If you’re going to develop any skill as an independent artist, entrepreneur, creative, or anything, make it problem-solving.
Problem-solving isn’t taught in school. The only place I ever received any training in it was in network marketing (and it was worth it).
Why does it matter?
Well, the difference problem-solving skills can make for you, your life, and your career is nearly incalculable.
Things always come up in life. Flat tires. Unexpected bills. Relationships going sideways. Breakdowns of various shades and colors.
Most of us, at best, have thought of one or two ways of solving a problem, and if we were honest with ourselves, we’d see that the few solutions we’ve devised aren’t very effective.
For the most part, we should reserve the word “problem” for our competition, and stick to “challenges” for ourselves, but for the intents and purposes of this post, we’ll let “problem” stand.
Anyway, can you see how having one or two poorly crafted solutions to any problem is a position of compromise?
For instance, if you’re one unexpected bill away from declaring bankruptcy, you’re in a much direr situation than you even realize.
At the risk of triggering you, I need to point out that spending no time thinking about all possible solutions is intellectual laziness.
The reason it’s intellectual laziness is that it’s an indication you haven’t spent much time practicing realistic thinking in your thinking, reflection, and journaling time. That is, of course, if you’re spending any time thinking, reflecting, or journaling at all.
But if you’re not also looking at everything that could possibly go wrong with your plans, you’re being unreasonably sanguine about life and the situations it can present you with.
I’ve had flat tires (naturally), fridges and furnaces break down, people ghost me for seemingly innocuous reasons, and much, much more. It’s surprising the disruption and headaches these seemingly simple “problems” can cause in life.
But suffering is always optional. Because there’s something you can do about the situation.
Several years ago, I remember having a car window that went off the track. I knew that I could bring my car to a mechanic. But a little bit of research quickly revealed that the repair could be costly. The car was already 10 years old. I didn’t think the repair was going to be worth the cost. So, I bought a roll of duct tape and taped the window shut.
My business coach, at the time, said to me “That’s super entrepreneurial.”
This turned out to be the ideal solution because, as I recall, three out of four windows eventually all went off track. Then, the car engine took a turn for the worse and the poor Volkswagen broke down completely.
I’m not advocating doing what I did, taping car windows, especially given that authorities might not always look your way with a forgiving eye.
But I could have wasted a ton of money maintaining and repairing a car that was clearly on its last legs. Instead, I chose to handle the challenges with simplicity and ease, putting out a fire and moving on with my priorities.
To summarize, unfortunately, I must use a phrase that’s both a cliché and a rather ambiguous expression – think outside the box.
In every problem or challenge, look for every opportunity for resolution, not just one. It sounds intellectually exhausting, but to the contrary, I have found identifying and implementing unconventional solutions exhilarating.
The alternative is submitting to the “at the first sign of things going wrong, rob a bank” mentality glorified by films like Fun with Dick and Jane, and to me, that’s intellectual laziness of the tallest order. Not to mention, there’s a very good chance such an act would land you in jail.
The projects I take on are often perceived as “fun” or “glamorous,” presumably because they are usually related to music, creativity, performance, or entertainment in some capacity.
But music is not any less work than anything else. You cannot get good at it without treating it like a full-time job, or at the very least, a very serious part-time job.
No one in their right mind says, “after my 9 – 6, I’m going to go home, have supper, and practice my guitar for six hours.” But these are the very virtuosos you see on YouTube, some not even famous. What they’re doing requires an immense amount of focus, dedication, and hard work.
You can’t go to the clubs, hang out with friends, or lay on the beach if you’re practicing guitar six hours per night. Once you’ve paid your dues at the day job, the only thing waiting for you at home is a music stand, your practice material, and maybe a notebook to jot your ideas down.
And if you’ve ever heard a musician practice… oh boy. It looks like playing something the wrong way, repeatedly, for hours, sometimes days (or weeks, or months, or years) on end, until you can finally play it correctly. Talk about agony.
Just because something appears “fun” doesn’t mean it takes any less work. It’s usually the opposite. If you want to become a master of your craft, you can’t let anything get in the way of your commitment. And if you want to stand out in a profession others consider “fun” and “easy,” you can bet you’ve got your work cut out for you.
