A New Year, A New You?

Reviewing and Renewing Your Goals, Part 1

by Russ Miller

Every New Year we look back on the previous twelve months and set resolutions for the next. According to, the percentage of people who completely achieve their resolutions is 8 percent. The percentage of people who keep a resolution past thirty days is 64 percent, but the number drops to 46 percent at six months. We’ve discussed before how the ability to finish something is much more valuable than the ability to start something. Most people are starters, but the most successful people are the finishers.

Finishers set and achieve many short-term objectives in the journey towards completing long-term goals. You need to get the feeling of finishing something to inspire you to continue in your development. It’s great to say, “I want to play this,” and be able to do it a week later. Some people never recognize the value of short-term goals and solely focus on the long-term. You need long-term goals, of course. But you also need to validate your efforts with short-term achievements, and you should regularly review the legitimacy of your long-term plans.

I try to reassess my goals around the beginning of January. This past year was a particularly intense one for me in regard to year-end assessment. In this and next month’s installment, we’ll take a look at my personal renewal project to demonstrate how it relates to the three methods of wisdom contained in the Confucius quote.

Who Am I Now? And Who Do I Want to Be?

I’ve been a sideman for most of my career, with the exception of my in time in the Psychedelic Furs and when I lead my own band, Arrival. Being a sideman is a utilitarian position, which means that you’re hired to be the drummer and not a member of the band or a featured artist. I’ve built up this part of my career to what could be called a “featured sideman,” meaning that many times the artist or musical director specifically wants me on the gig. In that type of role I’ve been treated very well, and everyone appreciates what I bring to the table. But ultimately, if I can’t be there, the show will go on.

I’m thankful to be working in any capacity, but after thirty-one years as a sideman, I’ve decided to focus more on artistic work. My first renewal goal is to develop musical situations that are artist-based. To do that, I had to ask myself, “What situations am I currently in that fit with that goal, and what situations do I want to be in?” My Arrival trio is an example of a project I’m currently working on that fits my renewed focus. We’ve made four albums and one live DVD, and it’s finally—after nearly eight years—starting to branch out globally.

Finding other artistic situations where I can really dig into the music is important. As a sideman, I usually only get to play songs a few times. I would love to see what I could say with material that evolves a bit more. This is the main reason for me trying to change my balance of work. I believe I can deliver more to the music, but extended time spent with the material is necessary to do this. I encourage you to dream for something you want to achieve, and get moving on it—today. Like the old Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”

Making Tweaks

In 2009 I contacted my friend and mentor Peter Erskine. I asked him if I could schedule some lessons with him. He didn’t think I was serious and asked, “Why?” I told him that my touch, time, and tones are somewhat aggressive, and I wanted to play more beautifully. I finally talked him into giving me lessons, and I’ve been taking notes on our discussions for the past several years. I’m still working towards my goal, but I can hear and see changes taking place. I’ve received a lot of feedback affirming this as well. I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but I believe it’s important to confirm that my work is paying off.

The other thing I’ve been working on is my presentation of the instrument (sound, tone, and positioning). This was the catalyst for my switch to Mapex in 2013. My kit positioning is still evolving, and the effects of these changes will be revealed more over time.


Let’s look back on what we’ve accomplished this year. Which of your goals were reached, and which were not? What were some of your achievements, as well as some of your failures? As our perspective changes, the legitimacy of our dreams is revealed. I achieved life-long goals that I thought were going to be different from what they were. It’s important to review your dreams, set new short-term goals, and adjust your long-term objectives.

As I looked back on my career, I realized that even the biggest gigs in the world could still stifle creativity. So I added “artistry” to my long-term goals. That includes restructuring my touch, feel, and sound on the instrument. Taking an honest assessment of your talent level can be difficult. Remember that no one is perfect. Accept your flaws, and embrace the journey!

Next month we’ll cover the ideas of imitation and experience as they relate to achieving your new goals. See you then.

Russ Miller has recorded and/or performed with Ray Charles, Cher, Nelly Furtado, and the Psychedelic Furs and has played on soundtracks for The Boondock Saints, Rugrats Go Wild, and Resident Evil: Apocalypse, among others. For more information, visit