Make it to the Finish Line

There are few things in life that can compare to finishing a project near and dear to you. Seeing it through all phases of creation. All the setbacks. And finally having it done. Out there and ready to take part in the sonic or visual landscape of the world.

Most of us have probably had the experience of finishing something. Or had something in our lives that finishes. It can be something as simple as selling a car you’ve had for a very long time. The relationship with that object starts when you buy it and would be over once someone else pays you for it and drives it away. It could even be finishing a great dinner at your favorite restaurant.  Remember the feeling? The planning of what time to go and thinking of what to eat? Then eating, being done and feeling the satisfaction? Finishing something is as important as starting something. And many times, depending on what the task at hand is, both things can be very hard to do. All this starting and finishing can be risky! It’s no wonder that we procrastinate, find excuses not to start. Or find excuses to never finish! That’s s funny one right? But I have seen that happen a lot. There are risks involved in all of it. And the more personal something is the harder it might be to take the risks. So what can we do to deal with all this as artists or even just as people? How do we get to the point where these things become easier?

There are a few things that helped me that I would like to share here and I hope that they are helpful. Especially to artists. The things that helped me sometimes came suddenly and completely unexpected. And of course others took years and years to realize.

Dealing with Fear
A big fear I had as a kid was playing the right fill at the right time. Until a great player  and teacher of mine said…”Don’t worry about making musical history in one bar” …wow. Somehow I realized, that’s what was going on in my head. I was worried about playing the absolute greatest fill at the right moment and that it might make or break my day, my career or even my life if it didn’t work!  So what do you combat that with? Adopt a detached and dispassionate attitude so that failure won’t hurt you? NO! That leads to sounding as if you don’t care about anything that is going on in that musical moment.

A) What you do is focus on the total package of the music you are trying to create. The big picture. You do that by taking care of the details of the music. Know what the composer is trying to get across. Dynamics, good feel, expression, articulation. In other words all the musical details. Then outside of that, be aware of the interaction between you and the bass player and the rest of the players. etc etc. (Ensemble technique)

B) Another action I took to make sure I could do what I wanted and have my body respond at the right time was to start transcribing fills and copying drummers that I thought played great fills. I put their ideas on the kit and tried to insert them in different styles and different tempos until eventually they morphed into something else. My own ideas. With time and experience I saw how rhythmic knowledge can be used to create spur of the moment phrasing and vocabulary. But without the initial phase of really breaking everything down and getting into the small details on a daily basis this never would have happened.

 C) Another thing that really helped was remembering the total picture of your life as an artist. So that this feeling of impending doom at one screw up doesn’t end your passion for playing that day. Or maybe even for ever!  What does that involve exactly? Concentrating on the day to day action of what you need to do! The small but very essential details of whatever it is you are trying to do. And to be aware of the beauty of that moment. The attention to details and minutia of what you want to do in a patient and constructive way is an act of pure love for what you are doing. And for your life.

Peripheral thinking
I took a few creative writing courses way back in my 20’s and discovered something very important. My teacher said to “just start writing”. To try to write a page a day. Not worrying about whether it will be a master piece or whatever. But to write about something that you have a passion for and to get involved in the day to day process of it.  As you write, the thoughts in your head become real words in front of you. And as you read what you have over and over, the things you want to get across will start to become clearer. They will have shape and rhythm on paper. Which is much different then just having them be thoughts.  As you progress you can shape the words and sentences and soon what was once an idea in your head turns into a whole page. The more you do this, the better you get at it and the process becomes easier. Quicker. You are gaining mastery over the daily process of writing. Getting rid of the pressure of making every single word the most meaningful thing ever uttered by man is a huge step and one that allows this process to take place.

Drawing on the basics 
Remembering that “each mistake is an opportunity for growth”  is a cliché of course, but it is true. So we should deconstruct that and find out exactly what it means. It’s easy to blurt it out, especially to someone else! What do you actually DO to turn mistakes into a learning experiences?

A) The absolute best thing – record yourself. Video and audio is the best.  Find out what went wrong in what you did and make a mental note of it. Recording yourself is analogous to a writer writing things down.
B) Ask for perspective from other players. Sometimes asking other players thoughts on how they approach things can be highly beneficial. All really great players have huge ears and can articulate how what you are playing affected them.
C) Make sure to forgive yourself if you make a mistake. And then quickly turn the mistake into something that belongs in the music!  That’s a whole other ability which is separate from this post and takes a long time to learn.  But valuable!
 I could maybe write a whole book on how to turn mistakes into opportunities for growth. But you get the idea from these few lines I hope.

Just to refocus for a moment… Our goal in analyzing these things is to develop the ability to finish our projects. I am inspired to write this partly due to the new CD finally being released a few days ago. I don’t want to recall all the setbacks we had from day one. Francesco and I (my friend and producer of the CD) really made a lot of effort to stay focused and finally get it out there. In the day-to-day process of getting everything done a lot of patience was required. Especially because the people involved in the process were in many different countries and I was traveling like crazy myself. Time zones, misunderstandings, money problems, all were part of the package. When people see your finished product I’m sure they have no idea of the effort it took to put it together. The immense feeling of satisfaction I have now, well it’s hard to describe in words. This is something that will live on beyond me and I hope will bring pleasure and satisfaction to many people out there. I sincerely hope we all get to have feelings like this and you all get your music out there, or whatever project you are trying to finish.

And if you are about to go to your favorite restaurant tonight and enjoy that dinner you been craving for…enjoy every moment of it. Life is short in there so much to do.
Many hugs to all
Phil M.
Front & Back Cover
At Home Everywhere cover – Front and Back

At Home Everywhere