Important Questions Every Artist Must Ask Themselves Right Now
What is something that I know for sure that may not be true?
The hard-line position you take about a particular aspect of your career, or of the music industry, may in -fact not be true. If you look for it, you will find the necessary evidence to fortify your truths. Consider for a moment that whatever absolutes you utter say more about how you feel about yourself than they do with the truth. Perhaps you subscribe to absolutes as a protection mechanism that keeps you from the exposure associated with going all-in.
An artist whose music performs well on streaming platforms will posit that radio is dead and that playlists are the new radio. A radio promoter will suggest that radio still reflects the listening of the masses and that streaming data is mostly inflated or fake. Who is right? They both think that, through their own experience and narrow lens, they hold the high ground of knowledge.
So, from your view and belief system — which is based solely on what you experience, see, and hear — what do you accept as fact that may not be reality? Here is a hint: Look for what you know to be true that you complain about or resent. That’s a good place to start; it is in what we hate or resent that we are simply seeing what we don’t like about ourselves. Try not to project how you currently feel as the collective shared truth of the world.
“The music industry shuts down after Thanksgiving” — Maybe you want to shut down for the holidays.
“People don’t care about new music during this pandemic” — Maybe you don’t care about new music discovery right now because you just lost your job. Or maybe you just want to delay your own releases because you are stripped of all certainty when you do roll out new music.
“Record labels will want to change who I am” — Maybe you aren’t confident in who you are.
“Nobody pays for music anymore” — Perhaps you don’t.
As the great Mark Twain famously said:
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Who is keeping me a lo-resolution version of myself?
There is likely one person, one, that you think is keeping you from being the highest version of yourself. You let them dictate the actions you take. You let them hold you back. It may be what they do, what they say, or what they don’t say that generates doubt about your abilities. They are likely to be someone close to you, or someone from your past whose opinion of you, you can’t stop trying to bend.
Here’s the thing, it’s not them…It’s you. Relieve them of the power over you that they may not even be aware that they have. When you think that they are thinking of you, they aren’t. They are thinking of the one person that is holding them back. Resist the urge to demonize this person, as you may unknowingly be this person for someone else.
Ask yourself if there is a part of this relationship dynamic that you use to get yourself off the hook from putting in the work necessary to unlock who you were meant to be. Stop this behavior if you have any interest in being the highest resolution version of yourself. The answer to this question is ultimately…YOU.
Am I willing to go all-in?
Going “all-in” as an artist means to let go. To let go of expectations, yours and others. To let go of trying to look perfect for everyone, or for someone specific. To let go of chasing the validation of a shadow music industry (you know, the one you think is always watching and judging you). To let go of the distractions you place along your path in that self-destructive way that we creatives do so exceedingly well.
Going “all-in” means making a full commitment to your craft and letting the final iterations of that commitment — the creative output — be judged, critiqued, picked apart, and discarded. It means responding with humility, grace, and unwavering confidence to whatever the collective response may be.
What would you do the rest of this year, musically, if there were no more social media and no one was watching? If you no longer had to post selfies and keep up with your platforms on a daily basis. Seriously, what would you do? I’m not suggesting you disappear and abandon your platforms right now, but the inquiry is an important one. As you think through this question and arrive at the answer, ask yourself “Why can’t I do this?” Oftentimes, the removal of distraction(s) is what opens up the path to reaching your potential, to maturing sonically, and to making that career defining work. It is not about quitting your job to focus full time on your music, it’s about quitting the distractions and unhelpful behaviors you are responsible for putting in your own way. That’s going all-in.
Are you willing?
Am I ready to stop narrating my artist life?
We all spend entirely too much of our creative life narrating it, molding and perfecting the synopsis into something we hope will be easily understood. We do this in place of actually writing the story. This is what artists do, particularly on social media, where we craft curated and neatly packaged visual presentations in an effort to help others easily understand our artist story. This is done under the guise of “branded content.” I generally have no problem with this; and today it is a necessary exercise; however, when you treat this secondary part of our work as THE WORK, you truly lose your way.
Start writing the chapters of your artist life; the synopsis will come later, and you won’t be the one writing it. Refocus your efforts on living out the chapters. The excellence of your creative output is all anyone is truly interested in anyway. How many of your favorite artists’ social media platforms do you actually follow and pay close attention to? Chances are little to none.
Aren’t you ready to start truly living and being present in this creative life? If not now, especially now, when?
What has happened to me in my career that I hang on to like it’s still happening?
A release didn’t go as well as planned. You signed a contract that you then spent two years getting yourself out of. You had an abusive relationship with your producer. You got dropped from your label. Your tour got cancelled because of a viral pandemic.
The associated feelings are completely valid; these are not pleasant experiences. They are also not still happening now and they are not happening in your future. Whatever happened to you ONLY exists as stored memories in your conscious mind. These experiences from your past do not define you, nor do they determine where you are headed or what will happen in the future.
If you find yourself stuck in the past and unable to navigate forward (tendencies that are undoubtedly exacerbated by all of this pandemic uncertainty), follow the words of the acclaimed psychologist Jordan B. Peterson:
“What shall I do in the next dire moment? Focus my attention on the next right move.”
What encouraging words would I say to the artist I was 2 years ago?
Look away from your device and really think about this for a moment…
That’s what you want someone to say to you right now.
I’ll leave that one there.
Soundtrack courtesy of “Red Earth & Pouring Rain” by Bear’s Den, included here on The Compass Method Spotify Playlist; updated monthly with a mix of new discoveries and songs I generally obsess over. It pairs well with long stares out the window plotting your next move. If this resonated with you please share with other artists who might find it valuable and check out my previous stories on Medium.
Patrick Ermlich is a life-long artist guide, consultant, creative director, and CMO of Gramophone Media.