After playing at The Cactus Cafe in Austin one night, a lady walked up to me and said, “That was awesome! I totally loved your music tonite! Where can I sign up for your email list?” Of course, I didn’t have one at the time. I was embarrassed, so I stumbled through the typical, “Oh, I’m sorry…I don’t have one yet… I’m not really sure it would help me… It’s so much work… but I’m on Facebook!”

She walked away and we never connected again.

In the last couple of years, however, I’ve built an email list we call The Tribe. For us, it’s more than a promotion vehicle to sell music and book shows. It’s a way I’ve been able to connect with my fans in a significant way… and help connect them with each other.

My fans are more than a bunch of email addresses to me. They are creative and resourceful. They have adventures and stories and heartaches. Just like us. And they’ve become great friends through our Tribe.

Here are six quick reasons why I love (and need!) my Tribe:

  1. We give each other emotional support. They listen to me through my struggles and help me process how to move forward. It doesn’t matter if it’s a relationship issue, a time management problem, or if I’m working on a new song idea and get stuck in Second Verse Hell. Coming from another creative, their support is incredibly potent. They don’t downplay my struggles. They ‘get me’. And I ‘get them’. So we rely on each other.

 

  1. They are a source of motivation and inspiration. Someone tells you they admire and appreciate you and your work. You get encouragement to create more and do better. Again, this is particularly powerful when it comes from someone whose taste you respect, who knows what they’re talking about. Some of my most trusted sources of motivation are other artists (songwriters, artists, authors) who’ve taken the time to thoughtfully critique my own work. They’re gentle and kind and generous… and honest. There’s a sense of mutual respect for our creations—and a mutual expectation that we are all striving to create our best work…whether they’re an artist or a real estate agent!

 

  1. We give each other great feedback. Those of us who’ve created something from our heart—from our innermost being— and have hung it out for the world to see, know one thing deeply: We know how to give and receive feedback. Gently. Thoughtfully. Honestly. Encouragingly. Without fail, someone in my tribe says just the right thing to give me a thoughtful and useful response to my work… and how to make it better. Sometimes it’s my wife, who knows me better than anyone, and sometimes it’s another creative who just says, “Hmmmm….yeah, but…what if you did ___________ instead?”

 

  1. A tribe makes for great collaboration. I can’t tell you how many times someone in the tribe gets involved with me on a project. We may talk about ideas, word choices, stories, lyrics, colors….anything. In my tribe, I have computer whizzes, artists, painters, t-shirt designers, mechanics, programmers, stylists, ranchers, secretaries, parents, coaches, pastors, atheists, writers, monks, bartenders, and construction workers. The stories and experiences we share are unending. And any of them— all of them— are amazing collaborators. Whatever we make together is exponentially more than what I could ever make alone.

 

  1. We keep each other accountable. When I get in a funk of depression or discouragement, or when I’m tired and worn out, someone in my tribe cares that I get off my butt and get things done. Someone cares that I keep writing, playing, singing, emailing, or whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. And I care enough not to let them down. Now and then I’ll get a text or a message on social media that says, “Hey, man. I haven’t seen you at our songwriter circle in a while. You should come Tuesday.” It’s a gentle reminder saying “Hey, dude. Don’t you dare quit on us. We love you. You need to get up and get going.”

And I do.

  1. Most importantly, a tribe give us a place to belong. It gives all of us a place and platform do to something that matters to each of us. It gives me a place that matters. A place to belong. It gives each of us the space and the glue to be connected to passionate, creative, and supportive people. It reminds us that we are not alone. It reminds us that we matter and that our work matters.

Years ago, I had an intern named Douggie who spent the summer in Sengal, Africa. As a college football player, Douggie was a huge, beast of a young man with long hair and a HUGE heart. He was an imposing tackle on the football field, but a compassionate, kind-eyed giant off the field. After weeks in Africa, he returned home with one mantra: ubuntu. Ubuntu is an African word for community or tribe. Literally, ‘ubuntu’ means ‘I am because we are’. In other words, I am who I am because we are who we are together. We’ve adopted the mantra and printed bracelets and t-shirts, made posters and videos, and decided to embrace ‘ubuntu’. (Today, Douggie is still one of my most cherished people in the tribe. I am who I am because we are who we are.)

That, my friends, is what belonging to a tribe is all about.

