Music – “Jared Meeker – Musician of the Times”

Jared Meeker is a well-known guitarist, composer, producer, educator, and author in the L.A. area. He has performed in venues all over the US crossing many genres from Blues, Rock, Latin, Reggae, Metal, R&B, Funk, Hip-Hop, and Soul. Prior to his earning a BFA in Musical Arts from California Institute of the Arts, Jared forged a relationship with The National Guitar Workshop as a national guitar instructor and also has taught seminars about guitar and music production at USC, UCLA, Seattle Pacific University, SUNY, and Los Angeles Music Academy. He has been featured in Guitar Player and Guitar World magazines and is the instructor and author of some of Alfred Music’s top selling books, DVDs, and iBooks.

As a session guitarist Jared has played on tracks for artists such as N.A.S.A., Snoop Dogg, Myka Nyne, and Nate Dogg. Jared’s original music has been featured in movies such as the Sundance award-winning film Fuel, and his music has been heard on hit shows such as Dexter and Smash, as well as television networks MTV, Showtime, NBC, VH1, CBS, and TNT. Jared is sponsored and endorsed by Line6, Propellerhead software, and Spalt Instruments and he is currently the guitarist for Salvador Santana (son of the legendary Carlos Santana), playing venues nationwide.

B.C./N.H.A. – Having been originally born in LA, and then raised in Sacramento, tell me about your start in music and what originally got you back to the Los Angeles area.

J.M. – Sacramento offered an incredible music education for me growing up, part of which was by sheer luck. Both sides of family each exposed me to different styles of music; my Dad showed me rock music from groups such as Dire Straits, Van Halen, AC/DC, and Aerosmith, folk artists like Cat Stevens and Joni Mitchell, and jazz musicians like Stanley Jordan and Joe Pass; my Mom listened to country and took me to see many country artists in concert when I was just a young kid. My grandma was a great organist and I’d be her page-turner as she played in church and this served as my introduction into reading music. She also took me to operas and bought me classical tapes and sheet music. I got my first guitar on my ninth birthday and immediately began taking lessons shortly after. I didn’t develop as a guitarist until about a year later when I started studying with a new teacher who had just graduated from Musicians Institute and could pull off many of the lead guitar tricks that I really wanted to learn. At about ten years old I was into Randy Rhoads (famed guitarist with Ozzy Osbourne) and Van Halen and so I fully invested into that style of playing. In junior high I was playing guitar and bass in the Concert Band and Jazz Band and we would play local Jazz festivals. One of the coolest times of the junior high bands was during lunch breaks where I would jam in the band room with various drummers. That summer of seventh grade my family entered me into a music program called “Stairway to Stardom” (which is like “School Of Rock”) in Sacramento. Judges listened to the musicians individually, gave them a rating, and put them into bands with similar interests. Each band practiced and had three small showcase performances, at the end of eight weeks there was a big concert where each group performed 3 songs on a big, professional stage and finally the groups went into professional recording studios and got to record one song. The next year I went back to Stairway to Stardom at age 13 and having been in different bands at this point, I began the process to understand how to work with others both in writing and playing, and also express myself creatively and develop my own style. Around 14 I had begun playing the acoustic guitar and by age 15 I entered the Washburn Acoustic Guitar Contest in downtown Sacramento. They had the contest divided into players that were under 18 and players over 18. I won the under-age division, was in the paper, got a free guitar, and I talked to Washburn and landed my first guitar endorsement! I attended the National Guitar Workshop that summer in Claremont near LA. It was a three-week program with daily classes, where I performed regularly with other students, and studied with Frank Gambale, Dallas Perkins, Joey Tafolla, Steve Kahn, and saw and met many great guitarists. That experience and program left a big impact on me. I went home to Sacramento that summer and set up a recording session at a local studio called P.C. North (also know as the Pus Cavern); it was a cheap little analog studio but it had lots of vibe (this is where the band Cake recorded their first few albums). I recorded 3 songs in a day where I programmed the drums and played all the instruments. I sent this recording into Guitar World’s “Hometown Heroes” column and was discovered by Mike Varney, a well-known label owner and guitar music enthusiast. Mike featured me in the column of Guitar World magazine, and would meet me in San Francisco occasionally to play/jam together and share new music with me such as Greg Howe, Shawn Lane, Richie Kotzen, Vernon Reid, and many other guitarists and alternative bands. I would record regularly at P.C. North over the new few years often bringing in other outside musicians into the studio such as drummers, singers from my high school choir, or members from other high school my bands. I stayed playing both guitar and bass in the Jazz band in high school. My band teacher, Mr. Richie Hodge, was an excellent arranger and musician. I took private music theory lessons from him and would occasionally gig with him in small combo groups. My choir teacher, Jennifer Leighton, was a fantastic musician as well and often I would do wedding gigs with her accompanying her on guitar as she sang. Also at this time I was the rally commissioner for my high school and I ran the pep rallies with a guitar in my hands. When I graduated I wrote a song for the choir and band to perform at the ceremony. I was also playing in several other rock bands through high school as well, all with musicians far older than myself. The band Hate Street was a Death Metal band in Sacramento that opened up for Megadeth and King Diamond. Another group I was in was the band The Voice that was a power trio where I divided up vocal duties with the bass player and we would write catchy songs with fun jam sections. I had continued music studies at both National Guitar Workshop and Berklee School Of Music and received a scholarship to go to Berklee for college as I’d applied to both Berklee and, a lesser-known school, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts for short) from a friend’s recommendation. There was a teacher at National Guitar Workshop named Jody Fischer who was (and is) a big influence on me. He, along with another teacher from N.G.W., Adam Levy (guitarist with Tracy Chapman and Norah Jones), both strongly recommended that I go to CalArts. I knew very little of CalArts and its faculty but the classes looked interesting due to its eclectic selection of world music and electronic music courses. As an audition to CalArts, I sent in several recordings of mine that were very orchestrated, highly progressive, and all charted with notation. I was accepted to begin in that fall and very excited to go back to Los Angeles. Having been born in L.A., I felt this magnetic energy pulling me back there so in that way, returning to L.A. was both a personal journey as well as an educational one.

