The Art of the Intradependent Musician is the art of focus.
Last fall I was lent (which I’ve yet to return) a book from my friend, Mike Dawson. In it, author Stephen Witt exposes the history of the mp3 and the subculture that led to the fiscal demise of the music industry as we knew it – that, or levelled the playing field for all of us. It begins with the German innovation of Karlheinz Brandenburg and his persistence in the field of psychoacoustics to develop an audio encoding format for digital audio whose file size is reduced all while generally upholding sound quality. Passionate audiophiles would argue my usage of the word quality but we’d agree on the format’s accessibility, one which fed the ego of North Carolinian, Dell Glover. From his production line post at PolyGram in Shelby, North Carolina, he smuggled over 2000 unreleased albums and distributed them over the net; motivated by the fulfillment of being the first. How Music Got Free kept me immersed for as quickly as I could read it and left me somewhere between disgusted and grateful.
Around the same time I was training my fingers to gracefully move between a G and D chord, I was stealing acoustic versions of “Meet Virginia” by Train, “Lightning Crashes” by Live and “Tangerine” by Moist with a dial-up internet connection and an elementary understanding of file sharing. This conditioning that music was free, influenced my mindset as an independent musician from its infancy – ironic that I made a respectable living depending on the door-to-door sales of my art.
To balance out my mp3 collection of Vancouver’s Moist, I purchased guitarist, Mark Makoway’s Indie Band Bible and to this day refer to it as a primary reference for everything DIY. Slightly dated, it continues to root me in my early innocent perspective and remind me that my generation of musician’s greatest leverage is hard work. The risk is in being left behind by those that have embraced smart work.
With the sole consideration of sales based on interactions, it asks the question of what type of interaction is needed in order to solidify a sale. This alone is enough to mentally break you, questioning why one should tour if a well crafted tweet can garner a similar end result. These desires to adapt have opened the door for opportunists to offer their “services” in music consultation focusing on how to build followers, or more trendily said, a Tribe. “Gurus” that have never picked up a musical instrument study social media trends and capitalize on the frustrations of the road-worn songwriter whom looks for an alternative to playing empty clubs, or at the very least, another avenue into filling those clubs. But between finding your way onto a Spotify playlist, the correct way to label a YouTube video, creating a Facebook geomarketing campaign and creating viral content we face our frustrations, insecurities, and disappointments when if not managed properly result in complacency and a loss of motivation.
All thanks to the mp3.
My partner (and a fellow songwriter) replaced my word usage in conversation one time from “Independent” to “Intradependent” allowing my thoughts to include the importance of community in what we do. As the cliché states: the sky is big enough for all the stars.
It’s overwhelming what is encompassed by the job title as Intradependent Musician and although many with full teams would consider themselves independent, I would like to focus on the one artist balancing administrative responsibilities while working away at getting creative content out to the world. Outside of my personal bias on the importance of consistent touring and band rehearsals, a workload is a workload and personal achievements are personal achievements regardless of how a fanbase is built. Over the years of sussing out these frustrations, banging my head against the wall, and wondering when something is going to catch, I’ve found peace and empowerment through a few tactics and core beliefs that have let me let go of the end result and truly enjoy the grind.
- Commitment to the long game – I’m allowed to pick up side jobs, focus on other creative outlets and take a well deserved hiatus. In the words of my dear friend Del Barber; “you’d better do something other than write songs because nobody wants to hear songs about writing songs.” If years pass between releasing albums, nobody actually cares – and when you do have content ready for release, don’t just put it out for the sake of getting it out. Slow up and know that at 80 years old it will still be a part of your identity to create and hopefully when looking back, your identity is synonymous with quality.
- Express Gratitude – Remind yourself that your privilege allows you the opportunity to be working as a musician. It’s a pretty incredible blessing when your biggest stress is not having replied to an email, a grant deadline is coming up, or you need to fill a Tuesday night slot in Edmonton. Take a step back and recognize that The Universe handed you a golden ticket.
- Recognize Your Privilege – Have a fucking purpose. Nobody gives a shit that you can sing and play the guitar unless it is for a greater good. I’m not saying get political with your message (although I strongly support the initiative) but have a reason that you need to get your message to the masses. The fact that you can get up in the morning and do this without any persecution comes with the responsibility to better the lives of others.
- Empower Community – You belong to many of them from local to international. By taking it upon yourself to build your fellow artists, you strengthen your support system and the foundation from which your message comes. It’s infectious. Soon scenes rise from countries, not just artists from scenes. This extends into sharing your successes – we are all going to get to where we need to be, if chance or opportunity comes your way bring your friends and community with you. Collaborate.
- Abolish Jealousy – Hard feelings are the quickest way to take yourself out of the game. If a fellow musician has found a team that is fulfilling what you would perceive as your own dreams, be a part of that team, champion their successes and assist with launching them to the top – no matter how small your efforts may be.
- Self-forgiveness – You are going to have wasted days, make bad decisions, quit creating, feel jealous, take instead of give, etc. Let all that shit go. It happens. I find reading resets my creative compass. Commit to one well crafted thought at a time – if this means a sentence in an email or the line of a song, it’s the best way back into a good headspace.
- Maintain a Conscious Guard – We are inundated with garbage content via social media, uneducated opinions and false expectations – know what to filter out. Put your phone down and insist that whatever venue you are playing in shut the fucking TV’s off while you perform. You are the human connection to people’s own emotions, if you can’t detach, good luck getting others to.
- Create Quality Content – You will recognize this is being done when creating gets difficult and you find yourself using your craftsmanship in your art as much as being inspired (if not more). You are sharpening your tools and becoming the best of the best. Have the long term goal of becoming a legacy artist. Always, at all cost, create for your art to outlast you.
- Set Your Parameters – What are you willing to compromise? If you wouldn’t take ten dollars to represent something, don’t take three thousand. You are defined by what you turn down. Don’t let yourself be bought.
- Release Expectations – My favourite Ray Wylie Hubbard song says “…and the days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, Well, I have really good days.” Your career is going to play out in spite of your expectations – awards don’t matter, hits don’t matter. All you can control is the quality of your art – this is all that matters. The rest falls into place.
- Be Epic – Risk it all. Put the eggs into the basket that you control the results of. Money comes and goes, it’s easy to make with a little hustle. Go with your crazy ideas and stand by them. Put it all on the line, unapologetically. Carry a sword and fuck shit up. Do it.
Focus, one thing at a time and enjoy the grind. We’re pretty lucky to be doing this.