I often get asked to share more of my music with readers of my site and blog. Here's a new song from my upcoming EP that I recorded in LA a few weeks ago, called "Falling Down (You Went Away)". A huge thanks to my producer Gary Gray and my friend Michael James who sang the lead vocals on this one.
Let me know what you think in the comments!
If you’re like me, you have times when you feel a lot more inspired and creative than others. Do you ever sit down to write a song and despite how hard you try nothing even remotely interesting comes to you? Do you have other times where you sit down and have amazing songs seem to just flow out of you effortlessly? If you’re like most songwriters, you’ve probably experienced both extremes. Although tapping into that part of yourself where inspiration and creativity reside is far from an exact science, there are things you can do to make finding inspiration more likely, if you look closely at when inspiration is most likely to strike.
Many great artists and thinkers throughout history have had daily routines they took part in to get themselves to a mental space where creative thinking was more likely to occur. For example, Steve Jobs was known to like to take long walks frequently in order to think about ideas in a less distracting environment. He even was known to conduct business meetings this way. Beethoven was also known to take long, vigorous walks each afternoon and would bring along a pencil and paper to write down any musical ideas that came to him. Beethoven was also known to rise early each morning and had a routine of making a cup of coffee using precisely 60 coffee beans.
The painter Francis Bacon was an Irish-born British painter whose abstract paintings of grotesque, distorted figures made him one of the most distinctive and controversial artists of the postwar era. To outsiders, he seemed to lead a chaotic life with little order. He was a heavy drinker and user of stimulants who would eat multiple, rich meals each day and would typically party late into the night. He battled insomnia and relied on sleeping pills to get to sleep. Yet, despite this, as biographer Michael Peppiatt has detailed, Bacon was “essentially a creature of habit” who maintained more or less the same daily work routine throughout his career that allowed him to become such a revered artist.
The poet W.H. Auden, who is considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, had this to say about routine, “Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.” The author Tim Ferris said this about Auden’s daily routine: “Auden rose shortly after 6:00 a.m., made himself coffee, and settled down to work quickly, perhaps after taking a first pass at the crossword. His mind was sharpest from 7:00 until 11:30 a.m., and he rarely failed to take advantage of these hours. (He was dismissive of night owls: “Only the ‘Hitlers of the world’ work at night; no honest artist does.”) Auden usually resumed his work after lunch and continued into the late afternoon. Cocktail hour began at 6:30 sharp, with the poet mixing himself and any guests several strong vodka martinis. Then dinner was served, with copious amounts of wine, followed by more wine and conversation. Auden went to bed early, never later than 11:00 and, as he grew older, closer to 9:30.”
In my study of great musicians, poets and artists throughout history, the one thing they all seemed to have in common, despite their differences in lifestyles, is that they had consistent, daily routines that seemed to work for them. Their routines varied, but the commonality seems to be the consistency. As this relates to inspiration, it’s my hunch that having a daily routine had a sort of grounding effect that gave these artists a sense of stability and provided a relaxed space where inspiration could present itself.
Novelist Haruki Marukami had this to say about his routine, “When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
To be honest, when I started this post, I had a slightly different angle in mind. I wanted to talk about ways to reach our creative potential that were less than mundane than simply getting up early and taking afternoon walks. But the more I researched what great artists actually do to harness creativity, the more I kept seeing the idea of simply developing a daily routine for getting into a mindset where creativity is optimum. This resonates with my own periods of increased creativity. When I’m in “writing mode” and working on a new CD or EP I tend to reach states where ideas come to me more and more readily. It’s sort of like I’m “priming” my creative pump. Something happens when you make a practice of creating art on a regular basis. It’s like your teaching your mind what it is you want to do and what parts of yourself you want to access. When I’m deep into a routine of writing music every day for several weeks or more, I frequently dream songs and song ideas. It’s as if I’m so immersed in the creative part of myself that even when I’m sleeping my brain is still creating.
What about you? What routines do you practice that allow you to get inspired? Do you write sporadically, or do you find having a routine allows room for more creativity and inspiration to flourish?
