Does it seem like you’re never getting around to the one thing that matters most as a musician, namely, making music?
I’ve been in your shoes. I used to spend countless hours reading, researching, marketing, blogging, experimenting, connecting with people on social media, sending and answering emails, and mostly just spinning my wheels getting nowhere with my career.
It’s not that I wasn’t performing, making music or improving as a musician. I prioritized that too. It’s not like I was wasting a lot of time either.
But I often felt like I was wandering aimlessly, trying to figure out this music career thing, all the while not doing enough of the one thing that I should have been doing more of – making music. If I had made and released more music, of whatever quality, I would feel very differently about the last 12 years than I do today.
Music published is better than music sitting on a hard drive – I believe wholeheartedly in that. If you were to check my catalog as an artist, you would see that many of my releases are far from perfect. The point is that I got my material out there. New material can expose you to new fans and create new opportunities.
I know some artists who insist on perfection before releasing anything, but if I did that, I feel like I would die with my best music still in me.
Meanwhile, if you have nothing new to share with your audience, you get stuck, and you spend far too much time trying to be inventive with your marketing (i.e. blogging endlessly about mindless topics).
So, here are some tips on how to eliminate distractions and get to what really matters.
Identify What Matters To You
Unfortunately, no one can tell you what matters to you in your music career. Only you know.
Is it playing live? Is it making music in the studio? Is it making money or becoming famous? Is it getting your music licensed for movies or video games? Is it a combination of these?
What motivates you? What’s the primary driver behind your music?
There’s no shame in admitting whatever that is, even if you discover you are driven by money. It’s better to know that now than to look back years down the line and realize your ladder was up against the wrong building.
I don’t think identifying what matters to you is a difficult process. I don’t think you need to talk to an expert or buy an expensive course or do a writing exercise or break down and cry to uncover what motivates you. If you sit still and quiet your mind for a moment, and just ask yourself what’s important to you, I think the answers will come to you relatively quickly.
Once you’ve determined what’s important to you, you’re ready to clear away whatever is getting in the way of you achieving at the level you desire to be.
Get Rid Of What You Don’t Need & Simplify
Many of us live more complex lives than we even realize.
Our shelves are filled to the brims with books.
Our desks are littered with postal mail, post-it notes, and other reminders and documents.
Our phones are constantly going off, notifying and reminding us of who to talk to, where to be, what to do, and why (and typically, it isn’t a very good “why”).
Our computers are loaded up with files we don’t need and will probably never look at.
In a world of “infinite” options, we fail to make decisions, because we’re so overwhelmed by the possibilities. We don’t stick with any one thing long enough to see it take on a life of its own. We easily get distracted by something brighter or shinier.
Isn’t it time you decluttered your brain?
Recently, on Instagram, I shared this thought:
True freedom comes from commitment. Until you’re committed, your options are nearly unlimited. When you’re committed, decisions become easy. Everything becomes clearer. Are you living free? What are you committed to?
If I’m not committed to my business, I will find myself starting many ventures, side projects, blogs, and websites, because that’s how I am. I will keep trying different things, because starting something new is exciting, and I thrive on variety and having many projects to work on.
But that makes decision making very difficult. Which business do I put effort into, and when? What do I work on now? Which project is more important than the other? It becomes impossible to prioritize.
Relationships are the same way. If you’re committed to your partner, you won’t have the need to go looking for another. But if you’re not committed, you’re constantly going to be evaluating your decision, wondering if you could have picked someone “better”, prettier, nicer, richer, smarter, etc.
It’s a ridiculous notion, because like one’s taste in music, this is subjective, and no one is truly better, only different.
My point is that we all have unnecessary distraction in our lives. Some is physical. Some is mental. Some is emotional. As we become aware of these things and make an intentional effort to clear them out, the busyness in our minds dies down, and we can think clearly again.
Just imagine. What if you had a room in your house with nothing but your instrument in it? What if you locked yourself in that room for an hour per day? What if you spent that time just focusing on playing your instrument? Do you think you would improve as a player?
The same concept applies to recording and publishing your music. What if you dedicated a space in your house to just recording? What if your computer wasn’t connected to the internet? What if you focused an hour per day on just recording your music? What would happen?
If you’re overwhelmed by options, it’s time to spring clean. Unsubscribe from newsletters you don’t read, get rid of junk around the house you don’t use, turn those smartphone notifications off, cancel Netflix (if you find it to be a major distraction), process those documents on your desk, and so on.
