Every year I like to reflect back on the year and see what lessons I learned. It’s helpful to look at the big picture sometimes, and it helps me look forward to next year. So…off we go:

LESSONS I LEARNED IN 2016

2016 was an interesting year for me. Lots of great things happened, and I also worked through some less-than-great things. Here are a few highlights, lessons I learned in 2016:

Lesson #1 – Putting Yourself Out There Works

As you may recall, I want to play a show at Ryman Auditorium one day. It’s a ridiculously big goal for a guy like me. I honestly have no idea if I will ever achieve the goal, but thinking about it regularly helps me figure out what the next step is for me. I can’t get to the Ryman in a year, but I can figure out what the next step is supposed to be.

Here’s how it’s worked so far.

I realized I wanted to play the Ryman in late 2013. The first step for me was to release more original music. At the time I only had one album of original music and one hymns album. If I wanted to release a new album, I needed to write new songs, so I gave myself a challenge in early 2014 to write 50 song in 12 weeks. And I did.

Out of those 50 songs, I chose 13 to put on my album Better This Way, which I released in the spring of 2015. In the fall of 2015 I released another project, my 4-song EP called Free. You can check them all out here.

That brings us to 2016. I thought about the Ryman goal, and figured that since I had released 17 songs of original music, it was time to put a band together and start playing shows.

So I did. Tim, Joel, Frankie, Spencer, Scott, and I had a few rehearsals, and I booked our first show. On a whim, I sent an email to one of the DJ’s from the local independent radio station, inviting him to the show (we had recently “met” online). He couldn’t make it, but ended up playing one of my songs on the air anyway, which led to me being the Lightning 100 Local Artist of the Week, which meant my music got played in heavy rotation that week, I got to do an interview on the air and play a few songs live, and played a free show sponsored by the station at a cool venue here in Nashville.

All this came from one simple goal…a goal that excites me and pushes me to think up the next right step. It pushed me to put myself out there, and things tend to happen when you put yourself out there.

The HUGE key here, the thing that makes all the difference, is that I’m not as concerned with actually reaching the goal as I am with enjoying the process of PURSUING the goal.

Whether I make it to the Ryman or not, I will have made a lot of music with a lot of incredible people in the process. And that’s still a win.

Lesson #2 – Putting Yourself Out There Doesn’t Work

This may sound crazy, but Lesson #2 is the exact opposite of Lesson #1.

As with most things in life, there are two sides to the coin. While putting myself out there worked in a lot of ways — getting to play on the radio, writing and releasing a bunch of music — there are also ways that it DIDN’T work.

Here are a few examples.

Radio isn’t a magic bullet. Even though getting my song on the radio, and getting to play live on the air for thousands of people was one of those “bucket list” moments, it didn’t really have much of an impact on anything in the real world. Please understand me, I’m not complaining. I honestly expected it to work out this way. I didn’t sell any more music or gain any new fans from one week of being featured on the radio. (Now, I’m sure I gained a handful of fans, but it wasn’t a huge windfall like you might expect.) Lesson learned? Magic bullets don’t really exist. You’ve gotta put yourself out there consistently, expecting slow growth, if any at all.

The money doesn’t automatically come rolling in. While I do make a few bucks from selling music and playing gigs, I don’t make much money from my music. Putting out multiple projects and getting on the radio are great things, but it hasn’t amounted to much in the way of actual revenue dollars coming in. Again, I’m not complaining. It’s just my reality so far. I’ve managed to build a successful business and a full-time income from Home Studio Corner, which is very much related to music, but strictly speaking, I haven’t figured out how to make tons of money from music by itself.

The band thing might have been premature. While I know I’ll want a full band when I play the Ryman, I quickly realized that I’m not okay with asking my buddies to play music with me for free until we start making some real money as a band. And like I said before, I’m still small potatoes when it comes to building a local following for my music, so the chances are slim that I will pack a venue and make enough money to pay the band well. I can get there, but I can’t afford to get there by paying my band-mates out of pocket for every gig. The solution? I need to play a lot more solo acoustic gigs. Small shows, house shows, etc., and really focus on building up a following of people who would come out to a show the next time I play with my band. For some reason, I got the idea stuck in my head that I had to either be a full-band act or a solo acoustic act, but not both. That’s silly. I need to do a lot of ground-work as a solo artist to lay the foundation to be able to book full-band gigs. Now, does that mean if an opportunity comes up to play a big show with a band I’ll turn it down? Not at all. It just means I won’t be playing weekly shows on Tuesday nights for an audience of 5 people with a full band. Gotta start somewhere.