The poet John Donne once said, “no man is an island”. In a world that seems to be more and more disconnected, this is such a powerful idea to remember. As I reflect back on the last couple decades of my life, it’s clear to me that my most cherished memories and the most memorable experiences I’ve had, have been with other people. Relationships are the thread that hold the tapestry of society and culture together. Our relationships in many ways define and shape who we are, just as we help define and shape the people we interact with.
Relationships provide us with a lens to view ourselves and our world through. In many ways, we are who we are in relation to other people. Positive relationships serve to motivate and inspire us, just as dysfunctional relationships can weigh us down and cause us great emotional pain. Relationships are both challenging and time consuming, yet vital to our sense of well-being and health.
At different times in my life I’ve spent a great deal of time in solitude. I’ve traveled to foreign countries by myself several times where I didn’t know a single soul. I’ve spent many nights alone in solitude contemplating my life and my place in the world. I’ve spent days at a time with only my guitar and my laptop as my company, writing music and getting to know myself without social distractions or the need to entertain my friends. I’ve grown a lot from these periods of isolation, but each time I’ve ultimately gained a greater appreciation for the role friends and loved ones play in my life.
Life is meant to be lived in cooperation and harmony with others. Humans thrive when they are connected to other people, family and community. There’s a powerful synergy that happens when the right people come together that I don’t think can ever be replicated in solitude. In the same way that a great band is greater collectively than its individual members, healthy relationships bring out and enhance parts of ourselves that would otherwise remain dormant or unexpressed. I’m a better and more alive person in relationships to the right people than I am when I’m alone in solitude.
There are forces at work, outside our immediate control that threaten to divide humanity. Competition for resources, class warfare, religious differences, philosophical differences and more, all seem to divide people and push them further apart. Yet, the path to greater wealth, greater health and increased well-being, to a large extent, depends on us working together and getting along.
As someone who has spent the last seven years working for myself, I see very clearly the limitations in working alone. There is only so much I can do as one person and only so far I can go by myself. That’s why a couple years ago I started reaching out to other people to create partnerships. By working with people like my producer Gary Gray and others, I’ve been able to grow both my music career and internet business in ways that simply wouldn’t have been possible as a solo entrepreneur. A few months ago I met another person who I’m now launching another business with that I would never be able to dream of doing alone.
Let’s face it, for better or worse, we need each other. I’m a big believer that in order to truly be happy, you need to be able to sit alone, in solitude, comfortable in your own skin and with your own thoughts. But once you can do that, go seek out other like-minded people. This ride we call life is a lot more fun with a few companions.
I spent the last ten days in LA recording my latest CD and networking. I met with a new music publisher I recently signed with, I attended several music business meetups, including one I hosted for my website, How To License Your Music.com, and met a bunch of great people while I was there. It was a really productive time and it was great to meet many people in person I had previously only known via the internet.
I had such a productive time networking and meeting new people that it really got me thinking; just how important is it as a musician to live in one of the major music industry cities? Although many US cities have diverse and interesting music scenes, and there are talented people everywhere, I think it's fair to say that are really just a handful of cities that would qualify as "major" music industry cities. These cities would be New York, LA, Nashville and to a certain extent, Atlanta.
Although there are other cities in the U.S. like Austin and Chicago that have lots of musicians and opportunities to connect and network with people in the music industry, they don't quite compare to places like New York and LA. I've often thought about just how important it is to live in a city like LA or New York and this recent trip has given me even more to think about. Although I haven't reached a definitive conclusion, I thought I would explore the topic in this post.
For my situation, there would be both pros and cons to moving to a city like LA or New York. Let's start with the positives:
1) More Networking Opportunities - There's something about meeting someone face to face and developing a connection in the real world that simply can't be duplicated. You can certainly connect and work with people online these days, but there's nothing like looking someone in the eye, shaking their hand and making a real connection. Living in a city like LA or New York would put you in closer proximity with more people working in the music industry. Simply put, it's easier to meet and connect with people in the industry when they're in your own backyard.
