I’ve been trying to be a real musician since I was 14 years old. On the cusp of my 37th birthday and at the beginning of this new year, I’m faced, once again, with the fact that I’m still making slow progress and the same old “Now What?” that I always encounter is back for a visit asking, “What’s holding you back? What’s paralyzing you?”
The truth is that I’ll never ever get where I want to be because there’s always another “Now What?” waiting for me after each milestone I cross. I’ve learned that the real joy isn’t the destination, it’s the journey. So I try to keep moving. Along the way, though, there are obstacles that impede my momentum. Sometimes these obstacles don’t just slow me down, they bring certain aspects of my activities to a dead stop.
I used to think this paralysis was out of my control. Each year since 2000, I’ve shed more and more things that I thought were holding me back. In most cases, I realized quickly that I could’ve shed them at any time and lightened my load years earlier. I had the power all along to respond differently (or at all) to them. I just didn’t know it. The truth is that I am the main cause of my own paralysis. Even when external obstacles present themselves, I still have the power of response.
Looking at 2013, I’m still working the same low pay, low responsibility part-time day job I that I had when I was 25 (I did have a 3 year break in there). I still prefer to make original music instead of “useful” music that might be more lucrative (ex: weddings) and none of my original music has brought acclaim of any kind – I never buzzed and likely never will. Sometimes I’m still too dumb to ask for help when I need it or too scared to grab the reins when I know I’m the best person to do the job. Sometimes I’m too focused on fixing my weaknesses to capitalize on my strengths. I’m still so scattered and tardy that I shoot myself in the foot every few steps.
Sometimes, we’re all too dumb or scared to make a change – to choose a different response. We prefer the devils we know. In light of the new year and the spirit of overcoming paralysis, here’s a list of stuff that has paralyzed me directly or indirectly over the years and quick responses to each. I’d love to hear about the source of your paralysis.
- Lack of money or poor management of it – develop your do-it-yourself skills and the discipline to recognize and say NO to frivolous expenditures. Find a family member or friend who can help you manage your finances or teach you to keep books.
- Lack of knowledge or ability/skills – take a lesson. This doesn’t just apply to music. Read a how-to book or enroll in an educational course. You tube has TONS of how-to videos.
- Unwilling/Lukewarm band mates – figure out how to motivate them or move on without them. Don’t be afraid to make a change. (lack of action has made this my own personal #1 source of paralysis over the last 13 years.)
- Can’t find the right people – get robots. Seriously, use technology to do your thing. If not, figure out how to you do what you do all by yourself.
- People don’t like what you’re doing – Love what you’re doing even more. This is easier said than done.
- Competition/Over-saturation – find the thing you do better than anyone in town and do it even more and better than before.
- Lack of representation – There are very few good agents in Austin. Accept that probably NONE are equipped to book your band unless you’re a country/Americana act. In that case, accept that none have room on their roster unless you’re already making thousands per month in gig fees. Do it yourself and look outside of town.
- Lack of connections – make a list of 10 people you wish you knew better and offer to take them to lunch. Ask questions. Let them talk. Listen.
- Fear of failure/success – finish that song or project that’s sat half-finished for the last year and welcome criticism. You have nothing to lose except the time you already put into the thing – and you’ll only lose that if you DON’T finish it. So finish it already.
- Age – http://www.jamesslimhand.com/bio.html.
- Other commitments (job, family, other interests) – prioritize. There’re plenty of things in life more important than music like breathing, eating, etc. Put them in the order that aligns best with your values and accept both sides of the stick. Is your child’s day to day more important that practicing? So be it. Would you rather be able to say you wrote 30 songs or watched 30 episodes of Breaking Bad this winter?
- Burned too many bridges – very few can’t be mended and new ones can be built. Drive the first nail today.
- Location – Is a new location worth losing your support network, your flexible day job, your way around and the tons of little tiny things you take for granted in the town you’ve known so long? If yes, then leap only where the grass is MUCH greener.
- Depression – the 75 year old you is watching and asking, “Why are you wasting your time on this?” www.sims.org
- Drugs/alcohol – even if you’re not an addict, how much money are you spending on this that could be going to just about anything else of more value? What’s more important to you – getting high or more $ in your music budget?
- Business side of things is preventing you from playing music – learn to delegate. Hire an intern. Barring those, choose which balls can stand to be dropped and drop them. Replace them with a new practice regiment.
- Waiting for the right moment – it won’t ever come. Stop waiting and do what you’re waiting to do now.
- History of failure – you’re overdue for a lucky break. Switch tables and keep rolling the dice.
- Not hip, out of touch with current trends – don’t get grumpy because you feel outdated. Find the value and excitement in participating and adding your flavor to new ideas.
- Lack of people skills – find the most social, likable person you know. Go with them to parties, shows, dinners, events, etc. Learn from their interactions.
- Lack of equipment – buy the stuff you need to do what you do. It’ll pay for itself quickly OR you can probably sell it and get some of your money back. Think of it as a rental. This said, you don’t need another bass just because it’s red. Remember that more stuff = more maintenance.
- Lack of Inspiration – Learn to inspire yourself. Get arbitrary. Write, play or learn something just for the hell of it. Write 10 quick melodies/ideas. Set up a get-together with a fellow musician with whom you’ve never played. Choose 10 new songs to learn at random. Don’t be afraid to suck or write crap.
- Focused on Weaknesses – zoom out from the weaknesses, look at your strengths, zoom back in on those. Choose battles you can win when you can. Do your best to survive those that you don’t choose.
- Always Late – I’m still working on this one. Suggestions appreciated.
- Disorganization – see responses to #23 and #24.