I’ve been playing a ton of music lately. I’ve been rehearsing and gigging with my latest project several nights a week and practicing, writing and playing guitar at least a couple hours each day. I love periods like this because the progress I make is so obvious and tangible. It reminds me of when I was studying music and guitar at Berklee College of Music and used to spend hours each day in a practice room, practicing guitar, and then hours more each night at the end of the day in different jam sessions. I progressed more during my two years at Berklee than perhaps any time before or since. It was non -stop music, all day, every day. I couldn’t help but to get better.
But there’s another kind of progress that’s more gradual and less noticeable until you look back over time. I was going through my archives of old recordings of different bands and projects I’ve played in over the years a few nights ago. I was listening to a show I performed in Chicago in 2004 with my old band Continuum. The first thing that struck me was how much I’ve improved as a vocalist. In fact, I was shocked at how bad of a singer I was back then, compared to now. My vocal performance on every song I heard was really bad. In fact, it was atrocious.
I was so taken aback at how bad I was that I immediately went and listened to a recording of myself singing at a recent show from a few days ago to make sure I don’t still sound like that. I breathed a sigh of relief. It was much, much better. It was night and day in fact. It didn’t even sound like the same vocalist.
This realization that I had come so far as a vocalist over the last 16 years gave me a huge sense of satisfaction. Although at first, I was shocked at just how bad I sounded back in the day, compared to now, I was also really thrilled to hear how far I had come.
The more I thought about the progress I’ve made and just how gradual it’s been, the more elated I felt. Over the years there have been times where I would get sort of hard on myself in terms of feeling like I hadn’t progressed as much as I wanted to or “should” have in music. It’s something I’ve gotten a lot better at over the years. But at times I used to get pretty hard on myself when I felt like I wasn’t progressing fast enough. I think a lot of us creative, artistic types are. Art and music is so important to us, that some of us have a tendency to get down when we’re not progressing or moving forward at the rate we think we “should” be. Whatever that means.
But, despite my own inner critic, I’ve kept going over the years, writing my songs, performing as much as possible, practicing guitar and vocals, licensing my music in as many places as possible and so forth. And lo and behold, I’ve improved immensely, albeit gradually. I’m not sure if the old adage practice makes perfect is true, but practice certainly makes better.
All this is to say, wherever you’re at with music, keep going. Sometimes it can seem like you’re sort of spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere. But if you keep putting in the work, day after day, year after year, you will improve. The longer you go, when you look back, the more stark the contrast will be compared to when you started. And as you improve, you will see results in terms of more gigs, placements, success and so on. It’s inevitable.
To be honest, I still don’t really consider myself a great vocalist, in the traditional sense. Singing, for whatever reason, has just never come naturally to me and it’s taken a long time to become comfortable as a vocalist. But I’ve been compelled to sing and work on my singing because I write songs, and although for recording and licensing I sometimes recruit other vocalists to sing on my tracks, there’s nothing like getting on stage and singing something you wrote, from the heart, for a live audience.
Like I always say, focus on the things you can control. You might not be able to control the entire industry, or the gatekeepers, or the tastes of a fickle public, but you can always focus on improving your craft. Whether it’s improving your singing, an instrument you play, or the songs and compositions you write, your production chops, whatever it is you need to improve… these things are in no one’s hands but your own. When you focus on what you can control, you take your power back, and when you do this consistently, over time, you’ll see incredible growth, which will inevitably lead to more opportunities. For me, this growth and progress make the whole journey worthwhile.