2) Being Around Like Minded People - There's also something about living in an area with lots of like minded people. When you're in a city like LA or New York, it's so easy to find other like minded people. Having people in your life that can relate to and support your endeavors is critical. I don't have a problem finding like minded people in Chicago, but based on the short time I spent in LA I get the impression that it would be even easier to find and connect with like minded people in LA. When you don't have people in your life that can relate to your goals it can be really frustrating and discouraging. If you surround yourself with people that are supportive and understanding, it makes something like pursuing a career in music much easier. No man is and island after all.
3) Music Business Infrastructure - Cities like LA, Nashville and New York have what I call a solid music business infrastructure. There is an ample supply of studios, players, vocalists and so on. Need to find someone to play Cello on your new CD? That won't be a problem in any of the major music cities. Need to find a studio to record your next EP? In a place like LA or New York there are an abundance of great studios to choose from. Of course, this isn't as big of a factor because most decent size cities will have recording studios and musicians. However, it's nice to know that you'll be able to find whatever it is you're looking for easily when working on music projects.
4) Higher Paying "Day" Jobs - I spent a lot of time talking to my producer, Gary Gray, about the possibility of relocating to LA and he made a great point that although the cost of living is higher in LA there are also a lot of higher paying jobs in LA. There's more money to go around and so it makes sense that it would be easier to make money in a city like LA. I don't have any hard statistics to draw from, and those can be pretty misleading anyway, but I get the impression there are plenty of ways to survive in LA or New York as a musicians while you're pursuing income from things like songwriting and performing that can take awhile to establish.
1) High Cost Of Living - Cities like LA and New York have a significantly higher cost of living than many other cities. Chicago isn't the cheapest city in the world to live in either, but based on the little bit of research I did when I was in LA, it seems less expensive than LA overall. Pursuing a career in music has a high degree of uncertainty built into it, so I'm reluctant to add to the stress of that by increasing my overhead substantially. However, if I were to move to LA there are certainly affordable ways to do that. I could share a space with other musicians for example. But my quality of life would most likely diminish at least marginally, based on the research I've done in terms of cost of living.
2) Small Fish In A Big Pond - The great thing about living in a major music city is that there are tons of like minded musicians with similar aspirations. The bad thing about living in a major music city is that there are tons of like minded musicians with similar aspirations. It's a double edged sword. On one hand there are way more people to connect and work with, but there are also way more people competing for the same gigs. When you're a big fish in a small pond it's fairly easy to get jobs performing music, if there's at least a small music scene. In a place like New York or LA the competition is fierce. I think the key to living in a major music city like LA or New York would be to surround yourself with the "right" people. People like to work with people they know and trust. People need to know of you before they can think of hiring you.
3) Quality Of Life - This one is related to the cost of living factor, but it's a little different. Some people thrive in big cities like LA And New York, where as other people prefer smaller towns. I'm somewhere in between. I don't like living in very small towns, but massive cities like New York aren't really my cup of tea either. I'm also not a fan of cold winters, so would probably cross New York off my list. I could see myself living in a city like LA or Nashville though as both have mild winters. LA is massive in terms of the number of people that live there, but is so spread out that it doesn't seem as overwhelming to me as a city like New York. I could see myself living in either LA or Nashville and being reasonably happy with my quality of life, at least in terms of weather and the feel of the cities. I haven't spent that much time in Atlanta so I can't really comment on whether I would want to live there.
4) Starting Over - Although I know a few people in LA, if I do decide to move there I would be more or less starting over. I've moved several times in my life at this point, so I know I could handle the adjustment, but it would bring an added level of stress, at least in the short term. It always takes time to make new friends and get settled when you move to a new city. I don't get the impression that meeting people and making friends would be particularly hard in LA, but it would definitely take time to adjust to living there.
The verdict is still out on whether or not I'll relocate to a place like LA. I can see a lot of advantages to living there but there would also be some very real challenges to moving there and trying to break into the local scene. However, I felt like I got a lot out of the short time I spent there and if nothing else, I plan to start taking more trips there to continue networking and building new connections.
What are your thoughts on the role location plays in pursuing a career in music? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Here's a music video we made during my trip to LA for one of my new songs, Sweet Little Thing, underneath the Hollywood Sign in Hollywood Hills.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.