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Smart Decisions: What Artists Need to Know…

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The following guest post comes from independent musician and ‘musicpreneur’ Tommy Darker.  A whitepaper excerpt from his latest book, The Indecisive Musicpreneur, can be found here.

quotation-marksIt’s impressive to think about it, but the biggest problem that separates greatness from failure, playing small from going big, and unhappiness from joy of life has nothing to do with knowledge, technical skills, or personality!

When it comes to the reason why some people get what they want from life, I found just one answer: better decision-making.

While some struggle with procrastination, indecisiveness and getting stuck in the same old game (although they don’t really enjoy it), others decide to better accelerate their progress and solve one problem after another, as if it’s a piece of cake.

As an artist of the digital era, you are prompted to make a series of decisions in order to achieve your goals and live a happy life. As a common denominator, we’ll agree that the artists I’m referring to:

• Have music as their passion and love making art
• Aim to make a living out of it (or already do)
• Are ready not to stick to the default decision and conform
• Have a vision in mind and want to stand out

With these in mind, let’s go through a set of common decision each artist will soon-or-later have to make.

 

1. Time

Nobody has more than 24 hours per day. Let’s start from there. Also, there’s no creative person I know that wants to be ‘busy’ for no reason (that is unproductive time management, procrastination etc). Every creative person would love to spend more time creating and expressing themselves than doing ‘stuff’. Living my life as a full-time artist, it soon became obvious that time-related decisions are vital for a career in arts. Here are some decisions that could save you time.

• Filter your tasks in 3 categories: what you can do and want to do, what you can’t do but could learn how to, what you can’t do and wouldn’t like to. Delegate the last category to professionals you trust, spend time learning the skills required for the middle column, keep enjoying the tasks of the first column (if they’re of creative nature) or automate them and make them your habits (if they are non-creative stuff).

• Clarify your vision and set goals. Do you aim to achieve a state of independence, money, fame, legacy or something else? Choose what the most important thing for you is and make it the default standard for each decision. Every time you’re prompted to decide, think whether it gets you closer to the vision and follows your main goal. If yes, consider deciding positively and see how it corresponds with the rest of your priorities.

• Creating is lovely, but some tasks need to get done anyways, in order to keep you and your creative business in operation. It’s better to spend one day doing the ‘boring chores’ than doing 1-2 of them each day. Get out them of the way and stay focused on your creations the rest of the days.

Think: time is valuable. Saving time by avoiding unnecessary decisions and action is essential and brings balance.

 

2. Creation

Creating is your life. So is mine. There is a weird satisfaction that springs out of every new creation, whether you find it perfect or plain stupid. All creations have one thing in common: they are results of ‘doing’. You decide to invest time in pursuing an intangible visualization that’s in your brain, with the intention of entertaining people, making them relate and find themselves, storytelling love and its remarkable effect on people, whatever your source of inspiration might be. Creativity and decision-making have a lot of things in common. Here’s what we can learn:

The more you create, the better you become in creating. Decision-making becomes better the same way.

• Artists should have the analogy of creativity in mind: you would never create something in order to hate it – then why decide with the potential negative results in mind?  You could create a commissioned piece of art that you don’t completely love, in order to create a new money revenue and keep fueling your artistic vision – that’s why it won’t hurt to make a wrong decision, if you have the end vision in mind. Intrinsic motivation and action is always there for you, because art creation is a lovely thing you’re passionate about – passion about the outcome of your decisions is essential to get you motivated for action.

Most of the times your creations are made for the sake of creation, without taking into regard other people’s expectations, because you enjoy the process and it brings interesting results that help you explore the world – that’s why you should think of decision-making as an intrinsically enjoyable process that brings joy to you, the people around you and, ultimately, the universe, making the world a more interesting place.

Think: creating brings joy, it is a medium for connection and helps discover interesting things about life. Proper decisions have exactly the same utility.

 

3. Business

My book follows the premise that every artist is a business (‘Musicpreneur’).  Art and commerce are inextricably connected, help each other, and should not be separate.  Like every business, a music business is based upon the right decisions.  Despite their creativity when it comes to decision-making in life, most musicians are really conventional when it comes to deciding about their business.

