the LIST

Karas Lamb
Oct 20, 2016 · 13 min read

Been trying to figure out lately how to remain employed in and around the music industry without hating my life. I tend to feel like I am going after exactly what I’m supposed to be doing professionally, but it’s a hazing process. And I’m tired of that part. So, what now? I’m not quitting, but I’m for sure a little tight. Here’s a circuitous TBT to a personal, professional and creative tipping point to celebrate this meltdown. Because sharing is caring…and because I’m 200% sure that I’m not the only one.


Necessity is the mother of all invention. Maybe urgency is the mother of all innovation? Enlightenment? So not sure how true any of this is. I’m not really certain it is wise to be searching for some kind of ceremonious profundity where there’s no honest to goodness need for it, but I want to do this moment in time and the resulting epiphany total justice.

What deserves to be said is that it helps to have friends in moments of crisis. I think its safe to say I have been working my way toward this breakdown — breakthrough? — for about two or three years. I have a day job. Lots of people have them. It’s how we differentiate ourselves from the hopeless, helpless, homeless, and starving. It’s how we convince ourselves we’re getting somewhere — being productive. How we afford brunches, gym memberships, vacations, empty calories, and the pictures we tweet of them. It’s how we justify the years spent in school and the grandiose statements we sometimes make about ourselves or our dreams in the company of strangers to make small talk go over a little more smoothly once the canapes and drinks stop working.

But my day job isn’t even worth one of those conversations. My freelance work is always clutch for mixed company. The details of my workday should be the pattern embossed onto quilted toilet paper. My bank account shares my sentiments. My dreams had all but packed their bags and left a note on the counter telling me they needed space — but then I decided to quit. I woke up one morning a few months ago, wrote an email to my family, and texted a few close friends. I set a loose target date around late Spring 2012. I said it aloud, and my voice cracked. I knew immediately that I was going to need help. Less because of downright fear and more because it’s totally fucking true that no one can really do something like this alone.

I’m extremely talented in some ways. Obviously and painfully marginal in others. So are all of my friends. We are also very proud, at times to a fault. But I’m not too proud to acknowledge that talent has never kept anything from going terribly awry. It hasn’t kept anyone from leaping off a bridge, either. I spent that entire day freaking out. Trying to forecast my savings. Rehearsing the speech I’d give to my student loan guarantors once my income ran out. Rehearsing the melodrama with which I’d eventually deliver my letter of resignation, before I relented as it generally isn’t in my nature to make a scene.

By then it was late. I took a shower and decided to go out. My brother had a show that night. He drove me home afterward and I read my sister’s response to the email of desperation aloud as we drove through the rain. By the second paragraph I had burst into tears. I had sold my family so short that I never thought anyone would truly see eye to eye with my feelings or hardships when I sent my manifesto screaming into the ether. I thought I’d vent, someone would console me, and tomorrow would be another day — terrible or otherwise. Then he agreed with her sentiments — the leap of faith I was mulling had been well overdue; “If it bothers you enough to cry about it, I think you already know what you have to do”. He parked, the wipers blurring the facade of my house, and I sobbed — completely obscuring what remained of my view of the door.

I had not been myself and this was hardcore proof. I almost never cry. I texted my friend Dave a few days later and told him I needed to talk. Dave had left his job and the basic comforts of gainful employment to hunker down and cultivate a business based upon his creative talents — his wildest dreams or at least an inkling that there was something better. Rashid had decided somewhere along the line to do the same. Maybe they had converged somewhere along that path around the same time — their wings finally dry enough to attempt flight. They spend a lot of working hours together as independent contractors in media and design, honing their skills, sharing knowledge, collaborating, networking, and seemingly enjoying life in ways they hadn’t on someone else’s payroll. In the midst of tight schedules, terribly empty pockets, and mounting bills, there exists this freedom.

As we evolve our empowerment is often derived from and defined by our ability to say no. There is something about giving the finger to the status quo that is uniquely liberating — in the no turning back sort of way. Is it hard? Absolutely. It is nauseating and maddening. It is a fistful of tears every morning. Swallow hard, chase with a glass of cold water, rinse, repeat. But even then, it seems worth it. It’s funny. Several years prior I had run into Dave on the street after rushing out of my job in tears. At my wit’s end, I had snapped and was walking the streets during the lunch rush trying to collect myself. A total wreck coming to terms with the idea that it was time for me to go back to school and finish my BFA.

Dave talked me down off of one ledge and encouraged me to dive headfirst from another — into betterment. Maybe he was just trying to get me to chill out because its uncomfortable as fuck to be around someone when they’re so genuinely upset. Maybe he wanted me to know how much he believed in me. Maybe he was conning me into some semblance of happiness — enough to get back to who I was because it was clear by this time that I was terribly beside myself. It seemed the only logical place for me to turn first, given all of these factors, was back to him. His story and sensibilities, in some ways, are so close to mine that I knew it would be a great place to launch what would be the rough draft of my game plan. His wounds were still fresh. He knew exactly what it’d take for me to at least keep myself from drowning, as he’d just gotten out of the deep end and latched onto the edge of the pool. He was alive and kicking. The possibility of getting Rashid into the conversation made it even better.

