now playing: jackson browne, “in the shape of a heart”
there are times when it’s insanely easy for me to think that i just wasn’t intended to be a part of the music business.
this would be one of those times.
a great songwriter from nashville, jamie o’hara (one half of the late, lamented o’kanes), said in an interview once…and this is damn near a quote…that the very things that make a good songwriter – sensitivity, creativity, a keen sense of observation – are the same traits that make them so ill-equipped to deal with the trappings of the business.
i am very much ill-equipped to deal with the trappings of this business.
from a rational standpoint, i know that there’s not a lot of what goes on that should be taken personally…but i’ve never let that stop me from doing it anyway. you see, ultimately, we’re all salesmen. and what we’re selling is a part of who we are – our talents, our creativity, some small piece of ourselves that we snatch out of mid-air and turn into something that we hope the rest of the world will relate to.
so when you put yourself out there, and turn yourself over to the world, you’re asking for a peculiar brand of approval from – from who, really? a demographic? the inhabitants of a specific geographic area? family and friends? i guess it’s different with everyone who does it…but for those of us who choose to crystallize our talents into a salable form that ultimately becomes a product, we’re inevitably asking of the world to consider our talents, perhaps invest in them either emotionally or financially, and to connect with us somehow.
so if that connection fails…or if whatever feedback you get is negative…how are younot supposed to take that personally?
now, granted – if we’re lucky, we get a certain amount of positive reinforcement from those close to us.
i’m not insinuating that this support be taken for granted, but i think that’s typically counted on. it’s the reaction of those on the next levels that seems to make or break us. the total strangers who experience whatever you have to offer from a totally unbiased viewpoint.
they’re the true litmus test, really – they know nothing of you and have nothing to gain or lose by reacting to you honestly.
it’s a test that, by my own standards, i failed some time ago.
now don’t start in on me yet…hear me out.
i spent a considerable amount of time, money, and creative capital assembling a record that i thought was the absolute best i had to offer at the time – i gave it up to the world, and the world yawned.
now this is not to discount the opinions expressed by the hundreds – literally, hundreds – of people who have bought that album, expressed their appreciation of it, and have shown their support for what i have to offer creatively. i have a wonderful extended family of people for whom that record is important, and i’m thankful for that.
but the unfortunate reality is that kind words burn off very quickly when that’s the only fuel you have. momentum is important. visibility is important. growth is important. professional support is important – and by professional support, i mean having people with a professional stake in your career in your corner, doing the things necessary to help elevate your standing. while it may be true that in the past ten years or so, the internet has made going it alone a much more realistic proposition, it’s still hard to elevate yourself to the next level without the help of a professional in your corner.
i won’t start beating the well-worn “talent is secondary” drum…we’ve all heard it, we all know it. and it really is all about luck, moreso now than ever before.
and while the beatles were right when they said money can’t buy you love…it sure can buy you a lot of luck.
look, the fact is – if you’re in this business, you already know all this. if you’re not, the constraints of a journal entry (even one of my journal entries) isn’t going to allow for much of a primer in the way this business operates. hunter s. thompson was right – it’s every bit as backstabbing and cliquish as any political organization, any corporate entity, and that goes from the top right down to the local music scene in your very own hometown – wherever that might be. you’ll find the same code of ethics in place, no matter what part of the food chain you might call your own.
it’s very much a relationship business – which is good and bad. good in that you can forge bonds with people who can be helpful to your career, and you establish friendships with people empathetic to where you are at any given point in your career. bad, however, in that so many of the relationships you forge are based entirely on the WHYD4ML dynamic (what have you done for me lately), and you never really know where you stand with people like that. many nights, i stood among the crowd at grape street and heard people talk trash about someone while they were on stage, only to kiss their asses when their set was over.
how do you gauge the encouragement you get from someone like that? i don’t know that you even do. certainly, several grains of salt would come in handy.
what i did was to take that simple fact of life and let it cast a cloud of distrust over everyone i knew who had anything nice to say about my music – and unfortunately, that’s been the legacy of the time that i’ve spent playing this game…a pervasive sense of distrust of anyone who has offered anything complimentary in that regard.
even with that being said, though, i’ve made friends in this business – many that i consider to be legitimate friends, who legitimately care about me and my family, and how i am on a given day.
so when someone (or an appointed representative of someone) whom you’ve counted among their numbers for over a decade throws an underhanded music-biz curveball in your direction, it is – at the very least – cause for some degree of contemplation.
the kind of thing that happened here happens all the time…and it’s purely a business concern, and it shouldn’t reflect on me personally from that particular perspective.
but on the surface, it demonstrates a fundamental lack of respect for me and for any talent i might possess and for whatever stature i may occupy at this particular point in time. to discount my contributions to the situation and wrap it in a cliche’ and say that it’s just the way the business works just goes to further illustrate my viewpoint here.
it’s hard to say much more than any of this without getting specific, and i don’t intend to do that…so maybe it just boils down to this:
if it’s my destiny to forever remain plankton in this particular food chain, then maybe it’s time to find another cycle to inhabit.
i will say this – the timing is interesting, to say the least. i’ve been experiencing something of a resurgence of late – just in terms of my desire to participate in this madness in the first place. i’ve heard from a couple of venue representatives about the prospect of playing there…i’ve moved a sizeable number of discs lately for some reason, and this whole myspace phenomena has put me back in touch with a lot of people i’d fallen out of contact with. i just signed a contract for six months’ worth of work at viva. i had started this benefit record and was enjoying working on that, and i started a separate blog to document the goings-on in the studio, which grew into a separate concept for potentially doing a series of low-key recordings separate from the benefit album and releasing them through the site…
and after this week, i don’t know if i really give a shit if any of it gets done. now knowing myself the way i do, i’ll probably start plugging away again at some point, because somehow that just happens…but right now, my heart’s not even remotely in it.
and i’m sad to say, that seems to be the rule rather than the exception with me.