Let’s talk about passion. More specifically, let’s talk about passion for writing and playing music.
I’ve been a musician for a long time. I started playing guitar and writing songs when I was twelve. I played music all through high school. I studied music in College. After college I played in bands for a decade. For the last decade I’ve been writing and licensing music and playing shows pretty regularly.
These days I feel as passionate about music as ever. In fact, I feel like I’m probably writing and performing better than I ever have. But, there have been times where my passion for music has waxed and waned over the years. There have been times when, to be totally honest, I wasn’t sure if I should keep pursuing music. There have been long stretches of time where it didn’t really seem like I was making much progress at all and I occasionally felt like giving up or just sort of putting music on the back burner.
But, I feel like those periods of uncertainty are pretty firmly behind me these days. This last year or so in particular has been very exciting for me as a musician. I’ve had a lot of firsts in my career during this period; first song placed in a commercial (ABC Promo), first song placed in a video game (Catch & Release), first time I’ve had two of my vocal tracks placed in the same episode of a show (The Young And The Restless), my first track to surpass 100 different syncs, I wrote my first album of instrumental ambient guitar music and I launched the premium site for How To License Your Music.
Sometimes I feel like, in retrospect, the periods that often feel like we’re stuck and not progressing, end up leading to the biggest breakthroughs and successes. In many ways 2017 felt like sort of a “stuck” year for me musically. It was a slower than usual year in terms of licensing my own music and I felt at times like I wasn’t making much progress. I was also struggling to balance the different plates I had spinning in terms of different business endeavors, in addition to my own music related goals. I wasn’t quite sure at the time, how it was going to all fit together.
But looking back, I wrote and recorded a ton of music during this period, a lot of which ended up being licensed the following year and which I’m continuing to license. I also created the framework for what would eventually become How To License Your Music Premium, that I launched in January of last year. A lot of seeds that I planted in 2017 came to fruition the following year.
I think it’s normal to experience periods of both contraction and expansion and at times it can feel like we’re not progressing, when often times we’re really just paving the way for good things to come. These periods when we feel like we’re not progressing, are the times when we have to just keep going and keep putting in the work. Trust in the process and know that eventually things will start to happen, if you persist. Sometimes we don’t realize how close we actually are to succeeding.
Anything you do for long periods of time run the risk of leading to burnout and boredom if you’re not careful. Even the most passionate musician can end up feeling discouraged and can lose their drive, if they’re not vigilant about nurturing and maintaining their passion.
Intense passion for music is sort of like the beginning of a romantic relationship. The initial honeymoon phase is the easy part, it’s what you do when those initial feelings start to fade that will make or break you, both in relationships and in music. Falling in love with music is the easy part, it’s sustaining that love and passion that takes work and commitment.
With that said, here are 7 things that have helped me stay passionate about music all these years.
Keep Growing And Evolving – Doing anything for long periods of time can get a little monotonous if you’re not growing and evolving. One of the keys to maintaining my interest in music has been learning and discovering different styles of music and trying different things. Last year I started writing instrumental, ambient tracks, which was completely new for me. A few years ago I spent three months in the Caribbean playing solo gigs on the beach, just me, a guitar and a mic. I’ve played with dozens of different musicians in a variety of different live situations the last few years. I’m always pushing myself as a vocalist and trying to grow in that area.
For me, part of the fun of being a musician is the growth and the journey of improving, irrespective of any commercial success. There’s a part of me that just wants to grow as a musician first and foremost, regardless of whatever may or may not happen career wise. I think it’s vital to stay in touch with that part of myself and not get lost in simply chasing “success”. Of course, I want success too, success is exciting and rewarding, but ultimately the joy of being a musician for me, is really about the music and the process of growing as a musician.
Be Persistent But Patient – The music business is definitely a marathon and not a sprint. I’ve been at this a long time, and like I said, there have been a few periods where I used to feel like just giving it all up. At some point along the way, I’ve figured out how to sort of detach from the outcome and just let things unfold however they unfold. I’m still dedicated and persistent in terms of creating music, pursuing projects and so on, but I’ve realized it makes little to no sense to stress or worry about what happens. To the extent that I actually am able to let go of worrying about how everything plays out career wise and just go with the flow, I’m much happier and at peace! The trick is to surrender to the flow. Focus on the things you can control and don’t worry too much about the rest.
