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