books-that-motivated-me-through-lockdown

Books that Have Motivated and Inspired Me to Keep Going Through Lockdown

productivity, self-love

Before 2020, I never read anything that could be classed as ‘self-help’. I’m not sure why exactly, but I didn’t consider self-development books to be literature, at least not the Susan Sontag/Joan Didion type. I thought some people spent more time reading books about how to improve something than actually improving it. And I’m still weary of self-help books as a form of procrastination – none of this advice matters unless you practice it.

But in March 2020, when shit officially hit the fan, I found myself listless and disappointed, spending most days in bed in my childhood bedroom, messaging friends and curling up at night with memories of a life that had crumbled when I left London. London was life in fifth gear, and I had been going pretty hard for two years, without stopping to see where I was going. Somehow, I always found the motivation to get up in the morning and go to work, go to uni, go to gigs in the evening, and do it all over again the day after. I rarely crashed. But in March in Belgium, I couldn’t even get myself to go for a run. There didn’t seem to be much to work for.

I’ve always been an avid reader, though. So, while I wasn’t doing anything overly productive, I was still reading a lot. And one day, I stumbled upon Anne Lamott’s ‘Bird by Bird’, and this beautiful passage:


“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Anne Lamott, “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life”

While everything in the world was a big unknown, and everybody felt a little lost, this quote reminded me that all we need to do is take it day by day. And that gave me motivation to start a new project and another one, and to keep going. This was one of the books that gave me a nudge during lockdown and inspired me to keep creating and working towards something. But there were a few of them. Here are some other ones, in case you’re feeling stuck and need a little pick-me-up.


‘Grit’ by Angela Duckworth

This book is all about how perseverance and hard work matter more than talent. Angela Duckworth was researching success, and what made people get up after they fell down, when she stumbled upon the concept of grit. The premise of the book is that it’s not the people that are the most talented or have the most potential that turn out to be the most successful. It’s the ones that keep going despite all odds. It was an encouraging read because it makes you believe that if you work hard enough, success will follow sooner or later. Through the book, she emphasises the importance of deliberate practice and honing your craft even when you don’t want to. She also talks about the importance of having a calling and how that affects your motivation and grittiness. Duckworth also does a great TED-talk about her research.


“Grit depends on a different kind of hope. It rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. “I have a feeling tomorrow will be better” is different from “I resolve to make tomorrow better.”

Angela Duckworth, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”

‘Linchpin’ by Seth Godin

This is not the best-written book I’ve ever read by far. In fact, it has so much repetition sometimes it’s painful to read. But Seth Godin makes some valid points in his book, points that got me into gear during a week when I was feeling particularly low and highly unproductive. Godin talks about ‘the resistance’, how we’ve been taught to tow the line and follow rules that don’t make sense in today’s economy. The dream of clocking in and out and getting paid for simply being in a certain place at a certain time is dead.

Instead, Seth Godin urges us to become indispensable by throwing out the map, by carving out our own way of life. He stresses the importance of emotional labour – being there for other people, giving without any expectations, creating positive change – and being an artist who delivers. A big chunk of the book talks about our lizard brain, too, and how fear of failure and the unknown can hold us back. It’s a good read because it exposes the ways in which we rationalise our unhappiness and takes away the excuses we’ve been making for ourselves.


“When you set down the path to create art, whatever sort of art it is, understand that the path is neither short not easy. That means you must determine if the route is worth the effort. If it’s not, dream bigger.”

Seth Godin, “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?”

‘Business for Bohemians’ by Tom Hodgkinson

Tom Hodgkinson is cool. He’s who I want to be when I grow up. He writes, runs The Idler, a magazine about how to be free in today’s society, and is the founder of an online school that teaches philosophy, calligraphy, ukulele, and a lot of other skills that no one would consider essential. As is to be expected, his book won’t teach you how to make money or run a business, not really. But by letting a reader into his life – in a farmhouse in Devon, or struggling to keep open a bookshop/coffeehouse in London, he shows that other ways of living are possible and we’re not confined to the lifepath we’ve been presented with since birth. And he doesn’t do that in a naive, idealistic way. He hit me with a couple of hard truths a few times. Like this one:


“If you’re not very careful, your creative business, the very thing which you hoped would lead to liberty and riches, will instead trap you in a hell of hard-working poverty.”

Tom Hodgkinson, “Business for Bohemians: Live Well, Make Money”

‘Authentic Happiness’ by Martin Seligman

Martin Seligman is the founding father of positive psychology, and this book encompasses most of his findings. It talks about simple lifestyle changes which will make you live a more fulfilling life, such as gratitude practice, meditation, and more time with loved ones. But what interested me more was the part where he talked about what doesn’t lead to more happiness, such as money (once you have enough, you really don’t need more) and professional success. Those make you feel happy only for a brief period of time, but are not enough to give you lasting happiness. Purpose is. Love is. Family and friends. The book is also chockfull with tests about your key strengths, your loving pattern, how optimistic you are, etc. It’s like Buzzfeed quizzes on steroids.


“Authentic happiness derives from raising the bar for yourself, not rating yourself against others.”

