15 Big Things I’ve Learned in the Last 2 Years

This is going to be a long one, so grab the beverage of your choice and let’s get to it!

It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to get done
Just over two years ago, I decided that I was through with the day-job grind. I was desperate to leave what I knew was a dead-end corporate job. And by dead-end I mean truly dead end. No matter how high I’d climb on the corporate ladder, the end result was just misery.

I was going to live my dreams of being a full-time musician. Of course, at the time, I had no plan. At all. Sure, there was some vague allusion to social media marketing and selling guitar courses online and selling music direct to fans and generally taking over the world one Symphonic Metal tune at a time.

All in all my big plan sounded a lot like my teenaged musical fantasies. I had to start somewhere, though. I had a rather large back catalog of songs that normally received mediocre and / or lackluster reviews…and those came from my friends and family – the ones who were supposed to be a hundred and fifteen percent behind me and guaranteed fans.

So, the first thing missing in my big plan was…well…music. I had nothing to offer the world that showcased my Mozartian brilliance. Mostly because I have no Mozartian brilliance. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not half bad. I’ve got some solid licks and I’ve always had a penchant for writing so lyrics come pretty easy and they’re pretty good.

But one of the mistakes I’d made in my early career was to believe that I had Mozartian brilliance and therefore wait FOREVER until that brilliance just popped out and amazed the world, which would then make unison cries of a virgin birth in Philadelphia back in the 70s. In case you’re wondering, none of that ever happened.

For the first thirty years of my music career, I waited for everyone to knock on my door and extol my musical virtues. The problem was the world never knew about my musical virtues because they were locked safely away on 4-track tapes and 3.5″ floppy disks. Nope. There were no releases.

One of the big reasons I kept things locked up was because they weren’t perfect. They didn’t showcase my talents enough. They weren’t quite in time. I couldn’t get the drums just right. Mercury was in retrograde. Whatever. There was always a reason that the songs were just not ready to go out to the world.

The same world, by the way, that was supposed to take a battering ram to my front door just to get a glimpse of the new Mozart. The world could not beat down my door because they didn’t know I existed.

To make a long story short (too late, I know) I knew that the first thing I had to do was write songs. For the next year, I trolled through my external hard drive and pick out the best ideas I had and finish writing the darn songs.

I wrote at least a song or two a week for the next year. At the end of a year, I had 60 songs that I could pick from and create my first public release.

And no, they weren’t perfect, but they were done and that was a starting point.

Experimentation can yield the best results
Over that first year when I was writing song after song after song, I pulled out the old Creative Writing trick where I limited myself.

Since I started my Rock & Roll career as a Prog Rock nerd, I placed 2 major constraints on myself:
All songs had to written in 4/4 time, unless they were already started in a different time signature. I don’t hear in 4/4 time so that was really hard. I can’t tell you the number of times I had to reframe a lick that started in 5 or 6 or 7 and yes, even that one in 11.
One song a week, every week. NO EXCEPTIONS! And that song had to be completed. No half baked ideas. I had to have at least one complete guitar line all the way through and the song structure had to be complete.
Some ideas were more complete than others, but they were done and I could move on.

What was the result? For the first time ever, every time – every SINGLE time – I played my new stuff for someone, they liked it. They genuinely liked it. Even that one friend to whom I send my stuff knowing she’s going to keep my feet on the ground. 😉

The other experiment that I tried on this was when it came time to write the lyrics. I had settled on a concept album, so I wrote out the plot points of the story. For each plot point, I wrote one page of the overall story.

From that single page of the story, I took my lyrics. I looked for the main point of that single page and made it the chorus. The paragraph setting up the chorus became the prechorus, and so on through the verses and bridge.

The result? So far, everyone who’s seen the lyrics have loved the way the concept flowed. And they loved the lyrics.

For the first time, my friends were telling me that they would actually BUY my album and they couldn’t wait for it to come out.

