Lessons from a Pro
“I wanted to be a musician when I was young, and no one couldn’t stop me.” A Bay-Area-based, Grammy-nominated drummer with a slew of albums under his belt, Scott Amendola reflects on his childhood while speaking to a workshop attended by a group of excited Quarantunes music teachers who are also deeply passionate about music.
The group begins swapping stories about epic performance stories. Rebekah recalls a time when she and her peers all “knew the song so well, but we just bombed the song [during the performance]. Everybody forgot where they were in the song, and when we finished, we looked at each other and knew that it was awful and started cracking up!”
Eshan then shares an experience from a school concert. “There was a new kid who had joined the band and had played drums for a long time, and he tried really hard. We really pushed him to catch up with the level at which we were playing, but during the concert, in a transition between two parts of the song, he butchered it, and everybody stopped and the teacher had to reconduct.”
While sharing accounts of their music experiences is entertaining, given that some of the teachers may potentially venture into the music industry as well, the participants are curious about Amendola’s experiences. Julia inquires into Amendola’ background and the role that the music institution that he attended, Berklee School of Music, played in his career.
Berklee provided for a unique learning environment, with students from ages 16-70 years and a drop-out rate around 85%. Essentially, Amendola recalls that “back then people would just go there to learn something and then leave.” The versatility of his current discography can be, in part, traced back to his experiences at Berklee: “Beginning there, I got to experience all kinds of situations of being a musician.”
For anyone interested in attending a music college, Amendola’s advice is to seek out “a place where you know there's going to be a good community of musicians; that’s something to consider.”
After graduating, Amendola began immersing himself into the music scene, playing gigs and “touring with some of the most avant-garde musicians in the world” such as Madeleine Peryroux.
Instrumental to Amendola’s success has been the presence of fellow musicians, as he expresses, “The best way to get really good at what you’re doing is to play with other people.” He has always been captivated by the power of music, stating that “being in a room together, playing music for people, that energy will never be erased.”
Therefore, the arrival of the pandemic has presented challenges for him: “It’s so hard… not being able to connect with people I love playing with.” However, Amendola emphasizes to the participants, some of whom have grown weary by the mounting restrictions that have made gathering with fellow musicians challenging, that “We’re all in the same situation, so don’t be discouraged, you’re gonna get to it.”
Having been a prominent player in the music industry for over thirty years, Amendola has seen first-hand the rapid changes in the business. He notes that upon leaving college, “there was this music industry that really worked for us in a lot of ways,” which meant that for musicians, it was “easier back then to make money making records and selling records.”
Today, streaming giants are now largely in control of the distribution of music, making it increasingly difficult for artists to generate revenue. Amendola explains the situation: “Say we had a band that was successful, maybe four million streams on Spotify; we now make a fraction of the money that we would make, say, if we sold a million records [twenty or thirty years ago].”
This newfound hurdle for young musicians has prompted Amendola to wonder about the future of music and to question the Quarantunes teachers if they can “translate [their passion for music] into success and you’re able to sustain your lives as musicians.”
Despite the newfound barriers that sprung up, there is reason to hope; Amendola encourages the young musicians in the group that “You all have the power to change it and make it work for yourselves.”
Additionally, the rise of social media has altered the craft of songwriters and musicians, much to Amendola’s dismay. Although social media is incredibly useful for connecting musicians and promoting issues, Amendola has noticed a trend of writing songs simply for the sake of an audience on an online platform. He asserts that “creating art for social media stifles the possibilities.”
Julia was curious as to what Amendola thought about Tik Tok, an app where videos are shared and one’s feed often consists of accounts that one does not follow or know. Wouldn’t an app like Tik Tok allow for greater exposure for amateur artists and provide for increased accessibility?
Amendola acknowledges the utility of social media platforms like Tik Tok that have given young artists a platform, but stresses that his “point of social media is how it affects the art and there are people that see it as this focus of ‘I’m going to make a fifty-nine-second video’ and they’re putting so much energy and focus into that that they’re losing sight of the music.”
Nonetheless, Amendola remains centered on his lifelong passion for music, constantly reminding himself of the “purity of music and why you just love it; [music is] with you for your whole life.”
Ultimately, Amendola has a vital piece of advice for the aspiring musicians: “Separate music and the music business; music has only done good things for me. It’s a powerful thing that’s gotten me through things, helped me, and has brought me a great life. The music business on the other hand can be really toxic. I refuse to let music business overcome and infect the art.”