how-to-be-okay-with-not-getting-the-perfect-take

How to Be Okay With Not Getting the Perfect Take

artist, music, productivity, self-love, songwriting

I’ve been struggling with that one myself for a while. My experience with recording has always been rocky. I did my first recordings in the attic with my dad, using a badminton bat with a nylon sock as a pop filter. I’ve taken recording very seriously and not seriously at all. I’ve released songs that I knew I’d done a half-assed job on and I’ve been proud of others. I never listen to my recordings once they’re out. Recording is a big part of who musicians are and having fits of anxiety over getting the perfect take is just not an option if I don’t want to die of a heart attack at 35.

I had two ways of accepting that fact – the first was to pretend I didn’t care about getting a perfect recording because no one was going to listen to it anyway. I’d probably forget it was coming out at all (and I did forget it when my first EP came out). The second option was to obsess about the recording because if people were gonna listen, the song needed to be fucking perfect. I’m an all-or-nothing type of girl.

Last week, I figured, there must be a third way. I came home from Berlin to get my dad’s sage advice on my songs and for him to press record and sit in the room while I played. Usually, those recording sessions are quite boring and stressful, made somewhat bearable by my dad’s jokes. But I had become spiritual in Berlin and I started to believe in detachment, visualisation, and the Universe. So, this time was going to be different.

I lit cedarwood incense and scented candles, said a quick prayer to my creative genius, and started playing. And God, it was a fucking struggle. I could hear my dad sighing from the other end of the room as I wrestled my way through the first song. I recorded songs in full takes, so after every mistake, I had to start from the beginning. Two hours later, we’d only got halfway decent takes of two songs. My dad called a break and we went to the kitchen for hot toddies.

We spent the whole day recording, and despite the incense and the candles and the prayers to the gods, I felt paralysed. It was the old second way all over again – if it wasn’t perfect, it was because I was shit. I went to bed feeling dreadful. The morning after, my hands shook as I listened back to the recordings. “Feels like a struggle,” I wrote in my notes about one of the songs.

I was confused. What was it that I was supposed to do to make recording fun? I’d tried the spiritual stuff, and that didn’t work one bit. So, I kept experimenting. And here is what worked:


1. If you can’t get a technically perfect take, get a heartfelt one.


I called one of my friends when I was at a recording low point last weekend. “You sound so depressed I’m legit worried,” she said. I felt stupid because even though I felt like shit, I am also lucky and grateful to be making music and I am aware of that. But what I said was: “Yeah, I think I’m a terrible musician.” My friend was quiet while I told her about my recording struggles. Then she said: “Well, who cares if it’s a perfect take? There’s always gonna be something you wish you would’ve done better. But if you put real emotion in the song, you give the recording something more valuable than technical brilliance.”


2. Have someone else in the room.


My whole phone conversation with her was full of useful gems. She also said that it’s really hard to do anything alone. And sure, I had the one recording session with my dad, but I spent hours afterwards recording by myself. “You need someone who tells you when it’s time to move on, and when you’ve done a good enough job. We’re always much harder on ourselves than we need to be.” I stand by recording on my own because it allows me to sit with my emotions and feel less self-conscious, but after 10 takes of the same song, it might be worth sending a couple takes to your friends to get their opinion. And more often than not, that weird lisp you keep hearing is just in your head.


3. Go for a walk.


Sometimes, you just need to step away. When I keep missing the same note time and time again, it’s more often than not because I need a break. Get out of the house. Stretch. Have some green tea. Laugh. Call a friend. I noticed that good recordings only come when your mindset is right. If you’re in a downward spiral of self-hatred, get out of the house. Reset.


4. Ask yourself if you’re self-sabotaging.


I spent three days telling myself I sucked. But then I stopped for a minute and asked myself why I was saying that at all. Did I even believe that? I know I’m a good musician, I know I love writing. I know that, for better or for worse, I’m true to myself and my music. But I was afraid to fail, so I was making excuses for not having to try. Yes, I might put out songs that no one will listen to. Yes, other people might not like them. But does that mean I should give up before even starting? Figure out the reason for your negative self-talk. You need to understand your fears before you can conquer them.


5. Write down what went well.


And if none of that helped, and your recording session still sucked, and you’re going to bed with a heavy heart and a deep feeling of incompetence, get your journal out. I keep talking about cultivating a gratitude practice, and how it puts things into perspective. And after any kind of bad day, that can help. But after a day of self-deprecation, it especially helps to remind yourself of what you‘ve done well. Write down three things. Don’t tell me you haven’t done three things well that day because I know you have. And you should know too.

time-management-kaia-vieira

GUEST POST: Structure and Flow: The Artist’s Guide to Time Management (Pt. 2)

artist, productivity, self-love

Part 2: Finding creative freedom in the grid 


1. Bullet point journalling to prioritise


The phrase ‘bullet point’ may not resonate with your freedom-seeking inner artist, but hear me out. I’ve found (again and again) that when I have a lot scheduled for one day, some stuff slips through the cracks. I used to berate myself for this, but I’ve learnt to accept that I just have mad high expectations for myself. Prioritising the most important goals for the day and letting go of the rest has become essential. 

I came across bullet point journalling in a low down of Tim Ferris’s morning routine I found on YouTube, in which he bullet points his ‘3 Main Goals’ for the day, letting himself know if he does these three things, he’s crushed the day. I started trying this, and it generated SO much more focus and follow-through on accomplishing my most important tasks, and SO much more peace at accepting the things that I didn’t manage to do that day. Your head needs some space and leeway to celebrate the wins instead of obsessing over the losses! And space creates freedom.


