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LJS 94: How I’m Planning for Musical Success in 2018

Welcome to episode 94 of the LJS Podcast where today we are reflecting on this past year and everything that has been accomplished. Brent shares his non-musical and musical accomplishments during 2017, and reveals a confession. He shares his successes and failures, what he’s learned, and how you can learn from them too. Listen in!

Listen to episode 94

It’s that time of year! 2017 is coming to a close and I’m sure that you are joining me on reflecting what you have accomplished both in and outside of your musical life.

I personally think reflection is important. Not everyone likes to do it, but I think it can be a really powerful thing and can help influence how we take action from here on out. The end of a year and the start of a new year is a great time to do this. Many use this time marker to judge progress and accomplishments and I think that’s a great thing.

In this episode, I share with you some of my successes and failures during this year. I’m happy to report that many of my non-musical goals were met. And these non-musical goals are important, because they also have to share space with our musical goals.

I had a lot of musical wins this year. As a professional musician I’ve been gigging a lot this year and that’s been awesome. I truly feel like I have improved in my musicianship this year and for that I am thankful.

However, I know I have failed at some of my musical goals. I share all of this with you, and more, including some lessons we can take away from it all.

Here’s a quick outline of the episode today:

  1. A special thank you for being an LJS podcast listener.

  2. How my non-musical goals went this year.

  3. How my musical goals went this year.

  4. How I’m going to move forward for a successful musical 2018.

Read the Transcript

Brent: All right. What’s up, everybody? Welcome to the show. My name is Brent. I am the jazz musician behind the website, which is a blog and a podcast all geared towards helping you become a better jazz musician. Welcome. This is Episode 94, and this episode is coming out on Christmas Day, so I know that everybody who is celebrating Christmas Day … and if you are celebrating Christmas, a very merry Christmas to you … you’re probably not listening to this show today. You’re probably listening a couple days out. And for those of you who don’t celebrate Christmas, you’re the only ones listening on the actual day this episode comes out.

I was looking at our content schedule, and I was looking and seeing that today’s episode, it falls on Christmas Day, and next week’s episode … we always come out with shows on Monday … falls on New Year’s Day. So I hope that you’re listening back, whether you’re listening on the day this comes out or not. A lot of valuable stuff coming up here. But thank you so much for listening. As the year is coming to a close, I’m just really reflecting on how wonderful this year has been for, everything that’s been going on with our courses, with our e-books, with just the content that we’ve been doing, but especially the LJS Podcasts.

I’ve been looking back and looking at all the really awesome guests we’ve had on the show this year. We’ve had Aimee Nolte. We’ve had Christopher Sutton. We’ve had Steve Nixon from Free Jazz Lessons. We’ve had Jeff Schneider. We’ve had so many great guests, and it’s just been a great year. It’s been really wonderful, and I just really want to thank you all for listening, just for engaging, for listening week after week. A special thanks to all of you who have left ratings and reviews on iTunes or your other favorite podcast listening services. All that stuff has really helped, and our listenership has grown exponentially. We are going to be celebrating our birthday month in February, because at the end of February we’ll be having our two-year birthday of the LJS Podcast. So I just want to thank you so much. You’re the reason that we do this week after week, and we’re just here to serve you, and so I just really appreciate you in everything that you’ve done in listening this year.

In that spirit of reflection, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own personal life, what has gone on for me over the last year. I’m thinking musically, what has gone with me musically, what’s gone on it other areas of my life this year, and I’ve also been reflecting back on some of the goals I made last year around this time for my 2017. I’m starting to think to myself, “What did I accomplish in 2017, and did I accomplish those goals I originally set out to do?” So I’m really in a reflective mode, and this is really a reflective time for a lot of people. This is just the way the world works. We have this calendar date where it’s like all right, this is the end of the year, this is a new year, and somehow it just helps us all reflect and put a bit of a measurement of time of our accomplishments and what we’ve done.