Here are some basic points that will create a foundational layer to build your business upon:

• Most artists are not natural salesmen.  The statement is true about myself, too.  How did I overcome the fear of ‘selling my art’?  I make sure that every creation I make available for sale is made with the intention of bringing pure value and joy to the recipient (whoever they might be).  This builds a strong foundation of quality and authenticity upon my work and also minimizes my regrets when letting people know I sell something.  I don’t shove it down people’s throat in a salesy way.  “This creation will bring value in your life and here it is, it’s available for purchase.”  People can smell the confidence that accompanies genuine intentions.

If you believe it’s totally not about money, then you probably won’t make a living.  If you anticipate sustaining a living with art, then one of the observable outcomes is indeed ‘make money’.  I’m sure you’ve visualized it many times before.  If the last two arguments are true, then you should be relentless when you think about it: it IS also about money.  Make it part of your intention (but not the sole intention).

• I’m pretty sure most musicians follow the pricing systems that others decided for them.  Not you.  A price is a useful mechanism that sets an exchange standard for the market value of your creations.  It also sets an expectation for the potential buyers and also defines the perceived value of what you create.

The subjective value of your art is different for each person (hardcore fans would happily pay more for what you do, while strangers would rather get it for free and give it a couple of listens before they engage economically with you). Then why set the same price for everyone and preclude this from happening?  One of the best decisions you’ll make is to open up your pricing model and offer pricing tiers for each level of fandom, along with different offers.  Conduct a survey, see what people would happily pay for and how much, get creative ideas from others and experiment as a true artist that you are.  When you offer one art product with one fixed price, sets the question: “buy or leave?”.

Most people will go for the default: not decide at all.  Pricing tiers sets a different question: “which one would you like to buy?”  See the difference?

• Conduct business as if you don’t need the money and you have only pure value to offer.  Feeling confident that people will see the value and will pay for it is going to be reflected in the way you communicate the business message around.  Such a mindset shows clearly that you care more about people and are not desperate for a sale.  Before you shoot off your next message, think ‘would I do it this way, if I had already achieved the sales I wanted?’  It will transform your business.

Think: conducting business is conducting an exchange. You exchange value. Be proud to make proper business decisions.

 

4. Priorities

I feel it, do you feel it too?

The amount of information we receive daily increases exponentially. I would rather not mention numbers, since they change all the time exponentially. What doesn’t change, nevertheless, is the need for filtering and prioritizing. Let’s get a few ideas on how we can manage such decisions:

• Priority setting is all about filtering what you got.  After clarifying my vision and intentions, my first activity layer (and immediate course of action) would be: decisions and actions that directly contribute to both my vision and intentions.  This ensures you feel happiness every day, progress towards the materialization of your dream and contribute to the balance of the universe.

Secondly: decisions related to tasks that bring me closer to the long-term goals.  There are activities that have to be done daily, in order to stay in operation and achieve goals. Actually, if done correctly, this should not even be called ‘decision-making’, since it should be done in a frictionless and automatic fashion without any resistance (that is to say, habits). Finally, decisions related to ‘spicing up life’: every decision should be a fun undertaking that doesn’t cause stress. Most of our daily decisions don’t impact the final outcome as much as we might think they do, since life drains mistakes like a sponge and uses them to spice up. I prefer to make a random decision just to change the route of things and diverse from the default.

Life is a game and an exploration; we explore it further through decisions.

• The notion of ‘urgency’ is often subjective and depends on various conditions around us.  Usually we feel urgency because of bad planning on our side.  Just to test this argument out, next time you’re about to do something because it’s ‘urgent’, think of the following questions: ‘Is it urgent because someone else said so or because I personally rated it as urgent?’

Be skeptical when people label ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities, most of the times they’re not (but it’s a cool marketing trick to get you do something). ‘If I don’t do it, will it affect my immediate priorities? Can I avoid doing it at all?’  If urgency could be avoided, avoid it.  ‘Had I planned my actions properly, would it still have been urgent? I f I had plenty of time, would I still do things the same way?’  If yes, go for it.  If not, let the opportunity go this time; it’s more than sure that you’ll perform poorly and the opportunity, despite the common belief, will re-appear soon.

Take a step back and see what you can learn instead, but next time nail it.  You should think of the aforementioned advice as rules of thumb, but not as determinants of your final decision.  Look for a lesson every time you do something because of urgency.  Most of the time things are not really that urgent.

