I’ve got a short and sweet post for you today. I’m super busy behind the scenes here, but I wanted to check in with what hopefully will be an inspiring post. At the moment, my team and I are in the middle of relaunching our new premium site. We’ve completely revamped the look and feel of our site and it looks amazing. Go check that out here.
I’m more optimistic about the music business, the music I make and really just music in general than I think I ever have been. I’ve been hard at work over the last couple years or so really making things happen in both my personal and professional life and I’m starting to really see the fruits of that labor. Things are falling in place.
I’m a big believer in that when you really want to make something happen AND you take consistent action towards realizing your goals and dreams, things happen. I don’t want to get to all “woo woo” and “new agey”, but I really feel that when you really want something badly AND you work hard towards making your goals happen, the universe responds. I’ve seen this play out in my own life and the lives of my friends, over and over. Like Paulo Coelho says in The Alchemist, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
However, the key is that you really have to take action. You have to show both yourself and The Universe that you mean business. You can’t fake it and expect things to magically happen. You can’t just say you want something. It doesn’t work that way. You get back what you put out.
I’ve had a good friend who has expressed interest in helping him get started in licensing for years. My friend’s dream since he was a teenager was to be the next “Jan Hammer”. I’ve encouraged and mentored him a lot over the years and have shared as much as I can to help him get started. I’ve even placed several songs of mine that he’s performed on in tv shows. I’ve gone out of my way to try and help him with his own music career over the years. He talks very passionately about wanting to make a career in music. I’ve explained to him everything I’ve learned over the last decade in the music business and what the path to success looks like. He seems super inspired when I speak to him.
But yet, whenever I check in with him to see how things are going and how much progress he is making, I’m always met with a barrage of stories and explanations as to why now isn’t the right time for him to move forward. He seems to always set these arbitrary dates and times in the future when things will be aligned in his life in a way that will allow him to finally get serious about pursuing his dream of music. But things never seem to quite line up for him.
Last week we had another one of our motivating talks about music and agreed to start collaborating more frequently. It seemed like we were both on the same page and ready to really start making things happen together. We agreed to start recording one song a week together. I even agreed to advance my friend some money with the condition that he would record his parts and send me his stem files by the end of the week. We had a crystal-clear agreement and I was excited to start moving forward.
Sunday night about midnight I got the email that I was hoping I wouldn’t receive. His parts weren’t ready he said and probably wouldn’t be for at least another week or so. I received a three-paragraph email explaining all the reasons he couldn’t get his parts to me on our agreed upon time frame and how this was just “bad timing”. There was a noisy drunk neighbor, car trouble, a construction project, he had to move his equipment and so on. He even mentioned the “Polar Vortex” as a reason he wouldn’t be able to get the tracks done quickly.
I was disappointed, but not entirely surprised. You see, I really think we as humans our great at talking ourselves out of things we say we want to do. We’re great at rationalizing why we’re not further in life and why now isn’t the right time. I do this myself from time to time. It’s easy to play the victim and blame circumstances and things out of your control. And yes, sometimes life does get in the way of our dreams and goals. Sometimes life really does present challenges and obstacles.
But yet, after all these years of pursuing and creating a career in music and building my business over the last decade, I’m convinced the biggest obstacle we all face, is ourselves. For most of us, we are the thing that’s holding us back the most. Not our circumstances, or our individual lives, or where we live, or what we look like or how old we are. All of these things factor in of course. But the single biggest obstacle you will likely face in realizing your dreams and goals is YOU.
You are the one who decides to write a new song, you’re the one who decides to record it. You’re the one who decides to try and sell it. You’re the one who decides to make the necessary connections. You’re the one who decides to make things happen. No one else. You are the one who decides to keep going in the face of rejection and setbacks. You are the one who decides if your music is worth pursuing and cultivating.
You have the potential to either be your greatest ally, or your greatest obstacle. What's it going to be?
