Singing is a high-level art form that takes an incredible amount of skill and artistry.

As a student of singing your work is truly never done. But are you really doing the hard work?

In this episode, John delves into the idea of “deep work” and how to use uninterrupted focus and intensity to supercharge your musical development.

If you want to take your singing and musical skills to greater heights, this episode is not to be missed.

Episode Transcript

Episode 32 – The Focused Mindset

Hey,this is John Henny. Welcome back to the Intelligent Vocalist.

You know, I just rambled on for about ten minutes of absolutely brilliant insight into today’s topic and realized that I wasn’t actually recording. So here I am coming back. This probably won’t be as good. I’m most brilliant the first time, and that brilliance has been lost – completely lost. And now you’re just going to get the dribs and drabs of what’s leftover in my brain, but that’s going to have to do. I don’t charge for this anyway.

But I did want to let you know about something I am quite excited about. I have launched yet another podcast. Yes, another podcast. This one is called Studio Marketing Secrets. And if this podcast should be of any interest to you, if you happen to teach singing, if you have an academy, if you do anything with the teaching business or if you are planning to, and also if you are working professionally, or maybe you have a project that you want to get more attention for and you want to learn how to properly market it, that’s the podcast you want to listen to. It’s called Studio Marketing Secrets.

You know, I have a music academy for the past four years that’s why I had to learn a whole lot about Marketing. And I told somebody here I’m not in the music lessons business. I’m in the marketing of music lessons business, because we have hundreds of students and it took me a while to figure out how to handle all of that – very different from me just sitting in my own little studio with my own students. But I’ve taken what I’ve learned, put it into this podcast, I’d really love you to check it out. You can go listen. Subscribe. If you like what you hear please leave a review. Reviews are wonderful because they actually give me a sense of self-worth. When you click five stars and you say something about that show, that means you’re saying something nice about me, which makes me feel warm and fuzzy – and I love to feel warm and fuzzy. So help me get my warm and fuzzy on. Check out the show. I’ll put also the link in the show notes. And if you really get into it, I’ve also got a private Facebook group for those of you who are more serious, called Studio Marketing Secrets Insiders. It’s kind of like a secret superhero group. If you go there, just ask to be included because it’s a private group, and I will let you in. I’d love to see you there and discuss things with you there as well.

Now, getting into the idea of singing mindset. Now I’m not going to get into the actual mindset that you need while you are singing. That’s all being covered very well by my good friend, Mike Goodrich, in his podcast The Inner Singer. I encourage you to go check that out.

What I want to get into is the mindset that you need to singing on a more professional level. If this is something that you currently do for a living, that you wish to do for your living, then you need to be more serious and more focused. And you also need to know how to approach this. If singing is a hobby for you, that is fantastic. I love people come into music and using it as a release from the stresses of their regular life or work. That is fantastic. Maybe some of this will be helpful for you if you want to become more serious in your hobby, but I’m really going to talk to people who want to push themselves to a higher level.

You know, I’ve been reading a couple of books by this young gentleman, Cal Newport, and one of them is called So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and the other one is called Deep Work. They kind of go hand in hand. In So Good They Can’t Ignore You he looks at the idea of competition. There are certain areas where people get competitive. There aren’t a lot of jobs, and by gosh, singing professionally is one of them. It is extremely and highly competitive. He looks at people going into these types of jobs, having two approaches. One is this idea of follow your passion. I’m sure you’ve heard that, If your work is your passion then you’ll never work a day in your life, and the only true way to happiness is to follow your passion. The other way he looks at is the idea of the “craftsmen approach” where you’re really focus, and your focus is getting as good as you can at a particular skill. It may not necessarily be your passion, but it becomes what you are a craftsperson at.

What he has found is, inevitably passion will spring from your abilities. The better you get at something, lo and behold, people tend to find passion. And he told a story about Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs famously gave a graduation address at Stanford, and he talked about this whole idea of follow your passion. So you would think that Steve Jobs’ passion was computers right from the very beginning. Well you know, Steve Jobs basically dropped out of college, and he was just kind of into zen and meditation, and he was kind of known as this odd character because he still hung around the campus.

What happened is, they started to have this hobby – personal computers, where people would build these personal computers. And he realized, he and his buddy Steve Wozniack, if they assembled circuit the boards for these computers, they can sell them and make some money. Steve Jobs just wanted to make some extra money so he could hang around and be zen. And when he took the boards to the person to sell them, they guy said “Yeah this is great. But you know what, what I really need are fully assembled computers. If you guys can build me some of those I can really sell them. We can make a bit of money.” Lo and behold, that’s how Apple computer was born in the garage.

It wasn’t that Steve Jobs have the passion for computers. He needed some money and computers became the way to do that. Then he became very passionate about computers as he got better and better, and delved in and brought his personal aesthetic and design, and zen simplicity to the computers.

The other thing that Cal Newport talks about is passion versus being a crafts person. This whole passion approach, you know, I am passionate about music. I want music and singing. That’s what I love so that’s why I want to do it. You’re almost looking at the industry saying, “What can you give me?” It’s about what I want. “I want to perform. I want adulation. I want this money and recognition” rather than what you can bring to the industry, what you offer.  When it’s about what you can bring and what you can offer, and not about what the industry can give you, that’s when you can rally begin to do some work, and really begin to make a difference. Don’t worry about results. Results will take care of themselves.

You cannot get in to this expecting to be the next Ed Sheeran. You cannot get in to this thinking you’re going to be Harry Styles, and being in movies, date starlets, and have all kinds of money. You have to get into this because you want to do really good work, and you want to get better and better and better. And you want to be a craftsperson.

