So the last few weeks have been just a tad rough to say the least. First, I finally started recording vocals for the new songs, and then my computer died right in the middle of recording. So I lugged it to the Apple store, who couldn’t help me (can someone explain to my why they don’t do data recovery, especially when they do everything else, and especially when they call their service people “geniuses”?????), so I went to Tekserve, who could help me, as long as I could flush $1300 away in the process. It’s amazing the ways in which money is determined to run screaming from our bank accounts. What is so scary about just staying put, money?!

So anyway, I lugged my seemingly 100lb iMac all around town, finally got a solution for $1300 dollars, and waited two weeks to get my life back. I have not recently been as depressed and bored as I was in that time. And it taught me how important making music is to me. It’s literally something I have to do to have any true excitement and gratification in my life. There is nothing like writing a great song, nothing like seeing it come to life when you record it, and nothing like performing it for people and having them be blown away and tell you they love it. That’s what I love to do. That’s almost all I love to do, especially career-wise. Luckily I realized a few days in (I can be pretty slow about some pretty important things) that I should be using that time to write, and so I wrote three new songs in that time, and now, finally, FINALLY, I have 12 songs for my dance-pop album, Four on the Floor. With the pace at which I was able to work on the last few songs, if I really put my mind to it, I could have the remaining 5 recordings done very soon, and record the vocals quickly too, then it’ll be time to take them to the studio for finishing, and then finally, FINALLYYYYYYY I can start sending it out to bloggers and internet radio and all my profiles and promote it and send it to everyone everywhere and see what kind of a response it gets. And this time around, I really know what I’m doing and what I want to do and who will like it, and that makes all the difference.

For those of you who are fellow artists, I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a specific vision for your music about what it is, how it will sound, and who will like it. Once you know those things, you know exactly what to do with it. For example, my music is dance-pop, which means it’s great for any event that would involve dancing or a party, which tells me what kind of venues I should play (i.e. dance clubs, not coffee houses). I know that my music is similar in its aesthetic and appeal to club music of the early 90’s and some of the current electro indie pop, so I’m going to push it to people who like that kind of stuff. Since I know which artists I’m similar to, I should go after their fans, the bloggers who blog about them, and the stations and venues that showcase their music, because they’re the ones who will most likely support my music. So now, instead of thinking about pitching one song to a comedy blog and another to a country blog etc etc etc, I know exactly who to send my music to, and I can be confident that they will probably like it, or at the very least not get mad at me for sending them something totally irrelevant to their tastes. That, in turn, gives me a lot of hope and excitement for the promotional part of my music business, which means I’ll approach it with more confidence and happiness and be more successful at it.

I’ve started compiling a list of blogs I should reach out to for when the record’s done, and I’m really excited for the results I know will come when I reach out to them and follow up continuously until I get a response!

The difference between an ok life and a great life is hard work.

Whatever lofty goal or big dream you have in life, it’s going to take some hard-ass work to achieve it.

The best thing you can do for yourself when pursuing a goal is immediately throw out the idea that it will be easy or happen fast. Because it won’t and it won’t.

Accept the fact that anything worth getting only comes after a lot of hard work, and get to work.

Here’s some of the work I’m doing right now: making music, making videos, leading a band, booking shows, friending hundreds of people on Myspace each day, performing as much as possible, practicing and learning new skills and songs on the guitar, trying to get blog publicity, and on and on and on.

A little work every day adds up over time to a lot of goals reached. A lot of work every day accomplishes even bigger goals even faster. The work is never going to end, so get used to working constantly. Once you reach your goal, you’re going to have to work to stay there, and work even harder to get beyond that point. So get comfortable with the idea of hard work every day. Because there really is no alternative if you have any ambition at all.

