Guest Post: On the Impermanence of Artistic Personas and Authentic Imperfection

I changed my persona from Kantisunflower to K_anti because I didn’t want to go by someone I was not anymore. Producers would approach me with a very particular style of music but I’m a versatile person, I want to explore everything. Before music, I wanted to be a director, before that an astronaut, before that a cheerleader. But we’re taught we can only pursue one dream. Fuck that! I want to pursue and do anything; the space in-between is the space for me to do and be anything I want. Music should be as fluid as any other type of artistic expression, and this is what I intend to explore as K_anti.

My newest EP “Go outside and meet your love” has cyber-space vibes. During quarantine, I was inside all day on my phone, iPad, laptop, wired in. It was a sudden change from exploring the world, touring Asia, to this brutal reality. But it helped me self-reflect and evolve more than I’d ever done before. “Logging off”, the last track, is my favourite because it sounds like freedom to me. Like I was breaking free from this digital world. I think social media is unhealthy. I hate the instant gratification it gives us, that everyone is so wired. We don’t talk and look into each other’s eyes. I missed human connection and intimacy. 

The funny thing is, I was always a bit of a shut-in. I loved my space and could spend days doing nothing. But as soon as we were forced to stay inside, it became a prison. There’s so much life out there, so much beauty to be seen and felt. Now I make an effort to go do something every day, even if I’m alone. I was always hurt by people, so I closed myself off to everyone, only to learn that there is so much beauty out there that the pain is worth it. 

I’ve always been open to sharing my vulnerabilities online, but I struggled more with being open in real life to my friends. When you share something online, you don’t see a reaction, so it can feel quite freeing. I think people have gone through so much, if we were more open about it, we’d be able to connect with everyone. The reason we’re afraid of vulnerability is because of judgement. To release the fear, you should withhold from judgement yourself. If more people acted on empathy, vulnerability wouldn’t seem so frightening. 

I’ve always fought with perfectionism. People think I don’t care, but I put a lot of effort into the things I make. I just do everything by feeling. I don’t know technicalities, so my work won’t be perfect to professionals, but I think that’s beauty in itself. That’s when you start creating things no one else could remake. I’ve seen perfectionism impair people. We need to let go of this box and rules we’re taught. We need less perfect and more authentic. I think this is why I battle with education so much because it’s an establishment that teaches you to follow all these rules. I never resonated with that.

I’ve been diving into Hinduism lately and reading books about Hare Krishna. In one book, Guru Prabhupada wrote about how we once had a child’s body, and though that body isn’t around anymore, our inner child still exists. Every day we’re changing, we should let go of the expectations people hold of us. Our physical body is a man, woman, mother, daughter, teacher, friend, lover, artist, musician, but these are labels created by others. In reality, we’re nothing. If we accept that, we’re free to be and do anything we want to. When you realise this, you can start living the way you want.

We can’t change anyone’s perception of us, only how we view ourselves. This was my biggest lesson in self-love. I try to give myself as much love as I give others, and living this way has made me very happy. To idolise a person is unhealthy, and I think that’s why praise has always made me uncomfortable. I don’t connect to that aspect of “fame”. We’re all the same, a pure spirit. Remember that. I’m no better than anyone, no less than anyone, I’m just me.

Written by k_anti

It’s Okay to Take Time Off From Making Music

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.

Why I Take Myself Seriously When Some Men Don’t

I was thirteen the first time it happened. It was after a music competition, where on stage, I had cited The Smiths and Amy MacDonald as two of my biggest influences. “The Smiths are a great band to look up to. Forget about Amy MacDonald, though,” one of the jurors told me after I was told to come back in a few years. “Amy MacDonald has a great voice,” I said, not understanding. “Yeah, but her lyrics… Just stick with The Smiths.” I didn’t understand what had happened there until years after, when I had heard versions of the same many different times.

Just a couple weeks ago, I was talking to a guitarist friend. “Joni Mitchell is amazing. All her tunings, the way she holds a guitar – it’s so original!” I raved. “Joni Mitchell can’t play the guitar,” my friend retorted. “It’s embarrassing even to watch the videos of her live performances. If you’re looking for a singer-songwriter to look up to, look up Nick Drake.” I already knew Nick Drake, just like any folk musician anywhere would. And I still believed that Joni Mitchell was a good guitarist.

Every time I mentioned situations like these to my friends, they laughed them off and said it was subjective, nothing to do with sexism and everything with music taste. But then I don’t go around saying Nick Drake is a bad guitarist, I just say that I don’t like his stuff. What is it about women that inspires some men to say that we don’t know what we’re doing?

