DIY doesn’t have to mean “do it alone”
By Kaitlin McGaw
Career-path musicians are expected to DIY (do-it-yourself ) and DIA (do-it-all). Every article in this magazine will provide you something to work on in your professional growth—I’m sure you’ve dog-eared, tagged, and made notes on the best learning points and gear investments. (Oh, and while you’re at it, don’t forget to blog/tweet/Facebook/Google+ about the choices and successes.)
But before you dive into the next project, take a moment to reflect on the big picture of your career. Is there a larger goal that you need to identify and clarify? And is it possible to identify one person you admire who’s in a similar chain of development, or perhaps a bit further along? If so, perhaps you can achieve your goals and follow your career path without feeling isolated. This is the most valuable lesson I’ve learned about progress in the industry: We don’t have to do it alone.
A few years ago, I attended a music conference that focused on goalsetting— breaking dreams into projects, and projects into tasks; each project was assigned a timeframe for completion. My head throbbed, overwhelmed by such focused self-analysis, but it was invigorating to break down the myth of the long, long path ahead. As the conference wrapped up, I introduced myself to a singer-songwriter from New York named Mari Rosa. We talked and laughed for just a few minutes, and decided to pair up as “accountability partners” toward tackling our goals, through weekly check-in phone calls and milestone-tracking our goals (ranging from 1-month to 3-month to 1-year to 5 years). Mind you, I did not know this person, but I could tell she was smart, and from our conversation we seemed like we both were big-picture thinkers.
The next Tuesday, at 4 p.m., I was dialing a Brooklyn number to share my dreams with this woman I hardly knew. We shared 20 minutes’ worth of our goals for the coming year, which included my plan to relaunch my website and brand and her goal of building a database of booking contacts in New York and the East Coast, specific to her music. We provided suggestions and feedback on our goals and tasks, and then shared what we would do that week to get there. As awkward a blind date as it was, it was magical. For the next six months, our Tuesday afternoons included a cross-country conversation about our plans, triumphs, and challenges. We gave each other virtual high-fives for tasks accomplished: identified my web designer and made an RFP for design, check! Wrote my newsletter, check! Tried that new email software; it works! And we shared tips on how to tackle the challenges—our experiences were not so dissimilar in the ups and downs of it all.
Six months later, we had accomplished these goals and moved beyond, going from singers with bands to being able to accompany ourselves. We set a new goal together—to tour together as solo artists. Within a year of meeting each other, we set up three tours (California, Northwest, Massachusetts). Three years later, we continue to support each other’s careers, as they grow and find new directions. I’ve become more focused on my children’s music project and songwriting, and Mari has broadened her performances to include Latin, singer-songwriter, and even pop. We network cross-country, partner up, and champion one another. In the process, we’re accomplishing our individual goals, and doing so in solidarity. “Do it alone” is a thing of the past for each of us.
Five Steps to DIT (Do-It-Together)
1. Take an hour to describe where you want to be in your career at this time next year. Then review, and break your plan into smaller goals (perhaps by theme), and attach a timeline to each. There is a myriad of information online about approaches to efficient goal-setting; Google “goal-setting,” “time management,” or any of these broad concepts. But more important than spending a week reading endless productivity blogs are prioritizing writing down what you want and identifying milestones and timeframes.
2. Identify someone on a similar path who can commit to you for three months of weekly phone calls or emails. The best idea would be to choose someone you genuinely respect and like, because this will allow you to be a bit vulnerable and admit when you feel frustrated and lost on the path to success. It doesn’t have to be someone in music—perhaps it’s another self-employed entrepreneur. But it helps to have it be someone who gets what your end goal is and is 100% behind you.
3. Set a time/date for talking—and don’t alter it. Don’t put your accountability call off by an hour, a day, etc. Soon, a week will go by and you’ll be out of sync with the process, and it will be another task you’ve procrastinated on and not achieved. Think of it like “date night.”
4. Keep track of your goals on paper so at the end of three months you can see what you’ve learned and achieved. Mari and I initially hand-wrote our lists, but the process evolved to emailing ours to each other before and after our weekly calls, which worked even better. However, I still have scraps from years ago; I can’t let go of them—the journey is half of the experience of reaching the milestone.
5. Prioritize making music. This is the most important part of this process! Write your songs, practice them, record them, share them, and promote them. Because if you keep them in your head, then you will just be doing-it-alone!