The secret to success

This weekend I was served an ad on YouTube for an online course through MasterClass. I can tell you that I ended up watching the entire ad, but I can’t tell you what video I was trying to watch before the ad was served. This might be a problem, except I’m sure what I was wanting to watch was a lot less important than what I got from this MasterClass ad with playwright David Mamet. In the last ten seconds of the ad, he says something remarkable about creating.

"I'm not any less confused than you are, I just got in the habit of doing it" 

That’s as close to the secret to success as you’ll probably ever find. 

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The one that got me into Van Morrison

I read a lot about Bob Dylan. When people ask about his records, he is quick to say that what you hear on the record is never the perfect version of any song. He believes the best version is always played on a stage somewhere out on the road. It takes time for the players to feel totally comfortable with the changes. It takes time for the singer to feel comfortable with the players. Taking that time is worth it, because when the requisite time has passed and everyone is in sync and you step in front of a ready crowd– that's when the real magic happens.

The last semester of my senior year of college, I was so totally overwhelmed. There was so much work to do and so little relief from the constant pressures. Nowhere to escape. Then, one night in the library, for a reason I cannot remember, I got on YouTube and looked up Van Morrison. I think I was looking for the video of him singing 'Caravan' on The Last Waltz. Instead, I found this live performance of Cyprus Avenue live in his hometown of Belfast in 1979, and it changed everything for me. I escaped. Van Morrison gets to that transcendent place, where for 9 minutes he's living inside the song. The crowd is with him. The band is with him. I was with him. They don’t play to get to the end of the song. The end is not the point. The song is there to keep you in that transcendent place as long as you can hang on. 

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The truth about procrastination

Maybe you already know this about procrastination, but it was news to me. One of the speakers at the conference I attended last week was Mel Robbins, whose speaking career was launched by a speech she gave at TEDx San Francisco that has become one of the most viewed TEDx videos out there. At the very end of that talk, she revealed a little mental trick that she uses to overcome bad habits, 5 seconds at a time. It’s called the 5 second rule (not the one about food), and what it does is give your brain time switch from reacting out of involuntary instinct to deliberately acting from your values.

The title of her first talk was “How to Stop Screwing Yourself Over,” and that’s really what the 5 second rule is about. It’s probably not unique to creatives, but she pointed out that one of the ways creatives screw themselves over is by procrastination. That wasn’t news. But, what I did not realize is that procrastination is a form of stress relief. 

The reason I’m putting things off is not really because they’re boring or tedious but because they make me feel stressed. Recognizing that it’s not the task I’m putting off, but the confrontation with stress, allows me to use other, more healthy methods of dealing with stress and stop cheating myself out of what I really want.

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Thursday Check In - Apr. 19, 2018

Drew's mid-week check in with Talking Track listeners. Wasted day planners are a thing of the past for the new Drew Michael Blake. Drew is talking new schedules and new discoveries. From waking up at an ungodly hour to enneagram numbers. In the final minutes Drew reveals a disturbing new discovery about his musical tastes.
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The Sound of Saturday Morning

In the summer of 1996, I was betrayed for the first time. Dad would turn 40 that year, and Mom wanted to do something special. So, she bought two tickets to go see our  favorite singer. If you’re thinking that the math doesn’t add up, you’re tracking with me. I guess bringing your elementary age kid along on a date doesn’t add to the romance.

Maybe I didn’t have the word for it then, but I can tell you now that I felt some real resentment over being left at home that night. I had been singing James Taylor songs (we have video!) with Dad since I was 5 years old. To this day, the sound of Saturday morning is his 1993 live double-album. He was my favorite singer then, and still ranks with my greatest influences. We bond with music at an early age, and the memories we make around the music we love become part of our identity that we will never lose.

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The Robbery on Yeardley Avenue

“How do I say this? Well... the house didn’t burn down. So that’s good. Umm, it looks like someone broke the glass on the back door and there’s a bunch of stuff missing. I don’t know what he took from you, yet.”

I had moved into a house with Taylor Thompson, Jesse’s younger brother, just a couple weeks before Christmas and while we were away someone broke in and stole everything from Taylor’s new bass guitar and my favorite electric, to a jar of coins and an engagement ring from our roommates upstairs. This thief had plenty of time. Last week I kicked off Season 3 of Talking Tracks with an episode focused on just one track from my record Blame The Miles Between. The first track is called “Who Stole The Light?” and it was partially born out of this time. My house had been broken into. My belongings had been ransacked. I had just moved to a new city. The girl who had my heart for the last 7 years had just gotten married.


“Who stole the light from your eyes, my child?
Where comes this sadness in your quiet hour?”


These lines were easy to write. When you’re robbed you don’t really know how much has been taken from you. It takes time to sort it all out. After you’ve taken inventory you realize that not all robberies can be reported, and it's the things those thieves take that can’t be replaced.

