Artistic Freedom and the Path to Happiness

MusicalCherubsIf you could do anything what would you do? This question is an interesting thought experiment particularly for artists and musicians. Derek Sivers has posed it with some interesting commentary on his blog in the form, What if you didn’t need money or attention?

He poses this question from the perspective, if you needed nothing in your life what would you do? Through looking at two example groups he raises some common issues. Entrepreneurs and musicians both need attention and money and both can become focussed on attaining those losing their spark or purpose in the process.

Money

For me sustaining my family has long been a reason (or excuse) to postpone making music. The uncomfortable relationship between art and commerce is well documented. Commercial art is frowned upon and poverty is worn as a badge of pride by some and held up as a mark of failure by others.

In the West we live in a society that produces such abundance of wealth that nobody need want for anything, but we have adopted money as a method of ascribing value to people and their activities. Bankers are more valuable than nurses, teachers and even artists.

Art in our society is a commodity and its value is specified by demand. This conditions artists to seek attention for both reward and validation. Continue reading Artistic Freedom and the Path to Happiness

Recreating my musical self with the aid of (community) gravity and other invisible forces

Comet Donati by Bond 1858
Image of the Comet Donati taken by W. C. Bond in 1858. The comet leaves its trail as it passes on its elliptical path through the solar system. Periodic activity can feel like long-period comets but perhaps not everything needs to follow such a long orbit.
I have had a somewhat unsettled relationship with making music for a long time. It has always been a passionate one, but it has often been difficult to the point of not being an active musician for many years at a time. I always seem to return though and I’m going through that process again now.

Perhaps because I’m a bit older and more self-reflective, if not wiser, I find myself watching this process as it is occurring and trying to make sense of it. When I was younger it didn’t need to make sense, it just happened, but perhaps I’m not as trusting or brave as I was then.

I have been prodded out of my comfortable isolated process by an interesting, intimate and introspective article by Clutch Daisy. Where’s Your Head At? looks at the effect of an increasing level of self-awareness in his creative process. (That’s my take on it anyway and I hope it’s at least partially accurate)

Clutch’s article has resonated with me because my current musical state is redolent with self-awareness. I haven’t made much music for ten years and the process of restarting is not an easy one in many ways. Simply justifying using the time is no simple thing as I could be spending that with my family or looking to fill it with more remunerative work.

In so many places heightened self-awareness inhibits action. Like a teenage boy in a new lumbering graceless body I’m contemplating the dance-floor and wondering how I’ll move. With my interrupted musical life it is simply a fact that needs to be dealt with though so I’m trying to incorporate the meta-process into the process somehow. Continue reading Recreating my musical self with the aid of (community) gravity and other invisible forces

Being a professional indie musician isn’t for everyone: Lessons from Charles Ives and Shellac

Charles Ives, 1913
Charles Ives was a very good insurance agent but he was also one of the finest American composers. His work is extraordinary and he created almost all his wonderful music while holding down a full-time job.

If you’re trying to make even a partial living as an indie musician you’re a businessperson, and the news gets worse… You’re a small business. That’s a tough row to hoe as it’s unlikely you’ll have much support. You’re going to have to fill lots of roles all by yourself, publicist, customer relations, sales, accounts and legal for starters. That’s all you. If you know a bit about any of those roles that’s great. If not get studying.

Talent and even producing wonderful music is only a component of success. There are lots of talented people and as a consumer it feels like there’s lots of music out there to listen to and quite a lot of it is really good. The way to garner an audience is to be good at publicising yourself and managing your relationship with your audience. The way to prosper (or at least survive) financially is to be good at selling stuff and managing the money that earns you.

This isn’t for everyone, but just because your music might not be your job doesn’t devalue your music at all. It might even be the best path you could take. You might be better off keeping your music as a hobby in the sense of something done for pleasure rather than for financial compensation. This can be a great liberation. Music doesn’t have to be your career, and choosing to make your living elsewhere doesn’t make your music any worse. In fact it could make it better.

Upsides to not making a living from your music:

  • Freedom to create whatever you want
  • No worries about pleasing anyone else
  • No stress about sales and income

Downsides to not making a living from your music:

  • Music becomes your second job
  • Time and energy may be hard to find
  • Difficult to be taken seriously as a musician

There are two interesting and very different examples of musicians who have taken this path in Charles Ives and Shellac. Continue reading Being a professional indie musician isn’t for everyone: Lessons from Charles Ives and Shellac