What I Learned from My Musical Midlife Crisis

Establishing Shot

It was late morning in western Oregon. The air wet and mild. The sun busily dodging clouds in a half-hearted attempt to burn off the morning dew. I was standing alone on a wooden sidewalk, smoking and thinking about the task at hand: a nineteen hour drive back to Boulder. I wasn’t sure I had the gumption to walk the block and a half back to the van, much less drive for nineteen hours!

I was exhausted. I was shaky and weak. I was fifty pounds overweight. My steady diet of drugs and alcohol had, in the past, been quite efficacious but my body was starting to resist the constant strain. I was breaking down both physically and emotionally.

I shuffled back to the van. My bandmates were in a hurry to get back home, they wanted to drive straight through. After a bit of haggling it was agreed that we would make the drive home in one shot as long as I didn’t have to do any of the driving. I popped a valium, laid down in the back seat, and, for nineteen hours, I only rose for the occasional rest stop.

This was our last official gig as a group. The band was dissolving. We’d criss-crossed the country for about four years and built up a good head of steam in the process, playing high profile festivals and sharing stages with the big national names in our scene but we hadn’t managed to build a sustainable model for our endeavors. We were experience rich and cash poor. I was exhausted. I was shaky and weak.


My wife and I decided to move our operations from the Rocky Mountains to rural Missouri. As we packed our things and as we drove east across the plains to our new life in the Midwest I kept asking myself a series of questions that went something like this:

  • “Why is it I can never quite achieve what I hope to achieve?”
  • “Why do I always come close to success but then always fall just short?”
  • “Am I defective or should I just learn to lower my expectations?”

When we arrived at our new home I had made up my mind; I was no longer pursuing a career in music. I would be a writer or a farmer. Hell, I didn’t know what I was going to do but I knew I didn’t want to put myself back in the music game where the pain and disappointment of failure was imminent.

I announced to my wife that I was through with music and I was moving on to new endeavors. She took the proclamation in stride. I put my fiddle under the bed and, in the two years spent in the farmhouse, I only removed it once when some old friends had driven out to visit and insisted that I play some music with them. It went right back under the bed as soon as they took their leave.

Revelation and Resolution

The farmhouse stood on five acres of land just a short walk from the Missouri river. We grew the majority of the food that we ate. When we weren’t tending to the garden, the grapevines, or the apple tree we would often stroll along the river, passing the time the way country folk have done for hundreds of years, just walking and talking. Just living for the sake of living. No hustle, no stress.

It was quite the opposite from the life of a musician on the road and I found it to my liking. Then, amid the peaceful and quiet days of my new “slow cooked” country lifestyle, I started to feel the pull of the music scene. My old aspirations were re-awakening and I wanted to be back in the game again.

I wanted to get back in the game but I didn’t want to meet with the same disappointment. So I started asking myself a different set of questions:

  • What do I hope to achieve?
  • What would constitute success for me?
  • What would that success really look like?
  • What would it take to bring these aspirations to fruition?
  • Was I willing to do what it would take to achieve this success?

I’m not sure I fully realized it at the time but I was having a revelation and that revelation was this:

The secret to success is knowing exactly what you hope to achieve and knowing exactly what you’re willing (and not willing) to do to achieve it.

After you’ve done this preliminary work and you’ve clearly defined what you want and what you’re willing to do to get it, then all that’s left to do is to consistently take steps toward accomplishing your new goal:

Define your prize and then keep your eye on that prize as you walk steadily toward it.

The Conclusion

That’s the simple secret to accomplishment…to a feeling of success.

Where I’d failed in the past was that I hadn’t zeroed in on a destination and was, therefore, doomed to always land somewhere in the vicinity of success and never on the mark.

I’ve grown fond of the quote, “If you aim at nothing you’ll hit it every time”. I had no mark and was only aiming in a general direction. As a result, I was only able to land in the general vicinity of success. With no mark at which to take aim I was never going to hit a bullseye!

So, if you find yourself asking questions like:

  • “Why is it I can never quite achieve what I hope to achieve?”
  • “Why do I always come close to success but then always fall just short?”
  • “Am I defective or should I just learn to lower my expectations?”

