I spend a lot of time focusing on what I love to do… To a fault, if you ask certain friends or family members. (They don’t complain when I send them new pictures and music, though!)
I focus on things like playing the guitar into a looper pedal with absolutely no idea what to play; letting it happen on its own and recording everything for the next potential In The Branches album, for example. Driving my car through Montana in the summer time, stopping every few miles to take another epic photograph of momma nature. Reviewing and re-editing photos from my years of adventures. That’s what I’m all about, in case you haven’t noticed.
I’m fighting tooth and nail to continue recording sound and light, in a free and nomadic way, and making sure to be able to continue to do so. Against all odds. This lifestyle exists outside the boundaries, expectations, and schedules of the 9-to-5 “Western Civilization McMatrix” that still haunts my dreams. It’s been a wild struggle that keeps reaching new milestones in all the right ways… Though each new test of my integrity seems tougher than the last. Two years into my extreme independence, I’m still here. Alive and well, all things considered. Knock on wood.
All of the success I’m putting together into this “Life 2.0″is the result of removing my old options and leaving my comfort zone… Time and time again. I’ve reset my habits and retrained my mind to stay focused amidst the chaos and doubt of the world around me. As much as possible, at least.
Surviving on Creative Inspiration
Your community may be your success
Travel. A lot. Your network of friends and your view of the world may stagnate if you don’t break the patterns that got you where you are right now. The point is to grow, right? Personal evolution doesn’t stop, and traveling seems to force us to grow.
Rally your friends and family to collaborate in intelligent, randomized, and exciting creative experiments with potential income, using the ingredients and resources you have at hand and absolutely nothing more. If you don’t have it, work without it until you’ve earned your way to that next step. Build your business or project in realistic steps. Dreaming “too big” often results in pipe dreams if Step 1 is too far out of reach.
Keep an analysis of your progress through the experiments (for example, building a website that does exactly what you’d want it to). From there, you’re making adjustments and repeating the process.
Recruiting help can exponentially speeds things up, with a trade-off of multiplying the cost or overhead of the project. If the project has any running start, such as a small amount of revenue streaming in from many sources at rates proportional to the work being put into it, then it has a great shot at going somewhere. If it’s not there yet, get as far as you can on your own before getting others involved. My version of this is selling stock photos and digital music.
Your Identity is Your “Brand”
Modern society is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat with real life sprinkled on top. You can hide from this reality, or you can embrace it. I try to embrace it, especially with Instagram. It’s fun when you spend some time to make it work for you.
If you’re hoping to become an independent filmmaker, but your online profiles say “Shift Manager at Starbucks”, you’re off to a shit start. Any job you’re doing to fill the gaps and pay the bills is NOT your identity, much to the dismay of many bosses out there. Keep that clear to yourself and others by ruthlessly identifying yourself as who and what you want to be. If it feels weird or fake, then you have work to do. Immediately.
Cut out every possible middle-man (and middle-woman, to be fair) who stands between you and your customers’ money — unless you can work out a symbiotic relationship. Bypassing these financial in-betweeners requires creative research and a genuine quest for knowledge, feeding into your specialties and technical skills. I think the new game of success for myself is one of creative and somewhat extreme “minimalism” which allows me maximum mobility and minimal overhead, while I create valuable content like photographs, videos, and niche music.
Analyze Your Work and Progress
If you can see that X amount of hours (even a rough estimate) has created X amount of dollars, then keep track of these numbers over time — even loosely — then you know what to spend much of your time on. The tricky part is that most pursuits must consume you, completely, to go anywhere fast. If you’re half-assing it, you’re joking. Everyone will know it. Don’t do that. We already have that guy.
Learn What Sells — and Interests You
Create content with heart and soul, but also understand the industry standards that surround your passion. Music, videos, photos, art. Make it look and/or sound really f***ing good by understanding technical specifications and norms. I work on digital things because I’m a bit of a tech nerd and am familiar with the rules of the game.
Quick Points to Sum it Up
Create things that are impressive by taking your time and following the excitement through to the end.
Work on multiple projects if you find yourself getting stuck on one. I enjoy working on at least three projects at a time.
Set limits on your own perfectionism. Many agree that 98% completion is about as good as it gets from the artist’s own perspective. To reach 99 or 100% means things have either gotten downright robotic, or the thing will take absolutely forever to finish.
Describe it, spell it out, talk it up without lying.
Create priced and free content. Use one to promote the other and maximize your number of connections with both paying customers, potentially-paying customers, and people who share your work (that’s as good as money, because it’s real-world marketing when someone genuinely wants to share and/or compliment something you made).
Create limited-time promotions that encourage people to “act fast” to get something that seems (or actually is) suddenly limited or scarce.
Cross every social media platform possible. Abuse the simplicity of the “Share” buttons that are everywhere. This is why you’d sure as hell better be proud of what you’re peddling. Don’t annoy anyone with half-baked work.
Look closely at how you spend your time, at every possible minute of the day. Use it wisely.
There you have it. I hope this rambling helps somebody out there.