If I think back to my gigs, there is always that one man who wants to show me how to put away my guitar properly, how to put on a capo or advise me on how to sing into a mic. Or my favourite: “You know, I am also a musician. Like, I don’t really perform and stuff, but yeah I write songs, too. You should work on your strumming.” I appreciate feedback, I do. Just not from the man who can only play ‘Wonderwall’.

I’ve learnt to block the feeling of righteous anger because it has never led to anything good. And I can only imagine how much worse it must be for some other women. Women who aren’t white or who don’t come from families where they have been supported in the way that I have. Women who don’t believe they can accomplish anything because women often aren’t raised to expect they will.

If we look at statistics, there’s no reason to believe otherwise – in 2019, “the top 10 female songwriters generated 67% less revenue from royalties than the top 10 men” reported The Guardian. I can count the female instrumentalists I know on one hand, just like the number of gigs I’d been to that had a diverse lineup (and I’m not just talking about gender balance here, which is a whole new issue).

Whenever my ex-boyfriend came along to gigs, he was assumed to be my manager. Whenever a girl friend comes along, she’s always just a friend. I rarely headline gigs because I’m still a young girl with a guitar after eight years of playing shows. I have shared the stage with headliners who had been at it for two years but were men. Some of them were good musicians and deserved it. Some of them were not.

I was talking to my dad about all this not that long ago. He laughed it off, said that I was exaggerating and the men I was talking about were probably just trying to help. That same night, when he was ordering a beer next to me after my set, a man walked up to me and said: “You’ve got an okay voice, but you should watch your diction, you’ll be better then. I am a singer, too.” The man looked like a perverted uncle you try to escape at a family reunion. I walked away before he could continue. My dad took me more seriously then.

One of the things my ex-boyfriend said when I’d complained about this was: “They’re probably just trying to hit on you.” Maybe. Maybe he was right. But is it necessary to try to show that you’re better than me or know better than me to ask me out? Can’t you hit on me by saying something like: “I like your music. I’m a musician, too, though I don’t perform like you do.” Or, shocker, you can also just not hit on me at my gigs. I’m not there to collect phone numbers. Apart from when I am. In which case, you’ll know.

It’s not about not wanting constructive criticism or not wanting to listen to others’ opinions. It’s about being taken seriously and being seen as a professional musician after years of hard work. It’s about asking yourself, before you walk up to a woman with unsolicited advice, whether you’d say the same to a man. It’s about women having to work twice as hard and twice as long before we can shake off the label of “a young girl with a guitar”. I’m still not taken seriously by a lot of men. I’m not taken seriously by a lot of women, either. But the least I can do is to take myself seriously. Because if I don’t do it, I just might start believing all the men that explain things to me.

I Still Struggle with Rejection

I had a shitty day today, and I figured that if I’m not gonna talk about it, there’s no point to this blog. I’ve spent a long time trying to be everything people wanted a perfect person to be, only to realise a couple years ago that no one likes a perfect person. But I still don’t deal well with rejections of any kind and every time I get one, I feel like I’m not enough. 

It’s still hard to unlearn the compulsion to please, and from a conversation with a friend the other day, I’ve realised that my self-worth is still very much dependent on other people. Even on compliments I get from random guys on Tinder, which is a precarious position to find myself in. I’m not a psychotherapist, so I don’t always know how to deal with this shit. I’m not depressed. I just have off days when all I want to do is watch Netflix and cry.

Sometimes, it’s only a day. Sometimes, it’s a week. It’s happened that it’s lasted for months, too, though. I don’t deal well with rejections, but all artists get plenty of them. After releasing a new EP, apart from compliments from friends and family, I also got emails from blogs that didn’t want to write about it because my voice was not folky enough or my guitar sounded too harsh in the recording. I regularly get emails from promoters who don’t think I will be able to draw a sufficiently big crowd. Sometimes, I don’t get any replies at all. It can get tough, especially because often, I’m too embarrassed by the barrage of rejections to even talk about it with my friends. Here’s what I do instead:

1. I write

When I keep everything inside, I inevitably crash. I overthink everything, and if I don’t write stuff down, my thoughts spin out of control. When I sit down and write – lyrics, diary, essay, whatever – it helps me to put my thoughts in perspective. Another thing that I do is affirmations. When I feel really low, I try to write down thoughts that are the opposite of what I’m actually thinking, like “I am a good musician”, “I’m proud of myself for putting myself out there”, “I’m brave”. Even if I don’t always believe it, it puts my mind in a better place.

2. I clean my room

When I feel like shit, it’s usually because I’m not in control. Cleaning the space around me makes me feel like I still own my narrative and like I care about myself enough to make an effort. It also prepares me for a better day tomorrow, when I’ll wake up in a clean room, ready to start a new day. Besides, cleaning itself is pretty therapeutic (maybe that’s just me).

