Category Archives: writing

10 ways to be a happier artist in the digital age

happy musicianThere are so many articles floating around about the dismal career prospects for an independent creative person in our day and age, it’s time for me to add my two cents, and hopefully shed some positive light on the situation. After all my years in biz, it’s as much my manifesto as yours. If you’re already playing the big concert halls of the world, then this won’t apply, but if you’re not quite there yet, that is ok! Life is long. Read on and enjoy…

10 ways to be a happier artist in the digital age

1) Accept that you might need several jobs to support yourself along the way. Embrace this by making art, having a life outside of art, pacing yourself accordingly, and not beating yourself up for needing financial stability. (Read¬†Christa Couture’s eloquent blog post on this topic.)

2) If you secretly enjoy working with other artists (ie. music teacher, grant writer, audio engineer, session player) do it wholeheartedly and don’t let old wives’ tales like “those who can’t do, teach” get in your way. Enough with the shame already! Accept that your career will be an amalgamation of tasks. We’re all artists, we’re all teachers, we’re all a lot of things in the digital age. See #1.

3) Come to grips with the fact that there is virtually no money in selling music anymore. Read this iTunes report showing that the average person spends $12 a year on music. That’s one album, per year. Release your expectations that it will be yours. Reconsider calling this the music “business”. Your “living” will be a patchwork of gigs, teaching, playing in cover bands (or with other more successful artists), and hopefully a few placements and royalties, all amounting to somewhere around poverty-level wages (maybe more if you are a good hustler or have good patrons). See #2 and #1.

4) Accept that piracy is rampant. We are all “part of the problem” and we will all be “part of the solution”, whatever that turns out to be. Be encouraged that as much as people don’t want to buy music, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to listen to it.

5) If you find it stressful promoting your art to your friends, asking them to buy your stuff and come to your shows, you might be happier doing something else part-time to offset that burden. Remember, no shame! See #1 and #2.

6) Don’t forget that art is the most powerful language we have as humans. You can still do it despite the challenge of making¬†a “living”¬†at it. Enjoy it for what it is, and don’t let the “business” kill your passion.¬†See #1 and #3.

7) If your music resonates with the public so much that you rise to the top and make some money, enjoy it! Don’t waste your energy having a temper tantrum (like this artist). Stay calm and negotiate your music’s worth like any other business transaction in any other industry. Enjoy that brief moment when there is actual money on the line and it actually becomes a¬†business.

8) Keep learning about the parts of music you love. There is so much to learn and you will be reminded that making art has always been a struggle in every century. The digital age is no different.

9) Focus on refining your craft and making innovative music (see #8). You will have less time and energy to worry about the external world attributing some abstract monetary value to it. See #6 and #3.

10) Respect the artists who have had success on their own terms. Learn what you can from them and trust that you are on your own unique path with art. See #2 and #9.

*Bonus* Read Stephen King’s fantastic memoir¬†On Writing and be reminded that art is a support system for life (ie. food, shelter, family, health) and not the other way around.

Now go, go, go, make some art with all your heart!!!


A mom on MOOCs: Educating my (inner) child in the digital age

mooc imageEvery time my son grabs for my phone or laptop I say to him, “that’s not a toy honey, it’s a tool”. It’s my go-to phrase around technology because it’s a good reminder for me too. He’s barely a toddler, yet I’m already preparing for the day¬†he gets his own “device”. And I don’t want to deny him the experience. Our household revolves around technology and I want to create a healthy rapport with it and find a boundary that’s consistent for everyone in our family. To me, evaluating the purpose of all that screen time is a key factor in the decision.

It’s sad to read the abundance of articles claiming the internet is making us¬†dumb¬†and¬†depressed. It’s true that constant connectivity can be over-stimulating if you don’t set any boundaries, but I personally feel that my quality of life has been hugely improved by the internet’s myriad offerings. I believe the solution to our distraction is in our own brains. In¬†contrast to TV which truly is passive, the internet is waiting for us to direct it. And if done with a bit of imagination, it can become a gateway to an immense amount of information, leading to new ideas and creativity.

Most of us have benefited from the convenience of the Internet through apps like Skype, Google search, maps, online shopping, etc. But now the internet is radicalizing education on a global level via the massive open online course, or MOOC. This spring I was turned on to an amazing website called Coursera¬†which is a pioneer in the MOOC revolution.¬†Reputable universities from all around the globe are now offering their courses online for free. ¬†The courses are taught via video lectures, and structured into weekly units with assignments and quizzes, and supported by forums filled with thousands of engaged learners from around the globe. There is no credit offered (although some courses now offer a completion certificate for a small fee), but if all you’re looking for is information, it’s an incredible resource.