Martin Seligman, “Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realise Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment”

‘When’ by Daniel H. Pink

This book is interesting because it focuses solely on timing. When is the best time to exercise, the best timeslot for an audition, the best time for a break? The most important insight for me was that everyone, no matter if you’re a night owl or an early bird, suffers a dip in productivity about eight hours after they wake up, and it’s more productive to take a one-hour break than to power through it. Pink also suggests to structure your day around your productivity, and – unsurprisingly – your most productive moment is in the morning if you’re an early bird, and in the afternoon/evening if you’re a night owl. That’s the time for analytical tasks.

This book is more than a time management manual, though. It also has some insights about life – about why we remember an event based on the ending (which is why beautiful endings matter!), why poignancy makes happiness more authentic, why synchronicity boosts happiness (hence why we should all join a choir). This is also the reason I’m mentioning this book instead of ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen, another classic that I read this year. It’s worth a read, too, but really does mainly talk about time management and organisation hacks.


“The best endings don’t leave us happy. Instead, they produce something richer—a rush of unexpected insight, a fleeting moment of transcendence, the possibility that by discarding what we wanted we’ve gotten what we need.”

Daniel H. Pink, “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing”

For those of you who are interested – I’m releasing a new song on 5 March. You can pre-save it here. I appreciate it so, so, so, so much.

releasing-music-is-an-act-of-bravery

Releasing Music Is Terrifying

artist, music, self-love

I haven’t been very good at announcing this so far, but I have a single coming out on 5 March, called ‘River Water’. It’s about getting over a breakup, having casual sex, falling in love, and wondering if love and sex are mutually exclusive. With the way artists are expected to promote themselves: posting five stories a day on Instagram, following the adagio of ‘a consumer has to see something seven times before they take action’, bombarding followers with self-promotion, some non-musicians start thinking that releasing music is an ego trip.

Gearing up for my release, I talked to a tutor at my university, who said: “How come you haven’t started promoting anything yet? Where is your pre-save link? Why are you not posting on Instagram?” I made up some lame excuse about how I didn’t realise it was already time to start the promotion, but really, it’s because I hate it. I hate self-promoting because it makes me feel uncomfortable, imposing, egotistical. “We’ve talked about this, Erika,” my tutor said. “The release cycle is three months. You’ve got to really get in gear.”

Few artists are comfortable with sharing the pre-save links to their songs three times a day. Few artists think their music will blow your mind. But we’re still expected to do it and do it regularly because in those early stages, if we don’t do it, no one will. And it’s a thin line between doing enough and doing too much, pushing friends to unfollow you on Instagram because you’ve posted the same ten seconds of your music video ten times in your stories. But it’s also a learning curve and something that’s a part of being a musician.

There are other sides to releasing music that require you to have thick skin. I got on SubmitHub a week ago to start sending out my single to blogs and radio stations. When I went to my account, I saw all the rejections I ever got for previous releases collected in my feed. It was disheartening reading all the feedback I ever got, although none of it was particularly harsh, and I’ve heard from friends that SubmitHub can be outright brutal (so maybe I’m even lucky?). I submitted the song to a few blogs and then watched the rejections stream in over the 48 hours the portal sets as the deadline, without a single affirmative. When I joined Musosoup, the offers I got were paid, and I wondered if it was now a standard thing for musicians to pay for reviews and how ethical was this, really? (Thoughts?)

As the week progressed, I started feeling increasingly more incompetent, uncomfortable, and overwhelmed, wondering if my shaky relationship with social media was a reflection of whether I was a good musician, and if those SubmitHub bloggers had a point, calling my melodies anonymous. Then it was my birthday (I turned 22), and one of my friends said: “Billie Eilish was 16 when she became famous.”

“Releasing music should be fun. You should be excited!” my university tutor said, and I wondered when releasing music had ever been fun. Sharing music was fun – playing it live and seeing people’s reactions, feeling a part of a community, and playing a part in creating one. But releasing music digitally – the promotion, the endless emails, and the following rejections – had never quite carried the same appeal. So, why do we even bother?

I release music so I don’t feel like a fraud when I call myself a musician. I also hope some people will recognise themselves in my lyrics and feel less alone. I release music because maybe someone will care enough to let me know they want me to keep going. There are a lot of small reasons for why I keep doing it, and big ones, like wanting music to be a full-time career. And they make all the other stuff that scares the shit out of me worth it. But for everyone else who’s struggling with their music releases now: releasing music is not an ego trip. If anything, it destroys your self-esteem. But it is an act of bravery, and if it doesn’t go the way you want it to go… Well, at least you tried and you created something. And that’s what we live for, isn’t it?




For those of you who are interested in the new song, you can pre-save it here. I appreciate it so, so, so, so much.

manifest-visualise

I Probably Spend Too Much Time Visualising But Here’s Why

artist, creativity, self-love

I have a sweet morning routine going: I write my morning pages, do yoga, meditate, have a shower, and have breakfast. One of my best friends has been pressing me to add in visualisation. When I told her about all the other stuff I was already doing, she was uncompromising. “You need to do it. It keeps you motivated. It helps you work through your limiting beliefs.” In case you’re wondering who the best friend is, yes, she is the same person who had already coached me through my limiting beliefs once.