So I’ve been doing a lot of that, and I hope you have been too, and I do want to talk about that in today’s episode. We’re not going to be doing the traditional how to set new year resolutions goals. We’ve done that before, and also, this year we really talked a lot about setting musical goals for yourself, and so I’m going to be talking a little bit about those episodes in this show to remind you of them. But I’m not going to be talking about that. I’m actually going to be talking to you a little bit about what I’m thinking personally for my musical goals, for my musical success in 2017. I just want to share that with you, because I think that can help you think about what you’re going to do, what might set you up for success. I do have a startling confession to make to you guys, I really do. I’m going to share that with you. I’m going to be vulnerable. So with that being said, let’s jump into today’s show.

Let me just start by talking about some of the non-musical things that I had made goals for 2017. We’ll get to the musical in a second, but I think the non-musical things are really important, and you’ll find out why especially I think they are important. But let me go over a few for you, so you can get some context here. One really important thing that I started working on in 2017 was learning how to speak Greek. Why am I learning how to speak Greek? Well, my wife is from Greece, and while she speaks better English than I do, and she has a perfect American accent, you would never be able to tell, we go to Greece every year and we visit her family. Sometimes speaking English, it’s not perfect, it’s not perfect communication.

So I know that I need to learn how to speak the language to connect better with my family, to just feel a little bit more like I’m able to hang a little bit better when I go out and visit or they come out and visit us. It’s really important to me, so I started that in January. It was going really well. I was staying consistent, making strides, and then around, I would say, May, I got bogged down by some product launches for Learn Jazz Standards. Things got way too busy, I couldn’t keep up with it, and that was kind of one of the first things to go on the wayside, on the back burner. So unfortunately, I kind of stalled out for the summer and kind of came back to it at the end of August. I’m happy to report I’ve been going on it strong through the end of the year.

So I would give it, I had a lot of success. I really improved this year, and I feel really good about that. Going into next year, I’m really hoping, my goal really is, to continue on the track I’m going but just to try to not have any of those big open, gaping areas that I’m not actually active working on it. I understand it’s learning a language, the same as learning music as a language, and I’ve done this, I do this. It takes a long time, it takes consistency, and it takes exposure, constantly being exposed. So I’m trying to keep up with that this year. I’m really happy about what I accomplished this year with that, but my goal is to improve upon that for 2018.

Another big goal I had for 2017 was I wanted to come out with two new products on Learn Jazz Standards to help serve you guys, my jazz audience, further than just the free content we come out with. 98% of everything we come out with is completely free, including this podcast, but I do come out with premium products to help support doing the work that I do, of course, and to serve you guys better. I’m really happy to report I totally nailed that one. I came out in April, I believe, with our e-book “Zero to Improv”. I spent five months working on that, a little bit in 2016. We also came out with our new e-course recently, back in October, “How To Play What You Hear”, it’s an ear training course, and spent five really hard months working on that.

So that took up a lot of my energy this year, working on these products, and I’m thrilled with how they turned out. Moreover than the financial benefit, just how much great news I’m getting from my students, just saying how much they’ve loved that course and how much they’ve loved that e-book and how many people I know have those things now. That just really excites me. I’m really passionate about this, guys. I’m really passionate about Learn Jazz Standards, this podcast, and just sharing with you guys all that I know. So that was a huge win for me this year. I’m really proud of how all of that went.

I had some other personal goals, like keeping up with my running and my exercise. I think this year I’ve done the best with that I ever have, with keeping consistent running. You know, sometimes weather keeping me from doing it. Running is my exercise of choice. It just helps me stay focused. It helps me keep going on through the day and be successful, and I did that really well. So all in all, I really give some of these non-musical goals, I’d give it four stars. I did pretty well. I’m a very goal-oriented person, so this really worked out for me this year.

All right, so let’s talk about these musical goals now that I had. Let’s start with the good news. I always like starting with the good news, and you know that if I’m saying that, that means there’s definitely some bad news. Some good news, I really do feel like my playing has improved this year, and I didn’t have … I’m a professional musician. I gig, I work, I’m a working musician here in the New York City area. I’ve been happy to have picked up, made some more connections, and played some more gigs, gigs that I wouldn’t have done before and even some more lucrative gigs. And that’s been really wonderful, I think, on the financial side of things for me. But also, being able to play with even more players and probably playing more gigs this year than I have in even some recent years.

