There’s a line from my favorite movie of all time, The Shawshank Redemption, that serves as a mantra for my entire life. It’s the line spoken by Tim Robbin’s character, Andy Dufresne, when he says in life, you either “get busy living or get busy dying”. The context of the line is that Andy is speaking about his desire to get out of prison and escape to Mexico to live a new life. Morgan Freeman’s character, who is also in prison with Andy, questions whether or not it’s healthy for Andy to keep dreaming about getting out of prison and creating a new life when that doesn’t seem to be a possible reality for Andy. Andy (Tim Robbins) sums up his position, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice really”, Andy says, “get busy living, or get busy dying”.
I love The Shawshank Redemption for many reasons. First and foremost, it’s simply an amazing movie about the timeless themes of redemption, hope and the triumph of the human spirit. Secondly, it’s a movie that works on many levels, that is relevant to all of our lives. On the surface, the movie is about a man sentenced to a life in prison, for a crime he didn’t commit, who longs to be free again. But of course, it’s about much more than that, and ultimately it’s a story about the human struggle to overcome adversity, move beyond whatever limitations we face and realize our dreams and aspirations. In other words, it’s the perfect movie for a musician.
In the beginning of the movie The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbin’s character Andy Dufresne, is committed to life in prison for killing his wife and her lover, a crime he didn’t commit. The movie centers around Tim Robbin’s character and the friendship he develops with Red, played by Morgan Freeman. In prison, the two form a friendship and inspired and motivated by Tim Robbin’s character Andy, together dream about one day being free again. I won’t give away the ending, just in case for some reason you haven’t seen this classic film, but suffice it to say, it’s an inspiring movie that is about as good as movies get.
The line “get busy living or get busy dying” is such a simple, powerful idea. I love the line as a musician, because it really speaks to the simplicity of making life choices. Get busy living or get busy dying. In other words, we’re either moving forward or were not. As musicians, we have a simple choice to make every day, either get busy moving forward or get busy stagnating. It really is that simple, even though we have a tendency to complicate and over think things. Ultimately though, we wake up every day and get to choose whether we get busy pursuing our goals and making things happen, or we can get busy finding reasons not to move forward and not to make things happen. It sometimes seems more complicated than this, but ultimately it really is that simple. On a day to day basis, we’re either choosing to move forward, or we’re not.
In other words, we can choose whether or not to stay stuck in our metaphorical prisons, or we can choose to start plotting our escape to Mexico, or wherever it is we’d like to escape to. We can choose to stay musicians who play music as a hobby, or we can choose to make a career out of it. We can choose to stay in the soul crushing day job we hate, or we can choose to carve a different path. We can choose to stay in our unhappy relationships or we can leave and find new ones. We can choose to stay fat and out of shape, or we can choose to put on our gym shoes, shorts and start running. We can choose to stay victims of whatever is imprisoning us, or we can choose to escape, or at the very least start plotting our escapes.
Whatever is holding you back in life, or whatever you think is holding you back in life, you can choose to fight to overcome, or not. It really is up to you. We all have moments in our lives where we feel imprisoned to varying degrees. Whether it’s a job we feel we’re stuck in, or a relationship that’s holding us back, or the color of the skin we were born with, we all struggle with the quest to overcome obstacles and move forward. It really boils down to how you look at these limitations. Do you view your obstacles as life sentences that can’t be overcome, or do you choose to look for a way to overcome your obstacles?
In the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbin’s character Andy serves 20 years in prison before finally breaking free. (Oops, I guess I gave away part of the ending) During the 20 years he served, he never gave up hope of one day reclaiming his freedom, despite suffering years of imprisonment and multiple setbacks. The idea of “getting busy living” for Andy wasn’t some sort of “get rich quick scheme”. Instead, it involved methodically and patiently plotting his escape over many years, never giving up hope. The Shawshank Redemption is not a story about instant gratification and overnight success. Instead, it’s a story about persevering against all odds, never giving up and going the distance.
