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One of the questions I am asked and messaged about the most is some variation of

—How do I make it in the music biz?
—How do I get heard/found?
—How do I get famous? (ugh—careful with that one, bubba)
—How can you make a living doing what you love? (good one)
—How do I get my song in film/TV (that one’s answered here)

There is no one way to make it, especially these days, but there are some fundamentals that I believe will hold true no matter what you play. Here’s my attempt to lay it all out in one place. This blog will be longer than normal as I haven’t been able to respond to everyone as much as I would like when we are on the road—and this will allow me to send you everything I got in one place :-). As with any of these blogs, hopefully there is something in here of value to you regardless of what business you are in.

One thing to remember as you read this is not to let anything I say deter you. This is one opinion, and in a business with few clear and well-lit paths, you gotta take every opinion with a grain of salt and TRUST YOUR GUT. The strength of your instincts, your ability to keep trying, to keep working, and, of course, a little luck will determine where you end up in this insane business. You will need your gut to navigate the unending amount of BS that is about to come at you.

I’m not being negative here or trying to scare you off—anytime you have a business that is driven by the slight but still real possibility of overnight fame and gobs of cash-o-la, it’s going to attract an almost criminal element to its fringes (and sometimes at the center). Everyone is gonna have an answer for you, and everyone is gonna pretend they are further along than they are. As the old models of success in this business have crumbled, and as streaming has replaced actual record and publishing royalties with pennies on the dollars, there are a ton of people getting paid much more than the artists to tell the artists they know the way forward. They don’t. Music will always be important, but there is no guarantee the big money days are coming back. That being said, music will always be important and always have value, but they avenues will not be the same.

Don’t let the loudest voice in the room get you to cut a check for unproven advice. Listen to your own voice. Even a quiet voice that you know is true is better than the self-appointed prophets selling their views on the new music model. I have met so many people who are self-professed gurus and marketers and purveyors of what is cool in the music business. It’s gross, and a lot of what they are selling is garbage.

One of my favorite stories is someone asking Willie Nelson, “What do you think about this kid’s song?” Willie says, “Well, if I don’t like it, and you tell the kid, I hope the kid says, ‘Screw Willie Nelson—what does he know.” 🙂

I’m confident there is some good advice in here. It took decades of hard touring, debt, borrowing, and begging and stealing shows to learn what I’m writing here, but if you have a new path, take that path and don’t let anyone (including me) talk you out of it.

Again, there is no one answer. As an old manager and amazing man, Joe Preckajlo, said, “If it were easy, we’d all by rock stars.” I don’t consider myself a rock star. I don’t travel by private plane (though I take a lot of commercial ones), and I don’t live in a Prevost (though our converted bread truck is really cool inside :). All I can tell you is what has worked for me and others I respect. This business has always changed and, like any business, it always will.

So much of what used to apply is damn near meaningless these days—record labels having all the power, playing clubs to break, learning to actually play your instrument. I encourage you to find your own path and never try to re-create exactly what someone else has done to “make it.”

Get ready to work your tail off, and be honest with yourself and others about why you are doing it. Know what success really means and whether or not you are ENJOYING THE PROCESS, ’cause if you aren’t, it ain’t worth it. The chances of any of us finding that elusive world-domination record deal gets lower every day. It’s a fragmented digital society. But if you really enjoy sharing your work with people, or if you can move the energy of a room playing live and make someone’s life just a little bit better with your song, then LET’S GO! (and maybe we get lucky and someone with the keys to a bigger room opens the door). 

  1. Do the work—don’t put getting famous in front of paying your dues
  2. Say yes to every gig, especially LOCALLY
  3. Don’t expect to get paid for a long, long time
  4. No one cares about your business like YOU—great artists have to understand business as well
  5. Become an open book. Share your day-to-day and your process. JAB, JAB, PUNCH
  6. LISTEN and be NICE (it’s a small business). HELP OTHERS and they will HELP YOU
  7. Start at the beginning (make things you are PROUD OF)
  8. Don’t get jealous—get inspired
  9. Balance
  10. Be brave, Be YOU, and have some fun

#1 Do the work—don’t put getting famous in front of paying your dues

All the pain you go through is what will get you ready if a break comes.