My ‘tribe’ is my lifeblood. It’s helped build a community of fans who support my art, my vision, and my projects. It’s helped build real life friendships with people across all walks of life.

How do YOU build your tribe? What are YOU doing that’s working? What are ways you’re building community among your fans? I’d love to know. Share it with all of us in the comments below!

Ubuntu!

Tom

To sign up for the Tom Cottar Music TRIBE, visit Tom Cottar Music on Facebook or go to: http://tomcottar.us9.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=797e9471c02c32adb85953b83&id=58ec734ff7

Ever been in a creative rut? It’s something I struggle with regularly. When I’m in a creative funk, nothing feels right. Everything sucks. I feel like I’m beating my head against a wall…and the Muse is mocking me. I begin to wonder, “what if my best work is behind me?”. Fear creeps in. I feel like I’m trapped in a dark pit of…. nothingness. And I hope to God I can climb out.

Maybe for you it’s not that strong. Or maybe it is. But we’ve all been there. There are days when our creativity flows, when the Muse dances along with us, and inspiration is offered up to us like a holiday gift from the Universe. Those days are intoxicating, right?

But then there are days when the well runs dry. Every song lyric falls flat. Every chord progression is lifeless. Nothing feels new. Nothing excites our curiosity or our playfulness. Everything is dull and gray.

In those days, what do you do? How do you grow your creativity? How do you feed and water and nurture it? In my experience, I’ve found three basic starting points that have helped me.

Get outside voices. Innovation is literally everywhere. Steve Jobs once said ‘creativity is just connecting things’. When I need a fresh shot of creativity, I immediately look for outside voices to inject into my soul. I recently asked my FB tribe for suggestions on audiobooks (I like to listen while running, driving, etc.). Fiction. Non-fiction. History. Psychology. Drama. Graphic novels. The response was amazing! (Not only did I receive about 30 widely-varied suggestions while I slept that night, it also gave me a priceless insight into my community…). I grabbed 2 random suggestions (someone in my community actually ‘gifted’ me a book on Audible.) and got started. Sometimes I ask for music suggestions. Sometimes it’s a random TED talk or artist interview on YouTube. And sometimes I ride my bike to our community library and pick a random children’s book. I watch Telemundo TV shows. I buy a coloring book. I do whatever I can do to make my right brain chart new territory. For me, it’s not necessarily about the source of the voice. It’s more about exposing myself to a new voice. That’s helped me gather enough ‘escape velocity’ to blast out of the rut I’m in.

Get out of your head. Yes, creativity can be difficult sometimes. It can take effort. But remember, all creativity is play, not work. You don’t work a violin! The moment my creative endeavor becomes ‘work’… I’m done. Finished. Kaput. You see, work comes from our head, but play is in our soul. The moment I can get out of my head and return to ‘play’, I’m free. When I’m creatively stuck, I create something disposable. Something that no one will ever see or hear. I write a bad song. I record the most horrible drum track I can play. I pull 20 random words from a random website and write a silly song. I draw a terrible picture. I build something out of Play-Doh or Legos. Whatever it is, I focus on the ridiculousness of play, remembering that play, like art, is its own reward. It doesn’t need justification. Recreation is recreation.

Get into your heart/emotion. Emotion is the seat of passion. And emotion creates motion. When you’re stuck, you gotta get moving, right? Pick an emotion and go to that place where you feel it can intensely (a memory, a hope, a fear, a dream ) and create something from within that state of mind/feeling. Typically, I think anger and love are the two emotions we can tap into quickest. (Remember, the goal is to get moving quickly.) Ask yourself, “What makes me angry?” Is it injustice? Is it wounds you’ve suffered? Is it something personal? Political? Cultural? Whatever it is, hop online and read up on the latest statistics or events about it. Get really pissed. I mean, like, Hulk-turning- green-pissed. Now go write. Vent. Vomit. Purge. Sit down at your notepad or keyboard and freakin’ bleed. The same can be said for the emotion of love. Going through pictures, videos, memories or even gifts that belong to a loved one can stir up powerful, passionate emotions. It can be even more powerful if that loved one is no longer living. (My mom passed away just before Mother’s Day this year, so this has been especially helpful for me lately.)

Do YOU ever get stuck in a rut? These are just three starting points that have helped me. What do YOU do when you’re stuck creatively? How do YOU approach it?

I would love it if you’d leave your thoughts.