2. Honour the present, it’s all we have 


The great thing about time management, and time blocking in particular, is that it sets out certain amounts of time for you to let go of everything else and focus on ONE thing because you know this is the allotted time you have to commit to it today. But this won’t work if you’re fretting about that appointment you have to book after your practice time or are pissed off because you couldn’t get your ass out of bed on time. Not being present, when you become aware of it, is actually the cause of much of your distress, because you’re resistant to this moment, now. 

Eckhart Tolle, the king of presence in New Age philosophy, explains: “Your entire life only happens in this moment. The present moment is life itself. Yet, people live as if the opposite were true and treat the present moment as a stepping stone to the next moment – a means to an end”. I’d fully recommend having a read of one, if not all of his books (I confess, I’ve only read “The Power of Now”, but after the spiritual bombshells it brought, the rest are now on my ever-growing, neverending reading list).


3. Accept that the ‘perfect balance’ is a myth


I came across this gorgeous book “First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety” by Sarah Wilson, in which I found this quote:

“Women have got it into their heads that they should be able to do it all, and in perfect balance. And this has resulted in more stress, and less happiness. I speculate that men are feeling the same, but it’s just not reflected in the research yet. In response to these findings, UK pop researcher Marcus Buckingham investigated, inversely, what the happiest women were doing differently. And his conclusion was this: they strove for imbalance…These happy women, he said, realised that balance was impossible to achieve, and trying to do so caused unnecessary anxiety… Instead, Buckingham found these chilled, happy women tilted toward activities and commitments that they liked and found meaningful, amid the chaos. They didn’t wait for the chaos and the commitments to get under control. I loved this idea: tilting – it’s when you’ve so much to do, and you could list it all, and try to prioritise, or you could just sit in the everythingness and lean towards stuff as it arises that feels right.”

Sarah Wilson, ‘First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety’

I was initially attacking my struggle with time management from the standpoint that if I were to find the ‘perfect balance’ across different areas of my life, I would be fulfilled, and my anxiety would lessen. I discovered, however, that this ideal continually eluded me. It was only when I shifted my focus from needing complete control to simply enjoying every day as much as possible (tilting towards activities that I like and find meaningful) that I found much greater fulfilment and, paradoxically, more balance.


4. Regardless of all your time blocking, follow your inspiration when it comes!


Regardless of your well-intentioned structure to BOSS it daily, when inspiration comes – follow it! First and foremost, before any of this structure, YOU ARE AN ARTIST. Be prepared for a whole day’s pre-scheduled activities (or a night of sleep) to be thrown out of the ballpark. If the idea is demanding it be born right here, right now, let it come. Everything comes when it’s meant to. Accept it as part of the artistic experience and don’t lose any sleep over it (aside from the sleep it claims)! It’s okay to wipe out a whole day in service of our creative flow. Just get back into a rhythm the next day or two and accept that life is about honouring both the structure and the flow. At the end of it all, the ultimate goal is creative expression. The kind that moves through us like another entity in itself. So, when it comes, embrace it and jump onto the ride.


5. Mercy for yourself (and in turn the rest of the world)


Any kind of self-development without self-nurture, self-forgiveness, and self-love, can quickly become a **** show of self-harm. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Big Magic”, and one of my favourite humans outside of my real-life ones, puts this idea across as developing mercy for yourself, and in turn the rest of the world. In her 2014 blog post “MERCY. Dear ones…”, she says:

This is perhaps the strongest argument I have for learning how to come to peace with yourself — for healing your wounds and learning how to regard the softest and weakest and most shameful parts of yourself with gentleness and compassion. If you can practice mercy upon yourself, then gradually that mercy will radiate outward to the rest of us. And that will be the end of Judgment Day, every day. 

All of which is to say: It is not selfish, to learn how to be loving toward yourself: IT IS ULTIMATELY A PUBLIC SERVICE.”

Elizabeth Gilbert

I noticed in my own journey as I began to treat myself more kindly, my judgements of others’ weaknesses softened. I began to see how my vigilant, aggressive self-discipline was having an unintentional ripple effect on my relationships, holding others to the inhumane standard I was holding myself. I didn’t want to be that person for my friends, my family! I end on this because despite all of your beautiful, honourable intentions with any kind of personal development, without self-mercy, you can quite easily and unintentionally begin to become a person you don’t like. So, do it with love, do it with ease, do it with compassion, every day. Try and try again, but accept the failures as necessary stepping stones and give yourself a break, MANY TIMES OVER.

Other than that, you got this, you crazy little hyper-controlling entrepreneurial boss of an artist.

time-management-kaia-vieira

GUEST POST: Structure and Flow: The Artist’s Guide to Time Management (Pt. 1)

artist, productivity, self-love

I want to introduce this blog post with a big fat disclaimer: by no means have I mastered the art of meeting deadlines and being a thoroughly accountable, high-performance entrepreneurial expert that will get you managing your time like an Elon Musk spawn. I say this as Erika, whose blog I’m writing this for, drops me a message the night before the deadline, and I panic, having only written the first draft of this article.

I confess my struggle with deadlines because I want to be clear: time management for artists is different from time management for a left-side brainer. Saying that, I’d like to note that I believe (thanks to Julia Cameron’s teachings in ‘The Artist’s Way’ – FULLY recommend) that we all have an inner artist. Here, when I say, ‘left-side brainer’, I’m either talking about someone who genuinely thrives in a more analytical, left-brain field, or those who haven’t yet discovered their inner artist. I’m talking about the individual who doesn’t get quite as tempted to follow a rabbit hole of inspiration at 2 A.M. or has a relentlessly defiant inner rebel that appears every time the alarms of *imminent deadline* creeps up (seemingly out of nowhere). 