B.C./N.H.A. – How would you say your experiences in College at the California Institute of the Arts (Calarts for short) influenced the artist you have become today?

J.M. – Calarts had such an impact on me and I jumped into its community as a full creative entity. None of the other students had any knowledge of my background and likewise I didn’t know theirs so we were all redefining ourselves together and all had to prove ourselves within this group of amazing musicians and artists. Calarts is known for its cultural diversity so as an 18-year-old freshman I was exposed to African music and dance from Ghana, Balinese and Javanese music from Indonesia, and Bulgarian and Macedonian music from Eastern Europe. I attended Indian music classes on South Indian Solkattu rhythms from master drummer Poovalur Srinivasin and studied North Indian ragas from sarod guru Rajeev Taranath. I studied advanced music harmony and theory from a classical perspective with Dr. Nick England who took me through music theory, atonal sight singing, and shared his rich understanding of the various music cultures of the world. Miroslav Tadic is an incredible guitarist whom I studied with where I delved into mastery of a wide amount of topics: Blues, Rock, Classical, Flamenco, and Electronics (a guitar FX pedal building D.I.Y. obsession began that I have continued and developed!). Larry Koonse is a Jazz guitar/Jazz theory teacher who had a massive impact on me with his incredible personality and ideas and understanding of playing jazz, chord harmony, fret board knowledge, and sight-reading. Marc Lowenstein provided me with new ways of imagining composition and expanded my ideas of orchestration. This all scratches the surface of what was taught by the instructors but I learned as much from the student body and community as well. I went to art openings, music recitals, and theater performances that expanded and broadened my cultural understanding, creative expression, and overall scope of the arts. Often these arts perspectives would cross-pollinate in instances where I played guitar in dance and theater shows or worked with animators and directors to provide a soundtrack for their film. My graduate recital featured almost 100 performers and was almost all original music in the following ensembles: a full 17-piece orchestra, a woodwind quartet, a shred rock group, a funk jam band, an Indian ensemble, free jazz with live theater skits, Indian/African fusion, solo guitar, a Reggae group, and a folk duo! I was also active in performing in many groups while at Calarts as I wrote a funk rock opera in my third year that combined forces with costume designers and set designers for the legendary Calarts Halloween party and featured a ten-piece band with myself at the helm on guitar and sharing vocal duties. I made strong ties and connections with much of the student body that led directly into the working world. One of the groups I was performing professionally in while at Calarts (and several years after graduating) was a Reggae band called Rub-A-Dub made up of all Calarts friends/students. We played all over southern California and opened up for some of the biggest artists in the Reggae genre: Bunny Wailer, Mr. Vegas, Shaggy, Barrington Levy, Israel Vibrations, Freddy McGregor, Andrew Tosh, and Eek-A-Mouse, just to name a few. I had also put together my own eclectic rock band called Spiderfingers that featured Calarts friends of mine, where I played guitar and sang combining my favorite styles into a jam based rock trio setting. I was also playing in a group called Umbalaye that was a blend of Latin music, Cuban, rock, reggae, and jazz that was started by fellow Calarts alumni Jose “Crunchy” Espinosa (founding member of LA super group Ozomatli) that featured many Calartians in the band.

