Focus on the job at hand.

Whatever needs to get done now, do it. Invest yourself into it completely. Dive in to each task with all the passion, conviction, and humanity that you would a live performance. There’s the old saying, any job worth doing is worth doing well. Put your mind to the thing. There is joy in work if you can bring yourself to it fully.

Don’t just nod in agreement.

It’s lazy. And often it means that you’re not really listening hard enough. The problem with this is twofold. Not only is it disrespectful to the person speaking to you (and they will notice, trust me), but it’s also a disservice to yourself. Because you wind up just going along with things you don’t really agree with. You forfeit the chance to think for yourself. And often you’ll look back and realize that you’ve agreed to things that are not in your best interest, or undercut your work, or that you don’t truly understand. Better to lock in and engage. Listen hard enough to form a real thought you can articulate with words. Then you can be sure of what you’re agreeing to and why you’re agreeing to it.

Here’s what you gotta do.

Gotta go inside. That’s always where the answers are.

Gotta get smart. That’s how you make dreams a reality.

Gotta stay calm. Nothing’s as important as it seems.

Gotta be honest. About where you are, where you want to be, and how to get there.

Gotta laugh. Everything is funny. Most of all, you’re own life.

Gotta decide. Experience can built or break you. Which will it be?

Gotta stand tall. Keep a song in your pocket that reminds you of who you are.

Gotta produce. It’s much easier to consume but far less… productive.

Gotta pursue. Knock on doors. Call in favors. Create opportunities. Proceed with fire or prepare to get burned.

Gotta remember. Family is everything.

Live every note.

You can’t fake it. You can’t pretend. It doesn’t work. When you’re singing, or writing, or playing you need to live every single note. That’s what gives it its value. There is so much meaningless stuff out there. So much that is glossy and fake. So much that is designed to deceive you.

To avoid contribuing to that noise, mean every word you sing. Every single one. It’s the same as having integrity when you speak to someone else. You have to mean the things you say if you want your work and your contribution to be worth anything to others. Stop simply singing pitches. Live the notes. Like Louis Armstrong said, “If you don’t live it, it wont’ come out your horn.” In this way, you need to become the song. You put everything you have, the whole of your experience as a human being, into it and then it becomes a gift for the audience. It becomes something you are discovering together, like the connection between a writer a reader. In this way, music your music will become a bridge that can connect people.

Don’t get hung up on stealing.

It’s an old tripe. Good artists borrow, great artists steal. But there’s more to it than that. You’re moving into a realm now where there is a passing down of ideas. Lyrical themes, chord structures, melodies, patterns, styles. It’s all part of a grand tradition. Think about the blues. It’s just 3 chords. The same 3 chords. Everybody is playing the same 3 chords from Howlin’ Wolf to BB King To Eric Clapton. What it boils down to is style. How will you personally express those time-weathered ideas? Use them, distort them, rearrange them, mutilate them, or just plain interpret them with your own unique ability and perspective. It’s like Dylan said, the old songs give you the code for everything that’s fair game, and everything that belongs to everyone.

You don’t need to pay it all back.

It’s okay to say “I could never repay you for all you’ve done for me.” That takes grace and courage. You can’t be a leech or a bloodsucker. But you also can’t tow around a whole bunch of needless guilt or tiresome I.O.U.s you’re never going to make good on. Not because you don’t want to or you can’t, but because you just may never get the opportunity. Now, paying it forward is a different story. That’s how you make good on all your debts. You give what you can. You help others to the best of your ability. Show people what you know. Guide younger folks who can learn something from you. Do the things that others have done for you without expectation.

Only deal with believers.

Why waste time trying to curry favor from people who do not have your best interest in mind? In my experience, believers may be few and far between but they are the people you need to surround yourself with. Don’t approach some critic or naysayer or somebody who you suspect has secret desires for your failure and try to elicit encouragement, help or praise. Deal directly with the people who you know understand what you’re doing and where you’re headed. There will be plenty of detractors and still more plenty of fairweather friends. Not to mention opponents disguised as allies. Share the work, but don’t ask for permission. Don’t ask for approval. The only person who needs to approve your work is you.

Produce, produce, produce.

Think about it. When you get depressed or overcome with anxiety it’s usually because you haven’t produced something recently. The production of work is what brings you supreme joy. Do the work. Make the thing. Each time you do this, you’re really bundling up all of your worries and anxieties and tossing them out to sea. It’s a message in a bottle, each piece of work. And it brings an unparalleled satisfaction and pride in one’s life. But the moment you complete a piece of work, these effects begin to wear off. And if you wait too long, you wind up depressed and anxious, mind darting every which way, fretting over trivialities and big “life questions” equally. Neither of these is productive, and productive is what you need to be. So produce.

If it’s good, give it now.

There is this temptation to wait. Wait until it’s better, wait until it’ll really show them, wait until you ready to bestow your masterpiece upon the world. This is arrogant and foolish thinking at best. You may be gone tomorrow. This is not an over dramatization – it’s a fact, sure as summer follows spring. It should come as a liberation, then, that as long as you deem a piece of work as good, aka worthy of someone else’s time and attention, you may — no, must! — put it out into the world. Not someday, but now. The benefits are many. You are relieved of its burden. You may improve someone else’s life by sharing it. And you are thus forced to shift your focus onto the next piece of work, rather than wasting precious time gazing lovingly upon that which is already collecting dust on your bench.

Happy Birthday To You

In songwriting, the key is everything.

Cos either it starts with a riff, or better yet, it starts with something you hear in your head.

And then you’re singing it. You’re singing it to yourself and you hear it and it’s taking shape and it’s sort of like a little miracle forming right before you’re very eyes.

You get used to this, you start to get better at the dance. There it is, forming right in front of you and you are seducing it with your powers.

And slowly but surely you bring it to its knees and lay it down on the bed and have your way with it.

That’s when you pick up the guitar.

Don’t be a fool and try to start ham-fisting that guitar.

No, keep listening to the song and FIND it on the guitar. FIND the key.

It’s kind of funny that it’s called a key, because it really is one. FIND the key. Unlock the song.

Then the glorious click of the latch and Pandora’s box is opened and the colors flood out and the soak you in truisms. The song says the thing it wants to say, the thing you wanted to say but couldn’t.

Now it’s here for you to summon whenever you fancy it.

Happy Birthday To You.