Challenge: 300 Consecutive Days of Practice

My little 7 year old niece has been slaying the violin for the last couple of years. She and a couple of friends busked at the fringe in 2014 and made like a thousand dollars between the three of them. Whaaa? Yeah, I know right? It’s crazy.

Largely, her success can be attributed to a solidly dedicated practice schedule. Somehow my brother (her dad) has managed to make practicing fun for her, and she’s now on her third set of 300 consecutive days of practice with short rests in between.

I must confess that this makes me feel fairly inadequate as an Artist. While granted my practice sessions are generally two to six hours long, whereas hers are fifteen to thirty minutes, there is something distinctly feather ruffling about the idea of a 7 year old having an arguably more rigorous practice schedule than mine.

So the challenge is on. Grace just started her third set of 300 practice days, and I’m committing to it as well.

I think I’m on about day 10 of consecutive music making. What with rehearsals for the shows coming up that hasn’t been too hard to maintain, but today was a nice exception. Having gotten home from a gig in Regina last night, today has been a fairly lazy day. So with a few minutes to fill after dinner I picked up my neglected acoustic guitar, put it in some semblance of an open tuning and messed around with no agenda whatsoever. Getting some straight up goalless play in the mix feels refreshing amidst all of the seriousness of preparing to slay it out there in the big mean world.

I need to keep reminding myself of this. Yes whole hearted dedication to a long term vision… Yes rigorous commitment to excellence… Yes eyes on the prize, giving it 100% every day… But: Always fueled by the joy and excitement of unrepentant Fun.

A Taxonomy of Goals

The other day a friend of mine asked how I keep track of goals. He said he’s been typing them into his phone, but then never has occasion to look at them again, so it’s hard to get anything done about them. I’ve spent a seemingly impossible amount of time learning how to set goals effectively, so it was really gratifying to have someone I care about and respect asking how I do it. To be real, most of the time that I’ve spent on goal setting has been invested in learning how to let go of my fear of failure, so that I was actually capable of setting legit goals. But, that’s probably a whole other blog post in and of itself, so for now I’ll just talk about the system that I use for setting and hopefully achieving my goals.

A few years ago I realized that all of my disparate goals were pulling me in a bunch of different directions and that I wasn’t being nearly as effective as I wanted to be (read more about that here). So I spent a bunch of time thinking about what I really wanted vs. what would just be nice, and worked hard at stating it in a way that was Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound (the SMART criteria help in setting goals that are legit, and not wishy-washy). This One Goal is now tacked to my bedroom door (and has been for about 3 years) so I can see it every day and be reminded of what I’m working at.

Here it is:
IMG_0844This One Goal informs pretty much all of the goal setting that I do. If it’s not feeding into the One Goal, how important is it really?

The time-frame/deadline on the One Goal is the end of 2017, so in the meantime I make yearly goals every January. I write these out by hand and have them tacked underneath the One Goal. I also put them in a spreadsheet divided into 12 months so that I back time each sub-goal according to it’s deadline. For instance, if I want to run a Kickstarter campaign in May, then I’d better be researching the prices of materials in March, and making an appeal video in April. I learned this system from a friend of mine named Thomas Avendano, he manages a bunch of successful artists in the West Coast scene, and I really can’t thank him enough for showing it to me. It has totally taken my game to the next level.

Here’s what it looks like. You’ll see big goals in green, with smaller tasks leading up to them:

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 4.06.35 PM

I use this template as a guide for writing out my monthly goals. Right now I have the monthly goals tacked up in my room as well, but I need to move them to the kitchen where I do most of my admin work, so I can reference them more easily. Nothing more annoying than having an hour free and not knowing what to do with it. Well, OK. Maybe that single mosquito trapped in your room at 3:00am when it’s too hot to sleep anyway is more annoying… But you get my drift.

Here’s my list of goals for May. It’s a doozy. Notice how many items are not crossed ofIMG_0845f, and today is the 25th. I try to only write things down as goals if they’re really really important (Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People talks about focussing exclusively on WIGs, or “Wildly Important Goals”). That way I’m not frustrated with myself when I have a ridiculous list like this and it doesn’t all get done. Next month I will attempt to be more reasonable about what I can actually accomplish, and what is actually key to moving forward. Although, to my credit, all of the Wildly Important stuff is pretty much done for May.

Finally, I also have a couple of other reminders tacked about my various spaces. The one I like the best is this:


All of this focus on goals is very future-oriented, and gets super heavy and draining when I take it too seriously. In the end, whether I hit the exact goal that I was aiming for isn’t as important as the fact that I was aiming (and not blundering about, or sitting on my couch eating Kraft Dinner in my pyjamas). Ultimately, it’s not so much about what I do, as how I do it. The. Most. Important. Thing. Is. To. Have. FUN. I forget that more easily and more often than I like, but it always feels good to come back to the light-hearted, playful approach to Life. When I come at things with a sense of the ridiculous they tend to go really well. When I approach them as an arduous obligation they tend not to.

