Motivation Is A Question Of “Why” Not “How”

Today I want to talk about a technique for understanding and focusing motivation but first…

The Obligatory Update

I have been remiss in posting here.  As I write this I’m taking a break from prep for a back to back recording session coming up on the 15th with I Come From the Mountains (a new duo acoustic instrumental ensemble with Dean Mirabito from KoriSoron playing an Iranian / Middle Eastern / Hindustani hybrid / fusion with me playing modified acoustic guitars (fretless, 10 string guitar modified from a 12 string and a 6-string multiple capos) and Dean playing  tabla and Middle Eastern percussion) and Embe Esti (a loosely Afrobeat inspired electric band with guitar, bass, drums and vocals that brings in a lot of North African and Balkan influences as well).  WOW is that an awkwardly long sentence!

( In a gear related note – with the exception of the fretless guitar –  all of the guitars and amps I’m using are from Yamaha – so Yamaha Guitars / Yamaha THR if you’re reading this and have any interest in sponsoring a future recording session please feel free to get in touch! ; )  I’ve been working with their THR100HD amp and have gotten some really great tones with minimal pedals  so I’ll share my different rigs with you in a future post).

So writing a lot of new material and developing new projects.  New websites for both soon!

The Best Free Lesson I Can Give You

If you go through old posts you’ll see that I hammer this point over and over again.

You have to have a why to travel any distance on the path to mastering guitar.

 

Here’s why this is important.  Let’s say you’re in a playing rut.  You keep playing the same thing over and over and don’t know how to get out.  You get motivated and sign up for a video course and give them your credit card number.  You log in the first day and start working on the first lesson.  In this case, you happened to go with a player you like but you didn’t understand that the material is way too hard to process at your current skill level.  So you work with it for about an hour and take a break for a bit…and then never come back to it.  Or you buy a book and it comes in the mail and you crack the cover and never return to it.

Does this sound familiar?

The problem most players face at some level is they don’t understand why they are doing what they’re doing.

As a beginning player:  if you don’t have a strong enough motivation you won’t play enough to develop the callouses you’ll need to play.

As an intermediate player: if you don’t have a strong enough motivation you won’t practice the things you need to work on to develop the skills you’ll need to progress to higher levels of expression.

As an advanced player: if you don’t have a strong enough why you may get to a point where you have developed a substantial skill set but can not earn a living from that skill alone.

This is kind of the mid-life crisis of guitar.  Fortunately, I’ve gone through many of these throughout my time playing guitar but players who have never faced can be in for a devastating experience .

See The “What” Is Easy

There’s 12 notes.  Simple.  You can get the basics of chords and scales in a day, grasp them more fully in a week and start to really do something with them in as little as a month if you really put the work in consistently.

The “How” Is Also (Relatively) Easy

When you buy an instructional product  what you’re buying is instruction on the how.  There is a literal deluge of instructional material both online and in print.   Even the most basic of searches will lead you to someone who can show you how.  The how is something that is also pretty easy to get under your fingers if you really put the work in consistently (and can be patient about how long it will take to do that work).

The “Why” Is Where You Are On Your Own

If you don’t have a reason for why you are doing what you are doing you won’t put the work in day after day and without that consistence – you will never progress.

Here’s the simple thing to do to get to the core of matter

When I teach a guitar lesson to a beginning student I will often attempt to drill down to what the motivating factors are by asking a series of “why” based questions.

Q: “So what brings you here today?”
A: “I want to learn how to play fast?”
Q: “Why?”
A: “Why what?”
Q: “Why do you want to learn to play fast?  What will playing fast allow you to do that you can’t do now?”

Based on the answer – this starts a series of drill downs of variations on the question to get to the bottom – why are you really here?  What are you really trying to do and most importantly, what is the real goal that you are working towards?

Playing fast isn’t a goal – it’s a pathway to a goal that might be better reached a thousand ways.  If the actual goal and motivation is understood it’s much easier to commit to putting the work in consistently to reach it.