The old blues and jazz cats called it “woodshedding”—going back out to the woodshed and playing for hours on end. Working at your craft. Playing till your fingers bled (“play so good you make the devil cry”). As Malcolm Gladwell said, you gotta put in your 10,000 hours at any craft. A concert violinist has worked as many hours at mastering the violin as a doctor or surgeon. Just ’cause you don’t get paid the same at first doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be acting as if you are making $100 an hour to rehearse. There is always someone else out there killing themselves to get better at YOUR instrument or craft, so if you don’t LOVE it and don’t want to work at it ALL THE TIME, then stop right here, pick another blog, and we’ll talk about something else. 🙂

You gotta become obsessed with your craft. You should lose track of time when you work at your writing, or singing, or instrument. That meditative state is the universe telling you that you are on the right path, that you are lost in it ’cause there is a bigger creative world (Willie called it Creative Intelligence) outside of this one. I really believe great music, and any great art, for that matter, is touching the face of the heavens. It’s lofty and over the top, but if you aren’t shooting for the top, what are you doing? Why suffer for something that isn’t gonna have some moments of transcendence?

When I get down, I tell myself sometimes, “Hey, bubba, no one told us we had to do this. We picked this life. Most of the world would kill to have the opportunities every musician in America gets, so rest a little, quit your bitchin’, and get back to work. This is what you have wanted to do since you were a little kid—and you get to tour with friends you have had since childhood. What a lucky bastard.” Now, this trick doesn’t work when you get to a point where there is something to attend to from five a.m. to two a.m. the next day on the road, but I always figure the road shakes out the weak, and I’m never gonna let it shake me out ’cause overall, I love it like the day I started.

The point here is this job takes WORK like you can’t believe. And music (sadly) is only a small, small part of making it. The work to promote and market, to get it recorded, mixed, mastered, make your cold calls, return your warm calls, repay the thousand favors you are gonna owe the world as you build a team you can’t afford yet, meet the right people, get bigger funding, pay to fix the truck as it breaks down for the hundredth time, etc., etc. If you aren’t ready to commit to this with your blood and sweat and tears and every dollar you bring in, do something else.

Think about that for a minute. THIS IS NOT WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE ON THE STAGE OR ON TV. This job looks super-glamorous when you see the band in the stage lights with people clapping and screaming, but outside of that, you are living in a van, eating crap food, most likely going broke for a few years, answering every call whether you feel like it or not, and in general being sleep-deprived and sometimes extremely lonely at a Motel 6 in the middle of Wyoming.

It’s wonderful if it’s what YOU REALLY WANT TO DO—and I believe the people who struggle to get the prize are the ones that don’t lose their minds or take it for granted once they get it. But don’t confuse fame with work or with the years it takes to get truly good at your job. They are usually opposite things.

Everyone wants the cream but no one wants to grind.

One from Dylan that applies to everything here…and really everything in the world (Dylan was good at that…)

“If you want to live outside the law, you gotta be honest.”

Since we play a lot of high schools, I want to make a quick note about shows like American Idol, The Voice, etc. The band was setting around the other night, and we couldn’t name one runner-up that ever came out of those shows. We couldn’t name more than two winners, and only one winner who still records and has a deal and that we adore (the wonderful Kelly Clarkson, who I believe would have gotten to where she is no matter where she started). I have a couple of friends who have auditioned and made it through some of the trails (including our incredible guitarist/vocalist Erin O’ Neill), and the contracts you sign to take part in that show say you give them everything for the next seven years. Your songs, a piece of everything you make, etc. Folks—don’t give away years of your work for a chance to be famous for 15 minutes. If you want to truly make this a life, and make music for the rest of your life, you are gonna have to build your career brick by painful brick. Mile by mile. Song by song. Load-in by Load-out. Handshake by handshake. YOU have to create the foundation or you will have nothing to stand on and you will be in debt to someone else. Which is not good for creativity or the soul (which to me are the same thing, anyway).

