Every so often I get struck with an otherworldly creative flow state genius. However, more often than not I'm just working and it's an uphill slog. In my own experience, when I'm in that special creative state, the art I'm making is an expression of me. It's not cookie-cutter and It's not for you.
Now when I say “not for you” that does not mean I won’t be sharing my art. It means that form of expression came out of my soul in an authentic and vulnerable way. It was of me and for me.
I have a side music project called “INST” where I release instrumental pop cover songs. I do it mostly for fun. This work is creative but I wouldn’t say a large part of my soul is going into the music. These are not original works and for the most part I am analyzing the existing production elements of a song and trying to replicate them with an acoustic guitar. Music has the power to steer culture and change the world. However, instrumental pop cover songs likely won’t be responsible for such change. I don’t know if work created in such a way can.
In part, we love the music we love so much because somehow the artist has found a common thread between us and expressed something we know to be true about ourselves in a new way. However, whatever magic happens in that experience is minimized or nonexistent when art is born from an inauthentic or invulnerable place. The music I love ends up being for me regardless of if it was ever intended to by the artist. Personally, I find that to be a beautiful exchange.
As an artist I want my music to be heard. I want to be genuine and I want to be authentic. However, I also want to be successful — whatever that means. It’s easy to look at someone else’s work and think I could write and produce a song like that. They did this type of song and now it’s very popular… I could do that type of song.
We can imitate and replicate out of curiosity or fear. I am often curious and experiment with music production after being inspired by someone else’s work. I almost always feel that I learn and grow when I do this. However, when I try to capture someone else’s lightning in a bottle out of fear it never works.
The distinction between a worker and a leader:
A leader takes ownership of and responsibility for their part.
A worker does not have to worry about the results they just do what they are told.
When you go into the studio to record try being a leader unless you are explicitly asked to be a worker.
What does it look like to be a session leader?Be willing to satisfy your creative expression first before taking feedback. The artist likely will have already given you a general idea as to what they want. I’m not saying ignore that. Once you know the boundaries set by the artist or producer act with autonomy within them. Do not defer decisions to anyone else in the room too soon. Set a high standard. Care about the end result as much as if it were your song. You know better than anyone whether you could have played the section better. If you know you can play it better, then ask for another pass. If you are unhappy with the part do not sign off on it.
Pay attention. Every section, every phrase, every transition, etc… Pay attention to what you are doing. If the transition into the second chorus felt off, then speak up and overdub it. Tell the engineer what you need.
Tell the engineer what you need.
You help dictate the pace. You do not need to wait to be told what to do.
A leader says, “give me another pass”. A worker stares vacantly at the ceiling until they are told what to do.
Do not let a producer comp your part. Write your own part. If a producer or artist wants another option, give it to them. The artist has final say because it is their song. Giving dozens of options to an artist is not the same as writing a part. Your session work should not be the equivalent of a creative brain dump unless you are asked to dump. Commit. Fast.
DO all this and you will have an edge over every other session musician and be asked back for more gigs. You will certainly make your artist, producer, or engineer happy.
Have you ever been paid by a friend to work on their music project or have you ever paid a friend to work on yours?
It can be pretty uncomfortable owing a friend money or asking a friend for money that they owe you. We’ve all been there.
Music is more fun to make with friends.
I mean don’t we all just want to retire someday and all own a house in Crieve Hall and have our own personal home studios and spend all day making music with our friends?!
Making music with somebody is a great way to become friends. I almost always become friends with the people I make music with unless they ask me to put a 32nd note tambourine in their song. Then we become enemies…
How do I avoid getting hurt and feeling resentful?
First off, I know what this feels like. I have had struggles in this area. This can be really hard, and there’s always room to grow.
A proper agreement or contract should protect both parties from feeling hurt and resentful.
I once heard someone actually call contracts, “disagreements”, because they are meant to lay down the rules when parties disagree. That’s what they are there for. They offer protection to both sides if such a situation arises.
There’s a stigma surrounding contracts and working with friends. Ewww Zach that’s way too formal and businessy mannnn. I get it. It can be awkward coming up to a friend with a contract and asking them to review and sign it, but would you rather feel awkward for five minutes or hurt and resentful towards a friend?
