intimidating at first but once you get used to it, it can be rather inspiring. Some of the teachers have so much patience, like my instructor, Jeff Marshall for example. He is a wizard when it comes to using recording software like Pro Tools. They constantly motivate you to do more and you have credits for most of the things. Motivation is highly necessary in creative courses like these.
Shezan: It’s great and I love it. I was nervous for the first two months but then made a lot of friends from all over the world. You know musicians, always talk about music or playing it. But more than anything it’s motivating. Back in India I used to practice for an hour or two at most. But here I see guitar players practicing everyday for 10-12 hours and that motivates me to put in more as well. Looking at so many guitar players, motivates me to practice harder and be up to the mark.
How has MI impacted your skill set?
Sidharth: There is a big difference in my playing. I am more efficient in everything I do and more importantly I am a thinking musician now. And I know my fretboard inside out, which is terribly important for a guitar player.
Shezan: I feel MI doesn’t focus too much on technique. Its more about applying what you already know. Like application of scales, melodies and how to write your own songs, interconnecting various chords and patterns etc. For me at this stage its really hard to answer how MI has impacted my skills, maybe in another six months I’ll be able to answer this question.
Is there any shift in confidence levels after you’ve joined Musicians Institute?
Siddarth: It is now poles apart! One thing I have learnt from MI is that you need to have great tone when you get on stage.(read the entire article on www..jammag.com)