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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 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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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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