Structures & Snowballs in Your Music Career

Structures & Snowballs in Your Music Career

I write a new piece of content daily. I schedule it to publish at 1 PM PST on my blog. This content is created deliberately, and with intention. It’s usually a small piece that forms a bigger whole long-term. Not everyone knows that or understands why it matters.

What I’ve just described, though, is a structure. And a structure is something you put in place to ensure your success.

This is not a conversation about content though. It’s a conversation about ensuring that you’re consistent in taking the actions that lead you where you want to go. Structure crates consistency.

For instance, you could have a structure built around songwriting. Every Friday, you sit down to write for an hour at 3 PM. After your session’s over, you share a short clip of the song you’ve written on Instagram. That would be a structure.

And what would it help you achieve over the long haul? Maybe not mass fame or fortune. But it could be a piece of the puzzle that helps your music career. Maybe you’d never run out of songs or song ideas again. And maybe your Instagram following would grow, even if gradually. That would be cool, right?

But the reality is this is how most things work. As much as we desire instant gratification, it’s not available much of the time. So, it’s our habits that help create momentum. You can’t expect your career to blow up just because. It probably won’t.

As for the habit of publishing I mentioned earlier, do you know what that helps me do?

Obviously, publishing a 300- to 800-word blog post daily isn’t going to propel me to superstardom. Plenty of people publish amazing content every single day.

You know what it does do though? It helps me write my next book. And a book is far more valuable than a blog post. Small pieces start form the bigger whole. And it doesn’t need to take a fully year. I could have another book in 90 days.

Setting aside time to write songs daily or weekly can help you create your next album. And if you’re consistent, you could have that done in a shorter period than you might think.

Don’t lose sight of the long-term as you’re facing short-term decisions. A small habit could be the snowball that starts rolling down the hill, gains momentum, and turns into an avalanche of success.

A small habit could be the snowball that starts rolling down the hill, gains momentum, and turns into an avalanche of success. Click To Tweet

For a proven, step-by-step framework in cracking the code to independent music career success, and additional in-depth insights into making your passion sustainable and profitable, be sure to pick up my best-selling guide, The Music Entrepreneur Code.

Are You Clear on What You Want to Accomplish as a Musician?

Are You Clear on What You Want to Accomplish as a Musician?

In an industry where charlatans and shills abound, it’s hard to let go of the couch to big screen dream and focus on the daily actions that will get you to your goals (if you’re even clear on what those goals are).

But anyone that’s trying to sell you on the idea that their $397 course is going to make you wealthy, famous, and ripped like a bronzed god is probably after the little money you don’t even have, not interested in how you get on once you get going. A real coach is always invested in your success.

Courses are great, and I’m a big believer in investing in myself.

But you need to be careful with a) who you buy from, b) lofty promises, c) placing blame (especially self-blame), and d) managing your expectations.

And so, one thing that can be helpful in bypassing the toll booth to the superhighway of shattering disappointment and empty coffers is achieving crystal clarity on what it is you want to accomplish as a musician – keeping in mind that there is no wrong path. It’s all about where you want to get to.

One thing that can be helpful in bypassing the toll booth to the superhighway of shattering disappointment and empty coffers is achieving crystal clarity on what it is you want to accomplish as a musician. Click To Tweet

It could be making six-figures while making music from home. That’s a doable dream. People just like you have pursued that possibility and have made it their reality.

It could be touring the world, or signing a record contract, or just having a steady, easygoing, profitable career recording and performing in your locality. I’m not going to judge.

The thing that will stop you in accomplishing what you want in music, besides the snake oil sales, is getting too wrapped up in all the opportunity and failing to chart a course for the success you desire.

The way it works is this…

If you say that you’re a songwriter, and you’re committed to the craft of songwriting, and you start publishing songs you’ve written, you’re going to build a reputation as a songwriter. And then people are going to ask you to write songs. And you’ll start getting better jobs, and soon you’ll have a full-time career in songwriting. And then, you’re going to start getting requests for a lot of other things, like co-writes, or being a session musician, or licensing opportunities.

That’s a model that works.

The model that tends not to work is choosing to be a touring artist. But then seeing a shiny object over there. Music licensing and placements. So, you set yourself up to make beats at home. But what’s this? Mastering engineers get paid a lot of money. “I’m going to become a mastering engineer now!” But wait… these festivals look awesome. “I want to start performing at festivals.” Clubhouse! NFTs! Patreon!