Working for free may not be a good idea.
Here’s a surefire way to be annoying and likely piss off a friend: assume they are going to work for free without any mention of money or the value they offer.
It is not wrong to work for free or to honestly communicate your lack of a budget, but it is always the service provider’s right to decide whether they will work without pay.
Have you ever played a show for a friend and they didn’t pay you? With no mention of money at all… That’s no fun. We need to create boundaries.
Here’s the thing that people often miss: your boundaries are for you.
You set your own boundaries. Boundaries are not about what other people should do to you or for you. Boundaries are about what you will do when other people misbehave. People will misbehave. People can do whatever they want. Your boundaries and your reactions are up to you. For example:
I may think it’s really funny to spit in my hand right before I shake hands with any one I greet. I may do this every time I see you. But you could set a boundary,
“Hey man, I don’t like having your spit in my hand so I’m not going to ever shake your hand again if you do that. I’m not judging you for doing that or saying you can’t do it. I can’t tell you what to do but I can tell you what I will do if you do that to me again.”
Setting boundaries with your friends can actually be really kind and loving!
Say no to your friend if you don’t want to do it.
If you know the conditions of a gig are not what you want then don’t do it. Say no. If someone is really your friend then they would rather hear a no from you and an honest explanation instead of have you go through with it and be hurt and resentful towards them.
Be honest about your budget.
If your friend charges $150 / song to play drums, but you only have $100 budgeted for drums be honest and upfront about that. Also if you aren’t in a rush you could also just postpone tracking for one month or until you save $50.
Think about what you would want.
How would you like it if your paycheck was delivered to you at random and your “money in” was always in a state of “tbd”… You wouldn’t like that would you? So stop doing that to your friends. If you’ve agreed to pay, then pay promptly and at the agreed upon time.
If you are the one being paid don’t be afraid to follow up.
Stop haggling just to “get a deal” from your friends.
If you have the money, then pay your friend what they are worth. If you don’t have the money don’t haggle, just be honest about where you are at.
Your creative work is valuable. You offer something unique and beautiful and so do your friends. See the beauty in what your friends do and respect the value of that. We all want more money. We all want to be highly valued for what we bring to the table. Getting our shit together in the money department I believe will actually lead to better projects and better art being made. We all spend a considerable amount of brain calories thinking about money. You do yourself and your friends a great deal of service, and enable them to spend all those brain calories instead on creativity, when you handle the money stuff with integrity and honesty.
Hi, this is fear talking. I just want to remind you that you are a tiny little worm that should probably curl up in a ball somewhere in a hole and do nothing….
Actually no… Effff that.
How about you stop being chicken and start taking action. You — the artist with beautiful music who is withholding it from the world. Let it go. Release it.
1) It is a blessing to you and others to release your music.
You will be blessed if you release your music. You may also be sad and disappointed and angry but you will also be blessed. This is how you grow. How are you going to grow by being idle? How are you going to grow by doing mix revision #117 on your song? You won’t. Do the best you can and move on. This doesn’t have to be your best work. It might end up being your best work for all the wrong reasons because it will be your ONLY work.
There are a lot of benefits for everyone when it comes to listening to music. However, you can’t really reap any of those benefits if you don’t release the music. No one can hear it. I want to be blessed by your music, but I can’t because you won’t let it go. Why don’t you want me to be blessed?
2) No you actually aren’t making the song any better.
A wise person once told me that 1dB never sold any more records.
Yeah but Zach I need to turn the snare down by minus half a dB because that’s art.
NO YOU DON’T THAT’S YOU BEING AFAID TO MOVE ON TO THE NEXT STEP AND THAT IS NOT ART.
It is very likely you have lost objectivity and no longer know what is good for your song. You cannot be impartial and objective with creative decisions when you have listened to a song 1000 times. It won’t work. You will make it worse. Once cure would be to get outside feedback. The ultimate cure would be to release your freakin’ song and move on to making more art.
3) You weren’t made to live your life dictated by fear.