Think: if you had to save your loved ones from a fire, it would have been your priority no matter what. Having a clearly stated intention and strong vision of the outcome makes priority-setting that easy.

 

5. Humans

Think of doing everything without other people involved.  There is not much we can do.  We should be conscious about how we approach decisions involving humans.  Thinking of human staff, collaborators, contractors or volunteers as ‘assets’ is the wrong start.

Think of the following:

• Humans and nature are part of the divine bit of our decision-making process.  It should be already clear that each human is to be loved, respected and unharmed during each decision we make, even if that compromises the final outcome.  Without this notion as a starting point (intention), the observable outcome will be of diseased nature (for you, the others and the universe).

• Take into regard that other people are not flawless and most of the times they don’t make the best decisions possible.  This should not keep you away from making your decisions on your own good merit. Showing by example was always the best way to teach.

• When you work with people on a professional level, make sure you judge them according to the work they produce, not their character.  If you can do that switch, you can have a balanced professional (human-made) and human life (divine). It is more difficult to switch when working with friends and loved ones.  If you can’t switch, choose not to work with them at all; it will work against you (both personally and professionally).

• The optimal way of working in a group (band, project etc.) is when all decisions are made organically, as if it’s one organism.  This is why most corporations die slowly when they grow bigger; their decisions are not made in an organic way and one department’s decisions work against another department’s health.  Then the situation becomes cancerous and, eventually, the organization dies. Make sure you keep that organic structure in everything you do.  Work and learn like a healthy child that becomes a mature adult.

Think: work needs to get done, in order for the vision to be fulfilled. Humans and nature need respect and love. Decisions should not bring conflict between those two. In short, personal and professional life should be separate.

 

6. Conduct

Stress, anxiety, bad manners, rush, and cloudy brain are all an aftermath of wrong decision management.  I know you think it’s impossible to avoid them completely.  Next time you feel one of these sentiments, do consider the following; they might help:

• Most problems come because of our own faults – we let the ego side take over.  As mentioned before, train your human-made side and don’t let it dominate your divine side.  The first step is to acknowledge that it’s your fault entirely.  Failing to do so is creating a portfolio of excuses and delegating the blame to others.

• The intention is the most important brick of every decision. Intentions of positive nature help you be calm and reassured that everything is happening for a good reason. On the contrary, decisions based on insecurity, fear, and egoistic intentions are most likely to fail in the long-term: they bring accumulative unpleasant feelings along the way.

• Taking things personally is our tendency to react in order to protect our ego from others ‘threatening’ us. People behave in reflection of their own thoughts (led by insecurities or inner beauty). When insecure, they tend to ‘attack’ others in order to get rid of that feeling by passing it on. Don’t take it personally; they would do that with everyone. Stay calm and talk with them as a human to human. Ego gets fed with chain reactions and soothes when someone breaks the chain. Next time you argue with a bad venue owner, think about it and don’t take things personally: they have their own insecurities to solve.

Think: when behaving poorly (and you acknowledge it), ask yourself – Do I want this to happen again? (No) – What can I make better next time? (Have more divine than human-made intentions)

 

7. Vision

Each new vision we have is an imminent creation, an exciting birth soon to be celebrated. Visions are always built upon or based on existing creations (there’s no parthenogenesis), but their outcome is never identical, because of the complex decision system they’re comprised of. Here are some clues on how to make sure you stick to your vision:

• Listen to people’s advice and keep the information in the back of your head. Advice and help should be welcome, they mostly come with the intention to help, but they are also diverse and nuanced, thus they can only have a positive impact when they manifest on the right timing and way.  A good piece of advice on the wrong timing can change the route of the vision completely.  Take your time and evaluate.

• Going from point A (intention) to point B (vision) is not a straight line.  It’s beautiful to diversify your route towards the vision, lean right or left (or even backwards), as it spices up your life and makes for an interesting story. Bearing in mind that decisions are a tool to experience life, diversity of decisions means diversity in life. Have an interesting life, but never lose touch with the vision. It’s like driving towards a mountain – you never drive straight and sometimes you even makes stops, but every minute brings you closer to the mountain, which you can see all along the way.

• Visualize the vision and make it real in your mind. Just like saving your loved ones form the fire, you cannot imagine them other but alive next to you. This is how vivid your vision should be. If you cannot visualize the outcome or feel difficulties doing it, it’s probably because you haven’t experienced it before. Find a way to come close to the outcome, before you make it a realistic goal. Hanging out with people you admire, reading stories of people that had similar goals, trying things you’d like to own etc. are ways of doing it.

