Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

All about music, guitar, spirituality, personal development and being happy

Settle for Nothing But Excellence


It’s up to you if you, your life and music are excellent. Are you settling for mediocrity? Mediocrity is easy, but painful in the long term.

Allow me to share with you, dear reader – a current story in my quest for excellence.

As you may know – I am working hard on a Michael Jackson tribute fingerstyle guitar CD. At this phase I have 15 good tunes recorded, many of them are ones I have posted to Youtube.

As I sat and listened with my good buddy Paul Beaudry to my almost finished CD, he was just gushing for about 5 tunes, and then the feeling changed.

His face became more serious. My stomach sank. Most of us musicians feel that the music is an extension of us…if the music sucks, I suck. If it’s good – I’m good.

He and I started noticing a “sameness” to the grooves. Honestly I personally started feeling worn out by the lack of variation too. Surely I don’t want this to happen to my listeners!

The album needs to be a joy, a delight and a delicious experience for anyone who puts it on.

Here is the crucial point – it would be so easy to let things slide, to rush, to want it done, want it now. It takes serious self honesty to just say “it ain’t soup yet!”.

It takes patience too.

Essentially a bunch of great “guitar video singles” were not making a varied enough program to hang next to eachother on a “CD”. Back in the vinyl LP days a good album took you on a varied, interesting journey from one musical landscape to another. Led Zeppelin really was a leader in this.

Today most musicians don’t think albums…they think singles and mp3 downloads. Sorry – I want this CD to be in people’s players, playing all the way through.

Paul assured me that what was there was EXCELLENT – and he pulls no punches. He also advised me to go back and look at Michael’s Albums to see where pretty ballads are placed in between dance tracks.

The Moral of the Story:

This is a record that I want to be finished. However, accepting mediocrity is unnaceptable.

Standing firm only for excellence is permissable.

My gut says when it’s ready – not my head.

The price must be paid – in advance.

Out of tune guitar? Record it again.

Not enough groove on a tune? Record it again.

Listen closely.

Not enough “pretty ballads” and too much “hit you over the head 2 & 4 groove? Record more and re-asses.

Make a plan and get to work.

Make things right.

Allow artistic instinct to prevail.

Late last night I discovered this video from Seth Godin, and I love his message. It resonated with me completely. Enjoy:

Author: Adam Rafferty

Adam Rafferty. Fingerstyle Guitarist. Recording and Concert Artist. Meditator. Philosopher. Lover of Groove.

12 thoughts on “Settle for Nothing But Excellence

  1. The Godin clip is priceless. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Adam,

    Self examination is perhaps the hardest type. That you are willing to examine at all speaks volumes. That you went ahead and DID, speaks even more.

    I’m really glad you’re thinking in terms of the “album” rather than the singles. It must have been quite illuminating to discover that each song was a gem, but the body of work lacked something. But you and Paul are spot on, the ebb and flow of the ALBUM is as important (or more so) as each of the songs as a component. And I agree that well-placed ballad might be the key. I suggest “The Lady In My Life” as one to look at; the progression is one that lends itself well to your style of playing, I think it would translate well. “Liberian Girl” is a hauntingly lovely piece that would probably work well too. You could also consider doing a non-traditional arrangement of an existing upbeat tune into something else, if one moves you in an alternate direction. Speed Demon as a bossa? Who knows? 🙂 🙂

    • Phil

      You are reading my mind. I am already on those two, and a few others. Thank you my brudda.

      I had tried “Lady in my Life” with the original R & B vibe and it didn’t work so I canned it. However, I am revisiting that one as a brooding, melancholy folky fingerpicking thing rather than a “cover”.

      And yes – there is some nice Bach-ian Harmony on the chorus (listen to Gavotte from 3rd Lute Suite!) and a nice interplay from a minor I chord to a major I (a la Anita Baker – Sweet Love)

      Been trying “Liberian Girl” may be a rubato, flamenco / middle eastern up in the air type of atmosphere. This will give breathing room!!!

      In addition, I am looking at “Ben” and “She’s out of my Life”.

      All of these are being approched from a more “jazz dude” type way – i.e. more creativity, spontenaiety – rather than a cover attitude of “lemme see if I can get the original vibe on guitar” and blasting through a “set” arrangement.

      Additionally – making sure the backbeat click sound I do sits right in the mix is critical. That sound can really be a problem when out of balance.