As much as us artistic folk want to master our time management, it seems almost paradoxical: the very nature of our work (and the core of our being) relies heavily on the nature of responding to unexpected bouts of inspiration. So how can we be free to flow with such waves when adhering to a rigid, predetermined structure? I’ve struggled with this heavily on my own journey. But, like the balance in all of nature, there is a place for both. If we practice the art of improvisation within our time management just as we would with our instrument or canvas, the balance between both can be a joyful, continuous dance. 

I’ve split this article into a 2-part list: the first collection of bullet points focuses on the management, left-brain side of this dance, and the second on the creative, right-brain side. They’re structure and flow, yin and yang: they need each other. And, since this is time management, we also need bullet points. Not to mention, my OCD nature gets a thrill out of categorising these for you.


Part 1: The building blocks of time management


1. Health first

“To keep the body in good health is a duty…otherwise we shall not be able to keep the mind strong and clear.”

Buddha

I discovered yoga at eighteen, at a time when I needed a self-care practice, badly. I was a spiralling teen, using drink and drugs to a dangerous excess to numb and escape my turbulent childhood. I always had high ambitions for my music career, but my complete lack of self-care wasn’t sustainable and was certainly going to destroy any promise of fulfilling my dreams. I started to awaken to this realisation through yoga and haven’t looked back. 

If you haven’t got into an exercise or meditation routine, or developed healthy eating habits, addressing these things can feel daunting. But every tiniest step in the right direction is as valuable as the next and you can gain momentum by focusing on small, short-term goals. It’s 100% a journey. 

I now have a morning routine of journaling, exercise, meditation, affirmations and visualisation, and I follow a plant-based diet, but I did NOT build this up overnight – this is the result of 6 years of trial and error! And though I recommend any one of these elements, I’m not saying any one of these are exactly what you should do (including the plant-based diet, no vegan pushing here). They’re simply what I’ve found make me feel best, in body and mind.

When I feel clear and energised, I show up for my day in a much better way than when I rush out of bed in a hurry. Making the time to nurture your body and mind before the demands of the world come rushing in isn’t a luxury, it’s essential.


2. Time blocking: the groundwork for all time management


In 1958, Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British historian, invented the infamous Parkinson’s Law: one of the groundworks for time management. The law states, “work expands so as to fill the time of its completion”. This means, whether we give ourselves two hours, one week or a year, we will subconsciously find a way to fill the time we’ve allotted for it. Saying this, the law should not be used to set unreasonable deadlines (of which time tracking can help with in Step 4).

By time blocking, you set fixed amounts of time to focus on a given activity, and then schedule these blocks into a schedule/calendar. This practice revolutionised my ability to see how I’m balancing my time across the whole week, and in turn, creates urgency to show up each day.


3. Schedule breaks and unscheduled time just as you would any focused activity


It can be hard at first to create estimates for how much you can REALISTICALLY fit into any given week, but trial and error is the greatest teacher. My kryptonite was always being overly ambitious and obsessive at the expense of my well-being, but I hit a turning point during lockdown that I can’t stress enough: SCHEDULE BREAKS. As mad as this may sound to some, I predict that if you’re reading this, you’re an ambitious artistic entrepreneur that struggles with making enough time for yourself. But it’s as essential to block out time for rest as for any focused activity.

Breaks fall under two categories: 

  1. Regular breaks between focused tasks
  2. Daily/weekly blocks of free, unstructured time

Regular breaks between focused tasks:

The ‘Pomodoro Technique’ (another groundwork of time management) is a method that uses a timer to break work down into intervals with focused productive time, followed by a small break. Traditionally, the method advocates 25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break, but you can change that as you see fit (50m/10m is my personal favourite). The idea is that when the focus time is longer, so is the break. As artists, this can feel quite rigid when we get into a creative flow, but there’s a hefty amount of research to back up how beneficial this is for your brain.

Another point that needs to be stressed is that a break is NOT the time to check your phone, consume TV, or engage your brain in any other stimulating way. A break is a break from all activity and can include (some of my favourites): making tea, doing a few stretches, meditating, closing your eyes and listening to some music, or people watching from your window. 

Brendon Burchard, author of “High Performance Habits” (recommend for you self-development junkies out there), stresses that regular breaks are crucial for sustainable high-performance. He has an interesting “release tension, set intention” meditation technique:

  1. Close your eyes, scan your body, releasing any tension you notice
  2. Set an intention for your next block of work/activity

Daily/weekly blocks of free, unstructured time:

This is VITAL. In my self-research, I discovered I need at least 1 day completely off, and preferably 1.5 (i.e. Saturday off from the afternoon, after a productive morning, and the whole of Sunday off). This was alien to me for the first two years of London life, but I’ve accepted I need it as much as I need focused time. We’re not robots – we need freedom from our schedule, especially when we’re highly ambitious and most of our week is regimentally structured. 

Scheduling it ahead of time allowed me to let go of a HELLA lot of guilt I would put on myself if I had an unplanned day off. It gets you to be more intentional and creative about how you could make the most of this day (go on an adventure in the city or country, organise a meetup with mates) as opposed to numbing yourself with Netflix in an attempt to have a break. As much as Netflix and Prime Video are one of my go-to’s for some time out (I might be obsessed with productivity, but I’m human), research has shown that binging doesn’t give your brain much of a break at all and is actually extremely energy-draining in comparison to energy-generating time with friends or in nature.

