This week’s newsletter is sponsored by:
- SHōR in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. No more wasting ziplock bags or saranwrap! SHōR helps you save money and the environement with these amazing beeswax wraps that keep leftovers fresh. Just wash and reuse them over and over again.
- And by my Secret Songs Playlist. Get instant access to 20+ unreleased tracks when you become a patron!
A huge thanks to all of you who took the survey last week. I’ve adjusted this week’s topics based on your responses. Here they are:
- Time Management for Creatives: Books I Recommend and/or My Simple System
- Story Time with Aaron: My Rock and Roll Gig (at the Senior Center)
- On Songwriting: 5-4-3-2-1
All right, let’s get to it!
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Time Management for Creatives
Books I Recommend and/or My Basic System
As a songwriter who likes to daydream for ideas, I used to stare out the window for hours, and nobody bothered me. Now that I have four boys, 11 and under, I can’t stare out the window without my name being called 100 times.
In 2018 I started reading books about time management. There are a LOT. But of all the ones I’ve read, I’ve realized I’ve been using a system for a while now that basically comprises these four books:
- The Four Disciplines of Execution
- Business Made Simple
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Ideally, read those. But my guess is that if you’re already struggling with time management, reading four books sounds overwhelming. So, here’s my breakdown.
Time Management for Artists: My Basic System
- Start with the end in mind. How far? Well, your death. In other words, write your own eulogy. And write it as an aspirational identity. Because this is the person you’re striving to be. Once you know your eulogy, it will be a filter for future decision-making. For example, I try to respond to every listener who emails me because it says in my eulogy, “It was not just through his songs that he connected with people. Every time a listener emailed or reached out on social media, he treated them as a friend. He answered their questions and helped them on their journey.”
- Make your goals very specific and use this template: “I will accomplish X by Y because of Z.” Where X is your goal, Y is the exact date, and Z is why it’s important to you. For example, here’s one of mine: “I will publish one newsletter every Thursday because I want to provide extra value and connection to my listening community.” When you lose motivation, remind yourself of the why.
- Focus on your lead measurements, not lag. A lag measurement is called a lag because by the time you’re measuring it, there’s nothing you can do about it. A scale, for example. I stepped on it this morning and hated what I saw. But it was already too late to lose five pounds, so I looked at my lead measurements. What are lead measurements? Indicators that you’ll reach your goal. Basically sub goals. Make 3 to 5 for each main goal and use the same XYZ template. For example, “I will brainstorm 7-10 newsletter topics every Monday morning so that I don’t feel panicked by Thursday.”
- Be kind to yourself. You’re going to have days when you do nothing. That’s okay. Sometimes you won’t reach your goal. That’s okay. Sometimes life will throw you a curveball. Adjust your goals and expectations. Ultimately the most important things that have to get done will get done. My system for fixing the roof is to do it when it starts leaking.
So that’s my system. I hope it helps. Reply to this email if you have comments or questions, and best of luck out there!
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My Rock an Roll Gig (at the Senior Center)
Story Time with Aaron
I am the bass guitarist in a high school rock and roll cover band. We begin to gain traction after winning the Kittson County Fair talent show by performing a medley of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” and “Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin. Calls pour in from local establishments. Well, not “pour” in exactly. In a small town, there’s not much to pour. But trickle in, they do.
The opportunities presented are not sexy. What I mean is, they are gigs I imagine Chuck Berry or Led Zeppelin would not have been seen dead playing. But what do a three-piece band of 17-year-olds in northern Minnesota do? They take what they can get. And what they can get this evening is a gig at the senior center.
The senior center is a beige nondescript building on Center Street. It could be a library, restaurant, or a community church. Inside is a coat hall. The floors are tiled, and there’s a big room that looks like a cafeteria. At the far end, in front of large south-facing windows, Tony (drummer), Adam (lead guitar/vocals), and I set up our equipment.
A small town is a place of mismatched socks and shoes on more or less content feet. The supply and demand is such that you have establishments looking for live music, and musicians looking to perform live, but they don’t exactly look like they belong together. What everyone does is make do, because resources are limited. Besides, everyone knows each other anyway. It’s not just a high school rock and roll cover band. It’s Mrs. Erickson’s son, the Grafstrom’s oldest boy, and Sheldon and Val Espe’s long-haired kid. That’s why someone says, “Hey, let’s hire them to play at the senior center!” and it doesn’t sound like a half-bad idea.
From the time we start playing until the time we stop, I will only remember two things. One, after our first number, this crowd of elderly folks, presumably hard of hearing, asks us to please turn down the volume. The second thing I will remember is how the warm evening light shines through and reflects little glares on the senior citizens’ bifocals. About fifty smiling faces with fifty pairs of glasses. In a way, it looks like one hundred lighters at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert. Perhaps an omen that this rock concert at the senior center isn’t so mismatched after all.
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5-4-3-2-1 Hit ‘Send’
Even after writing hundreds and hundreds of songs, it still happens every time.
Here’s the scenario: I’ve just finished a song. I attach it to an email and compose a message to my publisher. But before I hit “send” I pause. I question the song. Is it good enough? Is it even worth their time? What if they laugh at me? Worse, what if they are completely indifferent?
I spiral into other areas of my life. What am I doing? Am I even a songwriter? I soon find myself online looking for job openings at Best Buy and Home Depot. Can I feed my family on $11 an hour?
I finally I shake myself out of it, “Come on, Espe, get yourself together, man!”
I count down 5-4-3-2-1 and hit “send.”
As creative people, sharing our work is difficult because we want people to affirm it, and ultimately affirm us. But the reality is you’ve already affirmed your work by creating it and getting it to this point. You certainly didn’t spend all that time on it because you think it’s crap, right?
So when it doubt—which will likely be often—use that knowledge to get to the next part: sharing your work. Your song doesn’t count unless you do that. Why? Because part of the reason we write songs is to make a connection with others—to help both them and us feel less alone in the world.
That doesn’t happen unless we hit the “send.”
Ok, that’s it for this week. Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the above.
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