Barry Power

Offical Site of Melodic Indie songwriter Barry Power.

Filtering by Tag: #motivation

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.

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.

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.

029. The revolution will be live streamed

Like art, revolutions come from combining what exists into what has never existed before.
— Gloria Steinem

This is for musicians, how much of the following do you believe is true for you?

There is no way to make a living from making your own music. You have to be really lucky to get a break. You have to gig every tiny non-paying pay to play venue at the bottom of every bill to pay your dues. To release music you send it to your online distribution company who delivers it to iTunes and Spotify, you send a couple of tweets, post it on Facebook and all your hard work and effort in making your art gets boiled down to sheer luck. 

Imagine you wanted to open a coffee shop. Coffee was your life you loved it and you knew that your coffee would make people so happy. Now imagine that you decided you would set up your shop next door to ten other coffee shops. Now imagine that you only opened three days a week but you didn’t tell anybody which three days it would be. Next, imagine that you hired someone to sell your coffee for you and instead of charging your regular price they charged people a tiny fee and gave you back .0000009 of a cent on each cup. Now picture yourself going to the bank and trying to negotiate a loan for your coffee business. If you were the bank manager how do you think it would look.

Now I can only speak for myself here but I have a strong belief I am not alone. This was exactly how I thought about being an independent musician. The music will win if its good enough it will connect. If I am lucky a song will explode and go viral, whatever that even means, exposure? opportunities? money? fame? 

If you are reading this thinking, you didn’t really think like that did you? let me add this caveat, the way the music industry evolved was unlike any other sane business model, it is too long to get into it here but suffice to say that thinking your career could suddenly break overnight and propel you to fame and fortune wasn’t outside the realms of possibility.

What polarised my view from fantasist to pragmatist was how the next generation of independent musicians were leveraging that great leveller, the internet. In particular, a company called Indepreneur their overarching philosophy is simple, autonomy in your career. Running it with the same efficacy as a small to medium-sized business. Still making the best coffee, but instead of letting it go cold on the table, finding the perfect people who will enjoy it most and pay you the right price for it. Not because you want to be the next Starbucks but because there is a real and tangible sea change for indies.

Now imagine a world where more and more musicians take control of their own destinies. A new generation making art not to let it slip into the ether but delivered thoughtfully and deliberately into the hands, ears and minds of the people who will appreciate it most of all.

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. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

 

028.Deadlines and the accidental tourist

A deadline is negative inspiration. Still, it’s better than no inspiration at all.
— Rita Mae Brown

Deadlines, I missed one…well, actually I missed two but who’s counting? When I started writing these blogs I fell into a weekly format and that really suited me, daily is too much and monthly is too long, but weekly felt just right. When you work as your own boss or at least your own time manager keeping self-imposed deadlines can be tricky there are no real repercussions if you miss any, other than how hard on yourself you are, lucky for me I have a very understanding boss who pretty much lets me do whatever I want. This is not always helpful. Anyway, I am back in a writing chair this week and I want to give you my excuse.

I missed these particular deadlines because I had a grand notion of trying to turn the blog into a vlog and I underestimated both the time it would take and more importantly my skills as a filmmaker which are at the moment zero. I have watched movies and tv undoubtedly too much, I watch Casey Neistat’s daily vlogs. I have a HD camera in my pocket, I have pithy, epigrammatic ideas about what its like to be an independent musician in the modern age this should be easy right? 

It's like that feeling you get when your watching football, if you were to be suddenly transported to actually being the keeper would you have the real-life skills to actually make the save you were so hypercritical of from your couch? probably not, and neither was I.

I fell into that conceit of the zeitgeist, The instant fix, I was trying to do a hack. Take the red pill and wake up in the matrix where I could download a particular set of skills and instantaneously unleash my inner Stanely Kubrick (good thing I was reserved about my expectations!)

So long story short this blog is not a vlog yet but it will be evolving soon whenever I can make a deadline I can stick too!