My projects get done because I take them seriously, just as any entrepreneur would. I no longer think about whether I’m passionate about what I do. I decide to be passionate about what I do, simply because I’m doing it.
Come spend a week with me some time. Then you can be the judge of whether what I do is any fun.
I’ve made a commitment to creating the life I love through my creativity. And that means doing whatever it takes. If I have fun along the way, I count it as a bonus. But it doesn’t mean I don’t encounter challenges or go through an array or emotions as I’m doing it (I’ve simply found that being emotional about everything wastes precious energy). I’m human. I go through everything you can imagine me going through.
An unreasonable commitment to showing up and doing the work is what has gotten me to where I am. Without integrity in what I do, I would not even enjoy the humble success I have today. And I am nothing if not a work in progress when it comes to integrity.
I am getting ahead of myself. A little bit. Because v1.0 of the Productivity, Performance & Profits Blackbook isn’t even done yet.
But my most recent customer of the book expressed interest in a physical copy. That’s all I needed to know!
As to when the book will be ready, and what format (paperback, hardcover, or both), I can only speculate. But this is my primary area of focus this year, especially for the next quarter (ending June). So, you can bet it will be top of mind for me.
Don’t forget – by the time you’ve read this, there probably won’t be much time left (or there may not be any time left) to take advantage of the heavily discounted pre-order offer. If you’ve been sitting on the fence, just know that it’s the most painful place to sit. Say yes to standing on my shoulders and seeing further. Or say no.
It’s been a while since I’ve played a gig, especially one where I was tasked with providing background music.
It was a fun and pleasant experience, though, one where there was virtually no pressure. If there was any pressure, it was self-inflicted. I have a history of over-preparing and expecting great things of myself any time I’m called upon.
Fortunately, I am able to relax more nowadays, thanks to the considerable experience I have under my belt.
I remember watching a Christmas concert on TV with my family one year. For the life of me, I can’t remember who was performing. It may have been Celine Dion.
And I remember commenting out loud, “she’s singing like her career depended on it.”
In the moment, I don’t think I realized how true that was. In a time when TV was still the main channel through which information was relayed, and entertainment was programmed, performing at Christmastime would mean having all eyeballs on you. You’ve got to sing like your career depends on it.
And that’s the way I’ve approached most gigs. I know there won’t be any A&R reps there. I know there may not even be anyone to impress. I’m competing with the toughest competitor of all – myself.
I was recently re-reading my New Year content from last year, and I thought to myself, “this is probably the best I have ever written.”
I’m up against something if I want to surpass that level of writing this year.
That’s how I think about live performance as well. I’ve done a lot of cool stuff in the past, so one upping myself is not going to be easy.
But I realized something tonight.
Playing for your friends or strumming the guitar around the campfire is one thing. Strangely it feels so ordinary. But playing your heart out at stage volume? Suddenly, you realize your playing holds up. Maybe you’re not Guthrie Govan or Tosin Abasi. But you know you’ve got something.
It’s been my experience that musicians get frustrated for a variety of reasons – record contracts gone sideways, unreliable band members, stagnant career growth, even popular music can sometimes drive musicians nuts.
But despite all the frustration, pursuing your passion is worthwhile. You are wanted. Your music does matter.
So, if you’re looking to find your pathway as a musician, rest assured you’re in the right place at the right time, and it’s my hope that you will be inspired by this guide.
My Own Embarrassing, Humiliating, Defeating Frustrations with Music
I want to start this off by sharing some of my own frustrations with you.
If I named all the ways I’ve been frustrated as a musician, unfortunately, we’d be here all day.
I’m an award-winning composer for crying out loud! And I’ve still got a laundry list of failures and grievances.
Keep reading to find out what some of them are…
Preparing for the Tour That Never Was
When I was first getting started in music, it was all about booking a tour. That’s what I thought you did if you took music seriously.
So, I started putting together this postal mail campaign with my band, and we prepared 150 letters to go out to various Canadian churches.