I’ve been at this now for two full years. In late fall of 2006, I started writing songs with my friend Socrates Cruz. In January and February of 2007 we made the first terrible, awful, totally scratch recordings of some of those songs in Soc’s bedroom in Harlem with what he playfully called a “Mexican microphone” (he’s Mexican-American, so shut up), which was an old performance mic duct-taped to the long handle of a stand-up dustpan, which was perched on a rolling office swivel chair. Needless to say, those recordings didn’t come out too well. We didn’t spend any time on the production, and my voice just was absolutely not as strong as it is now. Plus, since the songs were new, I hadn’t had the time or opportunity to perform them and let them grow into what they needed to be. And I didn’t have a home studio or any production skills to fill out their arrangements. Anyway, in February of that year I appeared on an internet radio show which I booked myself on through Backstage magazine, where I met the sound engineer who became my sometime collaborator and the co-writer and producer of my songs “Lover” and “Lost/Found.” I was really excited about what we came up with together, but soon after we started working together he took a really serious job and was no longer able to devote any time to working with me. So I realized, if I wanted to get anything done in a reasonable amount of time, I was going to have to start being able to do things for myself. I started a full time day job (which I still have), which allowed me to save up enough money to buy an iMac that September. Over the next few months, I cobbled together the rest of the elements of my home studio and began to teach myself how to use it. I also researched how to get my music on iTunes and other digital retailers, and put the three finished songs I had together to form “The Lover EP,” which I put up for sale. In September and December I filmed my first music video for “Lover,” and put it on YouTube. In the beginning of 2008 I started teaching myself how to use the programs Reason and Garage Band to record and produce my music, and beginning in April, I finally started working on the recordings of the songs I had written a year before. It took me four months of daily work to fill out the arrangements on 11 of the songs on my first album (the other two had been on The Lover EP), and the full album went live on iTunes in September of 2008. In the spring of 2008 I bought a guitar, and in the summer I started taking lessons. By June 2008 I was able to write songs on the guitar by myself, and I wrote “Texas Boys” and “You Don’t Have To Worry.” Over the next few months I focused on finishing my album and practicing guitar. In October 2008 I got out to a couple of open mics, and now, in January, I’ve made a more serious commitment to that and have been doing it a lot more.

So, in two years, I’ve gone from being just a singer/songwriter who was totally dependent on others to being a virtually independent singer/songwriter, who can design her own website, write songs alone, perform them alone, make music videos, self-promote, have worldwide distribution, and on and on. I made a complete album and released it. I put together a live band and have started scheduling shows and will be performing regularly. I’ve gotten my music accepted by two music licensing companies. Now that I have all that under my belt, I can finally get out and really start pushing and promoting my music. It took me a while to realize what I needed to do to accomplish my goals, but now that I know what I need to know, there’s no stopping me.

So what’s my point? My point is that it takes a really long time to get where you want to go. I feel like I’ve been waiting forever to make this my full-time career, but really it only became my main pursuit two years ago, and I had to learn everything from scratch while keeping a full time job and maintaining friendships, a social life, and my health. They say that you become an expert at something after 10,000 hours of practice, which breaks down to four hours a day for about 7 years. So clearly I haven’t even put in half of my time yet.

So always remember, when you’re pursuing your dreams: be patient. And when you get impatient, get patient again. Because it takes a long time. But the longer you stay in the game, the more you’ll learn, the more people you’ll know, and the more competitors you’ll outlast, and eventually, you’ll be the last one standing, with the most knowledge and the most connections, and you’ll be in the position to do what you want. Opportunities don’t all come quickly, and they don’t all come at once. You’ve got to stay in the game so that when someone thinks of you for a project, not only are you still in the right line of work, but you’ve been in the right line of work for a long time, and you’ve built up your expertise and desirability as a player. Don’t quit before the game’s over. Stay long enough to be the MVP.

A couple things I’ve thought about in the last couple days of doing open mics and networking with new contacts/fans:

1. When networking with someone, ALWAYS be the one to reach out first, because the simple fact is, if you don’t, they won’t. It doesn’t matter how much they said they want to keep in touch etc. My experience has literally been 99 out of 100 people do NOT contact you first. You MUST contact them first, and then oftentimes they will get back to you and your exchange will develop, but for whatever reason, people just do not initiate contact with new friends/contacts. So if you want anything to come out of meeting people, you have GOT to be the one to send the follow up email or make the follow up phone call. You don’t have to believe me, but if you test this theory, you will notice you aren’t getting any follow up emails before you ask the person for a response yourself.

