Love Wins and Patience Pays: What L.A. taught me about Music, Business, and Life

January 15, 2020
Photo of the author, performing live in Fort Collins, Colorado Circa 2016, with longer hair than he has now.
I have been forging a semi-professional career as a musician in the smallish town of Fort Collins, Colorado, since 2001, when, at age 19, I dropped out of college to start a rock band with my soul brother, Brian Collins.
Since then, we have played over one thousand shows and spent thousands of hours in the studio recording and producing six full length albums.
Seventeen years later, at age 36, some of my original demos got the attention of (friend of a friend) Justin Andres, an L.A.-based musician and producer, who, among other gigs, is the live music director and bassist for Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer Eric Burdon and the Animals.
Justin invited me down to L.A., and I went. We hired four other musicians, worked in three different studios, and recorded three songs. And over five days, I gained more perspective on the business and music of life than I did in eighteen years of performing and recording in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Now, a year later, I’m still looking back in quasi-disbelief : How did that happen? And more importantly, what did I learn?

1. Love Wins.

Everyone I worked with was so talented, and their talent seemed to be in direct proportion to how much they loved their craft. Each player loved to play so much, and they were so good! It was inspiring to see people at the top of their game, still working on growing, driven by love.
And, shared love creates room for collaboration. Love got my demos into shape enough to attract Justin’s interest. Love got me on the plane; love got me on an air-mattress to save money for studio time. A shared love for the art and craft of songwriting, producing, and recording music made it all possible.
In many ways I already knew this. When people look at the Seers’ 900-song request list, they ask: How do we know so many songs? And we invariably answer: because we love them.

2. No One Cares About You (or your music).

This might seem like a downer, but I found it to be liberating. This realization gives you license to take yourself less seriously, which offers blessings in perspective and humility. And this perspective helps you do what needs to be done to make yourself (and your music) the best it can be.
I first got this sense years ago, visiting New York City, realizing that if you were going to make it as an artist in NYC, you’d have to be really, really good. And that as good as you think you are, there are literally thousands of other people doing work that’s inspiring and amazing that only a small handful of people really recognize and care about.
You are, indeed, special. But don’t think that this special-ness means anything in the marketplace or in the studio. Do your best, and do what you do because you love it.

3. Quality People Will Work for You (if the price is right).

I already knew this, having hired excellent mixing engineers (at steep costs) for previous projects, but I came to more fully appreciate this in seeing professionals at work in L.A.’s gig-based music industry.
My producer friend says he takes gigs based on three considerations: how good is the music? how good are the people? and how good is the money? If he get’s two out of three, he’s in.
This means: if you’re serious about making great recordings, invest in the craft, your character, and in your collaborator’s talents (with cash). The music business is like a little microcosm of life. It’s not just who you know, it’s who you know plus who you are, plus who your friends are, plus the dues you’ve paid. This relates to the next point.

4. Kindness is Essential.

The guys and gals we worked with were SO sweet, so kind, so helpful, so humble (see points 1 and 2). And, invariably, they wanted to hang; they were genuinely interested and curious. But they were also working, and getting rest or preparing for the next paid session/client/gig.
In a business ecosystem based on who you know and who your friends are, you’ve got to be an exceptionally good friend to others. Kindness and openness during the hang seemed almost as essential as chops in the session.

5. Patience Pays.

It’s not worth rushing ahead. On a musical level, take your time to get the right part. Relax, chill, be kind, and get the guitar line right. Polish the vocal melody. Slow down, and you’ll save yourself time.
And on a business level, the professionals know that they’re in a marathon, not a sprint. Even more so with indie artists building their following fan by fan, scraping together cash however they can to pay for the team they need.
Besides, what’s the rush? Nobody cares, you love what you’re doing, and you’re getting to hang out with people you care about!
These lessons — courtesy of the thriving Los Angeles gig ecosystem — have influenced my work, life and perspective for the better.