Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stick a fork in me

I'm Done.

I'm Done trying to:

  • be somebody
  • make things happen
  • build an audience
  • cultivate a fan-base
  • raise money
  • get publicity
  • get noticed
  • be cool

Turns out I've wasted the better part of two years (or more?) trying to get my music & "business" to coexist. For better or worse, I opted for a nonprofit arts organization business model. I think I did many things "right," plenty of things wrong, or incompletely. In any event, results have been disappointing.

I've written a mighty pile of grant proposals, mailed out over two hundred promo cd's to press people and sent a gazillion "follow up emails." That took a lot of time. What I have to show for it is a large collection of rejection letters and a tremendous indifference with which my work has been received in the world.

Reviewing these results / metrics, I think it would've been better to simply spend that time practicing and writing music. So now, I'm done.

I'm happy to continue making music, but I'm done trying to "do something" with it. Music is useless. Instrumental music is largely meaningless. No sense trying to commodify it or build myself into a "brand" or any such nonsense. I'm done. I don't need to make my artistic practice into a business. That was foolish. If you catch me trying to do it again, please smack me.

I'm going to keep writing and playing and practicing. Hopefully my friends will work with me from time to time. If you want to hear what we're up to, come on out to the house and we'll play it for you. You're totally invited and I'd love to hang out for a while. Or don't come. Either way, I'll be here. And the music will get better and better.


jen said...

It took you two years to realize it's hard to sell music without giving any consideration toward making the music commercial? This seems like a no-brainer to me.

Music isn't useless. It's very valuable to millions of people, as evidenced (in part) by the billions of dollars we pay to consume it. That's capitalism: people pay for music that is of value to them. Music is also of value to the artist who has created it apart from any monetary value or lack thereof. That's art: the inherent value of creating and sharing one's self-expression with the world.

The problem is when you get these two different concepts of "value" confused. Capitalism is capitalism and art is art. Artists who want their art to have monetary value need to make commerically viable art. Artists who want to be true to their personal vision need to be satisfied with the personal (non-monetary) value they get from the artistic process. If their uncompromised vision turns out to happen to be commercially viable, great. But how often does that actually ever happen within an artist's lifetime? I certainly don't think it should be a big surprise to anyone if it DOESN'T happen.

I actually think it is pretty narcissistic to think anyone would want to pay for the privilege of bearing witness to your personal artistic vision. Why would you think that just because you value your artistic expression that I should want to pay money for it? Really, all great artists are necessarily narcissists, crazy, broke, or some combination thereof. In all honesty, you don't have what it takes in any of those three areas.

Sorry if you were looking for sympathy!

jen said...

I just re-read your post and my comment and realized exactly where you went wrong with your thinking and why, but it's not suitable for blogging. Remind me to tell you sometime.

Jon Morris (Matis) said...

Thanks Jen - I know I can count on you! Let's talk soon...

Joseph Zitt said...

Been there, done (with) that. Making your art your livelihood is difficult and rare. I've been surprised to hear of the day jobs of apparently successful rock musicians (several of whom worked with my current coworkers at Borders).

I agree with Jen that you have to decide to find a meeting place between your art and what is commercial to be able to make a go of it. While people pay for music, it is, to a great extent, a way of inscribing with cash one's identity with a community of similar fans. And getting that community of fans to happen can't be planned or predicted.

That said, I disagree with Jen's supposition that "all great artists are necessarily narcissists, crazy, broke, or some combination thereof." There *are* some who do make it, but it takes a long time, and a lot of work. John Cage and Philip Glass (the hardest working man in show business) come to mind. But each spent a long time with the day jobs (Cage in commercial graphic design, and Glass as a plumber and cab driver) before they were willing to live off their art.

The most effective thing to do might indeed be to just make your music and put it out there for people to find if they're interested. The core audience nay well jut be friends and those people who are themselves doing similar things, but it's a start.

I'm fortunate to have a day job that I can just barely live on and that I find fulfilling (and which, after a year-long error, is now paying health benefits, etc, again). This leaves me time to do my writing, etc, though I've had to put a music project on hold since I have no idea how I will ever be able to afford to record it. I don't know if you have any such possibilities in your line of work (though this wasn't my line of work until I stumbled into it). But, aside from making a living through the art, it may be the next best option.