I was just sitting on the couch waiting for Austin City Limits to come on, perusing the 2009 Indie Bible (a great book, by the way!) and came across an article by Janet Fisher called “So How Do We Make Our Dream Become Reality?” There is a section in this article that particularly struck me called “Rewrite the Dream.” Janet basically says that if you’ve defined the dream, determined how to achieve it, chased it for a while, and it still eludes you, don’t be afraid to adjust your goals and ambitions based on “the facts on the ground”(Not her words. I think I learned that phrase from the ex-Pres).
Now I’m not at any kind of existential crossroads in regards to my own music-making, but this concept reminded me of a simple rule that I sometimes overlook in this biz: “Don’t be stubborn.”
Flexibility is key. I’ll give you two recent examples from my own life.
1) For years, I scoffed at the idea of taking paying gigs where I wouldn’t be performing my own music (or the music of some close creative friends). I thought it would drain me in some kind of soul-sucking manner and take precious time away from my own musical pursuits. So I balanced work, family, and MY music as best I could. I put the cost of recording, touring, promotion, merch, etc. on credit cards and paid back the debt as we recouped our costs, all the while fretting about finances.
Then, about 6 months ago I was offered a weekly gig that pays quite well and I thought, “Hey, What the hell! I might as well try it.” It’s not MY kind of music. But once I got into the situation I realized there were a bunch of benefits. First, I’d be playing with some truly fantastic musicians who could teach me a lot. It forced me to brush up on some chord-chart and sight-reading skills I’d long since let slip since I’d started concentrating on my own music. I could regain some electric guitar chops after a few years favoring acoustic guitar and keyboards. And the two big bonuses, A) it wasn’t my band, so someone else gets to stress about running the show while I simply show up and have fun performing. B) Making money on the side is also fun!
I’ve been able to put the dough from that weekly gig into MY project. I’ve completely funded a new album (Yes. Another album. I know. I know, already! I’ll slow down in time for the Mayan Apocalypse in 2012) recorded in a great studio with an awesome engineer, brought those sessions to probably the best mixing engineer in Portland, and I haven’t had to worry about where the money was going to come from once.
Moral: by taking on what I thought would be a burden, I’ve actually relieved myself of a lot of stress, pressure, and worry. Are there good opportunities you’re passing up for the wrong reasons?
2) I wanted to tour in March. I just wanted to. March sounds like a nice month to start touring. It is still rainy in Portland then and I can escape south with my band and see the sunshine for more than 48 seconds a day. I reserved the time with the 6 people in my band. That is no small feat. They’re very busy people, too. I made plans. I started sending out booking emails and contacting friends’ bands in all the cities we wanted to hit.
And then the horror set in. I heard very little back from those people. The few responses I did get were curt. “Sorry. That date is booked.” But still I persisted. It had to be March since we’d set our minds to it! After weeks of banging my head against an imaginary internet wall, it started to freak me out a bit. Paranoia set in. Did I burn bridges somewhere along the line? Did these people suddenly stop liking me or my music? Did I not bring out enough fans last time around? Ahhh! I’m finished! I’m done! I’ll never play in that town again!
One night, after sharing my frustration, a fellow bandmate said something brilliant and wise that I never would’ve thought of in a million years. “Why don’t you just move the tour dates?”
After shifting some schedules in the band, everyone set a couple weeks aside in April and I began to send out emails to clubs, bookers, friends, and bands concerning that time frame. Within two days I knew it was the right decision. Everything fell into place. Instead of “Sorry. That date is booked” I got responses saying “Sure. That’d be great.” I was suddenly reminded that people in the music biz are very busy people and a quick “No” doesn’t mean they hate you. In fact, a quick “yes” doesn’t necessarily mean they love you, either. It is just their way of saying that you either do or do not currently fit into their schedule, and then they move on to the next email. And with all the fierce booking competition from bands headed towards or away from SXSW in March, who can blame them?
So now I’ve got a tour in the making, my paranoia is temporarily relieved, and I can bang my head against a wall of my choosing instead of the Great March Booking Barrier of 2009.
Moral: Don’t be stubborn. Set your goals. Run towards them. But if the wind is blowing too strongly in your face, don’t be afraid to rest and return to the race another day.