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Ruts
Steve Cook
Columnist

An almost-wise man once wrote "Every rose has it's thorn, just like every night has it's dawn." I know what you're thinking. That would make a great song. The truth of the matter is for every up side, there is a much worse down side. Sometimes we get to a point where life seems to stop. It's that dark, uninspiring period where nothing gets done. For musicians, it's the worst time of all-the evil antithesis of our very being. For the rest of the world it just stinks. It's called a rut.

Everybody hits high points in their lives where the world is going great. The shows are going well, the merchandise is selling, the van smells almost tolerable, and you're scoring more than the Lakers playing a high school team. Then the plateau hits. Things don't get worse, they are just kind of chugging along, with no real progress towards your goals. This, believe it or not, is the beginning of a rut. You become comfortable, and therefore lazy with your thoughts and actions. You find your butt on the couch playing video games more than you used to, and band rehearsals are being rescheduled for golf outings or for the movies. Then the rut hits. All of a sudden, new songs aren't coming to you, your fingers find themselves playing the same 4 licks on guitar, and you are visiting the same web sites over and over again. (Shame on you). Never fear. You aren't sunk yet. You've only become a little distracted.

The first step to getting out of a rut is to reestablish exactly who you are and what you want to do. You sit day in and day out watching Cribs on MTV. Ever thought about how those celebrities can afford those houses? They didn't get rich watching television, that's for sure. The first step is a big step-turning off the TV and getting to work. Working at what, you ask? Anything! Just take a moment and think of all the hours you waste every day. Kind of sad, isn't it? Now, place the Xbox controller on the television, peel yourself off the couch, and put that time to work.

You don't have to get busy writing that hit song yet. You're off the couch, and that's a good thing. Now we'll start the motivation process. Take a walk. Collect your thoughts. Figure out what is bugging you. Sometimes the biggest worries are only small problems. Once you get back home, make a list of everything you want to do. Everything. Dating the Olsen twins doesn't count....Take that list and break it down once more into long term and short term goals. Now let's get busy.

Let me guess what's on your list: Become a better musician. Learn a new language. Sell a million records. I know this, because these are on my list as well. I've got news. You can control the first two. The third may have to wait. The key to all three, however, is baby steps. Want to play better? If you're a guitar player and hopelessly addicted to soap operas, then play guitar while watching TV. As a bass player, I run scales while watching the History Channel (and SpongeBob). You can learn a new language (which will help on those cruise ship gigs) in only 30 minutes a day. Your goals may seem a bit much. Relax. I'm going to use a big word- discipline. That is the only thing holding you back, I promise.

So you have new goals, and are taking walks with your drumsticks and French language tapes, but you still have no new inspiration. Ever tried fishing? Or painting? Or cat juggling? I was in a rut once, and went skydiving, just because I had never done it before. If that doesn't clear your head, I don't know what will. You don't have to go that Gonzo, either. Just driving a different way home or going to a new bar may help you find a new outlook.

Another great way of breaking the chains of rutness (it's a word now) is to venture onto different avenues within your band. How about learning how to program html or flash to update or create a web site for your band? Ever wanted to learn how to play another instrument? Now is the time. How about writing a new bio for your band's press kit? You can even try reading up on production techniques to be better prepared for your next recording. Sometimes working on other things within your band will help you see your shortcomings from a different point of view.

Outside of Charlottesville, VA stands Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson. TJ was an architect, musician, botanist, inventor, and politician. He spoke 7 languages (he taught himself Spanish by reading Don Quixote), and played his violin 3 hours a day. In his spare time he authored the Declaration of Independence and founded UVA, while building his own home, and running the country as the third president. Disciplined? I think so. In more recent times, Puff Daddy (P. Diddy if you're nasty) would fly back to NYC after every one of his concerts to produce other rap acts. You probably can't wing home after every show (and if you can why are you reading this?), but you can make use of your time on the road. When in the van, how about reading that Shakespeare classic instead of Maxim? Why not write lyrics instead of playing cards? Again, it's easy to be lazy, but getting motivated can lead to great things.

We are all guilty of the guilty pleasures. There is nothing wrong with being a slacker every now and then. The key to success with anything is sticking with it, no matter how hard or impossible it may seem. If you find yourself stuck, then take time to sort it out. However deep in the rut you may be, remember this: you can crawl out yourself or get help by holding on to the next wagon that passes by; either way you will get out of it.

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