Another Half Year

Maybe it’s because I spent fifteen years in the corporate world, but when the end of a calendar quarter comes around, I tend to start thinking about what I have, and haven’t, accomplished in the previous quarter. When it’s also the end of a half year or full year, I also tend to look back to the year-to-date or entire year, respectively. This being the end of the first half of 2006, it’s time for one of the half-yearly reviews.

Oh, don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the details. The quick summary is that things never quite come out the way I’d planned at the beginning of the quarter (or half year in this case), but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some form of progress. While I’m always looking for more, life is what it is, and we can generally only influence what we do, not how external forces will react, or fail to react, to our actions.

Oh, sure, there are some things that are predictable. If you spill a glass of water on your head, you get wet hair, assuming you have some hair to get wet anyway. In the world of art and business, though, things aren’t so simple. Just because you write a song doesn’t mean anyone’s going to even hear it. Even if they hear it, there’s no guarantee they’ll like it. Even if they like it, there’s no guarantee they’ll like it enough to record it (i.e. if you’re a songwriter writing songs for others to record). Even if they record it, it doesn’t mean lots of other people will hear it, no less make it a hit by requesting it over and over on the radio or buying CDs with the song on it. Or, if you’re putting the recordings out yourself, just because you’ve put it out there, there are no guarantees anyone will buy it, or even know about it in any significant numbers, for that matter. It’s not like going to a job at the local factory, where you know that, if you work eight hours, you’ll get a certain amount of money when payday rolls around. With art-based business, you never really even know if payday will ever roll around.

Forgetting about the notion of how other people may react to what you are doing, which is critical to whether you can actually make a living doing it, it can sometimes be hard to even measure what you’re putting out into the world. Of course, some songwriters will be able to quote numbers, such as, “I wrote twenty-five songs last year,” or, “I put out one 12-song album this year.” But that isn’t always meaningful. Were those “good” songs? What does “good” even mean — something that could someday pay the bills, something that has some artistic merit, something that makes one person smile, something you just did to say you did it but didn’t really pay attention to the quality of the result (i.e. even to your own standards, no less how it might be perceived by others), or …? How do you really apply objective measures to something as subjective as art?

Then there are those things that don’t seem to relate directly to any sort of output, in terms of quantification possibilities, such as improving the quality of what you are doing. For example, writing “better” songs or producing “better” recordings or learning to sing “better.” Those kinds of things may represent real progress, and may represent a significant commitment of time in the form of practice and trial and error, as well as prerequisites to eventual success, but how do you measure that sort of progress?

And what about those periods of “one step forward, two steps back” — i.e. regrouping? I’m talking about those times where you’ve been proceeding under one basic modus operandi for a long time, in full belief that it will eventually deliver results if you’re persistent enough and are producing something of quality. However, after awhile things still aren’t delivering the kind of results you want, or even need, so it’s time to reconsider the basics, perhaps changing strategy big time or maybe just augmenting your efforts with new kinds of efforts. Those are the times when a huge amount of effort gets put into new areas, where you have to crawl before you can walk. Those periods can be absolutely necessary, and integral to longer term success, but how do you measure the potentially negative progress when you’re going through such periods? Of course, you can never be sure up front whether the new directions will end up working out or not, so it’s tough to even say whether any milestones you’ve achieved as part of these sorts of efforts are really even milestones in the big picture, or will end up being busy work, in hindsight, a bit down the line.

So, yeah, it’s kind of been like that. There’ve been a few minor successes, some signs at least some people are liking what I’m doing, no real financial breakthroughs, but laying the groundwork to open up some new avenues that might, or might not, help on that front somewhere down the line, some “better” recordings, and just a fair bit of regrouping with myself and learning to crawl, then walk, in a few new areas. It’s been a time of spending what have felt like inordinate amounts of time on research, planning, and other activities that aren’t directly related to my artistic and commercial output, but which I’ve nevertheless viewed as necessary to try and break the stalemate that has seemed to develop in older ways of doing things. It’s an exciting, but anxious, time — one of those periods where sleep just doesn’t fit into the too short hours of the day, week, and month, where there is still so much to be done to even be able to get back to anything resembling any form of normalcy. Then again, normalcy is highly overrated, and is probably no friend of the songwriter or artist.

How was your half year? See you in the second half.