B.C./N.H.A. – Out of College, what lead you to become more pro-active as a professional music teacher?

J.M. – While still in school at Calarts, teaching during the summers at The National Guitar Workshop continued to be a driving force of education for me, both in practice and performance as an instructor. I found that teaching helped me learn my music subjects better, even if it was a simple rhythm exercise, it would strengthen the fundamentals within me and so that I had more appreciation for the basics. Having gained these classroom-teaching experiences through the NGW program, I had graduated Calarts and soon after was called for the opportunity to teach both beginning and intermediate guitar classes as well as private lessons at the Wooden Center at UCLA in Los Angeles. This quickly immersed me into the teaching world, as I had to deconstruct all the knowledge that I had acquired in my studies and try to reassemble it for a beginner’s perspective. Up to that point I had asked students to purchase books (which they often would not do!) or I would create handouts that were either my own hand-drawn lessons or Xeroxed pages of my favorite guitar books. I had a computer at home and with Photoshop and Adobe PageMaker so I created books for these classes and by doing so, all the information was uniform and matching the correct pedagogy for the lesson plans. I would have the books made up by the Wooden Center and additional income would be added to my first check and it made sure that the students knew what they were going to learn and what was expected of them in these 8 week courses. Around this same time, I also became a full-time instructor at Antelope Valley College in Lancaster teaching classical guitar and studio production techniques. I continued teaching privately as well, writing new books for my courses and lessons, until more recently when I moved to the job of Associate Editor at Alfred Music. At Alfred Music I am able to help develop and edit new music education materials utilizing my knowledge of many musical styles, theory, computer programming, and design esthetics, therefore a lot of my background in teaching and music gets integrated into this work.

B.C./N.H.A. – I know in this same time frame you began digging into the world of recording and producing music for yourself and other artists as well. Tell me about what started you on this path both artistically and professionally.

J.M. – As I had mentioned, I was working with drum machines, recording on tape, and writing scores with basic notation software in high school. At Calarts I used several software programs including Finale and Rebirth. Rebirth was a program that I got into purely from the enjoyment of sound design and created many compositions with it. After college I delved into the software program Digital Performer and began recording projects at my home studio learning the art of a digital audio workstation where I recorded several CDs of my own music and also began to seek music licensing deals with these albums. Around this time a friend of mine introduced me to the program Reason and once I got that I could simply sequence great sounding tracks on Reason while still using Digital Performer. At this time I was working with several music producers as a session guitarist/bassist, one of whom was Calarts alumni Josef Leimberg, who is a trumpet player and fantastic Hip-Hop producer. He and I worked on tracks for several artists including Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Redman, Myka Nyne and the Freestyle Fellowship crew, and it was here where I became interested in the art of sampling. Also around this time I was teaching a studio production class on how to use Reason and I realized that most of what I wanted to do with samples and sound libraries could be done in Reason very efficiently. I jumped into the depths of how to use Reason and created a massive sample/sound library and made an arsenal of songs. Through a musician-friend, I eventually was led to a publishing company called Black Toast Music. Since working with this company and others as well I learned to write/work within the confines of a more exact market and in doing so, my music has been featured on hit shows such as “Dexter” and “Smash”, and featured on the shows of VH1, MTV, NBC, CBS, TNT, and as well as the documentary “Fuel”.

B.C./N.H.A. – How would you describe the bridge between player, producer, and teacher? Does one influence the other?