One more note: schedule a couple of hours each day to have unstructured time too, preferably 1-2 in the afternoon, and a couple in the evening before bed (minimum). Having everything structured for even one day can result in you rebelling against your own schedule. Daily free time helped me feel more human: having the space to go outside for a walk, connect with my loved ones, or even just regain the freedom to CHOOSE what I want to do in the moment.


4. Use time tracking to find out how long it ACTUALLY takes you to complete tasks


Research about task completion times conducted at the University of Waterloo in Canada found evidence that “task completion plans normally resemble best-case scenarios and yield overly optimistic predictions of completion times”. Yep, we’re crap at accurately predicting how long it’ll take us to do anything, and never seem to want to take into account any unforeseen circumstances, which can be a problem if you want to manage your day. Enter: time tracking. 

For the next week, I suggest you get a super cheap, tiny pocket journal (or do it on your phone, Gen Z-ers) and track every activity you do. This helped me to learn how much time I need to feel truly satisfied with a practice session (anything under 1.5 hours feels rushed) or to be more realistic about how long it actually takes me to get ready in the morning, accepting more and stressing less. This will also hold you accountable for time you wasted scrolling through that influencer’s Insta account. When you see it written down, it makes you think twice the next day.


5. Habits and routines


Habits and routines are GOLDUST for efficiency. My morning routine sets me up, primes my mind, and generates energy for the day. If I ever miss it, I feel like a slug. One book I’d highly recommend getting your hands on if you’re interested in setting up your own morning routine is “The Miracle Morning”. Author Hal Elrod proclaims that “focused, productive, successful mornings generate focused, productive, successful days – which inevitably creates a successful life”.

Once habits are set into our daily routines, they become consistent patterns that we don’t have to think about. When they become instinctive, they eliminate ‘decision fatigue’: a psychological phenomenon coined by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister. Decision fatigue suggests we each have a finite store of mental energy for decision making, and so self-discipline outside of a routine is much harder than one that’s set up by automatic habit. Once you get through the first month (the time to set a habit is constantly up for debate, but this is a widely accepted rough guideline), you’ve paved your way to save all that energy for the rest of the day. And, positive habits will look after you like a well-trained coach, giving you more energy to focus on your creative work.

Written by Kaia Vieira


Pt. 2 will discuss creativity within time management. Coming this Friday!

nanowrimo-songwriting-november

NOVEMBER SONGWRITING MONTH ANNOUNCEMENT

artist, creativity, music, productivity, songwriting

Hi everyone!

I have always been a massive fan of NaNoWriMo, where writers commit to writing a novel in a month, but it recently occurred to me that there was no such thing for songwriters… This is why I spent the last couple weeks putting together emails with songwriting prompts, writing inspiration, and interesting links. The idea is that if you sign up for the November Songwriting Month mailing list, you’ll receive a dose of daily inspiration to help you achieve your songwriting goals for the month. And if you’re in dire need of a songwriting community now that this pandemic has scattered us all over the world, there is also a Facebook group where you can share your stuff and give others feedback.

Happy writing!

Erika x

inspiration-journal-songwriting

Why I Have an Inspiration Journal

artist, creativity, music, productivity, songwriting

In Belgium, I had a mystery drawer with Post-its with ideas and words that I like. On my bookshelves, I had dozens of dog-eared books with index cards between the pages, writings in the margins, and underlined sentences. I had cutouts of articles I’ve read, poems on my walls, photos of places and friends, and postcards with my favourite paintings. My childhood bedroom was a shrine to creativity. Maybe also a hoarder’s paradise.

When I started moving around, it became hard to acquire stuff – index cards got lost, books were too heavy to cart around, and I didn’t have walls to decorate with paraphernalia anymore. My bedroom was never as over-the-top as Florence Welch’s house, but looking around always filled me with inspiration. If I was feeling stuck, or couldn’t get past the terror of the blank page in my songbook, I could always start from a picture on the wall or a word in someone else’s poem.

I came up with a new system when I moved to a hostel in London, though calling it a system is probably overselling it. I started writing down phrases from books I liked, copying poems, and drying flowers in between the pages of a journal. After a while, I started taking leaflets from galleries and cutting out drawings to paste into my notebook. And in between the art I admired, I wrote my own songs, that had started from a line in a poem or an idea I got from a quote. I called it my inspiration journal.

A blank page is always daunting, but having an inspiration journal, or an inspiration nook where you keep some poetry books and lists of interesting rhymes on hand, can give you a starting point to write from. It can also encourage you to read more, go to museums once in a while, and watch more films. It can make you a better listener and reader, as well as a better songwriter. Here are some ideas on how to fill your journal and what you can do with it:


1. Fill it with poetry and interesting sentences.


Read poetry, listen closely to lyrics, study fiction. As songwriters, we are always on the lookout for beautiful turns of phrase, and unique metaphors. I find autobiographical essays a great source of inspiration, too – some of my favourite writers are Joan Didion, Deborah Levy, and Olivia Laing. But don’t just write down stuff that sounds good. Write down the words that spark your imagination. For different songwriters, that will mean different things. I’ve written down quotes about lightbulbs that didn’t work and turmeric in the kitchen because I wanted to use similar details in my own lyrics.


2. Make lists of words.

As a folk songwriter, I like telling stories in my songs. But to make them come to life, I need descriptive, meaningful words. Most of us can make do with the words in our current vocabulary, but as writers, we need to do better than that. We want to be in a place where we can choose from a pool of words that might mean the same thing, but roll of our tongues in different ways, leave a new taste in our mouths. Jimmy Webb even goes as far as to suggest we read a dictionary back-to-back.


