Can you be yourself in the music business?
A lot on the brain. The show was Saturday. It was wonderful. The songs were embraced with open and enthusiastic arms! My family had a ball and loved being a part of the performance. A wonderful group of fans and friends came out to support me. All and all it was a big home run - so GO TEAM.
What’s got me going right now is probably a mixture of a lot of different advice and commentary I’ve heard about what it takes in the music business these days - which way to go - what to do - how this town works, etc. It’s all a bit overwhelming. And I have found time and time again that When I ask absolutely EVERYONE for their opinion, I get very confused. Maybe it’s time to start distilling my advice flow a bit. But anyhoo. That’s another issue.
Or maybe it is THE issue. Coming out to Los Angeles, or heading to any major city to pursue a career in the arts can put you in a very vulnerable, spongy position. You are an unknown, without work or connections, without much experience. All you have is your talent and your own drive and sense of self. So it sets you up to be ‘told’ by more experienced dreamers how to go about your way. They line up to do it! And if you’re smart, you ask them as well. I am always wanting to hear what people’s stories and processes are. What people who produce and write and mix and play have to say about what it takes to ‘make it.’ Everyone came about their success in a different way and they all have something unique to share. They also have their own opinions about YOU and what YOU do and how YOU can make it. Where the listener or ‘rookie’ can go wrong is by taking all of these opinions as gospel truth and forgetting everything he/she already knows about the art form, business, and most importantly herself.
Sometimes I lose my sense of self when I am trying to take advice that I think sounds smart or cunning. Sometimes I lose my creativity when I am trying to fit into a mold that I think will be marketable. Sometimes my soul dies when I think I need to become something other than what I am to be a musician.
This Business of Music is not a wonderful thing. This is what I know.
And music is the opposite of business.The bottom line is that there ARE. NO. RULES. when it comes to being a musician. That is why we love music in the first place. That is why we loved rock n roll. That is why it’s the ones who broke every so-called rule who we adore! Joni Mitchell smoked two packs a day from the day she was born and she’s still one of my all time favorite singers. How do you figure? It just is. Dylan went electric when he was the most famous folk icon in the world. Why? Because he fucking felt like it. That’s the kind of music he wanted to make!
I know that I’m not Dylan and I’m not Joni and I can only ever be just me. But I hope that if I truly am to go about this path - writing songs - performing them - connecting with people through my musical and lyrical expressions - that I can be myself, wholly and completely. I can’t do it any other way. I’m not going to become a one note/2D marketable artist. I can’t do it. I would rather die.
All I hear these days is how much we have to decide what we do, funnel it down to a formula, get really good at it, and then tell the world what it is. We have to decide basically - who we want to be - and then sell that fictional character to the outside world. As artists, we have to be able to shave ourselves around the edges until we can fit into a 10 second elevator pitch.
So, let’s say you decided, I want to be a country singer. Ok, great! Get us some cowboy boots, some big blonde hair, some songs about a shitty boyfriend, and a twangy belt - and we’re good to go. So let’s say, when you’re making your album, you want to put a song on there that is more jazzy. It’s a song you wrote that is amazing! Well, tough titties! It doesn’t fit into the mold of country singer, so it ain’t goin nowhere. Sorry, sister. This is the business. Each artist has a mission statement. And if the song or the outfit or the gig or the political view does not fit within that box, it’s a no go! Being versatile and interesting and outspoken in the biz - not a safe way to make a buck. Just see what happened to the Dixie Chicks when they expressed their dislike for George Bush! The country music world basically banned them from the air. They were not allowed to be country musicians anymore. Their liberal ways did not fit within the marketable mold of country music. And it makes sense! Hell, they stopped selling out tours for a while there.
But they continued to make music, because that’s what they do.
All I’m saying is, I don’t want to be a poser. I don’t want to ‘become’ something to be marketed. I want to become a great singer/songwriter. I want to be good at what I do. And I want to be able to do what I feel. I want to be able to sing a quirky song about jealousy next to a ballad about faith. Because that is who I am. That’s what I do. I can’t edit. And if it means that I a may not make it very far in this business. So be it.
But that is not going to stop me from making music.
The most important thing for us young artists to do is learn how to trust our gut - about people, places, things, and our art. Learn how to go write when we feel inspiration coming. Learn to stop editing our heart and soul. That is where the good stuff is! That is what life and music and art and love are all about! That soul inspired whoooooosh of energy. All the greats trusted this artist within them! All the greats listened to their soul over the loud banter of executives and money makers. It’s not about calculating a perfect business plan and implementing the steps. If that is the energy that lives behind music, it sucks. It just flat out sucks. No one wants to listen to that. Can a good business plan help fund the arts, OF COURSE. Do I hope to make money off of my music someday, and hopefully sooner than later, OF COURSE. But when the business comes before the art, you’re in trouble. Music must be driven by soul, NOT MONEY.
So maybe I’ll have money and maybe I won’t. But i think I will be much happier with a body of work that moves my soul and the souls around me to feel and love and cry and laugh. That is what life is about, and that is what I want to reflect in my work, not dollar signs.