over the past few days, i have been pondering what it means to be a musician, what it means to desire to BE a musician for a living…and, ultimately, what it means to be me. i wandered slowly through the hallways of the idea, dragging my fingers along the wall…trying not just to see my surroundings, but to FEEL them.
along the walk…a few things became clear to me. and i’d like to share them with you now.
#1 being a musician means being two different people whom…if you were to plot the effectiveness of their ability to co-habitate, would fall somewhere between the odd couple and the characters in “grumpy old men”.
#2 being a musician for a living requires much more than the ability to write catchy tunes, play a mean-ass instrument, or even sing like a precious songbird.
and #3 everything changes constantly and your plans don’t mean shit.
i know a lot of that probably doesn’t make much sense on an initial read through. so i’ll break it down.
#1 it can be a very disjointed existence, being a musician. there’s a part of me that spends hours a day in a room, by myself with an acoustic guitar or piano. i write very personal lyrics to very personal songs about very personal subjects. in truth, i do not do this for fans. i do not do this for “girl A” about whom “song A” was written. i do this, in fact, for myself. this is who i am, this is what i do…and i like to think i’m good at it. if i could design buildings, i would spend hours alone doing that. if i could leap like a gazelle, i’d spend hours training to do that. if i could stand people, i’d spend hours in a hospital learning to help. but i can’t do those things. i can take complex topics, difficult situations, and tangled emotions and harness them into a pop-rock song. so that’s what i do. there exists very little thought of an audience or “fans” during the entire process. at least on a conscious level.
there is, however, also another part of me. this part craves attention. this part is very proud of the things i accomplish musically…and wants nothing more than to gallivant around on stage, showing it off to AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE. i love good music. i love listening to good music. i love watching it, and i love sharing it. if i didn’t think i wrote good music…i wouldn’t write it. but i do. and i want to share it. i want to hang it in the middle of a gallery while a room full of people gather around and make it mean what they want it to mean. i want to watch them watching it, i want to feel them feeling it…and i want to hear them comment. i want to wear their compliments around my neck. i want them to take it into their bodies and let it nurture their bones and mend their souls.
and these two parts of myself ALMOST NEVER see eye to eye. they live in the same apartment, pay the same rent and sleep in the same bed. but they often hate each other. but…to repeat…music is what i am. it defines me. it’s what i have to do, because it’s the only thing i can do that allows me to stay sane. but sitting in a room by yourself provides no sustenance in and of itself. i must perform. i must interact. i must connect. i must engage. (big term there, right?)
#2 and this is where my second epiphany came. the “tortured artist” part of me produces the material. and the attention-grubbing part is the conduit to the audience…those with the power to help me become a musician FOR A LIVING.
pete townsend speaks extensively about the true goal of any artist being the acquisition of commission. i, for one, believe that hits the nail pretty much right on the proverbial head. we wake up, we eat, we struggle…we breath to hear someone say “i like the music you make. what can i do to help you make more?”
this sentence comes in many forms…and is rarely uttered in such black-and-white terms. but we want it. and those of us that last…can’t and won’t stop until we get it. if the people don’t like your music, they won’t buy your shit. if the people don’t buy your shit…you aren’t sustaining yourself with your music.
if the intrinsic desire for approval…or the fact that it’s necessary for day-job avoidance aren’t enough to drive the “tortured-artist” out of his gourd…this next part will be.
in order to sustain yourself with your music, people have to buy your shit…correct. in order for people to want to buy your shit, people have to enjoy your music…correct. but FURTHERMORE, people have to like YOU. who you are, and how you are outside of the music is just as important as the music itself (and sometimes more-so).
there’s very little as difficult as watching someone who’s music isn’t as good as yours be more successful because his persona is more engaging. so we start a myspace and link it to our personal facebook which is linked to our personal twitter…and we try to be as witty and fun in our everyday lives as we are on-stage. i’m as much the product as my songs are. my marketing plan must reflect that.
#3 but the world of music, entertainment and social media are constantly changing…and your plans don’t mean shit. don’t get me wrong…you have to have one, and you have to try like hell to stick to it. but sometimes, that youtube video of the band drunk after a gig that you were certain was so funny it would be the next “david after dentist”…only gets 25 views. while the tweet you sent out as an after-thought at midnight on a tuesday asking who wanted to hear a new demo nets you 25 new fans.
my plan is always this: nothing will ever work out as well as the attention grabber imagines…or as horribly as the tortured artist assumes. plan accordingly.
and that seems to work most of the time.