I’m posting some early drafts of chapters from Audience Supported just for supporters of spinme.com…
David Berman has worked with everyone from IBM to the United Nations. He specializes in designing things (like forms, posters, and websites) that serve practical purposes while helping people feel good. In his frequent talks and lectures, Berman advises audiences to start spending three minutes at the start of every day to visualize what would happen “if everything went splendidly.”
Berman tells his listeners not to worry about the mechanics behind reaching the “best possible outcome.” In one YouTube, he uses the example of a worker nervous about a performance review meeting with the boss. In the best possible world, the boss calls out sick, cancels the meeting, issues a big raise, and instructs a secretary to leave chocolate on the desk. The worker, more nervous about the meeting than his performance, makes out like a bandit.
Creative thinkers find it easy to spiral into negativity. If you wake up in the morning, already worried about a failing car or a past-due bill, your day will probably go pretty badly. Steven Gilbert’s study found that we actually bounce back from daily setbacks much more than we give ourselves credit for. In truth, it’s the worry and the anxiety over things that haven’t yet happened that derails us.
Instead, building a clear vision of what lies before us can eliminate that fear. At the same time, a crisp slice of your future can offset the uncertainty you’re facing as an artist. If you’re worried that you won’t know what to do with your time when you give up your day job, the following exercise can help you feel better about how you’re going to spend your time.
In Grow Your Band’s Audience, I challenged you to come up with a script for your “perfect gig.” I wanted you to get a very clear picture in your mind of the kind of stage you want to stand upon, and the kind of audience you want to see when you perform. Now, I’ll challenge you to compose your perfect day.
“It’s such a perfect day. I want to spend it with you.”
At the end of each chapter in this book, I’ll give you some homework. Precisely, ten action steps that you can use right now to pull your artistic career and your professional relationships into alignment. You’ll find this exercise on this chapter’s list, and you’ll refer to it again as you move through this book.
All I want you to do is spend three minutes thinking about the agenda of your perfect day. Plan it out the way you would if you were visiting a foreign city on vacation. What time will you wake up? Where will you wake up? What will you do? Who will you do those things with?
I love this exercise, because it evolves with you over time. And everyone’s perfect day is different, though I often see similarities. For instance, designer Richard Christiansen of Chandelier Creative described his perfect day in New York city for the folks at Wallpaper Magazine. I’ve got a copy of the video on my website:
Christiansen’s perfect day involves “zig-zagging through the streets of Manhattan” to get inspired about design. He starts his day with breakfast at a French cafe, where he can get a “full stomach” for all the walking he’s about to do. He also admits he’s going to need a great outfit for the day, so he stops at his favorite SoHo boutique to get an outfit. After a quick trip to a bookstore, he lands at another cafe, full of creative people, where he can sit down, open his laptop, and make some inspiring work. Christiansen ends his day with more inspiration: visiting galleries that celebrate young artists and inviting a colleague to dinner for conversation over “the best hamburger you’ll ever have.”
Your perfect day as a musician could take on similar tones, especially if you plan to spend some time each year on the road. Instead of envisioning a grueling roadside motel as your pit stop between gigs, picture what your life’s like when you’re enjoying the support of an audience that wants to see you thrive.
For instance, you could find yourself waking up in a cozy bed, under the roof of a bed & breakfast owned by one of your fans. After enjoying a delicious and healthy breakfast, your spouse takes your child off to the nearby zoo, while you head down to a nearby cafe for an interview with a local journalist. Lunchtime finds you meeting up at a museum with three of your biggest patrons. They’ve all paid a premium to take a gallery tour with you, and you’re surprised by how knowledgeable they are about the art you both love. Mid-afternoon brings sound check time, and you’re at the venue to knock through a set with your band. You’ve even been noodling around with a fun cover song that calls up members of your opening act. After that, it’s a private meal with your family, so you can spend time sharing the day’s adventures. Your perfect gig happens at the end of the night, and it’s all you can do to wrestle yourself away from the merch table to hop back on the tour bus.
Getting specific about your perfect day separates it from plain old daydreaming. That’s what we do when we want to just escape our lives or avoid a boring task. Getting clear now about the elements of your perfect day can also wake up the planning part of your brain that seeks to reach those goals. If you’re passionate about art, you don’t have to wait until you’re famous to start spending the afternoon at an art gallery. If you know you’ll need the support of the press, now’s a great time to take writers out for coffee, so you can understand how to support their work in the future.
Most of all, your perfect day requires no permission to evolve over time. You might even have different versions of your perfect day depending on the time of year or the artistic mode you’re in from season to season. A perfect day during the recording of your album might look different from the perfect day you crave on the road.
What’s consistent about these perfect days? People.
When I’ve facilitated versions of this exercise, I never hear anybody tell me about the half hour they spend at the bank, counting their money like Scrooge MacDuck. I never hear anybody tell me about checking their SoundScan numbers at the crack of dawn. And while I sometimes hear outlandish tales about getting bottle service at a super-exclusive nightclub, those stories still involve connecting with other people.
You didn’t get into this line of work to become a hermit. Even Bon Iver has to be around people to make this work. Artists who rely on their audiences for support build opportunities to lovingly receive that support and fellowship every day. For Francis Dunnery, that involves leading small group yoga exercises in the cities where he’s performing. He’s going to do yoga anyway before every performance, so why not include fans? For Chris Isaak, this means a meet-and-greet at the public television station that has scheduled his latest live concert special. It’s much less exhausting than doing a second live set at a record store.
Your ambitions, your creative process, your health, your geography, and your family will all shape your perfect day. Let your audience become a part of that day, and you can start to understand how their support can move from solely financial to a more emotional, fulfilling source of energy.