Force yourself out of your comfort zone
Yes, I was certainly out of my comfort zone with a year’s worth of constrained experimentation, but where I was further out of my comfort zone was connecting with people.

Oh, sure! I’m fine at a party and when my fencing club has gatherings, I chat with everyone. But then there’s that social media thing. Not my favorite. I never did figure out how to navigate it. And it feels really awkward to me to know that I have a good number of relatives that are “friends” and we still haven’t spoken in years. Like 20 or 30 years.

So…off into the world of reconnecting I go!
The first thing I did was start to post. I started looking for groups that I could post in. I started trolling my feeds for comments from connections on which I could comment.

As if all of this new-found connecting wasn’t good enough, a friend suggested that we start a podcast together. In a little over six months, we’ve garnered about 100 fans of the podcast. Not great but not bad.

Care to take a guess at what that meant? Yep. More connections. And these connections are most likely fans. You know, the kind of people who buy music? So further out of my comfort zone.

We do a weekly chat in our Facebook group which means that I’m connecting regularly throughout the week.

The next step was to actually start connecting with people I know in the real world online. Colleagues, classmates, you name it.

I’m taking baby steps but I’m pushing the boundaries.

It won’t get done unless you make sure it’s done
I know what you’re thinking, but no this is not a repeat of the first point.

I’ve taken my fair share of online courses and worked with my fair share of online coaches. One thing that I hear over and over is “You don’t have to do this alone!”

That is true. BUT…and this is a big one…you do have to make sure it’s done. I ran a mobile music teaching business for about 10 years. Through a good portion of those years, I had assistants.

You know what that means? For me it meant that I was spending as much time babysitting and making sure things were done as I spent running the business. This was a far cry from what I heard in all of those courses and coaching sessions. I heard over and over that you could just hire an assistant.

I hired one. He did great for about 2 months. Then work wasn’t getting done. Every time I called, I got “Yeah, I’m working on it.” He quit for greener pastures. I hired another. Lather, rinse repeat. I got smart! I hired a friend who needed money and who was incredibly competent. Again I ended up doing most of the work.

Yes, that is possible. You also have to screen very carefully and ultimately, this is your business so the buck stops with you. If you don’t make sure it’s done, I can nearly guarantee it’s not getting done.

One more quick point. There is a myth in the world that you can be a DIY anything. You can’t. Whether you need someone to build your website or run your ad campaign or create your logo, you will need someone else to do something at some point. Trust me. I was the only horse in a one-horse operation for at least 5 years and nearly everything I touched was over-complicated and took about 20 times longer than it should have.

You do need help, but you also need to be on top of your business and make sure things get done.

Just because you like it, doesn’t mean you’re good at it
As I mentioned earlier in this diatribe I used to be a Prog Rock nerd. Prog is awesome! The complex arrangements, changing time signatures, nerdy themes and Shakespearean lyrics just make me gush all kinds of fangirlishness.

Unfortunately, I suck at writing Prog. At one point in my career, I swore I was going to be onstage with the likes of Marillion, Porcupine Tree and the rest of the Neo-Prog movement of the 90s.

Guess what didn’t happen!

Yep. You guessed. Because I was convinced of my Mozartian brilliance (something the rest of the world was STILL skeptical of, by the by…) I never actually worked on my song writing. I was merely brilliant and the world was going to bash in my door any day now.

Something happened between my Prog days and Modern Times. I was doing a random internet search for bands that sounded like whomever my favorite Prog band was at the time and the search results returned Within Temptation.

Um…Just in case you’ve not heard Within Temptation, they sound nothing like Marillion or Porcupine Tree or any other Neo-Prog band. But I liked them. A lot. I found out they were classified as Symphonic Metal.

Well, now this is interesting. When I started playing guitar, I started in classical. So here we have heavy metal meets classical. I was hooked.

After a few years of listening to Symphonic Metal, I found a sweet spot. This was actually something I was good at writing! With this new-found knowledge, I actually started working on my songwriting.

