Originally I was going to scrap the whole previous essay, but it didn't seem right. What I've been aiming at is redefinition, to more completely pursue the things I enjoy, to do things I am good at doing.
So I'm going to say somethings generally, which probably more likely apply to myself than to others, but for me its a way to be more positive than negative, more helpful than regressive. Maybe it'll be shorter, generally.
Over the last five years, I had the opportunity to do a lot of things peripheral to my own goals, but in the effort of exploring ways to make a career within the music industry, even if it wasn't me onstage, my music through the speakers. I've been lucky enough to have worked for a production company that deals with national and international acts, and a management company that worked to promote artists nationwide.
The last five years relates to a longer timeframe: Since I was fifteen I made a firm life decision that my career would be in entertainment, and I've spent twenty years of my life studying and pursuing that goal for better or worse. And five years ago, I played my last live gig, and haven't pursued booking myself since. I have done a lot of work for other artists, more than I could fit here.
It is possible to look back and think that I could have "ascended higher" if I had moved immediately after high school, and sought out one of those hotspots of the entertainment industry, New York, LA, Nashville. But its equally as likely I would have found myself no better off than working in Kansas City and Lawrence, Kansas.
Its possible to look back and sometimes ponder going to college, but the three people out of I have no idea how many of my graduating high school actually got their degrees. All 3 have student debt, 1 ended up doing exactly what the field he studied for was. I've corrected and been frustrated by enough Full Sail graduates that I'm not sure having the piece of paper was worth it.
Instead, over the last twenty years I have managed to learn and become an expert in music theory, sound engineering, audio recording, several DAW's, MIDI, event planning, production, logistics, marketing for both artists, albums, and events, venue, artist, and touring booking, production & tour accounting, light systems and control. Right now I'm working on learning video manipulation & projection methodology.
The one regret I have is not focusing on myself and my music above all other considerations. For whatever reasons I've been able to fabricate in my mind for working in other aspects, there's a lot of artists whose careers I have followed who were successful doing their own original music without compromising themselves.
Jack White was able to get out of Detroit with the White Stripes and run a label & produce great records and live performances. Deadmau5 made millions using Fruity Loops & making a mask out of push lights to playing for millions. Dangermouse has produced more albums with more people since 2004 and ten years ago it looked like he was gonna get sued for all he was worth.
I've personally watched Bassnectar literally play every stage of Wakarusa Festival from smallest wobbling stage to the anchor headline spot on a Saturday. Skrillex stuck a free album of MP3's on his manager's website and among other things got to jam with The Doors. I was able to see songs produced by Bonobo in the studio that a friend of mine said could never be played live played right in front of me.
Flying Lotus went from submitting bumps to Adult Swim to winning a BAFTA and running a BBC radio show today--and having the best live stage show I've seen in years. These artists stayed true to themselves, they did a bunch of crap gigs or none at all, and in the end became brand names and play for thousands when they can be bothered to.
I chose to explore as many options into how people get paid in the music industry, in part because I questioned what was possible for me as I've gotten older. If it wasn't my name on the flier, my body on the stage. Its easier to imagine yourself as the headliner when you are fifteen, and still at twenty, but when you are thirty, you begin imagining yourself in different roles and measuring the distance between you and that spotlight.
There are a thousand and one peripheral jobs that exist out there besides the obvious paradigm of the guy or gal onstage. They do exist. People do get paid--some of them quite well--in the US Music Industry.
There are people that deal with ticketing, people that run accounting, people that look for new talent no one has heard of and try their damndest to make people aware of them. There's people to run lights and soundboards and tune instruments; there's people to man warehouses of musical gear for backline orders so people coming with nothing have instruments; people who manage whole pop up record/clothing stores every night. There's stage managers, caterers, hospitality, transportation jobs, logistics details. There are many many things besides playing an instrument or singing.
That's just live performance. There's musical instrument manufacturers, dealers, catalogs. There's boutique gear, vintage analog gear, modular synthesizers, custom drum sets, guitars made of rare wood. There's studios with microphones and engineers, hidden in a thousand places you'd never expect them to be in, little and big temples of sound. There's mixing engineers and mastering engineers and pressing plants.
There's a whole series of distribution from music labels to independent record stores as well. Beyond that, there's a whole media wing of journalists devoted to talking about and videotaping and photographic artists, labels, tours, music gear, blah blah blah. I haven't even talked about advertising and marketing divisions; they're everywhere.
If you're reading this, and you want to be involved in the music industry, you don't even have to be able to carry a tune. There are jobs for you.
And the music industry is not that big. Playing seven degrees of Kevin Bacon is not difficult. Lots of the same people in the same circles or fields know each other, often more closely than the artists they're supporting know each other. If you're committed, you can introduce yourself to the right people relatively easily through being nice and determined--and theoretically talented. Being talented will win in the end, but being nice and determined will get you there on rollerskates even if your only talent is mediocrity.
That said, I discovered where my priorities really lay with each role I've taken on, and I am happiest being an Artist than any other role I've ever played elsewhere. I like making sounds more than anything else, I like travelling, I like hanging out with crew and sound and lights. I feed off of audience's response to what I am doing. I work hard to find new ways to make what I'm doing interesting to watch as well as something to hear.
The problem with being an Artist is that you want to be accepted, you want your work to be heard, you want to be seen. You have things you want to express and the desire to express them to people.