I saw a documentary recently about the effects of solitary confinement. It was a pretty fascinating look into the human psyche and what makes us tick. I learned that just three days of solitary confinement has the potential to create irreversible brain damage. Being alone, with no way to interact and engage with our environment, is not just an unpleasant experience, but it’s an experience that in just a few days has the ability to actually cause permanent damage.
This documentary really blew away and also got me thinking. Why would this state of being create such agony and even potentially cause brain damage? What is it about being confined to nothing but our thoughts that creates such a sense of discomfort? Well, I’m not a philosopher per se and I’m certainly not a psychologist, but my own take is that it’s not so much that we’re uncomfortable confronting our inner most thoughts and selves, it’s that we as humans are designed to interact and engage with each other and the world around us. To go even deeper, I think we’re the happiest when we’re engaged in some sort of meaningful pursuit in the world. When we’re deprived of the ability to interact and engage with the world in a meaningful way (as in solitary confinement) we suffer, both mentally and physically.
Neuroscientist Jaak Panskepp argues that of seven core instincts in the human brain (anger, fear, panic-grief, maternal care, pleasure/lust, play, and seeking), seeking is the most important. “All mammals have this seeking system”, says Panskepp, “wherein dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to reward and pleasure, is also involved in coordinating planning activities. This means animals are rewarded for exploring their surroundings and seeking new information for survival. It can also explain why, if rats are given access to a lever that causes them to receive an electric shock, they will repeatedly electrocute themselves”.
The human desire to seek helps make sense of studies showing that achieving major goals, or even winning the lottery, doesn’t cause long-term changes in happiness. It’s not so much the fulfillment of goals we’re after, it’s the pursuit of the goal we’re really seeking, as seeking is itself a fulfilling activity. In other words, it’s the journey and not the destination.
I believe this sort of innate desire to seek and create meaning in our lives is deeply connected to goal setting. We need to have aims in life, otherwise we’re just, well, aimless. If we have nothing at all to shoot for, we’re sort of just blowing in the wind, rudderless and without direction.
Sometimes it’s nice to just sort of go with the flow and see what happens. I’ve had periods in my life where I wasn’t particularly goal oriented and was more just sort of open to seeing what life presented to me each day. There’s a time and place for this sort of open-ended exploration, and even when approaching life this way, we’re probably still interacting and engaged with the world, albeit in a less focused way.
But over the long term, I find it more satisfying to have specific long-term goals I’m working towards. I find it simply helps orient my life better. It gives my life a structure and a framework. It helps to lay out a direction and clear path I need to take. It helps me avoid getting into ruts and feeling stuck.
When I’m setting specific goals, for something like music let’s say, it helps dictate the way in which I’ll be interacting with the world. It lays out a self-evident course of action I need to take. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of how I’m going to spend my time. It orients me in the world.
As an example, for 2019 I have the very simple and straightforward goal of creating more music. My main goal, in terms of music, is to simply be more prolific in 2019. I’m already licensing a certain percentage of my tracks and I have connections and people willing to help shop my music in place, so I know that if I do nothing else but focus on creating more music, I’ll be able to increase the income I generate from music.
This one simple goal pretty much spells out how I’ll be spending a good percentage of my time this year. Of course, I’ll be recording more music, so I’ll be spending more time in one of several home studios I record in, working on laying down tracks. I’ll need more help on post production, in order to release more tracks, so I’ve recruited another producer to help with mixing and mastering a percentage of the tracks I release. And I’ll of course need to write more music, so I’ll be spending more time in my home studio, guitar in hand, writing and composing more music.
When we have goals we’re working towards, it helps us engage with the world in a more meaningful and cooperative way. Very few goals can be achieved completely in isolation. Even something like music, which at least in theory can be done alone, requires team work and people working together to get out into the world. And of course, without an audience to listen and appreciate the music we create, it seems sort of pointless. If I could never share my music with anyone other than myself, I doubt I would be very motivated to create it.
