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Stop Following Others. Be More Like Yourself. An Interview With Will Ackerman

I want you to imagine something. That you take the unique creative vision that is inside of you, and you pursue it. You obsessively go “all in” with it.

You stop following the advice of the gurus out there, and you double down on honing your craft and sharing it with others.

After awhile, people notice. In a big way. Then, in a couple short years, you are so successful that you are earning tens of millions of dollars a year because of what you create.

That is what happened to a hero of mine, and he and I had the chance to chat for an hour this week. When I asked him about the journey from playing his guitar in an alcove in college, to earning all that money, this was his description of what happened:

“If you begin something that is inspired entirely by heart. You are not chasing something that is indicated in the current market to be viable. Because of the love of it, you are willing to do something whether it has economic potential or not. That it is something you love. In so doing, you end up being a unique thing, that happens to hit the world between the eyes.”

Can you imagine this? Not following trends, not constantly checking social media, not worrying about gaining followers, but instead: following your heart. Focusing on your craft. Becoming MORE LIKE YOURSELF, and less like others.

The person I spoke with is Will Ackerman. You likely haven’t heard of him, but he looms large in my life. This is why:

  • He is a guitarist who has recorded GORGEOUS music. I’ve spent hundreds of hours listening to his albums. Have a listen.
  • He founded a music label, Windham Hill Records that released dozens and dozens of albums of beautiful music, often instrumentals.
  • He pretty much discovered George Winston, the A-MAZ-ING pianist. And Michael Hedges. And so many others. I mean, without Will, the world would truly have missed out on some of the most beautiful music ever recorded.

That is the “what” of Will Ackerman. But the “how” is what fascinates me. How on earth did he do this? In my hour-long interview with Will, I was kind of blown away by his message. Will took me through each step of his career with incredible honesty. What he shared is so instructive for any writer or artist who hope to share their work with the world. 

Will also opened up about something very important: coping with depression, and how he found his way through it. For Will, who had spent a decade helming a label which was earning tens of millions of dollars a year, his solution was simple: remember who you are. He sold the label, bought about 1,000 acres of wilderness in Vermont, and went back to his first love: building. He said to me, “I easily spend 20x more time with a chainsaw in my hand, than I do with a guitar.”

Today, he produces about 15-20 albums for others in his studio, and he recently played Carnegie Hall with a new group he formed called Flow.

You can listen to my interview with Will here:

You can find Will at WilliamAckerman.com


  • Erin Bartels

    Love George Winston (and loving William Ackerman’s music you linked to…and now realizing that in my second book that will release Nov 2019 I have a rather bad character named Billy Ackerman! No relation.)

    • Ha! How cool!

    • George Winston’s music is seriously what I listen to as I write! I get in the flow much more quickly and deeply somehow.

  • Dawn Downey

    The gurus are prolific and they’re everywhere. Thanks for the reminder to double down on honing my craft. It’s been 3 years since I published my first book. My motto’s been I want to be a better writer. I don’t just read anymore, I obsess over authors who are far far better than me, I study their sentences. And now, the writing in my latest book is so much better than in the first. Even I can tell the difference and like other writers, I’m my hardest critic.

  • Thank you, Dan! I love thinking about how my heart has a specific form of beauty to share with the world. When I listen to beautiful music (like William Ackerman’s above), I consider how – if that artist never ventured to follow his heart and create such beauty – the world would never know it needed to hear and experience it! That’s what is so wonderful about the vast world of art: we, as artists, are the thinkers, the dreamers, the creators. We are attentive. We pay attention to what’s going on, and then we create a work that inspires, encourages, convicts, and challenges the viewer/reader/listener. That, to me, has no comparison – not followers or social media activity or promos, etc.

  • honkboddle foobinger

    Will Ackerman got really lucky. That’s really all there is to it.

    • Clark

      What makes you think so?

  • To be more like yourself and less like others, you have to like yourself first; that is, everyone has to accept who they are and what makes them function. I grew up so shy and introverted it was almost impossible for me to make friends. I eventually grew out of that shyness, but it took years for me to accept that my loner-type behavior is simply who I am and there’s nothing wrong with it. In some respects, I can seem outgoing and carefree. But I’m really just much more certain of myself now than ever before. I no longer view my introverted persona as a defect; in fact, I celebrate it. By the time Facebook and Twitter came around, I’d also realized that what society as a whole likes is not necessarily what I like or want for myself. I’m not constantly checking my phone for the latest updates on…whatever. I don’t feel the need to have the latest technology and I don’t just absolutely have to know what’s going every of the day in the world around me. Not everything and not everyone is worth that much time and energy.

    Besides, keeping quiet and observing people in a noisy world only helps me to create better stories and characters!

    • Yes, everyone has their own journey! Thanks for this.

  • Clark

    Will provides good advise for all of us, regardless of our particular interest. Thanks for sharing Dan.