Lesson #3 – Paying Attention and Being Honest is Hard (But Worth It)

Maybe you can relate to this.

My personality is the kind that tends to want to avoid or ignore difficult or uncomfortable situations. I have to fight this tendency a lot.

I ran into this quite a bit with my business in 2016. In the past, I’ve let myself get REALLY wrapped up in the numbers. I would obsessively track things like followers, subscribers, and revenue. Then I would compare myself to other people. It is a hopeless situation. If you get your identity and worth from your performance, you’ll never perform well enough.

Thankfully I worked my way out of that, but I think I went too far in the other direction. Rather than obsessing about numbers, I stopped paying attention to numbers altogether. I wouldn’t know how much money my business had made until the month was over. I would close my eyes and hope for the best. I thought I was being healthy. “Hey, I’m not getting my identity from the numbers anymore. Yay!” In reality, I was being a coward. Instead of figuring out a way to have a healthy relationship with numbers, I simply ignored them. The result? I wasn’t responsible or intentional with my business. I simply went from obsession to ignorance. Neither was healthy.

I now have a simple way of keeping track of things. I don’t obsess, but I don’t ignore. That means I have to look at things even when they’re not great, and that can be uncomfortable and even painful. But that’s how life is meant to be lived.

Planning for 2017

I’m not big on huge, time-consuming goal-setting processes. I’ve done ‘em before, and while there are things I like about them, a lot of it seems like overkill.

I love goals, but I don’t like TONS of goals. The problem with doing a “goal-setting session” for 2017 is you tend to get overly ambitious. You decide to have ten goals for 2017 instead of maybe one, or two, or three. Your focus gets spread across multiple goals, and everything gets diluted. With tons of goals, you’ll make tiny bits of progress on all of them, but nothing will move all that far forward.

I’m a big fan of simplicity. When you simplify, it forces you to make decisions, to choose the best option instead of including all the options.

Goals vs Habits

I do think goals are important. It’s good to have something big to aim for, like I mentioned earlier with the Ryman thing, but only having a small number of goals is best.

I like the idea of having ONE goal, and working towards it until it’s completed. But I also realize that I have multiple areas of my life that I want to focus on in 2017, and what I do for my health doesn’t really have anything to do with what I do for my business. For that reason, I’m setting three goals — one for business, one for music, and one for health.

Here’s the kicker. The only way I think goals work is if they’re either broken down into smaller chunks, or if they’re tied to habits, or both. I can set a goal to lose weight, but it’s pointless if I don’t have a plan for incorporating new habits to make me a healthier person. Otherwise, I’ll hit my goal and go back to eating donuts and french fries and end up right back where I started. Habits, however, are pretty powerful.

Business Goal

This one’s the most obvious. In the past I’ve set silly goals like “Double Revenue this Year.” Then I’ll do all the nerdy spreadsheet work to figure out how much I’ll need to make each month to double my revenue. Then I set out to “make it happen.” You can see the problem. Yes, it’s certainly possible to double revenue, I suppose. But it won’t happen by me simply deciding it should happen and spending an afternoon buried in a spreadsheet. Big things have to change if I want to hit big goals. The times I’ve tried this whole “arbitrary big goal” approach, it’s been completely pointless. There are things I can and can’t control in my business. I can’t magically double the size of my audience by wanting it really badly. If I can’t magically double the size of my audience, then I can’t magically double my business this year. Simple, right?

Here’s what I CAN do. I can be consistent. I can develop daily and weekly habits for getting a steady flow of new followers over time. I started doing this in 2016, with things like Mix Together every Monday, Ask Joe every Tuesday, and Studio Tours every Thursday, and Cover Videos every Friday, along with weekly articles like this one.

I can’t control how many people like my content or music. I can’t control how many people connect with me, but I CAN be more consistent and intentional. THAT’s where habits come in. I’m trying to establish good habits that give me the best changes over time of having a big impact.

I’ve also scheduled out all the new products I want to create, update, and promote for the year. I have the entire year planned out. I’ve never been that intentional before. It feels good.

Music Goal

My big music goal is obviously to play the Ryman.

And I spelled out above how that has panned out over the last three years. 2017 is going to be the year of writing and releasing more music and playing more shows, especially as a solo acoustic artist.

What does that mean specifically? It means I will be releasing 4 EP’s in 2017. Or possibly one full-length album and 3 EP’s. Those are already scheduled out and planned.

