Barry Power

Offical Site of Melodic Indie songwriter Barry Power.

Filtering by Tag: #Deepwork

038. Whats in a name?

It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.
— W.C. Fields

Words can be so powerful, and none more so than the words we use to describe ourselves. The titles we choose to assign ourselves represent who it is we think we are. What we don’t always realise, is that held within these titles are limitations. Self imposed ideas of what we think these titles represent. Although this could be part of a much broader discussion. I’m interested in how it applies to us creative types. 

I am a guitar player. That is a name I have self assigned for more than 20 years of my life but what does that even mean? Well for me it means that I live and die by what I think of as being a good player. This of course is a total fallacy built completely on my own pre-conceived notions of what I think a good guitar player should actually be.

If I sit behind a drum kit I don’t suddenly identify myself as a drummer. However through this I am totally free to express myself on that instrument however way I want to. I can’t possibly fail because I can’t play these things anyway. There is freedom in being ignorant to all the vaults of preconception rattling around in my head that goes along with being somewhat proficient at something. 

I recently had to learn a song for a gig. The guitar part wasn’t particularly difficult but I just couldn’t figure out exactly what was going on. The reason I think was because whoever wrote the part wasn’t using traditional concepts. I don’t think they were being clever. I think it was probably due to that they didn’t learn the guitar in systematic logical way using regular scales and voicings.  This created something really unique that a so called self identified guitar player may never even think of. They made something new from a non-learned place. 

For the past few months I have been working on starting a new podcast and practicing for more regular content for my YouTube channel. I am becoming more aware that to be a modern musician requires a more holistic approach which means I need to become more comfortable with many many more titles. To become a full stack creative, so to speak, a jack of all trades, a digital renaissance man.

My plan for when I am trying to launch all these new things, that I can’t really do yet, is to try not greet them with a sense of inadequacy. Instead, embrace them with that feeling of discovery and fearlessness, like sitting behind a drum kit and not being able to play it but being cool with that. Not to put a cap on myself that a pre-ordained title would bring but to leverage that feeling when it comes to maneouvering this ever changing landscape of the utility man.

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037. Accentuate The Positive

I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.
— Vincent Van Gogh

The negativity bias is the idea that whenever we are presented with two equal choices one positive and one negative we tend to favour the negative much more often than it’s counterpart. It seems we are just wired this way. Somewhere down along the evolutionary ladder biology decided we needed to be more sensitive to the bad than the good.

Recently I posted a video of me performing a song. The post did pretty well and had loads of comments saying very nice things. Except for one which of course stood out above the rest, this one comment said the music was derivative and they basically didn’t like it. Now the rational mind goes “Thats cool, it’s the internet you’ll get things like that, don’t worry” But it stayed with me more so than the many more positive comments. 

I realised that it happens all the time. For instance If I play a gig, I might not remember the ten songs that I played perfectly but you can bet that I'll remember the one where I fluffed a note or sang out of tune.

I have been thinking about this all week and how it relates in general to the way I work. I Wrote the first draft of this blog on Tuesday. I wasn’t happy with the idea so I scrapped it. This happens quite regularly so I didn’t think too much about it. I tried again on Wednesday and the same result. By Thursday the negativity bias kicked in and I didn’t even try because I had presupposed that whatever I wrote was bound to be really bad.

The thing I really want to know is, is the negativity bias useful? Does it really keep you getting better at something in a constructive critical thinking kind of way or does it just hold you back?

As a musician I have to practice a lot. I practice all sorts of things that need improving songwriting, rhythm, production, singing, scales, arpeggio’s music to prepare for gigs. But in all of these things I practice. I don’t think I have ever actively tried to practice looking for more positives. I wouldn’t consider myself an overly negative person, I’m not Eeyore. But, now that I am aware that as a humans we lean a lot more toward the negative in general, it’s like realising something that you can’t unsee.