Shane Cotee of In The Branches and Steven Taylor of Ghostwire have a history of working together on electronic music. Steven mastered Shane’s second release from The Adaptive, 2015’s “Evolve”, starting a lasting friendship built on modern psychedelic music.
Among many upcoming collaborations, “Songs From The Abyss” was a vision that started with live guitar loops & improvisations on a 7-string Ibanez guitar. Shane sent about 30 minutes of raw recordings to Steven, then Steven sent back several new layers to mix into the tracks. This continued for the first half of the album, made of three songs that average over 10 minutes each. The album artwork shows how the songs have been split into “Part I – An Invitation” (In The Branches featuring Steven Taylor) and “Part II – In Isolation” (In The Branches).
This is potent music that digs into the darker corners of the psyche, but not without optimism. It’s a half-conscious, half-subconscious trip across time and space, blending ancient and future; organic and synthetic; experimental and traditional.
I drive from Boise to Seattle, with everything I can fit into my car, to visit my friend David before we perform at Portland State University (and an afterparty).
Obligatory THEADAPTIVE.NET side note: Stay tuned for official recordings from both of these shows. They were a blast.
Fast forward. David (the percussionist) and I return to his apartment in Seattle to practice and record new music while I’m in town. The next morning was the usual rainy winter day in Seattle. David headed out to go somewhere, and I get ready to record some guitar ideas. A Rode NTK mic is in my car, and it’s just been repaired from Rode. Freshly fixed up and ready to go. I’m stoked.
As I begin to prepare to go out in the rain and to get the mic out of my car, David comes back. Cursing. “Fucking fuckers!” or something similar. Someone had broken his window and taken whatever was inside. My immediate response was concern, followed by some sense of relief. I assumed my car alarm would have most certainly gone off if my car had been hit. Plus, who hits two cars in one night?
After all that commotion, I forgot that I was going to record guitar. David got all wrapped up in insurance claims and I was just “glad it wasn’t me.” Oh, man.
Later on, David left and I remembered what I was intending to do — record with my freshly repaired mic. I head down to my car in the garage, and glass is everywhere. No alarm triggered. A big landscaping rock had been used to break my passenger-side window and unload the gear. While David had lost several important things, I had lost much more. Stuff that was mine and wasn’t mine. Recording gear. Most of my clothes. Lights and lasers. A laptop, projector, PS4 — it goes on. I keep my composure, waiting to see how much insurance will help before choosing which emotion is the right one to be feeling. Sadness, grief, worry, dread, confusion, relief?
On the phone with Allstate. Good news — my deductible is $0 and it appears that the damage won’t cost me anything but time and emotional exhaustion. “Your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance will likely cover the items that were stolen.” My heart sank. I’ve been on the road since 2015. Touring and traveling and visiting everyone. Why would I have renter’s insurance? Oh. Now I know why.
Note: I now have Music PRO Insurance on the gear that was spared. I’m not making commission by recommending them — just stating the facts!
Without venting on the insurance agent, I tried my best to accept what she told me and continue forward with whatever is the solution to my new problem of losing all this critical equipment and belongings. I’m a musician and photographer on the path to learning how to survive with the deepest possible ethical, artistic, and spiritual integrity. I see money as a necessary evil and a useful way to barter between people. Sure, whatever. This felt like some next-level rite of passage shit.
Okay, fine. So that’s how it’s gonna be. I know this blog post is titled “What I Learned…” and I’ve just been describing the gory details. The truly good news was that they didn’t take everything. They didn’t take what I had in the room with me that night, which, by habit, was all of my absolutely critical stuff for making music, photos, and websites, plus basic survival stuff for about a week worth of traveling. I couldn’t help but admit that it could be worse.
I still have what I need to create music for all of my projects. I still have a laptop. I still have two guitars, effects pedals, and quite a bit of important stuff. I still have abundance, now shining bright in the light of new-found minimalism. Hell, even my car was lighter. Better gas mileage and more room inside the car.
The loss of so much stuff came with a silver lining of this message:
The less you have, the faster you can move.
Another idea came to mind that I thought of many times before:
The things you don’t give away may be taken away. Live accordingly.
For a self-employed artist and travel addict like me, that’s a great source of gratitude in this otherwise ugly situation. I’m lighter, I’m faster, I have less “fancy” gear and can focus on getting to know all of my most critical gear better. I can learn more about what’s possible with what I have, now that there’s less distraction around it. It’s got me thinking, why didn’t I do this before? Because I was attached. For good reason, I know. But when we are forced to detach, it makes room for something new. I already feel more efficient. I can pack up, move everything, and be set up recording again within 30 minutes of arriving somewhere. Still able to produce everything from sleepy drones to blasting death metal, mixed and mastered the way I like it, with instruments and equipment I love. I can still edit photos all day and build my library of 40,000 photos for selling as stock photos (I’ll be talking about this a lot as it becomes a primary source of income).
Yep, it sucks to get robbed. Lucky for me, the forced minimalism has a liberating after-effect. My photos will get more interesting. My travels will suddenly be further and further until I’m in Iceland, Europe, Australia, or wherever. I’ve known it was my destiny, and now it’s closer than ever. Stay tuned.