A co-worker (at my, you know, job) recently asked me, “How do you do it? Work a full time job and have a band? Where do you find the energy?”
Now I’m not an especially energetic person or anything. And I wasn’t born with the Organized Gene. But I have learned a few things over the years that some might find helpful. And not just about having a band–this is true for any extracurricular or artistic endeavor.
Passion trumps everything.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t not make music. There was never a time in my life when I didn’t identify as a musician, even if I wasn’t actively engaged in any sort of musical project. I started taking piano when I was five, guitar when I was ten, I played trumpet and baritone in high school. I founded my high school’s first garage band (we had moments of brilliance but mostly we were enthusiastically terrible). My mom played organ at church for a while, and my family used to sing four-part harmony to pass the time on car trips. My grandfather’s Steinway now lives at my brother’s house, where he plays great jazz on it, with his four year old daughter singing along in astonishingly good pitch. I even have professionally printed sheet music of songs my great grandfather wrote and performed with a horn band in the late 1800s.
Music has been in my blood for generations. I’m very, very lucky to come by my passion for music so organically. Do you need that background for a passion in music? Absolutely not. There are plenty of examples of great and successful musicians who caught the bug all on their own and dedicated themselves to it.
But it does take “the bug”. Your actions will always and automatically organize themselves around what matters to you. If you want to see what somebody cares about, watch what they do. Pay little attention to what they say. The tongues in our mouths lie all the time. The tongues in our shoes never lie.
MAKE it worth your while.
Your actions will always and automatically organize themselves around what matters to you. I know that statement is both profound, and sort of “duh, of course”. What most people miss is this: “What matters to you” is completely up to you.
Let’s face it: you make sacrifices for your band life. You sacrifice family time, you spend a ton of money, you stay out way too late, you carry more gear than is good for your back, you eat delicious but unhealthy bar food and drink delicious but unhealthy beverages.
Why? Why would you do all that? There’s got to be a reason, right? We said above, people do what matters to them. So why does this matter?
Well only you can answer that question. What is it about your musical life that makes all those sacrifices worth it? What are you really doing it for?
For me, there’s just one moment, a moment of complete magic. It only happens on stage, when the band is in the pocket, the crowd is digging what we’re doing, and everything but the music and the moment disappear. That instant when my ego vanishes, there’s zero self-editing and self-doubt, and all that exists is the groove of the music and the interchange of energy with the audience. It lasts a moment that feels like eternity. At a really great gig I experience that moment maybe five or six times. Interestingly, I can never quite remember them later. (I have a theory that the part of the brain that records stuff is also the part that judges stuff, and when one shuts down they both do.)
Leaving a gig where I got deep into that state, it’s SO clear why I do all I do. It’s clear why I can be in a state of total bliss, winding cables in a bar at 2am. That’s my “why”.
So the trick here is to find what matters to you. Actually, “find” isn’t the right word–it’s more an act of creation. You actually can make up, from nothing, what matters to you, and then decide to have that matter. And put that at the heart of your decisions and actions, and have the life that cascades out from those decisions and actions.
Get good at being stretched.
It’s a fine line between having a rich, full set of interests and spreading yourself too thin. And you may have noticed that where one person feels stretched thin is different from where another person feels it. Which has to do with your ability to focus, manage stress, multitask (which is a myth, btw… but that’s another blog post), and communicate.
If you’re going to be a weekend warrior, you have to develop a high tolerance for being spread thin. You need to handle things quickly and decisively, and be in constant and complete communication with everyone around you.
Be Here Now.
Think about the important people in your life: Family, band mates, coworkers, boss. For this to really work, each and every one of them needs to love that you’re engaged in all these other things. Your spouse needs to love your band. Your bandmates need to love your boss.
That may seem impossible. After all, rehearsal and gigs take you away from your family. You may need to take a band call during the work day sometimes. How do you have people love a thing that seems like it takes you away?
The answer is to be present with the people in your life when you’re with them. It’s amazing but true that people actually don’t mind you going to participate in things you care about, as long as when you’re with them you’re actually with them. The number of actual clock-ticks doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as the quality of the time they get with you.
That means no thinking about your band at dinner or in business meetings. It also means no thinking about work projects during rehearsal time! This kind of mental hygiene takes some practice, but that’s all it takes. There’s literally no trick to it but practice, just like learning your instrument. Catch yourself when you’re mentally off in the practice room or going over something that happened on stage last night, and wrench yourself back to the dinner table. Each time it gets easier.
By the way, it totally works and is only moderately infuriating to let people know you’re working on this, and to graciously accept their reminders to do it. Graciously. Grit your teeth if you have to, and graciously accept it. Graciously.
You don’t deserve down-time.
When people say “How do you find the time? I could never do it!”, I have a sneaking suspicion that what they’re really saying is, “I completely could do it, but it would cut into my TV-watching time. Besides, Facebook isn’t going to read itself!”
Real talk: I get plenty of TV watched and Facebook read, even with all I have going on. Admittedly, not anywhere near as much as I would if I weren’t running a band, but all things considered, I do get my share of down-time.
The problem is when we feel like down-time is more important than the things we want to create. When we defend and preserve our right to be slugs, while complaining that we never get around to that painting or that unfinished novel.
You do what matters to you. And as we’ve seen above, you can find and create a “what matters” (a “why?”) that can get your tail up off that couch super quick. But to do that, you do have to give up your entitlement to leisure.
You deserve down-time.
Okay but look. You also can’t be scheduled out every moment of the day full of projects and tasks and meetings. I mean, obviously you can, but on an artistic level, it’s not good for you. Creativity has to breathe.
So be a little gentle with yourself and your expectations. It’s okay if not everything is firing on all cylinders at all times. A band takes work to get off the ground, and work to keep off the ground, but it’s long-term work. You literally can’t get it done in a day.
Discover your limits of being stretched too thin. What that looks like is a constant pattern of overbooking and overstretching, followed by re-setting and contraction, followed by stretching back out again. Your ability to handle things in life is like a muscle, and the more you work it, the stronger it gets and the more you can cope with. But like working a muscle, it can hurt!
Hustlers gotta hustle.
A band going takes constant, steady action, over time. It takes boldness, courage, and a willingness keep moving in the face of failure. Ultimately, you’ve got to have the hustle. You have to optimize the time you have for the maximum result, and that means knowing when and how to get into action, where to show up, and how to interact with people to produce an outcome that’s good for everyone involved.
My co-frontman Justin and I like to hit the town with our flyers and business cards, and some band videos on an iPad, and see what kind of trouble we can stir up. We’ve ended up with lots of great gigs out of this, including getting into rotation at a few places.
You also want to think creatively about how to use all parts of your life to bring value to everything else. Literally zero of the people I work with don’t know I’m in a band. Besides, workplaces are great places to hang flyers. Your co-workers want to come see you be a rock star!
In short, it can be done.
All it takes is a reason why it’s worth doing, a willingness to set aside your attachment to free time, and a commitment to get into action.
What are you wishing you could act on?