Keeping A Record
One of the things that's fun to do is to go through old pictures of yourself and your friends. A trip down memory lane reminds you of where you come from and all of the things that you've been through. In fact, you can see your own development right there. That's why it's important as an artist to keep a record of things that you've done. It's all too easy to get caught up the moment and let things slip past. As an artist you want to do the same thing. This is a little harder because as artists, we're usually working toward the future without really taking a record of where we are now. There are a couple of things that you can do on a regular basis that will help document your development and give you something to look back on from time to time.
Hit the Record Button
Of course the best way to document your development at any time is to record yourself. This can be done in a couple of ways. First of all, take the time to record your practice sessions once in a while. Either record yourself playing some of the songs in your repertoire, record some songwriting ideas, or record some of your own jams and improvisations. This is invaluable as a review to see how you're performing and see where you can use some improvement. Once you've recorded and reviewed yourself make sure to date and archive them. Recording should be something a musician does on a regular basis. It's great for self improvement and it makes for a great moment in time to take out some in the future and see where you've been.
Your band rehearsals should be recorded. Usually just placing a stereo recorder somewhere in your rehearsal space will suffice. This doesn't need to be a full multi-track studio recording situation. It's better if you just have a little recorder because there is very little set up and won't usually take anything away from the rehearsal. Most of the band will even forget it's there. Make sure you keep the recordings and date them for future reference.
Demos and Songs
These days, it's all too easy to get a demo (and even full CD) recorded right at home. This is another thing that should be done on a regular basis. Make it an appointment that everybody in the band has to show up to. Make it another 'rehearsal'. This way you're all recording and producing stuff on a regular basis. The great thing about today's technology is you can do all of the recording and takes that you want. If you're working on demos and songs on a regular basis, you're naturally going to get better at it. If you've recorded a song a number of times, you can all do reviews together and see what's working. This is sometimes harder to do in the heat of the moment in a rehearsal. Also, you will develop the material to the point where it's much better instead of just going into the studio once and trying to make it work.
This is another thing that used to be a special item but with today's technology, it's pretty easy to do. Not only should you be video taping your performances, you should also be recording you rehearsals. It's a good indication of how the audience will see you when you've seen yourself performing.
Hills and Plateaus
There are days when it doesn't seem like we're getting anything done. Then there are times when can actually see our growth. The truth is that if you're continuously working at your craft, practicing and trying to to improve, there is progress there. We usually don't see the progress though. There seems to be the same repeating pattern. We learn a new skill, we practice that skill, and depending on the difficulty of the exercise and where you are your development, at some point you will actually see some improvement. There is the initial learning, practice and execution, then (hopefully) there is improvement. Your progress doesn't seem to be continuous, there seems to be a lot of plateaus. This is how we learn. The fact is though, there is some development and learning while still in the plateau, we just don't see it. There are small changes being made within us that moves us closer to executing the skill.
Getting Past The Plateaus
If you've been keeping records of your practice sessions and practicing on a regular basis, there will be improvement. Like we mentioned before, it won't always seem like it, but there will be progress. What happens if it really seems like there isn't any progress? What happens if you feel like you've been on the same plateau for a really long time? One of three things may be happening here.
- You're not using your practice time very effectively. (Or not practicing regularly, or worst, not practicing at all). Either you're going over the same material over and over or you're simply not paying attention to what you're learning at the moment. You may be going through the motions with certain exercises and not really trying to get the most out of them. It's like working out without breaking a sweat; there's something happening there, but not much.
- You've bitten off more than you can chew. If you've been playing the same 3 chord songs for the past couple of years and then suddenly get into learning jazz, it may be a while before you really see any improvement. In fact, in these cases, you will actually appear to get worst before you get better. A good way to go about this and still see improvement (and keep motivated!) is to learn in smaller chunks. For example if you've been playing the same 3 chords and then want to get into playing some jazz standards, you will want to take some intermediary steps. A good way to go about this would be to start with a 12 bar blues and then start learning that in different keys. Once you have that, then you can learn some of the alternate chord changes in some blues tunes. Since the blues is the lifeblood of jazz, this is a step in the right direction without getting into anything too advanced to start.
- You're well into your development. When you first start learning a new instrument or skill, the improvement in your development may almost seem like a daily event. As you get better though, those plateaus seem to creep in more and more. Not only that, but you seem to be staying on those plateaus even longer. This is simply a part of being good at any skill. One reason for this is that at a higher level, the skills trying to be mastered are usually difficult and simply take longer to learn. The biggest problem is to keep motivated and trying to improve once you've reached a high level of achievement.Once again, keeping the practice regimen and notes helps a lot with this.
It's in the Details
There is a timeline to what you're doing. Hopefully, there is a plan. What you do everyday are the details. They seem inconsequential, but in the big picture they're huge. It's these little things that you do everyday that makes up who you are as an artist. It's these little things that you do everyday that is the reason for your success. That's why it's important to plan. It's easy to lose track of these little details. It's easy to lose track of where you are and where you want to go. Even if you don't follow it to the letter, it gives you some sense of direction and some sense of what you've accomplished in the past.
The Next Step
There are times in every artist's life when they try something new. Either they've been doing the same thing for quite a while and want to try something different, or they may be just exploring to see what develops. Some artists are immediately recognizable and any changes they make are seen as a mistake. Other artists can make many changes without ruffling many feathers. As an artist, you will be exploring many avenues. Some people try as many things as they can and hope to find some success. Others try different avenues of the same type of style. For others, there doesn't seem to be any path at all; it's just dabbling in one thing after another without really exploring the possibilities. There are better and worst ways to go about your development.
If you don't ever want any success of any kind, just simply try things just once or twice and then abandon them. Don't worry about developing any skill or knowledge in the endeavor, Just try it a couple of times and as soon as you get bored, move on.
As Always, Focus
Most musicians love to try lots of different things.One day you may try playing some jazz, the next it may be some reggae. This is normal, this is something most musicians do. There is a difference though between trying something for fun and really developing some skill at it. You want to focus most of your time on your most important projects and your main style of music. Because we all like to try different styles, it's good to do this now and again, just make sure that you're spending most of your time on the most important things. It's a variation of the old 80/20 rule. Make sure you spend 80% of your time on that most important 20%. That means if you have a gig this weekend, it's not time to start exploring free jazz. If you do develop a real interest in another style, integrate that into your practice regimen along with your usual stuff.
There is a difference here for instrumentalists and composers. Being fluent in a number of styles is part of your expertise and as such, should be part of your usual regimen.
The Evolution of An Artist
We're all on a journey. There are many paths and experiences for you to enjoy.There is an evolution taking place and you want to make sure that it's heading in the direction that you want. To know where you are and have been it's important to keep records of what you've done. Do this on a regular basis and review it when making plans for the future. Second, make plans on a regular basis. They may not always come to fruition but it gives you a goal and road map. Third keep focused and work through the hills and plateaus. Finally do it all over again. One day, you'll be able to sit down and actually see your evolution as an artist.