As far as habits go, I’m not sure what that looks like with music. Play one show per week? Write and release one song per week? I’m not sure. Still thinking through that.

Health Goal

I want 2017 to be the year I get healthy.

Rather than join a gym and kick off a ridiculously strict diet program, I’m taking a different, simpler approach. I’m going to adopt one new healthy habit every month for a year. A year from now, there’s a good chance I’ll hit my weight loss goal (I’ve had the same goal for years), but more importantly, I will have established a dozen healthy habits, habits that I hope will continue for the rest of my life.

I need to lose lots of weight. I need to exercise. But I can’t change all that in January. I’ve tried before. It’s too much to change at once, and I burn out. So I’m going against the grain in 2017. Slow, intentional, simple changes.

So there you go…it’s not an exhaustive plan. It’s simple, but it feels right. I’m excited about 2017, and a little intimidated, but having a plan makes all the difference in the world.

Your Turn

Now I want to hear from YOU.

I want to know what you’re planning for 2017, or maybe what you’re struggling with? Home Studio Corner isn’t all about Joe Gilder. It’s about you, and us, struggling together to make better music.

So spill the beans. What are you excited about for 2017? What are you scared about? Let’s hear it!

Leave a comment below. I’ll be reading!

Here’s to a great year.

Joe Gilder
Home Studio Corner

  • Chris

    Joe,

    A healthy habit a month is exactly what I learned from Precision Nutrition. They focus on a lot of what you mentioned. It’s never “all or nothing.” They know we’re human. but this is by far the best, real life, company and philosophy I’ve ever seen. Check it out! (no I’m not affiliated with them, but I did go through a year of their coaching). Good stuff-

    http://www.precisionnutrition.com/

  • Daniel Camargo

    Hi Joe. I’m on the same situation as many people thinking about what to do, or when is the best time to start to move on dreams or goals. But there is something I learned from you and Graham: people needs to move, needs to start walking before running. One of my goals for several years was to release original music (I have several song and ideas recorded as demos) but always been waiting to “have time” to accomplish it. This year the “easy way” is just start. Just take a mic, a guitar, and hit the record button and start and don’t stop until finished on my deadline. It will be great or bad? I don’t know, the only way to know is finish.

    So, maybe is just “one goal”, but that is the start for me, release my own 4 or 5 songs EP by the end of march.

    Regards to all.

    • I love that, Daniel. You might be surprised if you just record and release something next weekend how much momentum it can create for you.

  • Bryan Hoogenboom

    Thanks for laying that all out. It’s a good thing to read through your thought process on “the plan”. This year, my goal is simply to play more music. Sure, recording is part of that. But the goal is to PLAY more. So far, I have a great start. I’m playing a 10 day theatrical show that requires reading from a musical score. I can do it, but man am I slow! Practice… That’s January. I have also joined a new band, and have 3+ hours of music to learn for that.

    After watching Graham’s video today, I also laid a plan to finish and publish 3 songs I “started” in 2016 and have them available for public consumption by June 1. I can’t start before mid-February for very real reasons, so this isn’t as long a stretch as it appears.

    I’ll worry about things like making money with music, collaborating, etc., later. Right now, my goal is to PLAY (and sing).

    Thanks for your encouragement.

  • Zach Morrison

    Hey Joe. This may be the first time I’ve dove into a discussion since I started following back in, oh, 2013 or so? But I appreciate your humor and down-to-earthiness and am excited for all your content in 2017.

    My biggest goal this year is to release an all vocal EP of original music (in the vein of Jacob Collier/Peter Hollens). I’ve dabbled with vocal music in the past and am excited to dive in for a full project. I’ve recently purchased a songwriting guide book and have enjoyed the few pages I have read so far. I’m excited to see what will happen with this added investment in songwriting and arranging/composition. I hope this year will be more productive and more creative than any year before.

    Thanks for putting yourself out there. Until next time!

  • Aaron Lynch

    G’day Joe

    I think your honesty is probably one of the biggest factors for the success of HSC. Your followers see that you are a genuine dude and that is an endearing quality.

    My challenges and goals are similar to yours in lots of ways. This music project I am on with my mate of 25 years began in August, on his return from being away from our local area. We’ve been thinking about this stuff for nearly the whole 25 years, and now we are finally buckling down. The 5 track EP is our first goal. Much of the tracking on two songs is already done. Vocals are proving a challenge. We may need to buy in the help…but we’ll see. We have plenty of ideas, and we just need to be confident enough in what we are doing to finish them and release them.