I had tried visualisation earlier. If you’re unfamiliar with it – you basically spend some time during the day imagining your perfect life to the tiniest detail, which is not very hard. Imagining nice things is – it turns out – pretty easy. But when I did it in December last year, it left me feeling anxious about everything I was doing. When you have a clear vision of where you want to be, you get really fucking stressed about ruining your chance at future happiness by doing something wrong.

“You can’t visualise your whole future every day,” one of my lecturers told me when I shared my dilemma with him. “You’ll burn yourself out.” Wait. Huh? “Sure, plan ahead. But remember to stay in the moment, too.” I love how a lot of self-help advice is contradictory. Live in the moment, but visualise your future. Dream big, but be happy with what you have.

I told my friend this, and she didn’t seem fazed. “Of course you need to stay in the moment. But you need to spend a few minutes every day remembering what you’re doing it all for. Visualisation is the framework that makes the small stuff fall into place. It gives you purpose.” Actually, I don’t know if she said that, but that’s what I took from that conversation. The key was only doing it for ten minutes every day, instead of spending every waking minute imagining how a decision might affect my visualised ideal life.

I found a guided visualisation on Insight Timer, a free meditation app that I was already using (if you don’t know it – it’s great and free and features talks by Elizabeth Gilbert, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield) and did it in the morning instead of an ordinary breathing exercise. I still think breathing exercises are valuable, but visualising what I actually want from life first thing in the morning – similarly to morning pages – set me up for the rest of the day. I was way more productive and in a much better mood than usual. So, I did again the day after. And the day after that.

For someone who always takes on too many projects, most of which are usually completely irrelevant to what I actually want to do, visualisation has proven extremely useful. If you don’t know what you want, you won’t know what to work towards. If you don’t believe you can have something, you’ll never bother trying.

The other upside of this is the energy you put out. This is not just spiritual babble, it also just has clear psychological benefits. If you know what you want and believe you can have it, you’ll be more hard-working, focused, positive, and will bounce back from setbacks way more quickly. (I confidently proclaimed having no psychological training whatsoever.) Positive energy is key for artists who deal with rejection on a daily basis.


Visualisation Ideas:

  1. The classic letter exercise. Write a letter to yourself in five years. Then in two. Then next year. How are you going to get there?
  2. Write a list of the qualities you want your future partner to have. I was told to do this by my friend, who said: “It was insane when I did it. The guy I met after I wrote down what I wanted matched everything word-for-word. I only forgot to add mentally stable to the list.”
  3. Guided visualisation and manifestation exercises online.
  4. Sometimes, I just spend ten minutes or so in bed thinking about how I want my life to pan out, visualising everything in the smallest detail: how I will finally be able to afford organic vegetables, the soap containers I will buy to pretend the cheap soap I buy at ALDI is fancy, etc.
  5. Pinterest! It’s like… almost useful.

what-to-write-about-in-lockdown-songwriting

What I Write About When All There Is to Do This Year Is Stare Out of the Window

creativity, productivity, songwriting

A couple days ago, a meme of Bart Simpson staring out of the window at the grey sky outside started circulating on my Instagram. In Berlin winter, it was strikingly fitting, considering how that was exactly how my friends and I spent most of our days. Writing this, I’m looking at the sky and trying to remember what the sun looks like, but all I can see is a grey nuclear cloud enveloping the city. Even without corona, this would have been a depressing sight, but knowing that I can’t go to a bar or a club, or spend the night singing songs with my musician friends, makes this time even more unbearable.

But another problem is starting to affect artists. I was talking to a friend the other day, who remarked: “I have never had this much free time to write, but what the hell am I supposed to write about? All I do is sit at home and drink tea.” It was a good question. Songwriters often pull from their own experiences, writing about the people they meet or the places they see. If all there’s left is your apartment and the people you see on Netflix, what stories do you still have to tell?

A while ago, I talked about keeping an inspiration journal and how that prevents me from having creative blocks, but even an inspiration journal has its limitations. Poems, photos, quotes from films are all great sources of inspiration, but sometimes, what we crave is to write about something we care about and feel, more than what just sounds good. And with this pandemic, the main thing we care about is getting through it. Songs about love, connection, hope are harder to write because we feel less of those things.

Maybe I’m only speaking for myself here, but I prefer writing songs about speed-walking to a concert while eating noodles, about frantically trying to rub off a curry stain off my new jeans on my way to a party, or about fumbling with someone’s leather belt in the dark. I feel like I’m close to exhausting the repertoire of “I went on a date and we greeted each other with an elbow bump” and “I had coffee with the only friend I see every day but she had come over the day before so we mainly just talked about how good it is that we at least have each other”. There’s only so much in real life that’s worth writing about at the moment.

For most musicians, writing and performing are the only ways to stay sane at the best of times. Since performing was no longer an option, most musicians had turned to writing and recording their stuff. But a year into this pandemic, and several months into lockdown, even writing seems to be slowly sliding off the table.