Here’s a hypothetical non-musical example played out a little longer

“I want to exercise”
“Why?”
“So I can gain muscle”
“Why”
“So that I look better”
“Why?”
“So people will date me”
“Why?”
“So I’m not alone”

So in this example the exercise is in service to a larger goal – excising loneliness.

This process for me came about after years of me feeling guilty about going to Berklee and never really delving into jazz improv, only to dig deeper into why I thought I should be working on that and realizing I didn’t really like a lot of standards  I was pursuing it in a half-assed way because I thought it was a skill set I should have, but in reality the tunes never moved me so my motivation to work on them wasn’t there.  When I spent the time working on things that moved me emotionally, I got into more challenging music that required doing some of the work I didn’t want to do before because the context was one I wanted to explore.  So I kind of came to the same place through the back door…

Here’s the takeaway

If you have an issue with motivation, try diving deep with a series of “why” questions to get to what the underlying reason behind what you are doing really is.  Once you understand your real motivation, it’s easier to be more objective about how to best work towards realizing an associated goal.

I hope this helps and as always, thanks for reading!

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Loking Forward To 2015 : How Not To Repeat The Mistakes Of The Past (Or Nothing Ever Got Done With An Excuse)

It’s that time of year again…

(This is a repost of something I wrote for the end of 2009.  The dates and information have been updated, and this has become one of the few yearly repost traditions I indulge in.)

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At the end of every year, I typically take the last week between Christmas and New Years to wind down and center.  It not only helps me take stock of what worked and didn’t work for me in in the year but also helps me make sure I’m on track for what I want to get done moving forward.  As George Santayana said,

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

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As 2014 draws to a close, I think back to many conversations I had with people when this post was first written at the end of 2009.  At that time, it seemed like everyone I talked to said the same thing, “2009 was such a bad year.  2010 has to be better.  It just has to.”

Now it seems I’m listening to the same sentiment with the same people about 2014 and the coming 2015.  And in some ways they have a valid point.  Listening to their recollections, 2014 certainly offered some of these people a tough blow – but regardless of their circumstances, I believe that, unless they experience a windfall of good fortune, I will hear the same sentiments echoed at the end of 2014.  There’s a reason for this:

“If you always do what you’ve always done – you’ll always get what you always got” – anon

.

While I fully appreciate the merits of planning and goal setting – life will throw you any number of curveballs that may make a meticulously laid out plan get derailed.

.

A good plan has to be countered with an ability to improvise (as need be) to make sure that even if your mode of transportation is disabled, that you are still on the path to achieve your goals.

.

“Improvisation as a practice is the focus of an idea through an imposed restriction.  This restriction could either be self-imposed or could be imposed upon the improviser through other means.

 

Improvisation as it relates to common experience can be seen in the example of the car that stops running in the middle of a trip.  A person experienced in auto repair may attempt to pop the hood of the car to see if they can ascertain how to repair the vehicle.  Or they may try to flag down help.  Or they may try to use a cell phone to contact a garage.  The point being that within the context of a vehicle malfunction, different actions are improvised based on the improviser’s facility with both the situation at hand and the tools at their disposal.

….life is essentially an improvisation.  As individuals we come into each day not exactly knowing what will happen.  We know that there is an eventual end, but we don’t know when or how it will end.  But we continue to improvise, because it is in both the active improvisation (the present), the skill set and knowledge of that improvisation (the past) and in the philosophical/worldview/goals guiding our improvisational choices (the future) that we create meaning.”

 

If you approach life’s problems with the same mindset you’ve always had 

-and your new year’s resolutions run contrary to that mindset –

your resolutions are doomed.

.

I say this as a seasoned graduate of the school of hard knocks and as a person who found that while success feels a lot better – ultimately failure is a much more thorough teacher.

.

2014 had some great ups and downs for me and now there are a number of life and playing upgrades I’m going to put into practice in 2015 to address the things that didn’t work for me.  For those of you who are interested in making a real change the new year – here’s what worked for me going into 2014 that I plan on using this year as well:

 

Know the big picture.

