Second Album Syndrome

In 2003, a little-known band released their debut album, without much fanfare or expectation. ‘Permission To Land’ was the album, The Darkness was the band. Overnight they became a household name, playing major venues across the world, and though largely seen as a bit of a joke, they were undoubtedly talented musicians who created an album unlike anything else at the time- packed full of great riffs and earworm choruses. Permission To Land is still one of my all-time favourite albums; impossible to listen to without a big grin on my face.

The Darkness’ debut album, Permission To Land

Two years later, the follow-up, ‘One Way Ticket To Hell…And Back’ was released and, well, flopped. A couple of half decent songs weren’t quite enough to make up for the rest of the album, which lacked all of the charm and fun of the original. As quickly as they had burst onto the scene, The Darkness disappeared into obscurity. The wheels had already started coming off by this point, with lead singer Justin Hawkins eventually having a bit of a breakdown.

This situation is far from unique to The Darkness. Known variously across the world as either the ‘sophomore slump’, ‘second album syndrome’ or ‘second-year blues’ this phenomenon refers to when a follow-up album (or film, book, athlete, sports team) fails to hit the heights of the debut effort. A quick google will reveal countless lists of examples, from The Strokes to The Stone Roses. Seemingly the more successful the debut, the harder it is to follow. Lightning doesn’t strike twice as they say.

On one hand, the first effort has been crafted over a lifetime, and without the expectation has been crafted lovingly from a place of truth. The follow up however will only have a year or two, and often less, to try and capitalize on the ‘buzz’. But if the talent is there, then why should the quality drop off so much between efforts? I think the problem comes when the focus is lost. Very few people create with the expectation of becoming rich and famous. They do it because they love it – because it’s what they feel in their heart. Once they start believing the hype, they’re no longer creating what they feel, they’re creating what will be the most successful. They stop trying to make another great piece of work and instead try to make what they think others will want.

Money is a great servant but a terrible master.

The people who avoid second album syndrome are the ones who stay true to themselves, the ones who make what they make for themselves, and no one else. Most of us will not experience creating something which is beloved by millions, but it’s still easy for us to get caught up in our own hype. If you find yourself at a crossroads, remember what got you started in the first place. Do what you do because you love doing it, not for any other reason. Being distracted by things outside of your control like money or what other people might want will nearly always end up in failure.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, this story has a happy ending. The Darkness are still going. After several stints in rehab, lineup changes and infighting, they took a further 7 years to release their third album, and while it was hardly a commercial success it was at least critically appreciated. Now sober, happy and healthy, they have continued to release a new album every couple of years and touring regularly. They remembered why they became musicians in the first place, and once again make the music they want to make.

Start Something

There are plenty of reasons why you might fail:

  • The idea isn’t good enough…
  • The brief is unclear…
  • You spent too much money…
  • Or not enough…
  • You may launch too early…
  • Or leave it too late…
  • You target the wrong people…
  • You could be too niche…
  • Or too broad…
  • You might not be good enough (yet!)…
  • Or experienced enough…
  • Or lucky enough.

But there is one sure-fire way to guarantee failure:

  • You never started.

The first step is always the hardest because you have it all to do, but once you make a start, you have something to build on. The momentum makes each new step that little bit easier.

Of course there will be hard times, and unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee success, but with every step in the right direction, you have the experience of all your previous steps to learn from and improve on.

As the saying goes ‘the things you regret most in life are the risks you didn’t take’. If you don’t try anything then technically you will also never fail, but what kind of life would that be? When all is said and done, you will feel more fulfilled having given it your best shot. So, what’s in the way of you starting something?

Setting Yourself Up For Success

Think about something you want to achieve – a personal goal perhaps. What would success look like to you? What are the steps you need to take to make it happen?

It really doesn’t matter how anyone else would see success for you, only what you think. The key to defining success is to set objectives that are within your control to achieve and not dictated by outside factors.

For me, I plan to be a successful writer this year. On the face of it, that might seem like quite a fanciful statement, but when you break it down to the separate parts it becomes a lot more manageable. I write for me, not for anyone else. I want to improve as a writer and use my writing as a way to express myself. I have defined what success looks like for me using these 3 objectives:

1) To write every day, for at least 20 minutes. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing for my blog, writing fiction or journalling, all that matters is that for 20 minutes every day I sit down and write.

2) To post at least once to my blog every week. At the moment, that’s about as much as I can manage, but I would like to up this to twice a week.

3) To see improvement in my writing over time. I will measure this in terms of both the quality of output, as well as how much editing I have to do from the first draft. Hopefully, by the end of the year, I’ll be able to look back on these early posts and see how far I’ve come along.