What about you? Are you the kind of person who gives up when the going gets tough? Do you accept whatever imprisons you and holds you back? Or do you instead keep fighting the good fight, whatever that means to you. We all have a very short time on this planet to reach our metaphorical Mexico and break the chains that bind us.
In the end, I guess it comes down to a simple choice really, get busy living, or get busy dying.
Today's post is a guest post from my producer, Gary Gray. Take it away Gary...
I’ve been extremely busy over the last three months and finally had a chance to come up for air and take a deep breath.
As you may know, my partner Aaron Davison, and his colleague Michael James traveled here to Los Angeles in April. We had a very productive week, stuffing about 30 days of production and fun into 7.
While here, we gave a Master Class on Music Licensing and Music Production at Glass Hat Studios, met with a major LA Publisher, shot 7 videos for an upcoming course entitled “Music Production Fundamentals for Licensing,” recorded all the basic tracks for Aaron’s upcoming EP, and somewhere in there we even had time to Celebrate both Michael’s and Aaron’s Birthdays, visit Laguna Beach, cruise Hollywood, Hold a successful HowToLicenseYourMusic.com Meet-Up on the Sunset Strip, rehearse at the secretive Lake Hollywood, under the famous Hollywood Sign, and plan out some very exciting future plans.
A few weeks after Aaron and Michael left, I completed the arrangement, played bass, drums, keys, orchestration, edited, mixed and mastered Aaron’s first single, “Falling Down (You Went Away). “
Within 24 hours of release, Aaron was offered an exclusive Publishing deal for “Falling Down” with the same top LA Publisher we met with during his visit. Critique from the Publisher: "Very well produced and I love the strings, percussive elements and relaxed quality."
Aaron signed the deal.
One cool thing about this particular track is that I recorded most of the music and mixed and mastered the entire project in my home studio.
For those of you who haven’t heard his song, featuring Aaron on all guitars and Michael James on Vocals, you can listen to it here.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I’ve been extremely busy. Teaching many students, and producing/engineering for several clients. I’ve also been co-writing, co-producing, and mixing and mastering for Music Supervisor Jody A. Friedman, working on a film project (learning more and more about the Film Industry these days), and upgrading my own education and studio on a consistent basis.
When I started writing this blog, it reminded me of something I heard last year. Someone was describing how laziness can be a major career killer, especially with music, because music as an art form, requires very focused dedication and consistent attention to detail. I’ve witnessed some extremely talented musicians and songwriter/producer/engineers fail - simply because they didn’t take the next step forward. They seemed to be on the right path, doing the right things. They were certainly working very hard, but for whatever reason, they felt they were not achieving what they wanted right now, so they gave up.
A closer look at some of these people revealed a form of laziness that is “invisible.” It’s a form of laziness that is extremely busy. But how can lazy be busy? Aren’t those opposite concepts?
Busy doesn’t always mean productive or effective activity. It can sometimes be just a bunch of activity with no result, or worse yet, with the result of a worsening situation, more confusion and more frustration.
It’s a deceiving sort of laziness that very energetic people can get trapped in.
1. Stepping back from what you are doing and assessing how you are going about it. Giving yourself an honest accounting of what you are doing exactly and what results, or lack of results, your actions are creating.
2. Organizing your life so that your actions are not “lazy busy” actions. This is quite a statement to make and requires, in itself extreme discipline and consistent work. However, since I’ve been there, done that on this one, I can attest that trying to bite off more than you can chew all at once is just another “lazy busy” strategy guaranteed to take you down some more. Truly “turning your ship around” requires small steps at first, before one can start running. If you try to run in a room full of a confused mess, you’re probably going to fall down. Start by choosing one area of your life and organizing it, little by little, before tackling another.
3. Surround yourself with people who are positive, organized and who care. Keeping people with a “whatever” attitude within your inner circle is asking for trouble. And if you find yourself with a “whatever” attitude, it’s even more important who you surround yourself with. Life is a group activity, and your group will help define you and you will help define your group.