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. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

026. You give what you get.

Creativity requires input, and that’s what research is. You’re gathering material with which to build.
— Gene Luen Yang

I am a diarist, a very inconsistent one, but for some reason over the years, I have kept diaries of some kind. Occasionally, I end up going back through them and I start to notice the repetitive trains of thoughts and ideas. I tend to move in cycles where I swing from being totally committed and productive to the exact opposite where I let things slide for a few weeks and convince myself I’ll never get back to being productive again. For me, it's a little bit like being on a diet where I eat healthily for a few weeks, then one weekend gorge on delicious things and when Sunday rolls around decide, “well there goes the diet so I may as well not even try anymore.” and so the cycle continues. 

When I am on the bad side of the sliding scale, I’ll often turn to things that influence me more and more. I’ll stay up late watching movies or youtube videos about music theory or listen to podcasts about composing or songwriting in general. Anything to regain that spark that motivates me into action. But what if the inaction is as important as the action? What if there needs to be time and space to absorb and let the life experience strain through the mind sieve? 

The way I see it, being a creative person is like being a chef trying to make a new dish, every now and then you need to hit up the market and see what new ingredients are available. But when you have nailed down what you want to use, you still have to make it into something that is worth eating and that takes time. Unfortunately, it has its own deadlines. I can’t really decide when its a time for input or a time for output. I just try to be more aware of which time I'm in and work with that, diaries definitely help.

It is so easy to see these fallow times as being frustrating and ineffective when in reality they are a hugely necessary step in the process, well in my process anyway. 

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. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

025. Subjective matter

An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while a pessimist sees only the red stoplight... the truly wise person is colorblind.
— Albert Schweitzer

How do you see the world? I have often been asked this question and not for the reasons you may think, I get asked this because I have colourblindness, nothing severe or life-threatening or anything like that, it just means I'll probably never fly a plane but thanks for the concern. I have a hard time defining colours like brown and purple. I find people are so fascinated by what I see or in this case what I don’t see. I don’t really have an answer, I tell them I see the way I see. It is purely subjective to being me, just like the way you may see yellow or green is purely subjective to you.

Whatever way my genes and biology decided to organise themselves is my reality. It is how I view the world. This translates fluently into being an artist. Your view of things and how you see the world as an artist is totally unique to you. Try as you might to explain it to someone you always fall short. Just as my blue is my blue your blue is your blue. 

The only way to even come close to explaining is to show it through your work, your painting photography or in my case music (insert “but where is your music? joke here”) In a way I often see being creative as a personal attempt to try to explain that colour you can’t quite see.

The artistic process is like holding a personal mirror to the world you see. What makes it amazing is that everyone has a totally unique view of it. your art is unmakeable by anyone else. Therefore if you don’t make it, it will not exist. Think about it, there could be a whole shade of colour never quite seen by anyone except by you. If ever there was a motivation to go do something that’s it.

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. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

024. The Why

The hardest thing is to listen to your instincts, your human personal intuition it always whispers; it never shouts
— Steven Spielberg

I sat at the piano today and I started putting together a chord progression. There was an idea I found online about changing chords in a minor key. So I put the metronome on and started cycling through the chords and singing some gibberish words over it trying to shape a melody on top. This is very typical of how I like to write. I was just about to record a little section into my phone when I realised something which may seem very obvious to other songwriters. I have even heard and given this advice before but for some reason it had never really stuck with me. I had no real Why for what I was writing other than just a technical exercise about chords. 

It is never about the how, it is always and always has to be about the Why. Anyone can put together some chords in a row, but what was I trying to say with those chords, why did I want to use them in this way. I couldn’t come up with an answer. 

The Why, in my opinion, is the most powerful element of art. There has to be the reason to see it through. Be it the unrelenting emotion bursting through or the story that you simply have to tell. What is the reason behind what you are doing and what you are creating?

For me finding the Why is the most elusive part of creating anything. Whats more it is usually the very last thing I try to do, or I mostly try to avoid it altogether.  You know sometimes when you have a really important job to do, so you make a list, and put it at the very bottom do any other job to avoid doing that one. Like, “I’ll just clean the house then I’ll do it” or “I’ll do it after I make this cup of coffee”, I’ll do it later and later and later. 

The how is easy, think about it as a filming analogy all of us have a camera in our pocket that is capable of shooting a cinema quality film. Why then are we not all filmmakers? The reason is our Why. Most of us, I would argue, would have a similar outlook to myself when I say, “but there is nothing to shoot” or “I can’t do that”. But equally look at youtube, there are millions of filmmakers and vloggers making the everyday extraordinary. They are the people that look for the story in their day, what life is trying to tell them moment to moment and shoot that.