Part of the problem is, and I have seen this with my own clients, is I will have – and I’m not picking on you young people – but it tends to be young person’s game, especially some of these competition shows. They see this very very quick instant fame and fortune. They looked at Carrie Underwood, and they see how quickly she got famous because she was on American Idol. So their whole goal is “I just want to get on American Idol. I just want to get on The Voice.”

The problem is, what are you really bringing to the table? Are you just a good singer, or even just a mediocre singer? Can you withstand the scrutiny and the criticism? Do you have an artistic vision? Are you really really working at your craft and becoming like a Lady Gaga, rather than somebody who is going to just win a competition show?

These completion shows, as I’m recording this right now, The Voice has not really launched a significant career for anybody, even though the show is huge. American Idol, it’s going to be coming back, but it did whatever it was for 11 seasons, 12 seasons, all the tens if not hundreds of thousands of people that audition for that show, and then you become the person that wins, which is amazing. But out of all those winners, how many really truly went on to significant careers? Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson – and then it starts to fall off pretty quick. And some of the winners you never hear from again.

Now do they have better careers than before they started? Yeah. Probably. And they can go around and they can perform. But even those shows, even though they promised you fame and fortune, aren’t necessarily going to give you that. So I really want singers to get out of that mindset of fame and fortune. Because again, fame and fortune is just you looking at the world and say “What can you give me?” That’s not the way to look at the world. “What can you give the world. What can you give the industry.” And that’s where you have to get so good they cannot ignore you. You have to focus on your craft, and depending of what element of the singing business you want to get into, you really got to look at that skill set, and you’ve got to get really really good at that skill set.

If you want to be any type of popstar or country star, doing that professionally is, I’ve covered this in the previous podcast, you should write really good songs. The bottom line is your songs can never be good enough. Your voice can never truly be good enough. Your artistry can never be good enough. Your musicianship can never be good enough. It’s always a working progress. And the better you get, the better your chances. And then ultimately, you do have to become a person who markets themselves. It’s interesting. If you just want to be a session singer, yes you do have to network. But in being a session singer, you have to have really good reading, you have to be able to sing different styles. Basically you’ll just have to focus on becoming an amazing and musician.

If you want to be a professional signed recording artist, now you have to have a whole another level of skill sets, not only that you have to be really good at singing. You don’t need to sign-read or any of those things, you only need to sing in your particular style, but you need to become a great songwriter. You should have a great understanding of music production. You definitely have to create an artistic person. And you have to understand Marketing and all these things.

You really think what it is that you want to do. Figure out the skill sets necessary, and then go after them voraciously. Let your passion be being great, rather than being loved or being rewarded. Be great.

The other thing you have to start doing is something called deep work, focused work. You need to start scheduling yourself and putting time aside where you’re working on your voice or you’re working on your craft, and not while you’re distracted. This whole cell phone thing, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, all of these things need to be shut off. You are teaching your brain to be not just distracted, but constantly craving stimulus. A stimulus-addicted brain is a brain that is not going to be able to focus and do the work.

Here’s a little secret for you. Learning to become a great singer is boring. It’s stretches of boredom, and repeating the same exercises over and over. Writing great songs has long stretches of boredom, where you are literally banging your head against the crate of wall, and try different things to get this breakthrough. You don’t sit and wait for inspiration. You have to push forward and you have to get better at this. You have to have a brain that understands how to focus.

These endeavors are highly valuable but have low levels of stimulus. There is not a lot of stimulus to your brain going on when you are working on balancing the voice to the transition, when you are working on how to shade your vowels. It’s not like you Twitter feed, where you’re constantly getting new information. And when you focus on this work and you honker down, your brain is going to go “I wonder if anyone commented on my Facebook. Did anyone watch my snapchat story? Do people like my Instagram post?” That has to stop. Let anyone else do that.

If you can simply put away, stop the distractions, lock yourself away, create this spaces where you can completely focus, you can truly work, and you can truly get better, or you can do deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is not just singing a song you already know how to sing. That’s not going to get you further along the road. It’s trying things that are hard. Not too hard, that’s frustration, but just so hard that’s actually a little painful, and it makes your brain hurt a little bit. It’s not a lot of fun. It can get boring. That’s where you need to be.

Somebody once said, I believe it was Brian Eno, might have been Robert Fripp – if you know who those are congratulations you’re old like me – but they basically said when someone asks me, “hey I’m thinking about learning to play an instrument” , their response was “Sit on the ground for half an hour and do absolutely nothing.” And if you can do that, you might be able to learn an instrument. If you can stand that level of low stimulus and almost boredom, then you can learn to play an instrument because that’s what it’s about. It’s learning to do this deep focus work.

So here’s what I want you to do. I want you to look at what it is that you want to improve on, or where it is you see yourself fitting in as a singer. I want you to make a list of the skill sets that you need. I want you to a very honest inventory of rating yourself from 1-10, 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest; where you are in these skill sets. I want you to take the three lowest scoring skill sets, and I want you to embark on improving those skill sets through focused deliberate work and deliberate practice. If you want to do this you have to be amazing. You literally can’t be good enough.

So there in ends the lecture. Go do some work. Stop wasting time listening to me.

If you like this podcast, again, make me feel warm and fuzzy. Go give me a good review. It really does help people find the podcast. Check out my new podcast Studio Marketing Secrets. You can always go to my website, I have some different products there. Products on science and different courses, vocal science, that people are actually finding really helpful. And people have said some nice things about it.

Until next time. To better singing! Thank you so much. Bye.