I’m better off than most because I get to see friends outside, I still meet up with a select few, and Berlin isn’t as bad as some parts of the world at the moment. But even I have to read through my diaries, go on poetry rampages and listen to more new music than I thought I was capable of consuming to come up with relatively new ideas. Here are some of the things that still inspire me despite this shit show, but it’s Bart-Simpson-style staring out of the window most days for me, too. Also, check out this Instagram reel by Simeon Hammond Dallas about how to write songs during lockdown because if anything, it might at least crack you up.


1. I go through my old diaries and journals.


When I feel stuck, I go through old diaries in the hope that a story will turn up that I hadn’t told yet. I don’t always strike out, but it’s nice when I do. Sometimes, I also come across a line that sounds good enough to turn into a lyric.


2. I listen back to my old voice memos in the hope that I’ll find something secretly brilliant.


Most of the time, I don’t finish songs when I think they’re absolute crap. But I always record everything, so once in a while, I revisit old voice memos to see if maybe I’d missed something. When I’m in a shitty mood or too tired to write for more than ten minutes, I often abandon music ideas that could have turned into something good. Now that it’s harder to stay inspired and motivated, it can help not to have to start with a completely blank page.


3. I learn new chords, fingerpicking patterns, etc., and use them in my music.


It’s hard to write new songs when you’re working with old building blocks. I started learning a new cover every week, and now, I often end up lifting chords, strumming patterns, or fingerpicking styles from other songs and incorporating them into my own stuff.


4. I go on dating apps to remind myself that lockdown is probably a blessing in disguise.


When all else fails, I download Bumble or Tinder and spend an hour talking to strangers that remind me that this introspective lockdown thing is not the worst, and then jot down one or two lines I’d been texted to use in a lyric about why I hate dating.


5. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if I have nothing to say for a while.


I don’t have to be writing all the time, though. If I skip a couple days, or a week, and don’t come up with a new song – it doesn’t matter all that much.

why-limiting-beliefs-are-holding-you-back-from-committing-to-music

How Your Limiting Beliefs Are Keeping You From Committing to Music

artist, creativity, self-love

I was curled up in the chair by the window of my childhood bedroom, my head resting on my knees. It had been a week of decision-making, and there was nothing I hated more in my life than making decisions. My notebook was lying on the table on the other side of the room, with pro and con lists taking up the last five pages. I wondered if my parents had reached the point where they just wanted me to leave so I would stop talking about my inability to make a choice. I felt like everyone was tired of my indecision by now, including me.

The choice was this: going back to London or Berlin. With Brexit, if I didn’t go back, I wouldn’t be eligible for settlement status later down the line, effectively losing my chance to build a life in the UK. But if I didn’t go back to Berlin, I was losing another thing: the chance to focus on music and stop obsessing about making a living and surviving, the way that London forces people to. Berlin meant more freedom, more music and creativity in my life, and probably sanity. But it wasn’t as easy as choosing the fun thing. What if I wanted to stay in London? Or go back in the long run?

I messaged my best friend in London with the words: “I feel so fucking confused. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.” Two minutes later, she called back. Her voice sounded like an anchor pulling me back down to earth, from the hectic mental space I had been floating in that week. “Talk me through it,” she said. “Why are you afraid of going to Berlin?”

“It’s like that Sylvia Plath quote,” I said. “The one about the fig tree – she’s staring at the tree, trying to pick the ripest, best fig and while she’s staring at the figs, unable to make a choice, they all rot in front of her. That’s me. I’m Sylvia Plath, bar the head in the oven.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I don’t know what I want.”

“You do know.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

“I really don’t.”

“Stop convincing yourself that you don’t,” she said. “You’re starting to believe it, but it’s really just you that has convinced yourself of this. It’s a belief that you can’t make decisions, that you can’t trust yourself. But you can. You have that inner voice that already knows. What scares you the most? What will make you grow the most? That’s what you need to do.” I wondered when my friend had become a life guru.

“Maybe you’re right. I feel like I should go to Berlin, and do this creative thing…” I said, feeling stupid as I was saying it, so I added for good measure: “Though I don’t think it’s gonna work out. I should probably do a master’s instead.”

“What do you mean? Why would you do a master’s?”

“You know… To get a job.”

“Why do you think you won’t be able to get a job without a master’s?”

“As what? A musician?”

“Why not? That’s what you want to do, right?”

“Of course, in an ideal world!” I exclaimed. “But I also want a family and kids and a normal life. Maybe a house and a dog, that kind of stuff. Not now, but I want to at least have the option.”

“Who says you won’t have that as a musician?”

“Because that’s just not how it works. I’ll never make that kind of money as a musician if I make any kind of money as a musician.”

“But that’s a belief. That’s just what you’re telling yourself. Who says you can’t have it all? If you’re gonna believe that and not even try, then, yeah, you won’t. But ultimately, you can craft your own narrative. You can decide that you can have it all and work towards it. There is no set outcome attached to anything, but by believing certain myths about life, we start manifesting them.”

“Maybe I do want to be a musician.”

“Honestly, it’s clear to anyone but you, Erika. You’re being ridiculous.”

“And I do want to go to Berlin.”

“Yup,” she said in the least surprised tone I’ve ever heard in my life.