I so often preoccupy myself with the how, because I know the how, chord structures, harmony rhythm. The Why is not so easily found and that is probably why I avoid it so consistently but that is exactly why it is so important. It gives the creedence to what you are making. It is the real truth of what you do. It the small voice of inspiration that you need to be always aware of.

Please leave a comment and let me know your WHY! 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. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

 

023. If an album falls in the woods and no-one is around to hear it does it make a sound?

The first act is writing, the second act is filming, the third act is releasing. If you have to partake in the third act, it hurts the first act of the next one. It’s like a prizefight. You get punched.
— Albert Brooks

If you have followed a few of these blogs you will have heard me ranting on about highs and lows of being a musician. But you may ask where is the actual music? If you have checked out the rest of this website you will notice there is only a couple of songs, whats going on?

Well in an effort of full disclosure here it is. I am currently working on an album which will be released later this year. I have been working on it on and off for the past seven years, so why is it taking so long?

Of course, time and money are always a big factor, but they will never be the biggest barriers to overcome. when its a labour of love, you will manage to get there somehow. I find that, for me, the thing that is actually the most difficult to get past in terms of finishing is that when It’s done I have to put it out there and invite all the scrutiny that comes along with that. Or what's worse the lack of interest that might be out there; Facing the void of obscurity.

What happens when an album by an unknown artist is released? Needles and haystacks spring to mind. As you can imagine the buzz you may be able to create for it could be ephemeral to say the least. When you weigh that up with the time and effort you spend on making it, the neurosis instinct can kick in fast. 

How do I deal with it? I do what any rational human does, I procrastinate and do the opposite of what I should in an effort to deflect the asperity.

I realise I am leaning towards the dark side a bit this week but the next time you hear a brand new song that comes on the radio maybe hesitate that extra few seconds before mindlessly skipping to something that is more familiar. You might not realise the time and effort that went into its creation.  

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. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

021. Absolute beginners.

I’m an artist, and if you give me a tuba, I’ll bring you something out of it
— John Lennon

When I started to play in bands as a teenager, I was lucky enough to be adequately proficient at playing my chosen instrument, namely the guitar, that I didn’t get landed with the role of being the bass player. At the time, the bass player in the band was always the person who said, "Fine, everyone is playing the cool instruments so I’ll take one for the team and play the bass." Bass players, don’t hate me, I am going somewhere with this and besides this is what happened to Paul McCartney in the Beatles so you are in good company. 

In my experience, not one of my friends who decided to take on this, or any other instrument, has ever regretted it. Not because of the usual, learning an instrument is really rewarding stuff, but because being forced to think about the way a different instrument functions made them appreciate music in a way which they may have never gotten to otherwise. However, I think there is an even more profound side effect; Choosing a foreign instrument allowed them to be more creative.

I feel that so much of the creative decision making can be caught up in identifying yourself in a certain way. I'm a guitar player, therefore, I play like this or I try to put more and more flashy techniques into songs to prove what a good guitar player I am. I think that the people who adopted different instruments have a great luxury in whatever they play because they don’t have the weight of their own preconceived notions.

For me it's the piano, I love to play it, I love to write on it, but I would never call myself a piano player and this is the beauty of it. Because it's not me, I am free to use it in whatever way I want. If I play a weird voicing of a chord that a trained player would never use, it's fine, because I'm not a piano player; If I don’t have independence with both hands, It's fine, because I’m not a piano player.

Look at how many great songs were written by people who were not trained in music. They were free to put things in whatever way suited them. They didn’t have to be bound by the regular rules because they didn’t know what the rules were. 

I think one of the greatest ways out of a creative rut is to pick up an instrument you can’t play and write with it, or try to approach your own instrument in a new way. For guitarists I recommend playing with your bad hand I guarantee whatever you play will be unique.

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. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

020. The answer to a question nobody asked.

If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
— Stephen pressfield

A few days ago my daughter and I made a jigsaw of Disney princesses, when I was younger I used to love making jigsaws too, and I realised that in some ways metaphorically speaking I still do. What i mean is, this is the way I approach my creative process in general, the satisfaction of revealing a big picture from smaller disparate fragments.

