Clearing up the clutter and defining your music career goals can be achieved much easier through proper planning. For Suz Paulinski, using visuals and going back to physical planners is a great way to start. She sits down with Bree Noble to discuss how having a comprehensive vision board or checklist can help a lot in laying the right path towards musical success, emphasizing how having a clear sight of your goals can help deal with losses and missed deadlines much more efficiently. Suz also shares the rigid workstyle often experienced by musicians when working with record labels and how it has become tamer compared to the early 2000s.
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Suz Paulinski: Defining Music Career Goals Through Efficient Planning
I am excited to be here with my friend, Suz Paulinski from The Rock/Star Advocate. We are going to talk about all the things of productivity. We are on the cusp of 2021. Whether you’re reading this in a timely manner right before we start 2021, or you’re further into the year, this will be helpful in helping you as a musician to figure out ways to be more organized and productive even in these difficult circumstances. I want to have Suz introduce herself a little bit, give you a little bit of background on why she loves to help musicians with productivity and then we’ll get into all the juicy stuff about how we can apply these productivity principles to our lives.
Thank you for having me. My name is Suz. I’m the Founder of The Rock/Star Advocate. I’ve been in the music business for many years. I started The Rock/Star Advocate years ago because I’m working at the major labels in New York and starting my own businesses that never got off the ground the way that I wanted them to. I burnt out real fast. In my late twenties, I contracted Lyme disease. It is a chronic and a potent version of it. I wasn’t able to work on growing my business the way I had wanted to. It was 2013 and I was feeling super bummed out and I took a break from the whole thing.
In 2014, I finally decided like, “I got to stop feeling sorry for myself. I got to get back in the game and figure out what I want to do.” I hired a business coach who was not in the music industry and they had taught me all these productivity things that I could do to make the most of the time that I can work when I wasn’t sick in bed. I was like, “You’re crazy. We work 24/7 in the music industry. This is not going to work,” but I had no choice. I had the time that I had and I was paying this coach a lot of money. I was like, “I’m going put my trust in them, in myself and I’m going to make it happen.”
Within six months, my business was full-time and I haven’t looked back since. In the three months that I worked with them and we’re figuring out what can my business be? How can I serve people? I realized what they were teaching me was what I needed to teach musicians. Understanding that I could work four hours in a day and get more done than when I worked sixteen hours at the label, I realized that I need to trust this counterintuitive productivity behavior, help musicians and other music professionals realize that we don’t have to burn out. We don’t have to sleep when we’re dead, sleep shame each other and all of this stuff. I helped music professionals of all kinds and other creatives get clear on what their goals are, cut through the BS and the white noise, get to what their priorities are, figure out when they’re going to make time for those priorities and set up steps to get it done. That’s what The Rock/Star Advocate is all about.
When you were at the label, why didn’t they employ these productivities? If they’re smart business people, they don’t want their employees to burn out. Why aren’t they doing this?
I started at the labels back in the early aughts when iTunes was coming out with digital downloads and this was all like, “What do you mean? CDs aren’t selling the way they used to.” They were in a panic and they were focused on the bottom line. They were focused on, “We can’t let sales slip.” The environment at the labels was like, “You either do the work or if you don’t want to do it, there’s a line around the corner of people dying to get into the music industry and so we’ll replace you.” I quit five times. I kept showing back up because they kept threatening that I wasn’t going to have a future in this business and that I’d regret it so I kept coming back the next day after I quit.Securing a deal with a record label is only a byproduct of doing what you love. Click To Tweet
When I finally did leave, I built a twenty-page manual for whoever they were going to train to take my spot. They hired the intern because I had also had to train all the interns at the company. They put one of the interns in my spot on a sixteen-hour day. I had my own office. I was the Midwest sales coordinator for an entire section of states in the United States. They gave it to an intern and he stayed on as an intern for eight months in my position. They did not pay him but they eventually hired him. That was the mentality at the labels. It was like, “We’ll fill your spot and we’ll make it work.” Luckily, many of them are changing. A couple of years ago, I started working with BMG and talking to their employees about burnout. I have noticed a lot of the bigger labels are putting more self-care and turning those tables. I look to people like Arianna Huffington. She and her Thrive community from Huffington Post helped get the conversation out there for these bigger corporations. Things are changing but back in the early 2000s, it was not the case.