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035. Anchors

It’s easy to get sidetracked with technology, and that is the danger, but ultimately you have to see what works with the music and what doesn’t. In a lot of cases, less is more. In most cases, less is more.
— Herbie Hancock

How many tabs are open on your browser? Usually, for me, it’s a lot. So much so I get lost. I skip from one thing to the next until I’m not actually sure anymore if what I’m doing even resembles work anymore. I don’t mean that I have gotten side-tracked by my shiny object syndrome and fell down the amazon black hole; Although that definitely happens sometimes. I mean when there is too much platform hopping.

In a typical day I can usually get around 2-3 hours that I can dedicate to my own music business this includes writing and recording, so Its important that I am productive when I get that time. Typically, what happens is, I’ll start with some recording. I’ll open up logic and try to nail down one task and get it done, a bassline or maybe some mixing. As the clock is ticking I wrap that up and move onto maybe some emailing. Then a little bit of blogging and finish up with some ad copy or podcast prep. 

The point is that by the time I am done with my block of time I have jumped through several different areas. I guess it would be like someone working for a big company deciding to spend the morning in Marketing the afternoon in research and development and the evening in the canteen serving food. 

This kind of juggling is not my strong suit. I am always looking for Anchors. Anything that can keep me in the right place in terms of the specific task I am doing. I have done some research and there are several online solutions to these problems like the pomodoro technique or any amount of companies offering a get your shit together spreadsheet. But I find that the task of organising my tasks becomes another task.

Maybe its just the way my brain works sometimes I feel like that dog in the movie UP reacting to what is directly in front of me. I get so lost in the mire of bits of jobs its hard to remember what Im supposed to be doing the first place.

So this week it’s a plea for any tips, tricks and advice to help to keep on point with work tasks. I would love to hear what your Anchors are what are the things that keep you on track or anything that worked well for you.

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The brand new podcast version of this blog is now available here.

034. What have you got?

It’s better to speak your mind and tell the truth, than to stay quiet and lie to yourself.
— Anonymous

Did you ever get that feeling you have more to give than you show the world? That side of you that is pure potential? Imagine yourself on your best day. Like that feeling when you first join a gym in January you tell yourself, this time, I’m going to train five days a week and in your mind you play out your very own Rocky IV montage. (I picked Rocky IV specifically because it’s montage is the best)

Then a week or two passes and you miss a day. The next week there is an appointment and the gym day gets missed and you start telling yourself, well I missed those days so I’ll get back on track on Monday and before long the gym counts the rest of your money and you sit on the couch deflated. The more times this happens to you the more you think, “I can’t do it”, it becomes a story you tell yourself. “Im not really a gym person I tried it before and it didn’t stick”. 

This is an analogy of so many experiences in my life. Like that time when I took up Brazillian ju jitsu which I went to once then quit. The point is that, when we start something new we are full of potential about it. There is a spark somewhere even just briefly that this could be the thing that defines us. Every kid with a football thinks they could play for Man United and in their minds they can, right? Unlimited potential. Somewhere along the way life gets in the way for most us of regular people and we end up managing our expectations. Writing a story for ourselves where we are the best supporting actor not the lead role.

Where this turns really tragic is when this story of not quite, stops us from starting to do things at all. When we are so caught up and so convinced that our story is written that we don’t even try.

What if Paul McCartney had decided not to bother finishing Hey Jude or Martin Luther King decided ‘I have dream’ wouldn’t be understood. Where would you be? if your most inspirational idol let the story they tell themselves come in the way of their contribution to the world.

Now imagine how many people are denying the rest of the world something truly special because of how they feel.

I personally feel everyone has a something in them that is theirs to share with the world. A song to sing, an ear to hear, a house to build, a piece of advice to give. How much of what you have to give will be withheld by what you tell yourself? In the end you are not just holding yourself back. Ask yourself, what are you denying the world? 

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The brand new podcast version of this blog is now available here.