Since I have started writing these blogs and learning more about putting myself out there as an artist. I have spoken to so many people who want to start something themselves but have met the dreaded resistance. That little voice in your head that goes  “what you want to do is the answer to a question that nobody asked” or “What gives you the right to make something?”. Ultimately for me it was about giving myself permission to be a writer.

I always thought that you had to be this unique kind of human who heard all the music in their heads first and who had an overwhelming compulsion to write and bear their souls and couldn’t stop unless their complete artistic visions were manifest. But this always seemed to be at odds with my process of fitting the parts together like a jigsaw. For me it as always more about tinkering and tweaking things like working on a giant machine of sounds. I never hear it all in my head first or feel like I have a total vision of what Im working on. I simply fumble with the pieces until they start to fit together and eventually, a bigger picture appears. 

I felt that because I didn’t approach making music like these real artists did, whatever I was doing was not as valid, this of course was all in my own head. The simple truth is it doesn’t matter which way you approach things and it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what they mean or you don’t have a grand vision for it all. It only matters that you did something. 

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. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

019. Communication breakdown

Art is essentially communication. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. That’s why people make art, so other people can relate to it.
— Conor Oberst

Isn’t it true that 90% of human communication is based on non-verbal and body language? Well, where does that leave us when we are trying to make meaningful connections online? I, for one, have decided to try and embrace this new age of accessibility, so I really do hope there is a way to a truthful connection. Otherwise, a lot of us are wasting a lot of time.

One of the greatest experiences you can have in life is to go to hear and see music live, the tactility of it all, the murmurings of the audience before the performance, that shared vital energy from being in a big crowd in one place sharing the one moment together and the performers being the lynchpin to it all. As an artist and an audience member, this is what feels real.

So my question of the week is this; Is it possible to make these real and tangible connections in the digital space? For me, I think there is, because of how I first encountered music. It wasn’t because my favourite band had decided to tour the Irish midlands and I happened to stumble across them. It was through my headphones, as if the singer was talking directly to me or through a movie that opened my mind to ideas that were so brand new I couldn’t have experienced them in any other way. My point is, the delivery system may have changed but the feelings stay real. We all have a favourite song or movie that we have experienced digitally, It didn’t diminish our feelings for it.

So I’m going to go out on a limb here, but could you call the whole internet a new artistic medium? One that’s so all-encompassing that we are simultaneously creating it and experiencing it all at the same time? And if this is true, is the connection we are receiving from it as valid as a real-life communication? Or do you have to actually be there? 

While it’s fair to say, hearing a song on my phone speakers might never compare to the feelings of a real-life performance, the feelings I have for a song, that I may have never got the chance to hear without the freedom of delivery from the online world will still be the same.

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. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

018. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

I’d like to point out to people the divine in a musical language that transcends words. I want to speak to their souls.
— John Coltrane

I received my first trollish comment on a song recently. It wasn’t anything bad or insulting it was just that they compared my song to another artist (how dare they!!) This artist happens to be a big influence on me, (so much so I did a blog about it here) so I took it as a compliment. I didn’t deliberately set out to copy this particular song and although there are elements that are similar harmonically, I don’t think I could be accused of stealing really.  

But It did get me thinking about plagiarism in music. Normally, I don’t give this idea of stealing too much credence because we all have to take our cues from the artists who inspire us, but is there something even deeper? 

You know that feeling when you hear a song somewhere that you haven’t heard in a long time and suddenly it starts to follow you around, you hear it in all kinds of other situations. Or you are thinking about someone you haven’t heard from in a while and suddenly out of the blue, they call.

I find this happens to me in music, particularly when I am writing. I'll start writing something and a song will spring up that I would like to emulate the feeling of. Suddenly I start hearing that song in random places even if it's really obscure. Is this a sort of cosmic influence? Or is it just because my brain is subconsciously looking for connections and is finding them everywhere. 

So why did I mention plagiarism? well, what if, for argument's sake, it is some sort of divine machination at work when you sit down to write. Are these songs that you want to emulate served up by some otherness? Could they be manifesting themselves as some sort of divine through line, moving from artist to artist expressing themselves by a weird synchronicity?

