For The Love, Or For The Money
I'm one of the few people left here on the field at Statesville Regional Airport where Carolina BalloonFest 41 has just wrapped up. The vendors have packed their wares, the balloon pilots have moved on and there are just a handful left who are camping one last night before heading out in the morning. This is the third year that I've performed at the event and it's one of those spectacular gigs that just envelopes your being and transports you to an incredibly perfect land where we all get along and enjoy each other's company. Just a week ago, I was at the Winter Creek Reunion in Bennington, Oklahoma and that's another one of these kinds of gigs. To a musician, especially a traveling one, these moments can shine a healthy spotlight on what it is that we do and why. It's nice to be reminded, if you need such a thing.
Seriously, I don't need the reminder. As a kid, I dreamed of traveling the country, the world maybe, and making music. So, to wake up each day and live the dream is absolutely nutty. Jesus and John Lee Hooker both had it down: "what's in you has got to come out of you." It's not a matter of choice. I wake up each morning and need to make music, not out of some selfish reason, but as a guideline for existence. It's what I was born to do. Thing is, I believe that everyone was given the same direction. What a world it would be if we were all to simply make music. Forget commerce and forget all of this other stuff that we find ourselves so lost within. What if the world was meant to be one big orchestra? Music transcends boundaries of language, commerce, class, race, culture and so many other things. If the Tower of Babel was our moment of disconnect then music is our popcorn trail back to getting in tune with one another and coming together once again. It totally sucks that music has been so commercialized and capitalized that we sometimes, often times, lose sight of why there is music in the first place.
Whatever you believe, you might agree that music brings us closer, no matter what language you speak or what you may believe about life in general. Sure, there are factions and purists and those who hate certain types of music but, seriously, how can you hate music of any kind? It's expression and communication, it's reaching out and letting go. It's the very epitome of full-force living and if you're against that sort of thing, then your wiring is all wrong.
Commercialism of anything brings a weird taste to that which comes natural, but that's the world in which we live. Keeping your eye on the prize, the focus on the ideal, keeps a body moving forward in any endeavor. I make music because I'm compelled to. It's not a question of wanting to, it's something that surges within my body and demands an outlet every single day. I believe we all have that cry inside, it's just that not everyone has listened to that inner rhythm or melody. Maybe it was beaten out of you or discouraged early on. Bottom line is, no matter how old you get, the door will get knocked upon and you will have to deal with it sooner or later: music is in you and it's got to come out.
To make music for a living is a tricky thing and I'm so very blessed to do it full time. Again, I used to dream about it and, sure, there were visions of rock stardom and craziness that propelled those early phantasms but damned if I'm not living the dream, and why? Because I listened to that voice inside, didn't let anyone convince me otherwise and followed the beacon to this point. Perspective is so important. The mainstream media, radio, television and other outlets can seriously sully what is a natural and wonderful means of communication. I don't begrudge the "American Idol" and "The Voice" and other such programs that get people jazzed up and shooting for the stars. I just wonder if they're in it for the money or the love?
I talk to lots of musicians, aspiring and veteran souls. It's amazing how so many of them qualify what they do in terms of dollars. How much they make, how much they're worth, how much they're willing to endure for the buck and how little they'll put up with if the money's not right. You know, I think that if you pursue a music career with a full heart, a true heart and a desire to make those connections with people, that money is a by-product that will find its way into your wallet. But plot a course with dollar signs in your eyes and you're blinded by the greenbacks which also kill a little of your soul.
I always tell people that I'm "not getting rich but I'm not going broke" and that's about as true a statement as any. Will I ever make it to stadium concert level? Who knows? I used to lust for it - now, I just enjoy every opportunity I have to make music. There are three important factors at play when it comes to music, in my book. There's the connection with the Gift itself, what gave you the ability to make music in first place and do you honor that gift? Do you pursue the craft, better yourself, seek education, develop a curriculum that will enhance what is naturally yours? Then, do you connect with the audience? Do you present yourself as the artist with boatloads of awesomenesss to share or do you take into consideration the needs of the folks who sit or stand before you in various venues? And do you realize your place in the great scheme of things? Do you see that you are a part of one big, excellent jigsaw puzzle? Do you realize just how much good can come out of each and every performance? Sure, sometimes, there may be bad that comes out of a gig, but music is such a powerful conduit, an amazing party line that we all tap into at once. Do you see the possibilities?
It's so easy for artists to get worn down, to get tired or burnt out on the trail. Whether you're traveling cross country, internationally or just within your own region, it's very easy to get tired and forget why you're there in the first place. God knows there are many situations that may crop up in your view and make you say, "well, to hell with this!" And in those instances, I think it's important to step back and realize why the hell we're all doing this in the first place. It's not just about us as musicians. It's about us as ambassadors of life, as diplomats of song. There is a larger force at work here and it's in every single detail of our day to day lives. Every single encounter with others, whether they be musicians or fans or venue owners and operators or booking agents and sound techs, is a pure golden moment to make the connection. If you follow your bliss, engage your dream, give it your all in widespread passion, then you will be taken care of.
But like anything else, it's a situation in which giving is more important than getting. That means investing time into your music, not only in the recording studio and on stage but also with spending time and sharing moments with fans. Taking pictures, signing CDs, visiting for a spell, sitting down and playing some music; if you don't love what you do, this just might be unbearable to you. But if you love what you do, this will be an incredible joy and it will make perfect sense.
It's easy to get caught up in the day to day and administrative crap that goes hand in hand with being a working musician. It's important to not pass down the crap that you might be feeling to those around you while you're trying to sort it out. It's important to keep in perspective why you do what you do and to what extent you will do it. It's important to keep the ego in check while you remain an everyperson in the everyday. And this is key: if you lose sight of that for even one moment, you are missing out on the joy of every single experience that comes your way.
When money trumps the moment, a part of you wilts. Water the plant and be alive in the experience as much as you possibly can. Money won't heal your soul. But love sure will.