If you have a goal – know why you have the goal.  As Victor Frankl once said, “He who has a why can endure almost any how.

.

Take stock of what you have done and identify what needs to change.

Have you done things that work towards that goal?  If so, what have you really done? What worked?  What didn’t work?  And what parameters can you put in place to make it work better?

What decisions did you make that set you back and how could you alter those decisions in the future?

Sometimes honesty is brutal but this isn’t about beating yourself up.  It’s about taking a realistic stock of what worked and what didn’t work for you in the year, reinforcing that things that work for you and discarding what didn’t work for you.

.

Revolution not resolution

People typically make resolutions because they recognize a need for change in their life.

Personally, change hasn’t been about making a momentary decision as a knee jerk reaction to something (which usually lasts as long as the time it took to make that decision).

The long-lasting changes in my life have come from making lifestyle changes, setting priorities and working within those changes.  Change is not a temporary compromise to a current observation but is instead a revolt against habitual modes of thinking and operation. 

.

Positive habits

Making something a daily positive habit (like brushing your teeth) makes it easier to maintain over the long haul. (See my post about the value of rituals for more on this.)

.

“Don’t make excuses – make it right” –  Al Little

People make excuses for things all the time.  No one cares about excuses because nothing ever got done with an excuse.  People (typically) only care about results.

There will undoubtably be moments that you relapse into older habits.  Instead of making excuses for why it happened – just acknowledge it and move past it. When you fall off the bike, it’s not about sitting down and nursing your scrapes.  It’s about getting back up on the bike again.  As it says in The Hagakure“Seven times down – eight times up”

.

There’s strength in numbers

Try to surround yourself with supportive people.

  • Not enabling people who will make changes more difficult for you.
  • Not negative or judgmental people who will scoff at your desire for change

Like minded people who have goals and are motivated.

Talk to the friends and family who will give honest and supportive feedback.  Here’s another important tip – don’t burn those people out with your goals.  The people around you have their own lives, so if every conversation becomes about you and your goals, you’re going to see less and less of those people!

.

In addition to (or in some cases in lieu of) that support, you may want to look into some free online accountability sites like Idonethis.com (post on this here) or Wunderlist.com which maintains a private calendar to help observe progress.

.

Commit to One Change

It’s easy to get hung up and overwhelmed with the specifics of a long term goal.  Try making one lifestyle change and commit to seeing that through.  (Again, you can read my post about the value of rituals for more on this.)

.

Be motivated to do more but be grateful for what you have

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who took a moment to come here and read my writing.  I hope this helps you in some way shape or form and I hope that 2015 is your best year yet.

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2014: How Not To Repeat The Mistakes Of The Past (Or Nothing Ever Got Done With An Excuse)

It’s that time of year again…

(This is a repost of something I wrote for the end of 2009.  The dates and information have been updated, and this has become one of the few yearly repost traditions I indulge in.)

.

At the end of every year, I typically take the last week between Christmas and New Years to wind down and center.  It not only helps me take stock of what worked and didn’t work for me in in the year but also helps me make sure I’m on track for what I want to get done moving forward.  As George Santayana said,

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

.

As 2013 draws to a close, I think back to many conversations I had with people at the end of 2009.  At that time, it seemed like everyone I talked to said the same thing, “2009 was such a bad year.  2010 has to be better.  It just has to.”

Now it seems I’m listening to the same sentiment with the same people about 2013 and the coming 2014.  And in some ways they have a valid point.  Listening to their circumstances, 2013 certainly offered some of these people a tough blow – but regardless of their circumstances, I believe that, unless they experience a windfall of good fortune, I will hear the same sentiments echoed at the end of 2014.  There’s a reason for this:

“If you always do what you’ve always done – you’ll always get what you always got” – anon

.

While I fully appreciate the merits of planning and goal setting – life will throw you any number of curveballs that may make a meticulously laid out plan get derailed.

.

