December/January 2016

by Caitlin Smith

Finding Your Voice: Making Time For Your Voice

by Caitlin Smith

Finding Your Voice: Making Time For Your Voice

How do we cope with the uncharted/unplanned day? Some people can account for and wisely spend every waking hour, planned well in advance. That’s not me. This article is about making time and prioritising our voices and creativity so we don’t feel overwhelmed, despairing or stuck. It’s about the ways we can dedicate to singing and songcraft (especially speaking to those who are self-employed). 

It’s totally legitimate, noble and courageous to be a full-time artist/musician/writer. Somehow though, we consider going-it-alone is a temporary phase – until a ‘real job’ comes along. We wait… until we’re discovered, picked-up, signed, or mysteriously and magically ‘find’ a band. We presume collaborators will call us out of the blue, or a manager will luck upon us online. We can feel guilt and shame around our ‘musical-life’ choice – assuming we’ve had the guts to make it.

Hopefully, we can shed negative thoughts and behaviours and flourish into the most successful artists we’re destined to be.

Firstly, and most importantly: don’t compare yourself with anyone else, or how they operate. In terms of work ethic I’m more a Paul Buchanan than a Jessie J. And that’s fine. There’s no right/wrong, better/worse, good/bad. Some insist on waking at 5am for productivity. The only reason I’d be up at 5am is for international travel. I do work until 1.30am most evenings though. Be curious to find out what works best for you. Experiment.

Repeating unproductive habits and expecting positive outcomes is insane. If you find dysfunction creeping in, have a go at some of these tactics. Remember, being a singer/songwriter is a rewarding and essential pursuit. (Unfortunately, the NZ mainstream doesn’t recognise this. Rugby is the winner at the end of our day, while music is considered entertainment and commerce, rather than an art form of immense intrinsic value.)

The more sacred and significant something is to us, the more frightened and resistant we become of it. Read Steven Pressfield’s The War Of Art, or Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way to help work through barriers, self-sabotage, blocks and self-doubt. Time doesn’t heal, practice or write for us. Only consciously healing, practising and writing will.

No one is telling you what to do, or checking you’ve done it. We must employ, motivate, inspire, pay and manage ourselves. Consider music your full-time job – even if you have other revenue sources. View other jobs as financing your music. Keep music front row center, rather than allowing it to be the first to get sidelined, avoided or neglected.

There’s a huge amount of ground to cover as a singer/songwriter. Especially for DIY or DIT unsigned artists like myself. Try these twisted little fire starters.

  1. Give yourself challenges. A challenge needn’t be challenging. Last week I posted a favourite song each day for seven days on Facebook (and nominated friends to join in). This was a beautiful reminder of the artists and songs I love, inviting me to learn (as I did) four new songs from it. These kinds of connectivity remind us of our superpowers (as musicologists and interpreters), and of how important music is to us and others.
  2. Write everyday. Object writing (Pat Pattison), morning pages (Julia Cameron), a poem every day, a song each week.
  3. What’s good for you is good for your voice/creativity: yoga, swimming, daily warm-sups.
  4. Research. Read autobiographies, books on songwriting, watch/read online interviews… get lost down the rabbit-hole of Youtube, Google, TED talks, podcasts, subscribe to Sonicbids, CD Baby’s twitter-feed, Brainpickings. Do what Julia Cameron calls ‘feeding the well’.
  5. Contact and collaborate with other musicians. Jam, visit, talk, have cups of tea. Play Youtubeoke –– round robin choosing a track that’s sparked either by a theme or in response to what’s just been selected.
  6. Go to live gigs, especially local musicians/writers. Talk to them afterwards. Hang out.
  7. Impose deadlines – ain’t nobody else gonna do it. Become goal and/or project focused. Gear yourself towards festival applications, support slots, NZ Music Month, funding deadlines, album/single/video release dates etc.
  8. Put time aside to complete songs and practice. Ring-fence the time and keep it sacrosanct (no checking phone, electronic devices or social media).
  9. Write down your 100 Achievements to date and 101 Wishes. This reveals what we truly value and what path we could take for our greatest fulfillment.
  10. Self-define. Write different lengths of bio to remind yourself of what your essence and points of difference are. Remind yourself of what your ultimate dream is. What does it look, sound, taste, feel like?
  11. Make evaluation criteria so that you know if you’re achieving what you wish. For instance; write with maximum authenticity, under-represented viewpoints, to heal a fractured relationship, about a topic that’s silenced or suppressed, chords/harmonisations you’ve never used before, bastardised song-structures, modulate, in parts of your range you’re uncomfortable with…
  12. Ask friends who ha’ve been through Art or Music Schools what advice they were given. Use it.
  13. Long walks.
  14. Take care of business. Admin, invoice, booking gigs, network. Keep in contact with friends and venues in other places. Organise a tour. Update your Facebook/website info and bio. Write a Wikipedia page for yourself… Why not?
  15. Learn songs to increase your repertoire. Even if you dont have to. If you teach, get your students to suggest songs to learn. Find out what your kids are listening to.
  16. Listen to new music from outside the usual sources.
  17. Blog. Think about issues, form opinions rather than staying silent and feeling as if you have nothing to say.
  18. Get on the road. Even if it means just leaving the house.
  19. Go to a café and write from whatever perspective you get there.
  20. Rehearse. With a band, or solo. Prepare a showcase of five songs to the best of your abilities.
  21. Balance solo creative time with connection. We’re all in this together.

I teach songwriting and singing mooshed together and am very well aware of what NOT to do, as well as these beautiful solutions. Send me an ‘e’ or come over for a cuppa tea.

Fb: caitlinsmithjazz and caitlinsmithmusic