And on it goes.

When you jump around like that, you don’t have the opportunity to get better at what you do, develop a reputation, find clients, get better jobs, build a full-time career, and have the wherewithal to branch out.

Too often, we branch out too early, you see. You can have your cake and eat it too, but if you don’t cultivate focus early on, no one around you will know how to support you. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. You want to be the person that when others see you, they say, “wow, they’re still going at it!?”

And that’s a matter of determination, sure, but it’s more a matter of powerful branding. You don’t always get what you ask for, but you almost never get what you don’t ask for.

You don’t always get what you ask for, but you almost never get what you don’t ask for. Click To Tweet

For a proven, step-by-step framework in cracking the code to independent music career success, and additional in-depth insights into making your passion sustainable and profitable, be sure to pick up my best-selling guide, The Music Entrepreneur Code.

Taking Full Responsibility of Your Music Career

Taking Full Responsibility of Your Music Career

Abstractions and emotions rule most music careers. Because career activity is driven by abstractions and emotions.

Think about songwriting. What is a song, really? It’s a personal expression, right? Even when you aren’t talking about yourself, technically you are, because you’re expressing an idea, thought, or opinion. So, abstraction and emotions can help the songwriting process. Especially since listeners relate to human emotions.

But when it comes to something more exact like business or marketing, you can’t just rely on gut feelings or fly by the seat of your pants. You’ve got to be able to track your activity, look at the facts, and make hard decisions to pursue that which works and makes sense to do.

That’s the responsibility that some artists have a hard time accepting. They either don’t want to do it, or they just want someone else to do it.

And I’m not going to say that getting someone else to do it isn’t an option. But you’ve still got to act on the data, right? Or else it makes no sense to collect. We can stubbornly insist on things we think we should be doing, or we can use cold, hard facts to make better decisions on the activity we should be engaged in.

If you want to create something because you want it to exist, that’s fine, but recognize it might not be the fast track to getting what you want in your music career.

And I get that this is a scary thing. You’re trying to blaze a trail and make your way all on your own. You’re trying to make things work in your music career.

But turning a blind eye and following emotion or opinion is the least attractive option.

You’ve either got to start tracking relevant data yourself, get someone to track for you, or some combination thereof. Otherwise, you’re unlikely to grow your music career into a sustainable, profitable one. You’re just going to be ruled by your opinions and emotions, as most artists are, and end up in the same desperate bucket they are.

The most successful artists do things differently. That’s why they’re successful.

The most successful artists do things differently. That’s why they’re successful. Click To Tweet

For a proven, step-by-step framework in cracking the code to independent music career success, and additional in-depth insights into making your passion sustainable and profitable, be sure to pick up my best-selling guide, The Music Entrepreneur Code.

The Slash / Conundrum

The Slash / Conundrum

If you’re going to be a full-time podcaster, you can’t just be a podcaster. You’ve got to have something to talk about. And then you’ve got to be able to talk about it in an interesting way. You’ve got to be a student of storytelling and psychology, such that you’re able to capture and hold a listener’s attention.

The reality is that a full-time podcaster is an exceedingly rare thing. So, while all these responsibilities might seem excessive and demanding, if you want to play ball with the big boys, you’ve got to be able to hold your own.

Learning to become a songwriter is basically the same thing. You can’t just be a lyricist. You’ve to have something to say. You’ve got to be able to say it in a compelling way. And you’ve got to be able to put it all to a catchy hook that becomes an earworm.

You won’t be an effective songwriter if you’re not curious or passionate about something. It doesn’t matter whether it’s riding horses or woodworking, if you don’t engage in something meaningful and challenging, you won’t have anything worth writing about, and people won’t relate to your songs.

You’ve often heard me describe myself as an author / entrepreneur / musician. But if I were to break it down, I’m really a blogger / author / writer / ghostwriter / copywriter / podcaster / digital marketer / web developer / graphic designer / singer / songwriter / guitarist / composer / music producer / community builder / entrepreneur / presenter / public speaker / entertainer… Starting to get the idea?

The Slash Conundrum is that today, as a creative, it’s impractical to be anything other than a polymath. The people that we look up to – our heroes – necessarily had to become known for one thing. But now, you’re a commodity if you just speak well. There are 37 million YouTube channels, and polished speakers are a dime a dozen.