We would all be miserable little weasels if we lived our entire lives dictated by fear. Sure, sometimes it is helpful. For example) a bear is going to eat your face and fear says run. Yes! You should run. However, when it comes to taking the next step on your creative journey when did you decide to make fear a mentor? Why is fear the expert? Why ignore all your friends and collaborators and this tiny little blog article?
Maybe you like feeling afraid. Maybe you get off believing about yourself that your some creative genius who must hide away in cave for centuries to make the perfect song. I’m surprised there’s enough room in that cave for your Apollo twin, speakers, and your EGO to fit.
Now, maybe I’m being harsh. I apologize if I hurt your feelings. However, I’d rather tear the bandaid off now then suffer a life where I don’t get to be blessed by your beautiful art and you never grow to reach your potential.
Pirates are kinda cool — the Hollywood version like Captain Jack Sparrow. Real pirates are actually pretty terrible. In this case, music stealing pirates that take your album re-upload it through a distributor and profit off your intellectual property. Those pirates are lame.
My friend had her album stolen and re-uploaded to a different artist profile. Ironically, the music pirate likely used the same music distributor (Distrokid) that my friend did to upload her album in the first place.
Imagine coming across an album on Spotify — you click to view it and play the first song, and then you realize, “Wait! That’s literally my song. I wrote that!” You play the next song and the next song and they are all your songs. Not cool.
Unfortunately music theft and streaming fraud are all too common. Music site Saving Country Music conducted an investigation into music piracy and fraud and found as many as 24 fake artists accounts that stole music and affected as many as 112 real artists. Read about that here.
Just from the 24 confirmed fake accounts Saving Country Music discovered, the stolen songs were receiving enough streams to generate and estimated $1,500 a week, or $75,000 a year.
What you don’t often hear is that for every illegal music upload and fraudulent stream the value of ALL music streams for EVERY artist is diminished.How’s that happen? It comes down to the system by which Spotify and most streaming services use to pay artists. Artists are paid pro rata for their streams relative to total streams generated on a given platform.
Here’s how it works:
Spotify makes a pot o’ money. Spotify takes 30% off the top of the pot. The remaining 70% is paid out to all the artists on Spotify.
You the artist are paid relative to how much you own of the total market share of streams on the platform. For example, if 50% of all the streams on Spotify in a given year were of Ed Sheeran (I would guess he actually gets closer to 1%) then Ed would get half of the pot (half of the 70% leftover after Spotify gets theirs for that year).
As total streams increase the value of a stream for everyone goes down. Fraudulent steams affect every single artist who has music on Spotify and most other streaming platforms even if it wasn’t your music that was stolen.
French music streaming service Deezer is experimenting with a new system for paying artists on their streaming platform. This other method is called the User-Centric Payment System (UCPS). UCPS would be a step in the right direction to help eliminate streaming fraud. To learn more about UCPS read about it here.
A Bulgarian Scam reportedly uploaded hundreds of 35 second tracks, added them all to playlists, and then registered 1200 premium accounts to stream the tracks 24/7. It is believed that the scammer made over $1,000,000 before the operation was discovered and shut down. This scam would have produced nearly 250 million fraudulent streams. This scam would not have worked on a User-Centric Payment System.
In another case the band Vulfpeck uploaded an album of literal silence and encouraged their fans to stream the album nonstop around the clock. The band reportedly made $20,000 off this album which Spotify ultimately removed from the platform. I am actually a fan of Vulfpeck and though I don’t agree with the tactic I commend them for trying.
Remember that as total streams on the platform increase all artists make less per stream. Every fraudulent stream takes money away from real artists and musicians.
Reports from Vulture online magazine and Music Business Worldwide say that Spotify may be paying producers upfront or negotiating a lower commission to create ambient and instrumental piano tracks and then placing those songs on massively popular playlists such as Peaceful Piano, Deep Focus, Sleep, Ambient Chill, etc… By doing so Spotify avoids having to pay real artists and content creators large streaming payout sums and consequently lowers the value of all music streams for actual blue collar artists.
It can be difficult to determine if an artist profile on Spotify is real or fake. Artists do have some control over how they their profiles are setup. Artists can add a bio, links to social media, a banner image, a profile image, and an “artist’s pick”. When artist profiles have no external links to social media, no bio, no photos of a real human, and in general no humanness or personal curation at all, then that is a bit suspicious.