#2 Say yes to every gig, especially locally, that isn’t dangerous to your health (and a little danger can be good, too)

Be a pebble in the pond—don’t swim out into the deep and hope someone rescues you.

When I was a teenager, I was honored to get picked to be in the spotlight column of Guitar for the Practicing Musician. The editor at the time, John Stix, gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received. “Play all the time and take every gig.” I was willing to do that, but sadly I had too much wanderlust and thought you weren’t a real musician unless you traveled somewhere brand-new every single day. Let me tell you, there are musicians that could destroy me on the instruments I play sitting in their rooms and never touring. But it’s the whole package you gotta build to, and you can’t do that without STARTING WHERE YOU ARE and BUILDING OUT FROM THERE.

Play everywhere you can locally. Don’t worry about getting out of town until you have built a local fan base. Cut your teeth by playing live everywhere you can. At first it will be for free, but that’s OK—you will learn a ton from both the good and the bad gigs. Actually, you learn more sometimes from the bad gigs than the great ones where you start believing your own hype (And I did this once myself and was punished accordingly by having to live in the wilderness for quite sometime).

#3 Don’t expect to get paid for a long, long time

You are learning, and that’s worth more than money. That being said, once it gets rolling, don’t let ANYONE take advantage of you—because, believe me, even the sweetest person in the world thinks you should come play their brother’s best friend’s dog’s wedding for free.


Most hard touring bands are young, not just because it takes an incredible amount of energy and wanderlust to tour (and it does) but because most bands can’t stay together making peanuts once they have a family, or once their parents, or significant others who are paying their bills back home finally tell them NO MORE. There are more trust fund bands (aka trustafarians) than truly talented bands ’cause the kids who have family money can usually stay in the game a little longer than those who don’t. I’m not saying there aren’t great trust fund bands. And believe me, I borrowed money from everyone I could. There are exceptions to this rule—I heard the parents of Incubus are all record execs, but that’s a super-talented band. In high school I listened to Queensryche on a loop, and I heard their families helped them get a start.

But the point is, unless you are lucky enough to have some financial backing, get ready to suffer. Any entrepreneur or artist knows this, but I always have to remind the high schools kids we play for that we did this making ramen in coffee pots and four people sleeping in one motel room for years before it took off. The good news is, if you are tough enough, you will know it. You will thrive on it. You will enjoy walking outside some crappy hotel with a horrible little cup of black coffee and looking out at terrain you’ve never seen before. But whether you start with money or start with nothing, it’s VERY expensive to chase a dream—and I don’t mean money alone. You will lose lovers, once close relationships, family members may want to disown you, some friends will understand you are too tired from the road to pick up the phone, others will not. There are no guarantees, and you may not get paid for a very, very long time. I maxed out credit cards and lost 25K a year for years before it turned.

I also worked very hard over the years to become my own recording and mastering engineer, producer, session musician, songwriter, hype man, and so on, and those were fees I didn’t have to pay on many of our records. I used my first home studios to record other bands to buy more gear and make records for myself. But this come with a price, too. You can learn all these skills, but if you get too insular or take on too much, you will not do what you do best, and you will soon be the one in the band with headphones on all night while everyone else has a good time TOGETHER.

#4 No one cares about your career like YOU

In Donald Passman’s All You Need to Know about the Music Business, he makes a great point – You can hire all kinds of great people, but at the end of the day it’s YOUR CAREER.  It’s a very rare business in that the thin skin you need to create and write heartfelt music, the emotion and open heart you need to be a songwriter, is the exact opposite of what you need to take criticism and swim with sharks who are selling you everything under the sun to promote yourself. The creative, beautiful side of you that makes art and never cares about money must make way for the business side of you that must take a look at the books sometimes if you are ever gonna get older doing this or pay the people around you what they are worth.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If it sounds or feels wrong, then ask. If a manager or lawyer doesn’t want to answer a questions, that’s a problem you gotta solve. And if something sounds too good to be true, then … snare drum, say it with me: IT AIN’T TRUE.