I know, I know, conspiracy theorists of the world unite, (How many smiths references can I fit in here?) "we are all connected man." But maybe there is something to it, and if there is then it certainly lets all those artists who got sued off the hook. But then again, it could be just too much caffeine talking.

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. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

017. Wait, what was I talking about again?

Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity
— T.S. Eliot

Last week I began with an analogy about time travel movies. This week my analogy is about those movies where one man or woman has a singular vision, they disappear into the woods in an epic training/preparing montage and emerge totally ready, usually to catch a criminal or to get revenge. To the detriment of everything else in their lives, they commit one hundred percent to their mission and nothing sways them in their steadfastness.

Well, I am kind of the opposite of that. I have several visions, a hundred tasks and some seriously poor time management. My training montage would probably consist of making coffee and scrolling through my phone. 

It is simultaneously the curse and the advantage of the fluid creative brain, to brim with ideas and to pursue them. What happens to me is I tend to lose track of where I am at with things. Ideas, no problem, follow through erm... not so much. More often than not, this isn’t really a problem; Over time I have learned to accept how I approach things and if I throw enough mud at a wall some of it will stick.

Where I find a real danger in this is that it can lead to a feeling of anxiety, the unknownness of the results when you are working for yourself. It is difficult to quantify whether what you are spending your time on is the most productive it could be, or even that it will actually lead to much at all?

I have also found that for me, when I am in one of these more unpredictable times of having several plates in the air and not really sure which ones are the good china and which are the two euro shop ones, that If I spend too much time on social media it can compound this anxious feeling; Comparing where I think I am at, with where I think I should be with all these other people, are who are seemingly dealing with things much better than I am. Now I am usually a champion for technology and social media but It can really have a sharp edge to it if not handled carefully.

I am not playing the poor me musician has a crisis of confidence card here. It would be much easier to get a different occupation with some regular working hours and a regular salary. It is no one's choice but my own to pursue this kind of life but I thought it might be nice to share warts and all version along with the idealised vision version.

So, what do I do about this? I try to think of it like the weather, constantly in flux and similar in many ways to the fluid creative mind; occasionally overcast, dark and damp but with that is the perfect conditions for growth. Or something like that.  

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. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

016. Slow is fast

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit
— Aristotle

Did you ever notice how in movies about time travel, everyone is really worried about how one small action in the past can throw off the whole space-time continuum, yet nobody is really worried about their small actions in the present? These small actions when compounded are the ones that make for the big ideas and the big achievements but in order to have them lead to something tangible, you have to be consistent. Through time and repetition, the big moments will realise themselves. 

But this small consistent momentum is so far from the modern approach of, "I'm sure there is a hack for that." It can be a real challenge to enjoy the incremental. Even though I know the rewards are so much deeper in the long run, I kind of just want to be good at something straight away. It's like when you cram for an exam, the result might be really good but the knowledge is only at surface level, it is never really internalised.

I think it is a question of integrity and how deeply I would like to experience the things I find important in my life. The more I find hacks for things, the more I only experience them on the surface. I think it is in the small daily actions that you can gain a profound depth and insight into your life experience.

Why then is so easy to avoid these small things in the day, to make excuses and to not follow through? If they are so small then they should be easy to do right? For me, I feel it is the weight of expectation that comes with them. You go to the gym once and suddenly in your mind, your going six days a week and in amazing shape, then you miss a day and that's it, you quit. The emphasis is no longer on getting to the gym for that one day, it's that now you can't do your imaginary six days. 

I think what I am trying to say is that, for me, I find the choice to practice something daily, be it  writing, playing guitar or even not having a muffin with coffee, can be simultaneously the easiest and most difficult decision as it holds both the most pedestrian and the most extraordinary.

 

 

 

 

015. Out with the old, in with the old.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and the by-product from one food can be perfect for making another.
— Yotam Ottolenghi

In the house where I grew up we had, and still do have, a room that was totally devoted to music. It is the room where my mother has taught piano for over thirty years. It is filled from floor to ceiling with sheet music. Nothing is digital in here, all tactile and organised in a unique filing system that is only really known to the librarian. This room also has a vast collection of instruments from weird ethnic strings, to ukuleles and percussion toys.

