It is inevitable that while pursuing the attention of the listening public a photo shoot will occur. I hope they like my hair. To rehearsal we will go!
The Thursday after last and before the next…
I hope you are all well. An “Ah Ha” moment was experienced last weekend that I think is really important and hope helps a lot of people understand what is going on around them. Please remember that everything that follows is my opinion based on observations made over the last 25 years of attending and performing at venues of every size, type, and smell across the country. You have been warned!
This project has come full circle and given me more than I even thought was possible. I set out in late 2000 to keep working on original material, regardless of if I was in a “working” band and to become a better musician that people wanted to play with. I was finding it impossible to keep a band together and creating quality work that brought value to the people who experienced it. I was getting fed up with the dead ends, shady characters, and little to no compensation for my work. It finally hit me to stop trying to give value to people who didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t appreciate the value I provide.
I choose to forget everything else and just write and perform material that I enjoyed. After I had that material the next step of the plan was to figure out how to get other great musicians to perform the material with me on a regular basis so others could enjoy it too. That is what meiuuswe means. It’s a statement of commitment to get over yourself and focus on giving music to others because someone gave music to you instead of anything that takes away from the present moment and making music. My favorite bands and performers gave me something special and priceless by spending hours perfecting their craft and jumping through all the hoops to put on a show or make a record so I had the opportunity to experience their work and grow because of it.
The truth is I didn’t understand the reason why music is so powerful until a few hours ago. I just wanted to be as close to the awesomeness that great bands put out when they are present, locked in, and crushing it on stage for as long as I can remember, which of course meant getting closer and closer to the stage, until one day I found myself on the stage with the best seat in the house.
The reason I believe music means so much to us and is so valuable all came into focus in a split second last weekend which lead to some deep reflection and an epiphany that is this. The value of music is how it connects us to ourselves, each other, and provides an infinite resource of opportunity to explore the unknown.
I never understood or better yet never asked why I wanted to spend so much time, effort, and resources on learning how to make music and overcoming the endless obstacles of performing on a regular basis until this moment happened. Despite the facts that failure is oxygen to a musician and the chances of supporting yourself from your creative work are very slim or next to impossible, I believe the reason we subject ourselves to this pursuit is because someone before us created something so valuable to us we decided we wanted to do the same thing and invest everything into it with very little to no guarantee of getting anything of value in return.
Here is the sequence of events that led me to this conclusion. First I was at an in store clinic a long time ago. During the Q & A someone asked how to become famous bass player and get gigs. The reply from the artist was to ask what that person was providing others that they should know him for his playing. The person who asked the initial question had no answer. It struck me as an odd exchange in the moment but I didn’t understand what I think they meant until last weekend.
Then years later I observed the bassist for another band warming up for a good two hours before their set at a gig I did with them. I hadn’t heard the band play but seconds after they started playing, I immediately recognized their level of competence was greater than my own and wanted to be able to do what they do. I don’t always stick around to watch the other bands on a bill but I was absolutely riveted and stayed until they packed up their van and went to their next gig. They changed not only my approach and practice routine, they changed my life by showing me the level of commitment required to be great at your profession and provide so much value for an audience they support your creative work even if it is instrumental Middle Eastern Sci-Fi metal. I am forever grateful for this encounter.
After that, a local musician posted some thoughts about his approach to being an artist. I loved his perspective on this subject like I love his playing. One of his points is that as performers we owe the audience everything and they owe us nothing. On first glance I thought those people owe me a lot for the years of practice I’ve already put in to learning how to play an instrument, lugging this gear all over town, and all the other crap that I’ve endured as a working musician to be in this moment playing for the approval of the audience. I’ve heard many complaints about the lack of support from the listening public and complications with venues. I felt the same way in a lot of regards and still kept trying to fit a square in the space for a circle. It wasn’t until this experience this last weekend that this made sense.
