Looking back over the last two years, I find myself truly proud.
This post is about why I need to do more to move forward.
I’ll start with the previous three years. My Dad, AKA my best friend, died suddenly in 2007, and before I had recovered from his death, I met an incredible girl and quite literally started a new life with her.
That became the catalyst for my “recovery,” and I finally finished an album that I’d been pouring my heart into for over three years… only to discover that I didn’t really like it that much anymore. That was immediately followed by booking my first full time schedule in resorts and wine bars, which turned out to feel a lot more like a job than I thought it would when I was booking.
That brought me right up to the end of 2009… I had just gotten out of a relationship that was – all at once – the most beautiful and devastating chapter of my life. No dishonesty… no sob story… it just fell apart. And to protect the innocent, let me just make it very clear – I believe that I deserve the lion’s share of the blame for everything that went wrong. I was lost and broken. But I was driven.
I started working harder than I ever had, practicing, writing, and booking shows… and it paid off quickly. Within two months of the breakup, I had written two of my best songs, made a few really cool connections in Los Angeles, improved my guitar skills more than I had in the previous year, and booked the fullest show schedule of my life.
I was zoned in on success, and it seemed to be paying off. There was one little piece of the puzzle that I didn’t expect to overwhelm me the way it did – songwriting. I had ordinarily written three or four songs over the course of a year. In just four months, I wrote six… and I LOVED every one.
It didn’t take long until writing and recording was all I could think about. More than anything, I wanted to capture the essence of the songs while I was still totally connected to them. So I did something that quite frankly, makes no adult sense at all: I quit all my shows, did my best to fill the spots, and moved across the country with a couple of guitars and pro tools on a laptop and got to work making an album.
You can listen to the whole thing for free here: https://aaronhowardmusic.com/music
What followed was the most incredible eight months of my life to date. The process of making that album was both everything I needed to heal from the previous years, and the most fun I’ve ever had. It also brought my faith back to life and gave me something to fight for again.
If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, you know a lot of that already, but it’s important background for this post. This isn’t a post about what I’ve done. It’s a post about what I haven’t done. The old adage “what got you here won’t get you there,” has never been more relevant.
When I look back over the last five years, there is a reoccurring theme – things falling into my lap. Whenever something really great has happened, it seems to be something that happened because I worked so hard at my art and someone noticed and GAVE me an opportunity. It was never because I gave my all to connecting with people and sharing it.
It’s funny, because in this industry there are two types of people:
- People who say that if you give your all to creation, the world will take notice once you’re good enough to notice.
- People who say that if you put everything you have into sharing what you’ve made (provided that there’s a baseline of quality present) people will take notice, because it’s in front of their faces.
I’ve become curious over the years, as to why there are very few people in the camp of you HAVE to do both. Create stuff that your audience loves and can’t live without and… oh yeah! Go find an audience! The truth is: I think it’s because of the amount of work required to do both at a level that is even remotely relevant.
When I’m on a roll with writing and practicing, those two activities alone will take up eight to nine hours a day. Then there’s all the booking and the twenty to thirty hours a week for shows. Just writing for this blog, keeping in touch with my friends on facebook and twitter, creating and posting YouTube videos, and sending out weekly emails with songs in them tends to require another two to three hours a day.
Obviously I’m not doing all of this all the time. If you do the math, there really isn’t that much time.
Here’s the crazy part: that stuff is just the beginning! What about booking a real schedule in places where I’m likely to gain fans? What about contacting offline and online press to try to get covered so that people know that I exist? What about going to conferences and events so that I have the chance of meeting the “right” people?
I’m not saying that I don’t have time. I’m saying that every minute that isn’t spent sleeping or eating needs to be dedicated to this pursuit. Seventy or eighty hours a w
eek would get me caught up with everything I have on my “list” now in about two to three months.
Of course I need to have friends and workouts and all that, but almost every minute aside from survival and sanity needs to be spent with laser like focus on getting my music out there. And it should be that way. How many people in medical school have a lot of extra time to hang out during the school year? How about in the first year of residency? How much extra time does a surgeon have throughout her whole career?
I’m not comparing the two professions in any way. I’m simply saying that anyone who wants to reach a high level of success in any field NEEDS to be entirely focused on it… addicted to it… putting heart and soul to every part of the process on a daily basis.
I have an Uncle who is one of my greatest mentors and champions of my art. In spite of the fact, that we communicate only a half-dozen or so times a year, some of the little gems he’s given me have sustained me and helped me move forward since I was fifteen. He’s also one of the most successful people I’ve ever met. And I mean real success… family harmony, deep caring and giving, a ton of money from a real estate business he started in his twenties, and an unsinkable attitude that made him one of a very few people in his hometown that not only survived, but thrived when the market crashed in 2008.
My Uncle has always been in the camp of “try something. If it doesn’t work… try something else. Fail forward. Get it done. Take ACTION now!” When I finished my first album, he was on me about doing everything I could to get it out there. I didn’t think it was good enough.
That’s the rub. One of the main factors that has kept me from really giving my all to the process of sharing myself with the world, has been the fact that I don’t want to put something out that’s “not ready.”
My Uncle said the same thing with my second album. (Paraphrasing) “Here are five ideas to get your music noticed. Go.” Once again, all I could see was what was missing compared to my peers on the charts. I felt like I needed to be flat out BRILLIANT to make it worth sharing my music. Once again, I got back to work, played a lot of shows, wrote a lot of music, and always came back to the same conclusion. “I’m almost there.”
I’m starting to see the folly in that, as I’m approached by people who own all the music I’ve ever made just to tell me that their favorite song or album is something that I made years ago… juvenile stuff that I’m practically embarrassed about. It’s funny how I have such a hard time seeing the value of my art as I move forward. I always feel like I left so much “money on the table” that I can’t bear to think that someone would hear that and think “this is what he can do.”
So what does this all lead to? What got me here won’t get me there.
What got me here was my obsession with being objectively better in a world where everything is entirely subjective to taste and experience. What got me here was practicing hours a day to work on things that ninety nine percent of my audience would never notice or care about. What got me here was consistently giving in to a fear that if I share my music and no one likes it, I’ll be finished. What got me here was the disorganized craziness of the artist.
What just might get me “there” is the directed focus of the artist entrepreneur. Of course I’m going to keep practicing things that people won’t probably notice. Of course I’m going to spend twelve to fourteen hour days writing and recording at times.
But I’ve dreamed about a sixteen year old kid riding in his parents’ SUV listening to my record and regaining hope he’d lost… or a Mom with three kids finding the will to carry on in a song that I had the privilege and the pleasure of creating. I’ve dreamed of giving feet to people that are trying to find the strength to run again… of waking a stranger from his apathy… of reminding people of what they already know – life is meant to be LIVED.
What got me here won’t get me there.
I’ve got to share my music with the world. My day… every day must be singularly focused on becoming the best instrument I can possibly be to deliver on the promise to myself that this dream would become reality. And a massive part of that is work that we artists tend to abhor. The only way I can ever be “all artist” is to first be everything. No one is ever going to care about this as much as I do.
I’m ready. I’m ready to show the world and show myself what I’m really made of. This isn’t about being a workaholic. It’s about stepping up and taking on some of the challenges that I’ve spent years, naively hoping will work themselves out. I have no desire to be rescued by “the man.” I’ve abandoned the entire “record label’s gonna save me” way of thinking. I want to write my own ticket and take this to the damn moon.
What got me here won’t get me there.
Time to try something new.