The last thing I wanted to do this morning was work. I did not want to show up. I did not want to put in the effort. You could call it an “off” day. I would call it a shit day. You know one of those days where even the tiniest of tasks takes a monumental effort to accomplish.
I do not know why some days are harder than others. What I do know is that professionals show up even when they do not want to. I do not work for my whims. I work for the change I want to make. I do not wait for inspiration but rather make a habit of producing.
When in doubt, make something.
I was bouncing down a mix in Pro Tools today. Due to Pro Tools’ offline bounces taking sooooo long I had some time to kill. I picked up my guitar and started playing. I let what I was feeling come out and I wrote some lyrics I am proud of. They were honest. They were raw. They were for this shit day.
Now I feel better.
I always feel better when I make something. I work in the music industry. I like making music. Music is what I make the most of. Sometimes I get trapped in responding to email, pitching songs, emailing blogs, researching, looking for playlists, etc… If too much time goes by without me making something I go a little crazy.
I believe humans were meant to be makers. We all have creativity. We all have the potential to make something beautiful. If you’re out there having a shit day like me, try making something. It might help.
What even is a music fan anymore?
Music is consumed like a public utility. Like turning on a faucet for water. Turn the faucet on and music comes out or off and the music stops.
Music is incredibly accessible. I am less than 30 seconds away from any song I want to listen to.
It is not hard to listen to the music you want when you want it. There is very little friction between a consumer and the music they want. Overall, this is a good thing. Especially for the consumer.
However, the amount of friction a consumer overcomes in order to purchase, stream, download a song is one of the best gauges for determining whether they are a fan. The less friction, the harder it is to determine. If somebody gets in their car, drives to the record store, and buys your album for $15, then it is probably safe to say they are a fan.
You don’t have to be a fan to listen to my music. It is there if you want it. On every online store, Youtube, Soundcloud, etc… You can take a sip then walk away and forget all about it. You can also engage with my entire catalogue for equal amounts of effort, though more time, and also walk away and forget about it.
It is more difficult than ever for artists to determine who their real fans are. Online music stores provide some data to artists about their listeners but not the most important actionable data for an artist to run a business. That is: contact information.
We see nameless and faceless statistics for people who are consuming our music every single day but we have no way to reach out and forge a real connection with those people because they are still strangers to us. Spotify knows who they are. Apple music knows for they are. Online music stores can send out as many promotional emails as they want plugging their own features and services. Meanwhile, artists are stiffed. You’re welcome online music stores that all artists everywhere have subsidized and helped you grow the largest music listener database on the planet.
This is why it is more important than ever for artists to take it into their own hands how to manage their own fan connections. Do not be passive about this. Artists need better systems to keep track of fans. Instagram does not count. You need some way of determining who your people are.
If you make stuff, then it is important to keep track of who buys the stuff you make. I shouldn’t have to argue that point. Can you name a single successful business that does not keep track of who their customers are?
Business - Customer
Service Provider - Client
Artist - Fan
Here are some examples of who we cannot guarantee are fans:
Monthly listeners do not equal fans. There is no way to qualify how you got that monthly listener. Your song may have been put on a very low engagement playlist or queued up on an artist radio station and listened to passively.
You cannot count every single follower as a fan. Again this comes down to friction. There's next to no friction when it comes to following someone. Anyone who has opted in and followed may be considered a warm lead or someone who might be interested in whatever you are offering.
Comes To A Show
You don’t know how this person came to be at your show. Friends may have dragged them. They may frequent the venue and you just happened to be playing.
Here are some example of people who can be considered fans:
Bought Your Product
There may not be a better way to determine if someone is a fan than if they have bought your music. They have put skin in the game. They have declared - I will give up something of mine in return for what you have made. This may include purchasing a CD, merch, concert tickets, etc…
Comes Back To A Show
If they come back to your show a second time that is a major indicator that they are a fan.
Engages With Your Art In A Meaningful Way
If someone comments, messages you, or speaks to you in person about how much your art has impacted them, then they are probably a fan. Remember the names of these people.
Cares Enough To Share
If someone is really a fan of your music they will share it with their friends.
Signs Up For Newsletter
If a person gives you permission to email them whenever you have a new offering (new release or show), then they are for sure a fan.