Think: whether others see your vision as ‘rather boring and usual’ or ‘a major music innovation’, only visions that get fulfilled matter. This makes every single effort of yours precious.

###

You can download the PDF of the whitepaper here.

My question for you: Would you argue that you’re satisfied with your decision-making abilities in your music career so far? And why? Looking forward to the discussion.

###

I’m Tommy Darker, the writing alter ego of an imaginative independent musician. I started ‘Think Beyond The Band’ because I feel proud of what I’ve accomplished so far and I like helping other fellow musicians that struggle with the same problems.

I love starting conversations. If you share the same mindset, find me on Facebook and Twitter and let’s talk!

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Comments (21)
  1. TuneHunter

    Your seven pointers are full of wisdom but only conclusion out of them is for artist to stay away from music.
    Complicated environment for music and musicians!


    Reply
    1. TommyDarker

      Hey TuneHunter. How exactly does better decision-making interfere with making music? In action, it works better for me if I know that I can rely on my informed decisions on a daily basis.


      Reply
  2. mdti

    May be it is also time to add a bit of knowledge about the “Game Theory” and wonder how it can be used by musicians in a career path.There is math and it can be a hard work, but it roots into the same thing: strategic decisions making.
    Teaser: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_theory
    I don’t think I ever used that at any level, as it is more for company strategy, but it certainly inform, or entertain, someone ;-)
    have fun !


    Reply
    1. TommyDarker

      Hey mdti, I find this comment very interesting. Still not sure how it roots back to better decision-making, since I’m yet to master game theory. I think, however, that every piece of knowledge does contribute to forming a better understanding of your options, hence decision-making. Beware – it can also lead to clutter!

      Game theory. Probably something to explore in the future. If you have any resources, I’d love to hear them.

      // Tommy


      Reply
      1. mdti

        Unfortunately, I don’t have many resources to recommend (Amazon has a lot of books on the subject, so may be the best ios to go to a business-school bookstore and see what they have in store). I had a class about that at university, and it included a lot of math because, in companies, it is based on economic decisions in a competitive market (should i move into this market, at what price should I sell this product) and so contained economic data.
        However, the “tree” (nodes) that are built to explore the options could be used. The problem is “can one think of all the options and make an informed decision” when it comes to an artistic project or career (because the part of randomness, luck etc is probably higher than in other industries, so it is much more difficult).


        Reply
        1. Tommy Darker

          Great question mdti and thanks for the information about the Game Theory.

          No intentions to self-promote, but if you read the book, which the whitepaper is a part of, the answer to this question will be a bit clearer. Here it is.

          There are many beliefs about what art is. I stick with the one that suggests that art’s purpose is to create and inspire questions, disregarding the format of art. In other words, when making art, any decision can possibly be correct, as long as the end goal is met – to create a great question.

          On any other project (where rational thinking dominates), I found there is a formula of clear decision-making, which I suggest in the book. In short, it is:
          1. Clarify your intentions.
          2. Determine the observable outcome (that you want to achieve).
          3. Connect these two with the decision, which is the ACTION itself.

          I hope this short version makes sense. Sounds simple, and it is.

          // Tommy


          Reply
          1. mdti

            Thanks ! yes it clarifies, and focus on the artistic work rather than its economic outcome (if i understand well) .


            Reply
  3. Veteran - US MUSIC INDUSTRY 1970-today

    A very philosophical pov LOL

    I’d like to add 3
    Branding
    Marketing
    Promotion
    all different, all necessary.


    Reply
    1. TommyDarker

      Hey Veteran,

      Indeed. Love approaching the music ecosystem from a philosophical standpoint – then making everything practical for everyone to implement. Was it practical indeed?


      Reply
  4. Gopalo

    Artists can define “success” for themselves. Usually this requires a level of sustainability. Your suggestions are a great start to achieving that.


    Reply
    1. Tommy Darker

      Thanks for the comment, Gopalo. Success is a fragile term. It’s different for everyone. That’s why people ‘compete’ for success, regardless their differentiated goals. As you say, sustainability is more important. Solid decision-making is the foundation.


