Stevic MacKay - In His Own Words
How did you start your musical journey?
It all started for me in Nilma North, circa 1991. I heard Tommy Emmanuel’s “Dare to be Different” cassette playing on my cousin’s boom box, while he washed his beige Mitsubishi Sigma, and I think that’s the moment I decided I wanted to be a guitarist!
Were there teachers in your life that influenced you?
I’ve had two very pivotal teachers in my life, each of whom influenced me in a different way.
Tony Calabro introduced me to jazz theory. This broke down barriers for me and allowed me to explore new styles of music.
Then there was Samantha Rainey, who really smashed my classical guitar technique into shape! She also introduced me to composers such as Heitor Villa-Lobos, Frank Zappa and Tom Waits, who have had a great impact on my musical life.
Can you describe the moment when you realised that you could make a living out of music?
I was employed to teach guitar at a high school when I was still in high school myself. That was the first time I realised that my skills and passion for the guitar had economic value.
However, as the music industry is in a constant state of evolution – with emerging technology and ideas – I think it’s probably less about having a definitive moment of realisation that I could build my life around music, and more about being ready at all times to adapt and diversify as opportunities arise. As the saying goes: “Luck is opportunity meeting preparation.” I believe the most important element is preparation – preparation is synonymous with hard work.
What is your greatest musical achievement?
That is a really difficult question! In no particular order, some things that come to mind are:
performing the Australian Anthem (as part of a duo) at the Australian Open in front of a televised audience of tens of millions
performing on Top of the Pops in the UK
[Stevic’s heavy metal band] Twelve Foot Ninja winning a Golden Gods Award in the USA selling out headline tours overseas being nominated for an ARIA selling 1.3 million copies of my guitar instructional books finding out that some of my musical heroes dig Twelve Foot Ninja!
I have been working really hard lately on Twelve Foot Ninja’s third album, which is planned for release in 2020. We have also planned headline tours in Australia, the USA and Europe.
Everything else is top secret!
5 Introspections for Aspiring Musicians
1. Explicitly define your goals and review them frequently
If you know where you want to go; the path to get there becomes less mysterious. Whether you want to achieve a specific technical level, headline a festival or sell more home decor than Beyoncé, once you can analyse the trajectory of those who’ve achieved similar goals to yours, you can realistically follow their example, gain insight from their successes/failures, and ultimately have a metric for your ambitions.
2. Is music the right career for you?
Examining your expectations is a great way to reveal assumptions you might be making. “A problem well-defined is a problem half-solved”, and knowing that an assumption is actually an assumption might protect you from the type of delusional thinking that inevitably results in dejection.
It’s a cliché – romantic ideology – to abandon “Plan B” and disavow the “real world” in favour of pursuing creative dreams. However, prematurely depending on music alone can lead to resentment, resentment leads to fear, and fear leads to the Dark Side of the Force! If music is your love and passion, it will serve you well to keep it that way as long as possible.
3. Don’t shy away from the left side of your brain!
Music is a reflection of humanity. So what are the defining characteristics of humanity? Mastery of fire? Opposable thumbs? The Kardashians? Science suggests it is our cognition: decision making, inquisitiveness, communication, self-awareness, etc. In short, although music is “magical”, it requires your mind to harness your full humanity.
4. Learn how to learn
If you’re fortunate enough to have a music teacher, try not to rely on them to make you “awesome”. Awesomeness is entirely dependent on:
- your definition of “awesomeness”
- grit (courage and resolve).
- Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take 10,000 hours to get “good” at a skill, and there is new evidence to suggest it doesn’t even take 10,000 hours to “master” a skill. It’s not really about accumulative time at all. It’s about programming your synaptic plasticity to execute a particular task as efficiently as possible. In his book, The First 20 Hours, Josh Kaufman discusses four practical steps to maximise learning:
- Deconstruct the skill you’re tackling (e.g. What is the ideal finger posture to fret a note on the guitar?).
- Learn how to self-correct (e.g. Am I positioning my finger in accordance with the ideal posture?).
- Remove barriers to practice (e.g. Is Facebook Messenger distracting me every 5 seconds?).
- Practise for at least 20 hours (45 minutes of uninterrupted practice per day).
5. Procrastination, time management and discipline
Procrastination is any creative’s nemesis. To start with, switch off your smartphone, and get off the Xbox or Facebook. But remember that the cause of procrastination can be less obvious and far more insidious – such as researching and ordering theory books online, reading every word of the preface and then losing interest by the time you get to “equal temperament”, when all you actually wanted to understand was why dominant seventh chords are called “dominant seventh chords”!
Look into Eisenhower’s “time management matrix” to help you identify what is:
- important and urgent
- unimportant and urgent
- important and not urgent
- and, most importantly, what is neither important nor urgent.
A final word: it’s difficult to just decide to “have discipline”, as discipline isn’t simply about willpower. To be disciplined, you need to be a “disciple” to a purpose, ideal or concept. I propose that you can tap into authentic discipline by having clear and specific goals (as outlined in Introspection 1).
Stevic Mackay is best known as the guitarist, producer and music video creator for ARIA nominated band, Twelve Foot Ninja. With almost 20 Million YouTube views, a U.S Golden Gods Award, a best selling guitar instructional book (1.3 million copies sold) and a session resume including Disney, Delta Goodrem, Brian Cadd, Brain McFadden and Christine Anu to name a few; Stevic has had quite a diverse career to date. He’s currently working on Twelve Foot Ninja’s 3rd album and gearing up for their 8th international tour.