The challenge for artists is that we do have to do all the things that a label does as an artist and it’s just us. If they’re burning out people at the label and they’ve got all these departments and stuff, how can we think that we could do all the things that we need to do as an artist and wear all these hats of the label and still do it in four hours a day?
A couple of things to keep in mind as you pointed out, the labels weren’t working smart. We say all the time how long it’s taken. It’s still taking these labels time to figure out that people aren’t buying CDs. You could have your niche community. I’ve seen independent artists like Leah McHenry and there’s plenty of artists like yourself. There are still CDs that get sold. Those are your super fans and those are the people that love the tangible thing. As a whole, if you look at the global sales reports, streaming, digital downloads and in fact, more so streaming now is how consumers are taking in new music, not so much the CD sale, certainly not the way they were in the ‘90s.
The labels are still dragging their feet and refusing to look at new models and new ways of doing things on a larger scale. Independent musicians and having coaches like yourself who teach these better strategies for building careers, they’re more adaptable, more willing to change, and go with the time. Independent artists do have a leg up because even though you are wearing more hats and there’s more to do, you can adapt much more quickly than a larger corporation can. Will you always be working four hours a day? No. If you’re getting ready to launch an album or a single, there might be some days where you do pull an all-nighter or you are working a bit more because there are all these tiny little things to do that are time-specific.
However, we want to get from the constant. I was working 16, 17-hour days at the office every single day, week after week and month after month. That isn’t sustainable. We avoid burnout by making the all-nighters or the longer days at the office rare and only for certain occasions. The more regular days are like 4 to 6-hour days, especially if you’re working a day job. I have clients who are transitioning out of their day job and sometimes they only have one hour a day after they get home from a day job, they have kids, and they have other things to do. That one hour is intentional and they are focused on what is going to move the needle and the other stuff can wait. That’s the key.
I got through with this bootcamp that I did called Get More Done in Less Time. It is all about that. People only have many hours per day to work on music especially if they have a job, have kids, when they’re having to supervise homeschool and take care of aging parents. You’ve got all these responsibilities on your plate. Not everybody can spend all their time working on music so I help them figure out how many hours per week do they have and how can we make these the most fruitful hours. I know this is a big question and a long process, but can you break it down a little bit of how musicians can figure it out what are the things that are going to move the needle with that one hour a day?
First, it starts with getting super clear on your goal and why that is your goal. Bree, you’ve come across this too. I’ll have clients who come and say, “My goal is to get signed by a label.” I’ll say, “Why?” They’re like, “I don’t know. I thought that’s what I’m supposed to do.” I’ll say, “That’s not the only path.” I always tell people it’s not a wrong goal to want to get signed by a label but it’s also not a goal. It’s a byproduct that happens from the work that you’re doing. You don’t get a record deal by sitting there chasing labels. You get a record deal by making so much noise out there that they’re chasing you down.
Make sure you understand the purpose and intention of your goal like, “Why is that your goal? Why is it important to you?” If you have a day job and have your homeschooling kids at home and like, “Why are you going to then stay up the extra hour to put in this work? Why does this matter to you?” When we know why it matters to us, then on the days that it does get hard, we’re more motivated to do it. When we know why the goal is important, we can more easily pick out what matters about that goal.
