Artist's Way

why do artists stay stuck?

The hardest thing to do as a talented, hungry musician that feels stuck, is to stop playing shows with lazy artists at the same old spots.  playing a show at a small bar can totally be a good fit, but if you’re playing with bands or rappers who just want to show up, perform and drink and don’t put any effort into promo, you’re fucked.  It’s going to be groundhogs day forever.

There’s a very strong psychology to those artists who won't put the work in (including myself).  There’s a deeply embedded reason that we won’t, and we aren’t even cognizant of it.  I don’t know exactly what it is, but it certainly has to do with staying in our comfort zone.

What we really have to do is say “I’m going to do X.  No matter what it takes.  I’ll rearrange my life in order to prioritize X.”  Most blocked artists pick their X based on what they’re comfortable doing, and then build their life around that.  This mindset makes it really easy for us to act like our lack of a career is happening TO them, when really we are the active agent.  We feel like there’s no way to make it happen under our circumstances.  And we're right — there isn’t.  That’s why we have to change our circumstances.  Otherwise what we are really saying is: “I refuse to let go of the things I find comfortable and normal, even if I'm not really happy with them.” Except it comes out as “I can’t spend that much time networking or learning design, or working on my live set, because I would have to stop going to work or taking care of my kid.”  …No, you would have to stop spending 2 hours a day watching Netflix and 3 hours a day on Facebook, or you would have to quit the job that you hate and find something better, or you would have to stop spending every other night at the bar “decompressing."

We have to rip the band aid off and feel totally raw, totally stupid and inadequate.  We have to cast off our coping mechanisms and feel our feelings, and make room for a new experience.  Then we can really grasp something that works.

Being around people who are prone to the same blocked tendencies is like being in the doldrums in Phantom Tollbooth.  Even if you know you want to get out, the contagious attitude subtly drags you down.  It’s not like taking the red pill in the matrix: you don’t just go “oh, I get it now” and remain awake forever.

I try to remind myself, mostly by telling others, that we’ve traded in the discomfort of being stuck in the bullshit for the discomfort of constantly pushing ourselves to get out of the bullshit.  It’s easy to forget that challenging yourself to grow doesn’t necessarily make you LESS stressed out or alienated.  You have to challenge yourself to grow AND challenge yourself to take good CARE of yourself when you're feeling those feelings.

LA Blog

Okay so a few months back I started a group for the Artist’s Way.  If you’re not familiar, the Artist’s Way is a book and a 12 week program for unblocking oneself creatively.  I had tried it by myself just reading out of the book and couldn’t stay with it, so this time I put together a group with 3 friends and this time it stuck.  The Artist’s Way program (theoretically) involves writing 3 pages a day by hand in the morning and going on what’s called an “artist date” once a week (theoretically).  And then there’s weekly reading including a bunch of exercises.  It sounds like a lot, and it is, and you don’t do all of it.  But I did the best I could and was present as I could be for the weekly group meet ups, and it totally shook something loose in me: the idea that you don’t have to become a great artist over night, and that just taking a little bit of time to do something creative on a regular basis is extremely valuable for this reason: in this subtle but deep way, you are telling yourself that your artistic mind is worth something.  Instead of staying comfortable behind the ego of what you have done in the past and the fear of not being good enough, and all the little stories you tell yourself to rationalize your stagnation, you are actually in the moment with your own creative mind, and you are valuing it.

One of the things that comes along with this shift is being open to opportunity.  So one day I get an email from Ari Herstand, who is a full-time musician in LA and the author of Ari’s Take, a blog about running your music career.  The newsletter he sent out is calling out for interns—Ari is releasing a book and launching a new funk band, and needs some help.  The internship is unpaid and in LA, but I say “fuck it, I’ll apply.”  The application process is long and involves making a short video of yourself talking about why you want the position, making a flyer, shouting Ari out on various social media, and answering the usual type of application questions.

It takes me a while and I cut it really close to the deadline, wanting to say fuck it at many points, but somehow pull it out at the last second (pause).  Next thing I know, I get offered an interview.  Now I’m starting to really consider the possibility, and I bring it up with my parents.  Long story short I interview over Skype and get offered the internship.  Now, I’m super lucky that my parents are super on board for this venture.  Without their help I wouldn’t be down here doing this, and that’s something most people don’t have the luxury of.  So huge shout out to my parents.

So this series of blog posts is going to be about my experience in LA chasing my dreams, especially through the lens of a young sober person and an artist who recently became unblocked, or less-blocked.  It will be human, showing how scared and lame I feel a lot of the time.  It will be critical, calling out blocked artists and criticizing establishment, subcultures, hipsters (read: all young people that don’t look like Justin Beiber), whatever.  I hope this blog shines some light on the fact that chasing your dreams is a very uncomfortable and human adventure, and that you don’t have to be some sort of superhero to do it.  I mean, you are, but you probably don’t realize it yet.