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Mark Lettieri: Snarky Guitars, Part 1

Mike Jacobs By

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AAJ: Part of being a musician today often involves the internet in some way. You have a pretty active presence on social media. Is that a constant, necessary push and to sustain things?

ML: It absolutely is but I never got onto social media setting out to be a social media or Youtube guitarist. That was never an intent. But now, because I've taken the step, I can't undo it. Now, that's how people all over the world interact with my music, and with me, personally. It would be silly to say that it hasn't extended my reach because it absolutely has. That's just how the modern musician reaches their fans these days, especially if you're going to be an artist. If I was just strictly working in the industry as a sideman, I'm not sure I would need it to the extent that I do. We talked about the Baritone record—that happened because of my involvement with social media. So yeah, it's a part of my day, my routine, it's something I schedule. At this point, I have to be consistent with it because it's just the way things are now.

I talk to these younger players sometimes and...(pause) I think it's tough because it seems there's an odd emphasis on social media being the main thing you have to do to be successful in music. I think for younger players that can be really dangerous because they are not only missing out on experience but it's just not good for their emotional state. You're in a constant state of comparing yourself. That can be really dangerous to people who don't have an outlet other than social media to express themselves.

AAJ: There are players today who have actually put out a few albums from just playing in their bedroom before ever actually having to ever go out and play with a band or perform in front of people. It's a totally different kind of musical greenhouse than the one earlier generations had.

ML: Some players are able to make that transition. I personally feel that you need that club experience, that grind, to truly develop yourself. But I'm old-school, I guess. Myself and some of my peers are in that age range where we remember gigging and working before Instagram and everything else took. We tend to look at our situation like "Yeah, I guess we have to be on social media now," but ten years ago we were all just taking hits in the clubs—just churning it out. There are so many guitar players now that don't even do that. I talk about it with my friends, and we've realized we're in this emotional gray area where we know we have to participate in social media but maybe don't necessarily want to. I don't know...

AAJ: The internet has been a successful tool for you in some respects, though...

ML: That's why I have such conflicting feelings, because it absolutely has been helpful to me. It literally brings my music to people all over the world. And I do really enjoy the process of discovering new players and interacting with people. But, I think I'm just still struggling with the idea of "why we need to do all of this?" I guess we do because there is no record business so, okay, this is the future? I just need to be better about it embracing it, and maybe not worry so much about the negatives.

AAJ: For all of the internet's arguable downsides, having a direct feed, albeit a very crowded one, to your fan base is still some kind of positive, right?

ML: In that respect it is a total blessing. I don't know what it was like to make records in the '70s or '80s. I think of that as the golden age, but I don't know, maybe it was a nightmare. It's just a different world now. Another thing that is amazing to see is how good players are now because they can learn everything at the click of a mouse.

AAJ: You've done a fair amount of teaching lessons and giving clinics. Do you see any other effects this type of "having-it-all-laid-out-on-the-internet learning" may have on younger players?

ML: In a sense yes, I can tell when a player has spent more time watching videos than they have playing with other people. I can usually tell by their time feel and their ability to stay at a consistent tempo. They will play something for me, and I'll ask them if they are in a band. They'll say, "Well, not really, I just kind of sit in my room and play to videos." And I'll say, "Okay, go outside and turn off your phone. Go to the jam session, sign up, sit in and suck. Meet some people. Play with them! They need to do that. Video learning is important but if you're not putting what you've learned into situations where you are making music with other people, the real skills are not going to develop. And this is especially important for players who want to be working musicians. I'm worried that many young players aren't getting proper playing experience because they think they just need to be on the computer all the time. It's one of the things I try to talk about in clinics. People ask me what video I watched to learn how to groove. I didn't watch a video, I played in gospel and R&B groups for years. That's how I learned to groove. Of course there's a lot of great stuff on the internet. Heck, I have my own online lessons, but media like that should be supplemental. Especially if you have the real-life playing opportunities available. But I understand not everyone does, so in that case, just learn however you can!

AAJ: Any things you have your sights set on for the future?

ML: Well, I think what I'm doing now feels good. My main focus, really, is working hard on making the solo thing more sustainable. I bring up guys like Joe Satriani and those heroes of my past—that career is amazing. Who wouldn't want that? He wakes up in the morning and he's Joe Satriani. (laughs). But I feel like I'm in a good place right now. I'm able to do many things that keep me musically fulfilled, whether it's my original music, Snarky Puppy, session work, the Flyers. I've got my hands in all kinds of stuff. If I could keep doing all those things—and just maybe have another zero or something at the end of the paycheck... (laughs), that would be great.

There's still places I want to play. I've been trying to get a Lettieri gig in South America for forever. I've been trying to get one in France and it just hasn't happened yet. There's little goals like that. I'd love to put together a little G3 type tour with three of my peers—I think that would be really fun. But as far as musically, I'm just going to keep doing what I have been doing until it doesn't make sense to do it anymore.

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