Thanks to the wonderful age of social news feeds, this one popped up from Sargent House just last week. After nine other (very helpful) tips, the tenth one left me thinking all the way to work, at work, on the way home, while I was out at shows during most of the weekend, lying in bed listening to iTunes…well, you get the picture. In an age where even the underground seems somewhat processed and prefabricated and packaged as a counter-style to mainstream ideals of music and art - music in its most subjective form still resonates mostly through personal connection from musician to fan. While it has been brought up in conversation before, there is an interesting medium between when music is created and then handed off for judgement both critically and personally - a shift in value of what it meant to the creator has now become more valuable to the consumer and listener in a matter of hitting "play." For example, maybe "Mandy" was written about Barry Manilow's dog (according to Can't Hardly Wait), but damn it if it didn't mean something to a lot of people who loved and lost many an Amanda in their time. It's this unspoken paradox that can make or break any band, because it's truly out of their hands as soon as they sing into a mic or distribute a recording.
Why do bands decide to begin writing music? A bunch of friends get together, they all love music, right? Some want to be rock stars, some want to have a fucking hobby and annoy the shit out of their parents, right? Think of the bands that have been the most successful. Generally they "speak" to people in some way. There's the variable of how they do that - is it what they say, or possibly how they say it - but for the most part they make some sort of emotional connection through instrumentation to lyrical address. Some bands have been revolutionary…
Wait. Let's stop here for a second. Think about that last sentence.
Revolutionary. Why? How? Intentional or naive? I've heard some great bands tell me they were intentionally trying to reinvent the wheel. I've had some say they were just trying new ideas because they had nothing left to lose. I've had some say they were trying to escape the pigeonholed genre description they had been tagged as being because of a number of people and critics. Some of these "revolutionaries" were just young and couldn't play their instruments. Sid Viscious couldn't play his bass, why the fuck should I have to learn?! Amirite?! For the most part, these bands of the past and present are now heralded because they did attempt something different at the time in retrospect to everything else. Time was not on a lot of these bands' sides, and personal qualms and infighting aside for some break-ups, no one gave a shit for what they did at the time. A friend showed me a ton of great old At the Drive In and Mars Volta live videos with them cracking jokes about people listening to "nu-metal and hip-hop" - is that what we were doing? Probably for some. Why was that? How did I ever get out of it? See, I can boast all the jokes I want now about your shitty scenecore music, but I'm sure nothing I say will ever negate the fact that maybe, just maaaybe that Rise-core band or radio pop sensation speaks to you. That's why they continue to sell out tours and sell merch to so many - because that "chug-scream-synth" record means something to them - them being millions. I went through it, it's okay. Then someone showed me something challenging.
Jokes aside and back on topic, no band truly has the capability of judging how successful their art can and will be. You could tour for years on end with some of the best music you think you've ever created - one album after another - but if no one gives a shit, you'll never be successful on a level you eventually want to be at - especially at a time when everyone can and will open a Kickstarter, use their trust funds or work for half the year in a shitty part-time to tour the other six months living some sort of dream. When the cycle starts over again, hitting the road will hopefully boast bigger crowds for some the second or third time around - but if it doesn't, you may have lost the "connection" along the way, or never made one to begin with. It goes to bastardizing the term "music" again into a "commodity" though. If no one wants to buy your product, even with some sort of following - you're left as last year's product - or a vintage collectable to some that once was moderately successful to others.
I do have one problem with the quote the more and more I thought about it this past week, and it leads me back to something I said earlier about the business end of both the mainstream and the underground. By that, I mean the quote would lead one to believe that if you want to be successful as a band, you have to give the audience what they want. Well, as both an avid concert attendee and a part-time server, I can tell you this: people are and will be assholes to their own discerns. It sucks, I know. But as a small minority who can muster some sense of patience with these slow, stubborn people, we can also grow to understand that giving a consumer what they want is not always best and generally doesn't work out for any long term business end. Again, I'm a server, and even rectifying a problem to its fullest doesn't mean there's added gratitude when a situation arises and is more than resolved. The same can be said about creating music. Want to write the record you always wanted? It doesn't sound like your successful last album? Well, it's time to get the fuck out and make room for my new favorite band, because you're yesterday's news ass-wipe!
That's sort of our mode of operation - especially in an age where every bit of information we try our best to retain is disposable, because with our smart technologies, it's just a couple of clicks and a search away! With music being as disposable as Chemistry notes for tomorrow's big test once it's done and we need to retain something else, I can only hope that each generation challenges themselves with every song, album or band they come in contact with and continue to want to grow just as their favorite musicians hopefully want to do as well. I can also hope bands will hinder success on whether or not they're being truthful in what they create. The gap between creation and distribution is a very scary thing to put your life behind when you (a) do want your art to mean something, if not the same feeling to someone else (b) maybe have your music be a bigger impact in someone's life both personally and within their growing musical spectrum and (c) be financially successful in ways you can continue to be creative in and have it be recognized.
As I was standing to the far back of the venue against the wall while Cursive put on one of the best sets I've seen of the band on Saturday night, I began thinking about the unfortunate news about my grandmother, grasping the concept of death ("Big Bang"). I thought about the girl standing a few feet up that I had been trying to ignore all night because of certain feelings ("The Martyr"). I thought about being successful current new endeavors myself, but having less than $50 to my name at the moment because work was slower than I anticipated earlier in the afternoon ("Dorothy at Forty"). It was a panic attack that I was enjoying as each song played into the next. It was a show that I personally needed after the day that I had. It didn't matter if these were songs part of bigger conceptual albums, it meant something more to me. There's a solace people feel in music that is untouched by anything else I have yet to see. This viral video from a few weeks ago only further proves that.
Being a musician has to be one of the worst jobs to have because there's no direct financial success. If you're white collar or blue collar, your decisions directly effect your pay, and for the most part, those decisions are usually a taught skill that has a definite answer. If I perform task X through these universally accepted means, success will happen and I will reap tangible benefits. Since music is one of the most argued forms of subjectivity among many of us, there's no telling if you could be a success overnight, or with your third album almost a year after its release. To that worry, I'll do my best to add to Mr. Davey's quote. I'll say this tacked to the OP, "...But if you're honest with yourself and what you write, there are enough people out there that will take notice that some form of success will follow." How big will your success relatively be? That's for the marketers, your manager and publicist and the general public to latch onto and figure out - or at the very least, a publication to throw you into the "hype" machine. You can trust those people, right? They're all getting better and better in seeing who's faking it and who's spilling their guts without remorse. The god awful truth is that you have nothing to truly lose in this industry right now. Gut yourself on stage and let your soul speak for itself. Do you have soul?