We met to talk shop at a local cafe they regularly squat for co-working. Rashid joined us about twenty minutes in. We laughed, lamented, and talked for quite a while. We traded email links to TED talks and self-help books. We traded battle scars. I took notes on everything we discussed that stuck out, and The List is what came of it. The List put breath back into my lungs and fresh blood in my veins. It gave me hope at a point in my life when I was just beginning to think ceaseless faith in and attention to my talent was fruitless and irresponsible. I was beginning to think I was wrong about who I should be. I wasn’t. I was wrong for ever thinking that.

The greater gift this list carries is the life giving properties it has whenever I send it to another creative who seems to be feeling the way that I have. I don’t really feel like I deserve the profuse thanks I receive in return for sharing. But I get how refreshing and cathartic it is to be encouraged to embrace the fire in your gut, especially in a world constructed to snuff it out. All of us are suffering in some way as we attempt to “make it”, but we don’t always talk to each other about it. That silence is a very grave mistake. We talk about new ideas, projects, or connections. We talk about cool experiences. Tweet our exclusive locations with as little specificity as possible or stunt about views of great concerts from the wings of the stage.

We discuss our chance encounters with celebrities. The dope accounts we’ve landed. But we don’t discuss what hurts enough. We don’t give credence to our hurdles enough. The loves we’ve lost or left for the chase. We don’t apologize for fucking up. We don’t acknowledge our fears in the same way we publicize our parties. It doesn’t help that many of us are independent contractors or very solitary startups in a world full of giants.

We are all David (see: Goliath) and we think there’s something wrong with that, but the evolving business model suggests that the innovators are those of us with nothing to lose. Still reeking of mother’s milk and reckless ingenuity. Those who’ve learned to like being out on the limb because we’ve been stuck here for so long. Saddled with student loans and empty promises, we have the power to redefine what it means to be revolutionary, because we can afford to fail. We’re already broke. Some several times broken. Unlike the behemoths we stand against — those who have everything to lose. Those who won’t hire us until they want to know or do what’s cool. Their mistake is that they are so busy trying to own the world that they’ve become out of touch with it. We need not make the mistake of becoming out of touch with each other, as artists.

Most of us don’t share office space with a few hundred co-workers, so it becomes easy to forget that other people are going through the same sorts of difficulties when you don’t necessarily clock in and see it every day. To break with earbuds and fierce independence long enough to sit with these guys and experience that kind of fellowship sort of turned me into the Johnny Appleseed of creative camaraderie, where sharing the hardship has subsequently strengthened many of my creative relationships and longtime friendships, reinforcing my belief in my decision to quit my day job and cultivate myself as the right one.

Not everyone is going to take the stance I’ve taken. Not everyone should take my road. I get the sense sometimes that maybe I shouldn’t have taken this route, but I’m here and I’m walking with my head held high. I don’t suggest everyone quit their job. I do suggest that you know yourself well enough to know when you have had enough. Know how important it is for your sanity, in order to be fearless enough to do something about it. Know that you need a plan and you should be devising one if you haven’t already. I’m not talking about flying by the seat of your pants. I’m talking about rising to the occasion. I hate to be so trite or sickeningly close to the dead horse, but YOLO is completely appropriate here. You only live once. Don’t fuck it up neglecting your dreams to work on someone else’s.

If you’re going to be brave enough to dive down the rabbit hole and go after your passion, it helps to know you are not alone. The List will continue to grow and evolve. It isn’t meant to stay the same. It will grow as I do, over the course of this journey. I hope Rashid and Dave have begun to employ it in a similar way. To share it. I hope you will as well. Some of it may not apply to you. Some of it will. Feel free to write your own set of marching orders in the spirit of this list. Feel free to add on. Feel free to define yourself on your own terms — to be great. I am forever indebted to them for encouraging me to do the same.


the (actual) LIST:

Always be prepared for the big call. You never know when THE phone call is coming or who/what/where it is coming from.

Don’t price yourself into a gig, price yourself out of it. You never know what your client’s budget is. If you’re too far outside of it, you can always negotiate.

Make sure you have a company name. People pay companies more than they pay individuals.

Get a portfolio up online as soon as possible. Your clips should be awesome and easily accessible. Be present across multiple platforms.

Work as well outside the matrix as you do inside of it. The internet is bursting at the seams with people trying to get chose. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

Educate yourself. Whether you can afford school or not, you should be reading and working your way through problems. Used books and library cards are invaluable. Do your Googles.

You’re never too old for an internship or apprenticeship. Don’t be too proud to sit at someone’s feet and learn the game. Even people that steer you wrong are a living, breathing lesson in how not to run your shop, who not to hire, and who not to be.

Understand and accept the fact that at some point, in order to focus on your career, YOU WILL HAVE TO QUIT YOUR JOB!!! — Operative: “JOB” — Say it again: “JOB”

You are going to be hungry, you are going to be broke, you may even be assed out. Consider it fuel for the fire. Keep hustling.