Take Breaks When Needed – I just got back from a two week vacation in the Caribbean. This was the first extended, legitimate vacation I took in quite some time. We value work in our culture, and we’re right in doing so, but we sometimes forget the power in stepping back and giving ourselves space to rest and relax and allow new ideas to emerge. I brought my guitar on this trip, but I actually didn’t end up playing it once. I sort of made a calculated decision to just give myself a break for a couple weeks from both work and music.
As soon as I got home, I started playing again and wrote what I think is one of my best songs in a long time, my first night back from my vacation. I’m also back into the swing of things in terms of creating content for my website, podcast and so on. I’m not sure exactly what the right formula is in terms of work/life balance, but I’m completely certain that periods of rest and relaxation should be factored into our lives. In the same way that sleep is vital for our health, I think occasional vacations, or just periods of down time, is vital for our well-being, creativity and vitality.
Find Your Niche – If your only goal related to music is to become a rock star and you feel like a failure if you’re anything other than a U2 or Shakira level success story, you could be setting yourself up for failure. You need to have goals, but they need to be goals that are motivating and inspiring, but also within reach.
If you find yourself more stressed and miserable when you think about your goals than excited and pumped, there’s a good chance your goals aren’t quite right for you. I struggled with this for awhile, early in my career. I set my sights high, as many of us do. It was motivating for awhile but after a decade or so of grinding it out in different bands, hoping to “make it”, the thought of trying to become a rock star really started to feel off and incongruent. My original goal, that at one time was so exciting and invigorating, began to feel more like a source of frustration and pain. I had to reassess what I really wanted from music and the music business as I evolved and grew as a person and as the circumstances of my life changed.
Develop A Routine – Having some sort of consistent routine is also important in order to maintain growth and momentum. If you’re only relying on making music when you “feel like it” and when inspiration strikes, you could very well be inadvertently stunting your growth. We all have periods where we’re more excited about making music than other times, but I’m a firm believer that we need to actively nurture and cultivate our skills, so that when inspiration does strike, we’re poised to harness and capture that inspiration.
Getting into a routine with music will help you reach greater heights and will elevate your passion for music over time. If you consistently put in the work, you’ll reap the rewards that come with that and your passion will continue to grow as you reach new heights and achieve new milestones. Success begets success.
Have measurable goals – I also think it’s important to have goals that are at least somewhat measurable. You need to know what it is you’re actually aiming for. Having specific goals, will also help focus your time and energy. If you don’t have any career goals related to music, it’s all to easy to just sort of drift aimlessly, never really getting anywhere. Having concrete goals will sort of dictate what to focus on and will lay out a more clear path to follow.
When you actually start achieving some of those goals, this will also likely lead to a huge boost in the passion and excitement you feel for your craft. At least it has for me. To this day, when I hear my music on TV I get a huge rush! It also gives me a sense that the music I’m creating serves a purpose, beyond just something I do for fun. It sort of validates that I’m on the right path, knowing that my music is being heard by so many people and that it’s serving a very tangible purpose.
Define What Success Means To You – My definition of success now, in 2019, looks a lot different than it did in 1999. With time and experience, your definition of what success means to you will likely shift. You might set out with an idea of becoming a certain version of what you consider to be a successful musician, only to find out that a different path is actually much more suitable to your personality, skillset, etc.
For example, when I was first starting out pursuing a career in music I really aspired to become a “famous” musician. Like a lot of musicians, I thought that success in the music business meant you became a rock star. Over time, I realized there are many different paths within the music business. There isn’t just one way to be successful. There are a myriad of different ways to succeed.
My role in the music industry and my role as a musician is much different than what I imagined it would be when I was 19 years old, first setting out to make my mark in music. But, that’s ok. I’m still here and I’m still making music that I’m passionate about.