Something great happened to me last week. It was the kind of thing that made me realize (yet again) why I like making music so much more than doing corporate marketing for a large company (my prior life). I got this email in my inbox:
Sent: Tue 11/27/12 4:21 PM
Subject: Shades of Red [that’s my old band]
Hello. A few months ago, someone who had attended the Folk Alliance Festival in Memphis gave me your Shades of Red CD. I connected with your music immediately. The lyrics, the melodies, the rhythm, your voice. It moves my soul, for some reason. I would like to sing Bowl of Seconds and Dream 99 if I can replicate the sound at all with just my guitar and voice. I do sometimes play at coffee houses and other small events. Would you give me permission to sing those songs? Also, I was in an the Nashville airport a few weeks ago and saw a sign for an art exhibit called “Encalmo in Shades of Red.” I took a photo which you might like to see, but I can’t attach it here.
Thanks for making some great music.
[signed TB – the sender asked me not to use her name in this post]
This mail is sent via contact form on Solveig Whittle
Everyone knows how tough it is to be a struggling artist today, I’ve only been at it about 18 months, and it can grind you down. You are constantly wondering if your friends and family are right (see this post by musician Dreama, which I know many musicians forwarded around last week as well). Maybe you should just quit this “music thing” and “do something more productive.” Or at least something that pays better (or… pays anything). You periodically second-guess yourself: are you really talented? At all? There are so many talented (younger) musicians out there – you can listen to millions of them on YouTube, hear them perform by the dozens every night of the week at coffeehouse open mic and divey bars in towns and cities all over the world. Then again, does talent even matter? You ask yourself: do I really have the stamina to slug it out until that rarest of rare events – the break – actually happens? And that’s just the musical insecurity. I wake up at 3 AM thinking: Is my website design good enough? Do I tweet enough? Am I blogging enough? Is my mailing list big enough to “create a tribe” (no)? Do Facebook likes mean anything or nothing at all? Should I make my personal page into a fan page or just leave it be for now? Shouldn’t I really be writing more music instead of tweeting?
Musicians are a ready-made market for Xanax. Except that we generally can’t afford health insurance, so that decides that. (St. John’s Wort and Yogi Kava Stress Relief work well too. I speak from experience.)
If you’re an artist, you know that when a stranger asks to cover your songs, it is the best compliment. It was exactly the affirmation I needed to hear, and it was coming from someone who had never even met me. Someone I did not fix dinner for on a semi-daily basis. Someone whose diaper I had never changed, and who had never changed mine. In other words, she had no agenda other than the music.
Best Review I Ever Got. Honored. http://t.co/cgXEEK1W
— Ryan Adams (@TheRyanAdams) November 30, 2012
I read a great Lefsetz Lettter last week that put it in even more focus for me. It’s about a young fan who posted his video review of a 2005 album of Ryan Adams. Adams loved this review even more than anything written by a magazine or blog, because it came straight from this kid’s heart. The review was so detailed – clearly this fan knew Adams’ music well. This is exactly how I felt when I got that email from my fan who wanted to cover my songs.
When someone actually listens to your music, you feel like you have connected with them. You were heard. Your music mattered to someone. Maybe it changed their life, or maybe it just made their day better. Isn’t that why we musicians make music? I don’t know about you, but I have never stopped making music, even when I was making money and making kids and a family. I couldn’t stop. It’s the best feeling in the world for me to connect with other people through music. I believe music can change lives, and it can save lives.
I recently began a couple of collaborative projects with two different musicians I met on social media who live in Houston, TX and London, UK. I am not a solitary musician-type. I love to work with other people. But I also really like getting feedback from other musicians. They like what I make, and they like what we can make together. Until I have that 11-year-old fan making a 13 minute YouTube video review of my album like Ryan Adams’, I will gladly settle for hearing from other musicians (strangers, mind you) that my music is good enough for them to want to work with me.
So if you’re wondering, like me, if you can really stick it out, if you actually are talented, if you need a shot of love, here’s my advice: make some friends – on social media or in a coffee house – and make some music with them. Collaborate with musicians whose talent you respect and whose music you enjoy. You have to listen to their music first. Do it.
No matter how I end up making a living in ten years, whether as a writer, composer, singer, corporate marketer, or bagging groceries, I will never stop wanting to listen to and make music with other people. Everyday people. People like me, and like you.
“We live in a world that percolates from the bottom up, as opposed to the top down. Music has gone from snow to grass. It’s no longer something shaken down from the sky, but something nurtured that grows up from the ground.
Play to everyday people. They live to adore you.” – Bob Lefsetz