A good plan has to be countered with an ability to improvise (as need be) to make sure that even if your mode of transportation is disabled, that you are still on the path to achieve your goals.

.

“Improvisation as a practice is the focus of an idea through an imposed restriction.  This restriction could either be self-imposed or could be imposed upon the improviser through other means.

Improvisation as it relates to common experience can be seen in the example of the car that stops running in the middle of a trip.  A person experienced in auto repair may attempt to pop the hood of the car to see if they can ascertain how to repair the vehicle.  Or they may try to flag down help.  Or they may try to use a cell phone to contact a garage.  The point being that within the context of a vehicle malfunction, different actions are improvised based on the improviser’s facility with both the situation at hand and the tools at their disposal.

….life is essentially an improvisation.  As individuals we come into each day not exactly knowing what will happen.  We know that there is an eventual end, but we don’t know when or how it will end.  But we continue to improvise, because it is in both the active improvisation (the present), the skill set and knowledge of that improvisation (the past) and in the philosophical/worldview/goals guiding our improvisational choices (the future) that we create meaning.”

 

If you approach life’s problems with the same mindset you’ve always had 

-and your new year’s resolutions run contrary to that mindset –

your resolutions are doomed.

.

I say this as a seasoned graduate of the school of hard knocks and as a person who found that while success feels a lot better – ultimately failure is a much more thorough teacher.

.

2013 had some great ups and downs for me and now there are a number of life and playing upgrades I’m going to put into practice in 2014 to address the things that didn’t work for me.  For those of you who are interested in making a real change the new year – here’s what worked for me going into 2013 that I plan on using this year as well:

 

Know the big picture.

If you have a goal – know why you have the goal.  As Victor Frankl once said, “He who has a why can endure almost any how.

.

Take stock of what you have done and identify what needs to change.

Have you done things that work towards that goal?  If so, what have you really done? What worked?  What didn’t work?  And what parameters can you put in place to make it work better?

What decisions did you make that set you back and how could you alter those decisions in the future?

Sometimes honesty is brutal but this isn’t about beating yourself up.  It’s about taking a realistic stock of what worked and what didn’t work for you in the year, reinforcing that things that work for you and discarding what didn’t work for you.

.

Revolution not resolution

People typically make resolutions because they recognize a need for change in their life.

Personally, change hasn’t been about making a momentary decision as a knee jerk reaction to something (which usually lasts as long as the time it took to make that decision).

The long-lasting changes in my life have come from making lifestyle changes, setting priorities and working within those changes.  Change is not a temporary compromise to a current observation but is instead a revolt against habitual modes of thinking and operation. 

.

Positive habits

Making something a daily positive habit (like brushing your teeth) makes it easier to maintain over the long haul. (See my post about the value of rituals for more on this.)

.

“Don’t make excuses – make it right” –  Al Little

People make excuses for things all the time.  No one cares about excuses because nothing ever got done with an excuse.  People (typically) only care about results.

There will undoubtably be moments that you relapse into older habits.  Instead of making excuses for why it happened – just acknowledge it and move past it. When you fall off the bike, it’s not about sitting down and nursing your scrapes.  It’s about getting back up on the bike again.  As it says in The Hagakure“Seven times down – eight times up”

.

There’s strength in numbers

Try to surround yourself with supportive people.

  • Not enabling people who will make changes more difficult for you.
  • Not negative or judgmental people who will scoff at your desire for change

Like minded people who have goals and are motivated.

Talk to the friends and family who will give honest and supportive feedback.  Here’s another important tip – don’t burn those people out with your goals.  The people around you have their own lives, so if every conversation becomes about you and your goals, you’re going to see less and less of those people!

.

In addition to (or in some cases in lieu of) that support, you may want to look into some free online accountability sites like Idonethis.com (post on this here) or Wunderlist.com which maintains a private calendar to help observe progress.

.

Commit to One Change

It’s easy to get hung up and overwhelmed with the specifics of a long term goal.  Try making one lifestyle change and commit to seeing that through.  (Again, you can read my post about the value of rituals for more on this.)