I’m in Berlin now, and I’m fine. The world didn’t come crumbling down when I didn’t go to London. I’m not in a financial pit of despair (yet). I have started writing music reviews for a music blog, and I’m gearing up for a song release in a month or so, and I’m looking into other ways of making money as a musician that hopefully won’t involve babysitting, but honestly, who cares if I get to make music. The point I was trying to make here is… If I hadn’t noticed how I was talking myself into believing I couldn’t, I wouldn’t have had the courage to come back here. And I would have started down a path that wasn’t meant for me at all. This is why it’s so important to identify the limiting beliefs you might hold, so that you know what you’re choosing to do and what you’re talking yourself into doing out of fear.

Apart from talking to wise, loving friends, there are other small tricks for identifying and battling limiting beliefs in decision-making that I’ve been using for the last few months. Here are some of them, and I hope they’ll help you, too:


1. List your reasons for doing something, and notice when fear is a driving factor


Lists aren’t the be-all and end-all in decision-making because I found that rationalising things often only complicates the process, getting in the way of that part of you that already knows the answer to what you really want. But seeing your reasons written down can help you understand whether you’re making a decision from a place of love, acceptance, and support, or if you’re making a decision from a place of fear. Fear and doubt are the worst motivators. If you recognise that they are the main driving factors behind a decision, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the beliefs that led you there.


2. You can’t “keep your options open”


I have trouble committing to decisions, to a certain life path, to a partner, to a place. Not because I don’t think that something or someone wouldn’t be good for me, but because I fear that there might be something somewhere that might be better. Or that down the line, I’ll realise that it hadn’t been the right decision all along, and I’ll want to try something else. Or that I’ll change and my priorities will shift. But that’s life. People do change, priorities do shift, but if you never commit to anything, and always go for the thing that gives you the most freedom to back out, you will never pursue anything wholeheartedly. And half-assing life is not something that anyone wants, really.


3. Decisions that you can go back on are not decisions


I’ve been living in limbo for a while now. I’ve never signed a lease on a flat without checking what the breaking clause in the contract is, and so far, I’ve always used it. I’ve walked away from jobs I didn’t like, I’ve broken a lot of promises to a lot of different people. I’ve made a lot of decisions that I then went back on, which means they weren’t decisions at all. I came to Berlin with the thought that if I hated it, I could still return to London. It left me just as stressed as if I hadn’t made a decision at all – I was constantly evaluating whether to go or to stay. I’ve decided I’m staying because there’s no satisfaction in making a decision that gives you an out. Sometimes, it actually is easier to commit.


4. Discussions and affirmations


When I started unpacking the reasons and beliefs that were keeping me from committing to what I really wanted to do, I started wondering how to battle them. According to Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, you have to dispute and energise. When you encounter a limiting belief, ask yourself what the effect of that belief will be on the rest of your life. Are the consequences of that thought destructive? Then explain to yourself why you’re catastrophising, and why your belief has no basis. Finally, energise by changing the limiting belief for one that motivates you. Here’s a short example of how I go about it:

Limiting belief: I can’t make decisions at all. I’m always going back and forth on stuff. I’m a flaky person.

Consequence: If I keep believing this, I will always distrust my gut, which will make decision-making even harder. Believing I’m flaky also makes it into a self-fulfilling prophecy, perpetuating the cycle of indecision.

Why it’s not true: I have actually made a lot of commitments in my life. I’m finishing my bachelor’s degree, I have spent three years living in London, I’ve stuck with a long-term relationship before, and I have worked through problems in friendships to keep the people I love in my life.

Affirmation: I can make hard decisions and commit to things that are important to me.


These are the little tricks that work for me, but I’m sure that different stuff works for different people. Let me know if you’re struggling with this, too, and what works for you. I’m still very much in the process of figuring this out, so I’d love to hear more tips!

albums-versus-playlists

Why You Should Be Listening to Albums Instead of Playlists

artist, music, songwriting

When my friends used to ask me to put music on over dinner, I always defaulted to a Spotify playlist. In the mornings, while taking a shower, I would often put on a singalong playlist, or the road trip one when I was in the car with my dad. I make my own playlists, too – songs to dance to, folky tunes that make you cry your heart out, new discoveries. I love playlists. But this hasn’t always been the case. I only got a Spotify account two years ago, but before that, I only ever listened to albums, apart from the occasional music video on Youtube.

I hadn’t noticed how much my listening pattern had changed until I was having coffee with a friend and he put on some music in the background. As I was listening to it, I realised it was all the same artist, and I thought to myself: “How boring.” Only an hour later, as I was walking down the street and listening to my ‘Bad Bitch Playlist’ (obviously), I realised what had occurred.

What was the point of musicians making albums anymore if other listeners reacted the way I did? Did they? Or was I an anomaly? But talking to other friends, I realised most of us didn’t listen to albums anymore, apart from, maybe, some albums we had grown up with and didn’t know how to listen to differently.

I went back to that friend for another coffee, and, while putting on another album, he said: “I never listen to albums on shuffle. It had taken me weeks to figure out what order to put the songs in on my own album. They’re meant to be in a certain sequence.” It’s true. Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage would sound ridiculous on shuffle. The transitions between the songs on Kate Tempest’s The Book of Traps and Lessons wouldn’t sound nearly as smooth. For any musician I listened to, there was a thought process behind the tracklist.

