What Happened To Your Intention? How To Craft Professional Success
The road to hell is paved with good intention.
I would imagine one version of hell would be described as a blissfully unaware artist who is forever trying to grab the brass ring but is nowhere ever near it. The hell would be the dumbfounded frustration that the artist feels because they believe they are doing it right and can’t imagine why the world won’t catch on. This is preventable with intention.
Let me clarify, good intentions are different from your intent to succeed, which is vastly different than working intentionally.
Think about that.
I came up with this as I walked the dogs this morning. There are 3 brand new homes going up in our neighborhood. Two other new homes have just been completed for a total of five new houses being added in the last 6 or so months.
I was thinking how smooth the process runs on every level of construction, then staging, then sales.
Every different subcontractor knows their job description perfectly. They each know their lane and are supposed experts in that lane. The Electricians aren’t trying to be plumbers. The Plumbers aren’t trying to frame doors, and the door framers aren’t trying to pour concrete.
They are all very intentional in their actions. They are all aware of the rules, what has to happen for their craft work to be considered “up to code”, and where they can get away with cutting corners.
They are masters of their game.
This is the definition of working with intention.
Imagine a foreman at a construction site who naively or arrogantly believes that he can do it all. He believes because he has a cement mixer that means he knows how to pour the footers. Of course he CAN pour whatever he wants if he has the equipment but if he’s not an expert at that, the house will be ruined.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Imagine if the foreman, who’s excuse was that he didn’t have enough money to build a proper home, called his step-brothers’ first cousin’s, great aunt who had a neighbor that took an electricity class once back in the 70’s to handle the structural electrical wiring.
Would it work?
Would it be up to code?
Would it compete?
Here’s a more important question, would you buy that house?
So many artists whose intent is to be a professional artist, are not aware of all the different lanes of creativity that require excellence if the end product is to seriously compete in the marketplace.
To think and therefore act like a professional artist, you need to be acutely aware of what you’re good at and where you need assistance.
You have to be educated and intentional.
Why do so many artists feel compelled to do it all? I can really only think of a few people who are that remarkably gifted. The rest of us need a team and the genius comes in the realization that you need a team (which puts you ahead of all the ignorant do-it-yourself-ers) and who you end up picking.
Farting around in your home studio working on demos and playing with arrangements to hone your craft is one thing. Putting the recordings out for the world to hear and expecting or hoping it will compete is another.
Masterful songs, masterful performances, and masterful records do NOT happen by accident (which is what some of you think is the definition for “organic”).
Money is not your problem.
Some of you are so dead broke you can’t eat and if you worked smarter, you could up your bank account enough to satisfy your basic needs. MOST of you, however, spend your discretionary income in the wrong places and you are the source of your artistic frustration. (I say it all the time but why not double down on yourself and purchase more books about the new music business, social media, marketing, etc.?)
If you don’t believe in yourself enough to invest it all, then you don’t. Why should anyone else?
You need to work intentionally first on defining your audience and looking for a vacuum in the market place. What will your lane be exactly?
For instance, a few years ago I worked with an amazing Canadian artist, singer/songwriter named Tanya Marie Harris. At the time she came into my awareness the “angry ex-girlfriend” songs from Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert were getting major spins. The whole “party girl” Gretchen Wilson era was just starting to settle down but still very prominent on country radio. All three of these major label artists are quite amazing and it’s no surprise that they became so popular for these songs.
I STILL love “I’m Here for the Party”, “Before He Cheats”, and “Gunpowder and Lead” because these are KILLER songs, I don’t care who you are.
Tanya loved these as well. When we began choosing songs she was understandably leaning towards songs like these; it’s what was on the radio. She brought me a drinking party song called “3 Shot Max” which was totally badass. I remember loving it.
Here’s where the intention comes in.
You see Tanya was happily married with an 18 month old beautiful baby girl. This fact begged the question, “Are you a party girl or angry ex? Is that the image you want to sell?”
Tanya, like me and the rest of the country music world was seriously enjoying these songs but that didn’t mean it was the right “lane” for her. Right then and there she had an epiphany. She was like, “Oh my God, NO, Johnny! I never thought about it like that.”
My intention as a producer was to ensure that whatever art we put out with Tanya was going to be authentic to her and not contrived.