J.M. – The lines are getting more blurred across all three careers as time goes on. For instance, before I started at Alfred, I was featured as a DVD guitar instructor on several DVDs for various performance levels and styles of guitar. For one DVD in particular I was asked me to create 80 backing tracks in 3 days…guitar bass, keys, etc. Now, Alfred Music just released an iBook called “Basic Rock Guitar” where I’m in all the videos teaching and there are sound-a-like backing tracks that I produced behind all the teaching segments. These tracks are in the style of the Rolling Stones, the Doors, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, etc. There is no way I could have done this work if I did not know my recording system in and out, did not have a method for generating material, and did not have music templates set up in place before-hand for this amount of work. Being a working musician/producer is about finding a job, executing it well and/or on time, finding joy within the constraints of the job, and working well with others in the process of the work. This idea is the same for all three: player, producer, and teacher. A good player gets a recommendation for a gig, comes in to rehearsal already having learned as much of the material as possible, is happy to be there even if it’s not his or her dream gig, and is enjoyable to be around as a person. A good producer gets a call to do a sound-a-like for a song that he or she might not be fond of, delivers a high-quality product sooner than expected, and does it with a smile. A good teacher gets a call from a 6-year-old students’ Mom for a lesson and when they show up can find joy in showing the student the most basic idea never losing sight that they started there once and that they can have a lifetime-long positive effect on this child. I have taught thousands of people to play guitar and taught many up-and-coming producers to better their craft as well and I am grateful for all of those experiences but it has been hard work. In all three careers your patience gets tested: why don’t you have the gigs that you want?, why doesn’t this music software work like it should?, why can’t this kid just play a G chord?! It all comes down to balance because all three careers really equal one career. If I was only producing but I couldn’t play my guitar I wouldn’t be happy. If I was only playing live but never producing or sharing my ideas as a teacher I wouldn’t feel fulfilled either. As much time as I’ve spent around art, I personally break it down into ideas. When I’m sitting with someone and we both have guitars in our hands I love to share my ideas, sometimes simple or complex. When I listen to music I hear that someone has good or bad ideas as a producer, composer, or songwriter, and try to understand why they made those choices. Through my training I have a very simple way to look at complex musical ideas and their deconstruction that I try to convey that to anybody I work with either in a rehearsal space, in a recording studio, or in a classroom.

B.C./N.H.A. – Four very high profile companies, Line6, Propellerhead (makers of the software program Reason), Alfred Music Publishing, and Producertech, recently have featured you in online videos as an artist/producer/instructor. What are your thoughts on how companies like these are shaping the future of music on both how it’s created and learned?

J.M. – My relationship with Line6 began when I spoke with them about my experience with using their products and my understanding of building analog effects pedals, which led me to become a test pilot for the company. Line6 distributes Propellerhead software in the Americas so through Line6 I began working with that company. Propellerhead is a music software company based in Sweden that has produced the programs Reason, Recycle, Rebirth, along with a host of music-based Apps for the iPad and iPhone. I’m a really big fan of their software and was already active in their online forums, had given away some of my sound libraries online, and within a few short meetings with their rep they wanted to do a video on me. This video showcases Reason, the Balance hardware interface, and the Line6 FBV Shortboard MKII foot controller to interface the guitar into the digital realm. Reason was known more for it’s synthesizer, sampling, and drum programming use in electronic music but I wanted to show how to approach using the program featuring the guitar. The video was on the main page of Propellerhead’s website for several months, and was featured on Line6’s website as well. Through Propellerhead’s recommendation, the company Producertech contacted me about doing a video series, featuring me teaching how to record guitar and produce in Reason. All filmed and edited by me, it features 11 lessons, each about half an hour long, with multiple camera angles, that show the composition process of a song from its very beginnings, to the tracking and layering of different instruments, to the final mix-down of the completed song. Recently, Alfred Music has hired me several times in the last two years to film DVDs for them as well. We have currently filmed 9 DVDs: “Alfred’s Basic Rock Guitar 1 & 2”, “Jared Meeker’s Serious Shred”, “Beginning, Intermediate, and Mastering Rock Guitar”, and “Beginning, Intermediate, and Mastering Blues Guitar”. Through each DVD shoot we would do as many as 400 examples, filming up to 3 DVDs in a week and the working relation was always a fun, professional experience. Lastly, I also have filmed 40 online lessons for a company called Workshop Live as my entire relationship with them has stemmed from my experience with the National Guitar Workshop. I am finding more DVD and authorship opportunities for my musical community, am pushing new teaching technologies, and am continuing to lead the way in forward-thinking music education.

B.C./N.H.A. – Beyond the videos that you’ve that you’ve done, I know you have teamed up with Alfred Music Publishing on helping them develop music-based iBooks for use with iPads, iPods, and iPhones. Tell me more about this exacting new format and the possibilities on the horizon for music that you see as a performer, producer, and teacher.