So there it is. What do you think of the system? What ways have you found of helping yourself achieve what you want to?

Sleepwreck’s Philosophy of Musical Success – Outline

So! Here we are! Some of you may have heard that my Kickstarter campaign has hit it’s initial funding goal and is continuing to bring in pledges slowly but surely. I really can’t say how pleased I am about this fact 😄 This means that I now need to start seriously thinking about writing the e-book  which will be part of the bonus content on the coveted Sleepwreck Jump Drives that the Kickstarter campaign is funding. Here’s an outline of the ideas that I want to address. If you have any questions, comments, or specific things you’d like to read about, I’d Love to hear from you! Sleepwreck’s Philosophy of Musical Success – Outline *In no particular order* Defining success on your own terms Overcoming limiting beliefs Emotional intelligence (overcoming fear) Cultivating vulnerability Not taking criticism personally Letting go of the need for external validation of your work Planning and goal setting Asking for help Getting the right people involved Flow states Mood! Why we make Music in the first place

Cue The Guess Who: Rolling back to Saskatoon…

OK! There have been a bunch of big announcements lately and there are more coming up right around the corner… so here’s the current one for those of you that I haven’t talked to directly about it:

I’m moving back to Saskatoon. Today.

Holy shit. It’s happening.

It’s pretty early in the morning at the moment, and I’ve got a long couple of days ahead of me. Unfortunately my brain’s facility with the written word is faltering… But I really want to convey some of what I’m feeling.

There’s a deep sense of loss with leaving Vancouver. I’ve put a lot of myself into this city, and I’ve grown more in the last two years than I can even put into words. There are friendships that I would like to deepen here, that will possibly be harder to do from far away, and there are a lot of *potential* connections that will be less likely to happen now.

At the same time, I feel a profound sense of excitement, and purpose, and *rightness* with the move back home. I’m going to be moving in with my Mate (which is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating), and working on lining up a job that will pay me an actual legitimate salary to basically just keep being me (God bless the Saskatchewan Arts Board). I have powerful, resounding, outrageously ambitious visions of what I hope to build and accomplish and how being in Saskatoon will make these things possible. I’m so stoked to be surrounded by my people who really *get it* and will help make it all happen.

And at the same time I have little niggling doubts. Is this the right decision? Am I sabotaging myself? (I’ve done it enough in the past that it can be hard to trust me… y’know?)

Gah!!!! What if? What if? What if?

But then I check in with my body… and I find that the doubts are a jittery little tug-boat in my solar plexus, floating on an ocean of calm knowing in my belly.

Yes. I am afraid. That’s OK. In fact it’s usually a good sign.

Let’s do this.

Listening for Inspiration

I had a conversation with an old friend this morning, and it’s getting me thinking about a bunch of things. Back in my broke-ass hippy vagabond days the two of us used to go dumpster diving outside of grocery stores together. This was a point when I was making barely enough money to get by, and there were weeks when digging through discarded boxes for cheese and veggies made the choice between gas money and grocery money a lot easier. It was also quite a bit of fun, in an anarchist, anti-authoritarian sort of way.

Somewhere along the line though, I had the realization that despite the unfortunate wastefulness of our society, choosing to sustain myself on what other people had thrown away was a manifestation of my belief that there wasn’t enough to go around – that I didn’t have the right to take up space. So I decided to give it up.

These days I think a lot about inspiration… that little nudge inside of us that tells us to do something. It could be huge (move to Vancouver, start a record label, run a marathon), or it could be seemingly insignificant (genuinely ask the grocery clerk how she’s doing), but I think the underlying attitude is the same. Listening to your inspiration means having faith that the real you is worth sharing. You belong here. You have something valuable to contribute, whether others understand it or not. To me that’s what being an Artist is all about. The inspiration to create Music or a painting or whatever is just one tiny facet of the overall approach of valuing your self and being real in the world.

Unfortunately, or culture does little to support individuals in knowing what they want and expressing it. Most of us spend most of our time with our attention on our thoughts, second guessing ourselves, coming up with a million reasons not to follow that tiny little prompt. A lot of us don’t even hear the inspiration when it comes because everything else is too loud. So to be in touch with what we want means quieting down our minds, and getting settled in our bodies. It means organizing our Lives around listening for that subtle nudge.

For instance, I recently had the realization that I am full-on addicted to refined sugar. I’ve spent basically my entire life-span using it to regulate my mood, and thus it has become something that my mood depends on for stability. So that constant craving for sugar was jamming my signal, was creating noise that affected my ability to tune in to my inspiration on a moment to moment basis. Giving up refined sugar became the next logical step in the long, long journey of making myself a clear channel for inspiration to speak through. A solid exercise program (daily running, plus regular core exercise and yoga) is another habit that I’ve put into place over the last year meant to make me a strong vessel for the lightning juice of inspiration when it comes.