I recently performed a song in this room for the Sloe Sessions check it out here. While we were making some space to shoot I moved an old bass guitar that had been lying around idle for years, so much so that I didn't even see it as an instrument anymore, it was just some wood and metal that had been accumulating dust and cobwebs. Ben (who runs the slow sessions) Suggested that I should give the bass to our close friend and all-around Bass enthusiast Alan to have a look at and see if he could bring it back to life. At first, he thought it was too far gone but a couple of weeks later he told me that with some meticulous care and attention he had worked it back to a playable working instrument again. 

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I always find that one of the biggest struggles to overcome when trying to create something, is to stop procrastinating and just do the work. In Stephen Pressfield's book The War of Art (I highly recommend it), he maintains, the biggest barrier to creating is what he terms resistance. This resistance is the times when you sit staring at a blank page and can somehow think of everything except what you are trying to do, Resistance is the, "I'll just go on youtube for five minutes first," I'll just make coffee then I'll be ready," You get the idea.

How does this tie in with the old bass I was just talking about? Well, it started me thinking about how often I use the excuse of not having the right equipment as a resistance. I so often say to myself, If I only had this piece of equipment or I can't finish this because it really needs a bass part and I don't have a bass when all along I actually did have a bass I just wasn't seeing it as a bass.

I think my point is that although having the right tools is important actually seeing things as tools is a path to least resistance, so go have a look in your attic or wardrobe and see if there is anything in there to reclaim and start seeing as a tool. You never know what you might have been forgetting about in the quest for the new and shiny. 

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013. Cognitive Dissonance

If your in marketing or advertising ...........kill yourself
— Bill Hicks

Your music is really good but how do you get people to hear it? The answer is you find a way to put it in front of the people you think will enjoy it the most. How do you do this? apparently, it is called marketing.

Learning about running my music career as a business this past year, has been like exploring an alien planet. I was always more interested in the creative side, the artistic vision, I didn’t care about all that business stuff. But to get where I want to go, I needed to understand more. So I went down the rabbit hole and how did I go about this? The internet of course.

As I am prone to mentioning, the amount of free resources available to the human race today is astounding and the people willing to teach their unique skillset is unparalleled in history. But when I started looking into the business world, and more specifically marketing, it was like the gate closing in the alligator pit. You suddenly start getting marketed to in a very specific way because these people are really good at well...Marketing. The problem is that there are so many Snake Oil salesmen out there.

For all our advancements, it is like going back to the wild west; The universal Panacea readily available for whatever in the world you desire, and they know how to get you hooked too. Unfortunately, this is what also part of what makes really good marketing.

Now the irony of all this is not lost on me. Being someone who considers myself as having a relatively good moral compass, what I ask myself is, how do I Juxtapose these ideas for my own career? Can the artistic and business really live together? To what extent do you become the seller of a product over the provider of existential solace which can't really have a price? 

My answer is, for me, there can be creativity in both and there can be artistry in both. You need to do it with your best intentions and if you are going to sell something then provide something of real worth and real value that is worthy of your art.

 

011. Flow States.

The zone is a state of mind which is marked by a sense of calmness. In addition, there is a heightened sense of awareness and focus. Actions seem effortless and there is an increased belief that your dreams or goals can become achievable and real.
— Dr. Jay Granat

This week I learned one of those, especially valuable lessons. You know the kind that leaves you feeling irritated afterwards, but ultimately you know are the most important. 

I was at my tai chi class, the first day back in the new year. It had been a few months since I had been able to attend a class. I had been practising, but without the direction of a teacher, I had drifted off into my own idea of what the practice should be.

When I arrived I said to the teacher, "I have lots of questions." I had stockpiled, and my brain was brimming with tiny, and as it happens, quite inconsequential details. As a result, when I tried to do the form It was slow, thoughtful, uptight and robotic. There was no flow. I was trying too hard thinking too much and outside of the moment. 

Musically, I find this happens to me all the time. I tend to think about the details of the music rather than the sound and the feeling. If I'm playing a gig and it's my turn to solo, I'll often think major scale, diminished arpeggio etc. which as terms really mean nothing, but as sounds can mean everything.

