Collisions at the Corner of Art and Commerce

Your Life Making Music and Making Music Your Life

Sunday, December 16, 2007

This first installment will focus on elements that impact all that follows in your career. We’ll start here on the ‘why to’ and then get into the ‘how to’ in subsequent editions.

Wherever you are in your career, it will serve you well to ask the following questions:
  1. Why are you doing what you do?
  2. Does your music offer something of value to listeners?
  3. Do you love making music for the sake of making music?
  4. Are you driven to write, record and perform even if there is *no* money involved?
  5. Will you continue to do so even if your current band breaks up, or your current disc doesn’t get the acclaim you feel it is due?

What are your answers? If you aren’t sure of #1 or can’t answer 2-5 with a ‘yes’, it doesn’t mean that it’s time to quit, it simply means that some soul searching may be in order. Your answers are important if you want to build a long lasting, sustainable career. It all boils down to learning for yourself what is most authentic for you to be doing . People can read ‘fake’ and even the most carefully constructed facade will crumble over time.

Most artists have considered these questions to some degree, but it’s important to go deep for this soul searching. Taking the time to assess is worth the effort. Ask these questions of yourself over time, making note of what is working and not working for you as you write, practice, and perform. This process of discernment can help you understand your goals, values and ideals as they relate to your music. It can also bring greater clarity to your day to day efforts, increasing the quality of your practices, writing time and performances.

Perhaps you’ve already been through all of these questions. If so, kudos to you and sorry that this post breaks no new ground for you. But starting here is important because I encounter so many people who have not really considered them.

It may appear that I’m advocating brains over creativity or calculation over following one’s muse. To the contrary, I’m suggesting that you become sufficiently self aware so that your creative output is authentic and true for you. I’m not arguing for over analyzed, sterile music. Truth, conviction and connection does not have to equal no fun, whether in the music itself or in the life of its creator. It’s my assertion that by being more true to your core, you’ll do better - and have more fun. It may involve making some hard choices that may not be fun, but your music and career will be more real, sustainable and engaging for you.

If you find that your current music doesn’t live up to your deepest goals and truths, that’s ok, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean that you need to repudiate your past. Music is wonderfully malleable - you created it and you can alter it or head off in a new direction with subsequent writing, particularly if you are a solo artist. If you are in a band, you might find that you don’t agree with the current vision of the band. If that is the case, it doesn’t mean you need to quit the band or break it up. It simply suggests that it is time to discuss goals and truths at a core level for the band as a whole. This is, of course, a discussion that requires some sensitivity. It may be a difficult conversation, but if your band cannot have this type of dialog, the other rigors and stresses of making music together will likely be too much for the unit to bear anyway.

We live in a time when music is more disposable and commodified than ever before. Despite the challenges we face, it is also a great time to create music. ‘Doing it yourself’ is more viable now than ever before. We’ve got great sounding, affordable recording studios in basements, economical, high quality replication companies, and web sites allowing us to interact with and serve fans across the globe in real time. These are radical departures from even 20 years ago.

How do you make the most of these current opportunities? It doesn’t have to be about revolutionizing the genre of music you play(though that never hurts!); it is about doing something that is true for you and speaks that truth in a manner that will resonate for others. Potential fans have countless other ways to spend their money and time. You need to offer people a strong incentive to invest in you and your music. Music at its best is about connection, shared energy and communication, whether the song is about righting injustices, fighting for your right to party, or simply laying down such a slippery groove that listeners can’t help but dance. Whatever style, music can reach people and deeply move them if done with creativity, truth, conviction, connection, and courage. Making music with those traits will help you rise above the masses and help you build a sustainable career doing what you love, a true definition of success.

updated: 11 years ago