For instance, if you know like, “I want to release the single on January 15th. That’s my goal.” I’m like, “Why?” “I’m proud of this song. It could have a real impact. The message is important. This is the message.” I’m like, “What are the components that are important to it? Why does this matter? How are people going to digest it?” “I want to grow my Spotify and I want them to follow me on Spotify, add me to their playlist, and my goal is X number of streams by this date.” I’m like, “What needs to happen?” You start reverse engineering it and start breaking it down. If I want to be on Spotify, how do I have to get there? Who’s my distributor? Is it TuneCore? Is it a CD Baby? Is it DistroKid? How much time do they need from me in order to get it up on Spotify by the time I do that?Get attached to the why. Don't get attached to the goal itself because it can be tweaked. Click To Tweet
They’re like, “I’ve heard about pre-safe campaigns. What’s that about? How much time do I need to do that?” You might realize like, “If I’m getting started with this, January 15th might not work. Maybe I have to push it back.” You have to pick a goal, understand that you might tweak it, and change it, and then reverse engineer and work backward so that not only do you know the sequences, you figure out what steps have to come first. Many people will say to me, “I don’t know what comes first.” Start with what you do know and then ask questions if you need to, do some Google searching, figure out what components make up the step that you do know, and keep breaking it down. Before you know it, you will know what the first step is because it’s a process of elimination and breaking it down so minutely that’s like, “This is where I start.” If you only have one hour a day, that hour should be whatever that next step is and if you get that done then move on to the next one. That’s the most basic way to answer that question.
I know there’s a lot of things involved but I love that reverse engineering idea. I love that you said that when you figure out all the steps, you might have to change your goal. Sometimes people get so obsessed with the specific date especially when we’re releasing things like, “I’ve decided. I’m releasing it the 15th of January.” When they realized that they need three months, sometimes they dig their heels in and they’re like, “No, I’m going to do it. I’m going to get all this done.” They’re not going to get it done because that’s impossible and then they’re going to have all these regrets because they’re still going to release it on January 15th, but they’re not going to do it properly.
That’s a big thing that I talk about in my Rock Your Next Release course. It’s a big deal to release a song or an album and you put a lot of work into it. You need to make sure that you’ve got the time to execute on everything that you want to because otherwise you’re going to come out on the other side of it and be like, “I should have done all these other things.” I would encourage people to don’t dig their heels in when you come up with a goal and then realize that maybe it’s not as attainable as you thought within that amount of time. It’s okay to change it. I know some people don’t want to change it because they’re like, “I haven’t met my goals before. This time, I’m finally going to do it.” They haven’t been goal-settlers.
I love that you said, “Don’t get too attached.” I always say, “Get attached to the why. Don’t get attached to the goal itself.” The goal is going to be tweaked, it might look different than you thought, and it might come at a different time than you thought. That’s why we want to focus on attaching why to a goal. For the most part, it’s never going to change because that’s what impassions do. That’s what motivates you to work towards this goal. Get attached to the why but know that the vehicle that might come in might look a little bit different and that’s okay. When clients say, “I haven’t reached my goals before. It’s important that I make this one happens.” You’re going to make the why to happen. You’re going to change the deadline but the impact is going to be what you want it to be. That’s what matters. That’s what you want to accomplish, not the deadline. We don’t need to accomplish deadlines. It doesn’t define our value. It doesn’t make us failures if we move a deadline or if we miss a deadline. It means that’s how life worked out and it doesn’t define who you are.
That moves well into this thing that I wanted to ask was did you see a lot of people having to change their goals in 2020 because of the pandemic and what happened? Was it hard for them to give up on things that they’d wanted? How were they able to shift their why to something new?
I look back at my notes from January 2020 and I was like, “That was cute,” I thought that was going to happen but it didn’t. There is a little ping that happens where you’re like, “That hurts. I was wrong about that.” Why? It’s because we weren’t psychics about a pandemic happening or we weren’t psychics about how the pandemic was going to affect us emotionally, physically, mentally and how it was going to affect our loved ones. We are not in a bubble. It feels like that now we’re in lockdown but you and your plan do not exist in a bubble. You are in a web of family, friends, of fans and of the ecosystem.Moving or missing a deadline simply means that's how life worked out. Click To Tweet
We’re all connected. If one thing is happening over here and you’re connected to it, it’s going to affect your plan and you don’t have control over that. It’s important to not only accept that things can change. I’ve had clients that had their whole year mapped out financially where they’re like, “We’re going on this tour.” I know I’ve been to run this incredible crowdfunding campaign over the holidays of 2019 and that money was going to put them through a whole spring and summer tour. They were like, “What do we do? People have given us this money.” When it’s that big of a thing that changes even if it’s a smaller thing, it’s okay to grieve that loss.