Do not underestimate the value of bartering when cash is low. The goods or services you provide can help someone willing to help you.

SHOW UP! Getting out of bed and off to a job is the most difficult part. Showing up is half the battle in the race for recognition. Get there and be on time!

Get out and network. Meet people. Go out even when you don’t want to or can’t afford it! Being present is priceless.

Learn Creative Budgeting: “How do I survive for 12 months on $6,000.00?” Ride your bike. Brown bag it. Cut corners. Look good.

Happenstance can help facilitate the fulfillment of your destiny. Translation? Connections old and new can create opportunity…just because you went around the corner for coffee and ran into a friend: (A + B = C and/or A + B = $$$)

Develop great relationships with people. Those relationships will foster clientele and feed your portfolio. They will also hold you down in the event you fall apart.

Drop the dead weight. You will be forced to let some people go completely and leave others behind. It may hurt, but keeping them will be much more damaging to you and your bottom line in the end.

Not every idea is going to be a million $ venture, but there is no need to discuss every idea with everyone. Avoid snakes and opportunists. Real G’s move in silence, like lasagna.

Commit to being a maker. Make things that are useful. Not just to solve a problem for your homies. Or to provide convenience for the super rich. But for ordinary people.

Be emotionally and mentally prepared for the job. Don’t talk yourself out of it. Claim it: “I am worthy of this opportunity”

You don’t always know what you’re doing. That doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing. Read that shit aloud again.

Don’t be afraid to sell everything. Pack a bag. Leave the rest behind. Sometimes you have to get rid of what you have in order to make room for what you really want. Keep a duffel by the door!

Do you have a therapist? No? Get one. Startup and/or Starving Artist life will do a number on you. Yoga, meditation, and therapy are invaluable. There’s an app for that.

No one goes to war without a plan. What is your plan? How do you get from Point A to Point B? Write it down. Commit to doing one thing per day that will get you closer to crushing a career goal. Cross some things off your list.

What worked for you last week may not work for you this week. Budgets change, partnerships change, algorithms change, best practices change. People change. Be willing to adapt at a moment’s notice to ensure the survival of your business.

Do not be afraid to ask for more money. You are not wrong to leave a contract on the table if you do not get the right offer. Know your work, know your worth, and be stubborn about value re: both. (see: Mike Monteiro)

Adopt a wellness regimen and stick to it. Physical fitness enables you to get after your goals. Your fitness directly impacts and reflects the health of your business.

Be prepared to accept that you still won’t quite be prepared when the time comes to finally step out on faith. Do it anyway! Always “ship” on the designated date. (see: Linchpin by Seth Godin)

Be prepared to cry every morning. It is NOT going to be easy. Being average is easy. That isn’t what you want. Sob it out, spill your guts, then go be great.

No one is going to hire someone to do something they can do themselves. You will get the call because you’re the one person who can do exactly what you do, as only you do it.

No does not mean NEVER. There are only so many times someone can tell you no. Some people will accept you with skepticism and/or apprehension. Others are waiting with open arms.

There is no such thing as CAN’T. Repeat after me. There is no such thing as CAN’T! Close your eyes and click your heels together three times. There is no such thing as CAN’T!!!

“I Think” removes your agency and implies that you are unsure of your own ability to do the job you were hired to do. Avoid the urge to preface your statements with “I Think.” You are an expert. Do not cede your expertise to outside opinion. Empower your vocabulary. Give yourself permission.

I’m going to,” “I’m about to,” “I almost,” “As soon as,” “If only”…there is a big difference between the person that talks about a project and the person that actually completes it. Beat resistance. Drop the album.

Guess what happens when you fail? You don’t die. You feel terrible, you beat yourself up…maybe you get trashed in order to cope. Then you go home and you go to bed. You wake up the next day. And every day you wake up is another chance to get it right.

Create your own company. Your own content. Build and maintain your creative footprint, even as you contract with collaborators and larger entities. Personal projects create income streams. You have nothing if you do not have your own.

Trust the timing of your life. Your peers may enjoy wild success while you flounder. Stand up, dust yourself off, and focus on running your own race. Popping bottles is fun, but are you prepared for longevity? Set the standard instead of just keeping pace.

Have you figured out what you’ll do when your phone is cut off? When you can’t pay your rent? When the fridge is empty? When your account is overdrawn? That day is coming. It could be a perfect storm. All these things happening at once. That day could become a month…or 3. Prepare for that.

Lean on your network and allow them to lean on you. It helps to know that you are not alone. Seek therapy, wine & spirits, meds, or spiritual guidance. Seek friends. WOO SAH!

Get a passport. Work begins where you stand. It doesn’t end there. The world is a big place and life is short. Go make some memories.

Retain an amazing lawyer. Don’t sign anything without consulting the aforementioned lawyer and don’t do shit without a contract. Ever. You and your product are worth more than a handshake.

Real *Expletives* Do Real Things.

Karas Lamb

Written by

On award tour. With the pen in my hand.

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