To some people this may seem impossible. Or maybe one of these things is possible, but not all of them. I agree. Some days I look at a statement like this and think – “that’s just not possible”. But the point is, what else is worth striving towards?
Part of the problem that I have encountered when thinking about my work in this way is that I immediately stumble on the first point: DO WHAT YOU LOVE. When I am feeling good, and my life feels centred and balanced, and I’m working with good people, and I have a few interesting projects lined up, it’s easy to think that I am doing what I love. But when work is quiet, or I am collaborating with difficult people, or my diary is empty for the next few months, I start to question – am I actually doing what I love?
Identifying what you love to do is that important first step in being able to follow up on the second point – DO IT EVERY DAY. Let’s come back to the first point again.
DO WHAT YOU LOVE.
Breaking this down into its components:
The first word that matters here is “YOU”. Who are you? What makes you you? Specifically, as a musician, or creative artist, what makes you unique? Don’t confuse this with “what makes you innovative and completely original?” That is not a useful train of thought. There are plenty of great musicians out there who aren’t necessarily as wildly creative as someone like Björk or George Clinton, but their contribution still matters just as much. The combination of all of your interests, passions and experience make you the person you are today. Let that inform your investigation into who you are.
So this person that you are, that is unlike anyone else on the planet – what does this person love to do? Is it simply “play live music”, or is it a more complex collection of activities, such as “make field recordings, play in a motown tribute band and compose music for experimental theatre”. Think about it. Write a list. Write down everything you’ve ever done in your creative career to date; what did you love, what did you hate? What do you want to repeat?
When you have identified your areas of interest, and made a decision that you want to pursue these activities with more focus, there is just one thing left to do: tell people about it. Here’s an example: I love playing guitar. But for most of my early career in my twenties, I was mostly getting work as a keyboard player, because that’s the instrument I was most confident playing. At some point, I decided that I was getting frustrated because I didn’t get to play guitar with all these great musicians I was meeting, so I started telling people: “I mostly play keyboards, but I really want to get a gig playing guitar.” Within a week or two, I got a gig playing guitar with a great psychedelic rock band called Jukes. We toured Ireland with a couple of other Twisted Nerve bands, and I met one of my best, lifelong friends on that tour. None of that would have happened if I had kept my desire to play guitar to myself.
Work out who you are and what you love. And then, the next part of this step: “DO IT EVERY DAY.”
Do it every day. And if you can’t do the thing you love every day, do something that will bring you closer to it every day. Pick up the phone, send an email, write a song, make a guitar, learn a new instrument, the possibilities are endless.
I have been guilty many times in my career of letting days go by without chasing the thing that I really love. I wish that I had put a little more time aside to doing the things that I really wanted to do, because I can see now that when I did put time into doing the things that I truly loved, amazing things happened, and sometimes the changes came fast.
Before I really got into touring as a musician, I was doing a lot more studio work with local bands in Bristol, and there was nothing I loved more than producing and mixing records. I also got to play on most of the records I was working on too, so it was a combination of all of my favourite activities. I still loved playing live, and was playing in a few different original projects, as well as the usual paid jazz gigs. At some point, my touring work overtook my studio work, and after a few years I was hardly doing any recording or mixing at all. It took me a long time to realise that I missed the studio work, and in 2012 I decided that I wanted to seriously focus on mixing again. I knew that I had dropped the ball, and had a lot of catching up to do. But I was so passionate about mixing again, it was pretty much all I could talk about. Luckily I am often surrounded by very talented audio engineers, either live or in the studio, so at every given opportunity, I was picking people’s brains about techniques and approaches to mixing.
I set myself a goal, which was to mix a record for commercial release within five years. Realistically, I didn’t expect this to happen within five years, but it was good to have a target to aim for.
The fact that I was making so much noise about mixing meant that I was probably pretty hard to ignore. As a result, when the artist I was working with decided they wanted to release a live album of our tour, their management asked me and Sean McGhee if we wanted to mix it. Obviously we said yes, and, as a result, I had my name on a commercial release well within my five-year time frame. Within a year I had mixed another live album for the same artist.
I love mixing, I love playing, I love writing, and I love working with other musicians, crew and management. The more I do, the more I love it. And I keep refining what it is that I love. Sometimes the list gets longer, sometimes it gets edited down a bit. It changes, just as I change through the years.
Of course, I struggle, and it’s not always fair or easy. But I love going to work every day, and I’m grateful that what I do in the world is an expression of my various interests and passions, as well as those of the people I collaborate with.
“NEVER GIVE UP” – because the arts are the hallmark of a civilised society, and now, more than ever, we need to show the world that we can be civilised; we need to keep shining a light when there is darkness.