It is a loss and it is okay to give yourself time to grieve and to give yourself time to process it. There are some people out there whose entire livelihoods have shifted because of this. There are people who have gotten furloughed, let go, had to say no to opportunities or those opportunities said no to them because of this pandemic. Take a moment, acknowledge that and grieve it. I always say have your fifteen-minute pity party and go, “What can I do now?” Jack Forman from BiCoastal Productions, I did an interview with him on my podcast a couple of months ago at the beginning of the pandemic. He said, “We’re creatives. Get creative with the solution and challenge yourself to say, ‘I’m not creative. My only gift is not being creative musically. My gift is being creative.’” Let’s get creative on a solution. What can you do? What can you offer? What can you give your fans? How can you pivot? It’s important to stay loose and don’t get so attached to the goal that when that goal has to change or disappear, your career has disappeared. Your career is still here, it just looks different and that’s okay.
If your why is that you want to serve your fans and give them amazing content, it might not be able to be in person, but you can still do those things. They’ll just look different. For the coming year in 2021, as we have these challenges, but we don’t exactly know what it’s going to look like because we don’t know when things are going to open up again, how do we even go about trying to figure out what our goals should be for 2021?
I’m a big visualizer. I love vision boards. I was the person who is like, “Suzie crafty wants to make a vision board or whatever.” I started to fall in love with it after working with some coaches. They turned me on to digital vision boards as much as I’m a pen to paper person.
That’s what I need because I’m not crafty either. I had the exact same reaction that you did about vision boards. I hate cutting things out of a magazine.
It will never be going to look good. It looks like a serial rapist or a serial killer. I’m done with it. It never looks inspirational. It looks scary. Another thing my coach had taught me was that also when you do it with magazines and everything, you’re limiting and you’re forcing your vision to fit whatever is in those magazines. When you do a digital one, you can create something on Canva, you can do a Google search about billions of images and find things that fit what you see. Another thing I like about digital vision boards is it also enables you to make it your desktop background. When I first started doing this in 2018, it was a game-changer because some days I wasn’t focused on it, I was gone about stuff, life distracted me, but I was seeing it every day. A few months went by, I looked at it again, and I realized, “I’ve already started to cross things off this vision board,” because I was seeing it every day.You and your plan do not exist in a bubble. You are in a web of family, friends, and fans. Click To Tweet
It’s in your psyche. This is the whole Law of Attraction thing and they’ve done psychological studies on this, all it means is when you are clear visually about what it is you’re going for, when opportunities come, you more easily see, “That opportunity, it might be great but that doesn’t fit with where I’m going. Thank you.” You get distracted less by everything that’s coming at you rather than trying to fit it into a specific what you think it should look like, when you know what you want it to look like, you open yourself to seeing things that you might’ve had blinders on before.
When you allow go after stuff the way you want it to look rather than the way you think it should look, you open yourself up to a lot of opportunities that you might’ve missed. I do it every year since 2018. It is a game-changer. Even in 2019, my life got turned tipsy, turvy and upside down. Nothing went as planned, yet still somehow by the end of 2019, everything but maybe one thing was crossed off my vision board. I was like, “I didn’t even realize that that was happening.” I didn’t even realize I was meeting my goals. It came out differently. It happened differently than I expected it to, but the goals and the things I had wanted to attract still came exactly how I had wanted them in the end.
I have a page on my website, it’s free and it’s a tutorial page that I’ve made for people with the planner, but you don’t need my planner. If you don’t have it, you can still get value out of this page because I have a 2021 vision board template. It’s a free Canva template that you can access and create your own vision board, put it on your desktop, even resize it and put it on the wallpaper on your phone. It’s fun and I walk you through how to do it. You can go there and access the free tutorial, free template, and have fun with it.
I’m going to have to check that out because I have been resistant to vision boards because of the typical nature that I thought was weird. Let’s talk about your planner. Was it 2018 when you came out with it?
