Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ignore Everybody!!

A lot of people asked me if I have ever considered doing music full time. The answer is yes, with varying degrees of realistic expectation. In my twenties I was in a band that collectively fantasized we would eventually get signed and quit our day jobs. The odds of this were as slim as winning at powerball. When I reached my thirties, I confronted the reality that whatever ship I was waiting for was not coming. I managed to teach myself html to at least get a web job, which provided some skill overlap with music promotion. A few years later, when my living expenses were low, I worked part-time in a recording studio and toyed with the idea of music as a full-time gig via production work and remixes. However, I quickly tired of expending so much creative energy--more than I have ever expended at a day job--on other people's projects because it left me with no inspiration for my own. Plus, I saw the extent to which my full-time musician friends, for whom I have the utmost respect and admiration, had to make ends meet by playing wedding gigs and following the directives of philistines.

I decided I was much better off spending my days doing internet advocacy work for causes I believe in and not relying on music to pay the bills. Although I do make about 15% of my income from music, this consists of royalties paid on tracks I have produced without commercial intent and later licensed. Some people might characterize this as "selling out" but I consider the 9 to 5 part of my day more of a compromise--one that I am willing to make for the sake of financial stability so I can feel less regimented and inhibited when I work on music.

I recently read a book that articulated a no-nonsense route to achieving fulfillment in creative pursuits. Unlike other books in which the author is able to reject the humdrum life of a working stiff and miraculously embrace a world of abundance and self-fulfillment (by writing self help books), Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity is saturated with common sense, helpful creative hints, and powerful yet restrained proclamations that don't call for faith in the universe so much as independent thought, self-reliance, and hard work. Hugh MacLeod has made a career out of drawing acerbic observations on the backs of business cards-- a practice that began while working as a copywriter in New York. He sees no disgrace in having a day job, in fact he reasons a day job can co-exist with a creative pursuits, and protect art from being diluted or exploited, because once an artist accepts money for their art they have relinquished control: "Art suffers the moment other people start paying for it. The more you need the money, the more people will tell you what to do. The less control you will have. The more bullshit you will have to swallow. The less joy it will bring. Know this and plan accordingly." He also disparages scenesters who are looking for shortcuts while their true artist counterparts are working at home in solitude. He has practical advice for writer's block: "If you have something to say, then say it...Trying to create when you don't feel like it is like making conversation for the sake of making conversation."

The book read like he was writing directly to me! But I suspect his message resonates with lots of folks that got into the arts for diverse reasons and ended up in a lifelong romance that many appreciate but fewer seem to understand.


Unknown said...

Thanks for this--I just put this on hold at my library. The eternal day-job quandary still haunts me. On the one hand, I agree that as soon as you start getting paid to create, you sacrifice a certain amount of innocence necessary for the creative process. On the other hand, having a day job, even a somewhat creative one, slices the day up into blocks, and sometimes when the "time to write music" block comes up, I'm too drained from working to really show up. I've solved the dilemma temporarily by getting laid off, but that's not forever!

She said...

I'm definitely going to have to check out this book. If I had my way I would be working full time making books for a living, while traveling the world and experiencing cultures and people.

More simply, I'm happiest when I create. Working a full time day job in which I can't do this never fulfills me enough.