Words from Here:
Thoughts from my path of artistry
GRAIN OF SALT: My Advice for Music Students This Year
1. Learn how to take the subjective with the objective and decipher between the two. In lessons, juries, critiques, and complements. Three musicians can perform “Caro Mio Ben” or a Chopin etude three different ways, and they all be great. There is a difference between criteria and preference.
2. Learn to know your “audience”… be it a packed house, a camera, a panel of judges. Know when to read them, grab them, play them, engage them, educate them, and as needed, shake them to their core.
3. Learn how to control YOUR game. You cannot control anyone else’s. It’s like golf…you have to get the best score for you. If the putting game needs work, it needs work. Therefore…
4. Don’t feel any shame in working on what you believe you need to work on for you. If the “EE” vowel needs work, it needs work. If the scales need work, they need work. Our strengths cannot take us any further than where our weaknesses will allow.
5. Remember that the race is not to the swift...at all. Nor bread to the wise. Some folks may get picked up by the industry right after (or even before) graduation, some will not. It has taken many years, even decades, to develop their craft, find their voice, and get in position where producers and the public can receive their art. Music is a strange bird, that oftentimes flies counter-intuitive to what we expect out of life. Don't put more expectation on it (or yourself, for that matter) than it can bear.
6. Learn to know you. Develop a sense of self-worth. Learn how to be confident when you don’t quite hit the notes, if you bomb the audition, or didn’t get the role. This will carry you when it seems that everything is going your way, and nothing is going your way.
“I HATE MY JOB” - PART II
Things I learned before and after I jumped off a cliff.
Before I continue on with what I have learned about life after a desk job or “day job”, let me answer a few questions…(DISCLAIMER: Again, these are non-binding opinions only.)
“Dave, I don’t like my day job. Should I quit right now? God’s got me, right?”
If your physical well-being is in danger, yes. If it is not, no. However, let me address the latter clause. I believe that God is willing to bless strategy and long-term plans.
“Then, Dave, what should I do?”
Develop a plan and strategy to leave, and also one to do what you really want to do.
Because there is very high probability that the “dream job” or career you want is going to need planning and strategic skills. You can’t drive a car that hasn’t started first.
“Dave, I’m scared to leave my job because I need the money.”
Get in on the ground floor of your dream job and start working. You may not see money right away at first. When the incoming revenue outside of the “day job” meet or exceed your expenses consistently, draft up a notice of termination. Please keep in mind, your job performance at the “day job” may slack. The job may actually fire you. You have to accept that risk. But remember you’ve fired yourself first already.
11. Do not expect for “your dream” to carry you. If you are not willing to initiate 100% of your engagement and follow through, don’t do it. Honestly.
12. Prepare for a shift in lifestyle and day-to day operation. I wish I had known more about how my existence was going to change. Daily routines, budgets, my attitude, prayer life, how I interact with others.
13. Do not expect for your desire to do your “dream job” to last you the rest of your life.
14. Being away from a “day job” that you don’t like, it is even more important to have a financial plan.
My honest advice is this: If you are working a regular job (or jobs) as well as a creative or artistic job, live off of one income and save and invest the other. If the majority of income is from a creative or artistic job, SAVE HALF! Even if you have to request two separate checks in your rider. The reason why I state this is because I don’t want anyone believe that they are living off of their voice, or that their existence is based off of their voice or musical ability.
God gave the ability. He wants you to live a prosperous life. These two things can be mutually exclusive. And that’s fine.
Even being an artist, we still have to fund a retirement just like everybody else.
THREE: “I hate my job!” - PART I
Things I learned before and after I jumped off a cliff.
I’m writing this entry to discuss the prospect of the fabled “quit your day job to go follow your dreams. Here are some of the things that I learned making a transition from full –time cubicle worker to “most of the time” artist and instructor. I hope that this is useful to someone out there.
(DISCLAIMER: Before I dig in, let me just say right now: 1. I love the jobs and contracts that I currently hold! If there is anyone out there reading this from one of my places of employment, I like where I am and love what I do…thank you very much. 2. I am NOT instructing ANYONE to quit their job, especially without a two-week notice. Amen? Amen.)
1.You do not own the job. If you are working for any organization that you or your family do not lay claim to, you do not own the job. You have no entitlement to it, and likewise it has no claim to you.
2. The job doesn’t care whether you like it or not. Thus, any emotions put upon it are yours.
3. The job is not responsible for your future. They pay you an agreed amount, you accepted it. That’s it.
4. Learn how to be fine with not wanting to do the “day job” anymore. It is not a sin. No crimes committed.
5. You work for you. Your job is ultimately no longer responsible for you once you clock out…either for the day or for good. I’ll go ahead and say it, no matter who I work for, at the end of the day, I work for me. Therefore I, Dave Ragland, am the CEO of Dave Ragland until the Lord says otherwise. I am also the project manager, sales manager, CFO, caterer, driver, and secretary. Now I DID NOT ask to be these things. But since I am, let me make the best of the situation.
To help understand this mindset, try waking up an hour earlier than usual and unabashedly doing something for you. Read, do yoga, sing, bake, draw. Do something to remind you that your day (and your life) does not begin with your current job.
6. What do you want? I advise anyone to ask the hard questions before storming out or turning in that notice.
-What do I expect to see happen in life?
-Is what I am currently doing leading to my expectation?
- Is what I am currently doing leading to something that I actually want?
-How do I want to live in this phase of life?
-How do I want to live for the rest of my life?
-What do I honestly care about?
-What do I honestly not care about? (By “care”, I mean giving my time, energy, focus, money, and attention to.)
7. Figure out is what you really want to do a moment, a task, or a career. Again, before you turn in a termination notice, take the time to delineate and decipher.