It was 2016.
That was the first time I met you and knew about you way back then. It has become a standard in the music industry of things that people use to help stay focused. We’re like two sides of a coin. I am a digital planner. I plan everything with Google Docs, Asana, and things like that because I’m not a visual person. I have a little bit of low vision so it’s harder for me to do things on paper. I never talk about these things to my students, but I know that a lot of them are that kind of person. They are the tactile learner that needs to use highlighters and things like that that your planner serves. Can you talk a little bit about why is this planner specific toward musicians? How does it gear specific towards musicians? What does the actual physical act of using a planner do that digital planning doesn’t?
This is the 2020 planner. I was sitting here, looking at my weekend and reflecting. The 2021 planner looks the same, just a different color cover. Everybody has to go with their preference and what works best for them because you’re the one carrying out the plan, so plan however feels good. I decided to go with the physical planner is because many studies have shown that we reach our goals faster if we write them down. The reason behind that is when you’re typing, all the keys feel the same. You know visually what letters you’re hitting but your muscles only feel the tapping.
What the studies have found is that when you write, your muscles, the way they’re forming the letters, the way they’re writing things down or even drawing them out, it stays in your brain much more in a deeper way. Like doing a vision board, your brain is processing the goal or anything that you’re writing on a deeper level. Another thing that the studies have also said is because when you’re writing, you’re going slower than most of us if we type fast and we’re going out. When you’re writing letter by letter and you’re doing it, you’re slowing it down and you’re processing what it is you’re writing a little bit better. When you write stuff down, for me, I find it crossing things off like that. That feeling of like, “I did that. I can move on to the next thing.” I get the gratification of crossing things off.
I have to live with the gratification of clicking the check box.
I do too. I keep my running master list of tasks on the Airtable. I keep my Google Calendar with all my appointments. I appreciate the digital components. When I’m planning it and I’m figuring out what is going to go on those things, I use a planner which is why for instance, we didn’t make the boxes big. They’re small and they’re meant to get your main thoughts out here and your main points of what you were going to focus on each day. We have the prompts on the opposite page of, “What was your highlight from last week?” We intentionally put certain reflective prompts and certain planning prompts in there for, “What is the self-care going to be specifically this week? How are you going to take care of yourself this week? What are those things? Is it reading a book for pleasure? Is it taking a nap? Is it having fun with your friends, maybe now virtually doing a Zoom call? Is it taking a hot bath? What are the things specifically that you’re going to do?” You go on the next page and you specifically write out when you’re going to do those things.
What we’ve started to implement also for those like yourself who liked to be on the computer and do it digitally, we’ve added a couple of new things that I’m excited about. We started a private community on Instagram, which is new. It’s cool how we’ve gotten around the limitations of Instagram. People can tag us since they can’t post in the group. When they have something to say on their page, which enables them to be creating content for their own page, we’re able to share it, repost it or share it in our stories or our feed. We encourage and guide you on how to do introductions. You’re posting introductions on your Instagram page, what you should be doing about once a month for your new followers and we share it and save it in a highlight so that we can grow. We have a whole highlight of the people in our community. We also do weekly planning calls.
Every Monday on Instagram Live, you’re being able to hop on and plan your week with us. I do this with my rockstar soccer’s as well. We’ve brought in the planning community on Instagram to join us. We plan the week and we guide you through your planner. All you need to join this community is to have any version of the planner. Some people that have the 2016 version are in there and people that would have the 2021 version. Any version of the planner, you’re welcome to be a part of the community and join us. In addition to that, the reason to get to your question about why is this specific to musicians is that it’s specific to any creative, but there are specific things in there for musicians. We are guiding you through what you’re going to with your newsletter. What is your newsletter topic going to be? What was the conversion rate of your last newsletter? What were the open rate and the click rate?
The marketing nerd in me is getting excited.