Why are MOOCs so revolutionary? Blogs and video tutorials have abounded for more than a decade, right? Well, as my husband says, you only get one chance to learn something for the first time. As much as possible, you want that experience to be high quality, and before MOOCs came along the quality of information on the internet was inconsistent at best. Now, the quality, the instruction, and the structure is everything you would expect from a university level course. So now anyone who wants to pursue higher education but can’t justify the time or expense in going back to school has the opportunity, right from their own computer.

I’m obviously a big fan. This year alone I’ve already learned the four tenets of Greek rhetoric, the archetypes of fantasy and science fiction, and the intricacies of the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas. I’ve revisited songwriting techniques, the history of Western classical music, and the foundations of audio engineering. And now I’m taking a jazz improvisation course through Berklee taught by master vibraphonist Gary Burton. It’s ah-ma-zing! I don’t always have the time to do every assignment or quiz, but even watching or listening to the video lectures while sewing, walking the baby, folding laundry, etc. leaves me with new perceptions of the world.

Of course these resources are only half the equation when it comes to learning. The other half is the blood, sweat, and tears to work yourself through the information. Angela Lee Duckworth refers to it as “grit” in her¬†TED talk on the key to success. There is no doubt that we all need to find our own way to motivate and discipline ourselves to work through new information. And the more I study online, the more I realize it’s a process of being patient and kind to yourself as you figure out how you truly learn best. In some ways it’s even better than university. There’s no competition, nothing to prove. Nothing between you and the knowledge you seek. Perhaps this is also where creating boundaries around the educational vs. entertainment aspects of the Internet come into play. Taking a break to surf Facebook for a while can be a nice change after all that learning!

But once you get bored, the knowledge is waiting there, beckoning like a seducer. Have you heard about the¬†Mexican teacher who applied a similar concept to his classroom? When he realized the standard curriculum was boring his students to death, he radicalized his approach by allowing them unlimited internet access and challenging them to research and write about subjects they loved. What happened? He discovered he had a class full of geniuses. Self-regulating ones too. They were far too engaged in their work to be trolling Facebook for hours or checking email every 5 minutes. And even if they were, it didn’t matter anymore, because they were by and large communicating with people connected to their work, so it made sense.

There’s no reason to limit this mentality to children.¬†We can apply the same principles to ourselves. And thankfully, more and more evidence¬†is rolling in to support the potential the Internet has to help us learn, grow, and develop. Perhaps the web is really just a mirror for our own behaviours, like any other relationship in our lives. In my experience, if you can put the blinders on to all the distracting trash vying for your attention, and unleash your inner “grit”, you can harness the immense power of the internet to expand your mind, your skills, and your life. And what could be a more positive example to our children on using technology than that?

Interested in reading more about MOOCs? Check out this link for more information.


The story of my CBC short story

Maybe it was fate. I’m not sure exactly. Because as much as I love the CBC, I’m not on any of their email lists, and yet a couple of months ago, an email from them landed in my inbox announcing the Canada Writes Short Story contest. I’d never heard of it, and I’m not¬†that into contests, but a hard deadline is sure a great motivator for getting projects done.

My first thought was, “it’s 2 months away, I’ll write 10 stories and pick the best one.” Well! That was overshooting the moon a bit. I started in on 3 different ideas, but then realized my head was spinning trying to focus on so many things, so I narrowed it down to 2 and did a few versions of each. When I finally had workable drafts, I gave them to my chief of vetting (aka my husband) who voted one out. Then I really got to work on the winner.

And then I hit a wall. As much as I tried to make the story fly, it just wasn’t coming together.¬†I figured I would have to let the deadline pass and try again next year. What did I know? I’m new to this fiction thing and maybe it takes longer than I thought. You can’t really force the story to come together. In fact, the more I write, the more I understand when writers talk about the characters revealing themselves to you, rather than the other way around.

I kept mulling over the plot in my head. Why wasn’t it working? Who was the protagonist, and what did she need me to bring out for her character to come to life?

Ah! One day, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Just a few tweaks here and there and all of sudden I was back on track and the story was alive again. I managed to get it finished and then sent it off to my other chief of editing (my awesome sister) who really helped me pull it into something worth reading. Little did I know there was still so much work to do on the development. It’s not just about a character, a situation, an environment, but peeling away the layers of their cathartic moment so the reader can come along for the ride.

Have I piqued your interest yet? Ha. As much as I would love to reveal the story itself, I’m bound to keep it unpublished until they announce the shortlist, which is several months away. Until then, all I will tell you that it’s on the theme of motherhood and, well, I can’t wait to share it with you when the time comes!