Then there are moments when I don't think about anything at all, those small slices of time where everything is still and I am simply observing what is happening. I feel like I am not in my own way, like a brief ray of sunshine breaking the clouds and then disappearing. It is these moments that I am most fascinated by. When you are in the zone, the greater truth of life appears. I am so often in awe of the people who are truly world class at whatever their chosen field is, how they can transcend all the mental clutter and seem to live in that space that I can only catch glimpses of.

I watched an interview recently with the Irish fiddle player, Martin Hayes. When asked what went through his mind when he plays, he answered that he would take inspiration from the local musicians he was surrounded by growing up. Not so much from their big achievements, but from those small fleeting instances of truth, those magical moments in sessions where the world stopped. That was what he wanted to present when he played.

So I find myself questioning, how do I get there? How do I tap into that zone? that flow state where I am simply in the moment and expressing myself honestly. I think the answer that most regularly presents itself to me is, as always, the simplest and yet the most ethereal; In the words of Yoda

"Do or do not there is no try" 

 

010. The freedom of limits

Reduce. Do as little as possible to do what you have to get done
— Joshua schachter

There are many challenges I find in trying to be more productive, but I think the biggest of all obstacles for me in my creative process is finishing things. I so often leave work half done, abandoned and left to the lost archives of notebooks, phone notes and hard drives. When I think of why that is, there are a few reasons that come to mind. The work is no good, I am afraid of what people will think so it's safer to leave things undone. But the main reason is choice, I simply get confounded by too many options. 

Decision fatigue is a real thing. Think of all those micro-decisions that you have to make throughout your day; Every time you need to choose something there is a little bit of energy spent and although it seems like tiny amounts it all compounds and leaves you drained. 

To try and navigate this, I have been trying to limit the amount of choices I have to make. I would say it is akin to a painter limiting his palette, what she has set out for herself is what she uses. I read an article about this recently and some of the benefits are; a greater balance for your painting, less over mixing, better colour harmony and it forces you to think more about form and composition. I thought this is totally interchangeable with music.

Even the version of this blog you are reading now is actually the fourth draft, the earlier outlines were much much longer. I indulged in several paragraphs all saying the same thing. 

So at the risk of repeating myself and not staying true to my newfound reductionist standpoint, I will try to eliminate the decision fatigue in my creative process and remember the more options I have, the more of a bottleneck my thoughts become. The more clogged up with ideas I get, the more likely I’ll abandon my work because I can't remember what the crux of the idea was in the first place. So streamline, that's my new motto. Hack away the unessential.

 

 

008. Children of the resolution

The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.
— Steven Pressfield

Happy new year! I Don't know how you feel about coming into a new year, but I have always found that there is a great feeling of possibility. The air is fat with promise, like the reset button has been pushed and It goes back to zero again.

And normally, I would start making plans, resolving to do things until my list gets longer and longer, but oftentimes, the longer it gets the less likely it is to happen. I swamp myself in thinking, but thinking is not doing; it is thinking about doing. There is a certain satisfaction in making a plan, it's like having a safety net. When I write something down, it is like I have already done it. But it is an illusion of control; having a plan doesn't really mean anything, it's just a list of things that are written down. In the same way, resolutions are just a list of things written down, they are not real.

Don't get me wrong; I am not against resolutions and plans in general, this is just what I have found to be true for myself. There are plenty of people out there who are amazing at resolutions, seeing them through and holding themselves accountable; it's just I am not one of them. You know the type of shoot first, ask questions later people? That is not me. I tend to ask questions first and people would have died of boredom long before I pulled the trigger.

So this year I am making one resolution and that is to DO MORE. I find that my biggest problem is that I think too much, I analyse things, I make too many lists and I have too many plans. In a way, by even making a resolution I feel like I have already set myself back. I think of all the things that I would like to achieve this year and instead of actually going out and doing them, I make a plan instead.

To get a little deeper for a minute I think there is also a philosophical parallel, if you examine life too much you are not experiencing, you are thinking about experiencing.

So this year I am going to DO MORE, If I am thinking, I am not living. If I am planning, I am not experiencing. If I am not experiencing, I am only imagining and I do not want this year to be a year of imagination; It will be a year of experience. 

So stop thinking, stop planning, stop watching, DO MORE.