|In this month’s column I will continue to address in detail one of the 10 reasons why bands and artists fail. I began this discussion back in my August 1998 column, and now will address the 3rd reason for failure:
Discouragement: Quitting because of no support from people you think you need.
It is not uncommon among people who are creative to find that many of them have a stronger need for approval than other people. After all, as creative souls what they create is intended for the public eye or ear. But it is interesting to note that historically, many truly creative and innovative musicians have had little need for public approval. Their drive and passion to express themselves is far stronger than their need for acceptance. In fact, all the real innovators that I can think of faced rejection countless times before their ‘sound’ began to break through.
Recently a band I had known off and on for 5 years called it quits. I found it interesting that having made that decision they decided to announce it in a rather strange way. They wrote a letter to the local music magazine in town, and in that open letter to readers announced they were calling it quits. They were polite in their letter, but managed to lightly scold the powers-that-be in the local media who had not support them; insinuating that if they had they would have been more successful. Hell, they had made it to the finals of a national talent search, and been showcased 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 pissed off at these guys. As polite as they had been, I didn’t get it. They had a small local following, and had made some kind of beginning national noise...but they were discouraged so much by the lack of local media support that the only solution was to stop playing, and give up. So, what are they individually faced with now? Starting from scratch again. New bands, new names, new fanbases to establish. After 5 years of working toward their goal and getting frustrated...they threw away everything they have been working for.
5 years is nothing! 5 years or more is what is behind many many bands and artists who were just getting themselves known but not yet on the brink of success. What if Hootie and the Blowfish had given up? It took them 7 + years to get established and attractive to Atlantic Records. Last year Big Bad Voodoo Daddy got their deal after 7 or 8 years of playing their unique Swing sound, long before this year’s ‘flavor of the month industry’ recognized they had something worthwhile.
You can’t give up! If you want a formula for failure it is only one word...quit. That will definitely do it. If you quit for any frustrating reason, you can justify your feelings of failure by congratulating yourselves for doing the one thing that will stop your career cold...quitting. Are you a musician or not? Musicians play music. Period. That is all there is to it. If you are quitting because you feel that the people you think are important haven’t properly recognized your talents, than you have your head on backwards. Look at all the outcasts of this world who were rejected in some way by the so-called gatekeepers of the industry. The media blasted the Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, The Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin, the Butthole Surfers. Hell, even Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ was panned by rock n’ roll writers when it first came out. And how about innovative bands and artists like Devo, Pere Ubu, and Patti Smith? They have all received mountains of negative press at some time in their careers. And since I mentioned Hootie earlier, don’t think the criticisms stop when you become successful...that’s when some really scathing reviews can emanate from the twisted and grandiose minds of music reviewers.
I think it is time to give some credit to that local band I was disappointed with. Don’t mistake what I am railing about to think that there cannot be a positive side to quitting. When inner conflicts within a group prove unbearable, when creative differences within a band become too big, obviously breaking up a band can be the only thing to do. That is not the issue I am discussing here. What I am concentrating on is this strange dependence many musicians have on needing the acceptance of gatekeepers as a measurement of their success.Anyone who enters this crazy business to seek acceptance is in for a torturous ride.Tastes are like orifices, we all have them and some of them don’t smell so good, as that old saying goes. I am a believer in the idea that the only important opinion that matters is the audiences opinion. I have said this many times and I really mean it. After so many years of listening to what I think is good or bad, I have come to the conclusion that tastes matter only to the taster. If the listener of your music reacts positively to it by either jumping and dancing around, buying your CDs, or coming back again and again to see your live shows...then the public has spoken. If the opposite is true, and after giving yourself a respectable amount of time to develop your act the audiences are not there, and there are not sales of your CDs...then have the sense to see the writing on the wall.
In other words if your music is response is positive, and yet the music business doesn’t seem to be supporting you with reviews, airplay, or gigs in the ‘clubs that matter’, than find another path to explore. You can’t 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 they either will support you early on, or you will have to continue on your own until such a time as they have to report, or support you. That’s the sweetest revenge. By not being discouraged, by not giving up, there may come a time when your popularity demands attention. And low and behold the very gatekeepers who wouldn’t give you the time of day, now have to cover your concerts, and review your records because the public support demands it. See what you could miss if you give in to your discouragement. Look at that word, hidden within it is the word ‘courage’. Sometimes it is hard to muster up a workable amount of that stuff, but if you don’t then you have only yourself to blame.
Keep on keepin’ on. If you are as good as you think you are...prove it.
Christopher Knab, Music Business Consultant
for Effective Product Development / Promotion / Publicity / Performance.
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