Next a local musician I know and work with posted some thoughts about how hard it is to work with certain venues when it comes to getting paid and booking gigs. I’ve been there and it can really hurt to be jerked around and ignored by people you want to build a productive and mutually beneficial relationship with. I commented that he might think about instead of trying to work with people who obviously don’t appreciate his value, using that energy to find people to work with that do appreciate his value. We create something from nothing as musicians and there are infinite opportunities to perform for people that don’t involve being abused and taken advantage of while doing all the heavy lifting to put the show on.
There is a post around the internet that basically states that a bar won’t come to your home and pour drinks to a group of people the bar brought with them for exposure for the bar like musicians are asked to do. There is also the post about the pay to play scheme were the band does all the work to get people to a venue for little or no money by having to sell a certain number of pre-sell tickets or be liable for a flat fee to the event organizer for booking the gig. My favorite meme is the packing five grand of gear in a car worth $500 to drive 2 hours to make 50 bucks one. The point is there are plenty of examples of the abuse musicians endure to give their music to the world. We complain and complain that nobody likes our band, nobody comes to our shows, and nobody buys our merchandise. We can’t do what we love and have to get crappy day jobs because we don’t make any money in music.
All of that is true to a degree but the good news is that it doesn’t have to be. My belief is that if someone doesn’t appreciate your value; stop trying to give it to them. You will be much happier and productive. If someone treats you poorly or doesn’t respond to an invitation from you to collaborate on something good for the both of you, defy the instinct to try harder to obtain acceptance and instead channel that energy into finding people who appreciate what you offer and work with them.
Just keep playing. It doesn’t matter who you play with or where. Just keep playing.
If a boulder is in your path, use something other than your head to turn the big rock into smaller rocks. Move around the obstacle or over the obstacle instead of suffering the concussion. Find a better way. Use your skills to turn silence into music and create a solution. Apply what you love doing to other areas of your life. Be creative. You are a musician after all. We are only out of options when we stop believing in our power to create. If you really have committed to being a musician, this will never happen.
Finally I found what has eluded me for so many years. I went through my normal 30 minute warm up to get present and focused for a bass performance Saturday night. After the gig a listener came up to me and shared their appreciation for the performance. Had the exchange ended there, I probably wouldn’t have arrived at this new perspective. It was what the listener said next that blew the doors off. “I play bass and I want to do what you do. Will you show me how to play bass like you”? This has happened before but it didn’t hit me until later when I remembered a moment when I was convincing my dad to arrange guitar lessons for me. I showed him the Hendrix documentary where he’s playing “Hear My Train a Coming” on acoustic guitar and made a fairly convincing case. My closing argument ended with the passionate plea of, “I have to be able to do that. I need somebody to show me how to do that”.
What connected me to that moment and made the obvious visible is that I valued that performance so much I wanted to be able to do that like that listener valued my performance enough to be able to do that. I believe the same thing has happened to musicians since instruments began to be made. Someone experiences a work of art that moves them so much they have to learn how to create or at least re-create that work that has the potential to move others the way it moved them because creating the experience for others moves the creator even more. The experience of being exposed to someone’s expression about a shared existence that changes your perception and future is what is valuable about music.
When people have a favorable reaction to something they hold it in high regard and want to repeat the experience. Take your favorite band. Remember the first time you heard that song that led you to purchase a copy of an album. These moments grew on each other and led to you finding out more information on the band and going to their show when they came to town. Now you’ve seen that band a bunch of times and can’t imagine your life without their music in it because the experiences were valuable to you. That group of performers gave you something so powerful that you feel it is worth it to spend your time and money on their work. You’ll go see that group or some configuration of, in thirty years because of the value you perceive their work to have. Everybody has a collection of records they need access to at all times to feel whole.
The success that many musicians wish to attain is a level of abundance that allows them to have the freedom in their schedule to do what they want and control of their creative work while affording them the means to pay their bills and have some fun. Sadly most of us will never reach that point because we aren’t willing to make our music valuable enough that people will support or work. That is the epiphany I had this weekend.