#5 Become an open book, experiment, diversify, be open to new opportunities—there is no one way

In general, I hate books about writing—you can’t TEACH someone how to be themselves and be passionate. You can’t find your own “voice” without a TON of work. A ton of reading and writing, failing down and picking yourself up again. That being said, in one of my favorite books EVER, Steven King’s On Writing, he talks about how much people love reading about work. They love reading the ins and outs of someone else’s day-to-day—their experience, their job. I have found this to be true. People enjoy seeing your process as much as the actual result. It lets them into what is human about you, and all of us. The struggle. We tend to forget that what is normal for us may be very interesting to the outside world. I forget this constantly. I tend to think my life is monotonous when to someone else, I am living the dream. 🙂 (And, of course, I dream of their life sometimes too: the same bed, being close to your loved ones and pets, comfort food, routine … SLEEP). I forget that my life is not “normal” (whatever that is). I’m in hotels more than home—the countryside is flying by—I’m having conversations with the strangest, most interesting people every day at a gas station or outside a club. But I forget to report on it ’cause I take it for granted. People would rather hear about a great conversation you had or the struggle you went through to create something than to ever be told buy this, come to this. They have no reason to care.

There I SO MUCH art in the world and so many artists now that they have to believe in YOU as much as the work itself. That won’t be the case if you do enough honest work and gain enough fans. You will get momentum, and I believe eventually your muse will magnetize others to attract to your cause, but for now remember what my wonderful editor Cris Trautner has to remind me about: JAB, JAB, PUNCH (Editor’s Note: Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk). When you post on social media or talk to your fans, give them something, give them something, and THEN it’s OK to ASK them to check out something of yours. (I preach a lot better than I practice, and I spent years hoping the work itself would be enough. That was wasted time as I get to know more and more of you that found me through something like this, where I just spill my guts and admit my mistakes.)

Now this is harsh, but I believe part of the reason many artists can’t or won’t do this is this: If you had to actually share your day-to-day, or take the time to describe what you go through for your craft, the world might find out that you aren’t spending that much time actually DOING THE WORK. Or you are an artist like me that came up in a time where we believed “real artists” were otherworldly, and you didn’t even want to know they were mere mortals. I put all my fave artists growing up on a pedestal. The thought of seeing what Bowie ate for breakfast or Prince showing me how he wired his studio would have made me sick. Those guys must’ve come down from the spaceship in a cloud of stage smoke, nailed their tracks in first takes, and gone back up in to the heavens. They couldn’t have struggled or had any doubt along the way! Well, besides the fact that these are their experiences in a diff time in the music business (and these are one in a billion artists)—if we take ourselves too seriously all the time, we are gonna lose our damn minds. I don’t want to see everything you do—let’s keep a little mystery—but let us into the work: your mindset, your heart, what drives you and moves you, and the other things and people by which you are inspired.


When someone gives you advice, listen and then you can ignore it. Ego is a killer. (Again, I preach more than practice, sadly.)

—When someone gives you constructive criticism (anyone just bashing something is either a soulless troll or a critic who couldn’t make their own record or both) listen, and then ignore it if you know you are on the right path

—When you are playing with other musicians, LISTEN to what they are playing before you play.