.

Be motivated to do more but be grateful for what you have

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who took a moment to come here and read my writing.  I hope this helps you in some way shape or form and I hope that 2014 is your best year yet.

.

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Don’t Let Time Become An Excuse For Not Starting Something

Hi everybody!

I just wanted to add a post to go with the new series I’m running on my podcast. (if you like this post you might want to check it out if you haven’t already!)

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Time and Fear

It can be scary to start a new project, take on a new initiative or choose a new direction. One fear-based response I hear from people consistently for why they don’t want to take on something new is some variation of this:

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“Well…what if I put all of this time and energy into it and it doesn’t go anywhere?”

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The Tough Love Part Of The Post

Here is the reality check for this line of thinking:

Your time has no fixed economic value before you start something.

Let me clarify this.  If you’re currently making six figures a year in your day job, you are sorely mistaken (or outright delusional) if you’re taking on something new at the ground level and assuming that your time in your new venture will initially have the same value as what you’re currently making.

If you open a hot dog stand and sell five hot dogs in your first hour, SOME portion of that wage (and given the cost of supplies will be a negative figure in this case) will be your new (hopefully temporary) hourly wage.

While it doesn’t mean that’s what you’re worth –  it does mean that’s what you’re making at this moment.  Five years from now your artisan dogs might support a dozen stands selling hundreds an hour and bringing in real money – but at this moment – in the simplest equation – your business is valued at the dollar value generated when expenses are subtracted from assets and revenue.

Later on, once your project has inertia, your time will have a definitive value and there will be numerous things fighting for your time.  But initially, it’s like going to court in that just as you don’t get compensated for your time to appear in court – you don’t get back the time or energy in a project that went bust.  It’s gone.  Eat the loss and let it go.

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Sometimes you take a step back to move forward.

When I realized that my fretting hand technique was holding back my playing I had to re-learn about 1/2 of what I “knew” how to play.

It was a drag, and initially it felt like a huge waste of time taking a step that far back and I resisted it for a year because I didn’t want to wast my time taking a step back when there was already a lot I could do on guitar.

But what I could already do wasn’t getting me any further ahead in the long run.  The process of revamping my technique made me re-evaluate my relationship to the instrument and to music as a whole.  I began to hear my playing differently and began to hear other people’s playing differently.  Ultimately it got me the fluidity and clarity that I admired in so many other players playing that I was always wondering why it was missing from mine.

I sometimes wonder if people get frustrated when they talk about whatever they saw on the internet or TV (i.e. “if your time is so valuable how exactly are you spending it now?”) and then go on to ask the initial question:

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“Well…what if I put all of this time and energy into it and it doesn’t go anywhere?”

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Here’s the answer:

The good news is that if the project is a bust (and if you haven’t invested EVERYTHING into it) you can quit and take what you’ve learned from this venture to move on to the next one.

I copped this from Seth Godin who once said that quitting is undervalued and that the problem with quitting is that most people quit something when it’s too late.  The time to quit is in the early stages BEFORE you take the second mortgage, empty the bank account and realize that if this doesn’t work out that you and your family need to move back in with your folks.

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And now the caveat!

If this website has a one word core idea, it’s balance“.

Before I played guitar, I started off as a drummer in junior high school.  If I didn’t quit drums in my first year and later switched to guitar I never would have stayed in music because by the time I had enough time in on drums in high school I wouldn’t have had the energy or interest to transition to learning guitar.

If I quit my pursuit to revamp my technique too early, I never would have made the progress in my playing that I did.

The balance is the hardest thing because the onus of understanding and maintaining that balance falls on you, the individual.

Balance will play a huge role in the posts and podcasts ahead!

Starting any new project will take inertia to keep it going.  Once you get the project going you’ll have plenty of opportunities to evaluate your use of time and address it’s value in a real way, but don’t let that short circuit your plans for starting something.

More content coming soon.  As always, thanks for reading!

