Sheryl Crow on Ambition, Harnessing Inspiration, and Killer Expectations
We sit down with the seasoned singer as she reflects on her 25-year long career and the importance of pressing pause.
All artists have processes. Some need to structure their day so that each minute is accounted for. Others are more creative in the middle of the night. For legendary artist Sheryl Crow, it’s all about eliminating distractions, surrendering to the moment, and making a habit out of tapping into her emotions. After nearly three decades, 10 albums (including last year’s Be Myself), nine Grammys—and some 30 plus nominations, Crow certainly has a wealth of experience to pull from, both in terms of songwriting and business nous. As part of Spotify for Artist’s new video series, Best Advice, Crow sat down with us and offered up some advice to younger artists on everything from picking the right managers to learning how to own and celebrate your successes. Watch the video, and check out the exclusive, extended interview below for a few more of Crow’s sharp tips .
Spotify for Artists: Under what circumstances are you at your most creative and productive?
Sheryl Crow: I'm the most creative and productive between the hours of 8:30 and 2:30 because my kids are at school. And that may sound really lame, but there was a time in my life where I thought if it wasn't in the middle of the night, if it wasn't 2:30 in the morning, I couldn't write a song. If I hadn't had three glasses of wine, I couldn't write a song. And I realize now that creativity is something that you tap into—and part of that is being able to access your emotion and your life experience—and it's also a discipline. Showing up and writing every day is a discipline. And it's like softball or any other sport: The more you do it, the better you get at it. So I am most creative when I don't have anyone that needs me, like needing my attention.
When you're trying to focus on a project, what do you need to avoid in order to keep focused?
In order for me to finish a project, I need to be able to walk into the room and close the door and not worry about everything that's going on outside of that door. So I need to be organized. I'm a mom, and for a lot of artists, particularly young artists, they're not gonna have this experience, but I need to know that everybody's safe, and is occupied, so that I can really just close everything off and finish my project.
Are you someone who sets goals or do you just go with the flow?
Setting goals can be the killer of inspiration. If you walk in there with a goal, nine times out of 10 you're gonna walk out without having finished something. I think it's when you let go of what you expect of yourself—that's when the good stuff comes.
What are some strategies that you use when you hit a creative wall?
When I hit a wall creatively, it's generally because I'm trying, I'm forcing something to happen. And the best stuff has always come when I've just walked away from it. Just changed horses. One of the strategies I have is changing instruments— [that] will sort of breathe new fire into it, or it will inspire some other song to come out.
Who's the first people that you share new work with? And what are the best ways for someone to give you feedback? I have a wonderful relationship with my manager, who's been with me for 25 years. Actually, my manager has been with me longer than 25 years, and I trust him. He's the first person that hears everything, always—he and a woman who has been here with me since then, who also works in management. He knows what he loves, but she's the truth barometer. She'll say, "I just don't get it." So I have this combination of people that are honest, that I trust, that hear my music first.
How much did you have to learn about the business side of the music industry to feel like you were making the right choices for your career?
For me the learning curve at the very beginning was pretty quick. My first album came out, and it took about a year and a half and then it started selling. And it kept selling. We had the Grammys, it kept selling. It sold about six million copies and we still had not seen any money. I was still driving an old Corvair and my manager was still working in the closet across the hall from his apartment. And that required that I arm myself with lawyers and business management and all that stuff, and it was a fast learning curve. So I always recommend to artists to make sure you are up on your business.
How do you know when you've found a team member you can click with? And what are some red flags that tell you when a partnership may not be a good fit?
Well, I've been very fortunate. I have the same people that have been with me from the beginning and one thing that I know about the people that are around me: They don't lie. They never lie and they look out for me before everything else. Which is a very large task. To consider that basically when you work, they are making money. If you don't work, they're not making any money. And so it's difficult I'm sure for a lot of managers to not say "You gotta be working! 'Cause otherwise if you're not working, I'm not making any money." But I'm very blessed that I have management that does look after me and they put me first.
Fill in the blank: "If I were starting out today knowing what I know now, one thing I would do differently would be ----."
If I were starting out now, I think I would not work as hard as I have. I think there were times when it would have behooved me to stay home and not be on the road, and just live a little. I think it would have made my life more enjoyable, but you can't go back and rewrite anything and I do believe that everything that you do in your life leads you to where you are. So, I guess I wouldn't change anything, but I think I might have worked a little less hard.
Fill in the blank: "Something I didn't give myself enough credit for early in my career was ----."
I didn't give myself enough credit early on for deserving the good things that I got. I definitely owned all the negative stuff, but I didn't allow myself to enjoy the positive stuff. And I think part of that was my nature. That if I enjoyed—or even acknowledged—the good things that came to me that it would feel like I was selling out. And so, we collected three Grammys the first year, and the next day we were on the tour bus and we just kept going like it never happened. And I never really owned any of it. And it really took me a long time to learn how to own the good things.
- Spotify For Artists