3. I hold a pity-party for myself

Some songs always put me in a good mood. ‘Dancing with Myself‘ by Billy Idol, ‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’ by They Might Be Giants, ‘Paper Planes‘ by M.I.A. make me want to dance. So, I put them on and sing along and dance awkwardly, as you do. Sometimes, it doesn’t work and I return to bed. But sometimes, listening to those songs makes me want to get out of the house and get a drink with friends, and I stop feeling like I’m a sad vegetable and go have some fun.

4. I do something I’ve been putting off for a while

I have this Spotify playlist that I’m really proud and only slightly embarrassed of. It’s called the Bad Bitch Playlist. When I get rejected for some – according to me – unjust reason, I don’t always feel like shit. Sometimes, I feel angry. So, I put on this playlist and go to work. I go through my to-do list, do something I had been planning to do for a while (like recording a song, writing a blog post, learning a guitar lick), and it leaves me feeling better about myself.

5. I go easy on myself

It’s hard to remember, but I can’t be everything people want me to be. I’m only myself, with all my weaknesses and limitations. But then again, no one expects me to be perfect except for myself. I try to remember that when I feel like a useless, emotional wreck. I try not to judge and I try to listen to my body. If I’m tired, I take a day off – maybe go for a walk, maybe take a shower, maybe watch some Netflix. I give myself a break, so that I feel better when a new day comes around.

Guest Post: I’m a Nigerian-Irish Artist that Ignored Her Roots for Years

There’s a saying that says that to return to your roots is to find meaning – not in the future, not in a desire, not in the end, but in the beginning. You can thank for that intro. As much as I would like to have everyone assume that I’m a fantastic wordsmith, considering I’m a whole ass songwriter, I can’t take credit for that definition.

I have no real experience in writing articles like this and I don’t know where to start, but I can always tell you who I am. I’m Jennifer. I’m 20. I’m a singer-songwriter, I produce electronic pop songs. I’m a critically acclaimed over-thinker, I’m Nigerian and Irish. Yes, I’m black. Yes, we exist.

Erika has tasked me with the job of writing an article about how my roots have influenced my artistry and how I see myself as an artist. For the longest time, I struggled to think of ways in which it has. I began to take a mental inventory. The genre of music I make is not directly influenced by my Nigerian roots. It’s very, very far away from music that people assume should come from me in the first place. I could go into a spiel about how people expect me to either make afro beats or slow R’n’B songs about men, but I digress. 

I make electronic pop music. It’s not the Nigerian gospel my parents play on Sundays, and it’s not a 2020 version of Usher’s ‘Burn’ that my dad plays in the car every Saturday on our food shop trips. It doesn’t hold any type of resemblance to Beyoncé’s ‘Dangerous in Love’ that my dad proudly put on our shelf in the living room. So, did my roots influence my music at all? And is it a bad thing that it doesn’t, and never has? Am I being disingenuous by not allowing my roots to play a part in my music? Does it mean that I’m disconnected from my roots because you can’t hear it in the music I create?

Basically, I was having an existential crisis. 

I can’t lie. As I’m writing this, I’m still figuring out the answer.

I’ve come to the conclusion, that ‘your roots’ doesn’t have to be just one thing and it does not have only one definition. People normally talk about roots as your family origins, the particular place you come from, and the experiences you’ve had living there. But roots can be a combination of things that bring you back to your essence. If you’re Nigerian like me, you’ll know that “your roots are everything”, because your parents refuse to let you forget.

I’ve realised that you can see my roots in the way I see myself and hold myself as an artist in the middle of 2020. My music may not have stereotypically ‘black’ or ‘Nigerian’ aspects to it, like afro beats or something, but if you know who I am, you know the following: I call out social injustice whenever and wherever I see it, and my whole essence as an artist is to challenge the status quo. I’m a black girl making pop music who openly and loudly speaks about social and racial injustice, and if I make a few people feel uncomfortable while doing it, I couldn’t give less of a fuck than I already do.

When I thought deeper about it, I realised that this attitude I have towards being an artist, how I stand in what I do, and my willingness to call out what is wrong doesn’t come out of nowhere, and isn’t only a result of the internet age. My first exposure to this type of music and honest, revealing, and political artistry was through Nigerian music and nothing else, and I had never realised it until a few weeks ago. 