This matter is particularly frustrating to me because I actually produce original instrument guitar, piano, cover song, and lo-fi music. In 2019 I produced and released 18 original instrumental tracks and not a single one has been placed on any Spotify editorial playlist. As I am writing this the top three tracks on the mega popular Peaceful Piano playlist by all appearances seem to be from fake artist profiles. Lame sauce.
Streaming fraud is a growing problem and needs to be addressed. Distributors, artists, and music streaming platforms all have a responsibility to fight against it. Artists, maybe don’t upload an album of silence. Upload art. Our money should be going to art, not a con. Distributors — implement systems that alert an artist if their music has been re-uploaded under a different account. Use waveform analysis to identify the song. Spotify for one stop pretending like their is no problem and be more responsive to artists when they raise the red flag. Show an effort that you are attempting to put systems in place that protect artists and make it more difficult for fraudsters.
I’m not saying the solution will be easy to execute, but honestly there isn’t much worth doing that is. Helping to protect artists and the value of beautiful art certainly is worth doing.
Song overload. I was talking with a friend and we were trying to decide what to do next in the studio. My friend played song after unreleased song of his to the point where I’m sure we both felt a little overloaded.
Most artists are sitting on a back catalog of songs that they would like to record. However, lack of time, money, energy, and other resources get in the away. I myself have about 100 voice memos of song ideas that I would like to pursue.
My friend and I decided to determine what the goals and outcomes we wanted to reach are for the coming year. Then once we knew where we wanted to get to it was a lot easier to determine the steps we needed take take now to get there.
We decided our goal is to release four four song EP’s this year. One has already dropped, leaving us a dozen songs to work on. One of the EP’s is going to be released before Spring, another in the Summer, and another in the Fall.
We decided to chip away at the songs with the soonest release dates and we used an Eisenhower decision matrix to determine what are the most urgent and the important tasks to do now.
This process sounds so simple when you type it out and as I read it back to myself. Reality is that sometimes we get stuck and we don’t know what to do next. We have the freedom to choose so many different paths and as artists we want to share and express all of the art that is important to us. We can get fatigued with too many possibilities and all the uncertainty surrounding our work. Sometimes you just need to take some time with a friend to talk about the future and where it is you want to go and then go FULL NERD with an Eisenhower decision matrix.
If you need a friend to pull out a huge whiteboard with you and go through this process, I got you.
So you want to book more shows?
There are lots of artists out there who really want to book more high quality shows. If this is you, then you are not alone. It can be hard. It can take a lot of work. I have some thoughts that I truly believe will help you stand out and earn more high quality gigs.
First point I want to make: In order to book shows you will likely have to come into contact with another human who must sign off on you or your band to play.
It’s super important to realize that this person likely receives dozens if not hundreds of similar requests every day, week, month…
Therefore I tell thee: Have empathy!!!!!
Whenever I go “King James Voice” you know I’m being serious!
Don’t be an a** to this person. Be kind. Be patient. Be humble. If you piss the booker off you’re done.
Word of the day: Positioning
Everything I write from here on out revolves around this idea of positioning.
Positioning is the strategy of placing yourself, relative to others, so that you may deliver a unique impression (hopefully positive) to the consumer or in our case the show booker.
In other words, place thine self hither because over thither is everyone else doing the same fracking thing!
AWESOME TACTIC #1:Update your entire online presence so that everything validates and supports your goal.
There are a multitude of other ways to position yourself well online, and hopefully these ideas are enough to get your creative wheels turning.
AWESOME TACTIC #2:Ask for referrals and testimonials from venues or other artists you’ve previously played great shows with.
Bookers talk, hangout, and share experiences with other bookers. If you have a glowing review from Booker A and can hand that to Booker B when you reach out for the first time, then that will earn you some points.
If you are playing in a new city but know a band there who has played with you before, then you can ask that band for a referral. Obviously don’t do this if the band is unpopular with bookers in their hometown.
If I was a touring artist I would try to get glowing five star reviews from anyone and everyone I could as it related to shows. You could ask the sound guy / gal, bartender, owner, booker, manager, etc… Post these reviews on your site.