And then, I think it’s important to remember that it’s also OK not to know. When I’m lacking clarity on a big decision I try to remember not to think too much, just to be present in my body and rest in the not knowing. If I keep myself open to the small inspirations (give this homeless guy a banana from my grocery bag when he asks me for change, give an honest answer when my room-mate asks how I’m doing), then the big inspirations will come when they’re ready.

What have you been inspired to lately? How did you know that you wanted to it? What did you do about it?

How To Be A Rockstar, Part Six – Keep The Fun Parts Fun

A wise friend of mine is fond of saying “Fun is serious”, and as far as I can tell he’s hitting the nail right on the head. Maybe it sounds strange, but I think that fun is actually one of the most important things going on in the Universe.

When you’re in the grips of Fun you automatically lose track of your ego. The stories that you tell yourself about where you’ve been and where you’re going effortlessly evaporate into the moment, and you’re joyfully focussed on what’s right here in front of your nose. When Fun is happening you cease to question yourself, and inspiration blossoms smoothly into action with a grace and ease that are impossible with a scowl on your face. It might even be said that *you* don’t have fun… Fun has you 😉

That’s why I got into making Music. There are very few things that I’ve experienced as more fun than that moment when I’m totally in the zone, lost to the world outside of sound, almost incapable of playing a wrong note. Those moments are valuable in and of themselves, and I’ve dedicated my Life to chasing them.

And then…

I get caught up in the chase. I start taking the whole thing so seriously, I get so absorbed with the goals and the results and the means-to-an-end that I suck all the Fun out of it. There’s a reason why we call it playing Music and not working it, and I re-learn that on a periodic basis.

It happened once again a couple of weeks ago. I’ve got a couple of really big opportunities coming down the line this summer (including my first performance at Shambhala Music Festival, arguably the most important electronic festival in Canada and a  goal of the last 7 or 8 years), and I’m damn committed to being ready for them and knocking them out of the park. I’m working on lining up the set that I’m going to play and ended up hitting a brick wall with the last 5 minutes or so. I tried this, and tried that, and nothing was really clicking, and started to get the knot in my stomach that “everything is not OK”.

This state used to last for months or even years at a time. Today I recognized it a lot more quickly. I decided to take some time and step away from the laptop…  Give myself the freedom to just have fun playing guitar for a week or two (What? An instrument? Like… with your HANDS? I know it’s crazy, but desperate times call for desperate measures). During this little break I really remembered why the hell I’m doing this in the first place, and came up with some super nice guitar parts that may or may not see the light of day as a Sleepwreck track at some point (it doesn’t even matter, the value is in just writing them period).

I’ve been saying this for a long time, and I believe that it’s starting to come to fruition. I need to focus more on playing actual instruments with other actual human beings. That’s where the real fun is for me. By proxy, that’s where I’ll make the biggest impact, make the best Music, and (gasp!) probably even make the most money in the long run… But it’s so important to remember: The point of the whole thing is to have fun. 

Stuff I Hate About Electronic Music #32c-4: Genres

Seriously. Every time I turn around there’s a new micro-genre of a sub-genre, that some purportedly forward thinking artist is mashing up with the latest meta-genre to widespread (if short-lived) critical acclaim.

Let’s get real people. It all sounds the same.

House is House. It will always be House… Boots and Cats at 128BPM (and the same goes for you, Techno. Don’t think you’re exempt). D&B is D&B and it will always be D&B… The Amen Break at 170BPM. Progressive trance and Full-On Psytrance are indistinguishable to anyone who doesn’t have a black-light poster of Ganesha hanging on their bedroom wall. And anyone who’s about to start chanting about Two-Step Future Garage, or Footwork, or whatever… Just stop. It’s IDM and you know it.

I cannot be the only one who’s sick to death of this never ending stream of Music that’s so easily slotted into a convenient little box. For God’s sake, why are their so few electronic artists that just sound like themselves?

Take Eskmo, for instance. Here’s a guy who clearly holed up in the wilderness for some indeterminately long period of time, and when he came back to civilization he had something to offer that was truly and genuinely fresh. The first time I heard his Music I was tempted to just pack up my laptop and start looking for a job as a marine biologist. Or Baths as another example. His first album Cerulean sounded like it sprang fully formed from the forehead of a drugged out, lo-fi Zeus.

People talk all the time about how hard it is to “define your own sound”, to come up with an aesthetic that is unmistakably you. I’ll let you in on a secret though, it’s not hard at all. Sounding different is as simple as having widely varying influences. If all you listen to is Minimal Techno, then chances are very good that you’re going to make Minimal Techno when you sit down to create something. If, on the other hand, you listen to Funk and Opera and Bluegrass and Minimal Techno… Then something interesting is almost certain to happen when those wildly divergent sounds collide inside your brain.

I’ll cop to the possibility that I’m just a cynical old man who’s out of touch with what the kids are listening to these days. If you’ve been getting into something that’s super difficult to categorize, shoot it my way… I’d Love to check it out! In the meantime I guess I’ll have to content myself with listening to Vaporwave and Purple Bass.