Justin Goldner - Funky Butter ProductionsFUNKY BUTTER & GOLDNER

Justin Goldner (Sting, Ricky Martin, Macy Gray, Hugh Jackman), world traveler, artist and bright light, shares insights that lift the bar for all of us.


I’d like to welcome Justin Goldner to the Special Guest segment of “Ch’i Essentials: You Change the World One Thought at a Time.” This blog focuses on mindfulness, cultivating energy, and helping people to empower themselves and their creativity to stimulate living a more rewarding life. The Special Guest segment is an opportunity for readers to be exposed to people from various walks of life as they share insights and experiences from their journey, creating a more rounded and accessible perspective on what is possible to lift the bar for all of us.

Justin Goldner‘s musical explorations have taken him around the world to 33 countries. As a multi-instrumentalist, performer, composer, arranger and producer, Justin is hangin’ with the big boys and girls of the music and entertainment industries. Check it out: Sting, Ricky Martin, Macy Gray, Hugh Jackman, Matisyahu, John Turturro (The Big Lebowski), Allison Williams (Girls), Donald Glover, Jesse McCartney, Emily Kinney (The Walking Dead), Jason Robert Brown and others, including his mentor, Meshell Ndegeocello.

Via Funky Butter Productions, Goldner has co-written and produced recordings for Jem & The Holograms (Official Tribute Album), Grace McLean, Morgan Karr, Bri Arden, Abby Bernstein, Carrie Manolakos and Shaina Taub.

Justin is a regular on TV as resident bassist for NBC’s America’s Got Talent and as house guitarist for Broadway’s The Bridges of Madison County.

Mitch: Please share a little about your background and what you’re working on.

Justin: I grew up playing and obsessively listening to music, but I had a tough time settling on a single instrument or musical trajectory. I bounced around from guitar to piano to bass, from rock to classical to jazz in a way that perhaps stunted my growth on each individual instrument. In time, though, it wound up giving me a broader musical vocabulary, which proved valuable when I started working freelance in New York.

My work runs the gamut in music. Singers, bands and composers call on me to perform, record, or contribute creatively to their music. It’s incredibly rewarding to work with a community of talented artists and colleagues who inspire and ignite my creativity as I help them realize and cultivate their artistic vision.

The “freelance” lifestyle is sometimes difficult to describe, but in spite of its challenges, it’s something I love and don’t think I’d ever give up. It requires me to get comfortable with the uncertainty of not knowing exactly what projects and income lie ahead. It also constantly requires me to actively strike a balance between making a living, artistic satisfaction, physical, spiritual and social health. But the pipeline of variety and inspiration that it provides is, for someone like me who thrives on that energy, irreplaceable.

Mitch: What are some of the things you’ve told yourself that kept you going during your darkest hour?

Justin Goldner - Funky Butter ProductionsJustin: In the toughest times, I’ve been to be able to tap into a sense of appreciation that every day I get to do something I love. Even when fatigued or frustrated or hopeless, I still get to pick up an instrument and feel the therapeutic release of playing music with people, or even just to hear music that can make me feel full and actualized.

On better days, I can even access a sense of gratitude, not just for the present, but also for the past: for the people I’ve been lucky to share parts of my life with, for the experiences that have touched me. But I think that having an active hand in my own moment-to-moment, gut emotions—by throwing myself into a song—has really helped me cope with negative feelings and things I can’t control.

Mitch: What has life taught you recently?

Justin: Life teaches me over and over and over that forgiveness and compassion are the two most powerful things in this world. You’d think I’d have gotten it by now, right? But little by little those concepts have made their way into my life, and over time, I’ve learned how to put them into practice.

I think that growing up with a strong sense of “justice”—not of morals, per se, but a black-and-white concept of how things “ought to be”—ingrained in me a sense of judgment that ultimately held me back, even caused harm to myself and to others. It was a habit to hold on to resentment, and to wield unsettled scores over people’s heads, even those that I love.

