An example of what this looks like is 1) you get "Person A" who’s an insane e.g. bass player, then 2) he/she does a “sexy” cover of a super well-known song, showing off their chops, until 3) they acquire the holy grail (subs, lah) because a) the song is well known and b) they’re racing up and down the fretboard like Usain Bolt. Many artists are doing little more than shooting at targets, because, by doing so they believe they become “influencers,” whatever on earth that means.
So there’s a small 10% who are spending their time coming up with actual new ideas, which is ironic, because that is exactly how that song by The Who or Led Zeppelin or Michael Jackson came to be in the first place. Not by the efforts of the “musical bodybuilders” showing off their guitar-playing glutes, but by people who were so plugged in to the actual source of art (which, in actuality, at least in my experience, is a rather quiet and solitary place) and worked hard at cultivating that connection, that they came up with gems that we love and that are lasting, the likes of Penny Lane, Dear Prudence, and Here Comes the Sun.
There’s nothing we can really do, because it’s just easier, frankly, to learn how to show-off running up and down scales than it is to put together new musical ideas, or to write a truly authentic song that’s actually really good as well. That’s why, again, frankly, youtube musical bodybuilders, regardless of their number of subs and followers, are more of less a dime a dozen (type in a famous song and the word “cover” and you’ll see what I mean), while there’s only one Paul McCartney, there’s only one Burt Bacharach, there’s only one Beethoven.
But to those of you in that small, terrifying 10%: I know what it’s like to be you, and I’ll tell you, it’s fucking hard. It really is much easier to sell yourself down the line and focus on self-image and self-aggrandizement than it is to hone what it means to hold yourself true to the realm of new, real ideas. How do I know? I know because I’ve done both. In my twenties, I was all about puffing up my self-image. Heck, if I’d been populating a youtube channel then as opposed to a myspace page (thank you, the early 00s), I might have been able to show you now some streaming material of me doing a “cover” of a number by Train, Gavin Degraw, or Jason Mraz (to further cement me in linear time).
I am told by pop culture that I am supposed to feel old, because I am no longer a marketable sixteen-year old hormone-ridden singing haircut. That’s fine. While we’re on the subject, I’m told by other people, that because I was born a muslim, I’m supposed to feel “wrong,” “bad,” “scared,” or, I suppose, “foreign.” And then, ironically, I’m told by yet other people that, because I do not practice religion, including the one of my birth, that I should feel “guilty” or “ashamed." I care little for and heed even less the proclamations of those who do not walk in my shoes. I feel like Will Hunting in that scene in the bar: All that they say "may be, but at least I won’t be unoriginal."
And, I guess, that would be my humble recommendation to you “terrified 10%ers.”Dare to be original.” Har har, right? How many people say that to you every day? Ad execs, the world over. Insurance companies, credit unions, people who promise they’ll fuck you like a champion if you just give them your money? (Not talking about prostitution here, at least they’re honest about what they do--think about it.) How would any of these people know the first thing about originality? Your youtube bodybuilder wunderkind, here name one, I can name twelve off the top. Be original, they say, while they rattle off Giant Steps at a hundred miles an hour for the fiftieth time this month. The fuck do they know?
Secondly, am I doing everything well? If so, get the fuck out. Nothing proves the leading edge than that feeling that you suck at something. Not the “why am I doing this thing soul-draining thing that I hate” kind of suck, but rather, the “oh my god I really want to conquer this but I don’t know how or even if I ever will”-type suck. It’s like when you first learn to do anything that you adore doing, riding a bike, doing a cartwheel, writing fiction. There was a time when you sucked at those things, and the motivation to move past that stage of not knowing was pure art.
So, you know, that would be the last tip I would humbly submit. Stanislavski, in my opinion, put it better than I could ever hack up, so I’ll quote him directly: "Love the art in yourself, and not yourself in the art." Put the art first. Always. That’s all I’m going to say; that’s all the needs saying, really.
I’m off to go write a song. Maybe one day I might record it. Maybe release it. Maybe I’ll do everything in line with what some of those influencers do. Create a social media campaign around it. Who knows? I feel a sense of freedom, a sense of openness, that I do what I do for the love of doing it. Thank you for being on this journey alongside me.
Travel safe. Talk soon.