Becoming a true Artist requires us to be on a journey of discovery. In order to discover, one must seek out that which one doesn’t know. The unknown is different for all of us, and probably exists in the places we consistently avoid, places we may even occasionally look toward but which we quickly gloss over. What are you avoiding? Here’s an invitation to notice those places.
Sometimes you have to go it alone because you’re the only one who believes in a project. However, finding others who believe what we do is important is provides a framework for support. If you can manage to make friends who not only support you but challenge you to be your best self, then you’ve found real treasure. Finding treasure always requires you to be a journey, and you already happen to be on one.
Sometimes we must make difficult decisions. These decisions become difficult because multiple values are in conflict. Making a decision means choosing between those ordinarily agreeable values that circumstances have put at odds. In the most difficult of decisions, you can rest assured that whatever you do will haunt in some way, at least for a while. That’s how you know it really was a difficult decision. No one can make these decisions for you because these decisions ultimate define what kind of a person you are. Having someone or something else decide for you prevents you from becoming yourself.
I want my phone to be a tool that creates new possibilities, not something that drains precious time. We trusted the tech companies with our attention as they allowed us to do what we couldn’t do before (like sharing photos with a large group of friends in family). More recently, however, these companies have violated this good-faith understanding by seeking to hijack our attention. In response, I have finally worked to eliminate most of the engineered-to-be-effective distractions and have turned it back into a tool. If you’ve felt like your phone is quietly taking over and dominating your attention, I invite you to take back control by doing what you already know you should do. Your best work only happens when you, not your phone, is in charge.
*Check this out for some great ideas.
My master’s was about incentives and disincentives. In terms that are entirely not artistic (but not without their own art), how can we incentivize people to come to our concerts? We can bribe them (free beer!), but they only come for the bribe. We can threaten them (I won’t be your friend!), but they only come to avoid the negative outcome. Or we can search for the people who need little incentive besides the availability of what they already wanted. We can incentivize them by making a promise to provide a valuable and meaningful performance to them (a very small subset of the population). Kept promises create an incentive for others to come until you and the anticipation of your performances become the incentives.
When you suddenly come upon music in public, it is like a meditation bell. It pulls you back to the present. I think that’s why people can be so joyous when they stumble upon a violinist in a garden or a clarinetist in a parking garage. And the experience seems to linger. (My vice principal talked about the former example in a meeting I had with her.). I like the idea of more joyously present people with lingering positive musical experiences.
How do you know if you should stay in music or give it up? Is it determined by skill? Natural talent? Your education? Your job/ career so far? There are examples of those who were told they would never make it—who do. And there are those who try for years without much to show for it. Maybe it has something to do with how we want to identify ourselves. When we die, what kind of a life do we want to say we lived? Maybe by starting with an honest appraisal of what we value (making music, having fans, being famous, sharing stories) and then determining if the music field helps us become our best self, the person we truly want to be, we can start to tackle the big question of whether we should even continue striving in the field.
Whether we stay or migrate, we must strive to realize our true selves. Our best music—our whatever our life’s work is—can only be done if we’re aligned with what we think we should be doing. (And it’s ok to take a long time to figure it out—most of us still are.)
What audience are you trying to impress? Who do you want to attend your concerts, buy your CDs, etc.? Who is actually attending/ buying or who has shown interest? Sometimes, we go after the audiences we want rather than the audiences that want us. Sometimes, we can be surprised by the people who do show, people we wholly didn’t expect. Maybe it’s not the people who are the most discerning about your particular craft. Maybe it’s the people who instead attach the most meaning to it. Maybe the people you should impress are the ones who have been waiting for someone just like you.
Nothing like a deadline to focus the mind. Feel free to create your own.
*It seems like Wednesdays have become my deadline for my podcast. If you like thinking about audience engagement, consider listening to the latest episode with Dana Zimbric.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know how to get started, especially with very large projects like starting an ensemble. Do you find partners, the audience, the musicians, or the music first? What’s the very first step for each of those? It seems like so many things must happen at the same time. Perhaps try writing everything down and picking something easily done to create momentum. Or maybe go after the most challenging thing. Either way, do something. Be wrong. Fail. Be right. Fail again. Pick yourself up. Keep chipping away at things—they always take more time than you think and will require yet-unthought solutions to problems you didn’t know existed. The only way to know is to do.