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It’s Not All Gold

As a professional – one important lesson to start internalizing is the need to balance being passionate about what you do and maintaining an emotional distance from it at the same time.

Hostile Terrain

Most of you have never heard of my first self published book, an unabashed DIY effort called Hostile Terrain.  It featured poetry, some plays, essays and other works.  Truth be told, about 30% still holds up as writing that I’d be willing to show to other people.

Hostile Terrain came out of a process of years of journaling.  I wrote everything down as an outlet.   I was depressed and desperate and it took a long time to realize that journaling just fed right into that.

I didn’t realize at the time that writing wasn’t getting bad things out of my system, but instead, it was just making me sicker.  I was breathing in the same stagnant air and thinking that I found something invigorating and relavatory because I was equating output with discovery.

In the next stage of this process, I was living with a person in a completely isolated situation and had hit emotional rock bottom because I had to confront things that intellect alone couldn’t solve and that I simply didn’t have the emotional maturity to deal with.

In the middle of this terrible living situation, a freak accident happened where the room I was living in flooded.  I lost 10 years of writing and journals.

I was devastated.  It was thousands of hours of work down the drain (or so I thought).

So being emotionally crushed, I went back to what I knew.  I went back to writing and eventually I wrote some more and then put out Hostile Terrain. I sent it out to friends and to a few publishing houses I was into, and while I got a few “attaboys” I got no interest from anyone for anything resembling publishing.

Bedtime Stories For Mutant Children

In the meantime, I decided to move away from poetry and into short stories.  I was really influenced by Tomas Bernhardt’s The Voice Imitator and decided to write a series of short stories that focused on dark stories for adults told in a children’s storybook style.  This was about 1996 or so. The Tim Burton book, The Melancholy Death Of Oyster Boy, came out mid project and even though I was jealous he beat me to the punch – my stories were much darker and I thought I might be able to get some publishing interest for a character I developed while on a grim tour of Germany (Kommandant Kumar) and for the overall book concept, Bedtime Stories For Mutant Children.

I had all the stories online so I could get feedback from my friends.  I didn’t have a computer at the time so I was working on my friend’s work computer.  I did this off and on for about a year.

Then something happened.

Within a 24-hour period the web server went out of business AND the hard drive that I had all of the files on seized.

I lost 30 short stories. Gone. Casper.

I hit my frustration limit and I stopped writing.  I abandoned the screenplay I wrote. I stopped all of the other writing I was doing and I worked on other things.

Eventually, I started seeing things differently, and I came to a realization.

It’s Not All Gold

  • There is no scarcity of ideas.

  • Not every idea has value

  • Important ideas will return

  • Sometimes it’s the process and not the product

There is no scarcity of ideas.

This was the biggest obstacle that I had to overcome in my own thinking and it’s one I still wrestle with.

There’s a fine line between being attached to an idea and being chained to it.

The difference is whether the idea you’re working with serves your larger goals, or if it’s only serving its own completion.

You don’t have to hold onto every idea like it’s a precious nugget.  There are more of them out there.

Not every idea has value equal to the amount of work needed to put it into action.

Again, it’s easy to get emotionally attached to the work put into an idea and equate work with value but that’s not always a direct relationship.  If you ever watch an episode of Shark Tank, you’ll likely see businesses where people have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into a product that has generated no revenue after several years in place.  This is what I’m talking about.

Cultivating the mindset to distance yourself emotionally from what you’re doing is a difficult process to develop and maintain but it’s an extremely valuable one.

Important ideas will return

I like documenting things because sometime I find things worth exploring but, in retrospect, every really good idea I couldn’t remember came back to me or presented itself in a different form.

Sometimes it’s the process and not the product

For me, this is the most important lesson in this piece.

Earlier, in regards to losing all of my writing, I said that:

“It was thousands of hours of work down the drain (or so I thought).”

That work wasn’t down the drain at all.  The work I put into that sharpened my writing and really honed my ability to focus.

That emphasis made huge differences in my practicing and ultimately affected other areas of my life in a much more positive way than the actual writing ever did.