4. Aaron Davison is an incredible inspiration for a lot of independent musicians the world over. Aaron makes statements and teaches lessons that, if followed, will result in success. One such statement is “do something effective for your career every day.” Even something small, but make it a daily routine and you will build up a momentum that cannot be stopped.
5. Organize your career. There are many ways to do this. Regarding music production, the first lesson in the course “How To Produce Music That Will Get Licensed And Make You Money,” is ORGANIZATION as it relates to producing and engineering in the studio. It’s that important.
To help you organize your music production career right now, I’m going to share with you some really cool tools I discovered (you’ll find these on the upcoming course, but I didn’t want to wait to share these particular tools with you) that will help you organize your workflow, increase your knowledge and most importantly, improve your confidence in your ability to consistently mix and master like the pros.
MAGIC A/B AND ORGANIZING YOUR QUALITY CONTROL
There is a Plug-In called Magic A/B. For those of you who have studied with me and/or who have taken the online courses that Aaron and I offer on HowToLicenseYourMusic.com, you’ll know how important A/B’ing is in achieving competitive standards that will land you licensing deals.
Someone came up with this incredible plug-in (I used it on “Falling Down”). It’s inexpensive and it works like a charm. You can find out more about it here.
AUDIO ENGIN-EAR TRAINING AND ORGANIZING YOUR MIND
Ear Training is a way to organize your mind into being able to quickly identify and differentiate frequencies, timbres, pitches, pitch intervals, rhythms, dynamics, phasing, comb filtering and equalization. One of the most important abilities to develop is how to hear specific frequencies. In the mixing and mastering world, this is deals with equalization.
Ear Training for Engineers has now not only been codified, but a computer program has been created that greatly accelerates the rate of learning and experience for any producer/engineer – no matter how new or how pro you are.
What Are You Listening For When You Mix and Master?
There are several answers to that question, but one vital thing to listen for is Equalization of each track and Equalization of the entire mix (EQ). Some people seem to be better at it than others. But the truth is, everyone can be great at it – it comes down to experience and training.
A computer program called Train Your Ears EQ Edition has been developed which can literally give a person a year’s worth of experience in a couple months – with dedicated practice. You can find out more about it here.
I hope that you feel inspired and better equipped to kick some butt and move closer towards your dreams – which are totally attainable. I am extremely happy I somehow discovered Aaron Davison and HowToLicenseYourMusic.com about 4 years ago when I was nowhere near as successful as I am now. It was those three, trite words, but presented in a fresh, realistic way by Aaron that gave me the push over the top: “Don’t Give Up.”
Los Angeles, CA
July 13, 2015
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When I was in LA a few weeks ago with my producer, Gary Gray, Gary asked me a hypothetical question. If you had a billion dollars, Gary asked, what would you do to fix the recording industry? I thought about it for a few seconds, and unable to come up with a satisfactory answer, I joked that if I had a billion dollars I would spend enough money on promotion and recording to make myself famous and then keep the rest. Screw the recording industry I joked! After all, if I had a billion dollars that would surely be enough to put myself on the map, one way or another. With that kind of money I would just function as my own record label and pay for all the promotion needed to make myself famous. With a billion dollars that would be easy. But fixing the recording industry, that’s a little more challenging and requires a lot more thought.
Well, I’ve thought about this question a lot since then. It’s a fun intellectual exercise to spend time thinking about issues that are this big. After all, the recording industry is in dire need of fixing, I think we can all agree on that. The sale of recorded music has declined dramatically over the last two decades. Digital downloads were expected by many analysts to make up for the decline in CD sales, but that simply hasn’t happened as more and more consumers are shifting to streaming music. Streaming music is up, but that really isn’t great news for most musicians since streaming music doesn’t really equate to substantial revenue for the vast majority of musicians.
The Internet Killed The Recording Industry
Let’s face it, the internet is an amazing invention and I couldn’t imagine my life without it these days, but it’s destroyed the recording industry. It’s simply way too easy to find your favorite song and stream it, or listen to it on youtube, or download a pirated copy of it. In other words, it’s way too easy for consumers to listen to music they like without really paying for it. It’s simply supply and demand economics. There’s an enormous supply of music, and most of it can be listened to for free.