In the final analysis, having goals serves much more than just the practical purpose of helping us achieve our desires and make more money. Having and pursuing goals enables us to create meaningful and purposeful lives and stave off apathy and boredom, and in a literal sense, prevent brain damage.
The next time you’re feeling complacent and procrastinating, imagine yourself locked in a completely dark room, completely cut off from the outside world, with only your thoughts to help you pass the time, for days on end. Then, when the inevitable wave of gratitude washes over you, as you realize that’s just a fleeting thought and not your actual situation, get back to work on reaching your goals. Your situation could be much worse.
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.
I recently had two new tracks of mine on The Young And The Restless. These placements were particularly exciting because they were both tracks I sang lead vocals on. I haven’t had a ton of tracks that I sing vocals on placed over the years. I’ve had a lot more success with having other vocalists sing on my tracks and licensing instrumental music, so it was really exciting to see two new placements on my most recent ASCAP statement that both featured my lead vocals.
I’ve worked really hard over the last few years to improve my singing. I would say it’s been the single biggest challenge I’ve faced as a songwriter/performer. I started learning how to play guitar when I was twelve, but it wasn’t until I got into my twenties that I started, reluctantly, singing. It took me a long time to feel comfortable as a vocalist.
A lot of times I would end up singing on my recordings just because it was easier to sing my own tracks than to find someone else. I was the lead singer in my first band in Chicago, URB, until we found our front man a few months later. In my second band, Continuum, I shared lead vocal duties with our keyboard player. Same thing in my third band.
So, over the years I’ve sang a lot. But it’s always been something that I’ve sort of struggled with. Singing never came naturally, like it seems to for some vocalists. I’ve had to work really hard at it.
I’ve taken vocal lessons at different points over the years and those have been helpful. There are definitely techniques, like learning how to breathe properly and doing different vocal exercises, that can greatly improve your vocals. But like a lot of things, I feel like what’s helped the most, is just doing it, a lot.
Over the last couple years I’ve been singing every chance I get, both in the studio and in live situations. I’ve been singing at gigs and also trying new songs at open mic nights. Open mic nights are a great way to try new things and practice in a front of a crowd. Over the last couple years I’ve been hitting open mic nights pretty regularly, to specifically practice singing in front of people. It’s a great, no pressure way, to work on new material in front of a live crowd. If you’re not great, it’s not like anyone paid to see you! But of course, you should work on getting great so people will be willing to pay to see you?
I still have a lot of room to improve when it comes to my singing, but I’m making verifiable progress and for me half the fun of being a musician is the journey and the process. It’s exciting to reach new heights and be able to look back and see how far you’ve come.
All of this is to say, I placed two new vocal tracks. I might not yet be a good enough singer for The Voice, but I’m good enough for The Young & The Restless, and for now at least, I’m happy with that!
I’m working on creating new podcasts, videos, etc… I’m excited to see where our musical journey will take us in 2019!
In the meantime, check out the two tracks I placed recently.
This track, Headed Home, was used recently in one episode.
This track, Nobody Knows Us, was used in four episodes.
I often get asked to share more of my music with readers of my site and blog.
I just got my newest song, "Another Way" back from my producer, Gary Gray.
This is the first track from a new album in the works that marks a return to my roots of more guitar oriented, bluesy, "jammy", rock tracks.
I'm sharing this with you before I share it with anyone else. I wanted you to hear it first.
I'm really excited about this track and the entire project.
Check it out below and let us know what you think.
I dreamt of you again last night
It’s been so long
time just moves on
And though I chose to walk away
I wish you knew
that I wish I stayed
But all the choices that we’ve made
Have all been made
And yesterday is gone
and tomorrow waits
and right here where I am
I know it’s not too late
to turn this page
and find another way
And in my dream it felt so real
It felt just like
It used to feel
And all my sorrow went away
when I realized
it was not too late
But then my dream it turned to grey
I lied awake
And yesterday is gone
and tomorrow waits
and right here where I am
I know it’s not too late
to turn this page
and find another way
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.