So I’m really happy about that. I’ve been spending lots of hours actually gigging, playing live music, and that’s been really awesome for me. And getting to play in a lot of different situations, getting to play solo guitar … I’m a guitarist … getting to play duo, getting to play trio, getting to play quartet, getting to play with singers, all kinds of different scenarios. I’ve been happy to … this is like my fifth year playing in this band that we play at Fat Cat, a club in New York City, and this is the fifth year we’ve been doing that. I’m really proud to be part of that band still.

A lot of great things that are happening for me with music, and so I’m really excited about that. I just logged in, I think, seven nights of gigs within a 10-day period recently, because it’s the holidays, lots of holiday parties. So I’m really happy about all that I’ve been playing, and I really do feel like I’ve improved musically this year, just by playing professionally, just by logging those hours. Right guys? That’s what it’s all about, just logging the hours, keep playing, keep excited, keep passionate about the music, keep motivated, and if you can do all that stuff, you’re going to improve. There’s no way you’re not going to improve as a musician. So I feel like I’ve done that.

But I’ve also had some failures. Because of all my other things going on in my life, all my other goals, my commitments, my relationships, it’s been hard to keep up practicing as much as I would have liked to. Despite all the hours putting in on gig time, I haven’t been able to practice as much as I would have liked to this year. As a result of that, I feel like I wasn’t really able to accomplish my goal for 2017. I had made a goal that I wanted to compose … I forgot the exact number, that’s how bad this is … I think it was five new songs. That’s not even that difficult of a goal for many. For me, that is. To compose new music is actually a little bit of a task, because I’m very … I don’t know what it is. For some reason, every song I’ve written I’m really proud of and I think sounds great, but I just feel like I have a lot of writer’s block. I’m sure someone who’s great at composition could coach me on that.

But one of the reasons that I wanted to compose these songs is because a really big goal of mine, the real goal at the end of it, is I really want to come out with a record. I haven’t done that yet. I’ve been playing professionally for a while, but I’ve never come out with an album under my own name, and I really wanted to do that. So I wanted to have some more original compositions under my belt that I was actually proud of, that I actually would want to record. I didn’t do that, guys. I totally failed on this goal this year, because I just wasn’t giving myself enough time to actually spend writing, to actually spend being creative.

The time that I was spending composing music and writing music, it was spent working on my e-book or my courses and other materials that I needed for teaching. So I was spending a lot of that creativity doing that stuff and accomplishing other goals, but I wasn’t accomplishing this big goal of wanting to compose all these songs so that, maybe even this year, I could record an album. So I failed there, and I think there’s a lesson to be told with that. When I really started examining what went wrong, why couldn’t I just accomplish this goal, was it that I didn’t set up deadlines? And yes, that’s part of it, and that’s something that I’ve always preached. You have to have deadlines, and I have deadlines for all the other goals that I did, but for some reason I didn’t do that.

What it really said to me was I put it on the back burner this year. My actual musical goals were put on the back burner for other things. And that’s okay. That sometimes happens, but I was trying to look at what went wrong. Why did that go on the back burner? What I realized is when I set my musical goals, I didn’t really consider all the other personal goals, all the other kinds of goals that I had going on in my life. The reason I tell you this is because I know that it’s likely that you are in the same boat as me.

I would say, just from really knowing who listens to this show, knowing the audience on Learn Jazz Standards, that 90 to 95% of you are people that do not do music for a living, even like I do. So you don’t even get time to do all the gigs and stuff that I do, but you have really busy lives working at a job, children, a family, all kinds of things going on. And you have financial goals for yourself and all kinds of other things that you’re trying to accomplish, projects for work, just an endless amount of things that you have to do. And you love music, you love jazz music, and you want to get better, but that’s always going to be fighting for your time.

I’m telling you this to be vulnerable with you to help you know that even though I do this for a living, and you would think that musical goals, my musical goals that I set this year, would be like way up at the top, my top priority, and maybe they should have been closer to the top. Well, I failed at those, and so I want you to know that I did that, and that I think the problem was, when I set these musical goals, I just didn’t consider these other things.