In the old days, if you heard a song you really liked on the radio, you either had to wait until your favorite radio station played it again, or you had to go to your local record store and buy the album, tape, eight track, CD, etc. There weren’t many other options. Sure, you could have your friend make you a bootleg copy, but it wasn’t nearly as easy to listen to music you liked on demand without someone actually paying for it. It was either you or your friend, but someone was buying the record.
These days a kid in Iowa can download a CD to his hard drive and upload it to the internet in a few seconds, where millions of people around the world can listen to it for free. Or, if they’re real music fanatics they can do what my friend Greg, who considers himself a die-hard music fan just did, and buy a membership to Spotify. For 99 cents for the first three months and $9.99 thereafter Greg now has access to millions of songs. For less than the price of what it used to cost to buy a single CD, my friend can now access Spotify’s entire library of like a gazillion songs. Let that sink in.
Here's a graph showing the decline in CD sales over the last twenty years and how it correlates to the advent of the internet and internet related technologies.
It's important to point out that the sale of digital music is also declining. It's easy to make the argument that CDs have simply become obsolete and that CD sales are being replaced by digital downloads, but that's unfortunately not the case. Here's a chart I found on The Atlantic.com showing the decline in both CD and digital music sales for 2013 - 2014, along with the rise in streaming music.
Here's a quote from the same article I found the above graph in, "The Death Of Music Sales" about last year's music industry sales overall, "Nearly every number in Nielsen's 2014 annual review of the music industry is preceded by a negative sign, including chain store sales (-20%), total new album sales (-14%), and sales of new songs online (-10.3%). Two things are up: streaming music and vinyl album sales."
Is it really any surprise that less people are buying music these days?
Of course, pinpointing the problem is a lot easier than finding the solution. It’s not that hard to figure out why the recording industry is struggling so much. But the solution? That’s a little harder to come by. After all, the internet isn’t going away anytime soon and you can’t force consumers to buy something they don’t want or need.
Humans are pretty easy to figure out when it comes to what motivates them to buy something. Most people simply want the best product, for the best price. Sure, there are a small percentage of thoughtful, conscientious consumers who think through their purchases and how their buying decision affects the big picture. But I think it’s fair to say that most consumers just want to buy what they want, when they want it, at the best price. Wal-Mart has been successful for the simple fact that they’ve been able to provide things that people want at a very competitive price. Most people aren’t thinking about how buying something from a store like Walmart is affecting small business owners in the same way that most people that are listening to music for free or close to free aren’t thinking about how it’s affecting the livelihood of musicians they love. In both cases, they’re just opting for the best price.
So, what’s the answer? How do we fix the recording industry? Well, if I knew the answer to that question I definitely wouldn’t put it out on some silly blog. After all, there’s a lot of money at stake. The recording industry is less than half of what it was twenty years ago. Anyone with the know how to fix what’s broken in the recording industry stands to make a gigantic fortune. If I knew the answer, I certainly wouldn’t spell it out here. I’m not saying that I do have the answer, but I think I can at least point you in the right direction.
In order to fix the recording industry, we have to return to a time when there was an incentive to buy music. I can remember being a kid and listening to Casey Kasem’s top 40 and hearing songs that I liked and then rushing to the record store the next day to buy the 45 or the whole album. It was such a simple sales process. Play song on radio – listener likes song – listener buys album. It worked. Sure, there were problems and there were some unscrupulous record label executives that took advantage of artists. But it was a real industry that flourished for many years. There were huge advances given to unknown artists, there was money spent on development deals and when artists were successful, a lot of money was made by both the label and the artist. It was always a business for dreamers, but you could sense that if you were determined enough and hustled enough, anything was possible. All you had to do was look at the hundreds of bands that seemed to make it big every year.