That hadn’t answered my question, though. Why did we still bother making albums? And what was the benefit of listening to an album over a playlist?

I had always been the type of person who would become obsessed with a certain album and listen to it until it made me sick. I got to know the artist behind it, their inner world, by spending time with them and only them for the duration of the ten, twelve, sixteen tracks on their LP. Now, I was the person who listened to a mishmash of different songs, forgot artists’ names, and only vaguely knew what a certain lyric meant in whichever song. I wasn’t diving deep into music anymore, it felt more like window shopping. I wanted to learn to listen to albums again.

I started with Josephine Foster’s I’m a Dreamer. Listening to an album again felt like watching an arthouse film after binge-watching a Netflix show. My attention span was not trained for such a sustained effort. I hated it and told my friend as much. But a week later, over breakfast and coffee, I listened to it again. Maybe the combination of a mellow Sunday morning and Josephine’s voice was a good combination because I couldn’t stop listening. I felt like I was on a journey.

Now, I can’t listen to playlists anymore. It feels like a job half-done. I don’t get to know an artist by only hearing one song. I listen to playlists to find new artists I want to hear more of, but that’s different from never stopping to find out more about specific musicians at all. That’s why albums remain important. A single doesn’t tell the story of an artist. It’s the elevator pitch, the business card. To get to know an artist, to know what they’re worth, what message they’re trying to convey, what they sound like when they’re not trying to get on the radio, you need to listen to the album.

Since I started listening to albums again, I started remembering the names of the musicians I listen to. Not only that, I started listening to more music. Knowing more about the people I listened to, I started feeling more in control, and less like I was being spoonfed songs by Spotify. I became more curious and adventurous in my listening instead of relying solely on the Discover Weekly playlist. Do yourself a favour and listen to an album today. And if you catch yourself thinking how boring it is, keep listening.

deliberate-practice-matters

Why I Started Incorporating Deliberate Practice Into My Daily Routine

artist, music, productivity, songwriting

This is me putting on a circus show for my parents. I spent weeks (or maybe really just a week) learning how to juggle, teaching my cat tricks, and mastering the magic of the disappearing thumb. Then I dressed up and made my parents watch me and applaud my endeavours. My dad sent me this photo this morning, and it made me chuckle and think about how much I’ve changed. He replied: “Actually, you haven’t changed at all.”

It’s true. I still get a kick out of people watching me perform. I would probably still rock a synthetic purple glitter blouse. It made me think of other ways I’ve stayed the same. A couple days ago, I showed a friend a video of the first song I’d learnt on guitar. My mum diligently videoed all my performances until I moved away from Belgium. After that one video, I started scrolling down and looking at the rest: me at twelve, at thirteen, at fifteen… But what struck me was how small the difference was between me at fifteen and me now.

“You’ve definitely learnt how to strum better,” my friend said. Which, by the way, I don’t think is true. He just hasn’t heard me strum yet. But everything else was pretty much the same. I was always slightly embarrassed about my fingerpicking style (I learnt one pattern when I was fifteen and decided that was enough) and spent years justifying my laziness by finding examples of successful musicians who weren’t great guitarists. What I didn’t realise was that by doing that, I was standing still.

I have always been proud of having started performing early – my first gig was when I was twelve and I’ve gigged regularly since. But I haven’t spent much time over these ten years practising – most of it was spent writing songs, singing songs I could play already, and doing everything other than playing the guitar. A while ago, though, I read ‘Grit’ by Angela Duckworth, where she wrote that hours spent doing something didn’t always translate to mastering a skill better. And then she wrote this:


Without effort, your skill is nothing more but what you could have done but didn’t.

‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance’, Angela Duckworth

I realised that if I didn’t put the effort in, becoming a musician would also be something I could have done but didn’t. That effort was called deliberate practice.

Two months ago, I started practising every day for two hours. I want to say without fail, but of course the holidays became a two-week Netflix binge. I’m back on track now, though. I started playing scales, learnt Travis picking (fucking finally), learnt one or two covers a week (and this time, didn’t skip the solos and the intros), started reading more about music theory, and doing ear training exercises. For the first time in ten years, I also started doing vocal warmups.

I’m still getting the hang of deliberate practice, but I’ve made peace with the fact that it’s not always fun. It’s supposed to be hard and make you sweat just enough so you still have the courage to come back the day after. And it’s worth it – I’ve grown more as a musician in these last two months than I had in all the years of gigging combined.

Of course, when I wanted to show off my great new skills to my friend who had encouraged me to practice more in the first place, I choked and fucked up. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not getting better. It just means I have to keep practising.

Here are some resources I use in my deliberate practice sessions and some talks that have inspired me to keep going:


Talks


Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance | Angela Duckworth

The famous TED talk by Angela Duckworth about work ethic, effort, and consistency.

Music Lesson – How and What to Practice on Your Instrument

Rick Beato talking about how to structure your practice routine.

I practiced 10,000 Hours in 6 Months

Again, Rick Beato, bragging about how much he used to practice in his twenties. Whatever.


Guitar Resources


Scales

The ten essential scales you need to know. This website is generally good for guitarists who want to improve and includes tips on practice, books to read, exercises, etc.

