Just want to let you know that Bob Lefsetz has been posting some particularly excellent stuff of late. I’ve dogged him (to you, my three readers) about never offering solutions, but then he wrote this:
It’s abstract, but that’s really what makes it so useful.
And I was cheering when I read last Sunday’s piece on Imogen Heap’s entitlement issues:
It’s time to get over this “artist as beggar” thing. Like this Kickstarter shit. I’ve supported friends who have used it, but come on. If you’re so passionate about making something, work for the money to make it. Don’t fucking beg.
Seriously, what is it you want? You want to make music on your own terms? Then why are you offering friends and family (or, as you think of them, your fanbase) a stake in your album in exchange for a handout? What are you really doing this for?
I’ve worked two jobs for the better part of a decade so I could make music exactly the way I want it. Music is my thing. I don’t want to be married; I don’t want to have kids. I couldn’t care less about any of that shit. I have songs in my head, and I want them out where I can listen to them. With the words I write, as I write them, arranged as I arranged them, played as I want them played, recorded as I want them recorded, and packaged as I want them packaged.
The idea of a “day job” is anathema to wannabe artists for some reason. When I ask these folks why they’re so averse to employment, the explanation I’m most often given is: When I get home from work, I’m too tired to make music. What?
People have the energy to do all sorts of things when they get home from work. How about raise kids? I hear that requires at least as much energy as dicking around on a guitar. Yet I know quite a few people who seem to have no problem doing it after a day of work.
I spend the money that I earn from one job on bills and material pleasures; I spend the money I earn from the other on my music. If I get an idea in the middle of the workday, I hum it to myself in a voicemail. I create when inspiration strikes, I edit when it doesn’t, and my shit gets done. On lunch breaks. In the middle of the night. Am I tired? Sure. But why is that bad? I hear people complain all the time about how tired they are in tweets and Facebook statuses. Everybody’s tired. If you really want to do something, you’re gonna do it no matter how tired you are.
Then there’s this one: I need to be free so I can devote 100% of my time to my art!
First of all, that’s not what you’re gonna do if you’re “free”. I know; I’ve been there. There’s no urgency. You fuck around. The work expands to fill the time.
Second, if you do nothing but “make art”, then you get no life experience other than “making art”. What the fuck are you going to “make art” about? I couldn’t have written “You Are Boring The Shit Out Of Me” or “Now I Have A Job” if I didn’t work in an office.
I went to visit Sean at Berklee during our freshman year of college; I thought I would be intimidated by all the supercool music cats there. Instead I found myself surrounded by nerds who had spent high school practicing scales in their bedrooms. Their scintillating conversation involved such subjects as what key the background music on the TV was in. You gonna write a deep and meaningful lyric about that?
The two best things that ever happened to me as a songwriter: going to a liberal arts college and entering the workforce. What gives lyrics depth and resonance is their human element; what gives them richness is the experience you draw upon to describe things, your vocabulary and your references. If you only interact with one kind of person in your life, or do one kind of thing, how deep and rich are your songs gonna be? Look at all the ’80s hair metal bands that got signed just out of their teens. The only thing they could write about was partying. They didn’t know anything else. When they mentioned having a job in a lyric, it was in passing so they could get to the part about how they’d rather be at a party. They had to do it that way; they didn’t know what a job was. They just knew it was something bad, something that you couldn’t do and party at the same time.
When we’re in public school, we learn about the de’ Medicis, the Roman Catholic Church, and the concept of “patronage”. According to your 10th grade social studies teacher, an artist cannot create without a patron. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d speculate that this shit is intentionally slipped into the curriculum to marginalize any potential artists in the audience.
Without patrons, where would Michelangelo and Mozart have been? Why, penniless in the gutter, of course – see how Mozart died broke after leaving his patron? Artists are weird! Deficient! They have no common sense! They cannot manage their own financial affairs! Without someone else handling the money, the artist becomes the starving artist!
But… if artists are born without common sense, then why do people turn to song lyrics and poems when they have real-life problems? If that shit was written by perspectiveless weirdos with no grasp on reality, what would be the point of looking for wisdom in it? Artists have plenty of sense – arguably the most sense.
An artist can be his own patron. He can manage his business affairs. But the concept of the self-sufficient artist is a frightening one to the powers that be, one that needs to be disqualified during our formative years.
Imagine an artist beholden to no one, free to make and disseminate his work as he sees it, no matter how incendiary. Is there such an artist in the world today? Who is not corporate sponsored, or status-obsessed, or beholden to friends and family? Who doesn’t think about what he has to give up to someone else so he can get something?
Then there’s this idea that an artist’s work is only validated by one of two “successes”: public adoration or monetary return. Do I get back the money that I spend on music? Not directly, no. Do you get back the money you spend on vacation? When I’m making music, I feel like I’m on the greatest holiday you can take – and I take it almost every day. Each time I hop in the car and listen back to my music, I’m reminded why I work so hard on it. I don’t need cash back, or the approval of strangers.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy having fans. I throw everything of myself into the music; if it resonates with someone, then we share something in common. This is a meaningful connection, and I appreciate it. Nobody likes my music because of how I look; I look like shit. The people who like it do so because they identify with it – which, if I’m writing honestly, means they identify with me.
And it’s not to say I haven’t received tangible benefits from making music. In fact, it’s probably fair to acknowledge that everything I have, I have because of it. My best friends are the people with whom I make and talk music. I met LB when she came to one of my shows after finding a CD of mine in a Colorado record store, and now she is the most important person in my life.
My college degree is in English and philosophy. Yet I’ve made my living as a graphic designer for fifteen years. How? Using the self-taught skills I developed in order to physically and electronically package my music. Beyond that, I’ve been offered job opportunities – and even housing – simply because someone liked the music I make. But it’s not a chicken-or-egg thing; I made the music first, my way, and then they came.
If you want to create something, create it, down to the last atom of your vision, no matter how long it takes. Release it into the world however you can – it might make some cool person’s life a little better. It might make some asshole’s life a little worse, which may help him find the perspective to not be such a fucking asshole. You never know.
If people give a shit about your art, awesome; if they want to give you money for it, even awesomer. But don’t wait for someone to come along and bail you out, and don’t ever go begging. Let work set you free. Work is good.