Confessions of a “would-be” as written by a “has-been”
“All you need is ignorance and confidence and success is a sure thing.”
– Mark Twain
As of this past April, I’ve been playing music for 13 years. I picked up my dad’s old Alvarez acoustic with 3 rusty strings on it and plucked my way into a career (I eventually changed the strings.) I’ve spent most of my time in the past 13 years trying to decide whether or not this is really what I should be doing with my life, until I realize that it is what I’m doing with my life. I’ve also spent more time than I’d like to admit in that decade plus frustrated that I wasn’t somewhere else, some place better, or further along in my career. My first impulse after having those thoughts is to find someone to blame. Very rarely to never did I look at myself when pointing the finger. But that’s where the problem stood, in me. My motivation and drive was being covered up by excuses and self-loathing.
Sure, it can be frustrating when you’ve been doing something for 10 years and someone comes along and who’s been doing it for 5 and becomes more successful. It can be dumb-founding when someone who you don’t feel is as talented as you becomes “the next big thing” right under your nose and you’re struggling to convince 30 people to come see you perform…in YOUR home town! I heard comedian Todd Glass make the point once that “wherever you are in your career as an artist, that’s exactly where you belong.” Meaning some people get lucky breaks, sure. But if you’re not plugging along everyday, actively working to get better at your craft and create more of your prospective art as well as learning whatever you can about it and pushing onward, but instead you’re complaining that no one even cares about what you’re doing or you can’t believe that “fellow artist so-and-so” is getting better gigs, more publicity, more plays on myspace, etc, then you are “exactly where you belong.”
Jealousy will be there. It’s almost impossible to be immune to it. But as an artist, you have to learn to take emotions that normally have negative connotations and use it in a positive way and for motivation. Jealousy being a prime example. I get jealous constantly when I witness little “sparks of genius” in the artistic world. But I’ve learned to settle it down, and let it propel me into a mindset of “ok, how do I create something that appropriates that kind of response.” How do I have my “sparks of genius” moment?
One thing that I’ve got to stop doing is letting those 13 years delegate where I “should be” in music. Everything has it’s time and place. Just because I’ve been at it longer than someone else doesn’t mean I’m owed something that they aren’t. I don’t work in a bank. I heard Patton Oswalt say one time that “people who ALWAYS say out loud how long they’ve been doing it, is a red flag. If someone keeps complaining that they’re owed something in the art world because they’ve been ‘doing it 20 years’, I get the feeling they’ve did it ONE year and repeated that year NINETEEN times. They didn’t grow at all.”
That hits a little too close to home with me.
When I started playing music it was about creating something with friends, and putting something in the universe that was original (or as original as a 15 year old can be). Somewhere along the way it became too much about the commercial and about focusing on the number of myspace friends, or constantly comparing my career “successes” with someone else’s, and less about pushing myself to be a better artist, or getting whatever message I’m trying to convey across in this song, or focusing on the craft of writing something that works on all the levels it should.
In a nutshell: I’m sick of hearing and making excuses. I’m tired of listening to cynical people who feel entitled for something they never fully put the work in for, complain about the people who are successful because they didn’t have the guts to follow through with it themselves. Just shut up, or suck it up and do something about it.
As far as I’m concerned, in 2010 we have no excuse. If you have the goods to deliver creatively along with the persistence and drive to seek out success–whatever that may look like to you–there is NO EXCUSE. There are so many avenues as an artist these days to perform and promote your craft (ie: iTunes, YouTube, podcasts, banner ads, Twitter, Facebook, etc) that if you’re a performer and you don’t “make it”, it’s kind of your fault. But while anyone can press “record” and upload to Myspace, not everyone has to chops to deliver.
Sure, we’re all going to have our weak points and bad days where we just want to be frustrated and vent (that’s what blogs are for, right?) Especially, being a creative-type, we tend to be a tiny bit more affected by laziness and criticism, especially the kind that comes from within. But, just like everyone else on this earth, we have to have to pick ourselves up, re-focus on the goal, and put the sweat and tears into what we love to get the end result we’ve been working for. Don’t expect to sit back and be handed anything.
Unless you’re Paris Hilton.