How does an artist define success?
I still hear the words from a Sony Music Executive who was kind enough to share a coffee with me a few years back – “David, you seem like you have it all – - a great day job; a great family; a great hobby as a songwriter….what more could you possibly want? What are you looking for?”
It was his very polite and professional way of telling me to stick to my day-job…
Many will argue that life is all about the journey and not the finish line (after all, we all know what happens at the finsih line don’t we?)…..
So, why then all the marketing? all the websites? all the social media? all the CDs? all the podcasts? What is it that I’m hoping to accomplish in all of this?
Is it all for ego? Am I just some narcissist?
They say that artists seek “validation”. But what does validation mean? What does it look like?
Is it a pat on the back that says, “good job ‘ol boy”? Is it a spin on a radio-station?
How about a stranger coming up to you and saying….”man, that song you wrote…just want to tell you that it really connected…”
Or how about applause at a performance…….
It sure feels as though the after-life of a song pales in comparison to the original composition process…There is nothing more rewarding than that great chord progression, or that great story you’ve put to words, or that great hook (which I’m still searching to fine), or artistic irony…Sometimes I shed tears because the song is so personal…sometimes I dream I’m performing this song in front of thousands of people….My heart pounds when I feel I’ve created something good…The energy…it’s overwhelming!
….and then the process of recording, tracking, and producing – - This is fun….not quite as fun as composing…but it’s an intruiguing process…. it’s like you’re dressing up your child and getting him/her ready for the first day of school….Have I dressed him in the right colours? Too bright? Too dark? Will he get miss us? Will he be bullied?
Sometimes it’s not a child, but a painting…..And sometimes you’re let down, because the sketch is much better than the mural. But then at other times, the song becomes more about the textures and colours of the mural, and less about the sketch…
And is it not the goal for any “backstage performer” like myself (“backstage performer” – what a perfect phrase for a songwriter – - a phrase which I credit to my good friend and mentor, Walter Hammond), to strive for that perfect mural? .. textural justice for a perfect sketch? What in the world could be more rewarding to a songwriter?
So, back to the question Alter – - why then is that not enough? Why must I feel compelled to show it off to the world? And how do I measure its success?
Well, since the beginning of contemporary rock/pop, music metrics have often lived in some form of commercial or critical medium. Record/CD sales, a top-ten lists, a Juno award “this”, a Grammy award “that”, weekly top-40 radioplay…etc… Performers would have opportunities to play in larger venues. Songwriters would receive royalties and be hired as staff-writers.
Well, notwithstanding what “CD-baby” might say, those days are long gone…
As I take inventory and reflect over the past few months of my marketing of “Songs for Sale”, I’m trying to guage whether the process has brought me any closer to that elusive goal of “success”….trust me, it ain’t about the money – - I’m actually very worried as to what will happen to my songwriting career when they abandon the “penny” coin for good (All songwriters should be lobbying together to “SAVE THE PENNY” – -).
Thanks to the social marketing campaign of CyberPR, I am more engaged in social media than ever before- – Not even my kids use twitter (I will save my perspectivs of social media for another day)…. I have a better website. I’ve had some podcasts – - my CD has even received nice reviews …..
(yes, had to give it a plug!)
By all accounts, I’ve taken steps forward ….I’ve moved my little creations from the basement out into the real world. That should have hit the mark..no??
Yet, admittedly, I’m still searching for more…I don’t know what it is……
The irony is of course, that no matter how “successfull” the post-production phase of music marketing will be, nothing will ever match the initial exhilaration, passion, emotion I felt during the early creative processes…..For when your baby is born, there ain’t nothing better in life- – happy tears……
I listened to a radio interview the other day given by some hip-hop icon and a music exec (a different one than the exec who suggested I might wish to stick to my day job). The essence of the interview was as follows (I’m paraphrasing, but I will use quotes): “…..We can do so much more for so much less than we could ever do before- – everybody has a basement studio with the latest and greatest technology. It all sounds great. So the goals should be to get your music out as quickly and as inexpensively as possible. Don’t waste your money on the big studios or costly recording, because you’ll never recoup it if you do. Just keep a presence and build your audience……”
Sound advice on some level I guess…But the statements also gave me great pause. Hey, I’m as pragmatic as the next guy….if you can do something cheeply, go for it…But, wow…did that ever playdown the pre-marketing creative phase – - the phase that I hold so deeply and passionately.
At first, I felt a swell of emotions ranging from envy to resentment – - this is success in the world of music! How great it values creative composition! The creative process completely overshadowed by marketing where art is defined by the market. That was the metric. And by the way, the music exec agreed, although he was more articulate. “The industry is justifiably risk-adverse, as profit-margins have fallen in large part due to depleting revenues from digital downloads”.
Ahhh yes…finally, an operational definition of “success” I can hang my hat on…Makes sense….we’ve been using “commercial metrics” for decades…why might we expect anything different?..
So, in sum the buisiness model of music will dictate the the success of music-making for the pre-specified music-listening marketplace….. who may or may not pay …..
…And one wonders why the world is the way it is – - and music? …..you better love vanilla…
BUT rest assured that “from stagnation rise the seeds of change”…..
For beneath the surface of commercialisim lies a deep, personal, colourful reef of beautiful diverse and meaningful music……its called “indie”…..And in the wonderful world of indie, lie no artistic bounderies….For success is defined by a myriad of artistic juxtapositions…. its like a world without crime…without hate…without sadness….without fear…..there is no right…there is no wrong…AND there are no successes…and no failures. …just love….and harmony……carry me away….
And so, as I stand here alone on DAY NUMBER 1 of my “Save The Penny, Save The Artist” campaign, I take comfort in knowing that it us who define the benchmarks of our own successes in the world of creative artistry…. The process is called “artistic rationalization”….And no music exec or multimillion dollar entertainer, however successful they may think they are, will ever be able to achieve the degree of success resolutions that we as artists attain…..Ahh…it’s great to be an artist! …..Can anyone spare me a dime?