It is my great pleasure this week to feature a songwriting accountant. Arthur Holmes-Brown is a tax accountant by day and a singer/songwriter by night. Arthur lives in Brisbane, Australia.
I first came across Arthur when he commented on one of my Medium posts. I loved his description about how he goes about fitting his songwriting into his day and I knew immediately that I wanted to feature him here at Gentle Warrior. This interview is rammed full with great tips on combining creative pursuits with a busy working life and how to always achieve progress, no matter how small.
Over to Arthur…
Give a brief description of your day job and your artistic activities
My work during the day is challenging and I also run my own part-time accounting business servicing private clients on weekends and some evenings. For one semester a year I also teach Company Accounting at a nearby University. This takes up one night a week for about 15 weeks. When I’m not working I am usually writing or performing, practicing and learning new skills related to my song-writing goals.
How much time in a day or week do you spend creating? How do you go about your creative practice?
I write something almost every day. I’m a bit of a life-long learner so I’m very interested in techniques to provoke more creative output. I find it’s very important to keep some sort of flow and momentum going all the time. I’ve found it is possible to create something during a coffee break. Sometimes I will finish with an accounting client, get a coffee, open a Google-Doc and write a rhyming couplet or two. They may begin as nonsense but they tend to start to gather meaning and in one or two minutes I have something – something that didn’t exist 120 seconds ago. I find that even as “baseline minimum” this is very rewarding. If my day is hard or I have to work late and circumstances keep me from revisiting song-writing I still feel I achieved something.
If I have time at lunch I will attempt to write a 30 second song. I’ll write in Google-docs and then go out to my car in the car-park with my smart-phone and record myself singing the melody. I have an old ‘disposable’ guitar I keep on the passenger seat of my car. It has weathered heat, sun, and all manner of abuse but stays in tune just enough to get the chords down when the ideas are flowing. I have on occasion, played that guitar whilst stopped at a red light on the commute home. I’m not sure I want to know if that’s illegal or not.
Once a week I go to a song-writers club. It’s an hour-long session that always includes attempting to write an original verse and/or chorus to a brand new song. I find the challenge very energising and it never fails to pay dividends. The fascinating thing is that I have sometimes had a relatively “pressure free” weekend and thought to myself “great, I’ll really get a song or two done this weekend” and then failed to deliver. Yet in the fiercely focused and dedicated one-hour of song-writers club I always produce. There’s something well worth exploring right there!
How do you manage your time and energy so that you have enough left for creative activities?
I never seem to have a problem with the energy component when it comes to song-writing. Quite the opposite. I can feel drained at the end of a long day at work and find that sitting down to write taps into energy reserves that just don’t open for anything else. So, then I have to discipline myself to stop so that I get enough sleep for the next day. To give myself the maximum time I can, I watch a lot less TV and I’ve virtually banned myself from playing online games.
What made you decide to start or resume artistic activities? What was the catalyst?
Firstly, I had something to say. I don’t mean some big “change the world” manifesto. I mean lots of small things – observations. I observe life in its ups and down and interesting quirks and I want to express them and comment on them artistically. I found that for me, the fastest way to express an interesting idea was to write a song.
Secondly, permission. I realised one day that it is okay to be good at more than one thing. I realised the fact that being an accountant with two degrees didn’t mean I was treading on someone else’s holy ground when I started writing and performing songs.
What challenges do you face in your creative activities? How do you overcome them?
Finishing. I can come up with the first verse of a song, including an original melody very easily. Finishing the song is harder. One of the ways I overcome this is to allow myself the privilege to write “really bad songs.” I sometimes sit down and say to myself “Ok, you’re going to write and finish a song now. It’s probably going to be bad, but it WILL be finished”
I have a couple of hundred ‘idea audio files.’ I have about 30 songs that are completed. Of those I only use about 10 of them when I perform as I don’t think the others are ‘good enough’ or suitable.
If you lived in an ideal world where all the money you need was taken care of, how would you like to be creative?
I would pay for very good quality advice, coaching and collaboration.
How do you motivate yourself to create when you don’t feel like it or your creative work isn’t going well?
I set and achieve a ‘micro-goal’. E.g. “write a 10 second song”, “write two lines of poetry”.
Or alternatively I set a ridiculous goal like “See how many rhyming verses you can write in one minute…” Goals like these tend to free me from self-judgment.
How do you cope with criticism and rejection?
This is interesting. The environments in which I perform are incredibly supportive so the challenge is really ‘how to get honest criticism.’ With this in mind I keep my ear open for which songs get an “I really liked that one…” comment and which ones get the silent treatment. But ultimately I want to improve so I want honesty.
How do you overcome doubts in your creative abilities and do it anyway?
I remind myself that ‘talent’ is overrated and that the real distinctive is ‘deliberate practice’ and then I set about trying to improve myself. What typically comes next though is some form of “you’re too old to make a difference now…” For that one I remind myself that Leonard Cohen had a number one album when he was 82 years old (so I have at least a 30 year career ahead of me). And then I remind myself that it only took Buddy Holly 7 years to become the most influential musician of the 20th century. So that tends to satisfy my accountant brain I can get back to it.
What did you think about Arthur’s story?
Did you read anything here that would be useful to your creative practice? Leave a comment and tell us how you combine your artistic pursuits in the nooks and crannies of your time alongside your day job.
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