So I am again off on tour in the USA until July 4th. This trip has been a revelation so far…it’s amazing to see how many allergy friendly places have cropped up since last year and how much easier it is to find proper allergy friendly food at grocery stores. The labeling has also improved and you can pretty much count on the labeling listing allergens which is a vast improvement from past years. So over the next few months I shall be giving you the heads up on some of the places I’ve visited, tell you about some of the people I’ve talked to, and tell you how I tour with a severe wheat allergy. It’s not always easy, but things are getting better! I can’t wait to tell you about Mozzarelli’s in NYC. BEST PIZZA EVER and they are doing everything right. I got to have a nice conversation with manager Judith and she has officially restored my faith in allergy friendly Italian fare. Stay tuned friends!! xoLo.
[I started this a couple of weeks ago…and since then Steve has written a couple of blogs with his take on the same issues….Is he stealing from me?? I don’t know. But after watching Hedwig last night I think I’m going to have to keep a closer eye on him. ;)]
The musicians life is a hard one. Not only because most people regard creative fields as a hobby rather than a real life job, but also because of our willingness to do everything speculatively in hope that something will eventually come of it. Steve told me once that “we’re our own worst enemies because we love what we do” and that is so true. Now I can hear someone out there now saying…”stop complaining….you may not get paid much but at least you love your job!” Yes, and the age-old saying that you can’t live on love alone certainly applies here.
For many of us, there is no school that can teach what we do. Our work is a mixture of years of real world study, fleeting emotions, tragedy, and hope. Every note we write a piece of history saved from the ashes of charred memories. Every song a blanket woven from future hopes and past disappointments. Yet we are seen as children, refusing to grow up and get a career.
This is never so apparent as when you are managing your own career. You’re expected to have a middle-man of sorts in order to be taken seriously. If you don’t have a label, a manager, a publicist, and a booking agent…then you are obviously an amateur. I get so frustrated constantly explaining to people that I have no desire to be famous. I want to write, I want to perform, I want to connect. I also want to be paid fairly to do these things…but I don’t need a private plane and millions to be happy. I’m happy with train fare and a few thousand extra in the bank.
So as a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with 20+ years of experience, why is it that people still expect me to do my job for free? I’m not talking about recorded music here, I’m talking about playing shows and festivals that are patronised by thousands of people.
While I don’t think that anyone has a right to a living just because they are a talented musician…I also don’t think that people have the right to deprive me of a living just because we’ve created a culture that feels that we shouldn’t have to pay for music. The inequity that exists in the world of music is part of the problem here; the whole rock-star dream. Much like the American dream….it’ll just cause you to live aspirationally rather than practically and that can be a dangerous pitfall.
The problem comes when I voice this to others. Unless this person is a seasoned musician…these words will cause me to lose credibility. How can I say that I have no desire for fame and fortune? Isn’t that the reason that one becomes a musician in the first place? To avoid studying medicine, or the law? To avoid being part of the establishment?
Deciding to be a musician is not a quest of avoidance…but a labour of love. There are quite a few assumptions that we need to get over…
1. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone knew who you were?
No, this would suck. How would you ever live a normal life? Imagine having video chat open ALL THE TIME. Think you have lots of people in your life now who like to tell you how to live? Imagine having hundreds of thousands of those, even millions. Nice.
2. It’d be cool to be treated like a rock star all the time.
Again, your record label is happy to spend YOUR MONEY treating you like a rock star and other people will be willing to do the same because they think fame is some magical dust that will rub off on them. Once you’re out of money and hit songs it’s back to being NORMAL. Additionally, being treated like a star doesn’t make you a better musician…as a matter of fact I’d imagine it has the opposite effect.
3. Doing a huge tour across the world is fun.
No, it’s really not. Ask anyone who has done it. Grass roots tours with people you like are much more fun because you’re hanging with friends and leaving more time for exploration and doing it on your own terms. You don’t need to answer to anyone and your schedule is your own.
I don’t have answers for all the problems that exist in our lives as musicians. I do know that I’m beyond happy that I am able to do what I love for a living…but, until we change our thinking about what it means to be a musician I can’t see our lives getting any easier. But I suppose as Al Bernstein once said…“Easy doesn’t do it.”
If I had a dime ( that’s 10 cents for you Engleesh 😉 for all the so called “producers” that have wasted my time in the past then I’d definitely be a hundredaire. Oh wait! I AM a hundredaire!
What’s it take to be a producer these days? Beats the hell out of me. I guess I’m a producer. I record my own music and make decisions on what should go where. I guess I’m also an engineer, a studio musician, a PR person, and a label owner. Now whether or not I’m any GOOD at any of those jobs remains to be seen. I know one thing. I can sing; and I try really hard to be good at it. I can write; and that’s all I’ve ever really wanted to be since I was 3 years old- a songwriter.
In these days of the breakdown of labels, musicians feeling their way around in the dark, it’s hard to know where to start. For most of us who have eschewed labels this whole time it’s a bit easier. We’ve been managing our own careers for years. It’s still daunting as things have changed so much how do we effectively market ourselves? Do we go after a small label? Do we spend money on a producer? A publicist? Do we go all digital or still print copies of our CDs? The answer is YES. There are no rules here. You may need to do one or all of these things. You may decide to put out 4 digital albums recorded in your basement this year and give them all away for free….you may decide to make a really great album in a studio using a producer and market it the old fashioned way. Different things work for different people. There is no set market strategy these days. Whatever you do, make music you can be proud of. Steve Lawson one said to me that if he makes an album that he loves listening to…even if it doesn’t sell well…what has he lost? He’s still got a great album he can be PROUD of…and 1000 copies of it to give away as gifts. Now solo-bass isn’t the most salable of all music endeavors, but it is NICHE. And niche can be a powerful tool. There are millions of people out there doing what I do. It’s a lot easier rise to the top of a small niche market. That being said, you can have twice the audience in a this kind of environment….the fans AND the players. Before I started touring with Steve I really didn’t know much about solo bass. I did own a Stu Hamm cassette back in the early 90’s which I loved. (I’m sorry!) But I knew nothing of Michael Manring or Vic Wooten. Now I’m surrounded by fantastic solo-bassists all carving out their own subsets of a great niche market and doing quite well. It’s really a community of great players and people.
