Thursday, January 1, 2015

Personal Post: Thin Line Between "The Basement" and "Accomplishment"

So many times throughout my musical endeavors, I feel I have been confronted with the same question over and over (only acknowledging sober individuals) often from potential or aspiring musicians, but not always. This question is usually first coupled with a various compliment. The question? "How long have you been playing guitar and singing." I can't tell you how troubling it is for me to answer this question for a world of reasons. The foremost might be met with my insecurity that I feel I should be so much better at my craft (singing, songwriting, guitar playing) in ratio to how many years I have been playing. I look around me at the local musicians, their strengths, their weakness and there is a constant comparison, perhaps a silent competition going on. How long did it take so and so to begin headlining at said venue? Get a management or record contract? What have they achieved since, if anything? I often wonder how I stack up, what I have accomplished in the time I have focused on music.

Often reluctantly, I offer an answer to the individual that I in fact have been playing guitar and (attempting) to sing for 8 years this October. I often sit silently after my response to gauge the reaction of the individual. When you think 8 years you think a long time right? For example if you heard "I have been married for 8 years" or "I have been working here for 8 years." This sounds like a long period of time. As a musician, I always wonder what I should have accomplished by this point in my musical journey. I couldn't dare call it a career, although I have and am able to live off the funds earned from musical "jobs," but I choose not to. For me, there aren't enough inspired moments in a 24 hour day to keep me from using my (far to expensive) degree, and local musicians don't go on perpetual tours. They just aren't in the cards.

Regardless, this cause for anniversary really comes from a statement I made when I was 19 years old. I remember it so vividly because I believed in it so much it has stuck with me. At the time, I had recorded an album in a friend of a friends basement for zero dollars, had sold about 150 copies (yea, that's it!) and had just played a venue where I had made $750 in door and merch sales. Needless to say, from a local musician standpoint that is like the top of the world. I felt "accomplished." The quote went a little like this "If I dont' make it by the time I am 25, I am giving up music.." There are so many issues with this statement. The most glaring being that it is overwhelmingly laden with ignorance, and additionally plagued with holes that bring up about 50 questions. I won't state them all here, but a couple might be: What is "making it?" and how do you define "music?" Does that mean I am taking my thousands of dollars in musical investments straight to the pawn shop on my 25th birthday? Certainly not.

When I look back at the last 8 years I have found that there is a very thin line between "The Basement" and "Accomplishment." The highs and lows of a musical journey are overly intense, and you can feel like you are in the former or the later multiple times in a month, or even a week. My musical journey has been laden with inspired spurts of writing multiple songs in a short period of time to hating material I had loved the day before, losing and earning new band members, trying out new musicians (this is an extremely painful process,) working with individuals who didn't believe in the music I was playing, working with some who did, playing amazing venues to playing terrible venues, meeting gracious musicians to meeting extremely jaded musicians. My devotion to my own original music has been tested both by myself and the audiences in my hometown, the staff at venues who paid me handsomely and even the venues who barely paid me at all. For years, my resilience has been tested and far too many times faltered. I often wonder how my "8 years" have differed from my musicians around me based on my experiences. Sometimes I wished I had stayed in bedroom and written songs only performed on safe grounds, perhaps only for family and friends. Fell into a group of hard working musicians and most of all simply hardcore music FANS, played some devoted original venues, etc. How would that have affected my devotion to my instrument? The belief in my lyrics? The command of my vocal performance? I suspect in a big way.

My point of this post is essentially that there is a realization that "Accomplishment" is defined by YOU, the musician, at every turn. In the music business, there will always be someone redefining "Accomplishment" for you. You can choose to take their measurement tool or use your own. Most importantly, consider your source. Is theirs defined my money? Myspace fans? How fast you can solo on your guitar? Perhaps it is best to have the "bedroom" mentality while pushing your music publicly and standing amongst your peers, music business professionals and increasingly fickle audiences that could potentially be paying your rent this month. You have to believe in what you are doing, because there is always the chance you will encounter many who don't, or perhaps, simply have no interest in general. Selling 150 CD's and packing a small venue felt like accomplishment then. Was it? Not really at all. But accomplishment at that point wasn't measured only by others. Not the number of years i had been playing guitar, not the fact my peers had studio recordings and I was toting a home recording, not the fact I was playing the Acadia Cafe which is far from a respected venue (that perhaps holds about 100 people.) That didn't matter, I had the mentality that I was growing.

Perhaps a certain factor of delusion is required for a musician to continue to believe and push their music year after year. Venue after venue, Wins and Losses. This can be especially true given your odds. Not just of signing a major label contract, but simply of having a large fanbase in general, living comfortably off of your music (not just getting by.) If there was a constant realistic factor for unsigned or new musicians we may never get to discover new artists because there would only be so few in the business. They would have taken more conventional routes.

As someone in no place to give advice to musicians, I can't completely resist the temptation to make one statement: The need to believe in what you are doing at every turn is so incredibly imperative. The only way to waste your years as a musician is to doubt yourself and your craft. With that said I would love to auto-adjust my years of playing to 3-5 (there might be some gray area) It has been my only regret. I understand in detail now why I am not the best of my peers, and I never will be. That is a good thing. My peers are my source of inspiration and a resource for my self definitive success.

With that said, I will take another 25 years of music as I can get it. I hope my outstandingly talented peers take on this same mentality.