When I work on projects now, I assess the value of the outcome and the value of the experience and if either one makes sense for me to do, then I’ll take it on.

Don’t get hung up on old ideas at the expense of new ones.  Implement, assess and then continue or abandon as need be.

I hope this helps and as always, thanks for reading!

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Changing One’s Perception And Removing “Should” From One’s Vocabulary

“Oh should you now?”

We all have things that we know we’re supposed to do and don’t do with frequency.  We should see the doctor regularly.  We should exercise more and eat less.  We should really write our grandma.  We should really get to practicing.

The reality is that “shoulds” are little minefields in our brain.  We plant them around everywhere and then get absent-minded about where they are.  When we finally have to confront one, the temptation is to get upset because you now know what you should have done and did not – and the onus of it falls on you.

Getting past “should” is a life long struggle and as someone who is still working on it, I can say that it’s not easy but it is possible.

This can be done by removing the phrase “I should” from your vocabulary and replacing it with “I am

(i.e.  replacing “should” with “do”)

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Adjusting your perception.

If you meet expatriates from the US who have been living in another country for a long time and not speaking their original language, occasionally they have a real disconnect when you speak English to them.  This has happened to me on several occasions where I’ve met people who were frustrated at not remembering words in English and feel very disconnected in speaking it with people.

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There’s a reason for this.  They’re out of practice.

If you are a native English speaker in the US – you practice speaking and writing in the language every day.

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The difference is you probably don’t think about it as “practice“.

You just think about part of it as your day.  As something that you do naturally, you don’t think of it as work or drudgery.  You feel comfortable enough in your use of it that when you are confronted with phrases or terms you’ve never heard before – you simply listen instead of freaking out and make sense of in in context.  You pick up information and interact with it all day long.

If you doubt this, try the following: Take your current practice regimen and instead of practicing scales or chords or what have you, take out a dictionary and apply the same regimen to trying to expand your vocabulary.  Unless you’re studying for the SATs or GREs, I bet you make it a day before it gets discarded entirely or doomed to the “should” bin.

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If you make practicing just part of your regular day instead of something that has to be carved out of your schedule it will be easier to maintain.

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Occasionally, I read articles with guitarists who claim that they never practice.  It’s important to remember that anyone who is the topic of an article in a trade publication  is generally going to be a professional musician with a rigorous performance schedule.  If they don’t have time to practice – its only because they’re gigging too much and while they may not be “practicing” by a strict definition you can bet they’re keeping their chops up.

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I have no idea if Scotty Anderson “practices” but based on hearing him play I imagine that he has a guitar in his hand most of the day and is either playing or working on things all of the time.  Eddie Van Halen is another guy who may not identify what he does as practicing – but every interview I’ve read with him makes it seems like he has a guitar in his hands playing for hours every day.  (It’s also worth noting that many people consider Van Halen their best album for songs and playing.)

When Jimmy Rosenberg was playing with Sinti at the ripe old age of 16 he was asked by a guitar magazine how he got that frighteningly good at that age and he said, “Well I practice/play 4-5 hours a day, and rehearse with Sinti 4-5 hours a day, and then we have concerts”.

If you have a problem committing to practicing, you could change your mindset to move past “practicing” as an event and instead concentrate on doing” as a habit.

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Think about how easy it is to gain a bad habit.  Now think about how hard it can be to break that habit.

There are plenty of good habits that you probably have developed as well and maintaining a good habit requires very little work.

Again it’s about perception.  If practicing is something you view as a chore it will be something that you are loathe to do.  It’ll be much easier to practice if you can make it something you look forward to.

To quote Albert Ellis,

“Don’t should on yourself”.

I hope this helps!  Thanks for dropping by!

-SC

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Do You View Your (Music) Career Like An Actor?