If you haven’t already…you need to read through Steve’s blog. His last big post on remembering not to let your marketing strategy be that influenced by millionaires is brilliant. Read it here.
So, back to my original rant. I’ve been contacted by 100’s of producers over the course of my career. People who were genuinely interested in the tone of my voice. In my songs. Then the dreaded meeting. I’ve been either too young, too old, too tall, not right, not marketable, not blond, not thin enough and on and on….Never a refusal based on them not liking my songs, or my voice. Granted for the most part, most of the meetings seemed like an interview for a date or a livestock auction, or both. I had hoped that people would listen to my voice, and close their eyes and listen to a genuine outpouring of my soul. Perhaps forget that I’m 6 feet tall, a size 14, and no longer 18 years old. The way it happens when you fall in love. The little imperfections turn into endearments. Those are the things that become my favourite part of someone when I love them. Music is like that for me too. I love the so called mistakes. The dropped chord, the cracked voice on a note, the outburst of laughter at a show. The beauty in being human is what I love about music; it’s what I love about people too. Because of this, I am haunted by the things I think I should be doing….things that people want me to do. I need to be innovative, ahead of the curve, or people won’t come to see me or buy my albums. And this is what it is. I’m not trying to get famous here, just trying to make enough money to live. So when you come to see me live, or you buy a cd, it makes it possible for me to keep doing what I’m doing. Bottom line. You’re not making me rich, you’re not putting my dog through charm school. You’re supporting local business at grass roots level. And that is very, very good indeed. In turn, the biggest gift I can give you in return is to make the best music I can and part of that is making music that is ME. It doesn’t matter if it’s quirky, uncool or outdated as long as it’s GOOD and it’s something I can be proud of. That’s all I want to do.
It’s never all bad. I’ve worked with some great people too. Producers and engineers that have turned into lifelong friends. They make up for all the wasted time, all the bogus physical assessment. I hope as the independent musician continues to manage their own career in this very exciting future, that we’ll see more and more of what has been hidden from us in the past by people pushing marketability. Beautiful voices and beautiful songs that don’t need to be attached to something pretty. Maybe then people will stop trying to make themselves into something they’re not. Maybe then we can all just concentrate on making music. Can you tell I’m an idealist? xo
How many times have you been talking to a friend about someone you’ve just met, or have known for a while and said…”I just don’t understand her. She’s a little weird don’t you think?” Or perhaps you’re so angry with your partner for not knowing what it takes to make you happy although you’ve told them time and time again?
I’ve long been interested in the differences in us….how four children from the same family can be so dramatically different and in turn so misunderstood. We’ve all known, or perhaps been, the black sheep of the family and can see how much of a strain it can be on kids who think and feel differently than the rest of their peers. I grew up (and my Mum has admitted to this too) feeling like I was from another planet. How could I be related and/or connected with all these people around me? I didn’t seem to think or feel the same. My instructors at school didn’t really understand me either. I was pretty much labelled a “weird little kid”.
For the past few years I’ve had an interest in the Myers Briggs type sorter and also the Enneagram. These two tests have really helped me to understand myself a little better as well as helping me to recognise why the social aspect of being a musician is so daunting to me. Musicians with type ENFP find this kind of work less harrowing as meeting new people and experiencing new situations is their life-blood! But for me, as an INFJ throwing me into a room of a ton of people I don’t know (unless I’m on stage) makes me feel completely awkward and uncomfortable. I’m perfectly willing to make a spectacle of myself on stage….and if the show goes well…happy to socialise afterward if I feel a good vibe in the room. It’s all about feeling for me though and one person with a negative vibe can make me feel trapped and ready to run!
The enneagram for me is a much better personality sorter. Unlike the MBTI, it makes allowances for changes in sense and situation. Each of the types have a wing or wings and and types they will lean to in places of health or stress. I’m a type 4 with a 3 wing, but thought until recently that I was a 2…as that is where I lean to in times of stress. The enneagram is particularly good for counselling as you can clearly see by characteristics where a person is in their life and what they need to work on to become centered and healthy.
The personality is a highly complex thing, and I don’t expect we’ll ever really understand ourselves or one another completely; but take a test….do some research and learn to respect yourself and others for who and what you are…different and changeable; complex and unique; and in a word, special. In turn I’ve met lots of people in the last few years that use personality type sorters as an excuse for their erratic or unhealthy behaviour. I don’t believe this is what it’s all about! A snapshot of your life is not who you are meant to be for the rest of the time you’re here. We’re meant to be working towards a healthy space and just because we’re prone to sadness doesn’t mean we should accept that as our lot. As we age, we’re learning and evolving mentally and through knowing more about ourselves I believe we can move into a space of emotional comfort and understanding for humankind.
Don’t forget to share your types and stories as you wish. I’m very interested in hearing about you and if the Enneagram and MBTI have helped you to understand yourself or those around you. Is it all just bollocks? What do you think?