I am in Portland, Oregon this morning. Portland is one of my favorite cities. It just feels good to be here to me. I had dinner on Thursday evening at Jake’s. One of my favorite restaurants and the flagship of the McCormack Schmink chain of fine eating establishments. (http://www.mccormickandschmicks.com)
My dinner companion was an old friend and fellow songwriter. As we talked, it came out that he was profoundly discouraged and was considering just not doing it anymore. It being writing songs, trying to get gigs, recording. He felt he was banging his head against a wall and wasn’t breaking through; nothing was changing for him and he just didn’t see the point of continuing.
As the evening progressed, I told him that I had heard him and his songs for the past couple of decades, and the statement that nothing was changing for him, simply wasn’t true. He was a better songwriter and a better player than he was when I met him.
Part of the pall of discouragement can be lessened by looking at where you were as an artist ten years ago and where you are now. I’m no talking about fame or bank accounts here, I am talking about expertise, craft, professionalism, artistry.
He was discouraged, in part, because of where he was putting his focus. I suggested that he just listen to where he was ten years ago; read what lyrics he wrote ten years ago; listen to a live show from ten years ago and he would be able to hear the growth.
Here he is, better than he’s ever been and he’s thinking of quitting? As my pal, Peter Tork (www.petertork.com) says, “Don’t quit before the miracle.”
So, as an aside, it is important for you to have recordings of your playing and singing both in a studio or studio like situation and in a live one. You can go back to these things and they are instructive, humbling and, eventually fun.
He has become a pretty good guitar player; he knows the neck and he’s not afraid to use it. So I told him so, which is something else that you can and should do. Encourage people. Don’t lie, but try to find what is good or positive in your artistic friends and acknowledge that. It will make you both feel good.
Then I asked him my favorite question—what do you want to have happen? It is amazing to me how effective that question is. It always goes right to the heart of the matter.
And you’ll find when ever you ask anyone, they always give an answer that isn’t the answer to the question. I’m not kidding. It happens everytime I ask it. I have to repeat the question some times two or three times, “I see, that’s interesting but it doesn’t answer my question...what do you want to have happen?”
I just keep doing it until such a time as the other person begins to truly answer it. And that’s the gift of that question. Once you answer it, you have a course, a direction, a goal and finally a chance of achieving it.
So many times we don’t’ know where we are going because we haven’t given it that kind of thought. Even as I am typing this for you, I’m thinking that it is time for me to ask myself that question.; and not in rumination at a red light. I’ve got to sit down here with this computer and write out what I want to have happen, where I am, where I want to be and then map out the steps in a logical fashion.
This exercise also requires a brutally honest assessment of who you are, what your gifts are and what you can reasonably expect from the sum of these parts.
I mean, when I was a teenager, I wanted to be the Beatles (www.thebeatles.com). I am now a thin haired sixty two year old man. It seems more than unlikely that I will ever be so world famous that my every move is the object of papparazi madness.
But what I can do, is become the best songwriter I can possibly be; the best guitar player I can possibly be; the best performer, etc. And the competion is not with the Beatles, but with myself.
Do the work, and trust that there will be reward and compensation for your commitment. Move in faith and don’t waste time comparing yourself to other’s success. Do the work. Move in faith.