Finish the Work – and Ship It

Michael Faraday
Michael Faraday

Knowing when to finish the work of art, and that it doesn’t exist till it is wrapped in plastic and shipped to the distributor is a struggle for many artists. One that stops many in their tracks.

I am probably unusual in that within days of getting my first synth, without any real idea of how to play or even use notes I made an album called “The Horror”. The whole album was under seven minutes long and most pieces were no more than a few seconds long. I was proud of it then and I am proud of it now because I completed it. There is a theme, consistency and even a cover with track titles. Family may not have been so impressed but that was not the point; it was for me the start of my brilliant career. The fact that I did it, and completed it like it was a proper album said I was setting out to be someone who was professional (even if this album wasn’t going to be a hit).

These days it is much easier for your first album to be better than mine – way better if you actually know how to play your instrument 😉 So with improved tools, technology and access to distribution, why is it that so many musicians can’t complete a record?

Fear of the Dark

Fear of the Dark
Fear of the Dark

Fear of the dark is fear of the unknown. What if the monster has teeth? What if I get it wrong? What if no one likes my music? What if I am not good enough? What if people laugh at me? You get me. There are a million of these reasons.

Excuses every one. None of these excuses really meet the light of day. During the day a kid can hide in the very same closet that at night has a monster that immobilizes them.

My family sure pulled some funny faces when I presented “The Horror”. I bet you are laughing, wincing or plain shaking your head right now. Wondering why I don’t hide this monstrosity down so deep no one ever knows it existed. That’s what you’d do, right?

Not everyone will get your work. Nor should they have to. Some people will ignore you, some with say nasty things. Ignore these people. A few will enjoy it. A very few will really get what you did and it will be moved. Right now there is a very slight chance that you are being inspired by my first album.

Headhunter V 3.0

Find your own fears. You have certain words or ideas that are repeated over and over. When you start looking they will scuttle for cover. They will hide under things that seem perfectly reasonable. They will lead you believe that if you only had the trillion dollar interface with knobs with impenetrable names that you could just do your thing. Find what that part of your head is telling you and expose it to the light of day.

WARNING: your brain is there to help you. If you try to fight it you will lose. Your brain is inventing monsters in the dark to try to help you – save you from what it doesn’t know how to deal with. Or deal with better.

Your brain is super smart. Matter of fact it is much smarter than you are. Train it to help you. That is exactly what it wants to do.

As you notice those monster fears crawling though the shadows, say “thank you” to your brain. It is trying to help you. “Thank you Mr Brain (yours can be female if it pleases you) for being so helpful. Sadly this isn’t the best way to help me anymore. We need to have a better way to succeed.” That got his attention.

The Eye of the Witch

See in your mind’s eye now a clear sense of you achieving what you want. Focus on that and only that.

The idea is to focus on the feeling of happiness as you see your record appear in your hands. Don’t fall for the details. Details pull you off track and into the traps again. Focus on, and build, the feeling of completion and happiness.

The helper parts of your brain will start to build new strategies for you based on the new direction. You will have to do your part – albums don’t make themselves. You will have to sing another take. But so long as you are moving and have a proper goal, things you didn’t see or expect will start to appear.

Queen weren’t quite convinced that Freddie Mercury was the singer they wanted, but they moved forward with him and a sense of achievement and guess what? Freddie turned out to be one of the greatest singers ever – despite singing funny, having a speech impediment, being flamboyantly gay and probably a host of other irrelevant technical impediments.

Finish your record. Be pleased with it. Holding back will not deliver a better record. Work with what you have. Make those limits part of your artwork. The Beatles made records that people revere on equipment way less than you have now. Further proof that it is courage and action that will get you through.

Once you have made (and shipped) this record then you can look at making another one. With what you now know you will probably get to make a slightly better one. It is the completing and shipping that lets you uncover the next step.

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