I would encourage you to use this post as a starting point for you to come up with your own definition for a fan. Once you have, then it is time to keep track of your fanbase. This is your business. As the artist and fan relationship continues to change with technology it is important that artists adapt and learn more about who their fans are.
How motivated are you today?
I mean it is the New Year. Time to get that gym membership, start Whole 30 or the Keto Diet, and stop eating sugar. The motivation meter is spiking right now.
But consider this...
Motivation can be great to get you going and started towards a goal, but it is a poor substitute for creating habits. It can be tempting to just make a blanket statement such as: I am a runner now! OR I am a person who practices guitar!
Maybe that will get you through February or March, but don't you want to keep going?
Consider making your New Year's resolutions more quantitative. Here's a goal of mine for 2020 for example:
My goal is to write and publish 100 blog articles on Medium (a blogging site).
I can easily measure this goal. I have either written and published 100 articles or I haven't.
If I had said, "I want to write more". Well, how much is more? For how long? How do you know when you have reached your goal?
Be SMART with your goals this year.
Happy New Years!
Hi, you must make art. If that’s the case, thank you. Making art is one of the most noble actions a human can take. You bring beauty into the world with no guarantee of reward. That’s awesome. I appreciate you. If you don’t make art, cool that’s fine you can keep reading, but you should go out there and thank somebody who does make art.
I’m here to help you make more and better art in 2020. Here are six actionable steps you can take in the New Year to do just that:
1. Determine What You Value
What is important to you? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What adds value too your life? What do you love to do?
This might be:
Consider how much time you spend doing the things you value.
2. Eliminate 10 Hours A Week Of Non-Value Adding Time
You get to choose what you do with your time. Unless you don’t choose, then someone or something else will choose for you.
There are about a million little gremlins fighting for your attention every day. You go for a drive and you get hit in the face by a billboard that reminds you of your receding hairline and now you’re distracted by the inevitability of not being young forever…
You open up Instagram and you're slapped with ads for a product that you were just talking about with your friends. Creepy… It's like they can hear you talking or something. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to capture your attention and the companies that are spending the money are hiring very smart people to make sure that it happens.
Do you ever find yourself doing something and then you stop in the middle of doing it and think, “Wait why am I doing this?”
Why am I doing this? Why am I scrolling through Instagram right now? Why am I on TikTok right now? Why am I watching Netflix right now? Why do more and more weeks go by where we feel like we’re not inching any closer to the things that we actually want to accomplish in life?
Here are some activities that might be sucking your valuable time:
I'm not saying that the things I've listed are bad, but they can be huge distractions in life. They can keep us from doing the things that we value. Keeping us from getting any closer to the art we want to make.
I challenge you to eliminate 10 hours of activity every week of things that you do that aren't actually important. Then, and this is the most important part, use those 10 hours to either make art or do something else that supports your values from step one.
I believe that if you cut back doing these attention sucking activities and refocus that time towards things that you value, even if you're not making art, you will be happier. If you are a happier person, then you will probably make more and better art.
3. Start Using A Calendar And Schedule Large Chunks Of Time To Make Art
Do you want to know what arguably one of the best productivity tools that exists is? A calendar.
“But Zach, I'm a free spirit and I only believe in spontaneity and that'll just cramp the good vibes from the universe that I channel. My creativity comes when it comes broooo and I answer the call….”
You are bad at getting sh** done. You would be better at getting sh** done if you used a calendar.
Do you make less art than you think you’re capable of? Does time just “slip away” and you never quite finish the projects you start? Do you not even start the projects you dream of?
Well, when was the last time you set aside two to four hours of uninterrupted time to work on your art? Do you schedule that time? If not, you are destroying your own potential. If you want to make art then prove it. Be a big boy or girl and schedule four hours during which you only work on your art. Do that every week of 2020 and you will move freakin’ mountains.
Sorry if this is a kick in the a** to you but you need to hear it. I’m glad you’re here.
Very successful writer, programmer, investor Paul Graham wrote a now very popular essay titled, “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule”. Read that here.
He observes that people who make things need large chunks of time without interruption to work. One hour chunks are barely enough to get going.
Author Cal Newport, in his book, Deep Work, discusses a phenomena called “attention residue”.
Attention Residue = The lag of your brain (attention) trying to catch up when you transfer from one task to another.
-You sit down to write a song.