AWESOME TACTIC #3:Write personal thank you notes and leave merch gifts for the people who work your shows.
This might be my favorite and maybe the best way any artist can stand out and be asked back to play.
People remember kindness. What if you were remembered as the band that left the sound guy an awesome T-Shirt or a mug that literally said “Best Sound Guy Ever”? What if you were remembered as the kind artist that wrote personal thank you notes to everyone who helped run the show?
The next time you email that booking agent will they even remember you?
AWESOME TACTIC #4:The recipe for winning in the gig economy:
Honestly, two out of three ain’t bad either. This applies to booking and playing shows as well.
Put on a good show. If your show sucks, then why would anyone want to book you?
Lots of venues have load in and load out rules. Follow those rules. Do whatever you can to expedite the process. Don’t take an hour to soundcheck when you were only supposed to have 15 mins. If you are a guitar player and you finish load out early, then help your drummer and everyone will get out faster.
Be a good hang. People remember kindness.
AWESOME TACTIC #5:Say “No” to bad shows.
This is tough. I understand that it can be hard to judge ahead of time whether a show will turn out to be a dud.
However, I do think you can trust your gut. What does your intuition say? Will this show move the needle at all? What’s the goal of the show? Were you asked to do it by a friend? You do not need to say yes to everything.
I bet 20% of the shows you play cause 80% of all the distress, anxiety, and discouragement you feel towards playing shows. Get rid of that 20%. Say No!
AWESOME TACTIC #6:Start a spreadsheet and start following up.
How exciting!!!!!! Don’t you love spreadsheets?
Somebody smart said one-time:
“If it doesn’t get measured, then it doesn’t get managed.” — somebody smart
Ed Catmull, president & co-founder of Pixar, expands on the point in his book Creative, Inc. that you do not need to measure everything. You can’t possible measure everything and a large portion of what we manage can’t be measured.
I would argue that you need to measure some important metrics from the shows you play.
If a certain venue or festival is super important to you, then I would encourage you to follow up with whoever manages the booking. Send them new music when you have a release. Let them know when you’re coming through town. Send them a happy birthday note after you creep and find their birthday on Facebook. This could be as little work as sending a nice email twice a year.
AWESOME TACTIC #7:Be a human and don’t treat people like a means to an end.
I caution you to not implement any of these tactics in a shmucky way. You have your goals. Everyone else has their goals. Try to be helpful. Add value to the people you come in contact with.
It might be worth interviewing a booker in your hometown to get a better sense of what it is
they do and are responsible for. Research and see if there are any podcast interviews out there with booking agents or even shows hosted by them. If you understand their job better, then you can come up with creative ways to make it easier.
I’m talking to the artist with a vision. I’m talking to the person who wants to make change.
You have to do something. Whatever it is you want.. Whatever your goal is.. Whatever idea you want to get across.. You have to do work. You have to execute. You have to spend time - likely a considerable amount of time.
I would like to save you some time now and say that if you aren’t willing to do “it” for two years, then don’t even bother.
Maybe you are willing to commit two years of your life to this work, but will you feel good doing it? Don’t lock in two years of your life if the work makes you miserable.
If it isn’t a hell yes, then it’s a hell no.
Anyone can write a song. Anyone can pick up a new instrument. Anyone can start a blog. But what we need… What we really need are people who are willing to give the best of themselves to a work they genuinely care about for the long haul.
If you don’t care, I know. You know too. We can smell it.
Don’t be generic. Show me what it is you love. Show me your depth. GO FULL NERD. Then I will follow.
Maybe you are giving the best of yourself to a work that you genuinely care about for the long haul. But are you releasing? Are you sharing your work?
There will be no change if there is no release. I can’t be blessed by your art if you don’t share it with me. I freakin’ want to be blessed. Why do you hate me being blessed??!!!!! Ehemm. I digress..
Fear. Insecurity. Comparison. — All pretty bad creative collaborators.
Maybe you are doing it for you. That’s fine. Then why did you read this far?
There is such a unique depth and perspective that only you can deliver. Somewhere there is an audience that wants it. That needs it. Are you looking?
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).