You may identify with Jennifer Lopez the artist. But when you think about it, Lopez is really a singer / dancer / artist / icon / model / actress / entertainer / public figure / entrepreneur, so on and so forth. See what I mean? The modern-day artist isn’t just an artist anymore.

I don’t know about the future, but the present belongs to the polymath. So, the slash, even if unwanted, is mostly inevitable, especially if you want to thrive as a creative or creator.

The game to play is creative alchemy. How will you fuse your passions, strengths, talents, interests, and experiences to develop a package (art, persona, brand) that stands out?

You can’t just be a podcaster. You’ve got to have something to talk about. You need to live and experience life. You need other interests. You need to have conversations. You need to take risks.

The conundrum, of course, is that all this can seem quite daunting.

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My Songwriting Process

My Songwriting Process

“It’s fine to break the rules, but first, you should learn what the rules are. Then you’ll be breaking the rules intentionally.”

This was the advice my songwriting friend had received from his guitar teacher. He knew how to sing, how to write a song, and how to play a bit of guitar. But his theory knowledge had yet to be developed.

When he relayed these words to me, I had my own breakthrough. Because I started to see that music isn’t all about staying within comfortable theoretical limitations. That music has been done. And it’s often boring.

Preferably, you want to listen to your intuition, and find an expression that’s true to you. Listeners identify with your uniqueness, not your sameness.

Here are some thoughts on my songwriting process.

(For more context, refer to my companion piece on my songwriting journey.)

Early Recordings

My early recordings were intentionally anti-typical.

In the early to mid-00s, my stance was that most mainstream music was uncreative and artistically lacking.

So, whether I was working with Lightly Toasted Touché or engaged in solo work, I sought to go against the grain, even if just in subtle ways.

A i – III – iv chord progression is relatively common in rock (think AC/DC’s “TNT”). But turn each chord into a dominant 7th, and you end up with a bluesy sounding progression that tweaks the ear. That’s exactly the style of progression I employed on “Six Sides” on my first solo album, Shipwrecked… My Sentiments.

While being folky, “Six Sides” ultimately turned into an Eric Clapton style blues-rock song.

I could offer an analysis of each song and talk about how they are just a little outside the box (most of the analysis is on the page I linked to). But you can hear many of these influences in my early music:

  • The Beastie Boys
  • Eric Clapton
  • Collective Soul
  • Remy Shand
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Van Halen
  • Extreme
  • Harem Scarem
  • The Mourning Widows
  • Population 1
  • And so on

I’m reiterating myself here, but the goal was always to craft music that deviated from the norm (even if just a little).

For example, “Human” from Shipwrecked… is almost like a fast-paced Police style song. But it features an “outside the box” chord in the chorus.

That gives you a bit of an idea of what my musical approach was like at the time.

Lyrically, though, Shipwrecked… was mostly feeling led. And the predominant feelings of the time were loss and grief.

The greatest loss I’d experienced at that time was my cousin taking his own life and the band breaking up.

Back on Solid Ground

In 2007, I went onto write 365 songs in a year. Most of them were terrible, though two songs written during that period became staples in my live set. Even so, I grew frustrated with songwriting, and I was suffering from a bit of a creative block.

“Wonderfully Dysfunctional” was one of the songs written in 2007 that became a fan favorite:

In 2008, I would have my heart broken. And just like that, the creative dam was broken.

I wrote a full album’s worth of material, and just kept writing until I felt I had exhausted all ideas.

My songwriting approach changed considerably at this point.

For starters, I started reaching for clichés, like “All or Nothing,” “Everything Reminds Me of You,” and “Every Time I Turn Around” and turned them into the titles of the songs.

People often ask musicians whether music or lyrics come first, and it largely depends on the song. But when it came to Back on Solid Ground, the titles came first.

Writing a song around a cliché became like child’s play to me, because I could so easily relate to the emotions people said they experienced in relationships – love, infatuation, frustration, confusion, anxiety, and more. These were mostly foreign to me until I had fallen in love in 2008.

The lyrics for Back on Solid Ground weren’t innovative by any means. They were just straight from the heart. They expressed longing, sadness, loss, as well as hope.