So that’s it. I’ve not overcomplicated things and kept it as streamlined as possible. There might be some goals where you want to really push yourself by setting really ambitious goals. I want to solidify the habit first, so if I can stick to this in 2019, then I can pick up the pace for the year after.
Whatever you want to achieve, this simple framework can help you to make it a reality.

Finding Purpose

No one particularly enjoys Mondays, but apparently, today is the worst of them all. The 3rd Monday in January is known as ‘Blue Monday’ – the most depressing day of the year. It turns out that this concept was actually researched and created by a travel company a few years ago in an attempt to sell more holidays in January, but still, it is a time when people can feel most down. A mix of the post-Christmas blues, rubbish weather, having to go back to work and what feels like a lifetime waiting for payday all help drive the mood down to rock bottom. But you can at least take comfort in the thought that if today is the worst day, then tomorrow can only be better.

Remember, you are in control. You can choose to notice the things in life which you are thankful for, instead of focussing too much on what you don’t have. Often, that empty feeling can stem from a perceived lack purpose, or a desire to do more with your time. To give back. If you’re feeling a little directionless – you want to do something, but can’t quite figure it out – then ask yourself the following question:

If you were given a vast sum of money, and you had to spend it on improving the world in some way, what would you choose to spend it on?

What’s your first thought after reading that? It might be that one thing jumps out at you straight away. Some people are already very clear on the cause closest to their heart, but it took me a little while to really think what my answer would be.

I’d never really thought of purpose in this way before. I’ve been happy enough obsessively following one interest for a while, before switching over to something else and repeating, but never getting down to that deeper level. I haven’t been one for a grand plan and have instead chosen to focus more on the here and now, following whatever takes my fancy at the time. As I get older, I want to find a larger purpose – something in the world that really drives me to change and be the best version of myself that I can be.

So if, like me, you find yourself thinking about what to do, and which direction to take then maybe you should ask yourself this question. The answer you come to might surprise you, but once you have it you can start taking steps in the right direction. Very few people get to change the world, but we can all make a difference in our own small way, and you never know where the path may lead.

Morning Routine

When I’ve studied the habits of the people I look up to, there are a few things that seem come up time and time again. One such thing is a productive morning routine. If you’re anything like me then your current morning routine consists of setting your alarm for as late as you can get away with, snoozing it a couple of times, then rushing through your essentials in some sort of mad dash to get to work on time. As I’m sure you’ll agree this isn’t exactly the stuff of champions.

On those rare occasions where I do get up on time, and fit in some exercise or writing it sets me up for a more content and engaging day. By fitting in some ‘me time’ at the start of the day for things like writing and meditation it means I’m not trying to cram it all in to the evening when I get home from work.

It often feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done that we want to. I don’t have time for a 90 min morning routine!! – but it comes down to making conscious choices about what is most important to you, and then making sure you stick to it. So, it’s not a new years resolution as such, more a tweaking of current habits which should set me up for much more fulfilling days.

Finally, any productive morning routine starts the night before. Making sure you have a good night’s sleep is essential for wellbeing, so going to sleep earlier is part of this new deal. No more falling asleep with the TV on, or checking something on the phone. I’m going to have my book on the bedside only.

So for the last few weeks I’ve been trying to stick to my new routine- slightly different for weekdays and weekends. The first thing I do is 35-50 pushups, not a major work out but enough to get the blood pumping and it wakes me up. I’ve started exploring yoga, and have learned a couple of basic routines. I’ll alternate between that and meditating, as I find they both have a similar effect on me. After that I’ll do some writing, whether that be for the blog, some journaling/ idea logging or some creative writing. Once I’ve done that then I do the essentials – looking after the dog, and getting ready to leave the house looking at least semi presentable. Ideally I’ve left enough time to sit down and have some breakfast, otherwise I take it to work and eat at my desk.

On the whole I’ve managed to keep it up, though there have been a few days (mainly Mondays) when I have really struggled to get out of bed. I’ve never been a morning person (sounds better than bloody lazy!) but I’m determined to force myself to keep it up.

Weekdays

  • Push ups (2 mins)
  • Yoga or meditation (10-15 mins)
  • Writing (15-20 mins)
  • Feed & let the dog out (10 mins)
  • Make lunch (10 mins)
  • Eat breakfast (10 mins)
  • Get ready for work (20 mins)

Weekends

  • Push ups (2 mins)
  • Yoga (10 mins)
  • Meditation (10 mins)
  • Feed & let the dog out (10 mins)
  • Writing (30-45 mins)