—If you are in a band and you are not the songwriter, LISTEN to the song before you start playing on it. Ask about the lyrics and figure out what the vision is and how you can contribute.  I have talked to several songwriters about how heartbreaking it is to bring in a song you feel really strong about, to find the band members have no concern whatsoever for anything except their own parts and how quickly they can start making music over it.  Space is every bit as effective as notes. (Yeah, it’s laughable I’m saying this as many notes as I’ve played on that guitar, but I’m learning.) The flip side of this for the musicians playing on someone else’s tune, is if the song sucks and there is no vision, you have every right to go find a better writer and a better leader. If your band really doesn’t like the song, then you gotta listen to that, too.

—Listen to music you don’t usually listen to or fully understand. There is a process happening every single time you listen that will cause you to grow. Like S. King says, “You can’t write if you don’t read…” Well ,you shouldn’t be playing if you don’t LISTEN.

#7 Start at the beginning, make things you are proud of, things you would pay for—otherwise, how can you expect someone else to take time out to notice?

I can’t tell you how many times someone gives me their music and says, “Well, this sounds like crap because X, Y, and Z happened, but please listen to it.” WHAT? I can’t tell you how many times I have said to someone, “Here, take this, but this isn’t my latest release. The new stuff will be waaaay cooler, BUT…” Are you kidding me? Why should someone be excited about our art if we aren’t excited by it?

You have to make something YOU want to listen to. You have to set out to become the band YOU want to see. I know it’s over the top and heart on your sleeve and requires that you suspend all cynicism, but I grew up and love bands like U2, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, Prince, Bowie, Johnny Cash. Big acts with big ideals. Some with over-the-top arena shows that I loved as a kid. I tell people we sound like a cross between Kings of Leon and Fleetwood Mac. I say that happily—not because I think we are anywhere near that status, but because I would pay right now to see either of those bands jam and we share some of the same things (male/female harmony, all kinds of guitars, a love of crossing genres, blues, funk, R and B, soul, gospel, Americana/folk). If you are passionate about it, someone else will be as well. Find a way to explain what you are quickly, and then don’t make excuses!

Now, of course we get sick of our work. We get sick of pitching. We get sick of the record we are on. I hate having to stay on a record for a year when I’ve written tons of other material in that time, but the job is to make THE ABSOLUTE BEST THING YOU CAN at any given moment and then represent that until something else is released. WORK IT TILL YOU HAVE DONE EVERYTHING YOU CAN WITH IT. And then we gotta be ready to play any of those songs at anytime if we are lucky enough that anyone wants to hear it! We put our best foot forward because if we are incredibly lucky, we are gonna be playing that song or album for a long, long time. As Sting said (something like), “I get paid to come up with new ways of inspiring myself to sing ‘Roxanne’ for the zillionth time.”

Once you put it out there, it’s barely yours anymore (especially with the lack of copyright control these days, but we will get there another time). Make sure you keep the art first. It’s the one, pure, sacred, joyous time where no one else can tell you what to do, what to make, where you don’t have to think about the critics, the number, metrics, or a roomful of people deciding your fate. Enjoy it when you sit down to create. Block everything else out and hold that time sacred and separate from the time you will market and hype and scratch and claw to make a living with that very work. I am always jealous of painters because you create it on the spot, you don’t have to mix it, master it, have a committee go over it—you get some immediate gratification. It sells one time, and you are onto the next thing. You don’t have to live with it for years unless you see it hanging in someone’s house. Speaking of painters and artists, one of my favorite artists (and human beings) in the world, Wade Hampton, said this on the subject…

The Keys to Being a Successful Artist

—If people tell you that you suck: MAKE MORE ART
—If you don’t sell anything: MAKE MORE ART
—If you lose money: MAKE MORE ART
—If nobody bothers to see it: MAKE MORE ART
—If someone is more talented than you: MAKE MORE ART
—If you’re too busy: MAKE MORE ART
—If you have no supplies: MAKE MORE ART
—If you’re depressed: MAKE MORE ART
—If you’re tired: MAKE MORE ART
—If it’s not original: MAKE MORE ART
—If you’re not getting any better: MAKE MORE ART
—If you hate what you’re making: MAKE MORE ART

Thank you, Wade. You are magic.