Few of us are naturally inclined to sit and read an entire dictionary (like Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate for example, at fourteen hundred pages) but I will advance the argument that a writer who attempts to write prose, poetry, song lyrics or automobile advertising without a vocabulary of suitable depth is entering a tournament of wits unarmed. I will go one step further and say that if there is any intrinsic merit in curiosity then we should read at least one dictionary from aardvark to Zwolle (a city in the Netherlands).

Jimmy Webb, “Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting”

I have not attempted this yet, although I intend to read a dictionary someday. I do keep lists of interesting words I come across and original rhymes I see or think of in my notebook, though. I use them for writing lyrics, for moving the story plot along, finding unpredictable rhymes, etc.


3. Cut out paintings, paste in photographs, let a friend draw in your journal.


Writing from an image is a valuable exercise for songwriters in a rut. It can provide a change in your current songwriting process, bring imagery into stale lyrics, or evoke emotions that will make you think of a brilliant melody. I don’t often use this method because I’m not much of a visual person, but I have friends who swear by it. I recommend cutting out photos of paintings from museum or gallery leaflets, pasting in photographs, and even letting friends draw in your notebook. I have let friends do that before who weren’t good at drawing at all – it doesn’t always have to be serious, sometimes a good bit of fun is what you need.


4. Keep newspaper articles that hit a nerve.


I struggle with writing songs that are not about me, and for most people, songwriting can be a narcissistic endeavour. To challenge myself, I sometimes write about events on the outside that affect me in some way – climate change, racism, sexism, there’s enough out there to pull from. My songs about big issues often sound like pretentious crap and don’t see the light of day, but it’s the exercise that counts. I’ve found that referring to newspaper articles helps, especially the ones with personal stories that bring humanity into these grand narratives. Not long ago, I started stuffing them in my inspiration journal to use details from them in my songs. I’ll keep you updated on how well it works.


5. Write down your ideas. Obviously.


Inspiration doesn’t always come from outside. Sometimes we get our own great ideas. The thing with our brain is that we forget them. I often write something down believing the idea is so good that I will remember it forever, to read it back a week later and see it for the first time. So, keep your inspiration journal at hand and write down the great lyric or the original song idea when it comes to you. Or keep index cards in your bag that you then paste into your journal. Whatever works.


This works for me, but I know that all creatives have their rituals, so please let me know if you have any other ideas!

best-books-for-songwriters

My Favourite Books for Songwriters

artist, creativity, music, productivity, songwriting

For those of you who don’t know me – I LOVE reading. Not just love. LOVE. For someone who hasn’t lived in the same place for longer than four months in the last three years, I have a lot of books. And since I’m a songwriter, a lot of them are inevitably about writing and music. So, I thought I’d share my thoughts on my favourite ones with you.


On inspiration and creativity

‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert

big-magic-elizabeth-gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert is the woman that brought us ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, inspiring people all over the world. ‘Big Magic’ has a different purpose. It doesn’t talk about how to become a bestselling author or how to embrace your wild, creative dreams. Instead, it focuses on small victories, on how to live a creative life without harbouring unrealistic expectations. Gilbert writes about her own life, her process, and how creating in itself should be the goal. It’s the book to read when you’re feeling stuck, or when you don’t know why you’re doing it anymore.

‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg

This is the best book on writing and inspiration I have ever read. Natalie Goldberg gets down to the joy of writing, incorporating Zen practice and meditation into her teaching. The love she has for writing and creativity is so contagious it will make you want to throw aside the book and start writing. Which is exactly what books like these are supposed to do anyway.




On lyrics

‘Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting’ by Jimmy Webb

tunesmith-jimmy-webb

This is probably the most thorough book on songwriting I’ve ever read. It’s written by one of the greatest songwriters of our time (think ‘Wichita Lineman‘ and ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix‘) and gives amazing insights into how professional songwriters work. Webb dedicates a whole chapter to his writing process, describing in detail how he starts and finishes a song. It’s a book for more advanced songwriters, as it deals with some theoretical concepts and frameworks beginners might not be familiar with, although Webb briefly explains all the terms he uses. He also delves deep into melody and harmony, which a lot of books on songwriting fail to do.

‘The Songwriter’s Idea Book’ by Sheila Davis

songwriters-idea-book-sheila-davis

Sheila Davis has several books to her name that have become required reading in music courses. In this book, she talks about how personality types influence the way we write and think about our work, and offers 40 strategies for writing a song. She talks about everything from rhetoric devices and figurative language to plot strategies and the importance of a good title, but the main emphasis of the book is on ‘whole-brain writing’ and how our personality influences our productivity.


On music business

‘How to Make It in the New Music Business’ by Ari Herstand

This book is the Bible of the music business for independent musicians. Ari Herstand – a DIY artist himself – talks about everything you might want to know. Although parts of the book focus specifically on the US, most of it is geared towards musicians everywhere. He gives practical tips and provides strategies, timelines for releases, and templates for emails. It’s the most hands-on book on music business I’ve read so far.

‘The Art of Asking’ by Amanda Palmer

Although technically it’s not about the music business, it taught me more about how to handle my career than most other books that are. Amanda Palmer – a DIY legend – writes about how she started out, the innovative (read: crazy) strategies she used to build a fanbase, the work that went into her Kickstarter campaign, and the mental toll of it. It’s not a step-by-step guide by any means, but the creativity with which Amanda Palmer built her music career from the ground up is so inspiring, it will spark interesting marketing ideas in any songwriter who reads it.