I shed the notion of being the next Mozart and accepted the fact that I needed help. In some ways I felt like I had just joined a twelve-step program – “Hi, I’m Sue and I write songs…”

Gone were the nerdy, theory-inspired songs and runs and in was just felt right and sounded good. I still went back to theory if I needed some ideas, but mostly I just played and just created. I passed on the courses and coaches and just listened. I tried to figure out how my favorite songwriters approached things. I read articles. I ditched the attitude and dove into my craft.

In the process, I found my new home. I no longer had to force myself to fit into something that didn’t fit me.

Chasing Rainbows and Unicorns IS a legitimate occupation
I write and and record songs, play guitar and sword fight.
It’s pretty safe to say that yes, I believe in chasing rainbows and unicorns; possibly even dragons and castles.

As a matter of fact, I was working a corporate job about a year ago and when I put in my notice, it actually said I was going to chase rainbows and unicorns.

Creativity is something more than something we do. It’s who we are and that means everyone. My oldest brother is an engineer. His creativity is with spreadsheets and datasets. It may not sound like much fun, but I’ve seen him work them and it’s nothing short of amazing. My creativity is with music. I have another older brother whose creativity is with helping troubled kids.

Creativity is not just about the arts, it’s about life. Without it, we don’t get very far. It’s in that vein that I say creativity is a legitimate occupation.

There was a recent survey of school kids about what they wanted to be when they grew up. 75% wanted to be bloggers, YouTubers and other artistic endeavors.

If you think about that for a minute, that is unsustainable. That leaves only 25% of the populace to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, sales clerks, farmers, etc.

The barrier to entry for all occupations creative has been lowered so far that anyone can do anything. But in order to rise above the noise you have to be good. Really good.

In June of 2016, I took the biggest leap of faith in my life. I put in notice at my safe, secure day job. I gave them 6 months’ notice that I was leaving. And I was going to do music. Since I made that decision, I have been happier, healthier and thinner.

When you make the right decision, you will know.

You have nothing to fear but fear itself
I’m over forty (WAY over…), I’m overweight (WAY over…) and I just don’t care anymore.

OK, that’s not exactly true. I do care. One of the reasons I got back into fencing was to lose weight. When I’m done with fencing class for the week, my knees are sure to let me know that they whole-heartedly disagree with my decision.

But I feel better.

And since I decided to put my music out there and not care about the age and not worry about the weight, I feel better. I’ve made new friends. I’ve taken on new responsibilities. I’ve found a thing or two that I can teach. I’ve come out of the shell that my weight, particularly, had me in.

Why was I in that shell? Fear.

Fear of being laughed at. Fear of falling on stage and not being able to get back up. Fear of having to look at myself and realize that I’m not the 23-year who lost over 100 pounds and looked amazing anymore. Pick something. I was pretty much afraid of everything.

I hid behind cynicism and pseudo-intellectualism.

Then I moved to New York where I was surrounded by cynicism and pseudo-intellectualism. I hated it. If I got nothing else out of the move to New York, I got that I didn’t want to be who I was.

Fast forward a few years, I did that thing that I usually did. I found a friend that needed help with her projects and ran the show. Fortunately, that friend was having none of it.

For the first time ever, someone that I was doing work for saw that I was slowly dying and encouraged me to do what I was supposed to do. A sad realization began to creep in. I was every bit as talented (in some cases more) and every bit as cutting edge as some of the friends I’d helped, but I wasted my time and talents on other people’s careers.

Most of them, by the way, gave up on their music careers.

With the decision to leave the day job and pursue music came the knowledge that I had to make it work. I had no back up plan, therefore I didn’t have time to be scared. Isn’t it ironic that I’ve accomplished more in the past six months than in the previous thirty years?

Support comes from unexpected places
Just before Christmas, my older brother was visiting from Montana. We had never been close. Over the holiday he had said as much and also offered to start over. So we did.

