Posts tagged success
Success is Bullshit

That’s right, I said it. Success, as most of us define it, is total BS. Think about it: it’s a completely relative, absolutely arbitrary measure we create in our own minds to judge ourselves against. And when you set that bar high, you end up spending a good part of your life, or even your entire life, knocking your self-worth down a peg when you’re not reaching your own subjective and lofty standards. It actually doesn’t make any sense and is directly related to the innate problems of perfectionism that seem productive but are actually self-destructive. And that’s why it’s bullshit.

Look, it’s great to be ambitious. I am. But it’s so easy in our culture of things and money and “being cool” to have your ambitions misplaced. You set a goal to be the best at something, when realistically you’ll never be the best. You want to revolutionize without realizing that many of the greatest innovations weren’t made by people who specifically sat down intending to innovate. You want to record a classic album only to realize that doesn’t actually solve any of the problems of the world. You want to make a lot of money, then find that financial success doesn’t fill the voids in your life.

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Is Art For the Artist or the Consumer?

During a recent recording session, I had a conversation about creating music and art for yourself vs. creating it for others. In some ways you create art for yourself, because it is a fulfilling thing that expresses a part of you. In other ways, the moment you have created something, it is no longer yours and suddenly becomes the emotional property of someone else.

So which is it? How can art be both for ourselves and for others’ enjoyment?

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Artistic Naiveté

For anyone who’s living a life of creative pursuits, being realistic about our chances of making it to the next level isn’t something that we generally take into account. Like I said in my post about the romance of the ideal a few months ago, most of us tend to live life with our heads in the clouds, and maybe one or two toes scraping the ground for good measure.  After talking with a friend about the inevitable umbrella of naiveté that we musicians have to live under, I realized a few things.

There are two kinds of artistic naiveté. One is good, and one is bad.

To be fair, it could be argued that both are bad, but nobody who has devoted their life to pursuing near-impossible goals like musicians and artists is going to lock horns with me on this one. We’ll leave that to the folks who are always wondering when we’ll grow up and get real jobs. Anyway, the good naiveté is that which we use to ignore the odds of turning art into real income. I’ve been playing in bands since I was a teenager, and I’ve been spending the better part of my last five years working on developing my current band. As much as I believe in the music we’re making, as good a band as I think we are, the simple fact is that the law of averages is against us. For every band that makes a living from their music, there are hundreds that never even came close. Maybe even thousands. And being good is no more a guarantee to your success than being lucky. Being smart about your music career is a must, but that’s a topic for another day.

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Hard Knocks and No Regrets

As I was sitting in the Shaimus tour van in the middle of an all-day drive, I was tired both physically and mentally. I felt like a human blob–motionless all day and wondering if I was watching a small part of my young life slip away, a casualty of the road. Touring, I should mention, is often a time of extremes: the highs are incredible, and the lows can be pretty rough. I love being on the road and the tour was going quite well, but having all that time to think sometimes leads to a little nagging sensation that you may be wasting precious minutes.

This feeling is dead wrong, by the way. The fact is that almost nobody has a life that’s action-packed all the time, so it’s ludicrous to expect mine to be that way. Also, bands make great progress by touring–it’s essential to the process of building and expanding a fan base. Even when I’m sitting around doing nothing in a van, I’m still moving somewhere… it’s better than sitting around and doing nothing at home. And down the road (no pun intended), that’s the key distinction to your success. I’ll explain with a little football analogy.

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Requiem for the Successful Man

That’s a quote from George Steinbrenner that I saw in an obituary on Sports Illustrated’s website today.  It seemed to sum up his general attitude toward life, but it also related to the overall tone of the article: over the course of three pages, there were only three fleeting moments where anything remotely warm and fuzzy was said about Steinbrenner.  Two of those moments only had to do with his money and were sandwiched between less flattering descriptions:

“Steinbrenner would harass an employee to no end, humiliating and abusing them at his whim. Then he’d send their kids through college or hire them back with a bonus.”

“Steinbrenner was often the most-hated man in sports, a fitting title that he wore well. He was combative, belligerent, charitable and ruthless.”

Wait, did you catch the word “charitable” in that last quote?  How nice.

Death is one of the few things we know will happen for sure in our lives.  If all goes well, I won’t die any time soon.  But if I kicked the bucket tomorrow, what would my obituary say?

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The Life of a Sell-Out

Money is a pain in the ass. Even wealthy people are bothered by it constantly. I chose to pursue music in college, and among the many risks of being a musician is a huge financial one. I happily took on that risk because I never really cared all that much about money, but I did care quite a bit about making music, so it seemed like a no-brainer. But we all have to make ends meet, and the rite of passage to a creative life is to take on jobs that have little or nothing to do with your field of passion. Every day, my heart aches a little more when I’m not able to devote my time 100% to what I love to do. But no matter how little I care about money, I still need (and want) it, and it sure would be nice to have a lot of it. Because maybe money can’t buy happiness, but there is one thing it can buy: Freedom. Sweet, sugary freedom.

 

Sell Yourself, Sell Your Soul

 

The music-money relationship is a tricky one. To make money from music, you inevitably have to turn it into a business, and turn your band and your CD into the product you’re selling. Someone once told me, “make it fun, don’t make it work.” Well, the point of trying to make music my “work” is because it’s always fun. Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it. Don’t we all want a fun job? That’s all I’m trying to get for myself. When I make it work, it’s the most fun work I’ve ever done. It makes me want to work.

And so we come to the ubiquitous phrase: selling out. It’s one of the most over-used terms in the music business, particularly by fans. The problem is that there is no actual definition of selling out, because it’s totally different from everyone’s perspective. For a lot of people, selling out has simply become a synonym for success. As soon as a band makes it big, they’ve sold out. As soon as they sign to a major label or appear on MTV, they’ve sold out. But accepting money for your work isn’t selling out, even if it’s a big fat sum of money. The artists who have become rich are well-off because they have a ton of fans who shell out cash to buy their music, a T-shirt, a concert ticket, etc.

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