Decluttering takes time, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t get it done in a weekend (especially emotional clutter). Keep chipping away at it.
Create A Career Plan & Follow It
If you’re not getting anywhere in your career, it could be because you have nothing anchoring in and guiding your actions.
I don’t know about you, but I repeated cycles where I would post a bunch of new things to my website, set up social media accounts, send a bunch of emails, and make a bunch of phone calls. Then, I would do nothing for weeks or even months. As soon as I stopped feeling motivated, my activity would drop off.
It took me a long time to figure out why this approach didn’t work. Once I started getting my business training, and read The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson, I understood. It’s not about the dozens of actions you take on any given day. It’s about the two or three actions you take every single day that matter. That’s right, it’s about consistency.
Let’s say I reached out to two music venues today to book gigs. Maybe that wouldn’t get me anywhere. And, maybe repeating that process tomorrow wouldn’t do much for me either. But what would happen in a year? Do you think I might have a few gigs by then?
If I reached out to two venues every single day for an entire year, I would have contacted 730 venues. Even if I’m horrible at talking on the phone, and I only get 3% of venues to agree to have me in to perform, I would have still booked 21 to 22 gigs that year.
This is not how most musicians (or most people, for that matter) structure their lives. They spend a week working on song, a day on social media and website work, a day or two booking, four weeks in the studio, a week doing nothing, etc. Their schedules are all over the map!
In the last six to seven years, I’ve written something new – even if just an email – just about every single day. Sure, I’ve missed a day or two here and there. But the discipline remains. I keep writing, because I enjoy it, because I get paid to do it, and because I think it might be one of the number one ways I can impact the world and those around me.
Do you think I might see some traction with my writing? Do you think I might begin to see progress? Do you think I will generate meaningful results?
Maybe not in a day or two. Maybe not in a year or two. But certainly, over the course of five to 10 years, I’ll have become a better writer and have accomplished many of my goals.
I used to be just as passionate about playing the guitar (and I still play quite a bit), which is why some people see me as one of the most versatile guitarists in Calgary, Alberta.
Your career plan could be as simple as that – dedicating an hour or two per day to making (and publishing) music. Depending on your goals, you might try to squeeze in more time. But it all starts with your goals.
First, you need to know what you want to accomplish. I know it’s hard, but I need you to think big picture. Consider what you want to have achieved in the next 10 years. Got it? Now, work backwards and figure out what steps you’d need to take to get there. That’s your career plan.
Once you have your plan, keep referring to it daily. Don’t stray from it, but don’t be afraid to adjust. I mentioned author Jeff Olson earlier. In The Slight Edge, he says the plan you start with isn’t necessarily the plan that will get you to where you want to go. But the mere act of having a plan will help guide your decisions and stick to your vision.
Choose Your Company Carefully
In personal development, it is often said that you are the average of the top five people you hang around and the books you read. This can either be an encouraging statement that infuses you with hope, or an eye-opening realization that causes you to think twice about your association.
Several of the top five people in my life are wealthier, generating more revenue, or further along on their entrepreneurial journey than I am. That’s encouraging to me, because it means if I continue to hang around them, and I don’t give up on myself, I will rise to their level – maybe even go beyond.
I read over 100 books between 2015 and 2016. I studied the works of Tim Ferriss, John C. Maxwell, Napoleon Hill, Robert Anthony, Wayne Dyer, Og Mandino, Steven Pressfield, Darren Hardy, Joe Pulizzi, Michael Port, and many other high achievers. My outlook on this end is positive too.
So, if you keep company with people who are ambitious, smart, and driven, they will encourage you to find your focus and you will acquire similar qualities to those they have. If you keep company with people who are lazy, flaky, and sloppy, you will acquire similar qualities to those they have.
All things being equal, I like spending time with people who stretch my thinking and help me see beyond my own limitations.
Don’t get me wrong – changing your association can be painful. But if you begin your journey of personal development and stick with it, some people will naturally fall away as you keep growing and they stay the same.
Do you feel inspired? Then don’t waste that – act on it! I cannot motivate you, I can only inspire you. You are responsible for your own motivation. Keep putting more fuel in your tank. Read the stories of those who inspire you. Get into some good personal development books. Find some mentors who can help you. Join a mastermind group. And, most of all, crush the work you’ve identified as being the most important to you. Don’t give into distraction.