Fingerstyle guitar lessons for intermediate guitarists

LicknRiff is a Youtube channel with guitar lessons for intermediate and advanced lessons on fingerpicking. It’s geared towards those who play a nylon string. The guy who teaches it offers tabs for free as well, and his videos always feature his two dogs, which is almost an unnecessary bonus, really.

Laura Marling tutorials

I’ve been going on about these for ages. But it’s Laura Marling. Herself. Teaching her own songs.


Ear Training and Music Theory


Ear training exercises with Rick Beato

Some general explanations on how to improve and a series of seven ear training exercises you can do daily. Rick Beato’s channel in general is great for music theory explanations, so have a look around. I’m kind of obsessed, but maybe that’s also because I have a minor crush on the man.

Teoria

A great website on music theory with ear training and theory exercises you can do. You can also select how advanced you want to go.

learning-musician-online

Online Treasure Troves for Musicians

creativity, music, productivity, songwriting

2021 didn’t get off to the start we had all envisioned. Corona didn’t magically disappear at the stroke of midnight. We are still isolating and self-medicating with Netflix and junk food. Glorious times. I have done a fair share of wallowing in the last few weeks, but since my New Year’s resolutions included not watching Netflix, I have been wracking my brain about what to do with all the free time I now have. Turns out, there is a lot to learn online. For free!

If I can’t get out to perform and make music with friends, I can at least use this time to come out of it all as a better musician. So, I have done some research and ended up with these online treasure troves of information:


Websites that offer free music courses


1. The Musicians’ Union


The website is underrated, but it offers a plethora of information for musicians, including free Feldenkrais Method workshops and guided meditation for artists. Also worth mentioning is that the Musicians’ Union offers FEU Training for Freelance Musicians for free if you are a member and you can become a member for the first six months for only a pound! The training equips you with everything you need to know if you’re a self-employed musician.


2. BerkleeX


Berklee Online offers an interesting selection of online courses ranging from music business to vocal recording technology. They’re free unless you want a credited certificate. I took one in Songwriting and in Music Theory when I was just starting out, but there are also more adventurous courses on offer, like Music for Wellness that includes circle singing exercises and music techniques for awakening.


3. Alison


One of the biggest learning platforms, Alison offers a range of free music courses that go in-depth into topics like film scoring and making electronic music.


Youtube channels


1. Swiftlessons


Swiftlessons is my go-to channel to improve my guitar skills. Rob Swift makes great cover tutorials, explains basic and more advanced licks, talks about music theory, and makes genre-specific videos ranging from Gypsy Jazz to Classic Rock. The man has 40 videos with The Beatles lessons.


2. Pat Martino’s The Nature of Guitar


When I fancy myself a better guitarist than I really am, I watch these videos. Pat Martino has an incredible feel for composition, rhythm, and theory and – being one of the greatest guitarists in the world – has incredible nuggets of wisdom to share. Sometimes, he just makes me feel stupid, though, but then I just read the comment section and that lifts me out of my funk.


3. Rick Beato


Rick Beato is an absolute music theory genius. He has guitar videos, too, but that’s not why I visit his channel. It’s for his sassy commentary and humour (he has a playlist called ‘Rick’s Rants’), the clarity with which he explains complex concepts, and his ear training videos.


Music podcasts


1. Switched on Pop


This is by far my favourite music podcast. Musicologist Nick Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding talk about the making of popular music, put it in a context, and explain why we love it. They delve deep into songwriting techniques, influences, production, and artist personas. My favourite one was on Fiona Apple’s ‘Fetch the Bolt Cutters’, which was named the album of the year by Pitchfork.


2. Song Exploder


This is a classic one, but it’s good. On the podcast, artists break down one of their tracks, explaining how they wrote and produced them, and talk about what inspired the song. I loooved this one by Laura Marling. And, while on the subject of Laura Marling, she also recorded some guitar tutorials of her songs for Instagram.


3. Broken Record


I was recently pointed towards Broken Record by a friend and was shocked that I hadn’t heard of it before. Rick Rubin, Michael Gladwell, and Bruce Headlam interview every songwriter from Bruce Springsteen to FKA Twigs. They talk about songwriting, personal reflections, life. Jeff Tweedy even gives a songwriting masterclass.

new-years-resolutions-2021

My Hopes and Dreams for 2021

artist, productivity

I remember getting on the doubledecker bus in Battersea with a LIDL shopping bag with Captain Morgan’s, a bottle of coke, and a bag of Doritos. I was wearing a new pair of jeans and was still sweaty from the 8-hour bus ride from Belgium earlier that day, but that didn’t matter because we were ringing in a new year: 2020, and I had great things lined up. I had a placement at ‘The Guardian’ in summer, I was selected for a promoter support scheme by PRS, and I had started gigging with a new cellist. It was all finally falling in place after two years of living in a hostel and practising in the basement next to some empty kegs.

Of course, none of that happened when 2020 hit. I’m grateful every day that I’m healthy, my family members are safe, and I don’t have to worry about where my food will come from tomorrow. Even though my plans got messed up, I’m one of the lucky ones. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not hoping that 2021 will be a better year, and I have been dreaming and scheming like everyone else, so I thought I’d share my plans for 2021 if only to hold myself accountable (and maybe offer some inspiration for everyone out there to set their plans and ideas to paper).