I just saw a documentary on Netflix called “That Guy Who Was In That Thing” which is about a number of instantly recognizable character actors and their paths to get to claw their way to the middle.  ; )

The documentary is thoroughly engaging by being both entertaining and thought-provoking.  There also happen to be a number of parallels between performing in the film/television industry and performing in the music industry.  The subjects spoke at length about the difficulties that come with the ebb and flow of work that their careers take.  They talked about how they were (and are) out of work for years before they get a few gigs or hit a streak of work and all of them had stories of other parallel jobs that they worked while trying to make a living acting and tales of losing gigs for any one of a dozen reasons.

Two things grabbed me right away.

1.  The subjects spoke at length about how the number of actors out there willing to work for less has caused many of them to make less money than they did before. The thinking being, we don’t have to pay you that anymore because there are 10,000 other people who will kill to sit in that chair for less money.  The number of parallels with this and recording musicians (and performing artists) was striking. I’m paraphrasing here, “You realize that they don’t need you to fill the role, they just need to fill the role.”  Does this sound familiar to anyone performing and/or recording music out there?

2.  Musicians might actually have it easier than actors.

Here’s my thinking behind this.  Actors need vehicles to act in.  So the model they use is basically variations for  Advertising / Televison / Film.  For a TV show, this might mean

  • auditioning for a pilot with hundreds of people
  • getting a callback with maybe 50 people
  • getting a second callback with 20 people
  • doing a test with 5-6 people
  • having a series of negotiating calls made to see what you will cost them
  • testing in front of the studio executives this will limit you to a group of maybe 3 people
  • if chosen, you then shoot a pilot
  • the pilot then has to get picked up and
  • then you hope that the series doesn’t get cancelled after the first few episodes

The interesting thing to me was that this paralleled musicians and major labels.  The thinking was for years that you had to be in a band and signed to a label to have a career. Online distribution changed that model forever.

Having said that, artists on labels are/were the only people getting tour support. (They’re  generally the only people to also get tour support via sponsorship. )

For actors, working with studios means you get to keep your SAG card.  You get to keep your benefits and the SAG card is key to the audition process (and the securing of roles).

It doesn’t say it directly in the documentary – but some of these actors slogging it out in endless auditions seem to be afraid that the new (up and coming) actors are just getting pulled from YouTube.

I don’t think it’s the case for major films – and won’t be for a while.

Studio legend Tommy Tedesco once related a story where some MI students went with him on a session and one of them said, “I don’t understand.  Someone who’s been playing a year could play that part.”  And Tommy said, “yes. that’s probably true.”

The student pushed it more and said, “But you make triple scale, why do they pay all of that money to bring you in when they could get someone to do it much cheaper?”

Tedesco replied, “Because when you spend 50 or 75,000 on a recording session with an orchestra, you don’t want to lose money because some guy might screw up his part.  You’re going to get the best players on the session to make sure that absolutely nothing goes wrong.”

Again, I’m not knocking YouTube – but a YouTube performance doesn’t mean you can handle the rigors of any gig that comes your way.  While it might get you an audition, in and of itself, it’s never going to give you traction if you don’t have the skills to back it up.

Here’s what bugged me about the documentary.

No one talked about going DIY.

No one talked about making their own films.  Writing and staging their own plays.  Starting their own companies. All they talked about was a variation of the formula:

Get call from agent + audition + a dozen factors MAY = a gig.

It’s easy to view a music career like this.  Waiting for a shot – the right moment, the right contact – to make a big pay out.  It’s the lottery mentality to which I say, “sure, put a couple of bucks in and see if you get lucky, but putting your life savings in it probably won’t pay off.”

Those development contracts like Joan Crawford were on back in the day are never coming back to the movie houses.  Those days of getting signed to a label and having a carer carefully cultivated over multiple releases are never coming back.

Elvis already left the building.

While I’m fully in favor of seeking out opportunity – by and large you make your own opportunities and the formula for that is:

Do really good work + Do it frequently + Affect, motivate and/or move other people = being the go to person for “that thing”.

If what you do services a niche audience, you might not get rich but it’s probably the best way to build a long-term career.

Thanks for reading!

-SC