And since then, he has been a pillar of support. Whether it’s career or advice or just a random joke to make me laugh, he has become one of my biggest fans and mentors.

Speaking of mentors, remember those songs I made myself finish but didn’t perfect? Yeah…funny thing about those songs. I posted a really crappily recorded and even more terribly mixed demo in one of my Facebook groups.

The purveyor of the group reached out to me privately. He heard something promising in that demo and volunteered to produce. Since then, he’s become a friend and mentor, helping me line up the recording sessions, artwork and stepping me through the entire process.

Friends and family have stepped up and supported me in ways I could never have anticipated.

Out of nowhere, I’ve been invited to join two of the best Facebook groups a musician could hope to be in.

Be open. God has a sense of humor and you never know when or from where He’ll send you what you need. He won’t necessarily send you what you want but you will get what you need. And He doesn’t work on your timeline, so being open is very important.

If you stay focused and positive, you’ll be surprised at what comes your way.

Always have a Plan B (Sometimes it’s Plan A)
A long time ago, a little six-year-old girl decided that she wanted to write songs and play a guitar.

Somewhere along the line, she started teaching guitar because that was more sensible and was steadier income.

After running her own music lesson business for nearly 10 years, she realized that it wasn’t more sensible and the income wasn’t necessarily steadier.

So she decided to go back to Plan A and write songs and play guitar. While she was writing her first major release, she needed money. Apparently, the company that lent her money for that car wants to be paid every month.

In order to make money while she was writing her first major release, she decided to sell an online guitar course that she had written because that was more sensible and the income was steadier.

And three months later she realized that it wasn’t more sensible and the income wasn’t really steadier, so she decided to just concentrate on Plan A.

That’s all I have to say about that… 😉

There is a way to break “bad” news (and sometimes that news isn’t even bad)
Over the past two years, there were four or five times that I had gotten myself all worked up because I just knew I dropping a bomb on someone’s parade and there was going to be all kinds of backlash.

Except that there wasn’t.

For all of the occasions, I took a deep breath and maybe a couple of extra hours. Once I figured out that I was saying was for the best, then it was easy to frame what I had to say.

And you know what? Everyone ended up agreeing with me. Not only did they agree with me, but the projects and portions of the projects that we were working on ended up skyrocketing because of the ensuing back and forth.

So…yeah…after getting myself all worked up, I ended up saying “Hey, here’s what my research shows” or “You know what I’ve found helpful” or “Hey, let me take some of the pressure off” and in each situation, we ended up having an actual back-and-forth exchange of ideas which led to raising the overall level of the project.

Take a breath. As long as it’s not a life or death issue, nothing you say is going to be that traumatic. If someone else reacts that way, chances are it’s on them.

Stop talking and start listening
People have fascinating stories. Have you noticed? No? You probably have the same problem that we all have. We like to talk about ourselves.

I dated a guy who claimed he was trying to get closer to God. The problem was, every time his minister told him that he needed to wait on other people and serve others, he said the minister was wrong.

An observation from the past two years: I’m not the best fencer in my club. But I’m pretty well liked. Why? Because I put in the time. When we have internal competitions, I keep score. When the parties are over, I clean up. When class is done, I empty the trash.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the only one and I’m no martyr. But that’s what makes the club so awesome. We all pitch in. It’s not about individuals, it’s about the club. It’s about helping other people out.

What does all this have to do with listening? Everything. Try not talking about yourself for a day. Just let other people talk and tell their stories. Not only will you get some inspiration, you’ll get some new friends.

A great number of years ago, I decided that I would never lend anything again. Any time someone borrows something from me, I just figure it’s a gift. It’s led to far less disappointment and resentment.

Give more than you take and listen more than you talk. A whole new world will open up.

You have to hear things you don’t want to hear
This one is still a little raw because I got smacked with things that I didn’t want to hear several times over the past month.