But one's career is very much like a lottery. You might do a project that leads to another, or nothing might come of any of them. People expect you to do everything for exposure--but not money, and to be happy you're getting it--the exposure, forget about the money, the event lost money. You put yourself out there, and anything could happen, which means often nothing happens.
You can have a great song, but there's no telling how many people are going to listen to it, or whether the version they're going to get is the best it could be--and people aren't willing to stick around to find out. The more original you are, the harder a time you'll have in front of any crowds, with any venues, with any promoters, with any sound engineers. Until you make it of course, and then expect 102,341 people to do it next year.
But as soon as you start making songs to try and get as many ears as possible to listen to it, you're not you anymore. You're an impression of an impression of what someone outside of you thinks might be popular and you probably won't be.
Just like the lottery, if you started with enough money to buy enough tickets, your chances of success have just gone way up. The people who can pay not just for equipment or studio time but also PR reps and advertising in magazines and booking agents to make events happen and tour managers to take care of all details are better poised than the most talented gal or guy out there.
Many of the artists you see mainstream are the result of a lot of investment--personal investment, sure--but real wealth investment too, and they expect it to pay off. Its not just pop or hip-hop or country music that this applies to. It extends to the two white guys that do harmony doo-wop over beats off a CD player with a big vinyl banner to the full ten piece brass band that does soul/funk live every night from a bus to the DJ holding down a weekly in a basement.
The more resources you have, the less your talent matters because the more resources you can throw at a thing, the more people pay attention to it. The more advertising you buy the more articles you get written up
But its not like after X number of gigs or years doing an act means you hit a plateau of continued guaranteed success either. You don't get a merit badge that ensures because you got this gig you'll get that next gig or your genre will ever get spotlighted by the mainstream. What was a thing two years ago might not be a thing in two years from now or twenty years from now.
This is not to discourage anyone, nor myself. The love of music, of sound, is its own reward. The truth that I've found is that being oneself, pursuing one's sound is inherently worthwhile--or it has to be or you're not going to keep with it. If you're doing it for mass fame or for a secure career, your chances go back to that lottery-esque roll of the dice. If you're doing something you'd do whether you were paid or not, then you're getting the reward, and the experience.
I've also learned that if you don't pursue a thing, no matter how original your idea may be, someone else out there will do it in your stead. They may do it better, and they may do it worse, and they might even have stolen the idea from you--but if you don't do it, you're liable to watch someone else doing what you wanted.
It is so important for people in the creative arts to have projects, to have titles, to be able to say I am This, I did This. We (and society) judge each other on these things, but in strange ways. Doctors and Lawyers who don't have practices can still be Doctors and Lawyers; Producers who haven't produced anything in a while are bums; Tour managers off tour are homebodies. Musicians that aren't playing in a band every opportunity are seen as hobbyists. There's a whole essay to be written on what it means to be a Professional Musician, as opposed to merely a musician or even a working musician.
The old joke about the difference between a musician and a large pizza and which one can actually feed a family of four comes to mind.
In these sense I started this essay about refocusing, for me I have looked at the options and given all the various roles in the music industry, I would prefer to be an Artist, to focus on my music. I enjoy it. I like playing it. I can hope there's a good 20 years I can perform in front of people before my age would affect my desire to do so.
However, I am more content today to pursue my music on my terms, to release it through my own channels. For much of my 20 years in music I have been myopically focused on live music events, pursuing live performance over recording in the studio. However, at this point I would rather capture a performance or produce a recording than go through the effort to ensure I'm playing regular gigs.
This will be a major shift for me from here on. I will look to my music as being more of an object to be created, like making a sculpture or a dreamweaver rather than a demonstration of live performance or a capturing of live performance. I will release my work through my own channels rather than pursuing affiliation with record labels or booking agencies. If people listen, then great, and if not its no loss to me.
The other shift will be to produce more things that I used to think didn't fit the profile of a Producer/Musician & Artist--namely my writing. I will be using my channels to allow me to pontificate on things I think matter, and get my ideas and observations out into the world.
I have learned over the last ten years that voices matter, even if in a sea of voices. The person who chooses silence when they have the ability to speak, the person who chooses to withhold their opinion or their witness to history are the people whose voices are as silenced as those who are strangled. For the moment, I live in a world where I and many other people--even Rupert Murdoch or the President have the exact same media outlets--Websites, Twitter & YouTube accounts. Just like everyone can have a Coke, and its the same Coke, for this moment everyone can send out an idea, and it may as well be me as anyone else.
Besides essays, I am exploring how to produce works of fiction and publish them online. I prefer the paper and print of text in a book, but as with my realizations on the Music Industry, rather than attempting to work towards attracting attention from within the system, I would rather create a work, and if it is worthwhile, that people demand it be published.
I also intend to apply myself to learn a completely new trade, that of printing and reproducing images, producing visual things in the real world. This is in part a technical exercise, but it has the end goal of allowing me to produce my artwork at the scale I intend it to be produced in. Like my pursuit of audio engineering and sound reinforcement, I intend to apply myself to understanding the methods and technology to allow me to create products that have my artwork. To have my artwork published in book form, to have examples of my work in galleries. I am fortunate that I live in Lawrence, Kansas where I have opportunities to explore these avenues.
All of these words are superfluous, and there are probably too many of them. But writing them helps me to solidify my thoughts, and to pursue action in the future.