On recording

‘The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook’ by Bobby Owsinski

If you’re like me and don’t have the money to record in a studio and pay a mixing engineer, this book is a great guide to start your research with. There are a lot of good Youtube videos out there to help you with whatever DAW you’re using, recording techniques, etc., but it can be hard to find good videos on mixing. This book, however, has everything. Owsinski talks about dynamics, effects, dimension, frequency. The book also includes interviews with producers/mixing engineers like Bob Brockman, Dave Pensado (who also has a great podcast on music production called ‘Pensado’s Place‘), and Ed Stasium.


If you have any other recommendations I haven’t mentioned, let me know in the comments!

time-off-from-making-music

It’s Okay to Take Time Off From Making Music

artist, creativity, music, productivity, self-love, songwriting

Last year, I didn’t write a single song all summer. I didn’t touch my guitar until September and only read non-fiction for three months. I didn’t want poetry and I didn’t listen to music, except for Lana del Rey’s “Lust for Life” that I already knew by heart. Sometimes, I watched Netflix, mostly “Gilmore Girls” that I had already seen twice, and lay around on the couch eating ice cream and thinking about quitting music.


I have friends who worry about writer’s block. I don’t have writer’s block, I have stretches of time when I believe music has ruined my life and I should become a lawyer and make my parents proud. Sometimes, it’s when I have one too many gigs where somebody shouts a sexist comment from the bar or walks out in the middle of a song. Sometimes, it’s after I get another rejection email about how my voice is not folky enough (even though it’s not, that’s true). Most of the time, it has nothing to do with my music and everything to do with what other people think about my music.


And it’s not that I’m one of those musicians that put in hours every day playing their instrument or warming up my voice, so, at times, I don’t even notice when I haven’t played or written any songs for over a week. But, after a time away, I always feel the urge to come back. Artists split themselves open to show others the pain and the rot inside, to share their joy and the love they feel, and sometimes, all that splitting open, all the honesty can feel like too much. And it’s okay to take time to heal from that once in a while.


“If you’re having difficulty coming up with new ideas, then slow down. For me, slowing down has been a tremendous source of creativity. It has allowed me to open up – to know that there’s life under the earth and that I have to let it come through me in a new way. Creativity exists in the present moment. You can’t find it anywhere else.”

Natalie Goldberg, “Writing Down the Bones”

Last September, after a summer with no music, I went into a bookstore in New York and bought a notebook (okay, five) and got home and started writing. I didn’t stop writing for the next three months. Not just because I had missed it, but because I’d spent the time away from it living my life, and I had stuff to write about.


Sometimes, we just need a break. Every time I take time off from music, I believe I’m quitting forever. But I never do. And neither will you.

growth-self-doubt-artist-musician

5 Habits that Helped Me Overcome Self-Doubt

artist, productivity, self-love

For a long time, I didn’t think I was a professional musician. I still scroll through my friends’ Instagram accounts, decide I’ve had a good run, and consider quitting music for about two minutes every morning. As a creative, there are no objective criteria to check yourself against, and it inevitably seems like everyone you know is going at 100 mph, while you are driving around the same roundabout with a flat tire.

At first, that feeling was eating away at everything I did, and whenever I came up with a project, I heard a voice in my head saying things like “not good enough”, “you’re an amateur”, “nobody cares about what you have to say”. But throughout the years, I’ve learned to cope with that voice, to hear it mumble something hurtful and recognise it for what it is – fear.

But a year ago, I had put away my guitar after crying myself to sleep for months, and decided I would never be a musician. I went to the library, got out some books on politics and economics, and spent my summer reading, trying to imagine what it would feel like to study something ‘normal’. Studying music in university had proved harder than I had anticipated. It was the first time I was confronted with real criticism, with other musicians who were better and more motivated than me, and I felt like an impostor, as if I’d blagged my way in and didn’t belong.

June went by, then July, and then August came around. I hadn’t touched my guitar and hadn’t written a single song. I wrote a travel article thinking that being a journalist sounded less crazy than being a musician, but then realised it was probably still too much of a stretch. Then in August, I got an idea.

My Songwriting tutor, Lisbee Stainton, says that when you’re not writing, you’re “planting seeds”. I think all through June and July I had been planting seeds, and in August, I woke up in the middle of the night in a garden. I had an idea for an EP, fully developed – I could picture the artwork, hear the arrangement, see the press release. I started recording a week later. I realised that despite my anxiety, the panic attacks, the tears, quitting music was not a solution. Figuring out how to deal with my self-doubt was.

I spent a year trying to work through my fears. I can’t say I never wake up and question myself anymore. I do. But I don’t doubt myself the way I used to, I question myself because that’s what good artists do to get better. But I also believe I am enough now. I believe I am already a professional musician. I believe that I have my own path and I don’t have to be at the same level some of my friends are. And these habits helped me to get to where I am:



1. I Changed the Way I Talk to Myself


We’ve all been told this before. Don’t talk down to yourself, how you see yourself is how others see you, etc. But I never realised how true this was until I started practising it. Overly positive self-talk is exhausting, and I couldn’t get behind it at the best of times, but you can make small changes in what you say that will make a massive difference.

For example: instead of talking about your goals, talk about your challenges. Goals are stressful, and if you don’t achieve them, you feel like a loser. Challenges, however, are exciting and playful, and a challenge is not something you need to achieve, it’s something you want to have a go at. For me, this meant that I stopped beating myself up when I didn’t reach a goal and that I felt extra proud when I tackled a challenge. It also meant that I stopped putting so much pressure on myself and started enjoying myself more. Think about what you say that stresses you out and how you could rephrase it to make it sound exciting.


2. I Took up Running


I’ve always hated sports. At the same time, I’ve always been jealous of people who were good at them because they seemed so damn perfect. So, after another low point of watching Netflix and stuffing myself with Walkers Max, I decided I could either start running every morning or keep wallowing. I chose running.