One was a friend telling me he actually liked a video I was working on because I didn’t come off as fake and contrived like I usually did. OUCH! Yeah, that stung. But you know what? After the defense mechanism went back down, I could understand where he was coming from. I also understood why I did and said the things that would lead people to think that of me.

The downside is there are a couple of podcasts out there forever where I sound like a snarky…well, you know. The upside is that I can now move away from the emotions that caused it and move into a better space.

It’s particularly tough when you’re talking about something as personal as your music. After all, those aren’t just notes, those notes are pieces of your soul. But if someone is ripping your music apart, it’s so you can have a better overall piece.

Hey! It’s awesome to write for yourself and it’s awesome to write what you want to write, but if you don’t have an audience, you will forever play to yourself.

Open yourself to the things you don’t want to hear. You’ll be a better musician in the long run.

Sometimes the best advice is free
You have to promise not to let my friend Aaron read this section. Promise? OK, good.

There is a partial myth in the world that you get what you pay for. In many instances we value the advice of those we pay over those who have our best interests at heart.

Now, not everything Aaron has said has panned out, but there are many things that he suggested that I later paid to hear again. Second OUCH of the day!

In a way, this was a good thing. It reinforced the value of Aaron’s and other friends’ opinions and validated their knowledge. Not only for me, but for them. Imagine yourself giving a friend a piece of career advice and then having that friend spend thousands of dollars on a coach only to hear the same thing.

Pretty validating, huh? I had it happen to me a few times and I know I’ve done it a few times.

If your friends are open and honest with you, they have your best interests at heart and will guide you in the right direction.

Caution! If they have not yet learned to deal with their fears, it’s nearly impossible to give clear advice unfettered by those fears.

Take your friends’ advice seriously. Treat them like you’re paying them thousands of dollars. You’ll be richer for it in the end.

Whatever your problem, there is a way to manage it
I was at our monthly competition at my fencing club on Friday. I was about to start whining about my knees. Why do I have bad knees? Because I’ve been seriously overweight most of my adult life.

Happens. It’s something I’m fixing but that’s where I am right now.

Turns out, one of my classmates who is nearly twenty years younger than me has an autoimmune problem that will frequently sideline her completely. And you know what? She fences and teaches yoga. She’s organizing a movie night this week.

If she can manage an autoimmune disorder, you can manage whatever you’ve got, if not completely overcome it.

Oh, and yeah, I ended up not whining about my knee. Seemed rather pointless by then.

But her story helped me not cut class today. If she can be there then I certainly have no excuse not to be.

Use other people’s strength as inspiration to channel your own and make sure you forge on with your dreams.

And NO! You’re not really special.
This is going to be another OUCH moment. I was born into a very loving, very funny, very sarcastic and very practical family.

Yes. The girl who admittedly chases rainbows and unicorns.

To say that I didn’t always see things through rose-colored glasses. For most of my life I kind of felt picked on and / or left out. For most of my life I felt like I was looking in a Christmas dinner from outside a frosted window pane.

And you know what? It’s not my family’s fault.

It was mine. I spent most of my life waiting to be treated like a queen. When it didn’t happen, it was everyone else’s fault.

As you can tell from the first few points I made, I had a bit of a superiority complex and quite the cocky attitude for a good number of years. OK – I was the elephant in the room and I was going to make sure everyone knew it.

You know when I started making friends? When I started losing the attitude. Does it still show up from time to time? Yes. But it also goes back into hiding.

Here’s my point: everyone has unique characteristics that make them special. Everyone has some unique problem or combination of problems to overcome. That’s why we’re here – to become the human beings we were always meant to be.

Everyone’s journey is different. Let’s face it. There’s only one way to lose weight. Eat fewer calories and move more (ergo burning more calories) however, everyone’s journey to get to that point is different.

In that respect, you are NOT special. It’s a grand paradox. If everyone is special then no one can be special. I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

I told you God has a sense of humor.

Hopefully there has been at least one nugget here that helps you move yourself forward and puts you one step closer to where you need to be.

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