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Pick A Direction
By Carley Baer - 06/17/2008 - 12:29 PM EDT

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was, "one step at a time." I repeat it to myself when I'm at the bottom of a massive hill, looking up at where I want to be. One step at a time. Don't think about the hill. Think about this next step. This next step is all there is. You'll get there eventually.

However, these days I feel less like I'm at the bottom of a hill and more like I'm in the middle of a valley, with hills coming up on all sides. Which hill should I climb? Which one gets me closer to where I want to go? One step at a time is all well and good, but it's not really going to help if I don't pick a direction first.

Well, get excited because for the first time, we musicians get to pick the direction.  Whether you decide to do it all yourself, or hire professionals to do things like mastering or pressing, or even if you decide to stay on the well-traveled road that brought so many musicians here before you, the most important thing is that the choice is yours.

My problem is that when I have too many choices, I get stuck.  There are so many plates to spin-- the Internet! the radio! the studio!--- and I get so overwhelmed by just thinking about it that I have trouble actually seeing any of it through to completion.  I don't need to tell you how strategically ineffective this is.  If you don't do anything, then nothing gets done, and in this industry time is of the essence.  

So pick a direction.

Decide what your ultimate goal is; hopefully it's something a little more descriptive than, "I want to make it!"  (My ultimate goal, for example, is to be a professional musician; i.e., I don't want to have to have a day job.)  Think about all the things that are going to have to happen in order for you to reach that goal.  Sometimes it helps to work backwards:

"I want to be a professional musician, so I have to be able to make money playing music.  In order to make money, I have to have a following.  To get a following, I have to get the word out.  To get the word out, I have to make posters and get help hanging them around town and call the newspapers and blah blah blah..."

Sometimes there's more than one ultimate goal.  

"I want to make an awesome CD, and an awesome website.  Then I want to go on tour, with awesome T-shirts and bumper stickers to sell."

This can quickly turn into the spinning-plate thing.  This is what is constantly getting me into trouble.  Basically, imagine that you are untangling a mess of cables that your sound guy handed you.  You aren't going to get very far by attacking the middle of the knot and trying to loosen all the cables at once.  Your best bet is to pick one cable, pull it through all the bull-jive in the middle, and out the other end.  Bingo.  That's one cable free (and one less sound guy in your future).  Now the rest of the mess will be easier to sort through.  And it's the same thing when you have more than one goal you want to achieve.  You want to make an awesome CD and take it on tour?  Well, you're going to have to book studio time as well as venues to play, but don't try to do both at the same time-- for one thing, you don't want to book shows to promote a CD that isn't done yet.  More importantly, however, you want to be able to give whatever you're doing the privilege of your undivided attention.  Once you get that awesome CD finished, you can set to the task of booking shows to promote it.  Same thing with the merchandise: everybody wants a kick-ass merch table, but good merch isn't worth a dime if you don't have good music behind it.  

If you really can't decide which goal should come first, do it the old-fashioned way.  Grab a pencil and some paper and draw out what you want to achieve, and what you feel is most important.  You are your own cartographer.  You can decide how to navigate through the wilderness.  You just have to pick a direction.

Now imagine yourself at the bottom of that hill, looking up at your goal.  You won't get there tomorrow.  In fact, at times it will seem like you won't get there at all, but don't think about that.  The worst thing you could ever do is stop.  No matter how long it takes, the important thing is that you keep moving.  One step at a time.

**Email me with any stories, insights, queries, anecdotes or helpful hints of your own and I'll discuss them in a future column!**

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