1. Take an online marketing course.


I’m gonna take an online marketing course, purely because musicians need marketing skills almost as much as they need to be good musicians. I’m shit at self-promotion, but I’ve found some free courses offered by Google and Hubspot that might help. Both offer certifications, so if I complete them, I will use them for part-time work outside of music, too.


2. Stop watching Netflix and use that time to read and write.


I wonder how many people have ‘stop watching Netflix’ on their list of resolutions. But honestly. I’ve watched ‘Gilmore Girls’ three times already. This madness has to stop.


3. Release several singles throughout 2021.


I haven’t been sitting on my ass all of 2020. Some of it, I spent writing and recording stuff. So, if everything goes to plan, I will be releasing several singles over the course of 2021, and I have written up a release strategy for how I would release the songs in my ideal world. I will try and follow it for once.


4. Work on my guitar skills.


When I started performing eight years ago, I started stressing out about not being a good enough guitarist. For some reason, though, I decided it would be easier to obsess about being shit instead of working on getting better. This December, I started playing guitar for an hour or so almost every day, and I noticed that I finally didn’t suck. So, I’m gonna try and maintain that habit into 2021.


5. Learn German.


I am moving to Berlin (or London? Or Berlin? Fuck, I don’t even know anymore myself), so I have to learn German at some point. I promise I will actually try in 2021. The alternative is to tolerate angry stares in supermarkets while I try to explain what I need for another year.



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musician-friends

Why Having Musician Friends Matters in this Shitstorm of a Time (and Where to Find Some)

artist, self-love

Some of these days, I wake up energised, go for a run, sing in the shower, down three cups of coffee without having a nervous breakdown. But these are difficult times for everyone, and more often than not, I wake up with a groan, say something mean to my parents, who have been putting up with me on and off since March, and spend the rest of the day wondering what the hell I’m doing.

Like most musicians, I’m happiest at a sweaty bar show, dancing to music, shouting into a friend’s ear, while downing a pint of warm English beer (although that last one is up for debate). I’m happiest when I’m rushing from work to a gig, squeezing onto the tube with all the 9-5ers, with some 40-year-old dude in his running outfit and his work clothes in his tiny backpack elbowing me in the stomach on his way out. It’s a busy life, and it’s hard, and sure, I used to burst out crying after getting home at 2 A.M. knowing work started in five hours. But I had a purpose.

Now, that purpose seems to have disappeared. Musicians that have been making money with music for years are suddenly forced to look for new jobs. I spend my days strumming my guitar and writing lyrics about stuff that happened ages ago because I haven’t left the house in weeks. I’ve written a song about my mum’s cat.

The only thing that’s keeping me afloat these days is my musician friends. It’s the people that call to check in with me, send their demos, and compare notes on release strategies. It’s the friends that are as lost as me, but also friends that are doing far worse, having lost their biggest income streams.

In the last several months, I’ve grown more as a musician than I had done in years, and it’s mostly due to the other musicians I’ve let into my life. I’ve started listening to albums instead of playlists, I’ve started playing guitar more, and I’ve had so much feedback on my songs that I’ve become a better songwriter. I have people I can offload on that understand and share my concerns. Before COVID-19, the idea of a music community seemed like something intangible. But now, with our defenses down, it has become necessary.

Music communities come in different shapes and sizes. Mine is made up of chance encounters, travels, gigs and support slots, my university, workshops. Normally, meeting other musicians is easy – you just rock up at an open mic or a jam night. But if you don’t have a community, if you don’t know how to start, and if you’re feeling lonely, here are some ideas that can put you in touch with fellow musicians right now:


1. Reach out to musicians you’re already ~kinda~ friends with.


This one is so obvious, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. If you’re a musician that has ever played a gig, you will have befriended a musician on Facebook, followed someone on Instagram, or made that vague promise of writing together someday. All the musicians everywhere right now are feeling uprooted, slightly desperate, and probably lonely. No one will find it weird if you reach out to someone you haven’t talked to for a year. Now is the time you’re allowed to without looking like a creep. Just ask how someone is doing. Ask if they have any new music coming out. Start somewhere.


2. Join a Facebook group.


There are loads of Facebook groups for musicians depending on location. When I moved to Berlin, the first thing I did was post in the Berlin musicians’ group. I did the same when I lived in London. Some musicians might want to go for a socially distanced walk to talk about music, or do a co-write, or have a phone call. You can schedule some stuff for when you’re allowed to have fun again. Don’t just look at the location, there are groups for everything. Join a songwriting group and give each other feedback on songs. Join a group for musician mums (only if you’re a mum, though).


3. Take an online music course with others.


There are loads of courses out there you can take for free now, and some of them come with a platform or community where you can exchange feedback and get to know other musicians. I took this short course on Songwriting by Pat Pattison years ago. It’s free, there’s a platform where you can talk to other students, and it’s often followed by Facebook groups and Soundcloud link exchanges. You might even learn something. In a similar vein, you can attend a webinar, an online panel, etc, and get active in the comments.

Finally, reach out to me. I’m always happy to talk.



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