This morning I typed up my Music Manifesto. I found it to be a powerful experience. Before sitting down and writing this thesis, I had to do a little background work. Here is some contextual history…
Several months ago a friend of mine loaned me a booked titled “Designing Your Life”. The book tackles major life-decisions, particularly career decisions, from the perspective of a product designer. I absolutely loved the book, and I felt the wheels in my head begin to loosen from their rusty axels. The book gave me the tools to ask important questions, and to begin making purposeful decisions to move forward towards goals and desires. Their design plan does this with a low-pressure approach, what they call “prototyping”. This simply means that you expect first efforts to fail, and then you take those failures as opportunities to forge ahead with an even more focused direction. Every error creates a clearer path ahead. I applied these exercises (and still am applying them) to all areas of my life, but felt a deep need to re-orient my music career specifically.
Why? Because 2018 was defined by a lot of work with a low-gratifying payout. I don’t mean the financial payout. I proved something very important to myself in 2018. I proved that I could put in the hours and get the work that I needed to pay the bills. Music became a sales-numbers game. How many venue cold-calls does it take to get a booking? How many bookings does it take to make budget? I simply sat down and “clocked-in” to do the work needed to make budget. I succeeded. But at years-end, I found that I had played more gigs than ever before, but had gained almost no headway in advancing my audience, or creating an identity as a performer. I was becoming a patio shark, breaking into any restaurant patio that would take me so I could make a few bucks and play some songs. While I didn’t build much audience in 2018, I learned a lot. I learned how to perform, I polished up my voice and my sound, and I gained confidence with my stage presence. These were all very beneficial payouts. But where do I go from here?
Before writing my Manifesto, I sat down and prayerfully ( I use this term anytime I’m humbly considering something in my mind with a spiritual “I’m not in charge” perspective) considered some questions worth asking myself. Some of the questions were logistical:
- How do I like to dress and appear in public?
- What size venues are most enjoyable to me?
- What vocal volume feels most natural when I engage my audience?
Other questions were sonic and musical:
- What are my favorite instruments to hear?
- What types/genres of music do I find most inspirational?
- What types of lyrics do I find most engaging?
The grandaddy climactic question was this one:
- If I could remove all fear and obligation from my music career, what would it look like to simply perform without their influence?
Answering that question points me towards the true freedom that I crave to create and perform without any parameters other than the ones natural to my personality.
I found my answers extremely revealing. I shared them with my wife, and we had some interesting dialogue about her observations of my career as well.
Then came the Manifesto. I sat down and compiled those thoughts into a two-page written “Declaration of Musical Independence” that I could review, and use it to re-orient myself in the direction that I most desire. It is not so long that I will find it too cumbersome to reference, but it is detailed enough to give me precise waypoints and landmarks along my journey.
You might be expecting that this Manifesto will now be provided to you. But alas, it will not. Since it is designed to give perspective to my personality, my desires, and my perspectives, I don’t think most people would find it relate-able at all. And I don’t wish to cheapen it by throwing out to the masses the window to my musical soul. But trust me when I say it will be revealed to you at future Brent Ryan performances in aspects of the show. Big changes? No, not really. And I assume the changes will seem so natural and organic, since they come from the best moments of my music career that already exist, that the effects will be subtle. But I share the experience with you because I would recommend this process to anybody who wishes to solidify the path they are pursuing along their journey.
It would be easy to just assume that my career should follow the path template that is provided by the apparent successful musicians in my industry. But I think that the blind following of another person’s path is what leads some of us to achieve all of the markers of success, only to find ourselves depressed and empty inside. Perhaps this is why so many famous celebrities feel trapped in despair and become suicidal. We can work extremely hard to build the structure we are told to build, only to find ourselves trapped inside of it with no way to get out of the walls to again hunt for our lost souls. If I design my own path, then I can find my own type of success by simply walking the path that I chose. Then my happiness can be in every day of the journey, and not simply a check on some list handed to me by an unhappy world.