Disclaimer: the ideas presented in this post are opinions derived from the perspective and experiences of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of Chroma and its members.
Drive 100 miles. Play music for 10 enthusiastic people. Drive 300 miles. Play for 3 folks, glued to their phones the whole night. Drive 5 minutes to play for 5 whose presence feels awkwardly obligated.
For artists, there are many positive attitudes to utilize when approaching these types of situations. While it’s quite helpful to be encouraging within smaller music communities, many mindsets that start with good intentions end up creating unhealthy expectations of musicians. Today we’ll be scratching the surface of toxic and unfair mentalities held in music scenes, in hopes of seeking a fundamental approach to a work ethic that can be shared among hobbyists and ambitious artists alike.
Money Isn't Everything
“I want music to be my life.” A motto so commonly shared as the driving force to seek artistry as employment. There's nothing inherently wrong with this desire, though it tends to breed frustrating expectations that soon loom over the thing you're most passionate about. Music acts without a large, active fanbase often experience varying levels of financial success, which can become a false encouragement in times of local scene prosperity just as well as a crushing defeat when you’re paying for vehicle repairs out of pocket.
The easiest way to stay sane through the bewildering journey through Music Financing Land is simple: having gratitude for anything beats expectation for everything. Rather than thinking your success is owed to you, consider that music is still music whether it pays for itself or you fund your endeavors out of pocket. It takes discipline and experience to develop such a mentality, but you’ll be thankful for the reduced stress and greater flexibility in the overall understanding of how money and music work together.
Neither Is Community
“None of this matters without community.” The inverse motto, particularly in DIY, which forgoes chasing popularity and materialism for intimate, impactful social movements made through art. This is much easier for most musicians to relate with, typically because if you love making music, you understand its power to affect the listener. However, like the pursuit of financial success, it is easy to become greedy, and can similarly lead to frustration and heartbreak when your lyrics fall on misunderstanding ears, or when show crowds don’t populate.
Remember: community is not your fallback plan for a career that didn’t pan out. It is so much bigger than your ambition, as you are but one piece of the puzzle. And your role, while deeply significant, is only as assured as the need it suits. When the needs of the scene are fulfilled, sometimes that means it moves on, grows, or changes into something else entirely. Be present and aware. Find value in every singalong, each applause, every moment you share with your community. Again, it is better to be thankful for what is good than to assume your peers are indebted to your creative efforts.
“You’ll be really, actually famous someday. I just know it.” An ideal leveraged by many both in and out of touch with music culture. There are many pressures to make “something” of your talent (which should be argued as more skill than anything), but where you wish to take your creative endeavors is entirely up to you! If your goals are to play shows abroad, growing your reach, then, by all means, work toward that goal. If you are content simply playing once every month or two to your friends or community group, what’s wrong with maintaining that? If anything, we simply give you permission to feel confident in comfort or pushing your craft further, so long as your efforts are not made to appease nagging bandmates, societal standards, or jealousy towards those who’ve “made it”. Stand by your work for what it is and what you believe it should be.
Today's post was a bit intense, but we are intense creatures. Who we are is a volatile blend of who we want to be, what our environment allows us to be, and what we end up doing. Take time to reflect on your goals as a creative person, so that you might realize how they affect both you and your scene. When you can have a constructive, positive mentality toward your art, you can encourage others (read: give support, not demand or enforce) toward that same state of mind, and everything grows as a result.