#8 Don’t get jealous, get inspired, and use that hunger and fire

If you hear another artist that blows you away, that should make you hungry to go back to work, not turn you off or make you jealous—or worse, make you start tearing them down. It’s all relative anyway. There are artists you have never heard of making a great living, and there are artists with one million spins on Spotify who can’t pay their rent. There are artists who, in my book, hung the moon, they made millions and then left the planet too early with the garbage soul and body-killing effects of drugs and alcohol.

As Huge McCleod says perfectly, “Never compare your inside to someone else’s outside.” When you’re at the cocktail party, everyone acts like everything they do is gold and their big deal is around the corner. Don’t let any of this phase you. KEEP SMILING, LEAVE EARLY, and GET BACK TO WORK. THEN KEEP WORKING. Every time the sun comes up, before the crush of the day comes on, DO THE WORK. Once you hit a goal, you aren’t gonna feel as good as you think until you start the next goal, the next road to climb. Happiness is progress. It’s not sitting on a win and going, Look at me! Look at me! We will be punished accordingly for our egos and our love of fame. We will be punished for always looking for the result and not enjoying the process. (Believe me, I know. I wasted years looking for the end result. It’s a mirage.) I read somewhere (might have been Artist’s Way) that you take care of the quantity and the muse/God/nature/whatever you consider love will take care of the quality. No one wants to help the person who does a little work and then a lot of bragging. No one wants to help the person who doesn’t show up every day. This is a job, and you gotta treat it that way. Day in and day out. If you think de-mystifying it like this will kill the creativity, then you are hiding behind a pillar of your own making and you haven’t done the real work yet. The muse never goes away. The well never runs dry. You just have to keep showing up.

So, don’t get jealous of anyone else. If you would have told my 12-year-old self I’d have to go through well over a decade of broken-down bars, sleeping in the van, and no real income, I would have still done it because a guitar saved my life, but it wouldn’t have been as exciting to dream about or talk about to others. Just remember, you can step toward this for the glamor, but when you are grinding, the fire has to be inside you 100 percent or you are gonna get washed out real fast. Worse, you are gonna start using substances that ease the pain short term but long term will kill you where you stand.

I can always tell if I’m working hard enough and in the right frame of mind by how I respond to other great art or how I respond to another artist. If someone plays me something brilliant and I go, “That’s brilliant, mate! Let me share that. Can we get in touch with them? Man, I gotta get back to work—that gave me a couple new ideas,” then it means I’m working hard, I’m rolling along, I’m in a good place. On the other hand, if I shut down and say, “I don’t feel like listening” or “that person probably doesn’t have or do X Y Z” (looking for something to hate on), then it means I am not doing the work. I’m letting ego run the show, and there is a good chance that deep down inside I know I’m not doing my best work and I’m not doing all I can to become the artist I know in my gut I’m capable of becoming.

Let other artists drive you and make you better. Learn from them. Talk to them. Work with them and write with them. Respect them because you, above everyone else, know how HARD it is to get up in the morning and put your heart on the paper or computer. Show them some respect. Let them raise your game. I love to work in isolation when I’m not on the road – But this last couple of years I have co-written with an artist named Carter Hulsey—I let him into my process and learned a ton from his. He inspires me and makes me jealous in all the best ways. The ways that make me raise my game and want to GET BACK TO WORK. The answer is almost always GET BACK TO WORK AND GET BETTER.


“Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief, all kill their inspiration to sing about the grief.” —Bono, “The Fly”

We have to face our demons, figure out who we are and what we really want, but learn not to cannibalize or dramatize our miseries. This is a tough balancing act. A lot of great work comes from pain. And frankly, I have NEVER read about an artist who made a huge lifelong career who didn’t deal with something in childhood that was a catalyst to chase this dream. There was a hole in their heart somewhere that music and art and reaching out to other people filled enough that they staked their life on a one-in-a-million change of paying the bills with art. If you haven’t had any real pain, then I’m happy for you, and you should be grateful to the gods above, because most humans wallow through a lot of garbage to get to the flowers. Remind yourself how lucky you are to even have the basic needs met to go chase a dream like this.

