Run the race you want to run
Happy New Year! Jamie’s list is back from holiday break and ready for 2024; I’m rested, focused, and excited about what’s to come. I hope the same is true for you. 🖤
Today’s a good day for thinking broadly about where we’re at and where we want to be. For taking inventory.
I know that, for me personally, it can be easy to get caught up in digressions. To let exceptions become rules. To lose focus.
And, in my experience, this can happen gradually. I’ll try something, and then I’ll keep developing it, and then I will realize many months or sometimes years later that it has become part of my routine — when I might not have intended that to happen.
It’s the byproduct of a curious mind, and I understand it — and also I understand that it doesn’t always serve me well. My attention can become divided in a way that can undermine my progress. And this can often be simply because I haven’t taken the time to center back on my goals and reexamine the current state of my creative life with those goals as the framework.
I was talking with a young mentee the other day, and he used the best phrase, which has been reverberating through my mind since: “Run the race you want to run.” How profound, right? This guy is like 23. When I was 23 I was thinking about how to get better pot; he’s thinking in an intentional way about what his creative goals are and how best to focus on them. Some of the kids are for sure going to be all right.
“Run the race you want to run.” What I take from this is the idea that everything that I occupy myself with over the course of a day takes some amount of my time. And so, if I have goals that I want to achieve, or paths that I want to be advancing down, it would serve me well to take stock of how I’m spending the finite amount of time that I have.
Shannon and I had a moment this autumn where we did this really well, I think. We had a weekly podcast that we’d been doing for five years. We liked doing it, people liked listening to it, and we had built up a cool little community around it.
We did our last episode in early June, and we took the summer off, as we’d been doing for the past few years. But when summer was over and it was time to resume the podcast, we had to acknowledge a little internal voice that had been trying to get our attention for what we realized was probably at least a year, which was trying to tell us this: as much as we loved the podcast, it was taking time away from the more important work that we wanted to be focusing on.
So we let our people know that the podcast was over, and we moved forward in a more focused and intentional way. It was really as simple as that — but the psychic inertia that we’d built up around the podcast was real! It took a conscious effort to zoom out, realize that it wasn’t serving us well, and move in a different direction.
When I was first starting out mixing records, I took anything I could get my hands on, including stuff that I wasn’t naturally suited to mixing: singer-songwriter stuff, modern pop stuff, even a little country-leaning Americana stuff. We were dirt poor, so there was a financial incentive to take whatever I could, and also I thought at the time that maybe working generally across genres would help me become more well-rounded.
But that’s not what happened; I just made everything sound way more alternative than was appropriate. Because that’s what’s at the core of my soul: alternative and independent music. So that’s how I make things sound, and I can’t really not do that, because that’s how things sound when they’re sounding cool to me, and of course when you’re mixing you work until things are sounding cool to you. It’s like the definition of the job.
It’s that “core of my soul” thing that was my big lesson from that time. In taking on all those different kinds of genres, I wasn’t honoring who I was. I wasn’t running the race I wanted to run.
And I set myself back some, I think! In terms of time wasted. Not all experience is good experience. I didn’t get any word-of-mouth referrals from that work, because I didn’t do it particularly well. It was cool to me, but it wasn’t cool to the artists, because I made their music sound inappropriate for the genre. Working on material that I wasn’t a good fit for didn’t serve anyone involved — it didn’t help the artists and it didn’t help me.
I suppose it helped inasmuch as it pushed me toward the realization that I need to focus on my native areas of musical preference. But that’s a lengthy way to learn that lesson. It’s why I’m writing this to you — it’s in hopes that I can help shorten that process for someone who might be on a similar path.
If your experience is anything like mine, you will put your creative life on a smoother and more direct track to harmony and realization if you take the time to get really honest with yourself about what it is that you want to be working on. And then just focus on that as much as possible. It will get you down the path to where you hope to be further and faster.
(By the way, I discovered much later that there is a way that I can serve pop and singer-songwriter and Americana music very well, which is in mastering. Weirdly, I very much do enjoy mastering in those genres, and I’m good at it. Who knew!)
No generalists in art — jamie