Read a small blurb about Socrates in the new issue of Smithsonian. (great magazine by the way: nerd much?) There is a new bio about the man and it goes into great detail about how the writer summoned the spirit of Socrates by visiting the places he would have lived and even going to the links of grounding up hemlock in a bowl in her kitchen. Gosh I hope she threw that bowl away.
What struck me about this article and got my mind to rambling is the stickiness of Socrates. He helped foster and arguably pioneered western thought. His influence is with us and around us everyday. What also struck me is that apparently Socrates was not afraid to be himself. Throughout history the world is bent and shaped by people who were unyielding in their beliefs or just their ability to be themselves. It is a chore for some but in this game of playing music you cannot be anything but that,if you want to be noticed. If you plan on your shtick being a relative copy of some other artist then prepare to be relegated to that distinction.
Be yourself. Figure out how you sound. Work through it and build off your failures. Many failures or half tries will be in the making but there will be that diamond crushed into existence by the constant pressure of you searching for you. Once you find it put it in your pocket for safe keeping. And always: Go practice your guitar.
I get tired, really tired, of these emails promising the super stardom or advancement into the realm of music professional by entering some contest. Then I notice, more times than not, that the “contest” requires an entry fee that could be considered no small change. Then I get ill because these contests play on the yearnings, the pure hope, which every artist carries with them, from the time they first seriously start trying to form some concept of becoming a performing artist to the seasoned songwriter still trying to place that first song with a big name artist. I get ill at the artists who flock to them.
First, contests have helped some people ramp up to that next level. I am not arguing that if you win a contest it is not going to help you. What gets me is the loss of focus from the real deal at hand to the fast bang of instant super stardom, which is a lark, and hers is why.
There has never been anyone that has won a contest, taken advantage of its prizes, and rocketed into the stratosphere of fame, accolades, etc. without a great deal of the following: skill at their craft(s).
I remember reading an article in a magazine recently and its theme was the changing roles in the music industry post-internet age, which has not only changed some people’s roles and former jobs but ended them entirely. One hopeful producer/studio owner stuck out in all the gloom and doom when the subject of ‘what to do next’ was broached, his reply, “I am going to keep making great music. That is what we do.”
This goes to the very heart of any serious discussion about music performance, songwriting, and most definitely sound recording. So many people get caught up in making it they forget the necessary requirements. With the advent of worldwide, blink of an eye fast, communication in numerous mediums and forms has flipped, chopped, and screwed many of the old standard ways of doing things and some to the point where they are non-existent. But what has not changed and I suspect will never change is the public’s desire for quality music. The way in which they receive changing? Yes. The amount of music out there? Yes. The need for great songs performed and/or recorded by very talented people will always be there? Most definitely.
Here is where so many artists, or desire to be artists, miss the boat. They think, or appear to, think that winning some type of contest is going to be a shortcut around actual talent. Sadly, after watching some live awards shows recently, I can see where they might get the idea that you can get by on good looks and very little talent. But as a rule, just to get through the door, you have to have the chops, the talent, and the drive. Plan and simple. Are there artists who have gotten there on their looks? Sadly, yes. Are there artists who are there because they were strategically placed there by a famous parent? Horribly, yes. Is talent and originality still the litmus test for aspiring artists? Oh yes indeed!
And here is where this ultimately bugs me. Instead of taking the time to work on their craft, or send out some CD’s to some radio stations, or write songs, or perform, or, god forbid, take the money they were going to spend entering the contest and use it to buy some new equipment they take their money and use it to enter a contest. I really wonder if the entry fee is not the ultimate goal of some of these contests to begin with.
We have sadly presented the get rich quick concept in America when the good wisdom says you make the million one dollar at a time. Weight loss is apparently as easy as an infomercial, yet we have the highest rates of obesity in the world. Why should music be any different? Answer, it just is. Do you think Jimi Hendrix just lucked into the slot of guitar god? Did Billie Holiday get thrown on a stage and just luckily knew how to sing? Did the Beatles just get handed fame and fortune? None of these artists made it any other way but through the hard knocks of show business, Jimi Hendrix for years on the chitlin circuit refining his craft in dives all over the country, Billie Holiday for many one nighters in seedy gin halls before being recognized, the Beatles, yes them, had it hard scrabble and were turned down many times before getting their chance.
In the time it takes to enter some contest use this to practice, write a song, or work on some part of your promotional gear. With the money you would have used to enter a contest us it to buy some new microphone, or start a savings account for something new that applies to your craft. Always be striving to get better. There will come a point at which you begin performing where you will not need a contest to know, without a doubt, you are a talented and can make your own damn breaks for yourself.
There is a Zen Koan where the student goes to the master, after eating, bowl in hand and asks “teacher I need direction.” The master looks at student, bowl in hand and asks “are you done eating?” and when the student says “Yes” the master states “go wash your bowl.”
If there is ever a time in your life where you need direction let me impart my own Zen to you.
Go practice your guitar!