Musically, it was meant to be a stripped-down acoustic album, so I leaned more heavily on typical chord progressions and riffs.

But the defining sound of this collection of songs would be suspended and slash chords.

My friends would say, “all those chords sound alike,” not realizing it was all quite intentional. I wanted the harmony of certain chords to be heard against different bass notes. I’ve always found this to be a great way to evoke emotion, whether on rhythm or lead guitar.

I began working on Back on Solid Ground in 2008 and it was meant to be recorded the following year. I worked with a producer who ended up bailing on the project, so all I have are half-finished demos.

Angels Breaking Silence

The members of Lightly Toasted Touché would reunite in 2008, along with a new lead singer who was in high school at the time.

The band drew upon punk rock, emo, and post-hardcore influences, as was in vogue to do at the time. That said, our music wasn’t about the breakdowns. I think we only had one song that even had a breakdown. And unlike most other bands we performed with, our songs had guitar solos.

Although I wrote a couple of melodic rock style songs for the band, most songs were collaborative works, with me writing the music, and the drummer and singer writing the lyrics.

The band was so busy rehearsing and performing that we only ever had a few demos recorded (posted to MySpace), and one song contributed to a compilation. At shows, we sold merch – buttons, T-shirts, and posters.

Again, the band only lasted about a year and a half and that feels like a blip on the radar compared to the many years I’ve been active as a solo artist or session musician.

You would be hard pressed to find any trace of the band or its material on Google now, except on Wayback Machine and maybe on one of my blogs.

Demos 2010/Fire Your God

In 2010, I would go onto record a handful of demos that would become Demos 2010, and later, Fire Your God.

At the time, I was experimenting in the studio quite a bit, and it felt exhilarating.

I was introduced to the world of free VST plugins – effects, synths, virtual instruments, and more. I felt like a kid in a candy store.

2010 was a busy year, and I never had the opportunity to turn the demo recordings into fully fledged songs. Songs like “Fire Your God” and “Summer (I’ll Be Waiting)” are missing drums, and the songs that do have drums on them, like “Fear No Longer” and “Something to Say” were just prefab beats included in a guitar effects unit.

I spent the final days of 2010 mixing and mastering these demos myself, learning a lot along the way.

What’s interesting is that my fans ended up liking the raw, unfinished material, and to this day, I still get a lot of compliments on it.

The songwriting might seem all over the map, but I can put it into perspective by grouping the songs together.

“Fire Your God,” “Razor Man,” and “Risen from the Ashes” represent the instrumental tracks of this collection, though each of them is different.

“Fire Your God” was basically a series of guitar riffs. The song kind of wrote itself.

“Razor Man” was influenced by early Nintendo video game music. I’ve always been a fan of video game music.

And “Risen from the Ashes,” like a few other songs on the list, carry a little bit of the Angels Breaking Silence flavor.

“Summer (I’ll Be Waiting),” “Fear No Longer,” and “Something to Say” are all in a post-hardcore, emo vein. These were my answer to the band breaking up, though “Something to Say” was written for my cousin and his band.

“Not Forgotten” is a ballad, but I would say it’s very much in the same style as well.

Then there are some other fun songs on the list, like “Digital Audio Workstation” and “Spark Vinyl,” which are podcast themes, and “There’s Only One Boss,” which is reflective my early songwriting efforts (before I could even play an instrument), when I used to fill binders with rap lyrics.

The “In Between” Years

Mounting financial troubles would have me looking outside of music (besides teaching) for additional income sources in 2011.

Eventually, I would be introduced to the world of entrepreneurship. Once I saw the kind of lifestyles people were creating for themselves, I got hooked.

Drawing upon the training material, I was inspired to transform my music career and entrepreneurial efforts as well. In 2012, I would invest in a music industry tech startup. It tanked in 2015.

After selling my house in 2012, I began working on my book, The New Music Industry, which launched in June 2015.

The New Music Industry paperback

During these years, I would still write songs, attend open mics, perform with bands, go on mini tours, and more. But I was largely inactive as a musician, as I felt torn between music and business (while looking for ways to merge the two, which I did).

In addition to the music tech startup, my network marketing efforts also led nowhere after three plus years of effort. Which is to say nothing of networking marketing itself but suffice it to say it was not unsustainable for me.

