It’s a late-night in Brooklyn and I’m on the way home from a client’s album release show on the lower east side. It’s been a heavy week, one of those moments in life when a cluster of people you know pass away seemingly all at once. My emotional awareness was certainly peaked.
As I stood on the platform awaiting the train, I made my way to the far end of the platform past the point where anyone typically stands. I wanted to be alone to gaze at the city skyline in the distance and think of those who were lost. I was off in my own world when someone tapped me on the shoulder and said: “Can you spare some change?”
This is when I met Omar.
Omar had been out on the street longer than he could actually remember, but from the looks of him I would gather it was a year or a little less. There was still a glimmer of hope in his eyes, but the point of no return was growing close. He‘d been avoiding shelters as he didn’t want to get into physical altercations, and he was using the J train as his bed. After I slipped him some cash, he started walking away and, for some reason, I asked, “Is there anything else you need?” He paused for a moment, walked back towards me and slightly whispered, “Yeah actually there is…do you know anything about music?”
Of course, he would ask ME this.
As the train pulled into the station, we jumped on together and over the next few stops, we covered copyright, performing rights organizations, and some actions he could take by getting on the internet at a local library. It turns out that while homeless Omar was able to collect and save enough money to pay for cheap studio time, bang out a new single, and release it.
It amazes me how you artists will go to whatever lengths necessary to create. Music is essential for your survival, and in this extreme case, getting into the studio to create was more important than having a roof overhead. Judge this all you want, but I was inspired and in awe. In the face of his dire circumstances, he was still fighting for his creative life. Consider Omar’s story next time you feel you have exhausted your resources or let finances and circumstances limit you from moving yourself forward.
Last year I created a poll and floated out potential topics that artists might want some perspective on, and this particular subject — creating momentum in your career with limited resources — won overwhelmingly. I had actually written and ditched this piece last year, but this late-night encounter inspired me to revisit it and put it out. Here’s to you, Omar.
I know what it feels like to not have the resources to bring to life the grand visions hyper-actively dancing around your mind. It’s so easy to feel stuck in between projects when trying to get your momentum back up and running. You may be 6-months to a year out from your last big push, wondering how you are going to get back that feeling of forward drive and progress. It can appear daunting to “get up for it,” knowing how much it took from you last time around. Where to begin is often the hardest part in these moments, and if you lack financial resources your choices start to dwindle and the path forward can become cloudy.
What do you do when you have created a new EP or album and you have zero budget left to properly market and support it? You know you are going to have to consider the thousands of dollars typically needed for publicity, playlisting, social media advertising, distribution fees, and more, just to get anyone to hear it beyond your immediate social reach (friends, family, and existing fans). Oh, and you should probably make one or multiple music videos and get some new photos right?
Are you just going to release all of this new material to virtually no one, and then wish the result was different after the fact?
With 40 to 60 hours a week dedicated to your employment, plus rent, bills, loans, and maxed-out credit cards, what are you going to do? How are you going to make things happen and get this all moving? Quite the dilemma.
In my consulting sessions with artists, a common exercise I deploy is to challenge them to specifically articulate what they mean by commonly used phrases in music such as:
“I want to get traction.”
“I need to get some momentum.”
“I need to get my numbers up.”
“I want to get to the next level.”
“I just want my music to be heard.”
“I just want this to be successful.”
All of these phrases are generally understood in this business but are not easy to clearly define. When you operate with these vague generalities as goals, you end up with a moving target and no real clarity around what you are actually aiming for. How would you even know when you have achieved any of these things?
Let's create two definitions to inform our treatment of this particular subject:
- RESOURCE: A supply of people, money, materials and other assets that can be drawn on by an artist in order to function effectively and leverage when action needs to be taken.
- MOMENTUM: The impetus and driving force gained by the development of a process or course of events.
It’s no surprise that, even when you lack resources, you still always seem to find a way to create the music. This makes sense. Making music is one of the most important things in your life, which means you will always be properly motivated to make it happen. And of everything you do, the act of creation is the most tangible and the most in your control.
