Musicians all seem to follow a semi-predictable pattern:
The best tools are the ones you know how to use already, even if you’ve never used it before. You don’t have to read a manual to use a spade. Watch someone spear it into the ground, and you’re good to go.
The best audio equipment in the world follows this principle. An 1176 compressor is drop dead simple to use while being incredibly complicated. So is a piano- hit a note, and it makes a sound.
Most modern music manufacturers completely ignore this principle. In the rush to add features, they cram everything they can into the smallest possible piece of gear. Every feature you’d ever need is there, but you can’t access it because it’s buried in sub menus or under clumsy interface designs.
When great manufacturers keep their products simple but powerful, something magical happens: we stop thinking about the product and start thinking about what we’re making instead.
We build muscle memory, instinctively adjusting knobs, faders, and buttons while never thinking about the controls themselves. We develop the skill to play the instrument, even if that instrument is a compressor.
The next time you consider a new piece of equipment, I encourage you to consider how quickly you can accomplish amazing things with it, and not just see who has the longest list of features on the specs page.
I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on the road this summer with different bands, and as usual I can’t stand going out without messing around with some experiment or another. This summer’s theme has been getting all non-essential work (email, blogging, even some producing) done from the back of a tour bus or van on the road.
That’s really the only thing you need to do. And I’ve struggled with it my whole career.
When I show up for something, I struggle to relax. Whether it’s a conversation or a gig, I tend to want to push forward. No time for chit chat- we’re on a mission here.
Hard work is what most people value. Most people when they think of a great employee/entrepreneur/boss picture this kind of work ethic. Long hours + big effort = successful person.
There’s an amazing website called Forgotify. Forgotify uses an algorithm to find and play random songs from Spotify, but with a catch: they only play songs that have never been played before on Spotify.
If I could sum up this year's practice theme on a post it note for myself, it would read: "get good at playing on the beat, stupid". I'd probably leave off the stupid, but you get the point- everybody could learn to be better at being on the beat. Here's what I'm doing to build my chops:
I heard about the Song Exploder podcast while on a weekend show run this week, and started listening on Monday morning to it. In every episode, various artists break down how and why they wrote a specific song, and the story behind it. They have artists as varied as Metallica to Norah Jones interviewed, and I found myself completely engrossed by hearing how each artist thought about building a song.
If you’re a producer, musician, or songwriter, this is an absolute must-listen. I learned more about producing by listening to this than I have in the last 3 years of reading on the topic. Check it out here: http://songexploder.net/
It’s so hard to quit, and we’ve been conditioned since we were little not to give up (quitters never win, etc). There’s some amazing books about the importance of quitting, and many of the top musicians I have worked with spend more time quitting than sticking with things that aren’t working. But how to choose? Here are 7 questions I use to see what I should stick with, and what I should ditch:
1. Is there an upward trend, even if it’s subtle?
If there’s been a general trend upward for a consistent period of time, there’s a good chance that might happen in the future with a few tweaks.
2. Am I enjoying it, even if I’m not seeing progress?
If it’s relaxing and enjoyable, that will make me deal with a lot more crap than a less fun task would allow me. Conversely, if I hate something, there should be no amount of “progress” that should keep me doing it.
3. What could I do instead of what I’m doing right now?
When we think of quitting, we think of an empty space instead of something else perhaps equally as good or better. We’ve got to remember the opportunities that might appear because of the extra time/energy could be amazing.
4. What would it look like if I kept up at this pace in 10 years? Could I live with that result?
If I can’t see myself being happy with the worst possible outcome of what I’m doing right now in 10 years, I definitely need to bail.
5. Is this something that is important, or is it necessary?
If it’s not important but necessary, I should figure out a way to outsource or eliminate it.
6. What would happen if I quit, not just to me, but the people that are involved?
If someone would get really hurt by me bailing on something, I have the responsibility of gracefully handing off my responsibilities.
7. What would my life look like without this in my life? How would I adjust?
Again, I need to rely on my imagination to think of not just an “empty space” in my life, but picture how I might compensate for the newfound time and energy.
The answer might be you’re doing great, just be patient. You’re just in a rut, in the doldrums. Keep plugging away for a few days/weeks/months/years, and everything is going to be fine. And sometimes that’s the truth.
The other answer is you need to jump ship. You need to reexamine everything you do, slash what isn’t working, amp up what produces good results, and relaunch your career.
The choice seems binary, but it doesn’t have to be. Instead of making a massive change, why not start small and see where it leads? Why not sub in one activity a week with another activity and see if it helps or hurts?
There’s something epic about burning bridges, but smart pivots usually happen gradually and with one foot firmly planted on the ground.