We also have sections for your ads. For fan-based engagement, what was the ad conversion? How much did you spend? We have things in there. We keep adding to this all the time. On the last page in the book, we have a whole list of templates and checklists that you can download from a private page that you get a passcode in when you get the book and we’re always adding to it. There are things like a crowdfunding workbook for tips on building your crowdfunding campaign. There’s a performance checklist. Even from live streaming, what do you need to keep in mind when you prepare for a performance? For all my songwriters out there, what do you need for a split sheet agreement? All these things are free to download off of the private web webpage. There are endless amounts, financial workbooks and spreadsheets in there as well. It’s all free to download to help you get your systems together. We’re excited about all the new features we’ve added.
You are covering the physical and the digital with that.
We worked hard to make sure that we’re covering both bases because people in the past have been interesting. People used to say, “When are you creating the app? I want the app. I need an app.” We said, “We’ll do the book first and let us know what you think.” Once people use the book, they don’t want an app. We went back and surveyed them and they’re like, “I like it now. I’ll use the books.” What we do in 2020 for the first time is we do have a digital planner but it’s a print at the home planner. It is free shipping within the United States but if you’re international and don’t want to pay international shipping or if you want to go through the planner and print as you go, some people like to make their own binders and get creative with it, then you can purchase the digital planner at a lower price and print it as you go. That’s a new option that we have.
If people are getting excited about the planner, you want to go over to her site and check that out especially if you’re watching this when we’re about to start 2021. This is the time that you need to get organized and start figuring out your system is for how you’re going to be achieving your goals in the next year. You can go over to TheRockStarAdvocate.com and check out the planner. She’s given us an awesome 20% coupon. If you can type BREE20 and you will get a 20% discount on the planner for a limited time. Go do that if you want to grab the planner and you’re going to need it right away anyway if you want to make the most of the year for the planner. Is there anything else you want to let them know about it when they go to the page?
When you go to the planner page, we also have a brand-new list of accessories so your coupon is good even if you don’t buy the planner and want the accessories. We’ve got monthly sticker tabs. We have mindset stickers. I’ve already started using mine. Fun little colorful stickers to plan out your launch or to keep you motivated. Some of them are a little naughty. If you’d like any of the different accessories, your discount code works for that as well. Thank you for having me because I’m such a fan of all you do and I’m happy to be able to share this with your readers.
We both believe in productivity and goal-setting. I’m glad that we can work together as much as possible to help musicians be able to do more and get more of their stuff out into the world. We don’t want you guys holding back your creativity because you’re overwhelmed, you don’t know what steps to take, or you feel like every time you set a goal, you fail at achieving it. We want you to be able to connect to your why and get your stuff out there in the world. We are working together to make sure that happens for as many musicians as possible. If they want to connect with you on social, where’s the best place for them to find you on Instagram?
It’s @RockstarAdvo. DM at any time. If you have any questions or whatsoever, I’m happy to address them. That’s where you can find me all the time.
Check out her Instagram Live. She’s always doing Instagram Lives on there.
We’re going to have you on.
The last time we did, I remember trying to get on there. A little bit of a tech hiccup because I’m not used to Instagram Live but it was good. I’m learning. I’m a Facebook Live person.
You have so much to share. This show is amazing and the Instagram Gods need to know about all of this.
We’re working on it. I am such a Facebook person because I’ve been entrenched there for so long but I’ve got to get more on Instagram. Thank you for sharing all of your knowledge and giving us that awesome coupon. I hope many of you take advantage of it.
- The Rock/Star Advocate
- Rock Your Next Release
- @RockstarAdvo – Instagram
About Suz Paulinski
These days I’m a mindset coach with a Masters in Psychology, guiding music professionals to a healthier work/life balance, but I used to be a head-down, workaholic sleep-shamer who believed the more I sacrificed the more successful I’d be. Because that’s the bill of goods this industry sold to me for years.
After years of sleepless nights, hefty therapy bills & a health diagnosis that served as a GIANT wake-up call, I finally gave into the whole “working smarter not harder” concept & wouldn’t ya know… It worked!
It can work for you, too! You don’t have to keep spinning your wheels. You can slow down & still create the career in music you desire.