I didn’t think it would have any effects on anything other than my health. And for the first two weeks, it didn’t. But the longer I kept doing it, even when it was hard and I wanted to quit, the more I started to enjoy it. And I started to get better at it.

Running taught me two things. Firstly, that I am not a quitter, which I had always thought I was. And secondly, that tough stretches result in growth. Those lessons changed the way I saw myself and made me confident enough to take on new projects.


3. I Started a Gratitude Journal


I have always found it hard to get behind the spiritual stuff. I have tried meditation (and I keep trying!), but I find it hard to sit still for more than five minutes. I do yoga, but mostly because it makes my body feel good, I don’t particularly care about my third eye. So, I was also skeptical about gratitude practice, but I thought I’d give it a go.

For months, I sat down before bed every night and wrote down five things I was grateful for. And after a couple weeks, I started noticing how, during the day, I would make music or sit down for lunch or talk to a friend, and make a mental note to be grateful. That warm feeling of content started expanding from my diary pages into my life, and instead of beating myself up for things I didn’t have or hadn’t accomplished, I started thanking the universe for giving me so much. It’s easy to doubt and even hate yourself for what your life lacks, but it is even easier to love the abundance in it.


4. I Took Time to Remember What Mattered


In December last year, I organised an EP release show. I didn’t have any particular reason to do so, other than because everyone else was doing it. It was an extremely stressful process, and in three months time, I had barely got any sleep. The show went well, and I was ecstatic and proud for about two hours, and then it was over and everyone went home. After the release show, I asked myself why I had even bothered putting it on. I got into music so that I could live passionately, doing something I loved. And here I was, doing something I had never planned to do, mindlessly following in other people’s footsteps, so I could tell myself I was doing just as well as my friends.

Over Christmas, I made a list of things that mattered to me – what brought me joy, why I was making music, what life I wanted to live. Sometimes, life goes so fast that, without noticing, we adopt other people’s dreams as our own and try to achieve milestones we don’t care about and then beat ourselves up about failing at something we never wanted in the first place.

When I wrote out my list, I noticed that I was doing much better at what I wanted to do than I had thought while comparing myself to others. At the same time, I noticed that I could cut out a lot of miscellaneous stuff I was doing that was not serving me (like obsessing over my Instagram account) and use that time for things I enjoy (like writing spoken word). Now, I make lists like that every once in a while to check in with myself.


5. I Redefined What Success Meant to Me


When I first started studying music, I didn’t have many expectations – I wanted to write songs, have a good time, maybe learn something. But being surrounded by so many talented people made me want more. I started craving recognition, bigger venues to play in, more followers, and streams on Spotify. Whenever my expectations were left unfulfilled, I felt like a failure.

Over the last year, I started unearthing that person I was before I went to a music university (here’s a blog post on what helped me to figure out what mattered to me) – the one who thought that being able to make music was in itself successful, who believed that success didn’t lie in money, fame, or Instagram. The one who believed that success was doing whatever makes you happy.

After I made my list with priorities over Christmas, I decided I needed to allow myself more time to do the things I loved. And if I managed to get through the day with a smile on my face, I would think myself successful. After that, I did my first spoken word open mic, travelled to Budapest, and dyed my hair pink. Doing those things made me feel alive, present, and, ultimately, confident. Being successful is not about material things, it’s about living your best life. So, live a little.

focus-what-matters-priorities-self-love

How to Start Focusing on What Matters

productivity, self-love

In a society that glorifies busyness, we tend to go along with other people’s ideas of success and start chasing dreams that are not our own. I know I did for a long time, and I still catch myself doing so occasionally. The only way not to get swept up with the current is to take time to understand what success means to you, why you do what you do, and what makes you tick. I have already written a couple posts on how re-evaluating what mattered to me changed my mindset and the way I approach being an artist, but I’ve never explained how I set my priorities straight, so I thought I’d write this little article by way of explanation.


1. I picked up journalling.


I’m not great at building habits, I’m more the type of person who will be extremely enthusiastic about something for about a week and then drop it as enthusiastically a week later. It was the same with journalling, but I still enjoyed writing and doing my gratitude practice, so I stuck with it sporadically. On average, I still journal about half an hour a week, and that seems to be enough. There’s no need to explain how this helped me because of how obvious this is. It helps to get all your thoughts down on the page, and a journal provides you with a judgement-free zone, where no one’s opinion matters. Except yours.


2. I had my gratitude practice.


I have mentioned this before in my post about dealing with self-doubt, but practicing gratitude is important. It shifted my mindset from blaming the world for my first world problems to being grateful for all the love, friendship, and comfort I have. But after a while of doing it, I also started noticing a pattern in the things I was grateful for. At the end of the day, what mattered to me were my friends, my family, a good book I’d found, or some amazing song I’d listened to. I never wrote down how grateful I was for a Facebook comment or my Spotify streams. Why? Because who cares.


3. I made a list. Okay, a bunch of lists.


I LOVE writing lists. My diary is full of lists with books I want to read, films I need to watch, holiday plans, etc. If I can make a list out of something, I will. So, obviously, when last winter, I realised that I needed to focus more on things I enjoyed, I started by making a list of things I wanted to do. It included a bit of everything – things I wanted to try, things I missed doing, things I was already doing.

After I finished it, I picked what I really wanted to do, like travel more (before the coronavirus hit…), perform at spoken word open mics, start a blog. I didn’t want it to be things that were all connected to my music because sometimes, the point is just to have fun. Once I had written it down, I made a point out of scheduling items from the list in my day-to-day life. I started going to more poetry nights, spending more time with friends, and I did do that spoken word open mic. It’s only by trying stuff from your list that you can figure out what brings you joy.


