How I Survived 2020 – An Independent Artist’s Perspective

Recently, I saw one of my all-time favorite guitarists on the cover of Guitar Player magazine—legendary virtuoso Steve Vai. The magazine was interviewing him regarding his productivity and "survival" during 2020, the year of the epic epidemic, COVID-19 (also known as coronavirus).

In a "light bulb" moment, I decided I would try my hand at answering some of the questions Guitar Player magazine posed to Mr. Vai as well as other guitar players in the article from an artist's perspective.


Thanks to Guitar Player magazine for these excellent question ideas.

Gear That Got Me Through the Year

Avid Eleven Rack

Avid Eleven Rack

Product Rating Summary 

80% Overall

A great old-school guitar effects processor, amp and cabinet modeler, and digital audio interface. Even though the Eleven Rack is quickly becoming a relic when compared to its successors, it still adds plenty of value should you ever come across one at a steep discount.


As an artist especially focused on music, session work, recording, and mixing, I needed a tool that covered all my bases creatively. The Eleven Rack was a lifesaver in this regard.

I realize plenty of similar products are out there, such as the Line 6 Helix, the Headrush (which, fun fact, is also produced by the team from Eleven Rack), the Axe-FX 2 & 3, and the Kemper Amp Profiler. But the Eleven Rack is my first major product of this type. I was able to get it at a steal of a deal at under $200 during Black Friday of 2018, and the tones are simply amazing.

What's more, I didn't realize the power the Eleven Rack had until I started seeing all the possibilities for amazing tones via the Eleven Rack Users website, where you can download upwards of 4,000 individual rigs to appease all your creative muses until your heart's content. 

Here's a video of me experimenting with my Eleven Rack just after I discovered this amazing resource. 

Important: If you decide to purchase an Eleven Rack, make sure it comes with the Expansion Pack and updated firmware, which includes all the new amps, cabinets, etc., you'll ever need with the unit. Many of the above rig packs won't work unless you have the Expansion Pack.

UPDATE, Sept. 18, 2021: I, in fact, ended up purchasing a Line 6 Helix LT as my next amp modeling and effects unit. Check out my Unboxing Video and Navigation Basics blog posts to see more.

Music That Kept Me Inspired

Instrumental Guitar Virtuosos

Marco Sfogli

Homeland album by Marco Sfogli

Ever since accidentally hearing Marco Sfogli's music on Spotify for the first time a few years ago, I've been mesmerized by his melodies, astounded by his arpeggios, and stupefied by his songs and solos. Marco is the real deal; don't let anyone tell you otherwise. (Oh, and he's been James Labrie's guitarist for three [soon to be four] albums.)

Mika Tysskä (aka Mr. Fastfinger)

Mountain Tone album by Mr. Fastfinger / Mika Tysska

The creator of "Guitar Shred Show," a guitar player's dream interactive website—that will soon be no more thanks to Adobe's discontinued support and development of Flash—and guitar sensei persona Mr. Fastfinger, Mika Tysskä has been making a name for himself as one of the world's premier shredders and musical geniuses.

Jack Gardiner

Escapades album by Jack Gardiner

Originally a YouTube sensation, Jack Gardiner has a style very similar to virtuoso Guthrie Govan. He's been known for his blazingly fast legato lines and for stringing together endless webs of arpeggios. Last year, Gardiner debuted his first solo album, Escapades, to much acclaim.

One of the few things that made 2020 a bearable year was the guitar awesomeness and technically mind-boggling guitar album releases by artists from all walks of life. I'll list a few that stood out to me the most.

Favorite New Album

Mountain Tone 1 & 2

Technically, Mountain Tone, released in October 2019, is the first of a two-part concept album. But since Mountain Tone 2 released in April 2020, I think it's safe to include as my favorite new album.

I opted for getting the Deluxe Edition from Mika's website, which included both the signed CD and digital version, backing track downloads, a special bonus track, and more. According to my Spotify stats, I streamed this album (both parts) more than any other in 2020.

I seriously can't get enough of the guy. I've been a fan since the early 2000s when his Guitar Shred Show site first came to be. So much a fan, actually, that I've already purchased tickets to his upcoming Live Stream (see below) and can't wait to start my new year with even more guitar awesomeness!

Live Stream Concert

January 31, 2021

Get Your Tickets Now!

Audio also available!

Favorite New Overall Artist

Mika Tyyskä

I spent a lot of time pondering over my favorite "new" artist of 2020. The fact is, most of my favorite music is music I listen to over and over again. I rarely find new artists once I'm comfortable—or infatuated with—my favorites.

So I've decided instead of picking my favorite new artist I'll pick my favorite overall artist. And according to my listening stats on Spotify and the actual music app on my smartphone, this has to be, once again, Mr. Fastfinger himself, Mika Tyyskä.

As I said before, I listened to the Mountain Tone 1 & 2 albums a ton over the course of 2020. Not only this, but another deciding factor in this pick is the interesting and informative content Mika put out on his YouTube channel last year.

Here are my Top Three Favorite Videos from Mika in 2020.

Biggest Musical Accomplishment During Lockdown

Lessons and Interview with Marco Sfogli

One of the greatest opportunities of my guitar life happened in the summer of 2020—I bought a four-lesson package with the amazing Italian virtuoso Marco Sfogli. Normally, booking lessons with such a busy artist would be nearly impossible due to his touring, clinic, and recording schedules. However, since everyone essentially had no other choice but to stay home, Marco was free for private lessons online via Skype/Zoom.

Marco Sfogli interview blog image

Screenshot of my lessons with Marco Sfogli

I was fortunate enough to get permission from Marco to record our sessions together (for my own private use, of course), which are a treasure trove of eye-opening—and finger-melting—advice, licks, and casual conversation. It was great to get the chance to meet up online with Marco and see how down-to-earth a guy he is.

If you ever get the chance to take private lessons with Marco, you'd be crazy not to go for it! If, for some reason, he's unavailable though, I highly recommend Marco's JTC Guitar courses. I have several of these myself and am constantly trying to achieve more in my playing with their help.

You can see for yourself in the my interview video post how approachable Marco is, and what a great time we had chatting about his experiences as an artist and one of the most amazing, yet little-known guitarists out there.

Marco is definitely a guitarist to keep your eye on. He's currently in the process of recording an acoustic-themed album with James Labrie, vocalist for Dream Theater. This will be the fourth album in which Marco has been Labrie's main guitarist.

Coming Up in 2021

To Be Continued...

While writing this section I realized it was growing a bit big for one blog post to contain if I wanted you to stick around to finish it. I'm sure you have better things to do with your time than to read my endless chatter. (I've been known to ramble.)

So I've decided to schedule this section as a separate blog post, which I'll be releasing soon after this one goes live. I hope you're not too disappointed at this cliffhanger, but I assure you it will be worth the wait to go behind-the-scenes with me to see what I've got in store for Quarter One (Q1) of 2021, as well as some other projects I have up my sleeves. For now, I hope you've enjoyed this post.

I'm curious. If you were to answer some of the questions queried in this post for yourself, what would your answers be? Leave your answers in the comments below, and let's start a conversation. I look forward to reading your responses.

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