When I attended Berklee College of Music in the 90’s, I attended as a songwriting major. Guitar was my principal instrument and I focused primarily on learning how to write pop songs and improving my guitar playing. I was mainly interested in rock and pop, but because Berklee is so Jazz oriented, I couldn’t avoid being exposed to lots of Jazz when I was there. I never developed a real passion for jazz music, but my playing improved by learning many of the concepts jazz guitarists utilize. By learning more colorful voicings for chords for example, I broadened my music palate, which helps when I write songs, improvise, etc.
After Berklee I focused on performing original rock music. I didn’t have a lot of experience performing live at that point and I used to get really nervous before shows. I can remember one of my first performances with the band I formed after I left Berklee. I was so nervous the night before our first show that I couldn’t sleep. I was excited to finally be playing music in front of crowds, but I didn’t have a lot of experience performing. It took me a couple years to get real comfortable playing music in front of people, but eventually I got used to it. Now when I perform I rarely feel nervous at all. Maybe a slight twinge of nerves here and there, but I can’t imagine losing sleep over a performance these days. By stepping outside of my initial comfort zone I forced myself to grow.
When the band I formed after I left Berklee broke up in 2002, I decided to take a break from playing in bands for a while and pursue licensing my music. Once again, I was in uncharted territory. I didn’t really understand the business and didn’t have a lot of experience calling music executives, trying to get my foot in the door. But gradually, I started learning how the business works and within about six months, landed my first licensing deal. By pushing myself outside of my comfort zone I was able to move forward within the music licensing industry and over the years have landed many placements for myself and for my clients.
In 2007, after several years as working as a guitar instructor, I decided it was time to start a business online and take back control of my schedule and freedom. Again, I would have to step outside of my comfort zone since I didn’t really have that much experience making money online. I immersed myself in everything I could get my hands on about making money on the internet. I read books, I took courses, I read blogs and websites. I did whatever I could to figure out how to get my business off the ground. Once again there was a learning curve, but through determination and dedication I was able to quit my job and become fully self-employed in less than a year. Had I not stepped outside of my comfort zone I’d probably still be giving guitar lessons and bitching about how I wasn’t happy doing it any longer.
A few years ago, a friend of mine invited me to spend a few months in the Caribbean, to play music at a restaurant he owned. The idea of spending a few months on a Caribbean beach playing music sounded enticing, except this would be a solo gig, where it was just me and a guitar, singing and playing. I’ve sung off and on over the years, but had never really considered myself a great vocalist and preferred the role of playing guitar and having someone else handle the lead vocal duties. But, I decided this once again would be a great way to expand my skill set and step outside of my comfort zone. I accepted the gig and spend the next three months, playing three solo shows a week, just me, my guitar and a microphone. At first, it was nerve wracking. Playing in a band with three other people is one thing, but to be on stage, alone, with all eyes solely on you, is a whole different challenge. But, I persisted and over the next few months became more and more comfortable in this role. These days I’m playing in a group with two other people and handle about 30 percent of the lead vocal duties, but I’m so grateful for the months I spent honing my skills playing solo. It helped me grow tremendously as a musician and person.
I think one of the worst tendencies people have in life is to get stuck in routines doing the same thing, day after day. In my experience, not only is this detrimental to growth, it also seems to be a recipe for unhappiness. I am without a doubt, the happiest when I’m growing and moving forward. Whether it’s in relationships, business or music, stagnation is a recipe for failure.
Recently I got invited to join a local bluegrass trio, playing acoustic bluegrass tunes by artists like Bill Monroe, Del McCoury, Old And In The Way and more. I’ve listened to a little bluegrass over the years, but have played very little bluegrass music. But, I thought about it and decided this would be one more opportunity to stretch myself and grow. To my great delight and surprise, I’m starting to love playing bluegrass. It’s so much fun! So, I’ve spent the last month honing my bluegrass chops. Check out this little bluegrass improv I recorded a few days ago!
I used to think the goal was to get really, really good at one thing and become successful at that. That seems to work for some artists. But over the years, what I’ve found has worked for me, is developing multiple skills, in different areas and creating a revenue stream based on combining those skills The more skills you develop, the more you have to offer. The more you have to offer, the more potential ways to make money and provide for yourself. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be known for one specific thing, be it songwriting or guitar playing. But in the meantime, I’m pretty happy to be able to make a living doing things I love. What about you? What do you find works for you?