4. I started going for walks. Without music.


It’s hard to think about anything when you never give yourself time to think. Although life in London is often hectic, and everybody (including me) is always complaining about how little time there is in a day, most Londoners spend at least an hour a day on public transport. And when they’re not on public transport, they’re speed-walking somewhere, usually in their suit, bumping into everyone with all the anger they’d suppressed at work. So, we really do have time to think. We just prefer not to. When I realised that I spent two hours a day listening to music or a podcast or leafing through a book on the tube, I decided to try to get on the bus and just sit there. I also started walking places more often without listening to anything.

Some people meditate, but I can’t bring myself to sit still with my thoughts. Yoga or running are the closest things to meditation I have, but by leaving my headphones at home from time to time, I realised I could build in more reflection time into my day. And sometimes, I walk and nothing happens. But sometimes, I walk and a thought pops into my head that turns my day around.


5. But really, I’d just realised I was not in a good place.


I don’t know if any of these things would have changed much had I not been in the right frame of mind when I started doing them. After all, being considered successful by others usually feels good. So good that we often don’t realise it can be better. I think I needed to crash and have a bit of a mental breakdown to realise that something was off. Success looks different to everyone. Figure out what it means to you.

how-to-stop-thinking-not-enough

How I Stopped Freaking Out About Not Doing Enough

artist, productivity, self-love

In theory, being a musician could mean many things. It could mean sleeping in late on weekdays, doing what you love, living a bohemian life that doesn’t conform to the world’s materialistic standards. In reality, being a musician means getting up at six in the morning to run to work before uni starts, to be able to pay rent because music doesn’t. It means spending more time on reading about Instagram algorithms than writing songs, and worrying about whether your music is commercial enough.

Most musicians, contrary to what some people may think, have very little time and a lot to do. We design our own websites, record and produce our own songs, perform, write, keep up with our social media, make our own videos, and often have another job on the side. I don’t know if other musicians feel the same way, but I often feel like I have too much on my plate. I struggle with the pressure to do as much as other singer-songwriters I know.

The first two years of making music as my primary occupation, these thoughts freaked me out. Every time I sat down to watch a film or read a book, I felt guilty because I knew some of my friends were still rehearsing at eleven in the evening. Days off were unheard of – you either worked a regular job or you worked on your music. The busyness culture had crept into the most bohemian of occupations, and I was being swept up in it. But slowly, I started figuring out little ways to trick my mind into relaxing, finding ways to get stuff done, and to rest. It’s been an arduous journey, but I think I’m getting there. And for all the other workaholics out there, I hope this will help:


1. I began timing myself.


As a musician, there are a lot of tasks you need to accomplish that could take ten minutes, or – if you’re a perfectionist – will take actual hours. Shooting an Instagram video, anything with music production, recording a vocal take – you name it. And sometimes, it’s hard to know when to stop. So, now, whenever I know I might lose track of time doing something, I set a timer before I start. For example, when I work on a recording of a song, I set a timer for two hours. It pushes me to work faster and be more decisive and usually delivers the same results as I would have had otherwise.


2. I started making time for my friends.


When I moved to London, I found myself alone. All through my first year, I lived in a hostel, so I had plenty of social contact, but none of the deeper relationships I kept hearing were important. At the end of my first year at university, I felt lonely, stressed, and tired. I remember sitting down at a table in our university cafe with some classmates and talking about it, only to find out that everybody felt that way. I had spent my first year working on my music and stressing about whether I was enough, but never once did I consider just talking to someone. Now, I regularly meet up with other musicians, and we all complain about how much we should be doing and how little we are actually doing, and it takes some of the pressure off.


3. I developed a morning ritual.


Every morning, I wake up and do yoga or go running, write for about twenty minutes, and have breakfast. These things take about an hour but make a massive difference in my day. Doing sports gives me energy and motivation, writing gives me some reflection time so that I’m ready to tackle my to-do list later on. It also gives me structure, which is the first step towards a peace of mind. Mornings are my time, and especially since musicians often can’t keep regular hours, it gives me the semblance of a routine, whether I’m doing it at seven in the morning or at eleven.


4. I started scheduling everything, including time off.


Although I’ve always been a control freak, I never believed in rigid planning. Until my job started getting in the way of my music and I had to find a way to maximise my free time. I have a friend, Manon Vix, who sits down every weekend to write an hourly schedule of her week (she is also a great musician and you should check her out). I always kind of admired it and thought she was kind of crazy at the same time. But then, I decided to try it for myself, and it changed my life. It includes what I previously mentioned about timing yourself – if you only give yourself so much time to do something, you will find a way to get it done. But most importantly, it made me see how much time I spent working, and made me feel less guilty about scheduling nights off and time to rest. Whenever I write out my schedule now, I try to do similar activities around the same time, which brings me closer to a routine than I’ve been since high school.


5. I embraced slow living.


This has probably been the biggest change in my mindset over the last couple years. I used to think that there was something admirable in being exhausted all the time, but I stopped seeing the point of it half a year ago. All of a sudden, I couldn’t bring myself to do anything. The motivation was not there, the energy was missing. I started re-evaluating my life. Slow living doesn’t have one set definition, but it revolves around being prepared to make more time for the things that matter and to let go of the things that don’t. By cutting out miscellaneous tasks, I had more time to rest, which made me more productive, less stressed, and gave me the opportunity to maintain some kind of social life. Too often, I catch myself thinking I’m wasting time when I’m resting, but in reality, I come back from it twice as productive and in much better spirits.