-Your phone lights up.
-You look at an Instagram DM notification.
-You open IG then get sucked into the newsfeed for 10 mins before shutting it down.
-You try to go back to writing and your brain is like “lyrics, words, rhyming, but wait was that a picture of a puppy wearing sunglasses…? No stop.. Writing, words, lyrics, melody… Yeeesh I wonder if Brad was drunk when he took that photo….”
-You realize: oh wait I didn’t even read the DM!!!!!!!!
Oh I know you know what I’m talking about. You need uninterrupted time. Put your phone away. Go some place quiet. Find a creative space that you can work in. Allow yourself to get “in the zone” and enter into a “flow state”. This is where all your creative juices are flowing and you are fully immersed in making your art. Do it.
4. Apply The 80/20 Rule
The wahhhh? Also known as Pareto’s Principle.. OK the idea is that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes OR 80% of the outputs come from 20% of the inputs. It’s worked for me. It can work for you. Find more background here.
Here are some examples of how you can apply the 80/20 Rule:
Starting to get it now?
This is the hard part. Now think very hard and seriously about what falls on either side of the 80/20 rule for you once you have applied it. Take my very first bullet point for example: What 20% of the art making process causes you 80% of the problems you commonly encounter?
Ask yourself: Can I automate, delegate, or eliminate that 20% and get rid of 80% of my problems?
Here’s an example from my own life as a music producer: I have produced, engineered, edited, comped, and arranged a song. I have spent dozens of hours working on this track. I have placed microphones, ran cables, and listened critically to different tones and parts. I may have even played some of the parts myself. Now it’s time to mix the song and I have lost all objectivity. I have heard the song 1000 times a certain way. Do I mix it myself? I could. I have before. I could also hire someone to do it instead of beating my head against a wall for 16 hours doing a task that would normally take four to six hours. I can delegate that work and save myself the headache.
You might also find that the 20% can be automated by some software or eliminated all together.
I challenge you to really zoom into your process for creating art and apply the 80/20 Rule however you see fit.
5. Build A Positive Feedback Loop
Hmmm. You’re a genius. You’re a lone wolf. You operate solo and get results.. Kinda….
Folks.. It is okay to ask for help. It is okay to ask for feedback. We need feedback. Otherwise we get stuck in our heads and lose sight of what is important.
Do you have people in your life that you trust? Are there any creatives who understand your art & process enough to critique you at certain strategic points along the way?
Have you ever spent hours implementing a creative choice unsure whether it was actually making your art any better? I have. A lot. Stop doing that Zach. You too. Stop it. Ask for feedback early and often so you don’t waste your time.
Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, in his book Creativity, Inc. discusses the importance of the “Braintrust” in the development of all your favorite Pixar movies. You know.. like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Up, Monsters, Inc.
The Braintrust was a group of people at the company, all with different perspectives, who got together to offer directors and writers feedback on their progress. The Braintrust was and is a crucial part of what made Pixar what it is today.
I challenge you to go out there and ask some friends or your mom at least to give you feedback on your art.
6. Finish It And Ship It.
“Hey, what are you up to today Zach?”
“Oh I’m actually working on a song. I’m on mix revision 117. I think I’m getting close to finishing.”
Are you bad at finishing? Do you find it hard to say your art is complete? Is it done? Is it ready to be shared?
I’m just over here trying to self actualize maaannnn…
I get it. I struggle with this too. I want what is in my head to get out and manifest itself in the form of my art. I make music. I want it to sound the way I want. At times I break my back with revisions and tweaks. I can get so zoomed in and micro with my adjustments. Sometimes I go too far.
There is a limit. There is a threshold. Once you cross it, you are no longer making your art any better. You are agonizing over minute details that are not improving anything. You might be making it worse.
Now you may have avoided this situation if you had a feedback group. But what now?
Let’s talk about fear. Is fear holding you back from sharing your art? From saying this is done and I did my best? My two cents: we are not meant to live our lives making fear based decisions. Do not let fear prevent you from making your valuable contribution to this world. You have a contribution to make and it is valuable. Make it. Finish. Let it go. Ship it. Release it. Post it. Share it.
Not every project has to be your best work. Best-selling author Malcom Gladwell popularized the idea that 10,000 hours of practice and experience makes you a master. Like Yoda.
