By Cari Cole
An artist is only as good as their work. And their work is only as good as their commitment. But with so many distractions these days, it’s a challenge to stay focused. Yet, being focused and committed is the only way to birth something truly great.
I’ve been a musician for over 4 decades (actually 5, OMG!) A classical guitarist first, a folk singer second, became a songwriter, got an electric guitar and joined a rock band, then studied jazz guitar & composition and finally dug into the piano after my then husband bought me my first one. Just like every musician and music artist out there, each of us have our own evolution into music. Then once the craft is flowing, we become artists. Artists of music, song, voice, recording, performing — and the craft deepens as we stretch our boundaries to reach our full potential and — to become the artists of our life.
For my birthday, my sister brought me to a workshop at The Garrison Institute with the critically acclaimed musician, singer, movement innovator, Meredith Monk. Meredith is one of those artists. She has compromised nothing to fully seek her vision. Her music is unique, a bit odd and strange to listen to, but she is unyielding and powerfully committed to delivering her artistic vision, regardless of how it is received or how well she is paid for it. For her, it is all about the art as a tool for full un-compromised expression. She is a trailblazer and a fearless leader. What I learned from her is that if one is to be a true musician, one must seek to find the gold within them, and then be uncompromising in the pursuit of delivering that.
Meredith’s work resonates so powerfully with me.
This kind of commitment has always been at the forefront of my music and art (once I was brave enough to stand in my truth —- and it took a while to get there — actually until I was 40.) The writing of my award winning record, inspired by the NY Times bestselling book, The Four Agreements, came about when I went on an “artist’s sabbatical” in search of my music – my true music. My then husband/record producer said to me at the time amidst my busy teaching career after listening to me play for hours night after night following long teaching days, “You are not happy. You are too talented not to do your music.” I laughed and tossed my head back exclaiming “oh gosh, I’m so happy with my voice studio, I’m not going back into the music business now (at 38)”… Well that comment of his planted a seed in me that went to bloom and I ended up closing my studio in the height of making a quarter of a million a year, in search of myself. I knew that if I didn’t, I would never be fulfilled and truly satisfy my artistic desires. I spent the summer reading, living, thinking, as I do when I am seeking something. I started seeking spiritually when I was a youngster – to heal early childhood wounds and overcome my own insecurities. I read everything I could get my hands on. Ram Dass’ Be Here Now, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Krishnamurti’s Think On These Things, Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled, A Separate Reality by Carlos Castaneda, James Redfield’s Celestine Prophecy, Many Lives, Many Masters and on and on. Spiritual studies were integral to my daily practice.
And then I came across this beautiful little book that brought those two worlds of music and spirituality together — The Four Agreements. As I read, something inside my heart cracked open like a butterfly bursting through their cocoon, and I flew out to meet the author, Don Miguel Ruiz, who was teaching a workshop in San Diego. At that workshop I heard it said that “someone needs to write music to Don Miguel’s prayer, The Circle of Fire.” I had a quick flash, a kind of premonition that I would write that music, and then I went home to do just that. It’s not easy putting music to an existing lyric/prayer with no rhyme scheme but I stubbornly moved through every turn of every phrase until I had it sitting just right and voila, the song was born. As I went to workshops, the prayer started spreading amongst the community and as I continued working with Miguel for 8 years in a spiritual apprenticeship, more songs poured out one right after the other. I was awakening to a part of myself I hadn’t met before. It was a spiritual awakening. On the tragic day of 9/11, one of Miguel’s teachers called the publisher of The Four Agreements and asked her to listen to my music, that “it had to be heard.” As a result of that call, the publisher signed me to a one record deal and we released “The Circle of Fire” record. We have gone on to sell over 40,000 records, win awards and transform the hearts and minds of The Four Agreement readers and people on the spiritual path.
The reason I am telling you this story, is because I want you to understand that the record you might be looking for is the record that is in your heart. The record that is dying to be born in you that you may not yet be aware of. And that there is an evolution to it – a process of discovery that will unveil itself to you if you are seeking it. I call that process Artist Development and/or A & R – the art & science of leading an artist to their epiphany, to their greatest work. That seed that my then husband planted in me on that day is where it all started.
Here are the Top 6 Ways Artist Development Transformed My Music Career and How to Transform Next Project:
1. Fall In Love With How You Are Different
There is no one else on the planet like you. As I once heard master Clive Davis say, “When an artist becomes a star they are more comfortable in their own skin then they ever thought they could be.” You were born an original, don’t die a copy. Be YOU. Fall in love with how YOU are different.
2. Seek Your Muse
Every artist needs a muse. Take time to find it. Read the Artist’s Way, do your Morning Pages and Artist Dates. Inquire into your dreams before you fall asleep. Ask and you will find the answers you need. But be patient… art takes time to unfold at those deeper levels. Remember, you are trying to birth something from inside of you. And don’t forget, as humans, the birth process takes 9 months or so. It doesn’t have to take that long or it could take longer. It’s not about the amount of time it takes to find yourself, it’s about the quality of the find ;).
3. Stay Focused On Birthing Your Project
The amount of time and focus to birth my project was this: 3 months to find my muse, 10 months to write and record demos, 6 months to get a deal, 6 months to record the record. During those 10 months of writing and demoing I spent 8-10 hours per day 5-6 days a week in my home studio. I was focused and fastened on every phrase, every word, every turn of the melody until it was just right. I let nothing distract me. It’s really important that when you are in the writing process that you tune everything else out so you can immerse yourself completely into your art. Your art needs your total attention. It’s worth it. If you don’t have this kind of time, then make adjust to fit your life. But just make sure you make an uninterrupted time at a minimum of 3-4 hours a day and more when you can.
4. Don’t Settle
To make something great you have to push your own boundaries. Develop a fearless commitment to your art. And work with someone like Mama here 😉 who has experience with this process and will deepen your work and help you get there in half the time with twice or thrice the impact. Never put out anything less than your best ~ no matter how long it takes.
5. Make Demos That Speak
Make demos that actually represent the song fully, but keep them simple. Just piano or guitar and voice. That’s it. If a song doesn’t fly without production, you don’t have it. And be sure that everything is in it’s right place. That means no off pitch singing, no musical mistakes, the exact right tempo and feel, and use dynamics that build the song at just the right moments. I got signed off of my demos alone. Get really, really good at home demos (get a great mic and preamp – I use a vintage AKG 414 and an Avalon 737) – and your music career will fly.
6. Your Inner Circle
Every artist needs feedback from people whose musical opinions they admire. I call this your “Inner Circle.” Your Inner Circle is comprised of music professionals like mentors, publishers, PRO reps, producers that you know personally and trust as well as music aficionado friends and fans. Everyone on this list should have nothing short of great musical taste. Once you have your shiny sparkly demos, bring them to your Inner Circle and tell them you want the honest truth and nothing but the truth because it will help you grow. And then listen to them.
And — Don’t. Ever. Settle. Ever. Never rush to release. Work on your stuff until it reflects your best. You’ll grow your career in leaps and bounds. Promise.
That’s why I do the work I do. Because I am committed to raising the bar on recorded music – not lowering it. I am committed to helping all artists everywhere whether they are on their 1st record or their 5th, deliver their finest work. All artists need a push and someone to believe in them.
What better way to ring in the New Year but with a new found resolution to your art.
I’m cheering you on!