Ron Block has been a member of Alison Krauss & Union Station since 1991. He plays banjo, lead and rhythm guitar, sings, and writes songs for the band. He also writes and produces his own solo records, does studio sessions, and teaches at bluegrass camps. He is the recipient of fourteen Grammy awards, six IBMA awards, a CMA award, and a Dove Bluegrass Song of the Year award.
When the pandemic started and all gigs were cancelled or postponed, I took an attitude of faith. I’ve played music for a living full-time since the mid-1980s, and I’d always been taken care of somehow. Therefore, I sat back and asked, “What are the possibilities of this?”
Develop and nurture extra skills, even if they’re not skills you’re primarily interested in
In Tim Ferriss’ book Tribe of Mentors, an interviewee pointed out that if you focus on one skill in the top 2%, your chances of succeeding are slim. However, if you have two more skills in the top 25%, they noted that you’re much more likely to succeed.
In nearly any situation, there are possibilities that come to light that were unknown or maybe even unwanted before. Then, you rethink, “I wouldn’t mind doing that.”
I’ve taught at workshops and bluegrass camps before, so it wasn’t a stretch to offer banjo and guitar lessons online. I also conducted a guitar workshop online, which is now up for sale as a series of videos on my website. To create these videos, I needed to learn high-quality production techniques, lighting, use Final Cut Pro, transfer Pro Tools audio into Final Cut, etc. Having confidence in your ability to learn new skills will take you far (not that there weren’t moments where I was pulling my hair out).
Diversifying can boost your financial independence
I’ve found that offering high-quality interactive experiences, and selling them for higher prices than CDs and t-shirts, is a way to make it through. A few years ago, I hosted a banjo workshop which did really well and continues to sell. Hence, adding the guitar workshop was a no-brainer and straightforward to set up. Because my website provider Bandzoogle doesn’t charge a commission on the sales I make, I keep 100% of the earnings. These various revenue streams generated through my website continue to fund my desire to make albums, which also sell. In fact, I recorded a new album in the past year, which I’m currently finishing up.
Instead of “thinking outside the box,” think as if there is no box at all
Brainstorm. Write down ridiculous ideas, good ideas, and impossible ideas. All of these may trigger ideas that will work. Every innovation started with someone wondering, “What if….” or seeing an unmet need. You may be surprised by how you can forge new paths to your creative goals, or merge seemingly unrelated interests together.
When I think optimistically about doing something new and pushing through the challenges, it builds more confidence for stepping into new activities later. My approach is to continue these projects and entertain new possibilities when gigs get going again.