2. Follow ups must be made in a timely manner–preferably as soon as you get to a computer after you’ve met the person. What I’m doing now is, performing at an open mic, going home after it, and, before I go to bed, even if I’m really tired, I make sure to take 10 minutes and reach out personally to each new contact via email before I go to bed and forget about it forever. People’s memories are only so good, especially when trying to remember someone they only met briefly once when they had a drink or two in them. So send that follow up IMMEDIATELY, and put their name in the subject line, and explain who you are. Example subject line: “Hey Dave, this is JC Cassis, the girl who met you last night at the open mic.” In the body of the email, remind the person who you are, what you performed, and what you and they talked about when you met. Thank them for their interest in you and ask whatever you need to ask them, and offer to help them with something you can help them with if possible, or offer them a free gift, like a free mp3 if you’re a musician. They’re a new contact and you’ve got to make a great first impression to get in their good graces. And a good first impression goes a long way. You never know where getting someone’s favor might lead…

3. When someone helps you in a networky way, pay them back equally. You TOTALLY owe them and you want to show them your appreciation by doing something equally nice for them. For example, last night at the open mic, a guy named Collin who’s in the band Victor Bravo saw me perform. I friended him on myspace and wrote him a personal email thanking him for giving me his email address. He wrote me back a personal message alerting me that he had mentioned me in his band’s blog. Look at what he wrote: victorbravo.blogspot.com. Now that is amazing networking on his part. He gave me an amazing endorsement to all of his fans, complete with a link to my website and a notice of when my next show will be. That is so fucking smart it blew my mind! What a brilliant guy. Because now I’m talking about how awesome he is in my blog. Because how could I not? Not only is it true, but it really meant a lot to me, and I TOTALLY owe him! So, by him taking the time to write a few sentences about the acts at the mic and letting them know he did it, he is earning blog mentions/endorsements from all of them (if they are smart, they will pay him back. Either way, he gets major musician karma points). If you want to help out this sweet and intelligent man, check out his awesome band, Victor Bravo, here.

So be smart, nice and prompt with your networking. Think about it from the other person’s perspective. It’ll go a long way!

In our society, there’s a pretty clear idea of what constitutes a happy life: a hot partner, a beautiful home, a red-hot career, and lots of money. So why are so many people who have these things still so sad? My guess is that it’s because they think negatively and don’t monitor and control their own thoughts before they are incapacitated by them.

I used to get frustrated when I’d hear celebrities say “Follow your dreams. Believe in yourself. That’s how you achieve all your goals in life.” “BUT HOW?!” I’d shout at the TV. “WHAT DO YOU ACTUALLY HAVE TO DO TO ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS?!” I always thought that saying “Believe in yourself,” was a quick, mindless answer to that question until I realized what it really means. Believing in yourself and thinking positively are not passive activities. To believe in yourself, you must actively think positively and monitor your thoughts so you realize when you are being negative and putting roadblocks in your own way that don’t really exist outside of your mind. Think about all the negative things you’ve thought about yourself. “I’m too fat.” “I’m not smart enough to do that.” “I should have done that, but I was too lazy.” And on and on and on. What if you took notice of every time you thought something like that, and actively stopped yourself and thought a positive thought instead? What if every time you thought “I’m too fat,” you stopped yourself, and said to yourself, “I work out and try to eat the right foods. There are parts of my body that I love and find beautiful. No one is perfect. My body is an incredible instrument that performs incredible feats every day to keep me alive and let me do the things I love, and I appreciate it.” You may notice that “I’m too fat,” is just an opinion, whereas the positive thoughts I suggested are all facts. I don’t know about you, but I find that really, really powerful.

When it comes to music and pursuing my dreams, it’s incredibly important that I monitor my thoughts constantly. If I let myself think “I’m never going to make it,” for too long, eventually there’ll be no motivation to keep going. So whenever a thought like that pops into my head, I am sure to counter it with thoughts such as, “Careers can take a long time to build. I’ve accomplished a LOT since I started out. I believe in my music. I believe in myself. Hard work pays off, so I should keep working and not worry.” Again, the negative thought is impossible to prove, whereas the countering thoughts are pretty much facts. So the positive thoughts are always far stronger than the negative thoughts.

If you can get in control of your thoughts, you’ll get faster and faster at stopping your negative thoughts in their tracks and replacing them with positive thoughts that disprove the negative ones and make you feel better. The faster you feel better, the less time you will have wasted being sad. The less time you waste, the more time you have to use productively. Using time productively leads to accomplishing goals. And there you have it! Believe in yourself, have more productive time, accomplish your goals! It really does work!