“Home is made for coming from, for dreams of going to,
Which with any luck will never come true…“
– “Wand’rin Star” by Lerner and Loewe
from the musical “Paint Your Wagon” 1951 (film version 1969)
At the beginning of this year I decided I would make a concerted effort to see more of the world.
I already do a lot of traveling but that’s generally in the back of the Bedlam Six van – the only things we tend to see on our trips are venues, hotels and motorway service stations. It’s a little bubble of placelessness.
I’ve been on call for a long time, never wanting to book a holiday or definitively RSVP to a wedding/birthday invitation for fear of missing out on a decent gig. When you’re an independent musician (or as some people still insist on saying: “unsigned”) it’s easy to fall into a trap of feeling pressured into accepting every little thing that comes along, never risking a refusal, deeming all incoming offers as potential golden opportunities to perform in front of “the right people” – those elusive dream-peddlers who’ll give you one Happily-Ever-After in exchange for a few drops of Youthful Naïveté.
But that way madness lies. Since when has art been about waiting for someone else to give you directions? Or, worse still, auditioning to be a piece in someone else’s puzzle? When art fits neatly that’s often a pretty good indication that it isn’t particularly good art (I’ve found this philosophy to be very comforting in my leaner times).
Music can be a passport to all sorts of experiences. But a passport isn’t much use without a valid ticket and visa.
In the last decade we’ve seen incredible advancements in communication and data sharing – indeed never before has the world been so connected – and yet, to look at all the incessant facebook spammers, it seems not much has changed since Opportunity Knocks, with entertainers jostling for approval rather than building any kind of meaningful relationship with their audience and peers. Why aren’t more artists attempting to untangle their piece of the social network in a bid to trace where some of these tendrils lead?
In the last couple of months I’ve performed in Australia and Holland, this weekend I’ll be in Italy. Three countries I’ve never been to before. The gigs I play in these places, the people I stay with and the experiences I enjoy (or don’t) are a result of opening up to the power of networks. I’ve never had a viral video or a hit single, nothing I’ve put online has ever convinced a record label I could make them money. Plenty of my songs have, however, found their way to exactly the kind of people they’re meant for. None of these people are record executives, none of them are TV producers, none of them are compilers of radio playlists, none of them edit influential magazines. But all of them are music lovers, most of them are up for helping me book shows in their home towns (sometimes even their actual homes) and many of them offer me a place to stay.
I imagine this doesn’t sound particularly impressive if you’re Kanye West. It may even sound a lot like the phrase “sing for your supper”. But, as first steps go in establishing a touring network without a reliance on the fickle currency of celebrity, there are worse ways to spend one’s time.
And while the music sector bleats endlessly on about whether or not companies like Spotify are good or bad for artists, it’s up to the artists themselves to decide what it is they actually want and how best they can achieve it with what is available to them. The foundations of a career (in any field – not just music) are built on the way things are, not on the way things should be.
The changing the world bit comes afterwards.
So why not take a break from molding your own personal mythology out of the fossilized remains of past artists and allow your music to open the door to a few parties? Meet some people who don’t care how many twitter followers you have and take it from there.
In Australia I was picked up from the airport at 5am by a man I’d never met, driven to an artist commune in the jungle, played an unplugged show to an audience that spanned at least three generations (not counting the wildlife) then featured in a surrealist short-film on a pogo stick with a bunch of people who played ping pong using machetes. I got to Melbourne two weeks later and was offered a free cut-throat shave in the private salon of a specialist celebrity barber who got in touch with me after hearing from a friend in Ireland that I was in town. By this time I didn’t even question the weirdness of such invitations.
These are the kind of things that happen when you give yourself up to the glorious insanity of networks rather than trying to harness them into voting for your damn band in some tedious talent competition.