033. Killing it.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a horse master. He told me to go slow to go fast. I think that applies to everything in life. We live as though there aren’t enough hours in the day but if we do each thing calmly and carefully we will get it done quicker and with much less stress.
— Viggo Mortensen

There is a certain way of thinking in the modern zeitgeist that is about being so busy and so productive so as to be almost superhuman. In fact super humans are so pervasive in our culture now that our role models can literally do impossible things. Even the word super has infiltrated our language way more than it should. I’m superbusy at the moment or this coffee is superstrong. We now have a world of go hard or go home and all the new buzzy adjectives that go along with it killing it, crushing it, owning it.

There is an ever increasing pressure to be busier and more productive. Always on top of your game grinding in those extra hours that all your rivals are not doing.  A fight like mentality, where success is some sort of aggressor to be overthrown and the only way to do it is to lay everything you have on the line constantly regardless of how this effects you and your life. Living in a perpetual state of stress. Caffeinated and adrenaline wild, making sure all these slightly out of reach deadlines are being constantly met and you are killing it everyday. I don’t think it really matters what kind of job you do either because the pressure to be always on it is a myth perpetuated by the modern age that no-one is immune to. 

I have found that conversely to this, in trying to become more creative in my life I need to be in the total opposite state of mind. I need to have the space, the quiet and the calm to let my mind wander and dream up ideas. I don’t mean in a vacant daydream kind of way. I mean in a flowing stream of consciousness kind of way. Like when you go for a walk and the solution to a problem pops into your head out of the blue. The more I hold on to deadlines and self imposed pressure to get things done the tighter Im gripping my creative flow and consequentially the less productive I am. 

Don’t get me wrong hard work needs to happen but this all pervasive attitude to be turned on all the time just seams so unbalanced and unhealthy to me. If I try to follow the chain logically then the burnout would negate any good work that I think I would be getting done. 

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The brand new podcast version of this blog is now available here.


032. Raw Footage

When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.
— Stephen King

Sometimes the best solution to a problem is by simply changing the angle at which you view it from.  As if someone turns on a light in a part of an overfamiliar room to illuminate your missing shoe. You knew it was there all along but couldn’t quite remember where exactly until that flick of a switch. 

Over the past few months I have been working through a book called The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. For anyone who is interested in getting a bit more creative in your life in general, I would highly recommend it. There are countless lessons to be taken from the first reading. Although, I suspect I will be revisiting this book again many times in the future. One of the most valuable I have found is the idea of creating from a place of abundance as opposed to scarcity.

I’m going to use songwriting as my example but I feel it could be applied to whatever your chosen field is.

From when I first started writing I only really saw one way to go. If I had a verse I would write the six or eight lines that I needed and then move on and write the four lines for the chorus then move on. I only ever wrote what I thought was necessary. This made the writing far more challenging than it needed to be because I was always only trying to find my best four lines. 

It never even occurred to me to write any more than what I felt I needed. Before I even put pen to paper the line had to be great, otherwise I would discard it and move on. It was this throwing away that was really my biggest mistake. It left me with almost nothing to draw from, not only this but I was totally dismissive of 99% of all my work. If it wasn’t a killer line; Bang, gone, never to be heard from again. 

The angle from which I viewed my problem changed completely by doing the very first exercise from The Artists Way. It’s called morning pages and its premise is quite simple; three pages of stream of conscious writing every day where the only goal is to write. It doesn’t matter about what, just whatever comes into your head even if that is the repeated line, “I can’t think of anything to write” or “all work and no play makes Jack a something something”. 

At first its seems so pointless, pages and pages of disparate ideas and random thoughts, but, over time it becomes something else. It’s like opening up a dialogue with yourself where you start to tune into subtle ideas and thoughts, that, had they not been written down, would be gone forever. 

I have found that part of the function of these pages is to help unblock any creative obstacles and it does that in sometimes uncomfortable ways. It was only after a few months that I found I had pages and pages of writing, way more than the brief sketches and outlines of songs I used to put into my notebooks. 

