Time To Step Up Your Game?

Posted by Aaron Davison on Saturday, November 22, 2014

At various points along my journey to where I am now, I’ve reached plateaus where I’ve found myself feeling stagnant.  About a year ago I was living in the Caribbean, playing music four nights a week, working on my business during the day and more or less enjoying life in a beautiful climate, surrounded by beautiful people and beautiful beaches.  I really enjoyed this period of my life, but I had a gradual feeling that started to come up the longer that I was there that I wasn’t quite where I was supposed to be.  As much as I loved living on a tropical island, learning to surf, playing lots of music and all the things that go along with the Caribbean lifestyle, I had this nagging sense that I wasn’t quite doing enough and that some of the goals I had set for myself were starting to get pushed further and further back the longer I stayed there.

This feeling grew and grew until one day I simply booked a flight, told the friends I had made there that I was leaving and flew back to Chicago the next day. When I got back to Chicago I immediately went to work on recording new music, creating several new courses and taking my business and music to the next level.  Since then I’ve grown my business further, created three new courses,  signed multiple new licensing contracts, secured several new placements and have plans to go to LA in January to record my next CD. In many ways, this year has been one of the most challenging I’ve had in a long time, but it’s also been one of the most productive.

There is absolutely a time and place in life for kicking back and enjoying ourselves. Like Jack Nicholson said in the shining “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, and we all know how that movie turned out.  But moving to far in the other direction, and neglecting to push ourselves towards our long term goals and desires can be just as big of a problem.  Whenever I find myself feeling down, there’s almost invariably a feeling of not moving forward in some area of my life mixed in with that feeling.  When I don’t feel like I’m progressing for long enough, it really starts to mess with my head, and I think this feeling is rather logical because let’s face it, we all have a finite amount of time here to work towards our goals and dreams, I feel like this sense of dissatisfaction that comes up when we’re stagnant in life is simply a sign that we need to get back up, dust ourselves off and keep moving ahead towards whatever our individual goals and dreams are.

I feel like a lot of people can relate to this idea and you might be shaking your head in agreement, but yet it’s pretty common for people to stumble and find themselves struggling to move forward, especially as musicians where this isn’t always a clear path to follow.  I’ve given this a lot of thought recently and have come up with a few things I see hold myself and others back on our journey as musicians.

Uncertainty – Let’s face it, the path of a musician is filled with uncertainty and uncertainty can be scary.  When we’re not sure of the outcome we sometimes are reluctant to take any action at all because we feel unsure of whether we’re investing our time in a worthwhile manner.  This feeling is understandable, but if you’re goal is to become a professional musician you really have to let go of this fear.  You will find success if you stick with your goals, but it might not always come exactly when or how you expect it to.  You really have to trust that your efforts are going to pay off.  I talk a lot about finding very tangible, concrete ways to make money now as a means to soothe the uncertainty that comes up.  If you have a plan in place to at least make enough money to get by, you can relax a little about the aspects of your career you can’t immediately control.  You never quite know how different connections are going to lead to opportunities and open doors that lead to more opportunities.  There is an element of the unknown, luck, timing, whatever you want to call it, in the stories of most musicians who go very far in this business.  We can’t necessarily plan or make these events happen, but we can encourage them to happen by simply being in the game, networking, collaborating and nurturing connections.  If you have a plan in place to support yourself while you’re doing this you can enjoy the mystery and the uncertainty and even be open to it, as opposed to being afraid of it.

Laziness/Sloth – It’s ironic to me that the stereotype of the lackadaisical, stoner musician is so ubiquitous, because let’s be honest, being a musician is one of the hardest professions there is. It requires constantly hustling, recording music, networking, marketing, investing in your dream and on and on. It’s an incredibly noble profession that requires an enormous amount of sacrifice and perseverance.  I’m more optimistic than I’ve been in a very long time about my own music career and the music business in general, despite what a lot of people say, I think the music business is really exciting right now.  Yes it’s going through massive changes and it’s challenging to build a viable career, but it’s absolutely doable and the changing aspect of the music business is part of the excitement.  I think we are going to see a new revolution in the music industry in the near future and I think all the changes we’re seeing are going to lead to a new and improved music industry.  I really do.  I’ll go into why I feel this way in a future post, but for now, suffice it to say, now is not the time to give up.

However you are going to have to work your ass off, there are no two ways about that, unless you are simply incredibly lucky.  All the tools to build a career as a musician are more accessible than ever, recording music is more affordable than it’s ever been, you can promote your music for free on a wide variety of social media sites, you can pursue licensing opportunities, you can play shows and on and on.  But it’s a lot of work and you have to really want to do this.  Its’ not for everybody, and I think that’s fine. The challenge of doing this is what separates those that really want this from those that just think they do.  The producer Steve Albini said something to the effect of, music is like tennis, It’s something a lot of people like to do, but only a few people can make a living doing.  I think it’s probably easier to make a living as a musician than a tennis player, but he has a good point.  Not everyone will succeed at doing music full time, but the ones who are really dedicated and determined can and will.

Lack Of Direction And Momentum – Finally one of the things I’ve noticed that has held me back and others I know is simply not having a clear sense of what you’re trying to accomplish.  There are a lot of different paths you can potentially take as a musician.  It’s important to really hone in on what you’re trying to and what you’re good at.  Do you want to be a songwriter? A performer?  A publisher?  A producer?  In the beginning it’s great to try on different hats to see what fits, but at some point you need to develop a sense of where you’re headed and build momentum towards that destination.  I’ve done a lot of different things musically but really feel like my strength is as a songwriter and so I’ve been developing that skill more and more.  I’m proficient as a guitarist, I can teach guitar, I can sing and so on, but I really get the most joy out of songwriting and so I have the most momentum in that area.  As I acquire more and more minor successes it inspires me to keep going.  But it’s easy to lose this momentum.  I’m very conscious of not slipping and falling back on bad habits.  Careers in the music business don’t happen by accident.

So there are  a few of my thoughts on how to step up and keep moving forward.  If you find yourself feeling like your sort of stuck and not making the progress you’d like, look to see if any of these areas apply to you.  Get over your fear of uncertainty, stop being lazy and start working your ass off as you develop momentum in the direction of your goals, and I guarantee you that you’ll find the success you’re after.  If you don’t feel like you’re on the right track and moving in the direction of your dreams ask yourself why.  Maybe your goals aren’t that important to you and if that’s the case there’s nothing wrong with that.  But be honest with yourself are you really doing everything you can to move forward.  I know I catch myself sometimes not really giving things 100 percent and when I make a course correction and get back on track I always feel better.  As I see it, there are really only two directions in life, forwards or backwards.  What direction are you moving in?

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