Mitch: That’s very insightful and also dualistic. Measuring and keeping score takes a person out of flow in their life. It appears you’ve figured out a large component of the Monkey Mind. The Taoist philosophy behind the art of Tai Chi speaks to this state of “holding on” or practicing some form of inner resistance with one of its most powerful principles, the Principle of Letting Go. Have you experienced anything like that?

Justin: Yes. The first real breakthrough occurred when I found that letting go of resentment, an arduous task for me, had allowed me to build rewarding relationships that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible with people who had once hurt me. I’ve since found that the process of forgiveness, though still difficult, provides me with immediate relief and tangible personal benefits. When I succeed at being forgiving and compassionate with other people, I have far more energy to devote to the things that fulfill me. I feel better, happier, and more productive–and those immediate payoffs precede the longer-term benefits of being able to build healthier relationships and living environments.

Mitch: Working in the creative arts, where do your ideas come from? How do you prime the creativity pump?

Justin: I draw a great deal of inspiration from my community, from artists in New York and beyond who make work that moves me. But I also find it essential to shake up my own experience regularly, to get outside my own echo chamber. I do this by actively seeking out unfamiliar settings, people and work that are outside my comfort zone. In time, a feeling of mild discomfort can itself become familiar, even exciting, and that has helped me expand the breadth of my understanding and helped me build meaningful connections with other people.

Mitch: What else works for you?

Justin: I’ve also found that the skill of listening—of really listening, of hearing and comprehending what someone intends through their own lens instead of my own—is just about the most important practice I’ve come across. It’s truly difficult, and very much a work in progress—a lifelong practice, like music, or yoga, or Tai Chi. It requires identifying and suspending my own assumptions, instead of projecting them onto other people. Of course, in spite of being an essential part of my musical training for 15 years, it’s STILL something I struggle with. But those moments when I can truly listen and comprehend through another person’s eyes, through their experience, those are the times that I myself grow.

Mitch: When do you find that your head and heart open to the possibility that there is magic in your world?

Justin: You know, I’m a cynical guy when it comes to mysticism, so it seems counterintuitive to say, but I actually find magic every day in the most common things: in the process of making music, in connecting with a stranger I’ve just met or someone I’ve know for 15 years, in the mechanics of the physical world around me, and in chocolate lava cake. The more I learn about how these things function, the more I am mystified at the grace and beauty (and grit and dissonance) that is part of my everyday life. I know other people for whom some of the “magic” is lost when they comprehend how someone crafts a song, or the way our biochemistry shapes our emotions, but for me, a more thorough understanding just deepens the sense of wonder. You can know all of the ingredients that go into chocolate lava cake, but that won’t make it taste any less miraculous.

Mitch: If you had a list of “best-kept secrets” you’d recommend, which would you include and why?

Justin: There’s very little human knowledge that’s a secret anymore! There are thousands of practices out there for helping us lead a more balanced, more rewarding life, and most of them are at our fingertips online or in person. I’ve found that by pursuing my curiosity instead of subduing it, I can sample other worldviews, making use of those that resonate with me personally. Just as piano helped broaden my understanding of guitar, just as classical and jazz gave me a wider vocabulary for pop music, we can take the best of different ideas—as long as we successfully open ourselves up to those perspectives instead of seeing our own reflection. Developing that ability takes time and practice.

I think one of the biggest surprises for me, though, was when I discovered just how central physicality is to everything I do. I was the kid who eschewed sports and dance and was uncomfortable with my body; I saw myself as a fundamentally rational, intellectual being. But our conscious brains are built on a foundation that serves our physical needs, and ignoring what our body tells us is akin to driving blindfolded. I’ve found that tapping into and maintaining my physical health is essential to the other parts of my personality.

In conclusion, I’d like to offer a “Special Thanks” to Justin Goldner for sharing his insights on music, creativity, connection, and the world at large as he continues to “Change the World One Thought at a Time.”

To hear some of Justin Goldner’s musical magic, check out:


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