You will never be a master of your art if you never finish your projects. Your 10th song probably won’t be as good as your 100th, but you’ll never get to 100 if you don’t finish and release your music.
If you got all the way to the bottom of this article, thank you. Thanks for reading these words. I hope this was helpful to you. Would you be up for sharing this with a friend who might also find it helpful heading into 2020?
The cream rises to the top, right? If you are just really really good at what you do and work harder than everyone else you’ll make it right?
Yeah….. I don’t think so.
Turns out you need some luck.
Imake a living from producing music. I have done so for the past 1092 days.
How do you spend your time?
This phrase is interesting to me, especially the word spend.
When I hear the word spend I think of money. However, time was being spent well before any money was ever spent in this world.
Time = money. No it doesn't. Money is just what we get in exchange for our time in relation to however much value our work contributes to society.
Time is more valuable than money. An hour could be worth $15 or $1000. On the other hand $10 will always be $10 (not taking into account inflation).
Another show played to an empty room. Another track not blessed by the Spotify algorithm gods.
Does anyone actually care?
Yes. I care. I care that you make music.
A place like Nashville wouldn't exist if people somewhere along the way didn't care. But not everyone will care. Some will never care.
Your music is not for everyone.
A buddy of mine recently asked me what are in my experience some of the benefits of not checking my phone past a certain time at night. I had told him I limit my phone use after 6pm. I have a lot to say on the topic of limiting phone use. So here goes:
First thing, my life has changed drastically for the better since I’ve started being very serious about limiting my phone use.
One of the biggest moves I’ve made is that I DO NOT bring my phone into my bedroom.
Pretty much ever. Unless I’m listening to a podcast and just grabbing something real quick. Since I got my phone out of my room I have been sleeping better than I have at any other point in my life.
Hypothetical scenario 1:
Person logs onto Instagram.
Person scrolls through stories.
Person sees dozens of songs that people have shared.
Person can’t possibly stop and listen to all of them and ends up listening to none of them.
Hypothetical scenario 2:
Person hears song they freakin LOVE.
Person finds the song on Spotify and clicks the share to Instagram button.
Person goes about their day.
Song goes to die in an endless sea of other like shared songs.
I do want to acknowledge that everyone’s social feeds are different and not everyone follows hundreds of artists who are constantly releasing music. But I do. I know my friends do. Lots of artists do. So I’m talking to the artists in the room.
Let’s all take a moment to consider how we can better share the music we love.
This will help you decide what to do next…
Some people are doers & starters. Some people are doers & finishers.
Some people are both and some people are great at all the stuff in-between starting and finishing a project. Some people struggle to start or finish or do anything.
Regardless of what we are trying to build, create, write, or dream up everyone struggles to some degree with deciding what to do next. What do I do next?
Often there are thousands of seemingly important things to do or decisions to make. So many priorities to take care of…
HOLD UP! STOP!
You were just going to go with me on that weren’t you? “So many priorities…”
No there actually aren’t sooooo many priorities. Here’s what I mean:
The way Spotify pays you is kind of dumb. I mean strange. I mean maybe the best way? Ahhh nah who am I kidding it’s probably not. It’s dumb…
Back in the glory days (before I was releasing music) artists could sell a CD for oh let’s say $10-$15 a pop. When I say “glory days” I mean “glory days?”. Things were simpler then. This example demonstrates a pretty clear transaction: Artist make music. Artist make CD of music. Fan of music by CD. Artist get money from fan. *Please read in caveman voice*
Those days for many artists are gone and things are a little stranger now. When I say gone this is what I mean:
All the steps. Here’s the process:
Overachievers read on. Underachievers go back to your Instagram feed.
Do you want to make art or do you want to be a famous lifestyle brand?
Are the two mutually exclusive?
This is a question I have been considering within a larger conversation about collaboration. There is no right or wrong here, but I do think the distinction is important. I also think if you are an artist it would be worth considering your answer to this question.
If I sold tables…
If I sold tables I would likely spend my time huffing saw dust, painstakingly measuring cuts, remarking on how you can never have too many wood clamps, etc…
If I sold tables I would invest in tools of the trade that make it easier and faster to do my job. These tools might include: a miter saw, circular saw, wood clamps, more wood clamps, MORE WOOD CLAMPS, a planer, a jointer, more wood clamps, etc…