    Health wise, I am very similar to you. I like beer….and that is not going to change, so I need to develop better habits with respect to beer. I come home from my day gig (which I don’t like very much, but too close to long service leave to turn my back now), and before dinner, I have a beer, or 3. That has GOT TO STOP!

    I am in the enviable position of having a 33mtr lap pool at my work, and I am able to swim at lunch times. That is a habit I used to have that needs to be reinstated. Winter is the challenge, but there is a heated pool on the way to work that should be incorporated during the winter months.

    Work wise, I have a goal not to hate it so much. 40hrs per week of hatred is unhealthy…so I need to find a way to engage so I don’t loathe the thought of going in every day. This has been the most wonderful holiday, and I was dreading the thought of returning….I need to approach that thought in another way.

    So there ya have it mate. They are my goals for 2017. I want to wish you, Pam and your daughters a very happy New Year mate….and thanks again for what you do.

    Aaron

  • al-andrew

    Hi Joe
    It’s been ages since we chatted …
    Thanks for your email, wow you have had a busy year ! Well done man ! So much to be proud of.

    Just wanna commend you for being able to take stock with such insight and accountability. Really good !

    I wish I had the guts to put out big goals like you 3 eps and an album … brilliant !

    All the best bro chat soon bro !

    Have a great new year with family !

  • David Sedgers

    Hi Joe – firstly thanks for your honesty here. You being prepared to share some of your personal challenges helps me remember that my challenges are normal and just need to be worked through rather some flaw in me.

    Thanks for all of the products this year. I do think of you as my music/recording buddy who drops by from time to time, sometimes on the way to work in a podcast, sometimes in my studio in a youtube video.

    For me, 2017 is going to be all about making deliberate decisions. For a whole bunch of reasons, I am starting my professional life and my music life in 2017 with a blank slate. While on the one hand this is scary, on the other hand I want to look at this as a chance to rebuild both these aspects exactly the way that I want them to be. No more default decisions, everything to be consciously decided.

    Thanks again for all of the great input.

    Cheers

    David
    (From Melbourne Aust)

  • mark huss

    Thanks for sharing your time and insights with us; I’m happy you’re able to make a living doing this — that’s good for all of us. 🙂 You also seem very approachable, more so than some audio bloggers.

    Habits are always better than goals. “How to Fail at Almost Everything…” by Scott Adams has a good discussion of this.

    Unfortunately, the solo gig thing only works if you can sing well — not a problem for you, but certainly an obstacle for some of us! :p

    This year my big goal is to better organize my time — I work+commute 50 hours/week, I’m in a cover band, I repair and build tube amps, and my wife does cat rescue. Add in 6-7 hours sleep per night, and that doesn’t leave much time for writing and recording. Sigh.

  • Chris Clark

    Joe, thanks for sharing. Your work and music making has been very inspiring this year. I, too, plan to focus and not over plan this year. Sticking with what I have planned is also important to me, as I tend to jump at “cool” opportunities that I ought to pass on, or at least save for a later time.

    So, the big thing for me this year is to keep recording as a solo artist and self-producing my own solo recordings. If my brass quintet can get a recording session scheduled for our second album, that will take precedence over everything, but it’s dependent on all of our work and life schedules.

    I, too, am restarting my health goals, as my family comes out of the fog of the toddler years a little bit! January’s goal is to just move. Be consistent and reestablish my exercise habit. No other pressures other than that!

    Thanks again, and best of luck in 2017!

  • Jason Poe

    My goal in 2017 is to record my original music in my home studio. I am learning a lot thanks to Mix together, Understanding EQ, and Understanding compression, as well as learning to learn a DAW for the first time (Studio One). I feel creative right now and need to set this goal to capitalize on this knowledge

  • Peter

    hi joe thnx for all you shared learned a lot this year things i like to continue and things i rather let go and a whole lot of stuff i could incorporate into my workflow information from people like you and ian, i see 2016 as the year of learning and experimenting i also took the time time to learn all the ins and outs of my daw, spend tons of time learning sound design and i had some mixing jobs near the end and found out i do not really like working with others material or with people who just started recording better said :), i started teaching on the side 1 on 1 sessions something i really enjoy doing and i will re brand myself in 2017 under another name saying goodbye to all i did before starting fresh letting go of all the old dive into the new

    grtz peter aka (octafuzz audio works)