And then I don’t even remember how many letters we’d prepared for US churches, but it was well over 1,000, maybe even closer to 2,000.
Anyway, first we sent out all Canadian letters and we got three responses back. There was a gig that almost got booked, but it just never happened.
And then when it came time to send out our US campaign, we didn’t realize how much it was ultimately going to cost.
So, those letters sat there for a while, and eventually got recycled.
Making Music & Not Knowing What to do with it Next
Then the next thing was, “Hey, I should get an album recorded.”
Because if I have an album, there are all these other great opportunities. I could get my music into films. I could start booking gigs. There are all kinds of opportunities I could pursue if I just had a recorded album.
My first band ended up recording an eight song EP (heard in the video below).
We were known for our improvised jams, so half of the tracks on that album were improvised.
And that was a fun experience, but the band broke up shortly after.
That was before we did any kind of distribution with that music. Unfortunately, it ended up being a homespun project.
It did get out to some people, and they enjoyed it. But it never went anywhere after that, and physical copies are very rare and hard to find.
Eventually, I got a solo album recorded, but then I realized I needed to promote it, or no one was going to buy it.
My first solo album from 2006.
I figured I could sell it at the guitar store since I had guitar students. I could sell it at my gigs and so forth.
And I was trying to find a way to sell it online too. But that was a very long process. It took a long time to figure that out.
How to Transform Your Experience as a Frustrated Musician
Now I want to talk about a few things many frustrated musicians don’t really do. They get very frustrated without engaging in certain activities that could end up helping them long term.
Investing in Your Personal Growth
The first is investing in your personal growth.
You could call it self-improvement, personal development, or otherwise. But sometimes it gets a bad reputation with artists.
The thing is, I can tell you from personal experience that the right materials can help you get unstuck and feeling motivated again.
There isn’t necessarily anything magical or woo-woo about it.
But if you engage in the classics (like Think and Grow Rich, How to Win Friends and Influence People, The Magic of Thinking Big, etc. – you can also see our top recommended books here) and utilize time tested principles, you’d be amazed how much your life can improve.
I personally started an intensive yearlong leadership program last June, and I can honestly say almost a year later, my life doesn’t even look the same.
Everything around me has transformed. The world doesn’t even look the same to me anymore.
I totally understand that you’ve read countless blog posts, you’ve listened to podcast episodes up the wazoo, and you’re drowning in videos.
How do I know that?
Because you’re here right now.
And you’re reading another blog post.
But what about investing in your growth in a more directed way? After all, you get what you pay for.
You would do well to understand that some of the highest performing people in the world have coaches, be it Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, or Tony Robbins.
Look it up! I’ve got time…
Now I’m not here to sell you my coaching services, though, I know I could help you. Because I’ve been in your shoes, and I’ve been frustrated. I’ve probably experienced whatever it is you’ve experienced.
The point is, do you have an outside perspective on your career, someone who can ask questions and guide you? Someone who has connections and access to resources you don’t?
Sure, you can find them all on your own. But do you have 10, 20, 30 years to dedicate to researching? Because the best musician coaches have already invested that amount of time into their skills, knowledge, and experience.
You can spend all your time trying to find the right resources on your own. Or you can leverage someone who already has a catalog of experiences to draw from.
It’s just like hiring a mechanic. You pay them a premium for knowing what to do, regardless of how easy or difficult the task ultimately is.
We take for granted that our car will probably be sitting at the shop all day before we even get it back, when your mechanic could have done all of 15 minutes of work and charged $200 for it.
Pivoting and Finding a New Path for Your Music Career
One last thing I want to talk about is pivoting and finding a new path.
Sometimes, based on the how things have gone, it’s necessary to adjust your approach.
What they don’t often tell you, though, is that small tweaks can make a bigger difference than you even realize.
Sometimes there aren’t big adjustments to make. A little tweak here, a little tweak there, and things can begin to work.
For instance, at Music Entrepreneur HQ, when we launched our PDF Vault offer, we started to see an uptick in email subscribers.
So, we started focusing on this offer over the countless others we created – many of which were complete duds.
There’s no point in fighting a current that’s working against you. Go with the flow.