This may seem really obvious but It took me a long time to get into my head that writing and editing should not be done simultaneously, they need to be separated. The time to judge your work is not as you do it, but after the fact, when it’s done when it’s written down when it already exists. The way I work now is by fishing through all of the collective work, all those scraps, half thoughts and throwaway ideas until I can find my best four lines from that. I mean you cant have hindsight for something you never wrote down or you can’t remember.

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031. Going Deep

The conscious mind may be compared to a fountain playing in the sun and falling back into the great subterranean pool of subconscious from which it rises. 
— Sigmund Freud

So its been a while, my last blog was August 15th. What have I been up to for the past two months? Well, I made a semi-deliberate decision to unplug for a while, also I just got out of the habit a bit. It stemmed from the influence of two books in particular. The first of which is The Artists way by Julia Cameron Im currently going into week eight, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you have an artist living inside you, this book will help you express it. Its not really a spoiler to say that the main method used in the book is to keep a morning journal, three pages of stream of consciousness writing. Through this process you gradually uncover obstacles and self-resistance to your artistic self. This process has been a real game changer for me in terms of my mindset towards writing and creating in general.

Another recommended method in the book is to take a week off from all reading material, so considering the book was written in 1992 I took this to mean in the modern age taking break from all media, social or otherwise a kind of low media diet. This one took me a few weeks to warm to, and to be honest, is still very much a work in progress. 

My second book recommendation is Deep Work by Cal Newport, another amazing book. This book argues that we are in an age where the majority of the work that we do is shallow and arguably unproductive. The reason for this are all the distractions which are not only prevalent but often encouraged. Faster email response, good social media presence etc. The problem with this is that it keeps us on the periphery, in the shallow waters.

Think of all your very favourite works of art, I mean the really influential ones, the stone cold classics. A common thread for all of these was a clear focused concerted effort to apply laser focus to the task at hand. Now try to imagine creating one of these yourself with your phone in one hand and the desktop open with all notifications turned on. How deep do you think you could go?

Ok going a little bit outside here now, but bare with me, I have a point…….I think. There are two sides to our minds the conscious and the subconscious. The conscious mind is awesome at problem solving and completing tasks, the emails, the spreadsheets the minutes for a meeting etc; The so called shallow work. The subconscious mind is where the deeper existential, artsy, bigger picture problem type thoughts live. So lets get binary and look at these two states of mind as tools i.e. one of these tools will be better at a specific task then the other. Then it would make sense to deploy what ever tool would suit best for whatever task you are currently doing, right? Well it makes sense to me anyway but I know for a fact that I am hugely imbalanced with my states of mind. 

My artistic self loves to live in subconscious mindland you know, like when you’re out for a walk and an idea or solution pops into your head, out of nowhere, without you actively thinking about it. Well it wasn’t out of nowhere, it was out of your subconscious mind. The subconscious mind loves to be free to roam, untethered to the shallow work it just does its own thing and gives us whatever we are prepared to listen too. The problem is with so many distractions I don’t prioritise giving the subconscious enough space to breathe and tend to the jobs it is best suited for, namely creating things and generating ideas.

I like to assign all my tasks to my conscious mind, to think out everything in a linear fashion. I have realised over the last few months that this approach is fine for the business, marketing organising things side but it’s kind of a disaster to my artistic side. So how do I bypass my conscious mind and access this all-knowing subconscious creative behemoth living within…..erm I don’t really know Im still figure that one out. 

But here are some of the methods I am currently trying. Turning off my phone more, not just the do not disturb button; Walking more; Meditation; Less TV; more boredom, basically denying all the cool distracting stuff. Deep work sessions, ninety minute blocks of total immersion. No email open, no phone on, just the exact specific task Im working on Songwriting, writing, whatever. Its harder than it sounds, give it a go. We are so hardwired now to be constantly engaged with our conscious mind, checking things and channel surfing, like digital magpies finding shiny stuff. Give the other half some room see what happens.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think! and If you like this post please consider joining my mailing list here, where I'll keep you up to date with whats going on with me.