      Reply
  5. Des

    No offence, but… Nowadays everyone is a “marketing expert”, and a music marketing guru… Why would I take any advice from you Tommy Darker, when you obviously don’t make a living from music? Your band’s most viewed video has 12 thousand views in 3 years, which is 300 views/month (second most viewed video has 790 views…) The band has 79 Youtube subscribers, 1168 Facebook fans, 118 Twitter followers. (it means, you don’t have any fans, because these are only friends and family…) You don’t have any concerts posted anywhere, and you give away all your music for free, so you don’t make money from that either. So again: why would anyone take any music carreer advice from someone who doesn’t make a living from music?


    Reply
    1. Tommy Darker

      Hey Des, thanks for jumping in the conversation.

      If you go to my website, I call myself a ‘thinker’, because I’m no guru. We don’t need more gurus, we need experiments. I’d like to add that I’m always talking by experience. And, as you see, it’s free for everyone to read. You have the option either to appreciate it and get a practical lesson or merely ignore it. No offence taken!

      Thanks for doing some research on my music! Did you like it, by the way? Numbers don’t always tell how good or bad music is. You can always come back to my advice later, once the metrics are high enough for you. Working on it.

      // Tommy


      Reply
      1. Des

        Thanks for the answer.

        Of course everyone is free to write their thoughts, but it’s a little annoying for me to read about music carrier advices from people who doesn’t have a music carrier.

        “Numbers don’t always tell how good or bad music is.” – Of course, but your article is not about the quality of your music, and I also didn’t talk about it, so this is irrelevant.

        Numbers only tell how good is your marketing AND how experienced are you.

        You should spend a few thousand dollars on advertising (Facebook, Google, Youtube) to get fans, you should sell CD-s, organize gigs constantly…. and when you make a living as a musician, then you should give advices, because you will have some experience… in my opinion.

        Now your articles are just too much thinking and nothing practical, just too much philosophy and no acting.


        Reply
        1. Tommy Darker

          Ok, thanks a lot for your feedback. I’ll keep it in mind. Are you a fellow musician yourself? Would you mind sharing a link with your music? Just curious.


          Reply
  6. Kyle

    Stress, anxiety, bad manners, rush, and cloudy brain (all things I struggle with on a daily basis) personally for me have to do I think more with my own expectations not harmonizing with reality.


    Reply
    1. Tommy Darker

      Hey Kyle, cheers for stopping by.

      I hear you, these are common problems that make decision-making cloudy. They add ‘noise’ between Intentions and Decisions, between Decisions and Observable Outcomes. Gotta find a way to kill them.


      Reply
      1. mdti

        The best way is to try to get advices from people with an experience of the situation you are facing. This may allow to see the same issue with a different angle, and may be even resolve all the conflicts that appear because conflicts comes when you have no answer to this and that question The best is to go out, meet other musicians, ask question and listen to what you are told.

        so the best advice is to go out meet people, talk and ask questions, and remember the best answers don’t come from the ones with a great music CV, but from the one who asked himself the same question as you do and who could experience the results. it will necessarily enrich you in a way or another. at least you can make friends ;-)

        I tell you this because i’ve been approached by a girl in a party, and she is now touring the world with the band that she was very hesitating in joining. I also now that she is thankful. Out of nowhere she came to me and asked me her question. we talked 3 minutes and i think it changed her life forever.
        Do the same as that girl, go out, meet people, talk.


        Reply
  7. Mimi Seton

    Well…I may be one of the last people left who cares about this but I’ll risk speaking out anyway. Quite apart from the content of your tips on being a musician, I think it would serve you to hire a professional copy editor for the texts on DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS ~ if you care about how the written word creates an impression. There are a lot of errors above~ so many I wondered if you just didn’t have any editorial staff. Fair or unfair, I regret these errors distracted me from the content because I had to figure out what the person MEANT to say most probably. There are typos galore ~ and grammatical and spelling errors.


    Reply
    1. TommyDarker

      Hello Mimi, thanks for stopping by.

      Thanks for pointing this out. I had both a proofreader and editor for this essay and I’m quite surprised you mention that ‘there are typos galore’ and that the content was distorted because of them. Could you please point out a few of them?

      Thanks,
      // Tommy


      Reply
  8. Anthony

    Nice article, but please use the word “anyway,” not “anyways.”


    Reply

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