I implore you to ask a different set of questions:

  • What do I hope to achieve?
  • What would constitute success for me?
  • What would that success really look like?
  • What would it take to bring these aspirations to fruition?
  • What will I need to do to achieve this success?

The Simple Three Step Process

Define your prize, keep your eye on that prize, and move steadily toward it.

Follow this simple prescription and I’m sure you will have surprising results. Here are a few of the positive outcomes I’ve, personally experienced in my “post-crisis” life and music career:

  • I lost forty pounds
  • I redefined my relationship to intoxicants and became happier and more productive as a result
  • I released three successful (read profitable) solo recordings.
  • I graduated from bars and clubs and now play concert halls, listening rooms, and festivals almost exclusively.
  • My average income per gig is four to ten times more than my “pre-crisis” take
  • I live comfortably and worry-free on my musical income and that income increases every year

I know this might be starting to sound like an infomercial but it’s the truth. I invite you to make your dreams your truth, as well.

What do you want?

Do you know exactly what you want from your music career? If not, take some time to think about it. Write down your thoughts and get a clear specific idea of what your prize looks like. Then start out after it. The journey will take care of itself if you know exactly where you’re heading.

Thoughts, Questions and Comments

I’d love to get a conversation going on this topic. Please leave your thoughts, comments, and/or questions in the comment section below or email me directly:





AL 007 – 3 Simple Steps to Effective Music Marketing – with Bob Baker

Bob Baker faceIn this episode you get to listen in to a conversation I had recently with “The Godfather of Independent Music Marketing“, Bob Baker.

If you’re not already familiar with Bob and his vast body of work, this excerpt from his bio (at www.Bob-Baker.com) will give you an introduction:

“Bob Baker is an author, speaker, musician, and former music magazine editor dedicated to showing musicians of all kinds how to get exposure, connect with fans, sell more music, and increase their incomes through their artistic passions.

He is the author of the highly acclaimed Guerrilla Music Marketing Handbook, which appeared in the major motion picture The School of Rock, starring Jack Black.Acoustic Lving Podcast

Bob also created the Music Marketing 101 course, which ran for five years at Berkleemusic, the online continuing education division of Berklee College of Music in Boston.”

In this talk, Bob generously shares a ton of music career wisdom and advice that you will, no doubt, find immensely helpful.

Here are some of the specifics discussed in this interview:

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AL 006 – How to Get Your Music on Radio and in Magazines & Blogs – an interview w/ Devon Leger


Episode six focuses on the what, why, and how of getting your music onto the airwaves and into print media.

Devon Leger was gracious enough to join me on the show to share his insider’s knowledge of the industry and the promotional process.

Devon is the founder of Hearth Music, one of the premier roots music publicity agencies in the United States. He’s also a music writer, blogger, and a former talent buyer for the largest community arts festival in the nation, Northwest Folklife Festival. In short, the man knows the business of acoustic, folk, and roots music.

Acoustic Lving PodcastDo you have questions about getting your music more airplay and press coverage? Chances are they get answered in this episode as the conversation flows from one helpful topic to the next!


Here are some of the specifics discussed in this interview:

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An Open Letter to My 18 Year Old Self

Hey Ryan,

Man, where to start?!  Well, I’m writing this letter because I know how scared you are and I’m hoping these words can help to alleviate some of the fears and questions you have about yourself and your future as a musician. 

I want to give you a little bit of advice, too. I know you won’t listen to it, but I’m going to give it to you anyway.

Let’s do this in broad strokes: Continue reading

AL 005 – How to Get Your Music in Movies, TV Shows, and Video Games – an interview w/ Aaron Davison

HPIM1579.JPGHave you ever wondered how to get your music placed in films, TV shows, video games, and commercials? Where do you start? Who should you contact and what should you send to them when you do reach out?

In episode five, I talk with Berklee School of Music alum, Aaron Davison.

Aaron is the founder and director of HowtoLicenseYourMusic.com. Aaron is also a songwriter, performer,  and owner of Renegade Music Marketing.

At HowtoLicenseYourMusic.com he teaches musician’s the ins and outs of the music licensing business so they can learn how to pitch their own music for placement in TV, films, commercials, video games.

Acoustic Lving Podcast

Music licensing is a perfect way for musicians to build a side stream of income. It takes a little bit of leg work but, once you get the ball rolling, you can potentially make thousands of dollars a year without hardly lifting a finger again!