So how did you make your new single, EP, or album with very few resources, and then find yourself feeling stuck once it was completed? I’ve met so many artists over the course of my career that have spent or raised thousands of dollars to make their music, but then found themselves feeling severely limited when it came to taking the next steps.
The truth is, once your music is completed, this is when you start to feel out of control. Suddenly, it’s not all in your hands anymore and there is very little tangibility the rest of the way. It’s no coincidence that, at this point, you stop being resourceful.
The sky is the limit when you are in the process of creating; the world is full of possibilities, and this is when you feel the most fulfilled. One of the keys is becoming resourceful, post-creation phase, and deploying the very same way of being you had when starting the creative process. You were resourceful where there were few resources. You leveraged relationships, you asked for support, and you worked with intention, focus, and excitement for your new project that was contagious amongst those in your creative circle.
In the definition above, resources are not solely defined by money; resources are also people. Everyone you know is a resource, and they are inclined to help you. Don’t hesitate to leverage your network of friends to get the ball rolling. Just ask. You will be surprised by the movement you can generate simply by asking for support, ideas, or collaboration. Your mind is also a resource, and one of the trickiest to navigate. Watch what your mind does when I say resources and you think money. Your mind will always go there first, and self-limiting talk and behaviors will start to narrow your vision and influence what you think is possible. Obtaining the desired financial resources is another subject for another day and is more easily navigated after fully understanding the depth of your current resources.
And of course, time is your most precious resource. If you find yourself in a place where you need to generate momentum and feel limited by your financial resources, the first place to get resourceful is with your time. How are you really spending it, and where can you become more effective with it?
*I covered this subject specifically back in 2018, which you can revisit here. “Reclaim Your Artist Life”. Enjoy the wake-up call…
I characterize momentum as a series of “wins” or “yes’s” closely bundled together in time as the result of the volume of action taken. Said another way, if you “DO” (i.e., take action) with enough volume, over a period of time, a moment will arise when the results of all that doing will be experienced as movement or momentum. Momentum will always be generated by the actions you take, the effectiveness of those actions, and the amount of them. Short bursts or clusters of action taking, done with consistency, are super effective in momentum building. One helpful process to implement is to tackle the easy actions first. Small wins, no matter how small, get the boulder moving downhill, even if just a little. They are the kindling of progress and the root of feeling good about where your project is heading. Small wins can be enough to keep you going, so always start there.
What are some easy wins that you can execute on today that you have been putting off?
I really like this definition of momentum: “the impetus and driving force gained by the development of a process or course of events.” Particularly the development of a process. The process is something you can control. The way to make moves with limited resources is and always will be to DO — tangibly take action. When I was beginning the process of writing my book, The Compass Method, I talked to a collection of successful artists that I respected and picked their brains on their experiences and what they had learned on their journey. Adam Levy, Grammy award-winning guitarist, and accomplished songwriter said to me, “Just do something. Anything.” Simple, but tried and true. Developing your own process of doing is a great way to be able to drive momentum when you need it. The way that I have built momentum with my writing was in developing a process of getting up at 5:30 am, meditating for 10 minutes, then writing for 60 minutes, Monday through Friday. And it’s no surprise that when I have been out of rhythm with my process, I have felt a loss of momentum, self-doubt, and overall disempowerment. It is your process that creates momentum, while also helping you feel competent and, to some degree, in control of your artistic destiny.
Develop a momentum process. DO. Start with small wins. Leverage people to support your vision and get resourceful with how you spend your time. Maintain the belief that you are on to something. Let go of the story that you are stuck and lack the resources to move your music forward. No excuses.
Somewhere out there in Brooklyn, Omar is hustling and scraping together funds for his next single.
Soundtrack courtesy of “Something Has To Change” by The Japanese House, included here on The Compass Method Spotify Playlist; updated monthly with a mix of new discoveries and songs I generally obsess over. It pairs well with long stares out the window plotting your next move. If this piece resonated with you please share with other artists who might find it valuable and check out my previous stories on Medium.
Patrick Ermlich is a life-long artist guide, creative director, and CMO of Gramophone Media.