So, while I continued to take risks in 2014, ultimately, I made the choice to approach my life a little more pragmatically. After all, dreams had crumbled, and bills had to be paid.

Beginning fall 2014, I began engaging in a variety of work – ghostwriting and freelance writing, music instruction, theater tech work, community work, and more. And the community work would draw me back into the world of music in a meaningful way.

2016 – 2018

10 years after the release of Shipwrecked… My Sentiments, in 2016, I finally released a new solo instrumental single called “Fragments.”

In my early work, I drew upon R&B and jazz influences quite a bit, and “Fragments” was very much in keeping with that style.

Even while I was getting started in business, I used to engage in a project I called Sunday Compositions. The basic structure of “Fragments” would be written on one of those Sundays.

I followed up “Fragments” with “City Lights,” “Don’t Wait Too Long,” and “Hope” in 2016.

At the time, synthwave (80s soundtrack influenced music) was booming, and “City Lights” was my answer to that.

If I’m not mistaken, the framework for “Don’t Wait Too Long” also came together during a Sunday and was influenced by an over the top They Might Be Giants tune called “Man, It’s So Loud in Here.”

“Hope” is a straight up pop tune influenced by EDM. In the early 2010s, EDM was quite good, and I often found myself listening to EDM mixes while working.

2017 would see the release of “Waves” and “Your Eyes Give it Away.”

“Waves” came together after I watched the 2015 Amy Winehouse documentary simply titled Amy. I asked myself, “what would it sound like if I combined jazz with synthwave (i.e., jazzwave)?” The answer is “Waves,” which sounds like it belongs on the Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack more than anything.

My friends tell me “Your Eyes Give it Away” sounds like a Hall & Oates tune, which I honestly take as a compliment.

It was more influenced by circumstances and people in my life than it was by a specific artist or band, but again, I seem to recall that it was EDM-inspired.

In 2018, I re-released Demos 2010 as Fire Your God.

For every song released, there are probably half a dozen if not more that just didn’t work on some level and have sat on my hard drive until such day I see a way forward with them.

Recent Work

In 2019, I released two EPs – No Escape and Nowhere Even Near.

I’ve always been a big fan of funk, or what Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt called a certain “funk metal,” and the title track on No Escape reflects this. It’s still funk rock in my own style, though, and the song was driven by events in my life more than anything.

I released new versions of “Don’t Wait Too Long” and “Hope” on No Escape, and these probably don’t need much of an explanation.

I had written “Sleepless Blues” around the same time I was working on Back on Solid Ground, though, and it’s just a simple blues instrumental. But a big part of my early guitar education was with the blues.

Finally, we have “Grace is Bittersweet,” which might be my first real acoustic song. I don’t recall exactly when it was written, but likely in the mid-2010s.

No Escape features polished production, so it kind of shares a yin-yang relationship with Nowhere Even Near, which featured all-new material. But in the tradition of Fire Your God, it’s a collection of rough, unfinished demos.

If I had spent any more time working on these demos, though, my perfectionist side would have taken over, and Nowhere Even Near would probably have never seen the light of day.

“We Could Only” is like a re-imagining of “Six Sides,” and meh… I don’t know if it totally holds up.

“From the Ashes” is a dose of worship fromage… I’m not putting myself down, but it follows the Lincoln Brewster/Hillsong formula almost to a tee.

I’m still quite proud of Nowhere Even Near. “Why Should I Believe” is a like a 90s rock tune. “Feeling” is a pop tune, not unlike the ones I used to write in my early days as a solo artist. “Letting Go” is totally unfinished, as the keyboard part is meant to be played on guitar, and there are lyrics that go with the song too. And “Dagger” reflected my growing interest in hard rock, especially in 2017.

Most recently, I wrote a song for my grandma who passed, which I plan to release alongside another song – a popular hymn reimagined.

Final Thoughts

Even though I’ve given songwriting workshops in the past, it’s harder to write about the songwriting process than I thought it would be.

In many ways, I feel like I’ve just recounted my songwriting journey all over again.

But it truly is the events of life that inspire you. Music is a skill, and you begin to find your way as you gain more experience and continue to stretch your boundaries (which is what I did).

When you focus on the emotion of it rather than the “rightness” of it, your music becomes an expression of life’s events, rather than a hollow imitation of some artist you were inspired by. And that’s where you find your voice, just like in writing.

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