There are very few people who I know that don’t waste time in some way. (Hint: I waste time all the time). When you try to make a career of creating for yourself, it’s easy to feel guilty about spending time doing things other than creating.
If I asked you what you were wasting your time on, the answer would be easy. If you’re like me, you’d probably say that you spend too much time watching Netflix, scrolling through Instagram, or moping in bed in the mornings.
But what if these weren’t the answers to what you’re wasting your time on? What if the biggest obstacle to your creative career wasn’t your downtime and instead what you consider to be creative output?
I’m going to be real: much of what I see striving electronic music producers and DJs doing seems to be the wrong move.
In The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield outlines that there is nefarious power inside of each of us called the Resistance. Resistance is an almost esoteric force that will do anything it can to destroy your ability to make art. Resistance is the nagging voice inside your head. It’s all the insecurities about publishing your work, the source of all your writer’s block, and the wellspring of feeling like a creative failure.
Pressfield expands this in Turning Pro and says that Resistance has a tricky way of manipulating us into thinking we’re expanding our potential when the reality is we’re chaining ourselves to it. Often instead of pursuing our goals, we create hollow lives, or shadow callings, for ourselves. These shadow lives look eerily similar to living our fullest potential. In a shadow life, you may still be doing music. You might have a sick new logo and a box of t-shirts to sell at every one of your shows. You post on SoundCloud and get a growing amount of response.
But all of this, while you stuck in your hometown, living off the drunkenness of thinking you’re in vogue when in reality you’re stuck. Why would you be stuck? Because you haven’t quit the things you believe are currently right: not the Netflix or anime, but the things you believe are productive to your music but are killing your potential one papercut at a time.
To best understand this, we need to introduce a book and some graphs. In The Dip, author Seth Godin introduces the idea of “strategic quitting”. Inf act, The Dip essentially all about when to quit and when to stick with it. According to The Dip, success is defined by how quickly someone quits the what’s trivial and how long they don’t quit what’s wholesome. Thus, the more successful someone is, the better they must be at quitting.
Seth gives us three model curves to know when to quit a creative pursuit. These are displayed in graphs relating the variable "Effort" in relation to "Results.
The most nefarious curve in The Dip is called the Cul de Sac--a dead end. A Cul de Sac is agnostic to the effort you put into it. While it might be easy to get good results at first, the Cul de Sacs soon plateau but stay interesting enough to keep you wasting time on them.
You see, we engage in Cul de Sacs for three reasons. First, the drunkenness of the come-up can override the present reality that shit's not getting better. And second, we convince ourselves that if we just stick it out long enough, the results will come. But that's not the case.
The most insidious reason for sticking with a Cul de Sac is this: sometimes you can win at the wrong game. Sometimes we create work for ourselves that isn't important. We think we need to do a really good job at something very trivial because if we do the trivial thing, we can then slowly work our way up to doing something big. It's a respectable, Stoic process, but it ignores the fact that every moment spent on the small picture is a moment that can be spent on the big picture.
In the middle of the 20th century, Peter Drucker reinvented the way that business executives viewed their work with his book The Effective Executive. Drucker convinced a rigid business world that personal knowledge and creativity would eventually become as important than factory output and productivity. Drucker's famous line, "What gets measured, gets managed," was resummoned by a recent bestseller, Mark Manson's The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.
In The Subtle Art, Manson talks about how we build our lives around metrics that measure when we're doing good and doing bad. Like Seth Godin, Manson believes that a successful life is being strategic about, "when to give a f*ck." We should care relentlessly about the things that are important and shove away the frivolous in our lives with equal force. To Manson, what's the best way to change your life? Change what you measure yourself on.
So if you feel like you're stuck, take an inventory of the projects you're doing. See what activities you're engaging in that might be Cul de Sacs, and then think, hard, about what you could replace it with. The annoying thing here is that a dead end is best replaced by an uphill climb. The alternative to staying stagnant is to fight your way through growth. But if you're willing to take the challenge, you too can quit, and win.
Some Potential Cul de Sacs to Quit (Or Slow Down)
Endlessly DJing. DJing should not be a masturbatory process. Constantly publishing mixes and playing shows exhausts your brand and takes valuable time away from focusing on what counts--meaningfully telling your story and the practice of making original music.
- Constantly rebranding. Getting a new logo or press kit is great, but it doesn't build your audience or significantly increase your ability to be booked. Increasing your brand capital is an easy distraction from actually making music. Instead of hiring a graphic designer for the third time, spend that money on some Ableton lessons from your favorite upcoming producer. When you have something ready to share, then care about your brand assets.
- Networking. Networking is less valuable than having a reputation for good work. The music industry will not make your career for you no matter how many LA parties you go to or Facebook statuses you make. If you make good work, people will know you. Cut down your networking by 80 percent and increase your work by the same and you'll be amazed at your results.
- Mistaking chicken and egg. If you don't have momentum, you probably don't need all the extra trimmings that successful artists offer in addition to music--merch, music videos, websites, visuals. Instead, focus on making the music that will get you to the momentum where your brand sells the merch, not your merch sells the brand.
- Making announcements. Be more secretive about things. It's more impressive to do something quiet but noteworthy than loud and trivial.
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Books Mentioned in this Post (In order of appearance)
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield.
Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life's Work by Steven Pressfield.
The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (And When to Stick) by Seth Godin.
The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Stuff Done by Peter Drucker.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Guide to the Good Life by Mark Manson.