If you want to learn more about how to generate passive income by having your songs placed in film and television, then this is the episode for you.


Here are some of the specific questions answered in this episode’s content:

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AL 004 – The ABCs of Growing Your Email List

Acoustic Lving PodcastThe music business is mutating at a frighteningly exponential rate. It’s mind blowing how many major changes have occurred in the industry in the last fifteen years or so, and it’s clear that things will continue to grow and transform in profound, and often surprising ways.

One thing that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon is the importance of building and maintaining a robust mailing list.

In this episode I introduce and explain to you my simple, three part formula for developing and sustaining a healthy email list.

Take a listen and leave your thoughts and questions in the comment section below!

Here are some of the specifics of this episode’s content: Continue reading

How to Gain Perspective, Get Control, & Make More Money at Your Next Show

Well, there’s a lot of promise in this article’s title so I’ll get right down to the heart of the matter. I want to share with you the secret I discovered to gaining all of the above (perspective, control, money) and then some. It all comes down to one process: producing your own show.

How can producing your own show bring you these things?

When you produce your own show, you rent the space, you’re in charge of the sound, lighting, staff, ticket sales, promotion. It’s a lot of responsibility but taking it on for yourself, rather than relying on a venue or other party to do it for you, is a sure way to grow as a musician; both personally and professionally.

In the paragraphs to follow, I’ll show you exactly what I’m talking about and you’ll get to examine a couple of my own personal case studies, as well.

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AL 003 – Interview with Bobby Borg

bobby borgEpisode three of the Acoustic Living Podcast features an interview with Bobby Borg.

Bobby is a graduate of  Berklee College of music with a BA in Professional Music. He’s an instructor at The Musician’s Institute in Los Angeles, CA. He’s also a music business and A&R consultant, a regular contributor to international music business publications, the author of Billboard Book’s bestselling title, The Musician’s Handbook and a whole batch of other titles, as well.

In short, Bobby Borg is an indefatigable musical powerhouse and a major doer on today’s professional music scene.

Acoustic Lving Podcast

Bobby graciously agreed to set aside some precious time to do a phone interview for the Acoustic Living Podcast. We had a great time talking business and I got it all down on tape for your listening benefit!

In this conversation you’ll hear Bobby touch on the following subjects: Continue reading

Mindful Touring – How to Beat the Odds and Come Home with Money in Your Pocket


The Adventure

For many, the most alluring prospect of becoming a professional musician is the opportunity to take one’s music on the road. The romantic appeal of travel is something that seems to be universal among humankind.

Journeys are prominent  in our myths and legends; and in our literature, music, and movies, as well. Whether it’s a tale of Odysseus’s decade-long journey home or of Dean Moriarty’s benzedrine-fueled treks across the country at ninety miles an hour, these stories of adventure resonate, unfailingly, with a fundamental part of our nature.  

It’s a rare soul who can honestly say they’ve never heard the road’s sweet siren call. 

I’ve organized and embarked upon many of these adventures in my own career and, although I don’t regret a single tour I’ve ever participated in, I’m not sure my pocket book would say the same. I’ve learned the hard way that, in order to have a financially successful run, one must become practiced in the arts of vigilance and deliberation.

It helps to think of the tour process in three distinct stages:

  • The Preparation
  • The Actual Tour
  • The Review

The Preparation Continue reading

AL 002 – Interview with Grant Gordy

in_the_studio7Episode two of the Acoustic Living Podcast features an interview with Grant Gordy.

Gordy is a world class acoustic guitarist and composer who has established himself as a new leader in modern string band music.

He is the guitarist for the David Grisman Quintet. He’s also collaborated, in various capacities, with Edgar Meyer, Darol Anger, Edie Brickell, and Steve Martin.

Acoustic Lving PodcastGordy has performed all across the United States and overseas, as well. He’s played the Montreal Jazz Festival, Bonnaroo, and Carnegie Hall.

He’s been featured in Acoustic Guitar, Flatpicking Guitar, and Just Jazz Guitar Magazines.

Grant graciously agreed to do a phone interview for the Acoustic Living Podcast. I had a great time chatting and reconnecting as the interview/conversation jumped from one professional musical idea to another.

Here are some of the specifics of this episode’s content:  Continue reading