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
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
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.
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
"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."
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.
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.
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!**