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Prepared For The Worst

In an act of spontaneous alignment, Drew ditches his playbook and picks a new artist to add to the Talking Tracks collection. One of his all time favorites and current favorites, John Prine, released a new record last Friday, so Drew talks about a John Prine record that came out 18 years ago featuring songs from 30 years ago. It made sense in his head.
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When Left To My Own Devices

“This guy is good. Real good. I think he’s better than me. There goes my shot.”

That is a snippet of my internal monologue when I was first introduced to Jesse Thompson. It was the year after high school and we were both at a little school in upstate New York where we were trying to figure out what we believed. In that moment, I believed that Jesse was my competition. We were both auditioning for the same spot as a guitar player on a music team of no lasting importance, but in that moment I felt I had something to prove. Being a guitar player was something that made me stand out, and I felt like I had put a lot of work into getting good. But he was better and I knew it. 

We ended up in the same group, with Jesse on lead guitar and me on bass, but we weren’t yet on the same team. He had skills and I had a choice to make. Would I look for opportunities to show him up or to build him up? Would I look for opportunities to prove what I already knew or ask him to teach me what I could learn from him? Would he be my competitor or my collaborator? 

I am competitive by nature, and left to my own devices that gets pretty unhealthy pretty quick. One of the reasons I turned to music in the first place was that music culture, when it is healthy, is not a competition. Competition breeds envy and isolation and its purpose is to divide the winners from the losers. Collaboration breeds growth and community as it calls you out of your isolation and into harmony with others. If we had become rivals, I probably would have never seen Jesse again. In what was probably an act of divine intervention, Jesse and I both made a series of choices that has made us collaborators for more than 10 years now. From New York to Virginia, and now in Nashville, my life has been made richer by the music that has brought us together.

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Where do you want to be?

The summer before 7th grade, I joined the football team. Even now, I don’t look like a football player, but at that time I was about five feet tall, a little over 100 pounds, and I had never played tackle football in my life. With no skills to speak of, they grouped me with the other incompetents and put us through drills. This was a junior high team, so there were 12 year old Davids like me practicing with veteran, 15 year old Goliaths; 9th graders who each took up the entire field of vision available through my helmet. I could barely hold a three-point stance, but when the whistle blew they told me to charge full-speed into Bob the Behemoth. It should be clear to everyone what was about to happen. With all the might my 12 years could muster, I charged Brontosaurus Bob, and that was the day I learned I could fly. My air time might have only been a second, but it felt like I had been rocketed into near-earth orbit. I was crumpled on the ground and Bob was standing there like he was waiting on a bus.

We had to do this drill again and again, and I could never make Bob the bus move an inch. Instead I got used to hitting Bob, hitting the ground, hitting Bob, hitting the ground, Bob, ground, Bob, ground. The coaches didn’t expect me to hold my own against Bob; the laws of physics are the same on the football field as everywhere else. The coaches expected me to work through the fear of getting hit, to pick myself up and get hit again. Eventually I would grow. I would develop skills. I would learn techniques and tactics. But if I didn’t learn to go up against impossible odds, get hit, and line up again, then skill, technique, and tactics would never matter. 

If you’re trying something you’ve never done before, or anything where the odds are against you, you’re lining up against Bob. Every time you get knocked down, every time you hit a wall, every time you are told no, every time what you were afraid would happen happens, you come face to face with fear. And each time you line up again you get a little less afraid and a little more free to do your best work. The next time the whistle blows, where do you want be?

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Are you on my wavelength?

image of a radio

This week I attended Marketing United, a yearly marketing conference put on by Emma, the email marketing company based here in Nashville. There were a number of dry, number driven sessions, but I was totally surprised how many sessions went beyond the numbers to remind marketers, whose lives are so often filled with numbers and maximizing return on investment, and sales, and impressive metrics, that marketers do not deal in numbers. 

Debbie Millman, host of the podcast Design Matters, was there to lead a session that on its face was about branding and purchasing habits, but at its base was about the desire in each one of us to find a way to connect with others. A brand is a flag that says something about you when you wear it, and sends a message to everyone around you asking, “are you on my wavelength?” That’s my own paraphrase of her message, anyway, and it made me think about how this happens with music.

A couple of years ago I was at a Full Moon Pickin’ Party, a regular summer event at Percy Warner Park, just southwest of Nashville. This event is designed to be something of an event for traditional bluegrass pickers, but anyone who brings one of the qualified instruments gets a discount and gets in the door. There is no playing test. No one is making sure you can play Cripple Creek, Blackberry Blossom, or Shady Grove. So what happens is that some outsiders get in. In this instance, while most of the circles of musicians were doing their best Bill Monroe, Stanley Brothers, or Ricky Skaggs there was one small group off to the side. Instead of the classic bluegrass repertoire, this group of mostly late teens and early twenties boys were playing Avett Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show. 

It’s easy to dismiss them and say that they don’t get it. It’s easy to say they’re ruining the spirit of the event. But they’re here. They brought their acoustic instruments just like the rest of us, and they came to play the songs they love. Like the rest of us, they came hoping to find some strangers who answer the question, “are you on my wavelength?”–and they found each other.

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