Don’t be so overdramatic that you thrive on drama because you think it makes your work better. I know several artists who are stable, have families, make a living, and crank out tons of good stuff. Work on yourself and don’t sacrifice all your relationships to chase the fame dragon. If you are working your tail off and doing good work, people will notice. Not necessarily overnight, but they will notice. Yes, you will have to sacrifice a ton of time (especially if you are in a touring band), but controlling your time is the key. Enjoy the ride and remember that even though we are trying to connect with others, the road can’t be your only life. And if you want to give almost all of yourself to your fans, you better treat ’em right every time—because if you got nothing else and they turn on you, then you got nothing. As a former manager Stephanie Green once told me, “If you’re an asshole your whole life and you become a little bit nice, everyone goes, Wow, that’s cool. He was really cool today! But if you are nice to everyone every second, and one day you lose it, they will burn you at the stake.” Be careful about the expectations you set for yourself, for others, and for the world for what you are gonna give them. This business is happy to take every single thing you have and leave you with nothing.

I’m not “big” artist, but I have been making a living making music for many, many years. And I have noticed some of my heroes who win Grammys and ride in Prevost busses imploding. I had to ask myself—what can I do to make sure that when I get my version of the dream (and yes, I am crazy and optimistic enough to see that as the dream), how do I make sure I’m not the most unhappy I’ve been at the top of the ride? To me, the saddest part is when the artists sell a ton of records, play Madison Square Garden after years of living on the highway, and then hit rock bottom. Drugs and booze, no real friends, no family left. They get everything in their career they ask for and find themselves even more miserable because there is nothing to chase to take their minds off their internal unhappiness.

The grass is always greener. If you are not OK with yourself in this very moment, that is only going to get magnified with money, power, fame, and excess. And the music business is one of the machines that showers its winning contestants with all this narcissistic garbage. DO THE WORK. BE KIND. TAKE CARE OF YOUR INNER CIRCLE. You will need those folks more than you can imagine when things get heavy.

If you plan on being on the road as a performer, you have to steel your resolve.  You have to get a thick skin and get ready for a lot of long drives, lonely hotels, general craziness. After three to four months on the road, time draws out like a blade (this is half of what I write songs about these days). But if it doesn’t get under your skin a little, you are losing touch. It should be difficult. Your loved ones SHOULD mind. You should miss them. And when it gets too difficult, drive all night, get a flight, DO SOMETHING, DO ANYTHING to keep some relationships outside of the ones on the road.

If your only friends are your fans, you better plan to never ever come off the road (which hardly anyone except Willie Nelson can do).

We pulled this off for years—just touring and touring till we were numb. One year we did seven months—every state in lower 48 and barely saw our loved ones. But without some balance, you lose all perspective. You lose the love for all of it. You forget how damn lucky you are to do it at all.

So call home more. Write home more. Send postcards to old friends. Call your mom or dad. Send funny photos (humor is better than any medicine in the world when things get tough). Get home when you can, and by God when you are home, be there. I am really bad about taking my work home with me. Thankfully, I got a good woman who is willing to remind me what’s what and tell me it’s OK to stop and binge watch Stranger Things or Fargo 3 and stay in sweatpants and eat cereal for 8 hours. Funny thing is, when I finally stop and do this, when I turn off the phone and get out of the rat race and chasing the prize, I ALWAYS feel better, and I always come back with more ideas, more songs, more willpower. Balance.

#10 BE YOU, be brave, and have some fun—and there is a fee for whining

BE YOU. Sounds cheesy, right? But it’s incredibly hard to do when everyone around you has an answer for you. When people who don’t actually understand the business or songwriting or the toll of the road or even the basics of music feel every right to tell you where to take your song, record, or career.