These days, the recording industry is a fraction of what it once was. Record sales are less than half of what they used to be. Big advances to most artists are a thing of the past. The whole industry seems confused about what direction to go in and the last few years have given new meaning to the term “struggling artist”. Musicians and artists have no problem struggling and working as hard as imaginable to realize our dreams, but we need to know that there’s an industry there to support us once we’ve paid our dues. By industry I don’t necessarily mean major record labels, but simply that the business of recording and selling music is vibrant and healthy enough to sustain the musicians that are a part of it.
I’ve given this a lot of thought and I won’t spell out my exact ideas here. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll get around to fixing the recording industry, once I’m done solving the world hunger and world poverty issues. But think about this: what if there was a way to create a real demand for people to buy music again? What if when someone heard a song they liked, they had to actually buy the song or the album it was on in order to listen to it on demand, like in the old days, but using current technology. In other words, what if there was a way to create a demand for purchasing music again? What if there was no other choice? Do you think then people would start buying music again?
As I see it, the majority of the problems facing the recording industry boil down to this simple issue of supply and demand. People aren’t buying music right now for the simple reason that they don’t have to. Whoever can fix this fundamental problem, and by no means is it any easy problem to fix, will go a long way towards fixing the current state of the recording industry. We have to incentive paying for music again. We have to create an environment where it’s easier to pay for music than it is to listen to it for free. If we can do this, I’m convinced people will return to buying music, as the demand for music has never gone away. Consumers simply have way too great a supply of free music.
People are never going to stop loving music and listening to music, and musicians are never going to stop being inspired to create music. But the music industry needs to find a way to get people to buy music again. We can’t keep giving it away.
“Sickness and sorrow come to us all,
But through it we grow and learn to stand tall--
For trouble is part and parcel of life,
And no man can grow without struggle and strife,
And the more we endure with patience and grace
The stronger we grow and the more we can face.
And the more we can face, the greater our love,
And with love in our hearts we are more conscious of
The pain and the sorrow in lives everywhere,
So it is through trouble that we learn how to share.”
- Helen Steiner Rice
There’s an expression that the best way to make God laugh is to make plans. Often times life has a way of working out and unfolding that isn’t exactly what we expected or imagined to be the “best” path. Sometimes life throws us curve balls that catch us by surprise and force us to learn lessons and grow in unexpected ways. Sometimes what seems like the worst thing that could happen to us at the time turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes we need to experience adversity and setbacks to grow and move forward as a human being.
No one wants or wishes for and dreams of adversity and challenges, yet the only way to really grow and become stronger is to face challenges and overcome them. I certainly wouldn’t wish for or hope for my friends and loved ones to go through hardships, yet many of the happiest and strongest people I know are that way as a direct result of facing and overcoming obstacles and difficulties.
A recent report, “Whatever Does Not Kill Us: Cumulative Lifetime Adversity, Vulnerability, and Resilience” in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, has confirmed that when bad experiences happen we do suffer from mental and emotional pain – but that through suffering many of us develop a greater understanding and appreciation of hardship that ultimately make us stronger and more resilient people. In other words, Nietzsche was right, what doesn’t kill us does make us stronger, at least to a point.
How Adversity Has Made Me Stronger
I don’t consider myself special or unique in terms of the adversity and challenges I’ve faced. At times when I was going through certain difficult situations I certainly felt unique. But over time, with age and maturity, I’ve grown to realize that most people go through difficulties and hard times in life. Some of us seem to live more charmed lives than others no doubt, but if you look closely and get to know people intimately enough, most of us face very similar difficulties in life.
I’ve been through several of what I considered at the time to be big life challenges. When I went through them they seemed difficult and painful, but over time as I learned how to cope and process the experiences they ultimately made me a better and stronger person. Sometimes when you’re going through situations it’s hard to see the forest from the trees. When you’re right in the thick of challenges, you lack the perspective to even imagine how certain situations could possibly be beneficial for you. Here are a few things I’ve experienced that I ultimately learned from and feel like have made me a better person.
I’ll start with the most cliché, yet no less painful, difficult experience, the breakup. Most people go through at least one painful break up in their lives. Some people go through many. A very small percentage of people seem to never experience the loss of a romantic partner, until perhaps the death of a spouse or significant other. But I think it’s fair to say the vast majority of people experience the painful loss of a romantic relationship at some point in their lives.
