For the past several years I’ve taken time in January to set goals, only to fall short as the year progresses. Still, where I’ve failed I’ve learned, and where I’ve fallen short I’ve moved forward further than had I not had a target in sight.
Then again, most of those years did not include a global pandemic.
How do you plan when everything changes?
Looking backward can offer some perspective.
Last years “list of big stupid goals” reveals ways that 2020 sharpened my focus.
There are things on last year’s list that seem almost silly in the light of all that has happened. Releasing three albums? Not in 2020 friend. Playing two festivals? How about “all festivals cancelled”.
Some things I set out to do last year were misguided. I paid for a sync licensing service without the time to invest in actually writing songs to get licensed.
There were plenty of good things that just became impossible in a pandemic. Band practice has been on hold since last March.
There were also a few things I planned for that actually happened, despite the pandemic. I got better at my instrument. I played more shows in Red Deer and Calgary. I collaborated with other artists.
Finally, 2020 brought some beautiful surprises my way that I could not have planned for. Concerts in private backyards as venues closed. New fans in distant part of the world thanks to live-streaming. A forward surge in my home recording and production skills. New songs that cut in line pushing out old plans.
If 2020 taught me anything, it is the value of holding maps loosely and opening my sails to the winds of change, chance and momentum.
Will I play live shows this year? Probably. But who knows?
Will there be festivals this year? Maybe? Touring? Slight chance?
There are so many things I cannot control, but there are many things I can.
Years ago a friend taught me the wisdom of planning based on “lead measures” over “lag measures”.
Lag measures are things we measure that are out of our control.
How many Spotify followers do I have? How may people listened to my music last month? How many people watched my last live stream? How many tickets did I sell?
I can strive and push to bring those numbers up, but ultimately, I can’t control them.
Lead measures are the things I can measure that are in my direct control.
How many hours of practice did I put in this week? How many songs did I finish this year? How many invites did I send out to my show? How many times did I tell my Patrons how much I value them?
These are things I can set out to do, and do – pretty much regardless of whatever craziness is going on around me.
My 2021 goals are things I can control.
When the world around me settles, who will I be? How will I have grown? How will I have spent my time? What will I make of it all?
What do I have to give?
These questions guide me as I think about the moving goalposts of 2021.
With all of this in mind, here are just FOUR things I’m aiming to do this year*.*
Become a Better Musician
I actually started last year list with this same goal and I did make some progress simply by playing a ton of livestream shows during lockdown. Near the end of the year, my progress jumped forward when I signed up for Yousician – a music training app.
I said last year that I want to learn piano, and I still do, but I’ve realized I actually want to work on my core instrument first. I’ve been spending about a half hour almost every day with the app (I’m a level 7 player now – no big deal ;). My wife asked me the other day if I notice I’m getting better with all of this practice of songs I’d mostly never play otherwise. I thought about it for a minute and could honestly say yes. I’m a better guitar player than I was a month ago and the next time I get to play with other people I’ll be way better than I was the last time I did that (10 months and counting).
I’ve started to hit a wall with my playing because I’m failing almost every new song they throw at me the first few times. But then I get it. This is not only teaching me guitar, but the power of doing little things over and over to make big change.
Release More Music
Again, this was a goal last year that I fell short of.
I planned to release an album of stripped-down songs last year and almost got there. Then the pandemic happened and I found more time to sit with these songs. I realized I didn’t want to make a simple acoustic album. Or these songs didn’t want that. Things started to get more complex. I called in other players. I’m likely one month away from having this thing ready to go, and another few months after that I’ll have an album release. I can’t wait to share this all with you because it’s been worth the wait. Let’s call this one a “goal pivot”?
My Vancouver recording project was halted because … travel. We’re working on possible remote options to get back at that soon.
To finish my edmonton EP with Riverdale Recorders I applied for a grant. Again. I didn’t get it. Again. So I’ll be self-funding that project this spring or summer.
Technically, I did release more music in 2020 as 2019. Four public singles vs five the previous year, and 3 exclusive tracks over on Patreon vs 2 in 2019, BUT I also put out four podcast theme songs – all commissioned original works – in 2020.
The pandemic has given me time to hone my recording and production skills, as well as optimize my recording setup, so it’s much easier for me to put out songs now. Who knows where that might take my music this year?
Establish a Streaming Schedule
I experimented with live streaming a LOT in 2019. Most things worked. Some didn’t. This year I’ll be setting a streaming schedule with some different kinds of shows to make sure I’m still playing regularly for an audience. There will be a mix of free performances, ticketed Zoom shows, Patron exclusive shows and “variety shows” where I don’t actually play, but host other artists. Watch for details here soon.
As a side-note, it’s funny to look back at last year’s goals and see that I wanted to play more live shows (gee thanks COVID) and return to Facebook Live. How could I have known what 2020 had in store?
Offer More Products
At the end of last year I took time to revamp my entire website – especially my online store. I now have the infrastructure to sell more items related to the music I make, give fans more ways to support me.
But I don’t have many products on offer.
As I get a new album ready I want to make sure I have plenty of options for bundles and complimentary products. I need new shirts, stickers and CDs definitely, but I’m thinking about what else I can offer, too.
I’m currently taking some online marketing courses to help with this and I hope it leads me closer to a sustainable career making music.
Here Is Where I Hope These Accomplishments Take Me
If I can focus this year on becoming better at making music and more consistent in putting it out into the world, I can expect some “lag measures” to follow. These things are not in my direct control, but I’ll take them as confirmation that I’m on the right track;
- More email subscribers
- More website traffice
- More Spotify followers and streams
- More Apple Music and Amazon streams
- More Patrons
- More paid performance opportunities in Alberta (especially Red Deer and Calgary, where I’m working to expand my fanbase)
And Here are Some Wishes
I call these “wishes” because I’d love for them to come true, but these are either a little more work than I can promise this year, or pretty much out of my control.
- get my first sync license for film or TV (my great intentions for this last year went nowhere)
- cowrite a song with another artist (I keep knocking on doors)
- produce a song for another artist (I’ve got some stuff in the works if we can only get in the same room again)
- play a festival (will there be a festival to play?)
- host an album release show (this all depends on COVID restrictions, but I’d love to do this in person)
- play backyard shows (these were the biggest surprise highlight of last year so I’d love to do more of them).
I can’t be sure where this will all take me and my music in 2021 – but I’m trusting I’ll wind up a better version of myself by then with some more accomplishments to be proud of.
Where are you headed this year?