Back when I was in college, all I really had to worry about was making enough money to pay for tuition and practicing, and that’s all I did. I was in that unique circumstance, and maybe if you’re listening right now and you’re a student in high school, or you’re a college student as well, maybe that’s your case too. You have lots of time. You don’t have as many responsibilities. But if you’re listening right now and you can relate to me and what I’m talking about, you have to start considering what are the other things that I’m planning, and am I overdoing it. How can you set up your goals for more success? It was really a classic Brent move. I totally overbooked myself, and as a result of that, other things became more important, I guess, than accomplishing that musical goal that I had this year.

So what am I going to do about it? It’s a new start. We have a new year here. What am I going to do to accomplish that? Well, first of all, I am going to set up my musical goal of composing more music, spending a little bit more time practicing and being creative. I’m going to automatically set that higher, and I’m already looking at some of my other goals that I have for this year that still relate around some of the things that I told you I accomplished in 2017. I’m looking at those goals, and I’m seeing how are those possibly going to interfere with my musical goals this year. How are those possibly going to end up being a problem?

So I’m already going to start trying to work my goals, and the schedule and the deadlines of those goals, a little bit more around my compositional goals for this year, so that I can come out at the end of the year with some tunes ready to go and record an album. That’s really what I want to do. I want to get onto that track. I’m not in a rush, necessarily, but I want that to happen, and I know that I need to spend some real time working on my music that I already have written and creating some new stuff, and even creating some arrangements of other songs. So I want to do that. I want to give my creativity a little bit more time this year. I have to consider the big picture, and I think that’s where I failed this year.

What I want you to get out of today from my story, from me talking about my wins and my failures of 2017, is you need to, whatever goal you make, the reason you make a goal is so that you can actually accomplish it. So you have to set yourself up for success to actually accomplish that, and to do that, we need to look at the big picture. What else are we doing in our life? What is actually realistic for us to do? Realistic so that at the end of the year, at the end of a four-month period, whatever period of time you have set up that defines the end of your goal, that you can say listen, I made a step forward. I moved the needle. That’s the important thing. I moved the needle, I moved forward, I didn’t stay put in one position, I didn’t step back a step or two.

We want to make forward progress, especially when it comes to our musicianship, so we need to look at the big picture. What else is going on? What are our other goals that aren’t musical, and how are they going to possibly interfere with our musical goals? Don’t set a goal if you absolutely can’t accomplish it. I know I could have accomplished my goal this year, but I did too much, and therefore I shouldn’t have even made that goal or some of the other goals, if I knew I couldn’t accomplish all of them.

So that’s what I’m going to change for this year, for 2018. I hope you’re motivated. I hope you’re psyched. I said I wasn’t going to talk about setting goals and how to do that, because we’ve talked so much about that. Last year, it was Episode 42 … that was literally a year ago … I talked about how to set goals, your new year’s resolution goals and how to set that up for success. So you can check out that episode.

One of my favorite episodes that came out this year, in 2017, was we had a special guest on from Musical U. It was Christopher Sutton, and he talked about how to set game-changing goals up for your musicianship. Man, he just rocked it. He gave us tons of amazing information, Episode 82, and he used a cool acronym called MAGIC. It’s his MAGIC process for setting up goals, and that stands for Musical, Attainable, Growth-oriented, Interesting, and Clear, and he really goes really into detail. So I encourage you, if you’re having some problems setting goals, or you’re just not sure how to do that or how to set yourself up for success with that, go back and listen to Episode 82 of this podcast.

It’s been a great year. I hope you’ve had a great year too. I’m really looking forward to 2018, and the next time I see you, it’s going to be on New Year’s Day, and so I hope you’ll listen back then. But until then, start thinking about your goals, start thinking about what you’re going to accomplish and how you can avoid making some of the mistakes I did this year.

All right, that’s all for today’s show. I want to thank you so much for listening. Thanks for tuning in. Now, I always ask this at the end of each show. If you got value out of today’s episode, or any of the episodes that we come out with, be sure to leave a rating and a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast listening service. It helps other people find this podcast, helps spread the word, and it’s a great way to give just a free end-of-the-year gift to us as we head on into the new year. Now, happy holidays, merry Christmas to those of you celebrating, and happy new year, guys. I’ll see you on new year’s day and next week’s Episode 95.

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


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