J.M. – The new iBook technology is very exciting as all media is contained within the iBook itself. Video, audio and music diagrams are arranged in a layout that demands interactivity and participation from the student/user. There are tests that give you an instant account of what you’ve retained and you can email the test directly to your teacher. iBooks aren’t necessarily just for books either as technology is changing more rapidly than ever before and I see “edutainment” as being a future hot sale. The program used to create them is called iBooks Author and as it is upgraded and develops I can imagine all kinds of applications for this participatory entertainment.

B.C./N.H.A – With all this diversity across what you are currently doing as an artist, producer, and educator, tell me more about any other current projects that you’re a part of.

J.M. – Yes! Two projects that I’m involved in musically that I want to shed light on:
1 – Salvador Santana. I play guitar and co-write with keyboardist/mc Salvador Santana, son of guitar legend Carlos Santana. He and I have written around a dozen songs together many of which are in our live set. These particular songs haven’t been released yet but I promise you that they are strong and I look forward to seeing their upcoming release. The band is a blast to play in! It’s a 5-piece: keys/vox, keys/vox, guitar/vox, bass, and drums – all of the musicians are top notch as players and as people. The band’s sound I would describe as eclectic pop where we fuse many styles together in a danceable, groove-heavy, jam-based sound. Salvador recently had a new video premiere for his latest single “Rise Up” that features our second vocalist/keyboardist Alex Nester. Lots to come this artist/group so keep your eyes peeled!
2 – Next Level Productions and the “Sunken City” movie. I have been working with drummer/producer/collaborator Blake Colie for many years…since Calarts, playing in Rub-A-Dub, in Spiderfingers, and in countless other projects. He is a well sought after drummer/percussionist in LA and a great producer and music historian. One of the styles that we work on often is Reggae/Jamaican music. Recently he and I started working with Bill Wendt (aka DJ Prophecy) who is an extremely experienced audio engineer, live mixer, and DJ. The 3 of us quickly became known as Next Level Productions. Within a few months of making tracks together that featured various vocalists and MCs, we landed a job to create a movie soundtrack. The upcoming movie is called “Sunken City” and is just about to come out with a premier at the Oregon Independent Film Festival on September 20th. It definitely has potential to be a cult classic! We created 42 tracks in just over a month…Dub, Reggae, Roots, and Rocksteady tracks, some with vocals, some with just guitar, horn, or melodica leads, but most as incredible instrumental Dub mixes. It features the vocal talents of Black Shakespeare, Nuby Dan, and Freedom Movement, and our good friend Todd Simon on horns. As a producer, a guitarist, and (importantly) as a bassist I’m excited to get this music heard and out to the world! Next Level Productions is currently working on more tracks for our library for release and we’re gearing up to work on some Dub/Reggae sample libraries for a few different companies so lots to look out for with this project as well!

B.C./N.H.A. – Lastly, in all the ground that you cover as an artist, producer, and teacher, what would be you’re strongest advice to any up-and-coming musicians and artists out there who want to get pointed in the right direction to any one of the paths that you’ve taken?

J.M. – There isn’t one way to make a living at music. Everybody has to find his or her own path. Even though you don’t know what that path is at a given point, as you keep going you will see more of where you have to go. Don’t stop, find what you like to do, and just keep doing it. Keep your life in balance too because if somebody has their home life in shambles then they will bring that into the work environment. Success comes when opportunity meets preparation so when you get an opportunity you better hit it outa the park. Practice regularly because you never know when that opportunity will arise. Influence is a powerful thing so try and surround yourself with people that make you want to be better. Build up your community because if you make those other people around you succeed then you will succeed with them. You can’t do it alone and even if you could, why would you want to? We are all connected so never burn bridges; just decide on which bridges to (or not to) cross. Get to know yourself, forgive yourself for mistakes, always love yourself, and just keep going. Life is like music in that it’s an ever–flowing, rising and falling of high times and low times. Don’t act too drastic on the hills or valleys of life for they will pass!
To see more about Jared Meeker check out these videos:

“Balance and Reason for Guitarists”

“Learn to Record & Produce in Reason 7 – A Musician’s Guide with Producertech”

“Improvising Lives” performed by Jared Meeker

“California Love” performed by Salvador Santana

Lastly, follow Jared and his work with Next Level Productions here and here, and follow Jared and his work with Salvador Santana here and here.