You want to “get found”? Find yourself. That may sound like fortune-cookie wisdom here, but I’m sticking by it. And dammit, it’s hard. I still feel like I’m learning every day.

But the more I do what moves me, the more I trust my gut, the easier all this gets. Don’t chase the industry or what you think is cool at some given moment. By the time you match that, it will have changed. People love authenticity, and people love others who are brave enough to lead. They can sense if you are following. That is not the job of an artist. You are supposed to go through enough hell and gain enough wisdom to find some new light and shine it on the path ahead for the rest of us.

Now this last part has taken me (and is taking me) a very, very long time to understand.

“Fooled me into thinking I had something to protect.” —Dylan

This is a journey. It’s incredibly interesting and rewarding, but it’s hard. There will be loneliness and despair on the road like you can’t believe. You will need to be brave when everything is falling apart around you and there is really no good reason to go on. You’ll be broke, people will give up on you, people you try to help will bad-mouth you no matter what you give them. If you are the one doing the hiring and firing, you will not have a week where someone doesn’t need something, and sometimes that is just someone else to blame. But when you look back over the years of creating art, of traveling, of meeting new people, and the sections of your life that are framed in a set of songs or melodies, and you have that high after a good gig, or waking up the next morning after a good gig and feeling that anything is possible—you can’t put a price on it, and all the struggle is worth it. And if you have people backing your dream and trusting you to steer the ship, be kind, be grateful, and don’t forget to laugh, don’t forget to thank them. To gain the world and lose your soul is no way to live.

DON’T WHINE about what is your job and what isn’t. At the beginning, especially, it’s ALL your job. And, yeah, it sucks. Welcome to being an entrepreneur. Welcome to asking other people to back YOUR dream. (We call these “fancy problems.”) Nothing comes for free, and no one asked you to do this. It took me a while to figure that out, and some of my early band mates dealt with more drama than they should have had to. Don’t be a martyr. If you aren’t willing to get up early and go to bed late, if you aren’t willing to say good-bye at the party to start the next day fresh, writing and dreaming and scheming, then they are all backing the wrong horse anyway. I have learned to face many of my demons, and told the rest to wait for their turn. And the biggest gift from that is hopefully not being a complete jerk to those around me—family, friends, fans, and especially this band that has to put up with me and my craziness 24/7.

Can’t remember who said this, but being on the road is a blend of complete monotony and complete transcendence. And it’s true. The highs and lows are insane. You gotta get a barometer inside yourself before you take all this on. And frankly, if you are the front man or front woman, there is a good chance you are filled with highs and lows anyway. It goes with the territory. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have been nuts enough to want 10,000 people to come out and scream along with you in between driving 2,000 miles a week.

You gotta take your art and your music deadly seriously. You gotta come to the table with a strong heart and mind. But it’s a Zen thing—if you are too serious, if you hold on too tight, if you are full of fear, it will all collapse in on itself.

Don’t be “too cool.” Give a damn. I’ll say it again. GIVE A DAMN. Stand for something (or you’ll fall for anything). Don’t be too guarded. The people you need in your camp, in your family, and on the road with you long term aren’t there to hurt you. Enjoy them, share with them, trust them, and remember Mick Fleetwood at the end of the brilliant Sound City documentary: “It’s more fun to do this with others than by yourself.”

It takes an army. Let me know how you are doing and maybe I’ll join yours, too.

Comfort Inn, Atlanta
October 2017

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  1. Pingback: » Gooding - Rock N Roll from the Plains

  2. Thank you brother, so well written, needed those reminders today. So glad i saw this post!

  3. Right on!

    If your FTF program is half as good as this information you are truely a maestro of motivation. I knew you were talented as a musician but you also have a gift for inspiration to others. Keep up the GREAT WORK!

  4. You are a remarkable young man , I say young because we first saw u perform at a bookstore in Tulsa in 2002. Now my boys follow you too ….. ! Yea, it’s about the journey not the result ….

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