When I was 32 I initiated the break up of a five year long relationship I had with my then girlfriend. Even though I initiated the break up and felt strongly at the time it was the right decision, it was no less painful or easy to go through. I don’t care how zen or centered of a person you are, if you experience the loss of a very intimate romantic relationship it hurts emotionally unlike anything else I can imagine. Perhaps only the death of a parent or family member comes close to this sort of loss. Breaking up is hard to do as they say, even for the person initiating the breakup in many cases.
Although this experience was very painful at the time I grew a lot from the experience. Some of the lessons I learned took a few years to fully process, but ultimately the experience made me a wiser, more thoughtful and more compassionate person. In a strange way, losing my girlfriend and choosing to end the relationship ultimately made me appreciate the time we did spend together even more. I’ve learned since then how to focus on the positive aspects of relationships. I’ve learned how to be a better person in relation to other people. In some ways I look back and regret the decision I made back then, but yet it’s clear that I’ve learned lessons that I could have only learned by going through the experience I went through. I could only get here, to the point I am now, by having made the decision I made. I couldn’t get here from there, and here is a really good place.
Anyone who has lost their job unexpectedly can attest to how stressful of an experience this can be. I’ve experienced this fate, for different reasons, on several occasions. Some of the experiences happened when I was much younger and in College with much less at stake. But I experienced a job loss when I was in my late twenties that was sudden and unexpected. Most people describe losing a job as one of the most stressful things you can go through in life. I didn’t have a family at the time, and I still don’t, so it wasn’t the most stressful thing I’ve experienced, but it was nonetheless a very stressful situation that took considerable time to fully recover from.
However, this experience of losing a job that I had invested a lot of time into and the subsequent stress it created ultimately motivated me to create my own business and push my licensing career forward. Although working for myself has created an entirely new set of stressors and challenges, I’m so glad that I experienced the things I did that led me to becoming self-employed. It turns out I’m much better at being my own boss than I am at being an employee. I couldn't imagine going back to the role of an employee yet I had to go through the difficult of process of losing a job and experiencing the stress that brought on to tap into the level of motivation required to venture out on my own.
Lack Of Enormous Success (ie, I’m still not a rock star)
This one is perhaps less traumatic than a painful break up or job loss, but not having achieved the success I originally sought out to achieve as a musician has been difficult at times. When you imagine your life unfolding one way and then it unfolds another, it can be difficult and confusing. I had certain dreams and expectations starting out in the music business that I hoped would come true. I of course had no way of knowing with any certainty how far I would go in the music business. I certainly couldn’t foresee all of the changes in the music industry that have happened and had no way of knowing just how difficult “making it” in the music business would become when I set out as a teenager.
On one hand, of course I would like to be more successful. Who wouldn’t wish more success for themselves? Yet, on the other hand I’m really grateful for the things I have achieved and feel as excited as ever to be a musician. In a way, not having the massive success I hoped for when I was younger, has made me more grateful for the success I have experienced and a more humble person overall. The world doesn’t owe any of us success, myself included, and I humbly wake up every day eager to learn, grow and move forward with perhaps a more clear sense of what it takes to be successful than ever before and a much more refined idea of what true success looks like for me. A very few people get extraordinarily lucky in life, the rest of us have to work our asses off very every scrap of success we achieve. I’m proud to belong to the latter category and consider myself a stronger person and a better musician as a result of the setbacks and frustrations I've worked through over the years. And who knows, maybe my "lucky break" is right around the corner.
These day I certainly don’t seek out adversity, but when things don’t go as I wished or planned, I look for the lesson and way forward and usually come out ahead in the end. I’ve learned from my setbacks and I’ve become a more resilient, confident person and a better musician.
What about you? How have you dealt with adversity and difficult situations? Do you feel like you’re stronger as a result of hardships you’ve endured in life? Do you embrace adversity when you experience it and find the lessons inherent in difficult situations? Please share your experiences below.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.