8. Dig in! Make the switch a part of your life. When I was on one desk job, I was drafting performance contracts while I was drafting budget sheets. Copying music while I was copying spreadsheets. There were many years where I went from the office straight to voice and piano lessons.
9. Fire yourself. This is one item that I wish I had done earlier in life. Before you start any job with an employer, know exactly when you are going to leave, transfer or expect a promotion. If you are already on a job, figure out when you are going to leave. Consider doing this as soon as possible.
10. Bite the time bullet. I firmly believe that with consistent, diligent effort and faith, in two years’ time you can turn any situation around. Complete the following phrase: “In (your age +2), I, (your name) want to be doing_________. I want to live____________. I want to have_______________. I want to make an impact by____________.”
I’ll follow-up with Part II: Life After tomorrow.
TWO: 4 (ALMOST) IRREFUTABLE SKILLS TO GET HIRED
I feel compelled to write this entry since over the past few months, I have found myself on both sides of the “audition table” for various projects, at various grades of production. I am by no means (as of yet) in the highest echelons of the music and entertainment industry. However, these are some almost irrefutable items that I have learned along the way in regards to getting hired, or “booked” as the kids say:
1. KEEP YOUR TALENT UP. I wrote a year ago in a FB post that every singer and instrumentalist should have two pieces of music that they can perform at a moment’s notice, rolling out of the bed at 4:00 in the morning. I could get into this more, but I’ll just leave it with the old saying: You don’t have to get ready if you stay ready.
2. KEEP YOUR CHARACTER UP. (…and I’m talking to myself as well on this point.) Return phone calls. Reply back to emails. Learn how to tactfully say “No”. If you can’t fulfill a gig, take the incentive to find someone who can. Acknowledge everyone (even the people you don’t know) when you walk in the room. Say, “Thank you”. Be grateful. Learn names. Find something in common with or fascinating about everyone you meet. Complement! Congratulate everyone on their successes. Be willing to learn. Take the non-paying gig sometimes. Sing for the elderly. Sing for a school. Acknowledge EVERYONE’s deeds…from the million dollar patron to the custodian sweeping the floor. Show up on time…Heck, show up!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… God is my agent. So therefore, I work as though everything is an audition for Him. There are PLENTY of good singers and musicians; I believe that God is looking for people willing to fulfill assignments, not be famous. It’s OK to know that you’re good; but let that knowledge permeate your art, not your attitude.
3. HAVE readily accessible a demonstration of your talent at optimum performance. Website, Soundcloud, YouTube Channel, Vimeo,… something please! With some opportunities, we won’t have time to record a polished demo. So let’s just be proactive and get ahead of the game. The effort to accumulate your materials and media into one central location shows that you’re serious. Furthermore, for the times that I have had to refer talent: it’s one thing for me to know that an artist is solid, but another for me to explain that to someone else. Having good available media takes the pressure off the referral. Which leads to this subpoint:
3a. Stay on message. Make sure that the content says what it needs to say about what you want to do. Easily said, not often done. For example, if you want to be known as a jazz singer, make sure that all the media out there isn’t you singing gospel. If you want to sing lead in a show, consider recording a clip of you singing an excerpt from the lead part of a show.
4. REALIZE where our help comes from. God is a god of provision, who wants the best for us. He can provide, bless, open doors, windows, curtains, valance, etc. We just have to do our part for the glory of Him, not the glory of people.
Again, these are lessons from my own journey. Please take it for what it’s worth…Your mileage may vary.
ONE: SHIFT, PLEASE
There is something paramount that I’ve come to understand in my artistic journey:
Promotion comes from God.
Going through academia and the “young artist” circuit, it is very easy to put ourselves in a place of recoupment. “I HAVE to sound good to justify myself.” “I have to prove this to this person.” “I HAVE to win this award, THIS competition, sing on THIS stage in order for people to think that I’m worthy.” “(Fill in the blank judge, adjudicator, donor, teacher) said I sound like this, so maybe I should aim for this and not that.” With this thinking, music becomes a self-inflicted weapon, rather than the channel God intended for it to be. Hence with this thinking, I’ve realized that I have withheld myself from the good that God has in store for me.
So I decided to shift!
I’ve decided to change my thinking. Whether I am ranked first place or last in the judging, or if I’m offered a gig or not, I’m living in accord and balance. I can call it my relationship with God, a bond, my agreement, my connection.
It is this: God loves me. God cares for me. God supplies for me. God prepares the way for me. And all of THIS is first. This is priority and supreme for me. I’m seeking this first.
So then, my dialogue becomes “Man, I can’t wait to share God’s love today!” “Man, I can’t wait to share God’s love through X talent.” “I can’t wait to ignite a light in someone else through X skill or craft!” “I can’t wait to hone my skills and learn so that I may more easily be a vessel for God through X gift or skill!”
Thus, it becomes important to do work and study as if it is for God. I believe that this is what is required in our path to artistry. There is what I call the God quotient – the God that is in all of us. From the youngest of us to the eldest of us. From the richest of us to the poorest of us. So if we are committing our work to God, God can work through His people.
1) We must commit our work. We can pray before a performance, but what about our practice? Or our score study? Or translation?
2) Honor His people. The lost sheep is just as important at the found one.
When this happens, you open yourself up to the Way of God, the path of God. It’s the same God who promotes, the same God who provides, the same God who can open that door.
When this happens, people will literally pay you to be you. You and I don’t have to be jealous of anything anybody has. We don’t have to cut anybody for a gig. We don’t have to put somebody down to make ourselves feel better.
Artistry is a means, not an end. It is a channel, but it is not life. God wants us complete - first.
Copyright © Dave Ragland. All rights reserved.