Sound Theories: Steve Vai Discusses His Inaugural Vai Academy Song Evolution Camp

Have you ever wanted to learn the nuances of songwriting and the music business from one of greatest guitarists of all time?

Look no further than the inaugural Vai Academy Song Evolution Camp, which takes place June 23 to 27 in Saratoga Springs, New York.

And yes, that's Vai as in Steve Vai, the virtuoso guitarist, composer and producer. The camp is billed as the entire manual for being an independent musician — condensed into three days of classes.

The focus of the camp will be the evolution of a song. Attendees will learn how a song gets written, recorded, mixed, mastered, distributed and marketed. Camp admission includes lodging, meals, classes, live performances and jam sessions. Attendees who sign up by March 31 will receive a free Ibanez RG guitar, courtesy of Hoshino. recently spoke to Vai about his Song Evolution Camp. We also discussed his early practice regimen and what he considers to be the highlight of his career.

GUITAR WORLD: What made you decide to host a Song Evolution Camp?

Over the years, I've met and spoken with many young musicians, and what I've discovered is that a majority of them really want to understand the process of what it takes to write a song.

They want to learn about where the inspiration comes from, how to formulate it into a song and how to resonate with other musicians to create something new. There's a wealth of information that will give you clarity on how to capture your ideas and translate what you hear in your head into something that's real in the world. These are key things I believe every musician should understand.

What will a typical day at the camp be like?

Once campers arrive, we'll have a Q&A discussion for a few hours to be followed by three solid days of "curriculum." On day one, I'll talk about finding inspiration, writing songs and the various ways you can come up with ideas, as well as how to work with other people to share them. We'll actually use ideas from campers to build a song and then demo it.

You'll see firsthand the impetus of the song and how to formulate it into something that makes sense. We'll also have professionals on hand who will discuss the vital things you need to know about things like intellectual property rights and publishing.

On the second day, we'll actually record the song. That's where you'll get to see the entire process of recording, layering and how to decorate the stereo landscape. There will also be classes on engineering, producing and some of the aspects of being a producer and mastering.

On the third day, we'll take the finished song that's now been mixed and mastered and explore the various ways of making it available digitally around the world. Finally, we'll talk about how to market the song and the great tools that are available to help the artist have independence. And because I didn't want to exclude the importance of guitar lessons, every night there will also be a jam. We'll have amazing clinics with Vernon Reid, Jeff “Skunk" Baxter and Guthrie Govan.

Besides learning the craft, is there something else you'd like people to take away from the camp?

When you go through this camp, you may find a real attraction and particular clarity for certain aspects of what's being taught. I think one of the things that will be so powerful about this retreat is that it will help people identify with some of the other things in the music business that they really resonate with.

What was your practice regimen like when you were starting out?

A lot of my regimen was based on territories I wanted to cover. Sometimes it might be as mechanical and mundane as practicing an hour of exercises, followed by an hour of scale and then an hour of playing chords. Then afterwards, repeating the process using different exercises and scales. It was the development of technique that I really enjoyed. There was a real interest and reward from doing that and after a while, the reward became addictive.

I was also very fortunate that I never subscribed to the musical consensus of what people thought a guitarist should or shouldn't be. I always moved in a direction that was comfortable for me. There was no pressure to compete with anyone, and I had no expectation of being famous or having to fit in and as a result I started developing my own style.

Did you ever encounter dry spells when practicing?

I never really hit dry spells. There was always a great feeling of freedom whenever I played the guitar. There was never a time where I felt that I didn't want to play. Even today, there's that same pull from the instrument.

Do you ever see yourself working in another "front man" project?

I never rule out anything, but it would have to be an extraordinary situation where the people involved wanted to create something that was new, fresh and artistic. Unless there's something unique and fresh about it, you're really just wasting your potential.

Is there a personal highlight of your career that you treasure above all others?

On a musical level, I suppose the conventional answer would be to say, "Oh, I remember when I played this really big show!" But the real highlight for me is the inception of a fresh, new idea. Whenever I get inspired with a clear vision of an idea, enthusiasm and excitement kicks in. It’s pure creativity. That's the real highlight. For me, deep fulfillment comes from a really exciting idea crossing my mind. One that I know I can bring to life, and then make it happen.

For more information on the Vai Academy Song Evolution Camp, visit For more about Vai, visit

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James Wood

James is a guitarist and freelance writer who's interviewed some of the biggest names in music. He is the author of four books and his writing credits include work for Guitar World, AXS and Yahoo! as well as for his hometown newspaper where he writes on a variety of topics with both passion and humor. As a guitarist, he's performed everywhere from local bars and nightclubs to some of the biggest stages in front of thousands of music fans.