About six years ago, I was heading into a studio in Regina to lay down a demo. I was so excited. The person who invited me into the studio had recently heard my music, and called me in to do what they called an "Off The Floor" Session. They hired an engineer and a producer for the session and I had four hours to lay down a few of my songs on a grand piano. To make this deal even sweeter, I was paid $500 for my time. WHAT?! Most musical experiences are not this awesome. And it is perhaps too bad that this was one of my first experiences as a young singer-songwriter because I didn't truly appreciate how great this experience truly was.
I actually don't remember a lot about the recording session. Likely because I had the flu the day before we were recording and still felt quite nauseas and dehydrated as I was singing/playing. However, I do remember trying to pretend that I knew what I was doing in front of the producer and engineer... but I really didn't know what I was doing. I had never been in a real studio before, playing to a click track and trying to sing the vocals just right while trying to hit the right notes on the piano. I learned a lot from this experience. But the thing that sticks out the most to me is what the engineer said as we were closing up for the night, and he was walking me to my car. He told me to "keep a healthy perspective" as I continued in my musical ventures. At the time, I'm sure I thought I knew what he meant. But let's be real; I'm still figuring out what that means, to "keep a healthy perspective" as a musician.
For the sake of being organized (which I am naturally not) I will put this blog into bullet points of some things I have learned in the past few years from the music world.
Let me start by saying, I'm not claiming to be a master at anything. And I guess that's #1.
1) I am not a master. Perhaps the most important thing I ever learned about music is that there will always be more to learn. Don't get so high and mighty about yourself that you become unteachable. Just don't do it.
2) Learn how to rest.
* I'm still figuring this out. But what I know, is that I learn how to be more productive, when I learn how to rest. I need both in my life. This is an important skill to learn for anyone, anywhere, doing any sort of job.
* Let me give you an example. I have recently been learning how to play the cello. What a crazy, intense, sensitive instrument to learn. When I started, I wanted to see how far I could progress on this instrument in one month. There's a youtube video about this experience out there somewhere. Initially, I had a goal of practicing eight hours of cello a day or something. But it was quite difficult for me to even get three hours in. Why? Because I hadn't built up the muscles to sustain playing the cello for that long (also I don't think very many people on planet earth play the cello for eight hours a day. Perhaps some fourth year cello majors do.) Therefore, I had to learn how important it was to learn when to stop in order to let my body rest to actually build the muscle, instead of injuring what little muscle I had. Now you should see me... I've got massive wrist/arm muscles! JK people. I still can't do five push ups. I can however do a handful of new things on the cello that my wrists couldn't do before.
3) There will always be someone more skilled than you. And that's a gift. Don't treat them like garbage just to make yourself feel better. Playing with them will make you a better musician.
* I have noticed a trend; as I have acquired more and more musical education, I have found that I have been talked down to by fellow musicians more and more. I have been trying to figure out this correlation because it doesn't make sense, right? What I believe is happening is this... there is a lot of insecurity in the world of music.
I have had my fair share of places where I have felt insecure in music. Even tonight... I was teaching a young girl something on the piano, and SHE ABSOLUTELY SCHOOLED ME IN WHAT I WAS TRYING TO TEACH HER. She was amazing. I found myself feeling threatened or something. I thought to myself, 'YOU think you can teach HER?!? She's amazing!' But instead of complimenting her and being amazed at her level of skill... I found myself trying to overcompensate and show her what I had to offer. I didn't want to focus too much on her ability because afterall, she was there to learn from me right?! Oh boy. We have to be aware of this. This brings me to my next point.
4) In music, you need to have a healthy dose of confidence. But you also need humility. This is especially true when learning a new instrument. You need confidence to try those intense scales or whatever, but you need humility to be able to keep going when you bomb that scale. If you get in your own head and start criticizing everything about what you did... you won't last long.
* Work on your confidence. Take risks. Work your butt off to be better and then play that piece at a recital. Or for your dog if no one else will listen. But be humbled by the moments you fumble, or someone better enters to room. Learn from all of your experiences. Let even the hard moments in music make you a better musician, but perhaps a better person too.
5) Competition is a part of the music world. That's ok. But the person who you should really compete against is yourself. Sounds cheesy. But it's true.
6) Sing your own freakin song. Don't try to be like anyone else. Don't try to have the exact same style of playing as someone else does. Be influenced by many different artists/players, but be yourself and be thankful for what you have to offer that no one else does.
* This is why the voice is my favourite instrument. Your voice is like your fingerprints - nobody's is quite like yours.