      I promise you and everyone, I exercised extreme restraint and did not bash – but man, with small diaphragm mics and acoustic guitar with a thumbpick – you get some clicks! (I got a fat DI signal though..plenty to work with)

      Those sounds can be dealt with in all kinds of ways – and as I said – I played with groove – but restraint and sensitive listening too.

      The tricky aspect is that I am trying to figure out a new “way to do it” on the guitar and don’t have a model…so there’s trial and error. Sure I could always fall into the bag of what someone else has figured out – like Chet or Tommy – but that’s never been my way; I always reach for the semi impossible (like our man Pete Huttlinger).

      Phase 1 of the arrangement is ususally “can I actually pull this off?” Phases 2, 3, and ones following that are “does it actually sound good.”

      Over coffee today I thunk to me-self….good old J.S. Bach wrote VARIED tempos in suites. You didn’t get 6 Gavottes.


  3. Good luck finding the ballads to balance things out. You know I am a sucker for the ballads. I must admit I have been kind of waiting for Ben since you played the rough draft of it 7 months ago.

  4. Awesomeness. I am so taking your class this summer. A question – You said:

    “Additionally – making sure the backbeat click sound I do sits right in the mix is critical. That sound can really be a problem when out of balance. ”

    I wonder if that backbeat click is actually necessary on a more open form ballad? (or were you only referring to its use on the more straight “covers”?)

    I think “Lady In My Life” would be wonderful as melancholy folk. Even slower than the original… I’m playing it mentally at about 60bpm. Lots of space in it…

    I love “Liberian Girl”; it sort of seemed like he discovered the minor 9th chord and ran amuck. That whole album was interesting in that he did a lot of normal minor on tunes like that as well as harmonic minor.
    I like the choices you make, especially when you’re reaching. Do you find that the songs you arrange are ever easier to actually arrange than to play? Pete told me that his signature arrangement of “Superstition” took him 2 hours to figure out, and 2 months to learn.

  5. Phil

    The backbeat click has run amok online since I did Superstition…it should be a natural part of the “juggling” and not stuck in. I see many people who got my DVD totally forcing it.

    What I’d like to hear with that is when you hear a great jazz drummer and there’s this little “chip” sound when the hi hat closes. Not too much…

    Of course – low action and electric means, the strings hits the fret. Just like a bass. In a PA or with close mics – it’s a loud sound.

    On ballads one must give lots of care. I am not thrilled with how I played “Never Can Say Goodbye” because a click here and there pulls my ear away. However – mastering and auto fades can likely fix it.

    Oh man, I am sitting here practicing “Rock With You” and investigating every bass acct, tone shading, trying to do dance steps as I play – to ground it.

    The hard thing is that I am playing a steelstring with a nylon/jazz guitar concept. It’s soooo bright…but that’s also where the magic is!!!

    Yes – the basic idea for any arrangement can hit you like a ton of bricks, and the refinement is endless.

    Someone once said about poems what I say about fingertyle arrangements or pieces – “they are never mastered, only abandoned.”

    The 20% better that I can get “Rock With You” is for me….80% of the people would probably be happy with the way I generally toss it off 🙂

  6. “The hard thing is that I am playing a steelstring with a nylon/jazz guitar concept. It’s soooo bright…but that’s also where the magic is!!!”

    So do it on an archtop… 🙂 Yeah, baby!!

  7. What you need, Mon Ami, is the right axe…

  8. You are a great guitarist, Adam, in case you need to be reassured. There’s one thing though that is not specific to you, many modern guitarists do it (in fact only very good guitarists tend to do it), and as a listener I’m not a big fan of it, but bear in mind that it is a matter of taste.
    It is the backbeat click. What bothers me is when it becomes compulsory. Yes it does add something to the groove, but it has a downside too: it also makes all grooves sound very similar, whatever the song, because let’s admit that this click is always there in the same place.
    Remove the click and you get a variety of grooves, with the bass instantly becoming more important.

    This is just me, and it is far from affecting my appreciation for your music, just a detail.

    Roman Age / Greenlentils

    • Roman

      Great reply. I agree. I’m not a fan of the sound either! Ha! Who would have thought.

      It’s (the click) a spice to be used sparingly – and it should be a natural result of the “physics” of the music if & when it happens.

      Like any bell or whistle, it has it’s place and good taste should prevail.

      As you can imagine – just about all of R & B and funk has this accent…maybe it’s time for a variation on tempos, styles or even sounds used within the same style.

      Take a gander at today’s post on “Listening”.

      Thank you – loved your comment.


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