Adviser Nowamagbe, a very well-known Edo Artist among my parents’ generation in Nigeria created an album that had imprinted itself on my brain. Not because it’s particularly catchy, but more because my parents never stopped playing it. The album was called ‘Fake E.F.C.C’ and was a body of work in which every song criticised Nigeria’s EFCC, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Every single lyric in every single song was condemning the corruption that was rampant within the highest levels of politics in Nigeria. In particular the EFCC, whose main function was to investigate financial crimes, such as money laundering but which was, in reality, stealing money and people’s futures. I’ve never fully understood everything he was saying, as this music is in our native language, Bini, but I had enough knowledge of the language to get the gist. 

This guy was directly addressing one of the nation’s most important commissions, insulting them, calling them out, and exposing them for their crimes all through music, harmony, drums, and reverb. He was saying things everyone else was probably too afraid to, and using his art as a vehicle to express powerful truths and echo the thoughts of a whole country. There was a reason why at every party held at my house, this would be the backdrop of my aunties and uncles’ conversation about the corruption that never seemed to fade within Nigeria. I would sit beside my dad and listen to what everybody was saying, and look at the passion on their faces as they spoke of the need for a revolution. All this conversation brought about by one album. Most of the time, we’d only be 5 minutes in. 

The first song I wrote that I ever performed outside of my bedroom was a song called ‘The Colour Black’ about police brutality in America, inspired by the murder of Sandra Bland. I was 17 and I sang it in front of a room of white people, where I was the only black performer. It was a big deal for me because my parents had tried to convince me to sing something different. After all: “They may not like you saying all these things. It’s Ireland, you know”. But in my 17-year-old brain, there was a message to get out, and someone had to do it. I decided it was going to be me. Much love for 17-year-old Jennifer who thought she was saving the world with one 3-minute song at a small writing competition, but we love the enthusiasm.

The music I write now may not always be about social injustice, but I aim to be an artist that stands for something bigger than myself. I used to think this was a result of the internet, but it’s also in my roots. I grew up with Nigerian artists that are not afraid to speak up. 

I’ve got Nigerian parents, so spirituality holds a heavy presence in my life. I was the kid who was obsessed with the mystical parts of our world, myths, and stories of gods and demi-gods (this part my parents were unsure about because Greek mythology is not Roman Catholicism), but yes, I’d read ‘Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief’. You know how it is.

Two months ago, I changed my artist name from JENN to SPIDER, a decision I never even realized was me taking a step closer to my roots of spirituality. People ask me why I’ve decided to name myself SPIDER when I have lowkey arachnophobia. The answer is complex, and I feel like I give a different one each time, because there’s never been just one reason why the name has resonated so much. I’ll give a brief summary, though. 

I was raised to believe in signs, spirits, and a higher power that is looking out for me. A few months ago, I was in quite a dark place. I wasn’t creating anything or making any music. I had given up on everything creativity-wise and I had given up on myself. I was tired of being patient and felt like everything was against me. That’s when I started noticing an insane number of spiders cropping up in my room each day, and I kept having to get my flatmate Elena to get rid of them for me. It got so ridiculous that my spiritual side was kicked up the ass, and I googled what the meaning of this was.

In the spiritual world, when something shows up repeatedly in your life, it’s a sign from the universe that you have important lessons to learn, so you can grow in certain areas. Lo and behold, ladies and gents, spiritually talking, spiders can show up as an animal totem to tell you that you need to learn patience and get in touch with your creative energy again. Spiders have incredible patience and are masters of complexity because of how they weave their webs. The spider wants you to become more in touch with your emotions and your darker side, to slow down and take your time to create, to look at life through a different lens, to create your own story based on the experiences you’ve had, to examine your shadow self. So yes, the universe was calling me out. 

Spiders are associated with three things – creation, assertiveness, and the connection between past and future. Spiders also make their webs, and then just let things fall into place for them. They do the work but still allow themselves to be receptive. 

I make music under the name SPIDER to remind myself of my creative power, to remind myself that I weave the web of my life, that things can fall into place for me, to remind myself to be fucking patient and to create because that’s the whole reason for why I’m here. 

Ironically, spirituality and religion were parts of my heritage I desperately tried to run away from, and now I’m running back. As I get older, I’m starting to make out a breadcrumb trail that leads to my roots. Seeing how it’s made its way into how I see myself as an artist and how I use the space my creativity gives me is quite beautiful. As a black girl who once tried her hardest to distance herself from her blackness, her roots, and culture, accepting this breadcrumb trail and even shining a light on it is something I didn’t think I’d ever do. That’s growth, baby! (Get it, because roots grow. Okay, I’m gone.)

Written by SPIDER

5 Habits that Helped Me Overcome Self-Doubt

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.

How to Start Focusing on What Matters

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 I Stopped Freaking Out About Not Doing Enough

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.