Happy 2020, everyone!
I don’t know about you, but 2019 was a tough year for me personally. I say that even though I know I'm really lucky in almost every imaginable way. I live in relative affluence, I'm healthy, my family is healthy, and I have good friends and community. I guess it just felt like the year was back-to-back with small challenges and difficulties and it never let up. We’ve got little kids and I took a new job this year and, while those things are both investments in the future, they’re definitely a lot of work. Kinda felt like we just couldn’t ever really get a break.
Not to mention the state of the world. I try not to be alarmist, but the combination of climate change and this insane and cruel political movement exemplified by Trump and all his greedy and heartless cronies makes me fear for the world my kids are growing up in. I fear we humans have engineered a society past our ability to psychologically or scientifically cope with.
Anyway, sorry to be a bit of a downer, but that’s where my head has been at. I hope this new year and this new decade prove my worst fears wrong and give us all a sense of hope for the future. (Not to mention some relaxation and enjoyment in the present!)
In my little corner of the universe, I’m both excited and nervous to share my plans for this new year.
First off, let’s get the stupid out of the way. It’s a long and ridiculous story, but we went through all the trouble of rebranding ourselves as “Kid Bear” and…well…it turns out I just can’t stand it. From my bandmates and friends has come a chorus of, “I told you so”, and they’re well earned. But so it goes.
So, from here on out, I’m back to being Matt Lenny and, with the band, it’s Matt Lenny & The Breakdown. Website: https://mattlenny.com/ Sorry for the confusion, but I just couldn’t handle the Kid Bear name anymore.
My my...look at the fancy logo!
Ok, with that out of the way, let’s put something interesting stuff out on the line. I’ve been doing music for quite a long time at this point. I mean…my 20 year college reunion was this fall and I started playing music in clubs and trying to make recordings well before that. And I feel like I worked pretty darn hard at over a lot of those years. But, if I’m honest with myself, I don’t know if I ever worked hard enough.
Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I didn’t consistently work hard enough at the things that mattered. I got distracted by fluff and fear: Which guitar should I buy? How should we promote? Is the website good enough? Should I focus on acoustic or play more electric? What should the band name be (oops)?
Those things aren't completely without importance. Each in their own way, they are consequential decisions, but they aren’t the heart of the matter for me. The thing that matters…really the only thing that matters is the songs. Writing the best damn songs I possibly can. And then, secondarily, learning how to perform in the most convincing way possible. Here’s a rough expression of rough priority:
1) Write the best songs I possibly can
2) Learn to perform those songs as compellingly as I can
96-120) Everything else
When I look back over my career, I’ve put a lot of energy into numbers 96 and up and, to be honest, shortchanged the first two. That’s not to say I’m not proud of a lot of the songs I’ve written or of the shows we’ve done, but I have inarguably not put as much energy and focus into those as I could have. I haven’t studied songwriting in a methodical fashion or written on a regimen. I haven’t studied performance video and iterated to make it compelling. And so on and so forth.
So, here’s the plan for the year. I’m tired of fucking around and, quite frankly, I’m too old and don’t have enough free time to waste it. I need to give 90-95% of my energy to the first two concepts and the remainder to everything else. And this is how I’ve committed to doing it. I’m calling it, “50/50 in 2020”:
- I’m going to learn a new cover song and record a demo of myself performing it every week. This will always be a video and, when I can, will also be a high quality home studio demo. All of these will be posted on YouTube and SoundCloud on a dedicated playlist. I’m allowed two weeks off, which means I need to create 50 video demos of cover songs before the end of the year. You can see/hear the first one here:
- I’m going to write a new original song and record a demo of every week. Same with the covers, my current thinking is that this will always be a video and, when I can, will also be a high quality home studio demo. I’ll similarly allow myself two weeks, which means a I need to write 50 new songs this year. You can see/hear the first one here:
Why? Because I want to be the best songwriter I can and I want to figure out how to be a compelling performer. So, I need to learn other people’s songs to see what makes them tick, but also try them on for size and see which styles suit me. And then I need to write regularly and just keep it up. Finally, I need to study the video and try things to figure out how to make it pop. If I can’t make the videos compelling in some way, then…well…maybe performing isn’t for me.
Here’s the thing that both keeps me going and makes me super frustrated. I think I can actually do this. I don’t mean that I think I can hit these quotas. (I’m actually worried I’ll flake out or get depressed and fail at that.) I mean that I think I can actually be a great songwriter and compelling performer if I set my mind to it. I’ve tasted it. I’ve written a couple songs that people have told me meant something to them and, as recently as this past summer, a total stranger told me that I reminded her of Bono in the passion of my performance. That said, more often than not, I’ve also written shitty songs, sang out of key, done lackluster shows and every other mediocre thing. But I have touched it, so I know it’s in me. The question is, am I gonna do something about it?
They say that maybe talent is overrated and it’s hard work that really gets you there. So, I’m gonna get to work and worry later (or maybe not at all) about whether or not other people tune in or anybody ever pays me another cent. I’ll be proud of myself if I can hit this goal…a repertoire of 100 songs is nothing to sneeze at!…and I think I might be able to make a darn good record next year if I start with 50 songs to choose from…
Anyway, if you read these emails, thanks for reading. And, in my other 10%, I may ask you all some questions about what kind of content/updates/etc. you’d like to see more of or less of from me. (I still do want people to hear the music I’m making!) But, in the meantime, I do sincerely appreciate having some folks I can email about music and what inspires me.
Here's to a productive year.