Are You a Quitter When Times Get Tough?
by Christopher Knab ,
Back to The Academy
Creative people often have a strong need for approval. After all, their work is intended for the public eye or ear. But historically, many of the most creative musicians had a drive and passion to express themselves was far stronger than their need for acceptance. In fact, all the real innovators I can think of faced rejection countless times before their ďsoundĒ began to break through.
Awhile back a band Iíd worked with off-and-on for five years called it quits. They announced their decision in a letter to readers of a local music magazine. They were polite, but lightly scolded the powers-that-be in the local media who hadnít supported them, insinuating that if they had gotten more support they would have been more successful. Theyíd made it to the finals of a national talent search and been featured at a music industry showcase, but apparently the heartbreak of not being recognized (legitimized?) by the local music media was too much to bear. They went on to say that they would continue to make music as individuals, or in new bands, and then said their fond farewells.
I was ticked off at these guys. They had a small local following and had made some kind of beginning national noise. But they were so discouraged by the lack of local media support that their only solution was to stop playing and give up. So, what are they faced with now? Starting from scratch again, with new bands, new names, new fanbases to establish. After five years of working toward their goal, they threw away everything they had worked for.
Five years is nothing! Five years (or more) is behind many bands and artists who were just getting known but not yet on the brink of success. What if U2 had given up back in the 1980s? It took them many years to become the worldwide superstars they are now. And, a newer act like James Hunter, the English R&B singer, got his deal with the great indie label Rounder records after seven or eight years of playing his unique sound. And think about Spoon. After years of paying their dues they finally have a record out now that was so good they got a gig on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
You canít give up! If you want a formula for failure, itís just one word. Quit. Thatís the one thing that will definitely stop your career cold.
Are you a musician or not? Musicians play music. Period. Thatís all there is to it. If youíre quitting because the people you think are important havenít properly recognized your talents, then you have your head on backwards.
Look at all the music outcasts who were rejected at first by the gatekeepers of the industry. The media blasted the Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, The Sex Pistols, Nine Inch Nails, the Butthole Surfers. Even Lucinda Williams was confined to a small niche audience for almost twenty years. And how about í70s and í80s new wavers like Devo, Pere Ubu, and even 90's bands from Mudhoney to the amazing metal label Roadrunner and many of their acts. Theyíve all received mountains of negative press at some time.
In the last decade the same thing happened again. Most bands/artists need time to develop, and that is where real commitment from you comes in.
Donít think the criticism stops when you become successful. Thatís when some really scathing reviews will be written by twisted and arrogant music reviewers.
Obviously, there can be legitimate reasons to quit. When inner conflicts within a group prove unbearable, when creative differences within a band become too big, breaking up a band can be the only thing to do. Thatís not the issue here. Weíre talking about the strange dependence many musicians have on getting acceptance by gatekeepers as a measurement of their success. Anyone who enters this crazy business to seek acceptance is in for a torturous ride.
I believe the only opinion that matters is the audienceís opinion. After many years of listening, Iíve come to the conclusion that taste is defined by the taster. I get requests all the time to review demos and indie CD releases, and I can hear the disappointment in a personís voice if I donít like their music.
So what if I donít like it? I canít like everything I hear, and that goes for everyone in this business. Stop worrying so much about what the industry Reps think of your music.
The public, your fans, will tell you whether or not thereís something of value in your music. If people react positively to your music by coming to see your live shows, or revisiting your website to get new information on your activities, or buying your CDs, then the public has spoken. Their opinions are the only opinions that matteróthat and your own belief that your music is truly unique.
If the fan response to your music is good, but the music business doesnít seem to be supporting you with glowing reviews, increased airplay, or gigs in the clubs that matter, then you have to assess what youíre doing and what the current trends in music are. You canít pressure or intimidate or criticize the critics. They are who they are. They have their opinions, their own agendas, their own circle of friends, and theyíll either support you early on or youíll have to continue on your own until they have to report on you, or support you. That can be the sweetest revenge. By not being discouraged, by not giving up, there may come a time when your popularity demands attention. And the very gatekeepers who wouldnít give you the time of day will have to cover your concerts and review your records because the public support demands it.
Think about this; inside the word discouragement is the word courage. Sometimes itís hard to muster up a workable amount of that stuff, but if you donít, youíll have only yourself to blame. Keep on keepiní on. If youíre as good as you think you are, start working today to prove it, and never give up!
Christopher Knab is an independent music business consultant based in Seattle, Washington. He
is available for private consultations on promoting and marketing independent music, and can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Knab's book, 'Music Is Your Business'
is available from the Music Biz Academy bookstore.
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