Friday, September 07, 2018

Here are the top 5 things I learned from my 12 month music challenge:

On August 1, 2017 I gave myself a music challenge that would run for a solid year.  My motivation? The Dream Walk Concert was getting staleMy goal was to write and release 1-4 new original songs every month because I was always singing my same 10-15 songs over and over again.  I imagined the sweet succulence of having fresh, original songs to choose for my set list! Ah the joy that would be!  I could potentially have 12-48 new songs to add to the deliciousness of this passion I call the Dream Walk Concert.
The challenge ended seven days ago. And how did I do?  I am delighted to share with you the titles of 22 NEW ORIGINAL SONGS. I take great pride in this list!
  1. Breathe 
  2. Vow
  3. The Call
  4. Believe in the Dream
  5. Let Me
  6. Here’s to Love
  7. For Leonard
  8. Dirt in My Skirt
  9. More Human
  10. Dear Love
  11. We Are Here
  12. Joni
  13. My Emily
  14. Today
  15. Rubybleu Puja
  16. The Kissable Deep
  17. Dear Everyone
  18. Empty Hole in My Heart
  19. Red Boots
  20. You Sat on the Edge of My Bed
  21. Romeo Sun
  22. A Cat Named Georgia
I am celebrating!!  And what did I learn?  Aside from songwriting skills alone, I thought you might be interested to hear what I gleaned as a fellow human being, highly invested in developing my character.  Because challenges do that! Here are the top 5 things I learned from my 12 month music challenge:
1. Keeping my word to myself was sovereign above all.  I started out really caring about things like the poor sound quality of my recordings, and how certain lyrics weren't quite solid enough to be released yet.  But those things became secondary rather quickly.  No one was holding me accountable to keep my word in taking this challenge seriously, except me. I couldn't afford to get sidetracked by perfectionism. The challenge wasn't to write songs to keep hidden away and work on until they were perfect.  The challenge was to release new songs every month, which meant that the public eye was an integral part of my raw songwriting processes.  This was indeed an online songwriting workshop for me. Very often I would close my eyes and squint before pressing "post", knowing full well a song needed more work before the deadline.  But often after I posted it, I beamed with pride.  I had kept my word again for another month, and I absolutely loved how that felt more than anything. 
2. Any judgments of good or bad completely lost power. Let's say the song was good. My next thought would be, "Sweet!  I really like this one. Ok, I've got another one to write now." And let's say it was bad. My next thought would still be very similar. "Well, it's not my favorite. But I've got another one to write now." I just stopped caring if the song was good or bad.  The criticism didn't reflect on me whatsoever.  There will always be more to do, more to learn, more to create.  I started caring more about what I was learning in mastering my craft rather than judging a snapshot of a song or two.  I also kept this quote close by Pat Pattison: “Write fearlessly.  90% of everything you write is not your best 10%, which I find incredibly comforting.  My job as a songwriter is to fill my 90%.  Do not be afraid to write crap.  Because crap is the best fertilizer.  The more crap you write, the more likely it is that you’ll grow something really interesting.  So get over yourself!”  -Pat Pattison, songwriting professor at Berklee School of Music, songwriter in Nashville for over 25 years, author of “Writing Better Lyrics”, mentor of Gillian Welch, John Mayer, and other grammy award winners.  The consistency and the joy I was experiencing within my creative process was where the true "goodness" lies anyway. That felt so powerful to embrace. 
3. I became healthier as a song sharerAs a musician, I think I used to need or at least desire feedback from my listener.  I'm going to tell you the truth, even if it doesn't sound cool to say. Um...ok so this challenge made me stop caring if anyone ever listens to my songs. But not in a rude way.  It actually feels healthy.  When I first started to release the songs, I definitely cared.  I would specifically look to see if anyone had liked it or commented on it.  If they did, I would feel happy.  If no one did, I would feel sad.  But as I became more courageous and vulnerable in my writing, I was astonished to really grasp that my whole soul could be out for the world to listen to, and then completely ignored. There I was, completely naked in front of everyone month after month and people may or may not even notice. And why is that? Because either people are busy being afraid of being vulnerable, or they are out being vulnerable and are too busy watching to see who is noticing that they are naked.  Ha!  I felt liberated. I had nothing to lose.  I felt amused by this simple realization, and quite refreshed.  Of course there are levels of learning expressive art vulnerability. For this challenge, I felt even more excited about giving my all.
4. This is the moment of creative fulfillment, not later. As creators, we naturally jump ahead and imagine the potential of a masterpiece we just created.  We visualize our song played on big stages, or our painting hanging in the biggest art galleries.  I’m all about that.  But not to the detriment of missing what is.  For this year long challenge, this is what was: Me, a guitar, and garage band on a laptop. It may all look different in the future, but not better per se.  One of my favorite Joni Mitchell songs, "For the Roses" comes to my mind often as a reminder to love exactly where I am in my music development right now:
Remember the days when you used to sit
And make up your tunes for love
And pour your simple sorrow
To the sound hole and your knee
And now you're seen
On giant screens
And at parties for the press
And for people who have slices of you
From the company
Bigger isn't better.  No, I didn't love everything about this year.  At times I was embarrassed at how the caliber of who I truly am did not match the product I was releasing publicly.  All so humbling. All so open.  All so teachable. This moment has been glorious, though, and I'm proud to say I did not miss it.  
5. I have even more reasons to praise my patrons. My patrons trust me.  Songwriting takes time, inner silence, and depth.  I wasn’t colorful balloons, dance parties, and firecrackers.  I was a breeze through a window, a warm blanket, and a late night lamp. I hardly ever performed for the entire year.  I was writing.  And even if they wondered where I had gone at times, still my patrons stuck with me. They trusted my inner being. Whatever I’m doing, I got their message that they just want me to keep doing it.  You can only imagine how touched I am by this high level of love and trust. It goes without saying that none of these new songs, the gift economy experiment in general, or offering the Dream Walk Concert for free to audiences around the world could not exist without my beloved patrons. THANK YOU, beautiful souls. 
My 12 month music challenge is now complete.  But songwriting itself has just begun.  Before I continue, however, I am taking an exciting leap into the next chapter of my musical endeavors.  I am about to announce a way I have chosen to thank my patrons for believing in me and for making it possible to become my full contribution in serving humanity.  Look out for that announcement within the next week or so on Facebook or Instagram!  With love to all, Emily Photo: Mark Jeffery

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