Once we crafted this understanding, we made a song choice using one of Brent Baxter’s co-writes called “A Woman Scorned” which scratched my artist’s “powerful woman” itch but cleverly told the story from a third person point of view; as if you watching a movie. This worked for her brand because she was essentially describing the situation, not living it.
I also talked Tanya in coming into town 1 day early and set her up with two co-writes telling the writers, “I’m cutting 2 songs tomorrow morning. I have the songs. If you beat one of em today on this write, we’ll cut yours.”
Tanya and David Norris did exactly that and wrote “Secondhand Dreams” about their fathers (the video currently has 1.8 million views).
AUTHENTIC as you can get man. Both these songs got decent radio play in Canada. They were real and competitive.
You have to be intentional about creating an amazing song. The blueprint has to be great or the team won’t matter. Sure they’ll be good at putting lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig and it won’t compete.
Then you need to be deliberate about the recording. Who’s playing the performances, who’s engineering, producing, mixing, etc.?
Being resourceful to save money is great as long as it works.
However, when the project suffers, you’ve wasted your money and your time.
If it doesn’t compete, then you’ve still spent money but you have nothing that is going to advance your artist brand and career.
If you don’t know the difference, you’re in trouble.
You have an experiment that while cathartic and healthy for your artistry, is detrimental to your brand and career. This is no good.
That foreman has to sell that house to make a living. It has to be deemed inhabitable in order to sell it.
“Inhabitable” is not a subjective term. The city codes will decide what is inhabitable and what is uninhabitable.
Too many of you confuse your art and the reality of the business.
Art is subjective but it is also objective because it needs to be well done. You can subjectively loathe Brittany Spears but you can’t argue the fact that her records are well done creatively as well as in the marketing space. On the contrary, you can be as nice as you want but there is no subjective soul that actually liked William Hung’s horrible American Idol audition of “She Bangs”. He was a novelty because it was SO horrible which made for good TV.
How do you want to be perceived? Do you want your music to matter to consumers or do you want to be a cocktail party joke?
Consider this: If you did not work with intention at your day gig, you wouldn’t be surprised or hurt after being fired.
If you weren’t educated on the process necessary for success your employer would either expect you to learn quickly (depending on the gig) or you’d be terminated.
Why then do you proceed, willy-nilly, often like a blissfully ignorant bull in a china shop, with your artist career, working without a plan, without education on the process, without intention, and become artistically mortified that the world doesn’t care about your art?
How much time have you wasted?
Yes, in an employment scenario you can quickly get on the job training, however if you don’t have access to on the job training for all the facets of your artist career how will you learn? How can you get access?
Imagine the construction subcontractors tried to succeed at their gigs in the same manner most artists try to succeed in theirs; osmosis or divine intervention. I’m just going to keep doing this until I get better but with zero training on plumbing, electrical, how to frame a door, how to pour concrete, etc.
Imagine if the subcontractors were still building homes like wannabe artists are posting their demos.
Subcontractors are required to LEARN the appropriate methodologies before their allowed to get a freakin’ license.
Sometimes I feel like Pro-Tools licenses should be given out with the same requirements.
This is what I want you to think about.
Artist development is intentional.
The Beatles were intentional artistically and in the marketplace. They spent thousands of hours in Hamburg performing 8 hour gigs and writing. John Lennon once stated that the first 50-100 songs they wrote were complete crap.
They were calculated in their artistic goals to become better writers. They were NOT naïve trying to record and release the first song they wrote out of artistic pride.
Once the Beatles got their act together, their wholesome image was painstakingly calculated. Then the market and charts were manipulated to expose them to as much as possible to get people talking. They were good now, they learned. It was time for them to be seen.
The Stones were intentional artistically and in the marketplace. Their first 2 records were all blues covers. Their image was purposefully crafted as the “anti-Beatles”. The Stones image was always constructed to be “dirty” and “dangerous” to separate them from the Beatles in the marketplace ON PURPOSE.
None of this happened by accident and neither will your career.
It’s not productive, and frankly it’s not OK that you approach your artist career with a serious lack of marketing and recording education floating on top of a truckload of childlike naiveté about how the business works.
If you want to succeed, you’re going to have to STEP UP.
Whatever you’re doing it isn’t enough.
Who can you learn from?
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