People don’t support your work because they don’t perceive it as valuable enough. If no one buys your records or tickets to your shows, your work isn’t valuable enough for people to choose your work over the other billion entertainment options available. Despite how awesome you think you and your work are; numbers don’t lie. If your sales suck and no one is at your shows, you have failed. This is why the talentless can carve out lucrative careers in the business and master musicians can languish in obscurity forever never selling a single record. The audience doesn’t owe you anything. Nobody owes you anything until you give them something so valuable they decide they have to give you something for what you have given them.
I used to think talent was the determining factor for success. It isn’t. The determining factor for success is the perceived value of what you have to offer. For some it is their looks, connections, finances, or knowledge. In very rare cases people get by on their talent alone. In those cases that talent is so valuable nothing else matters. These are the one in a million. For the rest of us, we have to work hard and forever to generate enough value to get in the door.
Record companies and box offices were built because people saw the value in producing records and charging people to attend performances. Times have changed and technology has leveled the playing field giving everyone the ability to be a musician. This has increased competition because the market is oversaturated with a lot of people with little or no skill or respect for the artistic process further reducing the value of a skilled musician. There are more musicians to choose from and less people willing to compensate musicians for their work.
Venue owners have changed as well looking for cheaper entertainment to reduce cost and increase profit. It isn’t logical to waste money on acts that don’t bring people to your bar because their music is great. Sadly, you can’t pay bills with doing the right thing. It’s all about numbers and analytics because this is a business. If your performances don’t draw or your records aren’t selling, you can blame everyone else and stay in that state of being or accept that fact that your music isn’t valuable enough for the support you think you’re deserved and work on building the value of the work you’re producing. If it doesn’t matter to you then stay home and focus your energy elsewhere. There is nothing wrong with deciding your head hurts and you don’t want to smash it against the big rock to make little rocks any more.
That was the decision I faced. In my own mind on multiple occasions I thought everyone would instantly realize the value of our work, appreciate it, and support us on a large scale. Well, reality and our best case scenarios don’t like each other very much. It’s been much harder than anticipated and I had to look myself square in the eye and ask if I am really committed to do what is necessary to get what I want. I’m not talking about the surface level get a trophy for participating commitment. I mean the do the hard work everyday commitment of practice, promote, perform, and repeat.
In hindsight I was being dramatic. The day I stop making music is the day I stop breathing and even that is debatable. I feel more connected to music now and realize how much more there is to explore than at any other time I can remember. Oddly enough, once I committed to not caring about the effort to make our music, the effort to make our music became less and the tedious work became more enjoyable because of the progress being made overall.
I am grateful to that listener for showing me what really matters. The request to share my knowledge with him is the greatest reward a musician can achieve in my opinion. Asking a musician for their knowledge is appreciating their sacrifice to create something you can experience and makes every second of work, penny spent, and drop of sweat a smart investment because the return is priceless. Consequently, money isn’t the hard part. Our world is focused on money but that is the distraction. It isn’t money that is important; it is the perceived value of what you can create and produce. If your work is that good and people value it enough to move past compliments to opening their wallets, I figure you’ll pay this month’s bills. But your work has to be that good.
Something Dave Grohl has said for a while explains it best and I finally feel I understand what he means. When asked about achieving success in music, he explains his approach was to make people realize he just played the crap out of his drums every time he performed. Get in a room and learn to play. Then learn to play great. If you’re great people will notice. All of this seems like not an answer, but when you ask someone how to do something, the honest and correct answer is to tell them to do it.
In closing, last week was hella productive for all projects. Our preparation for the Copper Bones Album Release Party on June 11th is going great. You have 32 days to make your arrangements to be at this performance. I can confirm that the Leslies will make their debut at Will’s that night. You can’t miss that! We also continue to work on brand new material. We have a new song we’re working on that is just ridiculous and moves us into uncharted territory, which will be exciting to explore. I can report that we finished the 2nd phase Saturday and are finishing the prep this week for the 3rd phase to be completed at a time to be determined. I trust everyone had a great Mother’s Day and made it a point to appreciate the women in our lives that do the hard work and have been with us since the beginning.
Thanks, Mom. You’re the best!
Have a great week everybody!