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February 2024
Vol. 23, No. 5
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The Alchemy of Music

The Pocket

by Astra KellyDecember 2023

Songwriting, practicing your craft, even marketing and designing your next album cover can all seem like very solitary experiences when you are a solo musicpreneur such as myself. If you are the type of musician that yearns to bring your songs out into the world, there’s capturing those tunes and making records, and finding players to back those songs up live. There is magic in all aspects of music creation and release, but in my experience, there is no other magic like that of stepping on stage with other musicians. It’s the alchemy of music at its most profound.

Each artist brings their own sense of style, rhythm, vibe, soul, and spirit. Together, we jump into the stratosphere of live performance where anything can happen. You can play a song a million times live and it can always be a little different… because every stage is unique, and every audience is fresh. The moments in time are never repeated.

I do think there’s a certain amount of skill needed to step into a solid groove, but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary if the combination of players somehow just fall into each other. (I’m thinking of that unschooled garage band that just started making noise, and somehow it became a sound heard by the world.) Any experienced player, however, will be looking for the collective groove of the band, which is often set by the drums and bass, of course. We play with the groove though. We go to edges and then swing back in, we surge dynamically for mood and intensity, and we create space for solos and for each player to step into the light. We start moving as one. We became a collective in the midst of a spontaneous and shared experience. We bask in those little gems of unexpected musical moments. This is what I have always perceived as being “in the pocket.”

In its simplest definition, the pocket can be playing in rhythm, but I think it’s so much more elusive. It’s when we are perfectly imperfect and there’s even tension in the timing. It’s when we are in the groove, but pushing and pulling in just the right ways to allow for feel. We can’t be in the pocket without being in the groove and when we are “in the pocket” is when that groove starts to feel so damn good. We feel it, the audience feels it, and sometimes we let those parts ride longer just to stay in that feeling. Sometimes there are those moments where you are so in the pocket it feels like floating. It feels like you’ve just come into resonance with the universal heartbeat of everything. All elements come into alignment to ignite the stage and the musical experience for everyone in the room.

It’s those kind of moments that keep me going. I’m trying to figure out to live life more in the pocket. I’ll let you know if I figure it out.

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